Blog – thoughts on yoga & life

Yogaville: a Place for Everyone

I recently had the honor and privilege of going on a journey with one of my yoga teachers, Marsha Pappas, to the place where she originally studied, Satchidananda Ashram Yogaville. Along with us, we took a group of women, many of whom didn’t know more than one or two other people.

Marsha and I arrived a day ahead of our guests to get settled in to the Lotus Conference Center (LCC), which happens to be the original building on the property. Yogaville is 750+ acres in the hills of Virginia with a gorgeous view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It houses the ashram founded by Sri Swami Satchidananda.  He came to the US in the 1960s and had a dream to create a beautiful, remote location where people of all faiths could come together and live (either for a short stay or as a permanent residence) in harmony with one another and the environment. It is a peaceful place and Marsha and I enjoyed a bit of time together to finalize plans for the weekend.

The beauty and peace of the place is palpable. Everywhere we were showed the beginning signs of fall and we thankfully even got to experience that crisp morning air we were hoping for.

As our group started to arrive, it was clear that they were all ready for a weekend away from the responsibilities of daily life. Laughter and connection came easily!

Mandala Cafe Hours

They also quickly discovered where all the contraband could be found.  You see, at Yogaville, there are very little sweets and no coffee to be found in the main dining hall.  No worries, though, the Mandala Cafe was there to fulfill those ‘needs’ and everyone was happy to steal away there when they could.

We attended many of the offerings the ashram had scheduled: Hatha, Yoga Nidra, Joint Releasing Series, Meditations, and even a Swami Talk. We were also quite fortunate to have a lovely practice space of our own. Meditation 101, Somatics, and a Chakra Basics gave everyone quite a bit to think about, talk about and experience.

We also found time for some lovely outdoor adventures where we walked among the trees for a little nature bath and visited the LOTUS (Light of Truth Universal Shrine) for meditation. The meditation hall of all faiths has such a differently energy…sitting still for 30 minutes has never been so easy!

It was quite delightful to see how this group opened up to one another in very real ways. We often have so many different hats to wear, labels to live up to, task lists to attend to that we can lose sight of what is real. We rush through our day-to-day lives just trying to make it through the day and we don’t realize how quickly it all can pass us by. Retreats are a lovely opportunity to set that all aside for a bit and just BE with one another. Get back to who you really are and enjoy just getting to know those around you a bit deeper. Many commented they felt like kids again, going off to summer camp….and I can’t tell you how happy that makes me. It does the mind, body, and soul good to find those inner kids again….to play, explore, learn, laugh, cry, and truly just be in each moment! I am so grateful for each of these ladies and all they brought to this retreat. One thing we all have in common is that we want to do it again!  Planning for Yogaville 2020 is already underway….stay tuned!!!

Thanks to Marsha Pappas for photo contributions to this post and all her efforts over the years to share her love of yoga with her students. I love to nerd out on this stuff with her!

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Free to Be. You and Me: 10 Lessons from Pride

We were fortunate enough to be in San Francisco for the Pride festivities this year. ‘SF’ (as the locals call it) is the birthplace of Pride for the LGBT community and as you can imagine, they do it up BIG. It seemed like the entire city was out and about, enjoying the beautiful weather, the endless festivities, and the freedom to just be. Here are some of the things I learned at Pride.

  1. Unicycles and stilts are super impressive.  It takes a lot of talent to be able to keep your balance in such an unbalanced situation. This community likely understands that more than most.
  2. IMG_6133Costumes are fun. It really doesn’t matter what the costume is or what the occasion, it’s fun to dress up in something you wouldn’t normally wear. Surprise people, impress them with your creativity, or maybe just confuse them….regardless, they are fun and we should all do it now and then.
  3. Dogs unify. They bring people together in ways that nothing else can and they teach us a lot about loving others in a truly unconditional way. What you wear, who you love, where you work, or how you talk doesn’t matter much to a dog. They love you and are happy to be with you and walk beside you, wherever you’ll take them. They’ll also help you make friends….they’ve reached ‘pro’ status at that.
  4. IMG_6096Amidst the chaos, stick together. Some situations feel out of control at times. Out of control can feel scary…a sea of chaos waiting to gobble you up. This can happen whether you’re among jubilant revelers or on any given Tuesday in your day-to-day life. Stay together. Hold on to each other if you need to. Connection to your loved ones makes all the difference.
  5. Skin. You can show off a lot of it and still not get arrested, especially if you keep the critical parts covered.
  6. IMG_6142Some people really know how to level up. It’s impressive, for sure. It doesn’t have to be anything you would do or anything you even understand to appreciate the level of thought, dedication, and spirit someone puts into what they’re doing.
  7. Find your tribe.  They’re out there, I promise. There is a lot of societal pressure to fit in with norms and standards. It’s hard to feel like an outsider and to think that no one understands you. Regardless of what you like to do, how you like to act, or who you are at your core, your people are out there somewhere. Find them. You need them and they need you.
  8. Variety is the spice of life. A varied diet of food and activity is good for the body. A varied diet of people is good for the mind. A varied diet of experiences is good for the soul. Seek variety.
  9. humanWe are all humans. We are all unique and different in spectacular ways. We spend so much time pointing out how different we are and, sometimes, fearing those differences; but, take a step back and look again. Underneath it all, we are basically the same. We want the same things: love, safety, encouragement, joy, accomplishment, value, freedom. Maya Angelou said it best: ‘We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike’. This is from her poem Human Family and I encourage you to take a moment to take in her wise words.
  10. Freedom. This was the overarching gist of Pride. I felt it the whole time. People celebrating with joy this freedom of just being whoever they wanted to be in that moment. Maybe that’s something you are fortunate enough to experience everyday but please know and acknowledge that not everyone does. There are so many people who don’t show the world who they are for fear of rejection. For fear they will lose their families. For fear they will lose their friends. For fear they will lose their jobs. For fear they will lose their homes. The list of fears likely goes on as long as the list of people who battle them. I was honored to take part in celebrating freedom from fear. A song I had long since forgotten from my childhood kept running through my head: Margo Thomas’ “Free to Be…You and Me”. The song was originally written for children. The purpose was to discount common myths of the roles of men and women in society. It still applies today, in many different ways. Some of the lyrics:

Take my hand, come with me where the children are free

And you and me are free to be
And you and me are free to be
And you and me are free to be you and me

You be you and I’ll be me. We’ve tried fear; it doesn’t work. Let’s try this and see what happens. Be you, always.

Happy Pride, friends.

Simple Abundance

Simple abundance seems to be a way of finding beauty, nourishment, and contentment from what you already have. Most people (especially in America but maybe other places also experience this) think we need way more than what we do. There is a pervasive, underlying understanding in our culture that acquisition is important….and something by which we should measure success. Acquisition of things is valued above many (most?) other things. So much so that we seem to lose the desire for something as soon as it’s obtained…..forgetting what we even have because we’ve stored it away.

Simple abundance reminds us to look around…..realize that you likely already have what you need; to focus your energy on enjoying what you have, instead of what you don’t have. Find the value and enjoyment in what is around you: things, people, nature, time, activities, aromas, sounds, feels, etc. When you bring your awareness to all the abundance of what you already get to experience every single day (even sometimes the sucky stuff), you won’t have as much time to think about what is missing from your life.

There are times in your life when you have a car that works, and times when you don’t. Times when your house shelters and protects you, and times when it does not. Times when you’re on a strict spending budget, and times when you have a little wiggle room. Times when you have the love of friends and family surrounding you, and times when you feel secluded. Times when you love your work, and times when you despise it. Times of too much busy-ness, and times of too much quiet. There are times when you feel your cup runneth over, and times when you experience deep loss. Times when everything is stable, and all seems right in your world, and times when your world gets rocked. Times when you have it all covered, and times when you need help from your tribe.

It is the ebb and flow of life. In any given time, for most of us, one thing that is consistent is ABUNDANCE. It’s there if you look for it.

Stop. Notice. Soak it all in.

A Fairly Charmed Life

It’s not Thanksgiving, or even the month of November; the season when we typically see people expressing thankfulness for the abundance that we have in this life. But I have some thoughts to share on gratitude, anyway….because gratitude is something we can practice all year long.

A few years ago, I was introduced to the concept of a gratitude journal. It’s a fairly simple concept, one that can easily be implemented into your daily life, regardless how busy you are: write down 3 things you’re thankful for each day.  That’s it.  They can be big things or small things. You don’t have to elaborate on them, or you can. It can literally be 3 words. Or maybe you want to just jot down 1 thing….or 5. We’re adults….we can do what we want here. 😉 it’s YOUR practice. And for something that you really don’t have to invest much time in, the results can be pretty fantastic. I’ve discovered, or maybe have just been reminded, that I lead a fairly charmed life. I invite you to try it out and see what happens.

Here are some of the things I’m grateful for, in no particular order….

  • running water
  • a supportive and loving spouse
  • causes I feel passionate about
  • the smell of spring
  • the ebb and flow of life
  • this next breath
  • days with perfect temperatures
  • my sister’s service to so many things: her home church, the broader church, her school kids, her family, those in need
  • the ancient, rejuvenating, practice of yoga
  • financial security
  • the moments that humble me
  • hellos…..and goodbyes
  • bread
  • sore muscles that remind me that I worked really hard on something
  • communities of support you find in so many different places
  • independence
  • the sun when you need it, the shade when you need it, a lovely breeze, or the lack thereof
  • modern medicine
  • a really nice glass of red
  • Dad being a ‘Worker Man’ and always willing to help
  • a really good hug
  • ancient wisdom
  • the healing that comes with a good night’s sleep: mind, body, and soul
  • warmth in the winter
  • new eyes to appreciate naked trees in the winter
  • visiting children who are out in the world, making their own way
  • the freedom to control my own schedule
  • the feet to carry me through the Narrows (and life), regardless of the pain they experience
  • a peaceful home
  • a good meal
  • my clothes….that aren’t very trendy and don’t always fit me well
  • a faith in and awe of something bigger than myself
  • parents who may think I’m crazy at times but love and support me anyway
  • the strength of body to build with the Habitat Women Build for 2 weeks straight ( and any other time I get out there)
  • fun times with great friends
  • the equalization of the breath
  • the understanding that we all have our own gifts to contribute to the world….I don’t have to be good at everything and neither do you
  • my niece’s faith and compassion for others
  • the eyes to see past things that sometimes derail others
  • considering what others are going through in any given moment, I rarely have anything to complain about
  • campfires
  • the way the body attempts to heal itself.  without our knowledge or awareness and the way it does this until our last breath
  • my tribe
  • the rebirth of spring
  • my mom’s desire to care for others
  • relativity
  • people who have taught me both how to act and how not to act
  • my son’s wit
  • the undying love of a dog
  • adventures
  • friends I’ve known since way back when I was in that awkward stage
  • compost
  • unconditional love
  • touch love
  • the comfort of my own bed
  • dark chocolate
  • my husband’s ability to figure the things out that frustrate me and cause me to give up
  • memories
  • my bike
  • that I’m not afraid of dying
  • the good, the bad, and the ugly of my past experiences – what I’m proud of and what I’m ashamed of….many lessons were learned and continue to be learned
  • my daughter’s balance of fun loving and hard working
  • new friends who you can just tell will be around for a long time
  • softball….the game, the ability to play just for fun, and the many hours of fun and sometimes group therapy that happens in the parking lot after the game
  • my kids’ friends
  • the difference a new layer of paint can make
  • proper gear/tools

I know.  It’s a long list and you’re bored now. But I could seriously go on and on…..what are you thankful for? I invite you to open your eyes, drink in the abundance you will find all around you. In the words of Ferris Bueller: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

Much gratitude for you all,

Marci

How do you move?

It sounds like a weird question….what do you mean, ‘how do you move?’.  I just do it. I don’t have to think about it…my body just responds by moving when I need to get to the other side of the room. It’s not complicated.  right? Usually, we’re blissfully unaware of the movements of our bodies until something stops working. You have an injury or soreness from a workout or maybe your joints just ache.  Then you notice it, don’t you? This lack of awareness of how we move could be the single biggest contributing factor to how you feel day in and day out.

The snow that’s falling outside my door (in April!) reminds me that I have to slow down long enough to think about how I move.  When it’s icy or the snow needs shoveled (hopefully we don’t see that much fall today), it’s sooooo easy to injure yourself.  It happens before you even know it. If I go out there and just start slinging a shovel around, I’m bound to pay mightily for it later. But, if I really take notice as I’m moving and take care to follow proper form, all I get is a good workout, not a broken back.

This is true not just when I’m shoveling snow. Every time I get in or out of a chair, as I sit, as I stand.  The more aware I become of my form, the more control I keep, and the more my form starts to work for me, instead of against me. I simply feel better in the day to day activities. This is a big part of what we do on our mats when we practice yoga: we become aware of our bodies.  We think about how we stand, sit, move. We notice. We practice movements that nourish, heal, and restore our bodies. The more often we do that on our mats, the more we begin to subconsciously do that off of our mats.

There’s a spot just below the navel that I remember a yoga teacher referring to in a class…an inch or so down. Think of this spot as the origin of all of your movement.  Draw it in toward the spine and maybe up a little….anchor there first.  Then move.  Do it every time you move (or even while you sit or stand) just for today, and see if you notice a difference. I’d love to hear about your experience. What, if anything, changes for you? Where do you notice a difference? How does your body respond?  Share with me in the comments below!

Move intentionally, friends.  ~Namaste~