I am

I am.

This morning I did something different at the end of the yoga class. I had the students sit in a circle, and I asked them to think about the words, I am. I asked them to choose a word to follow “I am”. After each person said their “I am” statement, the group as a collective voice would repeat their statement back to them. These were some of the I am statements, and the group’s response:

  • “I am confident.” & the group’s response: “You are confident.”

  • “I am strong.” Group: “You are strong.”

  • “I am loved.” Group: “You are loved.”

  • “I am clear.” Group: “You are clear.”

  • “I am peaceful.” Group: “You are peaceful.”

“As each person said their statement, the room got very quiet. Some students had a hard time using the “I am” statement, for some it brought tears

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Namaste

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Namaste

The word we end each yoga class with. I’ve said it thousands of times, and each time I say it I feel the rich meaning and weight of the word. Namaste. Often I'm asked what this word means. The young boy at the elementary school asks in a teasing manner, “What does nam-oh-yay mean?” He has a smirk on his face and waits to see how I'll respond. I take a deep breath, look him in the eyes and say, “The very best part of me sees, knows, and recognizes the very best part of you.” He is looking at me, there is a light of recognition in his eyes. Before he leaves the classroom, he runs up to me and throws his arms around my waist. Namaste. Or the time in juvie when a young man asked curiously, “What’s that word you say at the end?” I tell him slowly and spell it out. He asks me what it means, I take a deep breath, look him in the eyes, and tell him, “The very best part of me sees, knows, and recognizes the very best part of you.” His eyes start to tear up, he nods his head. We sit in silence. Or the young woman in the transitional recovery home who asks me, “Why do you say Namaste, what does it mean?” And I tell her, “The very best part of me sees, knows, and recognizes the very best part in you.” And she responds, “Well, you did that for me today.” And the countless other times I have said this word, this beautiful coming back to my own self.

One day, I was curious about the power of this vibration. I silently said this word throughout my day. I made a mental note to repeat it in my mind to as many people, some I knew, most I didn't. I noticed how people would turn around and smile, or people went out of their way to keep a door open, or how people looked at me and just smiled.

I bring my hands in front of my heart center, and I say this word to you, Namaste.

Words

“Before you speak, let your words pass through three gates: At the first gate, ask yourself, “Is it true?” At the second gate ask, “Is it necessary?” At the third gate ask, “Is it kind?” – Rumi

I first saw some version of this quote years ago. Over the years, I’ve seen it numerous times, but it wasn’t until this past year that I decided to use these questions in my life.

“Is it true?” We know when something rings true or not. Sometimes I don’t like the truth, but I know it. When I made this questioning a regular habit, I noticed how one simple question can affect your life. The parts of my life where I wasn’t living truthfully became very clear. I noticed a deeper power and presence to my words. I could feel an energy I was connecting to by aligning with truth.

“Is it necessary?” The first thing I noticed was how I used some words, simply out of habit. An example was when people would ask me to present, or teach a class, I’d say, “Why me?” Rather than be happy and grateful, I’d wonder why they chose me. I realized this phrase was unnecessary. I changed it to, “Yes me!” I also noticed how often I’d speak to fill a silence. This meant I sometimes spoke out of boredom, or because I wanted to show I was right, and other times it was simply to hear my own voice. I realized how many words I used unnecessarily, how they distracted me from goals, and how they mindlessly reinforced past patterns. These words wasted time.

“Is it kind?” It is true what you put out into the world, you get back. Are the words you using inspiring and uplifting? This falls under the category of kind. I’m not just talking about the words you speak to others, but equally important are the words you speak to yourself. Using kind words to myself has been a challenge, but this question, “Is it kind?” helps focus me on the power of kindness.

When we take a moment to frame our words with these three questions, we become more intentional with our precious time. Next time you open your mouth to say something: pause, take a moment, and ask yourself: “is it true, is it necessary, is it kind?”

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No effort is wasted

What are your limitations? Where did they come from? Do you question them?

My time on the yoga mat has revealed many of my limitations are self-imposed. In my own practice, I am still learning and growing. I continue to try new postures, many which seem out of my reach. This pose, the one in the video, I somehow got into my head I couldn’t do it. Instead of questioning or eliminating this thought, I took it as fact. I just assumed, “Nope, there’s no way I can do it. End of story.”

On the day I shot this video, I’m not sure what prompted me to try it. The posture popped in my head and instead of thinking about it too much, I just tried it. I don’t know how in the world my legs lifted up and then back down again. I remember thinking, “Whaaaaattt!? I’m not supposed to be able to do this!” It took me a few minutes to process it, and for the next week I still couldn’t quite believe it.

What did that situation teach me? That, on and off the mat, I limit myself and doubt myself out of habit. Yoga has taught me to at least try, to at least be open to a different possibility. Change is hard for all of us, even when it means opening up to a different, more expansive version of who we are.

Who would you be if you let go of your limitations? This is how yoga transforms us, one breath at a time. The Bhagavad Gita says this in Chapter 2, Verse 40: “On this path no effort is wasted, nor is there any danger of adverse effects. Even a little practice of this Yoga protects one from great fear.”

Intention

Intention

The dictionary defines intention as a determination to act in a certain way, a resolve.

In yoga, intention is important and the word is used a lot in classes. Often you’ll hear teachers say, “set an intention for your practice.”

About a year ago, I set an intention. I set the intention in form of a question. The question was, “How can I have the greatest positive impact?” Since then, I have re-visited this intention numerous times. I look back and am amazed and surprised how that intention has guided me. It has led to stop teaching some classes, while adding others. It has clarified how I want to use my time in classes. In the past, I taught my classes by showing students poses and helping them relax. But, since setting my intention the way I teach classes has transformed. A by-product of asking, “How can I have the greatest positive impact?” has inspired me to provide students with tools that will benefit them the most. It’s led me to see my role as not just educator, but as leader.

There are two recent examples that have reminded me how powerful an intention is, and how it moves through us, creates events and circumstances that are in harmony with our focus. The last time I was in juvie, there were two young men practicing yoga. We had the rare luxury of having a whole hour of yoga time. Usually, we share the hour with 30 minutes for the females, and the remainder for the males. But, this time, no females wanted to practice yoga. By the end of the hour, the two males were really relaxed. I could tell by the way they looked that they were different from when they arrived. They told me how great they felt, how happy. They said, “I come in feeling all tight, and then I leave feeling all good, relaxed. I love yoga.”

I’ve started doing more workshops. After a recent workshop, a student remarked how life-changing her time on the mat was. Another person spoke of a healing they felt at their heart center, a lightness she hadn’t felt before.  

An intention clarifies what is important to you, and sets you on the path to realize it. The intention I set is still resonant for me, and I continue to ask, “How can I have the greatest positive impact?” What is your intention?

Radiant Jewels

Life is mysterious. A couple weeks ago, my daughter came home from an evening with her grandma. They had been at church and unbeknownst to me, a woman at church gave Emerson a necklace for me. This may not seem very remarkable or unusual until you start to hear more of the details. The first remarkable part of the story is that I had never met this woman before. We are Facebook friends, but hadn't really communicated very often.

Emerson sat me down on the couch and spoke in a very slow and calm voice. She said, "Mom, a woman at church was going through her jewelry and she wanted you to have this. This necklace has been in her family for over a hundred years. When she looked at it, she thought of you for some reason." At this point, it almost seemed too much. Emerson sat next to me and held in her hands a small square white box. I almost didn't want to open it. How could a stranger gift such a precious and valuable gift to me? The intention itself was more than enough, but now Emerson also wanted me to open it. For a few seconds I just sat there trying to process it all. Emerson gently encouraged me, "Mom, open it. It's for you." I tried to refuse, "But, why didn't she give it to you? She knows you! Why me? I don't even know her. It's too much!" I finally opened up the box to find this beautiful and radiantly intricate necklace. I'm not sure if I've ever seen a necklace so beautiful. 

Since then, I have met the woman and she has given me another necklace that has been in her family. Both necklaces have beautiful gems in them, and I remembered how not long ago I worked on the third chakra, the manipūra chakra. This chakra is known as the "city of radiant jewels". Today I was looking at both necklaces, their beautiful and radiant jewels shining and I couldn't help but think about the energy in the manipura chakra, and were the yogis talking of literal jewels? Up until recently, I was certain the "jewels" were metaphorical. And perhaps they truly are, but I can't help but think of the sequence of events and how I somehow was bestowed such a generous and beautiful gift of jewels. 

Kirtan

 

"If you want to find the secrets of the universe,
think in terms of energy, frequency and vibration." 
― Nikola Tesla

Life is funny. When I was younger, I saw images of bald men in orange robes singing "Hare Krishna" and thought, "Huh!?" From where I came from in rural Wisconsin, chanting was considered very out there! Sometimes they would close their eyes, move, dance. It was unlike anything I ever saw.

And what did I do last night? Went to kirtan. I find myself making more time to go to kirtan, even traveling an hour or so to participate in one. What is it about kirtan? Kirtan is a devotional chanting, typically done in call and response. It changes you, the process of creating the time to sit and be with other intentional beings. The energy in the room is powerful, elevating everyone. I leave a different person from when I began. I sing from the heart, from the truest part of myself. I offer up my words, my breath. I inhale, I exhale. I take in the Divine, I exhale fear and worry. 

When I sit on the cushion and sing kirtan, there is a pulse, an energy that moves through me. And I understand now why I need this, this opening to a purer vibration. It changes me, leaving behind what I no longer need, and using my voice to honor and celebrate the frequency of the Divine. 

 

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Inner Critic

Inner Critic.

Do you have an inner critic? I mean that voice that monitors what you do, what you say, and how you say it. Or even better, this inner critic has a running commentary on your life.

A couple of weeks ago I was on a social media site and saw a person’s comment about one of my yoga classes. The student never mentioned my name, but I knew by the class and its location that this person was talking about me. The person stated she would take a class, ANYWHERE but at that location. I read that comment and my heart sank. The thoughts that followed were something like this, “Oh my gosh, she hated my class. I wonder what I said or did. I wonder if she’s told her friends and family…” Part of me wanted to respond, but didn’t know what to say. I felt hurt, annoyed, angry, embarrassed. A few days later the comment still bothered me, and it bothered me that it bothered me.

We think the point of life is to avoid any discomfort, but those uncomfortable moments are growing us, teaching us. I used her comment in my own practice and brought it into my meditation. I first questioned my thoughts. Often times we think we know why a person says or does something. Do we really? Did I absolutely 100% know she had something against me as a teacher? It could have been the location itself, the cost of the class, the other students, the style, or it could have something to do with me as a teacher or person. .

My first response was all about me and how I felt: my own thoughts, concerns, and questions. Then I shifted it to the woman. Part of me had a lot of questions about her comment, but then I asked myself, “What do you want for this woman?” I stilled my body, closed my eyes, and relaxed my breath. It felt vulnerable, and part of me resisted. I just sat with the resistance until it shifted. And then what I wanted for her was clear: I wanted her to have the best possible yoga class and the right teacher. Aaahhhhh. When I focused on wanting the best for her and for myself, the tightness in my body released. I felt open, and in that quiet space sent her some peaceful vibes.

I realized that the woman felt like a critic because she reflected my own inner voice that too often will focus on the areas where I need to improve, areas where I could work on. My inner critic always has a long list of things where I fall short and things I could do better. In the past, I’d listen attentively to everything the inner critic had to say. Meditation has taught me to observe these thoughts. I don’t have to act on all of them, I don’t have to let them direct my life. I take this inner voice less and less seriously, just observing what it says. I understand why this part of the self is called “monkey mind”. There is another part of the self, the witness. When I shift to the witness and notice what comes up, the conflicting and often confusing thoughts, I am at peace. It's not so much what happens in my life, but my relationship to it. The woman's comment was a great teacher, to accept I can't be everyone's teacher. Not everyone has the same path, from that space I could accept her. More importantly, I can also accept myself.
 

 

 

Permission

“Don’t wait for someone to give you permission to succeed and achieve. Don’t wait for someone to tell you how to do it. Don’t wait for just the right situation. Don’t count on being lucky.

Your destiny is in your hands. Think like it and act like it with each passing moment.” – Rod Stryker, The Four Desires.

I had the good fortune of taking a workshop with Rod Stryker. I had read his book, The Four Desires, for about a year before I took his weekend workshop. In a sort of prayer, wish, thought combo I kept knowing I would take a class with him. At that point, Rod had workshops and classes all over the country, but the dates and travel just never worked out with my schedule. But, in my heart and mind, I KNEW I needed to meet him, and that I would. I said to myself, God, and the Universe, “I’m not able to travel to the places Rod is teaching. He needs to come to Wisconsin so I can take a class or workshop with him.” I kept repeating it so strongly and clearly. And, although Rod traveled extensively in the United States, and the world, he never came to Wisconsin to teach.

At this point, my students and fellow teachers had heard of Rod’s name. I spoke about his book a lot and led students through his guided meditations. Out of the blue a fellow yoga teacher emailed me. She received a newsletter from a Madison yoga center that Rod Stryker was coming for a weekend workshop. I couldn't believe it, and yet I could. I didn't even bother reading the content. I registered for the whole weekend.

When I went to the workshop there were easily over 400 people in the room, but I knew I’d speak with Rod. The workshop was just what I needed and towards the end of the second day, during a break, I spoke with him.

His book and his workshop reminded me of this:

-          Obstacles are not meant to overwhelm or discourage us, but rather inspire and motivate us!

-          We are meant to expand beautifully.

-          We determine our destiny.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I get lazy and want others to direct me or tell me what my next steps should be. I think we probably all get like this at some point. We let someone else be the expert in our own lives. At some point, you start to listen to your inner wisdom and follow where it directs you. Lately, I have really been taking to heart the idea of giving yourself permission to grow, to achieve, to succeed. Ideally, we’d all have a group of mentors cheering us on, but it doesn’t always happen. I learn more and that as knowledgeable and experienced as others are, that don’t always have the magic answers. They can’t tell me what I need to hear. I’ve learned to dig deep, get still and center, and listen to that clear voice within. I become directed from within.

Examine what your reasons are for not acting, for not taking a next step. Afraid you don’t know how to do something? Afraid you’re not an “expert”? Waiting for someone to ask you to do it. Are you waiting for permission?

From a yoga perspective, it is a unique and wonderful privilege to be born as a human being. Make the most of the opportunities you create. The universe responds and expands when we follow our heart, when we are clear about what we want to do. Yogi Bhajan says, “I don’t count on miracles. I rely on them.”

What do you really want to do? What stops you from doing it? What are you waiting for?

I bring you back to Rod’s words:

“Don’t wait for someone to give you permission to succeed and achieve. Don’t wait for someone to tell you how to do it. Don’t wait for just the right situation. Don’t count on being lucky.

Your destiny is in your hands. Think like it and act like it with each passing moment.” – Rod Stryker, The Four Desires.

Many rich and beautiful blessings to each and every one of you!

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Photo Credit: Patrick Flood Photography, 2017.

Balance

Balance. It’s something students want. I hear so many students tell me, “I have no balance.” It’s the aspect of the practice that seems to frustrate students the most. I watch them adjust, struggle, make faces, and shake their heads. What does it mean to have balance in yoga, and how do we create it?

If you’ve ever taken a class with me, you know I invite you to fully participate! Often, I will have discussions about the practice. During a recent yoga class I asked, “What is balance? How would you define it?” Here were some of the answers:

-          Feeling solid

-          Even

-          Strong

-          Ease

This is how a fellow yoga teacher defined it, “Being in the here and now.” When I took those words to heart I noticed how it changed my balance. I found myself fighting with the pose less, and noticed my balance improved. I realized being present, in the here and now, helps one create that elusive balance.

This past year I have been putting a lot of energy into growing my yoga practice and classes. With all of this, it’s been a challenge maintaining balance in my life. I’ve realized I need to apply the same attention to my life: be in the present moment, adjust when necessary, and breathe.  

During a recent photo shoot, I had a wonderful opportunity to work with balance. In Warrior II I am normally strong and balanced when I practice indoors. Inside I have my awesome Jade yoga mat, the lights are consistent, I don’t have to worry about the wind, and I don’t the distraction of different sounds and people. However, to create balance on two rocks of different heights, both which were uneven, not to mention very slippery… that added a whole new dimension to my understanding of balance. As I was trying not to fall, I noticed a sense of fear, and for a moment I thought, "We're not going to be able to get the shot." But, then I do what I tell my students to do: breathe! Breath by breath I settled into the moment and pose. The photographer captured the moment when I surrendered to the moment. The peace and strength I found in the pose, well, those are the gifts of balance.  

This time that you have

This is the number one reason people give me for not practicing yoga. Time. “I want to practice yoga, but I just don’t have the time, you know.” Or “I know I should do it and I always feel so much better, but…” Sound familiar? We have all this technology in life that’s supposed to give us more control and more time, and yet how come there’s not enough time to take care of ourselves?

Five years ago, I started practicing yoga on a more regular basis. At first, it felt like I should be spending that time doing “more constructive things.” But, I noticed the days I practiced yoga, I felt better. And when I practiced on a weekly basis, there was a greater sense of peace. I thought to myself, “WOW, all of this for doing just a little bit of consistent practice.”

What takes us away from a regular practice? What do people spend their time on if they’re not practicing yoga? What are these “more important” things that take priority? The answers are probably something like this: watching t.v., going out, shopping, cleaning the house, uh…

One of my fierce and wonderful teachers, Yogananda, said that it’s really laziness that prevents us from practice. Ouch. He just cuts right through our attempts at rationalizing or defending our lack of practice. When I first read his books, I felt like a thunderbolt was going through the top of my head. It was relentless and I found in his texts a strength, an integrity, and a clarity. Through his words he didn’t let me wiggle out of my reasons for not practicing. He said it bluntly and directly, “you are lazy.” Hehe. WOW! When I first read it, I gulped, broke a sweat, and had to close his book. But, even though the book was closed, his words still resonated LOUDLY! He said we as human beings have the power and capacity to strengthen our will power to determine our destiny!

Your life is composed of time. How you use it is of your own making. Your time and attention are precious commodities. Think of the activities you spend them on. Are they useful? Are they enriching you? Are they done out of habit? Are they done so you feel accepted in a group? Or are you not even sure why you spend time the way you do?

I used to think yoga took time and it felt like pressure. “How am I supposed to find time to practice when I have to work, clean the house, run errands, etc...” But, now instead of feeling pressured, I feel inspired to make time and the question has shifted to, “How can I be more present and create quality moments?” Now I know yoga makes time and gives me space to be present in my own life.

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When the Light Turns on

We started a fall session of yoga at one of the places I teach. Lately in my classes I’ve been focusing on expansion, of moving through our perceived limitations. In class, I’ve had students create a deeper expansion and openness in the body. Of course, the expansion isn’t just limited to the body. The mind and the breath expand as well. And with this expansion we experience the fullness of energy coursing through us.

As I was driving to class last night kind of marveling at the abundance of students in the classes, I couldn’t help but think about what I had been teaching the students and how it manifested in the classes. It’s all related, all connected. Your life is an extension of what you do on your mat, which is why it’s important to bring your whole self. Show up, be present, give yourself the gift of your full attention. See what happens, be open.

Last night, a room full of yogis practiced together, in union. They come from different backgrounds, have different personalities and ideologies and yet for that hour they were able to exist peacefully and joyfully with one another. This is the power and strength of yoga! I had them go to tree pose and then extend their hands up, extending beautifully from the heart center. As they did it, I told them to extend, to let the energy from their hearts radiate up their arms and through their hands and fingers. I told them how powerful they are, to never forget or underestimate it. They let the energy of their heart center radiate up and out through the room, and as they did the light in the room turned on. I mean literally the light turned on in the room. We all looked at each other with widened eyes, in awe and wonder. We all smiled, nodded, shook our heads a little. I said, “Look at what you did. You lit up the room, literally! You are powerful!” And it’s true.

You are powerful and your heart has a power that will light up the world.

In gratitude,

Lora

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Yoga in Juvie

Every Sunday morning I teach yoga at our local juvenile detention center. I’ve been teaching there for more than a year. I teach both males and females. I notice changes, although sometimes they are small. I love the stories these young men and women tell me about yoga, especially proper breathing and how it affects them. I showed a young man alternative nostril breathing. He didn’t make any comments after I demonstrated it and I didn’t think much about it. Months later he was back in juvie and he came to yoga. He didn’t look me in the eye, didn’t address me by name. He started talking and it took me a moment to register he was talking to me. He said, “I did that breath thing you taught us.” Me: “Oh, are you talking to me?” “Yes,” he said barely looking at me. In my head I was freaking out because I was so ecstatic he actually practiced it! It took me a moment to respond, but I couldn’t help but wonder what he noticed. He said, “I have some heart issues and it’s helped with that. I also have anxiety and when I practice it I feel better, more relaxed.” I told him and the rest of the group, “That is huge! That is wonderful that you took the time to value yourself by doing that breathing exercise and now you have the experiential knowledge to know it works. I give you so much credit for doing it, for taking care of yourself in such powerful and positive ways!” He didn’t respond, just smiled a little. He paused and said, “It helps me feel relaxed. It hasn’t completely changed everything, but when I do it, I feel better.”

Here’s the power of yoga. The first time I had class with a young woman she was clearly distressed and visibly worried. Over the course of a couple of months, I taught her yoga about half a dozen times. She was released recently. The last time I saw her she was the only female that came to yoga. At the end, she looked me in the eyes and said, “Thank you for teaching me about the breath. I feel more relaxed. I use it throughout the day.”

I teach there because community is important and the young females and males in juvie are a part of the community. I teach there because it’s doing what I can by sharing something I love. I teach there because often when you offer different ways of being, thinking & responding, you have a greater chance of creating change.

At the end of every class I end it the same way, “Namaste”. In one of the classes, a young man asked me what it meant. I looked him in the eyes and said, “What it means to me is, ‘The very best part of me sees, knows, & recognizes the very best of you.’ And by invoking that within you, I am also strengthening that within myself.”

Namaste