Attention, Attention…

These last weeks leading up to the election I have been completely distracted. More interested in the movement at Standing Rock than the movement toward the White House. What is taking place at Standing Rock, in my eyes, is as important, if not more so, than the civil rights movement, the suffragette movement, the movement to abolish slavery, and the movement to liberate this country from the jowls of the English Monarchy. Again, that’s just my opinion…and I feel rightly so.

Life without clean water is no life at all! Mini Wiconi, water is life.

An avid fan of great novels, up on the list of personal favorites sharing space with War and Peace, East of Eden, and Jitterbug Perfume is the entirety of the Dune series by Frank Herbert. Of course like any series, some of the books are better than others, but like all of the greats this work touches on more than a plot that turns pages. Water is life after all and the Dune series navigates the reader through a conversation around the extraordinary power of water…economy, ecology, philosophy, theology, politics, love, water is the current that moves all these streams in Frank Herbert’s fictional universe, and in our natural universe as well.

I feel fortunate that my lamentation in regards to the presidential election is shared by most of those in my social circles, but I know it is not shared by all in my sphere or otherwise. So much of what happens in our elections is a generating of fanaticism for our “team”. And much like a favorite team winning or loosing a major sports title, we as fans feel fully let down or overwhelmingly elated when our candidate wins or looses. As a result of this election many of those in my social circles were feeling down and out while looking forward toward a vision they do not feel they can align with.

Walking into my favorite coffee shop the day after the election was a somber experience. A dear friend of mine who was there responded to my inquiries of her welfare by stating her desire to join the revolution of love. “Where is it?” she asked. “At Standing Rock” I responded.

What is and has been taking place at Standing Rock is a powerful faction of humanity facing a vision it does not align with and looking through eyes of forgiveness and spirit. There is nothing more beautiful and powerful than this! Dignity and self respect shine through the veils of corporate greed and corruption. Integrity with principles outshines the need for convenience and ease. Patience walks alongside fear and uncertainty. Through prayer and forgiveness a movement is gaining momentum and it is a revolution of love.

No matter our political affiliations and leanings, no matter our socioeconomic backgrounds, no matter our racial legacies, spiritual pursuits, relationship status, we all need clean water to survive. Every single living being on this planet needs water to live. The planet itself is 96.5% water.

It’s easy to turn our attention toward what bothers us, the wheels of the aggravating thoughts of our mind spin unrepentantly until we turn our attention elsewhere. I made a choice to not pay too much attention to the presidential election because my attention and my prayers have bee, and continue to be elsewhere. The roots of the word attention come from the Latin ad tandere translated simply as to stretch toward. It is an act of our will to turn our attention toward a place that is new or unknown, much like approaching a deeper asana or new relationship. The places we focus our attention become the ruts or samskaras of our minds, the places where it is easy for our thoughts to go, from which we base our observations, opinions, judgments, and choices. While practice on the mat stretches our attention with focus in the midst of intensity, the work on our mat is truly just training for the work off of our mat. So that in the midst of what life has to offer us we have the capacity to turn our attention to that which is aligned with something bigger than our ego’s desire to be right…or even to know at all. With practice we become skillful at remembering heart in the face of adversity, forgiveness in the face of long lasting deceit, and love in the face of fear.

May your practice return you to our shared experience, one of challenge, dignity, adversity, spirit, deceit, love, the unknown, and so much more. May we all join the revolution of love no matter who’s side we align too. May we remember that even though they did not win for 108 years, the Cubs finally had there day, and love too will have its day and many more that follow. May we take steps toward the salvation love offers every day through mindful attention, forgiveness, and acts of peace. And through it all, may we enjoy fresh water, clean air, and warm hugs that dispel the false boundaries of separation worn like a jersey of a sports team!

With love, always, in all ways, for giving, in joy,

Genevieve 

In the Middle

My obsession with finding resolution has led me down some strange, and awkward paths. Looking back I can see quite clearly how choices I made as a younger human were tethered to some deep yearning within myself to fix… everything. It didn’t matter if it was my motor broken or someone else’s, but just that there was something to repair. Recently as a student (which is, like, my favorite thing to be), in Kelley Tredwin’s Breathing is Good Medicine workshop on mindfulness based stress reduction and the power of the breath, I was rekindled to the knowing that a mind needs to complete a thought. Oh, poor mind, ever-destined to chase resolution around like a mystical bone in a world of unfinished, and beautifully undone cycles.

Kelley used the example of mulling thoughts over until far too steeped in the middle of the night. Without the clarity of daylight, a brain will just continue to ramble about, trying to resolve an issue that cannot, by default, be solved by thinking alone. Some dilemmas, like: the crumbling vitality of our environment; deep veins of hatred and judgement that perpetrate all manner of disgusting behavior; war; and the proliferation of over-packaged, processed food that neither nourishes nor sustains life, just cannot be solved in one act or one day. Even a year with superb collaboration from all beings everywhere might not save the planet, but I believe that even so, the actions we take today matter. What paradox. Dear mind, be patient.

The character of Shiva in the pantheon of deities and gravitational heavyweights of Hindu thought is well known for his offering of destruction, oft-named Lord Destroyer. But dissolution is only one of Shiva’s five acts, or states, of the eternal. The first four of Shiva’s acts are creation, sustenance, concealment, and revelation. Each of these five states charges toward ultimate dissolution, which is perhaps why he is so well known for the end. But every end has a beginning, and a middle, and a place where the path is lost, and then found again before meeting itself in resolution. And upon complete dissolve, an energy has the capacity to be reborn and begun, again.

As I understand the concept, all things in the universe are ever acting amidst the reality of one of these five states. The first and the final – creation and dissolution – are fleeting, maybe even momentary. From the conception of a human being to the emergence of a thought, creation happens in an instant. Often the end of a concept, body, or belief occurs in a similar tiny time frame. In science, such momentous shifts are called quantum, and can be proven to not be arriving out of nowhere, but to be the result of much courting, conversation, and collaboration.

Most of the time we spend in our bodies is settled in the state of sustenance, or maintenance. The acts and habits of preservation that sustain life are where we spend the most time and energy, while living. Though landmarks and aha-moments do plant their stakes into the fecund soil of our consciousness and tissues from time to time, the majority of the day-to-day is just that; brushing teeth and little greasings of the wheels that keep things rolling. To live fully in the act of sustenance is by default, to not know what is to come, but to trust. And unless one is dying to die, and can’t wait to dissolve into the ether in an act of solving all the issues of having a body, for now, let go. I encourage myself to savor the good stuff in the middle, and let more than a few strands remain frayed and untied, just for today.

Love and peace with the messiness,

Suki Ola

The Queen of Distress

A student of mine recently gave me a new nickname, the “Queen of Distress”. The student informed me, after I queried, that this was a compliment and not otherwise. I am pretty confident that the nickname came about as a reflection of the subject matter I have been unfolding in my classroom recently. All recent themes have been spokes off of the hub of adversity.

The reason for this focus in my class themes is not me working out a current personal journey through distress, but rather my continued desire as a teacher to relate the asana practice to something greater off the mat. And I am pretty sure that no matter how open, strong, or flexible someone is, asana practice invites adversity. With this in mind I often teach on the theme of rising above or navigating through adversity as the great opportunity to translate the practice off the and mat into ones life.

While I may not be perceiving my life currently in a specific state of adversity, I am aware that there is always a bit of challenge to be navigated in the course of every day. This is one of the many reasons I return to the mat regularly. Each time any of us returns to our practice we have the opportunity to reset any states of discord to something more harmonious, or to set the stage for harmony before the discord arises. Be it physical, mental, emotional, energetic, spiritual, or otherwise.

The practice of traversing adversity mindfully and with courage can eventually lead us deeper into the more esoteric qualities of our yoga practice. As we learn to navigate the rising and falling of life’s challenges we become more capable of seeing what exists in the steadiness beneath those waves. Through this lens we become more capable of discerning what is temporary and what is eternal. In Sanskrit this is Viveka, or the practice of discernment. In time our practice of Viveka enables us to experience ever more harmony in the midst of whatever life hands us, and the fact of the matter is that life will hand it to us.

So I may now be the “Queen of Distress” but I am comfortable with that. Even though I may not percieve myself in the midst of the shit today, I know I have earned the title. And I am happy to share my knowledge with others in the hopes that something helps.

With Love, Always, in All Ways, For Giving, For Peace,

Genevieve

Autumn Manifesto

Tomorrow’ s equinox is a call to harvest the year’s bounty and begin focusing on storing energy and resources for the future. I’m hearing and feeling the call. Especially up at this elevation and in this wild climate, wrapping up of annual inspirations happens at a time that also requests solid self-care and tending at the gross physical and mental levels. I know, I know, now is the fleeting and extra special opportunity to be present. I speak for myself as an act of, and in the spirit of, living the life I have been asking for. Here is my autumn manifesto.

Accept the gift and revel in the generosity of spirit that breathes into your body from the wellspring of life force energy. Do pranayama to rebuild stable space within for energy and rest. Just like the web of diversity that holds all beings together, these two apparent opposing forces are intimately linked. Know that they become one another.

Call upon the ancient asana shapes that science is just now coming forth to declare they: improve circulation, promote brain function, regulate hormones, support digestion and elimination, strengthen joints and bones, affect better lymphatic flow, promote healthy body weight, enhance sleep. The list goes on, but especially, asana allows freedom of movement in the world, and exploration. Practice because you like it.

Sit in meditation not just because it has been proven to calm the nerves, clear the mind, invite creative thinking, and foster connection to spirit, but because it makes the day easier to face. Reflect upon the benefits in direct relationship to your life. Sit. It feels good.

Study the far-out ideas, and philosophy to connect to something greater, and remember that all sacred writings are only meant to widen a lens of perspective. See a bigger picture with every mindful, grateful breath. Recognize yourself and everyone you know living their own version of the great odysseys and journeys to the depths of the soul. Stay humble and confident in the face of all our great adventures.

Quality first. Yoga improves the quality life, and so, wish for quantity of life. When the waves of radiant health are rolling, welcome more time embodied to exact positive change as in individual, and in the greater collective community. See where your gifts are needed, and offer them without draining resources of energy. Be truly generous, hold safe boundaries.

Look beyond the surface, to see youthfulness below. Tend your inner playful self and revamp a spirit of possibility. Openness to change is an invaluable skill and practice to tend it. Despite all you have endured and seen, stay curious. And practice for the sake of, and by the virtue of, just what makes you feel quite young.

With love and peace on peace day,

Suki Ola

Contemplations on Happiness, Peace, and Asana

The pursuit of happiness came on like a storm, furious, powerful, and unrelenting. I was in my teens when I decided that being happy was what I wanted to do with my life. I am sure it came about as a snarky response to the big question of what I was going to do with my life. It seemed like a reasonable goal in the midst of a maelstrom of inner confusion when facing the big teenage mystery of what the picture of my life might become. And as a teenager I believed that it did not matter what kind of career I had, what kind of lifestyle I had, how much money I would make, where I would live, all of that was secondary to the first and most important goal, happiness. Diligently like the idealist and rebellious adolescent I was I pursued this goal, finding myself in many wild and delightful moments full of happiness and yet always knowing something wasn’t quite right. Just because I was seeking happiness did not mean I was happy. Just because I thought that those other aspects of life were secondary to my happiness at the time did not mean that any of them were. In fact, as a low blow to my idealist rebel teenage self I have found that many of those aspects of my life are great contributors to my  happiness as an adult. In spite of my great efforts to be happy first I have often found myself unsatisfied, unfulfilled, and in a semi-constant state of inner tumult looking for that which would scratch my itch for joy. Having an itch after all is a natural part of life. We all experience desire and longing. However, as I eventually found for myself, the pursuit of happiness can become an unrelenting oppressive force menacingly disturbing the peace.

Unlike my youthful merciless pursuit of happiness, the pursuit of peace approached more discreetly, like a great novel, the first pages drawing me in, and the further in I went the more interesting and compelling the experience. Different from the blatant and obvious benefits of pursuing happiness the benefits of pursuing peace reveal themselves more subtly, almost clandestine in their disclosure. Leaving one satisfied at a taste of the mystery, its savory and sweet flavor lingering offering room for pause, contemplation, connection and serene delight.

Everyone comes to the mat for a different reason, yet it is probably safe to say that at the heart of all of our pursuits is peace. We cloak our desire for peace in the pursuits of happiness, fulfillment, satisfaction, health, patience, generosity, strength, flexibility, resilience, our hunger for connection to others and to something bigger, the list goes on. However, we must beware that in these worthwhile pursuits is a tendency for obsession and myopia, discipline turned into obligation, and misguided attempts to better self at the expense of self acceptance. A very famous yoga sutra, and the only one of the 196 teachings to even mention asana, states:

2:46 Sthira sukham asanam.

Asana is a steady, comfortable posture.

 If it is steady and comfortable that we seek than we must stop looking for the places we can be better and contentedly accept where we are. In the practice of self-acceptance we can become more calm and peaceful, more relaxed and allowing. This does not mean complacent, but rather naturally cultivating the ripe and loving environment for transformation, rather than trying to force it. In the end everything will change, there is no question of that. So, in the meantime we have the opportunity to enjoy the transitions in peace. Practice effort and surrender. Notice how the trees effortlessly and gracefully drop their leaves, and in step with the season we are invited to drop our own leaves, whatever they may be, and settle into the steady comfortable posture known as life.

 

 

With or without distractions, you’re still just dealing with yourself. Practice in a cave, practice in traffic, practice joyfully, practice diligently, practice because you think you ought to, it’s all the same. Lest we forget that all in the yoga practice is a reflection of our deepest, and sometimes most hidden selves, this week, remember. And when distractions come up, acknowledge them, let them know they are seen, heard, and felt, for they are not separate from the practice that runs like a smooth engine.

At the height of summer, I am distracted. The days are long, and much is accomplished in each cycle of sunlight, yet I consistently feel that I can do more. Why aren’t hours for asana presenting themselves? Why haven’t I finished a book in July? Why do I put off making dinner until it is dark? The summer heat rather aggravates my body, which leads to mild, but persistent discomfort: a little extra heaviness, angry and clogged pores, dryness, heat in my feet. I do my best to remember that the remedies I know will help me feel more comfortable are a part of my work, just as it is to sit, to stretch, and to wonder. It’s a full time job tending this body in the heat, and it gobbles hours like popsicles.

I eat coconut. I sip cucumber water. I put my butt in the pond, and wait until a coolness settles from skin, to bone, into mind. The high desert summer sun is a reality of my world, and it rather messes with the balance of my body and soul. I learn much from the buzzing activity of the summertime, run screaming for the hills and the rivers, and give thanks to live in a place that is ever-shifting its temperature, and feel. The four seasons offer a perfect place to practice, and metaphor for the always needed reassessment of reality, which is only happening in this moment. For when the rains come, though all the problems of the world have not been solved, I am feeling better than before. And so, all is well.

All shall be well. All shall be well. All manner of things shall be well.” ~Saint Julian

Love and be well,

Suki

Seven Years of Shree

Many of us experience life in measurements of gains and losses. Time, elusive and fleeting is the ribbon that strings these moments together and measures the distance between. And, whether approved of or not, all things that begin must come to an end, both stages along the way marked on the thread of time. Knowing that all things will end, it is our nature to celebrate the continuation of that which is, while it continues to be. Celebrating life with each passing anniversary of birth while acknowledging what has come to pass in the days between is a favorite past time for adults and children alike. Same goes for the anniversary celebrations of important days and the monumental moments of our lives we deem worth keeping track of.
The 13th of July marks the day Shree Yoga Taos opened its doors with the mission to serve our community, and seven times now we have crossed over the threshold of this marked moment acknowledging the gravitas this simple action has had on many lives. In Buddhism there is a practice known as right livelihood, or the act of making a living with actions that are life enhancing rather than destructive. Though yoga is rooted in the ancient teachings of Hindu practices, the Buddhist practice of right livelihood is very much at the heart of the intent to serve up yoga. This is understandable when considering that the lifestyle of a yogi is in so many ways a map that enhances ones ability to more clearly understand and choose that which is life enhancing, that the curious mind does not need to ask too many questions to make the leap of connecting these dots. And so at Shree for the past seven years we have done our best to serve our community in a way that is life enhancing. And once again we have the great good fortune to continue to celebrate right livelihood and positive contribution to our community as Shree celebrates completing its seventh year of service.
Over these past seven years the walls of Shree have held with love many weary and tired souls. The floor has supported numerous brave leaps into new walks of life. Teachers have challenged boundaries to be reexamined, pushed, made stronger, and/or dissolved altogether. The community has embraced the diversity of those who have found the practice to benefit their wellbeing and in that diversity also cultivated more unity as we all looked beyond that which separated us and into that which we shared. Shared breath has carried many through difficult to navigate terrain, silent losses, heartbreaking grief, as well as the stories that make life more flavorful and robust. Laughter and delight has filled the space so palpably that corks jumped out of champagne bottles of their own accord. And mostly, gratitude like time, continues to mark and measure each passing day with reminders of what has been gained and what has been surrendered. 

So on this our seventh birthday it is with deep respect for your intrinsic beauty that we honestly wish to thank you all for being a part of our livelihood, our community, and the many flavors of the measurements of time that we celebrate today. May we be lucky enough to continue to enjoy all that Shree has to offer, together, for many more years to come.

With love, always, in all ways, for giving, in joy,

Shree

Moving Into Meditation

In this present moment, I am grateful. This moment is the one in which life is happening, right now, with all its twists and turns, and strangeness. Though at times it makes good sense, is even a necessary practice to reflect on all that has come before, and in other moments, you’d better be looking ahead to avoid coming traffic, so to speak, all there is, in fact, is now. I recently took on the Sage Institute’s 28 day Turning Toward the Light Meditation Challenge and was pleasantly surprised to find I had much to learn about meditating. Sitting calmly has been a practice of mine for a long time. Thanks to martial arts study (because I sucked at ballet), I learned to sit in meditation in third grade, and found that most of the time, I quite enjoyed the quiet.

Since then, meditation has been a thing I do sometimes: in times of crisis and need for restorative silence; before, during, or after as asana practice as a sweet extra treat; as a part of ritual practice at dawn, sunset, moonrise, equinox and solstice; for a few days at a time here and there. But never has it been a primary, asana has always been the main event. These past four weeks I’ve committed to sitting first, not always first thing in the morning, but before the movement. I followed the instructions that so lovingly landed in my inbox every morning, happy to have guidance, and the effect has been dramatic.

What delicious waves of compassion for myself and others cascaded in! Just as it is an impossibility to know what the hell another is thinking for staying in an abusive relationship until you’ve been in one yourself (and even then, you only know your own circumstances), I am now fully aware that I hadn’t tasted the fruit of real meditation practice, only conceptually puttered about, and occasionally sipped from the well. My meditation practice, like a young child discovering the magic of the garden, has become drunk with experience and curiosity. I am totally thrilled to feel and watch and witness in new ways, and I swear, my voice has settled into a deeper decibel, calm and rolling like the ocean.

From the experimental, even theoretical knowing and cosmic grab-bag of meditation that has infiltrated my last 25 years, I can now say that I sit. Direct experience, that only could have come from a well-tended commitment, has deepened roots into my own stillness, and has changed me, forsooth. And the ripe fruit I am savoring now seems to be just bare beginnings. It is hopeful fun to trust that much more is coming down the line, obligingly following the breath. The experience has been baring and deliciously fresh. So, sweet and quiet solstice, thank you.

Love and Space, Suki

 

 

For Days like Dump-trucks

There is a serious disorder in expectation about perfection in the yoga conversation. If you thought you were meant to come to the mat already ordered, saved, resolved, and put together, then you have had been fed some bad lemonade, friend. The whole idea is that we come to the mat messy, ever-changing, and hopeful, but it is the mess that leads us deeper into the practice, again and again. Somedays I feel like a dump-truck, and others, like a butterfly. Somedays I am the picture of patience and great perspective, and the next, mired in selfish and constraining ideas. This is the dance, the sloppy play of humanity, and of yoga. The process is in process, that’s why we call it so.

My invitation is to look, with love, at what is happening in the moment, and learn to design a practice for every day, different. On the butterfly days, I practice many pushups, firing a deep inner fire and yearning for strength, then flip over, around exploring the world from the upside, and roll into backbends that lovingly tear away the scar tissue over the vibrancy of my heart. It’s metaphor, of course, but my asana practice on the butterfly days is wild, playful, motile, and verging on passionate ferocity.

And the dump-truck days, are not so. I sit. I breathe. I look out the window. I sit on purpose (concentrate). I sit (meditate). I sit (do nothing). I wait. The practice’s end reveals itself, like a gentle embrace from a friend, calling me to sip tea, or take a bath. On the days when you are feeling far from your free-flying magical-mystical self, and more like digging your head into the earth to hide, try gentle pranayama (extending the life-force through breath), practices like anuloma viloma. In English, this breath is often called alternate nostril breath, and the idea is to balance the energies of opposing currents in the body, bringing the conversation to the table between butterfly and dump-truck, or maybe body and mind. The whole thing will last about seven minutes, dear dump-truck, and the invitation is to dive deeply into the breath, the earth, and all that you are carrying, dump the bucket of all that no longer serves, and find a balanced load for the moment.

Begin in a comfortable seat with an upright and relaxed spine. This position is important for pranayama practice and meditation as it opens the channel between the earthly world and the subtle world, linking like a ladder to what is below and above, alike. It’s pretty much the point; everything you do from this comfortable upright position is extra credit, rich and long-lasting crema on the espresso, so to speak. Open the channel, and then see what falls into your lap. Ten rounds anuloma viloma pranayama begins with a minute of mindful breathing, gently in and out through the nose, with attention on balancing the length of inspirations and expirations. If you find after this mindfulness practice that the inspirations have inspired you to do something else, follow, or that the expirations and letting go are leading you to a different practice of clearing the slate, go.

If you wish to move on, stay, and lightly place your right index and middle fingers at your brow-center. Gently rest thumb on your right nostril, just below the bridge of your nose with gentle pressure, and ring and pinky on the left side in the same manner. The mild restraint of the nasal passageway must be light enough to allow air through easily, but stable enough to bring your mind’s eye to the sensation and call attention. This tender pressure can be applied throughout the pranayama. Take a deep inhalation, completely close the right nostril and exhale left. Inhale left, pause at the top of the breath with both nostrils completely closed, exhale right. Inhale right, pause at the top, both sides completely closed, exhale left. This is one full round. Continue for ten rounds, release right hand and breath through both nostrils, watching the breath for another one to two minutes and enjoy your day deeply, best you can.

Love and respect, Suki

 

The Boy Who Can Fly

“Think happy thoughts” says Peter Pan as he is coaxing Wendy and her little brothers out the window of their happy home. How could Wendy not want to follow Peter Pan, the boy who can fly? Not only can he fly, but his confidence is contagious and his advice good.

In the classic story by J.M Barrie we meet the lead character while he is lost in an alternate reality from the one he knows, is familiar with, and calls home. On a vacation from Neverland the story opens as Peter is desperately seeking to find his shadow all the while simultaneously spying on a girl he thinks is beautiful. Peter Pan’s story is such a wonderful metaphor for life.

Continue reading The Boy Who Can Fly