Friday, October 28, 2011

Jala Neti

Today I'm going to write about something you might not necessarily expect from a blog about yoga - my Neti Pot!

I was feeling a little low on inspiration for my entry this week, especially since Tuesday afternoon I started feeling sick toward the end of my work day.  My head had ached all day, but that's not too out of the ordinary for me.  When I started feeling my throat become sore and scratchy, I knew it was the kiss of death, and I needed to start getting proactive with my health before this cold (or whatever it is) gets the better of me.

Marc suggested writing about being sick, how it affects my practice - things of that vein.  It's a good suggestion, but I feel like I always do that when I get sick and I wanted to go a different route this week.  Marc also suggested I use a neti pot to help with my sinuses, and then it struck me - the neti pot comes from Ayurvedic medicine and is a yogic technique for cleansing the body!  It wasn't discovered by modern medicine or bored people who suddenly were struck with the idea to put water through their nose -  it's something that has been around for five thousand years.

Ayurveda, which translates to "knowledge of life"  is the "sister science" of yoga.  Scott Blossom of YogaJournal.com says of Ayurveda, "It's a system of healing that examines physical constitution, emotional nature, and spiritual outlook in the context of the universe."  You can read the full article here to learn more about the doshas, or three different energies we're made of according to Ayurvedic medicine.

Jala neti is Sanskrit and literally translates to "water cleansing."  It's part of the Panchakarma ("five actions") program for cleansing of the body, mind, and spirit.

Just googling neti pot can provide you with a ton of ways to find and purchase your own.  It doesn't need to be fancy or expensive, it just needs to have a spout that can fit in your nose and it needs to hold an adequate amount of water.

Everything's better with a thumbs-up!
To use jala neti, boil some water to make sure it's clean and free of any stray bacteria that may be lurking.  Pour the water into the pot and wait until it's about lukewarm (this could take 20 to 30 minutes - just check with your finger until it is a temperature you think will be comfortable).  From there, you want to add salt.  Plenty of places sell salt packets specifically designed for use in a neti pot, but sea salt works just fine as well.  Holding your head over a sink, put the spout up one nostril and tilt your head pot-side-up.  (The hilarious picture illustrates - it's a pretty tricky thing to try to explain!)  Hold your tongue firm against your throat to keep from swallowing the water (although you'll probably swallow some your first few times) and the water will pour out of your other nostril into the sink.

Jala neti isn't for everyone.  My sister reminded me that as a little girl, I used to despise blowing my nose.  I'd cry and say I couldn't do it and I hated being made to - it just seemed disgusting and wrong.  If this kind of thing makes you squeamish, it may not be for you.  However, my experience so far this week has been amazing.  My cold is still hanging on, but after using the neti 2-3 times a day I can really feel an improvement.

If you suffer from seasonal allergies or colds - and as a fellow sick friend said to me recently, Tis the Season! - I highly recommend giving the neti pot a try.  Stick with it a couple times and see if it helps you.  In the meantime, enjoy some hot tea, hot soup, and fuzzy sweaters.  Happy fall!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

To thine own self be true



Satya pratishthayam kriya phala shrayatvam.  
Upon being established in truth, there is surety in the result of actions.
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
ii:36


I've been reading a passage a day from a book by Rolf Gates called Meditations from the Mat.  I'm sure I've mentioned it once or twice before on the blog.  It's designed to be a kind of yoga devotional, where you read one passage a day (there are 365 passages/days within the book).  It's the perfect accompaniment to my morning meditation, and it's the perfect way to reacquaint myself with the Yoga Sutras and other yoga philosophy at a leisurely pace and with Gates's fantastic, personal, truthful, clear writing.

He's started to dive into the yamas, the "thou shalt nots" of yoga.  The most recent one he's been exploring has been Satya, or truth.  There are many different ways to tell the truth - or not to.  Being true to yourself, however, I think is where it starts and is by far, in my view, the most important.  How can you be true and truthful with others if you're not true to yourself?


As I've been reading these daily passages on Satya for the last week or so, it's gotten me thinking about the areas in my life most affected by my own personal satya.  In my post Happiness Project frenzy of improving my life, I came up with lots of possible answers, but the most obvious one was the subject of money:  how I spend it, earn it, feel about it, relate to it, and organize it.

This brings me to yet another book - Your Money or Your Life, by Vicki Robin, Joe Dominguez, and Monique Tilford.  The original edition was published in 1992, and an updated version came out in 2008, which is the one that I read.  Having never really read any books about money before, I had no idea how absolutely perfect this one would turn out to be in helping me discover my personal truths about my relationship with money.

I highly recommend this book to anyone and everyone. Your Money or Your Life has a brilliant way of breaking down our society's relationship with money, with consumerism, with debt, and with savings.  The most important way it does that is by giving you steps to make yourself totally, completely, 100% aware of the money you have made in your life, the money and other property value you currently have (even if you feel, like, me that you have no property value), and the money that comes in and goes out of your life every day.

Consciousness is the key to the book.  I believe consciousness and awareness are the key to becoming truthful about anything in your life.  Money is a great tool through which to view satya because it's so easy to either deliberately lie to ourselves about it or ignore issues as they come up.  The restaurant bill that was a lot bigger than you expected but it's forgotten as soon as you sign for it.  Going crazy at a clothing sale just becomes another line on the credit card statement.  You go to take money out of the ATM and realize you don't have as much as you thought.  These little things happen to pretty much all of us at least every once and a while if not on a regular basis.  It's easy to feel like it all just snuck up on you when suddenly one day you peek through the fog for a moment to see the reality of what you have, and then you think...well, it's okay.  Money's not everything, I'll make more next week, I'll download a budget app and then it'll be okay.


 I'm not rambling about money to prove a point about money, or to judge anyone (including myself) for how great or not-so-great our spending and saving habits may be.  The point is satya.  It can be very scary to face financial realities, but if we don't face them, the first person we hurt is ourselves.  If you have a family to support, other people wind up hurt as well.  It's not always fun or easy to get real with yourself about money, but it's always worth it in the end because you can rest in your own knowledge of where you stand, for better or worse.


I realize this is probably a terrible metaphor for you if you keep excellent financial records and have a great relationship with money, but it's the one that works best for me at the moment.  This can apply to relationships with people, with our jobs, with our health.  People who don't go to the doctor for years and then suddenly have to face a terrible diagnosis weren't being true to themselves by not going to the doctor and keeping themselves in ignorance.  It's comparable to a lie of omission, only the person you're lying to is yourself.


We can make a choice every single day to invite more truth into every aspect of our lives.  What part of your life could benefit from the practice of satya?


"We must not be afraid to follow the truth no matter where it may lead."
Thomas Jefferson

Monday, October 17, 2011

Tristin & Tyler come to Karma Kids!

Awhile back, we had some very special visitors to our Family Yoga class at Karma Kids.  Tristin and Tyler, two twin boys who go around the city having awesome, eco-friendly adventures, shot an episode during the class I taught.

Check out the video, their website, and their mom's blog, Tiffany's Take.  Cuteness abounds!



Happy Monday!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

"Do Not Squander Time; That is the Stuff Life is Made Of"

 A couple weeks ago, while teaching a Prenatal class, my watch broke.

I've had a watch on my right wrist (I'm left-handed) since I was probably about 6 years old and got my first Mickey Mouse watch from my grandma.  I don't know if my obsessive desire to schedule out my days started as a result of that or if I was born with that tendency, but it's sure always been there.  I always know what time it is, I always know what time I have to be at a given place (my calendar obsession helps with that too), and I tend to be a good at predicting how long any given thing will take.  If I had a nickel for every time I looked at my bare right wrist in the last week, I'd feel a lot better about my financial situation!

The watch is fixable, thank goodness - it's another gift from my ever-generous Grandma.  I just have to find a good place and get it done.  I'm not completely without a timepiece, since every electronic device keeps perfect digital time and is there at my fingertips whenever I need it, but man, do you get used to a wristwatch!

Despite all of that attachment to time and to my identity as  a time keeper, there is a kind of freedom in not always knowing the time.  I have definitely noticed that I'm less likely to do time calculations in my head in certain situations - walking home from the subway, reading a book, eating a meal.  The watch is going to get fixed and come back to my lonely right wrist, but I hope that taking all of this into consideration, my mind will fixate a little less on using the time to plan the future and a little more on enjoying the present moment as it is.

Shortly after losing my watch, Marc asked me to watch Cast Away with him.  He loves it, but I remember being rather traumatized by a lot of the scary, devastating, sad moments, and the power of Tom Hanks's performance.  (He's a life ruiner, that one.)

As we were watching, I couldn't help but notice the overwhelming presence of the concept of time in the film.  As a FedEx employee, Hanks's character, Chuck Nolan, is forever giving speeches on the need for time efficiency in package delivery.  His girlfriend gives him her father's pocket watch for Christmas (that he ironically used in the South Pacific, where Chuck winds up stranded).  Once he is stranded, his watch no longer works, there's no way to tell time, and there's pretty much no need to tell time in any unit smaller than day and night.

Beyond these more obvious ways in which time is presented in the film, Marc and I noticed that Chuck's inability to comfort his friend with a sick wife, to properly propose to his girlfriend before leaving on his fated flight, and his inability to cut ties with work for his personal life all showed a man very uncomfortable with being in the present moment and being vulnerable.  The most vulnerable we see him is when he's proposing to his girlfriend, but even then he's outside of the car literally about to run on an airplane.  He's not taking the time, so to speak, to make it a true moment.  Marc even went so far as to say that as a consequence from ignoring the present moment, he loses what he identified as his life - his identity as a successful manager, a boyfriend, a member of an extended family, a friend.

"We live by the clock, we die by the clock," he says to his employees when we first meet him, and in a sense, that becomes true for him.  His old self dies when the clock is no longer there and he is profoundly changed by his experience on the island.

The implication is that our fast paced modern lives have gotten us way out of touch with each other and instead cause us to always rush forward, ignoring the importance of the present moment.  It's a powerful stance to take, with some truth to it despite its rather extreme one-sidedness.

I have found it in certain tiny moments rather liberating to not have the time right on my wrist when I wanted it.  It's helping me discern when I want it, to orient myself in my time and place and life and to seek out as a comfort, and when I actually need it - when I'm running late or need to check the time in the middle of a crazy kid's yoga class to see if I have time for one more game.  It takes me out, even just for one or two moments a day, from my own version of the giant, constantly present FedEx clock in the film that is presented almost as a god to be feared as well as worshiped.  It may or may not have anything to do with the fact that I've become more patient during my morning meditation, and less likely to open one eye and sneakily peak at my countdown timer to see how much time is left until I can rush on to the next thing on my to-do list.

I do plan on getting the watch fixed.  It's a lovely watch, it was a gift, and because I do still live in the real world and am not stranded on a desert island, I have some necessary allegiance to the God of Time.  Time is life - it's our gift, and we should use it wisely.  That doesn't mean we should be a slave to the clock, it means living with awareness.  I just know that when I put my watch back on my right wrist, I'll do so with a little more perspective and a little less attachment.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Challenges of Being Present

The phrase "Be present" seems ubiquitous these days.  Maybe it's just because I'm a yoga teacher and so it's ubiquitous in the things that I read and the conversations that I have (even the pants that I wear), or maybe it's because there's a national worry on how obsessed we are with smartphones and multitasking.  Whatever the reason, it seems to be one of those spiritual secrets of happiness.  It's even one of my Personal Commandments (more on those when I write yet another Happiness Project-inspired blog soon).  But what does it mean to Be Present?  More importantly - how do you do it?

Our thoughts are always focused on the past, the present, or the future.  The present is the only place we can be grounded in the reality of what is happening in our lives at any given moment.  Past is gone - as insubstantial as the thoughts of it.  Future is a completely imagined composite of assumption, hope, worry, and storytelling.  Present encompasses all of our five senses and the ability to act with a clear, focused mind.

Meditation is one of the number one ways people can work on embracing the present moment, but it's also probably the hardest, at least in my humble opinion.  Just sitting there, eyes closed or open, focusing on a mantra or breath or whatever your technique is, the brain is just roaring with memories, plans, stories, and everything else under the sun.  It can be incredibly frustrating, and often the assumption is that in order to properly meditate, you need to banish all thoughts from your mind.  That's certainly what I've always thought - that implies great focus, self control, inner peace.

The book I've been reading for the last week or so has given me a completely different perspective on meditation, however.  It's called The Joy of Living by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, a Tibetan Buddhist master teacher of meditation and philosophy.  Marc recommended it, and it's a great read, regardless of your religion, spiritual affiliation, or if you're a seasoned or green meditator.  It's taken a lot of the self-imposed pressure off my meditation practice by reiterating time and again that the purpose of meditation isn't to stop your thoughts - that would be like trying to stop the flow of a river.  The purpose of the mind is to have thoughts.  Meditation, in Mingyur's view, is "simply a process of resting the mind in its natural state, which is open to and naturally aware of thoughts, emotions, and sensations as they occur."

Later, he goes on to say one of my favorite things I've read in the book so far.  In describing how attention to thoughts always wavers in beginning meditation practice, he says that the trick is to simply catch yourself and become aware of your mind wandering.

And when you suddenly remember, Oops, I was supposed to be watching my thoughts... just bring your attention back...The great secret about these "Oops" moments is that they're actually split-second experiences of your fundamental nature.

The good news is that the more you practice, the more "Oopses" you're likely to experience.  And gradually these "Oopses" started to accumulate, until one day  "Oops" becomes a natural state of mind, a release from the habitual patterns of neuronal gossip that allows you to look at any thought, any feeling, any situation with total freedom and openness.

'Oops' is a wonderful thing.

I find this is great wisdom and advice not just for a seated meditation practice, but for throughout the day.  Getting distracted, dissolving into worry over something - we can always catch ourselves with what Mingyur would call an "Oops" moment and come back to wherever we are at present.  By letting go of past rumination or future supposition, we're better serving ourselves and those around us by being engaged in whatever we're doing and wherever we are.  Have you ever felt like you spaced out during your entire commute or running errands?  It's can be a little disconcerting to feel like you just came back into your body with only the haziest recollection of what you were just doing.

Personally, I think the number one time I'm present throughout my day is when I'm teaching yoga to young children - especially the under 5 crowd.  I have to be 100% focused on what is happening in that room right in that moment.  Who's engaged?  Who's flopping out and running around in circles and about to faceplant?  Who wants to go upside down?  Who sees a dog at the jungle?  (My job is wonderful)

Teaching yoga to kids is so interactive.  We're always asking them questions - everything from "Did you bring your hands to yoga today?" to "What do you see?" or "Can you show me your manatee pose?"  You never know what they'll respond with or when 57 ideas will be thrown at you at once.  One kid needs to be praised, another needs to be asked to keep their hands to themselves or their yoga mat off the floor, another kid needs a little encouragement to come out of their shell.  As the teacher, it's your job to be the leader of the adventure, so for 30, 45, 60 minutes, you're 100% engaged in your surroundings.  It's exhilarating, energizing, and sometimes exhausting all at the same time.

The great thing about it, though, is it doesn't require any conscious effort for me to be present with the kids.  It's not a choice, it's a natural response.  Whatever else is going on in my life, any worries or weariness, simply shuts off in deference to the present.  As opposed to seated meditation, where you're actively trying to focus or let thoughts go or focus on breath, and when you're inevitably wondering if you're doing it right, there's so much action and interaction with teaching kids that being present is something that just happens.

I'm trying to bring that kind of total mental focus to other areas of my life, but as a compulsive planner, slave to the clock, daydreamer, and worrier - it's a challenge.  Keeping up with my meditation practice every morning has been a huge help in keeping myself present throughout the day.  The biggest help, though, is simply remembering that it is my intention.  "Oops" moments happen every day, a zillion times a day.  The important thing to remember is to be thankful for them.  Every "Oops," as Mingyur says, gets you closer to freedom and openness in your mind and in your heart.