I didn’t die yesterday

I saw the most beautiful sun rise as they carried me to the car to take me to the hospital.

It was the first morning of my retreat. I had gotten up early to write morning pages and drink coffee before morning yoga practice. My alarm went off at 6. It was still dark and my roommate was asleep, so I tiptoed through our room to go to the bathroom without turning on any lights. Feeling my way along the walls for the bathroom doorway, apparently I missed it, walked right past it and stepped into a void that was the stairwell to the first floor.

WHAT’S HAPPENING?!?!?!

It was pitch black.

There was no floor, there were no walls that I could find.

Completely disoriented, I lurched in the dark, reaching out for something to hold onto, but wasn’t finding anything. By the time I realized I was falling, I had dived to the right, past the landing halfway down and tumbled over the steep edge to the lower stairs below. I banged my head on the stone stairs, and then just kept going. I have never hit my head so hard. I felt my teeth break.

HOW FAR DOWN DOES THIS GO?

Finally, sometime before I stopped I told myself to make a sound, to yell while I still could so someone could help me. I honestly wasn’t sure I’d be able to yell when I hit the bottom. I yelled once and then finally hit the bottom and called for my roommate and next door neighbor.

They both came quickly, probably as terrified as I was. They got me to a bed and ran to the kitchen for ice and help.

I burst into tears when my teacher came and held me. All these beautiful women in their nightgowns, ferocious in calling for help and calm in taking care of me, reassuring me. FULL ON mama bear mode… for me. And I cried harder for their tenderness.

My dear retreat-mate accompanied me to the hospital, interpreting from Spanish to English and back again, filled out all my paperwork for me, asked all the questions and stayed with me for hours while a parade of on-call doctors SLOWLY made their way to the hospital to check me out. The hospital’s dentist-on-call refused to come in on a Sunday. I saw an orthopedist, an neurologist and a maxillofascial specialist. I got x-rays and a CT scan. And once they assured my by brain was ok, I let them give me some anti-inflammatory drugs and started to feel better. They checked me out of the hospital and the myofascial doctor came back to get me and take me to her clinic so her dentist and orthodontist could fix my teeth.

Just nine hours later I was back in my bed at the hotel.

I’m ok.

I’m observing the yoga classes rather than taking them. I’m surrounded by heart strong women doing their own deep work while taking care of me. I’ve only ever felt this kind of collective nurturing when my mama died. As as they came out of shivasana yesterday, I thought to myself, “I didn’t die yesterday.” I might have. But I didn’t.

 

 

Celebrate your inner strength on Hanuman’s birthday

IMG_6115
A beautiful interpretation of Hanumanasana from the book Metamorphosis, by Emanuele Scanziani.

Tomorrow, March 31, marks Hanuman Jayanti, an important Hindu religious festival honoring Hanuman. Half monkey, half man, Hanuman is a pivotal character in the Hindu epic Ramayana, known for his bravery and selfless devotion to Lord Rama, whom he served throughout most of his life. As a symbol within the faith tradition, Hanuman stands for the power of devotion to discipline the unruly “monkey” mind and guide us into right action.

Tomorrow, in my Noon Body Strong Flow class at MBS Yoga, we will honor the spirit of Hanuman Jayanti with a strong practice focused on building the strengths that Hanuman represents: focus, determination and strength. We’ll hear some of Hanuman’s stories and learn a little more about this important figure while we practice the yoga pose named for him. We are in no way even approximating a true Hanuman Jayanti celebration, but we can acknowledge the celebration and offer in our own way something to the intention of the day.

Messages Image(1479769890)

Focus is the reward

 

IMG_1754.jpg

Benny was my mom’s dog. He came to me with some pretty bad habits: peeing wherever he wanted, barking at everyone, and biting people, mainly the ones with red hair! So when I got him, I took him to obedience school. He was already 7 years old, but I was sure we could break him of these lifelong behaviors.

We both learned a lot at obedience school. One thing I learned was that Benny’s obedience was pretty much up to me — I was the one that was going to have to learn and practice how to be a dog’s master. Seven years later, Benny is just as bad as ever.

I failed obedience school, but Benny did learn one thing: how to focus. The game was for me to hide a treat in one hand and reach my arms out to each side. Benny’s job was to keep his eyes on ME, not the treat in my hand. If he could, he got the treat. He was really good at it! In no other task could he focus his attention and concentrate like he could in this one.

In yoga, you may find yourself going for the treat, the calendar pose reward at the end of all that work. But the real reward comes from learning how to stay centered and focus.

Yoga offers a complete set of practices to help you do that. What I love about the asana practice we do in class is that it anchors the mental effort in the physical body. In balancing poses, and in transitions from one pose to another, you’ve got to activate and fix your mind to your core, to the deep muscles that stabilize and ground you while all the “action” is going on in the periphery. Physically, energetically with your muscles, you have to pull yourself IN. In the body, you draw the abdominal muscles IN. You gently retract the limbs INto the sockets that connect to the torso—hips and shoulders. Plugged into your center, you can make any transition, from a strong, side stretching backbend to a twisted, forward bending balancing pose.

Here’s a little clip of a sequence that requires a LOT of focus. It’s speeded up to double-time, and I still falter, but you’ll see what I mean.

Focus on the breath

Meditate copyYoga teachers often instruct our students to “focus on your breath.” But what does that mean exactly? This guided meditation walks you through observing several different qualities of the breath. Learning how to notice these fine qualities helps attune your perception of your own physical self right here, right now. Plugging into how you actually feel physically in your body opens the door to deeper inquiry into the self.

Revisit your resolutions this spring

Pay Attention lotusSpring is bursting out all over! It’s hard NOT to notice all the new growth—purple mountain laurel that smells like grape kool-aid, red bud trees, yellow jasmine and orange trumpet vine. Next will come the open fields of Texas bluebonnets and Indian paint brush.

Last December I led a workshop on setting resolutions that stick. Spring is a great time to return to those forgotten intentions of the new year. What have you been paying attention to? What ideas or beliefs have been germinating underground without your conscious attention? Those grow, too, just like the bluebonnets you forgot all about on the side of the road.

Attention has a lot to do with intention. Buddhists often use the metaphor of watering seeds to describe the process by which ideas come to take root and blossom into reality. What you pay attention to, what you feed with the energy of your thoughts, whether conscious or unconscious, will grow. Vision-boarding or dream boarding can be a fun way to unearth or remind yourself of forgotten or neglected dreams. I’m starting my own dream board online at www.DreamItAlive.com. I’m just getting started, but you can track my progress and start a dream board of your own there!

Also, stay tuned for a vision boarding workshop this spring!

Fall into abundance

I love Fall. It’s a time of year when it’s hard not to notice the turning of the earth, the days getting shorter, sometimes cooler. As the prelude to winter, I think Fall can trigger melancholy in people. But I associate fall with my garden. Here in hot South Texas, Fall is the most abundant growing season for root veggies, greens of all kinds broccoli, cauliflower. I look forward to fall for planting seeds. When summer’s flowers have fallen, my garden keeps giving. 

This year I started helping manage a community garden on the East Side. The Eastpoint S.O.U.L Garden (SOUL stands for Sutton Oaks Urban Learning) has 17 raised beds serving residents in what has traditionally been a food desert in one of the city’s most impoverished neighborhoods. The garden gives me many opportunities to pay attention. Here are some images from the past few weeks.

Tonglen: Giving and receiving to develop compassion

Meditate copyReturning to the topic of compassion and cultivating our capacity to give and receive it… I recorded this guided tonglen meditation earlier in September, in the wake of Charlottesville, after Hurricane Harvey hit Houston, but before Irma, Maria, and two major earthquakes in Mexico. The earth trembles for our compassion. Tonglen is a powerful practice that uses conscious breath work and imagery to inspire empathy and compassion, something we all need to practice. Give it a try.

 

 

 

 

Giving and receiving compassion

One of the first meditation techniques I learned was tonglen, a buddhist practice of giving and receiving compassion. One of my favorite buddhist teachers, Pema Chodron, describes tonglen this way:

The tonglen practice is a method for connecting with suffering —ours and that which is all around us— everywhere we go. It is a method for overcoming fear of suffering and for dissolving the tightness of our heart. Primarily it is a method for awakening the compassion that is inherent in all of us, no matter how cruel or cold we might seem to be.

This traditional practice involves breathing in suffering and breathing out compassion. As you inhale, you imagine that you are inhaling suffering — it can be your own suffering, the suffering of someone you know, or the suffering of the world. You take it in and then exhale imagining compassion and well-being emanating from your breath, the suffering having been transformed.

In his book,  Just One Thing, Rick Hanson explains that practicing compassion helps strengthen those neural pathways, making them more accessible and automatic when you need them. Moreover, practicing receiving compassion primes you to give it, and vice versa.

This week’s video meditation plays with Hanson’s prescription for practicing compassion. Do it for yourself. Give it a try!