Winter Solstice: What the darkness offers us...

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We are lucky, we live on a planet which teaches us the cyclical nature of energy through its seasons- of positive and negative, of death and rebirth, sun and moon, summer and winter. Here in the Northern Hemisphere, the darkness of winter has arrived- with all of its glory and lessons, as it continuously does each year.

The Winter Solstice, December 21, marks the longest night of the year, as the sun sits lowest in the sky. These celestial moments of the year, are potent times to pause and reflect on one’s life, one’s community, where we are, and where we are headed. It is a chance to embrace all that the light and darkness- the positive and negative- have to teach us.

Winter Solstice is a time to turn inward and tune into the cyclical rhythms of nature and our surroundings. We can do this through deeply restorative practices that invite us to be still and contemplative, like Yin or Restorative Yoga. The Winter Solstice happens towards the end of the year, in a time that is very chaotic, busy, and becomes prey to unhealthy habits such as excessive shopping, eating, drinking and more. We can invite a Winter Solstice practice into our lives as a way to slow down, and contemplate what we want to bring in to the new year. We can build a fire in our homes and in our hearts, a place to sit by the light and understand our shadows better.

Artwork By  Autumn Skye

Artwork By Autumn Skye

For me, this winter season began with the sudden passing of my beloved grandmother, what a metaphor for me- this death- of the queen matriarch of my family. My heart hit the earth with all the heaviness and tears that such a passing of death brings. But this grief has also shown me such profound light in these dark days.

Whenever a loved one passes, I immediately begin to burn candles for them- as if somehow my love and connection to their soul- through this flame- can help guide them home, or to heaven, or wherever they go in the afterlife. I of course, have no idea if this actually works. If my grandmother’s spirit could sense the light I had lit for her or not. However, I think the key point here rests somewhere higher within my consciousness, that when the profound grief that death shares with me arrives- which it inevitably does- all I can do is turn close to the light and stay there for a while. In doing this, I turn close to the love, and warmth, of the light I felt so closely, before death came to greet us.

This greeting the darkness, greeting death by turning close to fire, to light, to the candle of life, it holds such profound power, grace and humility. Realizing the fragility of life, and the power of love connected to life. I strongly believe, it’s this powerful love between my grandmother and I, that is keeping my spirit strong, and holding us both in the light as we process our goodbye. I believe this too is the wisdom of Winter Solstice gatherings, in all their beautiful forms.

We often may feel this changing of the seasons in our body, mind and soul- weeks upon its arrival. We begin to curl in, our body craves warmth, our mind craves rest, and our soul settles into the darker corners of our consciousness. This can feel overwhelming if we do not invite the darkness in, like a welcomed house guest. If we try to shut it out, pretend it is still summer, we might be able to live with that illusion for a while. But death, like birth, is inevitable, and cyclical, it finds its way back to us eventually, just as the seasons do.

Image from mindbodygreen.com

Image from mindbodygreen.com

This Winter Solstice I will be holding close to the light, through the practices of Restorative and Yin yoga. I invite you to join me in a deeply meditative on contemplative practice where we embrace all the lessons the darkest nights have to teach us and unveil our own inner lights that serve to keep us warm and whole.

I invite you to join me at OmBase Yoga for a candle light Yin Yoga class Wednesday 12/19 at 7:30pm ~or~ a Restorative Yoga practice Friday 12/21 at 12:30 pm for two very special Winter Solstice practices. We will set intentions together by the fire place at OmBase and move together through the darkness, and all it has to offer us.

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M O U N T A I N S O N G S .../\/\...

When in doubt I go to the places that keep me humble and at awe with the world. The places that make my heart pound just to get to them, and that force me to exist in a simple and intelligent way with my immediate surroundings. I go there and stay there for a while.... I ask mother earth what she knows and what I need to know , and then just listen and be. When I come back home I bring those places with me in all I do, remembering the inherent strength, beauty and intelligence in all things, including myself.

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Go to the places that keep you humble, and make you feel alive and apart of it all... Nature is our greatest teacher. .

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"Humble yourself in the arms of the wild,

you gotta lay down low,

Humble yourself in the arms of the wild,

you gotta ask her what she she knows.

We will lift each other up, higher and higher...."

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The Muddy Dance

Amateur Kayaking, Amateur video making, soulful living... Time on the river is my method for positive mental health, and lord knows I need it right now...The river reminds to go with the flow of life like it's a dance. When my mind is anxious it's harder for me to step out of my comfort zone, but the river reminds me it's ok to walk around something that scares you, it's ok to just observe it and keep going. Most importantly the river reminds me to play with life and seek out the things that delight me, and thus enlighten me...

Discovering the Muddy Creek in Pennsylvania was heaven sent. What a magical place, tucked behind the cornfields of Amish country and stemming into the mighty Susquehanna is a very speciall little place.  

Exploring favorite places of your friends is also good medicine. There's a unique resonance to hanging out in a place you know someone has cherished since childhood. From playing on the river to existential chats in a dreamy tree house , my love for this keystone state in which my ancestors hail from is thoroughly quenched. 

Positve ions for days, love is kind and love is simple... 

The song is Dance, dance, dance...by Lyki Li

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UTTANASANA/FORWARD FOLD

UTTANASANA/FORWARD FOLD: “Move with intelligence. The back of the body is thought to be the past. When we’re mostly tight in our hamstrings, maybe metaphorically we need to let go of the past a bit. The front half of the body is the future…, keep moving toward it. Draw the chin in a bit…bring it closer in to the throat and drop in to the heart-literally- drop in, say hello. Reach from the thoracic cavity….reach for the FUTURE with the heart, not the head. The arms and hands are the ways we express ourselves creatively, forming our thoughts into tangible/physical objects…use them! Wrap them around your calves or thighs for encouraging support. Start with the knees bent… And eventually they’ll straighten, one breath at a time. Hug your center, that which keeps you rooted against gravity. And when life gives you a secret cove to dive deep, go deep. This pose is huge for hip health, lower back health and knee health….”

The Teacher Student Dance

 Teaching is the subtle art of inquiry.

 

I believe teaching is the subtle art of inquiry. What I mean is…We all have questions, and we all have answers, and we are all on this path of growth and learning together. Whether our choice is to seek an answer or provide a question, we are all navigating this path of mystic inquiry together. Some of us are just on different parts of the road.

Thus teaching and being taught is yet another dance of OM, Oneness

A little bit about me….I wasn’t necessarily a  good or “straight A” student as a pupil, but I loved to ask questions and I honestly believe that’s why I’m a teacher now, the thirst for clarification. My feedback from teachers in grade school was always “she has excellent interpersonal skills and asks great questions, but she has a hard time focusing”.

Less talking, more focusing…that was always the remedy given to me by my teachers. But I think those teachers had it somewhat wrong. They saw themselves as just teachers, no longer students. They separated the relationship between teaching and learning and thus built a divide in the learning environment.

It was in my senior English class that I decided to use the subject of “philosophy and the mind” as a back bone to all my assignments.

I remember going to the public library and finding thousands of books that explained to me how the mind worked, how thoughts were formed. My first research paper, rather than being full of facts and accurate points, was just full of more questions. These questions were then supported and examined by my instructor and more writing prompts were made for me. It was then that I finally liked to learn. Once I realized I didn’t need an answer to complete the assignment, that more questions more explorations were fine… my mind and heart were opened up to a style of learning that still rings with me today. Learning through inquiry into the unknown….

Now as I teach yoga , I sit in an open air and open heart circles exploring these mystical and anatomical concepts that have been passed down from generation to generation- mostly by mouth through conversation and meditation- for thousands of years. As we navigate all that encompasses a 200hr yoga certification training program there are many times during this three week intense immersion course where it feels like I and the other facilitators are simply downloading information into these open minds. Speaking as a new facilitator, a teacher of teachers, it seems more like a dance between asking questions and offering understandings…or answers….

 

Each topic that I’m invited to teach and talk about opens a doorway of exploration that feels like a song in my heart. Although I may feel like I know a lot about a certain topic once the responsibility of teaching a topic is given to me, I no longer feel comfortable to just “ know about” the topic. I want to digest the topic, I want to put it in my mind and heart completely. I want to find different ways of defining certain vocabulary that arises in the topic, I want to find ways to explain the topic that reaches past the normal forms of communication that typically just involved speaking and listening, I want to feel the topic in my bones, so I can the explain how that feeling is, and show how this feeling can be accessed on a physical and spiritual level. I want to ask questions to the students that gets them talking about their own life experiences to help explain the philosophical concepts of yoga. I want to figure out exercises that puts the students into their own bodies, so they can feel their own Anatomy, rather than just simply describe a muscle. I want to hear and understand their response to my probing so that I may learn from them another way describe a certain topic. I want to give the students an invitation to read and explain the topics we explore so that I can hear a dozen more voices resonating and explaining the words I want to know everything about.

My heart lights up every time a student asks for clarification, or better yet asks for more information pertaining to a certain subject…when they wish to know more I feel their fire within my fire and I feel the fire of the teachers who taught me. When they want clarification, or they ask me a question I have no direct answer for- I feel a burn, a desire to know more, I hear the invitation back into inquiry, back into the unknown mystery.

Its the sweetest joy to pass down wisdom’s that were given to me from all the teachers I love and adore, like the passing of a torch, and to know that this dance has been going on for centuries.

Teaching and being taught is a dance of oneness, the subtle art of inquiry.

Kriyas, Yoga and Allergies

 3 Yoga Exercises for Allergies

Fall is upon us! The seasons are shifting and so are our bodies. Many of us experience allergies during spring time and fall time due to the local flora and an increase of dust or particles in the air.

Thankfully, there are yoga exercises to help remedy this drippy-congested tradition of the human experience…here it is…

3 yoga exercises for allergies

ASANA – The best asana poses for allergies are Inversions and Back bends. Inversions like shoulder stand, handstand or headstand help drain the sinuses which assists in relieving pressure in the nasal cavity which helps decrease inflammation in the sinuses, clearing out the airways. Inversions also help boost the immune system by activating and balancing the nervous system, a healthy immune system helps to control allergic attacks. Back bends such as Wheel, Bridge or Fish pose can help open up the chest cavity and lungs and strengthens the chest muscles which opens up the airways and allows more room in the chest for deep breathing.

 

NETI POTS Anyone who has attended a Sadhana Yoga School  workshop or training probably can’t forget how fun learning how to use a neti pot with a group can be! Neti pots or nasal irrigation is a great way to wash away any impurities from the nasal cavity and also helps to clear out the sinuses.The use of Jala Neti has been used in yoga practices for hundreds of years to help prepare the body and mind for meditation and deep breathing. Always remember to use santized warm water for this practice, no tap water! For a tutorial, click here


PRANAYAMA breathing exercises help to regulate the sinuses and prevent allergic attacks. When we practice pranayama regularly we are strengthening the muscles that support the respiratory system and building our lungs capacity for oxygen. The THREE PART YOGIC BREATH is a great way to regulate breath control. From a comfortable seat as you inhale feel the belly expand as the breath expands from the ground up; Belly, Ribs, Clavicle…and then as you exhale the belly and breath compresses from the top down; Clavicle, Ribs, Belly…Alternate nostril breathing exercises such as NADI SHODINA or ANILOMA VILOMA ( click here for SYS tutorial )assists with balancing the airways for equal breathing out of both nostrils and eliminating any impurities in the passageway. KAPALABATI or shining skull breath ( click  here for SYS tutorial ) helps to push out any impurities such as dust or pollen that may be resting in the lungs and strengthens them too!

 

Aside from being extremely beneficial for sinuses and allergies these simple practices are also part of an ancient yogic system for cleansing and purifying the mind and spirit called Kriyas. You may find that when your sinuses are congested, your mind feels fogged, your body seems sluggish and your energy all together- is Dull. This makes sense since the area in our brain that regulates our ability to focus is the pineal gland, and our spiritual doorway to perception is also the pineal gland also known as the third eye located right in the middle of the forehead. If this area is bogged down or clouded with dust and mucus- of course it will be hard to motivate and focus! This is why Yoga is a union of benefiting practices for the body, mind and spirit and not just a physical exercise. When we cleanse and purify the body we also cleanse and purify the spirit and mind. Once cleansed, we can dive deeper into our meditations, we can go further in our daily activities- whatever they may be. Our focus is more clear and balanced so that whatever task is in front of us can be completed with a lighthearted sense of effortlessness. 

Dear Mind, Let it be....

DEAR MIND, let it be....

 

WHEN all your exes are happily in love with someone else and definitely  not looking back at you and there's still no one new next to ya to show off... But man, the liberty to flirt with those firefighters at the gas station  sure was sweet. WHEN all your girlies are picking out wedding dresses or baby cribs and your wondering how many yoga mats and kayaks you can fit in your truck and still be able to sleep in it... WHEN you're not the best pick for the job you hoped, but still someone asked you for your help with something. WHEN there's still so much hatred in the world, but you know that one smile WILL make a difference.

In one part of my mind I could see some of these things as a world that has gone on without me, and perhaps an excuse to turn in, flake out, give up... watch tv and call it good.

 

In another part of my mind I can see this as inspiration, I guess I do value those things too, and YES I'd like to have that. Yes, the world has A LOT of awful in it, but that doesn't give me an excuse to flake out on the movement of peace or forget what I know about love and how it REALLY works.  And then, in the most important part of my mind-and heart- that faithful little voice says but today WAS good/ and it sure was pretty/ and peace was there through several moments, and that's better than none. You learned some things, you showed someone something beautiful, and you took a moment to smile at nature. You decided your worth, communicated it, and felt some love ripple back from it. You got a good path ahead of you too little lady and things are only things. The heart ticks in many different rhythms. Today was enough. Dear mind, " Let it be. "....

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Dharana: the love that binds.

There are good binds and bad binds in life; choose wisely.

When we dive deeper into our spiritual practice and asana practice we begin to see the what binds us in life, what keeps us tight and wound up like a knot.  We also begin to explore these bonds more effectively and mindfully with intention. As we become more curious and flexible we begin to manipulate our bodies into binds. These binds are energetic holds that give us more power and ease in our body, mind and heart. We feel more at ease, even when we are tied up like a ribbon. 

In Patanjali's yoga sutras "Dharana" is a word most commonly translated as "concentration"  or "meditation". While just concentration alone with out the element of meditation can make our bodies tense and tight, we find it harder to breathe and find comfort. When we invite Dharana into our practice we find what Nischala Joy Devi in "The Secret Power of Yoga" calls "Easeful Awareness". This awareness brings us into a higher state of consciousness where energy flows freely between us and source, even if we are in our mind or in a bind twisted up like a knot. By practicing Asana binds and mudras we are preparing our minds for steadiness in the storms of life, so when the waves do get rough in life, when we get tied up in a knot, we can come back in to this Dharana state and find peace.

Then through this peace, we see that everything is love. The tight spots, the tense spots, the open spots, the new spots. Each piece is an opportunity to open up and find love. Anchor yourself to Dharana to the energetic binds of love and pure consciousness and see its ripple effect into all you encounter in life.

Ardha Badda Padma Virshasana // Half Bound Lotus Tree Pose

Ardha Badda Padma Virshasana // Half Bound Lotus Tree Pose

Web Design and Karma Yoga: Giving praise and giving thanks

The first blog post for my new website! As I sit in the yard with the sun sinking into the meadow behind me I reflect on how this isn't just a blog post on a personal website. This is a small flag of declaration towards the personal ownership of my work, a cheers to being my own boss, a salute to the yoga community and the collaboration with others working in this field. This post is also a humble bow and tip of the hat to all the wise computer savvy "tech" people out there. Those sharp eye individuals who spend countless hours behind acomputer plugging away. Their efforts are building community,  building networks, building themselves and building connections, I salute you!

I could not have done this with the help of a truly remarkable person named David Bryan lending a hand. David is his own boss. A freelancer or shall I say- empowered dreamer who works as a motion graphics designer in Portand, OR. As I write this David ( the awesome "techy") is tinkering away on the patio. He's elbow deep in grease and surrounded by wrenches fixing his sister's tractor till. He has many talents to give the world. His sister lives in the country outside of Salem with her beautiful family where they grow most of their own food and fix things themselves when they break.

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As I sit here watching David I can't help but reflect on the power of Karma Yoga. Karma is the Sanskrit word for destiny or fate, It can also be defined by many as "the sum of a person's actions in this and previous states of existence that decides their fate in future existences." (Wikipedia) Karma Yoga is the personal practice of giving to something or someone through action without any expectation of award or gain. Just simply giving. 

When we are in alignment with our hearts and balanced with ourselves we can find how simple it is to give and to help others. We find the act of giving brings us joy and happiness. When we are balanced and true to ourselves giving does not drain us, it builds us up higher. It's not difficult to give because we love what we do and we share it with others, it's simple and it hardly feels like work--it's merely what we do. We give from an overflow of our talents and abilities not from our personal well. 

When our body, mind and spirit are balanced we find we have gifts and talents that others may not have and we can offer it to them. In return, we find others offering us their gifts and talents and we feel supported and nurtured with this sense of collective community. 

Pay attention to your actions and the mental state from which you give. Be humble to those who have talents outside of your own, and be liberal with all you have to offer the world. Own yourself and your talents. Share them! Make it possible for people to connect with you- build a website, or Facebook page! Trust your actions and always give from a place of balance; mentally, emotionally and phyiscally. What you give will return to you- a thousand fold.