Wednesday, August 27, 2014

All the Hemispheres

All the Hemispheres
By #Hafiz

Leave the familiar for a while.
Let your senses and bodies stretch out

Like a welcomed season
Onto the meadows and shores and hills.

Open up to the Roof.
Make a new water-mark on your excitement
And love.

Like a blooming night flower,
Bestow your vital fragrance of happiness
And giving
Upon our intimate assembly.

Change rooms in your mind for a day.

All the hemispheres in existence
Lie beside an equator
In your heart.

Greet Yourself
In your thousand other forms
As you mount the hidden tide and travel
Back home.

All the hemispheres in heaven
Are sitting around a fire

While stitching themselves together
Into the Great Circle inside of You.

I often berate myself for being “scattered” or ungrounded. I frequently start a project, then read or hear something else that interests me and immediately absorb myself in a new task or endeavor.  I have a wide range of interests in both my personal and professional life, and I find myself drawn in different directions frequently, and just as often I beat myself up about it.  This aspect of my personality has led me to become more of a jack of many trades rather than a master of any one.  I am often envious of people who commit themselves unequivocally to one career or religion or even hobby and have really immersed themselves wholeheartedly in it.  Their lives seem simpler to me and I think there is a beautiful ease that comes with following a specific path with dedication and focus.  But that is not my life!

Recently I was reading Danny Arguetty’s fabulous book Nourishing the Teacher where he talks about doing the same thing, and points out that this “ungrounded-ness” actually works in his favor.  When I read his thoughts about this I realized that it works for me as well.  All of my interests and abilities, when combined, have the ability to create something unique, creative and interesting when I allow them to do that.  So the time I take beating myself up about getting “distracted”, and trying to force my awareness back to something that isn’t serving me right now detracts from who I have to potential to be if I just let all these facets of my life coalesce with less resistance.  It’s like 

“Greet(ing) Yourself
In your thousand other forms

As you mount the hidden tide and travel
Back home.”

Yoga means union, but another translation is “integration”.  In our lives, when we can bring together all the pieces (hemispheres!) of ourselves with acceptance and grace we live a more authentic life.  When we foster integration on our mat of the physical with the spiritual, our  individual spirit with universal spirit, or even body part with body part we create a whole more beautiful and brilliant than simply the sum of its parts.  And when we can do that on our mats, when we move out into the rest of our lives we can integrate more seamlessly all the “hemispheres” of our existence, whether it be diverse interests, or career and family, or light and dark forces forever omnipresent, or any other seemingly opposing force.  We become more authentically who we are meant to be and our lives flow more easily.

I often think of the universe as a giant tapestry, each of us representing a unique and necessary thread.  And anyone who sews, or has even mended a loose button (which is about the extent of my sewing skills), knows that most thread is made up of smaller threads woven together.  When we live more authentically we weave our own thread tighter so its color becomes more brilliant and adds more to the universal tapestry.  Or another way to say it is:

“All the hemispheres in heaven
Are sitting around a fire

While stitching themselves together
Into the Great Circle inside of You.”

Off the mat:
What are the opposing forces working in your life right now?  In what ways are you resisting them?  In what ways can one of those forces inform the other to create a stronger, more vibrant whole?

On the mat:
On a physical level, healthy integration is one of the ultimate goals of our practice.  I was thinking about those charm necklaces that were popular when I was younger: a circle reading “Best Friends” was cut in half, creating a charm for each friend to wear.   The halves made up a pretty charm on their own, but only really made sense when they were put together and the words were completed.  (Sweet side note – when I graduated high school my dad had a giant one made for my whole family, cut into 6 pieces and each of us has a charm to wear – so our charms made up an even bigger more beautiful whole!)  But I digress – the point is, our bodies work in the same way – every part serves a function, whether it be life-sustaining or simply adding beauty to the world.   On their own they are unique and necessary, yet integrated together they form the distinctive and irreplaceable you.  So in my classes this week we worked on the physical principle of “hugging the midline”, drawing all the “hemispheres” of the body into integration with acceptance and grace, and in the process, creating stronger, more cohesive poses and bodies.

For the Anusara junkies:
Open to Grace:
Breathe in and fill up with all the hemispheres of yourself.
Let your inner body be bright and full with the myriad aspects of all of your being.

Muscular Energy:
Hug the midline and feel your “thousand forms stitching themselves together as you”.
Hug all the parts of your body to the midline to feel all the parts of your being integrate themselves into a beautiful, cohesive whole.
Pull all the hemispheres of your being to the equator of your heart.
Draw to the midline to ”stitch together the great circle inside of you”.

Inner Spiral:
Widen your inner thighs to make space for all the rich characteristics of your life.
Widen sit bones back and apart like a blooming night flower.

Outer Spiral:
Sink your tailbone into your “thousand other forms” and stitch them together inside your low belly.

Organic Energy:
Shine in your pose like a “blooming night flower, bestowing your vital fragrance of happiness and giving.”

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Cosmic Bunny Ears

I just came back from week of teaching and studying with one of my beloved teachers and I am always so grateful to have the opportunity to study with those who have become masters in their chosen path.  More than what they say, I find that when I am with spiritual teachers, whether it be yoga or other paths, what I am most inspired by and what I learn the most from is simply watching them navigate the world.  There is a level of attunement that I aspire to have, and from many conversations and interactions with my teachers, I know that this attunement comes from being open and receptive, backed up by years of dedicated study and practice, practice, practice.

Years ago I remember taking a class where the teacher compared yoga practice to television.  Remember those “bunny ear” antennae?  Someone would have to stand up and adjust as the people watching directed them – you had to know just the right way to turn them, just the right amount of tin foil to put around the end to get the best reception.  Sometimes you had to just stand and hold them in the right place to get any picture at all.  I remember standing in my grandmother’s living room in Brooklyn arguing with my sisters about who would have to hold them so we could watch the Smurfs.  My teacher pointed out that the broadcast didn’t start simply because we figured out how to position the antennae – the broadcast was out there all along, we just needed to figure out how to allow it to come through. 
Yoga practice helps us tune our mental, emotional, physical and spiritual antennae so we are in the optimal place to receive the broadcast.  This is why practicing with good alignment is key - when our bodies are aligned, the channels of receptivity and transmit become more open and the pathways clearer.  Bhakti Sutra #53 says: “It reveals itself wherever there is an able vessel.”  The “it” is love, knowledge, joy, truth – what is infinitely being sent out by the universe to us at all times.  And when we attune all our awareness to this “broadcast”, we become the able vessel and we reveal it.

It is also important to align the inner, energetic body with the outer physical form.  In our energetic body we have a main energy channel called the sushumna nadi that runs down the length of the torso, beginning at the sahasrara chakra at the crown of the head, passing through all the chakras below it, and ending at muladhara or root chakra at the pelvic floor. During times when I feel really “tuned in”, I feel as if there is a direct and open channel between me and my source.  It feels to me as if the sahasrara chakra is wide open and that knowledge, wisdom and love can just pour down into me.  During times when I am not feeling as connected, one of my practices is to awaken this chakra through poses like sirsasana (headstand), and other poses, including restoratives, in which we rest the head on the floor or a block (like Prasarita Padottanasana).  I think it’s interesting to note that babies are always innately in touch with the divine, having spent less time in apparent “separation” from their source as we adults have.  On a spiritual level, this is why the fontanel at the crown of the head is open at birth and stays open for up to a year and a half afterwards.  It is one of the reasons babies are so innately loving and trusting and wise. a physical level, when we align our spine we “attune” our whole body, as the spine is the seat of the nervous system.  When we work in each pose to keep the natural curves of the spine the whole body moves towards a state of homeostasis. And when we practice poses where we cannot keep the curves (like deep forward or back bends), if we start those poses from the neutral position and work with lengthening before curving, we bring greater flexibility to the spine and the nervous system.


How can you better attune your antennae to pick up the cosmic broadcast?  What thoughts or ideas need to be let go of to be a more open channel for divine grace to flow into?  Through yoga or whatever other practices enable you to, shape yourself into the “able vessel”.

Off the Mat:
One of the easiest ways to keep the channel for grace open is to keep a sense of wonder about the world.  As you go through your day, be aware of nature’s beauty, the kindness of people around you, guidance that comes in obvious and subtle ways. 

On the Mat:
Practice poses that awaken the sahasrara or crown chakra.  The image of the sahasrara chakra is a thousand-petaled lotus, and as you practice you might hold the vision of this energy center becoming more and more open as each petal unfolds itself, until at the end of practice when we lay down in savasana for deep relaxation we are able to surrender completely, to move out of the thinking, processing, doing mind, and become an open channel for grace to flow down into. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Svadhyaya: The Yoga of Compassionate Self-Awareness

So I pooped out on the blog last week, but I wanted you to know I had a good reason.  I have spent the better part of the last 2 weeks completing my Anusara Certification Exam (yes, I am already a several-times certified teacher, and have been "Anusara-Inspired" for the last 8 years, but this is the FULL certification).  It took me about 30 hours to complete and in the end was 72 pages of simple, black and white answers to questions about anatomy, translations of Sanskrit words, and explaining alignment principles, as well as many long, interpretive answers to questions about yoga and Tantra philosophy, application of yoga therapeutics, and my own thoughts and ideas about all aspects of yoga practice, as well as other topics.

Although it was very intense and intensive, it was an amazing process - really, a culmination of the last 10 years of my life in many regards, and it was energizing and exhilarating!  I found that I was full of energy all week from immersing myself so deeply in spiritual study and thought.  In Patanjali's Yoga Sutras he lays out an eightfold path of yoga practice.  The first two steps on this path are practicing the yamas and niyamas, which some people call the "10 commandments" of yoga.  One of the niyamas is a practice called svadhyaya, which means self-study, or study of sacred texts, and that's exactly what this Certification process has been for me.  

Now let's be clear – the inner voice of svadhyaya is not the one that says, "Holy crap, you idiot why did you say THAT?" or "Man, that pose sucked!" or even "Hey, I had the best handstand in the class."  It is the open, non-judgmental witness that simply observes.  It is the voice of reflection that sees through the surface of things to what is really going on. Then the discerning mind can make choices based on what you’ve seen to move you more in the direction of shree - all that is life-enhancing and beautiful.   When we look at ourselves with svadhyaya, we look with compassionate awareness at the full picture of our lives and can lean into that life more deeply, and live more joyfully and fully.

Most of us spend our lives creating and maintaining an image of ourselves, actually probably more than one: a public self-image, an intimate self-image shared only with those closest to us, and a private self-image.  If we are willing to look at patterns, behaviors and strategies we habitually use to maintain that persona, we can use svadhyaya to pierce through the veil that this self-image creates, and we see through to the true nature of our own essential being. We see into the motivations that cause those patterns and behaviors.  We can use svadhayaya to skillfully step back, and with self-love and compassion examine those aspects of our lives that aren't serving us anymore.  

Another part of the Anusara Certification process is to make a video of a class I've taught and fill out an 8-page self-assessment form. This is the harder part of the process for me.  Having to watch yourself on video is so painful at first.  I was so intimidated by the process that I eased myself into it by just audio recording a few classes first and listening to them, just to get over the sound of my voice and to stop cringing at every other word out of my mouth.  I avoided watching my first video for almost 2 weeks before I could bring myself to do it.  But if you can come at it with compassion for yourself there is SO much to be learned.  Once you get over the initial self-conscious squinting through parted fingers, this process is nothing less than transformative.  When I was a performing musician I would tape record (remember tape recorders?!) all my practice sessions leading up to a performance.  Nine times out of ten I would listen and think, for better or for worse, "Wow, that is not what I thought was going on there!"   This experience was similar, and just as those tapes were invaluable additions to my performances, the practice of svadhyaya is an invaluable window into why we do what we do.  Often, we are not even aware of what we are doing.

So first, take time to become aware.  Close your eyes and take 10 deep breaths so that the constant chattering voice of multi-tasking that we have all become immune to because of it's imminent presence in our minds quiets down.  And then invoke self-compassion.  It's so important to start from there or else the whole process can feel shaming and punitive and that definitely does not move us in the direction of shree.  Which is not to say it will be easy, but honesty rarely is.  See your self as your dog sees you....or your mom....or spouse, and then just be open to what is revealed.  Look with open, honest and loving eyes and allow yourself to be transformed.

Off the mat:  Other than practicing compassionate awareness in our yoga practice and in our lives, one of the ways we can move down the path of svadhyaya is to enlist the help of those close to us.  I’ve been reading Max Strom’s book A Life Worth Breathing, and in it he suggests this exercise. (I am giving a brief outline here – if this is of interest to you, I highly suggest you get the book and do the full exercise – or contact me at and I will send you the full version)
Choose four or five people you really trust and respect, and who trust and respect you (hint – those who you are in emotionally charged relationship with are not good candidates).  Make an appointment with each one separately to meet private with the goal of critiquing you.  

First, ask each person what your strengths are, your talents and gifts. It is important to start here! Then ask them to offer suggestions about what might be improved, where there are weaknesses or blind spots.  Listen to the answers without responding, reacting, interrupting, disagreeing, explaining, or becoming defensive, however challenging it might be.  If you can, record the conversation or at least bring a notebook to jot down some thoughts.  You will see some patterns emerge and this will help you to practice svadhyaya.  As Mr. Strom says “This exercise illuminates you, holds a lamp up to your face and says this is who you are, who you have been. With this new knowledge you can finally learn what direction to walk in – and when you walk forward with true knowledge of your strengths and weaknesses, you will not fail.”

On the mat:  Start your practice by cultivating self-compassion and self-love – awaken your inner witness.  In my classes this week we are focusing on plugging the head of the arm bones back, integrating them into the shoulder sockets to plug into self-awareness.  Throughout your practice be mindfully aware and make alignment adjustments on a moment by moment basis, based on your observation of what is actually happening, not on what usually happens.

Open to Grace: Breathe in and open to the lessons you have to teach yourself.
Soften and open to the lessons from ancient traditions and holy scriptures.
As you breathe deeply, fill yourself up with self-knowledge and self-reflection.

Muscular Energy: Firm the muscles to the bones and embrace self-awareness and learning and growth.
Draw from the skin to the muscles to the bones and all the way into place inside yourself where the inner teacher resides.

Shoulder Loop: Draw the head of the arm bones back to plug into self-compassion.
As the head of the arm bone engages into the shoulder socket, engage with compassionate self-awareness.

Inner Spiral: Widen your sit-bones to widen your awareness of yourself.

Outer Spiral: Scoop your tailbone down into self-love and self-awareness.

Organic Energy: Shine the light of your truth out.
Let self-compassion and self- love radiate from the inside out.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Mirrors and Spiders, Lessons in Mindful Awareness

My youngest son, Rakhi, is the age (almost 2) where he parrots back to me everything I say, almost always in exactly the tone of voice I say it in.  Needless to say, it is VERY revealing.  Since he is so little I am very aware of how I interact with him directly, but he is with me most of the time and so is hearing all my exchanges with my older children, my husband, on the phone with the cable company after the internet has gone down for the 2nd time this week and I’ve been on hold for ½ hour, slow waitresses, drivers of other cars, etc., etc.  And he is absorbing all of it into his little, impressionable brain - every action and word is being watched and recorded and repeated.  Although I think I am fairly calm and together most of the time, and try to speak and act respectfully to those around me, when he mirrors back behaviors or words that have come out of my mouth I often cringe (sometimes I laugh….but more often cringe).

We all have innate tendencies, developed from our own genetic code, our upbringing, and the people and environment that we choose to surround ourselves with.  A beautiful part of spiritual practice is bringing these predispositions to light, becoming aware of our patterns without judgment, and then making changes to move more into alignment with the person we aspire to be.  What helps us with this practice is mindful awareness.  I know that when I am unaware or unmindful I slip into old reactionary patterns, patterns that I don’t love about myself, and that I would rather not pass down to my children by modeling less than ideal behavior or speech. 

I think the hardest thing about being a parent (or any loving relationship for that matter) is that it puts your life under a microscope.   When we really love someone it inspires us to be a better person.  In my life I try to be more kind, tolerant, empathetic and even tempered, because I love my family so dearly and I want to demonstrate that love through my actions.  I want to inspire my children to interact with others in a similar way.  I recognize that the periods of time when I am having a harder time holding things together, those around me seem to be having that same hard time, most especially my children. During those times I often read, chant or meditate on this prayer:

Prayer of St Francis of Assisi:

Divine One, make me an instrument of Thy Peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.

Oh Universal Spirit,
Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved, as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive, and
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned.

This prayer inspires me to be, as Mahatma Ghandi said, the change I wish to see in the world. To align with my highest regardless of what I am facing.  When we practice yoga we cultivate awareness and mindfulness so we can respond rather than react.  We connect deeply to a calmer state of being, and we come to know the most elevated and divine aspects of ourselves and bring them forth into the world.  When we are mindful and aware we can feel the moment where we start to feel anxious, angry, or frustrated and instead of letting those feelings grow or knee-jerk reacting, we can take a breath and respond from a place of deep alignment with our highest self and choose the way we act in any given situation.

It’s always fascinating to me that Universal Spirit/Source/God always presents a lesson at exactly the right time.  I teach at Shree on Monday mornings, and this Monday, after thinking and meditating on this theme and the qualities of mindful awareness and equanimity, I arrived at Shree to see the biggest spider I have ever seen scurrying across the floor only to settle under my meditation blanket on my mat.  It sent me into a state of utter fear and aversion – honestly, I was freaking out.  I tried to formulate a plan to catch it but the sight of it paralyzed me and I ended up waiting for students to arrive and asking one of them to deal with it.  The first two students to arrived were as freaked out as I was, when finally a brave soul showed up to trap it and move it outside.  

I swear it was this big!!
When I was speaking about my theme, the beloved student who had caught the spider started laughing, as she had just witnessed me completely lose myself over an insect.  It was rather ironic…but I don’t believe in coincidences.  I was speaking with her after class and saying things like “I just can’t do spiders” and “I just panic and freeze when I see a huge spider like that”.  She looked at me and said, well, the first thing you have to do is stop saying those things and convincing yourself you “can’t”.  It is said that we always teach what we have to learn. I’m sharing this story because it was such a great lesson for me to deepen this teaching.  When we find ourselves in reactive patterns the first thing we often do is reinforce those patterns by continuing negative thought patterns about the behavior. Once again, mindful awareness can help us stop this cycle.

So whether it’s a huge spider, or any other trigger you might have, before reacting, before freaking out, take a breath and be aware of how you are feeling.  Ask yourself how you’d like to respond and then do just that.

Off the Mat:
My husband and I took a parenting class a couple of years ago and one of the best pieces of advice she gave us was to pretend that she was in the room when we were faced with some situation with our children we were about to fly off the handle over.  It totally works.  One way to practice mindful awareness is to pretend you have a 2 year old with you at all times, and be aware of the behavior you’d like to model in front of them.   If you’d like an actual 2 year old to practice with, Rakhi is available for babysitting.

On the Mat:
In my classes this week we worked on hugging the midline to connect to our highest self, the one we wish to respond in any given situation.  This gives us strength to respond rather than react, and helps us into poses like Bakasana (crane) with straight arms, and Adho Mukha Vrksasana (Upward Facing Tree, or Handstand) with awareness and equanimity.

Open to Grace: With each breath wake up to your innermost divine self.
Wake up to the person you aspire to be.
Be aware of even the subtlest of sensations, emotions, and feelings, then take a breath and soften before responding.

Muscular Energy: Hug the midline, the place of inner awareness.
Hug into a calmer state of being, your highest self.
Awaken and firm your inner thighs to awaken to your inner self.

Inner Spiral: Widen your inner thighs apart and make space between yourself and knee jerk reactions.
Spread your sit bones back and apart widening your awareness of yourself and the way you wish to respond

Outer Spiral: Sink your tailbone into mindfulness.

Organic Energy: Light up the pose with your highest intention to respond rather than react.
Let your pose shine with all the divine qualities of your heart, love, pardon, faith, hope.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Guest House

The Guest House – Rumi

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
Some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
Who violently sweep your house
Empty of its furniture,
Still, treat each guest honorably,
He may be clearing you out for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
Meet them at the door laughing,
And invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
Because each has been sent
As a guide from beyond.

My childhood home was basically a guest house.  Not officially of course, but my mother took in strays of all kinds.   My mom reads my blog so I’m sure she’s laughing already reading those words, and I’m sure she’ll forgive me for sharing the intimate details of my childhood!  While I was growing up we had Fresh Air Fund kids during the summer, a babysitter who lived with us for a while, moved out, got pregnant and moved back in and stayed until her daughter was around 9 months old, a stranded Israeli, exchange students who came through the school at first, and then came back just to hang out numerous times (and are still coming back, now with children of their own!), foster children both official and unofficial, and as we got older, friends who were on the outs with their parents or significant others. Often these people would show up uninvited, knowing that they would be welcomed by my family regardless of their circumstances or ours.  They would stay for varying lengths of time and some of those times were easy and fun and some were really challenging, but we all learned and grew as individuals and a family as a result of all those guests. 

What I took away from my upbringing was that when someone shows up needing something, you not only invite them in, but you welcome them.  Whether they have been invited or not, whether it’s convenient or not, whether you know they are going to violently sweep your house empty of it’s furniture or not (fortunately this never happened).  I think my parents recognized that these folks showing up at our door were in fact guides from beyond, and even though the relationships were sometimes challenging, these people came into our lives for a reason.   As children, my 3 siblings and I learned hospitality, and these experiences encouraged us to be open, accepting and flexible.

When you open yourself up with gratitude to who or what arrives, knowing that each has been sent into your life to teach you something about yourself or life in general, you open yourself up to deeper relationships with those around you and with yourself.  This is not always easy to do, I’m sure many of us can appreciate this even more during the summer months when vacations often send us into close and even cramped quarters with family and friends, and travel often bring unexpected guests in places we don’t expect them.  So this is really a perfect season to cultivate generosity of both home and spirit.  When you open your heart to even unwanted guests you cultivate tolerance, hospitality, and generosity, and your life becomes so much richer as a result of these relationships. 

Welcome each and every experience – every thought, injury, and setback, every friend, family member, acquaintance, and stranger, and meet them at the door laughing.  Invite them in and know that your life will only become richer, more varied and interesting if you can approach these guests with a smile and a namaste.

Off the Mat:
Be aware of what “guests” are arriving on your doorstep – maybe it’s in the form of an actual family member or friend or even stranger.  Can you welcome them in with open arms, even if the timing is not convenient, and their presence might disrupt your day or week?  Perhaps your “guests” arriving are coming in the form of challenging situations, emotions or thought patterns. Welcome them, allow them to move in and sweep your house clean, making room for some new delight.

On the Mat:
In my classes this week we are working on split leg poses (lunges, Warriors, Tree, kicking up to handstand, ultimately leading up to Hanumanasana, or full split) with the focus on the widening aspect of inner spiral of the back leg to make space for “guests” to move into, and outer spiral of the front leg to balance that action and be able to stretch more fully into the pose and into generosity of spirit.

Open To Grace: Stand with awareness in your guest house – inhabit it mindfully and completely.
Breathe deeply, and with each inhale welcome in all guests that are arriving in your life.
Soften and welcome all “guides from beyond”.
Breathe in and light up every room of your guest house, the familiar and the unfamiliar, the lived in, and the ones filled with cobwebs from neglect.

Muscular Energy: As you hug the midline, pull in every dark thought, every malice, every emotion and joy.
Draw from the outside into every part of yourself, from the basement to the attic.
(In standing poses) Draw in every emotion, every joy and every sorrow from your feet and your torso into your pelvis.

Inner Spiral: (In split leg poses) Expand your back leg inner thigh wide and back, and open to every joy, depression, meanness.
Widen your inner thighs back and apart, broadening your sacrum back to make space for new “guests” and experiences to arrive.
Broaden the sit bones back and apart, opening up to whatever lodger is arriving in your house.

Outer Spiral: Scoop your tailbone and let the visitor settle into the guest house.
(In split leg poses) Invite your front sit-bone forward and sit deeply into your front leg, like you would invite a guest to sit in your favorite armchair.

Organic Energy: Let your guest house sparkle like a home lit up at night for a summer party – shine light from the windows of the eyes.
Light up your guest house and let it shine brightly from within.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Breaking down barriers

Earlier this week my husband sent me a link to the commencement speech that Jim Carrey gave at Maharishi University a couple of weeks ago (yes, Jim Carrey of Dumb and Dumber and Ace Ventura fame).  I have not listened to the whole thing, but the clip that I was sent was so inspiring that I wanted to share it. (See it here)

He said: “Fear is going to be a player in life, but you get to decide how much.  You can spend your whole life imagining ghosts, worrying about the pathway to the future, but all it will ever be is what’s happening here, the decisions in that we make in this moment, which are based in either love or fear.  So many of us choose our path based on fear disguised as practicality.  What we really want seems impossibly out of reach and ridiculous to expect so we never ask the universe for it.  I'm saying I'm the proof that you can ask the Universe for it.  And if it doesn't happen for you right away it's because the Universe is too busy filling my order.”

Fear disguised as practicality – that hits home for me.  When I heard him say those words I literally burst into tears. Honestly, there have been so many things in my life that I have chosen not to do and blamed on being sensible, when really I was just afraid to fail and at age 38 I am just starting to realize it.  Better late than never I suppose! 

The great poet Rumi said: 
“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”

Read “love” as happiness, success, fulfillment and this is just another way of saying what Mr. Carrey did.   My barrier is that I don’t think I am good enough or worthy enough to attain the deepest desires of my heart.  I am really good at making excuses, some of them are even valid. I have chosen to have a family and I have chosen to raise my family a certain way and that does present certain happily self-inflicted limitations. Yet when it really comes down to it, the real barrier to achieving my goals is my disbelief in my abilities, the sacrifices I am personally willing to make, and the amount of effort I have put into getting where I want to be…and all of that is based in fear and negative what-ifs. When we are afraid, we can build up our barriers pretty high, so high we can’t see over them to what the possibilities might be.  The thing is, many times we see those barriers as walls, when really they are doors.  And it might take some time and effort to figure out how to open them, but we need to recognize that that is a possibility.

Love is the nature of the universe.  Love is simply another name for God, Source, the Universe, and happiness....or vice versa.  We don’t have to look for it, it is there.  Just like all the possibilities and desires of our hearts.  But we do have to open up to it, to choose to open a door rather than to be afraid of what we might find behind it.  If we believe we are truly worthy of love, of success, of happiness the barriers disintegrate.  You are worthy.
Maybe you’ve heard this parable before – it’s one of my favorites. There is a poor man who prays to God every day to win the lottery – he goes to church and prays, then to a synagogue, then to a mosque, begging God to bless him.   After years of praying he passes away having never won once.  When he meets God in heaven he asks why God never answered his prayers.  God replied, “You should have bought a ticket!”  Life is a co-participation.  We have to have the courage to dream big and take wise chances and believe in ourselves.  When Darwin wrote the descent of man He mentioned survival of the fittest twice, but he mentioned the word love 95 times.  Love is what evolves us, but we have to be brave enough to open to it. This is where our yoga practice can serve us.  When we come to the mat and face fears in challenging poses, in letting go of self-limiting thought patterns and behaviors, in befriending our bodies, we are actively seeking out a barrier and bit by bit knocking it down.  Through our practice we cultivate courage, which gives us the strength to recognize our limitless potential and realize our deepest and most secret dreams, the ones we keep locked in the vault of security and practicality.  

Jim Carrey shared that “My father could have been a great comedian but he didn't believe that was possible for him so he made a conservative choice.  He took a safe job as an accountant and when I was 12 years old he was let go from that safe job. I learned many great lessons from my father, not the least of which is that you can fail at doing what you don't love, so might as well take a chance doing what you love.” What do you love?

Off the mat:
This is an exercise I have done at key pivotal times in my life that has helped me gain clarity, and move from fear to love.
Every morning (or evening if that is a better time for you) for at least a week, take out a journal and write at the top of a page:
What do I really, really want?
And then just write.  Don’t worry about grammar, handwriting, content, form or flow – just let your heart speak and put it on paper. From a new sweater to an ice cream cone to a career change or a baby – just look into your heart and get clear on what you love.  After you’ve done this for a while a pattern will emerge.  Begin to reflect on what the barriers are, either real or perceived, that are holding you back from having what you want?  Are those barriers walls or doors?  What are the self-limiting beliefs you have about yourself that keep you from opening up to love? 

On the Mat:
We warmed up with a heart chakra namaskar and worked towards Urdhva Dhanurasana (full backbend), Handstand, and Sarvangasana (shoulder stand) in our asana practice.  We took time to visualize ourselves in these challenging poses, holding the vision with love and not fear, before coming into the variation appropriate for each person.  We ended with Viloma pranayama, which is a 3-part, interrupted breath with retention.  The word Viloma means to “go against the grain”, like petting a dog the wrong way.  Doing the work of breaking barriers often feels like going against the grain because we have to step out of our comfort zone.  This pranayama practice is calming and centering so we can more easily let go of our fears, and break through barriers into love!

Open to Grace: Jim Carrey said “Your job is not to figure out how it’s going to happen for you, but to open the door in your head, and when the door opens in real life, just walk through it.”
Breathe in love, breathe out fear.
Spread your fingers and courageously spread out beyond the barriers you have built for yourself.
Breathe into your limitless potential for love and success and happiness and feel it break a wall open inside you.

Muscular Energy: Embrace limitless potential.
Tone your muscles to affirm your bravery.
Draw from (floor to Focal Point) to make your muscles strong enough to smash through the protective fortifications you have built around your heart and your dreams.
Engage your muscles to engage fully with the pose, like buying the lottery ticket.

“Side body long”: Make space between your hips and ribs, and ribs and shoulders for love to grow.
Let the sides of the torso lengthen upwards, making space between every rib and vertebrae for courage.
Expand the side body beyond any barriers you have erected against it.

Shoulder Loop: Draw the palate and the head of the arm bones back and move the bottom tips of your shoulder blades forward to push through any barricades that present themselves.
Press the palate and the tops of the shoulders back and the back of the heart forward into love for yourself.

Inner Spiral: Widen your inner thighs back and apart to open up to limitless potential.
Move your sit bones back and apart to open to love.

Outer Spiral: (In standing poses) Scoop (the front leg) sit bone under and push it forward to break through any obstacles in your path.
Sweep your tailbone down and tone your low belly with courage to live the life you desire.

Organic Extension: Let the pose be as big as the dreams you have for yourself.
Expand your pose beyond the barriers you have erected for yourself.