29 Feb

Practice & Discipline

If we cannot be happy in spite of our difficulties, what good is our spiritual practice? – Maha Ghosananda, via The Wise Heart: A Guide to the Universal Teachings of Buddhist Psychology (Kornfield, 2008)

candlelight by Arend (via Flickr)

candlelight by Arend (via Flickr)


Discipline and practice. Well, this sounds like it’s going to be a real hoot, now, doesn’t it?

This Leap Day feels like the right time for me to check in (with you, and with myself) on my New Year’s intentions. As many of you know, I practice a pretty well-established ritual at the end of each year, which concludes by choosing a word to focus my energy for the twelve months ahead.

The last few months of 2015 were really challenging for me. I was starting a new career, and felt like a beginner in a way that I haven’t felt in many years. I could see the light at the end of my three-year grad school tunnel  – which was exciting, yes, but also scary. When I started down this path, I took a leap, not knowing where I would land exactly, but trusting that it was the right next step. Now, that next decision point is looming, and life feels rather uncertain.

I am a planner by nature, ISTJ at my core, logical, structured, organized. But in these past few years, it’s been really important to me to explore the other parts of myself – to learn how to let go of the reins (a little), allow for spontaneity, open my heart. Less control, more trust. I’ve done a lot of work in this space, and I think I’ve come a long way.

When we encounter big stresses in our lives, though, we tend to cling to those ways of being that feel comfortable, that give us some security. For me, at the end of 2015, life had gotten too chaotic, and I was grasping for something to hold onto. Here’s a snippet from my journal at the new year:

I need some routine in my life. I feel like I’ve strayed too far, trying to let go of expectations and my “social self“. I needed that exploration, but I’m craving boundaries now – something to order my days. Something to order my experience. And I’ve lost my spiritual grounding. I don’t feel like I know which way is up, or what I believe. I’m hoping this will help.

Sounds kinda desperate, huh? To tell you the truth, I hated starting the new year like that. And then, I was able to make peace with it, accept it as where I was, and go from there. I wrote, I meditated, and what kept showing up for me were practice and discipline. I felt that resistance (wow, that sounds like a boring year), but those words also felt right.

Over the next few days, I’ll put up a couple of posts that detail my practices, for those of you who might want to adopt some for yourselves. For now, though, I’ll say that this focus continues to feel right as the year moves on. Two months in, these daily rituals feel solid, connecting me to spirit and purpose in a really consistent way. Sometimes, when we’re in the midst of big growth and change, we need an anchor in the storm. For me, a commitment to some simple routines has made all the difference.

29 Jan

The Power of Yet

Some of you may have noticed the changes around here over the past few weeks. They’re slow, in part, because I have so many balls in the air – I happen to be in the midst of one of my own life transitions. I’m trying to move at the pace of guidance, but I get frustrated with myself when I feel like things aren’t going fast enough.

I’m trying to remember the power of yet.

Growth by KimManleyOrt (via Flickr)

Growth by KimManleyOrt (via Flickr)

Last month, I was able to spend a lovely week in my Midwestern home town, connecting with loved ones and settling into a slower pace, if only for a few days. While there, I caught up with my oldest and dearest friend, and our conversation went into details that we don’t often get to on the phone. Rhonda’s been an elementary school teacher for the past 15 years, and she had recently attended an in-service training on Teaching with a Growth Mindset. In fact, she said, it was one of the best trainings she’d ever been to. I was intrigued, so I asked her to tell me more. This idea that moving from a fixed mindset – one where students assume their knowledge and abilities are fixed at a certain level – versus one of growth – where talents result from effort, good teaching, and persistence – felt really powerful.

You can read more about the topic here, but one thing that really struck me was the way Rhonda said this mindset was impacting her students’ language. Rather than saying, “I don’t know,” they were now saying, “I don’t know yet“.

I don’t know the answer to that question… yet.

I don’t know how to do that… yet.

As I sit here, creating my business plan for the next phase in my career, writing and rewriting my About page, wondering whether I really need an Instagram account – and, oh yeah, sitting with clients as a therapist trainee – it’s easy for me to get stuck in self doubt and worry that I’m never going to get there (wherever “there” is). And I realize I’m working from a fixed mindset. I don’t know how to do this right now becomes simply I don’t know how to do this (and sometimes, I can’t do this). I think of those nine-year-olds changing their language.

One little word has the power to change things. Remember the power of yet has become a simple mantra that helps me shift my own mindset from a place of stuckness to one where I can see the broader view, where I can recognize this discomfort as part of the experience of getting from here to there, instead of as proof that I’m not enough.

I’m not done with this yet. There’s still a lot of work to do. And that’s okay! The work is what keeps me moving forward.

Or, said a different way:

18 Feb

Khalsa Way in LA

Last month, I spent a week in LA studying prenatal yoga with Gurmukh. In recent years, I’ve made a practice of signing up for more intense yoga experiences in January, to re-ground myself in something that I know is vital to my own holistic health – the combination of full-time work and school, along with living in a place where Kundalini yoga isn’t as plentiful and convenient as in other cities I’ve called home, means its easier for me to “forget” to fill my own well. Like many of you, I see the new year as a good time to rebalance.

Golden Bridge Santa Monica

I’ve been wanting to write about my time there, but something has been holding me back. The nine days I spent in Los Angeles were truly transformative, and it was an incredible vacation for me – and my efforts to capture it perfectly on the page have kept me from writing anything at all.

I suppose one of the things I fear in writing about this publicly is that I think my idea of a good vacation is different from a lot of other people’s expectations. When I return from a trip, I tend to tell my friends and family all about it – fun, beautiful, challenging, strange, sad, annoying, exciting, hilarious… it’s all there. And it tends to catch me off guard when, later, these same friends and family will talk to me about that same trip, under the impression that I had a terrible time. That’s not generally the case. In fact, it’s the “bad” experiences that make travel worthwhile for me, probably as much as the “good” ones. For me, good travel involves seeing new parts of the world, and meeting challenges in a way that helps me see new parts of myself.

Spending the week in a sunny, spiritually alive, traffic-filled, sometimes-superficial city; staying with family who I love; building community with 30 female strangers (a third of whom were pregnant); being pushed to think critically about my own views on pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, circumcision, vaccination, and what constitutes a healthy diet; rising at 5AM, wearing comfy clothes, and doing yoga every day – for me, these were all elements of a great vacation.

Santa Monica Pier 2

 

There were days when I felt angry and frustrated – both by the traffic, and by the content of our lectures. There were times when I felt inspired and truly loved. I made true, deep, fast friendships (and let’s be honest: there were people I didn’t like). I fell for the city of LA, and I can’t wait to get back. And I’m so grateful for the (too-little!) time I was able to spend with my family. Embracing that whole package is part of the experience. In fact, it is the experience.

This year, I chose this training because I felt a need to hold and nurture my feminine self. I knew that would be hard – healing and growth often are. And in the end, it was so worth it (healing and growth often are). Of course, I don’t know what the future holds, but I have a strong sense that my work as a therapist will focus on women and women’s issues, and spending this time in LA felt like a very important step toward that work. I came home refreshed and revitalized, and excited to share these teachings with women in all stages of life. I’m looking forward to what’s next on that path…

Khalsa Way 2014

05 Feb

About My Spiritual Name

My first Kundalini yoga teacher’s name was Dukh Niwaran Kaur. She also went by Patty. She introduced herself to me with both names, and of course I didn’t remember the first one. After I started coming to her classes on a regular basis, I knew her name was Dukh Niwaran – it was the way she signed her emails, and I’m sure she used it whenever someone new came to class – but I still couldn’t bring myself to call her anything but Patty. It felt weird to me, the sounds awkward in my mouth, and why did she have two names anyway? As I got deeper into the practice, there were so many things that were strange and foreign to me, and I asked about them all.  I know we talked about her name – it meant something like “healer”, which was fitting, since she also worked as a massage therapist – but I don’t think I ever called her Dukh Niwaran.

The fact that I couldn’t bring myself to call her by her name is what feels strange to me now. I didn’t understand at the time that a spiritual name has power – that people choose to be called by something other than their birth name because it connects them with a larger purpose. It connects them with their destiny.

And oh! I sort of squirm just typing that. Can a name really hold your destiny? That sounds so woo-woo.

Here’s where this is coming from: I recently updated my Facebook name to include my spiritual name. I had just returned from a weeklong prenatal yoga training (more on that soon!) where I’d met some really incredible women, and they all knew me as Sandesh. I always go by Sandesh when I’m in yoga classes; it feels like a place where that’s “okay”, where people won’t think it’s weird, and I want to use that name – it’s special to me. So when I got home, part of me was thinking, how are they going to know who I am when Facebook says I’m Cindy Scovel? But, you know, there was a place somewhere deeper that was saying, I want people to know that’s my name.

Sandesh Kaur

Yours Truly, AKA Sandesh Kaur

My spiritual name is Sandesh Kaur, which means one who brings the message of God to others. Here’s more from the note I received when I requested my name in 2010:

Sandesh means message, one who brings the message of God to others. Kaur means the Princess/Lioness of God who walks with grace and power throughout her life. Kaur is a name that all women receive. Yogi Bhajan taught that every woman has the potential to attain a true state of grace and power, and he encouraged each woman to manifest that potential. Receiving the name Sandesh Kaur means that you can connect with your soul by delivering the message of how to live in your higher consciousness to other people, with grace and courage.

I know I was still on the fence about the whole spiritual name “thing” back then, but when I got that name… Sandesh… it felt right. I’ve always been a teacher, no matter what I do, and I regularly forget that. Hearing the meaning of my new name – it was yet another reminder of the path I already knew I was on. And even now, when I lose sight of what I’m doing, where I’m going, the bigger picture… it grounds me.

Okay, wanna hear something even more Kundalini? Part of the power of a spiritual name is that it lifts your energy through its nadh, or sound current. (I’m not kidding! Look it up!) And we’re not talking about a quick pick-me-up – by hearing the sound current resonate, you are moved toward your highest destiny. So every time someone calls me Sandesh, and every time I introduce myself, aloud, to a class of students, I get closer to that calling. I move in the right direction.

Can you see why I’m feeling guilty about Dukh Niwaran? I thought it sounded silly; she felt a resonance with her higher purpose.

Don’t worry, you can still call me Cindy. I get it. That’s part of why I wrote this all out for you. But I want you to know you can call me Sandesh, too, without feeling awkward or uncomfortable. After all, you’d be helping me on my journey.

22 Dec

A Very Long Night

From summer solstice to winter solstice…

I don’t know about you, but the past season (or two) has felt so very busy, and the months have passed by in a single breath. I woke up the other day, knowing it was time to collect my thoughts and write something about this time of year. It was a combination of exhaustion, and anxiety, and just general grouchiness over not being able to get it all done (whatever that means) – I knew I couldn’t be the only one feeling frustrated.

And then I decided I would rather just roll over and take a nap.

There was a thunderstorm

Sound familiar?

Let’s put this in perspective. The winter solstice is a time of darkness – the longest night of the year, in fact. In contrast to the summer’s sun energy – bright, warm, full of youth and vitality and outward projection – the winter season puts us in touch with the moon’s feminine essence. Winter is dark and introspective, a time for stillness and inner looking.

It is also a time to nurture, to take care of ourselves in the cold, hard climate, as we prepare ourselves for the coming spring (I write from my kitchen in Northern California – I’m happy to acknowledge some winters are colder and harder than others). This can be hard to remember during the holiday season of our modern culture, though. While many of us value caring for our loved ones and tending our traditions especially this time of year, it’s easy to let the hustle-bustle of shopping and cooking and cleaning and traveling and partying and, and, and… get the better of us, and keep us from the nurturing we so need.

I’m writing this post later than I had intended. I wanted to get these words out a few days ahead of the solstice, on a weekday when more readers might be interested. Putting it off for a while in favor of napping and snuggling with my dog was part of my self care, and I’m reminding myself that it’s not the exact moment of solstice that’s really important.

And that’s part of my message to you. During this dark and still season, if you find yourself feeling worn out or sad or angry, take a moment to listen to what your body and your inner guidance are telling you. Allow yourself to feel what comes up, and recognize that we’re all turning through another cycle. Winter is hard. Brighter days are coming.

 

Looking for a meditation to carry you through this dark season? Try this mantra for sacred healing (several versions of this mantra are available on iTunes or Spirit Voyage; I’m a fan of the one by Snatam Kaur).

03 Jun

Summer Solstice Workshop at Be The Change

Celebrate the Summer Solstice with us on Saturday, June 21!

Greeting the Summer Sun

The solstice is a time of transition – from spring into summer, the season of floweringgrowthplayfulness, and wonder. Join us for a Kundalini Yoga workshop designed to open your awareness to this new, fruitful season.

2014 Theme: There Is A Way Through Every Block

Each year, the international Kundalini community focuses together on a theme for the summer solstice celebration. This year, we’ll work with Yogi Bhajan’s 2nd Sutra for the Aquarian Age: There is a way through every block.

When: Saturday, June 21, 1:00PM-3:00PM

WhereBe The Change Yoga & Wellness, 52 South 1st Street, Suite 320, San Jose

Cost: $30 general, $20 students with valid ID

Space is limited! Pre-registration is required; please visit the BTC Wellness Events page to sign up. Questions? Use our Contact form, or email sandesh at skwellness dot org.

Sat Nam, and Happy Solstice!

12 May

Kundalini Yoga Resources

I’ve been getting a lot of questions lately about where to go for more information on Kundalini Yoga – questions I LOVE to get, because it means this practice is really resonating for people. Here’s where I send them…

3HO.org

The best place to start for all things Kundalini Yoga: 3HO.org, the nonprofit organization founded in 1969 to “share the teachings of Yogi Bhajan so that they may serve, inspire, and empower humanity to be healthy, happy, and holy”. Here you’ll find a great overview of Kundalini Yoga, lots of practice sets or kriyas (free!), information on events like Summer Solstice and Women’s Camp, and lots more. This is also where you can request your spiritual name.

Kundalini Yoga by Shakta Kaur Khalsa

I’m forever in debt to my friend, Rita, who took me to my first Kundalini class in Chicago – what changes that “welcome, neighbor” gesture ushered into my life! When I moved back to Austin, she gave me the book, Kundalini Yoga, as a going away present. I still think this is the most accessible intro to Kundalini in book form. (Thanks, Rita!)

Two other faves: The Kundalini Yoga Experience and I Am A Woman: Creative, Sacred, and Invincible. The Kundalini Yoga Experience is my go-to for chakra detail, with an overview of the chakra system, and a page dedicated to each individual chakra detailing attributes of balance/unbalance, physical location and body associations, colors, elements, etc., etc. And I Am A Woman… well, I just love this book. Yogi Bhajan had a lot to say about the role and aspects of woman (power, intuition, creativity, radiance, the polarities of woman and mother,…) and this manual dives deep into those teachings. The book isn’t just for women, though – many of the kriyas and meditations are appropriate for a public, co-ed class.

I hope this helps you on your journey – sat nam!

24 Apr

Don’t Forget to Breathe

Photo Credit: etsy.com, AlienEye

Photo Credit: etsy.com, AlienEye

It seems silly to need a reminder to do something that your body does naturally, doesn’t it?  And yet, how does this gentle reminder hit you right now, as you’re sitting here in front of your computer?  What is the quality of your breath in this moment?  What about when you hear it called out in the midst of a yoga class – don’t forget to breathe!  Does it make you realize that somehow you had forgotten?

Take a moment, right now, and just notice your breath.  No judgment – just notice.  Go ahead, I’ll wait…

If you’re like me, and you’ve been sitting in your office chair for over an hour, looking at a computer screen, you probably noticed that your breath is rather shallow.  Some of you, after spending that moment in awareness, might have tried deepening your breath.  Great!  How did that feel?  If you haven’t already tried it, do it now – take a long, deep breath.

Ahhh…  There are many sensations that might go along with a full inhale and exhale, but for most of us, the feeling is good.  That exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide stimulates the brain, relaxes the nervous system, and fills us with vitality.  Our modern lifestyle doesn’t naturally induce long deep breathing the way, say, working on the farm or hunting and gathering might, but that doesn’t mean that this practice isn’t available to us every second of the day.  Sometimes, we just need a little reminder.

Want more?  Take a look a the Long Deep Breathing exercise that Yogi Bhajan recommended.  Once you get the practice down, see if you can set aside 5 minutes each day to really fill your lungs.  C’mon, you don’t have 5 minutes?  Just look at what it will do for you:

  • Relaxes and calms, due to influence on parasympathetic nervous system.
  • Increases the flow of prana.
  • Reduces and prevents the build-up of toxins in the lungs by encouraging the clearing of the small air sacs (alveoli).
  • Stimulates the brain chemicals—endorphins—that help fight depression.
  • Brings the brain to a new level of alertness.
  • Pumps the spinal fluid to the brain, giving greater energy.
  • Breathing long and deep, plus concentration, stimulates the pituitary gland to secrete, enhancing the intuition.
  • Filling the lungs to capacity revitalizes and re-adjusts the magnetic field.
  • Cleanses the blood.
  • Regulates the body’s pH (acid-akaline balance), which affects the ability to handle stressful situations.
  • Energizes, and increases vitality.
  • Aids in releasing blockages in meridian energy flow.
  • Activates and clears the nerve channels.
  • Aids in speeding up emotional and physical healing.
  • Aids in breaking subconscious habit patterns such as insecurities and fears.
  • Aids in fighting addictions.
  • Re-channels previous mental conditioning on pain so as to reduce or eliminate pain.
  • Gives capacity to manage negativity and emotions, supporting clarity, cool headedness, and patience. 

 Benefits listed here are from The Teachings of Yogi Bhajan, KRI International Teacher Training Manual Level I, p. 92

Happy breathing!