The Yoga Path, LLC 

Seeking balance through Asanas, Pranayama and Meditation

Anne Ondrey, MSW, RYT

Essays
He's Coming!!

I can't believe it! Brother John Martin, superior of the ashram where I was in India, will be in Cleveland 5/12-5/18! I tell my husband, Tom, every morning that it seems like I've had this crazy dream that Brother Martin is coming to stay with us - and then I realize it's true!
 
There will be numerous opportunities to meet Brother Martin including:
 
5/13 6:00 - 8:00 Blue Sky Yoga Willoughby - Please preregister - over 30 already pre-registered and just a few spots left
5/15 1:00 - 4:00 HeartSpace of 89 Hartford, 89 Hartford Drive, Medina
5/16 9:30 - 11:15 Jasmine Dragons, Chardon Square
5/16 7:00 - 8:30 Anchor Lamp Room, Old South Church, 306, & Eagle Rd, Kirtland
5/17 9:00 - 10:45 Jasmine Dragons, Chardon Square
5/18 9:00 - 10:30 Anne's home in Chardon (Breakfast!)
 
Feel free to contact me about any of these events by email or cell 440 278 0065. Do not miss this opportunity to meet an amazing and compassionate soul. I spent three weeks at Shantivanam in 2013 and listened to Brother Martin's famous "Four O'Clock Talks" each day where he spoke on everything from levels of consciousness to the nature of evil. He is a Camaldoese Benedictine monk and a close disciple of the late Father Bede Griffiths, founder of Shantivanam Ashram and one of the leading thinkers in the development of a dialogue between Christians and Hindus. Following in Father Griffith's footprints, Brother Martin is also deeply involved in the inter-religious studies between Hinduism and Christianity. His vision goes beyond religious boundaries and focuses on the dignity of human beings who can transcend religious labels and discover unity with God, creation and with all of humanity. His vision breaks down barriers and sees one God and one creation. He is the author of several books and lecturers annually in Europe. We are so delighted to have him here in 2016! Brother Martin will also be in Philadelphia, New York City, San Francisco and Los Angeles! Thank you to my dear friend and fellow India pilgrim Iris Eisenlohr for organizing Brother Martin's trip!
 
 
Here is a YouTube Interview with Brother Martin describing daily life at Shantivanam:
 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iNv6SVpfqcc




WELCOME THOMAS GABRIEL!
1/27 12:05 PM NYU LANGONE HOSPITAL
8 LBS 14 OZ 21 INCHES
 
He's here! We are so blessed to welcome our grandson Thomas Gabriel to the world. Imagine your first moments and first experiences of life - soaking everything in from your new plane of existence. What a momentous journey it is becoming a human being!
 
What's most noticeable to me about this young life is his powerful and immediate connection to his parents - to their touch, to their voices. We arrive in this world connected by love. The stories of the journey forward vary greatly, but they all circle back around this one fact: We are love and we come from love.
 
As we grow, we learn to spread out our love. We start with our family, then our first friends. As we age, we expand the circle. To grow in compassion, eventually we extend our love to those who aren't dedicated to our wellbeing - to those who are difficult to love. Sorry to bring up politics, but today I tried to extend love mentally to the gentleman sitting next to me wearing a certain candidate's button as my immediate reaction was to think, 'boy, this guy is a jerk!'
 
What I tried to remember is that this man is someone's son - that one day he was just like Thomas Gabriel - and I tried to find it in my heart to extend kindness to him.
 
Well...I tried!
 
The yogic practices help us to extend compassion to ourselves and others - through breathing, meditation, mindful movement, chanting, guided relaxation. These practices help us draw inward and find within ourselves the circle of connection that is love - love for ourselves and all beings.
 
Shanti,
 
Anne


Bodies Crying Out for Help!

 
I was walking behind an older gentleman in Heinen's the other day and I felt like his body was calling out to me - 'YOU THERE - HELP ME!' The man was listing to the right and his pelvis was so twisted that he wasn't really walking - he was sort of dragging himself along. This was his "normal."
 
In our society, twisted, contorted, no-longer-functioning bodies are considered "normal" aging. If this man were to go to a doctor, he might receive steroid injections to treat symptoms or be sent to physical therapy, but we don't look at the underlying, bio-mechanical failures that cause problems.
 
There is, however, a great deal of change afoot. It's thought that soon, sitting will be considered the new smoking - because it's so debilitating to our well being. Some of the corporations are promoting this. I taught classes at Parker Hannefin and their "Fit Bit Challenge" was so successful they had to replace the carpeting due to people walking around the building to meet their daily step requirements!
 
While efforts like these are steps in the right direction, moving out of balance creates more dysfunction. A student, who has a Fit Bit Challenge where she works, told of an employee who walked so much to win the challenge that she became more and more impaired so that by the end of the challenge she was unable to walk! Exercise is ineffective if it intensifies innate imbalances. We all have imbalances - some are more obvious and problematic than others. My own body has many imbalances, which is why I became so interested in posture and alignment - to get myself out of pain.
 
The capacity to change and create healthy patterns in body, mind and spirit comes from inside each of us. Daily we choose whether to answer the healthy call or to resort to older and often more familiar - but frequently non-functional - patterns. As a species, we seem to have an inbuilt resistance to working on and overcoming the obstacles in our lives. It takes focused intention and attention not to succumb to the subtle messages that the work is too difficult, too weird or too hard.
 
So what do you do about your own imbalances? We practice, read, learn, study. The goal, as I see it, is to be functional and present in our bodies as long as we're in them - which won't happen without a great deal of consistent effort on our part!
 
So this fall, let's get to our mats and meditation cushions or chairs and create space for our highest selves to emerge.


Dial it Down in the New Year!

  

Were your holidays joyful? Stressful? Merry? Maddening? All of the above?

My holidays felt like someone had turned the volume up - WAY UP - in my life! Everything was amplified with more feeling, more eating, more doing than in my day-to-day life.  I also felt this way last May when my daughter got married - it was like my life had taken a huge overdose of steroids.

So what do you do - and what don't you do - when your life gets amped up?  Do you skip your yoga practice?  Or use it to help support you through the chaos?

The Monday before Christmas only two students showed up for my am class and one suggested we all just go get coffee.  Oh no, I countered, this is EXACTLY the time for yoga. And, in particular, the time for restorative yoga, which relaxes your nervous system. Coffee, on the other hand, speeds up your nervous system.

After the class, I asked the student if restorative yoga was better than coffee and got a resounding 'yes'.

Feeling overloaded by life is normal and this is a nervous system event.  I like to think of our nervous system as the "man behind the curtain" (as in The Wizard of Oz) who's pulling the strings in our lives.  Restorative yoga, meditation, breathing practices, Reiki, chanting and even fascial stretching are excellent tools that help us destress or dial down from the fight/flight/freeze mode into the restore mode.

So as we greet the New Year of 2015, remember your nervous system and its ne
ed for "down time!"  I'll be offering workshops on meditation and sleep to help in these areas (see Upcoming Events).  Taking care of yourself is not a luxury, it's a necessity. Dis-ease is also a nervous system event and we can help our bodies stay on track by using the tools of yoga for early intervention when we're feeling overwhelmed and stressed.

Related Online Resources

Comedy about Caffeine from a Wacky Science Perspective:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xl1XBJLfIDU

New Year's advice from Dr. Wayne Dwyer, not to be missed:
 



What Would the Little Engine that Could Do?

 

Remember the children's story The Little Engine That Could? The engine chugs up the big hill saying ' I think I can, I think I can' until it finally crests the top and all the way down it chants 'I thought I could, I thought I could'.

 

So what do you think you can do? And what do you think you can't do?

 

Guess what? You're right on both counts!

 

New research shows how critical our perception of our abilities is to our capacity to perform well. In the Scientific American article in the link below, a variety of studies prove that when we think we can do something, our bodies send a different set of neurons to the task than when we think we can't. And the "can" group gets the job done more effectively than the "can't".

 

In late October, I tested my limits by completing my Level 1 training in Fascial Stretch Therapy with Stretch to Win in Toronto. I was the second oldest person in the room of 35 and the average age was early 30s. Most were personal trainers or massotherapists. There was so much to learn and the pace was quick.

 

At the beginning of the week, when I felt unsure, I got stuck more often. But as I worked and studied and began to feel I could do it, the work got easier. I found the flow as well as a profound sense of accomplishment.

 

So notice the mindset you adopt when approaching tasks - is it full of opportunity? Or a fait accompli? Yoga encourages us to stay in our present experience and to remain unattached to the outcome of our actions. We really don't know what we can do, so leave the door open and ride the wave of your experience with a positive intention.

 

 http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/your-thoughts-can-release-abilities-beyond-normal-limits/  

 

 

Get Stretched!

 

I am now seeing clients for Fascial Stretching in my home and at Blue Sky Yoga in Willoughby. Blue Sky availability is Thursdays at 6:00 and Fridays at 5:00, with some variability depending on the week. Sessions at my home are based on mutual availability. For more information, contact me by email or cell.

 

I learned about fascial stretching from Beth Giorgi, who does fascial stretching in her Mentor home and at Blue Sky Yoga. Beth has been my mentor in this work as she is certified at Level 3. Don't miss her upcoming workshop, "Getting the Stretch you Crave" at Blue Sky 11/9 from 1:30 - 3:00 - just a few spots left! https://clients.mindbodyonline.com/classic/home?studioid=35162    



Creating and Growing Through Criticism


What happens when you get criticized? Recently a fellow healing arts practitioner shared with me that a mutual client felt one of my adjustments in a yoga class was "too much." I felt saddened by this news - the last thing any yoga teacher ever wants to do is make a student feel uncomfortable in any way.

 

Criticism is defined as pointing out our perceived mistakes or faults - and who doesn't have these! The question is how we respond to criticism - do we recoil and become defensive? Or do we use the information to reflect and regroup? Does the criticism make us depressed and down on ourselves? Or does it allow us to deepen our practice?

 

The great yoga teacher B.K.S. Iyengar, who passed in August, suggested that we can take judgment and turn it into improvement. The Dalia Lama says being open to criticism allows us to take stock of our shortcomings and protects us from the dangers of pride and arrogance, which can result from praise.

 

For me, my goal is to be laser-focused on the practice of yoga in all its forms - postures, breathing, meditation, chanting and selfless service to others and continually weaving this practice into every fiber of my daily life with keen awareness - not judgment.

 

I am trying to cultivate an attitude of gratitude toward criticism as a teacher in my life, bringing me more awareness in each moment. And as Mr. Iyengar said, "Never compare with others. Each one's capacities are a function of his or her internal strength. Know your capacities and continually improve upon them."

 

So as the fall approaches and in northeast Ohio we know what's comes after fall, cling to your practice as if your life depends on it. I believe it does! And for you practitioners who have received an unwelcome adjustment from me or any other teacher, politely let us know. We need the feedback so we can improve.

 





Getting the Big Picture
What kind of a view do you really have of your life?  I often think I've tried to sort through all the angles on a situation and then a new piece of information falls into my lap that makes me realize I don't even have a clue...
I've realized this especially following a major family event - my daughter's wedding in May. Stories keep rolling in from various friends and family members about their experiences and conversations during the wedding weekend. When I hear them I think  '...where was I when this was going on?'
So despite our best efforts, the reality is that our species has a pretty egocentric worldview, i.e. 'I perceive it this way so that must be the way it is.' But au contraire!! We know from our yoga practice that while we explore and examine and nurture our center - WE are not the center of the whole.
Walking a labyrinth is a great metaphor for this, as a group of us did together in May.  We walk through it at the ground level, following a circuitous path. However, if we could see ourselves from above, we would observe the beautiful spiral pattern that envelopes us and guides us, patiently and systematically leading us toward our sacred center.  Although I'm partial to the labyrinth at Ursuline College, walk one of our area labyrinths and see for yourself - http://labyrinthlocator.com
Let's face it - our individual perspective is, by definition, limited - by our background, experience, age, race, gender and so many other things.  Yoga teaches us to open up to the bigger picture - the view from above if you will - without being attached to our individual ideas, preferences or predilections. Stay with your practice long enough and often enough and you'll have those moments of realization when you catch a glimpse of the view from above and it's surprisingly refreshing and reveals bigger truths that aren't visible from the ground level.
So even on those days where you feel so at the ground level that you're sure you must be a worm...look up and imagine the spacious and more complete view from above - the view that not only includes you, but also all that is. 
 
Namaste,
Anne


Staying  Steady through Defeat, Trauma 
and a Long Cruel Winter
I'm intrigued by the people who lose at the Olympics .  Maybe it's because I grew up watching ABC's Wide World of Sports with the video clip of the ski jumper careening wildly out of control to the words "The Agony of Defeat".  Every week, everyone in America winced watching this:
 
At the 2014 Olympics, speedskater Shani Davis portrayed the agony of defeat. After winning back-to-back gold and silver medals in 2006 and 2010, he is coming home empty handed after years of hard work. In an interview, Davis seemed disappointed by not shaken.  "I can learn a lot from this and I will. But if not, I'm going to move on to other things."  
 
In Chardon, the community is working to survive something much more serious than defeat.  This week marks the second anniversary of a school shooting at our high school in which three young men lost their lives, another three students were wounded - one seriously - and many students, adults and community members where irrevocably traumatized.  Last week, Columbine High School Principal Frank DeAngelis spoke to the Chardon community about how horrible events like school shootings have the potential to make individuals and communities stronger. However, he said it takes tremendous effort for this to happen because our usual default settings are simply inadequate to support us in working through the maze of powerful and destabilizing emotions and memories that accompany trauma. 
 
This is where yoga comes in. Yoga ultimately is about working through that maze - which is our mind.  Yoga is geared to help us develop a steady mind: the kind of mind that can ground us through defeat, through trauma and through an unending Northeast Ohio winter; the kind of mind that ultimately is not as dependent on the external events of our life as it is on our internal life.
 
So how do we develop this stable internal life? The sage Patanjali tells us in the Yoga Sutras, 1:14: "It is only when the correct practice is followed for a long time, without interruptions and with a quality of positive attitude and eagerness, that it can succeed."
 
So yoga is kind of like preparing for the Olympics - it requires lots and lots of practice! Everyone's mix of what works is unique to them - and when trauma is involved, often involves counseling as well.  And the mix is always in motion and requires mindfulness as we adapt and adjust as needed.
 
So if you feel like you're at the end of your rope this winter, consider strengthening your yoga practice. Especially recommended is a set time for daily meditation.  Don't know where to start?  Try meditating along with Andy Puddicombe, author of the wonderful book and webpage Get Some Headspace:
 
The road to developing an internal peace that will support us through defeat, trauma and the last days of a cruel winter is paved with dedication and commitment.
 
Peace,
Anne  








Your New Year’s Resolution:

  Don’t Beat Yourself Up!


Here we are at the beginning of a New Year. To get our bearings, consider these six questions (short answers only, please!):
 
 
One word to summarize 2013:
 
One word to summarize your intention for 2014:
 
Best moment of 2013:
 
Lowest moment of 2013 (and how you responded):
 
What you’re grateful for from 2013:
 
Thing you’d most like to change in 2014:
 
 
Often we come to the New Year thinking:  “…ok, this year things are going to change!  I’m going to work out, save money, eat right and get to that project that’s been laying around FOREVER!”  Sound familiar?
 
Yoga, however, calls us to consider this annual dance from a place of balance.  In the Sutras, Patanjali recommends approaching the postures as “Sthira Sukham Asanam” or “Steady, Comfortable Pose.”  Patanjali does not say “Wobbly, Difficult Pose” which is what my poses and my life feel like at times!
 
In her book The Neurology of Change: A Compassion-Based Program for Personal Transformation, Kelly McGonigal suggests that the road to change is paved less with harshness toward ourselves and more with kindness toward ourselves.  Research, she says, shows that the more we beat ourselves up when we fall short of the mark, the less true change is likely to evolve in our lives.
 
So what does it mean to be really kind to ourselves? Does it mean self-indulgence – as in one more piece of dark chocolate? Does it mean more toys – as in “I’d be happy if I had a new _______” (fill in the blank here).  Probably not.  Being genuinely kind to ourselves on any given day might mean getting to bed early; it might mean preparing and eating a nourishing meal; it might mean not “doing” but finding quiet.  Or it might mean “doing” and connecting with others.
 
In a way, showing kindness to ourselves is like acting as our own wise parent.  This summer I got a crash course in becoming my own wise parent.  I got myself to bed earlier; I ate more nourishing food; I began to carve out time alone. Thankfully, and maybe as a result, I’m feeling better.  But the danger in feeling better is that the old patterns rush in (to do more, to eat less mindfully, to reflect less frequently).

The yoga practice keeps us focused on caring mindfully for ourselves – and this may mean at times doing things that we’re disinclined to do (like meditate or practice asana).  Having the capacity to discern what is in our best interest requires Viveka, which according to the Sutras is the ability to have a clear and correct awareness regarding our situation (I think of it as the Dr.  Spock – of Star Trek - mindset). Developing this awareness takes time and literally years of practice.
 
So this year I’m trying to be less concerned with my New Year’s Resolution. In yoga, we have a New Year’s Resolution every day when we set our intention or Sankalpa. I’m also trying to set kindness toward myself and all beings as the agenda, finding the steadiness (Sthira) and the comfort and ease (Sukha) that Patanjali recommends.
 
Change, we know, is a process. And in the end, it never involves changing your authentic self, which is always balanced and true.  Change is simply becoming more compassionately aware of our constant and unchanging nature, which is peace.
 
Shanti, shanti, shanti.
 


Moving Toward the Good


      
 I feel so confused. My natural markers are blurry. It's March in Chardon but it feels like May –over seventy degrees and the trout lilies in my backyard are blooming. My forsythia bush is yellowing. But the Spring Equinox is tomorrow. Seems so strange.
 
I drive around Chardon Square and the gazebo – the site of so many happy times – and it is now a shrine to three dead Chardon High School students. Shot execution style in the school cafeteria before eight am. Another student seriously injured. Another student in detention, the perpetrator. At night there are candles and people slowly circling the gazebo, still in shock.
 
When something so out of the ordinary like this happens, the ground feels spongy (and indeed it is spongy with all the wet), like it won't support me. Reality feels hazy.
 

The contrast to this haziness is stability and peace. Last night we had the first Reiki Relief Clinic for Chardon at the Mandala Center for Healing on Chardon Square. The feeling of stability and peace there was unparalleled. The event was put together by my dear friend and healer Debbi Mayo, owner of the Mandala Center. It was the compilation of the positive intentions of many people. Seven Reiki practitioners gave about 20 treatments between 6:00 and 8:30 pm. We'll be there the next three Mondays. The sessions are free. If you know someone who is struggling, let them know. If you are struggling, come. There were a few school employees there. I can't imagine what their reality is like. I just live near the school. They work there.

 
Then the clinic was over, I turned to Debbi and told her I thought maybe this was all a dream – the shooting, the Reiki clinic on Chardon Square – the gazebo looking like a place where people make a pilgrimage. When I walk around the gazebo at night with the candles lit, I have so many emotions – terrible sadness as well as a deep joy from that outpouring of love from our town. But this is my new reality. There's been a shift. We don't know what will happen next in our lives. We are not in control. So we do what we can to comfort ourselves and others – to ease pain, to bring compassion and peace.
Reiki does this.
  
If you're unfamiliar with Reiki, it's a gentle, hands-on practice where we channel love toward each other. That's about it. My Reiki teacher, Rowan Silverberg, tells the story of how someone once said to her that Reiki wasn't a big deal because anyone could do it. To this, Rowan replied, “Yeah – and isn't that great?”
When Chardon parents hugged their children after the shooting at the high school, they were giving Reiki. We give Reiki to each other all the time. But in the formal practice of Reiki, we do it with concentrated intention. And that makes all the difference.
 
And it's really the only difference we can make. In the
wonderful book, Breakfast with Buddha by Roland Merullo, one of the
central characters, a monk, says, we can – every day – make small choices for
the good. We can turn away from hate, anger, greed, falseness and hurting. Or,
we can make small choices toward the not so good – and over time these small
choices accumulate. It's these small choices that day after day turn the tide.
At one point in Breakfast with Buddha, the monk is
asked why bad things happen. He says:
I don't know the why.
I know the
is. This is the world and always the world. Always,
since the Bible was made, since when the ancient stories in all religion were
made. Inside the big world that you cannot control, you have the small world of
you that you can control. In that small world, if you look, you can see whether
to go this way toward good or the other way toward bad.”
   
If you go toward the good, increasingly, the monk says, the Divine Intelligence – God if
you will – is like “...a very nice music always playing. If you hurt people
you make yourself deaf to this music, that's all. Not God's fault, your fault.
Not God's judgment, your choice.”
      
So here, in Chardon, so many people are making small choices to try and help and heal and move toward the good. Because, ultimately, there is no why to this reality – there only is. And the is is us, in small and inconspicuous ways turning the tide toward the good. And listening to the always nice music.


 



 
 
Florida Gym Yoga
 

I walked into the Florida health club yoga class just before 7 am. There's a good crowd for early morning. The teacher has yet to arrive. There's a lot of friendly chatter. I settle in and notice the florescent lights. Ugh.

A few minutes later, the teacher arrives and turns off the lights. This is a good sign. He speaks with an accent ? French, I think. He puts on a CD. Deva Premal chanting. Another good sign.

We sit for centering. I look up and he looks like the poster
child for advanced yoga. Full lotus pose that's so deep his big toes are up around his naval.


This is gym yoga?

The class begins with sun salutations. We flow. We breathe. Deva sings. He doesn't give much in the way of alignment instruction.
It is the day before Thanksgiving and at some point he gets
us seated again, giving pranayama instructions, and begins to talk about eating
turkey. Even though he's a vegan, he says he eats turkey every Thanksgiving.
Why? Because, he says, his 10 years in the ashram taught him that yogis are not dogmatic. Their only dogma is love. And he feels the Thanksgiving meal is a symbolic sharing of love.
This is gym yoga?
He told another story of when he was studying yoga in the West
Indies. After a long workshop, his guru was gnawing on a chicken bone. He was a little appalled and asked him, ?guru, what are you doing?? His guru replied, ?I'm eating food that was prepared for me with love.?
This is gym yoga?
  
He then wove this into a discussion of Shiva and Shakti and how they respectively represent formlessness and form, stillness and motion. Yoga
means accepting, acknowledging and taking in full awareness of both, he said.
Being attached to anything ? including the orthodoxy of veganism or our form -
only creates suffering. He said one of his teachers used to wonder why we're
all so fixated on death and birth ? because neither are permanent markers. This
body, he said, is like a rental car ? we pick it up, we use it, and then we
turn it in. That's it. Before advanced yogis die, he said, they have a ritual
of release from and thanksgiving for their body. They release their spirit from
their temporary form.
   
As the class progressed and finally laying in Savasana, I realized I had come to class with a set of expectations, at least subconsciously, that this wouldn't be a very ?yogic?class. I made an assumption this would be ?gym yoga?, with an emphasis on the physical. I didn't enter with beginner's mind: open, porous, and experiencing the present moment in actuality.
 
This is, of course, one of the many great things about yoga ? and life: that you can never really know and can never accurately assess what you'll find in the next class or around the next corner. We can only open up and surrender to the present moment.
 
Vacation Special!

Beautiful Marin County, California.


Wake up in the middle of the night!


M
editate for long hours! Remain Silent!






Am I crazy? Spending a
vacation weekend at a Zen retreat center? For two days this August I was a
guest practitioner at Green Gultch Farm (
http://www.sfzc.org/ggf/),
part of the San Francisco Zen Center. Lying in bed in the guest house the first
morning, I heard the gong go off at 4:30 am. Then, a kind of ritual clacking
began. Get
ting up and out and walking toward the Zendo (Japanese for meditation
hall), I saw a person standing very still on the front porch, intermittently
banging what I found out later was a Han, a thick piece of wood hanging by a
rope that's struck with a mallet. Later in the d
ay, whe
n I had a chance to investigate the Han, I noticed an inscription on the face of it - although one of the words in the center has been rubbed away from years of being struck by a mattet:



 



 







Life is (almost) Gone
Awake, Awake Everyone
Don't Waste This Life!




The Han calls
practitioners to meditation and to remember not to sleep our lives away but to
wake up to the ever present moment of now.






I nervously walked into
the building and was instructed by a nun where to sit ?
back left corner of the
meditation hall, facing the wall. The hall is tiered with some practitioners
sitting on the floor and some on an elevated platform that
runs around the
exterior of the room. I walked down to find my seat and climbed up on a cushion
to settle in. Seated meditation ? called Zazen - began at 5:00 am. Many bells
and gongs rang at various times during the first, 40-minute session. The bells
were beautiful and calming. Then walking meditation (Kinhin) for 10 minutes - a
slow-motion kind of walking. Then another session of Zazen until the ritual
liturgy at 6:30. Prayer books were distributed and we chanted. Some of the male
monks had those deliciously de
ep voices that cause chants to sound like an
otherworldly dirge. There was a special service for a departing student, during
which the female abbot suddenly and unexpectedly ROARED at the top of her lungslike a lion, demonstrating that the student would need courage in the world.
After the service, we were assigned some morning chores ? visitors clean the
meditation hall, sweeping off cushions. One of the young men in our group was
assigned to clean the statutes of Buddha with a big Swiffer duster. A Japanese
nun followed him around, barking instructions, worried I think that he
might
unintentionally topple over one of the
 statues.
It was oddly reminiscent of
Catholic School

At breakfast (by this

time, I felt I'd been up for half a day!), a ritual prayer is chanted that
honors various facets of Buddhism. There are the Three Treasures - The
Buddha, Dharma (our path) and Sangha (our spiritual community); the Four
Benefactors - our parents, the Three Treasures, the environment and all
sentient beings, and the Six Realms - these are complicated ? but let's just
say there are three r
ealms up and three down and it's a better to be up than
down!

 

After scooping oatmealout of the big pot, I sat down to eat next to a woman I had asked for somebasic instructions in the guest house. After a few minutes, I made a commentabout the weather and she and the two men at the table pointed to a sign on thetable: SILENT TABLE. Oh dear. My bad. However, over the course of the weekend,I found myself gravitating toward the silent table. It was such a new
experience to savor the food and open up to the sounds around the dining room
without participating in them.


Some of the food servedat Green Gultch Farm is grown there. The original gardener was the very famousAlan Chadwick, an English master gardener and a leading innovator of organicfarming techniques. The gardens are beautiful and the real estate is prime -just north of San Francisco and close to Muir Woods, home to the fabulousRedwoods. In the afternoon, I hiked up the back hill and down the front, endingup at the shoreline, looping back around through the gardens. At the end of thewalk, I met a middle-aged man shooting hoops, wearing a bandana and lookingvery Californian. I started throwing the  basketball around with him and we began totalk ? the only real conversation I had with anyone at the farm, due to thegeneral silent nature of the place. After explaining my bad karma of being abasketball fan from Cleveland, I asked if he was a Buddhist. He said he was andthat he comes to Green Gultch most weekends. He said he loves the people, thebeauty of the place, the basketball hoop and the swimming hole. I asked if hefound Buddhism exacting or difficult. He said he didn't, but he added that hefeels Buddhism is just one spoke in the wheel of religions ? and while it's hisreligion, he feels we need them all. That we needeach and every religion to create a composite whole.

 

The second day I almostdidn't get up to do it all again. Laying in bed at 4:30 and facing a longperiod of meditation, one's ego is not the best of motivators. ?No one knows you here,? it told me. ?No one will notice if you don't go. And besides, you're tired. After all, you're on vacation!?

 

Realizing that I'd flownall the way across the country to have this kind of experience, I got up anddid it again. Throughout the weekend, one meditation session was physically uncomfortable; one was transcendent; but most were just middle of the road? events, trying not to swallow too loudly to disturb the robed monks flanking me. All in all, it kept me wanting more. On my way back to San Francisco,driving over the Golden Gate Bridge, I noticed that I wasn't anxious as I usually am driving over a bridge I was perfectly calm. Hours of
meditation and quiet had done that. I wonder what else they could do?

 

The weekend deepened mypractice and while I have great respect for Buddhism, I don't feel inclined tofollow that specific path. After all, even the Dalai Lama recommends stayingwithin our own traditions. To a man who asked to become a Buddhist, he replied, Please don?t. Stay in your own religion, and meditate. Notice he did say to meditate. Because getting still is the only way to hear the divine whether it's Buddha, Jesus, Jehovah, Allah or Krishna ? we can't hear the wisdom if we're submerged in a world of chatter.




*http://www.artofdharma.org/archives/stay-in-your-own-religion-and-meditate-dalai-lama.html





 



If It Feels Weird, It's Probably Right
After a class where we'd done a lot of alignment work, a student told me ?...if it feels weird, it's probably right.?
 
She makes a good point. What feels normal is ? well ? our normal, which is probably a little ? or possibly a lot ? skewed. So if we are by definition a bit skewed, how do we feel what is true? How do we correct for our own misalignment in our hips and in our hearts?
 
Maybe it's by being willing to feel weird. In a workshop with Judith Hansen Lasater, she told us ?don't confuse the familiar with the healthy.? Those words have rung in my ears ever since. Confusing the familiar with the healthy is why women who have been abused as children grow up to marry abusers; why children raised by alcoholics marry alcoholics. Because it doesn't feel weird. It probably doesn't feel good, either. But it feels familiar. And we all like familiar way more than is healthy for any of us.
 
The familiar gives us the illusion that everything will remain the same. We succumb to the illusion of stability. Of staying in place. But the reality is there is no stability, or staying in place. Nothing but change is constant. Being able to step into the flow of change without resisting is what the practice of yoga is all about.
 
In meditation, this approach to staying open is called adopting ?Beginner's Mind.? Coming to every moment with an open mind and stance. Krishnamurti said that the real sign of enlightenment is the ability to observe without evaluating. Just observing. Watching a cloud as a cloud; watching the drops of rain on the windowpane in all their singular and unique beauty.

Meditation is what helps us most readily prepare for this task. Through meditation and learning to be present, we learn to open up to the magic of life. We really observe our world in it's fragile and absolute beauty. We smell the smells. We taste the tastes. We experience the richness of life that is all around us if we can let the scales of expectation and our own sense of certainty fall from our eyes.
 
A recent newspaper story told the tale of a suburban couple from outside Cleveland who were mistakenly arrested by police, who barged into their home, dragged them downtown and threw them in jail for 20 hours for an altercation with a police officer in which they were not involved in any way. It was basically a case of mistaken identity. The couple were fortunate enough to have lawyers who forced the police to look at the actual evidence of the case. Not what the officer involved thought he knew or saw, but what actually took place. It behooves all of us to do the same in our lives ? not jumping to conclusions or making assumptions but actually looking ? with that open Beginner's Mind ? at the situation at hand.
 
Our challenge is to remain as unprejudiced by past experience as possible. To see with fresh eyes. To come to both our practice and our life with this unbiased and humble interest in things and with a genuine curiosity ? about how our hip works and how our heart works too. And being willing to let it feel, well, weird.
 
Savasana and the Riding Mower

I watched as the tall man walked across Rebecca's lovely beige, jute yoga mat with his big black work boots. Step, step, step. Rebecca had just finished instructing a class for a teacher's wellness day at a local high school and she had moved forward to talk to some of the teachers who were in the class. The man ? a staffer at the high school - entered the gym, as he continued to do off an on during the six classes taught that day, and walked through the mats and ON the mats, en route across the gym. There seemed to be no awareness that he might consider walking AROUND the mats to get to his destination.
During a class I taught there that day, a delivery man appeared from another entrance, propped open a large door to the outside, and pulled a cartload of supplies back a forth a few times. In addition to the sound of the rolling cart with squeaky wheels, the gym got colder and colder from the open door.
Have you taken a yoga class in a less than sterling setting where people enter like bulls in china shops? At a chair yoga class in a senior center recently with six ?mature? adults laying on the floor in Savasana, two older women entered the room to view a display of donated canned goods that had been stacked in the corner in the shape of a rocket. One asked loudly "Is everybody in here dead? Should we call 911??" The women proceeded to climb over the students on their way to the display, which they observed with more loud comments, before exiting the room. This really was so over the top that the class turned into laughter yoga. One said the incident kept her chuckling most of the week. Can you guess the theme for that day's class? Awareness, but of course.

This same group of students has had their focus challenged on other occasions as well. During the summer we practice outside in a pavilion surrounded by grass. A young man arrives almost without fail around Savasana on a riding mower. That's an interesting Savasana!

In a new book called Yoga in America, a compilation of essays by yoga teachers from around the country, teacher Richard Wall pens and article titled Boiler Room Yoga. He reflects on what it's like to teach to the accompaniment of droning treadmills, in the flight path of low flying aircraft, on questionable carpet and uneven floors. I often wonder about that perfect studio,? he says. Yet, I notice something about Boiler Room Yoga. My students must truly learn to acknowledge but not react to distractions. They perform postures under far from perfect conditions, learning to practice whenever and wherever...not waiting for the perfect moment in time. After a while, most learn to relax and meditate, even though there is sound and fury just around the corner. (pg. 17, Yoga in America)

The amazing thing last week in that school gymnasium was the teachers practicing yoga were not distracted in the least. They were settled into their practice in a powerful way. I think teachers are pretty used to dealing with distractions. They were not going to miss a minute of centering and relaxation. After all, the kids would be back with a litany of new distractions the very next day. Your life is the sum of what you focus on,? says Winifred Gallagher in Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life. So let those distractions roll over you like so much cascading water and focus on the now of the experience. You might be surprised how much you enjoy the ride.



 







 




Before Yoga & After Yoga

My husband and I recently visited our son at college. We stayed in a hotel that was in the midst of youth hockey weekend. Apparently, our hotel was conveniently located right across the street from the ice hockey arena where kids 10 and under were playing tournament hockey. I now know that checking is not allowed until age 11 in the US, much to the chagrin of one parent who complained to me that in Canada, they can check  apparently  from the crib on up. This, he claimed, is why Canadian players reign supreme.

But I digress. While on the treadmill in the exercise room Sunday morning, watching Meet the Press and keeping track of my mileage scrolling along the front of the machine, the door opens and a mass of kids, hockey players I guessed, flood into the room. They were jumping on the other treadmills and steppers, picking up weights and being, well, kids.

Now, Before Yoga, I would have marched to the front desk, complained, and had the kids summarily dismissed so I could finish my all-important workout and feel suitably outraged that parents of said children had left them unsupervised ('can you imagine...' I can hear myself saying). Instead, I thought I'd just wait and listen for what to do. I was just about done with the treadmill. I had brought my mat and had intended to do some sun salutations. I waited for a moment and felt that this is what I should still do. So, I got off the treadmill, made some space for my mat between the masses of children  took off my shoes and socks and started to practice.

After a few poses, the kids started watching me. Then they started talking to me. Several of them at once. 'What are you doing?' 'Is that yoga?'

'I'm a yoga teacher,' I told them. 'Do you want to do some yoga?'

I got a resounding affirmation. So I just sort of followed their lead. Tree pose seemed the obvious jumping off point. We talked about balance which they told me is all important in hockey. After that, the kids started doing what they thought were postures  and then I'd suggest ways to refine the pose. Dancer. One boy did a Headstand. Downward Facing Dog. None of them were racing on the treadmills anymore. They were relatively quiet. After a bit they thanked me and left. I knew I'd certainly had fun.

Before yoga, I probably wouldn't have gone to the front desk  but I would have thought about it. Most likely I would have just left and felt inconvenienced. I might have made the day worse for these children, by sending some negative energy their way. Instead, After Yoga, I'd like to think I helped make their day just a little better. I was able to not react but just respond, gently and with awareness, to the situation like carefully selecting a piece of ripe fruit and enjoying it. As TKV Desikachar said, The Mastery of Yoga must not be measured simply by the ability to master the techniques of yoga...but how it influences our day-to-day living, how it enhances our relationship and how it promotes clarity and peace of mind.

After Yoga, I was able to savor the energy and enthusiasm of these children  which Before Yoga I would have found annoying and inconvenient.

So, the moral of this story is as the Dalai Lama says - "If you don't like what is happening in your life, change your mind."

Staying  Steady through Defeat, Trauma 
and a Long Cruel Winter
I'm intrigued by the people who lose at the Olympics .  Maybe it's because I grew up watching ABC's Wide World of Sports with the video clip of the ski jumper careening wildly out of control to the words "The Agony of Defeat".  Every week, everyone in America winced watching this:
 
At the 2014 Olympics, speedskater Shani Davis portrayed the agony of defeat. After winning back-to-back gold and silver medals in 2006 and 2010, he is coming home empty handed after years of hard work. In an interview, Davis seemed disappointed by not shaken.  "I can learn a lot from this and I will. But if not, I'm going to move on to other things."  
 
In Chardon, the community is working to survive something much more serious than defeat.  This week marks the second anniversary of a school shooting at our high school in which three young men lost their lives, another three students were wounded - one seriously - and many students, adults and community members where irrevocably traumatized.  Last week, Columbine High School Principal Frank DeAngelis spoke to the Chardon community about how horrible events like school shootings have the potential to make individuals and communities stronger. However, he said it takes tremendous effort for this to happen because our usual default settings are simply inadequate to support us in working through the maze of powerful and destabilizing emotions and memories that accompany trauma. 
 
This is where yoga comes in. Yoga ultimately is about working through that maze - which is our mind.  Yoga is geared to help us develop a steady mind: the kind of mind that can ground us through defeat, through trauma and through an unending Northeast Ohio winter; the kind of mind that ultimately is not as dependent on the external events of our life as it is on our internal life.
 
So how do we develop this stable internal life? The sage Patanjali tells us in the Yoga Sutras, 1:14: "It is only when the correct practice is followed for a long time, without interruptions and with a quality of positive attitude and eagerness, that it can succeed."
 
So yoga is kind of like preparing for the Olympics - it requires lots and lots of practice! Everyone's mix of what works is unique to them - and when trauma is involved, often involves counseling as well.  And the mix is always in motion and requires mindfulness as we adapt and adjust as needed.
 
So if you feel like you're at the end of your rope this winter, consider strengthening your yoga practice. Especially recommended is a set time for daily meditation.  Don't know where to start?  Try meditating along with Andy Puddicombe, author of the wonderful book and webpage Get Some Headspace:
 
The road to developing an internal peace that will support us through defeat, trauma and the last days of a cruel winter is paved with dedication and commitment.
 
Peace,
Anne  

Staying  Steady through Defeat, Trauma 
and a Long Cruel Winter
I'm intrigued by the people who lose at the Olympics .  Maybe it's because I grew up watching ABC's Wide World of Sports with the video clip of the ski jumper careening wildly out of control to the words "The Agony of Defeat".  Every week, everyone in America winced watching this:
 
At the 2014 Olympics, speedskater Shani Davis portrayed the agony of defeat. After winning back-to-back gold and silver medals in 2006 and 2010, he is coming home empty handed after years of hard work. In an interview, Davis seemed disappointed by not shaken.  "I can learn a lot from this and I will. But if not, I'm going to move on to other things."  
 
In Chardon, the community is working to survive something much more serious than defeat.  This week marks the second anniversary of a school shooting at our high school in which three young men lost their lives, another three students were wounded - one seriously - and many students, adults and community members where irrevocably traumatized.  Last week, Columbine High School Principal Frank DeAngelis spoke to the Chardon community about how horrible events like school shootings have the potential to make individuals and communities stronger. However, he said it takes tremendous effort for this to happen because our usual default settings are simply inadequate to support us in working through the maze of powerful and destabilizing emotions and memories that accompany trauma. 
 
This is where yoga comes in. Yoga ultimately is about working through that maze - which is our mind.  Yoga is geared to help us develop a steady mind: the kind of mind that can ground us through defeat, through trauma and through an unending Northeast Ohio winter; the kind of mind that ultimately is not as dependent on the external events of our life as it is on our internal life.
 
So how do we develop this stable internal life? The sage Patanjali tells us in the Yoga Sutras, 1:14: "It is only when the correct practice is followed for a long time, without interruptions and with a quality of positive attitude and eagerness, that it can succeed."
 
So yoga is kind of like preparing for the Olympics - it requires lots and lots of practice! Everyone's mix of what works is unique to them - and when trauma is involved, often involves counseling as well.  And the mix is always in motion and requires mindfulness as we adapt and adjust as needed.
 
So if you feel like you're at the end of your rope this winter, consider strengthening your yoga practice. Especially recommended is a set time for daily meditation.  Don't know where to start?  Try meditating along with Andy Puddicombe, author of the wonderful book and webpage Get Some Headspace:
 
The road to developing an internal peace that will support us through defeat, trauma and the last days of a cruel winter is paved with dedication and commitment.
 
Peace,
Anne  

Article from the Cleveland Plain Dealer by Anne on Yellow Springs, OH, as a yoga destination vacation

http://www.cleveland.com/travel/index.ssf/2009/09/from_nature_to_nurture_yellow.html