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.

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.

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 Story Shared by Sean Buranahiran

One day a young boy asked his father, “What is the value of his life?”

Instead of answering the father told his son to take this rock and go sell it at a market.

If anybody asks the price, raise two fingers and don’t say anything. The boy then went to the market and a women asked, “How much is this rock. I want to put it in my garden.” The boy didn’t say anything and raised up two fingers, and the women said, “Two dollars? I’ll take it.”

And the boy went home and told his father, “A women wants to buy this rock for two dollars. “The father said, “Son, I want you to take this rock to a museum. If anybody wants to buy it, don’t say a word and just put up two fingers.”

The boy then went to the museum and a man wanted to buy the rock. The boy didn’t say a word and put up two fingers. And the man said, “$200? I’ll take it.”

The boy was shocked and went running home. “Father, a man wants to buy this rock for $200. His father than said, “The last place I want you to take this rock is to a precious stone store. Show it to the owner and don’t say a word. And if he asks the price just put up two fingers.”

The son then went to a precious stone store and he showed the rock to the owner. “Where did you find this stone? It is one of the most rarest stones in the world. I must have it! How much would you sell it for?”

The boy put up two fingers.

And the man said, “I’ll take it for $200,000.”

The boy, not knowing what to say, ran home to his father. “Father, there’s a man that wants to buy this stone for $200,000.”

His father said, “Son, do you know the value of your life now? You see, it doesn’t matter where you come from, where you were born, the color of your skin, or how much money you were born into. It matters where you decide to place yourself, the people you surround yourself with, and how you choose to carry yourself.”

You may have lived your life thinking you were a $2 stone. You may have lived your whole life surrounded by people who saw your worth as only $2. But everybody has a diamond inside of them. And we can choose to surround ourself with people who see our value and see the diamond inside of us. We can choose to put ourself in a market or put ourself in a precious stone store. And you can choose to see the value in other people. You can help other people see the diamond inside of themselves. Choose the people you surround yourself with wisely. That can make all the difference in your life.

You can choose to be around people who see you as $2, or you can choose to be around people who see you as $200,000.

And some people… will see you as priceless.

I wish you all the best. I love you all.



Babamanji’s Time to Remember

It had been a long week and Babamanji had lost his way. He felt separated. Amongst friends and family, he felt a little lost. Yes, everyone saw his outward smile, but somehow his thoughts wandered to past memories and he lost his presence.

He decided to spend the evening sitting under some trees and gazing at the constellations. There, he always felt at home. There, he always felt safe. There, he knew he would begin again to find his way and recognize from deep within the true nature of what was going on… and find his natural rhythm with the world again.

As first, as he gazed to the sky, the constellations were not visible. As he consciously slowed his breath down to access a place of inner peace, he started to feel content. He started to see that the constellations were obscured by clouds. He reflected on his ability to at least see the clouds.

As he looked to the eastern sky, he saw the constellation Ganesha, and he was reminded that many of the obstacles that we face in life come from our own thoughts and judgments, our own ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing, and our own self-created feelings of separation. In every moment, there is a new opportunity to walk beyond these obstacles and across the threshold to see your higher self and to feel more connected with your true nature. In every challenge, there is a new opportunity to gain knowledge. Things started to get clearer.

As he looked to the northern sky, he saw the constellation Shiva, and he was reminded that life is indeed cycles of transformation, and that it was necessary sometimes for him to lose his way in order to express his true nature again more fully. He was reminded that the practice of yoga would help him find his way and help him embrace his life more fully. As he practiced some meditative yoga, he started to access the knowledge held deep within his subconscious mind – deep within his physical body. He started to access his natural compassionate emotional body. His gaze became more aware. He marveled at the wonder of the sky.

As he looked to the southern sky, he saw the constellation Hanuman… and his heart melted. For a moment or two, the clear image of Hanuman right in front of him took his breath away. He saw himself in the stars. His own light began to shine again. He wondered if he had lost his way because he was not being himself and letting his own light shine, or if it was because of the others who did not see his light? He wondered about all of the judgments people make of others and wondered if people put down in others what they fear in themselves. He wondered about his own ego, his own attachment to how he thought things should be, his own refusal to see truths, or his own fear of living authentically. Of course, these thoughts just seemed to melt away as he let go and settled wholeheartedly into his own feelings of unconditional love and devotion to a more sacred perspective of the world. Being immersed in nature always helped him do that. He felt the warm support of Mother Earth below him. He was reminded that we all come from the same place, that we are all living our lives together.

He started to see the constellation Lakshmi in the background, and he was reminded to embrace life fully, to feel the abundance of nature, and to express beauty and every aspect of his life. It became so clear to him that our bodies are indeed evolved to be happy and to build supportive relationships with one another. Our true nature is really quite remarkable.

By this time, it almost felt like his mind itself was becoming transparent as the evening sky became clearer and clearer. His mind felt still. His body felt at peace. His feelings of love and openness emanated from deep within.

He was humbled by his growing feelings of responsibility and empowerment.

He was humbled by the beauty which surrounded him in all directions – each tree enriching the earth with its own light. Each hillside reflecting iridescent light and vibrant beauty. With a glance northward, he saw his own responsibilities in these infinitely-connected reflections.

As he looked to the western sky, he saw the constellation Saraswati. And he was reminded to just let go and flow with nature, to just be his best self through a sense of moving with grace, gratitude, and openness to whatever comes his way… and to learn to express himself more fully by using his voice. It is time to play music, to read poetry, to sing, to spread joy… and to do his work with vigor.

By this time, as he looked directly overhead, all of the constellations were dancing together. Their light lit up the sky and filled Babamanji’s heart. His soul rested in the peace of the moment. His spirit soared with the stars.

In the background, he wondered if he even saw the constellations of Buddha, Jesus, and Kokopelli… and the images of his father, uncle, and other ancestors. He thought he heard them reminding him of his path… a path that he has naturally always walked… a path that inspires healthy work, self-reflection, and a yielding to the ideal of our interconnected nature.

And then, it was time to walk forward again, with intention, with integrity, with wholeheartedness, and with the wisdom gained from a time to remember.