Friday, May 27, 2011

What Yoga Means to Me

This is an excerpt of something I wrote as a part of my 500hr. teacher training program.

Yoga for me has become a life style. Yoga is a state of being. Yoga is union; of breath, body, mind, heart and subsequently, intention, thought, words and action.

Yoga is a sign post that points curiously in the direction of that which can only be explained through rudamentary words--our connection to the Universe, our higher Self. Yoga is awareness of this Self. Yoga is knowing that you are never alone. Yoga is mystery, trust and cosmic belly laughs. Yoga re-frames existence on Earth. Yoga untangles the ego, invites space, and facilitates understanding. Yoga is letting go. Yoga is the acceptance of what is. Yoga unfolds. Yoga changes. Beyond the words, the fear, the grasping, the intellect-yoga is all there is.

On my journey this time around I have peered narrowly, poked at, ran and hidden from yoga. Once I even wrapped my legs and arms around the sign post and held on for dear life, convinced that I had found the Answer to all of life's conundrums. I held on so tightly I was not able to see what the sign was pointing to. Until I did.

My practice, life, inquiry and teaching have all changed and evolved as my relationship with that sign post has changed and evolved; becoming something fluid and expansive rather than something based on false certainty, intellectual and physical prowess and a fundamentalist approach to food, sex and clothing (even though those first yoga experiences all served me perfectly in their own way.)

I experience yoga as a practice but I now see that it is not the practice, it is what the practice allows for. I teach yoga as a practice to others, allowing them to be curious about their own journey, their own body-if that should be the place they start. I feel that the best thing that I can do for myself and for students is to continue to arouse a sense of curiosity, to facilitate creating ease and stability in the body, and to lead by example using my experiences (good and bad) via stories and blogging.

In that sense, living this life has become both an inquiry and a practice. What I grip in my body is what I grip in my life. Where there is ease in my body, there is ease in my existence. As within, so without, as above, so below. The living, the inquiry, the practice and the teaching are not separate but connected and organic; on this journey I have also surrendered, wept, and stilled myself in that very union.

At this place on my path I feel propelled forward by something that I cannot explain and as I let go more and more into that flow, amazing things happen and I am able to see more clearly the entanglements that cloud, condemn, judge and suffer. One leads to another, leads to the next, ad infinitum. I remain curious about this as well, and can only imagine where it will go.

There is a definitive line drawn down the last few years of my life; the time before I knew yoga, and now-the place where yoga is everything and nothing all at once. Living and practicing the inquiry has changed my life, my relationships, my family, the way I interact with and experience my world. I remain committed to sharing this with others and I remain committed to looking beyond the sign post with an open heart.


Thursday, May 12, 2011

Aparigraha: What We Possess, Possesses Us

The nature of all things is change. One could even say that the only constant in this life is change. And yet there always seems to be the impetus towards attachment and clinging.

I have had many exhilarating experiences-such as listening to the Dalai Lama speak in person, long hikes into the wilderness, dancing around drum circles, heartfelt conversations with friends and sitting next to a campfire on a starry night. I have savored glasses of deep red wine, floated in the surf on tropical beaches, collected a variety of oddities at thrift stores and experienced a variety of different relationships.

What makes all of these experiences similar is that they ended, shifted, or morphed in some way. The oddities began to take up too much space. Friends moved away. The drums stopped. I moved far away from my favorite hiking trail. The campfire went out. The starry night became covered by clouds. The wine bottle emptied. Relationships ended.

At times I was able to let go and move on to the next moment, the next new experience. Other times I became fixated, hoping, wishing, and longing to repeat the same experience again. And in this holding pattern, I became trapped, holding on to something that had passed, unwittingly closing myself off to the flow of life. I would wager that this is relatively normal for many of us.

Aparigraha, which means non-possessiveness, is a call to come alive in the moment, to move on, to change, to become present to the natural unfolding of our lives by not clinging.

In the "Yamas and Niyamas," Deborah describes Aparigraha this way, "Just like the breath gives us nourishment, so does life in the form of homes, work, relationships, routines that bring us ease, beliefs, stances, and images of ourselves. There is nourishment until we get attached to these things, often unconsciously, and then disturb ourselves with expectations, opinions, criticisms, disappointments, all because we forget to trust life, exhale and let go. Like the breath when it is held too long, the things that nourish us can become toxic." (p.92)

This lovely May morning, I sit trusting the uncertainty of life, experiencing the difference between enjoyment and attachment, exhaling and letting go. Aparigraha is the emobodiment of a beautiful practice in living life fully, free from disappointment and boredom.

"A bird cannot grasp it's perch and fly. Neither can we grasp anything and be free." -Deborah Adele

Monday, May 2, 2011

Another Opportunity For Forgiveness Lost?

This blog was adapted for MPR and published on May 4, 2011.

The killing of Osama bin Laden marks a turning point in a foreign-policy nightmare that has lasted more than a decade. This nightmare has included massive civilian casualties, the deaths of thousands of soldiers, an illegal invasion of one country and the occupation of another. But what gets to me more than anything, as a former New Yorker who witnessed the 9/11 attacks and has traveled to Afghanistan, is the continued display of bravado and hate by my countrymen and women.

Have we learned nothing from 9/11 and its aftermath?

I certainly remember what it was like to wake up in a war zone, to watch helplessly from my roof in Brooklyn as the second plane flew into the World Trade Center, to see the pain and anguish on the faces of the people of New York City, to feel the pain of attending memorial services for firefighters from my neighborhood. I also remember the anguish on the faces of people I met in Afghanistan who had lost family members in U.S. airstrikes. I remember the legless children orphaned by war, pulling themselves around the streets of Kabul with flip-flops taped to their knees. I remember the bombed out buildings of Afghanistan just as I remember watching the first tower of the World Trade Center crumble. The smell of both places burning is seared into my psyche with the dust.

As I watch U.S. citizens celebrate the death of Osama bin Laden with fist pumps and flag waving, I wonder how these same citizens felt when images of some Middle Eastern people celebrating 9/11 flashed across our television screens days after the attacks. I wonder why we are unable to make the correlation that when we celebrate killing, we are no different from those we abhor for doing the same.

It stupefies me when God is dragged into the process as a justifying afterthought. Both sides of the conflict have done this. Both are guilty of fundamentalism without thought or compassion. The true teachings of Islam and of Christ are peaceful. When Christ hung dying on the cross he did not call for retaliation. He did not call for revenge. He did not become hateful. He said, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do."

Gandhi said, "An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind," and that statement still rings true today. How many deaths will it take? It has already taken hundreds of thousands on the way to finding and killing one man — an act that his supporters say martyred him, thereby infusing his ideology with more strength. Bin Laden may be dead, but his way of viewing the Western world lives on in others who grow more and more disillusioned with the way we handle ourselves.

As long as we remain blind to our common humanity and hate one another, the cycle of violence will continue. As long as we deny our responsibility as a global superpower and continue to perpetuate violence, violence is what will come back to us.

When will it stop? What will it take for us to find forgiveness in our hearts and say to each other that enough is enough?