Come Together …

What does “yoga” mean? Desikachar teaches us that there are many different interpretations of the word: “One of these is “to come together“, “to unite“.
Another meaning of the word *yoga* is “to tie the strands of the mind together.” “A further meaning of the word *yoga* is “to attain what was previously unattainable.
Desikachar goes on to say that whether you are on the mat or not, “I am functioning, but I am not present. Yoga attempts to create a state in which we are always present – really present – in every action, in every moment.
In class, I will ask you to unite your breath and your movement. You will be asked to engage your mind in each breath, in each movement. Attaining what you could not attain off the mat, whether it is *simply* calm or opening up that stuck soft tissue, is the purpose of yoga.
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Taking that attentiveness off the mat and approaching each task with the respect and thoughtfulness of being in that moment completely will lead to two things: a life well-done and a fulfilled life. Why fulfilled? If you are present in each moment and live to its fullest, if you have balance and calm. The more present you are in each moment, the more you listen to your inner voice and react. Your inner voice will always tell you the truth,
To wrap it all up, yoga will unite you on all levels. Yoga will unite your mind, body and breath. Yoga will unite your inner and outer selves. Yoga will unite you with your present life and bring you to respect what you do on a moment by moment basis. When you are tying the strands of the mind together, you begin to attain the unattainable.
Accept all. Balance the positive and the negative. Counter each action with a counter-action. Take each step as it comes, without dreading or unrealistic expectations of your life. The more you can accept, the less you fight, that’s where you will find not only your true self and true voice, you will also find the joy and light.
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Follow the light

One recent morning I found myself with an extra hour.  I generally meditate at night, which is strictly schedule driven.  Given my druthers I would rather begin my day with meditation at sunrise.  We do what we can.

This particular morning I decided to meditate.  Were there socks to be paired and other chores to be done?  But of course!  The socks will be there this afternoon.  We do what we can.

I have been using the same meditation for about three weeks now.  In order to build my practice, I have been working towards a specific goal.  Some days my practice is perfunctory and while I might find myself drawn in, I just as often find myself sitting for 10 or 15 minutes.

Whether it was because it was just before sunrise, or because the dogs were quiet, or because I remembered to use my nose oil, I found myself wanting to lose myself in myself this morning.  It felt like I had some work to do.  I practice with headphones.  I had them on and walked across the floor to get the nose oil.  The sound of my footsteps was incredibly heavy.  THUD, THUD, THUD …. like a heartbeat that would scare you if you heard it in your ears, the sound of my footsteps was wrong.  Shouldn’t there be more lightness to my step?  If my footsteps are this heavy, well, then shouldn’t I feel more grounded?  Because although I was feeling heavy, there was no grounding.

That became the theme of my meditation, finding the lightness and light.  I had a hard time.  I focused on bringing lightness to my breath, not forcing it, watching the breath pass by until it was slow and calm.  Moving to the body, I brought the lightness into my seat, my limbs, my head.  Turning off my inner dialogue was a challenge.  I was narrating my meditation.  Talking to myself.  I just cannot be quiet!  Oh dear, I think that’s the key word:  quiet.  When I teach I find myself filling empty spaces with word.  I apparently do the same thing in my meditation practice.  I focused more on my practice and the spaces between my inner dialogue got longer.  I was in the quiet.

As my practice progressed, the light, the fire began to build in my belly.  It built until I felt and saw it move up into my body level by level.  There was palpable energy, my fingers were tingling.  As I worked to bring the light back down into my belly and contain it, a little golden burst of light at midbrain with the word “TRUST”.

My teachers like to offer a word of advice before practice, it is a part of their lineage.  Frequently, that word is “trust”.  Trust in yourself.  Trust in the practice.  Trust that you will know what’s right.

As I focused on the light, I meditated on trust.  It begins and ends with me.  If I don’t trust myself, I can meditate until the chickens roost and the cows come home, and there will be no progress.  If I don’t trust myself, how can I handle the decisions, big and small, that punctuate our lives?  It seems it would be impossible to trust in your personal relationships if you don’t trust yourself.

Meditating has always been difficult for me.  Changing the type of yoga I’ve been practicing has shifted the space in my body.  Parayoga emphasizes a home practice including meditation.  The change to my new practice helped shift space in my body.  My posture shifted. The arthritis in my neck and shoulder have been quiet recently. I feel better, finally recovered from the second surgery.  Meditating frequently had also begun to shift and clear some of the crud that creates weight on the soul.

As I practiced at home more and more frequently, I hit that first rough patch.  Feeling tired, didn’t want to practice, my back hurt, too busy …. I made every argument with myself and won from time to time.  Recently I’ve been sitting even if I am just holding space those days.  Even that is progress.   We do what we can, and try not to beat ourselves up even when the negative voice within wins out.

I have a relationship with my home practice now.  It is becoming the foundation upon which I build my day.  Throughout these past few months as this relationship developed there was a clear and definite honeymoon phase.  Its gotten bumpier recently and I am working through it.

I am poking at some uncomfortable places within.  I am uncovering samkaras that I did not know existed sometimes it surprises me and oftentimes it scares me.  But its me, and I am going to keep sitting and following the light and hopefully one day I will know what it means.

But I think the light means me.  I think the light within is the light that is all of us.  And the light within me bows and honors the light within you.

Curious Yoga

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I have always been curious. I have the sneaking suspicion I can be annoying with my curiosity. I watch when I should be resting.  I read so much the ideas and words blur together.  I ask questions that can be seen as intrusive.  As an adult I have some awareness of how many questions I ask; as a child, I must have been trying at times.

One of the reasons that yoga immediately felt like home to me is that at the very heart of yoga is inquiry.  Everything is a question.  You have stepped on your mat at the YMCA because you are curious about something.  You have chosen to sit and meditate because you want to strengthen your ability to be present in the moment.  You choose to practice early morning pranayama to bring calm to your life and sweet peace to your soul.  You have a dog-eared copy of The Heart of Yoga that travels with you to remind you that no matter what facet of yoga initially drew you in, you practice all facets of yoga to have a complete practice.  Your breath teaches you patience, or at least informs your body to be patient.  All of these different things are questions we ask ourselves through our yoga practices.

Yoga is unifying.  It is not just a yoga community that is unified, it is the community of you.  Yoga unifies you.

Yoga brings you to the present moment. Whether that is so you don’t fall or so that you hold that ball of light in your mid-brain doesn’t matter. Its just that you are there. The present moment may not be pleasant. If you don’t experience the unpleasant, how will you know what is pleasant?  Because the someone tells you so?  Most of the people around us have a reason for wanting to influence our decisions and thoughts, from the people who write the ads we see on tv & the internet to our kids who really don’t want to watch a movie with us.  Form your own decisions.  Find your truth.  Live in the moment and live what feels real to your very soul.  Sound exhausting?  Maybe.  My belief is the more we practice self-awareness of mind and body the easier it will get.

As a world, we have taken simple things and complicated them.  Too many things to list but not enough to learn from.   Time to strip things back down to what our mind, body & soul truly crave.

Positive changes, step by step. Not just flexibility of the body, also flexibility of the mind. Not just flexibility of the mind, also flexibility of the breath. Add in strength and patience. In this way and many other ways, you will come together. You will attain what you thought to be unattainable.  As you bring peace, strength and knowledge into your own world, you will improve it, in improving your little world, you will start to improve lives around you.  Not by trying to, not by trying to be a hero for adulation or a rock star yoga teacher for fame or success, but by creating an atmosphere within yourself where you are constantly feeding your curiosity.  Becoming present in your own life is the simplest thing we can do for ourselves and the world.

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RESCUE doesn’t mean we solve your problems

Imagine this: you are sitting on your couch one evening and your family says, hey, let’s go for a ride. Its one of your favorite things, so you run to the car and sit down, excited all the while. You stop and get out of the car. Your family ties you to a fence with food and water. You sit, tied to this fence all night long for 8-12 hours until a very nice person drives up, sees you tied to the fence, and unties you, giving you hugs all the way into an office where you end up in a cage, not a couch.

How confused and upset would you be? Pretty messed up, hysterical and crying? Some human did this to a 10+ yro Pug at the Ranch recently. The dog, as many of you know, passed away in the arms of one of the Ranch’s adoption specialists who was kinder to poor little Buttercup than her family.

People ask me how I can participate in dog rescue. Because its not the DOGS that are sad, its the PEOPLE. We are the problem.

Do people know what a dog RESCUE is? Rescue = to save someone or something from harm. Not that the Ranch has some responsibility to correct your mistake. This is coming into clear focus for me because lately, I’m being contacted a couple of times a week by people wanting to know how a dog or puppy can be turned into Big Dog Ranch Rescue and how I can *guarantee* that their dog – the one they want to discard –  will end up at the RESCUE. While its ever-so-kind of you to want to make sure that the puppy or dog to whom you made a lifetime commitment but has become less of a priority to you nonetheless, you want said dog in a no-kill shelter, guess what?  You’ve no entitlement to a spot for that dog you brought into your home. There’s not always room at the inn. BDRR is constantly – anyone who is my Facebook friend knows this to be true – looking for foster families and ways to get dogs off campus. Why? Because BDRR is full up. Full up with dogs that need a home and two nourishing meals to day. Dogs that need a place to safely nurse and take care of their puppies. Dogs that have been abused, burned and starved. Dogs that humans have given up on.

So to those of you wanting to know how to turn in your dog to BDRR, go to the website. First of all, I don’t do intake and I have no authority whatsoever at Big Dog. I am a volunteer who walks with and helps train dogs. The dogs that the Ranch has saved from harm. The dogs that were homeless on the street, the dogs that were bait for fighting dogs or were themselves fighting dogs. Female dogs who have been overbred and inbred to the point of cancer. Dogs who perhaps have never had a roof over their heads or daily meals.

Not a dog that you bought from a breeder for $1500 because ___________ (you fill in the reason) and you now are realizing is a 10-15 year commitment that you are not equipped to handle. Perhaps you had a bad day and can’t see that dog who is annoying you by jumping on you, that you want to discard, just wants to give you kisses and is happy to see you. Maybe the puppy that pee’d on the floor was sending you signals to go outside and you weren’t paying attention, so got mad at the puppy.  Maybe you thought the 12 week old puppy you adopted at Christmas would housebreak itself.  These are not reasons to turn a dog over to a shelter. There are always alternatives. Take your dog to a puppy class, hire a trainer or behaviorist to evaluate your home, get some training yourself to be a better pet owner.  Want to turn your dog into BDRR? Check out the surrender information (https://www.bdrr.org/surrender-form) and make sure that you have gone through all of the steps first. There are always better answers than taking the dog off your couch and putting him or her in a concrete jungle. BDRR has terrific facilities, but its not home.

There are a large number of animals who are homeless. For many animals, this is due to overpopulation: people do not reliably spay or neuter their animals.   A homeless animal is sleeping on the streets or in a field, regardless of the weather. A homeless animal is scrounging for food, in trash cans or in the fields. A homeless dog is likely knocked up litter after litter until she dies. That is often a homeless animal’s birth control: death. When they live, the mother struggles to produce enough milk for her puppies and eventually tries to teach the puppies how to scrounge for food.

Its not that rescues aren’t interested in saving your dog that you screwed up by refusing to spend enough time with it, and of course, no one wants your dog to end up on the streets. However, you have no entitlement to have your dog placed at BDRR. Please don’t put the burden on the rescue of deciding between your suddenly inconvenient dog and the homeless dog. And for goodness sake’s, don’t be that coward who ties their dog up to the Ranch’s fence after hours. Please think twice, and even a third time, before you adopt. Try fostering first if you aren’t sure. BDRR can use the help and pays for many of the dog’s expenses.

Whatever you do, do not believe that your animal is entitled to place at the Ranch. Do not believe that there is always an open spot.  While I’m at it, the Ranch doesn’t board your dog while you go on vacation either. We don’t take your dog in and train it until it pleases you. The Big Dog website is comprehensive, please look at it.

Above all, please do not call me to get your dog into BDRR because I can’t help you. One of the reasons? I’ve loved dogs at the Ranch who have gotten sick and died before finding their forever home. So please do the responsible thing and keep your dog, spend that extra half an hour a day training your dog. Its really the right thing to do.

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This is Jezebel.  We adopted her from BDRR as a puppy.

Her mother, Precious, was picked up off the street pregnant and

delivered her puppies at the Ranch.  Safely.

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This is Stanley.  We adopted him as an adult.

He came from a high kill shelter in GA where he would have died.

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This was Tag.  He was dropped at a horse farm by a human,

emaciated and full of sores.  He got to BDRR where

he lived for almost two years before he died of cancer 07/05/14.

He never found his forever home.  I miss you buddy.

My New Hero

Among the many blessings that came with my husband and his two children was the set of friends that came along with this brand new social set.  There is a core group of families and kids that create a social galaxy that branches out, curves back in and winds around a few times.  These kids go to school together or Scouts together or karate together or volunteer together or some combination thereof.

One kid I’ve gotten along with since minute one, and for the past five years, I’ve watched him grow from a little 7 year old to an awkward pre-teen.  We bonded over Dwyane Wade and his creaky knees.  I’ve seen him grow up and poke the edges of boundaries with his parents, sometimes busting those boundaries wide open and driving his dad nuts.   I’ve watched him try out lots of different hobbies and sports.  Like his dad, he’s in love with music.  Like his mom, he’s passionate about defending and caring for the helpless, for the people and things who need protection.  I’ve watched him fall in love with dogs; I’ve watched him fall in love with the dog.

Recently I’ve watched as this young man went through two really difficult life lessons.  The amazing thing is that somehow he has managed to take the good out of each situation and seemingly discard the bad.

There was the ugly encounter with racism.  Depressing it is to learn that kids are still using racial slurs I was hoping we’d left behind.  He confronted the situation head-on, getting into some trouble and learning a valuable lesson.  For awhile I was worried he was going to end up a bitter person.  Instead, after a period of time, he just seemed to leave it behind and move on.

The second involves the dog.  There is nothing like a child’s first dog, the first dog they can appreciate and talk to and lean on in life.  From the first picture with the dog on Facebook this child’s smile could have lit up the sky.  Every successive picture showing naps and ball time and the dog curled up while his human reads ….. it is true love.  Unfortunately the dog accidentally got out and went missing for nearly 24 hours.

The story is nothing short of miraculous and one of these moments where social media worked ridiculously well.  His parents were able to email a picture of the dog to the homeowners in their development.  When we were driving around looking for the dog, 1 out of 3 people we stopped had already heard about him and were actively looking.  When we stopped to ask a young father on a bike with a son and daughter following on their bikes, he told us they were out looking already and we passed them several times.   Unknown to us while we were out looking, a good samaritan – a school teacher who’s son was a firefighter who lost his life on 9/11 – saw the dog on a busy street just a few blocks away from where we were looking and stopped.  He took the dog home and, thanks to social media, dog and boy are now happily reunited.

Not for nothing, this kid did not take it for granted that so many people were helping look for his family’s dog.  Heck, its what his family would have done for their neighbor if someone else’s dog had gone missing.  He watched and saw how many people were helping.   For someone to pick his dog up off a busy street, saving the dog’s life – that’s not something he’s going to forget.  Hopefully its not something he’ll take lightly.

Not that this kid needs any better example of altruism than his own parents, but sometimes life lessons are best when reinforced by absolute strangers.  What really amazes me and is making me look at life with fresh eyes today is this child’s attitude.  Its the resilience, the sheer beauty of a child’s happiness and the flexible nature of their hopes.   Even when everything has seemed the worst, this young man sets the example of thankfulness.

Now his parents might say different things about this kid, this is surely my perspective.  Watching him work his way through two difficult situations, situations that would knock an adult on their ass and come out with a smile on his face and his dog in his arms gives me fresh hope.  Hope that people can be nice to one another.  Hope that young people do appreciate the efforts of others.  Mostly, though, hope that a little boy will sleep soundly tonight knowing his world is back in balance.

 

Things in the Universe I don’t understand …. part 3

Robin Williams is dead. A surprising number of his movies are “go to” movies for my family. How many times did my daughter & I watch Jumanji or Mrs. Doubtfire together? When my husband told me it felt like a hit in the stomach, the breath woooooshed out of my body for a second. I don’t understand the psychology behind this, but here’s what really sucks.

Depression.

I am in no way, shape or form overly knowledgable about depression. I am lucky depression is not a part of my life. I have seen a (beginning of a) shift over the past decade or so, more and more people understanding that “depression” is not something a person can just shake off, or get over. Sometimes medication helps, sometimes meditation helps. Sometimes neither helps and a person may end up self-medicating, attempts that rarely end well whether that ending is on a coroner’s slab, hospital bed or rehab bed.

In the past depression has been viewed as a weakness. One doesn’t have to Google very far to find stories of people whose families rejected them for their depression, who thought it could be beaten out of them or some equally horrific “cure”. As a result the stigma attached to depression has been very difficult to shake. Hopefully (hopefully hopefully) some good will come of Robin Williams’ death and the mental health dialogue will get bigger and louder. At some point that dialogue will become a part of our national landscape and will cease to require discussion. Because people with depression and other mental health diseases will be treated with civility and kindness. When people with depression can obtain treatment easily and without stigma, depression will stop robbing us of people we love, people we admire and people who made a difference, even if we never met them.

Nonetheless, its still so hard to understand why someone so seemingly beloved …. and really, I haven’t seen anyone say that he turned down a request for a photo, or treated anyone badly except himself …. could be depressed. Three beautiful kids, an amazing number of friends. Of course his life wasn’t always easy; two divorces will certainly bring sorrow and grief. But why? Why was his universal kindness rewarded with sadness?

Why can’t love, this much love, bolster someone to get to the next day? The pain Robin Williams and other people with depression feel is beyond my scope. It does not compute. When I talk to a student with depression or anxiety, I often feel small and a little trite, like I’m passing off Hallmark platitudes as some form of assistance. I try to catch myself in those moments and replace my ignorance with kindness, genuineness and caring. Because that’s what I have to give and its true that you don’t know what the person next to you in the elevator is going through, so please, let’s treat everyone with a little more kindness today. And maybe imagine Robin Williams with that big Mork from Ork smile, looking over your shoulder. Let’s treat others today the way that you would like to be treated.

If you or someone you know suffers from depression or suicidal thoughts, please contact someone. Here is a list of helplines in the State of Florida: http://www.suicide.org/hotlines/florida-suicide-hotlines.html
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Lesson learned, Tag. Lesson learned.

This post has taken me a bit to write because I want you to feel happy, not sad, after you read it.

The first dog I ever worked with at Big Dog Ranch Rescue, Tag, passed away. He overcame a lot in his life but couldn’t beat this. I saw him on Wednesday, he wasn’t eating, vomited a little and later that day stopped drinking water. He was taken to Medical; by Friday he was clearly weak and I sat with him Friday morning for awhile, opened his kennel doors while he rested his head in my lap as I sang to him (I’m sorry medical staff). I told him he was tough and he could do it but deep down I had the feeling I was saying good-bye. I left hoping I’d see him one more time again …

Tag had been at the Ranch for almost a year. He had some issues & never found his forever home. Except he did. If Big Dog Ranch Rescue had not been there for Tag, he would have lived the last year of his life on the streets or he would have been gone a long time ago. While there are dogs who get nervous or anxious at a rescue, Tag took to the routine of the Ranch: daily attention and care, two big square meals a day and people who cared enough to teach him manners. During the time I knew Tag, he was happy. Would he have been happier in a home, sitting with his human and playing the ball catch game? Yes. Given that Tag was an owner dump there is a chance Big Dog Ranch Rescue provided Tag the best quality of life he ever had.

Tag was wonderful with humans and when you brushed him, Tag would lean against you in complete bliss. That is how I’ll remember Tag best, brushing him with lavender while he leaned into my legs and I leaned into him.

I love Tag and I am envisioning Tag & Jade & so many other dogs, running in a big field on the perfect day, with big buckets of crisp water, a loving pat on the head & maybe Tag can hear me telling him “Good Boy”. Because he is, he was and he always will be the dog that taught me that a dog doesn’t have to live in your house to live in your heart, and home most definitely is where the heart is.