Wednesday, November 6, 2019

I often reflect on the precious beings who attend my classes and workshops.  I learn from each person who graces me with their presence and attention, in my classes as well as in life!   Having made my way as a yoga & meditation teacher, and yoga therapist for the last 22 years or so, I've seen much change in modern yoga in America in both how it's offered and how people are receiving it.  The fact that people keep showing up is one constant and that they are showing up because they are looking for something is another aspect that likely will never change.  People come looking for body pain relief, mind pain relief, stress reduction, fitness, community, something fun to do, a unique experience, information gathering, and who knows what else.  I have seen the big picture of life that spins around and outside of peoples' yoga practice shift considerably in the last two decades as well.  This could be a factor of my own aging as I turn 49 just this month, but I feel like life keeps speeding up.  There seems to be an constant uptick of more things to do, things to see, people to connect with, and an every increasing amount of readily available information with an increasing capacity to process it faster, all the time.  I see young people look more mature at younger and younger ages.  And old people looking younger in their later years.  I see the doing, striving, and efforting energies on a steady increase and the being, relaxing, and receiving energies waning.  Depending on your values and desires in this life, this is either a wonderful byproduct of human capacity or a depressing one.  I (and most of the people I know) can't deny the problems of over population and climate change mounting in our world, and that causes me heartbreak.  How this relates to yoga, as I see it, is the increase in what we could call yang energies are outweighing and overcoming the yin energies–we are heating up, expanding, and making more of everything.  I see this trend creating a more achievement dynamic in yogasana and meditation.  I see people bored with, or unable to be bothered with, the time it takes to feel into the process.  I see yoga students bypassing the details and nuance of somaticizing or embodying the process, and rather plowing head-on into some perceived final goal of asana.  I see people wanting to GET the quiet space of mindful presence without having to deal with the discomfort of wading through the mucky process of unwinding all the karma and that got them where they are.  In short, I believe most students of yoga today would do better to FEEL more and TRY less.  The ability to relate to what one is feeling is at the heart of asana and meditation.  Ignoring pain, bypassing process, valuing achievement over process is antithetical to yoga.  In the texts, asana is not prescribed as three steps to the perfect pose, nor is meditation prescribed as a kind of step by step recipe to freedom.  In fact the information offered is often cryptic and paradoxical.  It. Is. Not. Easy.  And I feel the attempts to make it easy with formulas or soundbites undermine the process of what can be learned from stewing in the difficulty.  So what I'm learning from what I see in the bodies and behaviors of those attending the classes I teach is that creating a space for more inquiry is way more fruitful than directing actions and imposing alignment.  I believe that slowing down and challenging people to feel more, to try different things, to initiate from different places, to question the things that get said, to question the answers we've been feed, to feel the actions and results, to pause more are ways to the heart of what yoga really means–which is to connect.  For information on a whole bunch of opportunities to that more of that, check out any of the events I offer...they are listed on my website. www.theresamurphy.net

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Blessings in 2019

We are shifting into a new month, like we do every 30 days or so, and shifting into a new year, marking another circling of the sun.  For many it's time for new calendars, planners, life changes, resolutions, all marking the passage of another year.  I've never been one who pays much attention to New Year's rituals or making New Year's resolutions.  I've always thought it to be simply another day, another turn of the same calendar, and that renewal is a potential held in each moment–if we are paying attention, and truly desire a change.

For some reason this seems to be shifting for me.  Perhaps it's because I'm getting older, and my half-century mark is creeping undeniably closer!  However I feel the reason is more closely related to the state the world in recent times.  I understand, in the historical context of things, we live in a society which is safer and more secure than any throughout history, and yet anxiety and fear are felt intensely everywhere.  I also know the air and water quality in our country is better in many places than it was 100 years ago, but the danger of us depleting resources our ancestors took for granted is a real concern for scientists and ecologists today. Humans (in this country especially) are living longer and with more physical comfort and security than ever in the past.  And yet, if we don't temper our mastery of the physical world with the wisdom of contentment and connection, our endless desire will be our downfall.

From my perspective, the root of all the dissonance, divisiveness, hateful speech, nationalism, resource hoarding, lying, scandals, and profiteering is that we humans are hard-wired for self-preservation.  We are designed to look after ourselves and those closest to us.  There was a day when that was necessary for the survival of the species.  That day is over.  Greed, oppression, dishonesty, genocide, cover-ups, and resource hoarding are simply unevolved behaviors, if you ask me.  We have developed highly intelligent brains, with the capacity for foresight, hindsight, and most importantly neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to learn and change.  We can use this ability to develop our capacity to expand the circle of our social bonds beyond our family and friends.  We know diversity is better for life!  Our innate human ability to feel the pain of another is, I believe, the only thing that will save this world, and all her inhabitants.  We must learn to feel ourselves and each other properly!  Science has shown that if we have a first hand account of the pain inflicted on another, we are more likely to stop said inflicting.  History has shown our ability to help each other in times of crisis, disregarding differences in politics, sexual orientation, social status, or religious beliefs.  The more we can connect with the real human suffering of this world, the more likely we will act to change it.

What does this have to do with yoga?  As a teacher of yoga for 22 years now, I'm continually contemplating how to refine my craft to bring the most good into the world.  I've shifted from exclusively strong, expressive, and rigorous practices to include more soft, static, contemplative, and reflective practices.  My use of language has shifted from one of presenting "one size fits all" instructions to extending invitations when teaching alignment in poses.  I am creating more space and presenting tools for people to feel the reality of their bodies (anatomically) and respond to THAT, rather than to some idealized formula of movement specifics.  I'm trying to empower students to do what feels integrated, rather than what looks impressive.  I vow to continue in this way–as I am clear that the paradigm I want to put forth in the world is one of sensitivity, compassion, connection, and respect for others' experiences.  I don't want my relationships with others to be dependent upon common preferences and opinions, but rather the shared human experience in all it's infinite flavors.  I'm interested in relating to experience rather than expectation. 

I've not taught any New Year's Eve classes in some years.  I am presenting a special offering at Imago Yoga Lab on New Year's Eve, 5-6:30pm!  I'm also making a few New Year's resolutions this year.  I'm resolving to renounce more in my life going forward.  In the interest of doing my part to be of help in this world, I'm renouncing the urges that may cause me to spend resources carelessly.  I'm renouncing support for businesses that put profit way over people.  I'm renouncing the knee-jerk tendency to pacify garden variety human discomfort with mindless consumption of whatever sort.   I'm renouncing my own tendencies to see "other" and to be influenced by fear.  I'm simply simplifying.  Relinquishing, bit by bit, the narrow path of selfishness, and widening, bit by bit, the circles of love I feel for those around me and beyond.  I'm also continuing to teach in ways that reflect an open-hearted, all embracing practice which invites one to be diligent, have integrity, be honest, be humble, and to work for the benefit of all beings.  I hope to see you on New Year's for class!  Then I'll be in bed by 10pm, God willing!  Happy Just Another Day everyone!  May we all do better for one another, and may all beings be at peace.  Om shanti. 

Thursday, June 14, 2018

To be a "master"...

My husband is a master gardener...whatever it means to be a master.  I'm pretty sure it means this:  he starts from seeds, wraps them in damp cloth, places them in warm light, and patiently awaits for them to bust out of their shell.  As he transitions them to each next phase of their lives he talks to them, looks them over, and assures they are content with each stage in the planting process.  In the event a sprouts is malformed, or not viable for raising, he'll eat it right then.  Over the course of their green fruiting lives he pulls (most) weeds because, you see, some of those weeds are actually a helpful presence.   Daily he checks the weather to decide about watering, sometimes more than once a day––a true sadhana.  He lets some bugs eat some of the plants, because bugs need to eat too.  Over the duration of the growing season (he's recently elongated with green houses!) he'll just stand, gazing over his green babies for hours, pondering, planning, loving, appreciating.  And the bounty produced is epic.  Heaps of  organically grown, abundantly delicious goodness, flavored with love and a golden soak of New England sun....which we give away about half of.

Me?  I just eat the stuff.  I also gaze lovingly at it, sometimes.  My most important role occurs when he's gone -- I do my best to keep it all from dying.  Every summer he visits his mother and goes on a retreat or two.  Initially it was stressful, not killing his creations.  Additionally, I want to eat all that goodness, so best not to muck it up!  In spite of his offering only gratitude for my willingness to step up in his stead, and ultimately his not caring too much if I somehow was not successful in performing his gardenly duties, I feel huge pressure.

Some five years have gone by in this way, with his beloved garden plots expanding each season, and I step up every year with somewhat decreasing angst about not mucking it up.  This year, yesterday, I had an epiphany.  It was one of those "Field of Dreams" moments when it seemed as if the garden spoke to me, saying, "Paying more attention makes it easier.  Paying more attention makes it better."  Paying loving attention to the garden, as he does, makes it grow better, bigger, more beautifully.  Paying loving attention to anything will cause it to thrive.  I recall about 25 years ago, shortly after starting yoga practice, hearing what became one of my favorite definitions of yoga, "The act of Yoga is to pay attention".

When we pay attention we increase energy towards what we are paying attention to.  We can channel that attention towards helpful or unhelpful outcomes.  Unhelpful outcomes arise when we pay too much attention to things that aren't true, aren't helpful to our hearts or psyche, or to things we can do nothing about.  Helpful attention arises when we see what its true, attend to things/ideas/suggestions that have a teaching or lesson, and when we attend to things we can effect.  Interestingly from the perspective of Yoga, tantra, and Buddhism these things are not mutually exclusive!  Something that is true in one context, can be utterly false in another.  Something that teaches us in one moment can confuse us in another.  And with regards to helplessness, I believe there's never nothing one can do.  For example in a world that is corrupt, ruled by greed, and compounded with environmental turmoil;  I can pray, I can vote with my dollars, I can vote at the polls, and I can make lifestyle choices that don't support what I find troubling.  This thing that's causing me pain and suffering can become a tool for insight into said suffering.  It's not the what, it's the how.  The Bhagavad Gita says to do the work not for the fruits, but for the act of the work itself.  The ultimate boon is that it brings more beneficial outcomes for more beings, and for me too!  How I relate to things makes for helpful or unhelpful.  This is true both in the inner realms of my own heart-mind, and beyond me into the community which I live, and beyond that.  The Whole benefits.  As a part of the Whole, selfless actions also serve the one doing them.  This is the beautiful (bonus) paradox!

How one does something is typically how one does everything.  If I want to find grace, poise, and connectivity in my asana practice I must attend to grace, poise, and connection in washing the dishes or cleaning the cat tray, and everything else.  If I want to hold my mind concentrated, singularly focused in work, or engaging with others, I must practice that in other contexts.  If I want to be a kind, loving person no matter what, I must attend to the turnings of my mind all the time and cultivate that attitude as often as I remember to do so.  If I want to be a better person on this planet I must pay attention to what kind of residue my thoughts, words, and actions leave behind.  If I want to fully inhabit my awakened nature I must pay attention to what is happening, how I'm touched by it, what I do in response to it, and reflect on that for growth and transformation––all the time.

This practice of awakening is not a part time gig.  It is a constant investment in every moment and it has three main components:  First, realizing and and connecting with ones awake nature.  Secondly recognizing, cutting thru, and uprooting the ways one identifies with ego structure and behaviors that stem from protecting it.  And thirdly cultivating the inner scaffolding to fully inhabit ones awake nature full time.  These all fall under the main thing of paying attention.

This quote from B.K.S. Iyengar sums it up nicely in the context of the microcosm of the body, "While I continuously try to improve my practice, I do my best and am contented with what I am able to attain. Even as the body ages and is able to do less, there are subtleties that reveal themselves, which would be invisible to younger or more athletic bodies. You have to create love and affection for your body, for what it can do for you. Love must be incarnated in the smallest pore of the skin, the smallest cell of the body, to make them intelligent so they can collaborate with all the other ones, in the big republic of the body."  May we all take this notion, attend to it in whatever macro context we find ourselves in...making for more love, affection, and intelligence on the planet.  May we all be "masters" of our inner realms in the service of doing the most good for the most beings, and beyond.  Om shanti.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Perhaps you've been told...

that bit of anecdotal realism:   In moments of struggle, or decision making, if you push too strongly against the flow of Life you are setting yourself up to lose.  The Universe will win.  My teacher says that does not quite capture the truth of it, but that the Universe has already won.  It has been written.  The Dharma suggests, and I believe, our capacity to navigate Life is an inside job.  Being a victor in this Life is not determined by how we strategize our outer layers (job, home, failures, successes, friends,where to live, or how to represent oneself in the world).  From the perspective of Yoga, success is largely how we meet those things that determines the victors or losers, as it were, in this Life.  It's not about what's happening to us.  It's about where the phenomenon of Life touches us inside, and what kind of subtle body feedback we have to it.  Then what we do as a response may compel us towards freedom from delusions that cause us to suffer, which is that winning what is already won I was talking about.  We are all human.  We all have our own personal, specific wounding that can capture us and cause us to see the world through a specific, limited lens.  If we continue to buy into our old wounding, it keeps us small.  What we experienced as young beings shaped our relationships in subtle ways that we are only just now beginning to comprehend the implications of.  It turns out the ones we love the most will touch our deepest wounds, trigger our ugliest or most damaging behaviors, and challenge our Life navigational skills with the relentlessness of a good teacher.  ....teacher?   Life is the best teacher I've found.  When I pay close attention to the outcomes of my actions and choices, I learn the best lessons.  When I cultivate more ease in any moment or when I feed the seeds of pain, I get INSTANT feedback in the present moment and beyond.  In particular, when I pay attention to more than just myself, Life's lessons have the most positive impact.  Path as guru means I learn to cultivate space in my inner koshas, so I've time to review my possible responses to the stimuli I register.   Immanuel Kant spoke of enlightenment as being an appropriate response.   What is the best outcome for all involved?  Life has won.  Things are happening.  I would say we can 'control' nothing in this life, but we can be in relationship to everything.  So, loser or victor can have many implications, all of which can be used for better or worse...just like the vrttis in Patanjalii's Yoga Sutras (YS1.5).   How are you relating to the events in your Life these days?    Is your Life informing your practice?  Is your practice helping you to relate to your Life in appropriate ways?  Can you be a good sport, a gracious loser?  Are you a humble winner?  Do you learn from all your experiences?  What gets in your way and what does it get in the way of?  With Dharma as the backdrop to your Life experiences, asana is always way more than just asana.  If you want more questions for your answers, full spectrum practice opportunities with Dharma discussions,  you might enjoy my offerings.  Check my website for details.  www.theresamurphy.net   All my love...

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Heart opening?

    Since the emergence of "yoga studios" and public yoga class offerings in the early 70's yoga has slowly but surely come from obscurity, past main stream, to center stage, to what's hot, hip, cool, and oh by the way, an ancient spiritual practice!  I've been teaching public yoga classes since the 90's, placing me in the third generation of American yoga teachers.  It's been a wild ride being immersed in the throes of yoga's awkward growth spurt from relative obscurity in the 90s to saturation in the 2000s and now verging on over-kill in the 2010s.  Amidst the power brands, fast and flowy glows, yoga clubs, clicks and tribes, something sweet, cute and sort of peculiar is materializing:  heart-felt zeal.  Heart chakra colloquy abounds on yoga blogs, studio slogans, workshop adverts, and yogis’ Facebook posts.  In truth, I am in full agreement, sporting a bumper sticker on my VW love bug that says, "I love love" illustrated with the letter "I" followed by two hearts.  However, this seemingly wholesome message is now being used to sell yoga merchandise and the iconographic heart symbol is fashioned into the logos of entrepreneurs.  As the amorous declarations abound I am beginning to wonder that if all the lovey-buzz is indeed wholesomely heart felt, would it be necessary to constantly and copiously expound upon it?  Is this trend actually stemming from some deeper feeling of need for love, recognizing it's universal appeal and the utter truth of who and what we are, yet some how feeling out of touch?  Does the very fact that the idea is being displayed ad nauseum somehow indicate that it’s not really being felt but the desire to feel it is there? 
    My sense is that there is a deeper well to be dug.  The vast chronicles of wisdom teachings of Yoga, Taoism, and other traditions suggest that the bright, balanced energy of the heart center, burning unconditional love, is supported by the stable ground of more earthy energy centers.  Various traditions have different theories on how many energy centers run along the spine and thru the body, from 3 to 7 to 12 or more.  The powers of the belly/abdomen in the eastern view hold the potential for one to feel stable, safe, allowed, welcome, able, adaptable, individualized, met, nourished, and basically, inherently good.  The suggestion is these qualities must be present before love (of self and other) and inclusion can be fully developed in a healthy balanced way.  It is knowing this basic goodness and the ability to stand in one’s safe self-expression (as the yogic belly chakra/2nd chakra is called svadhisthana, “to stand in one’s self”), that allows the heart to open to give and receive love unconditionally.  In eastern Asian traditions this part of the body is called "hara" or "dan tien", meaning "elixir field", "sea of chi", or "the golden stove pipe".  The belly is where it all begins and where it is ultimately held in truth and continuity!  We gotta get down in there!  ...then flow up and out. 
    Basic goodness is something we are born with, it’s our original seat.  The open, soft, free and beautiful vibe of a baby is universally undeniable:  the sweetness of their eyes, the purity of their smiles and innocence of their cooing attracts grown-ups to a new-born like bees to pollen.  The ground of our being is established in open, basic primordeal goodness.  It’s only when for whatever reason our emotional needs are not met by those we are interacting with that we begin to withdraw from this innate perfection.  Early, somewhere along our childhood journey we were led to believe that it was not ok to feel...something.  Some particular need (to cry, to be held, to be seen, to be played with, to be praised, to be redirected) was not tended to.  To our callow brains this feeling of being unmet, and the pain/heartbreak that came with it, was interpreted to mean that some how we were not OK!  From that point on we learned to turn away from those feelings that were unmet and caused us to mistakingly feel inadequate.  It unfortunately becomes a learned behavior, to turn away from our inherent goodness and openness, as this is where the pain of not being met happened.  At the time of our youth we not only didn’t know how to deal with not being met, we didn’t know there were other options besides turning away from the pain of it!  Not knowing or remembering our basic goodness becomes a wound in our adult life; a repeated injury every time we turn away from the pain of it.  Turning outward now to find acceptance, to be met, exacerbates the original wound of having to turn away from the pain in the first place.  All the subtle body wants/needs now is to sit down in itself and feel the basic goodness.  Perhaps it’s such that our precious human condition of innate goodness and clarity must be clouded at some point along our journey, invoking us to ponder the essence of our broken heart.  This invocation starts the journey inward to ultimate Self-discovery, self-healing and self-love!  To quote a spiritual leader in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, Chogyum Trungpa, “One of the biggest problems in the world today is people don’t know how to feel themselves properly.” 
    In my life lately, turning toward the feeling body has exposed strengths and acceptance within my being that while appear to be new tools for navigating this life, feel ancient, timeless and true.  The simple act of drawing the energy (aka Prana, Chi) down from the “blah, blah, blah” of the head, past the expansive, expressive power of the heart, down into the belly and feeling with my subtle body what is there is grounding and nourishing.  The energy there doesn’t lie: it’s pure feeling, before concept or discourse.  It’s like immersing myself in a stream....sometimes slow, fresh and warm, other times fast moving, and challenging.  However, if I stay the course, keep moving downward, earthward, I can feel the groundless ground of innate  wholesomeness.  I can meet myself there!  I can be met in whatever I am feeling, being both the parent and child, the healer and the hurt, the love and beloved.  We can all feel met there ourselves, and know that no amount of striving, self-proclaiming, or propping up of identities will change our inherent state of goodness and love!  When I am operating in the world from the feeling of basic goodness, I feel grounded in love, inherently held, open-hearted, and expressive of that love.  I can feel the universal goodness of all beings, even ones who may behave nasty towards me or threaten me.  I can stand under the truth of connectivity and still feel the spectrum of human emotion without identifying with any of it. 
    The potential to embody this basic goodness is universal.  It is my wish for all beings to know their basic goodness, to know the Self knowing love.  This (d)evolution back to the belly just might be the earthward momentum that could spur the head-in-the-clouds and heart-on-a-string yoga scene back to the basics of union with Self, so that ultimately we can be in union with life as it unfolds, moment by blissful, painful, delightful, uncomfortable, undeniable moment.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Host

I tried an experiment this morning on my walk in the woods with my beloved four-legged friend, Jackson.  See, it's the season where bugs are abundant, especially in New England...and there's these flies, just one fly at a time, really, that buzz buzz buzzes around my head.  Maybe you know the one:  it circles really close to the cranium non-stop, buzzing.  Usually I swat at it just as ceaselessly as it circles.  It's our usual dance, the entire walk.  This morning, in my experiment, I resisted swatting and just let it circle.  Guess what.  It never landed, and before the walk was over it went away!

It was a great reminder about how mind-stuff works.  We make trouble in our minds.  Yes, it's true, we MAKE it.  The potential for mind-stuff is always there in the form of memories, external stimuli, planning our lives, decision making, and straight-up day dreaming.  The critical factor of how it affects us is up to us.  It's like a bacterium.  For an infection to take hold, the bacterium needs a host to land in and a hospitable environment to proliferate.  The stuff in our mind needs to land, for us to feed it, expound on it, and make stuff up about it for it to really weigh on us.  It's said, the amount trouble in one's mind is 100% up to the person and how they work with their mind.  I believe that to be true, however when you consider how long habits have been unchecked, memories of trauma and pain, and the karma we arrived with it feels to me like I've got about 90% control.  With meditation practice that has increased dramatically over the years.  If you would have asked me 7 years ago, I might have felt 40% in charge.   It's a work in progress to be sure, and the work, no matter how difficult and painful, always pays off.

To simplify, there are two parts to this: the stimuli and the response.  Those two parts are also two parted....this is information for another BLOG.  Suffice it to say, we can make mind-stuff all we want including minding all the teachings and analyzing them!  Simple truth is the more we watch the mind, without swatting away phenomenon or grasping on to it, the more power we have as liberated beings to appropriately respond rather than habitually react.

Om on.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Ignorance is a bitch.

I've recently discovered Louis C.K., a comedian originally from Boston living in NY with his two children.  Although I found him accidentally, he is by no means obscure. He's rather popular, freaking hilarious, has produced several stand-up performances, produces his own sitcom, and has won an Emmy Award.  While much of his humor is based on his kids' behavior, human nature and human sexuality, quite a bit of his laughs are earned at his own expense.  Comical self-deprecation is a skill he has mastered, with a knack that has an intimate tie-in to the human psyche that most of his audience clearly relates to (including myself).  I've spent an embarrassing amount of time watching and reading everything I could find online about this guy.  You could say I am obsessed.  Honestly, I'm over the obsession now but in the midst of watching him completely annihilate his self-worth with such sincere insight into the nature of things, I sort of fell in love with his childlike curiosity of life and his brilliant insight into human nature.  In my opinion this guy is genius.  It prompted the question, "Doesn't he see it?  Doesn't he see how amazing he is?"  This in turn prompted, "Why don't most people see how amazing they are?"  

I too am inclined to see myself in much less admiration and light as others see me.  Self-love is a scarce commodity.  We love our friends, look up to them, see how amazing they are...so amazing we want to spend time with them!  Yet, we cannot always see why the feeling is mutual!  If we could only see in ourselves what others see so easily in us.  Truth is, this realization is not new for me!  The realization and practice of self-love landed on my spiritual practice radar two and a half years ago, with a painful, resounding, hard to face "thud."  It's the hardest work of all because it's foundational.  It's the root of all other suffering.  The call is for self-annihilation:  a strategic unraveling of who and how we've decided we are.  (“I am strong.  I am capable.  I am giving.  I am kind.  I am generous.  I am… fill-in-the-blank.”)  The stronger the identity to this construct, the stronger the underlying pull of it's opposite that has been instilled in us in since our childhood (“I'm only lovable when I don't show feelings of vulnerability.  I'm only loveable when I am not needing.  I'm only lovable when I'm pleasing some one else.”)  Once we can see through our constructs and the resulting compensatory behavior we can then move to the center of our hearts, be with our own vastness and inherent OK-ness necessary to feed the fire of love for all things:  our vulnerability, our needs, our emotions, our Self.  Then, not only do we see what others see in us, but we see it looking back at us thru others' eyes. Om on.

"Your work is to discover your work, and then with all your heart give yourself to it."  
                                                                                                         -The Buddha