Monday, October 31, 2011

Darkness and Destruction

There have been several times in my life where I experienced a breaking point; a feeling that I am up against a wall, or that everything I thought I had I must lose. When facing death or loss, my survival instinct sometimes places me in a position of wanting control or being possessive. 

 "What you resist, persists". This is a truth that I have experienced several times in my life. I have tried to muscle my way through, forcing solutions that don't suit the situation.I have even imploded and turned it in on myself, wreaking havoc on my own body and emotions by resisting that truth. 
As a child, I was so afraid of the wicked witch (the epitome and personification of darkness) that my mother cut all the pictures of the witch out of my story books! We are generally taught to ignore the darknesses, both out in the world and within ourselves. Some worry that even if you entertain a negative thought you will bring it upon yourself, or it may be contagious. I have found a better way. What if it is okay to not be at the top of your game 100% of the time? What if these phases of darkness and destruction, loss and death are actually there to help us to experience release and surrender, to see that we are indeed powered by something far larger than our mere desires?
Letting Go Into the Unknown is challenging for most (to say the least!).The process of letting go is extremely intimate and personal. Each individual has a path and a way that only they themselves can find. This can be scary for a control freak like me, who wants the answers and the quick fixes, however this process of letting go can lead us to an area of mysticism where we may find some sort of transcendence from the earthly world. Many people find this magical place through the practice of yoga or through some type of transformational ritualistic work. I have found many different ways to explore the reliance on a power that is greater than myself. Astrology has  been a good guide, giving me a blueprint of insight into my own journey.Life moves in cycles and destruction is an integral part of life. We must sacrifice certain attachments in order to change and grow.  If I can see my life as a symbolic journey, it begins to give meaning to these archetypes that feel unsafe or unfamiliar.

ShivaThe god SHIVA is a symbol of destruction. There is a DESTROYER archetype that exists. I had an altar once with all kinds of symbols. One day I came home and my house was on fire and the entire chest had been burned. There was nothing left on that altar that was recognizable except the symbol of Shiva. Though I did not know it at the time, my old self, was dying and I was becoming an entirely new person. My job is to channel that destructive energy and to aim it towards the aspects within myself that I need to annihilate. Throw it all into the mix and use every bit of it as fuel.

True yoga is including and honoring even the darkness and destruction. Even exercise is a destructive process, the muscles are broken down, in order to repair and  rebuild themselves during rest. Flexibility can come from creating micro tears in the fascia. So make no mistake. We need this aspect in our lives. 

The process of transformation is incredibly powerful, but it is not easy. There is a quote that I love that I used in my VISIONMAT that says:

Make no mistake about it - enlightenment is a destructive process. It has nothing to do with becoming better or being happier. Enlightenment is the crumbling away of untruth. It's seeing through the facade of pretense. It's the complete eradication of everything we imagined to be true. 

During my lifetime, I have gone through many little deaths in order to shed my skin and experience rebirth. Collectively, this is happening all around us. In the west, it seems our entire system is turning upside-down. Mostly because we are taught always to be number one; at the top of our game. Even within the new age spiritual community, there is a fear of the dark and an addiction to light. I have found that my deepest, most intimate moments with myself, have given me the most power. I have come through the very darkness that I have been taught to disclaim. As long as I perceive it as “out there”, I can blame it on everyone else and be a victim. When I claim it, I own the power that comes from facing it within and developing the skills to use its power to transform.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Transform Yourself With Yoga

Without pain there is no change. But I tend to adopt the attitude of this saying: "When I truly accept where I am, I begin to transcend the feeling of pain." One of the most beneficial aspects of yoga is learning how to find that threshold, and move towards it, rather than shy away from it.

I, like most people, am a feel-good junkie. Why else would I be attracted to a job where I am paid to wear comfortable clothes, wear no make up and lead people who are taking a time out to care for themselves to the ultimate moment: 
savasana, where they get to float off into bliss, as they lay down for five to ten minutes. This is the "yoga" that we all imagine, right? Hugs and sitting peacefully in a cross-legged position with no earthly desires. But make no mistake, in order to truly transcend, the very darkness we resist, must be embraced. The part of ourselves that wants to be comfortable must die and be replaced with the part of ourselves that demands growth. There is no growth without change and there is no change without discomfort.

How can we reframe these old ideas we have about the sensations that we label 'torture?' Perhaps to spin the old: I'm dying! Into: "I know this is my body transforming," or "If this difficulty takes me closer to my goal, then Bring It On!"

There was a point in my personal journey with my body when I was using my very powerful energy to be hard on myself. In a sense, my destructive energy was misguided. When I became an instructor, I suddenly was using the very same force that I had been using to take myself down to uplift and fuel an entire community of individuals towards wellness. Exercise is, in some sense a destructive process. We break down the muscles in order for them to rebuild and strengthen. We face our breaking point in an effort to find the powerful voice that emerges with new sense of determination. We overcome our darkness and recreate our bodies, and mind. We send a new message to the body and our DNA knows now that more is possible.

This practice can be a guiding force in our lives, as well. The workout is a great place to experiment with this edge. I have learned from and used it as a template for how to survive a break up, my father's passing and loss of a job that I loved. The physical is a wonderful experiment for even deeper moments when we must endure emotional and psychic pain with grace and equanimity.

The six advanced Power Moves below are meant to push the envelope a little. Avoid forcing, but, try to allow your body to go a little farther than you thought possible, and notice what happens to your mind, as you metamorphosis and literally transform. The key to going deeper is not to push past the pain or to force your body, but to tolerate the feeling by staying with it rather than backing off. Once you have surrendered to the feeling, the body will settle in and transcend it without effort.

EAGLE (See image above)
Start with your feet together. Shift you body weight into your left leg. Bend you knees, then lift your right leg up and over your left leg. If possible, hook your right toes behind the left calf muscle. Wrap your right 
arm underneath your left arm, crossing once at the elbows, and again at the wrists to bring your palms back together. Raise the elbows toshoulder-level, and keep your upper body lifted, as you continue to twist your legs and sink your hips down. Breathe. Repeat on the other side.

BIRD OF PARADISE (See images above)
From Warrior 2, place your right palm to the inside of the front heel. If your hand is inside, use your arm to open the leg out to the side. Next, you are going to wrap, so reach the top arm up and back. The bottom arm wraps underneath the front bent leg. Clasp the hands, so that you are wrapping. Keep leaning the torso back as you rotate the chest open towards the ceiling. If this is enough for you, just stay here, and breathe. If you are ready to try a challenge, shift the body weight slightly forward into the front foot, while maintaining the bind, and step your left foot up to meet the right. Move the body weight into the left foot, as you slowly start to stand up. Once upright, try extending your right leg.

KING PIGEON (See image above)
Sitting on the floor, bend your right knee in front of you and bring your left leg behind you in a straight position. The heel of your right foot is in towards your left 
hip. Make sure to rotate the left hip down, so that the front of your left thigh is on the floor.

For the next stage of the this posture, moving into King Pigeon, it is important that your spine and 
shoulders are warmed up. Bend your left leg, so that the toes are pointing up towards the ceiling. Take hold of the foot with your left hand, arch the back, and draw the left elbow up towards the ceiling. Then extend your right arm arm and lower the hand to reach the foot. Draw both elbows in and up, as you continue to arch your spine, bringing the sole of your left foot to the crown of your head, if possible. This can be very intense, so breathe deeply, 5 breaths.

SPLITS (See image below)
Start standing on your knees and extend your right leg straight out in front of you so that the heel of the foot is on the floor. Bring both hands to the floor on either side of you. Begin crawling your hands forward, as you slowly slide the right foot forward, allowing the back leg to straighten behind you. Stop at the point of intensity, where you can still maintain a comfortable breath. You may need to continue to use your hands to support you on the floor, or you can also prop a bolster or a block underneath you. For those of you that can come all the way down, extend both arms overhead, and touch the palms together.

LOTUS (See image below left)
Begin sitting on the ground, with your left leg bent in, as if you were sitting cross-legged. Lift the right foot, and draw it towards the left groin, resting the top of the right foot on the left thigh. Sit up tall, lengthening through the crown of the head. This may feel very intense for some of you, so if this your posture today, then great. Stay here, and breathe. To move into Lotus, keep your right foot on the top of the left thigh, and draw the left foot out from underneath the right thigh. Move mindfully, as you bring the left foot to the right thigh. Breathe deeply into any intensity you feel here. If you feel acute pain, release the posture immediately.

FROG (See image above right)
Start in table top position, with your knees directly under your hips. Keeping your hips and knees in one line, 
walk your knees away from each other and slowly lower down onto your forearms. Bring your shins perpendicular to the thighs and flex your feet. Draw your navel slightly in to your spine to maintain length in your lower back and breathe. To deepen the experience, move your knees farther away from each other. Breathe. Feel your hips and groin muscles opening. Breathe.

FIREFLY (See images below)
With your feet hips-width apart, crouch down and place your hands flat on the floor, directly behind your feet. Rest your hips onto your triceps, as you slowly begin to shift the weight back, while at the same time press firmly into the floor with your hands. As your feet come up, hook your toes together. Once you get comfortable here, and start developing more upper-body strength, you can extend both legs straight. Use your abdominal muscles for strength and stability, and continue to press firmly into the floor until your arms are eventually straight.

Monday, October 17, 2011


I remember being a child, and wondering what I would look like as an adult. Would I be beautiful? Growing up, Disney characters and Barbie dolls colored my view of what was beautiful and didn't give much room for anything too unique. My mother always taught me that there was such a thing as inner beauty, and being authentic. Although it took me years to accept myself as is, part of what I grew to notice was that I was somehow attractive enough to gravitate people that I too found attractive. Even without blonde hair and blue eyes. Even without make up or perfectly straight hair. Even at the gym. Sweaty!

Beauty is something that emanates from within, and certainly is in the eye of the beholder. So behold your beauty. See beauty in everything. Notice what is already beautiful about your body, and see the beauty in what's around you. Even the most seemingly tragic situations hold beauty, if you look at them through loving eyes.

Meditate or practice in nature and beauty. When I am feeling unlovable, I remember that everything in nature is beautiful. I don't look at a roly poly puppy and think it's "fat" or "ugly" if it has a marking on it's face. There are no imperfect flowers in nature. I see the beauty in all of my students in much the same way. We come in such a wide range of shapes colors and sizes, but I always say that if aliens came down and saw us, we would all seem basically the same. Beauty is a matter of perspective.

Try listing 3 things that are beautiful about yourself. This month, find the elegance and grace in your practice. For some tips on loving yourself this month click here. Also, check me out on Beauty Bean's Make Up Free Monday for more tips on feeling beautiful from the inside out.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Creating Balance With Yoga

Developing a healthy relationship with the body is as important as our relationships with our friends, lovers, parents and children. It requires balance. And it's the alignment of the heart, mind, body and spirit that allows us to feel unified and present. For me, the demands of my outer relationships sometimes tend to take a priority over my relationship with my own body. However, this body is the one relationship that lasts a lifetime. Carving out space and making a date with myself to practice the following balance routine is essential.

Yoga translated means union. We all contain opposites that demand integration. Too much tension and there is no flexibility, not enough energy and nothing gets accomplished. Balance poses are an ideal way to unite these energies. The Balance poses requires us to be 100 percent present in the moment. When attempting a balance pose, notice that when you over-think it, it doesn't happen. Try to do tree pose while you are thinking about what you need at the grocery store later. Energy flows where the mind goes, so if your mind is at the market, there is no attention to your pose. Imagine how this translates into the rest of your life. Below you will find seven balancing poses. Do each pose three times; everyday and see how you progress.

Here are some key things to remember when you are balancing:

Gazing point: They say when the gaze is still, the mind is still.

Breath: When you focus on your breath and the natural rhythm of your body, the mind begins to relax. The mind needs a focus, so the breath can be a soothing solution.

Extension: Balance is largely about extension. There is a dynamic energy in balancing.

Place most of your weight on your right leg and draw your left heel to the inner thigh of the right leg. Steady your gaze and connect with your breath. Keep the left knee turning out, and gently tuck your tailbone, as you extend out throughout the crown of the head. With the hands in prayer position, press the palms together, at the same time press the inner thigh and the sole of the foot together (below, left).

Step the feet together. On the inhale, arms extend up over the head, as you bend into the knees, reaching back with the tush, as if to sit in an imaginary chair. Then extend your torso out over your legs. Use your lower abdominal muscles to hold you in position (above, right).

From a standing position, shift your weight into your left leg and grip your right foot behind you. Extend your left arm, and slowly begin to tip forward, while kicking your right leg back (below, left).

Look down to the ground. Exhale, as you bend your right leg and slide your left foot closer to your right. Place your right hand onto the floor as you bend your right knee. Place the fingertips of the right hand about 6 inches out in front of the right pinky toe and start to lean out so that you are balancing on your right leg and fingertips. Stack the hips on top of each other. Just float the back leg up so that the leg and torso are in alignment. Press the right foot into the floor and extend the left arm to the ceiling. Try to open and spiral your chest to the ceiling (above, right).

Begin in Plank. Bring the feet together. Move the right hand directly below the face. Rock your body to the side, so that you are balancing on the right hand, and the outside edge of the right foot. Feet are flexed and the underside of the waist is lifting up. So your top hip is lifting up towards the ceiling. Press the bottom hand into the floor, so that you are not dumping into that right shoulder. Keep the right arm straight (but not locked). If you are super flexible to the point of hyper-extension, stay aware of not locking the elbow (below, left).

Start with you feet hips width apart. Place your hands on the floor just in front of your feet, palms spread wide, wrists parallel to the front of your mat. Hook your knees into your armpits, or just to the outside, and slowly tip your body weight forward until your feet begin to come off the floor. Keep pressing firmly into your hands. Once you are balancing, bring your feet together and up towards your tush (above, right).

Balance on your sit bones. Extend your arms straight out in front of you, parallel to the floor, and lift your chest and sternum upward as you gaze up. Extend your legs so that your toes are at eye level. Balance here, using your lower abdominal muscles (below).

Monday, October 3, 2011


My body is my primary relationship. Love affairs end, children grow up, parents pass, friends drift apart, the workplace and coworkers change. All relationships come and go, but the one constant in my life that is with me through all of it is this body. I consider it my primary relationship, and it has had many different incarnations. At times I have been demanding and hard on myself like an abusive lover, trying to whip myself into shape with punishment. I have been a patient mother, sitting with injuries as they heal, and even my own best friend, listing the things I love about my body.

Notice the type of relationship you have to your body. When I am practicing yoga, I cultivate more patience and self-love. I begin to notice the voice in my head, and how I speak to myself when I am challenged by a pose. Imagine the way that you would want to be treated by your ideal mate, and treat yourself just that way. The workout is the exact place where I am asked to show up for that relationship and challenge myself in the most loving way to grow and be the best I can, without judgment. If you notice that you are being hard on yourself, that is good. You have noticed. Now see if you can replace negativity with more encouraging thoughts. 

Having grown up in a family where there was divorce, the idea of marriage really scares me. This fear that full commitment may lead to loss has pushed me to choose something where the loss would be good... weight loss! I am married to exercise as a part of life. Marriage (I hear) is not always easy. For me, it is a loving commitment to my body, and to fulfill my “vows” I exercise consistently, whether I feel like it or not. I try to treat my body with the respect it deserves. When practicing yoga or exercise, some of the qualities I experience are:

  • Acknowledgment for a job well done
  • Gratitude for a healthy body that can move and breathe
  • Communication, as in asking my body what is okay and modifying when necessary
  • Feeling and sensing
  • Playfulness and being able to enjoy my body
  • Perfecting and cleansing with diet
  • Finding balance and learning through turbulence and my body's breakdowns

Setting short term goals, and sharing with my community are a part of my spiritual practice, which is another aspect of being married to my body. Music is the great spirit that connects my physical body to something greater. Click here for my music mixes this month which revolve around love. And Click here for a free audio download: Balance routine.