Practice, contemplation, and insights

It’s Easy When the Weather is Beautiful (and Ananda)

The light woke me early on this summer solstice. The sky is bright blue, the air clear and pleasantly temperate, the mountains lushly green, and friends surround me. The practice yesterday was lustrous, and the next two days promise to be equally delightful.

The delight from being surrounded by beauty and good friends can give us a taste of the possibilities of experiencing true bliss. As the surface enjoyment of being on vacation (albeit an extraordinarily good one), though, it has a shadow side, just as the picture below of a smiling ganesha at the base of a tree in the middle of a heart is flanked by a fire hydrant and a pile of trash bags.

It is really easy to imagine ananda — divine bliss, under these circumstances. It is important for all of us to find moments within our means when it is easy to experience the spark of spontaneous happiness. When it is challenging to find it, when grief or hardship confront us, it is ever more important to be able to tap into a space of bliss so that we can bring the most light to our challenges. Having the sweet times helps us find it in the bitter.

Ananda, John reminded us at the afternoon philosophy lecture yesterday, is the joy that has no opposite. It is a deep contentment with what is–hearts and trees and fire hydrants and trash bags and all–that fully accepts the play of opposites.

Those of us who do not know and live ananda spontaneously and naturally all of the time have the yoga. We challenge ourselves on the mat, knowing the exhilaration of heart opening and the challenge of stiffness; we sit for meditation on good days and bad, finding sometimes the pulsing, vibration of the fullness of consciousness and other times our to do list; we practice pranayama to open our energy channels; we chant to remind ourselves of why we practice: to open our hearts and discover the best in ourselves and in all beings.

Happy solstice to all and hope see you soon for the yoga.

Peace and light, E — Posted with WordPress for BlackBerry.


Lady Macbeth (and Bhavana)

The young woman sitting next to me on the train north from New York, who is impossibly tall and has lovely, strong features (i.e., is perfectly cast), is memorizing Lady Macbeth’s lines.

I had on my own lap print-outs of mantras that Paul Muller-Ortega has invited us to memorize as part of our continuing studies.

To enter the character of Lady Macbeth, one of the first steps is to memorize the lines, to know completely what she says and not just to hear it and appreciate it. Memorizing the lines is an essential part of the route to becoming Lady Macbeth.

Paul Muller-Ortega has suggested that the reason to memorize various mantras is not to acquire them, not to be able to demonstrate a superficial knowledge or skill, but to aid in the profound practice of
bhavana–deep contemplation at the heart level. It is not the fact of memorization, but the activity of memorizing. It is no accident that we call memorizing, “knowing by heart.” We seek to learn by heart to invite ourselves into the space of concentration that requires. It is a slow and difficult process for me. I persist, though, because of the deepening and expanding understanding it facilitates.

I note for those yogis (and other readers) who might find the idea of learning mantras alien or uncomfortable or apparently at odds with your own religious beliefs or practices, that studying the mantras does not require or make one a Hindu. I think of it as an invitation to understand and embody the highest archetypes and principles they invoke and represent and compatible with my other observances.

Peace and light, E — Posted with WordPress for BlackBerry.


The “Highest First” and Knowing What Is a Weed

Webster’s On-Line Dictionary defines a “weed” as”any plant growing in cultivated ground to the injury of the crop or desired vegetation, or to the disfigurement of the place; an unsightly, useless, or injurious plant.”  At first blush, this might seem like an easy concept, but if we start breaking down the definition, we can see how much our education, assumptions, and prejudices come into play in deciding what is a weed and what is not.  We need to recognize individual plants (when they first come out of the earth and when they are in full leaf or flower) and what they offer.  We need to know how to foster growth of what we choose to plant, including knowing what will thrive in our location and bring more health and beauty to ourselves and the planet, and we need to have a sense of aesthetics that will cultivate not only our connection to spirit, but optimize the shining through of spirit in all that surrounds us.

Several years ago, I bought a sprig of epazote in a two inch grower’s pot.  It went to seed and came back all over my little garden.  It grows wild beside highways where it is a native plant.  I really like the taste, and it is hard to find here, so I give seedlings away to friends who want it for their own gardens (locals just ask, and I’ll give you some).  It is one plant I know I do not have to replace; it will come back every year if I let it go to seed.  If I had not controlled it by taking it out of prime planting spaces and either using it right away or replanting it someplace nothing else will grow, though, it would be crowding out other plants in a way that is less than optimal.  It is thus both a desired plant and a potentially invasive weed depending on how it fits in with the whole.

I have seen neighbors using Roundup to kill purslane and dandelions that have grown up between the bricks on the sidewalk in front of their houses.  Although I think both purslane and dandelions are pretty plants and perfect for spots where nothing else will grow, I can appreciate wanting the front of the house to look tidy.  Why not pick the free edible plants instead of spraying toxic chemicals?  I let edible wild plants come up between the crevices and then either relocate them or treat weeding as harvesting, getting incredible flavor and nutrition from something that most are taught to try and eradicate.

There are other plants that are sufficiently invasive or poisonous, though, that I do my best to eliminate them from my space (though I do not use pesticides).  The other day, I was walking down East Capitol Street after teaching the William Penn House class and saw some English Ivy climbing up a beautiful tree in one of the sidewalk tree boxes.  I stopped to pull it all off because English Ivy left unchecked will kill a tree.  While engaged in this activity an older couple who lived in the house next to the tree walked up to me and my fellow yogi who was helping me with the ivy removal.  The woman thanked me, saying that she had been meaning to pull the ivy.  Ivy is an example of a plant people think is pretty and appropriate to plant, but it does not belong in our climate and is incredibly destructive.  By my lights, it is a weed, even though I can buy it in most nurseries in the area.  I am blessed not to have poison ivy where I live, but it should be removed.  It is too hard to live with it.

What does determining whether a plant is truly a weed, whether it causes injury or interferes with what is desired or is unsightly, useless or injurious have to do with the “first principle” in Anusara yoga of “opening to grace?”  The first principle invites us to be ready in the first instance to recognize the auspiciousness of both what we seek out and what we encounter.  In teaching meditation and related practices of Blue Throat Yoga, Paul Muller-Ortega speaks of this as “the highest first.”  As we study and practice (jnana/vijnana), we approach the same and new things with ever more refined technique, knowledge and understanding.  The progressive refinement from our efforts helps us then to open up to a deeper perception of the best of our nature.  We keep repeating the cycle of studying and practicing, always remembering the first principle, and we, despite and because of ourselves, shift our relationship with the world around and inside us.  To be open is a softness, a spaciousness, a willingness to see that is without effort.  We temper what gets in the way of effortless opening with the fire to study and to practice with the intention learn how to be more effortless in understanding how things are part of the whole.

How do we apply first principle in knowing what to weed from our garden (or, for that matter, how to address in ourselves a physical, mental or emotional characteristic or pattern of behavior that may or may not serve us or both–our individual “weeds”)?

Is the “desired” vegetation a desire that would help align the gardener and the garden with nature or is it something that was taught that comes from an unsustainable aesthetic and social paradigm (for example, a perfectly green lawn with no plants other than grass)?  If the crop is one that truly nourishes (so worth preserving from injury or interference), does it just mean that the “weed” needs to be relocated so that both the crop and the “weed” can flourish simultaneously?  In other words, is the “weed” beneficial in its own way, but just needs to be shifted so that its inherent good can truly be appreciated and honored?

Is a determination of injuriousness, uselessness, or unsightliness based on ignorance or true discriminative wisdom?  We cannnot know unless we both sweetly open to recognize the potential for discovering the good in what seems most harmful (perhaps one day scientists will find an extraordinary benefit from poison ivy, just as the deadly poisonous plant digitalis is also a powerful heart medicine) and continue to study and practice with an intention to open ever more deeply.


From left to right: volunteer epazote, lemon balm, purslane and dill.  Dinner:  black beans flavored with epazote; greens, including purslane.  Lemon balm (aka melissa) makes a delicious and quieting evening tea.


The Capitoline Venus (and Sruti)

The Capitoline Venus arrived in DC last week from Rome–the first time this circa 200 CE sculpture has been out of Rome in nearly 200 years. What makes it especially beautiful is the apparent softness of flesh of the cool, carved marble, the seeming etherealness of the ancient solid stone.

Looking at the Venus made me think about how carving in stone can help us understand the concept of sruti. The hindu scriptures generally are classified as either sruti (revealed) or smriti (remembered) and until recent centuries were passed on through oral tradition. Those scriptures that are sruti are said to have been revealed by a divine source to the original listener. They were already there as part of the wholeness of the universe and then manifested to a particular enlightened being in a way that could be witnessed and passed on. The essence of the text was always already present, but not tangible, until it was revealed in the mind of a listener, who then passed it on.

Carving in marble takes both the emergence of idea and form in the mind/imagination of the artist and the revealing of that idea from the original stone by the craft of the artist. The sculptor has studied and practiced art and is always open to the emerging into consciousness of a particular image or idea, just as the great yogis continuously meditated and studied, open to what might be revealed.

As the sculptor may find the block of marble first or have the idea and then go looking for the right stone to express the idea, the yogi pulses between experiencing spirit and enhancing the experience through practice. It is not just an act of imagination that builds and creates something out of nothing. To some extent, the form of the final sculpture is already there in the stone. The work of the artist is to remove that part of the stone that is obscuring the witnessing and expression of the exquisite shape revealed from within by the educated and painstaking act of making art.

Peace and light, E — Posted with WordPress for BlackBerry.


Two Ways of Looking at Things (and Women: Count Your Apertures)

My studies today (it is a very rare day that I do not read some of a yoga text or commentary) included a mention of the body’s nine openings. The yoga treatises ubiquitously mention the “nine openings” of the body through which prana enters or leaves (is dissipated). Certain practices are designed to open the tenth, which is an energetic opening that corresponds to the fontenelle at the crown of a baby’s head.

A few month’s ago, my astute friend Jane, who has given birth and nursed, pointed out that a woman has 12, not nine openings.

What is a woman to do in response to this apparent disconnect or male exclusivity? Reject out of hand the teachings as only being misogynistic and of limited utility because they originated for male physiology and not female? Interpret the teachings and correlative practices as being based on the anatomical and energetic openings common to both sexes? Deeply explore the practices relating to this teaching and discover whether there are subtle ways to modify and reinterpret and apply the teachings and practices to address the lack of reference to and recognition of the three crucial additional openings that are fundamental to a woman’s being?

Guess which of these I am most likely to advocate and practice.

Peace and light, E — Posted with WordPress for BlackBerry.


Article About Anusara Yoga and Aging

Congratulations and thanks for my friends and fellow Anusara yoga instructors, Kathy Carroll and Ellen Saltonstall for publishing, Effects of Anusara Yoga on Older Students From Their Perspective (Topics in Geriatric Rehabilitation • Volume 27, Number 2, 94–103 • Copyright © 2011 Wolters Kluwer Health | Lippincott Williams & Wilkins).  They are both great teachers and warm spirits.  Check out one of their classes when you have a chance.

A big thanks, too, for the regulars at the William Penn House class who graciously allowed themselves to be photographed.



June Greetings (Web Version of June E-Newsletter)

Dear Friends,

One of the yoga practices in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras is sauca, which means cleanliness or purity.  It does have a basic aspect of physical cleanliness, which has lead me this year to do an especially vigorous spring cleaning.  I think following the principle of saucra also applies to the clarity of our intention for the practice of yoga:  are we seeking to experience and act from a place of deep connection to spirit (or good or oneness or divine or whatever you name it)?  In practicing sauca, I think the most basic question is whether we have dust on the mirror that reflects the good in ourselves obscuring our vision, whether there are blockages to the energy flowing to bring us to optimal physical and emotional health, or whether anything is getting in the way of our manifesting our intention?

When it has been too hot to go into the garden over the past month, I have been reorganizing and sorting through old papers.  As a once every five or ten years spring cleaning, it is lasting longer than usual.  I tend to be good about keeping on top of these things, but there are crevises of old records of my life that seem to just get stuck back into a folder to be decided on some other time.  This afternoon I came across intimate letters from a friend who, not long after we went our separate what had become cross-continental ways with regret on both sides, discovered he had brain cancer.  There were a few notes not in envelopes.  I reread those, but did not open the envelopes.  Back into the miscellaneous file until the next time.  The same with the print-outs of emails to and from Peru right after 9/11.  It wasn’t avoidance.  Over time and distance, regret and grief have faded.  I did not have the need or the time to read them now.  They went back into the file because I am curious what will be my reaction to these documents when I am 87 should I be around in this body then.  I find that when I see them after again more years have passed, I can see how much the yoga (asana and meditation) as a steady practice over time has shifted how I relate to my past, to all the decisions better or worse that brought me here today.  I am more at peace with the various detours and convolutions for the teachings and the good at the time, even if they do not appear to have been squarely or most efficiently on the path.

Just as most of us have pieces of paper or things that for some reason get saved, but spend most of their time in a drawer or a file cabinet or a closet, we have thoughts and emotions around past experiences that can emerge into memory at what can seem to be the oddest of times.  With a strong meditation practice, it can sometimes feel like we are cleaning out the closets of our mind.  With a therapeutically focused asana practice, it can seem as though we have found old energetic entanglements, and it may feel that it would have been easier never to have practiced at all.  If we stay steady and keep coming to class and our own practice, we witness how much change can be wrought.  When we remember to bring our clear intention to the yoga mat, the meditation cushion, the garden and the kitchen, the laundry, work and commuting and everything we do, then we in an ever more refined and deepening way open to grace, the fundamental AnusaraR principle.

I am happy to let you know that I am now E-RYT 500.  My spring cleaning on the physical level motivated me to do the paperwork with Yoga Alliance.  My carrying the designation E-RYT 500 means that teachers taking my classes and workshops can get Yoga Alliance continuing education credits, in addition to Anusara study hours.

I am looking forward to studying with Christina Sell at Willow Street Yoga next weekend.  Come join fellow yogis for what promises to be a joyously challenging weekend of classes.  The following weekend, I head up to Vermont for the Anusara Grand Gathering.  If you are going, let me know and we can try to connect.

Special June Location Information for William Penn House Classes:  June 14 and 28, William Penn House will be completely taken over by conference groups.  Class will be held at the house location.  RSVP’s are required.  For those who have been regulars, but who have been full up with other things in life than class, it is a sweet way to get back.

Hope to see you soon.

Peace and light,



Yoga for Our Troops

It is too far from my current world and beyond my temporal limits at the moment, but if you are interested, please contact my friend Robin through the website link below, who writes:

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

As some of you may know, the last 5 years or so I’ve been fortunate to have had the opportunity to take yoga way beyond the reach of a yoga studio and teach yoga and iRest meditation at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. It’s been a life-changing experience.
Though its only 5 minutes away from the WSYC Takoma Studio, Walter Reed is a world away in many ways. I’m sure you’ve heard the news reports about the soldiers suffering from trauma, brain injury, loss of limbs, etc. And their families carry enormous burdens that are not all met by military services. I regularly see 22 year old women with a baby on back and toddler beside them pushing a young husband who is seriously injured in battle. And these wounds may be more readily addressed than the wounds that are invisible to the eye — depression, flashbacks, anxiety, sleep deprivation, mood swings and isolation.
One piece of good news is that the military is now beginning to embrace mind-body approaches such as yoga and bring them into healthcare settings.
Several teachers, including Karen Soltes, and I have created a training program that helps (200 hr +) yoga teachers to teach safely and effectively in military settings. Our experience shows that one must have a respectful understanding of the culture of the military AND a basic knowledge of the signature war-related conditions and injuries.
Part One: Fundamentals of Teaching Yoga and Meditation in Military Settings is a 7- week teleconference program that you can take from anywhere with just a phone and email. It runs  Wednesday June 8 – July 20. If you miss a class, we record every one of them so you can listen at your convenience.
Please visit our website at  I’ve attached a flyer, if you feel inclined to post this at your yoga studio. Let me know if you have any questions.
Also, please pass this message on to anyone in the country or Canada who might be interested in working with the military community.

Take care and thanks so much, Robin