“Shaving one’s head cannot make a monk out of one who is undisciplined, untruthful, and driven by harmful desires.” The Dhammapada 19:264
You never know when you might be walking by a Buddha. You never know when you may encounter an enlightened being at a wedding. You never know when you might be sitting next to a really powerful person on the bus. You may never see this, because often the Buddha, one who is awake, looks just like everyone else. They rarely appear as we think they should.
Mindfulness has become a huge part of the spiritual and popular lexicon over the last 10 years or so. Everyone from celebrities to TV anchors to Fortune 500 companies are looking to mindfulness as a way to reduce stress and bring greater happiness. It is a powerful process in of itself, but we should never forget that mindfulness is only part of a multifaceted method. Mindfulness is a means, not an end, and mindfulness divorced from the moral precepts that accompany it only gets us halfway home.
One of the most common deflection tactics used by insecure teachers in the spiritual subculture is what I call “deflected reality” or “debased reality.” When you offer a critique of a teacher, call out poor behavior or questionable morals, or question the teacher in any way you are told you are being “negative” or “defensive.” Or the teacher will say something like “maybe you should look inside yourself for the same qualities as I am just a reflection of you.” Maybe sometimes you’ll hear, “It sounds like you are really triggered right now, and maybe you should look at that, as your reactions are all about you.”
I have always internally cringed when someone calls me a “yogi.” For many years I thought this was me feeling self-critical, or being unnecessarily self-effacing, but I began to realize that it was something more. I began to realize it just felt off, and as I dug around to see why, I came to some realizations that were really freeing.
Compassion is recognizing the deep commonalities that define us as human beings. It is recognizing the common interests that we all have and seeing them in each other. Below are the points I try to remember each day as I interact with others. They help me to stay humble and keep my heart in a softer place. I hope you find them helpful too.
What we are facing right now, in energetic terms, is a massive third chakra crisis. The chakras aren't relegated only to the realm of the human body. The chakras are also one of many ways to describe the patterns in human emotion, behavior, and growth on a collective level.
And the third chakra is no joke.
A few years ago I wrote a blog about the types of relationships I found helpful to clear from my life Clearing Draining Relationships. I thought as a long needed follow-up to that post, I’d do a blog about the friends/relationships we should cherish. My inner circle of friends is my chosen family, and each of them enriches my life in their own unique way. These are my top qualities in friends to cherish:
I’ll introduce these ideas by saying that gratitude was not a concept that came easily to me. I never felt like I was doing it authentically. But as I’ve grown older and practiced more, I’ve found some ways to gratitude that have really strengthened and reshaped my relationship to this powerful spiritual practice and tool. These are my three short lessons on gratitude I taught myself based on my practice, contemplation, and the lessons I’ve learned from my teachers. I practice all three every day. Sometimes they can be done in the morning, sometimes at night, sometimes throughout the day. I hope you find them helpful.
Yoga is currently in the midst of an identity crisis. The division between what we might call “traditional yoga” and “diluted yoga” is becoming more and more distinct. A friend of mine recently put up a question about this growing divide on his Facebook page and I was stunned at the level of discussion it generated amongst teachers and practitioners alike. You could feel the simmering frustration coming to the surface and people had a lot to say. Those of us that have been around for a few years now can see yoga being slowly picked apart little by little to satisfy various vices, tendencies, and capitalistic advancement. Clearly we need to have this discussion as a community and clearly we need to start asking ourselves some clarifying questions. And I believe we can use this as an opportunity to further grow the healing benefits of yoga practice.
Over the last year or so I have been realizing the importance of having some steady morning routine. It’s given me greater happiness, ease, and much more energy during my day. I was never a morning person until just a few years ago when my class schedule shifted to be mostly based in the morning. In fact, I used to stay up till 1 or 2 in the morning on a regular basis. But out of necessity as I started to get up early, I gradually found my way to a really nice morning routine that starts my day from a happy and grounded place.
One of the greatest ways to show respect and love for ourselves and for others is to have clear boundaries. For yoga teachers, this is an incredibly important component of our profession. There are no standard ethical recommendations for yoga teachers as there are in other healing professions (though some states and schools do have their own lists). So often times we in the yoga world must come up with a set of rules that we feel keep us ethically and morally on track. While the word boundary sounds antithetical to the love and openness the yoga culture promotes, they are actually the way into the deeper healing we seek to share. And nothing could be more loving than that.
Below are four sneaky addictions I have noticed forming in modern life and in the yoga world. When in balance, none of these ideas are harmful nor would they interrupt or delay healing. But when they become compulsive, when we feel restless without them, when they begin to define us, then it’s time to take a look and see what’s going on. This is the path to freedom that so many contemplative traditions discuss. When we see how something we are doing is hindering our growth and hampering a peaceful mind, we have begun the path to true contentment and joy.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what is truly inspiring about yoga. I’m still evolving a lot on this, but was considering the things about yoga that help us find lasting happiness. It is very easy, if not insatiably seductive, to believe that asana are the source of inspiration and happiness in yoga. Asana is the predominant method of communicating modern western yoga in the world, and achievement in asana feels at times like the way to inspiration and lasting happiness. But this is not the case. Asana serves incredible functions in our lives on many levels, but the source of inspiration is far beyond these select contortions of the human body. The true inspiration that yoga offers is about something more intangible yet far more powerful.
Ahimsa “non-harming” is the first of the Yamas to be listed in the Yoga Sutras and is probably the most universally known and discussed of these precepts. I would also say that this Yama is the most misunderstood. It’s a great word to toss around in yoga class, but putting it into practice requires all of our courage, strength, powers of mind, and humility.
Yoga teaching, as a profession, is quite amazing. To make it work, either full or part time, we have to acknowledge some basic and practical truths about teaching. We have to talk about money, worth, motives, karma, feeling good enough, how we teach poses, and a whole host of other issues. I listed my top 4 below but there are many more. Facing the practicalities of teaching helps us grow personally and professionally and allows us to be more relaxed and better informed teachers for our students.
Friends today I want to offer a blog with a different subject matter. With all that is going on in the world and the attack on LGBTQ rights that seems to be rapidly underway, I wanted to share a blog post about my experience of growing up gay. I hope that it humanizes the process and maybe serves as a resource for anyone who needs it in regards to their own sexuality or to someone they care for and love. Though I have been out for 20 years, I have never really written about or shared this part of my journey before. It’s a place of new vulnerability and openness for me to make so public, but I can remember plenty of lonely isolated nights from 1991-1997 where I would have given anything to know someone else had been through what I was going through. I would have desperately wanted to know I was not alone in what I was facing, that there were people like me, and more than anything, that in the end it was all going to be ok.
Phew, here we go. . .
The Yamas, the first of the eight limbs of Classical Ashtanga Yoga, are the moral precepts we are encouraged to practice to reduce suffering and keep us on a path that promotes deeper happiness for ourselves and others. Brahmacharya is literally translated as “Going After Brahma (God)” and is fourth of the five Yamas as listed in the Yoga Sutras. It is the Yama that shows us how stop, pause, and set healthy boundaries.
The Yamas, the first of the eight limbs of Classical Ashtanga Yoga, are the moral precepts we are encouraged to practice to reduce suffering and keep us on a path that promotes deeper happiness for ourselves and others. Aparigraha or “non-clinging” is the last of the Yamas as listed in the Yoga Sutras. It is the Yama that shows us how to relearn our fundamental trust in life.
It’s incredibly important to always have teachers. The spiritual path is not for the faint of heart and we all need guidance along the way. I count among my teachers many people who I know personally and many that I know through their work and contributions to the world. Here are 4 of my favorites. I hold each of these quotes in my heart and head every day and have some of them prominently displayed in my home where I can see them often. See how these quotes feel to you, or maybe consider quotes you love and why you love them. We all need teachers.
The last 20 years of my life have seen many ups and downs in romantic relationships. I’ve had amazing connections, and I’ve had blistering heartbreaks. As I was thinking back on my 20s and early 30s the other day I made a short list of the lessons I wished I had known 10 years ago. These lessons really helped me in my life, and trust me it took some hard knocks to learn them. But now comfortably in my late 30s, these lessons have guided me to a much deeper sense of peace in relationships.
My friends, here is a process of true healing and lasting change in life as I have come to know it. I have seen this process work miracles in my own life and the lives of my friends and clients. It's a life long process and I learn more about it every day. There are steps in here that are often overlooked in the fast pace of modern spiritual practice. If you can be patient and really consider all these steps, there is the possibility of some profound change and shift in life.
The days between New Years and Christmas are some of my favorite in the whole year. There’s a wonderful sense of peace, as if the world is taking a deep, collective, weeklong exhale. Usually at New Years, we make a resolution or many resolutions about how we want to change for the coming 12 months. I’ve done this myself, and I can say it rarely works. So over the years, I’ve developed some personal strategies for New Years that I have found to work remarkably well. You can refer to my blog from last year on “just for right now” resolutions for an alternative or maybe you try these open questions to help you sculpt a wonderful year of healing and joy.
Since I was very young, I have dealt with various fear and phobias. Fear used to be almost debilitating for me in my teens and 20s, but over the years of my spiritual practice I have found methods that have drastically reshaped my relationship to being afraid. I have used these methods to help release the talons of fear from my life and allow my life to grow in awesome ways.
“It takes courage...to endure the sharp pains of self discovery rather than choose to take the dull pain of unconsciousness that would last the rest of our lives.” Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love
In one of my earlier blog posts called “When Yoga Stops Working” I made reference to a powerful place in which we find ourselves in life. I call this place “The Gate”, and many others have called it many other things from a “Reckoning” to a “Come to Jesus” moment. The Gate is the place where we must come up against ourselves. It’s when as Pema Chodron says, “The game is up.” It’s when we get thrown headlong into the unfamiliar territory of our minds. And, it’s the place where we can profoundly, powerfully, and in a lasting way make extraordinary healing change in our lives.
The days have been cold, rainy, and sometimes snowy here in New England this April. All of the grey days seem to be zapping our energy, creating brain fog, and making our systems feel heavy.
I came up with this sequence today as I was trying to clear some of the heavy, lethargic, and unmotivated qualities from my system. It worked wonders and I wanted to share with all of you.
Teachers of spiritually based traditions have an enormous responsibility. We are the guardians and leaders of ever evolving healing systems. We must love and respect our own humanity and we must accept the responsibilities of our vocation.
We're in resolution season folks. It's all over social media, it's all over advertising, it's in the air. With resolutions we can always feel the pressure that quickly materializes on our shoulders. We want to do better for ourselves, we want to commit to being there in bigger, healthier ways for our loved ones, and ourselves but in the process we can often wind up feeling discouraged and stressed out.
Teachers, here are a few words and phrases that will really help your teaching and your practice. We're often so worried about what we're saying, what we're doing, or how we think our students and peers view us. Here are some ideas to alleviate that anxiety, make us much more effective teachers, and help us to keep our practice of teaching enjoyable, powerful, and authentic.
Some signs, from my own experience, you are an empath. I think everyone has these gifts to one degree or another, but I think empaths either have more acute felt senses or just trust what they feel more. These thoughts below come from how I have managed my own empathic skills over the years. There is no greater blessing or curse than to be able to feel the world so intensely, and I hope these ideas help you or someone you love to begin the journey to understanding the great gift of fully feeling life.
Meditation Myth Number 4: I need to meditate all the time to get somewhere with meditation
No just live your life. Make meditation a part of your life, but don't let meditation or any practice become your life. I have seen so many friends, colleagues, and students get lost in practices rather than practicing what the practices are trying to teach.
Meditation Myth Number 3: Everyone else is a better meditator than I am
You know when you're meditating in a group and you think everyone else is having visions of the Buddha handing them a lotus and you're the only one who's mentally redecorating your living room or wondering when is the new season of Scandal coming out?
Meditation Myth Number 2: When we meditate, we should be feeling great all the time like we're thinking about bunny rabbits and cotton candy and love and light and unicorns and fairy dust. . .
Yeah no, in fact, yeah just no. I mean you can try, but when that mask falls off it's going to make one hell of a thud.
Part 1 of a 4 part post on the common myths surrounding meditation practice, of which there are many! Meditation has literally revolutionized my life for the last 15 years and the myths I seek to dispell here come from my own pitfalls, lessons, mistakes, and the frustrating aspects of my meditation practice I misunderstood for a long time.
As a thought for the New Year, I wanted to share with all of you some of my favorite affirmations that I use daily in my life. These are born out of my own experiences in life, what I have discovered by the grace of many gifted teachers, and my own meditation practice. These affirmations affirm the truths of our beings, the basis of what we are. And when we affirm these truths, all gates open for us and we get to live a truly phenomenal, spontanious, and rich life.
In the almost 10 years I have been teaching yoga, I have gone through many incarnations of my role as a teacher. At one time or another, I have had to learn some lessons and make some choices to keep teaching not only fun, but also manageable and fulfilling. Here are four of my 4 biggest suggestions to help teachers relax and enjoy the wonderful craft of teaching yoga.
I love to be in my house and the home I've created. It feels like a sanctuary to me. When I come home, even from a stressful day, I can be at peace. There are many aspects of my home that I love, but maybe the most important is that my space feels good to me. When I am in it, it feels peaceful. Our outer homes, where we house our bodies, are the places where we let go from the outer world. Our inner homes, where we house our minds, bodies, and psyches, are where we all truly have to live 24/7. It is in this inner space where we often feel we are not at home, like we are strangers in our own lives. It's the space that when not tended can turn into a scary and unwelcoming place. One of the most important feelings we can work towards is a feeling of being at home in ourselves. It's an aspiration, and takes a long time to excavate the layers that clutter our internal space, but it is possible. When we do that work, we truly begin to relax and rediscover a sense of happiness.
1. You allow yourself to fully feel, process, and release stored emotional tension in your body. You realize that this is the most important aspect of keeping your body's systems in balance.
2. You begin to change your inner dialogue from one of condemnation, of self and others, to one of blessing self and others.
3. You can manage your own stress response with your breath, choice of perspective, and healthy movement.
4. You move your body in ways that make you feel alive, balanced, energized, and whole. You also move your body in ways you enjoy!
5. You move your body for the way it makes you feel more than the way it makes you look.
Spiritual betrayal can be one of the most psychologically and emotionally damaging forms of betrayal we can experience. It is a betrayal that splits our hearts so deeply that recovery can feel next to impossible. Although it can be felt in any relationship, it is often found in the moment when we realize, in small or big ways, that our spiritual teachers (read for our purposes: yoga teachers), the people in whom we have entrusted so much faith, are not perfect.
My friends, I want to introduce you to J. Forrest Conway, known to his friends as "Josh", the Founder and Head Coach at Gymnasium in West Newton MA. Josh is my trainer, colleague, and friend who has developed a style of personal training that I believe to be on the cutting edge of fitness training and thought in this country. He has a deep knowledge of and respect for the body, the body's mechanics, and how to create work out plans that are highly effective and at the same time sane and balanced. I specifically asked Josh to write this blog as we think very much alike about the idea of intensity in fitness and why a balanced approach makes most sense for our bodies and minds. Please enjoy!