Yoga as a Vocation Sol Center

I use to teach a lot of yoga, hours every day. I joked that, though it wasn’t all super physical, I was a marathon yoga teacher. I taught different things in those many hours. It was also in one facility, so I didn’t have to drive hither and yon. I loved what I did and I earned a good living in the days when teaching yoga wasn’t really known as a vocation.

It is said you teach what you most need to learn, maybe that is true. I guess I needed to learn how to be in my body, how to be myself and connected to something more. I also learned a lot about teaching, communicating, relating. For me learning is primarily about self-awareness, and secondarily about information. This is why I teach yoga and not history, which was incidentally what I studied as an undergraduate.

For some reason, my desire to talk about the breath today brought me back to reflecting on these early days of marathon teaching. I taught this morning, a short 75-minute class and everyone was very focused. It felt like many years of what it took for me to learn were transmitted and absorbed by everyone in the room. It was a bit of a time warp really, it felt like we must have practiced for hours to get that deep. At the heart of this story is the breath.

If you have practiced yoga with me, you will know there is a special way that we breathe. This comes from my teacher Rama and is the essence of her method, which she will not name. She calls it Yoga. There are lots of layers to this teaching, but in a nutshell it is a way of using the breath to create shifts and changes in our being without activating the ego or the will. It is a way of working within the yoga poses that takes you into deep states of meditation where subtle conflict is resolved. It is a way of converting the oxygen we breathe into the prana or energy we need to maintain our integrity.

How does all this happen through breath? I wish I could describe it here. I actually have been trying (and editing it out) but it is really something you have to experience. For now I will simply say breathe in and receive: oxygen, energy, light! Breathe out and move: do, allow, flow. And stay aware of the source of the breath as well, know that you needn’t give anything vital to your being away, to do what you are doing.

Sol Center Reflections

Reflections, Appreciations, and Intentions

Reflection 1: While the situation of life as usual is not “life as usual”, life goes on. One of my favorite simple thought adjustments recently is to shift from thinking about life happening to me or me having to make things happen, to life happening through me. In this shift of words and thinking I remember that I am not helpless, I do not have to force things, I can be and breathe with life, and I remember to enjoy the emergent process. How does life live through you?

Reflection 2: As the year closes, as the light wanes, as the world turns I often am struck with just how fast our life goes, how precious it should be, how we should take nothing for granted. Yet we do. As most of you know I am the queen of slow- motion yoga, of teaching in a slow, deliberate, and philosophical way. Weaving in being with doing as thoroughly as possible. Would it surprise you to know that I can’t always find enough of this for me? That I need to slow down more than I let myself? That you all help me walk my own talk? If I am gentle with myself, I can feel the goodness in this confession.

Appreciation 1: Thank you for helping us keep the Sol Center going this year. I get thanked a lot for various things I do, and I thank people a lot myself- for what they do. But what does it really mean, to be truly grateful? The idea of the Sol Center has been in my heart for many, many years and is slowly growing into a meaningful reality for many people besides myself. Each of you help bring this vision into the world. To feel the collective support for the vision gives me the courage and inspiration I need to keep us going strong. What did you keep going this year? Who helped you?

Appreciation 2: I continue to be grateful for all the teachers and teaching I have been given so far, that I (and we) have access to now. There are many moments when I wish I could fall back and simply bask in one teacher or teaching, one practice or path. But it all is part of one teaching and path for me that I am still living into, that I want to share from as I continue to learn and grow. My interfaith mentor Beverly Lanzetta says “the spiritual life is a happy life because you are doing the one thing that is most necessary.” What is the one thing that is most necessary for you?

Intentions: Beverly’s words echo in my mind as I consider the new year. I see that I have hinted at some of mine already.

• To be present for the flow of life, moment by moment.

• To be gentle with myself as I do all of what I am doing. (we all do so much! much more than we realize!)

• To give/take/structure more meditative/reflective time for myself.

• To feel the goodness and abundance of what we are all doing at the Sol Center and beyond.

• To wholeheartedly receive the help that is offered.

• To be more with the teachers and teachings I love. To be a faithful and diligent student.

If you would like share some of your reflections, appreciations, and intentions send me a message and I will add them to my Solstice thoughts and prayers.

Seasons Blessings, Natasha

The Truth is Somewhere In Between

There is a meditative inquiry process I learned from my Integrative Restoration/iRest training that I find very potent.  It involves the alternation between polarities to create a new felt sense of something in between.

To keep this from being too intellectual I invite you to try a basic example of it here:

Feel your body contacting something solid right now…really feel it…describe it simply

Feel the parts of the body that don’t touch something solid…really feel it…describe it simply

Go back and forth, feeling one and then the other…distinctly…as fully as possible.

Now feel them both simultaneously…both together…as fully as possible.

What is that like? Can you describe it?

What most people report is that they don’t quite know.  The experience cannot be thought about so concretely.  The process actually arrests analysis. I almost feel it as a neurological release.

When we feel into it with interest, it often feels good.  Like something new and different.  As a well cited Rumi quote goes: Out beyond ideas of wrong doing and right doing there is a field.  I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass the world is too full to talk about….

This practice and quote are glimpses of a non-dual state.  A “place” that we long for on some level, and yet don’t trust as real.  A taste of it is liberating, and yet hard to sustain.  With exploration and practice it is an important element of healing the body, mind, and spirit.


I have a lot of tools in my bag when I work with people individually.  Depending on what people come to me for:  Yoga, Meditation, Mindfulness, Stress Reduction, Grief, Astrology, Spiritual Direction, I use the tools I think are relative to them and will work well for them at present. In reality I mainly rely on deep listening and deep faith. Faith that everything is part of the whole.  Even and especially when it is hard and heartbreaking.

The polarity exercise came up recently as I was hearing someone who is struggling, physically and emotionally, express a string of negative thoughts about what is happening to them.  When we did an inquiry exploring the negative thoughts and their opposites, she offered the insight “the truth is somewhere in between.”  We could both feel the power of her statement, and how it could help her navigate, but also the pull of the negative thinking and the struggle to be OK with not being OK right now.

There is a lot to explain there, and it won’t all come through clearly in words, but I will say simply that with all my tools and training, what is often most important when we are deeply struggling is letting ourselves feel our feelings through, finding safe ways to do that.  Giving ourselves time, it takes longer than we think it should.  And, being kind to ourselves as we grope.  It’s OK not to be OK right now.  It’s OK to not know what to do yet.  There may be nothing that can be done. The difficulty and vulnerability are its own teaching, its own worth and wisdom. We are learning to be in between.


The last part of this contemplation of the truth is somewhere in between takes me back to some teachings from the Yoga and Buddhist traditions as well as a few people I hold in my heart at this time.

In Yoga Philosophy, as expressed in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, there is the basic premise that wholeness, our spiritual origin, or the light of consciousness is always there.  It is the churning of the mind- our sensing, thinking, and selfing brain, that obscures the fuller reality of Oneness.   We confuse our own personal perception with the truth, again and again and again.

The path of Yoga is said to be simply, the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind, so the true light of consciousness can shine through.  While this sounds anti-intellectual, it is really about understanding consciousness and requires great amounts of viveka khyati, discriminative awareness, a high meta- cognition faculty.

To keep it simple, Yoga reminds us that our brain and perception are problematic. Even correct perception will ultimately be a stumbling block.  Yoga challenges us to hold to the oneness, rather than be caught in polarity.  To use our Rumi quote, to lie in that grass.  Again, to learn to be in between.

The Buddhist perspective, has a different take on ultimate reality.  Not as oneness or something constant to attune with; but as flux, change, impermanence.    It is our grasping and effort to control the uncontrollable that causes suffering.  Freedom from suffering is about loosening our grip. Like viveka kyhati of yoga- sati, mindfulness, is one of the important skills that helps us see what is actually happening in the body/mind and make choices that are freeing.  We are learning to be with life on life’s terms.

I won’t expound on Buddhism more, as I don’t want to do it an injustice.  What I will share are a few of the ways I felt it was conveyed to me that point again to the non-dual state. Both come from the Buddhist teacher I have been with most, Michelle McDonald.  She loves to refer to and quote from Nisargadatta Maharaj.  He was a modern Indian saint from the Vedic Tradition. Not a Buddhist, but considered by those of his time as a fully awake and realized person.  He did not teach theory, he only taught direct perception.  How to see through the duality to the deeper foundation of being.  His quote that I have rested in most is, “Wisdom tells me I am nothing. Love tells me I am everything. And between the two my life flows.” Once again, the invitation to acknowledge both /and.

The last story I will tell, related to all this is the response Michelle gave to someone’s question regarding the personal agenda of waking up; the paradox of seeking freedom when we are also told to let go of wanting, to be present now.  The younger teacher responded “Yes, that is the paradox, we learn how to bare it.”  Michelle in her maturity said, “No, it is only a paradox if you are in your head about it.  It is resolved when you stay close to the present moment, the direct experience of life unfolding.”

As closure I offer, you one more Michelle quote about the power and potential of true presence, which for me is the abode of the non-dual, in-between.  “The truth is we don’t know what is going to happen next…each moment is newborn or life isn’t alive.  Aliveness requires the birth and death of every moment. “

Blessings to my friend Katya who is currently living into dying.  And to my friend Nathan who slipped away too soon.

We are approaching Winter Solstice, the low point of sunlight in the Northern Hemisphere. The time of year and the election/transition predicament have me reflecting on an important myth in the yoga tradition.

It is called the Churning of the Ocean of Milk and tells the tale of a search for immortality. In order to find it, opposite beings must work & churn together; half on one side and half on the other. Alas, once it is found there is another struggle for which half shall imbibe it.

In the story, the light beings/Devas are the one half deemed to receive it. The dark forces/Asuras are tricked out of it; although, they receive much bounty along the way and would likewise have tricked the Devas themselves. Some of the dark forces get the nectar and are made immortal nonetheless- they continue to show their power in the form of eclipses, regularly blotting out light from the Sun and Moon. They also show their power in the form of wars and plagues in general; delusion, greed, and hatred in particular.

I image you are thinking, this sounds pretty familiar…

This myth, like many of its kind, points to the incessant struggle between light and dark forces. The supremacy of light, but also the relevance of shadow and darkness as well. In the full story, they were needed to churn the ocean and helped bring many gifts and splendors to the world. For instance, the last figure to arise from the Ocean with the chalice of nectar was Dhanvantri, a celestial physician and giver of medicine. And lest we think the Devas are perfect, there are plenty of stories of their follies and foibles.

What is useful about myth is the potential to see life from a non-logical, right brain perspective. They are links between our personal and collective dramas and a deeper understanding of life and humanity. The renowned mythology scholar Joseph Campbell called myths ”pubic dreams” and dreams “private myths”.

I invite you to gently consider what is useful about this story as you live into the rest of this strange, sad, and significant year? How do dream your private myth?

The outer light is waning at this time of year- the inner light is always available. Here’s my dream:

I shine my light for the benefit of all, without exception. We work together to create a better world for all beings.

Five Facets of a Mindful Person

One early analytical model of what it means to be a mindful person was developed by Ruth Baer PhD at the University of Kentucky. This model is significant in that indicates the most important factors and provides a way to measure mindful traits and how they might correlate to physical and mental outcomes. The analysis yielded five particular facets: acting with awareness, describing, non-reactivity to inner experience, non-judging of inner experience, and observing. Using this template, here are some key touchstones to orient you towards the cultivation of mindfulness on a regular basis.

1. Be aware of what you are doing.
This does not imply it is necessarily easy, pleasant, or interesting to pay attention; simply that you are showing up for the actual experience of living rather than going through the motions. Basic daily tasks can become mini- meditations: brushing your teeth, taking a shower, getting the mail, drinking water.

2. Find new ways to articulate your direct physical and emotional experiences.
We have lots of ways to talk about concepts and things, and often don’t know how to describe what we are sensing and feeling. There is great power in noticing what you notice and speaking from your present moment reality. Try it with simple things: How does a walk make your body feel? How does someone’s smile make you feel? How does it feel to be wrong or right about something? Or, to not know?

3. Recognize that you get stressed, triggered, reactive many times every day.
It may be related to past or future events on your mind; it may be situational or relational; it may be the state of world. Recognize that it is happening and work with the energy right now. These are your patterns and unconsciously influence how you will react and respond. Conscious breathing helps to harness the stress energy and shape the future.

4. Recognize that much of what you perceive is colored by your own judgments.
Judgements are unavoidable and limiting thoughts. It is helpful to remember that thoughts are just things, not fixed realities. They can and should evolve as we grow and learn. Play with catching some of your habitual judgmental thoughts, “Hello judgment!”

5. Awareness of Awareness.
The fifth facet has to do with the distinctly human ability to be aware of the mind itself, referred to as meta-cognition. This is where the formal practice of meditation is uniquely powerful as a way to be aware of sensations, emotions, thoughts, and not so reflexively driven by them. Meditation is linked to the phenomenon of brain integration, where the three levels of brain function coordinate in new ways.

Meditate in some way- it will help you live and lead with dignity.