Jimmy Buffet was right: Margaritas not required

30 Mar

You know that song by Jimmy Buffett — “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes?”

The same goes for yoga. Doesn’t everything? I mean, really, doesn’t everything come down to yoga?

Teaching vinyasa classes this week, I encouraged students to consider shifting — anything, from alignments, to foot placement to attitudes. After all, that’s one of the gifts of yoga: We change, shift, flip, turn — and suddenly we find new spaces and new perspectives. We look at the world from a new angle; and problems from a different point of view.

As Buffett sings: Nothing remains quite the same.

You are in Downward Facing Dog one minute and the next minute, you flip your dog, and voila — your entire perspective changes. Suddenly the floor becomes the ceiling above your head and the ceiling — the place that normally shines down on the top of your head — becomes the place you can reach for with your foot.

And you don’t even need a margarita!

You can change your latitude and change your attitude right on your mat. I’m not talking the destructive tectonic shifts  that literally change the world and turn people’s lives upside down.

I’m talking subtle changes. Ones you can barely detect. Like when you tuck your tailbone in a Warrior pose or engage your uddiyana bandha. No one sees it happening. But does it ever shift your alignment. Try it sometime with your attitudes – with  your opinions about people or places…music..food – political points of views, even? Can you do as you might on your mat and challenge yourself?

Shift your perspective just ever so slightly – a breath’s expanse – and you might find  a little bit of you — a little universality — in what you once considered foreign, sub-par, contrary to your beliefs.

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In yoga as in life: don’t lie, cheat or steal

26 Mar

As a journalist, I’ve always subscribed to the principle that you don’t lie, cheat or steal to get the story.

The same is true in yoga.

If you lie to yourself, you’re bound to believe  your lies. “Oh, I’m not flexible enough to do yoga.” “My hips are too tight to do Half Pigeon….my hamstrings too stubborn to do a full – and soothing – ragdoll (uttanasana).”

Tell yourself those lies and you’ll live up to them. You’ll cheat yourself out of the experience of challenging yourself to a task you might not want to do — or one whose sensation you might not particularly savor.

But set your aside your ego and become present with your breath and the moment, and surrender. Surrender to the space and your bliss, and you might find yourself going to a place you’ve never been. A place deep within you where you come face to face with the truth; the truth that the only thing holding you back is you.

Next time you’re on your mat and you find yourself hitting the breaks when it comes time to do what is for you a challenging asana, listen to the script in your head- the one you’ve been telling yourself for so long. Honor it, then set it aside. Poof, it vanishes! Now face the task before you, and acknowledge it with honesty, intelligence and compassion. Proceed from that place.

You’ll probably find you no longer steal precious moments from yourself.

The importance of doing your yoga homework

23 Mar

I can’t remember the first time I did a downward facing dog —  Adho mukha svanasana — the workhorse of vinyasa, the place where you build strength and flexibility and find rest during a challenging yoga session, the place where all the asanas originate and end.

I honestly can’t recall if it was 15 years ago or 20 years.

My point is that it took me a long time to get to where I am with it — my arms and shoulders where they should be and my legs in that delicious place where they are straight and strong, supporting my weight, back and search for equinimity.

Watching my eager students in my Tuesday night class has reminded me of an important yoga truth: You must dedicate yourself to yoga, with your whole heart, as if you are doing service. And you are. Service to your higher self; your search for that higher self.

Does it mean you might have to wake up an extra hour early to go to your mat and practice?Maybe so. Does it mean you roll out your mat when you get home from work – and not grab the remote – yeah. I think that’s what it takes. At the very least.

Struggling over a Spanish lesson one day while he was in high school, my stepson said, “I want to speak Spanish. I just don’t want to learn it.”

Yoga is a lot like that. We want to do it. But we must first commit ourselves to it, and then, do it…do it….do it. The good thing about yoga is that we don’t have to wait for the reward to come our way. They are immediate. The second we step on the mat, we are doing yoga. And reaping all the wonderful benefits.

So go to your mat.

Inhale. Pause. News…exhale.

21 Mar

I make my living as a reporter; I nurture my life as a yogini. Sometimes, though, the two seem strange bedfellows — always the incessant chatter of the world challenging my attempts to seek  inner peace. Here’s how I cope:

Nuclear meltdowns. Child’s pose.

Strikes on Libya. Downward facing dog.

Breath in. Exhale. Ujjayi.

Budget cuts. Tadasana.

Trophy killings. Warrior I.

Breathe in. Exhale. Ujjayi.

Gadhafi this. Gadhafi that? Eagle pose.

Stocks rally. Stocks fall. Utthita hasta padangusthasana.

Radiation spinach. Trikonasana.

Breath in. Exhale. Ujjayi.

Radiation milk. Reverse half moon.

Charlie Sheen why do I care crap? Wheel pose.

Go to your mat. Find stillness there. Silence the chatter.

How I found bliss in a skin burn

20 Mar

I seared a patch of my forearm cooking today. Read: Distracted self moves the casserole dish oblivious that it has been in oven for hours. It’s a doozy — the burn, about the size of a band-aid. My olive skin will make sure it leaves a permanent scar, something to remind me always of a lovely, though reckless, Sunday afternoon in the kitchen.

Some people are covered in tattoos. I’m covered in scars — from childhood missteps, to Christmas dinner productions to stretch marks left by five pounds gained, five pounds lost, to Caesarean scars, two of them — and two lovely daughters to show for them

I can try to soothe the latest scar with cocoa butter or some such, but it’ll never disappear. It’ll be another reminder of an important yoga lesson: The outer self is always changing. Our hair grays, our skin thins and becomes less supple, and even our muscles and joints begin to protest about the wear and tear. They are all reminders of our impermanence. We age. We change. We get sick. Our skin burns. We decay.

Our true Self, however, remains the same, constant, unchanging – a perfect state of bliss. Maybe that’s what people in their 70s and 80s mean when they say that inside they feel as they did when they were 20.

I go to my yoga mat to silence all the outer distractions to find that bliss and suddenly a searing burn on my arm seems insignificant.

Helping little crows take flight

16 Mar

The birds are finally waking up before me, greeting the dawn with their sweet chirping. Now that I hear them outside my window, I realize that all winter, I rose before they did. Even then, their song was weak. But now — now they are chirping, singing, shaking me out of my slumber as night turns to day.

Birdies are all around me.

I’ve been teaching them yoga, sharing my love for this wondrous discipline that awakens my mind, body and soul.

I think of my students as little birds — little crows actually. Baby crows. They are all new to yoga, baby birds opening their wings and realizing what they are capable of doing. They walk timidly to the edge of the nest and look beyond its safe haven, afraid of what lurks a step away. One move, one subtle shift of wings, one  breath, one small shift of posture can shake their firm footing on that nest.

I’m loving watching my baby crows take flight. I’m the mama bird urging her chickadees to take the big step. One of them did! Last week, she lowered herself onto her mat, adjusting her arms and legs into bakasana — the beguiling crow pose that demands as much arm strength as it does unfailing balance. She had never attempted it. She had only seen it in magazines. She was certain she couldn’t do it. But she listened to me, shifting her weight slightly forward, lifting her feet off the floor, coming into her breath. She became a crow. She took flight. You should’ve seen her face.

I’m working with one birdie that just won’t surrender into a full crescent lunge. She’s holding back. But I know it’s in her. I know she has it. I hope I’m a good teacher and help her take full flight. Then she’ll fly no matter what the season.

Today’s goal: Lose 10 lbs by tomorrow morning

13 Mar

I’m sure I’m not the only one getting the spring wake-up call to lose a few of the pounds packed on during the grueling days of winter. Spring has a way of doing that — inspiring us to clean house, clear out closets, clean garden and shed the extra baggage around our tummies and hips. The other day, on my commute to work, I came upon an important yoga lesson that put the idea of spring cleaning and our nagging preoccupation with weight loss into a new perspective.

Along the highway, a billboard advertisement for a local restaurant promises “All you can eat for $6.99.” In fact, it might be $6.49, and either way, the idea seems ludicrous: That we would be enticed to gorge on food, not because we needed the nourishment or we were truly hungry, but because it would cost only a mere few dollars. That’s a bargain? Can food really be a bargain? Isn’t food meant to sustain us, recreate us? Shouldn’t food be sacred and not something to be reduced to bargain-basement prices.

I’ve been studying the yoga sutras and in particular the  yama aparigraha — which teaches greedlessness in all our actions. That means taking just what we need and can use — whether it’s food, clothing, possessions, even the Earth’s resources. Had I spent the winter observing aparigraha? I realized I had not. The extra pounds — the baggage leftover from having taken more than I needed — were proof.

Looking into my closet, I came to the same conclusion. Tucked away behind the sweaters and slacks I rotate week-in and week-out, I found items I hadn’t worn all winter. I don’t think I wore them last winter. But I remember hanging them up, promising myself to wear them, reluctant to pack them into the bag destined for Goodwill. They spent the winter unused, crowding my closet, denying their value to someone who might have truly needed them.

I plan to fold them neatly this evening and pack them into the Goodwill bag, which I set aside months ago but remained empty all winter. My daughter reminds me often that Ghandi said we should each have only 100 possessions. I break that number by a lot — and most of it is shtuff I don’t really use or, really, need.

As I continue down my yoga journey, I am making a commitment to honor myself whether I’m sitting down to meals or contemplating a shopping spree: Can I eat just enough to nourish my body and find contentment, and buy shoes only when the ones I have have holes in them? It’s difficult. We are so bombarded with messages of abundancy, we become greedy and lose sight of what we truly need. But I’m hopeful. It’s time to spring clean.