Saturday, June 20, 2015

Why I Meditate?

Along with my asana practice, meditation and pranayama have become a daily part of my life. Each day, my reasons for practicing and my perspective on the experience change.  As any yogi knows, sometimes it is a struggle and sometimes it comes easily.  Here is a poem by Wes Niskar, inspired by Allen Ginsberg, that was shared with me by one of my close friends.  Maybe it will give you a new perspective on the cushion, the mat or in life. Enjoy! 
Why I Meditate - by Wes Niskar
I meditate because I suffer
I suffer, therefore, I am
I am, therefore, I meditate
I meditate because there are so many other things to do
I meditate because, when I was young, it was all the rage
I meditate because of Siddhartha Gautama, Bodhiharma, Marco Polo, the British Raj, Carl Young, Alan Watts, Allen Ginsberg, Alfred E. Newman, et al
I meditate because evolution gave me a big brain, but it didn’t come with an instruction manual
I meditate because I have all the information I need
I meditate because I want to touch deep time, where the history of humanity can be seen as just an evolutionary adjustment period
I meditate because life is too short, and sitting slows it down
I meditate because life is too long, and I need an occasional break
I meditate because I want to experience the world as Rumi does, or Walt Whitman or Mary Oliver
I meditate because now I know that enlightenment doesn’t exist
So I can relax
I meditate because of the Dalai Lama’s laugh
I meditate because there are too many advertisements in my head
And I’m erasing all but the very best of them
I meditate because I have discovered that my mind is a great toy and fun to play with
I meditate because I want to remember that I am perfectly human
Sometimes I meditate because my heart is breaking
Sometimes I meditate so that my heart will break
I meditate because a Vedanta master once told me that in Hindi my name “niskar” means non-doer
I meditate because I am growing old and want to become comfortable with emptiness
I meditate because Robert Thurman calls it an evolutionary sport
And I want to be on the home team
I meditate because I am composed of a hundred trillion cells, and from time to time
I need to reassure them that we’re all in this together
I meditate because it’s such a relief to spend time ignoring myself
I meditate because my country spends more money on weapons than all the other nations in the world combined
If I had more courage, I would probably immolate myself
I meditate because I want to discover the fifth Brahma Vihara, the divine Abode of Ah
And then I’ll go down in history as a great spiritual abbot
I meditate because I am building myself a bigger and better perspective
And occasionally I need to add a new window.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Looking for Joy Along the Way

Over the last few weeks, I have been struggling with my practice.  Doubt, inadequacy and frustration have been creeping in from all directions.  Work has been extremely challenging.  Due to travel and stress, my sleep cycle is all messed up and so I have been practicing at pretty insane hours by myself (join me at 3:30am anyone?).   Needless to say, I am distracted.  My monkey mind has been way more active than usual.  But I don’t have a choice – I don’t really give myself a choice.  I must practice.  I tell myself that I need to practice.  Because usually when I practice, I am more grounded, more centered and better able to handle all the challenges that life throws my way.   

But rather than be my salvation, my time on my mat lately seems to be mirroring my frustrations in the real world.  My practice is full of emotion and I leave my mat feeling unable to take on the challenges of my day.  It’s the quintessential “Catch-22” – a cycle of frustration feeding frustration.  It’s awful.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  I am not whining.  Rather, I recognize that I am cultivating the dangerous type of apathy, the type that makes me want to give up.  This is not the apathy of detachment, but rather the type that leads to asking the question of "so what?"  Looking for answers, I re-read my teacher’s, David Garrigues’, blog on apathy and this quote screamed at me, reminding me that I already know the answer: “Partially it comes down to being a tough son of a bitch and exerting your will over your emotions.  Daily.” 

Okay, so rather than NEEDING to practice, I have to WANT to practice.  David says, “Practice only because you want to practice. End of statement. Don’t do it for any reason at all, not for following a lineage, for weight loss, to get in shape, fun, health, spiritual growth, realization, prayer, or devotion. NOT FOR ANY OF THOSE REASONS.”  Because it is only within this unqualified, unconditional desire that I will re-find the joy in stepping on my mat.  Logically, I know that my mat is where I can cultivate the equanimity that I need to get through the difficult times.  It is where I will learn to confront the challenges in my practice and in life with some sort of logic, reasoning and creativity.  But only if I exert my will over my ego, my emotions, my mind – being that tough son of a bitch (not the first time!) that I need to be.  But the ego is a bit of a see-saw, isn’t it? It is easy to have a “good” practice (inflated ego?) when things in the rest of my life are going well.  And it follows that I will have a “bad” practice (deflated ego?) when challenges arise around me.  The challenge for me is to find the middle – use the apathy to find equanimity – and then within the equanimity, I will find joy. 

So, the real question and challenge is how do I do that?  How do I find the joy and balance in my practice and allow it to set the tone for my time off the mat.  Maybe as a beginner, I knew the answer – it is all right there in samastitihi, the most balanced of all the asanas – the breath, the foundation, the mudras.  However as a long-term practitioner, it is easy to forget these foundational principles or try to get ahead.  The challenge for me is going to be to focus on the single asana and enjoy the journey rather than focusing on the destination.   This is a lifelong practice and I (hopefully) have a long way to go.  So, I am not going to give up during these times of frustration.  Rather I am going to remind myself that there is a reason I do this practice and it is not to create the perfect asana.  It is because of devotion and faith and spirituality that I practice.  And it is a journey that will make me stronger because of all the ups and downs, rather than in spite of them. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Doubt gets in the way

I have been thinking a lot lately about doubt – both on and off the mat.  It is like a snake that just slithers along the edges, following me everywhere I go. Every few days or so it raises its head and hisses at me.  Just this past week, I had an intense moment of doubt on my mat after an extremely challenging practice.  It is a topic that seems to be following me around, rearing it's head in my practice and being brought up by both my yoga and meditation teachers.  So after it came up again today during my meditation session, I clearly realized that it won’t go away until it has taught me what I need to know.

Doubt is normal, right?  I know I am not the only one (somehow it makes me feel better just writing that)!  But doubt gets in the way.  It is an obstacle to our yoga practice, to our sadhana.  It is put there by the ultimate trickster, Ganesh, requiring that we consider what we need to get around it.  Doubt is like glasses over the eyes of our true self.  Intense doubt can merge with our awareness, so much so that we can’t remove it, we can't filter it out.  We can see through the clear glass but our awareness of our self is somehow altered. 
If we run a hundred miles an hour to the other end of the continent in order to get away from the obstacle, we find the very same problem waiting for us when we arrive. It just keeps returning with new names, forms, manifestations until we learn whatever it has to teach us about where we are separating ourselves from reality, how we are pulling back instead of opening up, closing down instead of allowing ourselves to experience fully whatever we encounter, without hesitating or retreating into ourselves.  -- Pema Chödrön
I don’t want to wear these glasses.  I want to take them off.  I want to throw them away.  And I want to find that stillness of awareness that is inside.  Not so easy, I know.  But isn’t that why we do our practice?  My teacher, David Garrigues, talks about finding our real purpose in practice.   Finding that highest, most important thing, that thing that doesn’t require any specific technique (none even!).  That thing that doesn’t cause us to be excluded because we can’t do kapotasana.  What is that thing?  It’s ishvara pranidhana, devotion or a surrendering and bowing to the process. A relinquishment of our need to control. 

So hard, right?  Especially since, I am not one to give up control easily.  But isn’t it really a matter of trust?  Trust in myself, trust in my teachers, trust in the process.  And most of all, trust that with good technique as my foundation, I am completely safe.  Because, it is trust and safety that are the opposite of doubt.  I am learning that if I can center myself in that, then I will do my practice and as Guruji said, “All will come.” And at the very least, I won’t be inclined to quit along the way. 

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Street Dog Watch (& Free DG Download!)


I just returned from a month in Kovalam, India where my teacher, David Garrigues, holds his annual Mysore intensive. This year something unexpected happened - David and his partner, Joy, were adopted by a homeless dog and a tiny puppy. In trying to find a way to help these dogs they came across a bigger problem and an organization trying to help. Here is what they found: Watch David's video about Street Dog Watch

The situation for animals in Kovalam, as in much of India, is desperate. There are literally hundreds of starving and homeless dogs and puppies. Many tourists to Kovalam will adopt a few animals while they are there but tourist season is about to end and the monsoon season is about to begin. Many of these animals will not make it. Starvation and sickness will claim many of their precious lives. And perhaps just as tragic, there will be litters and litters of new puppies born to the same fate.

There is an amazing organization here called Street Dog Watch doing everything they can to protect these animals. Right now, they are working around the clock, sterilizing, vaccinating, rescuing and helping to adopt as many of the animals as they can. But they really need us. They do this all on a shoestring budget that is made up on in-kind donations and volunteers - both of which are coming to an end with the start of the deadliest season for these pups.

To help this Street Dog Watch, David has decided to offer a FREE DOWNLOAD from his vimeo on demand store to anyone who donates $50 to Street Dog Watch by March 6. That means if you donate $50 you can download for free: A guide of Primary Series, A guide of Ujjayi breathing, A guide to Second Series, OR A guide to Pranayama. Make a donation here. After you receive your email donation confirmation, forward the email to to receive your promotional code for the free download.

I had the opportunity and honor to spend some time with the folks that have dedicated their lives to this amazing organization.  I hope you will join me in supporting them with any donation, no matter the amount, so that they can make their budget for this next year.  As we near 2016, we will also be collecting supplies to deliver to them for next year!  Let's make a difference!

OM Shanti!