My Alter

My alter isn't a decoration and it's not untouchable. Like most of the areas in my home, it's a workspace. My processes, intentions, imagination and hopes are layed out on the table here.  I sit here often. I listen for guidance. Sometimes I intuitively rearrange the elements or pull forward a diety such as Ganesh, Lakshmi or Durga. As much I am bringing my inner experience outward to look at it I'm installing the virtues and vibrations of these deities in myself through breathwork, mantra and meditation. Some sits are about opening and letting the experience unfold. Many mornings I am preparing and empowering myself for the day ahead. 


I resist the notion that there is a "right" way to do this. It's is personal, intuitive and precious.  What holds true for me here, regardless of how I approach the alter, is that it always brings me back to myself somehow. 


Very excited to go learn more and deepen my approach to Puja with Douglas Brooks in a few weeks. I already feel this ritual, this relationship, is my foundation. 

"Happy" New Year!

Today you've probably been wished a happy new year several times. "Happy" is a complicated word with many interpretations, levels and nuances.  In this blog post I will try to sort out the difference between circumstantial pleasure and true joy.

First, let me remind you of the highest reasons why we practice:

The purpose of sadhana (study and practice) is to remove the veils, obstacles and impediments that keep you from seeing our true Self and experiencing the Universe as love. On the mat we work through this confusion and reveal your own Divine nature, which we experience as chit-ananda.

The word chit is related to awareness, consciousness, remembrance and perspective.

The word ananda is loosely translated as "bliss," but needs further explanation. Ananda is more than sheer pleasure, or sukkha, which we feel when things are easy and sweet.  Ananda happens when we touch into a Loving Reality that is beyond our circumstances.

Tantric teachings tell us there is only one cause for true happiness, and that's chit: the power of awareness. If you think about it, all of the times in your life when you have felt light and free, or warm and contented… those times when you were flying down the ski slope, or cuddling with your partner…when all seemed right in the world…were experiences of ananda. All of those experiences have one thing in common – chit. You were fully open and aware. You were there. You weren't distracted. You weren't on the phone. You handed yourself over fully to the moment and opened to what was good, beautiful, true and joyful about it.

Happiness comes from expanding into what's good, real and right in front of you. Instead, many of us are mentally drifting through fantasies and regrets. Distorted thoughts about ourselves, others, and the kind of world we live in create such soul suffering.

Even during sorrow, when we accept our circumstances and make peace with the broken pieces, we can take refuge in the Heart of the Universe. That's ananda, too. While it's not hip-hip-hooray, it is softening and trusting that things will be okay.

This holiday season, I've talked to a lot of students, friends and family who have either broke the bank or had their hearts broken. How big of a perspective does it take to see past our own circumstances and realise the world is actually still whole?

We practice to repeat and reinforce the experience of chit-ananda. We practice to remember that the Universe is Love so that ananda becomes the foundation from which we live our lives.

HAPPY New Year! I sincerely hope that you get everything you want in 2015, that this is the year you become a great success story, and mostly that you recognise the goodness and love in life and it brings you the truest, deepest sense of happiness.

The Little Drummer Boy: a Christmas story to inspire

Have you ever really contemplated the lyrics of “Little Drummer Boy”? It's a story about a peasant boy's experience of the night Jesus was born. It begins like this:

“‘Come!’ they told him.

"A new born King to see! Our finest gifts we bring to lay before the King, to honor Him when we come’.”

Those inviting the boy to the nativity scene would surely be offering their most valuable gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh — none of which the boy has, nor could he afford. Even though he has nothing extravagant to offer as a gift, he decides to show up.

When he arrives at the old barn, walks up to the hay-filled manger, and sees that baby Jesus is wrapped in old rags, he realises that Gods' greatest gift to humanity has come wrapped in the most humble and unassuming package. Standing beside the make-shift crib, the boy musters the courage to speak:

“Little baby,” he says to Jesus,

“I am a poor boy, too. I have no gift to bring that’s fit to give a King. Shall I play for you on my drum?”

He offers his own humble gift - his song. This made Jesus smile. :)

We were all born with a gift - a special purpose. The gift the Divine gave to you is what you have to give to others. How we live by the guiding light and the terms of that gift is our dharma, our highest duty. I'm not saying it's always going to be easy but it will feel right. Dharma is how we turn our special, unique, god-given gifts, talents, responsibilities, skills and inspiration into action. 

The epic, Hindu song, Bhagavad Gita, tells us "it's better to try and struggle in our own dharma than to succeed in somebody else's." A teaching I often come back to. 

We live in a look-at-me culture where fame and extraordinary achievements are always celebrated. We get confused and discouraged about our own dharma when we think it has to be something lofty, grandiose, high-minded or like somebody else's. Humble dharma isn't about competition, comparing yourself to others, ego, or getting credit for service.

Today, on Christmas, ask yourself what is the true gift you have to offer? 

It doesn't have to be big and fancy. It can be simple and from the heart. For example, your ability to love others is one of your greatest virtues. Or sometimes what's needed most is a friend who listens. 

As you think of how much a Divine child, wrapped in rags, inspired the drummer boy to play his song, and has moved the whole world to do their best (knowing there is forgiveness), remember that no offering of yours is small or insignificant when you play your heart out. 

pa rum pum pum pum

Five Reasons to Participate in a Yoga Teacher Training

DEEPEN YOUR PRACTICE – learn the poses from the inside out: yoga anatomy, alignment, key actions, therapeutic benefits, modifications and hands-on adjustments. You will experience your yoga in new, interesting and meaningful ways. 

IMMERSE INTO YOU – invest in your health, your education and your personal growth. Two asana practices every day for 30 days will definitely improve your fitness and help you feel radiantly alive. Meditation, mantra and mudra practices will bring clarity and connectedness. When was the last time you truly focused on yourself? 

STUDY YOGIC TEACHINGS - learn about yoga's origins, practices and belief systems and consider why they're important today. "What am I" is a scientific study. "Who am I" is a spiritual inquiry. These sublime questions will instigate, elevate and enrich our practices, discussions and lives. Are you unsatisfied with small talk? Ready to deepen the conversation? 

MAKE TRUE FRIENDS - cultivate meaningful relationships with folks who are also walking the path of yoga. The connections that are created during teacher training often last a lifetime. Long after you've forgotten what a sanskrit word like "kalyanamitra" means, you'll have numbers stored in your phone of people who will remind you. 

LEARN TO TEACH – We are all each others teachers. Even if you never teach a yoga class, there is value in learning to serve others, speak in public, express your ideas and feelings, guide an experience or plan a step-by-step lesson. Helping someone improve, understand or find more ease is profoundly rewarding for both teacher and student. 

Gratitude, Backbends and Cardio for Happier Holidays

Happiness depends primarily on our capacity for gratitude. The more we remember our blessings, the more we lift the weight that weakens our Spirit. Sure, life is full of conflict, difficulty and sorrow. It's also abundant with happiness, love and beauty. Our reality becomes what we focus on. If we focus only on our problems, then life starts to suck. If we can begin to notice the little gifts the universe is bestowing on us everyday: the sun in the sky, the support of family and friends, the safety of the roof over our head, the beauty of nature, etc… then we can experience more fullness and less emptiness.

To be honest, a lot of my personal work in life is to find lightness, joy and wholeness. I'm not your double-rainbows & unicorns, blissed-out sort of yoga teacher. Just like many of my students, I'm serious, sensitive and I've had a difficult past. I can become melancholy during winter when the nights are long, and especially the holidays when the focus is on relationships and family.

Because we all get the blues sometimes, I want to share what works for me with you:

Sit quietly and reflect on your many blessings. Start by noticing your breath and be thankful. It's been reliable you're entire life, working without being asked. Be thankful you are alive. Life is a precious gift. Everything that happens in your life is part of that gift, rather easy or challenging. As you remember the happy times say thank you. As you remember your struggles say thank you for making me who I am.

When you sit down for Thanksgiving dinner, remember that gratitude transforms what's on your plate (no matter how much) into abundance. It's when we focus on what we don't have, instead of what's real and right in front of us, that we feel so hungry.

Backbends are prescribed for depression. They open the upper back, chest, shoulders and thighs and increase flexibility and fluidity in the spine. They stimulate feel-good chemicals in the body, such as seratonin, and release pent up emotions.

Come to my class, we do a lot of backbends!

Yep, cardio. Unless you are doing a lot of advanced vinyasa-style yoga, you're not getting your heart rate up with meditation and asana. Leading a sedentary life is the same as going to the medicine cabinet everyday and taking a handful of downers. Most of us sit at a computer all day and solve problems. We feel stressed and anxious. Sure, running, biking, swimming, etc.. put the body under an amount of physical stress. There's no need to overdo it. A slow jog or crawl across the pool interrupts mental and emotional patterns of stress and provides a physical outlet. We can tap in to the strength required to endure whatever is going on in our lives. It couldn't be simpler. Put on your shoes, crank up Metallica, and go run it out. 

Gratitude, backbends and cardio – simple, skillful, powerful tools for a happier holiday.

"Life is a gift. You don't earn it, you don't deserve it and you can't pay it back. What you can do is offer gratitude" Dr.  Douglas Brooks

Darkness can be the most intense form of light

My favourite thing to be (more than a yoga teacher) is a yoga student. I've taken several great trainings recently including an Iyengar Immersion with Manous Manos, Psychology for Yogis with Livia Shapiro and Nectar & Fire, a Vinyasa Teacher Training with Noah Maze & Sianna Sherman. Manouso said that slower, mindful practice is unpopular because "responsibility is unpopular." Livia taught us about "the shadow," an unconscious part of ourselves where we push our experiences away.  

I've been given a lot to think about and work on.  

Noah Maze has been one of my main teachers for awhile. For me he has been a steady, trusted guide, especially as I've navigated big changes in the yoga world. His strength and clarity ground my practice and teaching. In Sianna I've found a teacher who takes me into the lesser-known esoteric practices of yoga: mythology, mudra and mantra. I can't wait to participate in whatever she offers next! 

Sianna said, "Darkness can be the most intense form of light." The secret, mysterious, esoteric teachings of yoga have always called to me. Growth is always underslung with fear, doubts, confusion, imbalance and uncertainty. A great teacher and sincere practice will take us there. 

As we fade to Fall, the days get shorter, and nights get darker,  I'm looking forward to plunging into the caverns of my consciousness, with that little flashlight of curiosity and a lot of self-love. 

What does my practice look like? From outside my window I'm sure it looks simple and a little bit weird: a guy contorting himself into yoga poses, sitting there on a folded blanket for 20mins or so, curled up in the sunshine reading, staying up late writing, occasionally looking up as if there was a thesaurus on the ceiling or the stars were cue cards. Internally, it's like turning the pages of a book pressed tightly together, remembering the wisdom of a life story. 

There is a sanskrit term, vicara, that means sacred inquiry or lengthy consideration. Practice includes sitting awhile with the deeper questions. It is also simply watching the seasons change, a shapeshifting cloud, the sun go down and the moon come up. What's happening is consciousness is unfolding, unraveling and revealing itself in everything. We are beauty's witness. I wonder why we think it's not enough sometimes?

What if we could just drop that insatiable need to be entertained? How much darkness do we need face in letting go of our little addictions? Change is scary. Several of the deities are shown holding up their hand in abhya mudra, a gesture that both invites depth and says "be courageous."

Darkness isn't a trap door it's an initiation into practices that are about the light of the soul. The initial discomforts of practice send many seekers clutching for more familiar territory. Most folks can't begin practicing on their own. A teacher needs to help them get started. The greatest teachers will take you safely into the dark where you might feel uncomfortable in your body and uncertain of your beliefs. It's ok. The teachings of yoga tell us that everything grows from the underground or descends from the dark womb of possibility. 

Recognizing a teacher

We know we've found a good teacher for us when they role model, or speak to, an aspect of who or how we want to be. 

There is always something trying to wake up within us. We are often just about to know what it is. So, when a teacher touches on what we are ready to learn then they truly have our attention. There is a flash of recognition, importance and opportunity. Maybe they just clarified a pattern you've been puzzling over or they said the perfect words to describe a feeling you can't articulate. When that happens you hear your inner voice saying "yes" and "more." There is both a level of familiarity and a lot of new territory to explore. And you want to explore it - which is all it takes to be a great student.  It's not that you're looking to follow a guru, it's that you're both tuned into the same big idea. How you understand or experience it is similar enough to allow you to communicate about it.

It doesn't matter if great teachers give you homework because the teachings will stay with you, constantly unfolding. There are many teachers, so having options isn't the problem. Find the ones who resonate with you.

Be a Light

Being that it's mid-Summer, it seems ironic that so many loved ones I've listened to lately are feeling depressed. So, I am writing about LIGHT as it relates to optimism, that feeling that things are going to turn out well - if not today,  then eventually, if you you keep working at it. I want to encourage faith, hope, trust the universe, confidence in yourself or at least a belief in the efficacy of yoga practice. 

Did you know we have about 60,000 thoughts per day? 95% of those are the same thoughts as yesterday. AND 80% of those thoughts are negative, pessimistic, dreadful or fear-based! 

Optimism is not whistling a happy tune every time things get hard. It is about disciplining our minds to find more empowering explanations for what's going on around us or within us.  Whether we're an optimist or a pessimist comes down to how we explain our circumstances to ourselves. We can chose what meaning we want to give all the events in our lives. To choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances is to change one's direction. As the Buddha said:

“Our life is shaped by our mind. We become what we think.” 

There was this terrible study with two dogs where they both receive shocks at random intervals: 

DOG A  has a lever he can step on to stop the shocks. DOG B  doesn't -- he eventually curls up into a tiny, hopeless ball and endures what feels he can't change.

In part 2 of the study, both dogs have a lever they can step on to make the shocks stop. The first dog quickly figures it out. He becomes the optimist, always believing things can improve. The second dog curls up as soon as he feels a shock. He never tries. He doesn't find the solution. He's learned to be hopeless. 

I often say to be a yoga teacher you have to believe in something. If not a Divine energy then at least believe there is a lever. Yoga helps people stop suffering in countless ways. 

We all have shocks, heartbreaks, injuries and losses in life that bring us to the edge of losing our faith. I get it. I've felt darkness curled around me…that cloak that smothers…the weight that weakens. My experience is that yoga lightens the load and attenuates that sense that something is so wrong. What's that quote?… "all the darkness in the world isn't a match for one small flame" or something like that. Yoga teaches us to be that light for each other. 

My own practice and experience as a teacher gives me faith that anyone can rehabilitate an injury, re-puzzle their experiences or mend their heart. By practicing poses we start to realise we have the ability to change things. That takes us from feeling like a victim to being empowered. We don't have to live in the grip of trauma. 

Here is one of my favorite meditations from Patanjalies Yoga Sutras. Practice often.

take a comfortable seat
close your eyes
allow your body to settle
bring your attention to your breath
watch it without trying to manipulate it
observe the breath moving in and out of the body
bring your attention to your heart
visualise the presence of a light
within the heart is the centre of consciousness
a Divine Light
like the moon glowing softly
and radiating it's cool light throughout the whole body
feel the presence
of a luminous light radiating optimism, hope and faith throughout your entire being
this light is free from grief
beyond the ups, the downs…
it is totally steady
concentrate on that light
it's natural for the mind to wander
when that happens, just keep bringing it back to the light in your heart…