Robertson Nature Reserve

The Yoga Teacher Training program ended the last weekend of July with a silent retreat less than an hour away from home.  The following Monday I thought I would carry on as usual and work on my thesis, but sitting in front of my computer I still felt the need to officially recognize my experience.  I wrote a letter with the e-mail subject “To My Friends and Family.”  At first I thought I would send this e-mail to my closest circle, but that circle kept expanding and expanding to my extended family until even past co-workers were on the list.  My sense of self has expanded this same way in these past few months and is symbolic of this decision to share with as many as I could.

About to click the “send” button, I asked myself what my purpose was in sharing my vulnerabilities and this deep part of myself that I would not usually share otherwise.  It wasn’t to “show off” or “boast” about my experience.  To say that I was “better” than “you” because I have found peace and realizations.  It was simply to share.  The letter would also function to bring awareness to others in my life, whether we have talked with each other lightly about the weather or deeply about the workings of the universe, that it’s okay to show our vulnerabilities.

I believe one of my purposes in this world is to show my own vulnerabilities to others, something I have always naturally done, helping others see that we all have similar fears and desires.  Sharing these fears and desires perhaps is one way to transcend them.  Now I am sharing these vulnerabilities with you…

Dear Family and Friends,

This past weekend I took part in a silent retreat at the Capuchin Retreat Center which backs up to Stoney Creek.  Through the silence I connected deeply to the world around me.  I also connected to the essence within me and I wanted to relate this connection to the essence within you.

At about 8:30 p.m. on Friday night, my yoga and spiritual teacher chimed the bell that brought the thirty-five souls in the room into silence.  From that moment until about 10:30 a.m. on Sunday morning, we dwelled in our silence on the ten acres of gardens,trees, benches, hammock, and walking paths at the retreat center.  We walked silently, we bowed our eyes to avoid eye contact with each other, we ate consciously and silently, with nowhere to be or go but in the place we were at that moment.

In this place, time was lost.  But there was a schedule to follow.  So there was reference to my watch to be sure I was in the shade of the trees when we practiced Tibetan Heart Yoga where we sent our love to a person in our lives as we meditated and practiced.  I paid attention to the hours so I could arrive to the dining room with enough time to slowly eat my meals, bite by bite, breath by breath in silence.  I made sure to lie down in the room with the rest of us in the late evenings, quietly on our mats supported by pillows and covered with blankets, as we listed to our teacher play Tibetan bowls and gong for at least thirty minutes.  Some of us would be lulled to sleep.  Others would surrender quietly to the vibrations as we lay still but awake.

In the times between our meals and yoga and meditation practices, each of us made decisions on the moments we would create alone.  There was no schedule in these periods of time.  And this is especially when time was lost.  With the earth supporting me from below and shade of a tree protecting me from above, I drew, read, and listened to the sounds that nature delivered. The fountain in the pond drew me in closer through the days and I visited it often.  The sounds of bees buzzing were larger than ever, and they drew me to the plants as I watched them float from flower to flower, gathering what they needed at that moment, what the plant was ready to give, and then moving on.  The walking path that centers the grounds took me through the path that Jesus took in his last human experience of pain and suffering.  On these wood canvases with images of white paint were sounds of pain, but also of love and joy.

It was on these walks that I felt a presence within me.  The devotion, compassion, and solitude of our Great Aunties, Sisters Diana and Margaret, flowed within me.  There I imagined their lives and in my heart I bowed to their chosen journeys and their departed souls.  As I came to the painting of Jesus, bearing his cross, and his mother Mary, I felt Milan’s presence within me. I cried for his soul’s departure. And I thanked him for saving my life, the way that perhaps Jesus saved his mother Mary.  I cried for mother and son.  And I thanked our angels, our saviors, this Salvador within all of us.

There were times, hours after silence began when the chatter in my mind finally faded away, that I wasn’t sure if I was alive.  I thought perhaps my body was dead.  I wasn’t sure if all of this was really happening.  I wasn’t sure if the silence was manmade or heaven-made.  I wasn’t sure if this group of people chose to be silent or if our true nature was silence.

As human silence and nature’s sounds supported me, certain thoughts washed away as more meaningful thoughts floated in.  And when silence broke on Sunday morning with the chimes of the bell, the silence within me remained.  Perhaps the stillness wasn’t as strong because at some point I was forced to move my vocal chords.  But the idea that the silence could remain, even as I drove home, even as I embraced my family again, even as I carried on with the routines of daily life after my return, teaches me that this force, whatever it is, is within me as I believe it is within you.  All I hope to do for the remainder of my life, amidst the challenges and unexpected surprises, is to embrace it.

Thank you for being in my life, in whatever way you are.

In love and peace,


Hand-drawn horoscope saved from the Yale Colle...

Image via Wikipedia

“The Journey: A Mind, Body, and Soul Connection” magazine sits atop the cluttered fireplace at Bean and Leaf.  I open to the Horoscope page.  I haven’t read my horoscope in years.  It says:


July – New job opportunities are on the horizon.  Go into your heart and ask yourself what feels right for you.  Then, just do it.  Remember that the more you move forward in your life the happier you will be.

August– People become more honest with their feelings about you.  This allows you to be more honest about your feelings toward them.  People really do want to know what you have to say.  Now is the time to come forward and express yourself.

Fitting.  During these two months I’ll be testing for my yoga teaching certification and finishing a master’s thesis.

I am in a unique situation that is forcing me to see things differently.  The situation is an opportunity.  In this opportunity, learning to be a yoga teacher, I am learning about the idea of emptiness, the idea that grounds Buddhism and yoga philosophy.  Once I finally allowed this idea of emptiness to be planted in my mind, I realized that with each moment of life that I was misinterpreting, I had the responsibility to reinterpret the moment for what it was, empty of its own nature.  This is a difficult yet life-giving task.

A brief explanation of emptiness:  Emptiness is the notion that nothing has its own nature – our perceptions are nothing but perceptions.  Our minds work in ways to make us believe that everything has its own true essence, so that the computer I’m typing on is, well, a computer.  The end.  When we apply the idea of emptiness, reality changes.  Without my twisted mind getting in the way to call see this thing as a computer in and of itself, this is a thing made up of a bunch of little squares with shapes on them, connected to a rectangle connected to a rectangle and all these other little microrectangles that function as a computer.  One day this rectangle of a rectangle will not function anymore.  And while it may function as a mechanism of productivity for me, it may function as a toy for my son.  It may function as a warm (and hard) bed for a kitty cat.  So, I see this computer as a computer because of my own perceptions of it.  The way I see things comes from ME, not from the things I am saying. 

It’s expected, in the beginning of “getting” emptiness, that one goes back and forth, forgetting that things come from us and not to us and then coming back to emptiness.  Even in the atmosphere where I can express all of the yoga teachings to the fullest at teacher training school, I am noticing that I am reverting to my old conceptions. 

For example, in my attempts to constantly censor myself, I’ve noticed that when people seek to know about my life, I tend to act superficially until I know that (1) I am not burdening them in whatever way with knowledge about me (2) They are genuine in their concern (3) I have nothing to prove.  Though I know my yoga teacher is genuine in his concern, I feel that I burden him if I share or explain my pain and then suddenly I have something to prove:  that I am strong.  And then I become overanalytical, judging everything I say, judging everything my teacher says to me, wondering if I offended my teacher or a peer, UNTIL I remember emptiness. 

STOP!  STOP!  STOP!  Stop apologizing, stop wondering how others are perceiving me, stop doing all this nonsense, I have to say to my self.  See the situation for what it is.  When I am in pain, sometimes I am not genuine with others.  Sometimes I don’t speak meaningfully and truthfully.  Sometimes I engage in meaningless chatter because I am afraid to say that I’m in pain.  Sometimes I want to feel like I’m not in pain so I put on a smile and try to make others feel comfortable and good about themselves, and I agree with them when I really don’t or don’t even have an opinion about what they’re saying. 

Life Lesson 4:  Everything comes from me.       

Life Lesson 5:  I can change everything.

Following an example

Image by ktylerconk via Flickr

When you care for someone you want for them what you think is best.   So it becomes tempting to tell someone they should try to pick up healthier activities or food options.  For example, when I first started seeing the many benefits of practicing yoga years I go, I tried to introduce yoga to others I cared about.  It caught on for those who are open to new things, but not so much for the more reluctant and even defensive.  I didn’t realize there was a much more powerful way to go about it other than being direct.  NOT SAYING ANYTHING would work in a way I couldn’t imagine, while avoiding hurt feelings and defensive reactions.   JUST LEAD BY EXAMPLE.  Ultimately, when we choose to change or try something new for ourselves, a real transformation can result.

To “lead by example” is a common saying in our language, but it’s preciseness is not credited to the degree it should be.  But I never understood the power of the example until the last couple of months when a firestorm of change swept over my entire local network of family and friends. 

In late 2010, someone close to me told me she was going to cut down her gluten intake.  At the same time, my husband and I were considering doing a detox sometime in early 2011.   We were both having digestive issues and thought a good old-fashioned healthy raw diet would help us out.

A week before the detox, my close friend’s example made me realize that perhaps I should lay off the gluten and see what happened.  That week I felt much better than usual.  After the detox, I ate something that made me feel horribly sick, and after putting some pieces together, I realized I probably have candida albicans overgrowth in my system.  I remain on this candida detox diet today.

During this time, a friend of mine decided she needed to lose weight and started a program with a hospital in late January.  Her husband was supporting her by doing it himself.  Her coworkers observed her progress and commitment and within two weeks, two of her coworkers were ready to start the program themselves.  Her mother, father, and uncle also decided to begin eating healthier.  Our friend’s mother asked her in detail about what she eats, because she wanted to start eating healthier as well.  One by one, people around her began to FOLLOW HER EXAMPLE.    

Others close to me who have been dealing with major digestive distress saw me change my eating patterns as I remain on a candida detox.  Curious, one of these individuals bought a book on detox and is going to begin in the coming week.  She called me with questions.  I WANTED to suggest to her that she try a detox, but I was afraid that verbalizing it would make her pull away.  So she learned by MY example.

It’s all very magical.  Your wishes for others come true in their own time.  When I started practicing yoga in 1997 my mother thought I was crazy and even selfish for not eating breakfast with the family before my practice.  Since then, with a little encouragement from my sister she has tried yoga herself and is extremely encouraging of me to become a certified instructor.  And this chain of practicing yoga is longer than I realize.  Imagine how many lives will be changed because of one person learning from another’s example and not their suggestion. 

 How all of these events happen in conjunction is powerful and uplifting.  It’s pure magic.

Hasta Padangusthasana – Hand-Toe Posture

“I’ve always been kind of flexible,” I lied.  I didn’t mean to lie to the man who huffed and puffed for an hour next to me during our yoga practice.  It was a test to see how I’ve changed from the person in yoga class who used to take pride in her flexible and graceful movements into the person who is really trying to learn and apply the principles of yoga into her life.  One of these lessons is to not “show off.”  That is not what yoga is.  People will learn about how yoga could help them through me, by seeing the difference it has made in my life, but we should never go out of our way to demonstrate such a thing.  That is not helping others. 

After class, while putting on my boots, Cyrus asked me how I was able to do that one move and balance while I held my toes and moved my leg from the front to the side.  I didn’t know how to answer him.  I surely didn’t look like the lady in the picture.  My leg was more at a right angle, I thought to myself, not nearly like what it should be.  But I couldn’t say such a thing.  I could only say that of course, I couldn’t always do that.  In fact, have you ever tried doing it next to a wall?,  I offered.  It really helps gain balance.  But that’s not how I really started learning that pose.  Rather than sit there and tell him how I think I was able to do it, I took a shortcut.  I lied by accident.  I’m not flexible like a gymnast, so why did I say that?  I didn’t want him to feel bad that he wasn’t flexible.  I wanted him to feel good about his practice.  I felt bad that he was watching me.  I didn’t mean to show off, but while I was doing the pose I was so happy that my body was improving in front of my eyes.  (Unfortunately, there is a mirror at the gym).  I asked him questions about his practice, we had a quiet exchange of what I hope was encouragement, and I left wondering, how could I have replied differently?

Let’s think about cause and effect.  There are two perspectives I will use when trying to decipher the cause and effect of me hitting

Watch out, this plastic body hits.

you on the head.  Now, I’ve hit you on the head.  And I am not apologizing.

In the discipline that studies human behavior and motivation, known as psychology, my hitting you on the head has a cause and effect.  First of all, what caused me to do it?  Did you say something mean to me?  Did you try to steal my purse?  Was it in self defense?  If none of these apply, I’m psychotic.  Now, why did I react by hitting you?  Well, my reaction was an effect of, say, growing up in an abusive family or a family that hit frequently.  Or, it was an effect of my efforts in unlearning to be a passive person after an episode of bullying when I was an elementary school.  (Note:  none of this is true.  It is a scenario).  Once I hit you there will probably be an effect.  You might swear at me or maybe hit me back.  You might call the police or ask me why I did such a horrible thing and try to talk it out.  Your reaction is going to be based on your perception of the situation and your own background and experiences.  So the cause and the effect are both based in our own histories and perceptions.

Now, yoga philosophy sees cause and effect differently and I am only just learning this outlook.  I hit you on the head (again).  I did not apologize.  You call me a psycho and rather than hitting me back, you leave.  Yoga philosophy says the cause in this situation is not me hitting you.  The cause happened before this moment, sometime ago, when I planted a seed of an act of either kindness or pain.  I probably planted a seed of kindness in the past because you did NOT hit me back today.  The effect is that you called me a psycho and walked away.  There was no negative repercussion to hitting you on the head NOW, but I just planted a seed of pain when I hit you.  This negative action will cause another effect in the future. 

The philosophy of yoga is simple and clean, kind of.  There’s less talking involved, less breaking down the situation, it seems.  More thoughts about how to behave in this moment than why we are behaving in such a way.  Less thinking, more doing.  Plant seeds of kindness and compassion and all that results in the future will be good for YOU.  Plant seeds of pain for others and all that results in the future will be painful experiences for YOU. 

I hope I’ve planted a good seed in writing this post, one that ripens into full knowledge of yoga philosophy!

“I did something to my finger.  Can you help me straighten it?” one of my twin uncles would say, trying to alter the “Pull my finger” bit so we would fall for it.  It worked 80% of the time.  But does that mean their digestive systems were not working to full capacity?  I wonder.

Apparently, irritable bowel syndrome plagues about 30 percent of the world’s population, where women are 2.5 times more likely to suffer from the digestive disorder.  But do you have to suffer from irritable bowel syndrome to have problems with gas, bloating, constipation or other digestive problems that we don’t like to discuss?  Of course not. 

The mouth is where digestion actually begins.  When food or liquid enters your mouth the brain (your hypothalamus to be exact) tells your digestive system to “LOOK ALIVE!  FOOD IS COMING YOUR WAY!”  Saliva is released in your mouth with enzymes to help break down and lubricate the food.  The food goes down your esophagus to your stomach where muscles contract, further breaking down the food.  Now the story gets good.  Hydrochloric acid in the stomach gets rid of bacteria in the food.  Resulting from this process is a product that is thick and pasty, called chyme. 

Be thankful for your amazing body and it's infinite wisdom

Chyme goes through the duodenum where muscle contractions help the food travel to the small intestine.  That’s where the nutrients are absorbed, right into the lining of the small intestine.  For this to happen, the gallbladder, liver, and pancreas make a delivery of bile and more enzymes to the small intestine to help further break down the food particles into “usable molecules”, ridding the particles of toxic or useless chemicals.  Leftovers are sent to the large intestine, which takes a bit more of whatever it needs and then pushes the rest out through your rectum, and voila!  Poop!

  According to Linda Sparrowe, author of The Woman’s Book of Yoga & Health, from where I simplified the above explanation, THINGS DO GO WRONG.  Gastrointestinal problems could be driving you crazy because your central brain is “ignoring or overstimulating your gut brain.”  So if your brain malfunctions in this digestive process and not enough or too much of the signals are sent to the various digestive organs, the process is affected along the way. 

Sparrowe says “If your brain is preoccupied by stress, nerves, and fear, it may “forget” to send the right signals to your gut brain that food is on its way.  Similarly, a sluggish thyroid can mean a sluggish digestive system.  If your liver is weakened or on overload because of stress, drugs, alcohol, environmental toxins, or unhealthy foods, it may not produce enough bile to break down food particles.  Undigested food particles, according to the ayurvedic system, cause myriad problems.”   The Ayurvedic approach to health is a philosophy and healing system which is a product of thousands of years of development in India. 

Although many of us look to certain foods as the culprit to our inability to digest properly, ayurvedic medicine says what we eat isn’t as important as how you eat and digest food.  Negative emotions like anger and resentment can offset the balance needed for digestive organs to function well.  Sure, food allergies are totally possible, but imagine another possibility that can be hard to believe at first:  Western ideals of women’s flat bellies. 

While western ideals of women’s bellies are flat six packs, other places in the world sees a woman’s belly as the center of “creativity, power, and intuition.”  Sparrowe says “[a] bloated belly, chronic constipation, or excessive tension in the abdomen may signal a woman’s inability to assert herself, to establish her voice i the world.”  Holding your tummy in and hiding it under tight clothes can actually keep the blood in your digestive tract and reproductive organs from flowing!  Hence, disorders.

What I will call “flat belly syndrome,” can be emotionally damaging resulting in a body image struggle that put stress on your systems.  “It becomes a vicious cycle – you struggle to hold your stomach in; it reacts by bloating, cramping, and distending; you punish it even more by withholding nourishment, in the form of either food or soothing, healing breath; and your stomach rebels even more, making sure it gets your attention,” Sparrowe contends.  I’ve had “flat belly syndrome” and thought that was the way we should be and the only way we can fit into tight shirts.  Now that I don’t have that option, I’ve let go of the ideal.   

Besides a whole new mind-set, which takes time to come into, what can be done for gastrointestinal problems?  Here are some ideas from Sparrowe and the ayurvedic tradition.

Love your tummy

For constipation:  Lay off the bread and cheese, processed food, partially hydrogenated oils in food, white flour and white sugar foods.  DO Eat more fresh fruits, green leafy veggies, fiber-rich grains and cereals, seaweed, essential fatty acids like flaxseed or flaxseed oil.  Drink lots of liquids, particularly warm water. 

For gas:  Watch the breads and dairy products.  Don’t eat simple sugar or starches which encourage intestinal yeast.  Restore your body’s GOOD bacteria with probiotic supplements as that’s the only way to replenish them, particularly acidophilus and bifidobacterium.   Especially for foods you think you can’t tolerate, add spicy, carminative herbs to your food, like ginger, fennel, cumin, garlic, rosemary, and cardamom.

For Spastic Colon or IBS:  In general, herbs like chamomile, lemon balm, and hops help release tension and a spastic colon and can be made into a tea to sip before bed to calm your stomach and aid sleep.   Five to ten drops of peppermint oil and caraway seed oil in an 8 oz glass of warm water helps relive IBS symptoms in 90 percent of sufferers according to a German study.  Siberian ginseng can help nervous exhaustion or stress-related digestive problems, it works to balance your body, both stimulating and relaxing as your body needs.

There are also sequences for IMPROVING DIGESTION, RELIEVING DIARRHEA, and IRRITABLE BOWEL SYNDROME.  Stay tuned for a full list on the poses that Sparrowe details in her book.  If you can’t wait, contact me!

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not take some pharmaceutical that a medical doctor may prescribe.  The symptoms, if not diseases like Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis, and diverticulitis which require medical attention, most likely have underlying causes that in the end, we can control with our MINDS AND BODIES.

Conclusion: Dear Uncles, I think we pulled your fingers way too many times. 

***The author takes no responsibilities of the information above.  Most of this information was extracted from Linda Sparrowe’s “The Woman’s Book of Yoga & Health.”  ***