August 1, 2017
This June, I was given a scholarship to attend the Love Your Brain yoga teacher training to learn how to best adapt yoga and meditation for people affected by traumatic brain injury. Four teachers from Ume Yoga in Oakland traveled to Portland, Oregon, and in three jam-packed days, we learned how to best serve the TBI community in our yoga classes.
The thing that most inspired me about this training was the focus on building community in the Love Your Brain workshop series and yoga classes. The workshops and classes are all about creating a supportive space to move mindfully and connect with others with shared experiences. As you may know, connection to community was what first hooked me in to sticking with yoga practice. You can read more about that here if you like.
As soon as I learned more about the LYB Foundation, I was fired up to offer the free six week workshop series to people affected by TBI and their caregivers. Please see the details about it here. I'm looking forward to co-creating a healing space for the TBI community!
November 16, 2016
I was waiting in line at a store last week, the day after the election. The customer in front of me was chatting with the cashier. When she found out that he had voted for Trump, she yelled at him, asking how he could do "such a thing." I was so uncomfortable and didn't know what to do. When she left, I told the cashier that it was going to be a tough day for a lot of us. He agreed, and we shrugged and smiled at each other. And for a moment, we connected. That moment we shared had nothing to do with politics, but had everything to do with us being fellow human beings. I felt terrible that because of his choice, this person made her choice to treat him in a dehumanizing manner.
This is the time to have more compassion and to try to understand people with different points of view. We cannot become more divided. We need to get off our phones and be connected with each other on a more human level. We are social creatures, and the more alienated people feel and more disconnected we become, the more fear grows.
Yoga can help - when you are centered, you can be more patient with others that may challenge you. It provides clarity, connection, peace. These are things that a lot of us are in need of right now.
June 21, 2016
Right Here, Right Now
For the past year, I've been writing about the five yamas, contained within the first limb of Patanjali's eight limbs of yoga. These yamas are characteristics of living a life of freedom, following the yogic path. Although complex in their meaning and interpretation, here is a brief list of the first four:
1) Ahimsa: nonviolence, nonviolation of your path
2) Satya: truth
3) Asteya: non-stealing
4) Brahmacharya: energy control
The last of the five yamas is Aparigraha. This literally means “non-grasping.” In Sanskrit, “graha” means “to grasp” and “pari” means “things.”
Out of the five limbs, in my opinion, this is the one that truly opens me to others and acts as a conduit to personal connection. When I practice Aparigraha, I work on managing my own expectations, of “what was” or “what should be,” from having power over what is. It’s been said that dwelling on what has happened in the past or wondering what will happen in the future adds to our suffering. When I’m able to loosen that grip, I feel a sense of freedom.
When I am fearful about what could happen in the future, it makes me cling to or want to control those that are close to me. The more I can focus on the present moment, the better I am-- because I am free to make my own mistakes and enjoy my successes, and allow others to do the same. When I hold on too tightly to what I have, I'm closed off, not only from receiving what I need, but what I can provide to others, because my mind is off somewhere else. I know, as we all do, that worrying about and dwelling on things is almost always a waste of energy. Aparigraha reminds us that what we need lies within us, we already have it. There's no need to reach outward.
So, not only when I’m on my mat, but throughout my day, I do my best to practice Aparigraha and stay connected to the moment, to right now.
April 20, 2016
Thank you, Yogis
This month I've chosen to deviate from the topic of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras to write about some people who are very dear to me.
I moved to the Bay Area from Boston in 2010 to teach more yoga, as there were more opportunities here. I was used to teaching two or three people in a small yoga studio. A few months after settling in to my new home in Oakland, I was hired at a studio that provided me the chance to teach in front of a large group of students for the first time. Still feeling out of my element, being new to California, I felt uncertain. I felt fear.
I don't know exactly when I got over my fear and uncertainty. Over the years I saw new students come in and transform their lives. But, I was not just witnessing these transformations. I was a part of it.
The students shared their experiences with me and with each other: hip surgeries, divorces, deaths, birthdays, new jobs. I shared my victories and struggles as well. This reciprocity guided me into becoming a more sensitive teacher. By their willingness to tell me what was going on in their lives, I was inspired to seek out the best ways to serve them.
So, these students had a profound impact on me and my teaching. I saw yogis come and go, and when they would come back, the community around them was so welcoming. I saw them make space for new students, introduce themselves, which put the new folks at ease. These acts of kindness warmed my heart.
One of the older students was loved so much by the gentle yogis that we sang happy birthday to him on his 82nd. And practiced his favorite pose, utkatasana (chair pose)!
Over the years, the students and I have grown. I like to think that we helped one another through these changes. I know that they are the ones that enabled me to get past my fear and uncertainty. As I am now teaching at studios closer to my home, I've taken time to reflect and remember. I will always be grateful for the time we shared, the things I learned from them, and the memories we made together.
January 25, 2016
In the past few posts, I have written about Patanjali's eight limbs of yoga. Within the eight limbs, the first limb contains the five yamas: moral codes for living a life that follows the yogic path. Applying these yamas to your life can be very powerful. In my own life, I've made an effort to practice these yamas daily, and I've experiencedpositive changes as a result.
The first yama is Ahimsa, nonviolence, or nonviolation of your path. The 2nd yama is Satya, or truth. The 3rd yama is Asteya, non-stealing. And so we arrive at the 4th yama, Brahmacharya.
Brahmacharya can be tricky to translate to the modern yogi. In the past, it has been defined as practicing celibacy or moderation. This can appear to be somewhat in conflict with the first yama, Ahimsa, in the sense that is can be, for lack of a better word, depriving.
Luckily, a more broad definition of Brahmacharya is controlling the senses - living in the higher form of the mind by controlling where you put your energy. And to not waste our energy on things that do not serve our purpose.
Each and every act and thought is an outflow of energy. When I practice yoga, I try my best to set aside judgments about how my body looks and what the pose looks like. Instead I give focus to the sound of my breath, and the feelings of the stretching and strengthening in my body. Sometimes it takes a little longer to notice that I'm wasting energy on thoughts that do not serve me, sometimes I can get in the zone more easily. It's always different, and it's always a practice.
September 22, 2015
In my last post, I wrote about Satya, or truth, the second of five yamas (moral guidelines) in the first of Patanjali’s eight limbs (steps) of yoga. Prior to that, I wrote about the first yama, Ahimsa, which means nonviolence, or nonviolation of your truth.
Now we arrive at the third yama, which is Asteya, or non-stealing. To steal is an act of deprivation: to take something without permission. We know, in the general sense, that stealing is wrong. But we still can, and indeed do, steal without being conscious of it. What I mean is that we can steal from ourselves. For example: how often have you heard someone say, “I’m just so busy, I don’t have time for ____.” Or have you said that yourself? I know I have! We are stealing from ourselves by living in that mindset. We deprive ourselves of enjoyment, of experience. We can be in an amazing environment, surrounded by wonderful people, but if we are not fully present, what’s the point? Always wondering “what’s next?” causes us to operate on a basis of scarcity, that there is not enough time. This way of being has the potential to steal joy. Your joy.
Another way to look at Asteya is to take only what is freely offered. Desire for something we don’t have is essentially envy, the root cause of stealing. When we cease desire, abundance becomes apparent. We become aware that we have enough, we are enough, and when we realize this, we can fully experience all of the good things around us. The result being that we create moments without desire and envy.
This is one of many reasons why yoga has such value. Through our practice, we work on becoming more in control of our mind and actions, promoting a greater sense of awareness. Yoga can teach us to be more generous: not only towards others, but towards ourselves.
July 21, 2015
I Know This Much is True
Earlier this year, I wrote about Ahimsa, the first of five yamas (moral guidelines) in the first of Patanjali's eight limbs (steps) of yoga. Ahimsa means nonviolence, not harming one self or others. Continuing down that path, we come to the second yama, Satya, or truth.
We all carry within us what we perceive to be true. These beliefs can be affected by both external and internal sources, such as family, socioeconomic status, experiences, etc. These truths are not necessarily facts, but beliefs. And unlike facts, which are unchangeable, beliefs can be molded, redirected. You can take something that is seen by yourself as a negative aspect and change your perception of it. Relating back to the first yama of Ahimsa, we show kindness to ourselves, self-acceptance. And this can lead us to to Satya: the truth in ourselves.
There are times In my own yoga practice when I step onto my mat with an idea about myself. During asana practice, a thought like "I can’t do this" may come and go. Maybe you’ve experienced this as well. But are we really limited? You know your own truth by the way it feels. Your body speaks clear language. Remember to trust your body’s wisdom, its truth. Be truthful in thought, speech, and action. This is Satya.
April 16, 2015
Ahimsa: The First Yama in the First Limb
When I first started teaching yoga in 2009, I was terrified of speaking in front of people. I wasn't sure what I wanted to say, and it felt like a lot of responsibility to hold the energy and provide a safe healing space. For years, I assisted students with alignment, but I didn't feel like I could ever stand in front of a class and say anything meaningful.
Fortunately, for my first teaching experience, I had an ideal situation: a room that was quiet and fit only 4 students. This enabled me to relax with a smaller group and learn how to connect with each person. Those first students were so compassionate, so kind, and this reminded me to be compassionate and kind to myself. To me, this is a great example of practicing ahimsa. Non-harming. The first yama.
Under Patanjali's philosophy, there are 8 limbs (steps) of yoga. The first step contains the 5 moral restraints, or guidelines, for the yogi to live a purposeful, beautiful life. These restraints are known as yamas, with ahimsa (non-harming) being the first one.
Recently I was part of a workshop and we were all sharing our perceived weaknesses. Once we looked at the things we had written down as a group, we realized: so many of our fears are the same. I noticed that a lot of us had written down feelings of self-doubt. I had shared this myself at the time. So, this is a work in progress. If my self-doubt had limited me, I wouldn't be writing this, and I wouldn't be teaching.
Over the years I've grown more comfortable sharing my love of this practice through experience, facing my fears. Through the practice of ahimsa, those fears became smaller. I try to tune out the doubts and fears (they can be loud sometimes), and when they get to be too much, I face them instead. I do what I'm afraid of, regardless of my internal conflict. I love yoga so much that I have to give more energy to the compassionate and kind thoughts. Same way that I have kept my body safe through 13 years of asana practice. Non-harming, gentle asana. Sometimes vigorous, sometimes not, but being as kind as I can be to myself. Just as kind as those first students.
March 2016- Teaching my last class in Danville, CA.
Photo by Duy Dang.