Year: 2018 Page 1 of 2

Imagination: Rules & Tools for Tough Times

I was talking with my sister yesterday with whom I share many a philosophical conversation. We were talking about those times in life when things really are difficult, when the only thing we can really do is withdraw to the realm of our dreams or imagination as a means of survival. When our situation is unbearably painful and the reality unchangeable, our capacity to escape with our minds might be our greatest means of surviving another day.

Sadly we live in a time when not everyone has been able to nurture and cultivate the capacity to imagine. Our schools are stale and standardized. We are taught that dreams are cheap and the imagination the realm of fools. People spend the majority of their days being fed by media instead of cultivating their own inner worlds and ideas. We’ve forgotten the importance of the imagination. We’ve done worse than relegate it to the world of little children; we have even created a world which steals it from them! No wonder so many adults lack originality and the capacity to problem-solve.

“True imagination is not fanciful daydreaming; it is fire from heaven.” ~Ernest Holmes

Gladly, our imagination is never truly lost to us. Like any unused muscle, it may atrophy, but like any muscle, it can also be developed through the proper activities if the motivation is there. Reclaiming one’s imagination is beyond the scope of this post, but it is possible. If you’ve managed to retain or even nurture yours, then know you have a very important tool at your disposal.

The inability to imagine is akin to a life-sentence in prison. It may not be a physical reality, but the prison of the mind and spirit is a more widespread challenge, and it is equally difficult to the physical experience. Just as a person in a 3D prison must fight for his inner sense of freedom and hope, so too must those plaugued by self-doubt, insecurity, and fear. Just as a person in physical prison faces a certain “choicelessness” that is made concrete by bars and wires, it is not all that different for those on the outside unable to change their situations…trapped in work or relationship or health crises or whatever, unable to imagine a better world for themselves.

No one wants to merely survive, although, for many of the less fortunate, even this would seem miraculous. But how does one move beyond survival and actually learn to thrive? This is where our capacity to dream enters the picture.

We have to do what we can to keep the faith by doing things that we enjoy as much as possible. And beyond that, we have to nurture our imaginations. Escapism isn’t just “checking out”. It has an important function…as long as we remember not to be in it 100% of the time or to do it in ways that destroy our minds and bodies.

“My imagination is a monastery and I am its monk” – John Keats

So, here are some simple rules for tough times:

  • Fight the tempation to destroy yourself.
  • Stay in full control of your mind and spirit. Yes, that means escaping without drugs, alcohol, or other life-stealing substances.
  • Always come back and fully feel again.

And here are your tools for tough times:

  • Take time to imagine it as you would want it, and remember that dreams are limitless.
  • Do something that brings you any amount of joy, no matter how small. Savor it. Breathe it into every cell.
  • Find beauty, in a color, in a cloud, in anything, and if you don’t see it, shut your eyes and imagine it.

If we are to stay sane in an insane world, we have to learn to balance reality with escapsim. We can give oursevles permission to dream, as long as we follow the rules. That’s how we’ll learn to imagine things that we’ve never imagined before and begin to break through and transcend a world gone mad.

Stop the Pain Cycle

It happens. We’re active. We enjoy moving around and getting things done. We might even take pride in all the things we accomplish on a daily basis. Then one day, we get hurt or sick. Maybe we pull or strain something. Maybe we get a diagnosis. We might even break something.

The human body is a strong and resilient organism, but it’s also subject to injury and illness. Even if we take the utmost care of it, we can still have accidents or succumb to disease. That’s life.

When we experience these crises, we can also experience all kinds of associated emotions and fears. What if I don’t heal? What if I can’t play my favorite sport or continue on with work or even move around on my own again. When we go through illness or injure the body, the body tends to guard itself. It is part of the necessary healing process. But when the mind enters the picture and locks us in fear, we start to armour ourselves. We hold back. We over-protect. Or maybe we just don’t want to feel the pain of moving through the entire process of being with what is…so we shut down emotionally instead.

Unfortunately, many people get caught in the pain cycle. They get sick or injured, so they stop moving. Unfortunately, lack of movement creates its own pain. That leads to even less movement leading to even more pain.

What’s a body to do?

It’s critical to understand that movement is life. The more we can move, the better. Even if we can’t move as we once did…or as much as we once did…movement must continue in some way, shape or form in order to break the pain cycle. Too many people make the mistake of forsaking a movement practice due to fatigue, injury or pain.

Of course there are times when we simply need to rest and heal, and until we do, there will be limits. That goes without saying. And yes, there may indeed be things that we simply have to accept we can no longer do, but there is always something we can do to keep everything else well-oiled and optimally functional. It might not be running marathons or power yoga, but it can be a gentle breathing practice or restorative yoga.

Movement is essential in our emotional and mental states as well. They need freedom to flow or we again experience pain or fatigue. We get stuck, frozen in habit. That too makes it harder to recover. Physical movement, even if it’s simply a breath practice, is a great way to process our feelings and shift our mental habits.

Maybe getting past that initial inertia is the hardest part, because once the link is made between how you feel and how much you move, and you begin to recognize and experience the rewards for yourself, you won’t dream of doing yourself the disservice of wallowing in stagnation again. I know it can be scary, but learning to listen to and honor your body is a huge part of any road to true healing. Be encouraged! Get to know that mysterious and magical meatsack you inhabit. Befriend it, just as it is, and let it lead you back to wellness.


Yoga Intentions

When I start teaching a yoga class, I usually guide my students to consider their intent for the class. Another way to put it is, “Why are you here?” I throw out a few suggestions…

“Maybe you’re here to feel more relaxed in day to day life, or maybe you simply want to be more mindful of a sore shoulder as we work today.”

I leave my students to then consider and set their own intent. It’s very open-ended and something they keep to themselves. And at the end of class, I ask them to bring it back to mind and think about whether they feel it was met, has shifted, or if it was forgotten after the first few minutes. There’s no good or bad answer. It’s just something to consider.

Our intentions are not always apparent, though. Why are we doing what we’re doing? Are we at class because we paid for a set of classes? Are we there because we needed to get out of the house…or away from someone? Maybe we’re in class but it’s the last place we actually want to be in that moment. Maybe we’re feeling tired or like we might be coming down with something, and are actually wondering whether or not we should have even come. These motivations are actually just as valid as showing up to stay in shape or to cultivate a quiet mind. It is just as important how we’re showing up as it is why.

To get you thinking out of the box, here are some ways you might answer that question for yourself at the start of your own practice:

  • I love how I feel after a workout. I want to feel great!
  • I intend to burn some calories and lose some weight.
  • I want to be gentle with myself tonight. I’ve been pushing too hard.
  • I’m really worried about _____. I just want to forget for an hour.
  • I want to keep my word to myself. I said I’d be here tonight.
  • I really want to honor my edges tonight. I noticed last week I always push beyond them.
  • I feel some pain or weakness in my _____. I need to stay aware of it even if it means backing out of a pose.
  • I want to feel my own strength.
  • Tonight, I’m going to use props just to see how the poses feel different.
  • I’m going to remember to breathe fully throughout the practice tonight.
  • I feel like crap and I want to get through this and go home.
  • I was feeling lonely and wanted to be around people for awhile.
  • I want to run Reiki while I practice.
  • I want to enjoy myself. That’s all.

Maybe now that the pump has been primed, your own creativity is bringing even more ideas to light. The possibilities are endless with awareness and self-honesty. Your statement then becomes your guiding energy as you work.



Toasted Garlic & Chickpea Soup with Eggs

Today is a gray day. And there’s nothing like warm, comforting food when the sun isn’t shining. Today, I created a very tasty dish inspired by a soup I once had in Peru and an Isreali dish I recently saw served on a foodie show.  It’s quick and easy to make and brings the tastebuds to attention!

Toasted Garlic & Chickpea Soup with Eggs

3 T olive oil
5 cloves of macerated garlic
1 T buillion
1 can of rinsed chickpeas
1 small can of tomato paste
1/4 cup of tomato couli
2 cups of water
A few shakes of Tabasco

Brown the garlic in the olive oil. Add remaining ingredients and simmer.

Prepare eggs over easy and place gingerly on top of the chickpeas. Garnish with a little parsley if on hand.

I had mine for brunch. There was leftover soup, so I served that over pasta the next day.

Learning Yoga Online: Tips for a Great Class

Online yoga videos are a fabulous well-established yoga tool. They are a great way for students to learn new things, gain exposure to various styles, maintain a home practice and have the convenience of access. For teachers, videos are a fun way to share their unique approach, help reinforce learning for clients, and to reach a wider audience.

The only thing missing? Real-time interaction!

Now, with platforms like Zoom, you don’t have to settle for a sterile one-way video experience.  Real-time online connections for yoga students and teachers are a reality now. The virtual studio is helping yoga lovers everywhere to overcome distance and the isolation that home practice can bring. It will never be able to take the place of working with someone in person, but it can fill a void until you can or supplement your current in-person practice.

If you’re unfamiliar with the technology involved, it might seem a little intimidating at first, but the rewards of diving in are worth the initial effort, especially for those with obstacles to attending in-person classes for whatever reason.

Thinking of taking your first ever online yoga class? There are defintely some things to keep in mind to make the experience a great one for both you as a student and for your teacher who wants you to get the most out of each session.

Here are some tips to help ensure everything goes smoothly.


Whether you are using Skype or Zoom or some other platform to link into your virtual classroom, don’t wait until class time to create your account or sign in. Try it out a day or so before class. Get to know what buttons do what. Run a test with a friend to make sure you can be both seen and heard. Then, on the day of class, sign in a few minutes before class starts. If anything goes wrong, you’ll have a cushion of time in which to troubleshoot the problem or contact the teacher.


Some cameras are better than others. Integrated webcams are notorious for a lousy picture.  You don’t necessarily need to go out and buy a new one (mine isn’t perfect either!), but do understand that if your teacher sees a blurry or fuzzy image, it will be harder for them to give you appropriate feedback. Camera views are also crucial and discussed further in “Space”.


This is probably one of the most important things to put in place. Natural sunlight, if it is available, will give the brightest, clearest view. When that isn’t possible, try to use a light source that is directly in front  of you rather than behind you. Light coming from behind might make you a shadow or even disappear in the shadows. This makes it impossible for your teacher to see what you are doing.


You will need to set up a space that is clear for you to move in but also far enough away from the camera that the teacher will be able to see as much of your body on the mat as possible. If the camera is too close, your teacher may only see a portion of any particular pose (or nothing at all!), and while she will still be able to guide you generally, she may be unable to guide you in a more personalized way. If too far, you may be too tiny on your teacher’s screen, especially if there are several others present in any given class.

This is a snapshot from one of my online classes. Most of my body is within camera view.


The other important thing about your space is to make it free of distraction, as much as possible. Put pets in another room. Ask your children or roommates not to disturb you. Turn off TV’s and radios.


Not every yoga teacher uses props, but it is a good idea to have a few things on hand for your own modifications and comfort. If you have yoga blocks and/or a strap, have them close by. But one can always make do with a stack of books, blanket, towel, and a couple of pillows.

The Initial Awkward

If you’ve never used technology in this way before, the first time you find yourself connected to a group of strangers can be disconcerting. Even if it is a private session, it can take a bit of time to settle in. Once you get used to how things look and run and discover the adjustments that you need to make, it gets easier…even exciting and fun.

The other thing to bear in mind is that as amazing and wonderful as technology can be to broaden our world, it is also still subject to all those little things that can go wrong. Connections get dropped, computers crash, power gets cut, sound cards die, batteries drain, and emails get lost or sent to spam. A little patience goes a long way in overcoming these obstacles. Make sure your yoga teacher and/or her provider has policies in place to deal with these snafus.

Seeing and being seen by someone online, in fact, inviting a yoga teacher into your home or office via technology, may seem scary to some of you, but I encourage you to at least give it a try. Once you get used to the newness of it, you’ll come to enjoy all it has to offer… convenience, comfort, and boundless new connections.

Dielle teaches online with and teaches privately via Zoom. Contact her for more information.

Would you like to sample one of Dielle’s online classes? Here’s a free taster of an hour-long gentle exploratory yoga class:

That Which Frees the Mind: The Power of Mantra

Mantra is a word that means “that which frees the mind”, and Japa (or mantra) yoga is the practice of projecting the mind into a repeated word or phrase imbued with spiritual significance. One of the most universally known is the OM, but there are thousands of mantras ranging from one syllable to complete spiritual text recitation, each with very specific uses and purposes.

Japa yoga may not be as popular in the West as asana (or postural yoga), but is in fact, much older and steeped in tradition that many would say is an intergral part of a complete yogic practice. Those who feel meditation is too difficult may find mantra recitation to be their doorway into quiet mind. They work on multiple levels of being, making them incredibly powerful.

Mantras help to focus the mind, aiding memory and concentration. Because they are vibratory, they can elevate our physical being and surroundings as well, reducing stress and even lowering blood pressure. Scientifically speaking, mantras can activate and stimluate the glands in the upper chest, throat and brain, improving the body’s chemical state. Furthermore, mantras create a palpable spiritual force around the practitioner to dissolve negative traits and increase self-empowerment. Besides the practice feels good and it’s fun!

Practices vary from one tradition to the next, so if one style isn’t suitable, another may feel just right. Some mantras are recited silently to one’s self and others are chanted aloud, either with or without accompanying melody or instrumentation. Some are quite easy to learn and others take some time to integrate and may even integrate mudra (or hand gestures).

If you ever feel at wits’ end with stress, 3 to 11 minutes of a well-chosen mantra can alter your state like nothing else and it’s completely safe. Try it and see for yourself. One of my favorite mantras comes from the Kundalini yoga tradition and contains the syllables RA, MA, DA, SA, SAY, SO and HUNG. Known as the Siri Gaitri Mantra, it is simple to learn and considered a sacred healing meditation that calls upon the energies of the sun, moon, earth, and the Infinite Spirit. You can listen to this impeccably beautiful version here by Mirabai Ceiba and see for yourself.

Starting September 28th, I am offering  an hour long chants and mantras practice at my studio here in Brossac. We’ll be learning technique and mantras from Hindu, Tibetan, and Sikh traditions to raise our vibratory frequency and bring healing to body, mind and spirit. No experience necessary. It’ll be “by donation” and open to speakers of all languages and all qualities of voices, from the tone-deaf to the trained. You’ll love the way you feel. Contact me for more information.

Ginger Carrots in Lime with Peanuts

Well, it took quite a while for summer to arrive in France this year, but it’s finally here. Sometimes, the heat wrecks havoc on my appetite. Eating light and raw is easy and healthy. Here’s my latest raw creation perfect for hot summers.

Ginger Carrots in Lime with Peanuts

Grate carrots into a bowl.
Add a T of coconut cream (or olive oil if you prefer).
Add in a can of rinsed white beans.
Juice 1/2 of a lime and pour over carrots.
Finely chop a small spring onion and add to carrots.
Mince a square inch of ginger and a clove of garlic; add to bowl.
Season with salt and cayenne pepper or a splash of Tabasco.
Sprinkle with a handful of roasted peanuts.

Chow down!

Cookie Dough “N”ice Cream

I confess. I am a dessert addict. After I eat lunch or dinner, I always have to have something sweet to seal the meal…even if it is just a dinner mint. But in my efforts to eat less of the bad stuff (not all of it, mind you; just less!), I was thrilled last year to learn the benefits of a marriage between an ice cream maker and ripe bananas.

For this cool treat, you’ll need to have prepared some Yummy “Raw” Chocolate Chip Dough in advance.

Cookie Dough “N”ice Cream

You will need:

  • an ice cream maker
  • three or four ripe bananas
  • an optional splash of vodka or, as I like to use, Bailey’s Irish Cream (just a splash now!)
  • yummy “raw” chocolate chip dough cut into little pieces

Then all you do is mash up the bananas. Add the alcohol (which provides both a nicer taste and texture…yeah, sure Dielle!) and the cookie dough chunks. Stir it up, put it in the machine, and let it do the rest of the work.

It’s so easy. And it is so much better for you than ice cream.

Yummy “Raw” Chocolate Chip Dough

I have confessed to my sweet tooth before. Because it can become a real problem if I’m not careful, I do everything I can to find satisfying alternatives that are delicious and better for me. Then the problem isn’t so much the need for a sweet treat as it is not eating too much!

I adore chocolate chip cookies, but I really don’t like white sugar and white flour. This recipe helps me satisfy my chocolate chip cookie craving, but it’s dead easy, super fast, and much healthier.

Here’s the recipe for one person. It’s good to do it this way at first to get the hang of the texture you want.

Yummy “Raw” Chocolate Chip Dough

Grab a package of refined almond flour (the kind used in pastry making).
Put some in a bowl (as much as you care to eat) and add a pinch of salt.
Sprinkle in some nice dark chocolate chunks or chips.
Add a t. of vanilla.

Now for the tricky part. You can use the sweetener of your choice: maple syrup, honey, or apple sauce. Put in too much and it’s going to be too wet. Put in too little, and it won’t hold together. You don’t need a lot! And in fact, as you mash it all together, you will find you need less than it appeared at first.

Ideally, you want to be able to shape the dough into little bite-sized balls. If it is too sticky, just add more almond flour. (To be quite honest, I rather like it when it is a bit too dusty and crumbly, but I can’t serve it to anyone else like that!)

Once you have cracked the single serving, you’ll be able to make bigger batches on intuition. But don’t eat them all! Put some aside (even freeze ’em) and you can make some Cookie Dough “N”ice Cream too.

Crunchy Fennel & Chickpea Salad

Nom, nom nom. Nothing like food you can really sink your teeth into to satisfy. My latest colorful creation has plenty for you to chew on! Fresh fennel, crunchy sunflower seeds, snappy cucumber, and crisp carrot blend nicely with the flavors of nutty chickpeas and dill.

What I prepared fed me and hubby. But don’t sweat the amounts. Use your eye and trust your gut. That’s part of the fun.

Crunchy Fennel & Chickpea Salad

Chop a medium carrot
Chop a small cucumber.
Chop a spring onion or two.
Slice and then dice some fresh fennel.
Place the veggies in a mixing bowl and shower with the juice of half a lemon.
Rinse canned chickpeas, dry and add to bowl.
Add dill, salt, and pepper to taste.
Add a nice sprinkling of sunflower seeds.
You can also add a dash of balsamic vinegar.
Finish off with some parmesean cheese.

This recipe is wide open for options. Can’t find fennel? Substitute celery instead. No sunflower seeds on hand? How about some chopped almonds?
No parmesean left after last night’s pasta? Feta will do. You get the idea.

Now get munchin’!

Tahini Carrot Salad

Call me crazy, but I get very excited over color. Vibrant colors in my environment makes me smile. There’s something about a bowl full of color that makes a meal all the more appetizing…even if it’s just one color like in this fabulous Tahini Carrot Salad. It’s cruncy, tangy, and entirely satisfying either by itself or on the side of something else.

Tahini Carrot Salad

Peel and then grate as many carrots as desired. I like a nice big chip as opposed to a scrawny little thread. Place the grated carrot in a mixing bowl.

Mix in a mashed clove of garlic and some fresh grated ginger.

Mix the following dressing to taste:

tahini paste
lime juice
olive oil
greek yogurt

Add salt and pepper to taste while humming a happy tune and pour this over your grated carrots. Mix well. Then commence munching. Happy bunny?

Serving Suggestion: This dish looks great alongside and tastes great with Zesty Zucchini Salad.

Zesty Zucchini Salad

One of my favorite restaurants in Asheville where I used to live was raw. I considered dining there a rare treat and never really considered making raw food for myself. I had it in my head it was far too labor intensive…all that slicing, dicing, culturing and sauce making. But lately, I’m having quite a ball exploring the world of easy-to-make raw dishes.

For a couple of years now, I’ve observed myself looking at raw food sites online, fantasizing about the colorful cuisine and dreaming about going off to some raw food cooking school. It finally dawned on me that “not having the right equipment” or “the amount of things I’d need to buy to even start” were not sufficient excuses to just diving in.

I’ve been asking myself lately the things in life that bring me the most joy. Healthy food certainly fits that bill…both in the making and the eating. So I decided no more excuses. I’d start simply and work my way up.

Not one for following recipies to the letter, ever, I skimmed some “easy raw food recipes” online to get a sense of the ingredients and ways to prepare things. Then I worked with what I had and made some experiments.

I’ve been loving my raw food creations so much that I decided to share some of them here with all of you. I love food. I love the way it looks and the way it tastes. But I’m also a very picky eater. There are many foods I just won’t eat no matter how “gourmet” they are. Food should elevate the body, mind and spirit. Food should be fresh and full of life…and prepared with the highest intentions. I hope you try this dish and discover just how easy and enjoyable it can be to eat  raw too!

Zesty Zucchini Salad

Dice or spiral some fresh, organic zucchinis (about three cups worth) pondering the springy texture, subtle fragrance, and rich green skins.

Place in a mixing bowl with the following to taste:

chopped scallion
chopped red chilis
juice of half a lemon
crumbled feta cheese
crumbled brazil nuts
and maybe a T of olive oil
soy sauce and/or salt
black pepper

Mix while reciting the mantra, “OMmy goodness!” and eat!

Serving suggestion:
Zesty Zucchini Salad looks awesome beside and tastes great together with my Tahini Carrot Salad.

Movement for Life

All of life is movement. The moment we’re born we’re wriggling, pandiculating, breathing, and finding our way through space. We explore and thereby learn to master our movements. Or we struggle, and the body, miraculous organism that it is, finds a way to overcome our limitations. It’s those patterns that we then habituate.

And then one day, our bodies start to change and we wonder why it is suddnely too hard to do the things we’ve always done. Maybe we’re just exhausted, or maybe we lift something or sleep funny or fall and suddenly, something hurts, be it our back or a shoulder or knee. We do our usual workout and suddenly discover our bones ache. We think “arthritis” or worse. The panic sets in and we wonder how badly we might have hurt ourselves and what we need to do to about it: ignore it and hope it goes away, see a doctor, self-treat?

Aside from the decision about what to do about our injured part and assuming we haven’t broken anything, we have two basic choices thereafter. We can either stop moving to ensure that we don’t risk further pain or injury, or we can continue to move in safe ways so our body stays limber and fluid.

Sadly, many of us choose to stop moving. We fear the discomfort, pain or effort, so we hold back. We rest, thinking we’re doing ourselves a favor. Trouble is, when we stop moving, it gets harder to move. When it gets harder to move, we move even less. When we stop moving, we rather suddenly age. We lose the freedom that movement brings. We stop doing the things we enjoy.

The better choice, the important choice, is to keep moving. Maybe we have to make changes. Maybe that mile run needs to turn into laps in the pool. Maybe the Ashtanga yoga practice needs to become more restorative. The important thing is to keep the body moving to keep it young and to fully enjoy life.

We used to look at the body as a set of individual parts…the knee bone’s connected to the thigh bone, the thigh bone’s connected to the hip bone, etc. The latest science of movement has revealed that the body isn’t just a bunch of isolated parts. It’s a unified whole tied together by tension lines called fascia.

Fascia needs movement to stay healthy. When we injure a “part”, the fascia is what knits together to protect the injury. This tissue then becomes less flexible. The problem is, the fascia is connected from head to toe. It’s all one. So if one part of the fascia is tight, it impacts the entire body.

It’s the resistance that makes us say, “It’s too hard!” But if we stop moving, that body-wide tension becomes habit and ages us before our time.  We see it in bodies that are bent over, hunched, and  crooked — signs of a body doing its utmost to guard the still-tender wounds of life.  We need movement to break this rigidity that can settle both deep in the body and eventually the mind.

When people who don’t practice yoga look at yoga, they think, “Oh, I can’t do that!” But what’s important is not some twisted up, contortionist posture. What IS important is movement. Just keep moving — as much or as little as your body allows and preferably in ways that free you from habits. Practicing sports can be great for well-being, but they can also be great at reinforcing imbalance. Certain muscle groups are built up (as necessary to engage in the sport) and others are forsaken. That’s why exploratory yoga and improvisational forms of dance are so wonderful. Practiced with a sense of curiosity and adventure, you’re more likely to discover new ways to move and bring enjoyment and liberation to your body.




Whooz Yer Guru? Getting Over “Guru” Baggage

The word “guru” gets a really bad rap these days, and for good reason. There are those who make claim to “my guru” like having one is some kind of spiritual goalpost. They quote their guru, usually in an attempt to convince themselves of the teaching, pretending as if they already embody it. It’s a real turn-off.

Plus there are a growing number of news stories about unethical gurus taking advantage of their followers, the recent Wild Wild Country series on Netflix being one such example of the possible and/or perceived danger of gurus. And there is a danger…the danger of putting your responsibility for your life in the hands of another or actually thinking that gurus aren’t people too, with the same weaknesses of character we all face.

There also seem to be a lot more self-proclaimed gurus out there these days. So many think they are enlightened and that what they have to say is worth the hundreds or even thousands of dollars they charge to share it. Maybe it is. Maybe it isn’t.

But what is a guru anyway? Guru simply means teacher or guide. It means “dispeller of darkness”, more specifically. The word is quite simple, though its connotation has been made so complex.

It unfortunate that people will discount a message because it comes from someone considered a guru, as if that word alone would render the message meaningless. Life-altering messages are often discounted because the person offering it is of a certain age, race, or religion…or because they dress funny or wear too many rings. It’s sad that valuable messages can be so obscured by our own judgments.

It is also unfortunate that there are those who will bow down to another, as if everything they are searching for is to be found outside their own knowing. It is a sad, hellish trap when we can blame others for our inadequacies or misunderstandings. It is a denial that ensures a lifetime of suffering.

Neither approach really works. We’re either defending ourselves against new perspectives or we’re relinquishing our inner power to some image. The thing that matters is the message, not the person sharing it. How long will it take us to break out of our “shoot (or bow to) the messenger” mentality?

It’s time to get over our “guru” baggage. We are all just human beings. Some of are better at accessing humanity-wide relevant wisdom than others. Some have gone so deeply inward that they now see so much more clearly than the rest. But none of us are capable of knowing what is true for another. It could also be said that every single one of us is a teacher to someone. Why do so many feel the need to judge another’s teacher if they feel they are getting from that teacher something that gives them insight or peace?

I’d been warned in the past by well-meaning friends not to put my faith in some guru. I wonder why they felt the need to tell me that? I’ve never put a teacher on that much of a pedestal. Respect, yes. Trust, yes. Devotion, maybe. But I have never been at risk of losing myself in that. I know who I am, and I know that the teachers who come and go from my life are only representatives of something far more mysterious and far greater than the human form they may take.

Don’t let the word “guru” stop you from discovering what is inside of you. I am my own guru. And so are you. We are each the dispeller of darkness in our own lives. We are each the experts on our own experiences. No one can ever play that role for another, not entirely. We can learn much from each other, no question. We can inspire each other with our wise words and perspectives. We will be attracted to those whose message resonates and not to others. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t make one message superior to another just because at this point in time it resonates with you. That spiritual materialism needs to go too.

I gotta laugh when people make fun with comments like, “Everyone thinks he’s a guru” because the truth is, we all are…just not to anyone but ourselves.

Seated Posture: Prop Yourself Up!

Yoga is often believed to be about some ideal end point. Many students will strive to assume a posture they have seen another body do without taking into consideration everything it may have taken to get there. But when we aren’t initiating movement from the proper starting point, we risk injuring ourselves.

I always give my students options for sitting. I even offer the couch when I know we’ll be seated for some time. I’m always amazed that so few will take the options available, preferring instead to fit the picture they have in their heads of yogic sitting (I’ve been guilty of that too!). But there’s absolutely no shame in using props to achieve a more comfortable seat. In fact, it’s a sign of intelligence and body awareness. I hope this helps  you understand why when it comes to sitting criss-cross-applesauce, also known as Indian style or easy pose.

Note in the picture below that the back is straight and the shoulders relaxed. That’s good and may be comfortable. However, the knees are just slightly higher than the hips, and that might cause problems:

In the next photo, the back is clearly strained, the knees are much higher than the hips, and the shoulders are at the ears. It’s actually not that uncommon to see people sitting like this in a yoga class. There’s an easy fix.

Simply place a block, rolled blanket, or cushion (or any combination until it feels “just right”) beneath your hips to raise them up:

Voila! The knees drop below the hips and everything else can relax upright:

Now let’s take a look at a seated forward fold (paschimottanasana). If the hamstrings permit, it is possible to sit upright, legs straight, both sit bones on the ground, shoulders relaxed:

From there, one folds forward at the hips and is able to extend toward the toes:

But if your starting seated posture is hunched or rounded, head dropping forward of the shoulders like this…

…the seated forward fold might look more like this photo below. The hamstrings aren’t getting the stretch. There’s no deep flexion at the hips and all the work is coming from the upper back, which can lead to injury. Plus, with the chest collapsed, what’s happening with the breath?

The fix is again quite simple. Just place that block (blanket or cushion) under your seat.

Now your spine is able to remain upright and your pelvis is not pouring out behind you in a posterior tilt:

From there, the forward fold is once again happening where it should, saving the body from excessive pressure, strain and injury. Though not pictured, it is also perfectly acceptable to bend your knees (or use a strap around the feet). In fact, it would have allowed me to lengthen my spine rather than collapse over my chest as I did:


Of course, once we move into a pose, we also need to move out of it safely. A picture can be worth a thousand words, but it can also be misleading. What one body can do with comfort and without strain doesn’t necessarily translate to another body.  So use these photos as guides, not superlatives.

Even with these modifications to a posture, it is still essential to listen to your body, taking your time to journey into the fold, easing off when the body tells you to. Forward folds may be contraindicated for people with lower back issues, osteoporosis, or women in the late stages of pregnancy.

Sometimes, students tend to think of props as a last resort or get the idea that using them is somehow cheating. That’s a mindset that helps no one. Would you begrudge a person his glasses in order to read? Yoga isn’t about some ideal posture that every body should attain. It is about the ideal posture for your body. Make sure you give your body every advantage in your practice.

Listening to the Body: The Language of Sensation

An ever-increasing awareness of your body can be one of the many benefits of yoga. It helps us to bring balance to the body by working neglected muscle groups. It improves our overall strength and flexibility. It helps us develop a better lung capacity and focus of mind, among other things. It can.

Yet, we live in a world where performance seems to be everything. Competition infiltrates what is meant to be fun. Striving, self-improvement, and “doing it right” can all lead us down a path toward injury, away from a deeper body awareness, away from the true meaning of yoga, “union”.

One of the most critical aspects of body awareness is recognizing when something we are doing is causing (or will eventually cause) us trouble. Sometimes, pushing through discomfort makes us stronger, as when we add a few extra squats after the thigh burn sets in. Sometimes, that pushing injures us, as when we ignore the knee about to snap from one too many squats! Body awareness is about learning to distinguish the difference. Here are some important things to keep in mind.

No Pain No Gain is a Load of *%&$!

First of all, pain is NEVER a good thing. Who ever started the rumor “no pain, no gain” had ultior motives, perhaps to prove something to his own ego or perhaps to get others to bow to his (or her) biddings. Think about it, how deeply that meme has rooted itself into our consciousness! Consider how many times you’re heard it on TV or in movies, read it in books, heard it in gyms or even said it yourself to justify self-abuse. “Pain? Abstain!” is far more helpful a mantra. So the first and foremost rule of movement is that pain means you must modify or stop. Period. There’s no such thing as “good pain”.

When is Discomfort Okay?

When is discomfort okay in our workouts or routines? It might be helpful to distinguish whether we lean towards under or over-achievement in our lives. If we’re big strivers, then discomfort may be a little too close to pain. If we are underachievers, enduring some discomfort can help us break out of our limitations.

One way to think about it is whether or not the signals coming from your body are shrouded in thought or not. When we are pushing against the mind more than the body, the mind will grumble loudly about how difficult something is and that it doesn’t want to continue. As long as you don’t have pain sensations telling you otherwise, it is usually safe to push past a resistant mind’s discomfort. This is how we build endurance and resilience. Problem is, for many of us, we’ve lost the ability to distinguish mind from body. In fact, the mind is just as likely to tell us we can push a little bit harder. It can’t be trusted! Well, maybe mind over matter comes in handy in crisis situations when walking on a broken ankle is the difference between life or death, but that’s exceptional.

Pain, actual pain, tends to send a very clear signal that the mind doesn’t need to interpret. Discomfort, absent of actual pain on the other hand, is trickier to decipher, so don’t leave it to logic. The body just knows, intuitively. Trust what it communicates.

Other Danger Signals

Are there other sensations, apart from what one would label as “pain”, that are pretty good signals that we’ve entered dangerous territory? Yes!  If we experience intensifying pressure, feel dizziness, start buckling under the strain, notice we’re holding our breath when we’re supposed to be breathing, or are gripping in such a way that there is more tension than ease in the body, we’ve already pushed ourselves too far and need to let up! Stop. Release. Reassess.

The Language of Sensation

When we develop a vocabulary that helps us identify what we actually feel, it can help us determine a course of action. When you get feedback from your body, can you describe it? Does it burn or sear, tingle or pulse? Is it shaky, prickly or clenched? Numb? Radiating? Disconnected? Are you feeling nauseous, is your muscle tender, or is your heart racing or fluttery?

I’ll often ask students, “Is it the good kind or a bad kind?” when they express discomfort with a movement or pose. This helps them clarify whether what they are experiencing is benign or harmful.

Chest pain doesn’t necessarily mean a heart attack nor does a throbbing ache mean you’ve pulled something. Usually, it just means we need to relax and let go for awhile. Rest, recover. Developing a sensory vocabulary can help us more deeply feel and understand what’s going on inside of us, help us regulate ourselves back to ease and comfort, and if necessary, help us describe the sensation to someone else, be it a teacher or health practitioner, making it easier for them to help.

We can’t fix what we don’t notice! Body Awareness is a multidimensional skill that takes time and consistent willingness to awaken and hone. The more we do it, the more we notice what is and isn’t working, what does and doesn’t feel pleasurable. It is crucial for our well-being as well as an impetus for creativity and change. What we discover on the mat we eventually take with us into our daily lives as we learn to live with more ease and pleasure, too.



Yoga & Anger Management

Ever beaten up a pillow? Ever driven to an empty parking lot and screamed your head off? Ever swallowed a wad of anger only to feel sick to your stomach afterwards?

Anger exists. It is a natural emotion and one from which we can run but never hide. Eventually, it will catch up to us. In the meantime, both suppressing and/or overindulging it can actually do irreversible damage to the body’s systems, verified by studies done at both Boston and Columbia Universities.
Depression, anxiety, heart problems, IBS, addictions even cancer all have a relationship with anger.

We all get angry. No one is above anger. Not even the Dalai Lama:

“You never stop getting angry about small things. In my case, it’s when my staff do something carelessly, then my voice goes high. But after a few minutes, it passes.”

The important thing is to recognize signs of anger early, admit them, and face them…without judgment. It isn’t easy to do. Often, our minds are jumping on such negative emotions, convincing us we don’t feel what we actually do…or that we shouldn’t. So what are some signs that anger is arising? Look for:

  • Tension in the jaw or neck or gut
  • Changes in the tone or volume of your voice
  • Irritiability
  • Shutting others out
  • Sarcasm or passive aggressive behaviors
  • Feeling hot “under the collar”
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Pacing
  • Craving an addiction

There’s no question that anger is a strong force. It can make us very uncomfortable whether we are on the giving or receiving end of it. It is an emotion very tied into childhood experiences, the self-image we work to maintain, the stories our minds tell, and the truth about how we feel about ourselves. Many of us have been brought up to believe that anger is a bad thing to be avoided at all costs. We’re constantly lambasted with moral ideas of anger being a base emotion that benefits no one, that it is something to overcome. Perhaps it is, but the overcoming of it takes hard work.

To put it quite simply, people deal with anger in one of 2 ways: they hold it in, either conscicously or unconsiously or they let it out, either consciously or unconsciously. Generally, it’s usually the unconscious variety! We stuff our feelings of anger so as not to destroy that “nice person” self image we’ve constructed or to keep from hurting others, but what often results is self-inflicted stress. On the other hand, if we act out our anger, we very often do so with unnecessary aggression or even violence. Obviously, that serves no one. Where’s the middle ground?

Some would say that we need to practice the mindful approach to anger: we need to be aware when we are angry and watchful of our response to it. From my own experience, I don’t think mindfulness is enough. We also have to find safe passage for the energy of anger so it can be expressed and released safely. If we don’t, that energy accumulates, and we’re left with the building blocks of frustration and eventual illness.

Anger doesn’t have to be scary or throw us off balance. In fact, the energy of anger can be used productively and constructively. Various tools for helping us do just that exist. Yoga, specifically kundalini yoga, offers some very powerful techniques for allowing, accepting, expressing and transmuting anger. With our anger in check, we can then genuinely work toward cultivating more enlightened states of being like compassion and equanimity. Sure we can cultivate those things without addressing our anger, but the anger will be there, under the surface, undermining you and shading your vibe.

Do you have outdated ideas about anger that may be affecting your health? Need a new tool for dealing more constructively with the energy of anger? Here’s a video of a powerful kundalini yoga kriya for cooling the flames of anger:

Beginners: 3 Things You Need to Know About Yoga

If you are new to the world of yoga and are thinking about or have just started a new practice, here are three crucial things to keep in mind and on track.

Breath is Key

Many people approach yoga with the pose as their goal. This is not suprising given that the postures are the outward physical representation of a much deeper inner process which can’t be photographed. Poses, on the other hand, are frequently used to depict the practice of yoga. Extreme postures are celebrated in photography or found peppering the pages of instagram. But the pose, especially some idyllic pose of perfection, is secondary to something else…the breath.

If you move your way into a pose and forget to breath on the journey, let alone can’t breath when you get there, you’ve lost your yoga. I’m not referring to breath practices commonly found in kundalini yoga where the breath is intentionally held; I’m talking about every other time when the breath is meant to continually function in an integrated manner.

If you’re holding your breath, it’s a definite, clear signal that A) you’re distracted for any number of reasons, possibly because you’re learning something new B) you’re trying too hard and overexerting yourself and/or C) you’ve lost your connection to yourself and are not in your body. In any case, bring your attention back to your body, ease off the pose, restore comfort, reconnect to the breath, and then repeat as often as necessary until the breath can move freely and easily. And hey, it’s a practice. Even seasoned yogis need reminders.

I like to tell my students to be greedy for oxygen…that this is one time and place where greed is okay.

Emotional Release Can Come Out of Nowhere

This one can be really disconcerting for newbies. Our bodies hold onto tension and stress that we haven’t fully processed. As we move our bodies, in new ways and old, and breathe more fully, that tension and stress can finally find its release. Emotions can unexpectedly rise to the surface as we practice, making us feel tender and vulnerable, anxious or self-conscious. Whatever happens, let it flow! Tears are not all that rare in yoga classes. No one will be shocked or rush to your side to embarrass you. In fact, yoga class is a great safe place to let it out. And you’ll feel much better, too.

If something is too much for you, you can also stop and rest. You can leave the room, too. Do whatever is necessary to comfort yourself, have space and feel safe.

I often share my own story of the first time I ever practiced kundalini yoga. I was doing a movement in frog pose and just started bawling. It came as a complete and somewhat bewildering shock. I didn’t even know why I was crying. Something just got released. I felt great afterwards and fell into love with kundalini practices from that point on. This may have been the first such experience, but it wasn’t the last. It’s just something that happens sometimes.

What Feels Weird Now (or Good) May (Not) Feel Great Later

Our bodies are in constant flux. What we can do one day we may not be able to do the next. Likewise, what we couldn’t do today may actually come easily another day. This is so important to understand because otherwise, you may think you are losing ground when you’re actually just experiencing a natural ebb and flow.

There are things I could not do when I first started practicing yoga. For example, I remember the first time a teacher told me to spread my toes as I stood in Tadasana/Mountain Pose. I looked over at his bizarre feet, gaping space between each toe, and then at my own…no space. I kept trying to get my toes to move apart. Nothing. Not even a fraction! Today, I can spread my toes without much thought.

Then again, when I was much younger, doing Urdhva Dhanurasana/Wheel Pose was a piece of cake. These days, I have to do a lot of preparatory fascia work before I can attempt what is these days a somewhat deflated wheel! It’s essentail to honor your body where it is each and every day and enter into your practice as if for the very first time.

In fact, it’s okay not to do certain poses if you are feeling fragile or unsure about them on any given day. I’ve been in classes where I’ve quietly done a completely different posture than the one being taught because I felt a little weak or “off”.

Yoga is an amazing journey, but it can be unnecessarily difficult if one approaches it from the wrong angle, causing a myriad of problems or bad habits. Be smart from the start. Let your breath be your guide. Lean into the emotions and feelings if may stir up. And above all, honor and listen to that amazing, complex organism of yours. It’s the only real guru in the room!

Learning to Slow Down

I admit it. I’ve never been known for my patience. I’ve always been the person passing everyone out on the sidewalk even though I’m not heading anywhere. I’ve been the one watching the clock…be it at work or play. Only in hindsight do I see all the ways that has caused me trouble. My timing has always been slightly off as I pushed things through, made things happen, or gave up way too early. I’ve screwed up or missed out on many of life’s opportunities thanks to this mentality. Years ago, I can remember being introduced to Feldenkrais thinking, “My god, what sort of torture is this!” for the meticulous, minute, and turtle-paced movements it required.

Now that I am older and wiser, I recognize the price I’ve paid for my inability to simply wait, and recently, I’ve discovered a new joy in slowing down. I don’t doubt that meditation has helped, but it was more the result of my recent yoga training and explorations into somatic movement. Now, I finally understand the immense value in slowing down.

With  my interest in human consciousness and evolution, I’ve been working with a particular type of electronica music created by Shapeshifter DNA of Visionary Music for years. JoAnn Chambers, one of the creators, would regularly encourage movement to deepen one’s experience with the music. Though I would dabble in movement with the music, I usually found it too slow and spacey. There was no rhythm, no inspiration to move me. It was a block for me which I tried to move past unsuccessfully.  I was more comfortable to sleep and dream with the music. It was also great to just listen to it in the background of my busy life or while driving. So, I worked with the music in those other ways, and I moved my body to different music, music that was somehow more predictable and danceable.

But recently, I learned how to engage with the music in a new way. It is outside the kind of dancing I am used to. It is me slowing down, even stopping. It is me waiting…patiently…until something moves. In fact, it is not always me dancing at all. It is me being danced or dancing with myself. And that dance is sometimes happening on the unobservable, cellular level.

Through it, I am exploring and communicating with the miraculous world of fascia, the connective tissues that run in various tension lines through the body. It is a watery world, a mysterious world, in which one tiny movement in one location creates cascades of movement everywhere. Fascia is so incredibly sensitive, so aware. And this type of moving is so healing, because it gently reveals places of tightness and adhesion, imbalance and rigidity.

When I teach movement classes, I always encourage my students to slow down, and I see them struggle with it. It is so contrary to our conditioning to go slow. Even when some students attempt to slow down, they don’t yet know that they’re still moving 5x too fast! I get it. I was one of them. To be honest, I still struggle with slowing things down. But I have the experience now to know doing so is important to the skills of deep listening, observation, and discovery.

It is only in slowing down that we can actually become aware of our choices, not just in movement on the dance floor, but in life. We can hear the quiet messages not just of the body, but of the spirit, that so easily get overridden. We can learn timing. We can learn to trust the flow. And maybe most importantly, we can begin to comprehend in a microcosmic way the universal truth of oneness…how one small thing ripples through and affects everything else.

Here is a video of an embodied movement exploration using Shapeshifter DNA’s Shamanic Dreamtime:

Music: Shamanic Dreamtime Intro by ShapeshifterDNA Visionary Music & Multimedia Support Temple of the Divine MUSE

Are We Meditating Yet?

Meditation is wildly popular and its benefits repeatedly proven by science. There are groups of meditators all over the globe — in ahsrams, in offices, in neighborhoods, churches, schools, and health centers. Maybe you’ve even taken up a practice yourself. Would you be shocked if I told you that you may or may not actually be meditating?

“Then what they heck do you think I’m doing when I make that commitment to sit on a cushion or chair, close my eyes, and cease all activity?” you may be thinking. Well, it depends!

Usually, we are simply preparing for or practicing to meditate. We are concentrating our mind. We are strengthening our awareness of our awareness. We are watching our sensations, thoughts, and feelings. But all of these things are “a doing”. True meditation is not a doing. It is beyond doing.

Beyond the doing is where we discover actual meditation. It’s when the body stills, the mind quiets, and the watcher of it all dissolves into something bigger, like a drop of salt water in an ocean. It is completely effortlessness. We are not sitting and meditating. We no longer identify as a mere person. We see with the eyes of the Divine.

And the eyes of Spirit are not so enticed by visions and memories, fantasies and imaginings. The eyes of Spirit remain outside of time. Concepts are recognized as empty, meaningless…even the idea of meditating.


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