07 June 2010

Art of Attention is now at ArtOfAttention.com

Finally, thanks to Michelle Martello at Minima Designs,
we have a home for these Art of Attention posts,
along with yoga-related attention coursework entitled "Yoga of Living."

Module 1, entitled Approaching Acceptance, is available.
You'll notice that the "YOGA OF LIVING" page on the site
is password-protected; when you enter your email,
you'll receive the password in your inbox for accessing that module.

See you at the new Art of Attention official website.
Stay in touch, offer your comments below each post,
and share what resonates.

Gratitude and respect,

27 April 2010


In the past few weeks I've been tasked to authentically articulate my understanding of yoga with a camera rolling. Many of my peers are doing this; online yoga practice is an expanding genre and I'm glad to be a part of it, serving and growing. But the opportunity comes with a distinct responsibility. How can teachers offer practices that are accessible and accurate yet still real? How can we learn to parse down our experiences into classes that are really of service?

“…my work …is mostly rejoicing… since all the ingredients are here… gratitude, to be given a mind and heart and these body-clothes…” from “The Messenger” by Mary Oliver

When I’m actually doing my job, teaching, I can corroborate Oliver’s experience. In class, my work is mostly relaying my wonder and awe at the openings happening all around me; all the ingredients are there, I’m serving, and I’m grateful for my work. But when I’m NOT teaching, the work of accessing that gratitude in real time is grueling. How can any of us articulate the barest, most meaningful truths in order to reveal gratitude - as students or as teachers, in our yoga or in our daily lives?

The primary source of inspiration is closer than we think. Choose the most frightening, challenging, uncomfortable relationship you’re currently working on right now. Not necessarily a romantic relationship; it might be a friendship, a relationship with an employer, a parent, friend, sibling, or child. You’re committed, but perhaps you’re frustrated by your reactive behavior (whether inwardly or outwardly) and often feel drained just thinking about it all. Therein lies your inspiration.

“There is nothing like the crucible of a committed relationship to expose the deepest level of our primal mechanics, revealing both the crusty persona of our false self, as well as the strength and dignity of our truest self.” -from “The Alchemy of Commitment” by Nachama Greenwald

It takes time to wrap our minds around the fact that those ugly words describe aspects of our expression, but once we do, we have nothing left to hide – or hide from - and we can move forward. Yes, the crusty persona of my false self comes through when I’m dealing with the more confusing moments of my day. There, I’ve said it. Willing to shed that aspect of our communications, in appearances and assumptions alike, we can and will receive the strength and dignity of our most authentic self.

And if we claim to respect the earth, anything, or anyone, we must find ways to face the horrific glimpses of our primal mechanics, without judgment, and spend more time cultivating appreciation and respect for ourselves and for others. It’s the judgments that most swiftly take us away from the gratitude.

We already “know” all of this. It’s intuitive and obvious. Yet I still watch myself toss gratitude aside and judge immaturely, derail myself habitually. So I’ve actively asked for guidance. I’ve actually been on my knees a few times recently, just bowed down into child’s pose, arms out in front, hands in prayer, tears streaming, and asked for help in the silence of my own heart. I don’t want to act this way anymore. I want more equanimity, I want to be more grateful for the sheer blessing of my embodiment, more of the time. I want to receive, and be received. I was right there asking, and I’ll be there again, but we can be this attentive in the middle of the day without prostrating ourselves, and experience the same connectedness.

One trusted friend describes a reliable but elusive tactic that seems almost ridiculous at first.

“As you feel the rush of anger, STOP. Literally freeze.” Wait until the heat passes through your body. In one of those moments recently, I managed to hold still and be quiet. And the person with whom I was interacting courageously reminded me that we could – right then – forgive ourselves for the doubt and animosity that had just enveloped both of us. So we did it, we forgave ourselves, it felt like i was living in some afterschool special, but it worked [although one of us had to be present and creative enough to let go of the need to be right].

“…we are co-creators of the world that we appear to encounter.” from “Olafur Eliasson” by C. Gilbert, BOMB 88/Summer 2004

Next question: so what do we do about someone who is unwilling to forgive/move past the moment? Stop and be still anyway. When emotions are tugging at you, make space within yourself. What does that even mean? Try to keep your heart open and spacious, no matter how tempting it is to shut down and protect. In recent classes we’ve actually practiced creating more space behind and around our hearts in the poses in order to practice staying open in any circumstance or context. We slowly invite our breathing to clear us in the poses and we can feel the room shift.

With my own tendency to slam doors, both literally and figuratively, I can offer only what’s been useful for me and hope it’s helpful. When I feel any urgent anger, I try to stand stock still, unmoving, and ask myself where the gratitude is. It’s a state of inquiry, exactly what Byron Katie teaches so eloquently. It’s what Genpo Roshi urges us to do, to view it all from another perspective. It’s the teaching of Rajanaka yoga, it’s the observation aspect of the Gurdjieff work. It’s completely counterintuitive and often ludicrous to stand [or sit] still in such an intense moment, but when I use thankfulness as a trajectory for my attention, it works. I don’t want to raise the volume, I am done with running away and closing doors, so I just stand there and try to listen to the room tone so I can start to see again.

I’m practicing this for my child as much as for my other relationships. I know his future is at stake; my aim is to offer the imprint of a woman who’s at least attempting to be elegantly, calmly responsive amidst frustration or challenge. Then he’s more likely to seek out those qualities in his adult relationships. When I manage to stand still and locate gratitude for even one moment, the truth rushes into my heart, the anger moves out, and I’m free. Everything shifts.

Once we’ve managed just once to keep our heart open in any way, and tasted that freedom, there’s no going back. We avoid drama and learn to nourish ourselves using attitudes of our own choosing. The states of gratitude we cultivate will always propel us forward.

The ingredients are here. So if you’re blinded by rage or rancor, inwardly or outwardly, challenged to communicate your truth or open yourself in a yoga pose, remember to stop and ask, “Do I have gratitude for this useful mind, this fragile heart, these blessed body-clothes, right now?”

Thank you to my peers Christina Sell, Darren Rhodes, and Mitchel Bleier. In these days, from so far away, you’ve fed me some of the most nourishing and viable understandings I’ve received. Our friendships and gratitude for each other are our offerings back to our teachers who’ve given us so much. Watching you receive fully and give so freely heals me all the time.

Photo: Eric Cahan

04 February 2010


Pardon the long lapse. I've been teaching, writing for the Huffington Post and being Jonah's mama: it's all been the most provocative privilege of my life.

Watching myself react and apologize; taking 1 step forward and 2 steps back; feeling utterly diminished and completely whole simultaneously, I've learned about gratitude. In the tumult of "yes" and "no," it seems that gratitude is the ultimate interior liberation. Although it's been a circuitous route.

The responsibilities and travel for my new gig as the Global Yoga Trainer for adidas are extensive, and several days were spent in collaboration with fellow adidas Trainer, Violet Zaki [super smart Global Combat Training goddess], to create a manual that will be used by fitness and yoga instructors worldwide, both philosophically and physically. We've also recorded a DVD that those teachers will use to refine their practice and experience of this tradition. Painstakingly combing through scripts, edits, dozens of hours later we have something useful and hopefully inspiring. And already onto the next DVD script.

Manageably but definitely overwhelmed, I requested time with Hugo Cory. Because this adidas job requires connection to many people, he told me, go back to the books, study the symbolism of the teachings, contemplate, go inward. Sure enough, during late nights combing through notes and readings from the past 10 years, I'm finding previously overlooked treasures buried in the pages that inform anew, now. As a result, my commitments to my son, my own practice, and to the traditions of Anusara yoga and Rajanaka yoga have unbelievably and unmistakably deepened.

Today at Virayoga I taught the Loops of Anusara [after recording a yogaglo class this past weekend on the same topic]. I began the class with the two main reasons for practicing this tradition, and how each relates to both the specificity and the expansiveness of the Loops.

Shiva - Cit - Consciousness:
we practice to recognize, acknowledge and stay close to ourselves.

Shakti - Ananda - Bliss:
we practice to experience the delight, the beauty, the art of our bodies, hearts, lives.

For years I've taught Anusara yoga, always finding ways to express, explore and unearth the richness and relevance of these two aspects of our practice, but never explicitly felt comfortable saying the words, even though I felt their meaning and the prosperity in my body when I set my attention on them. Somehow, this job of representing an enormous fitness conglomerate has brought me so much closer to the space of my heart, and yours, and every student and teacher with whom I'll have the honor of sharing what I've come to understand. And here in my heart I've found nothing but gratitude.

So thank you. Thank you to every single soul who's come to my class with any modicum of receptivity. Thank you John Friend for your unflinching encouragement to take this job and for editing line by line every single page of our manual. Thank you Douglas Brooks for your teachings which have literally and figuratively held me through the most harrowing - and the most exalted - moments of the past 10 years. Thank you Hugo Cory for finding the exact instruction to carry me to the next opening time after time.

What's most pertinent is that this heightened experience of gratitude is helping me reposition myself to receive when I think I must move. The promise of the Tantra is to taste the sacred in this life, now.

Onward and upward.
More soon.

03 July 2009


Teaching up at Kripalu this weekend about acceptance.
Full, unbridled acceptance, inspired recently by a talk with Lida Ahmady.

Through a rigorous series of twists this morning, followed by a slightly more sane sequence with juicy hip openers this afternoon, we explored our capacity for unraveling doubt, fear, blame, frustration, through the unraveling of the physical twist itself, observing the way the breathing in the interior space opens, releases, revealing any remaining toxicity as a light on the path to healing. A landmark. A way in.

This spacious breathing can be carefully described. Last night i offered the words of Gopala Ayer Sundaramoorthy, my teacher Douglas Brooks' teacher, to describe the breathing. "The breathing is like moonlight, soft and light." The moonlight's soft luminosity is also an apt description of the post-twist sensation in and around the organs. It's not a super-sharp bright light - it's an all-over, diffused ease. Might we actually have that sort of receptive, luminous experience internally with more consistency?

Yes. What lights me up about teaching is the possibility for consistent interior receptivity in every moment of the day. To this end, prior to asana this afternoon we had a dialogue. I'd hoped to bring about a real awareness of the way to that ease; not through adding something else to do, but something we can all edit out. So i brought up that inner talk, those comments we make in the privacy of our own being - those things we think but would never dare say aloud.

In my experience, the inner talk must cease. Cease. With thanks to Hugo Cory -and Manly P. Hall, Road to Inner Light- i understand that anytime we entertain a negative thought - even privately - the negative field that sweeps our world is strengthened through our contribution.

The big question is how to cease the inner talk and have a more consistent experience of that soft, warming interior light. We cannot expect to stop this commentary immediately; we must first watch its effects on our own state and on those around us, vigilantly and honestly, to see what it does to us. "It is not necessary to keep one's mind completely free of thoughts and conditions in order to heal. What is necessary is... [to observe them] - to slow down the internal dialogue... to not identify with its most flagrant conditioning factors. This will be enough to produce a space in which we can remain alert." - Sat Nam Rasayan.

This alertness, i realized today, is my "spirituality." This alertness is my only offering to the students, teachers, and the practice of yoga. This alertness is the way to that moonlight-esque sensation internally, where you feel softly, cleanly lit up from the inside out. When the desire of your mind becomes the desire of your heart.

And it was with this sweet alertness that we reveled in the music of John DeKadt and Wah! as they played for us, bringing some strong gratitude along with the thundering rain that surrounded us in the superb new sustainable annex up here at Kripalu.

And in the generous words of Bill Gluck in a recent email: "The transformative power of the spiritual alchemy of your classes is embodied in the following synergistic calculus: "Open your heart and the mind will follow. Open your mind and the heart will follow."

Photo: Eric Cahan

08 May 2009


"Your family will see you as they see you...
The important question is, 'How do you see yourself?' If I think that they need the Work, I need the Work. Peace doesn't require two people; it requires only one. It has to be you... [it] begins and ends there."

"If your truth now is kind, it will run deep and fast within the family and will replace manipulation with a better way. As you continue to find your own way into inquiry,
sooner or later your family will come to see as you yourself do. There's no other choice."

Byron Katie is responsible for the above quotes. Here, a brief interpretation offered as support for my own process as well as yours.

Our attention is all we have. Like light, air, water, our attention is an actual substance that we can bring to all of our interactions and exchanges. When we do, there is more space, even more luminosity in our experience of others and our circumstances.

When our attention is elsewhere at any time other than the present, we've forfeited the opportunity to experience the light in the moment. Use your attention to listen to yourself,
your surroundings, your family. We have the capacity to be open enough, via our breathing in every single moment, to hold space for that potential light, as well as our deepest resistances; to hold space for the ones who give to us freely, as well as the ones who seem to take from us.

Each person in our lives is there to show us the way to our freedom. Sometimes the ways in which people seek acceptance are so confusing. In the face of such moments, it is our work to breathe, and through our breathing, soften more, and through that softening, listen well. Once we are listening we have access to our own freedom, as the openings, as the light.

Photo: Pamela Katch

18 April 2009


Today my longtime teacher Hugo Cory came to Virayoga to offer a talk about attention and its role in Self Mastery.

It begins with the simple acts of observation and endeavoring to strengthen the attention so the "observer" in us is always present, aware of the aspects of ourselves that are constantly running the show as they do battle for our attention: the intellectual, the instinctive/physical aspect, the emotional aspect, the sexual aspect. All day long we can begin to watch our VOLATILITY as one takes over, then the other, "I'm hungry, oh now i want to watch the news, now I'd like to read, now I really should go running, I like him, I don't like her. And on.

The work at hand is to begin seeing this volatility. Not CHANGING this, but seeing this. HOLDING this. This volatility, Hugo suggests, is the source of our great strength, for in working with it, we can begin the process of mastering ourselves from within.

As we begin to observe in earnest, to "hold" more of the complaints, speculations, the little ways in which we lie to suit any situation, we cease gossiping and arguing; and start to see the ways in which we've been draining ourselves and our precious resources for far too long.

Hugo was clear: this is not about "repression" as our society has so clearly labeled such "holding;" this is about actually observing and verifying whether something we're about to share needs to be shared, whether it will be truly helpful to even get the "advice" we think we're seeking. It is about noticing that, more often than we might like to think, our attention will best serve us if it is trained on our inner volatility and not on directing our negativity outward, toward those around us.

It's about empowering ourselves to see our own situation and handle it with the inherent power we already possess to navigate the situation quietly, elegantly. It's learning how to MAGNETIZE what we need by offering that energetically; if we want to surround ourselves with creative, vibrant energy, we best deliver that, and only that, to the world around us.
And there is literally no other way to do it.

Among other resonant examples, Hugo spoke about each of the cells in our bodies, and their particular functions. Liver cells, brain cells, muscle cells, all have a specific role, just as each of us serve particular functions in the world. Perhaps the current economic and societal conditions are giving you a moment to really ascertain what your function is, finally. He used the example of white blood cells in the body; they go to the most challenging places and give of themselves to heal those places, to rebalance physical health. Hugo talked about those who choose to be those types of cells in the world, those who serve and heal. A hush fell over the room in that moment.

When you first deliver what you expect from the world, your heart is leading the way. In those moments, all the other "voices" have been quieted, what you "hear" is simply the clear aim, what needs to happen next in order to further your vision for your future.

This is the voice of your heart, the Intelligence of your heart, your intuition.
It arrives in the form of your very next breath.

Recommended reading:

07 September 2008


The pause between stimulus and reaction transforms the quality of any movement or interaction.

Pause. Breathe into your wings, laterally into your lungs, out to the sides and let your ribcage melt down onto your body as you exhale. Do that again. Use this whenever something touches you without your presence.

Photo: Eric Cahan