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_MG_3241 I love yoga.  I love to practice yoga, I really love to teach yoga, and I love how yoga has changed my life.  There is no shortage of articles written all over the internet singing the praises of yoga, or, as I lately read in the online publication Elephant Journal, dissing yoga.  The most recent controversial article that I read was titled something like “Why I Left Yoga”, and it was written by a native of India living in the US.  In this dismissive essay the writer takes issue with the Americanization of the ancient practices of Yoga.  She makes some valid points (the $100 LuLu Lemon yoga pants…which I have honestly never worn or owned),  but most of her reasons focused on what she refers to as the trend of white upper-middle-class women practicing yoga as a trendy entitlement rather than a true holistically beneficial practice.   I immediately questioned this classification – what is wrong with people of financial means to feel a deep connection to the ancient and time-tested truths of yoga?  Who really cares if a person is so moved by their practice or experience that they choose to have a sanskrit tattoo imprinted on parts of their body?  It’s not my thing, but I hardly feel the need to judge others’ choices.  What difference does it make if someone has felt such a resonating truth from the lessons of self-realization that they choose to spend their money on a trip to an ashram in India?  We live in a free country, thankfully, and it is one’s own prerogative how they choose to live, believe or spend their money.

I do think that yoga in America can feel hip or trendy, and that many studios have become “a scene” like a new club in Brooklyn might be “a scene”.  But that is what makes America so diverse and interesting.  Just as the sub-continent of India is home to an incredible variety of beliefs, religions, and languages, so too is this country.  Just because people with financial means are flocking to their local studio, or planning their next vacation to a yoga retreat, doesn’t mean that their practice, or their journey, is any less meaningful or justified as the single mom on a limited income wage.  In actuality, many communities have studios, gyms, churches and outreach programs that offer yoga for free, or for donation, to those who want to learn the art of stress-relief and mind-mastery through the practice of yoga.  Do all studios follow the principle of seva, or service?  Of course not.  This isn’t a perfect world and not everyone is in the business for altruistic purposes.  However, from my experience, most yoga instructors (myself included) teach because they want to help people find a better way to manage their stress, improve their health and live their lives more fully.  I don’t know many teachers who teach yoga only for financial gain.

So why do I love yoga?  I love yoga because it is a practice that anybody can experience anywhere.  There are no necessary tools or equipment (a mat and loose fitting clothes are helpful).  You only need your intention and your will-power to enter the world of yoga.  Of course, there is a learning curve that starts with letting go of a piece of your ego so that you can walk into that first class. Wearing designer clothes, having an understanding of Sanskrit, or bowing down to the archetypes of Krishna, Shiva or the energy of Kundalini are absolutely not required.  You just need an open mind, a willing body (ok, maybe only partially willing), and a beginner’s attitude.  Although I have been practicing for over 16 years and teaching for eight, it still require a willingness, desire, and discipline to stay with it.  That doesn’t mean that every single day I practice for hours – I don’t.  It doesn’t mean that I expect others to practice specific dietary restrictions or suddenly take a vow of austerity.  I don’t.  I love yoga because ultimately YOU are your best teacher.  Only YOU have your life experiences that formed your psyche and your body.  Only YOU truly decide what you need and want out of this life.

Practicing yoga requires a letting go of pre-conceived ideas about what poses should look like and how they should feel.  It changes day to day, and even from pose to pose, within one session.  It’s tuning into your inner knowing, that felt-sense of how your body and mind, and most interestingly your breath, responds to challenges.  Do you become restrictive and inflexible when things are difficult or out of reach?  Or can you allow the tightness, the discomfort, or the heaviness to move through you without clinging to reaction and discomfort?  Yoga teaches us to pay attention and to be the witness to how we respond in all situations of life.  It is the ultimate metaphor of learning how to navigate life with grace and ease.

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Right here, right now, I am loving this.  This is my mantra.  This is my prayer. This is my song.

This mantra was given to me by my teacher, friend and soul brother, Tom Kelly of Soul of Yoga in Encinitas.  He taught me years ago, and continues to this day, that each and every moment is a gift.  If you live in the past or constantly worry about the future, you are completely missing the point of life.  Yes, we have all heard this before, but how often do you stop the voice in your head and correct the incessant commentary by exclaiming (out loud if you need to), RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW, I AM LOVING THIS!!!!  Try it.

Books have explained, ever since the written word, the need to live in the moment and to cherish each and every experience as it comes.  However, we humans feel the need to add commentary to everything in order to give ourselves the illusion of control.  In his book The Untethered Soul, Michael Singer calls this voice our inner room-mate.  He/she is always there with you stating the obvious, the absurd, or the fabulous little experiences in life.  Your room-mate never seems to respect silence, always filling your mind with different emotional states such as guilt, anger, lust, desire, frustration or disappointment.  What if you could silence that voice?  How would you determine your feelings?  Well, you would just feel them.  No judgement, no words, no reruns of past experiences, good or bad, filling your head.  You would just simply feel the experience.  That’s it.  No more, no less.  It can feel terrible, raw and painful; but then it is over.  It can feel ecstatic, incredible, and delicious; but then it’s over.

Our need to hold on to and constantly label our inner emotions creates a conflict with our perceived reality and the actual reality that we are experiencing at any moment.  This does not mean that what we feel isn’t real, but often the severity of our negative emotions negatively affects our body’s response.  If the majority of your thoughts are not of love but instead of anger, hatred, jealousy, frustration, and sadness,  your physical body reverts back to our evolutionary protective mechanism known as flight or fight.  A perceived or real event sends a signal to the brain which, in short, puts our body on high alert to protect itself.  The hypothalamus, or command center in the brain, sends signals to the adrenal glands and our involuntary body functions go into action.  Adrenaline pumps through our bloodstream, our heart beats faster, small airways in our lungs expand to take in more oxygen, thus increasing our breath count.  Our blood pressure spikes, our pulse increases, and the heightened levels of adrenaline triggers a release of blood sugar and fats into our blood stream from their stored locations.  We stay at this high alert level until the perceived (or real) danger has passed and our para-sympathetic nervous system tells the body to take a break and return to “normal”.   Over 50% of Americans live in this stressed state most of their lives.   Living like this is the antithesis of drinking from the Holy Grail, or finding the Fountain of Youth.

How do you overcome this constant stream of consciousness disguised as your inner room-mate?  First, stop and take three deep breaths.   Then maybe take a few more.  Focus like a laser on the place in your body your feel the stress or the pain originating.  Breath into that space and let the feeling pass through you.

So I ask you, can you find a place within yourself to find peace with what IS.  Right here, right now, I am loving this.

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Namaste,

Many years ago, in a previous life it seems, I experienced what it feels like to be shattered.  Lying on the shower floor in desperation, I knew it was time to make a decision:  do I give up, give in to the mainstream academic way of medical care which was destroying me from the inside out, or do I pull myself up, vow to create a new reality in my body, and venture to the unknown side of mind-body healing.

This epiphany came to me almost ten years ago while in my 13th year of my daily struggle with Crohn’s disease.  Having been diagnosed at the age of 19 during my second year of college, I had lived with pain to the point of literally forgetting what it felt like to feel good.  My sense of feeling “well” meant less intensive cramping in my gut, fewer bouts of arthritis in my joints, and every so often forgetting about my situation.  All aspects of my declining health had permeated my mind; every cell in my body seemed wired to be sick, and at times, I truly felt as if I were dying.

But now I see that somewhere deep inside my soul, a part of me truly had faith in my ability to change the chemistry in my body.  If only I could convince others, including myself, that there were other ways to get well beyond the prescription steroids, low level chemo, and other auto-immune “fighting” drugs.  Something seemed counter-intuitive to the notion of lowering my immune system’s ability to protect my body.  What if I nourished it instead?  What if I allowed myself the “luxury” of alternative methods of healing these many layers of the human body and psyche?  Acupuncture, Ayurveda, massage, Reiki, yoga, meditation, nutrition….could I ignore those people in my life who discounted these ancient practices, and follow my inner voice telling me to discontinue the pharmaceutical umbilical cord?  Was I ready to gamble with my life?

Lying on the shower floor with the water washing over me that day so long ago, I vowed that I could.  The decision to have a highly qualified surgeon cut out the diseased parts of my body was easy;  I then would awaken as a new person with a mission of health and wellness.  No longer would I go against my true inner wisdom and pump my body full of bright neon yellow drugs to dampen my immune systems natural ability.  No longer would I listen to the nay sayers scare me with statistics of further surgeries, loss of bodily functions, or death.  I would find a way, through trial and tribulation, to heal myself.

So now, nine years later, I am a different person than I was that fateful day.  I have seen both sides of life and how illness can beat a person deep into the ground, and how trust and faith in mind-body healing can coax the vitality and spirit back into one’s life.  It was a determined and mindful practice of being selfish and self absorbed so that one day I could guide others to find their own sense of being complete.Image

So I ask you this – what dampens your spirit and sucks the true essential nature out of you?  Can you sit with yourself and connect with that inner voice that knows the true path to freedom from pain and suffering?  As you grow your practice of mindfulness you will find that every act you partake in is a gift of choice.  What you eat, what your read or watch, who you interact with, how you perceive the world around you are all choices that you make.  These choices create your reality.  Choose to feel alive, whole and complete.  I did.

Ayurveda, Yoga, Healing, Nutrition, Columbia Gorge, Health, Crohn’s Disease, Food,

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