of cages and keys

Hafiz Poem


This poem is on the wall calendar at the yoga studio where I teach, and it’s given me much to think about.

The small man builds cages … How have we been building cages in our lives? How do we imprison ourselves and others? What are these cages made of? Our own expectations, fears, judgements, and attachments.

The sage seems endless in his confidence and radiance. I imagine him walking under the moon smiling kindly as he leaves keys just within reach of the imprisoned. The keys are simple things: light, breath, awareness, kindness. The sage knows that you are not your cage but the person you become when you are free from it.

Today, see if you can drop a key for someone, maybe even yourself. When you encounter a cage, look between the bars at the human being inside, and see that they are bigger than that. Give people permission to grow and become their most radiant selves by acknowledging the goodness in them right now.

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A Ritual for Beginnings

It’s January first, and there’s a lot to look forward to in the next 364 days, but before we leap headlong into 2014, lets take a quiet moment to reflect, set our intentions, and welcome the new year. Setting your intentions is a simple but powerful practice that will help you shape your life according to your true inner wisdom and values.

I’ve modified the centering practice I use at the beginning of yoga classes to be used as a New Year ritual. You can use this short practice every day or expand on it with your own variations for a more personalized practice any time you are setting new goals.

First, find a comfortable seat — any way that you can sit upright with minimal effort or strain is fine.

Close your eyes, relax, and take your awareness inside. Feel what it’s like to be in your skin right now. Take note of how you’re feeling physically and mentally. Do not judge. Simply observe.

Next, take your awareness to the breath. Relax the belly and mentally trace the path of the breath as it enters and exits the body. Notice where the breath moves freely and where it encounters resistance. You may find resistance in the jaw, throat, chest, or belly. Any place where the body is holding on to tension or work of any kind, make it your intention to soften and let go.

Bring the awareness back to the breath. Spend a minute or two (or several if you can maintain focus) watching the breath and honing your focus. Let go of all extraneous thoughts.

Now, ask yourself: What have I come here to do?  What could I give to myself? What could I give to the world?

Whatever answer comes up, whatever form it takes, allow this to be your intention for now. This may last the year or maybe just for one day. You may wish to write down your intention or create a symbol to remind you of it — perhaps a piece of jewelry or something as simple as a sticky note you’ll see every day.

Revisit your intention often. If it continues to serve you and be in your best interest, you can carry this same intention forever. At some point, it may become clear that a new intention is appropriate for you, and at that point you’ll change it.

Trust in your inner guru. Trust that within you is a light and a wisdom that guides you. This wisdom is based in the ultimate truth of the universe, the divine fact of your existence. It is pure, without morality or judgement. It will lead you to the friends, lovers, teachers and benefactors you most need. It will show you your opportunities and your challenges. Invite this inner wisdom along with your intention to be your guide. 

Be grateful. Be grateful for all that has lead you to your current position in life and all the blessings and goodness that surround you now. Be grateful for your body, your mind, your health and wellbeing, regardless of their supposed imperfections. Know that you are exactly who you need to be and that you are perfectly suited for the journey ahead.

Welcome the future with an open heart and honor your place in it.

You’re going to have a great 2014. I just know it. It’ll be an adventure (it always is!) and you’ll learn a lot. It’s your choice to allow it to make you better, stronger, and more beautiful in every way. Go for it, babe.


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I Am Not My Work

Art by Benjamin Gabriel

Not too long ago, I wrote about how being a writer is meaningless. I’ve continued to think about that idea, and today I just want to share some thoughts about it.

I used to want to be a famous writer. Actually, I had a very specific goal — to have my works included in literary text books for high school and college students. I wanted my writing to be considered definitive of an era. After all, anyone can write a book, but in order to feel that I was really a good writer, I needed to be the best writer.

My entire identity and self-worth was wrapped up in this idea of being a great writer, and if you’ve any idea of what the publishing industry looks like right now, you can probably imagine how this is a problem. No one wants to publish your book? Probably because you’re worthless as a human being. That was pretty much my internal dialogue for a few years.

The prospect of earning a living as a writer was terrifying. I loved writing because it was literally my main tool for navigating the world. I trusted no one but my own writing, and I was completely wrapped up in my own inner world, which is why I had no close friends for a really long time. To turn that into a source of income made me feel too vulnerable, and I was unwilling to do any writing I didn’t really love.

At the same time, my yoga practice was starting to teach me, “You are not your job. You are not your belongings. You are not your social status.” I still struggled with the idea that I needed to be something more, something better. I needed to be great but couldn’t wrap my mind around what that meant.

Only when I started teaching yoga did that change. When I’m teaching a class, I don’t want to be famous, to prove myself, or to impress anyone. All I want is to do a good job for the people in front of me. When they visibly improve from one class to the next and say “thank you” to me at the end of the day, I have the most amazing feeling of success I’ve ever had.

I no longer feel that need to prove myself as a great writer. I write because I love it and because it’s a good tool for me. Writing is now part of my yoga, part of how I understand the world, but it’s no longer my identity.

After all these years, I realize:

I am not a writer.
I am a me.
Writing is something I do.
My writing does not define me.
I do.

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Spiritual Anarchy and Fallen Gurus

Anarchy Flower (detail)
Yep, we’re going there.
The yoga community has seen an awful lot of corruption in the past few years, and I know I’m not the only one who’s noticed.

Bikram Choudhury was recently accused of rape, and his teachings in general have long been a source of conflict in the yoga community. Kausthub Desikachar has been revealed as an abusive sociopath and disavowed by his teachers. John Friend has apparently committed fraud and alienated most of his students. Some would say these are sad times we live in, but I say: Welcome to reality.

Yoga teachers or any other type of teachers are not enlightened beings sent to earth to show you the way. We experience lust, fear, confusion, and all those other complicated human emotions. And we can be corrupted. Absolutely anyone with any amount of power or influence over others is capable of becoming too comfortable and too greedy.

We know that the practice of yoga can give people incredible mental and physical benefits, that we feel more peaceful when we practice and so on, but that doesn’t mean we become perfect. Never assume that anyone, even the most saintly teacher, is perfect. Never blindly follow. Open your eyes and consider what you are being told and reject what doesn’t ring true.

Lots of leaders and teachers in every field (politics, religion, and even science) try to boost their own authority by essentially invalidating your perceptions. They say, “I know better than you, and you should listen to me without question.” That way of teaching is dangerous because while it may impart some valuable ideas, it also invalidates the student’s primary source of knowledge — herself.

The Catholic church says if you don’t accept all the official beliefs of the church you’re not really Catholic. Of course, I know plenty Catholics who pick and choose which of the church’s teachings are most helpful and applicable in their lives, and I think it’s a perfectly reasonable thing for them to do. They practice birth control. They accept their gay children. They don’t go to church every Sunday. That’s ok in my mind. It’s their religion, and they get to practice it the way they want.

Yoga is the same way. You get to decide what you believe and how to practice it. If a teacher tells you some philosophy that doesn’t jive with your reality, ignore it. If you’re asked to do a pose that doesn’t work in your body, simply decline. This is your life, and you get to live it.

I guess you could say I believe in a certain kind of anarchy. We participate in society to prevent mob rule, but it’s essential that we do not become sheep, too easily lead to slaughter. There is no person who has real moral authority over you. No teacher, preacher or political leader has any moral authority that you cannot have over yourself. All of them can be wrong and should be subject to frequent questioning.

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Weekly Assignment: Describe Yourself in 140 Words or More

shape of a hoper

If you came of age in the era of internet profiles, you’ve probably spent a little too much time filling in boxes labeled, “Describe yourself briefly.” I get profile rage because I can’t describe myself briefly and get it right. Currently, my Twitter profile says, “Yoga teacher, writer, feminist, smartass.” If you get to know me, you’ll find all those things basically true, yet you can’t really tell anything about me by that. It doesn’t say, “I’m awkward and make inappropriate jokes when meeting new people,” because that’s not something I like to brag about. I chose characteristics I like about myself for the profile because that’s what I want you to see in me, obviously. Nonetheless, it’s important for me to be real and let you see my shortcomings, which is why I ramble on so much here!

This week, be bigger than 140 characters. Describe yourself in 140 words or more. No one has to read it, but if you do decide to share it, I think you’ll be surprised by the interest you get from others. People want to know you in a sincere, multi-faceted way, not just as an avatar that scrolls by on their various digital timelines. Be three-dimensional.Be imperfect, thoughtful, damaged, needy even. Write at least one paragraph that’s really true about yourself. What’s the most important thing in your life right now? How do you feel about your own face?

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