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.

In Praise of Spider Webs

Mind is the spider;

spinning, spinning, madly spinning.

Recreating the past; restless and poisonous.

A tapestry of turmoil.

Thoughts all connected with one unsubstantiated thread.

I lost my place in the center.

Terrified of heights,

I grip the edge, fearful of falling back down.

So desperate for a satisfying meal,

unable to get beyond the gasping fly.

Too self-absorbed to see the beauty of the whole web.

Be patient. Be still.

Web is an intricately woven Mandala; unique and purposeful.

A single silky strand crosses my forehead,

knocking me conscious.

Hitting me like Newton’s apple as I walk to awaken.

Spinning stops; I reconnect to Self and Source.

Using all eight legs to walk the path of the Eight Limbs,

I crawl back into now.

Namaste, Megan

Choose Love

Raw and scared and hopeless and unsure and angry and revengeful: Hatred is a result of all of these faces. There is no need to see photos of victims, know their names or hear their stories; I choose not to know so please don’t talk details.  My protective cover is on. The sensational story lines are for the primitive brain where we chose to attack or hide.  My heart already knows them as me.

Each time it happens, being alone is where I release.  How do I know how long to keep the band-aide on? As long as the wound is healing, it needs to be in the dark where all filters are off. In daylight, I walk a line between not suppressing my emotions and trying to hold space.  One morning I don’t want to leave meditation because that may be the only place all day I don’t feel guilty for smiling and not attaching to the madness.   And the next day I want to scream at the top of my voice “I am tired of all this shit you hateful pricks”.  I also cry unobstructed without needing to explain why.  “Stop your crying.  Act like a big girl.” That is the bad advice I heard the mother tell her child last week. I am a big girl and I do cry. I allow myself all this and more.  Each emotion has it’s own energy. I feel their sensations in my body and give permission to go there. I can hold myself in sacred space. And whatever they may be, I make peace with my thoughts.

Somewhere along the way, I learned it is not in my job description to tell others who I am. No matter how long or how well you know someone, you never truly know them. People are not put in my path so I can tell them about myself.  They are here to teach me about mySelf.  They expose my difficult parts so I can grow spiritually.  What makes me weak, angry, judgmental? Please push those trigger points.  I will embody a stronger vibration.  But when the world feels this broken, part of me feels the need to explain myself – that I am like a bear and my method of self-nurturing is hibernation. It doesn’t mean I don’t care or am in denial or avoidance. Solitude is where I dig deepest into my heart space beyond all that is black and dead.

“Don’t look for the light to find me, become the light.” The first glimpse is not going to come from the evening news, on social media or in an emotional discussion on current events.  I find it alone in my wounds.  If I let myself get caught up in the stories and conversation, even with the best of intentions, I stay in the dark. The wounds become universal wounds – my wounds.  Evil prevails and too much energy goes toward trying to fathom the despise in another soul. I am my thoughts.  Why do I want them to repeatedly be of hateful humans and tragedy? They want me to be scared and judgmental. Protect yourself. Don’t trust each other. Instead I will be stronger in my resolve to see myself in others; because it is not death I fear – it is a world of better people living IN fear.

Hatred is a small child throwing a tantrum.  It has limitations and will exhaust itself.  It is only satisfied when it gets attention and recognition; Enter the Aquarian Age of information where Mass Media nurtures hate.  Love knows no boundaries, has no agenda and tiptoes quietly through the human madness. The energy of the heart heals.  The mind judges.  The heart is empathetic and compassionate.  The mind wants revenge and justice.  Nothing sinks us into survival behavior faster than allowing hatred to gloat; or it sends us into an emotional upheaval that society then tells us to restrain; or into the ego where anger lives.  We are certain we are better than the perpetrator.  I tell myself my hands are not weapons of hate.  But what are the small ways that my words and thoughts harm others?

Today is a full moon.  I choose to magnify love.

Namaste, Megan

Falling, Flying and Wakeful Napping: Healing My Concussion

(This first person perspective was written in July 2010 while 6-20 days post-concussion. The timing of the concussion was incredibly serendipitous; six days later I was scheduled to attend an 11 day Yoga of the Heart training with Nischala Joy Devi at Kripalu Yoga Center. The program is designed for cardiac and cancer therapy, but it was a remarkable recovery option for concussion. This piece was never shared publicly until recently when it was typed up for a 15 page research report on Yoga for Concussion as part of a 300 hour certification with Inner Peace Yoga Therapy.  Thought it was not an official part of the research, it was included as a personal insight into a messed up brain and my continued motivation to study yoga therapy. I still believe the main component of recovery from concussion is patience, but I am hopeful that the standard of care will go beyond rest, limitations and restrictions. As multidisciplinary treatments are more readily understood and used in all areas of medicine, treatment plans that follow the yoga therapy model will continue to be developed for concussion.)

Falling, Flying and Wakeful Napping: Healing My Concussion

Being on a plane on a clear day is so amazing. It is a form of humility to feel so small as a city as big as Chicago shrinks down to something resembling an H scale train set. In years of flying, why haven’t I noticed this before? Comfortably connected, but without boundaries or motives; differences and judgement disappear from this height and my reality is tested.

This connection comes after going through the airport with a mixed sense of awe and fright at the number of people all scurrying along their own path. Winding my way through O’Hare is baby steps. I’m cautiously hesitant and extremely overstimulated. Living in the moment and being fully aware of my immediate surroundings is the only shield of protection, (that and a pair of dark sunglasses to hide my deep black eyes from inquisition). The words “please don’t touch me” repeatedly roll through my brain like an unchosen mantra. Resourceful with my energy, or lack there of, I allow myself to see everything without being there; unable and unwilling to join the party or react.

Oddly enough, an airport has never felt so peaceful. At the same time, I recognize that my brain is trying to chew through its leash and do what it wants. My movements are awkwardly unpredictable, like a blind drunkard. When I attempt to order a smoothie, my mind plays a game of Mad Libs with the sentences. Thank you understanding smoothie maker dude for your patience. I think you know the secret of my shattered brain.

Writing this now from the plane feels therapeutic because I have time to think and correct. This is perfect. My brain needs a challenge, but on my terms. Getting the thoughts from my head to the pencil to the paper takes time. And lots of erasing. When I go back to read the scribble, it is as if someone else wrote it.

It is likely that my desire to move in slow motion and watch the rat race in O’Hare as opposed to joining it is an innate, medical necessity. Six days ago, I was knocked unconscious when a pole of flying metal three inches in diameter hit me in the right temple, sending me to the ER with a concussion. With little memory of what happened, I know the best thing I can do is be present and forgiving of myself. My brain needs a healing, nurturing environment with limited stimulation. What could be more healing than yoga in the Berkshire mountains?

So I am on my way to Kripalu to do an 11 day “Yoga of the Heart” training to learn to teach yoga to heart and cancer patients. The irony is that I am now the one that needs serious recharging. After doctor recommendations, discussions with others who had concussions and reading all the gore the internet has to offer (in between much-needed naps), I have come to accept that it may be awhile before I no longer feel like a sea-sick sailor. At least I know my humor portion of the brain is still there as I seemingly inappropriately laugh out loud in my plane seat like a crazy person after writing the words “sick sailor”; the reality is that I was taken out by a sailboat boom.

Understanding this is a time to listen to and honor my body, I’m optimistic the word salad will settle as my brain finds balance. Mentally, I have made a list of the things I probably should not do: sailing (don’t really want to,) water skiing, any fast movement or contact, anything that raises my blood pressure or makes me sweat, and definitely no yoga inversions. That is a hard bit of reality when you love yoga, have 3 fun kids, live on a lake, the month of August is approaching and your nickname is the Energizer Bunny.

I keep coming back to one thought though: I believe in the healing power of yoga.

When I signed up for this training months ago, the ultimate goal was to empower others who also believe in their own healing power. The other day, frustrated and scared, I found myself doubting that same holistic approach to healing. Then I looked back at what brought me to yoga over 20 years ago – a desire and BELIEF that I could manage my panic attacks through breathing and meditation. After a double vision re-reading of Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor’s “90 Second Rule”, I promise to give myself 90 seconds of circuitry freedom to flush the brain no matter what flies out of my mouth. With courage and searching for the appropriate-emotion-meter in my brain, I am considering an additional purpose for this training. My hit to the head was taking one for the team – only I got hit with the bat instead of the ball. I will approach this as a research participant trying to study the benefits of yoga therapy for Post Concussion Syndrome. More to come…

11 days have come and gone and the Puja graduation took place tonight; amazement and joy. I’m beginning to remember what it is like to be a whole person in mind and body. Appreciating that there is no control group – I would have been hard pressed on this sacred ground to find someone else who wanted to get hit in the head and NOT practice yoga – I have to believe there is no better way to heal from a concussion than a yoga retreat; specifically the peaceful protection of Kripalu under the leadership of Nishala Joy Devi: veggie diet, no TV, radio, cell phones or overstimulation…not even my computer, which I purposely chose to turn off the past 10 days, (mainly because of the instantaneous high power headaches it caused); surrounded by calm, attentive people taken to a surrealistic level – the Cleaver family in yoga pants smelling like a garden variety of essential oils. Everyone smiling, but the kind of smile your feel in your heart. The environmental factor is huge: it is easier to be peaceful and centered when you are surrounded by it. And unlike in the airport, where I suspected people looking at my black eyes thinking “poor lady, someone beat the shit out of her”, there is no judgment or labeling. We are all here to heal from something, and some of the deepest scars are not visible. This setting is a true Avalon for those in need of quiet personal space and unconditional love.

As for the practical instruction I was blessed to received in the name of learning to teach Deep Relaxation Through the Koshas, I cannot say enough about the healing benefits of this mystical state between wakefulness and sleep. Guided Deep Relaxation through the Koshas, specifically when in the hands of someone as masterful and compassionate as Bhaskar Deva, is a blissful holistic opiate. I looked forward to my daily afternoon “naps” (don’t fall asleep or you will miss the good stuff!) like a kindergartener rolling out their mat after milk and cookies. Only in this case, the “nap” kicked ass on the cookies. The commercial “this is your brain and this is your brain on drugs” where they show the egg frying in the pan met its antithesis. With each Deep Relaxation, my brain took a relaxing trip to the island of tranquility. I imaged my brain as a little superwoman being fed the anti-kryptonite/concussion serum during each relaxation session. It was as if I could feel the neurotransmitters throwing a party inside me as the swelling subsided.

On the down side, listening to, processing and writing notes was a gigantic struggle. As I look back now, it’s as if someone else occupied my body and thoughtfully took notes for me. But this, too, was part of the healing. The exhausting part admittedly. Getting the two hemispheres of my brain to team up again and send the appropriate messages to my hand resulted in lots of cross outs, chicken scratch and frustration. (I would love to blame the poor spelling as well, but that is a genetic flaw.) Too exhausted to do anything but sleep in the evening, I would reread my notes in the quiet morning hours in my dorm room proud and amazed at my ability to focus that long. The first few days, it was as if I was reading all new material. What fairy delivered this information while I was sleeping? Gradually, my brain began to recognize bits and pieces of the material from the day before. The language and thought process made friends with my writing hand too. Since this was an intense 100 hour training, taking notes was necessary. And to some degree, the processing of seemingly endless hours of intellectual information may have aided my recovery. If I were to go on-line today, however, and search out yoga for concussion treatment, I would look for a program with less intensity and more nap time – think retreat not training. But the daily dose of deep relaxation is a must!

As far as the yoga asana goes, my practice was stripped down to about 1/4 of its usual strength and vigor. Delightful! One of the things I thought I would miss the most – the challenge of flow, big backbends and inversions – was replaced with grace; an acceptance of what I could not do and embracing what I could. In the yoga philosophy, this translates as being able to recognize my strengths through self-study (svadhyaya) and surrendering limitations to a higher purpose (ishvara pranidhana). Fortunately, Kripalu style yoga lends itself well to a gentle practice. In the big picture, the physical poses were like being offered desert when I was already satisfied from the meal; not necessary, but a pleasant accompaniment. I also learned to “under-do” – to fill my awareness on less, which is a feeling I will carry with me in my practice.

From a practical standpoint, I don’t hold much hope that football players or wrestlers will retreat to Kripalu after a concussion. But trust me when I tell you, it is their loss.

On to the real world. That’s a whole other story. Can you say relapse?

Peace,

Megan

Insider Journey -New Years Resolution

A day of resolution starts with purification. Awareness to connect to what is healthy and disconnect from what is not. How much of the path is already laid out and what can be manipulated with the mind? Desire leads to that which is changeable. Recognize unnecessary suffering. Draw old patterns out into the air and ignite them with intention. Empowerment to become.

Perception dims to where I see my reflection in others; Not in achievement but the struggles. Fear in Muladhara. Attachment in Svadisthana. Ego in Manipura. Separation and this season build upon the old framework. The false identities of Prakriti; that which is seen – constantly changing. Deep trenches of samskara trip me again.

This morning is a return to the dark where I barely sense that the pilot light is still on. Then it is about the willingness to commit. Again and again. Influence the direction of change starting with Self. There is no prescriptive pill to swallow with water. No bill. It requires determination in personal practice.

Internalize the vibration first in meditation. Heart passionately dances with each level of its being in Purusha; the seer – consciousness unchanging. Ask for an all access pass to the immovable reality; the source of all Light. This is the safe space where the energy used to resolve imbalance can now build the positive force within.

If the soul knows its purpose, who are the people planted that help to bring me to my higher self? My first partnership is with you. I want more of what you have, but this takes full surrender. Be still in seclusion with the resonance of love. The F word is faith.

Today, the journey backtracks to thoughts that form written words. Tomorrow it is a relationship with expansion.

“Love opens up the day, guides us on our way, illuminates the path we are to walk…” – Jai-Jagadeesh

Namaste New Year 2016,

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

Application To Be A Yogi

Dear Student,

Thank You for applying for the position of yogi/yogini.  This position is not to be underestimated or taken lightly, but a sense of humor is encouraged.  During your initial yoga internship, you may commit to only one or two class per week. Before you can make a decision to accept a full-time position, you have to show up for yourself.  Eventually, becoming a yogi will require more time in the form of every day mindfulness with family, friends and total strangers.  You may be training for this position while doing things that bring you joy as well as with people who deplete you.

Perhaps you think you are applying for a seasonal position and a 3-6 month commitment is sufficient.  This is accurate if you plan to return to your current position.  However, you cannot place a time restriction on transformation.

Please detach yourself from any outcome. Things happen that we cannot plan for. Do not quit.  Always code your program with the belief that you are capable and deserving.

You are encouraged take your work home with you; a home practice is highly recommended and could include a few postures, meditation, or taking time throughout the day to observe your breath. This will promote self-study, increase productivity and promote happiness. You might even sleep better and like yourself more.

You will need to gain strength, flexibility and balance. These are mental traits. At times, you will be asked to slow down and under-do. You will also be taken outside your comfort zone, dig deep within yourself and stay present for whatever arises.  This is a prescription to reduce your own suffering, be more compassionate toward others, and uplift you from a state of ordinariness.

This position requires you to accept that you are a multi-dimensional being. Yoga is meant to release karmic bonds of human suffering using the Panchamaya Kosha model; there is a unique physical body (Anamaya Kosha), a breath body (Pranamaya Kosha), a mind/senses/emotions layer (Manomaya Kosha), a deeper intellect representing the relationship between self and the universe (Vijnanamaya Kosha) and the even deeper layer of pure, unbound bliss (Anandamaya Kosha). We can get stuck in any of these layers. What on the surface appear to be physical postures will bring about changes to your whole being. Working with any one of the Koshas can ‘unstick’ all layers.

To say this position is in the field of health care is accurate, but understand that you are starting with all the healing tools you need already within you. And while long-term health is important, please find who you are in spiritual terms.

Don’t worry about a dress code.  You will be observing yourself from the inside.  What you may come to see is that you are a spiritual being dressed in a human form.  And the human form can be uncomfortable.  Over time, you will begin to see possibilities in yourself. You will want to change, or so it appears.  But what is really happening is not a change as much as it is a shedding of anything that didn’t fit you to begin with.

There may be tears.  Thank them for carrying the agitated energy out of the body. You are not the first one to wet an eye pillow in savasana.

And know that if you chose not to show up for class, your teacher and co-worker yogi’s miss you and may even worry about you. By coming to class, we extend our own life energy to others.

This position is permanent and you are everyone. The main qualifications are self-love and discipline. Are you ready?

Light and Love,

Megan

Morning

At the end of this longest darkness I see you and remember who I am.

Not able to tell if the day starts with snowflakes floating or fog resting; fingers fumble to write.

The window is a stoic wall.  My heart is the window.

In the safety of this sacred space I am learning to open.

Genghis Khan no longer holds the mic.

First shaking off the astral dust of last night’s dreams.  Attempting to make sense of what remains.

A dried sea sponge in need of your salty water, I taste you. Soak me. Fill me. Expand me beyond form.

My house of mirrors is too dark to see in Brahma Muhurat. Pure fire strength only reflects light.

Follow the flame inward and know my outward appearance.

Purity comes in self practice.

Before warm colors splatter the sky always the question – how can I be better today than yesterday?

Namaste, Megan

Mind and Body Medicine

Complimentary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) is increasingly blended with conventional medicine or used in place of standard medical care.  For example, cancer treatment centers with integrated healthcare programs may offer meditation and acupuncture as part of their treatment plan. CAM practices are often grouped together in broad categories such as natural products, mind and body medicine, manipulative and body-based practices, and whole medical systems.

At Bear Foot Yoga Healing, we recognize the bodies innate ability to heal.  By offering the most commonly used CAM therapies including deep breathing, yoga, meditation, progressive relaxation and guided imagery, you are given the tools to maintain and improve heath without any fear of side effects.

Additionally, we offer Healing Touch energy therapy. Healing Touch is considered to be a part of CAM’s mind and body medicine. Similar to acupuncture, both use ancient practices involving manipulation of the energy field (Qi or Prana). However, Healing Touch is non-invasive in the sense that the skin is not broken. Please visit  Healing Touch and the Energy Body to learn more about Healing Touch.

Finally, whole medical systems, which are complete systems of theory and practice, such as Ayurveda, the sister science to yoga, can be considered CAM. Consider signing up for our Ayurveda workshop this Saturday April, 19 from 1-5 pm.

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”.