Cat From The Mat

Good Grief

It's Halloween, which is considered the Celtic New Year.  Samhain (pronounced "sow-in") is a Gaelic festival marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter, the darker half of the year.  It's a time of looking back with appreciation and assessing all that has transpired.  It's also a time of seasonal transition, as we segue into longer nights and shorter days.  Whether beginning a new year, relationship, or phase in your life, in order to move into the next thing, an ending is inevitable.  Endings mark beginnings.  They involve stages that we must go through and cannot skip, in order to set the scene for the next creative endeavor. 

The life you have been living has outgrown its form, and must die so new energy can be released. May you undergo a death within your self. You are always free to resist, but remain mindful that the new life is always greater than the old. Prepare then for opportunity disguised as loss.” -The Rune of Termination and New Beginnings

2013 has been a year of dissolution for me.  Things that had been working, or just hobbling along, finally reached a tipping point.  Radical revision has been required, something with which I struggle.  I like consistency and routine to keep me anchored.  Yet, life has a way of uprooting us all.  Yoga is the practice of being comfortable being slightly uncomfortable, especially during shifts.  Change is the constant.  We are always in a cycle of adjusting and readjusting, whether at the beginning, middle, or end of any situation.  This often takes time and doesn't occur overnight.  Are you cognizant when you are in a transition?  Can you appreciate the discomfort, knowing that transformation is afoot?  This is a honed skill of the yogin.

Throughout the year, foundational tectonic plates have been moving beneath my feet.  I have been grieving…the death of loved ones, the end of long-standing friendships, and breakdowns in health, to name a few.  In the book "On Death and Dying," Elizabeth Kübler-Ross explains that there are five stages of grief.  She hypothesizes that when faced with the impending death of someone or something, we experience the sequence of: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.  To miss any of these stages is to not completely move through the sorrow.  However painful and downright unpleasant, the act of experiencing each part of the cycle fully is the quickest and most informative way to process shifts in our lives.  This can carry us to a new starting point with a profound and iterative understanding. 

We practice these five stages every time we step onto the yoga mat.  We are invited through the full cycle in each and every pose.  In fact, when we conclude each class with the corpse pose (savasana), we embrace an ending, the ultimate act of letting go…acceptance.  It is from this disintegration that we reintegrate and move back out into our lives with a fresh perspective. We begin anew.

As we transition from fall into winter, we savor the fruits of the harvest while planting seeds in the dark.  The death of the ripe fruit contains the seedling for the future generation, while fostered in the fertile soil of change.  This requires constant cultivation and attention.  There seems to be a change of consciousness in the autumnal air.  What are you holding on to so tightly?  What would you like to release into the ether?  How would you like to design your life, so that your losses can fuel your growth?  I myself am looking forward to what's next.  I don't know exactly what it is.  But having practiced letting go thus far, I feel more prepared.  Good grief, I'm ready!

Cat From The Mat

Oct/Nov 2013

Wall To Wall

In crossing the threshold into my 45th year of embodiment, I have been “OTG.’’  Not “open to grace” nor “on the go”…but rather, “off the grid.”  In hopes of recharging my battery, I recently took some much needed down time, sans cell phone.  While residing in my social media-challenged hermitage, there was limited wi-fi.  What a treat to retreat!  I am though reemerging in the world with accrued restful sleep, new insights, and an appreciation for fortification.

Every birthday you celebrate adds another layer of experience that surrounds you.  You collect these yearly concentric circles like an encasement of knowledge.  In yoga, there are similar lampshade-like sheaths of awareness called “koshas.”  They range from the most outer physical coat to the most sagacious inner one of intuition.  Inside all of them is your highest and brightest self.  However, if you stay mainly in one kosha or only identify with one covering as “you,” then you limit yourself. 

If you have an injury or a health issue, you can start to recognize yourself as your ailment.  Do you find yourself saying, “I am so inflexible that I can’t even touch my toes”? Do you complain about always being tired or too busy?  Do you resign yourself to the fact that you are and will always be stubborn?  These declarations constrict the possibility of transformation or the thrill of breaking your own rules 

Boundary is not the issue at hand.  Partitions are not bad per se.  Screening is often needed to measure whether another person has earned his/her access inside.  The real predicament is whether the barriers are ultimately confining and compounding or permeable and expansive.  Are these protective layers of armor meant to keep others out or to keep you safe inside?  

Regardless of purpose, each relationship you choose helps you grow.  It’s in connection with others that you learn more about yourself.  The rub of conflict can propel you to develop understanding, and to evolve.  You cannot undo the past.  There are no do-overs in life.  But you have the opportunity to recursively begin anew in every moment.  

Yoga invites you to hit the reset button every time you step onto the mat.  The more familiar you become with your outermost physical existence, the more curious you are in exploring the subtle body.  The skillful yogin traverses all sheaths of consciousness like porous walls and to fluently straddle the various layers of self…from outside in and inside out.  If you have been regrouping in your fort, I urge you to eventually come out and play in the world.  This practice promises all sorts of adventures with your many selves, within limits and beyond!


Cat From The Mat
Aug/Sept 2013

Happy Interdependence Day!

Every July 4th, the US celebrates the notion of freedom.  As the country moved away FROM colonial confines, there emerged a new autonomy on what TO become.  In Sanskrit, the term “Svatantrya” can be defined as self-sovereignty.  The word presumes the license to choose.  And with choice comes responsibility.  “Sva” means self.  According to yogin Rod Stryker, “tantra is the application of any technique that moves you beyond your limitations and closer to the life you seek.”

This past Independence Day, I experienced a rather unexpected type of liberation.  While on an outbound flight (during which I had planned to do lots of backlogged work), my laptop would not start.  Upon arrival, I brought it in for servicing where it was sent off for at least a week.  Untethered from my laptop, at first I was beside myself.  I had tasks to do but could do nothing about it.  And then a huge wave of relief passed over me and my newfound freedom.  By unplugging, I got recharged and more plugged into the tactile world.  I finally had time to finish reading Marshall Rosenberg’s seminal book, Nonviolent Communication (NVC): A Language of Life.

American psychologist Rosenberg travels all over the world to help negotiate conflicts between nations like Palestine and Israel, inner city students and school administrations, married couples as well as individual inner dissension.  In a densely populated environment where many people interact daily, there are ample opportunities to practice communication skills.  Harmless opinions can lead to ideological clashes that can escalate into full-fledged fights.  When I witness these moments, I wonder how these events could be replayed, having had access to Rosenberg’s approach.  I am constantly applying this to my yoga practice in an effort to shift my own deeply engrained patterns.  Until you get a chance to read his acclaimed book, here are some of main concepts from the NVC highlights reel:

(1) Observation versus evaluation.  We humans are meaning-making machines.  We are taught to evaluate everything.  Like breathing, we might not even notice when doing it.  Judgment is an important discerning tool.  But when it hinders one’s growth, then it’s no longer helpful.  Just learning to recognize when I am evaluating rather than observing has been helpful.  In the true spirit of self-determination, I invite you to notice when you are doing one or the other.  If you notice the evaluation, just observe yourself rather than evaluating yourself further.  When we label ourselves as good or bad, it can lead to self-imposed limitations, which is the opposite of freedom.

(2) Accountability for thoughts as feelings.  Often we use the term “feel” superimposed over a thought.  This can lead to further disconnection from our true feelings. So when you next declare, “I feel (blank),” notice if it’s a feeling or a disguised thought propelling you further into the habit of self-admonishment.  When our thoughts are masked as “feelings,” it can hide the deep emotions beneath what we “ought to” or “have to” be doing.  Rosenberg says that the inherent violence of “should” creates an inner tyranny and a lack of choice.  When practicing asana, notice how you talk to yourself.  Are there poses that you should or must be able to do?  Instead, replace “I should” with “I choose to.”  This shift in verbiage can make or break your approach on and off of the mat.

(3) Anger can indicate unmet needs.  The root of conflict is deeply embedded in basic needs that have yet to be addressed.  When frustrated, sarcastic or blaming another for some situation, you might be displacing your self-punishment onto others.  Nobody is actually making you angry.  You are the key to diffuse that anger by focusing on yourself and your unfulfilled demands beneath it all.  This turns the table back on you, to practice sovereignty of self, warts and all.



The practice of skillfully traversing all perspectives is the quest of yoga. Can you understand (and not necessarily agree with) various points of view while still holding your own?  That is the true test of the self-rule that we all seek.  Celebrate freedom FROM your outmoded ways and TO your true autonomous you.  


Happy Interdependence Day!




Cat From The Mat

July 2013