Sunday, October 3, 2010


I've been thinking about attention.   Shining the light of my awareness strongly helps me discern the "what's going on here?" in my practice.   But somewhere recently I heard someone use the word diffused in describing the attention in a yoga posture.  I was intrigued.   The image in my head was of light diffused through green leaves...dappled, cool, soft.  I've been using this diffused attention more often.  I like the feeling of shifting between the two.  I travel the body bit by bit, making little adjustments here and there.  I feel my way into my body as it wants to respond to this shape today.  And then I allow my attention to diffuse through the whole body all at once.  It brings ease to the shape but also to my mind.

Sunday, August 29, 2010


I recently stumbled across "Rapt - Attention and the Focused Life" by Winifred Gallagher.  She writes of a universe of ways that paying attention (or not) create the life we live.  The book contains plenty of neuroscience for the geeks among us, but it's an easy read for the less geeky.  Here is how the book ends...

Attending to pleasure is a reward in itself, but savoring also boosts your quotient of positive emotion, which in turn expands your focus and may confer health benefits, such as improved resilience and immune function.  During an illness, says Bryant (Fred Bryant, psychologist at Loyola University in Chicago), 'you should savor not just for the sheer joy of it, but also to help yourself recover.'  Then too, he says, 'just because something bad is happening doesn't mean lots of good things aren't also.  They're two very different phenomena.  The joy and meaning you find in life and the current stressor -- an illness, a troubled relative, a career setback -- are separate concerns, and you can experience both.'
The best strategy for savoring is learning to pay rapt attention to carefully chosen top-down targets.  To practice this skill, Bryant suggests taking a 'daily vacation': spending twenty to thirty minutes focusing on something you enjoy or suspect you might but have never done.  Then, at the end of the day, you revisit and relish that pleasurable interlude and plan the next sojourn.  After seven days, he says, 'most people say,  "What a great week! I wish I could do that all of the time!" Well why not?'

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Art of Choosing

I'm at the gym,  peddling my way to nowhere on the stationary bike, listening to a TED talk by Sheena Iyengar (not THAT Iyengar) on the art of choosing.  I've included it below.  It gave me this whole new perspective on how people choose which yoga class to take.  I think perhaps we sometimes only find the right class for us by sheer luck.

For instance, she mentions that in one study she put out seven different kinds of soda for the participants to choose.  She was surprised when one person said, that's not a choice, it's all one thing...soda.  So I realize, to someone completely new to yoga, a list different yoga classes with different names is one  It becomes really important to be clear then what a person new to practice wants (even though that may change over time) and needs from yoga at present.

There were also cultural differences related to how one approaches choosing.  Dropping the cultural significance and simplifying, I will say that there are the people who want to figure it out for themselves and people who are more comfortable with  choice assisted by a respected source.  I started thinking about how some yoga systems have structure and lots of adjustments. (A friend once said he would try yoga if he could go to a class where  they would teach him to do it right.)  Other styles of teaching that encourage an exploration that only begins with form but is ultimately INformed by form.  The yoga posture feels right.

It seems to me that not only do we need to help people understand the styles of yoga available but also the styles of teaching available.  Do you want tough love? Nurturing?  Drill sergeant or goddess of mercy? We need to offer  up the explanation of choices in a way that gives clarity rather than judgement...and perhaps a little finesse.

Give the talk a listen.  Even if you don't find yourself relating it to choosing a yoga practice, it's a really interesting look at how we choose.  Sometimes it's art!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Today, in savasana, my mind was whirling away about a variety of things.  Not worrying, not fretting, just thinking.  I was thinking about yoga and how it really takes discipline and patience.  That's the tough love bit I haven't been sharing much lately.  There's the nice relaxing "I-sleep-better-on-the-days-I-do-yoga" experience of yoga.  There's a lot to be said for that kind of experience.  But I suspect there's a little bit of cotton candy quality to it.  It seems substantial but melts into nothing fairly quickly.

I was thinking about how there's "change" and then there's "transformation".  Change happens no matter what.  There's no stopping it.  Transformation takes discipline, mindfulness, and patience.

The first of the yoga sutras of Patanjali is sometimes translated as "And now the teaching of yoga begins", as if that occurrence happens once and then we are on the path.  I've come to realize that that moment where the teaching of yoga begins happens now...and now...and now.  And so do the opportunities to miss the moment.  Fortunately the  moment comes around again.  It's never too late.

While this was all swirling around in my head, I woke up to the fact that my body had found a place of profound relaxation.  So profound it sent a ripple of pleasure through me to notice it finally.  Mostly that doesn't happen.  When the mind is busy the body sort of picks up on it as well.  But today my body took me where I needed to go and then waited for me to notice.

And now the teaching of yoga begins.

Lu was always really good at Savasana

Saturday, July 24, 2010

A work in progress

This week I've been having some lively conversations in person, on Facebook and in emails about yoga.  I got my knickers in a twist, as they say, after reading a couple of articles in the paper that I'm going to say were a bit shallow and...well okay...I got annoyed.  I got defensive.  Yoga really doesn't need to be defended.  My practice is what it is.  It's a living event, a work in progress...and so am I. (Sometimes it's art!)

Usually I say yoga and if they are two different things. But for me, they are one and the same thing.  Sometimes I'm moving and sometimes I'm not.  So when I practice yoga, everything is grist for the mill.  Even getting grumpy over someone else's comments about yoga is folded into practice.  This week, perhaps I'll practice renunciation.  I'm going to renounce worrying about what people in the popular press say about yoga.  Or maybe I'll just see my annoyance and defensiveness as some kind of love instead of a character flaw.  Who knows what I'll find.  That's why I love to practice yoga.  The living event unfolds in unexpected and sometimes delightful ways.

Here's a piece from Paths to God, Living the Bhagavad Gita by Ram Dass.  He talks about playing with renouncing desires, but renouncing pet peeves seems like it will be just as fruitful.

"If you want to play a little bit with a renunciation practice, pick some desire that you encounter every day. You decide which one: the desire to eat something or other, the desire for a cigarette, whatever it is you want to play with. Pick something that you usually give in to every day — like, let's say, a cup of coffee in the morning — and for one day, don't do it. Then the next day, do it much more than you usually would — have two cups of coffee. Start to study your reactions. Notice the difference in your feelings toward the desire on the first day and on the second day.

"Maybe another time you'll want to take two desires to work with: one day don't satisfy one and doubly satisfy the other, and then flip them around. Try to be very attentive to what's going through your mind about it. If you're keeping a journal, write about it in your journal. Start to relate to your desires as something you can scrutinize rather than as things that totally suck you in all the time, things that consume you. Get into a friendly relationship with your desires. Play with them, instead of being driven by them all the time. Desires get to be fun, really, once we're observing them instead of mechanically reacting to them.
"The whole game of renunciation and purification is an experiment — an experiment in how quickly we can extricate ourselves from being attached to our desire systems. Notice that it isn't a question of getting rid of desires — that's a misunderstanding. Trust me, the desires will stay around! We're just loosening their hold on us, getting clear enough of them so we can see them in some sort of context.”

And ps...check out this blog post from the Dalai Grandma on the Basis of Practice.

Saturday, July 10, 2010


"As Sri Pattabhi Jois, founder of Ashtanga yoga, said: 'Yoga is 99% practice and 1% theory.'

Doctors should really be prescribing practice to patients: practice healthy eating habits, practice exercise, practice good relationships, practice discipline, practice creativity, practice confidence, practice learning, practice working hard.  Because everything takes practice.  Health, contentment, love, good relationships, success...these don't come easily to anyone."

This is from the blog Prescribing Yoga by Christina Palmer.  It was chosen for recognition by one of my new favorite online magazines...The Magazine of Yoga...this morning.  It's so nice to be reminded that everyone needs to practice.  Whatever appears easy and effortless is always the result of practice.  We're all in this life together, practicing.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Falling in love

"Yoga is the Cultivation of Conscious Presence. 
Conscious presence begins as a wrestling match with the mind and ends as a love affair with the present moment."
 - Bhagavad Gita 2.50

Joseph LaPage (Integrative Yoga Therapy) wrote this recently in a commentary on
the Bhagavad Gita.   The entire piece is longer and lovely but these lines have stayed with me.

It isn't that the wrestling match with the mind is required of us or necessary but we do it anyway.  Maybe it's just what we do before we fall in love.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Eat your greens!

Spring time is the perfect time to eat more greens.  Here's a really delicious and easy to make salad using Lacinato (aka Dino) Kale.  I learned this technique from Ed Brown during his visit to Columbus last year. 

Finely chop the kale (stems and all) and put in a bowl (you'll need room to manuever so make it a big big bowl).  You'll be tasting as you go.  Toss in some salt (not too can add more as you taste) and start squeezing the kale with your hands.  The salt will help the bring out the moisture from the leaves as they soften and turn a lovely emerald green.  Taste.  From here anything goes.  Just add and squeeze and taste until it's just right for you. 

Things you could add:
dried pepper or a little cayenne

A friend of Ed's calls this squeezing technique "hand frying".  Once you're done with that part and the taste is to your satisfaction you can stir in other stuff like:

sunflower seeds
dried fruit
fresh fruit

I love this salad so much I'll squeeze up a bunch for lunch!

ps:  you can use regular kale too but you'll have to remove the stems before finely chopping the leaves.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Under the weather

I woke up this morning feeling under the weather.  Grey skies, felt heavy.  I was feeling frustration, and something else, sadness maybe? I felt a kind of bewilderment leftover from yesterday.  Nothing stays the same. Impermanence.

But then what to do on my yoga mat this morning?  I just stepped into my practice.  Nothing I've been doing felt appealing or appropriate.  I've been feeling my way into lovely backbending, upper body opening postures.  Today...I didn't even want to stand up.  All I wanted was to fold forward and to have something catch me.  So I dragged my meditation cushion over so my forhead could rest against its softness.  It's not one of those sort of firm cushions.  It's filled with buckwheat hulls that get more mushy and pliable over time.  I  did forward bends, soft, easy forward bends.
I soothed and supported.  It was short.  It was not effortful in anyway.  I was not fixing.  I just gave in to what was arising in my attention.  Sometimes I say in class, that doing a mild supported backbend can be nice if you're feeling blue.  True.  But sometimes it's nice to just cradle and care for yourself, not wallowing, just being with things.  Letting them clarify if they want to...or not.

Then I just sat a few minutes with some pranayama and meditation with the sound of the rain...and Samputa mudra  said to remind us of the treasures we have within.  And for today...that was enough.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Small things

I was reading Verlyn Klinkenborg's piece "Sometimes the Smallest Things" in the New York Times this morning.  I've been reminded several times lately how important it is to keep looking, keep seeing, keep being curious, keep questioning.  A little quote I was sent recently illustrated this by pointing out that it was only about 100 years ago that someone thought up having left and right shoes. What a relief that must have been to a lot of people.

Yoga refers to samskara, a Sanskrit word meaning impression left by a previous thought or action; latent tendency.  These impressions, repeated become so deep that they become habit, which means we no longer see these actions as choices.  If we don't see that there is choice, there is no choice. 

So dance with life fully....mindfully.  Maybe we'll discover we don't have two left feet!

Theorists and experimentalists

More than 20 years ago, I worked as an administrative assistant at the Institute of Theoretical Physics at UC Santa Barbara.  I loved working there.  It was the first job in my working life where I was actually excited to go to work each day (for accuracy, I should inject "most of the time").  I loved being around people who were curious and intelligent and coming up with new ideas about the way things are in the world.  I didn't come into contact much with the experimentalists. They were the ones who took the theory and brought it into application. 

With that background I realize all these years later that, as a yoga teacher, I am more of the experimentalist variety.  I still love those theorists, now yogis instead of physicists.  But my practice, my art, is to pick up those innovations and play with them, study them, and let them evolve until they apply to my life, my practice, my teaching.  What a wonderful and exhilarating partnership.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Pain relief

I'm reading "Yoga for Pain Relief" by Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D.  Kelly teaches yoga, meditation and psychology at Stanford University.  I first came in contact with her through Erich Schiffmann's discussion board years ago.  She's written an informative and helpful book for people dealing with chronic pain.  She begins with a chapter on the science behind chronic pain, which I found to be enlightening.  Then she introduces the reader to yoga and how it can help to "calm your mind and heal your chronic pain".

Kelly writes, "While neuroscience, psychology, and medicine are getting better at explaining why and how pain persists, they do not yet have satisfying solutions.  Pain medications fail over the long term more often than not.  Pain management programs often focus on coping with pain rather than transforming the pain experience."

"That is where yoga comes in.  The yoga tradition has evolved as a system to end unnecessary suffering.  This promise was described as far back as two thousand years ago in the Yoga Sutras, one of the first guides to the purpose and practice of yoga."

"Yoga philosophy offers hope for freedom from suffering, and its practices provide the tools for healing."

The book includes breath awareness practices, gentle yoga, meditation, all geared to those who suffer chronic pain.  I've already recommended it to several students who live with pain on a daily basis.  It's a gem.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Lost in the details?

I'm currently reading (among other things) Buddha's Brain - the practical neuroscience of happiness, love and wisdom by Rick Hanson PhD. with Richard Mendius, M.D.  It's geeky enough about the neuroscience without being sleep inducing.  Just my speed.   It has a lot of meditation practices to try out in the process of understanding the points being made about the brain. One piece really caught me and I've been using it in my own practice and also exploring it as a teaching tool in my yoga classes.

From the book:
"The methods here focus on stilling the clamor of verbal thought - that endlessly nattering voice in the back of the head.
Be Aware of the Body as a Whole
Some parts of the brain are linked  by reciprocal inhibition: when one part activates, it suppresses another one.  To some extent, the left and right hemispheres have this relationship; thus, when you stimulate the right hemisphere by engaging the activities it specializes in, the verbal centers of the left hemisphere are effectively shushed.
The right visual-spatial hemisphere has the greater responsibility for representing the state of your body, so awareness of the body can help supress left-brain verbal chatter.  Right hemisphere activation increases further when you sense the body as a whole, which draws upon the the global, gestalt processing of that hemisphere.
To practice awareness of the whole body, start with the breath as a whole;  rather than allow attention to move as it normally does, from sensation to sensation, try to experience your breath as a single, unified gestalt of sensations in your belly, chest, throat, and nose.  It's normal for this unified gestalt sensing to crumble after a second or two; when it does, just try to recreate it.  Then expand  awareness to include the body as a whole, sensed as a single perception, as one whole thing.  This sense of the body as a whole will also tend to crumble quickly, especially in the beginning; when it does, simply restore it again, if only for a few seconds....
Besides its benefits for quieting the verbal mind, whole body awareness supports singleness of mind.  This is a meditative state in which all aspectes of experience come together as a whole and attention is very steady."

What I've been practicing with is finding this whole body awareness, not only as a 'formal' meditation technique, but adding it to asana work.   The anatomical details for a yoga posture are important to be sure.  And there's a certain quality of attention and concentration involved. But to take some time in the posture to go global allows in a different understanding of the physical practice of yoga and yokes it to the meditative side.  It is very easy to get lost in the details, endlessly fussing and fixing.  So I do the details and then let them go for a bit and rest in the whole.  As Dr. Hanson says, the attention crumbles, but you can rebuild it and rebuild it.  The experience of the whole of the posture contains, I think, the essence of the practice...not the details.  I think the details are there to find a safe structure on which to hang our awareness. That's my theory.  I'm testing it out.

The photo reference, if you didn't catch it, is are you seeing the forest or the trees? (No value judgment implied).

Monday, January 18, 2010

Like right now

I've read this poem before but it showed up the other day in an email from Ed Brown. I read it in class this morning and a couple of people asked for it...

By William Stafford, The Way it Is: Selected Poems, 1998.

It could happen any time, tornado,
earthquake, Armageddon. It could happen.
Or sunshine, love, salvation.
It could, you know. That's why we wake
and look out -- no guarantees
in this life.

But some bonuses, like morning,
like right now, like noon,
like evening.
Here's a link to Charity Navigator for info on what a variety of charities are doing in Haiti.

Monday, January 4, 2010


In case you're interested, I've added a few books to my random reading list on my website.
If you've got any to share back...please do!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

A State of Union

"Yoga is a state of being in which all apparent opposites, distinctions, and states are reconciled. Yoga means "union," not only union of the parts with each other, but also union with the whole. From this state of union we live without fragmentation or inner conflict. We are able to embrace our whole being from the surface to the depths, encompassing both our transient limitations and our perennial limitlessness. We express through our individuality the wholeness of which we are a fleeting expression. We honor and live from, by, and within our true nature. This is the key to a life of peace and contentment.

Hatha yoga affects the mind as much as the body. It improves concentration, increases alertness, precipitates perceptual and rational clarity, cultivates calmness, develops equanimity, instills confidence, and nourishes contentment. These benefits all depend on the presence of mind during practice.

But hatha yoga does deeper than the mind, penetrating to the core of our being. It is a soul-food of unparalleled value. If approached openly, without ambition and pride, specific objectives, predetermined ideals, or wishful thinking, it will foster profound self-knowledge. It will also inspire deep self-acceptance, and provide continuous self-validation and self-empowerment. In short: self-love -- a love that spills out into a genuine compassion for and interest in all beings. This compassion expresses itself in a natural and spontaneous generosity, and an easy, sympathetic humor.

More fertile soil for the flowering of happiness could hardly be found." -- Godfrey Devereux.

photo of Erich Schiffmann by Barbra Brady