Monday, November 25, 2013

Interconnected, Interdependent You

The Buddhists use the image of Indra's Net as a symbol of our interdependence:
Photo by Chris Lombardi
“Far away in the heavenly abode of the great god Indra, there is a wonderful net which has been hung by some cunning artificer in such a manner that it stretches out infinitely in all directions. In accordance with the extravagant tastes of deities, the artificer has hung a single glittering jewel in each "eye" of the net, and since the net itself is infinite in dimension, the jewels are infinite in number. There hang the jewels, glittering like stars in the first magnitude, a wonderful sight to behold. If we now arbitrarily select one of these jewels for inspection and look closely at it, we will discover that in its polished surface there are reflected all the other jewels in the net, infinite in number. Not only that, but each of the jewels reflected in this one jewel is also reflecting all the other jewels, so that there is an infinite reflecting process occurring.” ~Francis Harold Cook
If we are represented by each of those jewels, then we begin to see how each of us relates to the others - connected and reflected, which opens us up to empathy and compassion for our fellow humans.

Most people understand this concept, in this context, but then dismiss it for other settings. 

San Jose hills
Long before I read Francis Harold Cook's words, I understood something about this concept of connection, and it formed the matrix of reality for me as a young child. I remember driving along Highway 101, south of San Jose, where the hills are covered by short grass and scrub, making them appear to be various shades of brown. As we drove through Morgan Hill and Gilroy, I saw cows grazing on those hills, and their hides we similar in texture and color to the hills they stood upon. At some point in my early adolescence, I connected the hills with the cows and asked, "What if the substance that we stand upon is only a larger form of what we are, and we just don't see it because we don't have a big enough perspective to catch the connection?" The cows, after all, wouldn't see the similarity between the hill and their coats unless they saw the scene from a distance - assuming they were creatures who could maintain interest in these things. All they would see was the next clump of grass, the shade tree, etc. What if the entire known universe were something else entirely, but we couldn't understand it because we didn't see the connections from our small perspective?

I read an article recently about how our bones are connected (among other organs) to our minds. You can find the full article here. In the article, French geneticist and physician Gerard Karsenty states, “No organ is an island,” and the article continues to discuss how the bones relate to many different body systems. Western medicine seems to be catching up to ancient beliefs that the all the parts of the body relate to each other in different ways - sometimes obvious and sometimes very subtle.

When we step back and get the bigger picture - no matter the size of the subject, we begin to see that this model of interdependence relates to all things.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Holistic Wellness

During my early training on how to teach yoga, I learned something interesting: some people think only in terms of negative. I don't mean that they are negative people; rather, that the lens of their mind's eye only sees things in terms of negative. This lens might have developed out of a self-preservation situation, or some other natural occurrence. However it grew, the mind can only frame experiences in terms of the negative. For example, if I ask someone who has lived with chronic pain all their life to paint me a picture of what a good day looks like, they may give me answers such as, "less resistance to movement" rather than "more mobility", or "less fatigue" rather than "more energy". It's a subtle language difference but the way the mind, body and energy process this subtle difference is big.

I'm a fan of language. I'm always looking for better ways to say things, using clearer analogies and more precise cues. I can be a bit obsessive when it comes to naming my classes and workshops. I've been obsessing for several years now about a certain title for the cancer work that I do. I'm always looking to find the best way to describe my work without using this negative frame.

The word wellness is one of my favorites, because it goes beyond the negative and brings us back to the positive. What would a day be like without pain, or illness, or fear or stress? How would I name that day? Wellness encompasses so much, just like yoga. There is physical wellness, but there is also mental, emotional and spiritual wellness.

Wellness implies that good feeling that you get when the sun is shining on your face, the warmth in your heart rises up to meet the warmth on your face, you are smiling without regard to who is watching and time stands still. 

Photo from
In the winter months, we are more vulnerable to this negative thinking. There is less sunlight and more stress to contend with. Our normal healthy routines are replaced with the hustle-and-bustle-type of holiday activities. Social situations are required, which can be draining for the introverted types. It's important during these times that we understand what our own personal wellness requires and fit that in as a priority today - not tomorrow.

Asana, meditation, breathing practices, exercise, massage and regular sleep can make such a difference during this season. What supports your wellness? Make a wellness plan today.


Monday, November 11, 2013


"Inhale... Exhale... Begin again."

These four simple words became a mantra during meditation this past week. They were spoken by yoga teacher Djuna Mascall during one of our first morning sits, and they continued to return to me throughout the week, reminding me how powerful the practice can be.

I spent 5 days at Esalen in Big Sur, soaking up the hot springs, sitting in the meditation hut that is located at the juncture of the river and the ocean, practicing yoga with students and teachers who never fail to make me smile, and eating delicious food from the Esalen gardens. Throughout the 5 days, my mind echoed Djuna's statement:

Each time I sat for meditation, I noticed my tendency to wander and then I brought myself back with these words.

Each time I struggled through the more challenging poses - holding revolved triangle for 20 breaths! - I noticed my strain and came back to the mantra.

Each time I sat down to eat, whether in company or alone, I took a moment to remember her phrase.

Simple. Powerful.

What's implied in these four little words is that we have an infinite number of chances to renew our commitment to whatever it is we've set our minds to. With every breath, we release our previous success and failure and accept the opportunity to start anew, like the ocean waves that serenaded our week, or the sunrise that erased the previous day's stories.

Another quote that was shared repeatedly by all the teachers there - Tias Little, Brenda Proudfoot and Djuna - is the following from Anne Lamott, a lovely description of the allowing that occurs when we follow this practice of inhaling, exhaling and beginning again:

“We begin to find and become ourselves when we notice how we are already found, already truly, entirely, wildly, messily, marvelously who we were born to be.”