21 December 2009

Snow Days...

Yogis having fun in the recent East coast snow storm. Photos taken in New York City & DC...


16 December 2009

A Merry Shakti Weekend

I am closing in on my first month in DC and it has been quite an adventure. This past weekend I was invited to teach meditation and pranayama at a local rape crisis center for a Day of Healing event. It was an opportunity for survivors to receive energy work and alternative healing treatment. Among those providing therapeutic services were an acupuncturist and traditional Chinese medicine specialist, a reiki master and massage therapist. I met an amazing group of strong, beautiful women who were truly dedicated to a path of rehabilitation and reclamation.

After reveling in the blessing and honor of participating in the weekend’s events, I began to reflect on the power of the collective female force. I started thinking about Shakti – that mysterious and powerful divine feminine energy. While I was accustomed to teaching yoga and meditation to classes of students that were largely female, this experience was quite different. On this occasion I was guiding a group of female practitioners who were coming together with the unified intention of healing from serious emotional and physical trauma. As a teacher, it is an intimate and intense task to take on. Initially, I was unsure of my abilities to conduct a meditation in that type of setting. Looking back on that auspicious day, I can confidently state that it was the first time in my years of teaching where I felt a deep and profound energy in the room. It was piercing, yet warm and despite the pain and hardship that I know these women have encountered, there was an immediate embrace and surrender. Those aren’t reactions that come so freely or instantly when teaching a yoga class in a studio. There is quite a bit of resistance and lack of concentration from many students when they come to the mat for the first time or even from seasoned students who either become complacent in their practice or let their egos creep in (we all know it happens…I’m guilty of it).

Within the feminine energy there are opposing forces: Shakti is the creator, associated with goodness and beauty while Kali is the destroyer, who brings torment and turmoil. When we are in balance and reverence of Lady Shakti, she will nourish us with light and abundance. I recently read an article in a spiritual publication that said we are currently in a dark age – a state of Kali Yuga. Our community is experiencing war, recession, poverty, and hardship. In order for the dark cloud to pass, we must regain devotion in Shakti and pray that her energy will once again return to bless us with spiritual and economic wealth. I am certain this past weekend Shakti was alive and kicking at the Day of Healing. I am hopeful that the work we all did generated more peace and compassion in the world…presumably allowing more Shakti to flourish around us.

Interestingly enough, the coordinator of the event kept referring to those of us offering services as healers…...Huh? Me? A “healer”? No way. I knew that yoga could bring healing but I most definitely never considered myself a healer…but then again it was called a “Day of Healing.” I now have a new perspective to help me evolve in my path of teaching, learning and growing. I am thankful for that.

The weekend was full of many wonderful gifts...Shakti blessings. I was able to bring healing to other women and in turn nourish my own spirit. I also had a last minute opportunity to attend a workshop with ashtangi extraordinaire Kino McGregor from Miami Life Center, something which my hips and hamstrings were grateful for. My forever fabulous roommate presented me with a beautiful, vintage brass bracelet with Buddha engravings, a lovely reminder of the omnipresent divine. We ended the weekend’s festivities by welcoming the holiday season with good food, great company, and lots of laughter.

11 December 2009

So That Explains It...

Why I Am Not Enlightened

I don't normally post articles but I thought this was a good one with an interesting perspective to share. It's from the Huffington Post by Eliezer Sobel.


17 November 2009

The Sounds of Practice...

I took my first ashtanga class as a new resident of D.C. last week at Woodley Park and felt an immediate sense of stability and steadfastness. Photos of Guruji, smooth wood floors and the familiar sounds of practice filled me with warmth and welcome. After class, the instructor and I exchanged stories about teachers and experiences we had shared. It was an accustomed encounter, a feeling I had been acquainted with on so many occasions in the past.

Although it had been less than 2 weeks since I left the cozy, safe confines of my yoga studio in Jacksonville where I had practiced for over 3 years, I felt surprisingly distant and disconnected from my personal practice. My first six days in D.C. were fast paced, stressful and exhausting. There was no yoga, meditation, or mindful breathing. Moving to a new environment with different needs, expectations, and protocol is quite daunting. It was refreshing walking into an ashtanga yoga shala where the presence of tradition, continuity, and sequence rapidly extinguished the fear that accompanied my plunge into the abyss of change and transition. It reminded me that regardless of my place in the world, everything is always as it should be. As long as I embrace the gifts of my practice and continue to use them wisely…calling upon them at the moments I need them most, when I feel lost or displaced, there is nothing to fear.

What has been immensely profound is the overwhelming gratitude which has empowered me since the moment I set foot in D.C. If it wasn’t for the support of my family and my wonderful friends I wouldn’t have been able to embark on this journey.

In my short time here I have met so many amazing individuals…they have inspired me, embraced me and carried me through the birth of this ride…which has only just begun…and I’m enjoying every minute of it.

10 November 2009

Laura Goes to Washington...

I'm taking it national. Stay tuned...
Posted by Picasa

24 October 2009

Meditation Blues & Drishti Perspectives...

KTC Jacksonville, October 2009

"The buddha in front dissolves into light and merges into oneself." 
From the Amitabha sadhana

For the past 2 months I have been spending my Saturday mornings at Karma Thegsum Choling, a Tibetan Buddhist Center in Jacksonville, practicing silent sitting meditation and learning more about the Kagyu Lineage of Tibetan Buddhism.

I noticed during mantra recitations that most of the practitioners, including the presiding Lama, would keep their eyes open as they held their prayer beads close to their hearts. After making this observation, I sought out some literature and found an article in a Tibetan Buddhist publication which stated that keeping the eyes open was best in order to avoid distractions. This was contrary to what I had learned and practiced in my yoga training, where we normally meditate with the eyes closed in order to enhance awareness and shut out external forces. To be honest, I had become attached to keeping my eyes closed during meditation because I felt more awareness, opening and bliss when I did, so I figured I was doing something "right."

I inquired of the resident Lama in an email as to whether there was a "right" or "wrong" way of maintaining the eyes during prayer. I thought I would get a response email answering my question, however the Lama decided to use it as a way to start off her lecture after practice (which made me feel less silly about asking the question). Lama indicated that generally, there is no correct or incorrect way of keeping the eyes, however there are certain tenets that must be in place in order to meditate properly (specifically, the Seven Dharmas of Vairochana). She also stated that since Buddhism is highly influenced by Indian yogic traditions that the "drishti" or one-pointed focus is similar in that closing the eyes halfway and looking slightly downward was recommended (virtually the same drishti that is used during padmasana in ashtanga). Practicing this drishti aids the mind to rest in its own true nature - which I recently read as being described byYongey Mingyur Rinpoche as a state of "non-meditation," where there is no distinction between stillness or movement, simply basic cognizance.

Referring to a state of bliss that one may experience in meditation, Lama urged caution. Specifically, she said that what "you are getting is a 'high' and you want be careful that you are not chasing something while you meditate." This was very profound for me because I had never looked at my meditation from that perspective. I believed that the more I shut myself off to my surroundings, the deeper I could go within myself and seek mindfulness. There had been times during meditation where I would want to escape and enter my own dreamland, a place where there was no pollution, crime, billboards or noise...I would create a little vacation inside my head. But similar to how an addict may want to reach for that cigarette or cocktail, searching for that state of euphoria during meditation apparently is also a form of attachment......great. Just when I thought I was practicing non-attachment by meditating, I was given a spiritual reality check. Lama advised that one cannot continuously seek some kind of rush when they come to the cushion to meditate. The experience and the way it is carried out may be good on one occasion and not so good on another...it is what it is at that moment and it must be let go of each time.

I am grateful to KTC and its Sangha for their generous welcome, kindness and compassion and  Lama Tsultrim Khandro for her patience, guidance and teachings.

24 September 2009

Divine Reflections...

Atlantic Beach, 21 September 2009

I remember at certain brief moments throughout my childhood and adolescence I would think about how the world, before our time, was once a vast, empty space...full of nothing and would wonder why it was that people, animals, plants and objects came to exist and fill this pure, uncorrupted space (my private Christian education was wonderful but I could never seem to grasp the whole Adam and Eve thing). What was our purpose? Why were my Mother, Father, family, friends and pets put on this earth? I tried to imagine the expansive nothingness and picture what it was like and when I could finally create a tiny vision of it in my head, I would become afraid...afraid of the solitude, the unknown, darkness and would quickly reach out and cling to the earthly and safe things I knew. Being quite young, I figured that since we, as humans, existed then the divine emptiness must be gone. Our presence destroyed it. It wasn't until my exposure to yogic philosophy and Buddhism where I learned that it's ALL about the emptiness! Believing in emptiness is key to liberation. Not only is emptiness still out there but it is not something that can be destroyed. It is enlightenment, samadhi, god, the soul of the universe, the big picture...titles may vary. It was refreshing to know that harboring those unconventional thoughts as a child didn't mean I was weird, only that I was momentarily contemplating the meaning of life (although some family members might say I was a weird kid ;-)

Luckily, during my yoga practice and meditation I can once again ponder that emptiness, and on a good day even get a tiny glimpse of it without fear or apprehension. Yoga, with its endless lessons, teaches me patience and how to let go. It reminds me that we were created for a beatific reason...to mindfully fulfill our journeys in this life so that we may one day return to the emptiness. Along the way, on my journey back to that emptiness I must learn love, compassion, detachment, mindfulness and so many other truths and principles...I am grateful to be equipped with the compass of yoga and road-map of mediation.

02 September 2009

Look up at the sky and pause...

"He who binds himself to a joy doth the winged life destroy. But he who kisses it as it flies, lives in eternity's sunrise." - William Blake

2009 started off as good year. Then as summer approached the pressure came in waves. I stressed about final exams…made it through those, thankfully. Graduated from law school. Yippee! Then, uuuggghh…the dreaded bar exam. After 2 months of living under the fluorescent lights of study rooms, wearing only sweat pants and studying my brains out, the bar exam comes and goes. Phew! Now…the waiting begins. Waiting for bar exam results is like being in the waiting room of a dentist’s office for 2 months and not knowing if you are going in for an easy cleaning or a root canal. Agony, fear and impatience are frequent visitors in your mind every day.

Like many of my fellow classmates, I decided to do a little bit of traveling to take my mind off bar exam grade day. I flew home to Texas to visit my family and eat some legit Mexican food. Then it was off to New Orleans for a friend’s bachelorette celebration. My last stop was in Washington, D.C. to reconnect with my patriotism. During those 4 weeks, I finished reading 2 books (non-law related), got my hair done, did some shopping, sightseeing, went to some great restaurants, and enjoyed the company of loved ones. All of the things I had to temporarily sacrifice to study for the bar. I had fun and savored the sweet taste of having a break.

Unfortunately, what I did not do was yoga. No meditating or spiritual discipline. While I was acting like a vacationer and either stuffing my face, enjoying a cocktail, admiring my highlights or having the occasional anxiety attack about bar exam results in between, I completely neglected my spiritual practice. Shame on me. This made it easy for the impatience, fear, nail-biting and doubt to creep their way in. Once again I allowed my ego to set me back and halt the learning process of my spiritual journey. What I ended up with was more attachment and a weakened spirit. It’s amazing how quickly and easily we let go of the things that make us strong.

When we are spiritually weak it becomes difficult to handle aversion, hardship or any storms that may unexpectedly impact our lives. When unhappy surprises pop up it is easy to feel victimized. We wonder why this is happening, who or what is to blame and how can we fix it or get away from it as fast as possible. Rather than wallowing in sorrow or pressing fast-forward in order to escape our temporary negative circumstances we must face them…head on. Working through the situation and being fully active in its learning process will help the healing and allow us to grasp the true nature of its occurrence. Revel in the suffering and be grateful…because there are blessings and great lessons lying within.

Without going into more detail, I’ve learned my lesson. I’m embracing the waiting room because I know I’m strong enough to handle a measly cleaning or a root canal. I’ll live either way.

I am now focused on rebuilding, returning to yoga, working, reading, learning, preparing and getting quiet. Saying goodbye to the past, greeting the present and saluting the future.

23 May 2009

Lost in Transition...

“I got a dead bolt stroll, where I'm going is clear.
I won't wait for you to wonder…I'll just tell you why I'm here.”
Ani DiFranco, Willing to Fight.
Recent events have brought significant change in my life. I am no longer a law student. I have happily ended a long and abundant book. I am now ready to begin a new chapter and write my own story. Although, my status technically has not changed. I will always be a student, eager to learn, listen and absorb. Now I am empowered to do more. To advocate, manifest, console, heal, change, create, teach, protect and love. In my mind the future appears to be a white, clear canvas, ready for creativity, inspiration, color…and to end up a masterpiece. I am braced and willing to accept the hardships, lessons and discoveries that my future holds.

I worked hard, graduated, celebrated and now the after-party has begun. The location is this beautiful world I live in and everyone is invited. No RSVP needed. For anyone attending, please celebrate responsibly.

20 April 2009

Reduced, Reused and Rejuvenated….

Sunset in Islamorada, FL. (April 2009)

Ah…Spring…the perfect time for some detoxification. After having a bit of a stressful March, I decided I could use a little spring cleaning. When I found out that Sharath Rangaswamy was coming to teach ashtanga classes in Islamorada, I packed my loose fitting clothes and flip flops and headed for the Keys.

Taking class from him was amazing. I re-discovered my own personal strength, did away with some excess and unneeded emotional baggage, and let the sun shine on me. I learned to detach myself a little more from things and ideas which I had built up in my head and at their core didn’t really mean anything at all. I returned with a mind reduced in negative thoughts, a body recycled with positive energy and a heart rejuvenated with peace.

I am most definitely in need of rejuvenation at this time as I come to the end of my law school career and approach the much dreaded bar examination this summer. The mere mention of the bar exam, makes me sigh heavily and roll my eyes up toward my forehead. Just one more thing I have to overcome in order to live the life I chose. Oh well. I’ve learned that accepting the things I don’t like helps me tolerate them much more easily. I know the next few months will be challenging. I will probably shed an occasional tear and find some new gray hairs on my head but oddly enough, I am not afraid. Well…actually I might be a little scared, but its what my bar studies coach has described as the “good kind” of scared. I have committed to a great preparation strategy, which involves not only lots and lots and lots of studying, but also heavy doses of meditation, yoga, laughing, positive thinking and praying. I am fortunate and forever grateful to have an amazing support system surrounding me, my parents, my friends, my teachers, my fellow classmates and my own unshakeable and unbreakable spirit…

01 February 2009

Yoga is the Best Therapy.

With Manju Jois - Bliss Yoga Shala, February 2008
My 3 days with Manju Jois were very cool. He led us in asana, pranayama and chanting. I expected a lot of sweat, tears and bruises but the energy in the room was way more relaxed than anticipated. He made me laugh quite a bit…and I don’t do much laughing when I practice ashtanga.

During the Q&A session with Manju, he said that “yoga is therapy.” Specifically he was explaining how asana should not be a set of rules or regulations imposed on the body, rather it is a therapeutic technique to help the body open and heal. Each level of the ashtanga system is designed to assist the body in a certain way. For example, first series is therapeutic in nature while second series focuses on nerve cleansing. In the primary series, we work on establishing a certain depth in the body so we can advance to more internal purification. I knew these things from my yoga teacher training, but I think I had become a bit complacent in my practice and I lost this sense of feeling as if my yoga practice was therapy. I would come to the mat and do my practice as if it was this regimen I had created for myself. Like following a certain diet or paying taxes, it was something I had to do in order to not be delinquent with the regulatory institution located in my mind. Ashtanga is the path I have chosen. I openly admit that it challenges me and I fight with it all the time however, I will learn to love ashtanga as my therapist. It questions me, nurtures me, hurts me and allows me to see deep inside myself. During my time with ashtanga, I have felt pain, love, confusion, peace, sadness, and strength. I have been stuck, made progress, hit walls, taken small steps forward and giant leaps back. It has been quite a ride and no matter what, my therapy will always be there for me.

I learned a lot from my weekend with Manju. I took away a sense of fluidity. I was reminded that I’ll never stop learning. I reaffirmed my intentions to keep studying with great teachers. I learned that it’s ok to fall and laugh at my mistakes. I want to be 65 years old and be able to jump into bakasana. I was filled with a sense of gratitude for my fellow yoga mates. I felt fortunate to witness the great lineage of the Jois family. I realized that my journey with yoga is in its infant stages and I cannot wait to discover what lies ahead.