SPARKS OF JOY

Every now and then a brief encounter can make a lasting impact. A dear friend turned 80 a couple weeks ago. As friends and family gathered to celebrate I watched as my friend made his way from person to person, taking the time to greet and enjoy time with each one. In a moment of stillness we sat together and he asked if he could share a story from earlier in the week. He said he’s been having some mobility issues recently and the doctor recommended he get a walker to use. The particular type of walker he needed is several hundred dollars so his wife called around to area thrift shops to see if they could find one used. A shop said they had one, so they rushed over. Unfortunately it wasn’t what he needed. A young woman in the store overheard them and asked if she might help, she knew someone who had what he needed. She made a call and 15 minutes later they met a woman whose husband and had recently died and she still had his walker. It was exactly the thing my friend needed. He asked how much he could pay for it and the woman said “nothing,” that it would make her husband and her happy knowing he could use it. His eyes lit with joy my friend said, “Isn’t that just wonderful? With all that’s happening in the world, it’s nice to be reminded that there’s a lot of good.” 

In her book This Here Flesh, Cole Arthur Riley shares a touching story of joy. On one side of a velvet curtain clumsy preteens bobbed and swayed to the music. On the other, anxious parents huddled in clusters, containing all the nerves they’d wished away from their children hours before. Riley’s father slid in and out of groups before settling at a table far enough to rest but close enough to still feel the bass on the other side. A half an hour before the dance was over he was surprised when he looked up and saw his daughter emerging from the curtain—glistening over to him. He was sitting there holding his breath and smiling, as if to say, Don’t worry about me. I’m doing okay. But she grabbed his hand and pulled with a force that seemed strange for an 11 year old. Come dance with me, she said. I want to show you to everyone. And the momentum of her joy collided with his chest at such a rate that the breath he’d been carrying was knocked right out of him. I don’t remember any of the people she introduced me to, but I remember her not being embarrassed of me.

Joy is not really about scripted, expected or store-bought things. It is about the impromptu realm of deep connection, the willingness to be vulnerable, to be present with sorrow, to be honest, to be surprised. It’s sharing in the unpredicted, rather than holding back. It’s also about the moments when, despite all, we feel met. 

There are sparks of joy all around. Let us find time in the coming weeks may we find to reflect on the moments of each day and identify when we have shared and when we have welcomed life’s joys. And may our intention this holiday season be a renewed commitment to being joy-bearers.

DRAGONFLY

Having flown the earth for 300 million years, dragonflies symbolize our ability to overcome times of hardship. They remind us to take time to reconnect with our own strength, courage and happiness. 

This truth is what gave my Aunt Deb hope in the midst of her health challenges. Even when she struggled to move, struggled to breathe, she strived to overcome so many hardships. She was vivacious, fun-loving and compassionate and her laugh was one for the ages. We celebrated her life last week by gathering and sharing stories and photos. We ate and drank and laughed and cried. She would have loved it! In her last days we talked a lot about letting go: letting go of regrets, letting go of pleasing others, letting go of grudges. She was working hard at finding peace in her present circumstances and I’m grateful she glimpsed moments of it.

It sounds simple: stop, do nothing, let go. But if it is so simple – why is it so hard? Why is it a struggle to not do something, to just let things be? Why is it so hard to not think about the drama occurring in life, to let go of the stress of a job or relationship problems? Maybe it’s because letting go is not valued in our culture, and what is not valued is not practiced. It does take practice to learn how to let go and let things be. 

Ajahn Brahm is an entertaining and provocative monk. He was trained in the Forest Tradition of Buddhism in Thailand, originally hailed from England, but now is the abbot of a monastery outside of Perth in Australia. He has a number of specific stories that show both the importance of letting go, and the challenge in doing just that.

In his book Mindfulness, Bliss and Beyond, Ajahn Brahm shares this illustrative example from his own teacher: he would hold up a cup and ask his monks, “how heavy is this cup?” Before they could answer, he would continue, “at first it is very light, but after ten minutes of holding it up it begins to be heavier. Imagine how it would feel after one hour of holding?” The obvious answer is – quite heavy. Now, what is the wise thing to do if something is getting very heavy, too heavy to continue to hold up? The wise thing is to set it down for a little while. Then, after a short rest, you can pick it up again, and it is once more quite light and easy to bear. It really is that simple!

And yet, how many burdens are you carrying in this moment? When the stress of life, obligations and responsibilities become really heavy, are you wise enough to set them down for a little while and take a rest? Or do you believe that you should keep struggling and keep your arm up forever? Stress takes a heavy toll in our lives: it can create illness and exacerbate disease. It poisons relationships and ages us prematurely. There is a simple remedy: set down your burden! Not forever; not even for very long: even a short rest from your responsibilities, a brief letting go, may help you pick them up again and bear them more appropriately.

For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, nature is calling us to let go as we enter Autumn. Shorter days have historically meant less time for doing. More time for being still; being quiet. 

Seasonal changes also remind us that the only constant in life is change. As such, we must learn to let go of anything we no longer need and embrace that change.

I’d love to hear from you. How do you briefly let go? What does it look like to take a rest from life’s stresses?

Consider joining me in practicing yoga. Maybe this gentle, contemplative practice is just what you need during this season of life. There are many opportunities online and in-person. Please reach out if you have any questions.

Svadhyaya

Internal inquiry is at the heart of a yoga philosophy. Yoga, especially those teachings derived from the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, centers on the idea of svadhyaya. 

Svadhyaya means self-study. The philosophical basis for yoga is self-reflection and self-responsibility, meaning that the yogi centers reflection as they sort through the troubles in their life. Yoga philosophy is based on the idea that as we see more clearly, and understand ourselves more thoroughly, we are better equipped to avoid troubles in the future, ease our troubles in the present, and make peace with our troubles in the past. 

I’m currently dealing with annoying neck & shoulder pain. It’s a chronic issue that comes and goes and my usual methods of coping (acupuncture, therapeutic massage, yoga, etc.) are not offering much relief. My tendency is to panic and assume the worst…..the pain will never end, I’m going to feel this way forever. Things get very dark, very quick. It’s not a good place to be.

Some yoga studios advertise “good vibes only.” However, in yoga philosophy, pain is an assumed component of your experience, which makes sense, we all experience pain in some form or fashion. Instead of centering this pain as the focal point of our thinking, yoga encourages us to focus on our reaction and our relationship to our own suffering. From that study of self, we can create practical support and solutions for ourselves.

I’m curious, when you experience pain, whether physical, emotional or spiritual, what do you do to help yourself? 

I continue to develop my toolbox of self-compassion as I relate to my physical pain. Stillness and silence provide me opportunities to consider how I want to relate to my pain. Messages of love and compassion counter the doom and gloom my mind wants to jump to. A hot bath and self-massage may not be the magic cure I wish they were, but they do provide soothing comfort. Intuitively I’m learning when I should move and when I should rest. Our bodies are complex and mysterious. Let’s take the time to listen as they speak to us.  

Do you have a practice, a pose, or a meditation that you rely on when you’re not well? Let me know!

Bodily Autonomy

I’ve been in a state of disbelief about the removal of protection for reproductive rights. I suspect many of you feel the same, though if you land on the other side of this issue, I’m not interested in persuading or changing your mind. My focus remains on yoga. 

In the midst of my rage and sadness, I’ve begun to consider bodily autonomy. I believe bodily autonomy and sovereignty is an essential piece of yoga philosophy.

Our yoga practice is never just asana (poses). Maybe as part of your practice this week you can find some time to reflect and ask yourself, in what ways have you benefited from bodily autonomy. In what ways have you been restrained from exercising this autonomy? In what ways do you trust yourself, in what ways do you lack trust in yourself?

I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the fair amount of body privilege I possess: I’m healthy and able-bodied. I’m of average attractiveness, I fit into the assumptions about the typical, modern yoga student (petite, white, fairly flexible, not yet on the other side of the hill, age-wise). This privilege has provided me with plenty of access to teaching and doing yoga.

But, I’ve been shamed and pressured about my practice, about my short-comings in asana. I’ve been twisted deeper into poses that I wanted to avoid. I’ve been told to do, and not do, asana based on my menstrual cycle. I’ve been literally pushed too deep into Warrior II, resulting in a flare up from a past injury.

These little incidents are trivial compared to being denied access to reproductive autonomy. But, my role is that of a yoga teacher, so from your practice, I suggest time to reflect on how self-trust, bodily autonomy, psychological sovereignty and body privilege have impacted your yoga.

The invitation is extended to use whatever comes to the surface for you to inform and enlighten your practice & how you engage the world around you.
 
Namaste,
Heather
 


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Summer Solstice

The Summer Solstice is almost upon us, bringing with it the reminder to celebrate the nourishing light of the sun, as well as the light within each of us. As the sun reaches its highest point in the sky, it gives us the longest day of the year. This marks the second phase of the Earth’s journey around the sun, which began with the Spring Equinox. The invitation of summer is to nourish the seeds planted in the first phase.


Several years ago I visited Stonehenge in England. When the Sun’s light first breaks through the darkness on the day of the Summer Solstice, it hits this ancient monument directly in the center, lighting up each pillar like a magical horseshoe. During the Winter Solstice, the sun sets directly between the largest stones of this mysterious piece of history. It is just one example of the importance civilizations throughout history have placed on the phases of the Sun. It causes me to wonder about the significance of these annual phases, that people would dedicate their whole lives to building something to honor them.

The cycle of the Sun represents the cycle of our lives and reflects the natural flow of energy moving inward and outward. There are times to grow, times to pause, times to shed and times to learn. While the Spring Equinox begins this journey and represents new beginnings, the Summer Solstice represents the next phase of this divine rhythm. The Summer Solstice reminds us to turn inward and find the nourishment needed to grow and evolve. It is a time to pause and wait for the energy planted in the Spring to reach full bloom. If the Spring represents action, the Summer represents patience. We must develop confidence and trust in ourselves that what we set in motion previously is true, even if we go through some difficult times. We have planted the seed, we just need to nurture it and find purpose within its process.

The Summer Solstice represents the transition from action to nourishment, which is exactly what the Sun gives us during the long nights of summer, both to our actual crops but also to the journey we continually travel from darkness to light. Summer reminds us that there is hope all around and that the light within us can spread and inspire others. We have the capacity to nurture others, just as the Sun nurtures us. Summer becomes a time to work on ourselves and our ability to be the light and find meaning in our journey, even when it seems uncertain. This is the rhythm of nature; new beginnings transition into a period of uncertainty. During this time, it is easy to fall prey to anxiety and worry. Seasonal shifts can cause old energies to surface and darkness can easily take over our mind. Summer is the time to cultivate faith in our life, squash the darkness with light, and trust that just like the Sun, we will rise each day no matter what life brings us.

Through honoring this day of light, we just might set in motion a period of awakening which lasts all summer until the Fall Equinox. Here are some ways to align with the Summer Solstice and harness its power to build the light within you.

  1. Set Summer Intentions

The Summer solstice is an energetically charged day and an important one to set intentions. Direct your intentions on the themes of this phase, which are patience, nourishment and trust. Create powerful “I am” statements that reflect these qualities and the development of them. Include “reception” statements that open you up to receiving what this season of life has to offer. Examples: “I am open to receiving nourishment and growth” or “I am able to receive the energy needed to develop trust in my life.” Set your intentions and continually remind yourself of them all summer long. 

2. Honor the Four Directions

The four directions; east, south, west and north, represent the seasons and their corresponding Equinoxes and Solstices.

Consider using four candles each positioned at the four directions. Light each candle as you face that direction while closing your eyes and meditating on that direction’s prompt. Allow information to flood in, continue through all directions, and then journal about what each one brought to you.

  • East is represented by Spring and new beginnings. Reflect on what you’ve started the past 3 months and what new opportunities have come your way.
  • South is the direction of Summer, rest, finding your purpose and direction. Reflect on the bigger meaning of your life and where you should focus your energy and refine your attention.
  • West is the direction of Fall, where the Sun sets, representing a time to go within, detox and shed. Ask for wisdom of knowing when to let go, when to release and when to hold on.
  • North represents Winter, wisdom and protection. Ask what wisdom is needed for your journey. Reflect on your past and the road you have traveled thus far.

3. Make a Prayer Stick or Prayer Tree

Write or draw specific prayers for those who need healing on it. Make a prayer for the return to peace where there is no peace, for vibrancy and good health in areas of the world where there is now poverty and scarcity.

Practice these rituals on the Summer Solstice and feel yourself nourishing the light within you. Carry this feeling throughout the summer, as you align with the journey of the Earth and the Sun. However you choose to celebrate this day, be sure to spend some time feeling the Sun’s rays on your face and standing fully in the light as you learn to recognize and stand fully in the divine light within.