Archive for the ‘washington dc’ Category

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.

Happy Mind, Happy Life (sutra 1.33)

I opened my last post the exact same way…yoga studios in the Northern Virginia/DC area these days are showing up on every corner, becoming as commonplace as Starbucks.  Overall it’s an awesome trend.  I love seeing more people sharing yoga and creating a positive impact in the community.  I believe those teachers and studios who “practice what they preach” will succeed.  I also believe it will be rough for those opening the doors with expectations of high financial returns (particularly since 80% of small businesses close their doors within 5 years).

Without naming names there is one particular studio that keeps popping up on my radar.  Last year I met the owner, who just unrolled a yoga mat for the first time maybe a year or two ago, and really felt from the words conveyed that the studio is hopping aboard the yoga train simply for the money.  Sure the physical experience and benefits for this person on the mat has been good the last year or so, but the vibe of this person exudes a materialistic attitude and greed.  Who cares, right?  Right -and that’s the point of this post.

I realize my annoyance with this new studio and person stems from a sense of jealousy as I sometimes play with the idea of having a beautiful sunlit space to share yoga (but ultimately know it’s not for me at this time/stage in my life).  Obviously it also bugs me this person doesn’t know yoga beyond asana…I mean how can someone who doesn’t know yoga beyond asana walk the talk (i.e. practice what you preach).  Further I feel there is no intention of love behind the mission of opening the studio.

Melody, take a breath…as a yogi-in-progress, I realize what I’ve written above isn’t a very yogic way of thinking about others.  This type of thinking is also very energy draining and doesn’t bring peace in my life.  Recognizing my personal issues with this studio and person, I turned to The Yoga Sutras for guidance and am reminded of sutra 1.33:

By cultivating attitudes of friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous and disregard toward the wicked, the mind-stuff retains its undisturbed calmness.

Again, I’m a yogi on the journey that has a lot of bumps, twists and turns in the road.  No doubt the sutras (particularly sutra 1.33) are definitely a good road map to have handy as I continue on my way.

Being Yoga (sutra 2.2 – 2.9)

With yoga studios popping up on every corner in Washington, DC and Arlington, VA these days, there’s definitely a lot of talk about going to yoga.  Jump online or open a magazine and you are sure to find  talk about doing yoga.  Stand in the midst of voices buzzing at your local coffee shop and you’ll hear people chatting “Do you do yoga?  I do yoga.  I’m going to yoga.  I went to yoga.”  Blah, blah, blah.

On my morning dog walk yesterday it hit me that I don’t do yoga and I surely don’t go to yoga.  I am yoga.  Since I started studying with Sri Dharma Mittra last year in NYC, yoga has really become a way of being for me.  Sure I do asana (yoga postures), pranayama (breathing exercises), meditate, study yoga texts and try to follow the yamas/niyamas (note:  this list of yoga I’ve incorporated in my life is nicely explained in book II of The Yoga Sutras.  Of course, I will give my spin on it all in due time).

Beyond all I’ve just listed though, the nitty-gritty of yoga is really about letting go and surrendering to what is, as it is.  It’s about being the best version of you, just as you are.  The letting go/surrendering concept is tough, particularly for those Type A’s (probably you!) out there.  So let me just clear this up by saying surrendering/going with the flow doesn’t mean to give up and be ball of mush.  As Dharma always says (with a grin) when there are 30+ people in his class attempting a challenging posture “you must have angry determination.”  He also sometimes says “you must find your own tricks.”  And really this is true even off the yoga mat.  Yoga is about “finding your own tricks” (another Dharma-ism) to keep you calm, cool and collected in every situation in life.

Even with angry determination and a bag of tricks, there are plenty of roadblocks to being in yoga.  I face them everyday, but I’ve also been lucky enough to become more aware of what holds me back from showing up and being my best (not doing my best but being my best).

As sutra 2.3 points out there are five obstacles to yoga:  ignorance, ego, attachment, aversion and fear of death.  I’m not going to dig deep into each of these at this point (see sutras 2.2 – 2.9 for details).  I simply want to open your eyes to them.  Start paying attention in your life as to how these are present for you.  Notice your habits.  Recognize your reactions in situations.  Do you crave coffee every morning?  (attachment)  Do you curse when someone cuts you off in traffic?  Do you avoid unpleasant situations?  (aversion) Do you not try something (i.e. handstand in the middle of the classroom) due to fear falling over or dying?  (ego, fear of death)  What is it that holds you back from being the best version of you?  (ignorance)

Trust me, this is a tough batch of sutras (2.2 – 2.9) to write about as I’m still struggling with them in many areas of my life.  Hopefully though with some angry determination and a few tricks I discover along the way, these sutras will be a bit easier to write about and discuss.  Until then, I will keep trying.  As Dharma says “repetition is key.”

Keep Rolling (sutra 1.13)

Effort toward steadiness is practice.  sutra 1.13

I get this sutra when it comes to asana practice.  I get this sutra when it comes to mountain biking, running and tackling my vision board/goals.  What I hadn’t quite applied it to until now is my writing.  In order for my blogging to be consistent, my journaling needs to be consistent.  Daily — just a like a daily asana practice.

The Yoga Sutras weren’t shared thousands of years ago in reference to writing or mountain biking but here’s the awesome thing about the sutras…many of them can be applied to anything in your life -not just to yoga asana, meditation and samadhi (enlightenment).

I was lucky to get to NYC this past Wednesday for my monthly dose of yoga with Dharma Mittra.  In typical Dharma fashion while we were all getting up into forearm balance, he reminded me “you must have angry determination“.  The key to success in a yoga pose is repetition (another Dharma-ism).  And really the key to many things in life is steady effort, repetition, “angry determination” or simply, practice!

Of course, it’s easier said than done and along the way you (me, all of us) will fumble and tumble a lot.  In fact, I find my writing is sometimes ugly, dry and empty but the more often I put the pen to paper, the easier it gets.  As Albert Einstein said “I think and think for months, for years.  99 times the conclusion is false.  The 100th time I am right.”  So as often as I unroll my yoga mat, I will now be rolling my pen on paper.  This means daily.  This means living sutra 1.13 in more ways than one.

A total side note:  If you live in the Washington, DC vicinity and have never practiced with Dharma Mittra, it is an easy day trip.  Hit me up if you want details.  He will propel your yoga practice & dedication to life.

Eye Yoga (sutra 3.1)

Recently after teaching an office yoga class in DC one of the students asked me if I knew any exercises for the eyes.  He said he has a weak muscle in one of his eyes and it makes the balancing poses challenging for him.

Years ago I would have frozen and responded nervously.  Now I welcome these random questions that are completely beyond my scope of knowledge as a way to explore new yoga territory.  It’s these types of questions from my students that A) make me a yoga student forever, and B)  have literally opened my eyes to seeing and believing that yoga can be powerful medicine in helping to ease dis-EASE.  It’s not a “cure-all” but it can often be a positive step towards health and healing.

Our eyes are “on” almost 24/7, minus the time we sleep which for the average adult is only about 6 hours per night.   Swami Sivananda considered sight the most abused of the five senses.  Clearly this hasn’t changed.  We heavily rely on the eyes for simple things from driving, cooking and walking to the constant surfing of the internet or just dealing with ocean waves of life.

In my research to help my student, I came across some very simple eye exercises on Yoga Jounal’s site that require focus and concentration.  I also recalled yoga sutra 3.1 that defines dharana, which is Sanskrit for concentration.  Dharana is defined as the binding of the mind to one place, object or idea.  Another translation of sutra 3.1 states “Concentration (dharana) is holding the mind within a center of spiritual consciousness in the body, or fixing it on some divine form, either within the body or outside.”

In helping one practice dharana, some yogic text describe the practice of tradak which is often described as gazing at something without blinking.  Tradak is actually one of my daily morning practices my teacher Dharma Mittra gave me.  From experience, I can say it is harder than the instructions sound.  Just look at the object (a candle flame is what Dharma suggest) as long as you can without moving.  Try not to blink.  Try to become one with the object as you continue to steady your eyes on it.   After several minutes, close your eyes and mentally see the flame on the inside of your forehead.  It should be as if you took a picture of the flame and now you can see it clearly with your eyes closed.  Another practice of concentration is to close your eyes and visualize your heart beaming a ray of light.  Again, become one with this internal light that is shining straight from your heart.  See and feel it reaching out from within you to the universe around you.

Whatever object externally or internally you select, simply taking time to still the eyes can help still the mind.  The ancient yogis knew this (as written in The Yoga Sutras) thousands of years ago.  Clearly in today’s always “on” world, our blurry eyes are in dire need of some yoga too.  Who knew?  A special thanks to my student for guiding me to learn something new.

Malas for Haiti

The beauty of Fall is finally arriving here in Washington, DC.  Though I prefer sunny days and outdoor yoga over cold temps and snow, the reality is the chill and thrill of the holidays will be here before we know it.  Heck, the December date & hosts for my Arlington, VA neighborhood holiday progressive dinner party (that’s a mouthful!) has been set for weeks already.  So really, the “season of giving” will be here shortly.

With that in mind, I’ve decided I’m scaling back on holiday gifts and cards this year.  And what I plan to give will more than likely be related to one or a combo of the following:  gifts from local sources,  gifts promoting health & wellness or donation-based gifts.

It just so happens one of the local sources, To Haiti With Love DC, I’m purchasing gifts from is also a huge fundraising effort to help raise money for Haitian-based organizations so they can implement sustainable solutions on the ground in Haiti.  Things like community infrastructure projects to micro-credit and education programs are top priority.  These projects are designed to enable and empower the Haitian people to recover, rebuild, and create better lives for themselves and their communities.

As part of To Haiti With Love DC’s fundraising efforts, donation-based yoga classes are being offered, film-screenings are happening and beautiful malas are being sold.  Malas for Haiti is a line of gorgeous yoga-inspired jewelry featuring hand-knotted mala beads and mala-inspired bracelets.  Malas are prayer beads used traditionally in yogic meditation practices to count 108 sacred repetitions of a mantra (a spiritual sound, word, or phrase).  Each and every mala is lovingly strung and knotted (by hand!) by Kristin Adair, a dedicated yogini/yoga teacher in the Washington, DC area.

Each Mala for Haiti is made with creamy natural calcite beads (for healing energy and stress reduction) and intense red garnet beads (for vitality, strength, and courage) and features a To Haiti With Love bird charm to symbolize peace and the promise of this incredible nation.  I’ve been wearing one for the last couple of months and I’ve felt inspirational energy radiate from it whenever I see it on my wrist (obviously, I have the bracelet version).

Keep in mind when you purchase a Malas for Haiti piece of jewelry, you’re getting (or giving in the case of a gift) beauty and love.  At the same time, you’re supporting a great local cause that is working to send love and support to those in need in Haiti.  Every single penny from Malas for Haiti sold are going to the projects mentioned above.  Just buying one can make a huge difference and send more love than you know.

Split “Yogini” Personality

I’ve been debating on sharing this blog post (from my journal) for a week or so.  Then I had a shift on Friday during a Dharma class at Pure Prana in Old Town Alexandria.  I’ll save the “wow” moment for the end.  So get reading…

In my previous blog post, I offered a glimpse into what my daily Dharma Mittra practice/plans and diet are for the next couple months.  One aspect of the daily practice is reflecting on satya.  This reflection process means spending time each day to reflect on thoughts, words and actions I will constantly practice (and which ones I will let go of ) to cultivate steadiness towards living complete truthfulness.

Another element of my daily Dharma “Life of a Yogi” training is the asana practice, specifically a Level II sequence created by Dharma that I do everyday.  In addition to practicing it, I also have to teach Level II several times over the next month or so before heading back to NYC.  So last Monday I attempted to teach a Dharma Level II class to one of my corporate groups in DC.  The truth:  I had a hard time with it.  Teaching it doesn’t flow naturally for me.   Practicing it doesn’t seem to flow naturally in my body either.  For instance, it feels odd in my body to end the practice with energizing backbends (wheel, bow and locust —in this order which also feels odd to me) and then move into savasana.  For years backbends have served as the peak of an asana practice for me, both as student and teacher.  This is just one example of how this specific flow hasn’t resonated with me.

This is where the blog title “split yogini personality” becomes apparent.  I feel I’m violating satya by teaching a set sequence of postures where it has yet to jive for me in my body.  It’s as if when I’m teaching it the truth is coming out —awkward teaching due to awkward practice of it.  Really we can only truly teach what we’ve personally experienced, right?

The other part of all this is I’ve been practicing Level II everyday at home since returning from NYC mid-Sept.  It’s what I was told to do and I would be violating satya if I didn’t follow the plan, right?  But I’ve also been believing (talking to myself in my head) that doing this same sequence day-in and day-out is causing me to regress in my personal practice.  Clearly I made this up in my head because here’s where the shift/magical moment starts to happen…Earlier last week I took, for the first time in weeks, a non-Dharma class (different style, studio & teacher) and I felt way stronger than ever.

Then even more magic…on Friday (10/7) I went to Pure Prana to practice Dharma’s Level IV flow with Brittanie.  I was more open than I ever have been.  The tension in my chronically tight shoulders seemed to melt (not completely but dramatically!).  And putting my legs behind my head was done without even an internal grimace.

Today as I type this, I’m realizing I’ve had some unconscious mental resistance (those darn monkeys in my head!) to this daily flow practice even though I’ve physically been doing it.  And as split (and resistant) as I’ve been with finding Level II in my body, feeling it in my mind and teaching it to my students,  something is clearly starting to happen.  I think the real truth has yet to be revealed.

Key to Life: Tapas

Many years before I was familiar with Yoga & Tapas, I recall observing the practice of discipline in every day living.  For instance, my Father regularly changed the oil in the cars.  He would tell me if he didn’t do it often the cars wouldn’t run properly.  My Mom always insisted my Sister and I have our hair trimmed every 1-2 months growing up.  Unwillingly I did it because she said otherwise my hair would get out of control, knotty and dry.  I always noticed how my Grandparents went to church every single Sunday —even when they weren’t feeling 100%.  Personally, I discovered the more I did something (roller skate, play piano, study a subject) the more I improved in the activity.  As a kid, based on my limited life experiences, I remembering deciding consistency was key to everything in life.  Now I think, as a future yogini in disguise, the practice of Tapas was unknowingly being cultivated within.

When I did my first yoga teacher training program in 2005, I remember we discussed the Yoga Sutras in length.  At that time in my life I felt a lack of connection with the third Niyama in Pantanjali’s Yoga Sutras:  Tapas.  I understood what it meant but I didn’t find it as important as the other ethical principles discussed.

My viewpoint has definitely shifted over the last few years.  I now believe Tapas is foundational to the Niyamas just as Ahimsa is foundational to the Yamas.  To fully progress, in what ever it is – creating loving relationships, learning to ride a bike, eating properly, abstaining from intoxicants, meditating, practicing Asana, Santosha, Saucha, etc. – everything in life requires consistent discipline.  In fact, last year I had t-shirts created for my DC based mobile yoga business (abellaYoga.com) that read, “breathe, burn, be” on the front.  Often people ask, “What does burn mean?”  They usually try to guess before I’ve had a chance to respond.  I’ve heard:  burn calories, sweat, hot yoga, and intense yoga.  In creating the shirts, I realized how important Tapas has become in my personal practice and life.  So the burning answer to, “What does burn mean?”   The simple answer:  Tapas

Just as burn has many interpretations, Tapas has many translations.  One of my favorite translations of Tapas is discipline.  Discipline is a practice.  And I believe it is at the foundation of everything we do whether one consciously practices yoga or not. In order to truly practice or accomplish something (whatever it is) and reach a state of peace and happiness in the process (whether it’s Samadhi or the perfect headstand) consistent discipline must reside at the core of the activity.  Along with discipline, there is an element of faith and trust we must cultivate.

Developing faith and trust enables us to surrender to the practice of discipline.  We may question, “Why do I need to keep doing this?” or  “Will it really work?”  These may be exit strategies to get us out of an uncomfortable situation/discomfort/burning sensation.  What we learn is Tapas/discipline isn’t always pretty.  In fact, sometimes it burns.  Tapas teaches we often must do things we don’t want to do (like getting my hair cut regularly as a young girl) or sit with discomfort in order to eventually reach a better state of comfort or a new stage of growth.

Keep in mind, there are definitely times when questioning the action/discomfort is necessary.  For instance, the adage “no pain, no gain” is true in the practice of Tapas (99% of the time).  Yet through the various practices of yoga, one learns to live mindfully and be present in the pain.  Being present in the pain enables one to know when to wisely back off to avoid injury or harm (the other 1%).  It is in this “no pain, no gain” practice of tapas, that a strong sense of faith and trust is yet again required so we are clear as to what is present in the pain (and in our minds) as we are experiencing the situation.

Lastly, tapas/discipline to me is similar to shedding.  It requires a mindset of letting go and trusting that the old ways of doing things are no longer of service.  It requires us to change habitual ways of doing and thinking.   In the midst of practicing discipline/Tapas, there’s space to keep burning/going or just to simply give up.  If you give up, you often land back at square one.  In asana if you give up after falling over, you will never advance to the next stage of the posture.  If you get back up and patiently try again, you move forward and learn something new about yourself.  The heart of the asana practice is to show up physically (discipline!), commit to being on the mat mentally (disciplined focus!) and practice from where you are in the moment (trust!).  Another example is mountain biking.  I’ve had to shed a lot of my limited thinking/beliefs about what I think I can’t do.  If I give up on the trail, I’m carrying my bike more than riding it.   So often when I begin to doubt myself, I tap into my yoga breathing & Tapas to get me up, down or through what looks like impossible feats (climbing steep hills, jumping logs, splashing through streams).  Letting go/shedding my limiting thinking of myself has required a lot of trust & faith.

Today, whether I’m on my yoga mat or mountain bike, I know things flow better when I fully breathe and relax into the situation at hand even when it’s a little uncomfortable.   I’ve learned to commit to me on my mat and bike so I can show up fully as me in my life, not just for me but for others too.  I’ve also learned that faith & trust are powerful and stronger than fear, no matter how big the fear appears on the surface.  I believe without discipline one remains stagnant in life –wondering around without guidance. Until one can commit to work through areas of stuckness/stickiness (whether in the body or in life), they’ll remain stuck.   In asana, one remains stagnant in a posture – always wishing to be at the next level.  Without regularly changing a car’s oil, as my Father taught me, it will one day die.  And as with life, we either evolve (which requires discipline/Tapas) or die.  I will conclude with a quote I recently stumbled upon by Dale Carnegie:

“Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all.”

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?

Yoga All the Time

After my sweaty yoga practice yesterday morning at Down Dog, I headed straight to a small business lending workshop in Arlington.  Suits surrounded me and there I stood in my professional yoga teacher uniform – black lululemon groove pants, blue canoe twist top and abellaYoga shirt.  Not the point of this blog post, but I do love how I can go straight from a sweaty yoga outfit into a non-sweaty one and get away with it since it’s my profession 🙂

Anyway as typical for a breakfast event, it started with coffee, bagels/fruit and networking.  After the opening remarks, there was a choice of workshops to attend.  As we split up, I picked a seat where the previous person left an empty coffee cup.  As I dropped my bag down and was picking up the cup to take to the trashcan, I said to myself “sure, I don’t mind cleaning up after you” -sarcastically of course!  Not knowing who had been sitting there I continued to think “didn’t your parents teach you to pick up after yourself?”

Within seconds, I kid you not, a gentleman on crutches came back into the room towards the very seat I had put down my stuff.  In that moment I realized given his circumstances, he was unable to pick up his cup.  As it was he was juggling his TD Bank handouts and crutches with a smile on his face.  My mind quickly quieted.

While walking back from the trashcan, the following Yoga Sutra came to mind:  By cultivating attitudes of friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and equanimity toward the nonvirtuous, the mind-stuff retains its undisturbed calmness.  Sutra 1.33, Inside the Yoga Sutras

Can’t get to your yoga mat today?  Carry this Sutra with you and I’m sure you’ll find a few ways throughout your day to practice yoga.  As a Manduka‘s (I think?) current yoga mat print ad reads, practice yoga all the time!