Fly Your Prayers

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Paris, Beirut, Syria, Iraq, the list goes on. So much darkness all around. There is too much loss, one too many people displaced, everywhere there is suffering. And from practically everywhere, too, at least a week ago, after the attack on Paris, prayers were launched via hashtags towards the darkest places on the planet at that moment. A week on and social media is now abuzz with the backlash from all sides: criticism and fear-mongering.

What to do now? Where do we all go from here? Incredibly big questions for incredibly complex problems, which have a whole lot of history that needs, first, understanding, and then careful and steady undoing. What happens now to all these prayers?

Over the months here in San Francisco, I have had the great opportunity to explore the ashtanga practice and intention-making as medicine with some amazing teachers. There is a great healing energy that comes with declaring one’s clear and simple prayer. It is personal, our prayers are our own but they are also universal. Your prayer for peace and happiness and love–guess what, everyone wants that too! We forget that, ultimately, we want and deserve the same things, yet we continue to build walls of separation–personal and physical and political boundaries.

When we come to our mats and we practice, we open with a mantra. In the western yoga community, there’s a lot of sensitivity about what that is. For me, it’s a prayer. The essence of this prayer honors the great process of being led from darkness to light. We sound this out and then we practice. We plant this sound, this seed, into our body and then we nourish it with our breath, our movement and our attention. And whoever has been really practicing knows that this prayer becomes alive, it grows in the body and blooms in one’s life.

When we practice, we fly our prayer. It grows wings and it soars.

It’s really good to see people express their prayers, their hopes, even their admonishments during these difficult times because it shows that we as a community of human beings acknowledge that the world should not be like this. But how do we now live in these prayers, how do we breathe life into them, and walk into them with grace, how do we take these hashtags and sounds and ideas and bring them into a living practice that can support substantial change?

I feel personally challenged by this, how can I be this prayer, for myself as much as for everyone else.  I know it will look different for me in my life as it will for someone else. But I hope that we all start to do so, to really live in these prayers.

I want to close with a poem from Rumi that a friend sent a couple of days ago just as I was starting to write this blog. These questions are very old and perhaps we should defer to wisdom of the Sufi poet:

What will our children do in the morning?
Will they wake with their hurts wanting to play, the way wings should?

Will they have dreamed the needed flights and gathered the strength from the planets that all man and woman need to balance the wonderful charms of the earth?

So that her power and beauty does not make us forget our own.

I know all about the ways of the heart-how it wants to be alive.

Love so needs to love that it will endure almost anything, even abuse, just to flicker for a moment. But the sky’s mouth is kind, its song will never hurt you, for I sing those words.

What will the children do in the morning if they do not see us fly?

Everything Changes: Story of Broken Glass

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Handful of change. Fort Bragg’s Glass Beach in Mendocino, California.

A week and a half ago, for the last moon day (a new moon, no less!) I was at Fort Bragg’s Glass Beach, pictured above. Here it glitters all golden as the afternoon sun reflects against glass pebbles of all hues, clear, white, green, amber, some blues. The beach was once a dumping ground for trash. It has long since been cleaned up, but what remains is this incredible beach of stunning sea glass, shards of glass bottles broken and rounded by water and waves.

There’s no stopping change. This is actually a good thing. Because all of that terrible stuff, the events that we might freak out about, the things we think are such a waste, they transform too. What may seem like a loss, a tragedy, a mistake turns out to be a gift of immeasurable worth and beauty.

In my own life, I suffer the most in the moments where I have resisted change. I create so much tension in my emotions and in my body. And everything has this “stuck” feeling.

Eventually, I get tired, so tired that I relax enough to see that time, nature, the “nature” of nature, which is change, is moving in the same direction that I really want to go in anyway, only usually better, a lot better. How ironic it is that the thing which challenges us, that recognition of our own impermanence, is also what gives birth to so much possibility. And life is simply a journey in which we learn to trust in that.

When It’s Tough to Practice

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Life is not always so accommodating towards practice. There’s, of course, a work, personal and domestic life balance that needs to be maintained. And we learn to negotiate between them.

There are the other times, however, where it is not a matter of time as much as it is a matter of space–emotional space. When the factors above close in on us, it takes a toll. And the tool, our sadhana, which we so often rely on to help us deal with stress and tension, amplifies our emotions, whether it’s anger, or frustration, or pain, or sorrow, or…the list goes on. At the best of times, practice can be a slow uphill battle. When under emotional duress, it can be total carnage.

What then? The teacher’s answer would be to practice anyway. Easier said than done, I know. But when it’s tough to practice, this is when we need to be practicing the most. The mat, the practice, is a sharp yet subtle mirror, and facing it when times are challenging is difficult but ultimately helpful because it does its job. It allows us to see ourselves and the issues that weigh heavily on us.

Practice anyway.

Practice any way. It may not be your optimum, it may not even be your full practice, perhaps it’s simply getting through sun salutations, maybe it’s just getting on the mat and breathing before the thoughts and feelings crowd in on you. Then, come back and do more the next day, giving your body and breath the space to expand. The sheer guts and determination to show up for yourself can become a wellspring of inspiration and strength.

If you have the courage, the heart for it, watch carefully, observing the places of discomfort and the places where there is space. Each day watch as it gets better because everything changes. The practice itself becomes a vehicle for these small or big shifts. Slowly, what was originally disempowering becomes its opposite. When it’s tough to practice, just practice.

Moon Day Practice

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Today, as I sat having tea with some beautiful devi-friends at the Hagiwara Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park, which was preceded by a lovely morning walk around the grounds, which was preceded by a much appreciated lie-in (anything past 4:15am is a luxurious sleep in for me during the week), I could not be more grateful for Moon Days–full moon and new moon are rest days in terms of practice, thus, I also do not teach on these days.

This New Moon felt both restful and nourishing. The opportunity to engage with the morning differently, to seek out community outside the practice space, to be outdoors and enjoy the summer sunshine–a scarcity here in San Francisco until recently. To observe moon days are a practice in themselves, and an extension of our yogasana practice. It is the practice of rest, of honoring the needs of the body to rejuvenate itself, of honoring the needs of our subtle bodies–the nervous system, the mind, the emotional body–to integrate the information that is gleaned during yogasana practice.

It is a practice to calibrate ourselves with the cyclical nature of the moon–and, thus, with nature itself. This happens naturally when we observe the moon days. We allow for the depth of practice to move beyond the rubber mat into the greater world we live in.

Particularly with this moon falling on a Wednesday, it feels like a holiday midweek. We often return from holidays with more energy, greater clarity, deeper resolve. This is an important part of practice; we ought to observe it, enjoy it, embrace it.

PHOTO: Buddha bathing in sunlight at the Japanese Tea Garden at Golden Gate Park. It seems inseparable these days, yoga practice and life. Even during my break from practice, the trajectory was all to familiar: the balance of the Japanese garden, the use of elements to draw one into meditation, the discourse the ongoing journey to find the self in equanimity. Makes me smile. There is no real break from real practice.

Turning Wheels

Things go round and round. It is a constant, this wheel of life, constantly, surprisingly changing. And yet, there is a cycle to it all. Some motif that repeats, a reminder or a landmark, which often gives us a certain context: this is where we were, this is where we are, this is where we are going.

In many ways, practice is like a wheel in movement. It is the constant in a changing self-scape. It is also the vehicle physically moving us from one shape to another, but also moving us from one state to another.

There seems to be innumerable “wheels” and such out there, tools for transport, for self-exploration, for greater understanding. San Francisco, where I have landed–or, rather, where I am still landing at–feels like that kind of place for me. I arrived here at the age of 10 as a young immigrant with my family. I returned as a university student at Berkeley. Some years ago, I arrived quite lost, an accidental tourist with the sole intention of securing a ten-year visa to India to study yoga, which at that time was all I could think of. And now, here I am again. This time, to do what I love, which is sharing from the rich yoga tradition that has both changed me in so many countless ways and has made me more tuned into who I really am.

It is a sight. When we see these wheels turning. That is a great part of the joy of teaching for me: to see glimpses of other people’s wheels in action through their practice. But to see it one’s life, to observe it, to feel driven by it, and to eventually also take the wheel…

A great part of this new turning is me coming to teach with Magnolia Zuniga at Mysore SF. For more information: http://www.mysoresf.com

Pre-practice Practice

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For a week, my friend and I walked from our bungalows in Haad Yuan overlooking the Andaman sea, onto the beach, where we would take off our flip flops and press the morning sand still heavy from the previous evening’s wetting with the pads of our feet. We’d hoist ourselves onto the rocks and the wooden walkway that creaked with weight and wound around the large rocks that lined the corner of the beach. We would then go up the dirt path, up the small hill, then down the small hill, to the next cove where we would stop, take coffee and water at the Sanctuary, before taking the dirt trail that went up another small hill, which would open up to Why Lan beach–sublime and pristine–and the platform that overlooked the shifting waves of blue, where we would finally practice.

A striking change from the first three months of the year, where going to the shala in Mysore, India entailed, hopping on a scooter and taking a 2 minute drive so dark and so early in the morning that most people would consider the hour nighttime. These mornings in Ko Pangyan, that hour of travel between my doorstep to my practice mat, reminded me of how precious it was to go to practice. And how going to practice is one of my favorite times of the day: usually in the morning, when the hour between night and day is shifting, when it’s quiet, not much of the day has yet happened, and everything feels ripe with possibility.

When you practice at home, this transition is so very subtle. Even in India, it happened so fast, there was barely time to note it. In Thailand, however, this process for me was lengthened–not to mention given color and freshness by the natural environs. Something shifts in this time when we go from our day to day (largely automatic) living to doing things concertedly.

By the last couple of days, I was savoring that walk through the elements. Undeniably, it was a beautiful path and I was absorbing the sights of the morning, the sunshine, the beach, the trees and island brush. But I also came to appreciate it as a preparation for practice, where I was moving from the ordinary, everyday world to one that is quite exquisite and extraordinary, where the breath extends time and softens the body, the world quiets, not to mention the mind, and calm presides, reminding me that the getting on the mat itself holds its own journey and process. How when we observe this time before practice, how sacred it is, we start to invite the essence of practice, of mindful loving attention, outside the parameters of our rubber mats. How in this spirit, we feel the sanctity of post practice, of waking up in the morning, of going to bed at night, and an infinite number of other poignant moments…

PHOTO: Wooden walkway, Haad Yuan. Actually nearing sunset rather than morning. So grateful for my dear friend Clara who brought me to magical bay in Ko Pangyan, also to the lovely teachers Kerstin Berg and Mitchell Gold who support the practice so beautifully during the season there. The week on the island was a great reminder of how much beauty there is in the world. There is so much to take in, to love, to appreciate.

Found in Translation: Surrender

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Osaka, Japan. More than one month down, less than one month to go.

Being in Japan, wandering the streets, unable to access the overabundance of information, which translates into–for a foreigner like myself, anyway–white noise, reminds me of Bill Murray in Sofia Coppola’s “Lost in Translation.” How he navigates Tokyo with a charming sort of disconnect.

Despite the language barrier, teaching here, reminds me how universal the language of yoga is. And thank goodness, because my embarrassingly rudimentary Japanese just barely includes instructions on breath and straightening knees.

My moments of Lost In Translation, well, they’re not too bad. If anything, they’ve been great opportunities for greater understanding .

Two weeks ago, during Satsang, we looked at the word “surrender”–quite possibly one of the most overused and often misunderstood words that pours forth from the mouths of yoga teachers. I admit, I am a fan of this word! It works so well at capturing the spirit of letting go, of relaxing into the moment.

In Japan, however, the word doesn’t translate so well.

Telling a Japanese student to surrender can be a little confusing, especially when it translates to “kofuku” or “to give up fighting.” Translated thus, surrendering seems like a strange suggestion. Give up?! But why?!

Another word, I’ve been told, that fits better is “yutaneru,” which means “to let it go.” In the yoga context it is the letting go of our tension and of our expectations and attachments; it is allowing for flow.

In Satsang that Friday, I explained that surrendering is letting go of the ideas and the patterns that do not serve us–that we give up, not a fight, but all the things that limit us, that keep us from expanding.

Truth: understanding surrender isn’t easy for any culture, for any person. We all have our holding patterns. It hasn’t been easy for me personally either. Surrendering is a constant challenge; and learning it has been at the core of my own yoga practice and life journey. Maybe that’s why student/teachers like myself keep going back to it. We know that’s what needs to be done, we also know that it’s pretty damn hard to really do it. We are all just learning.

I always remind myself that surrendering (like yoga) is a process. It’s not about achieving an end goal, but just allowing ourselves to embody the action, allowing ourselves to let go little by little and to flow more and more. Like Guruji said, “Practice, practice all is coming.”


Grateful for the lessons in surrender here in Japan. Thank you to teacher and fab assistant Tomomi Takeuchi for sharing her spot-on translation of “surrender” in Japanese. 

PHOTO: Gion Matsuri, Kyoto, Japan.