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ashes and pinecones.

April 9, 2012

Today was Easter Sunday.  In the days leading up to the holiday, we celebrated Maundy Thursday with a dinner at church and Passover Seder Dinner with family.  Then on Saturday I got to take a yoga workshop that kicked my butt.  I have been reminded lately that the challenges of my practice — the rise in body temperature, the deepening of my breath, the challenge of a difficult pose — all help me to step things up both on and off the mat.  It’s interesting how creating heat in my body and in my life helps me to withstand the heat in other areas of my life.

After a challenging practice there is usually a time of reflection – a meditation, a resting pose – in which I find a deep solace and reinforcement of my own strength.  True to form, at the end of five hours of practicing yesterday I spent the last few minutes of the workshop meditating on how grateful I am for all that I have and all that I don’t have anymore.  I felt that on Saturday afternoon and then today I got to church and cried for what I didn’t have, for loss and what is no longer here.

Resurrection Sunday is always an interesting one.  My days at Bible college made it seem like the resurrection was the pinnacle to our existence – Jesus rose from the dead!  Cue the Ha-lle-lu-jahh choir!  But, what the heck does that mean really?  And how do I, as a not so Jesus-y yogi, apply this to my life?  How does this all fit into this blog post? (stick with me)

In the past few weeks, I have been contemplating this story as interpreted from Bill Mahoney

In the beginning there is nothing, represented here by a formless ocean. All is in darkness. Yet, this ocean is the infinite reservoir of pure potential, the ultimate source of all possibilities. Lord Vishnu, the All-Pervader, dozes on the ocean’s waves. In this darkness, Vishnu opens his eyes, and as he does so, Lord Brahma, the divine Creator, emerges from Vishnu’s navel on a beautiful lotus blossom. Drawing material from the ocean of possibilities, Brahma fashions the universe, bringing it into existence like an artist creates a work of art. Once Brahma has created the world, Vishnu supports it, for …he is the divine Sustainer and the King of Dharma. When it comes time for that world to be transformed, Lord Shiva, the Benevolent One, dissolves it back into the ocean of formless potential. Vishnu again dozes on its waves. Then, he again opens his eyes, and Brahma creates a new world, renewed and enlivened again by the power of Vishnu’s support.

In a lot of ways I think these stories can relate to each other, there is this cycle that we live through in many ways — things are created constantly, they are sustained and then transformed/destroyed, later to be re-created.   The names have been changed to protect the innocent – if you can see past that, can you see the connection?  No matter what you subscribe to in the beliefs department, there is some way this story shows it face.

This morning our pastor, PK, told a story of resurrection, she read the Bible story and then spoke about suffering and getting past or through it, then she told a story about pinecones – this is why I love going to church.   The story was about the Yellowstone fires of 1988.  The fires devastated about 24% of the pine tree population and a little over a third of that park.  I did some research this evening and found that many believed that this would be this fire would leave the land scarred and barren for decades to come.  Interestingly enough there was a certain pine tree that was burned during this time called the Lodgepole pine; it produces conventional pine cones like you or I see around here but also these ‘serotinous cones’ or pine cones covered in resin.  These cones only open when exposed to ‘great heat’.

PK explained, a year after the fire, the expected barren ash filled land had saplings all around.  It was this exposure to great heat that caused the new seeds to disperse and consequently start a new cycle, a rebirth — albeit a resurrection of what was thought to be totally gone.  One article made note to say that this is intense fire and rebirth was a common occurrence, seeming strange to us because the cycle can sometimes be longer than our lifespan, but this happens – the forest flourishes and then is wiped out, only to be created again.

I love the idea of the seeds being released under extreme conditions, the mere fact that they are created in that way makes me smile.  I wondered how alike we are with those trees and cones – we grow tall and life becomes grand and eventually something knocks us on our ass.  We think, this is it – it’s never going to get better and yet life goes on.

When I thought about the heat, I remembered sweating in class, not just this weekend but many times, the thousands of kicks into a handstand, the challenge of a vashistasana, or a hanumanasana — I remembered how getting to the  crux of the challenge really made a difference, even if I didn’t get the intended pose the first few (hundred) times.  The experience was small and just on my mat, but it also played out so many times in these past few months off the mat — when life was a lot harder than a hanumanasana.

We each have these reserves stored away – to help get us through to the next level, for some that next level is a more advanced practice and for others it is just moving on after the smoke clears and letting go of what was lost to get there.  They are hidden and sealed waiting for the heat to turn up, to open us to a new experience and new growth.

Back to Bill Mahoney for the end here:

…remember the ocean of infinite possibilities. Be like Shiva in this narrative: dissolve what needs to be transformed. Be like Vishnu: keep your eyes open, align yourself with dharma and nourish all that is good. Be like Brahma: draw on that power of creativity that moves within you. It will help you as you renew the best of what has been, just as as it also supports you in fashioning a new world.

So, happy Easter.  Happy Passover.  Happy renewal of all sorts.  Remember those little seeds, bījas, that contain all the possibility for something beautiful and new.

open hands.

February 23, 2012

A few months back, I sat alongside some of my closest and dearest yoga teacher friends excitedly listening to our teacher, John Friend, speak about the Dharma of Relationships.  I was still in a very raw state after the tragic loss of my father in an accident and subsequent loss of my uncle to cancer.  I was welcomed by John, and we lovingly exchanged words, hugs and tears over the situation.  I found it very sweet that he even knew about it and had the sweetness to be sincere with me about such a hard time.  The workshop came at a really hard time but helped me to focus and choose that which is life-enhancing.  I felt deeply blessed that I had found yoga and the it was such a big part of my life.

There was a point during the last day of the Teachers Intensive where we meditated and John spoke about how we must choose to keep our hands open to life and that every relationship, every experience for that matter, is like a little bird that can land in our hands.  We have the choice to squeeze and try to grasp onto it, or the choice to love and enjoy it for what it is, knowing that one day it can fly away and possibly never come back.  It was at that moment that I really broke down.  Every relationship in our lives will end in one way or another — the thing is that it’s so damn hard when they do end, even when it is our own choice.

Having lost two of the the most important people in my life, I was moved by this idea of keeping my hands and essentially my heart open to life.   A week after that workshop I got a tattoo of a bird on my inner forearm.  It was a tattoo that my father had on his arm and the actual meaning of the bird originates from sailors who would cross the equator and get the tattoo upon their return.  In some ways for me it represented the sentiments of having gone to hell and back but also as a reminder to always keep my heart and hands open to life — my father wouldn’t have had it any other way.  When I am practicing, or teaching or even just working my day job I can glance down and see the bird on my arm.  Sometimes it startles me, sometimes it makes me cry and mostly it makes me smile remembering that life is too short to hold on too tight.

The past few weeks or so has been fraught with drama and loss – this time from my yoga community.  Accusations turned into truths — turned into a total upheaval of my yoga world which for the past 7 months had been such a boon to my survival.  At this point, I don’t even know what to call what and how I teach, all of my training comes from John and a lineage of spectacular teachers that were trained in the Anusara method.  It felt like another loss of a loved one to hear the truth and then see our community crumble from loss and anger.

I do no agree with John Friend’s actions and reactions but I do know this — we are all human and falter, our systems and organizations will never be perfect.  I don’t condone the actions that occurred but now that they have been brought to light, isn’t it more important to acknowledge both the good and the bad and then move on?  It’s been a really difficult few weeks of teaching from my heart when my heart is confused and yet again broken, but I still get up and teach because in the teaching I remember to keep my hands open as an offering but also to receive and learn.

I come from a family of recovering addicts; people who hit rock bottom and decided that it was their second chance was their last chance at life — namely my father.  Dad was a great man and who he was, was directly due to the fact that he had the humility to always remember that but for the grace of God, that fucked up person next to him could have been him (or you, or me).  I think about that a lot lately.  I wonder, what would he say about the man that hit him and his best friend?  Knowing my father, he would have known that it could have been him there on the other side of that accident.  I hope in many ways that John and all of us can be willing to see where we hit bottom (when we really do) and then pick ourselves up and do the work – our practice, a practice of love and remembrance for what is important.  We can use everything as an opportunity to remember how lucky we are that the Universe chose to embody us in all our brokenness.

I celebrate my 34th birthday this Saturday – it’s strange to think about celebrating life, another year.  I feel old – not old like an old lady, but old in experience, albeit wisdom to some degree.  Things go on — they keep going on, they fall apart and then come back together again.  Life is about how you can enjoy the times when things are together and how you can stand strong when things fall to shit.  This is my practice on and off the mat, finding strength when I thought all was lost and remembering to let things fall apart so that new things can build up even when fear and anger cloud my view.  No matter what — each cycle brings a new understanding, a new wisdom.

With my hands (and heart) open, I welcome in this new year.

always a student, sometimes a teacher.

November 7, 2011

My Teacher Trainging Group - 2006

This fall, marks my five year anniversary of teaching Anusara Yoga!  FIVE freaking years and I still feel like a newbie. It’s amazing how time flies and how like anything that you put your mind to there are highs and lows, peaks and plateaus.  But here I am now finally coming up for air and gearing up to start video taping my classes to move closer to full on Anusara Certification Status.  It’s a long road but totally worth it, and I’ve only just begun.

Last week, I had the honor of taking a class of a fellow yogi, Amanda, along with my teacher who was observing Amanda for her Anusara-Inspired Status.  It was after our crazy snow in October storm and as luck would have it there were three teachers taking the class along with a regular.  It was a great experience to just be there and take class – to be a student.  At the end Amanda commented on how great it was to have three of her teachers taking her class.  I thought about that during class – how I was actually a teacher of hers and that here I was taking her class!  I thought, this must be one of the best things to experience as a teacher that your student gets to teach you; it was a very sweet realization.

There’s a new crop of teachers coming up at our studio.  The three-part Immersion ended over the summer and the Teacher Training has begun.  I arrived after the first weekend to teach my class and I saw a group of totally overwhelmed future teachers with that look in their eyes.  If you are a teacher you know that look, you have felt that feeling and fear behind that look – the, how the hell am I ever going to be a teacher and somehow put all this stuff I am learning into a class? – look.  The thing I heard over and over again was – it’s just so much information!  So to you teacher trainees, it’s been heavy on my heart to share this.  By no means am I finished and perfect – I’m still polishing all the roughness and enjoying the ride, I just thought you could use some encouragement and love and know that we’ve all been there with that look and that fear.

I thought back to my first class that I was basically pushed into after my Teacher Trainer – Vishali – said to me, OK it’s time you are subbing my class this weekend.  It’s one thing to teach your first class but a totally different and overwhelming experience to sub for your teacher who also happened to be the owner of the studio!  But I sucked it up and planned a class.  I remember shaking and freaking out before the class started as I greeted the students with a frozen-fear smile.  And then just before I walked into the studio and took the teachers seat, I took a moment to say a little prayer.

The prayer was more of an affirmation.

I said to myself…. ok self, you have great teachers and had a great training and you’ve taken numerous classes and done countless practice teaching sessions –  and you have all the information and skills that you need right now, I am just going to be open to letting it flow.

The class was probably a colossal fail if you looked at what I had planned and what we really did.  It could have been better than whatever it came out as but it was the first of many times of me being an instrument of all this knowledge and beauty.   When I look back at my notebooks from those days, I took copious notes – but as time went on I just listened more and let each teaching sort of infuse me, the notes became more succinct and teaching became a little more from the heart.  There were many times when I walked out thinking – I need to quit this, that class was a total failure, but those were the times that someone would come up and tell me how one little thing really spoke to them.

Amazingly we have these Universal Principles of Alignment in Anusara that really help in I’d say almost all parts of our lives.  Here  are some things to remember as a burgeoning teacher or even for those of us already well along our path:

  • Open to Grace – all you need to do is be open to wherever you are right now (RIGHT NOW – being the key words here).   There’s always more to experience and more Grace to open to.  All that info from the hundreds of hours of Immersing and Training is a tremendous waterfall of goodness and you can just stick your toes in and go from there.  Grace is the sheer beauty that you actually have an intelligent and sophisticated system that backs you up if you just let yourself be that instrument.
  • Muscular Energy – I like to think about this as tapping into your strengths; you have to flex the muscles you have.  Just like in the asana’s you work the smaller muscles to make a difference with the bigger ones — and that comes by practice.  The first class you ever took had you use muscles you never knew you had and it’s the same with teaching classes – you will feel sore in your ego your confidence and whatever else takes a hit, overall it’s about conditioning.  Every time you feel like you fall down, just pick yourself back up and try again.
  • Inner & Outer Spiral – Find what makes sense to you and keep it simple.  If it doesn’t make sense to you quite yet, keep it for your own studies and use was makes sense and feels right to keep you and your students on the same page.  Remember that just because we sit at the front of the room doesn’t mean you are the only one teaching – I feel as a teacher I became a better student in every aspect and all of those revelations make you serve yourself and others more fully.
  • Organic Expansion - Move from your heart.  You’ve taken a lot of classes think about the ways you can be sincere and work on creating your own unique voice to all of the information that you have learned.  Sincerity and truth go a long way!  As much as you hold yourself to some criteria and beat yourself up for not following it, be open to the fact that the students don’t know when you go off script and out of what you think is a fabulous theme or sequence it’s the little things that you can’t even plan that really touch people.  When you move from your heart, other people can feel it.

So, SMY (and any other) future teachers – I can’t wait to take your class.  There’s nothing like hearing that first OM and realizing that the sweetness that you know and love as yoga is now something that you offer to others.



the thing about life…

August 29, 2011
tags: , ,

…is that it encompasses the really exquisite and wonderful things along with the really crappy, devastating ones. We look forward to the wonderful ones and dread the things that don’t feel so good.

I had a sweet student whom I have known for several years who has had his own ups and downs ask me how I’ve been. I just blurted – well my dad was killed in an accident. I’ve been doing that a lot lately. Its like I have no filter and just drop these bombs on random people like students, vendors, neighbors. Part of it is that I am still in shock but the other part is that there is no easy and sweet way to articulate what happened. In fact, there is no real way of sugar-coating the bad stuff. My student said, we really don’t have a vocabulary beyond…oh, I’m so sorry and this sucks!

When we tell our children that a pet dies, we say they ‘went to the rainbow bridge’ and maybe that’s and easy excuse to swallow. But my experience with death is that it is what it is.

My first memory of death was when the Principal at my grade school became ill and died. Sister Michael was someone I bonded with immediately upon entering Our Lady Queen of Peace School in kindergarten. She was sweet and caring and due to her cushy presence, she also was a good hugger – all a prequesite for a five-year old to consider her to be cool back in 1983. I had met her on the day of my school orientation and immediately felt at home. She wasn’t even my teacher but she would show up magically in her brown and white habit with a smile and make all things good. There was something sort of ethereal about her.

A year or so later she passed away and I was devastated. What followed were a lot of questions and tears, not only from me but from all my classmates. We attended the funeral held at the Convent/Monastery that reminded me of The Sound of Music. I walked up to the casket and saw my beloved nun lying peacefully but I couldn’t actually feel her presence. I worried that everyone I knew would someday not be there in presence and that would really suck.

I suppose this was something a lot of kids were dealing with, so the school decided to bring us all to the funeral home to get comfortable with the idea of death. Writing this now I wonder if I would be OK with my kids going to a funeral home or not. Regardless they filed us into the overly-wallpapered and upholstered funeral home for a tour and Q & A. There were no bodies there but they explained the whole embalming process to a bunch of 7 year old kids, and showed us where they cremated people. It was a lot to handle and mostly just freaked me out but it did make me familiar with a place where I would see many people I loved be put to rest.

25 years later, my father’s wake was at that same funeral home. Eerily, it seemed like I was that 7 year old again, except this time I was there for a reason, yet I still didn’t know how to make sense of it in my head. That’s probably the hardest part about grief is that it just doesn’t make sense. Whether a person dies suddenly or over time, there is still this disconnect that we have and it SUCKS.

We have to hang out in the dark places sometimes. Let ourselves get comfortable with the idea that life isn’t always sunshine, roses and salted caramel gelato. My student said you know, this is why Shiva hung out in the graveyards, right?

In these tough times, I think of the Goddess Kali and her rough darkness. She is known as the destroyer but also likened to a Mother figure. And in some way with all the shit hitting the fan, I can feel myself getting stronger and being nurtured. Most of the time I feel like I might look like here these days – tongue outstretched in a sort of growl.

Sure, I’d love to think of something sweet and wonderful right now but a lot of times that just doesn’t cut it. All I know is that my father who was always there is now reduced to a box of ashes on my stepmother’s dresser. His spirit is around and yet I still want more.


August 22, 2011

There’s a bittersweet quote that goes:

“If you are irritated by every rub, how will you be polished?”   - Rumi

I’ve been thinking of it often – trying in all the chaos of life to find how this all can connect to the highest.  Yesterday was my father’s birthday- he wasn’t here to celebrate it.  My sister, stepmom and our husbands sat at at Cheesecake factory sort of dumbfounded eating cake and doing our best to celebrate his life.  On top of it all his brother, my uncle, is laying in bed in hospice waiting to die.  There’s nothing spectacular and pretty going on.  There’s a lot of crying and brokenness in our family – a lot of irritating sorts of rubs in our lives.

As I thought about the quote, I remembered my rock tumbler that I had as a kid.  Saying that I was a nerd was putting it lightly.  I wore thick glasses, was chubby and definitely had a penchant for the not so normal kid-like things.  I collected stamps and rocks and took pictures of flowers and wrote songs about them.  One year I had my heart set on getting a rock tumbler for Christmas.  The tumbler as I remember it (and I am pretty sure the image to the left is the exact same model that I had – how many models could there really be?) was sort of like a mini cement machine that would turn jagged rocks over and over again to, in theory, create polished gems.

I don’t think we got many polished gems out of this thing.  After the first day, the sound of it became tremendously annoying so much so that it was relocated to our small crawl space basement to never return to the light of day again.  I bet if you look at my mom’s house it’s still there somewhere lost in the darkness – the idea, though, has stuck with me.

One of the first things I learned about tantra and yoga is that it’s about the friction – keep your mind out of the gutter, please – the idea that as we run up against things that irritate us, it’s an opportunity to go deeper into our experience of ourselves and the universe around us.  It’s easier said then done – especially when you are knee-deep in some serious karmic shit.  I definitely feel as though I am inside a rock tumbler these days – I am sure most people can relate to a varying degree depending on their current life experiences.  When we hit the walls, do we make it out to be the end of the world or just a detour?

As a yogi, I have hit many walls in my practice.  A few years back, I hit the wall of being really sick and having to humble myself to barely finishing a class; at the high points of my practice, I could totally rock and advanced class.  The thing is, you never know what each day is going to bring in your body or your life.  Putting the work in involves a lot of allowing your ragged edges to be irritated and slowly smoothed but sticking in it for the ride.  Each irritation leaves an impression that can be interpreted as good or bad depending on how you receive it.

Hopefully as we become more polished we keep the integrity of our strength and soften on the outside to be more comfortable with who we are  – just where we are.  I’m in for the tumble.


not to be melodramatic.

July 26, 2011

I am sure if my father read that last post he would say something like – OK ‘sarah’ stop it with the drama (emphasis on the dram-a).

Sometimes I treat this whole blog thing as a virtual diary.   It took me a while to even put down that dad was gone let alone process it in some sort of clear and eloquent way.  The truth is, I thought maybe by writing it down it would make it seem more real.  The last few weeks have been like an outer body experience.  I can actually see and relive the phone call that I got telling me what had happened as if I were the ghost of Christmas past hovering above the whole scene.

It’s hard to just suddenly lose someone who you are so very close with and then to go on with life.  Part of me feels like I will never go on and another part of me feels like I can’t believe I am getting out of bed and functioning.  But that’s what you have to do after loss – recognize it for what it is and then get yourself back up.

My dad would always say – it’s not the end of the world – and though it seems as if this is in some way or should be the end, the world is still moving.  Sometimes I want to scream and be like – stop!! my father isn’t here and this can’t be – but it just keeps going, people keep on living.

I went back to teaching my classes last week and cried along with my students recounting how yoga really has helped me.  The thing is that the whole yoga thing really works if you work it.  I feel a steadiness and am ok with the days when I am shaky.  I’m not sure I knew I’d ever be this strong without my practice.  With that practice comes a community – a kula – that is there to support and love, laugh and cry.

Last night in class I had students whom I teach both husbands and wives and even their children.  Their support and love means so much in times like these.  Many couldn’t believe I was back but it feels so good to serve and teach them as much as they serve me by just being there. My father was just like that – he was always helping people.  Friend of the friendless he was called and I know those traits were passed on to me.

It was a rough night last night.  I felt crappy – even all the students sort of felt crappy. About a quarter of the way through half the class was down.  I’ve never really had this happen before.  The theme was about how you cultivate and tend to what you have – so I took it as a cue to slow things down and take care of them.  By the end of class they were back and feeling much better.  Towards the end, one student looked at me and said something about not having been in class in a while and that coming back is hard.

I thought about it as they lay motionless in svasana – coming back is hard.  Whether it’s back to a class or back to life after a loss.  It takes a vulnerability that you have to be OK with.  As I thought about it more I realized – coming back is hard, but not coming back is harder.

july 1, 2011.

July 18, 2011

worst fear come true.

Dad was hit by a drunk driver and killed upon impact while riding his motorcycle in PA.  Even as I type this it still doesn’t seem true.  17 days have passed – we didn’t get to see him at the wake.  All we have are bits and pieces.  The house is empty.  I feel like I am constantly looking for something that I lost.  I don’t even see him in my dreams.

It sucks so bad.  So bad.

I can’t even begin to figure out how to move on.  I feel this inner strength but then there are times when I am just so sad.  Sadder than any time when I was a depressed teenager.  I miss him so much.  Just want to hear his voice and see him across the room.


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