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 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

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

 

 

 

Awakening a Deeper Sense of Home

Yoga is a practice to re-awaken the natural loving-kindness that rests deep in our souls.

We re-vitalize feelings of love for all beings and all of Earth.

We direct awareness both inward and outward to feel deeply connected and at One with all of life.

We realize the gift of the present moment.

We feel humbled by the sacredness of Life, and empowered by our abilities to serve with integrity and dignity.

Practice might take the form of the classical methods of posture practices, breath work, and meditation; it could also take the form of service work, intellectual study, or devotional practice.

When we take care of our bodies and our own way-of-living, as well as how we live our lives in our communities and in service of the greater good, we each lay the foundation of a deeper yoga practice… and a healthier, more fulfilling and sustainable lifestyle.

When we each realize the sacredness of our own life and its importance to the greater good, we each see how isolated self-interests and personal feelings of separation and day-to-day living challenges are just pieces of a bigger picture, opportunities to see a greater good and a deeper sense of life-purpose.

When we let go of previously held perspectives which hold us back from these heart-opening practices, we feel free to explore the limitless nature of our spirit and the awesome adventure of our life and the gift of each moment.

We realize that our personal adventures are never alone, that we all travel through time and space together… that we each share the challenges and the opportunities that each moment in life offers us.

In this place, in these travels, we awaken a deeper sense of being-at-home… in our bodies, in our hearts, in our communities, on Earth, and in the Cosmos.

Here, we are One.

And in this spirit, I get on a plane Thursday to fly to India to explore a region said to be the home of yoga, ready to take an adventure into my own heart and re-awaken a deeper sense of being at home… Here.

To my friends and family, to my Heart of the Village community, I travel with you… and I am at home with you. This adventure is possible because of you!

To Jo, I look forward to this adventure of a lifetime… to the opportunity to explore the limitless nature of our spirits as we soar together… with open hearts!

I humbly offer these words with feelings of Love for all of you. Peace.

A Vision Statement Written in 2012

Last week, after visiting with my friend Eva in San Diego, I was reminded of a vision statement that I had written in 2012 to help us begin a new non-profit organization, Warriors Live On. Eva has steadfastly worked on developing this organization since that time and growing it with new partners and participants. I returned to Vermont after that time focused on finding new work, hoping that one day we’d work together again. After meeting with her last week, I was overwhelmed with pride and respect for her and her work.

I also dug out the following vision statement that I wrote at that time. It is interesting to note that I wrote this before my wife and I started work at Stratton, before we opened up a yoga studio in Manchester, Vermont, and before I started a hiking club with my warrior-friend Jonah. It was before I met other friends living with PTSD or learned about Y12SR or read about current neurological research in mindfulness or knew about HeartMath or Brene Brown or Candace Pert. It was based on personal experiences and insights. It makes me wonder if this vision statement will be in my future intentions again…

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Mission:

Provide educational and life-changing experiences for people, especially combat veterans, battling through the symptoms of PTSD who are motivated to learn and live in a supportive and healing environment that includes: (1) therapeutic adventure activities that build trusting community and individual understanding of new self; (2) whole body-mind-spirit healing and therapies that teach new healthy daily practices to heal effects of trauma; and (3) educational experiences in an interactive, interdependent and sustainable working community that build new life skills for a fulfilling and enriching life.  

(1) Therapeutic adventure activities that build trusting community and individual understanding of new self:

  • Programs and activities that use experiential education models in an adventure setting to provide therapeutic and behavioral-changing outcomes. Through intentional and directed group activities and processing that includes interaction, teamwork, and trust-building, participants build sense of safety and have enriching “ah-hah” moments that build community, self-efficacy, and understanding of personal strengths and behavior.
  • Participants build relationships with other participants, interns, and staff through activities in an outdoor natural environment.
  • Teaching is conducted in a strengths-based, non-judgmental manner, building trust, mutual respect, feelings of safety and support.

(2) Whole body-mind-spirit healing and therapy that teach new healthy daily practices to heal effects of trauma:

  • Programs will be holistic in nature, addressing whole body health, and teaching daily practices that can heal the effects of trauma. Traditional therapies for PTSD deal primarily with the mind; cutting-edge holistic therapies take advantage of the interconnectedness of mind, body and spirit.
  • Participants will have the following therapies and healing services available to them on a daily basis (in addition to the recreational and adventure therapies): yoga and meditation; one-on-one and group therapy; creative art and music activities; animal therapies.

(3) Educational experiences in an interactive, interdependent and sustainable working community that build new life skills for a fulfilling civilian life:

  • Retreat setting will be a working homestead with organic gardening; food shopping and meal preparation education for healthy nutrition; animal care; synergistic relationship-building with local farmers, restaurants, and merchants; sustainable practices using renewable energy and recycled water technologies; artisan skill-building such as timber framing and/or other homestead crafts; and landscaping work. Participants will learn these practices through hands-on experience.
  • Through participation and group reflection, life-skills are learned, relationships are built, group behavior is valued, and personal “can-do” attitudes are developed.

Services:

On-site workshops, group sessions, skill-building, healing and therapeutic services.

Off-site adventure workshops and activities, therapeutic recreation and experiential learning.

On-line outreach, community-building, and educational services to the broader community of veterans with PTSD and people battling through trauma. Educational articles, blogging, expert advice, on-line mentoring and support services.

Writing: books, articles in professional journals, on-line media.

Trainings, consultation and mentoring for interested groups and organizations.

Participation in research and cutting-edge studies.

Participants:

Veterans of OIF and OEF who are either diagnosed with PTSD or who are battling through similar symptoms of combat stress, such as depression, anxiety, panic, and inability to function, and who are generally having trouble functioning and living in their civilian lives. These veterans will most likely be those who have already been treated in a clinical setting and are adjusting to home life unsuccessfully, or those who have never been diagnosed or treated and are having difficulty with the symptoms years after their active duty. The veterans will be screened, interviewed and required to complete an intake process to determine motivation, need, and behavioral issues. This will not be a program for veterans that are suicidal. It will be a program for veterans who are aware that they have a problem adjusting to civilian life and that they are motivated to learn how to get better.

There will be a code of conduct that will include: norms of behavior (mutual respect, no alcohol or casual drugs or other self-medications not prescribed, safety, etc), activity guidelines, responsibilities for group living, and future mentoring and promotions (recruiting future participants).

Ideally, each session would have 10-12 participating veterans attending on scholarship for the session, 4-6 long-term seasonal interns (alumni, veterans who can stay for longer terms, interested civilians with PTSD experience) who would provide primary facility services and support on a work-for-free participation basis; and 4-6 fee-paying civilians who would volunteer to be involved in group skill-building and recreational activities.

Eventually, will conduct programs and retreats for caregivers and families of veterans addressing the veteran’s “dynamics” at home.

Location and Housing:

The retreat is intended to be sustainable and organic in nature. Permanent housing will be provided for 2-4 facility owners (and their families or partners). Temporary housing will be provided for participants, interns and fee-paying guests (18-24 total).

Housing will be low-impact, low-energy, green and sustainable in nature. Common and public services will be shared. Private spaces and facilities will be provided.

Permanent housing will small or tiny houses. Temporary housing could be a series of small modular-types cottages, tents or yurts.

There will be a common building with a commercial kitchen, laundry room, public baths and showers, yoga and meditation room, meeting room, treatment room, offices, and fitness room. Common building could be renovated existing farmhouse. There will also be a barn for outdoor workshops, animals, equipment storage, and facility support.

Entire facility would be planned in a manner that retreat could be subdivided and sold as private or public housing.

Retreat has become a sustainable geographic location with the following physical attributes (no order of priority):

  • Acreage (approximately 25 – 50 acres).
  • Proximity to thriving community with local farms and artisans and support services.
  • Proximity to preserved nature land, preferably forested and mountainous, open spaces, great views.
  • Proximity to sustainable water supply, for drinking and recreation. Consider climate in 10-20 years.
  • Temperate local environment with high norms for days with sunshine (for solar facilities: no extreme heating- or cooling- days; for outdoor recreation; for growing food; for health).
  • Progressive community economics and social services; proximity to wealth for local financial support; like-minded businesses for partnerships and synergistic, socially-responsible relationships.
  • Proximity to major airport & transportation hub (plane, train, bus, vehicle travel) for easy access for travelers.
  • Proximity to adaptive sports facility and volunteer base for outdoor activities.
  • Proximity to outdoor education and therapeutic recreation choices: (1) Hiking and backcountry travel, (2) Flat water kayaking, (3) Biking, (4) Whitewater rafting, (5) Skiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing (Backcountry, downhill, cross-country), (6) Rock climbing, (7) Surfing.
  • Veteran-friendly community, perhaps with local VA facilities for referrals.
  • On-site running water (stream) for tranquility and meditation.
  • Proximity to university with research interests in our work.

Organizational Philosophy:

Participant involvement will be experiential, hands-on, interactive, and relationship-building. It will be conducted in a manner that teaches life skills that can be applied daily in civilian life. As such, participants will be responsible for many of the daily activities required to run the retreat.

For continued growth, learning, and involvement in cutting edge work, the schedule and culture of this organization will promote learning and off-site travel. The leaders of this organization will be able to bring new life to this organization each session, promote work and personal growth in between, and continue on-line support as necessary at the same time.

To keep the organization a grassroots and socially-responsible business, we will seek supporters at a grassroots and local level. It will be desirable to have many small and invested supporters rather than just a few remote supporters. We’d like this organization to be as sustainable as possible. It may require individual fees or contributions from participants. We’d like to partner with local farmers and healthy food providers to assist with food services and joint marketing. We’d like to partner with local adaptive organizations for mutual support and longevity. We’d like to partner with larger organizations to provide services that are more intimate and holistic than they can provide. We’d like to provide with various holistic health organizations for services, such as local practitioners, local artisans, and local transportation service providers.

Other Relevant Ideas Related to Healing and Culture:  

Process begins when person becomes aware of a personal issue and becomes motivated to change. For someone to decide to then spend time with us, they’d have to first develop a feeling that coming to our program would be safe and beneficial. So, they’d have to first have some level of trust, faith, and hope that coming to our program will help. This is where on-line community with story-telling may be beneficial.

Story-telling might provide sense of validation, validation that their personal experience is a result of normal reactions to abnormal circumstances. Thus, on-line community might also provide educational stories, providing feeling that one is not alone and that others have same or similar symptoms.

Education might help participants realize that: the mind and body have changed; there are practices to help you change again; the physical imprints of trauma are stored in one’s body; emotional pathways are wide-open- all emotions- positive and negative, and logical and memory pathways are reduced; pathways to healing involves mindfulness, body work, and re-programming of thought processes to affect emotional response.

Developing mindfulness skills through meditation and therapies, and discovering the mind-body-spirit connections through yoga and outdoor activity in beautiful (and safe) settings will be the foundation of a beneficial community environment. We’d also teach: relaxation techniques to help get rest, recover and help body re-program nervous system; healthy eating and lifestyle skills that help body rebuild healthy cells, pathways, and bodily systems.

Vulnerability- Being vulnerable is uncomfortable for everyone, especially for those trained to be stoic and trained to control the situations one is faced with. However, through experiencing vulnerability in a safe and supportive environment, we learn about ourselves, our true and authentic nature, and we learn to appreciate the positive emotions that we are now experiencing.

Through learning about our own personal vulnerabilities, our true selves and authentic nature, and our inherent strengths and positive attributes, we develop self-efficacy. Through self-efficacy and feelings of self-worth in our “constantly-growing” bodies, with a new outlook that lets go of control and embraces living in the moment mindfully, we further develop positive emotions and we start to open up the neurological pathways to parts of our brain and body that have been shut down, allowing ourselves to heal previous physical imprints and re-program ourselves to a new healthy being.

Through this process, we discover a new sense of worthiness, that inside we feel like we are safe, worthy, and deserve goodness. We start to have faith in the future again, faith in ourselves, faith in others. Fear starts to become manageable and it eventually subsides. With faith comes hope; hope is a fundamental feeling that continues to allow all other positive emotions to develop.

Being in a beautiful outdoor setting not only helps participants feel safe, it helps them see beauty again in the world, helping them tune into the big picture, the miracles of life, and further develop positive emotions and spiritual presence. Being in a supportive environment where people appreciate the positive aspects of each other (strengths-based), participants start to let go of self-judgment and see the possibilities of positive, interdependent personal relationships with others, and will be motivated to find supportive communities at home.

Other skills-based and teams-based learning activities (food planning and preparation, arts and crafts, fitness and sports, sustainable home-living skills, animal care) further develop the sense of interdependence, worthiness, self-efficacy, and the feelings that we can thrive in our new bodies in our new civilian lives, and feel safe. Other creative activities like music, drumming, story-telling, and dance also help develop the idea of being vulnerable, non-judgmental, and free to share positive emotions.

Experiential education (EE) and therapeautic adventure (TA) models in a strengths-based learning environment, in a setting that is beautiful and safe, are the basis for developing this healing or living-well process. In an intentional manner, participants will be faced with sequenced situations that develop teamwork, trust, communication, and being vulnerable with others. If this vulnerability takes place in a safe and supportive sequence that builds trusting relationships, personal skills and interpersonal trust, participants go through a self-realization process that allows them to continue to succeed, one step at a time, building self-efficacy and self-worthiness. Other complimentary therapies would be utilized to support this process along the way, helping participants cope, helping participants become more aware, helping participants learn to be compassionate towards themselves, helping participants find physical health and spiritual health in their current mental being, and helping participants develop positive emotions and feelings of faith and hope. The EE and TA processes are the basis of what helps us all to quickly develop the sense of brotherhood or (sisterhood), trust, and which allows us to begin the process of being vulnerable and open to learning, changing, and living happy and well.

Changing Habitual Emotional Reactions

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(From Terry Fralich: The Five Core Skills of Mindfulness)

Each time you encounter a negative emotion (irritation, impatience, anxiety, anger, etc) that threatens to dominate your awareness, try practicing the following:

STOP – Recognize the warning signs of the emotional reaction as soon as possible, and remind yourself to pay attention to them immediately.

BREATHE – Become sensitive to the natural softening quality of your breathe, and send a mental message to your body to release and let go, allowing the negative emotion to soften.

REFLECT – Appraise the situation: Is your reaction supported by old patterns or stories or past experiences? What resources and options do you have in the present moment? Can you change your perspective about how you see yourself in this situation? What are your best insights from this situation and what do you want to remember?

CHOOSE – Having become more aware of your negative emotion and possible patterned response, settled yourself a bit, and tapped into your insights, consider other possible reactions. Remember that you have the power to choose your reaction; can you shift an old pattern and make a creative choice towards another possible reaction? What might be your best choice under all of the circumstances?

This 4-step mindfulness practice can be a powerful tool.

For me (if the situation allows), listening to my body, and perhaps moving my body or relocating myself to a natural and safe place, can help the breathing process and help make my reflections clearer and more in tune with my natural instincts and my deeper intuition.

I try to remember that I am human – bad things happen and I make mistakes – but I also have the ability (and responsibility) to choose my response. If I practice these steps, and pay attention to my positive intentions in life, cultivating positive states (delight, joy, calm, confident, loving, etc) in mind and body, I will eventually change habitual negative emotional reactions to more positive responses, responses which will also be more in tune with my true nature.

Ubuntu

I was personally introduced to the concept of Ubuntu a few years ago by a close friend. It aligned closely, from my perspective, with the Gaia Theory (Gaia being the name of the timber-frame-home design business I started years ago), that we are all connected and can be viewed like a single organism. The word came to mind this weekend when discussing the concept of isvara-pranidhana during our discussion of the Niyamas, and the dedication to the ideal of pure awareness and the interconnectedness of all things.

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From drfranklipman.com (Thanks to Christie for sharing this, and to Mike for showing me the way.):

What does Ubuntu mean?

Ubuntu is a Xhosa word which serves as the spiritual foundation of African societies. It basically means what makes us human is the humanity we show each other. It articulates a basic understanding, caring, respect and compassion for others. Ubuntu is a belief in a universal bond of sharing that unites all of humanity – the conviction that no person can be truly full while his neighbor remains hungry. It represents a world-view that sees humanity as a web of family, rather than a mass of individuals. This philosophy affirms that a person is a person through other people, that we are all related, interdependent and connected to each other. This is similar to what we know as compassion, compassion for ourselves, our families, our community, the global community and the earth.

How do you think the practice of Ubuntu effects one’s health?

I think we all tend to get caught up with our own “dramas” which keeps us in our heads and takes up a lot of energy. When we stop focusing on ourselves and when we are sharing or being compassionate to others, we let go of a lot of unnecessary anxiety about our own dilemmas. So we often actually receive more than we give. It is a selfish thing, but if you want to feel better, helping others will probably help you as much if not more than whoever you are helping. Giving without receiving or expecting anything in return is extremely uplifting. I believe what it does physiologically to you is the opposite of the stress response, it stimulates the parasympathetic system. But also when one sees how others are living and they are happy even when they have nothing or very little materially, it often shifts one’s perspective on life and what’s important and how you feel. And often when people learn to give or start volunteering and caring for others, they in turn learn then to care for themselves as well. For many giving to others is easier than giving love to themselves, so it can help people learn self love.

What do you recommend for someone to kindle in them a sense of Ubuntu?

Find something that is meaningful to you, that you can connect with. It needs to be more than just giving money….which is nice but impersonal. When you connect with the person or persons you are giving to, it is probably the best thing you can do for your health. Partly, I think this is because what has happened in our culture today, many of us feel isolated. Whereas in Africa, there is still community, extended families, people feel less isolated, the support systems are usually better. I think what happens is we are so busy trying to survive in this crazy hectic world, we don’t have time to serve others or give back because of time constraints. But it is in our nature, everyone wants to give, we have just been numbed by our culture. That’s why if you look at most “slower” societies, there is more Ubuntu. So I would say, it is in our nature, it is a part of us, let it out.

Striving

It was interesting to hear a group of yogis have a rather intense discussion on the word striving recently, often taking issue with the word. I remember a workshop almost a year ago when two of my favorite yoga teachers had the same pointed discussion on the same word. I remember it as being one of the most insightful discussions I had heard at the time; two master teachers, each expressing their unique and sometimes differing perspectives. To me, that is the essence of learning to live a full and joyous life: seeing and paying attention to multiple perspectives, then synthesizing them in a way that gives enhanced personal understanding and a greater sense of inner knowingness.

To me, this process of synthesizing multiple perspectives, engaging in deep personal reflection and learning, then adapting with time to continue to survive happily in the present moment, is the essence of my yoga practice. No judgment, just learning and adapting. Isn’t this what svadhyaya (the second Niyama) is all about? When we look inside with a sense of discovery and wonder, we begin to understand the difference between knowledge and knowingness, information and wisdom. When our sense of awareness is lively, joy arises from within rather than being dependent on outer influences or accomplishments.

I know that when a word or a concept causes a sense of uneasiness, it is worth looking at why and delving deep into the question. Why did the word striving cause such an intense reaction? Hmmm.

For me at least, it might show how deeply we hold on to doing things the way we think they are supposed to be done based on outside influences (job advancement, approval, norms of behavior), rather than letting go of those outside expectations and acting in a manner authentic to our true selves and our own sense of inner wisdom.

Striving can mean our steady work to fulfill our true purposes in life and our acting in a manner according to our deepest intentions and wisdom. It can mean having faith in ourselves and our own unique abilities and acting accordingly. For instance, my striving to build my body and mind, and to be spiritually connected as a result of my honest emotional expressions of love and connection to others, is my way of finding joy in my life. It is me, the wise me, learning through personal discovery and self-study with a sense of awe and wonder, adapting each day to the circumstances of the present situation and experience. It is constantly balanced with a keen awareness of acceptance, respecting my own vulnerabilities, humbly seeing the interdependence of all things around me and the way things are.

But striving can also mean the constant desire to do what other’s think you need to do, to act in a competitive manner to succeed in comparison to others, to become attached to a career identity or a certain status, or to just feel like you are never good enough the way you already are. It can also mean striving to do a yoga posture that isn’t right for your body just because some other guru, living in a different body, said that this is the way this posture should be done.

Personally, I am motivated to learn and to adapt, to strive to live a full expression of my life while accepting honestly and humbly who I already am. I am motivated to strive to see and respect the best in others, showing compassion and sharing honest caring emotions, while accepting that they walk their own path. I strive to be responsible for myself: my health, my happiness, and my actions. I accept that because we are all interconnected and interdependent (and that I am human), my fate is not just up to me.

I look for learning in all interactions and experiences. I strive to respect the perspective of every person, young and old, weak and strong, quiet and loud. I honor other yoga teachers and the long lineage of yoga teachers. But it is up to me to find my own peace and joy in my life, both striving to be me, making effort to practice and learn as my best self, while accepting all that is me and that will always be me… and being aware of the difference.

I enroll in yoga teacher-trainings to be challenged to learn multiple perspectives in order to learn more about myself and my place on this planet; I do not enroll in yoga teacher-trainings in order to strive for outside recognition or to learn to do things in a certain accepted way. It does not impress me when someone tells me that I need to do things a certain way, just because that person has been taught by many big personalities or influential teachers. It is always up to me to synthesize a teacher’s perspectives with respect and an attitude of whole-hearted learning, but then act in an authentic and honest manner according my deep sense of personal inquiry and wisdom. I believe that this is the essence of the Sutras as well as many other spiritually-guided texts.

As a teacher, it is my job to guide and empower others to find their own sense of personal knowingness and wisdom, learn more about their own bodies and minds, their own sense of importance and vulnerability and connectedness, not to encourage them to strive in a certain manner just because it is my own personal perspective or the normal way to do things.

To me, this is how we all learn to live together for the greater good of us all and this planet. It is indeed my perspective that we are innately wired to live this way… but it also my perspective that as a teacher, I’m only striving to help others discover this in their own manner, if indeed it is the way we are intended to be.

To me, this is the essence of being a yogi and a yoga teacher. To me, this is why I absolutely love having engaging and interactive non-judgmental discussion on deep subjects, like on the concept of striving.

And, to me, this is why I absolutely love to sit down, reflect, and write afterwards.

Bobopelli in VC City 2014

Experiential Learning: Group Exercises for Mindful Hiking

Often times, I’ll lead hikes or trips with a group of people in which our goals are to learn something valuable from the experience that we might be able to apply in our daily lives. Experiential learning. I’ll usually set up an outline, perhaps having a series of quotes which might give a particular perspective, or perhaps having a few engaging interactive activities planned that might enhance the experience. Through the experience, guided reflection, and de-brief facilitation, the insights that people share are often so much more powerful than anything I (as one individual) could have come up with on my own. That’s the beauty of group learning! Here was my simple outline going into today’s Mindful Hiking workshop at Heart of the Village Yoga in Manchester, VT. I’d read a “quote”; we’d brief the next section of the hike; hike a little; do some yoga postures; de-brief; and then move on to the next quote and segment of our little hike.

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(Quotes adapted from “The Pocket Thich Nhat Hanh)

Mindfulness of Breathe: The way to maintain your presence in the here and now is through the mindfulness of the breathe. There is no need to manipulate the breathe. Beathe is a natural thing; like air, like light, we should leave it as it is and not interfere with it. What we are doing is simply lighting up the lamp of awareness to illuminate our breathing. We generate the energy of mindfulness to illuminate everything that is happening in the present moment.

Brief: Let’s use all of our senses to feel, hear, see, taste and smell our breathe… and then use all of our senses to feel, hear, see, taste and smell everything that is happening around us in this present moment.

De-Brief: Does anyone want to share anything about this experience, what you might have observed in yourself or around you?

 Walking Meditation Practice: Walking is an important form of meditation. It can be a very deep spiritual practice. Walk without effort; walk without strain. Just enjoy walking. When you walk in mindfulness, you are in touch with all of the wonders of life within you and around you. For many of us, this can be difficult because our minds are elsewhere and we are not walking with our full body and our full consciousness. We see our minds and our bodies as two separate things. While our bodies are walking one way, our consciousness is tugging us in a different direction. When we understand the interconnectedness of our bodies and our minds, the simple act of walking can feel supremely easy and pleasurable.

Brief: Let’s take a step and touch the earth in such a way that you establish yourself in the present moment. No effort required: your foot touches the earth mindfully, and you arrive firmly in the here and now. You are fully present, fully alive, and you are touching the earth. Breathe in and take one step, and focus all of your attention on the sole of your foot. Smile, then take the next step!

De-Brief: Does anyone want to share anything about this experience, what you might have observed in yourself or around you?

Touching the Earth: Touching the earth each day helps us in many ways. The earth has been here for a long time. She is mother to all of us. She knows everything. With the earth we are very safe. She is very patient; she helps us; she protects us. When we die, she takes us back into her arms. She is always there to support us, in all of her wonderful expressions like trees, flowers, butterflies, and sunshine. Touching the earth is a good practice to heal you and restore your joy.

Brief:  Now, let’s take each step with an attitude of gratitude for the earth and all of her wondrous expressions. Touch the earth; touch her expressions… the leaves, the soil, the water, the flowers… Feel her support and patience.

De-Brief: Does anyone want to share anything about this experience, what you might have observed in yourself or around you?

Children of the Earth: We are all children of the earth. We are continually rising from Mother Earth, being nurtured by her, and then returning to her. All life is impermanent. Like us, plants are born, live for a period of time, and then return to the earth and become the source of food for future growth, future generations. We all depend on each other. We humans think we’re intelligent, but an orchid, for example, knows how to produce symmetrical flowers; a snail knows how to a make beautiful, well-proportioned shell. Compared with their knowledge, ours might not be worth that much at all. Maybe we should bow down to the orchid and the snail. Maybe we should join our palms reverently before the butterfly and the oak tree. Maybe, feeling respect for all species will help us recognize and cultivate the noblest nature in ourselves.

Brief: Let’s walk as if we are nature itself, dependent on each and every plant, animal, and organism… each and every mineral, element, piece of matter around us. Perhaps, as we feel their vulnerability, we’ll feel our own. Perhaps, as we feel their importance in the web of life, we’ll feel our own too.

De-Brief:

Does anyone want to share anything about this experience, what you might have observed in yourself or around you?

What is the biggest take-away, most meaningful learning experience, that you’ll take way with you and into your daily lives from today’s hike?

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Twelve Wellness Perspectives

As a yoga teacher, a strength training coach, and an outdoor educator, I thought I’d summarize some of what I’ve learned throughout my own personal life experiences in the format of my own 12-step outline for personal wellness. I call them perspectives because they are topics to be considered and perhaps explored further (they’ll have different meanings for different people), and because that’s what I’m now calling my Vermont-based coaching work: Perspective Coaching.

So, today I am posting a draft of my outline for my friends to review and to help guide me as I develop content for the next twelve posts.

I come to this effort with a desire to help readers evolve to a healthier – perhaps more sustainable – lifestyle. My assumption is that each of us are struggling to exist in a challenging world, that each of us have our own life-story of hardship and distress, and that each of us is looking for a way to flow through life with a greater sense of ease and common good. I’m also offering these 12 wellness practices from a guy’s perspective… but I’m not intending it to be only for guys.

My preliminary outline is below. Within each topic, my plan is to develop how-to’s which give some options for people to try. Please contact me with comments.

I’ll discuss perspectives my own experiences in Yin Yoga and Power Yoga, indigenous cultures, experiential and adventure learning, therapeutic and adaptive yoga and sports, western strength training and wellness practices, and my own body-mind-spirit explorations.

1. Calm Waters: Finding Safety in the Storm. (I’ll discuss basic practices to help calm the nervous system, including surrounding yourself with support.)

2. Breathe: Our Primary Focus. (I’ll discuss breathing techniques and some visualization practices to enhance abilities to find calmness and focus.)

3. Cultivating Awareness: Being our own Witness. (I’ll bring attention to the concept of observing your thoughts and not becoming attached to them.)

4. Heart Sense: Moving from Head to Heart. (I’ll discuss concepts such as acceptance and compassion, and share practices which help develop intuition and sense of inner knowing… and moving away from a life of judgment and comparison… and moving towards a thriving life, naturally.)

5. Setting Intention: What am I Practicing? (Based on the idea that we become what we practice in life, I’ll discuss goal-setting practices and the benefits of setting positive intentions… and living in a manner as if they are already happening.)

6. Reach Deep: The Courage to be Your Self. (I’ll discuss practices to let go of “what you think should be” and to develop an attitudes of positivity and courage. I’ll discuss the concept of Dharma, and realizing your strengths.)

7. Mindful Movement: Finding Inner Power and Balance. (I’ll discuss basic principles of yoga asana and mindful strength training practices, and developing physical balance and alignment. I’m guessing that this will my focus for further posts too.)

8. Nurturing Harmony: Stabilizing Attention and Intention. (I’ll discuss practices which support finding equanimity and personal harmony, including the benefits of nutrition and regular practice.)

9. Adventurous Spirit: Maintaining Attitudes of Awe and Discovery. (The world is constantly changing. I’ll discuss practices which enhance abilities to learn, adapt, and sustain an awesome life in the light. Live a life full of experiences.)

10. Practice Loving-Kindness: The Karma of Connection. (I’ll discuss the concepts of Karma, Oneness, Gaia, and the importance of feeling connected and engaged in the bigger picture, with others, with nature… and perhaps leading changes within your family and community, one relationship at a time.)

11. Reflections: Strengthening Learning and Self-Regulation. (The learning occurs during the times of reflection. I’ll discuss non-judgmental reflection and de-brief practices.)

12. Starting Again: Life Goes On. (I like to look at my life according to the legend of Kokopelli, bringing joy to my surroundings, one day at a time, planting seeds, then moving on. I’ll discuss this perspective, the power of living in the present, but also the concept of being part of the evolutionary cycle of life. My Soul Lives.)