Detoxing from detox-mind

One of the most tired words used in “the yoga community” is “detox.” One of the


detoxification (Photo credit: sillydog)

most tiring emotions and states of mind is fear, and paradoxically, talk of detoxification plays on, rather than reducing, fear. Detoxification regimes are, by nature, temporary and focused on ridding ourselves of negativity.

While reduction of bad things seems like a no-brainer winner, there are two fatal flaws in this plan. There is no end of “bad things” from which to rid our body-minds, and so the pursuit is really never ending, while the regimes are of necessity temporary.  The entire mindset and methodology are actually anti-yogic. While the Sutras talk about purification, the suggestions we are given there on purification have to do with care, love and adding more of what supports us, not forgoing specific substances or actions.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying there are no such things as toxins, or that they can’t cause disease (as one of the articles below asserts). Free radicals (ions) damage the body and can be lessened by yogic practices. Chemicals in our food irritate bowels and derange hormones. Mindfulness in how we source and prepare our food can lessen our exposure to these things. However, we will never be rid of free radicals or additives to the growing process or preparation of our foods. Our bodies are not dirty and do not need radical cleanses simply from being in the world. And the cult of negation doesn’t offer a wholesome way of living, only a wholesale way of marketing.

The Sutras offer suggestions on how to lessen suffering, frustration, restlessness and disturbance. Not so much instructions as strategies:

“I,32 In order to prevent [obstacles to self-knowledge]…habituate yourself to meditation on a single principle.

I,33 By cultivating attitudes of friendliness toward happiness, compassion toward suffering, delight toward virtue, and equanimity toward vice, thoughts become purified, and the obstacles to self-knowledge are lessened.

I,34 OR the obstacles can be lessened by forcibly exhaling, then retaining the prana during the pause following the exhalation.

I,35 OR another way to steady the mind is by binding to higher, subtler sense perceptions.

I,36 OR the mind can also find peace by contemplating the luminous light, arising from the heart which is the source of true serenity.

I,37 OR….

The suggestions go on. Not one instructs us to avoid, wring out or rid ourselves of a single thing. While they are instructing us on how to lessen “the obstacles” (= things that hurt us like disease, dullness, doubt, delusion), they suggest positive actions. Focus on this. Keep that. Increase this.

What if instead of denying ourselves anything (ok, the short list of exceptions includes crack, meth and murder, but you get the idea… and if not having this level of distracting substance is “denying” yourself, then you do, indeed, require a medical detox program before you return to simple instructions for everyday life. Not judging, just sayin.) So, how about instead of denying, we add more goodness to our lives. Instead of resolution we expand. Instead of fearing we love. Instead of subtracting we add so much of what feeds and sustains us there’s little time or space left for what we would subtract?

meyer lemon chiffon cake, lavender honey poach...

meyer lemon chiffon cake, lavender honey poached lemons, whipped cream and candied lemon dipped in chocolate (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And when we have those “toxins” (sugar, wine, <gasp!>

Layer Cake (film)

Yes, that’s Daniel Craig. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

cigarettes, <insert your choice of perceived vice>) how about we bring as much presence and enjoyment to our double chocolate layer cake slathered in mousse and drenched in brandy lit on fire with a cigar as we do to prayer? How about noticing the desires this satisfies as well as those it creates, the memories, ideas and feelings it soothes, evokes and inflames.  Bringing the same presence to the underbelly of our lives (I’ll let your imagination supply the less seemly examples) as we do the mat and the cushion is all we are required to do.

III,14 Our nature has a common source – the substratum out of which all latent, manifest, and unmanifested properties of consciousness arise.

Move in the direction of what you desire, everything you desire. The chocolate alongside your yoga and lots of fruit and veg (10 servings a day anyone?) and water and green tea and goji berries… whatever your good things are. The brilliant thing is that there are so very many. Good things. And the more we ingest (literally, figuratively, mindfully) the better we feel, the less room we have for “toxins” or what would produce them, and the less time we have to worry about how toxic we are or might be. We are too busy enjoying all the awesome. When’s the last time you had to turn down something fantastic because there were just too many other, more fantastic things in your life?

Eat enough spinach and a little whip cream doesn’t matter. Enjoy enough yoga and a late night of catching up on Downton Abbey doesn’t matter (ok, maybe a little. But not for long.) While the output may be the same – fewer “bad” things – the result is quite different. The result is part and parcel of the path, of choosing love over fear, abundance over denial, desire over rejection. Move in the direction of your dreams. Not out of the messy, sticky, ambiguous, ambitious, delicious stream of life. Yoga is about extreme engagement, not about running away.


Changing practice

Combat boots are very popular for women to wea...

Mine zip up the sides so I can keep ’em tied. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As I write this, I’m sitting on my balance ball in my yoga room/office next to my hula hoop in BDUs, combat boots and a yoga top. There’s a pair of trauma shears in my pocket and a carpuject device, all just in case I’m called in, and a blue tooth in my ear to take that call if it comes. Right now, I’m writing. If I’m called in, I’ll be medic-ing. I’ve come to think of all my identities as verbs so they don’t feel so heavy.

I’ve also begun the process of negotiating those identities. Being a Paramedic was once a dream so intense it burned the grad student right out of me. No longer a dream, Paramedic-ing is one of my awesome realities, all of which inspire in me gape-mouthed breathless devotion at my good fortune and the amazing opportunities put in my path. And the larger reality is this: for the first time in my life I have more awesome than I can do justice to.

I used to work hard to quit stuff because it sucked – cigarettes, coffee (I’ve stopped stopping that), snarkiness (always a struggle, cause it’s just so fun), late nights, drinking too much, that kind of stuff. And in the process I learned that working hard against things usually keeps them in my life (does it work that way for you, too?) That it was a matter of choosing away from them, not against them that helped them fade into the fuzziness and golden light of good stories. The difference is to choose something awesomer than you think the old thing will feel if you do it right now, just one more time, because it looks so shiny and sexy and real.

Now I find that I have so many amazing choices for how to spend my days that I constantly feel like “not enough.”  I’d tell you I don’t understand people who complain of boredom, but really that’s just another way of bragging about busy-ness <yawn> and I’m choosing away from busy-ness. I am too busy, but I’m not going to tell you about it when I call to ask you to do something for me – because I know you probably are, too. Or remember having been, and know it’s a choice. Anddo understand boredom. It’s the feeling I get when I don’t want to do what’s in front of me (Is it that way for you, as well?). And I also understand choices.

So I’ve realized that for the past several years I’ve been choosing away from Paramedicine, but not because it sucks, but because there is so much to do, to tell, to love and to give. I love what I do when I go out in uniform and go places with my partner that someone in a room somewhere else tells us to go just because some other person called and asked for help. I love walking into a 26A that turns out to be 10D (fill “ho-hum” in the first slot and “do something now” in the latter), I love listening to people’s stories about why they need help, and I love finding the kernel of what I can actually help with in their story. I love sirens (when I’m working, not when I’m not) and opposing traffic and getting a nasal tube and chest darts and trans-cutaneous pacing and chasing your life faster than overlapping pathologies can. I love a good trauma because it lets me and people I work and train with do what we train to do, and when we’re good all at once, it’s most certain access to flow, to presence and to grace.

But (you knew there was one, right?) I’m realizing how much I love the life that I’ve woken up to realize I’ve  created: one of writing and coaching and teaching that creates quiet and flow and grace without sirens and chasing lives. And last year, while we lived in Silicon Valley for the hubs’ career and I took a break, I realized the UN-think-able: I can live without them. Yeah, I’ll just let that settle in, ’cause it took a while for me, too. I. Can. Live. … Without sirens and do-it-now.

CRazY. “Crazy!” I tell you! And here I have been, trying to craft a calendar, a schedule, a mind, a life that let’s me encompass the whole big, badass mess of my identities and activities. Tuesday will be my day on the streets; Mondays I’ll tend to accounts and licenses and the paperwork of business; Wednesdays I’ll work on the book and the launch; Thursdays and Fridays I’ll write for other awesome people because they treat me awesome and give me lovely things to do. Oh, and pay me pretty nicely. I’ll be sure to take weekends off to re-charge the ol’ creative battery and tend to that crazily amazing hubs and our groove, and to practice yoga and meditation every day (I’ll just slip it in between the this and the that), hike a lot (gotta enjoy the new hip) and enjoy the hot springs I longed for like a 13-year-old boy longs for real experience all last year when we were in Hippy Disneyland.

And Danielle LaPorte is right: Balance doesn’t exist. I wasn’t balanced when I was learning to be a Paramedic and holding onto it isn’t balancing me – it’s tipping me right over. Of all the -ings I’m embracing, it contributes the least to the life I’m creating. One of these things no longer fits with the other things. Not because other people don’t see how elegantly they go together (they did for oh-so-long), but because the life that feeds the -ings is no longer aligned with everything it takes to do that thing: the continuing education, the getting into and out of uniform (Hint: it’s more than putting on and taking off clothes), the never knowing when a shift will really end or how many nights I’ll dream of that man, that woman, the old couple saying goodbye, or the baby not crying when he should be. [I once knew a medic who said he didn’t do that (remember, get moved by). He wasn’t a very good person.]

So this morning I rose extra early to get my practice in before I went on call, just in case. Today’s my last day on duty, on call, on the hook, in the bus, my last day “just in case.” From now on, my life is not “just in case.” My life is for the burning fire of creativity and words and serving in another, a different, a new way. I’m choosing away from “just in case” and toward definitely here. I’m choosing away from “fitting it in” toward placing it carefully. I’m letting something awesome go so I can grab the awesome right in front of me with both arms. My practice is changing. I’ll tell you how it goes.

How imperfect can a yoga teacher be?

Original Caption: Sergeant Kenneth Morgan, sen...

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I recently heard a well-known yoga instructor say something very nearly exactly like, “You have no business teaching if you’re thirty pounds overweight.” This got me thinking about degrees of imperfections and what qualifies a person as a teacher, beyond the requisite teacher training. For instance, if you’re looking for a personal trainer or a fitness instructor, you probably do want the one with an optimal physique as proof of their pudding. Or a drill instructor: for a drill instructor, you want someone who clearly punishes themselves, too, because it’s one less thing your brain can run away with as they’re shouting in your face.

Yoga is at least in part a physical endeavor. Is it primarily a physical endeavor? Do we practice yoga to purify and cleanse the imperfection so completely from our bodies that we really believe ourselves impervious? I guess if that’s the point of yoga, we really do want only the youthful appearing, halest and fittest among us instructing it. I, for one, am disturbed by a pervasive sense that if you have the “right” personal practice, and are performing it correctly, you won’t be subject to the maladies of the flesh.

We have certain stories about progenitors of yoga-dom overcoming and healing their own maladies. These stories form part of the justification for practice, our collective mythology. Is this the corollary of that self-healing myth: If your practice does not heal you and grant you a life of perpetual wealth, peace and robust good health, it is not yoga. If you practice dutifully and correctly you will not suffer. And to go one further: If you suffer, either you did not practice or you did not practice correctly.

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Change and Consequences

Evolution is change 3

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Hard and soft ways to react to our experiences and hold our bodies fascinate me. One of the ways that yoga has unbiddenly shaped me is to open my eyes to all the ways I’ve hardened my own body, mind and heart and so clear a path for their softening.

The last couple of weeks I’ve been listening to some sparklingly generous Yoga Teacher Teleseminars coordinated and hosted by Tal Rachleff. Several of the teachers have been influenced by a method of life coaching associated with The Handel Group. My takeaway from listening to these teachers is that the “Method” includes writing down our mental chatter (love this, and has roots in so many traditions – more on that in another post), stating our dreams in increasingly precise, positive, present sentences and crafting plans for realizing these states of affairs. One of the surprising and innovative strategies is deciding on effective, targeted, meaningful consequences for not executing on these plans. This consequence stuff really did shock me on first hearing, and so I’ve been turning it over in my mind. On first blush it seemed so harsh, and felt like my first Ashtanga teacher who was of the ‘pain is a sign you’re on the right path’ school. On second blush it seemed so elegant and logical. My mental chatter kept bouncing from these walls. Time to get writing.

The idea, again – as I understand it, is that after you’re clear about your desire, dream and goal you break it down into steps and then decide on an action you can take right now, and do it. Very cool structure because it allows infinite fine-tuning, tweaking and considered transformation. But this adds the sentence, “And if I don’t xyz, then I’ll ….”

And then I wondered: “If I don’t xyz, then why on earth would I …???” Right? Maybe I didn’t put it on my schedule and forgot. So then, what’s to remind me of the consequence? Maybe I avoided it because it brings up discomfiting emotions. Does the consequence have to be even more discomfiting? That sucks.

My commitment was to write down my mental chatter during my morning practice. The first morning, when I got up, there was no time left for my practice. As my mind twisted around to figure out how I was going to get my pedi in that day, it dawned on me that it was my chosen consequence to forgo it. Makes sense: no time for practice, no time for pedi. Cool, this is working. I felt grown up and responsible and very, very good. Odd for someone who missed practice this morning.

I totally forgot to write the second morning. I got there on the mat, I did my usual do, and phewt! Even though I’d gotten a special journal and put it next to the mat, I totally didn’t pick up the lovely turquoise pen. Not once. Shows me how much the chatter didn’t want to be written down!

And that’s when I realized the most important component of consequences for me. While I concocted consequences for my lapses of integrity, there was an essential component for them to work, and when it’s in place, the real consequences are natural. Awareness is both the cause and the effect, and because it’s a circular relationship, it is facilitated in the context of a modern, busy life by some kind of an accountability partner. Once awareness is achieved, the presence or absence of a monetary or treat or physical consequence may or not be valuable for other reasons (for instance, if you’re a parent, it can be a great teaching tool to create these agreements for yourself in the family to show the reality of consequences to our actions) the real transformation happens in the “Aha!” moment of realizing what you’ve done and cutting through your own bullshit. The consequence is missing out on the value of what you’d promised to do. The real consequence happens when you come to the end of practice and realize you’ve not written a single word, and yet the chatter was nearly deafening. The light that turns on, really stays on.

Always looking for softer ways of doing what was once hard for me – difficult, effort-full, will-full and imposed – this truly appeals to me. I’m still turning over the value of these concocted consequences, but am more convinced than ever of the value of writing our selves down. The consequences that matter most to me are the ones I don’t manufacture but are imposed by the structure of the activity itself: I really wanted the feeling of having gotten that practice. I’m deeply curious about what would have gotten spilled in my journal that morning had I had the extra ounce of awareness to put pen to paper. And I haven’t missed a practice since. I’m not sure I’ll ever get on a mat without pen and paper nearby again, this has been so fruitful. Now it’s time for my pedicure.

It All Comes Around

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Here we are again. If you’re new to my blogging, that might not make sense yet. I’m not claiming any sort of karmic or dharmic deja-anything. This was my first blog that’s still up and running, and now they’re all consolidated and unified here in one place, and I’ve come back home.

We started here as a fledgling way to share class plans, back when I was volunteering at the Senior Center – shout out to the North Valley crowd! I migrated to when I thought I was getting more ‘expert’ – whatever that meant. And I migrated again to when I got ‘professional.’

Well, I’m bringing it all back home because I’m claiming what I’ve been and what yoga’s been to me all along: Love, Truth and Beauty. We’ll talk more about all that in blogs to come. For now, Welcome. I’d love to hear your take: What does the phrase “Love, Truth, Beauty: Here, Now” mean to you? It’s big, isn’t it? And it’s immediate. And it’s complete. In all its glorious imperfection.

The Dude Abides, The Writer Comes & Goes…

To abide is to remain, to witness, to sustain and to look upon with kind regard. To abide is one definition of meditation: to remain with one’s own mind in a state of kind regard. To abide is a gift, a discipline and a way of love & I have the most loving readers in the blogosphere!

I’ve been AWOL for months, focused on other areas of my practice, following lights I didn’t at first realize would lead me away from blogging. And yet, you keep visiting, reading & letting me know you are out there. My own practice has become more vigorous and maybe you’ve been following the CampNYoga developments on Twitter or Facebook. How has your practice evolved in recent months?

So while the Dude Abides, I come & go and I’M BACK! I’ll be posting about weekly and next week I’ll have an update on the first, invitation only CampNYoga, complete with photos 🙂 Twice daily yoga and meditation classes, dharma talk with Kirtan on Saturday evening, massage in camp, gourmet organic camp cooking, wine sponsored by Meagan the Wine Goddess at ABQ Whole Foods. We’re not calling it a retreat, because it’s an advance: we’re retreating from nothing, we’re embracing our lives with Love. Love, Truth, Beauty: Here, Now. Peace.

6 week Blog Series on Beginning Personal Practice

There are amazing things going on over at LunaPresenceYoga, ones in which you can participate no matter where you are! (Julie, CYT & RYT & blogger extraordinaire is in Cleveland, I believe)

Six weeks ago Julie started a series on Instituting a Home Practice, a personal passion of mine as well! She is smart, informative, supportive and the photos alone are delicious treats of everyday art. She is adept at offering places to practice your yoga on the week’s theme whether you are a beginner, advanced practitioner, injured, exploring … where ever you are, she’ll meet you there (she even says so in her bio 😉

As I tie things neatly in a bow before leaving for my yearly galavant, I’m pleased to direct you over to her series. I’ve just read through it again and am inspired for my own practice.  I have my treeyoga sling for yogically playing with the trees and my newest set of yogapaws so I’m set for adventures both internal and external. This is an especially sweet galavant as half way through I’ll swing through Duke City to meet up with gorgeous husband man and we’re driving to San Diego where I’ll learn to surf (or at least begin 😉 the morning of my 40th Birthday! I’ll report back end of August, so til then I’ll see you in that place where you are you and I am me and we are One, the heart the hub of all sacred places: the mat. Yoga On.