Today, while I was reading the latest issue of Yoga Journal, I started thinking about a phrase that appears on the magazine cover: “Tap Into Yoga’s Power.” This phrase took me back to 1995, the year I started practicing yoga. Memories of my first yoga teacher, Gloria teaching me how to breathe mindfully through each yoga asana especially child’s pose, pigeon, downward facing dog, and forward fold, made me smile. Other memories flooded my mind and reminded me of how powerful yoga has been in helping me manage anger, change, conflict, death, disappointment, fear, grief, sadness, stress, and writer’s block over the past 20 years.
20 years of yoga in my life … can you believe it? It went so fast and yet made a powerful difference in my life. This year, I plan to use this blog to share reflections about my 20 year yoga journey and where it is taking me in 2014 …. Bhakti Yoga, Integral Yoga, Kundalini Yoga, Yin Yoga, writing yoga poetry about turning 50 and a new novel featuring a cast of yoga students and teachers who live, love, and practice yoga in DC, and making yoga art. So get ready for some OM fun!
How is yoga guiding, inspiring, and supporting you in 2014?
The Winter Solstice is the first day of winter which happens when the sun reaches its most southerly declination of -23.5 degrees or the North Pole is tilted 23.5 degrees away from the sun. It is the shortest day of the year. It is also one of my favorite times a year because it reminds me to SLOW DOWN for rest and relaxation, and TURN INWARD for reflection with more yoga, meditation, mantra chanting, journaling, walks in nature, collage making, and reading.
In preparation for this year’s Winter Solstice, I planned a weekend of yoga and meditation that started with a wonderful yin yoga and yoga nidra workshop taught by my yoga teacher, Danielle Polen at Tranquil Space on December 20. Danielle’s class was exactly what I needed to open my heart to the Winter Solstice season.
On Saturday afternoon, I attended the monthly Buddhist meditation circle for my People of Color Sangha. It felt really good to sit for 30 minutes in silence with my Buddhist sisters and brothers. After the sit, we listened to a dharma talk on the emotions that occur during the holiday season given by our meditation teacher, La Sarmiento. We also shared our thoughts with each other in a mindful discussion.
On Sunday morning, I listened to a Winter Solstice sermon on stillness given by Reverend Rob Hardies at my church, All Souls Unitarian. Rob’s sermon reminded me how important it is to take time out to be quiet. Later that day, I treated myself to a restorative yoga class at Embrace Yoga Studio.
Last week, I was shopping in Whole Foods and discovered a fabulous new yoga resource, Mantra Magazine. Mantra Magazine is a holistic publication that meets so many of my yoga heart and soul needs. The cover story featured an interview with yoga activist and teacher, Seane Corn that revealed her thoughts about aging, body image, and celebration. I was moved by the following comments she made: “I love representing what a healthy 47-year-old looks like and I don’t want to be portrayed like I’m still 25. I earned this age and am grateful to still be in this body, and would like to role model aging in an empowered and unapologetic way.” Her comments reminded me to appreciate my 48 year old body, mind, spirit, and heart, especially when I am on my yoga mat at home or in class and find myself not being able to hold a pose for a long period of time. They also reminded me to be grateful for the body I do have and how it supports me in my yoga practice and life.
Special thanks to Mantra Magazine for creating a wonderful publication.
On Saturday, I attended my yoga teacher, Danielle Polen’s yin/yang yoga class at Tranquil Space yoga studio. During the yoga class, Danielle encouraged me and my fellow classmates to set an intention for the holiday season. My holiday intention revealed itself as a six-word memoir during a child’s pose: surrender – joy – gratitude – patience – love – abundance. By the end of class, my six-word memoir intention had become my 2014 life intention.
After class, I shared my intention with my yoga digital sister, Julia Coney (@juliaconey on Twitter). I also thanked her for referring me to The Way of the Happy Woman by Sara Avant Stover. This year, Stover’s book helped me deepen my commitment to self care and my home yoga practice.
While I was at Tranquil Space, I had a chance to learn more about my fellow Fabulous Women Business Owner DC member June’s new skincare line, lilikoi living living. It is lovely and makes for a wonderful holiday gift.
As I was walking home from Tranquil Space, I realized my best yoga moments in 2013 occurred while I was practicing yin yoga at home and with my Tranquil Space community in Danielle’s classes. What a yoga blessing!
What are your 2013 best yoga moments?
PS: If you are in DC and looking for yoga-inspired holiday gifts, stop by Tranquil Space.
December is my birthday month. It offers me a chance to reflect and give thanks for the blessings and lessons I have learned during the past year. Yoga is one of my greatest blessings.
December also offers me a chance to prepare for yoga in winter. This year, I am reading the winter yoga sections of Sara Avant Stover’s The Way of the Happy Woman to create my home practice.
This week, my morning and evening yoga practices are filled with some of the new poses I have discovered in Stover’s book. My iPad is set to Pandora.com’s Wah! Station. The music is OM groovy OM! It slows me down and allows me to feel the beauty of my spirit, heart, body and mind as I move in and out of each pose. It reminds me to be kind and gentle with myself. What a great way to bring yoga into my world during the holiday season!
What’s happening in your yoga world this holiday season?
The highlight of my practice is being kind and gentle with myself and taking my practice off of the mat and into my daily life (doing Tadasana at work while I am seated or breathing deeply as a mindfulness reminder when I am doing email).
Yoga has given me an arsenal of tools that help me handle stress better. Here are some of my stress relief tools.
1) Taking a lot of time to center myself with pranayama exercises (three-part breath, alternate nostril breathing, and humming).
2) Cleansing my chakras with sound vibration through mantra chanting as I give myself reiki healing touch.
3) Yin poses that help me massage my connective tissue.
4) Learning sacred mantras (Gayatri Mantra) to close my practice and chanting a sea of OMs.
5) Saying Namaste and bowing at the end of my practice.
Today, I am remembering the beauty and power of Swamini Turiyasangitananda a/k/a Alice Coltrane and her music. In 2006, I had a chance to see Alice perform live at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, New Jersey. That evening was and remains a high point in my life. Words cannot begin to describe the beauty of what I witnessed. You had to be there.
Right now I am listening to her Astral Meditations CD. Track 10 entitled “Peace On Earth” is playing. It is a composition that was originally written and recorded by Alice’s beloved, John Coltrane in 1966. See the album — John Coltrane: Infinity.
There is a point in the composition where Alice’s divine talent as a harpist is prominently featured. My ears tingle as they hear her gracefully weave a golden thread through the entire composition. It connects all of the instruments and musicians as one. Together, they create a musical quilt of peace for humanity to enjoy. Their creative collaboration also reminds me that we can accept and honor humanity’s beautiful quilt of cultural diversity when we choose to practice peace.
The wonderful thing about peace is that it gives birth to ahimsa, a Sanskrit word that means nonviolence. In yoga, ahimsa represents the first of five yamas (satya – truthfulness, asteya – non stealing, brahmacharya – relating to another with unconditional love and integrity, and aparigraha – non-clinging/grasping). Yamas are ethical guidelines or levels of awareness that one aspires to achieve. They apply to our actions, words, and thoughts.
Through the principle of ahimsa, we are called to refrain from causing pain or harm to any living being through our thoughts, words, and actions. When we choose our thoughts, words, and actions carefully so that they do not harm others, we are creating peace. When we are peaceful and nonviolent, we are at ease. We are more relaxed.
Instead of becoming angry at ourselves and others because of the differences we share, we can use that ease to create understanding and tolerance. With understanding and tolerance, we create sacred space for the acceptance and appreciation of our cultural and individual differences. As we come to accept and appreciate the beauty of what makes us different, we can also accept and appreciate the love that connects us as one.
Every culture in the world appreciates and understands laughter. It is part of the universal human vocabulary. It also helps us stay healthy by enriching the blood with ample supplies of oxygen. In addition, laughter helps to remove the negative effects of stress and boosts our immune systems. Other benefits of laughter include:
• controlling high blood pressure and heart disease
• increasing stamina through increased oxygen supply
• alleviating pain and giving a sense of well being by releasing endorphins
• serving as an effective antidote for depression, anxiety and psychosomatic disorders (laughter boosts the production of serotonin, a natural anti-depressant)
• massaging the digestive tract and enhancing blood supply to the liver, spleen, pancreas, kidneys and adrenal glands
• ensuring a good night sleep and reducing snoring because laughter is very good for the muscles of the soft palate and throat
Dr. Madan Kataria, founder of Laughter Yoga, discovered that anyone can laugh for fifteen to twenty minutes without depending upon a sense of humor or comedy. As a result, he designed a blend of playful, empowering laughter, gentle breathing, stretching, rhythmic clapping and chanting exercises to help release tension. Through his work, Dr. Kararia discovered that laughter yoga is a great way to distance yourself from anger, stress, fear, limitations, and anxiety.
Today’s blog celebrates the power of Karma Yoga, the practice of serving others. After I completed my yoga teacher training at Flow Yoga Center in 2006, I created a Karma Yoga project that allowed me to teach a free monthly yoga class to my local community members in Malcolm X – Meridian Hill Park in Washington, D.C.
In 2007, I joined Meetup.com to expand my Karma Yoga project’s audience and renamed it the Kind and Gentle C-OM-MUNITY Yoga Meetup Group. This year, I am celebrating my 8th year of teaching community yoga classes. If you are in the DC area on October 27, join me for the fifth annual Frederica Leeke and Dorothy Gartin Breast Cancer Awareness Yoga Class from 9:00 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. Click here for more details.
What type of Karma Yoga projects are you involved in?
September marks the annual celebration of National Yoga Month. It’s a great time to recommit to your yoga practice.
What are you planning to do?
I am going to use the month to practice yoga outside more and take more yoga classes at my gym, Mint (like the Sunday evening flow yoga class I took earlier this year). I am also going to schedule some yoga dates with a few friends at local yoga studios.