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Having a home yoga practice has a whole new meaning in this time of virtual yoga classes and social distancing.

Students have commented that while virtual classes aren’t quite the same, they have helped them create structure, practice more regularly, manage the stress of this extraordinary event; as well as, make, sustain, and renew connections with others.

There are also the privacy, convenience, and cozy factors.  You don’t have to drive across town for your favorite class, practice in your underwear if you want, and you have your pets nearby.

Taking all this into account, as well as some of the challenges, here are some suggestions about how to make the most of the virtual yoga experience.

  • Am I doing it right? Remember that Yoga is so much more than the poses and techniques; the process has its own magic. The way we endeavor to teach is extra awareness based so there is less chance of doing it wrong and more chance of learning from your direct experience.  *If you do have a particular question about technique, ask after class or email. 
  • What are we doing now? You can get lost at times….it may be that the teacher wasn’t perfectly clear or that you spaced out a bit….no big deal, just tune back in and find your way anew. If you have feedback for any of us in regards to clarity, tell us or email so we learn.
  • Is there anybody else out there? Sometimes it helps to notice the participant list of who is in class before we begin and recognize that you are doing this with other people at the same time. You are actually having a communal experience. There is a period before class and after class to say hello, and you can also just zoom in and out without socializing.
  • I really need to vacuum…It can be useful to create a dedicated space in your home. And to keep it clean and clear of stuff. This is a very classical recommendation for yoga, create the space that signals your brain that you are doing something special. If you can’t find that space in your home, or your device doesn’t allow that, it can just be your mat zone while you are on it.
  • Am I doing enough or am I getting lazy? Being physically challenged can be over-rated, you end up forcing it and creating pain rather than relieving it. And, it is hard for us as instructors to know what is safe and productive when we can’t see you. A good rule of thumb is to do 80% of what you think is doable. If you want to see how it is to challenge yourself with a particular pose, do it every day at 80% and see where you are in 1 week.

At the time I was born, my mother was 29. She was now the mother of 3 living in Hyde Park, Illinois. She often said she missed the 1960’s because she was already with child by age 18; but she was still a woman of her time. She was an artist and writer, she had been a playboy bunny in the clubs, she married a Jew when her family had never met one, she befriended and often housed unusual, interesting, radical, struggling people, she was anti-war, she was gay friendly, had campaigned for Kennedy.

She is gone now so I can’t ask her to refresh me, but I imagine she was devastated by the assassinations of President Kennedy and years later, in my third term in her womb, Martin Luther King. I was born the day Robert Kennedy won the California primary for their Democratic Presidential Nominee, he was killed the next day. And we lived minutes away from the riot scene of the Democratic National Convention. I was probably in her arms when she watched the TV those days and heard the city around her in chaos.

Flash to now: I watch, listen, and sense into the events of these past weeks. The tragic death of Ahmaud Arbery. The knee on the neck of George Floyd. The ridiculous responses of our president, who has fanned racial tensions flagrantly all along. What am I to do? How am I to meet the moment? Me, a babe of the civil rights era, the daughter of a performance poet, and an ordained minister?

Looking around my life, I am aware, more than ever, that it is lily white. No black friends or neighbors, very few places where I come into contact with any diversity. I had not noticed. It happened gradually as I left work in organizations and focused on creating something of my own. Like my mother, who was sucked into domestic and suburban life; only worse because I don’t even have children to draw me out into the community they might have, or make me think about the youth perspective.

I attended the “Black Lives Matter” event on the U of A campus this past weekend and thought of her, my mother. She was more socially active than I am. More dramatic. She would have carried a sign. She would have known some of these performers on stage, or their equivalents in her day. She was someone who could get up on stage and speak and sing of the aches of the wounded heart and the ravages of oppression. She was someone who would affirm anyone who tried to as well. She wasn’t political, but she was a champion of truth and justice and the power of the spoken word.
Two of the speakers at the rally spoke of the need to stand up, the need for all marginalized people to raise their voices, the need to risk offending the powers that be. I heard them. And then heard them again, when they said that those who are standing here will turn away again. White people in particular. Will retreat. Will collude. Will comply. Again. They were scolding us and I felt it, and deserved it. They also were voicing their despair; you might feel good about being here letting us be us, but you will forget about us tomorrow….

A client I had been with earlier in the day- grieving deeply the wounds of her family combined with the grief of our country and world, likewise had doubted that any protest would matter. Not just this but in general- all that has been trampled these last 3 years….
It’s too big and pervasive. All the brokenness. And the Powers That Be, that serve themselves and their kind alone.

And yet: Something finally does seem to be happening. Moving the needle. Shaking the status quo. What can I do? How can I contribute to the moment? How will I remember, tomorrow and in the weeks, months, years to come what is happening and what is needed to help others up and out of not only personal despair (which I am trained to do), but systemic oppression (which I am not)?

Please know this reflection is primarily personal. I am sharing it to expose my own process rather than to wave a sign of any kind. As a contemplative, someone who is more introverted than extroverted- more emotional than intellectual- more spiritual than practical- I am searching for my authentic response to how will I remember and act.

I will take heart and inspiration from those I see standing up, speaking out, calling out, crying out. One of the presenters yesterday, sang a song about the places she can’t go because of the risk of being killed by police. It was stunning and at one point she screeched and screeched and it was just, right. Just as we would hope in our grief workshops when people connect to the rage or fear or desperation that really was a natural way to react, but most likely was repressed to stay alive. We have to allow ourselves and others to grieve, which includes rage and anger properly directed.

I will continue to listen and care and beam a deep faith in the potential of individuals to connect with deeper powers than the powers that be. As a black minister said of Trump’s photo op at St. John’s Church, “The God I serve is higher than that.”
I will continue to commit to my own contemplative path of Yoga. Prayer. Meditation. Not as an escape or evasion, or personal pursuit of health or wisdom, but as a form of purification and the innate desire to provide places of refuge and processes of insight for others. Refuge, that Thomas Merton referred to as necessary to make active work “fruitful.”

And I l will commit to learning more about systemic oppression, about my own bias, about what is now referred to as white fragility. I truly don’t understand these things- have not felt it was relative to me yet. Now it is.

All this does not alieve the pain of those actively oppressed, the real suffering of so many, but it is something I can and will sincerely do. From a black president to a racist president to the unknown future. We each have plenty we can do that matters.

While the moment is ripe for change, while the situation is dire for so many, while hope is sincere, it will not be easy. In the words of Thomas Merton again, and in the spirit of the long view, and the contemplative I am, “concentrate not on the results, but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself. ” Thomas Merton

I said goodbye yesterday to a group of Catholic clergy I have been working with for 7 weeks.  I teach a “Mind, Body, Spirit” Seminar for a clergy sabbatical program here in Tucson. 

Essentially, I give them an ecumenical model for how yoga, meditation, and mindfulness “work” and then we spend the majority of our time engaged in gentle, relaxing, and prayerful practice.

As a closure, I asked them to tell me what stuck with them from the practice experience, what they would be taking away into their lives and ministries.

Here is a summary of their list for all of us to remember:

  1. Breath.  How important it is to breathe consciously and to notice our breath holding patterns.
  2. Gentle Movements.  How much can happen with simple, mindful movement.
  3. Simplicity.  Stand against the wall for a few moments.  Fold forward ½ way with your hands on a table top.  Lie down and let your body open.
  4. Alignment.  Notice how the body contracts and rounds and the difference you feel when you adjust and align more with gravity.
  5. Respect.  Work with your body in this moment.  There is no need to force, strain, or effort for something particular.
  6. Relax.  Notice the way we rush, lurch, tense, grip as we are acting.  Consciously relax within the effort and notice how that also affects your mind.
  7. Grace.  In movement and in the whole experience.
  8. Space.  It helps to have the right environment and we become the right environment- our body/mind state.
  9. Focus.  The mind on the body, the body as a worthy focus for attention, prayer, communion, insight.

In truth- this isn’t their list exactly.  That arose on the white, dry erase board and then was dissolved as we talked about yoga styles out there in the wider world.  This list is what I remember and what I have embellished a bit.  Yet, it’s the same and different every time I teach.  What makes it different is the alchemy, the respect we have for ourselves and each other as we commune on this day.  Goodbye Fall Sabbatical Group, it was lovely to share my yoga ministry with you these 7 weeks.   God Bless us all.

If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time.  But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.   Aboriginal Activists Group, Queensland

When considering what to share from my practice this month, the idea of pace came to mind as a relevant theme.

As I tried to write about it, it became overly complex.  So I am going back to basics and simply sharing some personal thoughts that I hope are useful for you.

Years ago, I read an article by the excellent teacher of the Vedic sciences, Robert Svoboda, regarding the cultivation of Prana.  Prana is the Sanskrit term for subtle energy, similar to the Chinese term Chi.

The article had a wonderful effect on me during an especially difficult period of life.  I felt stuck and thwarted in many ways then, and was undoubtedly being hard on myself.  Why was I so slow?  Why did I have no energy?  These were constant, semi-conscious questions I circulated in my mind.

I share with you the first paragraph of this article and a few reflections about how it helped me and informs me to this day.

Whoever you may be, and wherever you may live, you live your life well when you live it at the right rate. Plow your way through life and life will wear you out; poke your way along and your life will grind to a halt. Find a pace that suits you, though, and amble along it accordingly, and your world will spontaneously level a path for you.

The article goes into some depth about yogic matters that I jive with, but what struck me right away was the possibility that slow was my pace.  That being upset about my pace was perhaps the drain of energy.  That maybe it was time to surrender to a deeper understanding of my rhythm, and to life’s rhythm for me.

This insight paradoxically allowed me to slow down more, to drop down deeper, to rest and rejuvenate, to ask different questions, to hear from my heart, and to follow my heart.

In this period since, about 5 years now, I understand my pace more and I do my daily best to honor it and amble along accordingly.    I don’t expect the world to spontaneously level my path but I do seem to understand more what is meant by such a statement.

Our pace connects us to our heart.  Our heart emanates our unique emotional and spiritual longing.  This is what influences the course of our path.

May you know and honor your pace.  May your heart illuminate your path.

May our practice and our healing be of benefit to the whole world.

Here is a link to the entire article for those that are inspired: Prana

Here are some reflections from my practice and hopefully some inspiration for yours:

This winter and spring I have been concentrating on getting stronger through hiking.  It has felt important as I enter into middle age to not just move more, but to be in nature and to be reminded that my body is a vehicle for connecting with the wilderness.

My asana practice is simple and sweet these days.  I don’t try and get much out of my body- rather I attend to it so it feels good and balanced.  This attitude has been distilled from years of practicing in ways that were not necessarily simple and sweet.

Even though I have always gravitated to gentle styles and found teachers who understood the meditative and spiritual dimension of yoga, I still pressured myself to do more and more.  I imagine I thought that was my duty as a professional yoga teacher.   It took some time to realize I was inflicting pain upon myself rather than resolving it, and that was serving no one!

This is really a lesson regarding the Mind.  I didn’t know I was being aggressive.  I didn’t know I was off track.  My teacher Rama always emphasized a will-less way of progressing and I loved the message.  It just took years to bear fruit and flowers. Perhaps there is much more to come.   Meanwhile, I am pain free, at ease, and in awe with the way my practice has evolved.

This brings me to the concept of Mind/Body that I am playing with lately.  In the new brain science we see more than ever that the mind and body are integral, not distinct.  The mind is the body, the body is the mind.  Awareness and sensitivity are keys to integration, thinking and dissecting are disturbances.  Yogis and Buddhas and Mystics of all stripes have essentially agreed upon this- now there is a modern wave of contemplative science and study that affirms and explains the phenomena of integration.

It is an exciting and exhilarating new way of conceiving of self and human potential.   What does your body tell you?  How does the thinking and judging mind distort the information?  How do we enter into the energy and information of the mind/body, learn from it directly?  How do we translate this integration of being into our lives and world? What might it mean for the future?

In regards to your practice, I hope you have the opportunity to move more and the wisdom to will-less from your body.  I wish you the enjoyment of nature and the opportunity to touch into wilderness.  I pray that your own mind/body journey flowers into good health and spiritual integration.  And that each of our practices aids to the healing of the world.

Blessings and Light, Natasha

For many years I ran a yoga, meditation, and mindfulness program for Miraval: Life in Balance, and was regularly asked by our sales and marketing team to speak with journalists about our programs and what we do.  Inevitably I was always asked for “tips”.

I can do tips of course and it is good way to get very clear, very quick.  In the beginning it was exciting to be asked and a fun challenge and I always felt pretty good about what I offered up.  It was nice to see my name in print as the expert or authority and to get comments from friends, family, and colleagues about the publicity.  I’m happy to say that my name and advice popping up in an article in Woman’s Day was a particularly thrilling experience for my mother-in-law.   Yet more and more I felt dissatisfied about what ended up in print.

It was never quite what I said or meant, not the right context, it seemed banal and superficial.  The idea here was of course to simply get mentioned, to get attention to your cause, but it never felt quite right seeing the tips end up next to tips for removing cellulite or losing your belly fat, or having the perfect bath.  It’s like seeing the woman on tv who teaches yoga to professional athletes and swears by Advil for the days she is too sore or sick but the game must go on. It’s simply not the right message about these subjects.  It’s static rather than substance.

I don’t mean to sound cynical, I have benefited from the mainstreaming of these practices.  I am sure we all have benefited from these casual tips at some point and that we all need a little something different to get information across our filters.  We all deserve a good bath after all!  I will indeed keep giving tips and receiving tips.

Rather than cynical, I am curious.  Can I find a way to get clear, quick, and still transmit meaning?  Can tips be experienced as ideas, reminders, sparks that energize the reader or listener rather than concepts we mistakenly impose upon ourselves?  In my mind one tip truly received could change our lives’, it’s that simple, yet not that easy!

Three Tips for Maximizing your Experience of Tips:

  • Your breath is more important than anything you are reading or hearing or doing.
  •  You are already whole and complete, no improvement necessary.
  •  Let life live through you. (poem fragment from “Hokusai Says”, by Roger Keys)