Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Supporting Right Livelihood with Right Diligence: An Invitation to 40 days of practice

Today we spent our last day focusing on Right Livelihood, noticing how our practice of it and the other steps on the Noble Eightfold Path have contained Right Diligence or Right Effort.  I shared an article I found back in 2008 by Tama J. Kieves on The Yoga of Right Livelihood.  Her words were so inspiring, you can find them by clicking the above link which takes you to her full but brief article on Kripalu's site.  I highly recommend taking the time to read it.  Here's a taste:

"Child’s Pose In yoga, I’ve learned that when I exert myself too much, I can always return to Child’s Pose, a resting posture. For me, it feels like the physical act of surrender, a letting go of trying so hard and a remembering to reclaim my guaranteed invincibility as a child of a loving universe. It is not up to me to make something happen. It’s up to me to be honest, earnest, and daring. Resting is the stance that nurtures my genius. Paradoxically, Child’s Pose helps me to remember that as I relax, I summon more strength, conviction, and inspiration to move forward."

"... I’m still discovering the depths of my own talents and expanding my own dreams. Some days, I’m still nervous about the unknown territory before me. Sometimes, I’m tired and about as passionate as mud. But I’m devoted. I will never abandon my inner voice again. I will honor my creativity and my contribution all the days of my life. I’ll reach the edge of my discomfort, and I’ll back off and comfort myself. But I’ll dare it again the next day and the next. I’ll breathe deep and let go as I push forward into extraordinary new possibilities. I’ll keep practicing right livelihood. I hope you will, too."

Being on the precipice of a new year and the beginning of our new focus, Right Diligence, it seems like the perfect time to practice Right Diligence by embarking on a 40 day practice.  Let's support each other in our commitment to start each day with a practice that could include pranayama, meditation, chanting mantra, or asana.  Even if it is just for 5 minutes.  Let's taste the fruit of Right Diligence in giving this gift to ourselves and to each other.

Here is a sample practice, what we did today in class, that you might like to use as your daily practice if you aren't sure what to do.  However, feel free to create your own practice with whatever components would serve you.  I just invite you to try to settle on a consistent routine that you repeat for 40 days to go deep into the practice and notice the effects of your chosen practice.

First, I set up a playlist of songs so that I can use the songs to tell me when to change from one part of the practice to the next.  Each song is just over 3 minutes long.  The heart of this practice is pranayama that we completed in 3 songs - about 10 minutes.  The links take you to the song that you can then link to iTunes to purchase if you like.  I will include some other song selections from a longer practice playlist at the end of this post.

The Wishing Well, Connie Dover, Celtic Voices: Women of Song
Goodbye Montana - Part 2, George Winston, Summer
Storms in Africa - Part 2, Enya, Watermark

The first song we did a four part breath, pranayama practice.  I find this pranayama helps to deepen my breath and it feels cleansing or detoxing to me.  

1) breath in through nose, 
2) breath out through O shaped mouth (I find this brings a bit of an ujjayi (ocean) sound when I do it), 
3) breath in through O shaped mouth (same ocean sound seems to happen), 
4) breath out through nose. 

Repeat for the entire length of the first song.  End with an exhale through the nose.  Then just take a few breaths before the next pranayama practice.

The second song we did alternate nostril breathing (Nadhi Shodhana).  This breath is balancing to your energy body and helps keep your nostrils clear and breath flowing easily.  Even if one of your nostrils is slightly closed, try to stay with this breath to help open the nostrils more.  

1) Bring your left hand into jnana mudra - thumb and index finger touch - and rest left hand (palm up) on your left knee.  
2) Bring your right hand into vishnu mudra - index and middle finger rest on pad of thumb - and bring hand toward your nose. 
3) Close your right nostril with your thumb and inhale through your left nostril.
4) Close the left nostril with your ring and pinky fingers while opening your right and exhale through your right nostril. 
5) Inhale through the open (right) nostril.  
6) Close and exhale through the other (left) nostril.  
7) Inhale through the open (left) nostril.  
8) Close and exhale through the other (right) nostril.
9)  Repeat steps 5, 6, 7 and 8 until the song ends and finish with an exhale through your left nostril.

The third song we did Kapalabhati breathing by drawing navel in and up to pump the breath out of the nose.  The inhalation is passive. Try to start with a slower pace to feel the control of the belly muscles to invite the pumping of the breath.  As you proceed you may find your pace wants to go a bit quicker.  See if you want to go along with the music.  At the end of the song, exhale the breath completely to empty the body.  Keep the breath out and engage the bandhas.  I find the jalandhara and uddiyana bandha engage once I empty of all breath and then with my mouth closed make the action with my diaphragm and throat of taking an in breath but taking in no breath, the belly and throat draw in like a vacuum.  Then I just invite the same vacuum feeling at the pelvic floor to engage the mula bandha.  Keep the breath out and stay empty for as long as you comfortably can.  When you need to, draw in your breath gently and continue to enjoy your breath for a few rounds, noticing the effects of the pranayama practice.  (You might like to just sit in quiet meditation for another 3 minute song here before moving on to the next part.)

Then we put our hands over our hearts and read the Love Meditation for ourselves.  Feeling it for ourselves.  When finished, absorb that for a few breaths.  Then perhaps recite the love mediation for someone else - either someone you love, or someone you know who is struggling, or someone who is causing you to suffer.  Remember, only hurt people hurt people.  When we are liberated from our suffering, we stop contributing to others suffering.

Love Meditation

May I be peaceful, happy, and light in body and spirit.
May I be safe and free from injury.
May I be free from anger, afflictions, fear, and anxiety.

May I learn to look at myself with the eyes of understanding and love.
May I be able to recognize and touch the seeds of joy and happiness in myself.
May I learn to identify and see the sources of anger, craving, and delusion in myself.

May I know how to nourish the seeds of joy in myself every day.
May I be able to live fresh, solid, and free.
May I be free from attachment and aversion, but not be indifferent.

You might choose to close your practice by chanting a mantra.  In class, we chant Om and then Lokah Samastha Sukhino Bhavantu.  You could chant that or any other chant to calls to you.  I am happy to help you find one that may serve you.  Depending on how much time you would like to dedicate to your practice, you could also include some asana such as warming up the 6 directions of the spine or maybe some sun salutations or some supine poses like twists and hip openers.  Feel free to add on to your practice if some days you have more time.  Just be sure to stick to your basic (minimum) practice each day - whatever you determine that to be.

I look forward to hearing how it goes.  Post here in comments or on Facebook or let me know when I see you in class.

Wishing you all the best for the new year!  May we all live our Right View, Right Thinking, Right Speech, Right Action, and Right Livelihood supported by our Right Diligence, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration.

A deep bow of gratitude for our sangha, for the dharma, and for the many buddhas who inspire.


More songs for practice:

From George Winston's Summer:
Early Morning Range, The Garden, Living Without You.

From Enya's Watermark:
River, Miss Clare Remembers

From Enya's And Winter Came:
And Winter Came... , Stars and Midnight Blue

From Krishna Das' Pilgrim Heart:
Yah Devi

From Ty Burhoe's Chill Invocation:

Friday, December 6, 2013

Right Action and The Five Mindfulness Trainings

We continued our exploration of Right Action for the month of November.  As a reminder of where we came from, our Right Action is fed by our Right Speech which is supported by our Right Thinking which is founded by our Right View.  So even though we are focusing on Right Action, we continue to be mindful of the other aspects of the practice because they are all interdependent. Scroll down to see prior posts to get more information on these foundational steps.

In our yoga classes, we began our exploration of Right Action by simply acknowledging how we are already practicing by coming to class, breathing deeply, and caring for our body with our pranayama, asana, and meditation practices.  How we pay attention to our breathing and alignment during the class, how we carefully align our bodies to safely strengthen and stretch our muscles, lubricate joints, and awaken our prana, life force energy, for our ultimate health and peace.  We know we are practicing Right Action when we feel good - body, mind, and spirit.  For example, the sweet vibration that comes from doing the practice, the open feeling in your hips, the suppleness of the spine, the comfort in the shoulders, the open heart and clear mind that are all fruits of our practice.

Thich Nhat Hanh writes in his book, The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching:  "Right Action means Right Action of the body.  It is the practice of touching love and preventing harm, the practice of nonviolence towards ourselves and others.  The basis of Right Action is to do everything in mindfulness."  He invites us to utilize the five mindfulness trainings as inspiration toward Right Action in practicing Reverence for Life, Generosity, Sexual Responsibility, Loving Kind Speech and Deep Listening, and Mindful Consumption.  We spent one week each on the first, second, third, and fifth trainings this month.  We covered the fourth training last month with Right Speech.  I have copied all five mindfulness trainings below.  You might like to work with one a week or one a month or one a day as a light to keep you on the path.

We talked about each of the areas of the mindfulness trainings first in terms of how we apply them more subtly and deeply to ourselves and then carry that out into the world.  Regarding reverence for life, how do we ignite and take care of our own life force (prana) to be inspired to practice?  Regarding generosity, are we generous enough to ourselves to take the time to do the practice?  to take a deep breath?  to name our suffering and find places of refuge to transform it?  Considering sexual responsibility, how do we utilize our body, strength and energies when we do the practice?  For example, how to we manage our energies of craving, desire, anger, irritation when they come on strong?  Do you remember how we can meet this energy with a stronger asana or pranayama practice and calm it down slowly?  Regarding mindful consumption, we can look at the subtler forms of consumption like sleep, water - are we getting enough?  conversations, music - are these choices setting the vibration we want for ourselves?

When you read the mindfulness trainings, keep in mind the previous post about how the trainings are meant to provide a direction, a north star, to guide us.  Notice if you resonate with them or feel resistance to them.  Honor all of it - the work you are already doing on the path and the growth edge that is being shown to you on how you can deepen your practice.  Remember we just take small bites to digest and integrate a little at a time.  These teachings are deep and wide.  Acknowledge where you are already working and perhaps choose one area in which you want to grow.  Start small.  And remember, it is called a practice, not a perfect.  Neither guilt, shame, inadequacy, nor anxiety are meant to be driving forces when engaging with these practices.  If these feelings come up, hold them gently and look deeply into their root causes.  Keep coming back to a place of freedom, liberation, and inspiration to lead you down the path.  And, remember how you can use your breath and pranayama, asana (yoga postures), meditation, mantra, music, and the beauty in nature to take you there.

The First Mindfulness Training:  Reverence for Life

Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I am committed to cultivating compassion and learning ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants, and minerals.  I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to support any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, and in my way of life.

The Second Mindfulness Training:  Generosity

Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, I am committed to cultivating loving kindness and learning ways to work for the well-being of people, animals, plants, and minerals.  I will practice generosity by sharing my time, energy, and material resources with those who are in real need.  I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others.  I will respect the property of others, but I will prevent others from profiting from human suffering or the suffering of other species on Earth.

The Third Mindfulness Training:  Sexual Responsibility

Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, I am committed to cultivating responsibility and learning ways to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families and society.  I am determined not to engage in sexual relations without love and a long-term commitment.  To preserve the happiness of myself and others, I am determined to respect my commitments and the commitments of others. I will do everything in my power to protect children from sexual abuse and to prevent couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct.

The Fourth Mindfulness Training: Deep Listening and Loving Kind Speech

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I am committed to cultivating loving speech and deep listening in order to bring joy and happiness to others and relieve others of the their suffering.  Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering, I am determined to speak truthfully, with words that inspire self-confidence, joy, and hope.  I will not spread news that I do not know to be certain and will not criticize or condemn things of which I am not sure  I will refrain from uttering words that can cause division or discord or that can cause the family or the community to break.  I am determined to make all efforts to reconcile and resolve all conflicts, however small.

The Fifth Mindfulness Training:  Mindful Consumption

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I am committed to cultivating good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming.  I will ingest only items that preserve peace, well-being, and joy in my body, in my consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family and society.  I am determined not to use alcohol or any other intoxicant or to ingest foods or other items that contain toxins, such as certain TV programs, magazines, books, films, and conversations.  I am aware that to damage my body or my consciousness with these poisons is tho betray my ancestors, my parents, my society, and future generations.  I will work to transform violence, fear, anger, and confusion in myself and in society by practicing a diet for myself and for society.  I understand that a proper diet is crucial for self-transformation and for the transformation of society.

(pg. 66,  Plum Village Chanting and Recitation Book, c2000, compiled by Thich Nhat Hanh and the Monks and Nuns of Plum Village)

Monday, November 4, 2013

Right Action

Moving on down the Noble Eightfold Path, we have already touched upon Right View, Right Thinking, Right Speech, and now we are focusing on Right Action.  We can see how each step on the path has an impact on the next.  Our view feeds our thinking which feeds our speech which feeds our action.  Going back to our work on the chakras, we can see how we are moving down from the crown chakra with the manifesting current, from the subtle energies to more concrete actions.  The influence also moves in the other direction, our actions and speech reinforce our thinking which reinforces our view.  It is our task to observe what we are manifesting as we move down the path or what we are inspiring as we move up the path.  Are we taking refuge in a state of abundance within and around us? or are we feeding the wounded warrior and hungry ghost that shows up in us from time to time?

Last month, we read the Fourth Mindfulness Training and Invoking the Name of Avalokiteshvara to support our practice of Right Speech and deep listening.  Thich Nhat Hanh shares about the remaining four of the Five Mindfulness Trainings in his chapter on Right Action in his book The Heart of the Buddha's Teachings.  We will focus on one each week in the month of November as a support to our practice of Right Action.

This week, we focus on the First Mindfulness Training:  Reverence for Life

"Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I vow to cultivate compassion and learn ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants and minerals. I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to condone any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, and in my way of life."

The Five Mindfulness Trainings are readings to serve as a north star when navigating our lives.  They point us in the right direction.  We use them to check in with our actions, thoughts, words, relationships to continue refining our choices to stay true to ourselves and to our path.  When we wander off the path, with loving kindness and compassion we remind ourselves to come back to the practice.  If we are lucky we have teachers and friends who serve as a gentle reminder and inspiration on the path.  Remember these are the three jewels:  the teacher, the teachings, the supportive community of practice - Buddha, Dharma, Sangha.

Our chant for this month is the Gayatri Mantra (short form).  We use it to inspire us to stay connected to our entire self through the seven chakras as reflected in the elements from Bhur to Bhuvah, earth to heavens, to touch the divine and self-effulgent power of the sun, to raise our thoughts and views that we may choose to act for the highest.

Om Bhur Bhuvaha Swaha, 
Tat Savitur Varenyam.
Bhargo Devasya Dheemahi, 

Dhiyo Yo Nah Prachodayat.
"May there be peace on mortal, immortal and divine planes
 I meditate upon the most brilliant splendor of the Sun God                     
May he stimulate our intellect (so that we are inspired to take the right action at the right time.)"  

  --- translation from  http://www.mantramom.com/mantra-translations/

We have been chanting to the melody so beautifully sung by Deva Premal of the Gayatri Mantra on her CD The Essence.   There is a recording of it on You Tube.  If the link is not working below, please go to You Tube and search Deva Premal Gayatri Mantra.

Blessings of Peace and Love, Health and Happiness to all!



Saturday, October 5, 2013

Right Speech

During the month of October, we are awakening and strengthening our practice of Right Speech.  Below are two dharma readings and a chant to support this practice.  You might like to read them everyday.  I will be reading them in class throughout the month.  What a blessing to support each other on the path of practice.

The Fourth Mindfulness Training
(from pg. 84, The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching: Transforming Suffering into Peace, Joy, and Liberation)

"Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I am committed to cultivating loving speech and deep listening in order to bring joy and happiness to others and relieve others of their suffering.  Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering, I am determined to speak truthfully, with words that inspire self-confidence, joy, and hope.  I will not spread news that I do not know to be certain and will not criticize or condemn things of which I am not sure.  I will refrain from uttering words that can cause division or discord, or that can cause the family or the community to break.  I am determined to make all efforts to reconcile and resolve all conflicts, however small."

Invoking the Boddhisattva's Names
(from pg. 17, Plum Village Chanting and Recitation Book)

"We invoke your name, Avalokiteshvara.  We aspire to learn your way of listening in order to help relieve the suffering in the world.  You know how to listen in order to understand.  We invoke your name in order to practice listening with all our attention and open-heartedness.  We will sit ad listen without any prejudice.  We will sit and listen without judging or reacting.  We will sit and listen in order to understand.  We will sit and listen so attentively that we will be able to hear what the other person is saying and also what is being left unsaid.  We know that just by listening deeply we already alleviate a great deal of pain and suffering in the other person."

To invoke this energy in ourselves and set our intention for loving speech and deep listening, we are chanting to honor the bodhisattva of compassion, Avalokiteshvara.  Bodhisattva means awakened being.  The monks and nuns of Plum Village are chanting here.  It is lovely.

Our beautiful soundtrack for today's class was Jai Jagdeesh's CD: Of Heaven and Earth.  When we absorb such beautiful vibrations and meaningful messages, we restore our freshness which allows us to be completely present, to tune into our inner wisdom, our truth.  When we are grounded in mindfulness we are on the path to Right Speech.  

Here is Jai Jagdeesh singing Hallelujah.  This song is on her new CD.

Here is her facebook page:

Here is her website:

What music, experiences, sounds and sights restores your freshness?  The beautiful Autumn leaves?  The cool crisp air?  Feel free to post below : )

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Right Thinking

In the month of September, we focused on Right Thinking in our practice.  This is following our study of Right View in August.  Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay) writes, "When Right View is solid in us, we have Right Thinking (samyak samkalpa). We need Right View at the foundation of our thinking.  And if we train ourselves in Right Thinking, our Right View will improve.  Thinking is the speech of our mind.  Right Thinking makes our speech clear and beneficial.  Because thinking often leads to action, Right Thinking is needed to take us down the path of Right Action."  (pg. 59, The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching)

Often, we are not aware of our thinking.  The mind just continues its storyline and this creates a great force in how we live our lives, the mood of the day or moment, and how we interact with others or regard ourselves.  In our busy culture, we just keep going and the mind keeps churning.  How often do we take an opportunity to stop and notice what is happening in our mind?  Or, in our body?  The more often we do this, the more we can take better care of ourselves and each other to be a better family member, co-worker, friend, and human being. Our conscious breath can give us the space to notice how we are feeling in body and mind, and what we are thinking.  How often do we take a conscious breath? How about right now?

The practices of yoga and meditation give us the space to witness the body, mind, and breath.  Once we realize we have a witness consciousness, the ability for meta-analysis (to think about our thinking, to observe the observer), we find we are greater than just our thoughts, our running commentary or habitual cassette tape playing in the mind.  There is a space where our greater wisdom resides, the part that resonates with universal truth, divine light, the beauty and wonder of nature.  From this place of peace, equanimity, resourcefulness, we can name our suffering, look deeply into it to find the root causes, realize there is an end to our suffering - well being exists in us, and keep coming back to the practices of the Noble Eightfold Path to restore our well being.

Thay outlines these four practices to help us with our Right Thinking: (pg. 60)

1) "Are you sure?"  "Wrong perceptions cause incorrect thinking and unnecessary suffering."  I was so happy to find this as a small framed calligraphy on retreat years ago.  It was so liberating to me, I wanted to bring it home.  Thay recommends writing, "Are you sure?" on a large piece of paper and hang it where you will see it often.  The more we can release our wrong perceptions, the more liberated and happy we will feel.

2) "What am I doing?" Often throughout our day, we are so lost in our thoughts, we don't pay attention to what we are doing.  Do you ever find yourself "waking up" from a mind hijack in the car and wondering where you were going or even missed a turn because of it? We end up going on automatic pilot so often in the car or while doing the dishes and even at work or with friends and family.  I'm not saying it is easy to stay completely present in each moment with each task and each person.  I will say it is a worthy practice to come back to as often as possible.  Thay invites us to ask "What am I doing?" to help release our thinking about the past or the future and return to the present moment.  Taking good care of the present moment, we transform the suffering of the past and are prepared for the future.  The most important moment is this moment.

3) "Hello, habit energy." "We tend to stick to our habits, even the ones that cause us to suffer...Our way of acting depends on our way of thinking, and our way of thinking depends on our habit energies.  When we recognize this, we only need to say, "Hello, habit energy," and make good friends with our habitual patterns of thinking and acting.  When we can accept these ingrained thoughts and not feel guilty about them, they will lose much of their power over us.  Right Thinking leads to Right Action."

When I was on retreat with Thay and the monastics years ago in Massachusetts, we were walking to the meditation hall early in the morning with the sunrise.  Waking up early has never been one of my favorite things to do (even on retreat).  So as we were walking and I was feeling grouchy, which I believe was partially from the early wake time as well as the space for suffering to arise and be held by the energy of the sangha, I saw a little note written beautifully and sitting up in the grass:  "Hello, habit energy."  Just like that (with a snap of the finger) the energy of irritation lifted in me.  A smile was born on my lips.  I had taken refuge in the sangha, in the present moment.

If we are lucky, we will find mindfulness bells like that sign in the grass in our lives throughout our days, not just on retreat but everywhere.  For example, a red traffic light, the telephone ring, catching a glimpse of the beauty of the changing leaves in fall or breathing in the crisp air of autumn -- whatever catches our attention to stop and say: Are your sure?, What are you doing?, Hello, habit energy, or to take a conscious breath and just be in the moment is a mindfulness bell.  Keep looking for those bells and keep putting them up around you and in your life.

4) "Bodhichitta. Our 'mind of love' is the deep wish to cutivate understanding in ourselves in order to bring hapiness to many beings.  It is the motivating force for the practice of mindful living.  With bodhichitta at the foundation of our thinking, everything we do or say will help others be liberated."

This is a good place to establish our thinking and from there grow our speech and actions, yes?  How do we discover our Bodhichitta again and again?  Breathing, asana (yoga postures), consuming wholesome food and images and sounds; taking refuge in our teachers, the teachings, and the community of practice (Buddha, Dharma, Sangha); and reciting the Love Meditation every day to practice loving kindness towards ourselves and all beings. (see below)

Thay also teaches us this practice for Right Thinking:

"...replace an unwholesome thought with a wholesome one by "changing the peg," just as a carpenter replaces a rotten peg by hammering in a new one."

So when we are caught in negative thinking or wrong perceptions, we can "change the peg."  Recite the Love Meditation, take a deep breath, allow the healing elements of nature to penetrate you, remember we are more than our thoughts, more than our body, more than just this lifetime.

Here is one more "new peg," a gatha I heard while on retreat.  It is a beautiful intention to carry and remember to bring us back into right thinking:

May we transcend the boundaries of a delusive self,
Liberating from the Superiority Complex, 
the Inferiority Complex, and the Equality Complex.

I know this post is a lot to digest.  I am sharing all of these practices as a summary of what we covered in September and hoping that at least one will resonate with you that you can carry with you to alleviate some suffering.

I close with the Love Meditation and our September chant: Asatoma Sat Gamaya (Lead me from untruth to truth, from darkness to light...)

Blessings and Love,

Love Meditation*

May I be peaceful, happy, and light in body and spirit.
May I be safe and free from injury.
May I be free from anger, afflictions, fear, and anxiety.

May I learn to look at myself with the eyes of understanding and love.
May I be able to recognize and touch the seeds of joy and happiness in myself.
May I learn to identify and see the sources of anger, craving, and delusion in myself.

May I know how to nourish the seeds of joy in myself every day.
May I be able to live fresh, solid, and free.
May I be free from attachment and aversion, but not be indifferent.

"We begin practicing this love meditation focusing on ourselves.  Until we are able to love and take care of ourselves, we cannot be of much help to others.  Next, we can practice towards others (substituting he/she or they), first with someone we love, next with someone we like, then with someone neutral to us, and finally toward someone who has made us suffer."

 * Adapted from the Visuddhi Magga.  For other practices to nourish love, see Thich Nhat Hanh, Teachings on Love (Berkeley: Parallax Press, 1997).

Asatoma Sat Gamaya
Lead me from untruth to truth
Tamasoma Jyotir Gamaya
Lead me from darkness to the light
Mrityorma Amritam Gamaya
Lead me from the fear of death to the wisdom of immortality,
from attachment to what is temporary to the wisdom of what is eternal.

Lokah Samastha Sukhino Bhavantu

Blessings of Peace, Love, and Ease of Living to you and your beloveds and to all beings!

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Free midday classes at Naturally Yoga this week, I teach there Wednesdays at 1pm

Naturally Yoga
175 Rock Road, Glen Rock, NJ  07452
Please come experience our 1:00pm classes this week for FREE and bring your friends!

Monday, 1:00-2:15pm Mixed Level with Cathy  
Being that the class is a gift in celebration of Neil's 50th birthday, Cathy will be teaching The Gift of Yoga!

Wednesday, 1:00-2:15pm Mixed Level with Angela 
Angela will continue her focus on The Four Noble Truths and Three Jewels of Buddhism

Friday, 1:00-2:15pm Slow Stretch with Margie
Come unwind and take it slow after a long week and go into the weekend rejuvenated!

Next Weekend:

  • Kirtan with Girish, Friday, October 4th, 8:00pm (doors open at 7:30)

  • Ayurveda:  A Journey Through the Seasons, Saturday, October 5th, 1:00-4:00pm, $50 

Check out so much more on www.naturallyyoga.com, 
click on Upcoming Events!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Right View

"Our happiness and the happiness of those around us depend on our degree Right View.  Touching reality deeply -- knowing what is going on inside and outside of ourselves -- is the way to liberate ourselves from the suffering that is caused by wrong perceptions.  Right View is not an ideology, a system, or even a path.  It is the insight we have into the reality of life, a living insight that fills us with understanding, peace, and love."

--Thich Nhat Hanh, pg. 54, The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching, Transforming Suffering into Peace, Joy, and Liberation

"Peace isn't an experience free of rough and smooth; it's an experience that's expansive enough to include all that arises without feeling threatened."

-- Pema Chodron

"Know that whatever task you do is God's task.  He is giving you the interest, the capacity, and the knowledge to do it.  If you think of yourself as an instrument in the hands of God, you will always succeed in whatever you do."

-- Swami Satchidananda

During the month of August, we have contemplated Right View during our yoga classes and in our lives.  Thich Nhat Hanh teaches part of practicing Right View is recognizing whether we are watering wholesome or unwholesome seeds in our consciousness with our thoughts, words, actions, and livelihood.  We try to recognize that we have both a store consciousness and mind consciousness.  We all have the same seeds in our store consciousness (love, compassion, joy, mindfulness, anger, irritation, jealousy, hatred, etc).  Our ancestral lineage, life circumstances, and habits determine which seeds when watered sprout more readily into our mind consciousness.  If we use the four noble truths to recognize our suffering and the root causes of our suffering, we may be more likely to selectively water our wholesome seeds.  With the support of the energy of the sangha and the teachings of the dharma, we notice our habit energies that keep us stuck in our suffering and work to change our habits to more quickly and easily restore well being and peace.

Interbeing is another foundational teaching in Buddhism and is at the heart of Right View to help us work with our Right Thinking and Right Mindfulness.  I was delighted to hear this beautiful example stated by Lorian and Sebastian in the Childrens' Program at the Day of Mindfulness this weekend at Blue Cliff Monastery.  The children were having their snack and when the sister asked the children what they tasted as they ate their apple, Lorian said a cloud and Sebastian said dirt.  Do you know why?  Because without the cloud, there would be no rain.  Without the rain the apple tree would not grow and without the apple tree, there would be no apple.  (We could have also noticed that the apple tastes like rain and sky.)  And, the seed needs the dirt along with the rain to grow into the tree.  This is the practice of interbeing.  The apple is made up of non-apple elements.  It is empty of a separate self.  It inter-exists with everything...the farmer who tends and harvests the apple, the mother and father who conceived the child who grew to be the farmer.  Do you see?  We can make the same connection between you and me, between all beings.  It is a deep and wonderful teaching.  Don't worry if it is just beginning to root in you.  It continues to grow with selective watering : )

In Saturday's class we discussed more about the historical and ultimate dimensions.  I shared a reading from Thich Nhat Hanh's book about The Two Truths, relative and absolute truth, which to me, in a sense, parallel the concepts of the historical and ultimate dimension.  Again, this is a deep teaching, so I'll try to describe briefly.  Just know that this is the beginning of watering the manifestation of understanding of it.  We have our whole lives to let it sink in and root to grow.  That's why we have each other in the sangha and our dharma teachers to keep discussing it and applying it in our lives.

We live in the historical dimension.  Our speech, actions, livelihood, and diligence are examples of how we exist here and now.  When we get stuck in our suffering, we may tell ourselves stories about life and the others in our life and even ourselves.  We narrow our view and perception because we are stuck in attachment or aversion.  We think we know what is true.  But what we are caught in is relative truth.  Sometimes we may find ourselves stuck in suffering and all of a sudden a bell of mindfulness may open our eyes to nature or to another perspective.  That bell can be setting foot outdoors, seeing the eyes of your child or beloved in a new way, catching a glimpse of the mountains or sky while driving as if for the first time, etc.  We wake up and see that there is more to life than our limiting thoughts and views.  There is a grander bigger existence.  We see the solidity of the tree and know that solidity is in us.  We see the freshness of a flower and know that freshness is in us. We see the expansiveness of the sky and we know that expansiveness is in us.  We taste it when we sit still and breathe or stand in nature and take a deep breath, when we really absorb the joy of a child, the beauty of a sunset, when we do our yoga practice with pranayama (breathing practices) or asana (postures) that balance us, restore us, open us up to these absolute truths -- interbeing.  We find that we can touch the ultimate dimension even though we are walking in the historical dimension.  We don't need to go anywhere, just arrive fully in the present moment.  Thich Nhat Hanh says the Kingdom of God can be found in the present moment.

We look deeply into our suffering in the historical dimension to notice the patterns (habit energies) that exist within us and recognize this as our relative truth.  In naming our suffering and working to identify the root causes of our suffering insight can arise to help transform the suffering.  Perhaps with insight we touch the absolute truth of interbeing which fortifies and eases the way back to well being, the cessation of that moment of suffering.  So we don't belittle or dismiss the historical dimension or relative truth.  We live in them and we need to look deeply into them to touch the ultimate dimension, the absolute truths, here and now -- in this lifetime, in this body -- that we might exist more often or navigate our lives more often from these more expansive places and more fully enjoy this historical dimension.

I will close with the lyrics to this Plum Village practice song.  You may have heard me sing it in class.

I have arrived, I am home, in the here and in the now.
I have arrived, I am home, in the here and in the now.

I am solid, I am free.  I am solid, I am free.
In the ultimate I dwell.  In the ultimate I dwell.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Stopping, Calming, Resting, Healing

This is the title of my favorite chapter in Thich Nhat Hanh's book, The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching: Transforming Suffering into Peace, Joy, and Liberation, (pages 24-27).  I have heard it read so many times at Sangha (mediation group) both in PA and NJ.  And, I remember feeling so relieved when I heard Thay (dear teacher - Thich Nhat Hanh) give a dharma talk referencing the following concept from the chapter:

"Calming allows us to rest, and resting is a precondition for healing.  When animals in the forest get wounded, they find a place to lie down, and they rest completely for many days.  They don't think about anything else.  They just rest, and they get the healing they need."

"Our body and mind have the capacity to heal themselves if we allow them to rest."

I was on retreat during a very busy and ambitious time with my work as a high school math teacher and going to graduate school for my Master's degree in counseling.  I had always struggled with low energy and added more suffering to that by beating myself up about it.  In other words, feeling guilty when I needed to rest or when I did in fact take the time to rest. But, who can argue with nature? We're animals too, right?  However, I have to confess this is still a challenge for me.  Now with a young child and a marriage and work that I am growing, it is still difficult to give myself permission to rest or to get the opportunity to rest.

Our culture is so ambitious and fast paced.  It takes a lot of support and validation to give ourselves permission to stop and rest so that we can heal whether it is a physical ailment or emotional or mental strain.  Being on retreat with Thay and hearing the dharma has always been a profound practice in taking refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. Do you know how that feels when you really feel held by someone or something and you can just let go and trust and that whoever you are, however you are is ok?

Part of that sense of surrender and softening comes when listening to Sister Chan Khong sing to us during Total Relaxation.  While I was driving to class today, a song she often sings came into my mind and I found myself singing it out loud: Please Call Me By My True Names which is a song based on the famous poem written by Thich Nhat Hanh with the same title.  During the dharma talk for class today, I was inspired to sing it as our discussion developed into talking about how when dealing with challenges, we can try to see the blessing in them and recognize the impermanence of all circumstances so that we can deal with our suffering and fully experience moments of joy since life is made up of both conditions.

My benign example of a blessing in the midst of suffering was being stressed about arriving to the airport for a recent trip with just enough time to board the plane given a last minute stop my husband needed to make before we got there.  While it was stressful for me, it turned out to be a blessing that we didn't have to sit on the plane as long as we would have otherwise since the air conditioning was under repair in 104 degree weather on the ground.  The plane was delayed over an hour as well but thankfully I had my Peppermint oil to help keep me cool.

The inspiration for the dharma talk which grew beyond this example from my life that came up in casual conversation about my trip was expanded by an introductory conversation I had prior to class with a student (like many others) who was telling me about a pain in her body and was wondering what yoga poses she could do to help.  I saw and heard her suffering from the pain in her body as well as the mental and emotional suffering it was causing her.  I know it is not always easy to hear but I try to remind myself and others as skillfully as I can that physical pain or any life difficulty can be seen as a teacher, maybe even a blessing - a chance to slow down and take care of ourselves - to rest and heal more than just our bodies.  Body is just one layer of the five koshas, just one of the seven chakras.  We are more than just our body.  But sometimes it seems like we need a wake up call from our bodies to stop and recognize that we need to heal and transform more than just our bodies.  We don't always listen when the mind or emotions are the siren.  But the body can be a loud enough siren to get our attention.

"We have to learn the art of stopping -- stopping our thinking, our habit energies, our forgetfulness, the strong emotions that rule us. When an emotion rushes through us like a storm, we have no peace.  We turn on the tv and then we turn it off.  We pick up a book and then we put it down.  How can we stop this state of agitation? How can we stop our fear, despair, anger, and craving? We can stop by practicing mindful breathing, mindful walking, mindful smiling, and deep looking in order to understand.  When we are mindful, touching deeply the present moment, the fruits are always understanding, acceptance, love, and the desire to relieve suffering and bring joy." (pg. 24-25)

We can use the four noble truths to recognize that suffering is a part of life.  To believe that we shouldn't have to deal with suffering only causes us to suffer more.  Then we can see that there are root causes to our suffering and "call them by their true names."  This can often lead to insight into the suffering which can shine a light towards the path that can transform our suffering.  The third noble truth says there is an end to suffering (in other words, there is well being!).  And the fourth noble truth is the way to that well being: the noble eightfold path - which includes Right View, Right Thinking, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Diligence, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration.

Thay gives a summary of the Buddha's teaching techniques for calming body and mind on page 26:

(1) Recognition - If we are angry, we say " I know anger is in me. "
(2) Acceptance - When we are angry, we do not deny it.  We accept what is present.
(3) Embracing - We hold our anger in our two arms like a mother holding her crying baby.  our mindfulness embraces our emotion, and this alone can calm our anger and ourselves.
(4) Looking deeply - When we are calm enough, we can look deeply to understand what has brought this anger to be, what is causing our baby's discomfort.
(5) Insight - The fruit of looking deeply is understanding the many causes and conditions, primary and secondary that have brought about our anger, that are causing our baby to cry.  ...  With insight we know what to do and what not to do to change the situation.

I remember being on that retreat while I was also still dealing with grief over the loss of my mother and grandmother, struggling with my feelings about being single, and working on finding a sense of belonging in other places and relationships.  It was these feelings of suffering that allowed me to go deep into the practice and thus feeling held by the sangha in their mindful presence, the singing of the monastics and Sister Chan Khong, and just watching Thich Nhat Hanh walk and drink a cup of tea as well as soak up his gentle and clear presentation of the dharma.

I listened to my first dharma talk by Thay on a cassette tape given to me by a peer in my graduate program shortly after my mom died.  A few months later, a colleague at the high school where I taught invited me to my first Thich Nhat Hanh based sangha, and I knew I had come home.  "No mud, No lotus." I don't know where I would be now in navigating my life, the challenges and the joys, had I not discovered the path of practice. I am so thankful to Dave and Val for putting the teachings in front of me.

So here is Sister singing the chorus to this beautiful song, Please Call Me By My True Names:
(She is singing at the beginning of the video then it transitions into something else. You can stop at 52 seconds.)

Please call me by my true names
Please call me by my true names
So I can wake up, wake up
So the door of my heart could be left open
The door of compassion
The door of compassion

My joy is like spring so warm
It makes flowers bloom all over the earth
My pain is like a river of tears 
So vast it fills the four oceans

And just for good measure, here is another link with her facilitation of deep relaxation.  Perhaps you'd like to comfortably lie down and soak up her love and compassion, receive the warm embrace. And, even if you can't, just listen...

Sister Chan Khong's sweet singing for deep relaxation
Once you get to the site, scroll down and click on the video for
The Songs of Sister Chan Khong (1994)

The first song:

I hold my face in my two hands
My hands hollow to catch what might fall from within me
Deeper than crying, I am not crying

I hold my face in my two hands
To keep my loneliness warm
To cradle my anger
Shelter the flames from the windstorm that rages
Two hands preventing my soul from flying in anger

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Taking Refuge in the Three Jewels

The below chant is a beautiful teaching about the three jewels and how we can take refuge in them. If you were in class this past Saturday, you heard me chant it.

We will all have an opportunity to take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha in Pine Bush, NY or NYC at the end of the summer.  See links below the chant and details about the retreat, day of mindfulness, public talk, and calligraphy art display coming soon.

The Three Refuges

from Plum Village Chanting Book

I take refuge in the Buddha,
the one who shows me the way in this life.
I take refuge in the Dharma,
the way of understanding and of love.
I take refuge in the Sangha,
the community that lives in harmony and awareness.

Dwelling in the refuge of Buddha,
I clearly see the path of light and beauty in the world.
Dwelling in the refuge of Dharma,
I learn to open many doors on the path of transformation.
Dwelling in the refuge of Sangha,
shining light that supports me, keeping my practice free of obstruction.

Taking refuge in the Buddha in myself,
I aspire to help all people recognize their own awakened nature,
realizing the Mind of Love.
Taking refuge in the Dharma in myself,
I aspire to help all people fully master the ways of practice
and walk together on the path of liberation.
Taking refuge in the Sangha in myself,
I aspire to help all people build Fourfold Communities,
to embrace all beings and support their transformation.

Thich Nhat Hanh's schedule for his Summer Tour through North America:
This includes a link with more specifics for his public talk in NYC.

Specifics about the Day of Mindfulness in Pine Bush, NY:

September 1 | Day of Mindfulness

A Day of Mindfulness, led by Thich Nhat Hanh, will take place at the Blue Cliff Monastery in Pine Bush, New York. The day will begin at 9:30 with dharma talk, followed by walking meditation, eating meditation and an afternoon activity. As this is a Fundraising Day of Mindfulness, there is a suggested minimum donation for the day of $35 for adults and $25 for students and seniors.
To register for this Day of Mindfulness, please click here.  Please note: You must first login to register.
Overnight accommodations for the Day of Mindfulness will not be available at the monastery.  If you are traveling some distance to join us for this day, you may wish to contact any of the following hotels, located 15-30 minutes from the monastery:
As with all our events, we encourage participants to share rides wherever possible in order to reduce the environmental aspect of traveling. Please use the commenting system below to make connections with other participants to offer rides and insights on reducing the impact.
(Perhaps if folks from Highland Yoga want to go, a car pool can be set up to depart from the studio.  Same for Ananta Yoga. Perhaps setting up a car pool from a mutually agreed upon location.  It is fun to share the ride and talk in anticipation of the day and enjoy each other's company as well as integrate the experience together during the ride home.)

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Three Jewels and The Four Noble Truths

For our next series of dharma talks in class, we have been contemplating the teachings of the Buddha.  We have begun by studying and applying the teachings of the Three Jewels and the Four Noble Truths.

We have been reading from Thich Nhat Hanh's books:  The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching: Transforming Suffering into Peace, Joy, and Liberation and Peace is Every Step

The Three Jewels:

Buddha  (teacher)
Dharma  (teachings, path of practice)
Sangha  (community of support)

The Four Noble Truths:

We will experience suffering in this life.
There are root causes to our suffering.
It is possible to end our suffering.
There is a way to end our suffering: The Noble Eightfold Path.

Frank Boccio, in his book Mindfulness Yoga, draws a parallel of The Four Noble Truths to the Ayurvedic approach to wellness: (1) diagnosis, (2) etiology, (3) prognosis, and (4) prescription. This may help us to remember them if this way of thinking or terminology comes more naturally.

The Noble Eightfold Path:

Right View
Right Thinking
Right Speech
Right Action
Right Livelihood
Right Diligence
Right Mindfulness
Right Concentration

We have been singing a mindfulness song in the Plum Village tradition:

Breathing In, Breathing Out
Breathing In, Breathing Out
I am blooming as a flower
I am fresh as the dew
I am solid as a mountain
I am firm as the earth
I am free

Breathing In, Breathing Out
Breathing In, Breathing Out
I am water reflecting
What is real, What is true
And I feel there is space
Deep inside of me
I am free, I am free, I am free

More commentary to follow on these teachings.  This is the basic outline of our current curriculum.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Diamonds in the Sun, song by Girish

"Lokah Samastha Sukhino Bhavantu
May all beings be Happy and Free

We shine like diamonds in the sun
Everyone of us
Everyone of us shines"

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Affirmations for all Seven Chakras

For the past seven months in class, I have read these affirmations with the monthly chakra and then cumulatively month by month adding on the new ones during svasana (relaxation) when the mind and body are most receptive to absorb such good medicine.  Maybe you would like to read them each morning, use them with your meditation, or choose one of your favorites from each chakra and remember to say it when you need a boost or support in that realm of your consciousness during the day or night.  You could calligraphy, paint, or draw some of them and post them by your meditation cushion or around your house.  Or, record yourself reading them to play back during your own personal svasana or as you drift off to sleep at night (which is a really good time to set positive intentions for your dreams and contented rest).

What a gift it has been to dive deeply into each chakra and learn about our own personal navigational system, to learn how to assess these aspects of ourselves and take care from within so we can let our light shine all around us.

by Danna Faulds

In the midst of difficulty,
my curiosity is piqued
and I aim the lance
of self-inquiry into the
center of my deepest fears.

I give myself permission
to feel exactly what I feel,
to be just as I am, and in
that self-acceptance I find
energy, awareness, and a
thousand gifts I never
guessed were with me
all along.

Here's to your bright light!  May you remember you have it, keep looking within to find it to the fullest, keep looking deeply into the others in your life to see their light too, and honor and celebrate that eternal divine light within and all around!

(The following affirmations come from Anodea Judith's book:  Eastern Body, Western Mind: Psychology and the Chakra System as a Path to the Self except for those marked with ^ or *)  

First Chakra - Muladhara
(tip of the tailbone, base of the body; element-Earth; color-red; seed sound-LAM)

It is safe for me to be here.
The earth supports me and meets my needs.
I love my body and trust its wisdom.
I am immersed in abundance.
I'm here and I'm real.
^I am grateful for the earth's support.
^I am secure and unafraid.

Second Chakra - Svadisthana
(lower abdomen/back; element-Water; color-orange; seed sound-VAM)

I deserve pleasure in my life.
I absorb information from my feelings.
I embrace and celebrate my sexuality.
My sexuality is sacred.
I move easily and effortlessly.
Life is pleasurable.
^I welcome and accept all of my emotions.
^My life is full of creative opportunities.

Third Chakra - Manipura
(solar plexus; element - Fire; color - yellow; seed sound-RAM)

I honor the power within me.
I accomplish tasks easily and efforlessly.
The fire within me burns through all blocks and fears.
I can do whatever I will to do.
^I am loving and appropriately powerful.
*I am gemlike: solid, multifaceted, filled with light.

Fourth Chakra - Anahata
(heart center; element-Air; color-green; seed sound-YAM)

I am worthy of love.
I am loving to myself and others.
There is an infinite supply of love. 
I live in balance with others.
^My immunity is boosted by love given and received.

Fifth Chakra - Vissudha
(throat; element-Sound; color-bright blue; seed sound-HAM)

I hear and speak the truth.
I express myself with clear intent.
Creativity flows in and through me.
My voice is necessary.
^I trust my inner voice and speak the truth clearly.
*I have discovered my authentic voice and can be myself in all situations.
* My communication is clear and untainted.
*I approach others with compassion and kindness.
*I have the space to see myself clearly and allow the divine wisdom of the universe guide each moment of my life.

Sixth Chakra - Ajna
(third eye center; element-Light; color-indigo; seed sound-OM)

I see all things in clarity.
I am open to the wisdom within.
I can manifest my vision.

Seventh Chakra - Sahasrara
(crown of the head; element-Thought; color-violet; seed sound-AH)

Divinity resides within.
I am open to new ideas.
Information I need comes to me.
The world is my teacher.
I am guided by higher power.
I am guided by inner wisdom.

* This affirmation is modified from Chakra Yoga: Balancing Energy for Physical, Spiritual, and Mental Well-Being by Alan Finger with Katrina Repka 

^ This affirmation is modified from Chakra Workout: Balancing Your Energy with Yoga and Meditation by Mary Horsley

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Rakhe Rakhan Har

We were inspired last Saturday to practice this chant for our upcoming class.  The words and a couple translations are below.  I'll have copies for you in class.  The melody we will use is from Aurora's recording on her CD Aquarian Sadhana.    iTunes and Amazon have the mp3.

Rakhe Rakhan Har

 "This is a sound current of protection against all negative forces which move against one's walk on the path of destiny, both inner and outer.  It cuts like a sword through every opposing vibration,  throught,word, and action."

Rakhay rakhanahaar aap ubaaria-an, 
Gur kee pairee paa-ay kaaj savaari-an, 
Hoaa aap da-iaal manaho na visaari-an, 
Saadh janaa kai sang bhavajal taari-an, 
Saakat nindak dusht khin maa-eh bidaari-an, 
Tis saahib kee tyk Naanak manai maa-eh, 
Jis simrat sukh ho-ay sagalay dookh jaa-eh.

"The following translation was given by Yogi Bhajan on June 15, 1986, in St. Louis, Missouri.)"

"Thou who savest, save us all and take us across,
Uplifting and giving the excellence.
You gave us the touch of the lotus feet of the Guru, and all our jobs are done.
You have become merciful, kind, and compassionate; and so our mind does not forget Thee.
In the company of the holy beings you take us from misfortune and calamities, scandals, and disrepute.
Godless, slanderous enemies -- you finish them in timelessness.
That great Lord is my anchor.
Nanak, keep Him frim in your mind.
By meditating and repeating his Name,
All happiness comes and all sorrows and pain go away."     

This is the fifth of seven chants from the Morning Sadhana for the Aquarian Age given for practice by Yogi Bhajan on June 21, 1992.  He gave the instruction to keep chanting all seven in the given order for 21 years. 

 More information via the link below on the Morning Sadhana for the Aquarian Age
(Additional Meaning and About information comes from the given site where recordings of the chant may also be found.)

Meaning: God Himself is looking out for us, gives us the light, and takes care of our affairs. God is merciful, and never forgets us. God guides us, giving us good people to help us. God does not allow hurt to come to us. I take comfort in the thought of God. When I remember God, I feel peaceful and happy and all my pain departs.

 About: This shabad, written by Guru Arjan, is a mantra for protection against all negative forces.  It can be the hardest mantra of the Aquarian Sadhana mantras to master, but don't give up!  It's very rewarding.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Updated Teaching Schedule


9am  Highland Yoga, Butler, NJ


6am  Parisi Sports Club, Midland Park, NJ

1pm  Naturally Yoga, Glen Rock, NJ

7:30pm  Ananta Yoga, Wayne, NJ


10am  Highland Yoga, Butler, NJ

This week I will be completing a series of yoga classes for first to fifth graders I taught on Friday afternoons at my daughter's school.  It has been such a wonderful and inspiring experience.  Below is my closing letter to their parents and teachers about it: 

Dear Parents and Teachers,

I have been so inspired by sharing the practice of yoga with your children.  I have been delighted by their bright smiles, innate wisdom, and eagerness to learn and soak up the teachings.  They have shared many awesome insights about the stories and themes which were highlighted over our time together with books, songs, asanas (physical postures), pranayama (breathing practices), and mudras (hand positions).  Yoga is a wonderful practice that includes not only strengthening and stretching the muscles but also tools to deal with life’s challenges and to more fully appreciate the joys in this life.

We used the following books to deepen our learning of certain practices:  Each Breath a Smile based on teachings by Thich Nhat Hanh which invited us to become fully aware of our breathing and how all of life is breathing with us; Moody Cow Meditates by Kerry Lee MacLean which ignited a discussion on how we deal with a really bad day and calm our angry feelings; The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss that reminded us to stay true to what we believe in; When Sophie Gets Angry by Molly Bang which illustrated how the wide world can comfort us if we allow ourselves to take in the beauty and expansiveness of nature; and The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle where we had fun acting out the story and learning how to tune into ourselves and wait for the right time to do or say something (to come out of the cocoon and be transformed).

We used the following songs from Thich Nhat Hanhn’s Mindfulness Meditation Practice to outline the themes of identifying with and being calmed by nature: 
Breathing In, Breathing Out
Breathing In, Breathing Out
I am Blooming as a Flower
I am Fresh as the Dew
I am Solid as a Mountain
I am Firm as the Earth
I am Free

Breathing In, Breathing Out
Breathing In, Breathing Out
I am water reflecting what is real, what is true
And I feel there is space deep inside of me
I am Free, I am Free, I am Free

Breathing in, I go back to the island within myself
There are beautiful trees within the island
There are clear streams of water
There are birds, sunshine, and fresh air
Breathing out, I feel safe
I enjoy going back to my island

The children were very interested in the mudras (hand positions) we learned and continued to ask about them each week.  We would begin each class by playing a game.  Each child chooses a mudra:  connecting thumb and first finger is for knowledge, thumb and middle finger is for patience, thumb and ring finger is for creativity, and thumb and pinky is for communication or deep listening.  (We used this last one when in the cocoon and listening for the right time to come out -The Very Hungry Catepillar.)  To begin class, I invite the bell and model sitting with eyes closed, hands in a mudra, listening to the bell and aware of my breathing.  The game is to listen very closely until you can’t hear the bell anymore and then quietly change your hands to Anjali mudra where you connect the palms of the hands together over the heart.  We do this three times to quiet our minds, become aware of our body and breath.  They do this so beautifully to begin class.

They learned the importance of warming up the six directions of the spine.  Ask them to show you:  cat and cow (they like to do the sound effects – meow and moo), side stretches, and twisting.  Some of their favorite activities included hopping around the circle like frogs in squat pose, walking in and out of the center of the circle like crabs, and for some of them doing a backbend.  They like to make requests for the postures (asanas) we do.  This shows me how much they enjoy it.  Each class included sun salutations, standing poses and balancing poses as well as a closing relaxation called svasana where they lie still with their eyes closed to relax and I get to sing them a beautiful song (like the ones listed above).

Thank you for the opportunity to share this time with your children, to learn so much from them, and to share the practice of yoga.  We close each class by chanting the universal sound of OM to send out wishes of peace and joy, love and light to our classmates, our teachers, our friends, family, and all beings.  Then we bring our hands in front of our hearts in Anjali mudra and say “Namaste” to each other.  I tell them (and now you): “ Inside each one of you there is a spark, a light, that shines through your eyes, through your smile, through all the wonderful things you do everyday.  The light in me honors the light in you.  Namaste.”


Angela Cays, MS, LPC, RYT-500
Kripalu Certified Yoga Teacher