Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Turn the Page

"2013 was the Year of the Snake, but 2014 will be the Year of the Horse, according to Chinese astrology," one of my students told me recently.

He went on to explain that the Snake represented, for some, the process of transformation and shedding - sometimes painfully. He also explained that the Horse can represent a lot of welcomed work for some of us and for others it may be a wild ride. He told me that he has been following Chinese astrology for several decades now and found it to be somewhat accurate, but that it offered him something to reflect on and work with, in terms of his own personality. The model has proved useful to him in his personal and professional life.

I know that the Chinese New Year is still a month away (Jan 30 or 31, depending on your calendar), but I decided to reflect on these qualities now, as we turn the calendar page to the next year.


The past twelve months have certainly been transformational for me. I am not the same person that began this weekly blog back in January. Education, loss, success and failure have all shaped my character. I see those changes in my personal relations, my teaching and my business planning. As this year comes to a close, I use a mantra to let go of old fears (I actually say the words, "less fear" during my meditations now).

In my business, I have always strived to be useful: Yoga for people with cancer... Tools for teachers who want to teach yoga to people with cancer... Fundraising to build the tools... All these ideas began because I saw them as useful - first to me, then to others. In 2013, the ideas got bigger. The fears grew, too, but my mantra (and my family!) helped me to stay focused on what I could do, in each moment, rather than be overwhelmed by the enormity of need that exists in the world.


When our son was living at a horse ranch last year, we got to ride horses each time we visited him. On one of those rides, the horses decided to race. I'm not an experienced rider, and I felt out of control as the horse took off. But the stride was so much nicer than a trot, and it felt like we were flying, so I soon began to enjoy myself! It wasn't until I thought about stopping that I became afraid.

I don't know what, exactly, the Year of the Horse will bring. It could be a wild, out of control ride. It could be joyful leaps of weightlessness. It will probably be some of both, and the fear will creep in once I think about stopping. In 2014, I've set up some big goals for myself. I'm leading an extensive yoga teacher training by myself for the first time ever. I'm traveling to Africa for the first time ever. I'm organizing a fundraiser with a goal of $25K for the first time ever.

Leap... Leap... Leap...

Welcome, 2014. Welcome Year of the Horse. Welcome life.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Why We Need Holidays

A friend wrote on his Facebook page last month his displeasure about the lies surrounding the celebration of Thanksgiving. It's true that many of our holidays have evolved into someone our ancestors would never recognize. But I argue that we still need these holidays, whether we celebrate them in the original spirit or not.

When you break down the traditions and eliminate the commercialism, you are left with the truly necessary need to connect with each other. At some point, our ancestors may have sacrificed a great meal source or created a public display that honored their connection to their chosen deity, but all of that really is about connecting to each other. We need to feel less alone in this life; we need to feel that we have guides on our path; we need to know that others are guided in the same way.
Photo by Chris Kotsiopoulos,

If you don't understand what I mean, try stepping outside at night in some remote place where the moon, the planets and the stars are the only lights you see...

It's acceptable for us to feel that insignificant, as long as we sense an overarching architecture. It's less lonely when we realize there are others looking up and experiencing the same vastness - maybe even at the same time as us.

So, this year, as you juggle the stress, emotions and superficial qualities of the season, remember to look up at night and recall why you are sitting down to feast, why you are showering your loved ones with gifts, lighting candles or singing songs. Weave your thread in this vast tapestry with beautiful awareness.


Monday, December 16, 2013

Rest in Peace, Madiba

"When a man has done what he considers to be his duty to his people and his country, he can rest in peace." ~ Rolihlahla "Nelson" Mandela, 1918-2013

The first time I heard about apartheid in a way that really registered was in 1982. I was dancing ballet and that year, my school introduced a visiting ballet teacher from South Africa. We spent months learning our parts in preparation for a tour through Scotland and England, culminating in a performance for an international dance festival in Aberdeen, Scotland. Our visiting teacher brought two dancers from Johannesburg along with her. I was immediately enthralled by their accents and asked them millions of questions about their home; luckily, they were very nice and patient with me, and we became friends. We joked nonstop about the differences between our upbringings and countries and cultures, but there was one thing that they shared that stayed with me throughout the years:

In their country, they were afraid all the time. 

They were taught to fear places, people, times of day and certain celebrations. When I
My Afrikaner ballet friends
asked more about these fears, they explained to me that, because of the color of their skin and their upper class status, they were likely targets for the militant black people in their country. They were not allowed to go anywhere without one of the many people who worked in their homes, most of whom were black. They had nannies who drove them to school, ballet, or social functions. This was such a strange life to 13-year-old me, who took several busses to get to my ballet classes - alone. I don't remember expressing it, but I do remember feeling pity for them, because all that privilege seemed too close to restriction for my tastes.

It was several years later that I heard The Specials song, "Free Nelson Mandela". I was in high school at the time, and much more interested in world politics. I was still confused about my ballet friends' fears, and wanted to know more. I started reading some of Mandela's words and so much of it resonated with me. I didn't know yet that anything could be done, I just knew that this world had to change. I channelled the unique outrage and ambition of the teen rebel, and apartheid was the perfect target for my outrage. It bothered me that people were afraid because of the color of their skin. I saw this fear on both sides of the issue, and watched as it escalated the problems in South Africa.

I had no direction for this emotion, so I wrote. I composed essays, poems, letters (never sent) and protest chants (never demonstrated) about the injustice of apartheid. In 1990, when Mandela was released, I wept. I didn't realize that the hard work of tolerance, forgiveness and evolution were just beginning.

Mandela must have been witness to countless acts of violence as well as love to understand these human traits as he did, because suffering affords us an opportunity to witness kindness. Some of the most atrocious acts of violence and miraculous acts of forgiveness were recorded during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which Mandela helped establish. This commission helped to calm my young adult heart, and inspired me to see people in a different light - not as predators and victims, but as people.

Mandela was a unique person, but he was not alone. Who he became was a product of the suffering and compassion that he witnessed around him. He wrote,

"No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite."

Some have called Mandela a saint. I choose to think of him as a man who was born to extraordinarily difficult times, and decided to do more than just think about injustice. With his passing, his legacy falls to us now. I am renewed in my passion to bring about justice where I can. When I think about what I want to make happen in the coming year, my heart skips a beat, but I know it's what I need to do, so that one day I, too, can rest in peace.

Thank you for your service, Madiba.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Yoga and the Art of Parking

NOTE: Lorien will be on vacation Dec 9-25, but regularly scheduled classes will continue with subs.

On Thanksgiving morning I practiced at the yoga studio, left in a state of gratitude and bliss, and then was witness to some interesting behavior in the parking lot:

I paused while backing out of my parking space to allow pedestrians to cross behind me and I noticed a white car, whose driver we'll call Patient Driver (PD), slowed to allow the pedestrians to pass as well. Behind PD, a new car appeared, driven by someone who we'll call Impatient Driver (ID). ID was driving very fast and had to stop suddenly behind PD. ID then honked the horn and whipped around PD to park into the spot that PD was waiting for.

At this point, I finished backing up and was ready to leave the parking lot, but I noticed in my rearview mirror that PD had parked her car in the middle of the lot and walked - slowly and deliberately - towards the car driven by ID.

In that moment, two things became very obvious to me: 1) Contrasting personalities are about to collide. 2) Both drivers are heading into the studio to take the same yoga class (the studio was the only business open that day, and only offering one class), it's likely their mats will be near each other, so whatever is discussed in the parking lot will carry over to the class as well.

As I drove away, I thought to myself that the conversation between these two people could go either way. It could be a moment for PD to practice compassion; it could be an "aha" moment of clarity for ID. Or, it could become destructive...

The cynic in me played the entire conversation out in my head - all of it negative, which made me question why we practice yoga. Why behave one way in the parking lot, then another inside the studio?

If I'm going to treat my fellow humans as things - obstacles or vehicles to get what I want, or as invisible things that I can ignore, then what does it matter if I can wrap my leg behind my head?

We approach yoga in the west from the physical perspective, occasionally gaining the glimpse of ease during moments of relaxation and release, but that is just one layer of the lens. You know how the eye doctor asks you to look through the lenses and asks you to determine which one is clearer? That is precisely what the complete practice of yoga is meant to do - offer you a sharper, more complete lens through which to see the world.

There is the lens of the physical world, which explains to you how to feed your body and move through the physical world with more effective responsiveness.

There is the lens of the energetic world, which asks you to trust in a world you cannot see and, instead, feel beneath the surface of things.

There is the lens of the mental and emotional world, which becomes clearer and clearer as you clean off the residue of karma.

There is the lens of the intuitive world, which provides a sharp focus to our decisions.

And there is the lens of bliss, of spirit, of egoless being, and the experience of this binds all the other lenses together in one big "aha" view of clarity.

Returning to the parking lot story, if ID is only seeing the world through the first or second lens, then I can imagine that the conversation only added fuel to a negative bonfire. But...

If ID is starting to experience life through the other lenses, he or she may see this situation as an opportunity to grow.

Which do you think it was? Please remember this story as you find yourself in either driver's shoes.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Winter Wellness Preview

California has a nice long fall, but soon enough winter will be upon us, with cooler temperatures, rainy and icy roads, less sunlight, but more parties. This is typically the season that even those of us with the strongest immune systems get overwhelmed by the variety and strength of the pathogens floating around, and end up sick. Here are some tips to help:

Keep it clean

photo: amoderngirlslife.blogspot.com
Proper hand washing, gargling with warm salt water, pranayama (breath techniques) and applying oils to your skin helps defend the parts of us most vulnerable to catching a bug. Ujayyi (victorious) breath and Kapalabhati (skull-shining) breath are best practiced during the day, and alternate nostril breath in the afternoon or evening. You can use special Ayurvedic oils, or a simple sesame oil (not toasted) to massage into the inside of your nose, and along your skin - especially at your joints. When you are applying the oil to your skin, brush it on with a mild amount of pressure, wipe the excess and then sit in a steam-filled room, if possible. The steam will open your pores and allow the oil in.

Lighten up

Winter is our season for longer nights and less daylight. Studies are showing that sunlight not only helps us maintain emotional balance, but also supports our immune system. Which is why Dr. Servan-Schrieber, author of Anti Cancer: A New Way of Living, recommends 20 minutes of sunlight a day.

Move / don't move

Your immune system depends on your movements to circulate the blood and lymph through your body. Your nervous system depends on your stillness to calm the chaotic energy of fall and winter. So, which do you do? The answer is: both. Exercise, stretch and gently move your body throughout the day, but be sure to offer yourself some time in stillness - either with meditation, breathing, yin or restorative yoga. You need both to sustain health.

Ideally, you would set a routine that balances out your day. For example, if I know I'll be using the day to drive from store to store and shop for presents for my family and friends, I realize this will make me exhausted and potentially could flare my back pain. I'll begin my morning with some strong stretches for my back and some breathing and meditation. Once I'm done with my shopping, I'll spend a while in restorative poses that gently release my back and soothe my nerves. Letting go of tension from my body and stress from my mind also helps my immune system.

Sing, chant, hum

photo: 8tracks.com
In the wise words of Big Bird, "Don't worry if it's not good enough for anyone else to hear, just sing, sing a song." (Actually, Louis Prima wrote the song, but we only ever remember the Sesame Street version.) Singing helps keep away depression, circulates blood and lengthens your exhale, promoting the release of toxins from your body. So, however you can do it, find a way to sing or chant or hum!

On Sunday, December 8, I will be at Willow Glen Yoga to teach the full workshop called Winter Wellness. This workshop will be accompanied by live music and will include some lecture, breath work, chanting, gentle movements, standing postures, yin and restorative practice - all designed to circulate and restore you. I hope to see you there!

Pre-register HERE.