Cat From The Mat

Basking in the Blossom

Back in the day, when yoga first began with the Indus Valley civilization, there was ritual.  In order to transact with the rough environs, these rituals were a way of participating in keeping the world going.  There was no meaning to the ceremony.  The focus was the process itself.    

Ritual is defined as "a series of actions or type of behavior regularly and invariably followed by someone."  Today, every culture has ritual, known as "puja" in Sanskrit.  Whether we attribute meaning to it or not, it still continues…like making coffee in the morning, the way you get to work every day, removing your shoes at a threshold, reading/writing a monthly blog, or placing your yoga mat in a specific way.  In doing so, like the ancient yogis, you are propelling the narrative of life.

This spring, I was fortunate enough to experience rituals of two very different cultures, both embracing nature.  In March, I held a weeklong yoga retreat in the Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica.  We were taken to the edge, where the paved road ends and Mother Nature begins.  It was tropical, not tranquil.  Forget about blaring car alarms at 4am, when you have howler monkeys, scarlet macaws, and deafening cicadas to wake you up.  Welcome to the coastal rainforest containing 2.5% of the world's biodiversity.

We pushed our edges by climbing a 70-foot tree barefoot to see as the monkeys see, by rappelling a 150-foot dry waterfall trusting the support of ropes over empty gravitational space, and by exploring our inner obstacles on the yoga mat.  My visit was book ended by staying at my friend's wall-free jungle home.  Talk about transacting with the natural world!  Who needs walls when you can have 24/7 free entertainment by all walks of life entering and exiting your humid domain!

In contrast, one week later, I arrived in Japan just in time to witness cherry blossom (Sakura) season, which delineates the beginning of spring as well as the national school year.   The Japanese are known for their customs, from pristine presentation to pride in whatever they do.   As Bruce Feiler decribes in his book Learning to Bow, "the Sakura is the national flower for this reason: the blooms come and go, tantalize and evaporate in a single moment of brilliance that transcends time."  As we walked through the various cotton-candy arcades of cherry blossoms, we observed locals taking pictures to document the concurrent beauty and elegy.  In such an urban environment, there is an admiration of nature, with elegance as fleeting as any text message.

Rather than trying to prolong the inevitable floral demise, the sakura season represents the practice of savoring the fullness of life now. This Japanese observance basks in the fact that nothing lasts.  The snowflake flurry of petals that fly in the air and fall to their death on the ground are equally celebrated as part of life.  Endings bring beginnings, beginnings mark endings, and the middle, which connects these two contrary compliments, keeps life going.  In any given moment, we are always in one aspect of a beginning, a middle, and an end. Yoga invites us to become aware and fluent in this simultaneous cycle.

Summer is here, which punctuates the end of spring.  The longer days will begin to wane on the Summer Solstice.  The end of June also signifies the closing of Virayoga, my yoga home of twelve years in New York City.  This studio has been my anchor since its inception.  With the support of my Virayoga family, I ventured off to help rebuild the yoga communities in my hometown of New Orleans and the gulf coast region after Hurricane Katrina.  Since then, my yoga travels have expanded across the globe.  It's been the nourishing cord back to that studio that has fed me and kept me going.

Like the sakura, Virayoga has blossomed and now some of its petals are releasing to the ground.  With gratitude for this rite of passage, I embark on an exciting new chapter.  As one says before and after a meal in Japan, "Itadakimasu" (I humbly accept the food) and "Gochisosama deshita" (That was a feast).  My heart is deliciously full.  Thank you for the ritual of the feast.  Happy Summer Solstice! 



Cat From the Mat

June 2014 blog

The Disease To Please

Do you care about what others think and accommodate their desires before yours?   Do you take responsibility for things that are not yours to take?  Do you have the disease to please those around you?

Over the past 20 years, as part of my yoga practice, I have done of a variety of trainings on how to live a more skillful life.  A primary theme that comes up often is the power of choice in taking responsibility for where you are.  Don't suit the life others want for you; rather choose your life.  Your perception of the world is your reality.  To shift your view, in turn creates a whole new realm.  To be the author of your experience is empowering and exciting, and it requires constant attention.

If an adjustment in perspective has a supportive environment, then there's no dissent.  Inner change can feel organic.  However, when this endeavor is surrounded by external expectations that are often at odds with how you envision your life, the task is harder.  There's the rub.

I grew up in the south, where people are friendly and frequently indirect.  I was raised to be a good girl, which I was.  The social context upheld a desire for me to fit in and to not make waves.  However, from the get-go, my innate tendency has been one of questioning.  There was discord between what others wanted for me and what I wished for myself.  In order to persevere, I would acquiesce.  As I got older and moved to new environments, that learned behavior would still crop in my decision-making.

Living in New York City has helped unleash my direct self, albeit blunt at times.  Those urban environs have affirmed a candid attitude.  Of course, being diplomatically truthful is a skill that takes practice.  But I still wonder.  Just because the context validates me, am I still being a people-pleaser?

The flip side of authentic self-expression is being accountable for how you "land" on others.   Can you be proficient in speaking your truth (inner dialogue) while taking responsibility of how you are being received (outer dialogue)?  There can be a disparity between the two.  You might either take too much liability for the lack of communication or you can lose yourself in deference.  I have been on both sides of this slippery slope.

I invite you to ponder this paradox of life.  It's a constant embrace of listening to your inner voice while considering feedback from others.  Learn to accept the fact that you might care what others think, without self-diminishment.  Find that appropriate balance.  After all, we live in relationship.  This is yoga.  

On the mat, you practice holding complimentary contrasts in poses, so that you can become familiar with engaging in a world of friction.  You hopefully in turn become more fluent in the art of difficult interactions.  You connect, you shift, and you thrive…at work, at home, inside and out.  How you relate to the diversity within, will inform how you handle a multiplicity of perspectives.  Begin with integrity, with self.  Welcome to your seat…the way you posture yourself in the ebb and flow of life.  There are no do-overs, just do-betters.  (*pleasantries not included)

Cat From the Mat
May 2014

For A Wild Ride, Mind The Gap

The Chinese lunar calendar breaks down its 12-year cycle, represented by different animals: the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig, in that order.   Each animal sign merely indicates how others see you or how you choose to present yourself.  According to the system, the universe is made up of five elements – earth, water, fire, wood and metal – which interact with the 12 animals, resulting in the specific character of the year ahead.  Water can help Wood grow. Wood can help Fire burn. Fire can burn into Earth.  Earth can cover Metal. Metal can hold Water.  After last year's Water Snake, we have just crossed a threshold into the beginning of the Year of the Wood Horse.  

A Horse year is considered a fortunate year that brings luck and good thingsA horse likes to move and take action. Its energy is free spirited, wild, willful, as well as intuitive.  Under its strong influence, there is no middle ground, as it holds true to principles.  According to the Chinese zodiac, the time for pondering and diplomacy was in the watery snakelike movement of 2013.  The Wood element is about reaching onwards and upwards, planning ahead.  Like bamboo, both its strength and flexibility help it seek growth.  Often in life, when change and expansion are needed, there can be a gap between where you are and where you want to be.

Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point addresses that breach between intention and fruition.  The book explores how epidemics spread, from topics of disease to lowering crime rates to fashion trends. Gladwell highlights the patterns found in the "tipping" of any outbreak.  He investigates how some great offerings never make it past the gate, while others flood our pop culture.  The issue at hand is how to traverse the chasm between a good idea and its manifestation.  This takes skill in action. 

This success of any action is connecting the necessary ingredients in a specific sequence, while knowing what is missing from the recipe.  According to studies, when something "tips," it happens quickly.  This is not to say that out of the blue something sticks.  For change to occur all of sudden, there is a lot of preparation that helps to pave the way, to propel movement, and to contain the shift.  

In the yoga asana practice, some poses seem to just appear one day, like the methodical tilting into an inversion.  But all of the preliminary work on the mat has paved the way for the posture to become the next organic step.  All of that preparation holds what is to come…whether sticking handstand in the middle of the room, receiving accolades for hard work, or holding the space to stay humble as a celebrity or public figure.  Without the initial priming to embrace the flip, then there's no containment for the next phase.  If you practice going upside down every day, regardless of success, then the mental, physical, and emotional groundwork is being laid.  And at some point, doing the inversion becomes the new normal…the tipping point.  

If you are anticipating an overturn this year,  consider  that your precursory efforts are needed to securely embrace change.  Your water serpent self then might be ready to gain land legs and begin to trot, canter, or gallop in the intended direction of your year.  When this happens, it will occur quickly, so hold on. 
To 2014, a year full of wild rides… Kung Hei Fat Choy!

Happy Chinese New Year of the Wood Horse!

Cat From the Mat
February 2014