Blessings from the Celtic Solstice

This altar sends out gratitude for the earth that held and fed my ancestors.

It is an invitation to the wind to enter my window as I sleep and fill my lungs with the ancient memories of their resilience.

It calls to the water to nudge me tonight to flow through this lifetime as the generations of my fathers’ did; with the same acceptance the shore offers every unique ripple. Let the current carry my love and integrate the passion of this land with it’s immigrant shores. I am it’s child. My bones remember.

Goddesses of my clan, make yourself known, the way the new moon hides itself in humility and teases the earth with deep darkness. Splendid island, your latitude leaves little time for the earth to cast its shadow tonight. In this eternal light, release the inherited sorrow of my mothers.

If you walked here before me in the oppressive dark of the shortest days and I carry your blood, I celebrate you today in the longest sun. Much of what you had I want. Simplicity. Clarity. Vibrancy. Please honor my request to grow in appreciation of your elemental rituals and respect the omnipresent teacher, nature.

Tomorrow the days get shorter, but your message is clear. I will wake with the generosity of ancestral spirit pulsing through me; grounded in the strength of megalithic stone circles; enchanted in Sacred Presence. Midsummer’s Day, let my lineage lead the way…I am shining.

Beannacht,

Megan

Setting Intention in Yoga

The Significance of Setting Intention in Yoga

The word yoga has 2 meanings in Sanskrit: one definition is to yoke or union, as in the way we bring together the physical body and mind with postures and breathing. We also use the word yoga to describe a state of being where we do everything in life with more awareness. What we do and say to ourselves in class becomes a mirror into who we are and our self talk in life.  How do we respond when we are challenged in a pose? Do we painfully push our way through, degrade ourselves, get angry, or compare ourselves to others? When the practice appears easy or uneventful, do we mistake relaxation for boredom, have difficulty surrendering or does our mind wander off?

An important component of yoga as a state of awareness is setting an intention.  An intention can help guide us through the physical poses and choose the modifications that are right for our body and mind that day. Heartfelt intention also brings positive energy like gratitude, acceptance, peace or unconditional love to ourselves and others. The teacher will typically ask you to set an intention at the beginning of class. It is your responsibility to bring the mind back to your personal purpose throughout class.  When the intention is made from the heart, it is simple, pure and feels expansive, as if it is already a part of us that maybe we just forgot about or misplaced. Intention may be the same for days, weeks, or even years, and comes out of a commitment to support our highest self.  Where there is nothing wrong with doing yoga just for the exercise and physical benefits, setting an intention helps to make yoga part of your life!

A few suggestions if you are new to setting intention:

Sometimes an intention doesn’t come up right away.  Don’t pressure yourself.  Keep the space open for something to formulate any time during or after class.

Simply ask yourself any of these questions: what brought you to your mat today? What does grace mean to you? What makes you feel strong?  How do you find calmness?  What can you let go of today?

Think of something or someone you are grateful for; or think of the idea of gratitude.

If you come up with several purposes for your practice and have a difficult time choosing one, politely ask your heart what it wants.

When you are experiencing physical discomfort or disease in your body, set your intention to continually send healing thoughts and energy into that place.

Ayurveda sees the Self as a 3 legged stool; one leg is the physical body, one is the mental/emotional body, and one is the spiritual body.  If one leg of your stool has been neglected, set your intention to focus on that leg!

Feeling exceptionally joyful? Consider dedicating your practice to someone else who could benefit from your practice like a prayer. Imagine them watching you and send them your blessings at the end of class.

If the spiritual, esoteric and philosophical components of yoga do not appeal to you, set an intention purely for the physical body.  On a scale of 1 to 10, with one being completely easeful and 10 being extremely challenging, pick a number for your practice and honor that.

And if you don’t practice yoga, you can still benefit from the daily mindfulness of intention.

Namaste, Megan

Gratitude Meditation with Tarjani Mudra

Tarjani Mudra – Gently press the tips of the index fingers together, allowing the other fingers to relax inward.  Release the shoulders back and down, with the elbows held slightly away from the body and the forearms parallel to the earth, as if you are spaciously framing your heart.

Take time to settle in and relax.  Pick a place where you will not be disturbed by anything or anyone.  You may choose to be seated or lie down. Make sure the body is comfortable; support the body in any way that helps you relax. Allow your eyes to close and keep them closed until the meditation is over.

Become aware of the natural breath as it flows in and out of the nostrils.  Witness how steady and gentle it is. Notice how it moves in and out of the nose without any effort.  There is a sense of coolness on the edges of the nostrils and the throat as the breath comes in.  Follow the cool inhale from the nose to the back of the throat and into the lungs.  Then notice the sense of warmth on the exhale.  Follow the exhale out of the body.  There is a natural rhythm to the breath.  Connect to this rhythm. Then allow the breath to become longer and slower. Notice the slight pause at the end of the exhalation. Continue to breathe in this way for 8-12 more rounds of breath.

Now go back to the natural, easy breath. Release any control over the inhale or the exhale.  Take a moment and bring your awareness to the heart center.  Think of someone or something you are grateful for.  Or think of the idea of gratitude.  Experience the energy of that gratitude in the heart.  With each soft inhale, breathe the image of gratitude into the heart.  With each exhale connect to the feelings associated with that image and allow the heart to absorb them. Continue to breathe the image and feeling of gratitude into the heart for 8-12 more rounds of breath or as long as you would like.

You can access the energy of gratitude any time throughout the day just by being present in your breath and the heart center.

The Perfect Act

This may teeter somewhere on the yogic realm, but blogging about David Bowie fulfills a need to thank the man who widened my teenage eyes. Growing up in a we-are-all-the-same bubble of white, Catholic suburbia, Bowie had loads to teach me about being a happy teenager.

Not to underestimate his brilliance, which filled the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, the gratitude I have for this man has to do with his influence on social norms, or lack thereof. He was my Guru of Self Expression. Split Persona. Ziggy Stardust. Alternate Ego. Aladdin Sane. Individualism. Thin White Duke. Call him what you will. He made me realize that doing what I want is a really big deal; embracing the “AM” in the “I AM”. I understood and accepted ‘teen-me’, knowing that imperfections were not character flaws.  And he charismatically taught me that differences in others are ok; including the clothes they chose to wear, the color of their hair, if they are “too thin” or “too fat” and their sexual preference. Bowie got me thinking; Can I be who I want? Can I make a difference? Can I look at the weirdness in another and appreciate that perhaps that is the best part of them?

Listening to his dazzling lyrics, I imagined that we are all seeds that come from the same package, like those packages of mixed wild flowers where you never know what you will get.  We land in different soil and grow in a variety of environments and conditions. Together, we make a beautiful garden. To see it any other way was missing the point. The awe of this world is found in our individuality. To be able to embrace that in ourselves leads to acceptance of others.

I was at a yoga class yesterday morning when a few women in their 50’s who were unfamiliar with Bowie’s legacy spoke about his passing.  One of them commented that her big brother took her to see him in 1979 when she was 18, not knowing anything about him or his music. When her friends asked about the show, she said her only other standout concert was Lady Gaga; but that Bowie had more elaborate costume changes, better theatrics and a more powerful presence on stage. Then she said what mattered, “he was one of a kind.”  Aren’t we all?

Bowie arguably did exactly what he wanted, even in leaving his body on a Sunday, (2 days after the release of his 26th album “Blackstar” on his 69th birthday). In Girl Loves Me, he asks, “Where the fuck did Monday go?” It went to a pouring out of tributes to you, Mr. David Jones. Your final transition aroused a social media storm. The Facebook homepage filled with fascinating stories, dark lyrics, brilliant musical memories and absurd photos. Search your name today and see that you are the freak flag flyer that gave so many permission to do the same.

With three teens of my own, I look at current role models in the music industry and appreciate that Bowie was an innovator with a filter. However outlandish he may have been, he worked through his own conflicts without being offensive. Ahimsa in a pop icon. And to me, David Bowie was the Perfect Act.

“Whatever you do, let it be a perfect act.  What is a perfect act? It harms nobody, it brings at least some benefit to somebody.  If you have control, you can use anything and everything to achieve some good purpose. Keep that in mind as your goal.  Whatever you think, whatever you say or do, ask yourself: ‘Will it harm anybody?’  the answer should be, ‘Absolutely no,’ The next point is, ‘Will it at least benefit somebody?’ The answer should be ‘Yes.’ if it is not benefiting anybody, it is a wastage. So, no harm to anybody, at least some benefit to somebody.” – Swami Satchidananda

Namaste Guru of Self Expression,

Megan

Yogic Wisdom From The Hen House

We may see ourselves as the superior species but animals often teach us about our behavior – even chickens.  Consider the animal definition of the word brood: To sit upon eggs to be hatched. Brooding can create new life, or cause us to stay where we are to the point of endangering our health.

It is in a chicken’s biology (some breeds more than others) to sit on eggs with a goal of incubation. A broody hen occasionally decides to remove herself from the flock to a dark, secluded nest. She stops laying and only comes off the nest once or twice a day to eat and drink; the bare minimum for survival.  Her body can handle this abnormal routine for 21 days. But if the broodiness goes beyond the 21 days it takes to hatch an egg, the hen looses considerable weight, has bug problems from missing dust baths, the feathers get dull and fall out, and the comb loses its bright red color indicating serious health problems. And as far as their mood goes, even the friendliest hens get darn ornery! The problem is that a chicken may sit on eggs endlessly if they have not been fertilized.  And even when the eggs are removed from their nest, the longer she is left to brood, the less likely she will snap out of it.  My term for this is “hen hormone hell”. Rehabilitation requires that I forcefully remove Ms. Broody for her own well-being and put her in “broody jail” for approximately the same number of days she sat until the hormones are regulated and she can lay again.

Perhaps you have an interest in chickens to read this far.  But what does all this have to do with yoga? A consistent yoga practice develops mindfulness. When using the term brood in a people context it means to dwell on a subject or meditate with morbid persistence or to think deeply about something that makes one unhappy.  Unlike chickens who stop their daily routine to brood, we can unfortunately be going through the motions without even realizing we are continuing to agonize over something. The fifth of the Yamas (restraints) in the Yoga Sutras teaches us to recognize when there is a need to let go. The term for this is Aparigraha and is often translated as non-possessiveness or non-greed.  Nischala Devi takes a more practical understanding of the Yoga Sutras in her book “The Secret Power of Yoga”.  She suggests the Yamas are a reflection of our true nature and Aparigraha is the innate ability to recognizing our blessings in everything.  So I can choose to mope and fret or to be grateful for what I have… and practice more yoga!  The thing about yoga is that I can still be alone and it gets me off my nest at whatever level I can muster with asana or just mentally with meditation.

If you are an endocrine system affection-ado or want more scientific evidence showing how yoga rewires our broody brain, please read “Reducing Cellular Stress with Yoga”. In summary, cortisol levels, which is the steroid hormone produced by the adrenal glands, naturally go up in the morning when we need to get out of our nest and go down in the evening for sleep. Throughout the day, cortisol is meant to be our little helper when it comes to getting through short-term difficulties. When the stressful event is over, the adrenal glands need time to rest. But when we brood about the event, the adrenal glands miss their opportunity to rest; hormone hell.  Like my chickens, the longer I brood, the more difficult it is to rewire myself. There are also circumstances when brooding needs to be interrupted and I accept and appreciate help from my spiritual community.

Sometimes we need to remove ourselves from the outer world in order to “hatch” into something greater. Solitude and stillness are ingredients in transformation. And when incubating emotions, honor and enter into the loneliness or whatever the feeling is, but don’t let it take you so far that re-entry is difficult. Like when the hen continues to sit in the nest without realizing that there isn’t even an egg under her anymore. Sometimes I’m like that hen; sitting in my thoughts even when the event is over; sulking about the loss of what I had or worrying about not getting what I want.  Or experiencing self-doubt. The reality is we are always going in and out of changes.  And the positive side of self-doubt is humility.

Peace to all chickens world-wide,
Megan

How to Start a Daily Yoga Practice – with video

A question I am asked as a yoga teacher is how many days a week do I practice yoga.  Answer: every day.  But the next question should be what is a yoga practice?  What it should not be is a source of stress or guilt.  Rather, a daily practice should be whatever you have time for, considering what you need each day physically, mentally and spiritually. I often compare yoga to brushing teeth.  If you only have time to brush for one minute as opposed to the three minutes my kid’s orthodontist timer recommends, doesn’t that feel better than not brushing at all? Forming habits has little to do with duration and more to do with frequency.  And if the oral hygiene starts in the morning, you reap the benefits all day. Maybe later there will still be time for another opportunity to brush longer.

So find out what you need.  For me, a morning meditation is a must.  But the physical practice ranges from one and a half hours of strong standing postures outside listening to the birds (soon!) to a 20 minute restorative posture hibernating under the covers of my bed (Ohhh Winter – you test me.)  Years ago, while struggling with sleep deprivation from twins, anxiety and feeling I  “never had time for myself”, I  could not do lengthy meditations and a physical yoga practice. “One stop shopping” for body mind and spirit was required.  I created this short salutation to the words of a Tecumseh quote that is strategically placed on my bathroom mirror. While it is one thing to wake and read a positive statement of gratitude,  it is a stronger experience to embody it.

Disclaimer: this video was filmed in the afternoon after a 1 hour class.  Had it been in the morning, it would look like a different body – clothed in pajamas, groggy and stiff.  Not even a yoga teacher escapes the morning  fascia “fuzz”.