Your most beautiful self

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I wrote the post below a month ago as I reveled in the beauty of a perfect August in NYC. But life has been a series of challenges for me this summer and many things, like blogging, have disappeared as quickly as summer seems to have. Looking again at these photos, I see perseverance –  blooming year after year, no matter what the hardship, no matter how harsh this city may sometimes feel, no matter if anyone notices or not. Being your most beautiful self amidst it all.

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From August –

I am so grateful to have the opportunity to teach yoga. It’s such a gift to guide beautiful souls in this practice. In my Friday evening class after several restorative poses and yoga nidra, I could literally feel each student opening like a blossom.

The deepest practice is in allowing ourselves to let go, to open, to drink in the sweetness of peace and let ourselves exist in that peace. Even only for a moment.

Lately I have been stopping to smell the roses and every other flower that seems to be exploding all around me. From the Highline, to city parks, to front stoops, on fences, in pots, or among weeds in a tiny square of dirt around a sidewalk tree – vibrant, colorful, joyful blossoms.

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Muddling peace

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Over the past few weeks I have been profoundly affected by quotes that have come to me that speak so perfectly to what I am going through. Deep reminders . One came to my email, one was in a newsletter, and one was a quote I used in my own writing that I came across as I was editing. They brought me to tears.

It is so hard to stay strong. Each day is a struggle. Even through the tears, it is so comforting to feel some guidance, however difficult that guidance is to actually follow it provides a clearer path.

Swami Satchidananda has always come to me in times of uncertainty. When I returned to New York from India, I was bouncing around between different yoga studios, looking up different teachers and schools of yoga. I was reading books from many different gurus and thinking I wanted to find someone in New York. I sat on the subway one day, having just been turned away from a particular yoga center that didn’t want to honor a free class card a friend had given me and didn’t seem interested in me attending their programs, disappointed and wondering where to turn, when I happened to glance down at the magazine the person sitting next to me was reading. Looking up at me was Swami Satchidananda with a big smile. I laughed at myself. Of course.

A quote by Swami Satchidananda arrived in my email about allowing ourselves to be supported by sangha–a spiritual community. We can’t get through life’s difficulties alone. We shouldn’t even try. Family, friends, and community are there to help, to guide, to support, to be a shoulder to cry on, to offer a smile and comforting voice. Allowing others to give is giving them a gift. Giving is joy. I am so thankful for the help those around me have offered, in every tiny way. Just having someone say they are thinking about me while I navigate stormy waters, helps steer me into a calm harbor.

A man on the sidewalk greeted me as I walked by and said, “It’s nice to see you out today.” And I thought–it’s nice to be out in the world today, it’s nice to be seen, to get outside of the jumbled mess of existence in my head.

A recent newsletter from Integral Yoga reminded me to “clean up my mind”–to stop allowing negative thoughts, blaming, anger to dirty my mind. When I can clean my mind then I will have a clean heart and be at peace.

Editing my book, I read a passage I had written about dealing with hardship:

The life of a yogi is to prepare the self in times of stability to pass through times of disquiet with peace. It’s a preventative care strategy. It’s a long-term plan of dedicated, continuous work. The waves of life move and break unceasingly–whether we tumble under, get pummeled, get swept into unknown regions, or ride them with a smile is up to us. Staying afloat on the surface, not engaging, not fighting against the current, remaining only a witness to the tide is the practice of yoga. Swami Satchidananda says:

If you want to be peaceful always, identify yourself as the ever-peaceful witness within. “I am that eternal witness. I am watching everything that’s happening in the body and mind.” That is the supreme way of maintaining your peace. If you can’t get to the state of identifying yourself as that eternal witness, simply say, “I am not all these things. I’m not the mind, not the ego, not the senses, not the intelligence. I simply watch them. I am the seer, I just see.”

These are some of my recent muddled thoughts as I search for balance and peace.

Finding peace in chaos

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As emotions spiral, tensions rise and fall, and the known becomes the unknown, chaos feeds itself, growing into an overwhelming mass of frenzied heaviness. Everything has the potential to ignite from a spark to a blaze. How do we contain the raging wild fire into a simple, controllable flame? Where do we grasp when everything slips through our fingers?

When there is nothing to hold onto, we can always go inside and hold onto our Self. There we will find the steadiness. Pranayama can be a key to unlock that door to stillness.

When we cannot remove ourselves from a difficult place we can remove our minds, relocating to a clearer space. It starts with focusing on the breath. Once we begin to focus, the breath slows, the body begins to release tension. When we deepen the breath we are signaling to our body and mind that everything is ok. Then the heart follows.

There are so many wonderful pranayama practices, great for cleansing, for stimulating, for stilling the mind. Just practicing one – mindful, slow, steady, deep breathing – is life changing. I made it through 20 hours of natural labor with pranayama (and a lot of determination, courage, and faith). I stepped out of each contraction and into the breath. Steady, slow, deep. Once my son was born, the endless hours of focus and concentration seemed like a blink of an eye, the pain quickly forgotten. But I won’t ever forget the gift of pranayama in getting me through and its powerful and immediate help in all times of difficulty.

Pranayama continually reminds me to slow down, to let go, to have faith that my inner Divine will guide me, that I am not alone, that I am connected – that everything will be ok.

Riding the waves

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Santa Cruz is a beach town, a Northern California college town, a yoga teacher haven. The old hippy vibe never left even though the population has changed over the decades.  Trees are there for the hugging, dogs romp in the surf on their very own beach, drum circles hold the heartbeat, fog blankets the mountains. Strawberries, artichokes, brussel sprouts fan out in neat rows from the highway. Old adobes, ranch houses, and the odd yurt mix it up with modern developments, strip malls, and box stores.

It’s a place of paradox. “Keep Santa Cruz Weird” clashes with Starbucks and American Apparel. SUVs, hybrids, motorcycle gangs, skateboard crews, yuppie stroller squads.

One thing that doesn’t change is the ocean, the waves rolling in and the longing to be on a wave feeling absolutely free. I grew up on that bay and learned a healthy fear of the power of the Pacific, rip tides, undertows, jagged rocks, sudden massive waves, and great white sharks. But finally in my 20s, with a trusted guide who had been surfing Cowell Beach for 50 years, I suited up from head to toe, and paddled out into the deep blue.

I love to swim in the ocean, I have dived into many salty waters (all warmer than this part of the Pacific), and felt that singular kind of isolation looking back at land, fully focused on breath and the movement of the ocean, aware of my body alive and moving in this other body of expanse and power, much stronger than me, much greater than me, relentless in its constant change.

But there was something very different about sitting on a surf board, gently rising and falling, feeling the energy of the ocean beneath me rather than on me. It was incredibly peaceful. I felt a deep stillness and feeling of ease. There was a friendliness out there, away from the world on land, a community of joy.

I tried catching a wave numerous times before I finally felt the exhilarating sensation of being carried. I lost the momentum and the wave. I tried again. And again. And again. Suddenly I was on a wave, one foot planted, one knee grounded into the board and I felt a rush. When I tried to stand, I fell. Eyes stinging from the salt water, I heaved myself up onto the board and paddled back wanting more. Finally I managed to plant both feet, knees deeply bent, arms out, going on feel not technique and the wave moved me. My face was one big goofy grin. I rode that small wave all the way to the beach.

Happiness melted every aching muscle.

I struggled and worked and believed and then I let go and allowed the wave to take me to a place of peace and freedom. The little waves didn’t seem so daunting after that. I would have to work harder to deal with anything bigger. One day I might be able enough to ride any wave I meet.

Yoga doesn’t have to be found in a class or in a book. Nature is ready and willing to show us all we need to know if we just listen and feel and make ourselves fully present in the moment.