16 Feb

Trying Something New: Kundalini Yoga and The Four-Fold Way

The Four-Fold Way

The Four-Fold Way: Walking the Paths of the Warrior, Teacher, Healer and Visionary, by Angeles Arrien, Ph.D.

Kundalini for Women: Friday evenings at 5:30pm, February 17, 2017 – March 24, 2017

Classes run in 6-week series, $60 for the complete series or $15 drop-in. Classes are held on the 2nd floor at Michigan Holistic Health, 500 West Crosstown Pkwy, Kalamazoo, MI 49008.

Like many of you, I typically do some written reflection and intention setting around the new year. I scaled back on my typical practice this past December in favor of more rest and meditation, but one piece that made it through the cuts was selecting a word of the year. In 2017, mine is authenticity.

Universal Laws for Communication

My own therapist introduced me to the work of Angeles Arrien a few months back, and in particular, the universal laws for communication that are explored in her book The Four-Fold Way: Walking the Paths of the Warrior, Teacher, Healer and Visionary.  This text encompasses a larger vision than communication alone, exploring four archetypes that shamanic traditions have drawn on ‘in order to live in harmony and balance with our environment and with our own inner nature’ (p. 7). Arrien reminds us that the indigenous peoples have long worked with the natural rhythms of the earth to move through life processes and transitions, and that these tools remain available (and necessary) to us in our own industrialized society. For each archetype, she identifies key attributes and practices that we can use to more fully embody each role, finding balance in both our inner and outer lives.

The Warrior: Showing up and choosing to be present

The Healer: Pay attention to what has heart and meaning

The Visionary: Tell the truth without blame or judgment

The Teacher: Be open to outcome, not attached to outcome

As I worked with this little card of reminders, what arose for me was this theme of authenticity and being true to my own nature – which is actually something that connects really nicely with the practice of Kundalini Yoga.  Kundalini is the yoga of awareness – it is a practice that is designed to give you an experience of your soul. Yoga literally means union, connecting our finite selves with the infinite creative consciousness. I see that same thread in Arrien’s writing, connecting with these universal archetypes that reside within us all.

So it’s a little unorthodox to structure a Kundalini Yoga class series around an outside text like this, but I’m going with it. As those of you who practice Kundalini know, classes are always structured around a theme, which connects to the kriya and meditation. Kriya means action – it’s the postures, breath, and sound that are organized together to manifest a particular state. Typically, I’ll choose a larger theme from within the yogic lifestyle to select kriyas and meditations (the chakra system or the 10 bodies, for example) – but in this series for women, let’s try something new! Are you with me?

Kundalini for Women starts up again on February 17. Drop-ins are always welcome – though series passes give you the full 6-week experience, and save you a little cash. I hope you can join us!

15 Dec

A Simple Winter Practice

Misty Morning by Markus Trienke

I have written and reflected on the winter solstice and end-of-year rituals before, but this is the first time in many years that I have felt the true weight of this longest night. Outside my window, the snow is piled high, my back and hands sore from so many driveway shovelings already this season. At 4:30 in the afternoon, it’s time to close the blinds and turn on the Christmas lights, and there are gifts of handmade scarves and rice pouches that go in the microwave to keep me warm as I sit at the computer. Today, there were a few hours of glorious sunshine, the whole landscape glittering – but for the most part, it is cold and dark.

I’m grateful for these tangible reminders of the changing seasons – I have missed this. Some of us have an easier time of tuning in with the passage of time and the subtle shifts in the natural world; perhaps because I am, after all, a Midwestern girl, I need these louder announcements from the weather to truly feel connected.

While this time of year is often characterized by the high energy and festive pace of the holidays, it can be helpful to recognize the disconnect with the slow and quiet rhythm of the season. If you’re feeling out of sync, it may be more than just the eggnog. Though the chill has been in the air for many weeks now, winter is just beginning. This season of cold and darkness is made for rest, reflection, solitude. Can you allow that for yourself?

I have a script I follow for my end-of-year reflection, but even that feels daunting this December. I’m looking at simplifying. The moon was full on Tuesday night, and one of my favorite sources for lunar wisdom had this to say (among other things), something that spoke to me as a complete practice:

“… If we value peace, how do we embody that peace in our daily lives? Or if we value truth, or harmony, or any other higher-vibrational ideal – how do we become that quality as we decide how to proceed from here?…”

Perhaps this is all I need this year. Maybe I will scale back the writing practice, sleep in, do some meditating… contemplate the values that I seek to embody in 2017. Maybe that will be the simple meditation that works for you, as well.

20 Jun

Sun and Moon

As I focus my professional work more fully on life transitions, I find myself being more intentional about the natural and regularly occurring transitions in our world. There is a rhythm to our days, weeks, months, and seasons, and I find that if I take just a little time to acknowledge these changes, I feel more settled – more “in the flow”, if you will.

Sun & Moon Suncatcher by CreativeSpiritGlass

Sun & Moon Suncatcher by CreativeSpiritGlass

Today we have a double hitter of transitions – for the first time since 1948, the summer solstice and full moon fall on the same day. While both of these events have a quality of bright light and illumination, their energies are somewhat opposing. The full moon is typically associated with release. For many women, the menstrual cycle is tied to this moon phase – a literal experience of letting go. This is a time of honoring what has come before, and leaving behind what no longer serves us. Some words associated with release that might resonate for you at this time are liberation, relinquish, surrender, forgiveness, freedom. As you examine your life in this moment, today, is there something you can consciously loosen your grip on? Something that you need to set free or leave behind?

The summer solstice, like the sun itself, is all about expansion and extroversion – shining bright. This solstice ushers in the summer season, the time when everything is growing and flowering. Summer is also associated with the inner child – playful, spontaneous, and full of wonder. How can you engage with this energy? Is there a creative project you’ve been working on that’s ready to be launched into the world? What is coming into fruition for you? Can you bring a sense of play or beginner’s mind to your experience this season?

Whether or not you buy into the woo-woo of sun and moon energy, these events present us with quarterly and monthly opportunities to reexamine the way we are engaging with the world. Is there any *magic* to the first-of-the-month checks of the smoke alarms or changing of the furnace filters? No. But that regular date is a helpful reminder to check in on things that need doing. I find that, especially in a geographical location where changes between seasons are subtle, actively engaging with the sun and moon phases reminds me that I am part of the natural world, and gives me a chance to reset for the coming weeks or months.

Celebration of these shifts can be big or small – don’t let perfection of form keep you from the importance of function! Five minutes of meditation can go a long way, if that’s all you have. If there’s more time, this can also be a great opportunity for a community gathering. Yoga studios, meditation centers, and breathwork circles often have special events for the solstice – one more way for us to come together. Search your local scene for these communal celebrations.

Interested in learning more? Here are some of the resources I turn to for inspiration around these natural transitions:

 

 

 

20 May

Creating a Clearing

Spring has certainly sprung here in Northern California: my morning walk is fragrant with jasmine and peonies, the windows are open, and we’ve even had a few days warm enough to lament the absence of an air conditioner (already!). I live in a pretty small space, so my “summer clothes” get stashed away in the winter and vice versa, and I’ve been overdue for making the switch. It’s time to put the wool tights away.

Many of us have grown up with some kind of spring cleaning ritual in our homes, where we spend a weekend getting rid of the junk that has accumulated in the house or the garage. My space issue highlights another element of that process – I pack away the heavy sweaters and flannel pjs (along with the dreary days made for snuggling and hot soup), and pull out shorts and summer dresses (plus the excitement of vacation and ice cream cones at the beach). Inevitably during this process, there are clothes from both seasons that I realize I no longer wear, and they are packed up to grace someone else’s closet for a while and lighten the load in my own home.

Goodwill

Sometimes, creating a clearing looks like this.

I’m talking about clearing out physical stuff here, but there’s a deeper level to this spring cleaning. Before I get too far into that, though, I’d like to invite you to try a short visualization exercise…

Take a moment to imagine your kitchen in its messiest state (if you’re like me, you don’t need a lot of imagination for this part). Dishes are piled up at the sink, waiting to be washed… a stack of mail and flyers sits on the table, needing to be sorted… an empty cereal box and wine bottle sit on the counter, because you keep forgetting to empty the recycling bin… Ugh, I know. Still with me? Before we move on, I want you to notice what you’re feeling in your body. Pay attention to things like breath, muscle tension, heart rate, body temperature… and then move out to more general “feeling states”, like heavy or light, energized or sluggish, closed or open. Try to bring awareness to these feelings without judgment, just noticing.

Messy Kitchen

#thestruggleisreal

Okay, now, take a deep breath, erase that image, shake that Etch-a-Sketch… and call to mind a new picture of your kitchen. This time, it’s on one of its best days: the counters are sparkling, the dishes are put away, even the floor is freshly mopped (and already dry!). Take some time here, to really bring the picture into sharp focus – maybe there’s sunlight streaming through the windows, or a lemon scent in the air. Let yourself really take this in. Come back to your felt sense as you did before, and notice the cues that your body is giving you, both specific physical sensations and your general state of being. What does this kitchen scene feel like?

Galley Kitchen, by Nancy Hugo, CKD

Not my kitchen, obvs. (Galley Kitchen, by Nancy Hugo, CKD)

At this point, some (or all) of you may be wondering, what is this nonsense about a messy kitchen doing on a blog about wellness? 

The answer is: it’s not about a messy kitchen.

Go back to those feeling states from the visualizations. Let’s say there’s a creative project you’ve been wanting to get started on, or a big talk you’ve been wanting to have with someone you love. Which kitchen makes you feel ready to take action? Which kitchen holds you back, and which one pushes you forward?

The “kitchen” is a stand-in. Not exactly a metaphor, because for some people, doing the dishes and wiping the counters will be the action that shifts energy. For others, it may be selling a car, canceling a meeting, saying no to a request, cleaning out the inbox. These are all examples of clearings.

Years ago, I took a class that was mainly about dreaming big and manifesting wishes (at $99, it’s still a steal for this life-changer); one of the practices that I learned there that I’ve returned to time and again is creating a clearing. Here’s how Andrea and Jen described this notion:

“A clearing is a wide open empty space in your life that is ready for something new or amazing to emerge.”

– Andrea Scher & Jen Lemen, Mondo Beyondo

The basic idea is this: when we let go of what no longer serves us, we create a space for something different to move in.  Sometimes “what no longer serves us” is as simple as the mess in the kitchen. Sometimes it’s a pile of stuff in the garage. Sometimes it’s a job that fails to motivate or inspire . Sometimes it’s a relationship that’s run its course. And sometimes… the space that we create in one part of our lives allows another part to change. A simple step like washing the dishes can be surprisingly powerful.

Stashing the winter clothes away made a literal space for my spring clothes – but it also helped me to welcome in a different season, with different activities, emotions, and energies. This year, that ritual also carried my intention for a big next step – as I sorted through clothes and other things to donate, I recognized that every item given away was one less item I would need to carry on a cross-country move later this year. The decision to make that move is something I’ve been working through for many months. Practicing my spring cleaning with an attitude of creating a clearing was part of putting two feet in, declaring that I was ready to move forward, ready to let go so that something new could find its way in.

Have you been feeling stuck? Are you longing to make a shift, but not exactly sure how to start? Experiment with a clearing. What could you let go of, in order to make space for something new?

09 Mar

Morning Practice

Last week, I wrote about my words for the year: practice and discipline. Today, I’d like to share some of the practices that have felt really grounding for me these past couple of months. Perhaps some of these actions will resonate for you, and if so, I’d invite you to give them a try! In a broader sense, though, I’d love for this to inspire creativity in your own life – to play around with your daily routine, and experiment with activities that support your own spiritual center. Let us know in the comments how this is working for you!

Home Altar

Most days, I start my practice at 5 AM. You don’t need to start that early. The yogic tradition that guides a lot of my spiritual practice prescribes a morning sadhana, ideally performed during the Amrit Vela, or ambrosial hours, between 4 AM and 7 AM. I’m not strict about this timing, but I do find the quiet of the early morning is more supportive for my meditation, and sets the tone for the rest of my day.

Many yogis and yoginis practice for 2.5 hours each morning – that’s not realistic for my lifestyle right now. Still, I try to incorporate breathwork, physical activity, and meditation into a set that’s doable for every day. Here’s what my routine looks like:

  1. Light a candle. This is a new habit I’ve acquired through my work at Hospice. Before working with clients in grief, I didn’t understand the meaning behind lighting candles as ritual. In this setting, I see this act as a way of honoring the space, marking out time for a specific purpose, and inviting light into the world.
  2. Tune in. As with any Kundalini yoga practice, I start with the Adi Mantra, Ong Namo Guru Dev Namo, chanted three times.
  3.  Complete a (very) short yoga set. I use breath of fire for each 1-minute exercise, with a 45-second rest in between: stretch pose, nose-to-knees (while lying on my back), ego eradicator.
  4. Recite the Seven Whispers. I’ll be honest – this is where I start to get a little shy about the hippie-woo-woo of my routine. That’s okay! Creativity, people! I picked up this little book by Christina Baldwin a few months ago, and was surprised at how much power it held for me. I decided to try it out in my daily practice, and right now, I feel like this is the most important part of my morning. The words capture what I want to focus on and reinforce in my life, and reciting them in the affirmative each morning is a continual reminder of what’s meaningful to me. I sit in a cross-legged position, close my eyes, place my hands over my heart, and speak softly: I am maintaining peace of mind. I am moving at the pace of guidance. I am practicing certainty of purpose. I am surrendering to surprise. I am asking for what I need, and offering what I can. I am loving the folks in front of me. I am returning to the world.
  5. Meditate. I tend to be the queen of monkey mind, even at 5 in the morning, so I gravitate toward meditations with mantra. Since the beginning of the year, I’ve been chanting the triple mantra recording from this album, a practice that helps me to feel like I’m aligning with the flow of the universe. At the end, I whisper a “sat nam” to close this part of the practice.
  6. Consult the oracle. Had you told me at the start of the year that I would be using oracle cards on a daily basis, I think I would have laughed in your face. But! I’m working through an amazing course on self-care for healing professionals right now, and it is opening me up to new ideas. So… I’m having fun with this one. If there’s time, I shuffle the deck, ask my inner wisdom to guide me to what I need for the day, and pick a card. I’m finding this to be a fun way to connect with aspects of my consciousness that aren’t always right there at the surface.

After that, I’m up, dressed, and out the door to get some fresh air with my dog. In total, the routine above probably takes me about 20 minutes – totally doable on a daily basis. And that’s key! Start small and manageable, and see what works for your day. I’d love to hear what’s working for you.

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:

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!

31 Dec

Happy New Year!

New Year's Eve Cupcake Toppers - LaStudioprints via etsy.com

New Year’s Eve Cupcake Toppers – LaStudioprints via etsy.com

 

Just wanted to send a quick note to wish you all a very happy new year, and to share a couple of rituals I find comforting this time of year. My new year’s celebrations are simple and consistent – basically: reflect, set intention, eat. Since I’ve written about these before, this year, I’ll give you the highlights in link form:

My all-time favorite reflection/intention exercise comes from Andrea Scher – this year, she put it into a really sweet video message.

You can find some other helpful tools in my January 1 post from last year.

And if you’d rather work together in person to set a strong foundation for the new year, have I got the retreat for you (this Saturday!).

Oh! And let’s not forget the food! Do you do cabbage and black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day? This is a tradition that my midwest relatives find baffling, but let me tell you, the biggest display at the front of my Randall’s grocery store today was a bunch of cabbages and black-eyed peas. Peas for good luck, cabbage for prosperity. Can’t hurt, right? I laid out my favorite recipes last January in this post.

I hope you all have a wonderful and safe holiday. Here’s to a happy, healthy 2013!