Pratyahara: Meditation and Breathwork for a Deep Inner-Journey

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I want to talk about Pratyahara and offer a helpful breathing practice to accompany it. First I feel I need to give it a little context.

Yoga 101

Yoga is old. One of the earliest mentions of yoga comes from the Rig Veda, one of the oldest vedic texts dating somewhere around 1700–1100 BC. So, OLD.

Patanjali was a yoga scholar (some say a school of thought—doesn’t matter) around 200–500 CE who wrote a generalized guide to yoga called The Yoga Sutras. Sutra is a Saskrit word meaning suture or stitch. The Yoga Sutras are therefore 196 verses “stitched” together in order to create a larger patchwork of what yoga’s main goal is and how to practice it.

In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali starts by defining yoga as the ability to calm the mind into stillness to arrive at a state of Oneness with all things. He outlines 8 limbs of yoga or ways to practice arriving at this Oneness. These 8 limbs are presented from gross to subtle ways to practice yoga.

The 8 Limbs of Yoga

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The first limb is the Yamas or outward observances, the way we treat the world. If we’re assholes to everyone around us, we’re missing the essential point that somehow I’m everything and only hurting myself.

Second is Niyamas, or inner observances, the way I treat my inner comportment, my cleanliness, contentment, and ability for self-discovery through work and submission.

Third comes yoga Asanas, or the poses, how literally applying this knowledge to the body, mind, and spirit of my personal being and attempting to discover the unification of all of these. This is what most of us refer to when we think of yoga. That’s fine—you don’t have to start practicing at the beginning—whatever gets you onto the path.

Fourth, Pranayama refers to how this work affects one’s energy through breathwork and other energy manipulation through the chakras, or primary energy stations located along our spine.

Fifth, and this is what I want to talk about most today, come Pratyahara or gaining control over external influences and learning to withdraw from our senses as the entrance into the inner-being.

Photo by  Alex Adams

Photo by Alex Adams

Sixth is Dharana, or fixed concentration on one thing.

Seventh, Dhyana, deeper concentration where you begin to lose your sense of individuality and the object you’re observing start to merge.

Lastly the eights limb is Samadhi, or the state of Oneness.

So now you’ve got probably more information than you need about yoga philosophy and ancient texts, what does this Pratyahara business have to do with me?

If you’ve ever tried meditating, you’ve likely tried at least a few ways of meditating and discovered one or two ways that really help you to go deep into your meditation, where something begins to happen and we start to get that meditation hit that everyone is talking about. In part, this ability to go deeper into ourselves starts with Pratyahara.

The senses are a wonderful tools of cultivating presence. Paying attention to our senses help us wrangle in our wild and wandering mind to a state that is here and now. We’ve used our senses perhaps with the “There Is” Practice or similar practices. However, getting stuck into this mode of paying attention to what is outside maintains external attention and might prevent a deeper inner-journey. So, learning to move beyond our senses inward to a state of raw here-and-now-ness may deepen your meditation practice.

Your senses are always firing and constantly giving the brain information. In fact, there’s so much information happening all the time, that our brains have to learn to filter and select what is essential and what it can turn off. Pratyahara experiments with learning to turn ALL the senses off to find a state of deeper inner-awareness on our pathway to discover that the answers are within instead of outside of us.

To to practice Pratyahara start by listening to your senses and then go inward beyond them.


Breathing Practice to Complement Pratyahara

Here’s a breathing practice followed by a meditation that can help you with just this

Brahmari: Bumble Bee Breath

Brahmari breath is kinda weird so bear with me. What you do is sit, close your eyes, and place your hands on your face with your index fingers over your eyebrows, your middle fingers covering your eyes, fourth fingers just below your nostrils, and little fingers under your lips. Your fourth and fifth fingers therefore create a cradle around your mouth. Your thumbs gently plug your ears. This closes all the exits, except your nostrils. Now, you release your pinkies to take in a big breath through your mouth, replace your pinkies and close your mouth and let out a long hum until you have no more breath. When you’re empty, breathe in again and do another round. Continue for several rounds. Have fun with this: try high pitches, low pitches, make up little tunes— whatever. Ideally, you’ll drown out all other senses except the sound of your own humming in your head.

You may also choose to omit the crazy hands-to-face business and use earplugs and an eye mask—less adventurous but probably just as effective.

This practice will confirm to your neighbors peeping through the windows that yes, you finally have gone nuts and that they should probably look for another neighborhood. Better just to have some private space to do this.

After several minutes of this, keep your eyes closed and choose a meditation that cultivates a strong internal focus, something like mantra meditation or mindfulness meditation.

I might suggest using the Insight Timer and setting your timer for 20 minutes using an interval bell to ding after 5 minutes. Do the Brahmari breath for 5 minutes and after the interval bell dings, try a mantra or mindfulness meditation for the remaining 15 minutes.

This will be a great 20 minute practice to really cultivate inner-focus.

If you’re curious, give this a shot and let me know how it goes.

Kauai Yoga

Mantra Meditation Made Simple

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Photo by Scott Moore Copyright © 2019 Scott Moore Yoga LLC

Photo by Scott Moore Copyright © 2019 Scott Moore Yoga LLC

Today, I want to talk briefly about Mantra meditation. Mantra is a Sanskrit word which comes from the words Manis, meaning mind, and Tra, which is the beginning of the word to transcend. So, literally through your mind, you may transcend into deeper layers of knowing.

A mantra is simply repeating a word or phrase over and over again.

The idea is to loose yourself in the repetition of the words. I've done a lot of mantra practice and have found it very powerful. There is something magical that happens when you engage your soul in this way. Meditation is about focus. It's powerful to focusing on one word or phrase.

We all know words have power:

"In the beginning was the word."
The Bible John 1:1

"The pen is mightier than the sword."
Edward Bulwer-Lytton

"Words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup."
The Beatles

There are thousands of mantras. Some mantras are chanted in Sanskrit, other Tibetan, others Latin, or whatever language you normally speak.

I want to share two of my favorite mantras.

The first evokes the Hindu god Ganesh. He's the remover of obstacles, the Lord of auspicious beginnings, and is the love-child of consciousness and form.

Om Gam Ganapataye Namaha.
This loosely translates into, "“Yo! Ganesh. I honor you and invite your power into my life."

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The next mantra I want to share with you is the Gayatri Mantra. It's one of the most popular and oldest mantras in the world.

oṃ bhūr bhuvaḥ svaḥ
tatsaviturvareṇyaṃ
bhargo devasyadhīmahi
dhiyo yo naḥ prachodayāt

My favorite translation of this mantra is:
Everything on the earth and the sky and in between 
is arising from one effulgent source.
If my thoughts, words, and deeds reflected a complete understanding of this unity,
I would be the peace I'm seeking in this moment.

meditation mala beads

Give it a try!

Choose one of these mantras, or one of your own. It could be a simple phrase or even one word. Set your timer on Insight for 15 minutes and repeat these words over and over again, out loud, for the entire time. 

If you are familiar with mala beads or prayer beads, you can hold your beads and every time you complete the chant, move your fingers to the next bead. Give it a try.

PS

Here’s a great article about using mala beads

Online Yoga Nidra Meditation Training: The Magic of Maya Working Through Illusion

Photo by David Newkirk

Photo by David Newkirk

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We're well into the new year and I hope the sun is smiling on you, even if you live in a place where the sun doesn't raise the temp above freezing.

This year has been already so rich for me and every day I practice staying present to everything that arises, in part thanks to my 31-Day Meditation Challenge.

One thing I've learned is that meditation doesn't prevent things like emotions such as fear or anxiety from arising in me, but trains me to be cool with what does arise. It teaches me to welcome whatever comes my way, recognize it for what it is—no more no less. Ultimately it trains me to be merely the witness of that thing. Then, from that place of observation, I may choose to respond to the information rather than react. Strange how emotions like fear and anxiety seem to come around less and less when I stop resisting them and let them be what they are, mere bits of information.

I'm still human, though, and once in a while I might still lose my $#1€, but the more I meditate, the less it happens.

So today, I want to share two things with you that are related to this idea of learning to observe emotions. I think you'll love them: My Yoga Nidra series coming up, and a fun story I wrote called Lessons in Fear…

First, I want to tell you how excited I am about my 6-week virtual Yoga Nidra series starting Jan. 20th called, The Magic of Maya: Working Through Illusion.

Yoga Nidra is a relaxing and profound guided meditation aimed to help you experience your True Nature. The most essential premise of Yoga Nidra is that your True Nature is whole and perfect, a being of limitless power, boundless equanimity, with a cosmic perspective that has no need for worry. Anything in contrast to that is an illusion. But rather than trying to transcend illusion, what if you could actually use it to discover and experience your True Self?

One of the questions we'll explore in this course is, "What if emotions aren't 'real,' but just an illusion of reality and how do we actually use these illusions to uncover what is true and experience our True Self?"

This understanding is one of the things that Yoga Nidra has taught me and countless other people and what I want to offer to you through this this Yoga Nidra series.

This series will be 6 sessions, each around 75 min. During each session, I'll lead you through a verrrry relaxing Yoga Nidra practice (guided meditation), offer an engaging and thought-provoking teaching, and open the conversation to all for comments and questions.

I'll be recording each session and will be offering the recording and a transcript of it for review, or in case you have to miss a session you can watch or read it later.

One of the best features of this series is that you'll be in the comfort of your own home but joined virtually with me and other students all over the world.

In addition to access to the live classes you’ll also receive a Yoga Nidra digital library which includes:

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  • Audio/Video recording of each of the sessions

  • A transcript of each of the sessions

  • Access to dozens of other Yoga Nidra recordings

  • Helpful tips and links to videos, recordings, books, and articles to expand your Yoga Nidra education

  • Clarinet Lullaby, a high-quality audio recording of me playing the clarinet set to ocean waves and a background drone for the purpose of deep relaxation and meditation.

You'll end the each session and the entire series with a deeper experience and understanding of the profound nature of your Self. Plus you'll have lifetime access to all the practices and materials.

In addition, Yoga Nidra also helps with:

  • Reduction or elimination of stress

  • Profound relaxation

  • A deeper, richer, and more present life

  • Spiritual growth and understanding

  • Greater presence in relationships, work, and the community

  • Greater mental clarity

  • Clear sense of purpose

  • Better sleep


It's like napping your way to enlightenment!

One of the things I love about Yoga Nidra is that ANYONE can do it.

Registration is now open! I can't wait for this to start. I'd love for you to join me. This really is a must-attend series that you can do from the comfort of your own home.

Meditation Is Good for Your Health!

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Meditation

I know, I know. “Who has time for meditation? It takes time, and when I’m busy all I think about when I try to meditate is all the stuff I have to do, making me stress out even worse. What’s the point?”

But when we look at the data, who has time NOT to meditate? Studies show that regular meditators are more calm, less stressed, and when groups meditate the crime rates go down. Meditators are more productive, more creative, learn faster, and are generally more content with their life than those who don’t. People who meditate in a group are more likely to stick with it and have a higher sense of purpose and satisfaction than those who meditate alone.

Regular meditation has even been shown to dramatically improve physical health. Scientific studies have shown that coronary disease, congestive heart failure, diabetes, and high blood pressure have lessened or otherwise depleted with the help of meditation. Get this: health insurance stats show that people who meditate regularly have a reduced likelihood of being hospitalized for coronary disease by 87 percent, and the possibility of getting cancer by 55 percent. And people who meditate are psychologically 12–15 years younger. That’s nuts! (read the full article here)

If prayer is a form of meditation, Martin Luther, the historic religious reformer, certainly went against the grain when he asserted, “I have so much I need to do today, I need to pray for an extra hour.”

photo: https://www.danspapers.com/2018/12/paul-mccartney-ends-2018-tour-dates-video/

photo: https://www.danspapers.com/2018/12/paul-mccartney-ends-2018-tour-dates-video/

meditation

Paul McCartney has crooned some immutable truths but never has he said it better than when he shared, “In moments of madness, meditation has helped me find moments of serenity—and I would like to think that it would help provide young people a quiet haven in a not-so-quiet world.” Drop the mic.

So maybe you’re saying, “Ok, ok, I know regular meditation would help me but I need some basic instruction on what to do . . . and a little encouragement to get going.”

That’s where I come in.

There’s no time like the beginning of the year to start something new. That’s why I’m hosting my 31-Day Meditation Challenge starting TOMORROW. I’ll lead you through how to transform your life with a regular meditation practice. The challenge is to meditate every day for 31 days using whatever style of meditation you like for 15 minutes a day. That’s it!

One of the thrilling things about this challenge is that you’ll be doing this with a large group of people from all over the world. This will help increase your accountability and fun. You’ll be able to connect to each other for support and encouragement on our forum. We want you to be a part of our meditation community!

Not only will I and our community be helping you every step of the way, but if you call your mom and your best friends and let them know that you’re going to do the 31-Day Meditation Challenge and ask to be accountable to them, you’ll stick with it. Hell, invite them along and build a meditation posse, your sit crew. I know that whenever I want to make some positive changes in my life—I want to eat more healthy, get more fit, save money—if I am accountable to other people I stick with the program. If I’ve promised my wife that I’m not eating sugar, I’ll walk by that incredible bakery that sells the best pain au chocolat and not even give it a second look. So tell your nearest and dearest that you’re doing this and invite them along.

I’ll also be helping you by providing regular instruction, support, encouragement. I’ll give you some transformational and relaxing guided meditations to use if you want. Plus, I’ll lead you through a powerful visualization of 2019 that you can revisit regularly to blast yourself into an unstoppable year through the power of your own awesomeness.

The 31-Day Meditation challenge only costs $31 and as an incentive, if you complete all 31 days of meditating for 15 minutes a day, you can opt to get your tuition back. This is easy and fun and you’ll see some beautiful and transformational changes occur in your life.

Do this with me. Invite your friends to join us and together let’s have an incredible 2019!

 
Source: meditationisgoodforyourhealth

I Don't Know The Name of This Bird

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White Eyes

White-Eyes
by Mary Oliver
 
In winter
    all the singing is in
         the tops of the trees
              where the wind-bird
 
with its white eyes
    shoves and pushes
         among the branches.
              Like any of us
 
he wants to go to sleep,
    but he's restless-
         he has an idea,
              and slowly it unfolds
 
from under his beating wings
    as long as he stays awake
         But his big, round music, after all,
             is too breathy to last.
 
So, it's over.
    In the pine-crown
         he makes his nest,
              he's done all he can.
 
I don't know the name of this bird,
    I only imagine his glittering beak
         tucked in a white wing
              while the clouds-
 
which he has summoned
    from the north-
         which he has taught
              to be mild, and silent-
 
thicken, and begin to fall
    into the world below
         like stars, or the feathers
              of some unimaginable bird
that loves us,
    that is asleep now, and silent-
         that has turned itself
              into snow.
 
I read this poem and imagine this Spirit-Bird wrestling with its ideas in the tops of the trees manifesting as the brilliant winter storms we sometimes experience in winter.

I think of this Spirit-Bird as something large and definitive, a creator or director, or maybe simply a grand observer, who puffs and blows the turbulence we all sense in the storms of the sky, and the storms of our lives. I imagine this Spirit-Bird as blustery at times, yes, but also as a being who ultimately touches me with Divine love, a real touch, by sending gentle, delicate, and cold kisses floating through the air in the form of snowflakes, landing silently on my face and shoulders and eyes.

Like Mary Oliver says, I don't know the name of this bird. But I can feel it whatever it is. Sometimes, it stops me in my tracks along this tempestuous journey of life, ankle-deep in dark and cold, my brow furrowed and mind brimming with business, and lifts my gaze for a moment to watch its dazzling spectacle of fat, silent flakes filter through the streetlight or moonlight.

The beauty of it all!

I don't know the name of this bird, but I can feel its breath move through me in yoga. It makes my body move and sway, undulate and reach. It arrests my busy mind and opens my eyes.

Come out of the cold, both physically and spiritually, and warm up with a yoga practice. Watch as The Spirit-Bird, or whatever name you give it, slowly unfolds its ideas and gives you divine kisses through breath and movement. Then you'll feel it too outside in the form of snow or rain or cold, anything, but nevertheless touches everything around you. 


This Is Courage

Will you do a quick courage exercise with me?

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Courage

What is your biggest dream? Is it to be an actor, to write a NYT bestseller, or to run an ultra marathon? What is it? Give yourself a second to visualize how incredible it will feel to succeed at this dream, and do so by involving all of your senses. Allow the excitement which surrounds that dream to surface in your heart.

After a minute or two, ask yourself what perceived limitations seem to stand in your way between where you are now in relation to that dream and where you dream to be. And while there might be a hundred practical reasons why it’s not “reasonable” to reach for your dream, I ask you to get real and ask yourself about how much of that perceived limitation simply comes from good old fear.

How often is fear getting in the way of you having the kind of life you want to live?

Now, close your eyes for a few seconds and give yourself a few deep breaths into your heart. Connect to your heart by remembering something that you love, maybe your biggest dream, and bring to mind again the excitement you feel when you imagine your biggest dream. Now you are connected to your heart and from this place, re-examine your fears with a full heart. Any new insights?

This is courage.

cour·age

ˈkərij/

noun

  1. the ability to do something that frightens one.

Courage comes from the French word for heart, Coeur. It literally means full of heart. Courage isn’t the opposite of fear but rather is the action of putting fear in its proper place. Some may argue that fear is good, it keeps us alive. I say that fear merely keeps us safe. We must learn to walk through the flames of our fears, with full courage, toward that which makes us truly alive.

Living courageously, from your heart, gives you a relationship with your world that is beyond fear, a presence and perspective that can hold life’s losses and joys, struggles and possibilities, understanding that life’s joy is bigger than merely ease and comfort.  

caroline-paul-sffd-293.jpg

Caroline Paul is a NYT Best Seller and was one of the first women ever to serve in the San Francisco Fire Department. She was on an elite team that performed very dangerous rescues. Caroline is expert at acting courageously in the face of fear and speaks about doing so in one of her books, The Gutsy Girl: Escapades for Your Life of Epic Adventure. Paul says that courage can be taught, that it’s okay to have fear, but that despite fear you must take action. She encourages a practice called micro-bravery, which is doing small courageous acts regularly to build your courage muscles. After all, your heart is a muscle.

Fear is an excellent tool to help you be present. To use fear as a tool, instead of pushing it away, lean into it. Notice how your body feels fear and ask fear what it’s really trying telling you. With this presence, you’ll begin to notice the other emotions that often coexist alongside fear when taking important action in your life. Emotions like excitement and anticipation sometimes have the same physiological effect but are very different than fear. Don’t let fear squash these other emotions, but  put it in the back of the line of emotions, instead of the front where it often it is used to being.

Bungee-Jumping-compressed.jpg

Speaking of fear, I’m deathly afraid of bungee jumping. The mere thought of it makes my stomach churn and adrenaline begin to pump through my body. That’s a fear which simply keeps me safe. While there may be some sort of small value in “conquering” that fear by going out and jumping off a bridge with rubber bands strapped to my ankles, I believe that there is really no benefit to humanity or myself for doing so and therefore will most likely go to my grave having never bungee jumped.

I have a greater fear, however, involving what I’m doing right here—teaching and writing about yoga and mindfulness. It’s scary to expose myself (my spirit, my thoughts feelings, and fears) by stepping up in front of a room to lead a class or push send on an email to thousands of people. Each time I send an email, I’m afraid that it will be riddled with typos and that people will learn my dark secret that I can’t spell my way out of a paper bag.

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The reason teaching and writing about yoga causes me fear is because it’s one of my greatest dreams and my heart’s gift to the world to share yoga and meditation with people to make the world a better place. I’m afraid of not reaching my potential or failing in my job. I think it's a very big deal and I take it very seriously. But, I look at those fears squarely in the face and practice courage by continuing to step in front of the room to teach and sitting down to write and publish. Often times, I hover over the publish or send button wondering why I do it. Then with courage, I push send, close my laptop, and walk away knowing I just made one small, brave step. I practice this courage regularly because I believe that what I do matters, both to me and to the world. I still have fear around teaching and writing but I’ve also built up my courage greatly and push those fears to the back and bring excitement and possibility of connecting to people to the front. Plus, the more you do it, the more confidence you have about it.

The world doesn’t care if I bungee jump.  I yield to that fear and it keeps me safe. However, the world does care if I connect people to their best selves through yoga and meditation so I walk past that fear in the hope to possibly make a difference in people’s lives and therefore I experience courage which make feel truly alive.

What is one small, courageous step you could take today that will push you toward your dream? You don’t have to register for an ultra marathon today but maybe you could go buy some shoes and begin walking.

Or perhaps that small, courageous step might be to register for my next course: Sourcing Your Heart’s Gift. It’s an online yoga and meditation course that helps you live an extraordinary life from your heart. The world needs your gifts. Dive deep into your heart to discover and develop your purpose and courageously share them with the world. 
 

Registration ends next Monday, February 12th!

If you've ever been moved by any of my emails, would you mind please forwarding this onto some friends who could use this message or post it on social media? It helps me enormously.

Namaste,


Sourcing Your Heart's Gift

an online meditation and yoga course designed to help you to dive deep into your heart to discover and develop your purpose and courageously share it with the world.

6 weeks February 12—March 26

I Have A Dream

I Have a Dream

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12 hours before the March on Washington, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would deliver his iconic I Have a Dream speech, he still didn't know what he was going to say. But on that historical day, August 28th 1963, Dr. King lead the march, and on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial delivered one of the most important speeches in American history. 

 

In his speech, Dr. King references the opening lines of Shakespeare's Richard III's when he said, "This sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn. . ." portending the change of season in America's social climate.

Free At Last!

But toward the end of his speech, something miraculous happened. The famous gospel singer Mahalia Jackson was nearby and used her commanding voice to shout, "Tell them about the dream, Martin."

At that point Dr. King stopped delivering his prepared speech. He stood powerfully and began preaching to the quarter of a million people in attendance on the lawn of the memorial, and prophetically to the millions and millions of people who have since heard his words, punctuating each point with "I Have a Dream."

According to U.S Representative John Lewis who also spoke that day, "Dr. King had the power, the ability, and the capacity to transform those steps on the Lincoln Memorial into a monumental area that will forever be recognized. . . he educated, he inspired, he informed not just the people there, but people throughout America and unborn generations." more than 50 years later, we are those generations.

 

Free at last!

Part of the power of Dr. King's I Have a Dream speech was his important references. In it, Dr. King references not only Shakespeare, the Bible, gospel spirituals, political and religious leaders, the Emancipation Proclamation and the Constitution, but also Dr. King's speech and entire social message was a strong, tacit reference to the principle of non-violent revolution for the sake of making lasting social change. This principle of non-violence was championed by the social revolution led by Mahatma Gandhi who referenced the ancient Yoga Sutras. In Sanskrit the word Ahimsa means non-violence. The Yoga Sutras state that in order to become one's highest self, one must embrace the seminal principle of non-violence which is truly the gateway of unconditional love.

In fact, Dr. King was so inspired by Gandhi that in 1959 he visited Gandhi's birthplace in Gujarat, India. This visit left a profound impression of the concept of non-violent civil disobedience and further strengthened Dr. King's commitment toward America's struggle for human rights. And just like in India, it was a non-violent revolution that drove lasting change in America's social attitudes.

Free at Last!

In his speech, Dr. King also references transformational heat. In the Yoga Sutras, Tapas is defined as the heat necessary for transformation, like pottery fired in a kiln. Yoga means union. In yoga, we practice implementing this transformational heat to bind body, mind, and heart in our own person to work toward our highest self. With this proverbial heat, we then direct and bind the larger body of our family, our community, our nation, and our world in the spirit of its highest self. Growing pains are evidence of Tapas. Certainly there were growing pains in the Human Rights Movement. This heat was Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat on the bus. It was The Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955. It was The March on Washington in 1963. It was Bloody Sunday in 1965. The heat that causes change can be necessarily uncomfortable, sometimes outright painful. Dr. King was on the burning tip of the spear of social transformation, a searing heat that would eventually take his life. But because of the heat of this social movement, The March on Washington and the I Have a Dream speech were two events that helped signal America's transformation of becoming a greater nation. That speech marked and catalyzed significant growth in this country. We are still growing. 

Transformation starts with an individual. Gandhi said,

"If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him.... We need not wait to see what others do."

How are we willing to step into that heat of personal transformation? Are we willing to personally grow to ensure a strong body, bright mind, and open heart and grow into our highest potential? Are we willing to stand up for an injustice? And how do we make that change both as an individual and as a nation that allows all parts to grow stronger rather than being cut or compromised? Surely this is a difficult task. To ensure mutual growth, we change while practicing non-violence, Ahimsa. Like Gandhi and Dr. King discovered, Ahimsa is both the personal and global non-violent revolution that makes lasting change. Whether it's internal change like greater mindfulness or a more healthy body or external political or social change like gun control, same-sex marriage, political partisanship, undocumented immigrants, or anything else, the question is how can we instigate a change that invites all parts to grow in the process?   

 

We've grown as a nation since 1963 but we still have much more to do to honor all the beings who live here. It is because of leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. that we have a strong foothold on freedom, a firm platform where we can step into America's future and truly become the nation that our forefathers like Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Kennedy and leaders like Dr. King believed we could be, one where people dare to dream. We can't go back and we can never unlearn what we've learned.

We can move forward. We can grow individually and as a nation by referencing the past. We can reference both the failures of social inequality, and the inspiration of the I Have a Dream speech, as mile markers that will direct us toward protecting the freedoms that make us all grow closer to actualizing our highest potential, individually and as a nation.

And we can use the principles of non-violence (Ahimsa) through understanding the principle of heat necessary for transformation (Tapas) to help us in this practice. We can practice moving toward a future where, like Dr. King says, children of all races (and I believe given current social and political issues he would include people of all sexual orientation, documented and undocumented immigrants, gun lovers and gun haters, Republican and Democrats etc.) could all hold hands and with exuberance shout the refrain, "Free at last! free at last! thank God almighty, we are free at last!" 

Join me this week as we continue Dr. Kings legacy by practicing transformation through non-violence and growing individually as the first step to continuing our growth as a nation.

Ode to Solstice

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Photo by Alex Adams

Photo by Alex Adams

As we stand on the edge of darkness and look over to the immense gulf below, as we look up toward the elevated mountains, what confirms the majesty of this moment in our hearts is not merely its beauty but more specifically our own vulnerability. As we see our own insignificance against the backdrop of such immensity, we are humbled and awestruck.

So in this vulnerability, we stand on the edge and cling to each other in that fierce heat and embrace of profound love. We hold tight, not knowing any other way, like two moths beating their wings furiously at the screen door, looking for the light and warmth beyond the threshold. This is our hope and our faith.

The snow, and ice, and the deep abyss of dark may come, and bring it on because, HERE WE ARE, standing on this edge of darkness, willing to take anything that this enormous, loving universe can throw at us. And by God, we will stand here all day and all night, this furiously long night, with death below us and heaven above us, and we will be here when the morning light creeps over that horizon, still clutching each other tightly.

We will be here on this edge. We will be here with this one heart, not just beating but pounding. We will be here, still bleeding from this long night. And we will be here, weeping with joy at the divine privilege of standing on the edge of heaven and hell and earth combined, in the majesty of these mountains, in the wonder of this wind, at the hope of heaven for we have tasted heaven in this fierce embrace.

Happy Solstice, everyone. 

A Mindful Writing Practice to Source Your Magic

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I write. And I love it when I'm writing and something magical happens, like words that I didn't know could even come out of me start popping out onto the page. But writing takes practice. And what if you could also practice accessing the magic within you. 

Writing Practice

I love this story. It's about just that. 

Once, Laurence Olivier, the master of masters, perhaps one if not THE best play-actors of our time, had just delivered his finishing lines of Shakespeare's Hamlet. The entire theatre was cupped in a quiet, magical revery, a rare experience that only happens when witnessing a spell-binding performance. Then after several long seconds of pure reverie, the audience exploded in exuberant applause.

Instead of graciously accepting such resounding adoration for his magical performance, Olivier stormed off stage, marched straight to his dressing room, and slammed the door in a huff.

Perplexed, the stage manager eventually gathered his courage and knocked timidly on Olivier's door.

"Mr. Olivier, what's the matter? You were absolutely brilliant!" the manager said. To which Laurence Olivier roared, "I know, and I have absolutely no idea how I did it!"
 

Have you ever read a poem, seen a performance, heard someone speak, or witnessed or something, where you sensed that the performer was tapped into pure magic, something enormous, much larger than just the every-day conversation? 

I'm confident that YOU have had an experience where you sourced that kind of magic within yourself to do say, or create something extraordinary.

Sometimes, experiencing that kind of magic is purely accidental. But what if you could practice sourcing that magical part of you so that you could somehow turn it on at will.

The Writing Practice

Well, my good friend, and writing facilitator, Nan Seymour and I have developed a beautiful method of accessing that magic within you through mindfulness and writing. It's called Dream and Write and it's brilliant.


Dream and Write is born from two practices: Yoga Nidra, a relaxing Awareness practice that feels like guided meditation, and River Writing, a writing practice of inviting words to flow, unobstructed from a river of inner-narrative. Paired together, this practice creates a unique mindfulness writing experience that taps profound Awareness for clarity and flow of writing. 

Nan and I have hosted several Dream and Write workshops and retreats. However, THIS Saturday, December 2, Nan and I will be hosting our first ever virtual Dream and Write workshop. This will be live but online and hosted in the comfort of your own home via the internet. This relaxing and heart-opening workshop will help you source the magic inside of you. 

Once you register, you'll receive a link to join us online at a virtual meeting platform called Zoom. 

Anders Carlson-Wee

Anders Carlson-Wee

As a writer, I've experienced first-hand the miracles of Dream and Write. Through this practice, I've witnessed incredible memories, stories, and beauty in the form of words spill across the page. I've had delightful ideas appear through this process. Those words were  already in there, I simply needed the process of Dream and Write to get them out, to  help organize them, and to cut them down to find their raw expression. 

There are several advantages to having this event be live but online. First, you can do it in the comfort of your own home on your computer, laptop, or smart device. Also, Nan and I can co-teach despite the fact that I will be in New York City she will be in Salt Lake City. And last but not least, we will get the pleasure of having the incredible poet Anders Carlson-Wee joining us live to share his astounding and beautiful poetry with us as prompts to inspire our own writing. (Read his poem Birdcalls)

This will be a unique and special event. We are limiting the size of this event to only 20 participants, for intimacy and efficacy. Please register today before the spots are gone; they've already started to go. This event will sell out and s.

Hey, you have gifts and the world needs your gifts. Practice sourcing the magic within you. 
 

Details

When: Saturday, December 2nd, 2017 from 12-3 pm ET, 11 am-2 pm CT, 10 am-1 pm MT, 9am-12pm PT. (There will be bio breaks.)

Where: Your house, via the internet

Price: $57.  20 spots

Thanks.

I hope you'll join us.

 

Join me for the yoga retreat of a lifetime. One week along the Amalfi Coast doing fantastic yoga and meditation, breathtaking ocean excursions, and eating authentic Italian food. Space is limited. 

May 26-June 2 2018

Learning My Calling

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Yoga Teachers Workshop

In 2003, I had only been teaching yoga for a few years.

I was a new yoga teacher trying really, really hard to make my living by only teaching yoga. My skills were average, I didn't have many teaching gigs, and the ones I had didn't pay very well. I was in a bind because while I loved teaching yoga, I needed to provide for my family. I had to make a change.

So one evening after class, I announced to my students that sadly, I was going to have to quit this yoga thing and get a "real job."

After class, a student and friend named Cristy, approached me with tears in her eyes and pleaded with me, "you CAN'T quit! You do what you do so I can do what I do. I'm a mom of 4 kids under the age of 5 and I need you to teach yoga." This conversation would change my life. 

True, I needed to start earning a living, but my conversation with Cristy showed me just how important yoga is for people, that the world needs good yoga instruction. Suddenly, I felt as though the world was callingme to teach yoga. And while I didn't even know if one could support themselves on something like teaching yoga, I was going to give it a try. 

So, rather than quitting the yoga thing and finding a different job that would simply pay the bills, I decided to take a risk and go all in with yoga. And bit by bit, I started to get more teaching opportunities. The more I taught, the more skillful I became. It took a while, but eventually I was thrilled to be making a living by teaching yoga.

Norm Nemrow

Norm Nemrow

After a few years of teaching yoga full-time, I had learned those essential tools I needed to help me be a more effective teacher. The better I got at teaching, the more opportunities came my way. Eventually, I had more great-paying teaching opportunities than I could handle and had to give most of them away to other teachers!

It reminds me of something that Norm Nemrow, my favorite business prof in college told me. He gave me his simple formula for success:

Yoga Teachers Workshop

Interest breeds excellence. Excellence breeds opportunities. 

Certainly, I was experiencing the fulfillment of this promise. And all these years later, I'm still at it.

I'll never forget Cristy who reminded me how important yoga can be. I take that very seriously and endeavor to give my all in every class I teach. 

I believe that the world needs good yoga. I feel like teaching yoga is how I do my part to make the world a better place. I believe that when people are skillfully guided to to connect body, mind, and spirit through yoga, they can meet their personal conditions to do what they do to make the world a better place, be that being a mom, lawyer, doctor, Crusty the Clown, or whatever. 

Thank you to all of you who believe in me and have encouraged on this path. I truly love it!

I'm truly passionate about teaching yoga. If you are too, I'd love to continue to make the world a better place by helping other teachers learn what took me so long to learn about how to teach effectively and make a living doing so. 

I'm offering an online Yoga Teachers Workshop this Saturday. I'm doing it online and recording it so you can join from wherever you live and if you can't make the time work for you, you can watch it when is most convenient for you. 

Do you have a calling? Is it also to teach? If so, how did you know you were supposed to teach yoga. If not teaching yoga, how did you know the calling when you did? Leave messages in the comments section below. 

 

Join me for the yoga retreat of a lifetime along Southern Italy's Amalfi Coast May 26-June 2 2018.

Headaches Stink!

Do you ever get headaches? Do you get regular headaches and not even know why? Did you know that headaches can sometimes be the result of unconscious tension in your hips, back, neck and shoulders?

Don't hate me, but I'm the kind of guy who almost never gets headaches. Well, not unless there's something really wrong with me. So when I do get a headache, it's an automatic red flag and I pay close attention to what's going on with me. Even having a headache is an opportunity for mindfulness.

There are a bunch of reasons for headaches, like dehydration, sinus congestions, and viruses. But like I said, sometimes, headaches are caused by unconscious tension, especially if your headaches are chronic.

Here are a few of my favorite techniques to remedy a headache. I use these myself and teach them to my students. 

First, check in and listen. Try hearing your headache as a message from your body. Close your eyes and give yourself a few slow rounds of deep ujjayi breaths. This technique is often powerful enough to remedy a headache all by itself because of the ujjayi breath's ability to calm the nervous system. 

As your breathe, bring your attention directly to your headache and see what you can learn from it. Where exactly do you feel it? What is the quality of your headache. What are the emotions, thoughts, or sensations which correspond to your headache? If your headache were a message, what might it be? 

And then try these three yoga poses to see if they help your headache.

Quick info before you do any yoga poses: remember that you are aiming for quality over quantity. You don’t get better results by doing a pose more intensely. Keep your stretches at the quality of I call “comfortably intense.” Aim for duration and feeling a solid, sustained stretch rather than a quick fix.  And always with every yoga pose maintain your ujjayi breaths.


Pose #1

Eagle Arms.jpg

Eagle Arms: to stretch upper-trapezius, lateral deltoids, triceps

This posture stretches a few of the most pernicious muscles when it comes to tension headaches. The upper-traps, the big muscles right at the top of your shoulders which connect to your head, are particularly responsible for causing tension headaches. When these muscles get tight, they pull on the tension balance of your upper skeleton as well as the muscles in your neck and scalp resulting in headaches. These muscles, as well as the lateral deltoids and triceps, tighten if you are prone to doing repetitive actions with hands and arms such as typing on a keyboard, driving, or texting (hopefully not all at the same time. I LOVE this pose.

Try wrapping your arms and then lifting your elbows slightly above your shoulders. Do this with your deep ujjayi breaths flowing. I like to slowly turn my head side to side. Oh, and makesure you’re not clenching your jaw. Sometimes when I'm trying to release tension in my body, I clench because I'm pushing too hard and this is an unconscious tension response.

Try this pose for 10 breaths on each side.


Pose #2

side neck stretch.jpg

Side Neck Stretch: to stretch the scalenes and sternocleidomastoid (SCM)

Other muscles that sometimes contribute to headaches are the SCMs and the scalenes. These muscles run along the sides of your neck.

To stretch these muscles, put your left hand on your head and tilt your left ear toward your left shoulder. Reach your right arm toward the floor but several inches away from your hip so that your middle finger almost touches the floor but not quite. It's like you're trying to get your right jaw and right fingertips as far away from each other as possible.

Do your ujjayi breathing.

Visualize your breath moving down into your fingertips and releasing any tension that exists from your head to your fingers. I'll visualize my tension dripping out my fingers like drops of water and pooling onto the floor.

Again, don't clench your jaw.


Pose #3

Seated Twist: to stretch the paraspinal and piriformis

ardha matsyandrasana.jpg

Sometimes the pain you feel in your head originate from a place entirely different than your head, like your back or even your hips. The paraspinal muscles are the vertical  muscles that run along either side of your spine and the piriformis muscle run deep under your glutes and connect your legs to your sacrum. Again, when either of these muscles are tight, they add to an imbalance in the skeletal tension and can radiate tension into your head. Plus, since your spine houses our spinal chord, the primary conduit for information moving via the nerves to the brain, by gently twisting the spine, you wring out our nervous system. Twists are great to release tension!

Sit down and cross one leg, bent at the knee, over the other leg, also bent at the knee. Bring opposite elbow across opposite leg. Sit up tall with your spine erect and buttocks grounded firmly on the floor. If one of your buttocks lifts, try extending your bottom leg straight. As you initiate the posture, breath in deeply and sit tall. As you exhale, gently twist to a comfortable level. Hold each side for 10-15 long breaths.


If you get headaches, try first checking in, listening to your body, and doing a few rounds of ujjayi breath. Then bust out these three poses and see if they help. If you do them regularly, you'll most likely find that your headaches will come less frequently and will be less severe when they do.

And remember, sometimes your headache is trying to tell you something so practice listening. 

Do you get headaches? Use the comment section to tell me what you do to help remedy headaches?

Mastery

In order to gain mastery, you must dismantle as much as you build.
— ~Master Sinon. The Architect's Apprentice by Elif Shafak.

What is mastery?

Scott Moore Yoga

Author and poet David Whyte illustrates mastery with a great story about an old welsh sheepdog named Kumro. According to David Whyte, Kumro was “the Joe Montana of the canine cosmos,” despite the fact that he was ancient in dog years, limped on a gimpy leg, and was missing key visual and hearing functions.

David Whyte describes seeing the younger, spry dogs trying fruitlessly to direct the sheep by spending enormous amounts of energy all the while Kumro stood back and simply watched (with his good eye).

Finally, Kumro decided something needed to be done. He took merely two or three steps in one direction, slightly turned his body a few degrees in the direction of the sheep, and almost like magic the entire flock funneled obediently into the narrow opening in the wall where he had wanted them to go.

Kumro’s edge, his mastery, was his radical simplicity—minimal effort for maximum benefit.

Richard Simmons.jpg

In decades past, the mantra for mastery was “Mind Over Matter.” As I’m writing this, I’m conjuring visions of high-waisted leotards, leg warmers, and headbands. It was conquer and conquest of body and nature. But to mistake body and nature as our foes unfortunately results in broken and bodies and annihilated environments.

Today we live in the Information Age. By applying correct information, we can achieve and practice mastery by doing less to get exponentially more and without the high cost of conquering ourselves. Instead of “Mind Over Matter,” the new mantra is “Mindfulness With Matter.” The information we gain for mastery doesn’t come from the internet, a course, or a book (remember those, or did they go out with the leg-warmers?). The profound and life-changing information I’m talking about comes only by learning to listen to the master within, like your own personal Yoda, the quiet and wise whispering of body, mind, and spirit. While a teacher can help, they can never substitute for that inner master. Mastery, therefore, involves learning to listen to the wisdom already inside of you.

John Coltrane had mastery. He had teachers, yes, but who taught Coltrane to be Coltrane? Coltrane did.

Learn to listen. Listen to learn.

Of course, this applies directly to our yoga practice. In my mind, there is no “achievement” by putting your foot behind your head. That mentality is so “Mind Over Matter.” In class I like joke that if there is a pose I can’t do, that pose is overrated. Sure, I’ll keep practicing it because of what I can learn in the listening, but I have no delusions that by putting my foot behind my head will make me more spiritual, more valuable, or a better person.

Instead, the achievement is all internal and mind-bogglingly more expansive than flexible hamstrings. It’s the invisible flexibility of my constant growth into Awareness, a mastery which is facilitated by the tools of my body, mind, and breath but which fundamentally isn’t body, mind, and breath. And this expansiveness can only come from a mastery of what is most subtle.


Perfection is not when there is no more to add, but no more to take away.
— Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Author of Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince)
le petit prince.jpg
One does not accumulate but eliminate. It is not daily increase but daily decrease. The height of cultivation always runs to simplicity.
— Bruce Lee
Mastery

So, if mastery is minimalism, what do we need to cut in order to practice it? Start by cutting everything that isn’t absolutely necessary. Start by radically cutting everything but the breath.

Try this experiment:

Sit. Close your eyes. Breathe slowly in and out. Listen and feel. Visualize your breath as a color or texture and localize your breath to any place on your body you choose. You’ll soon feel a tingle, a heaviness, a lightness, or something else. If you chose a hand, it might feel as if that hand is larger or lighter than the other. This kind of attention and focus on the breath will localize Prana, the yogic term meaning life-force energy. You can feel Prana. Also, this focus brings Awareness. Now what if you could breathe this Prana, this life-force energy and Awareness in into your mind, your emotions, or hell, your finances or love life? That’s mastery.

“Dude, how did you finally let go of all of your anxiety?”

“I found my breath.”

I invite you to practice and cultivate mastery by cutting everything but the essentials. Practice breathing and meditation. Practice styles of yoga like yin, restore, and pranayama that celebrate getting much more by doing much less. There’s nothing wrong with vigorous yoga. And as you approach whatever poses or life situation, try simplifying down to the essence. Learn to breathe life into whatever you are experiencing at the moment.

Next week I’ll continue on this theme of mastery with even more practical ways of using our breath, and Prana to develop mastery in our yoga and meditation practice, our love life, and our work.


Virtual Yoga Nidra Series October 8-November 12