2021: Radical Acceptance Resolution

Last year at the end of my 300-hr yoga teacher training, our teacher, Katie, went around to each person and gave them a word she felt best described them, during our time together. She gave me the word Svādhyāya.

Svādhyāya is one of the Niyamas in the eight-limbs of Yoga. It is a compound Sanskrit word composed of svā + adhyāya. Adhyāya means “a lesson, lecture, chapter; reading”.   Svā means “own, one’s own, self, the human soul”. Therefore, Svādhyāya literally means “one’s own reading, lesson”, in short, it is the practice of self-study.

While contemplating this word I realized that I had been engaged in self-study for over twenty years! It’s the process of being aware of your actions and reactions. It’s the work of trying to understand why you respond to life the way you do without judgement and with compassion. It is a way of uncovering the truth of who you really are when all the layers are removed.

It can be a tumultuous journey. There are things you find you don’t really like about yourself, and then there are things you start to understand and eventually even love. What a novel concept; to love yourself.

This year my resolution is to practice radical acceptance and to start with myself (we cannot give, what we do not have for ourselves!).  The idea of radical acceptance is to love yourself unabashedly, perhaps even with reckless abandon. Everything inside and out without making excuses. It includes forgiving yourself every time you make a mistake, learning to be your own best friend and being kind with yourself.

Radical acceptance is about letting go of the person you were in your teens, your twenties, thirties etc., and accepting the person you are now, today.

So, this year make all your resolutions for self-improvement, but do them with kindness, love and radical acceptance. You/we deserve that much!

Happy New Year!

It Starts with Each One of Us

Recently I was having a conversation with a friend about the current state of affairs. She lamented that even with the great injustice of racism, the looting that came after was inexcusable. I agreed.
She said  “…we haven’t had a Gandhi or Martin Luther King in so long.” I could tell in her voice the anguish of not having a savoir, a living model of non-violence, to protest injustice in a peaceful way.
Years ago when I started my yoga journey, the school I attend had these words on the wall “Heal Yourself, Heal the World”.  I struggled to understand its meaning, but they stayed with me. Periodically I would reflect back on them, researching, trying to understand its deeper meaning.
Fast forward to my current training, after years of teaching and studying I have come to fully understand its meaning.
Our teacher, on the second to last day of our class, addressed the violence that had recently taken place prior to our meeting. She shared her feelings and ended with this realization “…that it starts with each one of us.”  In other words, we are responsible for our own spiritual development and personal growth. On the last day, Dr. Dugliss, the creator of Heart-Based Meditation concluded with  “…as we raise our own vibration, we raise the vibration of the world”, thus heal yourself, heal the world. 
 The essence of Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jesus and Buddha is present in all of us. Our guru lives within as Ram Dass discovered. It takes discipline to practice non-violence. In yoga, Ahimsa is one of the Yamas, in the eight-limbs of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra. Yama is the limb of self-restraints, and Ahimsa is the practice of nonviolence. It is inspired by the premise that all living beings have the spark of the divine spiritual energy; therefore, to hurt another being is to hurt oneself. It includes not only physical violence, but hurtful thoughts, deeds, actions and words. We are more powerful than we understand. 
 I recently listened to Gandhi’s autobiography “My Experiments with Truth”. It was one of the most amazing and inspirational stories I have ever listened to. His every thought, word, deed and action was guided by Ahimsa. Even in those times that his life depended on it. Many may think “yeah and see where it got him, he was gunned down.” His accomplishments were unprecedented, he inspired the whole world and still to this day his work is revered.  As the example of my friend​s’​ lament “we have not had a Gandhi in a long time” shows us. The concept of Ahimsa is not exclusive to yogic spiritual principles, it has also been an important part of Christianity and Buddhism.
 It’s easy to feel helpless and overwhelmed by the state of the world at any given time. However we can do our part by making sure we’re doing the necessary internal (spiritual) work, so our thoughts, our actions, and our deeds are not contributing to the mayhem that negativity and violence create​s​.
Let us be co-creators of the world we would like to live in. Gandhi said “be the change you want to see“, it’s the same as heal yourself, heal the world. And it is never too late to start.

A Gift from Adversity

For the last few years I have been feeling overwhelmed with the amount of hatred in our culture and in our country. Ever since the last election, it has been them against us. The hostility has been real, regardless of the side you’re on.

Personally, the intensity has been stifling. Even laypeople will start discussions with great disdain, and the division between us has been palpable. I have often wondered “something has to give”. How much longer can we live under this duress…enter Covid-19.

I am not grateful for this virus, even though my family and I are safe, I am aware that there are many fighting for their life and many fighting to save lives. Families are being torn apart and the situation is no joke. There is great suffering going on.

Nevertheless, this virus has awoken the sleepy giant of compassion, and for that I am grateful.

My husband and I watched the One World: Together at Home concert last month. It was viewed by more than 20 million worldwide. There were beautiful messages from people all over the world. Stories of incredible service from one human being to another. They were songs written inspiring faith and hope. The deliberate acts of kindness were abound! The tears just flowed from both of us.

A virus, smaller than bacteria, invisible to the naked eye, has brought us to witness, and hopefully, understand that there are no division between us expect the ones we create. It is teaching us that color, race, size, class, and education, have no bearing on the spiritual truth that we are all interconnected.

We are connected by our humanness, our being. Our triumphs are everyone’s triumphs, and so are our failures. The only separation that truly exists between us is our judgements, our attitudes and our egos.

So next time you find yourself quick to pass judgement, perhaps you will pause, look beyond the exterior demeanor, and see the human being with compassion. Consistently practiced, you will discover, that all human beings are the same human being as you.

One world…one human race…together at home!

Yoga is More Than Exercise

Yoga is more than exercise; it is a way of life. A way of being.

Yoga is a spiritual path, not to be confused with religion. Modern yoga has emerged in the west primarily as a physical practice, an exercise.  However, the physical part of yoga is only one branch in Yoga Sutras of Patajanli: The Eight-limbs of Yoga (see illustration below). The Yoga Sutras were compiled prior to 400 CE, so it is an ancient body of work. The branch related to the physical practice is called Asana, later extended to Hatha Yoga. It never ceases to amaze me that the template for living well transcends time. It applies to everybody regardless of the race, religion, century, level of education etc.

Today in the West there are many styles of yoga under the Asana/Hatha umbrella. There is Power Yoga, Gentle Yoga, Slow Flow, Restorative Yoga and Athletic Yoga to mention a few. However, in the yoga lineage (see illustration) Ashtanga, Vinyasas and later in the twentieth century Iyengar, create the foundation from which modern yoga emerged.

As an instructor when I started teaching yoga, I intentionally  focused on the physical practice. I wanted to make yoga accessible to many, who may be turned off by the spiritual sides of yoga. Interestingly, even just practicing the Asanas, opened spiritual doors for many of my students. When we start quieting the mind, concentrating on our physical body and focusing on our breathe, a journey inward occurs. It is only the beginning.

As a teacher, students sense the spiritually in my classes. It is because yoga is a spiritual practice for me. Every day I try to be conscious of my spiritual values. I practice and study  different areas of the eight limbs. They are a great guide for one’s spiritual development. As my work evolves and my studies deepen, I hope to bring more of these teachings to my students.  We can all use positive guides on our journey.

Namaste ~Grace

Letting Go: A New Year’s Resolution

This month’s blog is dedicated to Colleen Collins, a former student who recently passed. Her passing was sudden and without much ado. Colleen was not the easiest personality to get along with, honestly, which personality is? We all struggle with our own idiosyncrasies.

Colleen inspired me. She wanted her journey to be sacred, and was aware of her shortcomings, reminding me that even when we are aware, it is nevertheless hard to manage and navigate. Frankly, it’s a daily struggle.

She didn’t give up, but she was learning to let go.  Letting go is the hardest part of the journey. I am going to use her inspiration to practice letting go this year. I am letting go of things, thoughts and habits that no longer serve my life’s  goal:  to be my best self (notice I didn’t say ‘perfect self’).  This year, I want to let go, embrace my humanity, and grow spiritually. In order to give the world the best of ourselves, we must first learn to let go.

Back in 2013, Colleen gave me this poem (below) She Let Go. It is no coincidence I saved it in my journal, to share with you today. Thank you Colleen for your inspiration. May the sun and the moon shine with you, forevermore.

She Let Go

She let go. Without a thought or a word, she let go. She let go of the fear. She let go of the judgments. Let go of the confluence of opinions swarming around her head. She let go of the committee of indecision within her. She let go of all the ‘right’ reasons.

Wholly and completely, without hesitation or worry, she just let go. She didn’t ask anyone for advice. She didn’t read a book on it. She didn’t search the scriptures. She just let go. She let go of all the memories that held her back. She let go of all the anxiety that kept her from moving forward. She let go of the planning and all of the calculations about how to do it just right.

She didn’t promise to let go. She didn’t journal about it. She didn’t write the projected date in her Day-Timer. She made no public announcement and put no ad in the paper. She didn’t check the weather report or read the daily horoscope.

She didn’t analyze whether she should let go. She didn’t call her friends to discuss the matter. She didn’t do a five-step Spiritual Mind Treatment. She didn’t call the prayer line. She didn’t utter a word. She just let go.

No one was around when it happened. There was no applause or congratulations. No one thanked her or praised her. No one noticed a thing. There was no effort. There was no struggle. It wasn’t good and it wasn’t bad. It was what it was and it is just that.

In the space of letting go, she let it all be. A small smile came over her face. A light breeze blew through her. And the sun and the moon shone forevermore.