On Being a Personal Coach: A Two-Year Reflection

Here I Am. Two Years Later.

Two years ago, we closed our Studio’s physical doors. We went online and opened our virtual doors. Now, we operate both a physical Studio and a virtual Studio. Then, most of my work was teaching yoga classes and leading retreats and yoga trips. Now, most of my work is being a personal coach. Then, my work was a smaller part of our overall business. Now, my work is an important part of our livelihood.

As I sit here reflecting on where we’ve been, the miraculousness of my accidental-yet-intentional journey is apparent. Yes, the struggle has been real. But here I am, a retired professional engineer and building designer, a former ski school director and regional clinician, and a former self-employed business owner and company partner. Here I am, a husband who has endured the throngs of being a caregiver for close ones paralyzed by trauma, and a friend who has helped others negotiate their way through disability and disease. Here I am, surviving through career changes, random events, accidental experiences and a world pandemic, living a life that I was probably always meant to be living all along.

Life unfolds in mysterious and unexpected ways. The point is, of course, you can move with it or you can get stuck in the way it was, or how you thought it was supposed to be. More than a couple decades ago, during a period of big changes in my life, during a time when self-discovery became a priority in my life, I began to let go of my pre-conceived notions of what my life was supposed to be and learned to live more in the flow of things, letting myself be guided by life’s openings, life’s miracles, life’s synchronicities. I learned to tune into my higher values, who I am and why I’m here, to maintain direction and help me make day-to-day decisions, but I also learned to look at things with a wider lens, from different perspectives, and be more open to the present, more receptive, and perhaps more open to boldly walking through new doorways which opened.

During this time period over two decades ago, I was asking myself what are some of my innate strengths. I did self-assessment test which yielded the following list of my primary personal attributes:

Maximizer – I liked to transform something strong into something superb; strengths fascinate me… that I loved to nurture and refine and stretch strengths towards excellence; that I am inspired to capitalize on the gifts with which people have been blessed;

Learner – I love to learn; that I find the process of learning exciting and energizing, that the outcome of learning is less significant to me than the experiences of getting there;

Connectedness – I know that we are all connected, I am sure that we are all part of something larger than our own free will, call it collective unconscious or great spirit or life force; I feel responsible to live accordingly – not harming or exploiting others because of this deep awareness of connectedness; I am thus a bridge builder between people’s differences; I find common ground; I am a person of faith;

Ideation – I am fascinated by ideas and different perspectives, always looking for connections and possibilities; that I revel in taking the world we all know and turning it around so we can view it from a strangely enlightening angle; that I find new ideas to be thrilling, clarifying, profound, even bizarre; that I enjoy being creative, original, conceptual and intelligent;

Strategic – I have innate seeing-clearly skills, a distinct way of thinking, to sort through the clutter and find the best solution, the best route, seeing consequences and what’s around the next corner; that I see patterns where others see complexity; that I can foresee the paths which have obstacles or resistance or which lead to nowhere, which I readily discard, and find strategic solutions quickly.

My previous sustainable home design work, in which I helped leading local timber framers grow their business and help their clients find synergistic design solutions within myriad of diverse design wishes was work for which I was well suited. But as the work evolved away from sustainability and learning and my greater ideals, I lost my interest.

My previous work in the ski industry with the strength-identifying educational principles of Perfect Turn, and with abilities-focused work of coaching adaptive sports, was also well-suited, gravitating to working with the best and most diverse performers. But, as often happens in businesses and organizations, I was promoted away from my special skills and my personal motivations, and towards less-inspiring-for-me, repetitive-tasked, business management roles.

But here I am now, living through the most recent two years of an unexpected pandemic, thriving as a personal coach. I am helping motivated individuals live happier and healthier, maximizing their innate strengths, learning continuously as we work together – usually exploring different perspectives and viewpoints, and strategically focusing on readily-successful ways of achieving goals, vitality-for-life… all within a yoga culture with values of compassion and community connectedness. Indeed, this website blog (started almost a couple decades ago) is founded on the theme of living and learning… and my coaching business is called Perspective Coaching. Maximizing already-insightful clients’ life successes and abilities, making strong people stronger and more powerful. Coaching in a learning environment, creating cooperative educational experiences. Discussing life-enhancing practices of bringing wholeheartedness to life, exploring healthy life practices and building healthy relationships. Enjoying the fascination of different perspectives and ideas. Strategically applying intelligent ways of being a good person, effectively developing training progressions to live stronger, efficiently finding new ways to live happier and healthier.

Twenty years ago, I was living a totally different life in a different place and in different roles. Two years ago, we were all heading into the unknown of a worldwide pandemic, not knowing what was next. It is interesting to look back and see how the journey unfolded fluidly, making difficult-yet-intentional choices along the way, but each choice leading naturally to a more satisfying place.

Yes, these last two years have been difficult. Day in and day out, a quickly changing world with ever-increasing obstacles and new requirements. Personal and family health issues. Business and survival questions. Changing roles. Care for vulnerable loved ones. But here I am, the product of a lifetime of experiences and choices, thankful to be here, thankful to be doing what I was probably meant to be doing all along. Here I am, thankful to be at Heart of the Village Yoga, thankful that my studio-owner-wife just lets me teach and coach. Here I am, thankful to have a plentitude of clients interested in working with me, month after month after month, and friends who inspire me. Here I am, still open to what comes next.

It’s all connected. I have faith that it will miraculously always work out. I am excited that there will always be more to learn. I am confident to know that I will always find my way, whatever path opens up before me and whatever next step I choose. It’s nice to also know that we’re never alone in our journeys.

In many ways, the last two years have reminded me of the gift of life itself. Maybe, reflecting back, each of us might also realize something for which we can be more grateful, perhaps a new way of being happy or healthy, perhaps a new way of looking at all our relations, perhaps a new way of getting along, perhaps a new way of enduring faithfully through these changing times. Perhaps, we will all learn to live together in a way that utilizes our individual talents and still maximizes our true synergistic human potential.

Here’s to what”s next. For me, here’s to hoping to continue to find new ways to help my friends, my family, and my clients expand their strengths and fully express their unique personal powers, with joy and vitality. As a friend. As a father and son and husband. As a community member. As a personal coach! Thanks for being here. All of you.

Bringing Yoga Practice to Life

Last week at Heart of the Village Yoga Center, we started a new class entitled Yoga Philosophy: Bringing Yoga to Life. Formerly a subject presented largely in our Advanced Studies and Teacher Training programs, our hope is that these ongoing classes might help open the door through which yoga practitioners deepen their practice on and off the mat. We begin and end each class with guided meditations: opening with some Yin Yoga postures to help us settle into a place of presence, safety and ease; ending with an intentions-focused meditation to help us bring insights and teachings into our daily lives. For most of the class, we discuss some of the teachings of yoga through the vehicle of a weekly reading. We attempt to see our daily lives through the eyes of yoga philosophy.

This month, we are reading “The Untethered Soul” by Michael A. Singer. Last week, we discussed Part One (Chapters 1-4); this week we will discuss Part Two (Chapters 5-7). From the teachings of Patanjali’s Yoga-sutra, we learn that yoga is the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind. That is, through yoga practice, we systematically learn to still the mind and find peace of mind and focused awareness. First, however, we must acknowledge that our thoughts are indeed busy – that there is a constant dialogue of thoughts! Our senses are constantly taking in what is going on in our lives and our mind is constantly working to organize this information in a manner that makes us feel “safe” or “in control”. It’s a constant dialogue of voices.

In Part One of the book, the author does a wonderful job helping us observe the “busy-ness” of our thoughts, these voices! He helps us see that the beginning of a happy and more satisfying life begins with our ability to observe these thoughts and not get lost in them. Certainly, just as we intend to do as we practice yoga, we are taking our first steps towards awakening consciousness!

In Part Two, we will explore how we can open ourselves up to the ongoing flow modern world information that we take in through our senses, so that we do not close ourselves (and hold on to) the changing circumstances and experiences of life. The author helps us understand these concepts by explaining how everything is energy, energy that flows through us, or energy that gets locked up within us. Here, we learn how to open our “spiritual” hearts and to empower ourselves to choose a life of openness and unconditional happiness.

Each week, we will use the readings as a basis to dive a little more deeply into various yoga topics. As is our mission at Heart of the Village Yoga, each discussion is facilitated in a manner that respects the integrity and heart of each individual, and in a way that acknowledges our enhanced power of understanding (and intention) of the group through the diverse shared perspectives (and questions) of multiple individuals. Each discussion is also facilitated in a manner that drop-in students who have not done any of the reading will still find a class atmosphere that will invite them to be engaged.

Through our weekly discussions, it is our hope that our yoga and daily-life practices evolve and help us each find sustaining happiness. And, of course, through our yoga and daily-life practices, we hope that our weekly discussions evolve too in a manner that spark interest, and become more and more relevant to each participant and their daily lives.

For future months, we will continue to choose books that will continue to weave together the fabric of the many schools of yoga philosophy and practice, all in a manner that helps make our yoga practices come alive, and helps bring our yoga practices more deeply into our daily lives.

A Cycling Race Not Forgotten

It was 1992. Spring. I was recently divorced and living by myself in Troy, NY. I decided to enter a 24-hour time trial, an ultra-marathon event in which I would pedal for as many miles as I could over 24 hours. The course consisted of a 45-mile loop of rural roads, all of which were open to the public.

I really didn’t tell many people at the time. For me, it was just a chance to see what I could do. I was hoping to pedal 300 miles that day.

I parked my car at the pit stop area, gathered a bunch of energy bars and rode my bike to the start area in town 10 miles away. I noticed that many participants were decked out in expensive bicycles and professional-looking clothing. Many had support crews who were tuning bicycles and reviewing programmed food and drink for their athletes. The race was part of a series for serious ultra-marathon bicyclists. I felt a bit over my head… but, no worries, no one knew me there.

At noon, the race started. And I just started pedaling. I kept to myself. I don’t think I spoke a word to anyone the whole day. Everyone was pedaling faster than me, so it was a quiet day, especially on the first lap or two.

I’d stop at the rest area every 45 miles, get a few more energy bars, replenish my water, go pee, and get back on my bike. It looked like the experienced riders would only stop quickly to replenish food prepared for them by their support crews.

The roads consisted of two-lane paved roads that meandered around small hills, fields, forests, and small towns. After a couple laps, riders were lapping me. I was doing all that I could do to keep going, hoping to average 12 to 15 mph. I think many riders were averaging over 20 mph.

I don’t remember much of the afternoon riding, except for the experiences of dehydration, a sore body, bloating from an energy bar diet, and the unimaginable willpower to keep going.

As darkness approached, I encountered less and less riders. Were people taking naps? Were people riding in groups? Around midnight, 12 hours into the ride, it seemed like there was no one on the pitch-black rural roads. My headlight kept a steady stream of light in front of me, but I started to feel all alone.

The next part of the race I remember like it happened last week.

I had been riding about 13 hours, and I was about halfway around the course loop on my 5th lap… I had ridden about 200 miles at that time… Exhausted, I remember thinking that maybe dawn would occur on my next lap. That kept me feeling positive. I felt like I could possibly reach my goal of 300 miles. Maybe more?

But my mind was going a little crazy. I remember feeling very afraid, like I could be in danger with no one around. Someone could jump out of the woods on my slow uphill climbs and tackle me! No other bikes in sight…

I moved to the center line of the road, away from the shoulders.

I thought that I heard rustling in the trees as I rode slowly up a hill, eyes fixed on the center line of the road. My mind said push harder, keep going. My heart felt fear.

Out of the corner of my eye, along the shoulder of the road where my headlight barely reached, I saw some bicycle parts… bike pump, some accessories… like someone had crashed earlier. I kept riding, afraid for my safety. Should I have stopped? That’s the question that still haunts me.

As I crested the hill and started to glide downhill, I saw headlights of a car approaching. I remember feeling some relief at first, thinking that the entire world was not asleep after all. There were some people still around!

As the car approached, it slowed down. I sped up. The car stopped as I approached. The driver asked me to stop. Afraid of what the driver might do to me, I said, “No!” I kept riding. Faster. The driver put the car in reverse to catch up to me and shouted, “Stop!” I said, “No. Why should I?”

The driver turned on his interior car light to illuminate other bicyclists in the back seat. I words still etched in my memory, he said, “The race has been canceled. There has been a tragic accident up ahead of you.” The riders in the back seat nodded. I stopped.

He told me that two people up ahead had been killed in a car-bike accident.

“What should I do?”

The driver said his car was full, so why don’t I turn around and head back to the pit stop area about 20 miles behind me. In a bit of a daze, I turned around proceeded back up the hill.

As I crested the hill, there were flashing lights, ambulances, police cars. The driver of the car with whom I had just spoken, approached me as I approached the site and asked me to stop again.

“What should I do?”

He asked me to wait off the road in a small parking area and he’d send for someone to come pick me up. I waited, not sure of what was going on…

Eventually, a van came to pick me up, and we proceeded to the site of the tragic bike-car accident that had canceled the race. We picked up other riders, then headed back past the place where the more recent accident scene was happening. I saw a car upside down. I saw a mangled bike… a covered body… and bike parts along the shoulder of the road. The same bicycle parts that I had seen earlier.

I was brought back to my car in the pit area. It was quiet. I got in my car, put the seat down, and tried to sleep. At dawn, a few people milled around slowly. I remember the somber mist. Everyone lifeless. My brother-in-law, an ex-Navy SEAL who lived in the area and who had ridden with me before on cross-New England bike trips, visited and told me that he heard on the scanner that 3 people (2 cyclists participating in the race) were killed in two separate accidents, both by drunk drivers, one under-age.

Not sure what to do, I left. Still somewhat in a daze. Confused.

I found out the next day some of the details on the news. How the first accident killed the drunk driver and one cyclist. How the second accident involved under-age drunk drivers who tried to escape through the woods along the roadside and were apprehended the next day. Was that the rustling in the woods that I heard?

I learned later about the two bicyclists that were killed, one having had a science and engineering background very similar to mine. He was a volunteer president of the Boston Chapter of the International Youth Hostel Association, an organization that I had recently joined as I prepared for my planned bicycling trip to New Zealand later that year.

I felt very close to these two people, even though I didn’t know them. We had shared the road together. We were alike. It could have been me.

I understand that laws in New York State changed after the accident to allow prosecution of those who sell alcohol to minors who subsequently drive drunk.

I later received a commendatory plaque for the event recognizing my participation and honoring the two riders. The plaque is still on the wall next to my desk. In a way, I’ve come to know two other time-trial cyclists who I never knew; they have become a part of my life story.

Their names on the plaque remind me daily to live each day fully. Anything can happen. Today, could be my last day. I was the lucky one… then.

But, in that moment, I didn’t stop. Reflecting back, I wonder if I really sensed an energy in the air that something had indeed gone wrong. Or, was I was too immersed in my own fear and and my own need for safety.

A few years later, I left my engineering practice in New York. I think this cycling event had planted a seed in me that eventually sprouted and informed me that it was time to live my life more fully while I was still “young” (I was 34 at the time, a workaholic and a young partner in a well-regarded firm). I knew there was something more that I was supposed to do in my life. In 1995, not sure what was next for me, I moved to Vermont.

All these years later, now as a yoga teacher, I tend to not spend much time thinking back in time unless I’m appreciating a previous teaching moment that had prepared me for a later-in-life experience. With the plaque as a reminder of that day, I do question what I would have done differently if I had a clearer mind and if I would have been more present in that moment when I saw some broken bicycle pieces along the side of the road. Would I have recognized the ambient energy-in-the-air differently? Would I have responded differently? Would I have been able to help?

The plaque reminds me that in any moment, someone might need my help. It reminds me to pay attention… to not ride away from something that doesn’t feel right. To listen to my intuition. To listen to my heart.

For many reasons, this was a race not forgotten. Maybe it did indeed plant deeper seeds in me… seeds that still guide my way today. To pay attention. To see what’s really going on. To help others. To persevere. To do what’s right. To be responsible. To live each day fully.

And to feel grateful… and humble… that I am alive today.

Yoga Practice: Finding Peace of Mind

“yogas citta-vrtti-nirodhah” 

These words in the ancient language of Sanskrit come from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, a series of teaching “threads” of wisdom presented by a yoga sage said to have lived more than 2,200 years ago.

“Yoga is the stilling of the changing states of the mind.”

With these words, Patanjali defined the practice of modern-day classical yoga. He then went on to describe how to do this “stilling of our fluctuating states of consciousness” by recommending lifestyle practices, posture and breathing practices, focusing and meditation practices, all which provide a comprehensive system for finding peace of mind.

Even back then, our human brains were busy planning and worrying about future ongoings, and often stuck in past experiences, causing us to struggle to find peace-of-mind in day-to-day living! Nowadays, however, with so many informational systems available to inform us of worldly ongoings and to perhaps distract our attention from what’s actually happening right in front of us, these teachings seem even more relevant today.

With the modern-day breakthroughs in neuroscience and other mind-body sciences, we are beginning to understand how these ancient practices actually do work, how they actually “re-wire” our human bodies to help us take greater responsibility for our health and our wellness. Through regular practices, performed repeatedly in earnest over long periods of time, we have the ability to change our state of being. We do actually have the ability to help ourselves find peace of mind regardless of the circumstances we face each day in life. Just like a bodybuilder who trains to build muscles, or a student who studies to remember information or to apply knowledge, or an athlete who practices movements to increase performance, however, it takes practice – repetition. And it takes time!

As a yoga teacher, I know that many students come to me for the physical benefits of increasing body flexibility and ease-of-movement. But, I also see how many students keep coming back to yoga class for increased mental-awareness, enhanced focus, sustained energy and positivity, and decreased stress. I see how yoga practice helps with depression, anxiety, addictions, and post-traumatic stress. I see how yoga practice helps the conscious mind make clearer choices and the subconscious mind (the body) let go of past stories and physical, mental and emotional imprints. I see these results in my work, I read about them in modern scientific studies, and I know them from my own personal experience.

What draws people to classical, modern-day yoga – the physical practice of performing various postures – eventually becomes a lifestyle practice of finding peace-of-mind in the step-by-step experience of living our lives. Posture practice leads to mental focus and physical awareness. Mental focus and physical awareness leads to energetic and emotional clarity and attentiveness. Energetic and emotional clarity leads to paying attention to “what’s going on now”, discernment, and taking responsibility for making wiser choices. Making wiser choices leads to health, happiness, and peace-of-mind… and loving relationships (but that can be the subject of a future article!).

Where to start? Of course, there are many yoga teachers out there and many places to practice yoga and find online resources. But, you can begin right now, by paying attention to your breath, really paying attention to your breath as it flows in and out, and having the intention of feeling ease in the movement of each breath. If thoughts enter your field of awareness, notice them. That’s normal. But then just realize that the thoughts are just thoughts, and bring your attention back to the present movement of each breath. Try it for one minute. Maybe increase it to 5 minutes. Maybe 10? Try it in the peace and quiet of your home or in a beautiful outdoor setting. Or, try it while standing in line at the store! Smile… and feel the natural benefits of being present in your body. You have begun a yoga practice! And you have started a new lifetime practice to find enduring peace-of-mind!



A Story: Red Rose Running

One day a young book titled Red Rose Running went to a village elder with a very important question. “Golden Wolf, the world seems to be consuming much. Personalities seem to be getting very full of themselves. There is much conflict. I am worried about our future. I do not feel good enough. What can I do to change this world? What must I do to survive?”

Golden Wolf looked at her and smiled. He then said, “Red Rose Running, you are not alone. Go visit the popular Mainland Library down the street and spend 7 days and 7 nights observing other books. Come back to me and tell me what you think.

Red Rose Running went to the library and spent 7 days and 7 nights. She keenly observed how they were, what they did, how they looked and behaved. She watched them do their work. She watched them interact. She watched them eat and drink. She watched them sleep. After 7 days and 7 nights, she returned to Golden Wolf to report her analysis.

“Golden Wolf,” she said, “I noticed many things. It was hard for me to just observe and not get caught up in their ways, but here is what I think: They seemed to enjoy hanging out with one another in groups. Outside of the library, other books always seem so alone. The library offers a space where they can share their own stories and be together.”

“Yes, but what did you really see? What did you see beneath the book covers? What is your real analysis” asked Golden Wolf.

Red Rose Running pondered. “Well, I did notice that most of the books had very rigid covers that have endured through many generations. They had bold print, as if the ink had dried many years ago deeply into the storied pages. Their stories were largely about guilt, apathy, grief, fear, anger, and anxiety. Many of them seemed to find comfort in sharing their stories over and over again, some gaining pleasure from the sharing, others not even recognizing the repetition. Some of them shared stories of desire, desire for more of something or another. Many were proud of their stories in which they had accumulated much or in which they had won at a competitive game… or beat another at something. It was almost as if every book only understood their own story, and that they saw other books only as references to validate their own stories. They seemed to protect themselves with their own book covers; sometimes opening their covers to other books of similar stories. As I think about it, these books always seemed to hang out in groups… Hmmm, usually with other books of similar stories and book covers. They seemed to not trust books of different covers, but rather showed-off their own strong and rigid covers. If their stories were about being victims, it was almost as if they thought other books were intending to make them victims again. Their own individual stories seemed paramount in everything they did. They saw the world through the lens of their own stories. And the stories just seemed to go on and on and on, surviving one day after another. They were very devoted to their own stories.

Is this how I survive, Golden Wolf, show-off my own strong cover like these popular Mainland Library books and express my great story, making my story the most important story of all stories on this Land? Ahh yes, I have to be stronger and greater than others. This is my analysis!!! This is how I survive!”

Golden Wolf smiled again. “Red Rose Running, you are not alone. Go to the Island Bookstore across the slow-moving Ego River and spend 30 days and 30 nights observing other books. Come back to me and tell me what you see.”

As directed, Red Rose Running waded across the river, noticing its slow-moving yet changing currents, the many ebbs and flows, the uneven bottom surfaces of rocks and fallen trees. The water was cleansing. She spent 30 days and 30 nights and returned across the river to Golden Wolf and reported what she observed.

“Golden Wolf”, she said, “this Island Bookstore had many types of different books. It’s hard to make general observations. But here is what I saw: I saw many books with softer covers, lighter and faded print. Is was as if they got wet and lost their rigidity as they crossed the waters to the Island Bookstore. They seemed more willing to share stories with different types of books and book covers, almost as if there was a certain inquisitiveness or curiosity which attracted books to each other. There were far less groups that just hung out with one another. And it seemed that books were a lot more interested in understanding others stories then telling their own. This Island Bookstore also seemed to have a more transient population of books, almost as if they were going back and forth across many rivers. They wanted to hear my story… but as time went on, I seemed more interested in hearing theirs. Hearing their stories helped me understand mine. I seemed happier here as time went on, but it took me a little while to feel safe.

Golden Wolf, I want to learn more. I’m not sure if going to Island Bookstore helped me know any more about how to survive. It seemed that these books on this Island were perhaps too dependent on each other for survival? Their covers weren’t as strong and their individual stories of individual accomplishment seemed a bit more muddied. Maybe that was just from crossing the river, though. Hmmm, but there was a certain happiness on this Island as books shared their stories more easily. They seemed to feel safe as they opened their pages and let their covers be vulnerable and less protective. Their stories seemed more authentic and accepting. There was a willingness to share. There was even a certain courage to share emotional stories, especially stories of love and kindness and mutual understanding. I’m not sure, Golden Wolf. What shall I do next?”

Golden Wolf knowingly smiled. “Red Rose Running, you are not alone. Go to the Island of Bliss Fairgrounds across the fast-moving Soul River and spend 365 days and 365 nights observing other books. It is located well beyond the Island Bookstore. Come back to me and tell me what you feel.”

Red Rose looked across the turbulent and deep waters of the Soul River. This river appeared a lot more murky and dark. With courage, she leaped in and swam and swam and swam. She swam for her life at times. She noticed some other books in the river this time, all swimming to save their lives, some returning powerfully and confidently, some struggling with her making their way towards Bliss. She worked very, very hard with the clear intention of making it across the river. She noticed her power. She noticed her ability to focus and let go of pain and feel supported, like she wasn’t alone in the swim of her life. Exhausted, she finally arrived to the sandy shore of Bliss and slept.

Upon waking, she noticed that she had lost her book cover in the river. She felt naked. The pages of her story had faded even more. On this island, she noticed that there were many books with blank pages and no covers. Many books had gotten together and merged their stories in a way that past stories faded away each day and new stories were written. And the stories written each day were full of loving kindness, joy, and peace. Each book was dignified in a way that made past stories respected, but irrelevant. All that mattered was the authentic stories-of-the day! Every book had let go of their own individual stories. And there were fairgrounds everywhere, books celebrating their commonly-shared and interdependent stories. There was even singing and dancing! Each book knew exactly who they were without relying on their book covers or their stories for finding a sense camaraderie with others. There was such an atmosphere of wholeness and abundance and interconnectedness and mutual respect… and love! Everyone was helping everyone else! It seemed like an endless utopia.

Red Rose Running did not know what to do. After a week, she thought she knew the answers to her questions, and caught a cargo plane ride back to her village on the mainland.

She told Golden Wolf, “I know the answers to my questions. I will pack my things and just leave and fly back to Island of Bliss and live out my days! I can survive there; no one will hurt me there and I will survive there!”

Golden Wolf was quiet. He pondered the gravity of his answer. “Red Rose Running, in this manner, will you change the world? Will you survive on the Island of Bliss if your world does not change?

Dear Red Rose Running, there are no planes to the Island of Bliss. You must jump into the turbulent waters and swim. You must do the work repeatedly. For a long period of time. Have faith in your powers to swim. Know that there is always a destination, a way home. But you may have to make many river crossings. Jump in! See who is there with you. And celebrate! Through time, through your practice and your example, inspire others to jump into the waters too. Help them wash their stories from their pages, lose their covers in the water, and find their way. Use each swim as an opportunity to understand your deeper stories, the ones that don’t rinse away so easily. In this manner, you will change your world. The world. And the true nature of who you really are will survive!

You see, Red Rose Running, your world exists – and is re-created – in each living moment by what you are paying attention to. It’s your choice.”

“Where do I begin, Golden Wolf?”

Golden Wolf just said:

“Here. Now…. Here. Now, Loved One.

“Let your heart guide you to this truth. It all begins… and ends… here and now!

And each step, each swim, is important… it will change your world!

And you will find each island inside of you, now that you know that they do indeed exist. It’s up to you to choose what your world will be, which places to live and which rivers to cross… and which stories to let go into the currents of time.

Change your world. Choose the life you live. Write your new story – here – and now.”

Golden Wolf

Om: The Seed of Our Being

Om is a single-syllable mantra, a sacred chant, known as a bija – a seed mantra. Just as a tiny seed embodies a wondrous tree, in yoga, it is believed that the one-syllable sound of Om contains the infinite spiritual wisdom and creative power of the Universe. Humming the sound of Om reverberates in a manner that leads to us towards the experience of the infinite within us.

Patanjali, the father of classical (Raja) yoga, taught us in the Yoga-Sutra that when we chant this sacred syllable and simultaneously contemplate its meaning, our consciousness becomes single-pointed and prepared for a meditation in which our true nature is revealed. We embody sacredness.

There are 3 primary sounds of Om, which represent the 3 primary states of our being – a, u, and m. Each of these three parts serve as meditative seeds.

“Ah” represents our waking state, which is our subjective consciousness of the outer world.

“Oh” represents our dreaming state, or the consciousness of our inner world of thoughts, dreams, and memories.

“Mmm” is the dreamless state of deep sleep and the experience of ultimate unity.

By contemplating the meaning of each of these sounds as we hum them, we are led through the three states of our ordinary consciousness.

There is however a fourth part of Om, too: the anusvara, the after-sound of silence. This silence is the crown of the mantra. After chanting or humming the 3 primary sounds of Om, the vibration slowly dissolves into silence, symbolic of the transcendent state of consciousness, an enduring, blissful state, where the seed of our being is fully expressed.

The symbol of Om represents these states; the 3 bottom curves each represent the 3 primary states of waking (lower left), dreaming (lower right, and between waking and deep sleep symbols), and deep sleep (upper left); and the top dot represents the absolute state. The curve below the dot (and not touching dot) represents maya, the veil of illusion that gets in the way of our spiritual development and realization of the absolute state.

We chant Om at the beginning of yoga classes to remind us of the sacredness of our practice. It brings attention to the present-moment aspects of our awakened practice, paying attention with all of our senses. It also offers a doorway through which we explore our other states of being and our true nature.

The question is, in our daily lives where we interact with one another, are we in our waking-state or our dreaming-state? As in yoga, when we learn to pay attention to what is really going on in each moment, not caught in day-dreaming, worrying, planning, or just repeating habits and re-living memories, we start to awaken. We start to see. We start to see truths with more clarity. We start to see the interdependence of all things from an ever-expanding perspective. And we start to understand the unity of all things and see the jewels of life in every aspect of our existence.

And we start to understand and experience the chanting of Om, the seed of our being awakens, our consciousness expands, and the infinite spiritual wisdom and creative power of the Universe is unleashed!

In many respects, the seed of our being sprouts as we wake up while we are awake! Don’t go back to sleep! Om Om Om

“The gentle breezes of dusk and dawn have secrets to tell you.
Don’t go back to sleep!
You must ask for what you really want.
Don’t go back to sleep!
People pass back and forth across the threshold between the two worlds-
That door is round and open.
Don’t go back to sleep!” – Rumi

FIVE KOSHAS: A Map for the Inward Journey of Yoga

We practice yoga to explore deeply the nature of our being. The five koshas (layers or sheaths) are integrated aspects of our being that we explore as we practice yoga and focus our attention on these various aspects of our being.  Yoga is an inward journey of self-study through these layers to our higher Self, our soul or Atman, wherein we find the gift of who we really are, and our oneness with the universe and universal consciousness (Brahman)

As we practice Hatha-Yoga-based yoga asanas (Raja Yoga) and pay attention to our physical bodies, our food and nourishment, we bring awareness to our annamaya kosha. We start to explore the outer, most vulnerable aspect of ourselves, our physical bodies, where deficiencies of deeper aspects manifest themselves – our muscles, bones, organs, and connective tissue.

As we bring awareness to our breath as it pulses throughout our body, we bring awareness to our pranayama kosha. We start to explore energy, prana (life force), as it flows through our physical bodies, our arteries and veins and the other various integrated systems of our bodies – our lymphatic, nervous, hormonal, and circulatory systems. We explore various energy centers of our bodies, chakras, that are located along lines of energy pathways, nadis.

As we observe our thoughts and the space between our thoughts, we bring awareness to the more subtle patterns of our bodies and our ability to observe these patterns, these thoughts and feelings, perceptions and behaviors. We start to explore the subconscious aspects of our past experiences and stored information, our manomaya kosha. More meditative practices of yoga, like Yin Yoga and Yoga Nidra, help us access and explore this deeper layer. When we engage with our subconscious body, accessed through emotional aspects of our being, we enter the doorway (and see through the veil of illusion) to our spirituality.

As we pay attention to our ability to observe and question truths with clarity, we bring intention to the choices we make in life. We start to explore wisdom and how we use our knowledge; we are exploring our vijnanamaya kosha. We explore our morals, our ethics, our intellect, and take responsibility for our inner growth and acquisition of knowledge. We explore who we are. We explore our spirituality. We practice Jnana-Yoga – the acquisition of knowledge and wisdom through study of sacred texts and literature.

As we pay attention to our deeper, more expansive relationships in this world, we bring awareness to our consciousness, interconnectedness, and heartfelt feelings of deep happiness and joy, contentment, peace, attunement and tranquility. Here, we explore our most subtle and true nature, anandamaya kosha, even if for only short periods of time at a time. We practice Karma Yoga – the yoga of selfless service, and Bhakti Yoga – the yoga of love and devotion. And we experience Samadhi – the eighth limb of Patanjali’s Yoga-Sutra (Raja Yoga), wherein we find integration with each other and with pure Oneness. We find unity as the relationship of Atman (our inner Self, our soul) and Brahman (Universal consciousness) is realized.

Modern neuroscientists point to our consciousness as being central to our reality. As we tune into our consciousness, we empower ourselves to live the lives we are each meant to live, our dharma, and move beyond our karma, the sum of our past experiences. We empower ourselves to move beyond fear, desire, anger, and pride; and move with courage towards acceptance, love, joy, and peace.

Starting with a practice intended to explore our physical existence, we find a pathway to a deeper understanding of who we are. The koshas provide a map for this journey inwards.

Why? From Professional Engineer to Yoga Teacher?

Almost 35 years ago, after graduating with a Master of Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY, I became licensed to practice Professional Engineering. Today, as my license comes up for renewal, I notified the state professional licensing board that I am essentially retired from engineering; I will officially go on “inactive” status this month.

Why? Why retire from a highly-respected profession in an era when technically-skilled and analytically-minded people are in demand? Why move away from a profession in which I found intellectual-stimulation and achieved business-success?

For those of you who know me, you will understand that this “letting go” of my engineering identity has been happening for over 20 years, ever since about the time that I sat on top of a mountain in the Cascades with a National Outdoor Leadership School group and was asked to tell the group, “who am I?”.

It was around the time when my business partners looked at me with disinterest when I spoke about sustainability that these wheels started rolling. Momentum picked up when I moved to our current community here in Manchester, VT, 15 years ago, and design professionals looked at me blankly when I inquired about sustainable design opportunities. Sure, I found some like-minded professionals to work with in Brattleboro and Burlington, but the thrust of my work was always dictated by the wishes and priorities of the client, the person paying the bill. And then, especially here in Southern Vermont, the perceived completed-project-value provided by a structural engineers seemed to be discounted.

I found myself designing energy-efficient timber framed homes (and quietly designing sustainable-features into the houses I worked on), which was satisfying and creatively-stimulating. But, year after year, the houses got bigger and bigger, and less and less in line with my sustainable design interests. My builder and timber-framer clients were great to work for, and they afforded me the flexibility in my life to pursue multiple interests and maintain family-priorities, but their clients were demanding bigger and bigger houses which started pushing the limits of my personal capabilities and interests.

I realized that in order to influence the sustainable design priorities of the home-building public, I would better spend my time being part of a community that helped bring more and more awareness to the impact of the day-to-day choices we make, whether in construction projects or in how we interact with one another and with nature, in order to sustain life here on Earth. I remembered that my initial interests in pursuing “civil” engineering were motivated by aspirations to help people and communities. I saw new meaning in the business name that I had chosen when I started designing homes in Vermont 22 years ago, Gaia Structures. Gaia, Mother Earth, a concept that all living organisms on Earth are inter-related and will naturally affect the nature of their environment in order to make the environment more suitable for life.

And by cosmic design, I was introduced to yoga – a way of living wherein we “yolk” what we might previously have seen as separate (our bodies, our minds, our physical existence, our higher purpose in life) into daily practices of holistically living in the moment with full awareness, celebrating the joy of community and mutual-support… and making our environments more suitable, more fulfilling, for all of our lives.

So, teaching yoga for me is more than introducing asana practices, alignment, and individual-body modifications and healthy-living regimens. It’s about raising awareness, increasing ability to see truths more clearly, so that individually-motivated choices from a perspective of separateness turn into community-motivated choices from a perspective of interdependence and togetherness. It’s about inspiring choices that aren’t so much about building monuments to reward personal achievements often made at the expense of others, but more about building thriving communities which reward our abilities to make our lifestyles more sustaining and suitable for all of us.

From my perspective, yoga is entirely about living sustainably. Yoga is totally about Gaia, living in harmony with Mother Earth.

What I continually remind myself, as a yoga practitioner and as a teacher, is that positive change happens one relationship at a time, one moment at a time. If I re-member that all of life is indeed inter-connected, I will always know that each single thought, action, and word that comes from me, influences the world. And with practice, I might also be able to see more and more clearly how my day-to-day choices are indeed influenced by the world. But it is my responsibility to make wise choices. Yoga helps me see this higher perspective. Yoga helps me live with more awareness, more connectedness… and make wise choices.

Teaching yoga feels like the right way for me to influence the world, one class at a time, one person at a time… with a deep, heartfelt sense of humility towards the auspiciousness of the Universe and the Earth we inhabit. To me, this work is intellectually, physically, emotionally, and spiritually stimulating! For me, success is not so much about day-to-day accumulation of assets; it’s more about making day-to-day heartfelt connections with people and with nature, and maintaining a big-picture perspective of helping to make our communities more suitable for all of us.

The problem-solving engineer in me has not died. It has only moved towards the source of the problems we all face, and away from fears associated with feelings of personal separateness and attachment to personally-motivated goals for the future. It takes courage. It takes faith. It takes humility. And it takes work.

Yoga is now my vision and my practice. For me, so far, it has taken 22 years of practice to have the courage to finally let go of one perceived  identity and to trust another. Of course, I am realizing that it was never really about my self-perceived identity; it was (and will be) always about realizing who I really am!

Who am I? That’s really the question…

Photo Credit: Ali Kaukas




A Tribute to a Teacher

Yesterday, my wife and I attended a memorial service for a friend – a teacher. Our kids (my step-kids) and their partners traveled from Boston to speak. After all, 20 years ago, Patsy was their elementary school teacher. She was also our neighbor, where she lived with her partner Mary just a few steps away. At the service, our kids spoke of the impact Patsy had on their lives, how she was always there for them, teaching them to live positively and in joy, and how she always seemed to see the best in them – as if she could see the wonderful people they would one day be. Mary’s words were spoken as if she was just reading the words Patsy would have said if she was there herself at her own memorial service. She used words of gratitude, love, and light.

As I stood there, looking out over the fields of green where our kids once played, where we shared many days in the Deerfield Valley of Wilmington, Vermont, as a family, I looked up at the small rainbow in the clouds as a ukulele-player sang “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” I remembered the words Patsy said to me years ago, and how she was always there for me then, seeing my perspective as a step-parent-in-training during those difficult family times… and how she also seemed to understand my future long before I could.

I imagined the words she would have spoke to me yesterday as I stood there. Many of the words she had spoken to me before.

“You have been a teacher, a mentor, a father, and a loyal husband. You have chosen to maintain your character and integrity during difficult and challenging circumstances. Indeed, you have continued to seek the essence of what is really meaningful and purposeful in life – expressing selfless and unconditional love. You maintained a sense of quiet humbleness in a situation when the kids’ natural father received the sympathy of a community and while their mom struggled to find her way after tragic times. You maintained a sense of strength when you alone were the one who had to make the difficult family decisions and just be there constantly with no fanfare, taking the heat when things went badly. And you did the best you could even when just being there would be taken for granted. You learned to be open to what comes – and in doing so, you found the gift of who you really are. And, isn’t it so nice now to look out over these fields, to see your kids shine, and to quietly feel the impact of the nurturing home space we all created for them here in Wilmington? Please know that your gift, too, is to be a teacher – to help nurture young seeds of life as they grow, and to see in them their natural gifts – their sacred souls – that they too will one day share with the world. We haven’t spoke recently, but I still walk with you. Now, more closely than ever. Share your love. Keep teaching cooperation and the value of team-spirited togetherness. Always see kids through my eyes.”

I smiled quietly as the music stopped while the next generation of kids still played. I watched as the breeze took bubbles and balloons up into the sky.

I stood proudly as community members offered complimentary words of gratitude to my kids. I saw in them what I had dreamed for them 20 years ago, as if my eyes were Patsy’s.

I stood honorably as person after person went up to my wife and congratulated her on raising such wonderful kids.

I stood happily, looking out at smiles and hugs, as I remembered the importance of community and mutually-supportive relationships.

I stood with humility, attempting to let go of the weight of the perceived mistakes I still carry, and trying to understand the underlying perceived need to be recognized for what I might have done right.

I stood emotionally, with feelings of deep love towards my family… and towards Patsy.

I stood in forgiveness.

I stood with compassion.

I felt love and a sense of unity with the world… and with a teacher.

After all, I know now… Patsy was, and still is, my teacher too.

Bringing Heart to Life

For me, it all started when I started to let go of the mental thought-processes of doubt, worry, and fear, and allowed myself to fall into heart-centered feelings of unconditional love and deep faith in a higher power. For me, it was a process of realizing that life was much more than using my intellect to figure things out, or even just having a positive-based belief system. For me, it was learning to follow a path that included diving more deeply into my yoga practice – being more deeply devoted to the ideal of oneness, of One Love, of Christ consciousness, of learning to live in the eternity of each moment. For me, it was about embodying with wholeheartedness a lifestyle of loving awareness and authentic presence.

Of course, these awakenings usually come about in our darkest moments, right? It was no different for me. I remember the moment specifically – my body shaking in fear, my mind lost in endless cycles of unanswered questions. When the essence of life smacks you in the face, you wake up. When you get lost inside your head consumed by who you think you are, sometimes it takes a storm to help you re-member who you really are.

All of these years later, I look back at the wonders of life that have unfolded since that time. All of these years later, I look with amazement at the community that has come together at Heart of the Village Yoga to support one another – not only in the practice of yoga, but also in the quest to live more satisfying, heart-centered and community-building daily lives. All of these years later, I realize innately that it takes a village to realize the essence of life – it takes a community to practice loving awareness and to build loving relationships.

So now… a dozen years after I was smacked in the face… 9 years after a US Army veteran from St. Croix looked me in the eye and said, “You’re not leaving, are you?”… 6 years after I shared a vision with a US Air Force veteran from San Diego and co-founded Warriors Live On… and 4 years after I started a new journey with my wife at Heart of the Village Yoga… I have the opportunity to bring my heart to life by bringing the essence of our “Village” to California. Next week, Memorial Day weekend, I will have the opportunity to bring yoga to a group of veterans on a nature excursion on the Pacific Crest Trail outside of Big Bear. I have the honor to walk with presence and authenticity, as a warrior and alongside warriors, carrying with me the heart of our Heart of the Village Yoga tribe on a trek with Warriors Live On.

You might say that Warriors Live On initially grew out of our own healing experiences and practices, from those darkest times when my wife and I struggled through PTSD utilizing the practices of mindfulness and yoga and nature-based living, to our shared experiences of healing with Eva Belanger and other United States veterans, to our shared vision of bringing our own successes with holistic practices to a wider population of veterans through a new non-profit organization called Warriors Live On. Since its founding, Eva has been the force behind the actual manifestation of the vision; I have only been a voice of support from the other side of the country. (I remember writing a letter of support when WLO set out on its first nature excursion shared here on this site.)

Warriors Live On is now an organization which provides integrative healing processes for post 9-11 combat veterans who are battling the debilitating symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Recognizing that the effects of PTSD on both mind and body can be healed, WLO now offers integrative programming incorporating nature treks, acupuncture, Somatic Experiencing, Organic Intelligence, yoga and nutrition. This multi-modal approach eases the symptoms of PTSD and opens the door to a new way of living.

To those of you who have become my family and my circle of friends at Heart of the Village Yoga, please know that I carry with me your love as I bring my heart – our collective heart – to a new circle of friends next week with Warriors Live On. To those of you who I will have the honor of being with next week, please know that I am humbled, honored, and excited to share this new journey with you.

Each of us has a story to tell and new stories to compose. But each of our individual stories are part of an ever-expanding larger story. Each chapter unfolds, usually where we direct our attention. When we embrace intentional practices, life has a miraculous way of letting those practices turn into reality. Sometimes, it takes a journey of a hundred steps to look back and see the first step. Sometimes, it takes a journey of a thousand miles to look back and realize you’ve been sharing the path with many, many others. Sometimes, it takes a lifetime of experiences to realize that it is all about living a life of loving awareness in the eternal gift of each moment.

Bringing heart to life begins with the first step, yes. Its enlightening now to have the good fortune to look back and see those steps, those chapters in my own life. But it begins again with the next step. And it expands as your heart expands. And it expands again when you have the love and support of a village. And it expands again and again when you realize that you a part of an ever-expanding field of relationships, mutually interdependent and connected. Bringing heart to life is about embodying loving awareness in each timeless step. Its about bringing your authentic self and your whole heart – a full heart, a clear heart, a strong heart, and an open heart – to life in each moment. Its about being a warrior and a healer for the benefit of all.

I am honored to recognize the warrior in each of you, and I am humbled by the wonder of our ever-expanding circle. To those of you struggling in this moment, take heart – and take the next step. And the next. It takes work. It takes practice. But, one day at a time, life unfolds. The gift of the current struggle will be the lesson learned that will help awaken the essence of who you really are. Have faith in your higher purpose… and take your next steps with intention and with open eyes, bringing your heart to life!

Please support Warriors Live On here.