If super cool stuff happened every time we meditated, we’d do it more often.   The little zings of energy, the alternating feelings of lightness and heaviness, the occasional visitor, our moments of clarity … If we knew that something momentous was going to happen during our meditation instead of fidgeting, itching, trying to settle in, checking to see how much time has passed, trying to focus again, starting your mental grocery list, inhaling and exhaling, finding a dustball on the floor that has to be picked up right this second – yeah, we’d like it more if it was all pretty lights and clarity.

While I try to meditate regularly for stress relief, peace of mind and pain relief, its hard.  

Sometimes it takes something to help us in.  Playing my crystal bowl or the right practice before meditation can really help  As my practice has evolved into a more introspective practice, I’ve had more moments of meditation that really really make me excited to do more!

The studio I teach at and attend as a student has A LOT of different classes at different times of the day.  No one-size-fits-all approach at Bindu Yoga Studio.  I attended a Yin class recently that concluded with crystal bowl savasana/meditation.  The Yin practice itself focused on the spine which is of course a particular interest and necessity for me.  I was able to sink very deeply into the practice.  A couple of times I had to leave a position before the teacher suggested that we do, but I was able to do it quietly, without being frustrated but rather, accepting that this was my practice that day.

When we got to the end and settled ourselves down for savasana the teacher gave a few verbal cues.  I don’t know if it was working the spine, my acceptance of my practice that day, the fact that it was cloudy, dark and just approaching twilight (a beautiful time in the studio) or if the planets were “just” aligned, but I was able to immediately sink into an uncharacteristically deep meditation.

That’s when the magic started.  

From moving down to my mat, I had the image of the teaching platform with the two tables flanking it, where the crystal caves reside.  The crystal caves are lit by a spotlight each and just glow, especially in dim lighting. Flat on my back with my eyes closed it was dim but not dark and the sound of the bowls was affecting the places in my body that need some healing.  The crystal caves were glowing in my mind’s eye beautifully, warmly, comforting me.  As the teacher worked her bowls (this teacher has a lot of experience and plays several bowls at once) I noticed more light, coming from the teaching platform.  While it may not have surprised me to find my teacher glowing a bit, maybe her aura, maybe just leftover light from the caves, it wasn’t just her.  The caves glowed in the dim light that my brain had brought into savasana, but from the center of the platform there was a glow that was changing, seemingly along to the bowls.  Not a rhythm per se, it wasn’t a music video, but the glow would expand and recede, grow brighter and dimmer, as the sounds from the bowls changed.  The sounds themselves moved together, separated, moved together again and the sound would shift.  As those sounds worked through my brain, down the chakras and into my body the lights would shift as well.  

But that’s not all.  My body was very light, it felt almost as though I was floating a few inches off the floor.  Comfortable, not scary at all.  I found the arthritic area in my neck into the shoulder and down the arm were very affected but that didn’t bother me or pull me away from the meditation.  

Just when I really was getting into the lightness and wanted to see how high I could fly, the bowls shifted again and my arms grew heavy, drawing me back into the ground and making my body very heavy.  This made me a little sad, I was enjoying where I was.  But I was very heavy.  I was making that imprint on the ground that we teachers talk about.  I felt a shift in the energy again and the arthritis in my low back started getting “healed”.  OK it hurt (it also turned out it rained about an hour later) but the sensation in that hip was not pain.  I don’t know what it was.  My body grew heavier and heavier until it felt almost like I couldn’t even lift or move my arms when I grew lighter, again, starting at the arms.  

The lights would glow and recede, a couple of times the light at the center (between the caves) receded completely.  There was a time when the center light seemed to take the shape of a lighthouse and I could see the light streaming out, similar to light streaming out of a lighthouse on a dark night.  Was this an association my brain made because it was about to storm outside, or was this just the bowls and my teacher’s energy reaching out to me?  I don’t know, but it was pretty cool.

I was able to stay in for the entirety of the savasana which, as far as I’m concerned, either lasted 5 seconds or 5 hours.  When the bowls stopped playing the lights did not completely go away; as I lay there breathing the scene shifted and I was just clear and calm.  The physical sensations did stop, although I was certainly still feeling loose and relaxed.  The peace and calm have stayed with me.  As always happens when I have a great meditation, I feel excited, happy and most of all just good.

Often at the end of class I close with an inventory of the body, breath and mind.  Then I suggest that if you are noticing a difference between when you walked in and the end of class, that the peace and calm are always within you, we just have to look.  I know this to be true about my meditation practice as well.  Its there.  I can have good meditation.  I just have to take the time to settle in and look for it.  Practice and all is coming.  Even teachers have to remember that from time to time.  

Things in the Universe I don’t understand …. Part 2

I am a sports fan, football and basketball mainly.  Due to several different incidents in the past six months there is a raging debate in the media and sports world over use of the “n” word.   I’ve never been a person who is really comfortable with derogatory words – the “n” word, the “f” word, the “c” word – I don’t really see the point.  Don’t we have enough problems in the world without continuing to demean each other over our differences?  

With regard to the “n” word, there have been two incidents that hit home hard for me.  The first was early in the summer of 2013, when Riley Cooper, a young white wide receiver for the Philadelphia Eagles, used the “n” word repeatedly and easily at a Kenny Chesney concert.  Chip Kelly, the new coach, did not cut Cooper despite many public outcries for Cooper’s head.  Kelly did two things:  he sent Cooper out on his own to meet the press, then sent him home to his parents for a few days.  During the press conference Cooper was contrite and apologetic.  He was asked what his parents thought about the situation and he looked the media in the eye and said they were embarrassed and upset by his behavior.  Several team leaders, black and white, came forward to preach forgiveness.  Cooper is having a good year and that appears to have rebuilt several relationships on the team and I would sincerely hope that he learned his lesson.

The second incident is a lot more complicated, involving Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin, both of the Miami Dolphins.  Incognito has a “spotty” history at best – thrown out of two college programs for an inability to follow rules, during his pro career Incognito has been called the dirtiest player in the NFL.  Incognito is white; Martin is bi-racial.  Martin is claiming Incognito bullied him and whatever the NFL and NFLPA investigations may find, Incognito repeatedly used the “N” word in conversation with Martin.  That is undisputed.

There is a third incident that is a little different.  Alec Baldwin, whose contentious relationship with the media has been going on for 20 years or more, called a paparazzi a c–k——g f—-t recently.  Then talked about how much he loves gay men and didn’t consider that use of the “f” word was derogatory to them.  Hard to understand that an intelligent, well-spoken person in the public eye could really reconcile those two positions.

As to the “N” word there seems to be a debate between white people (such as myself) who despise the word and its use and wish it would be eradicated from the world’s vocabulary, and black people who feel that they have softened the word and changed its meaning by using the soft “a” at the end.  They also feel that they have the right to use it, and white people do not have the right to tell them not to use it.   

But by continued use of that word and especially with the debate flowing the way it is, the word continues to divide the races.  White people using the word in any manner:  affectionate (as Incognito claimed) or derogatory there should simply be no place for that word.  Its history is sour and its usage is incomprehensible.  The black community that suggests that their usage of the word is acceptable is equally confounding to me, not just because of the damage the word has done to their community but because perpetuating its use, no matter how the word is pronounced, is going to continue to divide communities.  At this stage in the U.S. many and much of the black community is actually bi-racial.  I watched First Take the other day and Stephen A. Smith was talking about his white grandmama but then defending his community’s use of the word (although he himself does not use it and dislikes the word).  That makes zero sense to me.  Had Stephen A’s grandmama told him to stop using the word, would that have been a direction from a white person who has no right to say anything, or a direction from a beloved grandparent?   If biologically Stephen A is of mixed heritage, why wouldn’t he want the communities joined in choosing not to use that word?  Smith is not the only person I’ve heard use that argument, it seems to be common within the black community.

The “f” word carries a more complicated punch.  Like two football players calling each other “girls” it is a word that is often hurled at a person who is considered feminine and is meant to be an insult.  As used by Alec Baldwin it was absolutely meant to be an insult.  Its not acceptable to this society, when the gay community (much as the black community before them) are working and achieving so much by way of civil rights.  So again, why are we dividing communities by using this word?

Perhaps with this in mind, in re-reading the Bhagavad Gita recently, Krishna’s explanation to Arjuna of why he should not be afraid to go to war struck a chord with me.  The Gita teaches us that the physical body is temporary, that the permanent part of us is inside.  The Atma, the real us, was never born and will never die, while the physical being is a shell that comes and goes.  As it relates to the Gita, Krishna was teaching Arjuna to not be concerned about the death of his physical being or those he may kill in war time.  As I see  this teaching relating to race it is another moment that teaches me, at least, that the permanent part of us – our souls, so to speak – are not attached to the temporary part of us – our bodies.  Therefore, we really should be blind to each other’s differences.  We should not use our differences against each other.  Our differences – our skins, our shells – are temporary.  What is the point of thinking one race, one sex, one religion is better than another, when it is all temporary?  Instead, we should be working together as one community of Earth to try to make our planet a better place to live and at this stage, try to save our planet. 

Things in the Universe I don’t understand … Part 1

I am the proud, loving and occasionally anxious mother to five wonderful dogs.  They are my joy and my purgatory. 

I’ve been a fan of the dachshund breed since I was a child.  Apparently I like a challenge.  When I was a tiny child my running buddy was a stuffed dog named Hot Dog who was a dachshund.  I had a red smooth coat little girl named Lotus who introduced me to the vagaries that make up a dachshund’s personality.  Later Bree, a long haired black and tan, found her way into my life and taught me more about the breed.  Last year my husband and I decided to bring a little girl named Abigail Rose into our hearts.  She is a tiny mini long haired dapple dachshund.  She is dachshund personified.  

And from Day 1 in our home, Abigail bonded to Bree in a very primal way.  My daughter, who is a veterinarian, strongly believes that breed recognizes breed.  After seeing Abby and Bree together there is no doubt in my mind.

To me this is proven out by the fact that Abby listens better to Bree than she does to any human who tries to direct the flow of Abby’s life.  Oh sure, she eventually deigned to eat her meals with the rest of the dogs, without a human family member watching and applauding every mouthful, and she eventually agreed to (mostly) go to the bathroom outside – as long as its not raining.  Although at some point house-breaking became more about Abby imitating the other dogs than her actually listening to her humans.

When it comes down to it, Bree is the boss of Abby.

Bree is the alpha dog.  She raised Jezebel and still won’t hesitate to nip at Jezebel’s legs if she thinks that Jez is being too rough with one of the other dogs.  Watching a ten pound dog bring a seventy pound dog to her knees is always somewhat awe-inspiring.  Especially if you’ve spent a day with teenagers.  But this is not the only piece of Abby & Bree’s connection.

More than once I’ve asked another human in the house where Abby is – and a minute later, Bree will walk up with Abby in tow.  Several weeks ago Abby escaped the back fence.  All the dogs were sitting by the back gate so I knew that Abs had squeezed  through that small opening between fence and gate.  First I took Jezebel with me to look.  That was pretty useless.  Then I brought Bree out with me.  Bree walked halfway down the driveway, stopped, barked and sure enough, Abby trotted up right away.  This is after about 10 minutes of me yelling for her.

This morning again I couldn’t find Abby in the back yard.  I checked all of her “usual” spots and she wasn’t there.  I checked the chicken pen – didn’t see her.  I checked the fence, checked the gate, checked any soft spots in the fence – nothing.  I was getting nervous but the dogs weren’t indicating that she was out of the yard – and if any of the pack is not in the right place, the rest lest me know!  So I started taking another lap of the back yard when Bree came back out, barked and voila’ Abby comes running out of the chicken pen!

Bree turned and walked back inside.  This little dog just drips self-confidence.

I don’t have any explanation for this.  I don’t know whether to be amazed or annoyed that Abby respects Bree more than her humans.  In some ways I’m pretty impressed with their relationship.  It is very much mother and daughter.  Sometimes you can even see Abigail Rose testing Bree’s boundaries and Bree will look at me with eyes that say “see what I do for you” as she curls her upper lip at Abby to tell her to back down.  I don’t understand why they bonded like they did.  But I’m glad we put them together.

How does this apply to my yoga practice?  Not in any linear way but there is nothing like a pet to to draw you into the present moment.  My mind could be anywhere, I can be deep into work or cleaning but as soon as I hear the unmistakable sounds of my two dachshunds playing, I’m immediately drawn to watch them play and run and roll around, sounding like Velociraptors as they tumble; suddenly its become a very sweet moment, and the day becomes that much brighter.

Five Reasons why I keep coming to Yoga:

Why do I keep coming to yoga?  Before it was my vocation it was my avocation and I’ve been blessed to have the ability to make that shift.  There are days I walk into the studio not feeling myself for one reason or another and after teaching or taking a class, I feel an excellent shift in my energy, physical self and mental well-being.

Before Bindu Yoga Studio ( I practiced Sivananda for years, before that Bikram and hatha yoga. So a decade or so into my own personal practice my passion for yoga burns very bright although my focus has shifted. Here are ten reasons why I still love yoga and keep coming back:

1. Yoga makes me feel good: No matter what I walk into the classroom with, something usually improves physically during my practice and if it doesn’t, than a mental shift does.  I’ve never left a class feeling worse, both mentally and physically, than when I stepped into the classroom.  After spending the last two years battling physical injuries I finally feel like there really is a light at the end of the tunnel.  I ended up doing more yoga than physical therapy after my back surgery and feel like I am getting stronger every day.  Practicing vinyasa yoga gave me a rush of energy and eagerness to learn more and more.  Advanced poses, arm balances and other stretches were my goals …. until I couldn’t move my left shoulder and neck and there were days when just lifting my arms was a challenge.  Many acupuncture needles and neck releases later, those days are fewer and farther between so I revel in every arm movement I can make.  Same with my back – I’m nearly at my pre-surgery flexibility and I believe have surpassed my former core strength to hopefully keep that low back happy!  Yoga has been a saving grace for so many reasons, but above all, because it makes me feel good.

2. Its still practice, because I’m nowhere near perfect: And that’s not only okay, it is exactly what it should be. Since earning my Registered Yoga Teacher 200 hour designation, I’ve been diagnosed with arthritis in my neck, herniated disks in my low back, had surgery on my back and developed arthritis in my low back. Needless to say my changing physicality makes for a changing practice. I’ve always felt stronger in yoga class than in the gym. Targeted exercises in the gym for me, are a short term fix for an area that may need a little building. But in many yoga poses, particularly standing, finding the balance of strength, grace and release ends up strengthening more than the area that the pose targets.  Practice doesn’t always make perfect but it means some days my forward bend is far prettier than others.  Learning to accept yourself on a day to day basis is an important part of being a happy human being.  I find something in every class I teach or take that was an improvement upon the last time.

3. Physical Therapy/Yoga/Viniyoga: First of all, let me say that over the past few years I’ve developed a huge respect for physical therapists. They go through a lot of education and training, help people, hold our hands, prod us when we feel like the pain and weakness is going to win and they don’t make a whole lot of money. When I began attending and teaching classes at Bindu, we had a Viniyoga teacher, Emily Large, who was a breath of fresh air for me especially once my neck and I began doing battle. She made small suggestions and adjustments, strength building poses and movements and most of all, just a solid practical knowledge that got me through some painful days. As I got deeper into physical therapy for my neck and later my back, I came to realize just how many exercises and movements are related to yoga asanas and movements. I’ve been able to incorporate physical therapy movements into both my home practice and teachings.  I’ve shared class or taught students who are recovering from addictions, breast cancer, lymphedema, spinal injuries, sciatica, wrist injuries, wrist injuries and more wrist injuries.  Yoga is more than bending and stretching and balancing on your pinkie while tucking your toes into your ears (I kid, I kid – mostly) – it can help improve your physical self and rehab many injuries and diseases.

4. I’ve met wonderful people at the studio: I’ve met people who have passed through my life but been incredibly important while they were here; friends who I hope will be with me forever; people who I send a message to the Universe asking them to show up in class; students who do “turn the world on” with their smiles.  My mentor was an attendant in my wedding. A student did my (and my attendants’) hair on my (giddy) wedding morning.  Another student had suggested the venue. My pet sitter I met at a Simon Park Workshop at Bindu.  Officially, Bindu has permeated every facet of my life!  I’ve met students with wonderful stories to tell, students with stories of perseverance and injuries and surgeries and recoveries. Fellow teachers are joyful friends. Students and teachers exchange ideas, recipes, eggs and freshly grown or canned fruits.  Students who are emotionally or physically fragile can count on me for support, just as they’ve helped me through tough times with just their presence in class and relaxed smiles at the end of class.

5. Meditation means more than it used to: This is a big one. A recent (good) shift in my back pain has found me meditating even more than usual. Whereas meditation used to be a 5-10 minute practice a few times a week, I now find meditation a useful tool to not only calm my brain but also to calm my pain. My practice is expanding and near daily I am experiencing some sort of little epiphany. Next spring I’ll be attending Instinctive Meditation Training with Lorin Roche at Bindu,, and I’m very much looking forward to it.

5a.  I don’t have batwings.  Yes, I practice yoga because I love it.  But no bat wings on my arms, tight triceps, biceps and a firm(er) body are nice side effects.

“I have been a seeker and I still am, but I stopped asking the books and the stars. I started listening to the teaching of my Soul.” —Rumi

My soul speaks to me the loudest when I am practicing yoga in one form or another.  That is really the biggest reason I practice yoga.

Your power lies within.  Breathe it, live it, love it ……



What is yoga to you?

This morning I read the quote below.  It resonated with me and as a result, I wanted to share it:

“Yoga is not about being bendy. Its about showing up to your mat consistently not knowing what is going to happen and being okay with that.  Its about rehabilitating yourself and not believing the “experts” who say you are too injured or too old.  Its about believing you can do anything even if its the scariest most impossible thing you could ever dream of.  Its about uncovering who you really are.  Its about being kind to yourself so you can then be kind to others.  Yoga is about discovering that most of the crazy thoughts in your head are not true.  Its about being healthy without pushing yourself to your limit.  Its about slowing down to get strong.  Its about breathing and moving and smiling on the inside.  Its the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but also the best.”

I’ve never been bendy even after more than a decade of yoga classes.  However, a lot of people – including yoga teachers – are not bendy in the way some people visualize yoga.  There is a big difference between stretching and being hyper-flexible.  Many non-yogis think that they have to be able to touch their toes or wrap their feet around their head while balancing on one finger to take class.

Nothing could be further from the truth.  Yoga is truly about showing up on the your mat consistently and accepting what is going to happen both in class and to your body without judgment.  Does this mean that as a first time student you show up to an advanced class and expect to not be frustrated?  No, of course not.  No matter where you are in life (or in your day for that matter) you choose a class that suits you – whether it is stretching, strengthening, flowing, breathing, meditative – or all of these things.  The biggest thing to know about yoga is that like anything else, yoga is what you make of it.  You can go to class, half-ass your way through it and at the end be dissatisfied both physically and mentally.  Or you can take the time that you’ve carved out of your life to come to your mat, be present and be focused.  Again, it doesn’t mean that you’ll do every asana, do it prettily or perfectly, but you do it to the best of your ability that day.

Small caution here – not every yoga pose (asana) is suitable for every person.  If you have high blood pressure or glaucoma headstand is not for you.  If you have diagnosed herniated or bulging disks in your back, some forward bends will need to be modified for you or may be inappropriate.  This is why its important to find a studio with mindful, well-informed teachers, and if you need them, find health care providers and doctors who understand yoga, its benefits, what to take from it and what to avoid.

I have been blessed (or lucky) and have found myself a circle of healthcare providers who believe in the benefits of yoga.  While my back surgery did relieve much of my pain, there is pain I will always have.  With the help of my “team”, including my yoga teacher mentor, I don’t have a single person in my life, with medical degrees or not, telling me I’m too old or damaged for yoga.  In fact my surgeon encouraged me to start stretching as soon as I could and my mentor encourages me to slow it down and not try to do everything in one day.

As to the mental aspect of yoga, oh, there is so much fear.  For some people, there is fear just to step on the mat or enter their first class, as discussed above – unsure of what’s going to happen, will I look foolish, will I hurt myself, can I do this, what if I fart or burp during class? – and the only way to get past it is to open your mind.

Before I became a vinyasa teacher, I took both Sivananda and Bikram classes.  Both are set classes with little to no variation from class to class.  So when I started taking vinyasa classes, I was terrified.  First off – where were the mini-savasanas (rests) between sets of asanas?  Then as I got used to the flows, I would get worried, especially in more advanced classes – what comes next?  What if I can’t do it?  What if it doesn’t feel good?

I’ve gotten past alot of those fears but I understand.  When I see a student not in the moment, I do my best to bring the student back to  and move from moment to moment without worrying about what comes next or what we just did.

Then there are  regular students who think they know what will come next, their thought process jumps ahead and again, as teachers we have a responsibility to cue students back into the moment.

Many fears can be worked through.  Many are irrational (such as those dang voices in my head) but alot of our fears have root in some kind of reality or experience.  Yoga helps us soften the hard edges, both  mind & body and as a result helps us work through some of our fears.  I find that much of this is through breath work.  It is easier to calm yourself and assuage your fears when you are breathing fully, deeply and with focus.  The more you learn more about yoga and the different types of breath – to calm, to cool off, to heat up – its amazing how you can apply to your daily life.

You do not have to lift weights or run as fast as you can to get strong.  Nor do you have to balance on one finger.  In fact, you can mix and match your exercise and you may find that a yoga class may be complementary to running or tennis.  Yoga is about stretching and strengthening.  Stretching our minds, allowing in new thoughts, letting things become more gray and less black and white.  Perhaps even softening some of the hard layers we develop through life and letting in people and experiences that you may not normally.  That’s where learning to smile inwardly works.  When you carry a smile in your heart you really do radiate it.  It makes you more open to be civil, friendly as well as open to new people, experiences and friendships.

If  you are old enough to remember The Flintstones cartoon (or the Frente! remake), you may remember this little song:

“So let the sun shine in, face it with a grin.
Smilers never lose and frowners never win.
So let the sun shine in, face it with a grin
Open up your heart and let the sun shine in.”
(written by Stuart Hamblen)

If you can let yoga into your heart, you will smile more often.  Your body will feel better, your heart will sing and your life will feel different.  So don’t hesitate.  Find your inspiration, open up your heart and let the sun shine in.