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Friday, November 27, 2009

Truth and Santa Claus

We’re driving in the car the other evening, and my six-year old son says, “Mommy, is Santa Claus real?”

It’s a question that causes every parent to gasp. He’s my youngest, and I want him to believe as long as possible in the magic and mystery that is Santa. It’s pretty amazing how many thoughts ricocheted around in my head before I simply said, “Well, honey, what do you think?”

There was a momentary pause, and he began to laugh. “Well, OF COURSE,” he giggled. “Who do you think brings all that stuff, the Easter Bunny?”

Now, that is funny.

I must say I’ve always felt a little uneasy with the whole Santa Claus-Easter Bunny-Tooth Fairy thing. When my children were really small, I remember thinking how important it was to tell them the truth, to be the one person they could count on to lay down the unflinching reality of life. I didn’t want to cause harm or create fear, or give them information they could not absorb. I only wanted to state the facts as I knew them and saw them, so that they could trust me on every level.

In yoga, the Sanskrit word for truth is “satya.” It is one of the yamas, which in the classic eight-limbed system is the very first step in the yoga journey. “Yama” means control or abstention. And the yamas are very much like the Ten Commandments, except there are five, and they are way more strict.

The yamas are to be followed on three different but interconnected levels: thought, word and deed. You must not only decide and accept what the truth is, you must also speak it and allow your actions to convey that truth. Finally, all three levels must be balanced with the most important yama, non-violence. As Goswami Kriyananda clarifies in his book The Spiritual Science of Kriya Yoga, “Many people find it difficult to distinguish between truth and untruth. Whatever the ultimate solution is for each individual, the guiding factor should be mindfulness so that there is: (1) No intention to harm. (2) A true understanding of truth in your own mind, speech and actions as it relates to the whole of life.”

This guideline requires that you have a “true understanding of truth.” I struggle with this. What is truth? “Truth is one, but paths are many,” said Swami Satchidananda. Sometimes it seems to me that the path is one, and the truths are many. Maybe the answer comes from investigating truth on a much bigger, cosmic scale.

Which leads me back to the bearded man in the bright red suit.

What to tell the children about Santa? My choice, wise or not, has been to dodge, parry and spin. I’ve been known to say “who, me, Santa? Are you kidding? Do you think I could travel the world and give out toys and still be here in the morning to make you breakfast?”

But I also remind them it is important to believe in things they cannot see and science cannot verify. It is important to think about angels and fairies, magic and mysticism. To remember that because we can see something with our eyes doesn’t make it real and it doesn’t make it permanent.

The most real things in this world – love, faith, God, energy – are invisible to most of us. Believe in the power of that which you cannot see but can feel and sense. That belief alone can be enough to make it so.

But also . . . seek truth.



Tuesday, November 24, 2009


In the spirit of the Thanksgiving holiday, I would like to offer up some gratitude.

You may have heard of Dr. Masaru Emoto, the scientist who has performed a series of experiments with water. He places the water in a freezer and, just as it crystallizes, takes a photograph. He does this while exposing the water to different stimuli – placing them in labeled containers, playing certain music, exposing the water to computers, microwaves, etc. For more on this, check out his book, The Hidden Messages In Water. It has lots of great pictures and is a quick, fun read.

In the prologue to this book, he states that the phrase “love and gratitude,” when placed on a container holding water, created the most beautiful water crystal he had ever seen. He suggests that those two words -- love and gratitude -- are the words that should serve as the guide for the world.

After reading the book, that really stuck with me. When I pray and meditate, I always remember to offer love and gratitude. And, in my daily life, I try to wrap every act with not only love and kindness, but with a grateful heart.

It is so easy to take things for granted. The warm water in the shower and soap to wash with; a light coming on when I flip the switch; the car that starts when I turn the key; plenty of food and clean water. I live a very privileged life on this planet, and the list is long.

Those things are material, temporal; they make life more comfortable. When all that is gone, what am I grateful for?

I am grateful for the grace of God, and the opportunity to enter the dream.
I am grateful that after many years on the planet, I have reconnected with a mystical tradition that feeds my spirit, and soothes my soul.
I am grateful for my parents, brother, and sister for loving me always.
I am grateful for my husband, who supports me, adores me, and makes everything better.
I am grateful for my children for their bottomless love and their patience while mommy grows up.
I am grateful for the guidance, wisdom and prema of the Holy Kriya lineage.
I am grateful for all my teachers.
I am especially for Enoch Dasa Giri (Guruji) and Kim Schwartz.
I am grateful for Mataji, ishta of my heart.
I am grateful for my students (who are often my teachers), who inspire me.
I am grateful for my friends, who are always there when I need help.
I am grateful for my sister and brother disciples, who help me to stay centered and grounded.
I am grateful for everyone who helped to create Uttara. (That list of people is LONG).

I am also grateful that you read this far.

Now it’s your turn. Make your list.
And remember, LOVE and GRATITUDE.

Happy Thanksgiving,



Friday, November 20, 2009

Teaching Yoga in Schools

There are few things as emotionally satisfying as teaching yoga to children. They totally get it. Closer to the source than most grown-ups, they are better able to open their minds to possibility and potential.

Most of them, unlike most adults, still live in their bodies. Ask them to chant “Ram, Ram, Ram” and they can tell you where it vibrates. Take them on a journey in their mind to a secret garden, or flying over the ocean, and they’re there. It’s not a leap for them to sense the connectedness between themselves and the animals, the trees, the stars.

I’ve learned a lot over the past couple years about teaching children and about children living in our culture. When structuring a class, the number one thing is have a Plan A, B, C and D. Children tend to merge into each other’s energies pretty quickly, and depending on who is leading the pack that day, the game that worked great with the first class might be greeted with sneers by the next.

The second thing I learned is that it is a different world, more challenging world. Children are coming to school without being fed. Without getting a descent night’s sleep. Without a pencil to write with. Without the ability to sit still or to listen. If you know anyone who is a school teacher, especially a public school teacher, you should go out of your way to thank them for their service to your community.

Last year I was teaching a small group of children. One girl was holding her stomach, her face pinched. I asked what was wrong and she said her stomach hurt. So we did yoga for tummy aches; knees into the chest, twists – we call it the “tummy series” at my house. At the end of class I mentioned to the aide that I hoped it had helped. “Well,” the woman shook her head, “it’s probably because she’s hungry.” It felt like a slap just to hear it.

Our children are under a lot of stress. A lot. Sometimes, I’m not sure that children from well-to-do familes are any better off. I’ve seen children that cannot sit on the floor with straight legs. Really; the back of the body THAT tight. I asked one little boy, second grader: “Honey, when you lay down to go to sleep, can you go to sleep or do you just lay there while your mind jumps around?” His eyes grew wide. “How did you know that?” he asked. How did I know? The body – it doesn’t lie.

The third thing I’ve learned is that children yearn to be noticed and acknowledged as individuals. I guess we all do.

Have you seen these cars around with the little stickers on the back that indicate the family members who ride in the car? The little stick-figure dad, mom, girl, boy and cat, or any of the endless combinations that we would label a family unit? What is it the occupant is trying to tell us? Is it that they just want to be acknowledged; for us to know a little about their story? Or because, without those other people and things, they have no reference point; no identity?

So often in yoga with children, they tell me little snippets of their life. “My Grandma is picking me up today.” “Daddy doesn’t live at my house anymore.” “I have a boo boo on my knee.” They see me for ½ an hour, just a few times in a month; and yet run up for hugs, for acknowledgement of their existence; to ask if they can share their pain.

Last week I finished up teaching yoga to the first grade at the local elementary school. At the beginning of the class I announced that it would be our last class until January because I’d be teaching the fourth grade for a few weeks.

Instantly one little girl raised her hand, and I pointed to her to speak, expecting to hear a request for a pose.
“I love you,” she said.
“I love you, too,” I replied.

THAT is yoga.



Monday, November 16, 2009

Clean up, Clean out

A collision of events has led to complete disorganization in my home. Seriously; it’s bad.

There are piles on the piles; things half done and undone. Mold in the bathroom, stacks of things to be filed, unhung pictures leaning against the walls. The cat threw up in the basement . . . a while ago (it is out of the traffic area, mind you). If my home were a feng shui movie, it would be rated R.

And it’s making me crazy. The more disorganized things are, the more it feeds the disorganization. When the baskets of clothes go unfolded, the clothes get tossed everywhere (“MOM! I have no clean jeans without holes in the knees!”).

The mess and distraction keeps me from accomplishing anything, because I must drift from place to place to find things, to locate a clean surface to work, or just to redistribute the piles.

So last week, I launched my attack. Lists made, boxes at the ready – the whole day wide open. Made some progress. But choosing what to give away, what to recycle, what to toss and what to keep are loaded with difficult decisions for me.

What about the giant stuffed pumpkin my Mother made for the children? The one she said was “for looking at, not playing with.” It was (of course) played with, and is (of course) in shambles. I’m not going to take the time to sew and/or glue it back together; returning it for repair loads me with guilt; can’t donate it because it’s a mess. And to send it to the landfill and require Mother Earth to slowly try to digest it seems even worse.

That is just one thing to make a decision about. I have these possessions (or, they have me); what am I going to do with them?

My next-door neighbor died suddenly last year; it was a terrible shock to me -- he seemed to be in pretty good health. It was also a shock because he was just a fabulous piece of humanity; kind, generous, smart, giving; he was a true inspiration. This Summer, they auctioned off the items from his home that his family did not want or need. It was a quite a spectacle.

The event lasted from early, early morning until after dark; just loads of furniture, art, household items and collections. Things you could tell meant much to him, and other things that were just saved because of some perceived future value. Tons of gifts he had received and stowed away. Things precious, and things not so. Things never used, never opened, but saved nonetheless.

It was a real wake-up call to see everyone prowling around his things. What would it be like if today, right now, my family had to choose what of my possessions to keep and what to let go of? What would it be like to relinquish my belongings to strangers? A good thing to think about because, someday, I will. It is important to recognize that people will be rooting around through my memories to determine what might fetch a good price on E-Bay.

What is it that is truly valuable to me? Am I ready to let things go when the time comes?

Looking at the big, BIG picture -- what else is truly valuable to me? What else do I need to let go of, and is the time to let go now?

It is forcing me to look at my belongings with a new eye. Less form, and more function. Less “gee, I might use that someday” and more “hey, someone else could be using this right now.”

But what to do with that giant, stuffed pumpkin?

Hmmmm . . . . *sigh* More than likely, pack it away and postpone my decision until next year.

Maybe I need to ponder that symbolism, as I catch up on the laundry.



Sunday, November 15, 2009

Poetry Prayer

I want time to pray.
I want time to play.
I want time to meditate.
I want time to self-create.
I want time to find bliss.
Time alone, I do miss.
I want time to find love
from That which is above.
I want prema, ananda, prajna, shanti.
I want blessings, forgiveness and divinity.
I just keep on wanting,
when instead what I need
is to empty myself.
All this wanting is greed.
I must empty and empty,
take the time to be still.
Until I do that,
there’s no room for God’s will.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Farmer’s Market

Went to the Grandin Farmer’s market a couple weeks ago. Saw the last of the Summer’s corn at a table and began filling my bag. Alongside me was an older gentleman pulling the tops down on each ear, grumbling, and moving on. Yes, there was some damage at the ends – that mushy stuff that comes from some type of worm – and he pointed it out to me, a cautionary hint. “Look” he said, opening an ear to show me. “Be careful.”

“It’s okay with me,” I replied. “I can just cut it off.”

“Oh,” he said. I considered launching into a local food/non-GMO corn tirade, but I decided against it. I paid for my corn and left.

This exchange came back to mind later that evening, as my children stood before the compost pile, peeling that same corn and squealing (except, of course, the six-year-old boy) about the worms in the tops of the ears. They stood as if posed for a photograph on three little stair steps. It was a precious moment. This made me think more about my decision to purchase the corn with live worms in it, instead of corn from the supermarket, where the worms (if the chemicals didn’t off them) are long dead from the process of transport, chilling, stocking, and sitting.

Somewhere I have read, “I want to eat what the bugs want to eat.” I agree with this sentiment, this emphasis on the natural. Truly, have we decided to sterilize the entire world? To not notice that things are born and die? That bugs and worms and the creepy crawly things helps us eat? That they, in fact, make it possible for us to exist at all?

Must we clean everything up? I’m just as big a fan of Clorox wipes and my Swiffer as anyone, but maybe I’m not looking at the big picture. We hide the sick and the dying, anything not suitable for family television. This affects more than how we thing about our food supply. This sterile attitude has permeated our entire society.

What are the implications? Well, the answer, my friends, is karma. If you poison your food to eliminate worms, then you eat poisoned food. If you poison your water for greater “purity” or a brighter smile, then you drink poisoned water. It’s cause and effect: you don’t let go of the glass goblet without expecting it to plunge to the floor. And you cannot – CANNOT – turn a blind eye to these relationships, to these errors we are making. When we demand perfection from nature, we end up living in an artificial and toxic world of our own design.

Today, right now, take a moment to embrace what is, especially yourself, with all the imperfections of your humanity. Visit a farmer’s market soon and support the fall harvest; take a second look at the imperfect squash and the slightly blemished apple; consider what really matters, and what does not.



Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Why blog?

Well, my friends, I am joining the ranks of individuals who think they have something to say, and hope they have someone to say it to. I’m beginning a blog.

Why? Well, mostly for the Studio – to help get the word out about yoga; not just classes, not just Uttara, but, YOGA.

The word yoga translates from Sanskrit to mean “union” or “integration.” So many in this country associate it with stretching, relaxing; maybe getting a stronger core or loose hamstrings. But truly, yoga is a system for solving human problems; it’s been on the planet, tried and true, perfected and taught for at least 5,000 years. Spandex and sticky mats are very recent additions.

When I teach yoga to children, I find it fascinating to ask them what they think it is. Most of the time they quickly arrange themselves into “criss-cross applesauce” (sitting cross-legged), place their arms dramatically out to their sides, thumbs touching pointer fingers, close their eyes, and hum. It is beautiful that they immediately hook into the meditative, quieting aspect of yoga.

The word for pose in Sanskrit is asana – and the asanas will help you to create a more healthy, functioning body. And a healthy, happy body does help you to create a healthy, happy life. But there is so much more to yoga than just stretching and strengthening. So much more than strong arms and tight abs. We perfect the body in yoga so we can forget about it and get on with the important work we have come here to do.

In the coming months I look forward to exploring yoga as a lifestyle, not a class. And I offer this viewpoint from the unique perspective of someone trying to blend this ancient tradition with my very average American life. As anyone with children can tell you, hiding in a cave somewhere and meditating for hours can sound pretty darn attractive. The path of the householder, of blending a spiritual practice and lifestyle with being a wife, mother, teacher and business owner can be complex, to say the least.

I hope you’ll join me on this journey, and we can learn from each other.

Blessings to you, now and always,

Shanti (peace),

Uttara Yoga Studio, LLC. Blog design by Jessica Hedrick