"… I didn't tell you not to hiss."

I read an article about ahimsa recently, & the author paraphrased a story:

Once there was a snake who was hated by all the villagers for his aggressive behavior. The snake didn’t know what to do, so he asked a visiting sage for advice. The sage told the snake to quit biting people.

(Seems pretty obvious advice to me.)

A few months later, the sage returned & found the snake battered & bruised. The sage asked what happened, & the snake said, “I followed your advice & the villagers attacked me!”

The sage said, “I told you not to bite … I did not tell you not to hiss.”

Nonviolence can seem passive, soft, wet noodle-ish — like sitting in lotus pose with eyes closed, allowing whatever to come at you. Or succumbing to the phrase “you won’t be given more than you can handle.” Or allowing someone’s bad behavior in the name of “it’s not my business.”

(NOTE: If you or someone you know is in a dangerous situation, please do not put yourself in harm’s way unnecessarily. Contact the authorities, a friend, find an advocate.)

Yet ahimsa, according to Yoga philosophy, is a powerful practice not to be taken on by the faint of heart. “The one thing a yogi cannot tolerate,” says Hari krishna-das, “is injustice.” This practice of ahimsa seems to require quite a lot of savvy, discipline & guts.

Think on the named & unnamed people of color in the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, or Gandhi’s freedom movements in India, or Nelson Mandela’s work to dismantle apartheid. Grounded in nonviolence, the images & stories speak profoundly of the strength & discipline of oppressed people & their allies seeking justice.

Tonight my husband came home angry & frustrated after attending a youth sports game. One of the youth he mentors is on the team, & didn’t get a chance to play … again. “The kid NEEDS this, Erica … he’s had every imaginable block stacked against him as a kid … he LOVES this sport … couldn’t the coach put him in for 20 seconds?!”

This is one (of the many) qualities I love about my husband. Jim can’t stand injustice. He gets ANGRY about it.

And yet … he didn’t scream, yell or fume quietly.

He simply asked to chat with the athletic director. To his credit, the athletic director gave Jim his undivided attention, taking him into his office. When Jim explained the situation, he & the athletic director proceeded to have a respectful conversation about the whole thing. While the kid may / may not get in the game more often, Jim spoke up for a kid who needed it.

In addition, on the way home, Jim sought counsel from a trusted friend after the game, seeking to understand where he might have misinterpreted the situation.

This, in my humble view, is the art of ahimsa, the practice of nonviolence. Not sitting back … not acting out in a rage. It’s a powerful stance, an often tenuous stance to maintain.

In the face of injustice … no matter how small … we must act, according to the principle of ahimsa, with the intention of eradicating the injustice without harming (or creating the least harmful path possible). This action requires disciplined practice & deep commitment.

“I told you not to bite … but I didn’t tell you not to hiss.”

To “Do Less” Harm

This morning as fluffy flakes of snow fall outside, I’m reading the Fall 2019 issue of The Leader, a National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) publication.

I had the privilege of participating in a 30-day Outdoor Leadership Course in 2003 with a diverse group of young adventurers like myself. We spent 10 days backpacking, 10 days climbing & 10 days mountaineering in the North Cascades of Washington.

The experience was mind-blowing to say the least, & set me on a path to working as a wilderness instructor & outdoor educator. I developed confidence as a woman in the outdoors & “hard skills” like setting a climbing route & planning an expedition. We also honed our “soft skills” — respect for each other, working as a team, & knowing when to chuck it all & play cards in the tent for 3 days (we got snowed in 😉 ).

Back to the NOLS magazine.

I’ve just finished reading an article about NOLS headquarters in Wyoming getting a visit from a U.S. Senator regarding climate change.

Now, this is a hot topic … I’m not here to debate climate change or sway your view. Let’s get that out there & move on.

The NOLS staff discussed the on-the-ground experience they’ve had in a changing environment. NOLS has been around for 55 years leading outdoor expeditions worldwide, & few organizations I know of have more experience & knowledge of humans & outdoor environments.

The staff noted operational challenges, & the permanent changes made to adapt to a “new normal” of glacial recession, Alaska heatwaves, longer wildfire seasons, & extensive beetle-killed forests.

I’ve hiked in those now beetle-killed forests, & traversed those now-receding glaciers. In another life, working on a volunteer wildland fire crew, I experienced just a bit of those wildfires.

Snowking Mountain

During my 2003 expedition, we climbed Snowking Mountain in the North Cascades during our mountaineering section of the course. We practiced cutting steps in the snow & using ice axes & crampons effectively (i.e. not puncturing yourself or someone else). We roped up in teams of 3, & practiced hitting the deck & bracing ourselves with our ice axes to prevent a team member from falling off the mountain. Humbling & empowering work.

Snowking Mountain

Now, I’m a mediocre adventurer … there are countless badass adventurers, several I count as friends, who’ve climbed, tasted, hiked, biked in astounding landscapes. And for me, Snowking was a moment of badassery for me ;). The view from the summit took my breath away … & my eyes were overwhelmed by the view in all directions … I still feel speechless awe when I visualize that day with my NOLS team.

Just to know it’s there fills my heart.

So, as I read this article, I think about the amazing beauty & overwhelming wonder of the landscapes I’ve been privileged to experience around the U.S. & the world. And I think of ahimsa, non-harming, the theme we’ve been exploring in my Yoga asana classes this month.

Can we really “do no harm” to our natural world anymore?

In many areas, the harm is done. Most recently, we see blazes in the Amazon, California & currently Australia. And have you heard of the island of trash in the ocean — the Pacific Ocean “garbage patch”? Or the piles of oxygen tanks on Mt. Everest? The radioactive waste containers buried underground in Finland?

Great Pacific garbage patch

It’s enough to send any human being capable of self-reflection into despair.

So, I’ve realized the fact is: Humans do harm. Just by being on this planet, we cause harm to others & our environment.

I throw plastic away, & it ends up in someone else’s backyard in China. Even if I recycle, the jury is out how much actually gets recycled.

I drive a car. Really little way to get around that in the West. From production to use to disposal, that car causes harm.

What CAN we do?

Michelle Cassandra Johnson has written a powerful little book titled Skill in Action: Radicalizing Your Yoga Practice to Create a Just World. I listened to an interview with Michelle during which she described an interaction with one of her students during a yoga & justice training.

The female student stated (I’m paraphrasing) that she’s come to the conclusion that just by existing she WILL do harm. Kind of a downer, right? The idea that one’s very existence is harmful to others & the environment.

And yet she also resolved, “So I am committing to do LESS harm in any way I can.”

Her resolution was in the context of a discussion about race, racial inequity, & white privilege … & I think we can extrapolate her comments to encompass the natural environment as well.

In a world & time where some harm is inevitable, how can we DO LESS. How can we do less harm mindfully & proactively?

The answers are different for each of us.

I may never stand at the top of Snowking Mountain again … but I want to know it’s THERE, in all its snowcapped glory, for future generations to enjoy. I want to know the forests I’ve hiked still stand, the rivers I’ve paddled flow freely, & the creatures I’ve spied (or have spied me) are out there living their best lives.

How can I … can we, if you’re inspired … commit to daily acts of doing less harm?

This is Yoga.

(Images from Wikipedia)

Home 🐚

From the Sunday New York Times …

This image caught my eye in light of the recent full moon in Cancer ♋, represented by the crab. One theme we explored in practice last Friday is our bodies as home. This theme — at least for me, maybe for you — is an emotional one.

Through the course of my short time in this body, it’s rare that I’ve felt at home here. I’ve felt uncomfortable, despondent, angry, defeated, critical, and not enough in this body … rarely “at home.” In response, I’ve treated this body, mentally & physically, pretty poorly at times — pushing, denying nourishment, depleting, etc. — to the point of near crisis, & with long-term effects likely.

It’s only been in recent years that I’ve “tried on” the idea of feeling at home in my own body. For example, expressing gratitude for the shell I’ve been given to move in & through this life. I don’t feel grateful consistently yet … I see the wrinkles, the cellulite, I feel the achy joints, the ups & downs in energy … I know, I know … “everybody has these” you kindly offer … & I repeat genuinely the same encouragement to folks who despair about their bodies to me … I admit often I’m “faking it til I make it” in the gratitude department for my own body.

It’s only in recent years I’ve “tried on” the idea of actually caring for my body, the shell I inhabit. Yoga philosophy sees the body as a temple which houses each individual’s Spark of the Divine — which woke me up a bit. If my body is a temple for Something Bigger, how am I reflecting that in my choices?

So one statement I’m working with is “I’m at home in my body.” Simple enough. And a lifetime challenge for me.

As you find moments of rest (I hope) today, Sunday, maybe something in this little musing inspires you. How do you find home in your body? Is it easy, challenging, fun, exasperating? What does the body as a temple for your individual Spark conjure up in you?

Deep bows to you, friends — E

Ways to Practice Ahimsa 🇦🇺

It’s raining here in southwestern Pennsylvania as I tap out this post … I find myself pausing … Silently begging Mother Nature to send it all to Australia …

I was so grateful to practice with 8 fellow souls on the ♋ Full Moon on Friday at The Yoga Garden … Donations from the class are going to WIRES Wildlife Rescue in Australia, who’s staff & volunteers are working around the clock to locate / rescue / rehabilitate as many animals as possible amidst historic bushfires. If you’re in America, like me, I’m sure you’ve seen the horrific footage … If you’re in Australia … please stay safe & know us regular folk are doing what we can from afar to support you.

The harm, the violence, is being done … it’s happening … & no matter your thoughts on the reasons behind these historic events … humans’ effect on our environments is never neutral.

There are thousands of humans on the front lines doing the best they can to mitigate the harm being done (support Aussie firefighters & rescue personnel). Our duty as yoga practitioners is to support them as our resources allow.

Why? Because Yoga is not neutral. Yoga is an 8-limbed path of action. And action goes beyond our sticky mats. Yoga philosophy states that while we may not be able to control the results our actions, WE CAN ACT — & Yoga principles would state we are REQUIRED to act — to lessen the harm done toward ourselves, others, & the environment which sustains us.

Go to @rinathepoet on IG for more of her inspiring work!

Where to begin?

In classes I’m privileged to share this month, we are focusing on the yogic principle of ahimsa, or non-harming. Ahimsa is 1 of 5 yamas — outer ethical codes or restraints — in Yoga philosophy as codified by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras (Read a brief overview of the yamas from The Himalayan Institute here). Through asana, pranayama, relaxation & meditation, we practice not being mean to ourselves on our mats. Simple, yet not so easy (for me, anyway).

Beyond the mat, & circling back to the lovely souls who practiced on the full moon at The Yoga Garden, we can consciously #spendourprivilege to do less harm in the world. Whether causes close to home (maybe literally IN our own home) or across the ocean, let’s be honest — the yogis in this country, the United States, can make a HUGE impact by how we allocate our resources.

I’d LOVE for you to share in the comments below what organizations you are supporting … or would like to commit to support. Check out my Instagram post with Australian organizations to support.

Let me know how you’re taking ahimsa off your mat. We share not to highlight ourselves, but to inspire each other & galvanize our will to ACT in non-harming ways for the betterment of our societies & our environment. Let’s do this.

P.S. Our next Community Day at The Yoga Garden is Wednesday, January 15th … My fellow teacher & friend, Kristin Phillips, will be teaching an Intro to Power Yoga class, & has chosen a wonderful organization to support. Your generous donations go to the Crime Victims Center of Fayette County. Join us Wednesday!

On Rest & Violence

We’ve been resting & recuperating in a little cabin on Chesapeake Bay this week. Doing nothing “important.”

We haven’t listened to the news or checked much of the outside world … until Jim said 2 days ago, “They killed an Iranian General in Iraq today …”

This breaking situation in the midst of our little getaway … Where I have been studying the Yoga ethical principle of ahimsa — non-violence — for upcoming yoga classes. This year I’ve committed to practicing & sharing the ethical principles of Yoga with our little community in Uniontown. The yamas & niyamas, the first 2 limbs of the 8-limbed path of Yoga, are outlined in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. (See Panditji’s commentary HERE)

In addition, we witness the violence being unleashed by the rampant bushfires in Australia, killing an estimated half billion — with a B — animals & endangering firefighters & humans. (See my IG post for opportunities to donate to animal rescue & firefighter support)

What is to be done?

My first reaction is outright ANGER. When will we wake up to what’s happening to our planet … because of our action / non-action? Even if you don’t subscribe to climate change … What violence have we unleashed on our water, soil, & air? Let alone the creatures trying to survive our cancer-like need for more? And it’s well-documented that negative impacts disproportionately affect the poor & oppressed.

On the other hand, what country’s government believes it’s a “good idea” to assassinate a foreign military officer?! Yes, he has been implicated in hundreds of American deaths … this is unconscionable. (Someone on social media posed the scenario: An American General is assassinated by a foreign government when leaving the Dallas airport … How would America react when the foreign leader states it was justified based on intelligence? That s/he has been directly/indirectly involved in several hundred foreign deaths. Think on our history … ).

Note: I acknowledge different opinions/views. I invite respectful debate & conversation.

My second reaction is FEAR. Fear for our servicemen & women who are now put in even more danger overseas. We as a nation have no idea of visceral violence of military conflict on our own soil. We have the luxury of watching it on TV.

Fear for the humans … volunteer firefighters, mostly … who leave family to go fight fires that could have been prevented if only for our commitment to non-harming.

My third reaction is “NOW WHAT?” What can I do from my small corner of the globe? I don’t know … yet I’m starting with:

1) Get informed. Listen to reputable news sources.

2) Redouble my own practice efforts. Meditate, seek to understand, fortify my internal resources.

3) Commit to non-violence. Even when I lash out in anger, fear, or despair. Recommit to non-violence. Take action in the name of non-harming — donate, speak out with fierce compassion, get involved where I can.

Non-violence is a PROACTIVE practice … not passive, not rolling over & taking injustice. Even the Dalai Lama has stated that violence in the specific situation & form of DEFENSE of one’s life is warranted.

Non-violence is beautifully & powerfully depicted by Ieshia Evans in this NY Times photo:

Baton Rouge, La., July 9, 2016

Ieshia Evans stood calmly as she was arrested by officers in riot gear during a Black Lives Matter protest following the police shooting death of Alton Sterling.

Photo by: Jonathan Bachman/Reuters

Yoga’s foundation is ahimsa. Non-harming is the philosophy & practice upon which all the yamas & niyamas, as well as the other 6 limbs of Yoga, are based.

Lastly, I leave my internal roilings on this topic for today with this:

May ahimsa begin with us.

JOMO

The joy of missing out.

What do you enjoy missing out on?

I truly enjoy missing out on New Year’s parties. (Kudos to all of you who get out there!)

I truly enjoy missing out on shopping excursions. (Kudos to you who LOVE these!)

I truly enjoy missing out on flying … oh, I’d love to go to Australia again, or try Norway or an exotic location … it’s the flying part. (Kudos to the world travelers!)

So, missing out on those things is an easy joy. Like:

And, as I listened to Yogarupa Rod Stryker’s New Year’s talk yesterday, a deeper challenge regarding “joy of missing out” resurfaced. He guided us in a meditation to cultivate feelings of joy — first in relation to joyful memories, then to release those memories & just sit with the joy itself. That we are innately joyful regardless of any past experience of joy. A quite profound practice.

Regarding meditation, Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD, of The Himalayan Institute (& Yogarupa’s teacher) gave a talk recently on how to optimize our meditation practice. You can find the talk HERE. He speaks of what the yogi sages discovered through their experimentation with breath & meditation. Many of Panditji’s points struck me, & one in particular: that we begin to cultivate this peaceful flow of awareness — which is the ultimate goal of Yoga — when our minds can hold focus on our object of meditation for 7 seconds. 7 seconds. This is the BEGINNING, by the way, of progress on our path.

I tried it … I’m still trying it … let’s just say I’m whatever comes before a “beginner.”

Panditji speaks of how our technology is AWESOME … the ability to for so many more people to gain access to information, knowledge, connection … it’s amazing! We must recognize the advantages of this interconnectivity, & seek to use it for the good of all.

On the other hand, he notes how it’s been scientifically documented that our attention spans have drastically degraded … that while the technology has grown by leaps & bounds, our bodies/minds have not evolved at the same speed. Our nervous systems & minds are overwhelmed, consumed, & distracted.

The holding of our awareness — let alone calmly, peacefully — on one object for even a few seconds, let alone 7 seconds (& the ultimate goal being 48 seconds according to the yogis) has become all but impossible for the vast majority of us.

So, back to the joy of missing out.

There are a multitude of things that distract my attention on a daily basis. And when I think about these things, I KNOW the beneficial choice is to release my attachment to those distracting things. If I want more presence in my life/mind, with other people, in my work … giving up those things I’ve discerned as distracting would only optimize my meditation, but also my life.

And yet I haven’t cultivated a “joy of missing out” attitude regarding those things. Why? Well, there’s probably a “hit” — like a drug — of joy in those things for me. The experience doesn’t last, so I go back. There’s also a sense of “I’ll miss out. Feel less than … less informed? less cool? less of a yoga teacher? less woman/partner/young/beautiful/worthy? less … less … less … “

Where does Paul say in the Christian Bible that he knows what he shouldn’t do, but does it anyway?

“The mastery of the fluctuations of the mind is Yoga.” – Yoga Sutra 1.2

Yoga is not pretty poses … Yoga is cultivating a peaceful flow of awareness within … whatever we are doing / not doing. And it takes practice, again & again & again … what would 7 seconds of peaceful, inward flow of awareness look like?

Rather than ride this rollercoaster of distracting things, getting a hit of external joy now & then … which in turn distracts me from life in front of me … I could cultivate a “joy of missing out” … see where it takes me …

Presence. Calm, peaceful flow of awareness. Joy.

Wishing these things for you in the New Year!

2020

As 2019 ends … My morning view from a lone metal bench …

… How do you look back on 2019?

… How do you look forward to 2020?

… Where are you at this present moment?

I will be listening to YogaRupa Rod Stryker’s annual New Year’s Day talk today … See IG post & register HERE … You can catch livestream at 5pm EST today or register & watch the replay. I have found much benefit from the wisdom & humor he shares each year.

Looking forward to what 2020 holds …

Does Everyone “Need” Yoga?

1128190918a~22859821161049792102..jpg
New Moon Mandala for the last cycle of 2019 … & this decade! Thanks to April McMurtry & her “The Moon is My Calendar” for inspiration these past 2 years.

A question my friend & fellow teacher Kristin discussed this week … “Does everyone need Yoga?”

I’ve found incredible benefit from the Yoga practices — physical postures, breath practices, relaxation, meditation, daily lifestyle habits — & if you’re reading this post, you probably have too, or have an inkling that Yoga might benefit you.

I recently watched a talk by Dr. Sat Bir Singh Khalsa on the research supporting the benefits of Yoga. Here’s the link on Yoga International:

Screenshot_2019-11-30 Yoga, Meditation, and Trauma A Deeper Look at the Research Yoga International

I got to hear Dr. Khalsa speak at a Yoga Service Council conference a few years ago … It was pretty cool to learn from a guy who meshes the ancient science of Yoga with modern Western scientific research. His talk gave me a ton of reasons why everyone “should” practice Yoga. 😉

 

So given my experience, the up-&-coming research, & the millenia that this Science of Yoga has been practiced … of course I’m prone to believe that everyone needs Yoga.

 

And I could be wrong.

 

There are many paths to self-realzation … to health & well-being … to just feeling good in one’s own skin. Yoga is one path.

 

So I’ll sing the benefits of Yoga — in all its aspects, more than postures — & strive to honor the teachers & wisdom keepers. I’ll share the practices that have supported me, practices my teachers have given to share.

 

And Yoga may not be for everyone. It may not be the system for you at this time … or ever. There may come a day when I diverge from the Yoga path … Hmmmmm … hadn’t considered that thought.

 

If we do decide to practice this science of Yoga, Dr. Pandit Rajmani Tigunait of The Himalayan Institute offers advice in his book “Inner Quest: Yoga’s Answers to Life’s Questions”:

How do I know if I am practicing yoga properly?

Chitta vritti nirodha yogaha. – Yoga Sutra 1.2

Yoga is the mastery of the fluctuations of the mind.

Any technique that helps you gain mastery over your mind is a part of Yoga: your diet, exercise, and breathing, as well as your thinking process and your philosophy of life. But with any practice you do, see whether it is helping you become clearer, more concentrated, more organized, and more cheerful. Are you having fewer doubts, fears, attachments, and complications in your life? Is your life becoming simpler and more straightforward? If you are moving in that direction, you are practicing Yoga. If not, there is something wrong either in the practice itself or in the way you are doing it. No matter how glorious a practice seems to be, no matter how popular it is, or how much others seem to admire it, if you do not notice a positive effect on your mind then such a practice does not qualify as Yoga.

 

May I continue on my path with humility & grace … & honor your path as well. May we strive for communities of well-being for ALL beings. Cheers, E

 

Taurus Full Moon Vibes …

A few nights ago I got to share a ♉ moon inspired Hatha practice with beautiful souls at The Yoga Garden.

Taurus qualities include earthy, hard-working, steady, stable, and loyal. With this full moon, we are encouraged to find enjoyment in sensory pleasures, appreciate beauty and creating beauty, and go with our desire to improve our surroundings for ourselves and the greater good.

Taurus also loves simplicity, a sense of home, and feeling worthy. Being home, nesting and surrounded with simple comforts to foster security help us prepare and weather the winter months.

The low side of Taurus includes stubbornness, stagnation, and resistance to change. There may be guilt around self-care, seeing it as indulgent rather than life-affirming and crucial to balancing a hard-working nature.

Choose the high vibes of Taurus as the moon dust settles after this full moon into the weekend & further as we move into winter hibernation … Maybe:

– Enjoy a warm bath with Epsom & essential oils.

– Make soup & share with friends.

– Look at your budget & cut what doesn’t serve. Invest in simple joys.

– Use your voice for good.

– Surround yourself with loved items that soothe your senses — sights, smells, textures, etc.

Speaking of home & soothing comforts … At our practice Wednesday a few lovely souls gifted me homemade bath salts & curried butternut squash soup. What could be more Taurean & homebody affirming?!

The Yoga practices … yes, asana, but also pranayama, pratyahara, & the daily practice of the yamas & niyamas, help us to cultivate a sense of home within ourselves. What would it look like to use the following as your daily mantra:

I am at home in my body.

The body is our vehicle for taking in, moving through, & making a difference in the world. We may or may not have had a strong sense of home growing up … the science of Yoga gives us techniques to unveil home within our own bodies so we can move in the world with confidence, clarity, ease & a sense of purpose.

Like some of you, I’ve moved around a lot … & have enjoyed experiencing new adventures & different communities. We’ve been rooted in Uniontown for over 5 years now … the longest we’ve lived anywhere in the past 2 decades … & I find myself getting a “glimpse” of what people who’ve remained in place might experience — knowing the details of a landscape, being part of the history of a place, and forming relationships. Soothing to the soul.

Further, that mantra of I am at home in my body is seeping into my psyche. I have rarely felt at home in my own body … There’s always a compulsion to improve, or reduce, or make better (low side of Taurus). Daily meditation is beginning to soften the edges around my internal barriers.

On a side note, this guy followed me this week … Also looking for his home. He seemed pretty at home on our porch in a dog bed while we awaited his family. His name is Rambo:

This season, may we consider those around us or in the world who may not have homes or feel homeless mentally or physically. We all crave a sense of home; it’s a universal need. As we cultivate our own sense of home, may we consider how we might support or advocate for others who want the exact same thing we do.

And this from the knowledge & practice of the yamas of non-harming (ahimsa), non-possessiveness (aparigraha), & non-stealing (asteya). We know that there is enough for all to experience home, stability, & self-worth.

I hope you’ve found something from my ramblings that resonates with your sense of home. I look forward to hearing your thoughts after class or online. Happy Nesting!