Archive for the ‘chanting’ Category

Sutra Slacking

Given my last blog entry is dated from September, it appears from the outside I’ve been slacking on my yoga sutra commitment.  If you recall, in 2012 I set out to pick a sutra every couple of weeks (read Celebrate Now, sutra 1.1), meditate on it and blog about it.  I fully admit this was a challenging task, yet for whatever reason I decided back in September to double the challenge by learning The Yoga Sutras in Sanskrit.

Of course learning the sutras in Sanskrit requires first I learn Sanskrit, an extremely rich and ancient language.  Let’s break it down further, learning a new language requires I learn a new alphabet that has its own characters and sounds.  As Pierre Couvillion says, learning Sanskrit is like “gymnastics for the tongue”.

Sanskrit is a very energetic/vibrational language that not only involves speaking it but very much involves feeling it.   Just from the few practice sessions I’ve done so far, I’ve felt lighter and more at ease in my body.  It sounds crazy but it’s been a pretty powerful experience.  In addition to simply speaking the alphabet and moving the tongue in a certain way, learning Sanskrit requires a level of breath work, meditative focus and patience.  And as the source language for everything yoga –including asana, chanting, mantras and philosophical yoga texts such as The Yoga Sutras and The Bhagavad Gita –learning Sanskrit has really put my yoga commitment to the test and has taken my yoga sutra studies to a new level.

So have I been sutra slacking or just slightly sutra side-tracked?  You decide.  Good news is I’m still around – still yoga-ing, studying yoga, loving yoga and sharing yoga as much as I can in and around the DC/Arlington area.

Karma Yarma Smarma

No, the title of this post is not Sanskrit for something particular or grand.  It’s simply me being frustrated with myself for not fully understanding karma.  I realized today (after pondering this topic the entire month of September & not posting a single thought about it) that maybe that’s the point of karma.

As with many of the yoga sutras & other yoga philosophy, they’re often easier to read about and get vs. live.  Further try to apply them in full-blown action and whoa! life wakes you up.  I think if the world was filled with yogic living beings (i.e. yogis and yoginis) maybe the yoga sutras and concepts such as karma might play themselves out in life smoothly.  Unfortunately, life isn’t a bowl of strawberries (one of my favs), a box of chocolates or whatever it is you crave.

So here it is straight from Inside the Yoga Sutras (By Jaganath Carrera):  “the womb of karmas (actions and reactions) has its root in these obstacles, and the karmas bring experiences in the seen (present) or the unseen (future) births.”  sutra 2.12

“the karmas bear fruit of pleasure and pain caused by merit and demerit.” sutra 2.14

Or again sutra 2.12 from another translation I purchased at the Dharma Yoga Center in NYC:  ” a man’s latent tendencies have been created by his past thoughts and actions.  These tendencies will bear fruit, in both this life and in lives to come.”

I get the obvious karma connections.  For instance, if we eat too many cookies or chips today, we are likely to wake-up tomorrow feeling blah or weighing more on the scale.  Or if we stay up too late watching a movie (or drinking), we feel very tired (or hungover) the next day.  This is probably obvious to those of us who studied Newton’s law of motion in high school physics:  “for every action there is a reaction.”  I feel, and based on my continuous studies of The Yoga Sutras and The Bhagavad Gita this obvious karma is known as “present” karma.

I also get the more subtle karma concept such if we do something nice for someone today (with no expectation) then down the road someone will do something nice for us.  The “kind” thing, thought or word may not be the same but there’s a connection and often we can’t connect the kind offering to what we previously gave/did.  With subtle karma, it’s your intention and not about the expectation which leads to the phrase “what goes around comes around.”  To me this is “future” karma.

And on a deeper karmic level I totally get what can happen if I violate Ahimsa.  Ahimsa (well-known in yoga philosophy for thousands of years as non-violence to all beings anyplace, anytime) if violated can lead to unhappiness/violence/suffering at some time in this lifetime.   Yet this is where I get “STUCK“, where I think karma SUCKS (sorry Mom!) and where I struggle with the concept of  “present” karma

Present karma doesn’t always make sense since it’s based on “past” karma.  A common example that repeatedly happens for me:  when I read/hear news about someone who has been a positive force in their community and they were violated in some way, I struggle.  I really struggle with how something bad can happen to someone who has been doing good and been a positive influence.  If this person lived such an exemplary life, why were they harmed?  How can I think this person deserved this act of negativity when they are always producing acts for the good of others?

Sure if you are dedicated and fully understand the karma concept, you’d probably say they did something in the past (whether in this life or previous) to deserve what happened.  To me this thinking/belief lacks compassion (a yogic violation in some sutra which I’ll find if you command).  Plus, to think someone deserved something bad lacks sympathy and a basic appreciation for humanity.

Again, this is where I struggle with karma.  Though I believe everything in life happens for a reason, I can’t quite get myself to a place where I think people always deserve what happens to them.  As much as I read about karma and think I get the concept, I’m torn when life throws a curve ball of reality in my face.  This is why I’m on the fence and chanting “karma yarma sharma.”

OM, OM, OM (sutra 1.27 & 1.28)

Yesterday morning after my 20 minute pranayama & meditation practice I picked up The Yoga Sutras and thought “I will open them and whatever sutra my finger lands on I will write about that sutra this week.”  My first attempt I landed on sutra 2.7 (attachment) which I recently wrote about.  My second attempt I landed on sutra 1.27The expression of Ishwara is the mystic sound of OM.  (Note OM is God’s name as well as form).

Two thoughts crossed my mind 1) Oh no, I’m not going to get into the God discussion.  2)  Didn’t I already write a post about OM (see Why OM? crafted Sept 2008).  Though as the day wore on a few things confirmed that this is the sutra for the week.   My private yoga client asked at the end of her session “why do we OM?”  Then I was sad to read last night that OM Yoga Center in NYC is closing the end of June.  And after wearing my Juil sandals (known for their energy grounding benefits) all day yesterday I realized OM was definitely the sutra for me.

I’m adding sutra 1.28 to this posting since I believe for each of us OM represents something different (sutra 1.28 To repeat it in a meditative way reveals its meaning.) especially once we begin to chant it on a regular basis.  During my Dharma Mittra yoga teacher training last Fall, I chanted OM for 10 minutes every morning for 30 days.  For me, it had a very internal cleansing effect.  It’s really hard to describe but I felt as if some negative vibes were being scrubbed out of me.

At the beginning and end of every class I teach, we OM as a group.  I tell my students we do it as a way to connect with one another.  For some it has a calming effect.  For others it gets them comfortable with their voices.  Chanting OM is also a way to feel the aliveness throughout every cell in the body.

Sutra 1.27 states OM is God’s name as well as form.  Again, not that I want to get into the God discussion here but God to me represents your highest, best Self.  This is the meaning that has been revealed to me.  Some also say divine Self.  I like to think of OM as a way of connecting to our highest thoughts, words and actions as well as a way of grounding us in the moment.

Speaking of grounding, this is where the mention of Juil sandals comes into play.  I received a pair of Juil’s “hera” sandals and they’re amazing.  With the early summer weather we’ve had recently here in DC (yes, it was 90 degrees last week) I’ve been able to really take them for a few good test walks.  They are extremely well made, stylish and oh so comfy.  Our feet are our connection to the earth and the foundation of our bodies.  For many of us (and there is plenty of research to support this), we are wearing shoes that cramp our feet and prohibit our connection to the ground below.  When our feet are out of sorts, our body eventually become out of sorts (i.e. knee issues, hip concerns, lower back pain).  If you’re in need of a good-looking shoe that also has the added benefit of making you feel healthy and happy (please see this link for those details), I definitely suggest checking out Juil.

We’ve Only Just Begun…

I returned home on Monday 9/19 from the start of my 500-hour yoga teacher training with Dharma Mittra in NYC.  The entire week up in NYC at The Dharma Yoga Center was amazing!  In a short 8+ day period with Dharma and his fabulous (ego-less) teachers, things have already shifted for me in a way I can’t fully explain.

Even more exciting is realizing the 8 days I just concluded in NYC were just the beginning of the training which might explain why the song title “We’ve Only Just Begun” keeps singing through my head.  As a child in the 70’s, my Mom played this Carpenters’ song plenty but I honestly haven’t thought of it until I returned home and realized my new endeavor/advanced teacher training is just now officially starting.

Let me start my saying that being in Dharma’s environment for 8 days was intense;  yet I now consider it a vacation compared to what I have committed myself to the next 60 days.  On our last day up there we were given very detailed plans to follow each day until we return there mid November.  The plans include things like:  Every morning wake-up earlier than usual (ideally before 6am) to do Pranayama and Meditation.  Currently this takes about 35 minutes/morning, though I will build up to and maintain 60 minutes within the next couple of weeks.  Then over hot water with lemon, I review my personal Yama plan for the day (Ahimsa and Satya currently) and complete a Japa OM worksheet with a chant.  The daily Asana component is a set Dharma Mittra sequence that takes about 60-75 minutes.  And believe it or not, these few rituals seem relatively easy and adaptable compared to the diet restrictions/limitations I must obey (the diet details I will save for another time.)

To some, it sounds crazy I know.  I already have had a few eyes roll and heads shake.  The daily regimen along with the diet appear to many as boredom.  Yet I know from a yogic perspective all of this “home training” is partly about practicing Tapas —burning off the impurities & creating discipline.  It’s also about Pratyahara —controlling the senses to calm the mind.  I also know the training is about fully immersing myself into all 8-limbs of Astanga yoga (as outlined in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras) in a way that meshes with my daily life as a “householder”.  The practices will make my meditation sittings more effective.  Ultimately, the guidelines of the plans and diet will open me up to discovering a new way of being (i.e. more sattvic/balanced) in my day-to-day life as I begin to eliminate obstacles/impurities in my body, mind and life.  After all the training is titled “The Life of a Yogi”.

There are a couple cool parts to all of the above —such as I have directions.  Yes, I know exactly what I need to do each morning, what to eat throughout the day, how long to meditate and even what time I should be in bed every night.  In some ways these demands keep life very simple.  In a way, they help me weed out some of the clutter in my life.  For instance, when I go to the grocery store my shopping list is already made for me thanks to Dharma.  When I unroll my yoga mat, I know exactly what I need to do.  Less thinking is required so that more “being” (aka living) can take place.

The other cool piece to all this…knowing I’m not totally alone on this journey.  As I type this, there are 30+ other Dharma yogis all around the world right now following the same plan I am currently so I know I’m not flying solo.  Hmm…this very well could explain the tune that keeps ringing in my head:  We’ve Only Just Begun… 

WOW! for today

After the OM’s and Namaste in my lunchtime office Vinyasa Yoga class yesterday, I reminded the group that Friday is our monthly Yin Yoga class.  One of my students responded with an unpleasant facial expression stating “by that time I’ll have already been up 9+ hours”.  I was like “WOW!“.   Though my simple one word response was filled with internal depth.

I was not only hearing from her how much she was dreading Friday but sensing the anxiety/dread of how much that day is already setting the tone for her entire week.  If she is responding like that after an energizing yoga class, how many other times will she bring it up this week?  How much will it impact how she lives life this week?  The reality is her having to get up before o’dark-thirty and drive to BWI is a blip of time.  In the grand scheme of life, it is truly a blink of an eye.

The other part of my “WOW!” reaction is I could totally see me being like my student A LOT not too long ago.  A sense of relief (as well as empathy) immediately lightened me up.  How far I have come.  Don’t get me wrong.  There plenty of times I still worry/fret about the future but to a much lesser degree now (i.e. now I might fret a day or so beforehand vs. an entire week).  Thanks to my growing yoga and meditation practice I’ve really discovered how much I can easily miss out on living in the present, and experiencing the joys of each moment of each day, if my mind is stuck days ahead on something that may or may not happen.

This leads to another part of my “WOW!” response.  Yesterday was only Monday!  What if Friday never comes?  What if Friday comes, but the circumstances change?  There are so many “what if’s”.  The biggest being what if Friday comes and all goes as planned and it really wasn’t so bad?  All that build up and negative energy that followed all week was more of a drain and unknowingly (and unfortunately) it affected how life was lived for a week.

Like a few hours, a week in the grand scheme of an entire life is only a blink of an eye.  But if one lives fretting/anxious/dreading all the time, those blips can really suck the life out of truly living.  So I conclude…what are you fretting about that is preventing you…

Fountain Splashing @ LOVE YOUR BODY in Reston Town Center on Sunday  — you only live once!

from living a WOW! life today?


The Washington, D.C. yoga scene is rocking!  Within a 3 week time frame this Spring (end of March – early April) I had the privilege to be in the presence of many great yogis within minutes from my Arlington, VA home.

I took classes with Jivamukti founders Sharon Gannon and David Life when they were here the end of March.  I assisted Baron Baptiste, my primary teacher, during the MyMSYoga event hosted in Arlington, VA.  I attended an awesome 3-day advanced teacher training with Puerto Rico’s David Kyle.  And just a couple of days after that I had the chance to take a workshop with Max Strom on his recent DC visit.

I truly feel blessed to have had this many inspiring opportunities this year, and it’s only the beginning of May!  No doubt I’ve learned a lot of great techniques over the last month to help with my asana practice and teaching.  More than that though, I’ve received a lot of great energy by simply being around these yoga masters.  It might sound kooky but it’s true.  Some of them live and breathe Pantanjali’s Yoga Sutras.  Some of them love to chant.  Some of them have an intense focus on the practice of breathing while another on the importance of bandhas.  Each teacher is so different in their own special way.


“There is in each of us so much goodness that if we could see its glow, it would light the world.” Sam Friend

Namaste, often said in many yoga classes, is a gesture of respect.  Yoga teachers bow and say it to the students.  Students bow and say it to the teacher.  In India, rather than being spoken, it’s simply a physical gesture with the palms together at the heart (heart/anahata chakra) or forehead (3rd eye/ajna chakra).  Here, at least in the United States, the physical gesture is combined with the spoken word.

Namaste is a Sanskrit term.  Broken down “Nama” means bow, “as” means I, and “te” means you.  So taken together, Namaste literally means “I bow to you.”  It has many translations such as “The divine in me, honors the divine in you.”, or “The light within me, bows to the light within you.”

So when I stumbled upon this quote “There is in each of us so much goodness that if we could see its glow, it would light the world.” I immediately thought this could be used as another translation for Namaste.  Why not?


For the fourth night in a row this week, I have woken up at 4am unable to fall back to sleep.  This morning as I lie awake I continue to think about how I just under charged a new private yoga client based on his location & the possible number of attendees.

I finally get out of bed to get a glass of juice.  As I stand and drink my juice, I turn on my BlackBerry and see an email from one of my dear neighbors.  She sent the email to all of my neighbors asking each of us to pray on behalf of a neighbor battling breast cancer (again).

I return to bed with my mind now consumed with how thoughtful the email is and how I can follow through with the simple request of chanting “Dear Lord, please help heal our dear friend Julie”.  The email request that we repeat the prayer/chant/affirmation (whatever you want to call it) three times a day for 40 days.  There’s a lot of significance in 40 days – the Buddha sat under the bodhi tree meditating for 40 days, Moses was in the mountains (or sea) for 40 days, etc.  The references can be endless and very ancient.

As I continue to lie awake, suddenly I realize my financial woe that just minutes before took up my mind is insignificant to a human life.  How quickly my mind shifted from my petty loss.  Instead of worrying about me, I should put that energy into thoughts for my neighbor.

Prayer on behalf of another, a smile at a stranger or simply holding the door for someone are simple acts of kindness that express gratitude for others. To conclude, I ask:  Does the world revolve around us?  Or is it acts of human kindness that connect us to one another around the world?  Back to sleep.

Gift of Calm

Holiday parties are in full swing.  Year-end work projects must be completed in the next week.  Gift buying and wrapping is a sport for many this time of year.  And as if this wasn’t enough to do, life still needs to happen – grocery shopping, gym visits, bill paying, house cleaning, etc.  The reality is this can be one of the most chaotic times of the year.

How can you find calm in the midst of chaos?  Give yourself the gift of calm.  Simply stop and pause.  In the middle of the holiday hustle and bustle, take a few minutes several times a day for yourself to sit tall and simply breath.  An easy mantra I suggest to my yoga students:  breath in calm, breath out stress.  Repeat it five times, matching the each phrase to the appropriate breath (i.e. as you inhale, say “breath in calm”, as you exhale, breath out stress).

The gift of calm gives you the ability to sit in middle of chaos and find peace in your heart and bring a smile on your face. Your “to do” list won’t disappear but you may return to it with greater clarity.

I believe everyone, yogis and non-yogis alike, can unwrap the gift of calm.  Yogis might be a few steps ahead in receiving the benefits since they put it into practice every time they step into a challenging asana class.  Asana and meditation are disciplined practices that challenge us to find calm when resistance arises.

Whether you do yoga or not, is not important.  If you’re reading this, you’re human which means you possess the privilege of breathing.  And learning to pause and breath with full awareness can release physical tension, calm your mind and relax your heart.  These are gifts we all deserve.

Simple Meditation

I try my best to sit daily for meditation in my little Arlington, VA home.  I aim for quiet time – free from dog & husband.  I aim to  keep it simple – no Zafu cushion, no fancy mantra or expensive meditation timer.  It’s already challenging enough to simply carve out the time, even if it’s just 5-10 minutes.  So I don’t beat myself up if I can’t gather the luxury meditation tools or sit for 20+ minutes without the dog licking my face.

When I do sit in my quiet space, it’s just my breath and Timex sports watch.  Usually my intention is to simply feel my inhalations (feeling expansion & growth) and exhalations (exploring lightness and freedom).  When that seems repetitive, I move to listening to and equalizing my breath –the rhythm of each inhale, the pace of each exhale.

As simple as I try to keep my mediation practice, it’s often very hard.  Sometimes I drift into unfamiliar thoughts –almost like I’m watching a movie because often I don’t recognize the scene or people.  Frequently like most novice meditators, I drift to my “to do” list.  The best is when I have inspirational moments.  These experiences are usually coupled with the sudden urge to write down my creative ideas, but I resist in an effort not to further distract myself from the moment at hand.  The point is I “drift” almost every time I sit.  I really don’t know how many seconds or minutes go by until I catch myself “drifting”.  Does it matter?  As soon as I catch myself, I do my best to return to the simplicity of hearing and feeling my breath.

One thing I’ve learned over the years that has put me at ease is drifting is human and there are many ways to meditate –walking, sitting, eyes open, eyes closed, chanting mantras, etc.  There isn’t a right or wrong way.  The right way is what works for you.  Just do it and “be” in the moment just as you are.  The wrong way is to skip it all together.

To conclude, keep it simple.  Yes, sometimes the simplicity leaves me feeling nothing which in many ways is the point of meditation.  Other times, I leave my seat with an amazing sense of internal clearing (again feeling “empty”) and a keen awareness that carries me through my day.  The truth is feeling “nothing” is an addictive and healthy feeling.  And the more I sit, the more I want to make the time for it.  I want to continue to keep it simple.  I want to continue to feel “empty”, and I’m okay if my dog wants to lick my face and join me in the process.  Maybe that’s his simple meditation 🙂