Monday, November 27, 2023

A Rainbow Bridge

Photo courtesy Kayla Kingston
A shimmering rainbow in the woods. A bridge of color and light between here and there. In Nors mythology, Bifrost is a rainbow bridge made of fire, water and air. It is the pathway that connects the mundane world we live in with Asgard, the world of the gods. As children drew rainbows during the Pandemic to bridge us from the challenge of that time into one of hope, we can use the image of the rainbow, or anything in nature that speaks to us, to link us from wherever we are into the present moment.  

Beauty especially occurs in the meeting of time with the timeless; the passing moment framed by what has happened and what is about to occur, the scattering of the first spring apple blossom, the turning, spiraling flight of a curled leaf in the falling light; the smoothing of white sun-filled sheets by careful hands setting them to air on a line, for the broad expanse of cotton filled by the breeze only for a moment, the sheets sailing on into dryness, billowing toward a future that is always beckoning, always just beyond us. Beauty is the harvest of presence.

~ David Whyte, Consolations

The Vijnana Bhairva Tantra, an ancient Sanskrit text, describes 112 ways to enter into the universal and transcendental state of consciousness - into presence. One of my favorites is the wonder and awe I find in the natural world: rainbows, fall colors, sunsets, snow crystals, a weed poking it's way through cement, ladybugs and flowers.  Where ever I look and pay attention, beauty is there.  In yoga, we use our bodies in the shape of poses to create a bridge to connect us to the beauty that exists outside as well as inside us.  Yoga invites us to the harvest of presence, here and now.  So much beauty awaits our attention.



Monday, November 20, 2023

Gratitude and Equipoise by Chaya Spencer

Thanksgiving is a reminder of our capacity to move into the wonder and awe of all that is around us and that we are part of.  A fellow yoga teacher shared inspiration from Dr. Roland Griffiths, the founder of the Johns Hopkins Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research and a pioneer in studying the therapeutic potential of psilocybin. He recently passed away at 77.  Oprah interviewed him four months before his death.  He expressed such joy, wonder and awe at life and the mystery of being here.  He said he has never felt more gratitude or equipoise than at this time in his life (after his terminal diagnosis).  Watch the interview here:

As I look out my window at the profusion of all fall colors, the incredible beauty around me, I want to share a poem written by my brother-in-law, Barry Klassel, and how we each have the opportunity, every day, in every moment, to be fully awake to the awe and gratitude of life.  Read the full poem below.

     I can’t wait

     ‘Til each day is as ordinary as a wedding

      As momentous as taking a breath

Photo courtesy Herb Benkel taken 11.3.23 at Shree

Certain holidays and life events awaken us to what is already here.  Why wait for these? Or, for a terminal diagnosis? Griffiths wishes to explore: “The benevolelnt mystery of what it is to exist.”  Let's practice marrying the day and awaken to each breath as momentous and precious, full of wonder, gratitude and awe.  Happy Thanksgiving every single day.

 I, Alone

    No one beside me

    No soothing touch

     Rootless and restless

     I’ve lost the way

     To consecrate this day


      Television, not my vision

       Breakfast, cold spoon in cold cereal

      Chair, table, mug, tepid tea

      I let the water run endlessly

      Dip my hand, splash my face

      I, alone, in the whole human race


What to propose?    

      I will marry this day before me

      So each step’s down the aisle toward my lover

       What is my lover’s name?

       The same. the same

       Each deed a ceremony, for better or worse, for sickness, health

      What music to march to

       Processional, Recessional

       Night covers my retreat

       Then repeat


      I can’t wait

     ‘Til each day is as ordinary as a wedding

      As momentous as taking a breath


      I take thee, my shy one

      I marry this day. For better or worse

     ‘Til Death do us part.


©Copyright 2023 Barry Klassel

Tuesday, November 7, 2023

Beauty is the Harvest of Presence by Chaya Spencer


Beauty is the harvest of presence, the evanescent moment of seeing or hearing on the outside what largely lives far inside us…

~ David Whyte, Consolations

I love this: "Beauty is the harvest of presence." As I sat outside one Sunday afternoon listening to the birds, feeling the sweet air against my face, watching the fall leaves wafting down, seeing people out walking and my husband pottering in the garden, I felt invited into presence. The world called me to attend: to see, to hear, to listen, to smell and to feel. Attention reveals the beauty that is always here. It’s the way we step fully into life, both inner life and outer life. And yet, our attention is called away by our devices, social media, distractions all around us that move away from what is happening in this moment.

Whyte continues…the eyes, the ears or the imagination suddenly become a bridge between the here and the there, between then and now, between the inside and the outside; beauty is the conversation between what we think is happening outside in the world and what is just about to occur far inside us

Our yoga and meditation practice is about cultivating presence.  When we get on the mat we are invited to pay attention to our breath, to the movements, sensations, muscle action and our inner world which we often miss in our busy, often distracted lives.  Practicing on the mat then lends itself to practice off the mat. Yoga off the mat is about being present with whatever shows up each day: the easy and the hard. It's about witnessing the outstanding acts of human kindness and generosity as people step forward to help in big ways and small. It’s about noticing the wonder and awe of the mystery of this world. 

Let's pay attention to nature unfolding the season all around us, to humanity's goodness, and to our own inner strength and beauty as we strive forward with our lives.

Sunday, February 27, 2022

Stepping out of Your Comfort Zone

by Rachel Dewan

Well it's been a minute. I had so much to say about this topic that I decided it needed to exist in the blogosphere. Let's unpack what it means to step out of your comfort zone. The details are different for everyone, but I think it basically means to not always default to what’s “easy”. So what’s wrong with being comfortable? Really nothing. And let's start this whole conversation by saying that if life, as it is wont to do, is pushing you into places of great discomfort, you don’t need to do anything else, you just need to hold on tight to your faith and go along for the ride. What I'm talking about here are the ways we become stagnant. Since the universe itself is in a constant state of process, if we are not participating with it in the ways that we are able to, one day we wake up and realize we’re stuck. And to get out of that stuck place takes SO much more effort in the long run.


Consider this a hint if you're coming to my class this week...

The universe has given us endless ways to know it and experience it and explore its beauty. But it requires our participation. Stepping out of your CZ means stepping into the unknown. Whether that’s rock climbing a new route, or hiking a new mountain, or a going to a new place to vacation, or going on a silent retreat, or joining a new book club, it requires us to be vulnerable, and that is usually not a comfortable place. It takes faith. Not blind faith where we go in with eyes closed just praying for the best, but the kind where we follow our hearts and take our heads along for the ride


The Sanskrit word for faith is shraddha, and one generally accepted translation of that word is "where you place your heart". In other words, know what you want. And if something that you want is outside of your CZ, know what you are willing to risk to have it. Know your capacities and your limitations and act accordingly. But that is a razors edge, and there’s no promise that it won’t hurt. Faith is knowing that it won’t hurt so much that you can’t come back from it. It’s being able to stay connected to what keeps you steady through it all.


Recently I watched the rock climber Adam Ondra sending Silence, the “world’s hardest route”. It literally created a new grade of climb that didn't exist before. It took him hundreds of times and years to do it. Falling off again and again. If he read all those falls as “failure” there is no way he ever would have done it. Stepping out of our CZ is accepting small “failures” to figure out how to do it better next time. Failure is a word we use to give ourselves an out. "Oh, I tried that thing and because it didn’t go exactly as I wanted it to, it didn’t feel as easy as it “should have”, I can’t do that thing." And the reality is that maybe you can’t do that thing today, but that doesn’t mean you’ll never be able to do it. So what are the steps to take so you can do it in a year? Or 2 years? Tiny victories feed shraddha. Change your expectation of what progress is. In yoga, for example, if you can’t do the pose, examine where your inconsistencies are, your tight places, your self-limiting thoughts and decide what tiny victory you can focus on to keep moving you forward. Because that’s just it. Life will move you forward whether you participate or not. So might as well decide what direction you want to go in. 



     If you need some inspiration, watch Adam climb this route the whole way through for the first time.


Stepping out of our CZ tests our faith: can I really do this?  Am I meant to do it? Really that’s up to you. Sometimes the answer is not ever, sometimes it’s just not right now. We are limited beings in some ways and we are unlimited beings in other ways. We need to be realistic about the ways we are limited, whether in body or spirit, and face them. But we get to decide if we want to be connected to the places where we are limited or the places where we aren’t. It means redefining “failure”. It means falling off a route 100 times before making the next move. Falling out of an arm balance 1000 times before being able to hold it for a second. Getting a therapist so you can work through your social anxiety so you can join the book club. It’s not easy or comfortable, and like my kids love to say, “it’s not fair!”. To which I respond, "who ever told you it was going to be fair??" It’s not. But we can either sit by and let life happen to us (ie. stay in stagnant in the CZ) or we can participate fully in every way we can (step into your light, celebrate tiny victories, hold steady through the challenges life throws at us which we have no control over).


In terms of our yoga asana practice, we know that the body will always want to go in the path of least resistance. Our bodies will always choose to do what feels good, and unless we are being very conscious in our practice we will go along with that. Again, nothing innately wrong with doing that, and sometimes that is just the thing to do - pain is a message that we need to pay attention to something. However, if we always do what we’ve always done, we always get what we’ve always gotten. Patterns of misalignment which lead to imbalance and often pain will keep repeating themselves until we create a new pattern. It's usually not easy and not comfortable.  But we are healthier, happier, stronger, and more resilient in the long run. It works the same with our thoughts, our emotions, our hearts. And that's what makes it all yoga - being conscious. 
It's fun and interesting out here outside the CZ. It's never boring, always exciting. Join me. 

Outside your CZ practices, on the mat:
This week in my classes we will work on caturanga, building strength in our upper body to lean out into arm balances with faith. Here's some other things to work on in your own practice:
Notice when you sit out a pose because it's hard. Instead of sitting it out, try a modified version.
If you've been doing a modified version of a pose for a long time for a specific reason, ask yourself if that reason is still valid.  You know what to do if it's not.
Breathe. a lot. If you're scared, breathe deeper. 
Pay attention to your habits. Do you come in to the studio and do the same warm-ups every time? Do you strategically stop for a sip of water when a hard pose is called? Are your habits keeping you stagnant?
Get really curious. If you can't do a pose, ask yourself, or your teacher, why? 
Celebrate tiny victories in whatever way they come
Outside your CZ practices, off the mat:
Take yourself on a weekly date doing something that scares you. Start small.  Bring a friend for support. But do it!
Create a mantra or affirmation that reminds you that stepping outside of your CZ will help you grow as a human. "I can do hard things" works for me.
Get clear with yourself about what risks you are willing to take, and which ones you are not, to have something you want that feels out of your reach.
Add your own in the comments!
For the Anusara junkies:

OTG: Soften what the word failure means to you. Focus on tiny victories.

What keeps you steady in times of discomfort? Keep that in the forefront of your awareness

Let each breath guide you to a place inside of inner reliance, where you feel secure and connected to a universe that wants for you what you want for yourself

Get comfortable with “I don’t know” and “All I need to do is participate”

Stop trying to control your world and participate fully in your life without knowing what the outcome will be


ME: pull to the midline and pull into what keeps you steady

Pull up and into your faith/what keeps you steady/your heart

Muscles are malleable, changeable, bones are not.  We pull SMB (skin to muscle to bone) to connect to all that is already steady inside our bodies

Activate muscles, participate in the pose fully, in your life fully

Draw SMB, connecting to a place of wisdom inside so you make smart choices about how to safely step outside your CZ


OE: expand fully into the pose and expand your CZ

Stretch yourself fully into the pose and the breath and into active participation with your life just as it is

Expand from midline outwards, expanding your faith in yourself and your practice

Shine with the quiet radiance of the faithful

Smile and enjoy the pose, even if it’s not easy or comfortable

Celebrate whatever form of the pose you can do. Celebrate tiny victories that will strengthen you and move you in the direction you want to be headed.


Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Courageous Hearts

To be courageous is not necessarily to go anywhere or do anything except to make conscious those things we already feel deeply and then to live through the unending vulnerabilities of those consequences.  

~David Whyte, Consolations

One of the vignettes on One World Stay at Home concert last Saturday was of a 66 year old retired doctor who has chosen to leave retirment, put her scrubs back on and return to work at the hospital treating Covid-19 patients.  She felt deeply what was in her heart and has made herself highly vulnerable to the consequences.

Courage is expressed in physical acts like those of all our frontline essential works who put themselves at risk every day.  It is also in the willingness to feel our hearts deeply: pain, fear, grief, love.  To feel and then to act, even if that action is simply getting out of bed and doing another day at home in lock down.

In Sanskrit the word for heart is Hrdaya. While this refers to our beating physical hearts, it also refers to the heart of the world, the essence and core of anything and all things. Yoga teaches us that when we allow ourselves to rest back in our heart and all that we find therein, we ultimately rest back in the heart of all things.  This is yoga off the mat, where we connect to all beings through our vulnerability and willingness to feel.

Allowing ourselves to feel deeply is scary.  I find it terrifying.  That’s why I love this hand gesture: Abhaya Hrdaya Mudra or Courageous Heart Gesture.  A mudra is a seal, a mark or a gesture, a calling forth of what we aspire to.  I don’t know about you, but I need a lot of courage these days. 

Join me at 12:15 pm today for a FREE meditation on cultivating our courageous hearts and learn the mudra with me.  

If you miss the meditation, here’s SiannaSherman demonstrating how to do it.


Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Vicissitudes and Koshas

By Chaya Spencer

Vicissitude. I had to look this word up! It's a good word for right now. "A change of circumstances or fortune, typically one that is unwelcome or unpleasant." There is such drastic change of circumstance happening at the moment; changes that are external to us and not in our control. And, changes that are internal to us that maybe within our control.  David Whyte writes: 

Conscious or unconscious, we are surrounded not only by the vicissitudes of a difficult world but even more by those of our own making.

One way to think about gaining some control over those of our own making is the map which the philosophical yogic concept of the five Koshas offers.  According to this map, we are composed of five layers, sheaths, or bodies. Like Russian dolls, each metaphorical "body" is contained within the next:

Annamaya kosha—the physical body or food body
Pranamaya kosha—the breath or life force body
Manomaya kosha—the mental and emotional body
Vijanamaya kosha—the wisdom body
Anandamaya kosha—the bliss body

Each of these sheaths is impacted by the vicissitudes of our current situation in different ways.  Our physical bodies might be feeling stress, exhaustion, fight or flight, and so on.  Our energy Pranic body might be feeling short of breath and lacking in vitality. Our mental bodies might be feeling fear, despair, hope, and so on.  We can take heart from understanding that we are not just one of these sheaths that we might be indentifying with at a given time.  We are all of them.  They are all part of us.  And, we are more, for these are all sheaths that cover the essence of the Self, the Atman, the heart of our essential nature.

When we are able to perceive ourselves as more than a single part, and know that we are an unchanging essence that lives at the center of all five, we can craft an identity for ourselves that can enable us to live in the world we find ourselves in without feeling beset.  Rather, we can understand the parts and through them, understand the whole. 

Follow your yoga and meditation practice into the heart and essence of your identity and find an inner steadiness at the center.  You are all of it and all of it is you.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Outrageous Love

By Rachel Dewan

The saddest day of the year in my house is always the last day of summer camp.  My children come home, crying big tears and chest-heaving sobs. And what I always say to them is “I know this feels bad, but it just means that you had so much love all summer.”

Big emotions can be hard to manage and to know what to do with.  Anger is one of the emotions that has been coming up for me during these challenging weeks of quarantine, but reading David Whyte’s unpacking of what anger actually is has been super helpful. He writes:

“ANGER is the deepest form of compassion, the purest form of care, it always illuminates what we belong to, what we wish to protect and what we are willing to hazard ourselves for. What we have named as anger on the surface is the violent outer response to our own inner powerlessness, a powerlessness connected to such a profound sense of rawness and vulnerability that it can find no proper identity or voice, or way of life to hold it. What we call anger is often simply the unwillingness to live the full measure of our fears or of our not knowing.”

He then writes “Our anger breaks to the surface most often through our feeling that there is something profoundly wrong with our powerlessness and vulnerability.” Tantra teaches that there are no “bad” emotions. Emotions just are, and when we learn to recognize them when they arise, and pay attention to what causes them to arise, they simply become another gateway to the Source. Anger is not wrong, nor is fear or vulnerability or sadness even though they may be uncomfortable for a time. If you feel any of these strong emotions it is not a failure, it just means you are human. It’s not that we have strong feelings, but what we do them that defines who we are. And whether the emotion is anger, sadness, fear, hurt, joy, compassion, generosity, at the root of all of it is love.

Yoga gives us the chance to sit and be with the vulnerability and the powerlessness in a safe way. To be with ourselves in our most raw and open state, which we are able to do because we are surrounded by a community that holds the space for us to do that. This remote yet connected way of practicing as we have been online during these weeks of Covid19 gives us an even more unique opportunity - to be in community and yet also alone in the safety of our own homes so we can truly allow ourselves to be vulnerable and befriend our powerlessness.

I see a lot of people preaching “love over fear” right now.  While on a broad level I do believe that, I also think there is great danger in the spiritual bypass. It is important to feel all the feels (but also to let them go when we are able to). Feeling fear doesn’t make you an unsuccessful yogi.  Feeling anger either. And anyone who tells you they aren’t feeling those things right now is likely not being honest with you, or more likely with themselves. I am feeling those things, but also feeling grateful, inspired, supported, and loved at the same time.  One doesn’t eclipse the other, and the most grounded and healthy people I know are the ones who understand this.  

I’d like to replace the “love over fear” refrain with the words of Marc Gafni who says: "In a world of outrageous pain, the only response is outrageous love."

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