A Delicate Balance

This nameless stack reminds me of intimate conversations…

This transition for the studio will be a balancing act indeed; your safety and health are the priority, balanced with a combination of live and on-line classes. The re-opening and resuming of life “pre-pandemic” will require a thoughtful balance of safety and surprise; of planning and surrender.

There is likely to be continued uncertainty, no matter how we proceed. What this time of sheltering in place has taught me, is that answers cannot always be generated in the same logical way as we are accustomed; and instead will require using our senses, our intuition, our felt sensations to make decisions. As Einstein said, “we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them”.

We will be asked to make life decisions we aren’t used to making. Having to weigh the risks of visiting family; deciding when it is right to venture out in public; will we wear a mask or won’t we? With more time and space around our day-to-day living, chances are we all have been sitting with these questions and many more. It is timely that striking a delicate balance in the midst of a pandemic can create change for our inner-life, for our deeper inquiries, like- why am I here? Who am I?

The possibilities are endless

When I moved to a house at the end of a long dirt road, walks to the mailbox offered me the chance to notice and interact with the naturally beautiful surroundings. There were so many rocks piling up on the sides of the road as it seems they emerge out of the ground like the ferns coming alive now. It wasn’t long before stacking the rocks that accumulated in the woods around me became a regular activity.

Jerry’s creation of the Shrine & its guardian

Fast forward a few years, and there are now over 150 creations along the road (thank goodness Jerry also enjoys this). Some of them have names, some have lasted years and others get rebuilt on a regular basis. Rock formations of prayers or blessings (like the one for Dave & Celeste) and some of them are a shrine of sorts. Many of them remind me of birds or other animals. There are spirit rocks with names, rock families, and tall rock structures. On our Sunday morning walks to get the newspaper, we regularly engage in what we call “maintenance work”, adjusting those that have fallen or lost their tops.

Spirit rocks…belong to the earth

Cairns (or rock stacks) have been around for centuries and have many purposes. For more historical information, check out this article by Live Science: https://www.livescience.com/65687-rock-cairns.html

Like everything and everyone, the rocks are my teachers. No matter how much I want certain rocks to fit together, even with the balance of patience and concentration, it is out of my control. So now you know what the rocks have to do with yoga.

This is an older creation, called my Chinaman

Well, yoga is sometimes called skillfulness in action. Some wise yogis also say that “any action done mindfully, is yoga”. That is it…nothing fancy. I mostly started this little hobby because they were there. And, the rocks have been a nice way of quieting my busy mind. Perhaps finding the delicate balance in nature with rocks will transfer into the new order of things to come. In case you are ready to get going on your own, here are some tips I’ve learned along the way. And what do you know, it actually sounds a bit like yoga.

  1. The process cannot be rushed. Sometimes we will start a cairn and actually finish it months later.
  2. Everything changes with the seasons. The winds, rains, snowfall and return of chipmunks impact the stacks.
  3. The rocks belong to the earth. When they are no longer remaining stacked with ease, they return to the ground, to be swallowed up again by the leaves, fallen branches, and shifting dirt.
  4. Non-attachment is a challenge! In all seriousness, I can get offended if Jerry modifies one of my creations. While this is one of the more difficult lessons, this activity gives me plenty of practice.
  5. If you aren’t feeling it, let it go. Much like the slow approach to a balance posture in yoga, if I can’t be truly present with the rocks, it is better to just keep walking.
Early morning walks with Tucker are my favorite times to create

Where is the love?

                 
Sheltering in place has given most of us the opportunity to slow down. Even those of us still working, the pace is different and there are new rhythms, new routines, new ‘normals’.

In slowing down, there is an invitation to look at ourselves… to see how new routines are reflecting information back to us. Like holding up a mirror we didn’t take the time to really look at before, the space of new rhythms allows us a deeper look. Not just our appearance, but a deeper gaze into our communication patterns, our habits, our moods, our thought patterns, our heart’s intentions; the inner life that resides just below the surface of busy-ness.

What is your first reaction to really looking at your own reflection? For me, it is usually laced with self-judgment, but there is more beneath that “auto-pilot” way of perceiving this information. There is something richer beneath. Something worthy of exploration. Does love appear in your mirror? How?

For this week, try to look for love in all things. Find love in the boredom or mundane (chop wood, carry water); love in your new or modified routines, love in the quiet, love in nature, love in ANOTHER rainy, cold & windy day, love in a calendar full of open days, and yes…love in your own reflection.

Share the power of gratitude!
Hugs,
Molly


Postures and Practices …
“From joy springs all create, by joy it is sustained, toward joy it proceeds, and to joy it returns” – Upanishads

Pose of the day: Breath of Joy
Inhale arms up over head, out to the sides, up over head again, and give an audible exhale as you bend forward. REPEAT!
 Mantra and Mudra
Purna Hridaya Mudra: Gesture of the open heart. Create a heart shape with your hands. This mudras reinforces our honoring of thoughts and feelings.  



Mantra: OM Namah Shivaya – my favorite translation is: I bow to that which I am becoming.

An Interesting Human Experiment; Just Another Mystery Unveiled

What beautiful creation is coming from you?

When will the studio re-open? Are we going to have beach yoga this year? How can we jump back into a full schedule? I don’t know… it is all a mystery.

I keep thinking of these “unprecedented” times as an interesting human experiment. There really is no making sense of things as they currently are.  Granted, I personally have not lived through a great war, famine, or other pandemic to have a point of reference. For that, I am blessed.

Without explanation, I do have a deep sense of calm and confidence, that all will be well and something even better is happening below the surface. I find I vacillate between finding the humor, joy, and surprise opportunities in being holed up at home.  An April where I can pay attention and notice the landscape changing on a daily basis… the new buds, the ground cover showing new shades of green, the lichen in the trees emanating a fluorescent glow. The insects waking up, the birdsong each morning. Listening to my body clock for eating and sleeping patterns… enjoying the quiet space.

Don’t get me wrong, I have many moments when the mystery frustrates and disempowered me. As always, I must practice noticing the moments when I have allowed my good cheer to travel these roads of pity and loss. True, I have missed o a workshop at Kripalu, 3 different trips (California, Minnesota, France/Spain), and have to cancel 2 retreats I would be leading for the first time. I have struggled with teaching on-line (unknown methods, protocols and technology). I arrive ready for work (at the dining room table) only to discover I don’t know how to do anything I’m supposed to do.  I feel the fear that arises from economic losses. Sounds a bit like beginner’s mind, right?

Now forced to stay put and stop moving in so many directions, I see with new eyes how truly busy I have been; too busy. I’m acknowledging how much energy I spent going from place to place, frenetically moving from one commitment to another. The comfort of my routines giving a sense of order to life. Inhale, exhale.

But now, something new and more Divinely arranged can manifest. Something that we co-create from a brighter place, a higher vibration. We begin again. And like the words of both Pema Chodron and Ralph Waldo Emerson point out (newsletter reference), we must find happiness in our receptivity to current events; we must leave a new trail. There is a beautiful opportunity in this mystery.

So, I wonder friends: How are you doing in close quarters with loved ones? Have you settled into new rhythms and routines? Are you staying connected with technology?What are you creating?  How are you seeing this wondrous mystery unveiled? Feel free to write a response or send an email. Stay connected.

With love & light, Molly

Savasana (shavasana): The Sabbath of Yoga?

Have you seen the t-shirts that announce savasana is why I come to yoga? The first time I saw the saying, it made me laugh and then gave me pause. Is that really what people want when the come through the door? Granted, I realize we all NEED a little more savasana in our lives, but really? There are numerous research articles about how our culture is over stimulated and sleep deprived (here is one I recently read: https://www.healthline.com/health/sleep-deprivation/effects-on-body#1).

As a seasoned teacher of yoga, I have asked many classes “who needs a long relaxation today?” and often get a cheering response. I have wondered what would happen if I put aside all the traditional warm-ups, the deep stretches, the sequences and flows I’ve created and skipped the balance postures too; if I invited my class to settle on their mats and simply rest. Would you want a refund? Would you feel you received what you needed? Clearly, if you sign-up for a restorative yoga class or a yoga nidra event, you arrive with this expectation. But what if it were an all-levels class? What would your response be? One thing I do know, is that most of us have a hard time doing savasana on our own at home. There are too many distractions and demands on our attention.

I confess that I have attended a 90 minute yoga class where I centered, did 15 minutes of moving, and then put myself into savasana. BUT, it took me years to do that without feeling guilty or wimpy; and I have only done this on a few occasions, despite needing it more often. Why is it so hard to give myself permission to simply rest? And you? Do you give yourself permission to rest?

In recent weeks, the idea of the sabbath has surfaced in my thoughts. While there have been periods in my life when religious practices on Sundays were part of my routine, I have not consciously acknowledged the sabbath consistently.

According to Merriam-Webster, Sab·​bath | \ ˈsa-bəth is defined as: the seventh day of the week observed from Friday evening to Saturday evening as a day of rest and worship by Jews and some Christians; : Sunday observed among Christians as a day of rest and worship; a time of rest. A Google search informs me that The word “sanctified” in verse 3 comes from the root qadash, which literally means “to set apart as holy.” The first place the word “Sabbath” (from the Hebrew verb shabbat, meaning “to rest from labor”; the day of rest) is used for the seventh day, is in Exodus 16:23.

So the sabbath may be loaded for you; with meanings or connotations; with historical or traditional associations. Of all the definitions, translations, and etymology notes, the consensus is that the sabbath is to cease or to rest. I am especially partial to the description that is to set apart as holy. No religion or rules, to just find holiness; to appreciate rest as sacred.

How do we create a sabbath or real-time savasana? In theory, we make the time for it. In practice, this isn’t easy (at least not for me). Some suggestions are: 1. keep one day/week free of responsibilities 2. unplug from devices one day/week 3. practice relaxation; many times in small moments

Many of the journal articles relating to savasana explain that this can be the most difficult of all yoga postures (see links below). It requires us to be still; to be quiet, to feel what we may not really want do deal with. Perhaps you are too stimulated to relax. If you simply need sleep, savasana might only be a teaser. However, when you practice yoga long enough, you will likely begin to make peace with the challenges of this posture.

I strongly encourage you to practice savasana with as much fervor as you might in your plank. You may be surprised one day to come to a class and have a 30 minute savasana, just to help you along your journey. At the very least, you will be given complete permission to cease and rest (and sport the T-shirt should you choose).

May you find rest in what you call holy!
Namaste,
Molly

Links: https://chopra.com/articles/why-savasana-is-the-hardest-yoga-pose
https://www.yogajournal.com/practice/corpse-pose

The Yamas, Niyamas and my teacher…

We are winding down the series on the Yamas and Niyamas. May  the pearls of wisdom received along the way remain with you; may we reflect together on the poignant take aways. Throughout these weeks of revisiting this part of the 8 Limbed Path, it has become obvious that everyone can teach us something. Swami Kripalu taught that we need only focus on one of these (yamas, niyamas) to create lasting change and to deepen our practice. One surprising teacher for me through this series has been our puppy Tucker.  As they say, everyone is your teacher.  He has humbled me, challenged me, delighted me, and helped me to return to practice ……

A favorite book, chewed by my teacher

Ahimsa or non-violence: When he chewed the binding of one of my favorite books (following the destruction of 2 or 3 house plants), he reminded me of non-violence. I wanted to give him away in that moment. 

Satya or truthfulness:  He is who he is. Tucker is the master of truthfulness. No matter what he has gotten into, it is literally all over his face. Ahhh the fun of having a white(ish) dog when you live out in the woods. No commentary or excuses, he is who he is. I can certainly use his help with this.

Asteya or non stealing: He may borrow things and bury them, but he is always good at giving it back. Namely, branches, tennis balls, and socks. He is transparent in how he uses his energy… there is no need to guess.

Brahmacarya or moderation: Since all things are meant to be eaten, chewed and enjoyed, Tucker automatically stops when he is satiated; no emotional need to over eat or drink.  He sleeps when tired and runs when he’s energetic. No guilt, no back story required. Hmmm.

Aparigraha or non-hoarding: Tucker has been my mirror for this Yama. He hoards squeaky toys and sticks; I hoard boxes of teas and books (among other things).

Saucha or purity: As a puppy, he can’t help but be pure and innocent. Watching him follow crickets or frogs with his undivided attention had a purifying affect on me too.

Content with the ordinary…

Santosha or contentment: Tucker is the perfect role model for santosha. He finds contentment no matter where he is… in the rain, on the porch, in the car, or out on a walk. 

Tapas or self-discipline, zeal: Puppies are naturally ‘in the moment’ with enthusiasm.   Whether it’s gnawing on his chew toy or chasing chipmunks in the woods, he goes with all his effort.

Swadhyaya or self-study: Not really sure with this one for Tucker since I can’t really get into his head. For me, being the observer of my own actions (and his) and delving in to sacred texts for guidance is always fruitful. I suspect a more conscious me, makes a happier dog.

Ishvara-pranidhana or devotion to a higher power: Again, I can’t rely too much on the puppy here. However, my own surrender to God and to the Universe has always informed my teaching. My intention to invite something more sacred than my own anxious thoughts is the real yoga for me.

May you find the teachers in your life and continue to dance with the Eight-Limbed Path of yoga. Namaste!

Sweet Summer…

And so it is, the sweetness of longer days and blooming flowers call forth summer.  Each summer has its own story of adventure for all of us. What will this new season bring for you? As I shared with those attending the first beach yoga class of the season, I recently read an article that inspired my summer mantra: Be Open to Surprise. My own sweet summer story began nearly 6 years ago… when I met Jerry for a first date outside the Good Karma Cafe in Exeter, NH.  I never thought I would attempt an on-line dating service, let alone meet him on match.com, but I was surprised. As many of you know, we recently got married with family and friends bearing witness. Although some family members could not be present for our special day, they were with us in spirit. There have been many wonderful surprises in the months leading up to the wedding and in the month that has followed. Everything from sunshine on May 18th, to smoothly landing home after several weeks with backpacks in tow. The surprise of many miles hiked, meals shared with friends, sacred moments, and unexpected downpours all combine for a sweet start to summer. 

So today is the summer solstice AND the International Day of Yoga. Hmmm. Today is also Nel’s birthday and Tom’s birthday… both beings of radiant light.

“ Make use of the International Day of Yoga to explore different dimensions of yoga. Yoga is not just about twisting and turning. Yoga means to exist in union with the rest of creation”. – Sadhguru

Yoga offers a sweetness of its own. How has yoga impacted you? Your relationships? If we think of yoga as a meditation where we allow everything, expect nothing, and see each moment as divine, there is nothing but sweetness. Bring your yoga with you all summer long; indoors and out. Do yoga on road trips, campouts, in the backyard or abroad.

When expectations fall away and we realize we are not in control (yikes!), there lies the opening for a psychedelic surprise; for the nectar of Samadhi. Beyond what we can imagine, yield to the surprise in each moment. May your summer be complete with sunrises, storm clouds, insects in action, the smell of fresh cut grass, barefoot walks, ice cream cones, sand between your toes, outdoor dining and the scent of peonies in bloom. Let yourself be in union with all of creation.

On this summer solstice, this International Day of Yoga, this longest day of the year – may you be bathed in light. May your sweet summer begin with your own long list of adventures and surprises. 

Namaste!

A sweet start to summer indeed!

Spring transformation

If we don’t change, we don’t grow. If we don’t grow, we aren’t really living. – Gail Sheehy

Spring in New Hampshire offers us a beautiful glimpse into real transformation. Like the earth waking up, we too have the chance to grow, change, and renew – one degree at a time. Each morning this week, I walked out into the yard and could see the landscape changing before my eyes; new plants sprouting, the growing buds on lilacs, the grass slowly turning green from the colorless shag of late winter. 

I once heard the story of how a sailor can change his course by one degree and end up in a completely different location. When presented this way, it makes sense that small shifts completely change our course, our journey, and our destination. Knowing this, are you on course for your chosen end-point or is a course correction in order? Have you given thought to your current trajectory and the direction you are heading in? This time of renewal, resurrection, and rebirth is a perfect time to ponder such questions.

Spring also brings us mud season, and the ruts that go along with it. Living on a long dirt road, each day I have been faced with the ruts and dips and holes left by the winter wear. Driving in the same ruts are predictable and give me the chance to navigate the dips at the right speed. Unfortunately, it also makes it more challenging to find a new way around them the deeper the grooves are. Once again, nature is my teacher. 

So on this Easter evening, I send you blessings of transformation. May you open yourself to new options, new routes, new choices if need be. May you make a one degree shift in the direction of your dreams. Be authentic, be alive, and honor your own needs and desires.

For more reading on the topic, I recommend these:

Transformation: click here

Joseph Campbell: click here

March Madness or Mindfulness?

March Madness or Mindfulness?

Thanks everyone for joining in our Chakra Series. The practice and awareness of the energy systems and chakras may widen the line between mindfulness and madness when it comes to real life situations. 

Like a self-guided meditation, allow yourself the chance to revisit the journey through your own energy body whenever you need to cultivate more presence. Start with visualizing a deep red, and your ability to ground yourself. Start with the feet, then move up the legs to the base of your spine. Find stability.

Next move into the sacral energy of the pelvic region. Picture sunset orange and remind yourself to “go with the flow” and yield the way water does. Feel the feminine lunar energy of gentle movements.

Ignite the fiery energy of the solar plexus to bring your stronger emotions and passions into your work, while you visualize a golden yellow of the flames. Embody strength and power; notice this more masculine way of moving. And breathe.

Now, soften enough to imagine jade green moving through your chest. With each breath of air, invite love and compassion into your being. Allow all that you touch and hold to receive this energy of the heart chakra.

Bring awareness to your throat and visualize sky blue vibrations pulsing through your voice. Make way for your truth and voice to emerge; simple truths, hard truths.

Shift attention to the third eye brow point. Imagine a deep violet light moving in and out of the ajna chakra, guiding you to see your present situation with new eyes. Look out with curiosity, wonder and compassion. Notice what you feel.

Finally, connect with the crown area atop your head. The purity and clarity of  bliss; of collective consciousness. This magical, mystical energy reminds us that we are one. As Rumi says, “we are many drops of the same ocean”. We are conscious awareness itself; we are always connected with what we call Divine.

Now, for the application to real life…

Last week I was in a faculty meeting that had exceeded the 2-hour allotted time scheduled (which is long enough for ANY meeting).  I felt the madness coming. I started watching the clock, I noticed my pulse quicken, my toes tapping, my mind reeling about the injustice of a non-productive meeting lasting too long yet again. This was the perfect opportunity to turn to the the root chakra for a little grounding. I did my best to notice my feet; to feel the texture of my socks; to imagine pressing my feet into the earth, like warm sand or cool grass, and the sturdiness of  a mountain trail. I then made the mindful decision to excuse myself from the rest of the meeting. I liberated myself from the madness, put my muladhara chakra to work and walked out. 

Tolerating the consequences…

We can likely agree upon the need for tolerance at this time in our world with discord, political polarities and broken alliances. According to en.oxforddictionaries.com, a consequence is defined as “the result or effect of an action or condition”. While it may be simple semantics, it is a good starting point.
When we moved into our present yoga “home”, one of my priorities was to place the Bhagavad Gita quote back where we could all see it. Again. Why? Well – I am particularly fond of the conversations this quote has initiated. Many people have told me that it had some kind of an impact on them or created a reaction for them. One of my favorite yogis actually asked me why it wasn’t “accept the consequences of being myself”, rather than “tolerate the consequences of being myself”?? Good question! Accepting sounds more yogic than tolerating, right? It was a lively discussion indeed.
I also have this quote on a magnet attached to my refrigerator, so I see it daily. For me, this quote immediately struck a chord. I thought it beautifully explained why yoga has been an essential part of my life for nearly 20 years. Tolerating (and accepting) said consequences keep me curious and engaged with the continuous battle between the ears. Much like Arjuna’s battle that is the REAL story in the Bhagavad Gita, I am regularly hit with:
• How is “this” happening again? Haven’t I already learned this lesson?
• Ah… it’s another part of myself that I must acknowledge
• Hmmm… am I really that judgmental?
• Am I a true pack rat? Why do I hold on to so much stuff?
• Why am I running late again? I thought I was working on being more punctual!
And so on… you get the idea.

Full disclosure… I have a growing list of what else am I tolerating these days. I have too many glass jars, boxes of tea and books (need to practice Aparigraha); I hold on to a wide range of stuff; even little scraps of paper with quotes I saw on a subway 28 years ago still fill spaces between book pages and random boxes. I am a collector and gatherer. If you have ever given me a card, I probably still have it… your kind words tucked away in a shoebox in one of my closets. I start projects without finishing them, take on too many responsibilities, and hate asking for help. I am not the best housekeeper. I am forever seeking the balance between social time and solitary time (I thrive on both). I have boatloads of self-doubt, anxiety, and an affinity for red wine. And so on… you get the idea once more.
What gives me pause and the confidence to write about these “consequences of being myself”, is a relatively new discovery. There is tolerance. I am actually beginning to soften the hard line I tow with myself. I laugh more at my own seriousness and ridiculousness; I feel emotions I’ve spent a lifetime avoiding or burying; I apologize more and care less about being right. Coupled with the aging process, YOGA IS THE PRACTICE that helps me find peace within myself; OF TOLERATING life as it is. The more tolerance I find for the reflection in the mirror, the easier it is to have tolerance for others.
And for you? How do THE CONSEQUENCES OF BEING YOURSELF show up on and off your yoga mat? Consider making your own list.

Without exaggerating, I have 5 different translations of the Bhagavad Gita on my bookshelves (all of which are open on my dining room table as I write this). This quote that I have held dear for so many years was not found in any of my translations as such. What??? So then, I succumbed to a Google search. As it turns out, this beloved quote came from former CEO of Kripalu – Dinabhandu Surley’s interpretation of the Bhagavad Gita (see the juicy article links below). What??? Now what am I supposed to believe?
At the end of the day, I have met and studied with Dinabhandu and this translation works for me (no wonder I couldn’t find these exact words in any of my 5 versions). I suppose it’s a classic example of tolerance.
May your yoga practice deepen your personal inquiry; may you forever tolerate the consequences of being yourself.

Love & peace to all,
Molly

P.S.
For more reading on other opinions on the topic, check out these links: http://www.itsallyogababy.com/your-favourite-bhagavad-gita-quote-probably-isnt-from-the-bhagavad-gita/
https://www.yogitimes.com/article/Yoga-is-the-practice-of-tolerating-the-consequences-of-being-yourself-Bhagavad-Gita
https://chopra.com/articles/5-lessons-in-self-confidence-from-the-bhagavad-gita

Creating peace, one breath at a time…

I guess it only makes sense that this is the ONLY way to actually create peace.  With this breath, and this breath. On a recent yoga and meditation retreat, many of us spent time contemplating, discussing, and reflecting upon the idea of peace. What does it look like in real life? How will we know when we have experienced peace? And finally, what are the obstacles in the way of having peace? I’m not talking about some pie in the sky WORLD peace, simply peace of mind. Now.

For me, peace is evident on a quiet day without too many things on my ‘to do’ list or in the view of Pawtuckaway Lake crusted with ice and completely still. There is peace in nature, peace in the woods, and peace in the early morning hours before the sun rise. Peace is seeing joy and ease in the faces of those I love.

When I try to honestly consider what peace feels like, I’m immediately reminded of what it is NOT; the chaos and unrest between my ears. Peace in the outdoors is one thing… peace in my mind… a whole different thing. I have been especially curious as to why it feels so elusive. Basically, my inner quiet gets disrupted when I want things to be different; when I lose sight of contentment (Santosha). For example, sitting in a 3-hour faculty meeting when I have a long list of other ways I “should” be spending my time robs my peace. When my inner critic tells me that someone or something isn’t quite right, or when the habitual stories (real or imagined) begin to dominate my thoughts, peace feels like a lofty wish, just out of reach.

For what it’s worth, going through this exercise did help me make peace with myself. Even if it only lasts for this breath. And this one. Sooner or later, I start stringing more of those breaths together and SHAZAM!

My sincere wish for you is that you get curious about what robs you from the peaceful moments that are possible. Consider those obstacles with wonder instead of judgment and take a breath. Make peace with yourself. Merry Christmas.

“Peace – It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.”