The Last Dance of a Falling Leaf

I yawn and stretch against the call of a bigger world and I am no longer wrapped around myself but something new. The wind and air on my flesh is exhilarating as warmth creeps in and spreads across my skin. With increased urgency, I unfurl and stretch across the backdrop of a blue sky, and for the first time I am not alone. Glorious knowing arises within me. It is new and it is old. “Yes,” my soul whispers. It is my destiny to bask and drink in its light. This I know. A familiar sweetness flows through my cells. They thirst with anticipation and delight of this surging, sweet and sticky. I beg, “Sweet nectar, fill me with your bliss!”. I flutter and dance in the wind, and the larger I grow the more graceful and fluid my dance becomes. I delight in this new way of being in the world as a gentle tickle begins to grow from within me. A giggle rises up and consumes every inch of my form. I laugh under the feet of a thousand footed caterpillar, and I know that this joy is love.

From above, a remarkable beating upon my skin like a drum. Pitter patter pitter patter, as wetness falls upon me and rolls to the ground. Ahhhhhhhhhh! This life is sweet and rich and delightful. I can’t help but expand and expand and expand, as the caterpillar dangles beside me on my lifeline branch in his silken cocoon. I feel the rhythm of his heartbeat. We are one, the caterpillar and I. We are a necessity. Together until the day comes when the world shakes and my neighbor chrysalis cracks. The caterpillar is no more. I feel the rush of air as he flies away to another life. “Goodbye sweet friend!” I call after him with a lingering cry.

The days are quiet again.

I pass my time this way. With sun and moon and rain drops and caterpillars turning into butterflies until a slow heaviness crawls across my senses. Yellow, orange, and red it creeps and grows within me. I’m tired. I’ve grown heavy and brittle and stiff and I no longer dance with the same fluid grace. This is more than I can carry this mortal call of the earth, and I begin the march toward succumbing. I know in the quickly dying cells of my self strums the sweet song of my final dance. My only task is to let go, and so goes the fear. “Let go and be heavy,” I hear this internal urge. “Let go and be free.” And I do. I let go of the stern grasp of the only home I’ve known, and as I do, it begins. The most rapturous dance of all! Lighter and lighter I grow as the heaviness slips away. I vibrate with a new and long lost intensity and abandon. I twirl and twirl and twirl. “I am a dervish!” I call to the world. The end grows near, and I become quiet again. Silently I float, and for the first time in a long time, something new. I am still, and in this magical stillness a new understanding arises. “I too am a caterpillar. I too am a butterfly, and this, this is only the beginning,” and I sink into a cold, damp embrace. Ready to begin again.


A poem for every Woman

To every Woman I say:

Goddess, know thyself.
You are not the rib of a man.
You are the divine receptacle;
a transmitter of divine creation.

To all Women I say:

Love each other.
Release jealousy, competition and fear,
we are not each other’s enemy.
We are all divine sisters.
The more we come together,
the more there is to go around.

To every Woman, no matter your age:

Your body is perfect exactly as it is.
Still, if you want to change it
you have to love it first.
Show this to your daughters.

To all my Sisters:

We are not an afterthought.
We are the makers of the world.

30 minutes to Change Your Life: A recipe for peace of mind and mental clarity

I’ve recently begun participating in a yoga webinar with two of my favorite teachers, Elena Brower and Christina Sell. As a part of our homework, we are asked to do sun salutations (as many as we need to to learn something new) and a 30 minute pranayama (breath exercise) practice every day. Yeah, every day. I know. It’s crazy. Anyway, I’ve always been a good student and when I’m given homework I do it. So, I’ve been making time everyday for these practices, and it feels great!! It calms me and leaves my mind feeling grounded and clear. Based on this experience, I’ve put together a 30 minute recipe that you can do to begin to experience the same peace of mind and mental clarity I’m enjoying through my own practice of movement, breath and meditation. Here it is, 30 minutes that will change your life:

1) Move for 10 minutes

If you are familiar with sun salutations, you may choose to practice a simple sun salutation for 10 minutes. If you are unfamiliar with this moving meditation, then any short asana practice will work. Here is a short yoga sequence that you can use if you’re new to yoga or if you prefer to be led. If you can’t bring your hands to your toes or your head doesn’t meet the floor, don’t worry!! Adi, the instructor in the video, has been practicing yoga since she was 15! Flexibility will develop with time. The important thing is to just be where you are, and embrace your body as it is today. If you have any questions about how to make any of the postures in the video easier or more accessible to you, email me: I’ll share some tricks of the trade to make your experience more comfortable!

2) Breathe for 10 minutes

A daily pranayama practice is a great way to cultivate greater mental clarity. Here is Adi again with a short breathing practice to get you started. The more you practice the more familiar and accessible this will be. Try it everyday for a week. The more familiar you are with the rhythm of the breath, the more you’ll get out of it. If you don’t catch on right away, be easy on yourself. Practice makes proficient! Once you’ve mastered this one explore other pranayama practices. This is new to me, and I’m super excited about the benefits I’m experiencing.

3) Sit for 10 minutes

Remaining in your pranayama posture, set a timer for 10 minutes. It may be best for you to start with 2 minutes and slowly work your way up to the full ten. Sitting for extended periods of time can be very challenging if you aren’t used to it, so again, be easy on yourself (notice a theme yet). Close your eyes and breath naturally. Notice the activity of your eyes behind your eyelids. Are they jumping around or fluttering? Just notice. Monitoring the movement behind the eyelids is a good way to begin to quiet your mind (thanks, Christina!!). Focus on stilling your eyeballs. Remember to breath. Thoughts will come into your awareness, some will catch your attention others will not. When you notice this, call your thought “thought”, and return to your breathing and quieting your eyes. Sit this way, breathing and noticing your thoughts, until the timer sounds. A little trick I’ve discovered: if you start to get antsy and want to see how much time is left just say to yourself, “Just another minute.” Tell yourself this as often as you need to. It really works! Taking time each day to sit this way for as little as 5 minutes can work wonders!!

Lie on your back for 3 to 5 minutes. Let your arms rest at your side, about 45 degrees from your torso, palms up. Allow your fingers to naturally curl and be soft.

Try this recipe and practice as often as you can. The more familiar you get with these practices the more natural they feel. Namaste!

Cultivating Inner Quiet: 10 ways to quiet your mind and relax your body

Our world is filled with noise. We are surrounded by outside sounds from television, radio, appliances, and all the conveniences of modern life; and we live with an ever increasing state of noise within arising from feelings of anxiety and depression, rushing through one responsibility to get to the next, the unchecked turnings of our minds, and physical tension. These 10 practices are easy and accessible ways to access more quiet space within and to reduce internal noise, quiet your mind and more affectively relax and rejuvenate your body.

1) Reduce External Noise

It’s a loud, loud, loud, loud world. Cellphones, iPods, radio, television, cars, the appliances in our home all contribute to the ever increasing external noise around us. One of the simplest ways to begin to cultivate internal quiet is to reduce the level of external noise. Turn off the car radio, even if it’s just for several minutes. Spend the first 10 to 20 minutes of your evening in quiet, without the radio or the television. Try completing a chore in quiet. As you practice this more often, you may begin to notice that the initial discomfort you experience in response to the silence around you shifts and dissolves, leaving you craving moments and spaces without all the external noise.

2) Listen

We each have two voices. One that bounces around between our ears, the voice of our minds; and one that arises from below as intuition. As we begin to cultivate quiet we can develop skills to distinguish between the two voices. Often times we get caught up in what the voice in our mind is saying as it turns things over and over in never ending fluctuation. That is the job of the mind. It’s role is to sort through our environment, experience, and perceptions. It catagorizes and “makes sense” of the input from our external world. It is not, however, our Self. The voice of our true, highest nature arises from the heart. It is this voice that is informing of our purpose and our most genuine, conscious action.

This step is also applicable in conversation. We often spend our listening time in conversation formulating our own thoughts and responses rather than truly listening to the person we are speaking with. Take time to really listen to the person speaking and not your own mental voice, the next time you are engaged in conversation. It is only from this place of steady listening that we can begin to formulate an honest and grounded response rather than an emotional, patterned reaction.

3) Speak Less

Speaking less is a simple way to cultivate inner quiet. This goes not only for your conversations with others, but also conversations with yourself (those chattering fluctuations mentioned above). Choose a manageable period of time, such as thirty minutes or an hour, and vow to speak only when spoken to. Have a mini silent retreat, even if it’s just one hour. When you return to the world of unbridled conversation, practice thinking twice and speaking once. It isn’t always possible to maintain a personal silent retreat in the midst of a busy work day, but noticing how often we speak when it really isn’t necessary is a good first step to noticing how not speaking can support a more peaceful state of mind and body.

4) Soften your tongue and eyes

Anytime that it occurs to you during the day, practice noticing tension in your tongue and jaw and the position of your head along the sagittal plane. That is, how forward your eyes are in your head. Think of softening and gently widening your tongue from it’s base in your throat to the tip and softening your eyes deeper into their sockets. This can be done anytime, anywhere: while driving or standing in line at the grocer, sitting at your desk, while filling your gas pump or during a telephone conversation. Softening these areas of your face cultivates quiet in your skull, which in turn can affect your mind and help to facilitate speaking less and active listening.

5) Practice Gratitude

Feelings of lack and desperation can wreak havoc on your sense of quietatude. Instead of taking stock of what isn’t, count the blessings of what is. You can’t focus on what is missing if you’re in a state of appreciation for what you have. Dissonance is created when our actions do not match our beliefs and when we perceive that our experience is lacking in some aspect. This increases the level of cellular tension within the body. Did you know your cells can be tense? They can. Just like the previous three steps this can be practiced anywhere, anytime. The benefits of practicing gratitude on stress level and general health and well being, are well documented and produce immediate results. Finding a source of gratitude in each and every manifestation brings the self to a state of fulfillment. To a wise man, enough is a feast.

6) Tune into your senses. One at a time.

Give your attention over to your sensory experience, focusing on one sense at a time. Eating is a good time to practice sight, smell and taste. Focus your awareness on the appearance of your meal. Take in the form and color. Notice how your body responds to the smells. Chew slowly and absorb all the flavors of each bite. To tune into your hearing turn off the tv and radio, eliminate intentional noise, and tune into the other, incidental noises in your environment. Can you hear the clock ticking or the birds outside? Don’t try to name what you perceive, just notice. When you get into bed at night notice the temperature of the sheets, the softness of the pillow, and how your body responds to reclining. Your mind will want to name things, that’s normal. Don’t get caught up in it, passively receive what you perceive.

7) Focus on one task at a time. Take your time.

We are a multi-tasking society. We rarely do only one thing. Whether we are watching TV while surfing the internet, listening to the radio while driving, or tweeting while doing potentially anything our attention is divided everywhere we go. Make it a point to give all of your attention over to one task. With this kind of focus, you can be productive and precise in your task while also cultivating quietitude.

8) Notice your thoughts. Notice your breathing.

When we are in a state of heightened anxiety, fear, or confusion our breath shortens and becomes more shallow. You don’t have to be in an uncomfortable state for your thoughts to affect the depth and quality of your breath. Sometimes simply thinking intensely about any subject can cause us to shorten or even hold our breath. Meditative sitting is perhaps the best way to begin to experience this relationship. Find a quiet place and take a seat that is comfortable. If you are not used to sitting cross legged on the floor then give yourself some support. Elevate your hips by sitting on a yoga block or a cushion. Support your back against a wall or if necessary sit in a chair with both feet touching the ground. This practice is most effective if you are in an upright position. Reclining is not encouraged. Once you’ve found your seat, close your eyes and observe your natural breath in and out of your nose. Assigning descriptive words to the quality of your breath isn’t necessary. Simply watch your breath as it enters and exits your body through your nose. Your minds natural state is one of thinking. Thoughts will arise from all corners of your mind. The objective is not to stop your thoughts, but to notice them and the space between them. When a thought arises, simply label it “thinking” and return to watching your breath. The more you practice this the easier it becomes. Understanding comes from participation. Proficiency is born of practice.

9) Notice how your thoughts affect your body.

This can be done as a part of the sitting practice, but can also be practiced anywhere, anytime. Our minds, bodies and spirits do not operate independently of each other. Each is connected to the other in both subtle and gross ways. This is most often experienced when we are sick or injured. When our body is not operating at it’s best, it can contribute to reduced self esteem and melancholy. Likewise, when we brood over an experience or circumstance our feelings of vitality and happiness are compromised. Our minds and thought patterns also have an affect on our physical bodies. Next time you have a negative thought, stop, pause and scan your body for tension or muscular tightening. Does an argument with a loved one create tension in your belly? Do feeling of depression or vulnerability lead to compression in the center of your chest? Do worries about work or frets over a decision create subtle tension in your solar plexus or wreak havoc on your digestion? Over time these slight compressions in our physical bodies create resistance to the flow of oxygen and prana (life force) contributing to reduced flexibility, mental blocks, false images of ourselves and physical illness. Getting in touch with how your body responds to your thoughts, can serve to break this chain and help us stay open, balanced and quiet in the midst of challenging circumstances and relationships.

10) Find what you love to do. Do that thing.

Whether it is making music or another form of art, preparing food, dancing, playing sport, performing, making discoveries, or any other activity; if you have not found that thing you love to do then let your first priority be to find it. Nothing compares to the blissful experience of engaging in something you love or sharing your unique skill or talent. Your most joyful activities are direct links to your inner most sense of quiet and ease, joy, love, and peace.

Some of the benefits I’ve noticed from these practices are: greater confidence and clarity in decision making, less anxiety and worry, fewer negative critiques of myself, better listening skills, calmer and more thoughtful responses to challenging experiences, more of an inclination to seek out quiet within and without. Give these steps a try and let me know how they work for you.

The Tip of the Iceberg

Yoga helps you notice some pretty interesting things. For instance, this is what happens with my tongue when I practice asana:

This is an example of unintentional tension within the body. It is misappropriated effort. We all have this somewhere in our physical bodies. Perhaps it is a furrowing of your forehead, a slight tension at the corners of your mouth or a gripping in your neck. It could be as subtle as a curling of your baby toe. We all have something. We all have some tension, gripping or resistance in our bodies that left unchecked begins to manifest into pain, injury and disease.

This tension in my tongue is only partially due to the effort I am putting forth to be in a pose. It’s also a product of chatter. I’m also noticing this tendency in other parts of my body – most vividly during conversation, either with another person or with the commentary of my own thoughts. You don’t have to “do yoga” in order to begin to understand where these tendencies lie within your own body. Driving is a perfect place to tune in and become aware of your default resistance. Notice where you are gripping in your body while at the wheel by first asking yourself the question, “Where do I have tension?” Often, simply asking the question is enough to bring your awareness to that space within your physical self. Sit back into the support of the seat and lighten your grip on the wheel. Red lights are a great place to do this. You can close your eyes for a moment and scan the internal space of your body. Maybe you are holding tension in your hip or your upper back or your jaw. Just notice where this happens for you. You can do this anywhere at anytime.

A yoga teacher once said to me, “Our issues are in our tissues.” I think this is an example of what she was speaking about. As we encounter experience and build associations and acquire thought patterns, we also develop physical responses to those stimuli. It is my personal belief that we only have two emotions: joy and fear. Everything else is a fractal, a hair split of the primary two. Joy is our natural state, our essence. Fear arises with the insertion of anything that defies or obscures that truth. Fear manifests within the body as tension. We are literally holding ourselves back from experiencing the bliss of our true nature.

Lately, I’ve been working on cultivating a quietness within myself – physically and mentally – as a way to experience and mitigate this tendency toward gripping in my day to day experience (I’ll write more about this later) and practicing noticing what’s going on in my body (these days especially my tongue *see above) during my time on my mat. Fear and resistance work together in a well practiced tango. They are the perfect partners. In the wild or in a truly life threatening circumstance, fear slows down your power of perception. You are able to tune into the environment in a focused, systematic and  methodical way and make discerned choices about where to put your effort and where to conserve. It happens in a split second. Once the danger is beyond you, then the adrenaline leaves and your parasympathetic nervous system kicks in, returning your systems to normal functioning.  Hala Khouri has used this example: A possum in danger of being attacked by a fox plays dead. Thinking the possum is already damaged goods, the fox moves on. Once the danger has left, the possum begins to shake uncontrollably for a time, releasing all of the pent up adrenaline and tension it produced during the threat. Once the adrenaline is released, the possum gets up and goes about its day. It does not develop a chronic fear of foxes. It releases the tension built up during the fear response and it moves on. We, on the other hand, often don’t release the pent up tension we experience from the stress of our day to day lives. These repeated experiences and impressions help to form the thought patterns that we utilize to sort through our day to day experiences. These thought patterns create unintended, often unnoticed, tension.

The coolest thing about my crazy tongue is that being aware of it is opening up whole new spaces in my body. It’s opening up a whole new practice for me of becoming more quiet, and receptive to my inner voice. Awareness of this crazy tendency to cling and grip with my body is just the tip of the ice berg. There is a vast universe of space filled with joy and wisdom, love and enchantment resting within me just on the other side of those tense places. It is so within all of us. That is why we cling to that space right at the opening. Our deepest fear is the fear of our own light. The joy and happiness that so many of us seek to the point of exhaustion outside of ourselves is already within us. It is vast and ecstatic and resonant with truth. All we have to do to experience it is let go.

It’s All Yoga. A tale of road rage and redemption.

Tonight I lost it. My cool, my center, my common sense all in a matter of seconds. It was admittedly not my most yogic moment. For those of you who need not the gory details, I commend you. Skip down to paragraph 3. For the rest of us, here’s how it went down:

I have a persistent habit toward road rage and tonight my demon reared his ugly head. Again. I was driving home from work, but not on my usual route (not that that is of any real significance or excuse). As I left the office I called in take out and I was on my way to retrieve it. My delicious and much anticipated paneer tikka was awaiting my arrival, and I was praying my love wouldn’t grow cold. Much to my dismay traffic sucked, and I was clearly in the wrong lane if I was going to make the most of this unfortunate situation. So, I signaled. I am sure the woman in the other lane saw me. She flinched. She took a second, and then she decided. Not to let me in. I sped up a bit, with my blinker still blinking, and still she refused my entry.** So, I made her. I got far enough ahead of her to squeeze the front end of my car across the line and I dared her, “Let me in you witch, or else hit me!”. Needless to say she didn’t like my ultimatum one bit, and she made her dissatisfaction duly known. As if my behavior up to this point had not been bad enough, I proceeded to yell something like, “You SAW me!! I had my damn blinker on!!!” For added effect (since I was aware enough to know she couldn’t hear me), I proceeded to engage my blinker in this fashion: rightleftrightleftrightleftrightleftrightleftmyblinkermyblinkermyblinkerrightleftrightleftahhhhhhhhhh. Somewhere around that point I started to calm down. Then it hit me. That was ugly. That was embarrassing. That was dangerous!

As the incident wound itself down, I began to notice myself compiling a laundry list of reasons why I was justified. She SAW ME and she DENIED me. I couldn’t let her get away with that. I have TANDOORI to pick up dammit! All very sound and justifiable reasons for cutting someone off in rush hour traffic. Right? Wrong. Why had I done that? What is this slip up all about? I’d been doing so well managing this! I’m a yoga teacher for cripes sake!! Then I remembered a blog I posted on my Facebook page about the the guru principle and misunderstanding about the role of the teacher and I remember what my own teachers, Laura and Cat said just this weekend, “Everyone is always doing yoga all the time; practice comes in when you are aware and skillful. Everyone is on the path.” And so since the yoga had clearly already begun, I decided to put on my big girl panties and take a look at why I’d fallen off the wagon and straight onto my ass.

I had to get honest. First, to admit that I was wrong. I was wrong and she was right less wrong. I was angry with myself for not taking advantage of choosing the quick route when I could, and admitting I missed it because I wasn’t paying very good attention to begin with. Humph. Now why might that be? I was playing with my phone (insert sheepish look here). Traffic was bumper to bumper and I wasn’t really being that negligent, but that’s beside the point. If I’m going to be truly honest this isn’t the only area in which I’ve been less than mindful this week. My house is a mess, I’ve been sleeping later than usual, I’m wasting time at work, and not only am I not trying to meditate I am actively and with full awareness ignoring the voice in my head that is telling me to “sit down and shut up”. Double humph. Triple humph. Shit.  I haven’t been very engaged with my yoga.

So, here I am. Turning my gaze upon awareness and engaging as honestly as I can. I am confessing to you as a means of holding myself to the highest accountability (and hopefully I will give you something of value to receive). Getting on my mat isn’t enough. Not when I’m escaping into negligence of my other practices. I wish I could apologize to the woman I cut off. I hope she was engaged enough with her yoga to let it go. We are all human and perfectly imperfect. Completion is unattainable, and it isn’t the goal to begin with. The goal is recognition and the expression of that awareness. I may always struggle with a tendency toward road rage. If I’m skillful enough to remove it from my path, I can rest assured that there is something else waiting to engage me underneath. Tonight, I’m hitting the reset button. I will clear my house of the clutter, and resolve to wake with the alarm in the morning. When my inner voice says “sit down and shut up”, I will take my seat and I will breath. AUM.

It isn’t whether your are right all the time that matters. It isn’t important that you always be perfect or even always good. It is about paying attention, listening, and being honest. It is about putting that awareness and knowledge into action, and forgiving if what you discover disappoints the grandest illusions you hold of yourself. Be kind. First and foremost to yourself. Don’t be afraid to look at the parts of you that are ugly. It’s all yoga, and we’re all on the path.

**Let me just take this brief aside to air a little gripe. Women, you do this. You see people with their blinker on, and you pretend not to see them, and you don’t let them merge into your lane. You do. Don’t deny it. I see it all the time. Not to mention the thousands of times I myself have done the same (I’m working on it). What’s the big deal anyway? So we let someone in. It doesn’t make us pushovers. It makes us considerate. Think about it.