Cat From The Mat

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

Hello, Dalai!

This month, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama paid New Orleans a visit.  He addressed our general issues of violence by claiming that more education and affection starting in childhood breeds compassion.   A question he posed however has stuck with me: When in conflict, what if YOUR SURVIVAL was dependent on understanding the other person's perspective?  

As a yogin, I practice being subjective and objective at the same time.   I am not always successful in this endeavor, but I try.  I often play with sitting in my individual "seat" while witnessing myself in that seat, being both an insider and outsider.   The yoga invites all of us to marinate in more than one perspective.  However, if one's existence depends implicitly on appreciating the other person's "seat"…well, that's a different conversation in which to enter.  It's not a debate of who is right and wrong.  It's a dialogue that provides incentive to truly consider an unfamiliar point of view, not as your own but as equally valid.

One definition of compassion is "sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others."  Its Latin root word "compati" means to suffer with.  However, I do not view compassion as feeling sorry for another.  To me, that can imply judgment, of being "better than."   But acknowledging what fuels another's passion is how we arrive at com-passion…"com” being inclusive of all positions, sharing all sides to a story.

I am not talking about the blind or overly tolerant compassion involved in spiritual bypassing. I suggest in no way that we excuse hurtful behaviors or let people off the hook by claiming the "compassion" card.   Concurring with another's opinion is different than understanding it.  You can see how someone might feel a certain way without agreeing with him/her.  What if your own evolution as a person depends on recognizing another's outlook?  This requires empathy.  Incorporating opposing perspectives is easier said than done.  In fact, there is nothing passive about this practice. 

I was encouraged to hear the Dalai Lama's words that peace comes through taking action, rather than looking the other way.  Words are great but actions speak volumes.  Yoga is putting your aligned heart and head into skillful action, on the mat with asana, and off the mat within your community.   

Your body is a similar collective. It's one system that is made up of many parts working together for the whole organism's survival.  When one part is having conflict, other parts take action.   When you break your leg, the other limbs help redistribute the weight.  They may not agree with the task at hand, but there is a common desire to keep balance.  The more you understand how your own body works, the more compassion you cultivate within.  The more empathy you generate at home, the more apt you are at exercising that allowance towards others.  How you inhabit your own seat without being stuck in only one outlook, determines your view of reality.  

Conflict is real.  So how can you do it well, to avoid an escalation into violence?  To evolve as humans or as a community takes effort.   Making space for all perspectives is however the first active step.  Life can then be an entertaining adventure, where the rub of conflict becomes welcomed friction needed for growth.  Conflictive compassion, capisce?


Cat From The Mat

June 2013

You Have Arrived

In the fast-moving pace of our social media-filled world, it’s virtually challenging to exist in the present moment. And yet every time you receive a tweet, Facebook message, text or email, what is being asked of you is the valuable commodity of your PRESENCE.  Has yoga fallen victim to being a fast food commodity or is it still a practice that nourishes you?  That answer depends on how you step on to your mat and into your life.

I tend to operate at an inherently rapid pace, embedded in a participatory life.  A manifestor, I thrive being active, whether weaving a new perspective into a yoga workshop or on-location directing a non-fiction program.  The peril of being a go-getter, however, is that I often do not see the obvious.  When I move at such a fast pace, I become desensitized.  The desire to maximize life and not miss a thing, might be just what prevents quality.    Might you also be speeding through life?

My need to reach to any anticipated destination can often overshadow the journey.  When rushing on my Vespa scooter to go to yoga (to be ironically in the present moment), I miss the signs.  So when I came across this one the other day, I took note.  The sign declares, “Slow down, you have arrived.”  

Can you slow down?  The adage “Live in the present moment” can sound trite.  Of course, you only live in the moment.  How can you be anywhere else?  But the present is also where the past and the future meet.  Imagine that every instant is a moving seam between these two contrary complements, traveling through time.  Negating or whitewashing the past proves to be problematic if you are repeating the same patterns over and over, wondering why you find yourself in the same predicament, yet again.  If you only reside in the unforeseen future, then you get paralyzed by the worry of “what could be” or overwhelmed with “what might happen.”  By straddling both your informed past simultaneously as your envisioned future, then you are tasting the potency of the powerful present.  Life happens here.

But have you “arrived”?  When will you know when you are a success?  If you are always on the move, then perhaps you may never get there.  So where are you going?  The answer to this boils down to both motivating and hindering expectations.  The yoga practice invites you to be “here” and “there” concurrently.  Living the life you want and wanting the life you are living.  We do this by cultivating awareness.  Success is measured by noticing (always with a sense of humor) when you are not aware, rather than beating yourself up when you not presently getting the desired results. That sensitivity comes from slowing down in order to see more, feel more, and be more. 

I admit.  I have a hard time letting go of the past.  I also plan so far in the future for things that might never come to fruition.  When I slow down within my jam-packed schedule and take time to pause, I notice how splintered I have become.  Whether practicing asana, sitting for meditation, or trying to be calm while caught in traffic or in a heated debate, I find refuge in the gaps between my breaths…the bridge between the previous exhale and the next inhale.  This grants me tangible access to the current moment, which can be an elusive and on-going quest.  This is when I stop being stuck…in my past criticism, in my future angst....and am successfully present.

So what’s the rush?  Slow down, arrive, and welcome yourself.  What a relief to have been here the whole time!


Cat From the Mat

May 1, 2013