the image on top is "Welcome Home Sweet Sugar" by Kelsey Brooks

Monday, October 31, 2011

Brad, Shugyo, Yoga and Movement

First off, can I say that the LA Green Festival was the best event (conference-style-event) that I've ever been to.

A few weeks ago, I was at the LA Home Show for work. Empty.

Yesterday, the LA Green Show. Packed. Poppin'. Brilliant. Tons of eco-preneurs, loving and local companies, sustainable projects, all kinds of really smart people showcasing their solutions to our mess.

Creative Chakra Spa, the studio that I teach at, sponsored the Yoga and Movement pavilion upstairs. So I knew the whole event was going to be spectacular from the get-go.

At 3:30 on Saturday, I took a miniature class with Brad Keimach on Happiness.

I believe we did a total of three poses, five including tadasana and savasanah. Brad spoke about the power of focus, the true inspiration of meditation. This, as I understand it, is one of the most classic and basic ways to meditate. Focus on one point, and attend to the breath. When your mind drifts off, bring it back. When it drifts off again, bring it back. And it will keep doing that, he says. The most important part is not to get frustrated. If at the end, you were able to bring yourself back to center for half a moment, that is a victory.

This is a basic philosophy of co-existence, externally and internally. How to live with yourself, just focus on center, and you will be happy. And this is so difficult for me. I want to purge all that I do not like, I want to be rid of it. I think I can elucidate it through understanding, catharsis or writing. But what hatha teaches me, over and over, is instead of waging an internal war, come to center. This is a major precursor to the absence of external war, this I understand.

And it is so difficult.
It is so difficult.
I call it bootcamp for the mind. Brad was a bit shocked when I mentioned that word, and I admit it's not the best one. I went on an online quest to discover alternatives, and the fruit of this journey is the Japanese word "shugyo", in Japanese. It means ascetic discipline.

The truth being, is that it works. After a period of time, the mind trains itself to be stable. And the experience is intense. I wonder, if, as an after-effect, I have an increased awareness of how busy my mind is all the time. This has happened multiple times through hatha practice for me. As if, with tastes of silence, I begin to notice the background noise. I'll have to ask Brad about this.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Verses on the Chakras: Andrea Brook

Andrea Brook plays the Earth Harp, a gigantic ethereal instruments with the ability to actually pluck, or gently massage, your heartstrings. She speaks poetry to the music and truly believes in the ability of vibration to heal and transport her students.

My last sight of Andrea was at YogaDayLA, up in Topanga Canyon. My mother was visiting from the East Coast, and after lunch, we booked it up to Malibu to catch Andrea's class. As we drove away from the coast, we stepped out of a fog and into Topanga's joyous temperament.

This time, Andrea was positioned at the front of a baseball stadium, fully committed to playing the Earth Harp and teaching at the same time. I cannot imagine this is an easy task, but she flowed from one pose to the other with hypnotic tones.

One of my favorite elements of Andrea's class is her sweet caress "I love you", she whispers to the crowd. It comes from that authentic knowing of the self, that at the core, you do love, terribly, intensely, without conditions. Her words come from that place of introspection, and absolute truth.

My first sight of Andrea was at Burningman. All I knew was "yoga at the temple", which is a four-word combination compelling enough to lead me anywhere. As I rode up to the temple, I understood that the same enchanted instrument that I had the pleasure of hearing the other day was now going to headline my yoga session. Delighted, I threw my mat out into the dirt as the sunset climaxed. Andrea wrote verses on the chakras, inspiring phrases such as "transmuting to the sublime".

The practice phased through the chakras, spending a little extra attention on vishuddha and expression. We had some photographer moments (imagine the playa + yogis + temple + sunset), including headstand, shoulder stand, and standing mountain. In a seated meditation, Andrea had us made a temple mudra above our heads with our hands, a symbol of perfection and divinity. We had perhaps 100-150 people, though I'm terrible at counting. It was quite a sight.

"You have the right to be here," I remember Andrea saying, "You have the right to be you. Speak your truth. I love you".

Months later, I'm looking through my notes from post-practice. They look like this:

"EPIC EPIC EPIC. More wondrous than any opera, majestic and poetic truth".

Keri's Class- quick notes

Keri has the quintessential yoga class, with a smooth mindful flow, it is a perfect fit for a level 1, 3 or 5 even.

Wide feet during dolphin
Quintessential class
Waves of movement that built apon each other
Shoulder opening to temple
Smooth awakening
Mindfulness in each pose
Soft playlist

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

How Hard Do You Temple?

Take me back to burningman.

The event was so beautiful, so profound and transformational, that is it downright traumatic. It is impossible to return to "real life", real life seems pale in comparison, slow and dreamlike. The intensity of experience is so difficult to match. I expected this trouble, I scheduled a cleanse right after I got back, though I only made it through 6 days of it. I want experiences that tear at my heartstrings the way that this one did.

Thursday, the 1st, I said goodbye to Kimi and Dan right at sunset at the edge of the inner playa. I knew only one thing: that I had to make it to the temple, somehow, and kneel, just sit down. I rode my bike down the esplanade with the outline of the white temple's construction growing larger in my mind against the sunset.

I felt that I was on an epic pilgramage, a hajj, that the temple contained something....that it was representative of a space in mind where my own secrets were stored. Perhaps if I could create the physical representation, I could enter the mental realm. If in your mind there was a room called "temple", what would it contain? That's what I'm looking for.

As I arrive, I hear surreal and seraphic sounds notes from the entrance. A gigantic harp, the string anchored one end to the raised font entrance, and on the other end to the top of the temple, is being tuned in a man with leather gloved to protect his fingers from the strings. In a few moments, he breaks into a familiar and grandeur classical piece. I'm torn between my sublime experience and this strange inner voice that begs me to sit down. And so I do.

Immediately, I'm overcome with fear and separation. I see all the people ten feet away standing to salute the harp, and here I am sitting in the dirt. I don't want to die. I don't want to be separated. I am here, sitting in the dirt, listening to just how terrified I am to be alive. Intensely shocked I am to contemplate my transient condition. I feel fear in my heart, and I move to get up, then sit back down and breath through it. I feel fear in my belly, I feel fear blindsight my mind.

I had faith that once the fear passed, because fear was a feeling, it would go away, I would have a breakthrough. I would understand. I kept waiting, feeling fear quicken my heartrate, watching every inhale and exhale. I felt fear vibrating at the bottom of my spine. I thought it was impossible to want to get up any more than I did. Until the fear went away.

And it was worse: frustration. As the next wave of emotion hit, I started breaking into tears of anguish, a lack of understanding flooding my mind. There was no knowledge, behind the fear, there was nothing but anger. The same sensation I experienced as a child looking at a difficult math problem and wondering why I didn't understand, why I wasn't smart enough, and then feeling that frustration...that was exactly the experience I had at the temple.

This meditation took hours, I finally chose to get water, deciding that I've learned enough from my experience this time around. I get up and I look for my backpack, and it's a bit dark by now. Then I see an object, in the space where my backpack was, covered in glowsticks. My backpack covered in glowsticks.

Kimi Giles *glow-sticked my back pack* so I would be able to find it in the dark. I should mention that at this point, I've been crying ever since the frustration hit. I began crying three times as hard, out of pure gratitude. Then, I see Kimi's backpack, and I realize that she is here! Kimi and Dan are both here, they came to the temple to find me. I cry "Kimi" out loud, and a girl next to me says "she's over there". I don't know how she knew but...thank you...

At this point I realize that everyone around me has formed a circle, and that there is a woman in the center, that is attempting to create a space for a ceremony. And I realize, that, if I had not gotten up at the exact moment that I did, she would have had to asked me to leave. Or maybe not. But I think it's pretty magical how she held the space and how I, after hours of telling myself not to get up, chose that moment. I go to her, blubbering an apology and accepting the "don't worry". She is conducting a workshop on self-empowerment. I ask how I can help. She says she's just asking people to form in a circle around her.

I decide to worry about finding Dan and Kimi later, and I watch the ceremony unfold.

She holds up a red scarf and says, "This is the dragon. These are our fears. Today we are going to conquer our demons, the things that hold us back". Two people place their hands together forming an arch, and two more hold up the scarf.

I am so excited, thinking, ah, I am going to let go of my fear! Well, guess what? I am not so special. The very first person that walks through that gateway says "I let go of my fear".

One by one, "I let go of self-blame". "I let go of self-loathing", "I let go of my judgments". By this point, Dan and Kimi have met up. Dan walks through the gateway and yells, "I don't need anything from anybody". Kimi goes through and says "I am letting go of my need to hold on!". I walk through and say "I conquer my fear of death". I'm overwhelmed by a need to hug the conductor of ceremonies, and then she looks at me and says "stand strong on your feet". I know what that means- through yoga- I remember watching how Shiva Rea stood...wide stance, bent knees, tailbone tucked...I remember imitating that and noticing how my worries went away. I sob thank you.

Crying, I am so overwhelmed by the waves and waves of empathy as I watch people walk through. Empathy over-dose. Seriously, did you hear about that girl who OD'd on empathy?

An arm reaches around me and I turn around to see a fleeting glimpse of a handsome face. "Thank you", I say, as I'm pulled into someone's embrace. I keep watching the ceremony, and as fewer people walk up, our conductor says "Is there anyone else?" A few people, and then no one. "Seriously, last call". Allright. She closes off with a speech about how burningman is a rite of passage, and how it brings us into a more empowered self. Then she says she wants everyone to roar when she raises her wand (can you imagine doing something like that! I would be terrified that no one would do it!). She raises her wand and everyone ROARS. It feels like the entire temple.

I turn around, and I'm eye to eye with this person who had put his arm around me. We stare at each other for a while, and begin an apprehensive non-verbal interaction, culminating in a kiss.

So that's one of my nights at burningman: hours of meditation attempting to face my fear, the world illuminating in a perfect ceremony for that exact thing, and snogging a stranger . The experience was strange, to say the least.

Niema Lightseed

Niema Lightseed. Priestess of the New Paradigm.
*from August 31st*

I am grateful for my burning need to write down my experiences after savasana that day. One month later, to try to remember a shamanic journey is not easy to say the least. And yet a few scribbled lines trigger the memory....

This was my first class at Burningman, about two days into it (not my first much-needed practice, I assure you). My notes summarize my experience with Nienna as 'having a trusted leader bring out the truth in yourself..."

Niema works through energy blockages in the body- every beat in line with class. We did ankle, neck, body rolls to start- starting to wake up the struggling burner body- standing cat/cow stretch. After anjaneyasa, and lunges, we moved into a smooth, wonderful sequence, of which two poses truly caught me. In plank pose, Nienna asking "what empowers you that is stronger than willpower? what keeps you going?". For me, it's a tie between love and a desire for truth. Then later, in tree pose, thinking "I want to BE the tree of knowledge of good and evil. That is the kind of fruit I want to bear".

Here's the journey: You start off at the foot of a river, in this beautiful basin with mountains surrounding you. You walk up the river, with your friends- those that journey with you- until you come up to the mouth of the cave. Inside the cave, it's pitch black, and you start using your hands along the walls to go further. It's cold, and clammy, you take off your clothes, and keep walking further and further into the cave. When it feels that within this darkness, nothing can be, you see a small light. An old woman is tending the tiniest bit of a fire. She looks at you, and says "What do you want?". You tell her what you want. Then she says "what do you have to offer?" And you have nothing but yourself, so you step into the fire. This is the part of my experience that my subconscious yells "no!", but Nienna was still narrating. And I wanted to continue the narrative, so I had to accept the narrative to continue. So there I was, consumed by this fire, burning my body, and it feels good, says Nienna. The fire is consuming your entire entity, and when the flames die down, you are still there. Yet you inhabit a new body.

-I don't remember if this is a fabrication due to the re-hashing of past experience, but I think as you looked down at the old woman, and she is now a young girl. And she says, "Thank you". -

You step out into the world, as in the land before time, and there you find all your friends and companions- those that journey with you- waiting for you.

These are my notes from that session:
Freedom from fear
I will bungee jump
I can bungee jump
I am worthy of facing my fear
I am worthy of facing my fear
I am worthy
I want to be brave

It's Tuesday, October 4th, and I haven't bungee jumped. And I had the chance- one week after burningman. Somehow, standing at the top of that bridge, seeing the rocks below (In my vision of bungee jumping, there is ALWAYS water). I could not explain to myself why I was doing this. I rely, wholeheartedly on my judgement of what is safe and what is a good idea. I need that good judgment to make decisions for my life on a daily basis. I need to trust myself more than anything else. And it seemed like a cruel trick, a pompous romp that if it went wrong, I would not be able to even apologize to myself. I couldn't say, "sorry, self, I killed you/paralized you". That's where I draw the line. Also, it could be that bungee jumping, the act itself, seems nauseating to me. The opposite of fun. And if I don't want to do this so much, it's probably not worth it. "Facing my fear" may be reserved for things I actually WANT to do (such as skydive, or teach inspiring yoga classes), and I am terrified of. Anyway, I doubt anyone needs this much explanation except my ego, which desires justification very much, embarrassingly. I also completely forgot about this journey, the entire time I was there. Maybe if I remembered these notes, it would have been diferent. Perhaps I haven't bungee jumped yet, but I've noticed a significant increase of "courageousness". Or at least I hope.

"Soul Power Yoga"

When I walked into Andres' class, I warned him, "you might see a lot of child's pose action".

Andres' class is called "Soul Power Yoga". I assumed it would be somewhat like my other power yoga classes. Turns out, I've got a lot to learn.

His class is partially a lecture, although rarely formally. He speaks authentic truth, words of love and forgiveness, inspiration and positivity, through each pose. I recall one of my favorite actions, in Warrior 1, when we took our love into our hearts, then pushed it away from us. There is something so powerful in that action. Infusing an action with meaning always lights me up, but I think, experimentally, when a human being reaches out and pulls out from their heart, it truly awakens something. Place one's hand on one's heart, then extend it out, palms face up- perhaps that is a gesture of giving in every culture, I wonder...

The class was surprisingly calm, and I learned that a lot of the soul power was in mindfulness. How Andres asked us to be fully integrated with our beings, mindful of the world around us. He spoke especially about age, and how yoga can begin to reverse the aging process, physically and psychologically. The poses flowed in and out, strongly vinyasa, and I was really appreciative of how I was able to fuse my intention to be loving, or aware, actively into asana.

I loved how there wasn't a rushed note in Andres' tone (nothing important is ever said quickly), and there was so much one-breath-one-movement type of flow. His devotion to Kirtan is contagious, and the singing magnificent. Andres mentioned that frequently people come to his class expecting one thing and leaving with the other....and much the same for me..