Sunday, July 29, 2012

Celebrating the Subtle: Divine is in the Details

On my last day in Israel, I was at a 2-story commercial shopping mall with a few Israeli friends. My friend Adi suggested that I check out a store called Zara because, "every Israeli girl has at least one thing from there." I took her word for it, and in the end, bought an outfit. As I took my bag and we made our way out of the store, she said something to me in Hebrew which I hadn't heard yet. At this point, I'd been in Israel for about 3 weeks and was able to decipher basic conversational phrases, but this one was new.

She asked me what Americans say when someone buys something. I must have stared blankly at her, because she repeated the question again. "Um...we don't say anything to each other," I replied. I suppose this statement says it all...

In her tradition (she is Jewish Israeli), when someone buys something - clothes, a special gift, stuff for the house, etc.- they will say to that person, "tithadshi" in Hebrew which doesn't exactly translate to our English language, but this is like saying, "congratulations on your new thing."

This was so rich to me! What a rich culture! Israel isn't exactly a capitalist country, and given it's dense history of being thwarted geo-politically, economically and culturally, the citizens aren't all together wealthy. But they honor what they have, and they have traditions to keep this idea alive in the current generation.

I remember learning a traditional African welcome song from my drumming teacher who was native to Papau-New Guinea, Africa. He told me that in his country, they have a blessing for everything - even when someone spills water on the ground, it is seen as an offering to those who've died.

What if instead of cringing at the thought of waking up at 7am to take a new yoga class, or clenching your teeth in that hamstring stretch, we saw these things as opportunities in being alive?

What if the next time you come to class and find a sub in place of your favorite teacher, you celebrate the chance to explore your practice under a different lens, with a different tour guide? What if even our loses are offerings?

What would your day feel like, if everything you experienced was something to be congratulated about?

Mazol tov!

 and Namaste.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Vision: What are you bringing into the future?

Try this:

Write out what your life will look like. Get specific - qualities of the people in it, your attitudes, how you look, what you wear, what other people look and feel like, the kind of work you do, how you spend your time, what you spend your money on, how much you travel and commute, the kind of conversations you have with other people... Stop when you find that you've got the vision in your mind summed up well.

The next day, reread what you wrote from day 1 and this time, walk yourself through all of the events that would need to happen to make that vision happen - no holds barred, no such thing as an impossible feat. This time, write out the actions you saw yourself taking to get there.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Intention: A Dialogue with the Divine

It's been a solid month since my last post and I am excited to report that this hiatus was a consequence of some very exciting globe trotting! I spent the better part of June trekking around the great country of Israel - touring, learning, laughing, being in community and teaching yoga to new friends.

While there, I was privileged to experience the holiest day of the Judaic week, Shabaat, at the holiest site on the planet,  the Western Wall in Jerusalem. We arrived at sunset, walking across the city, through the great stone gates that led to the interior Old City of Jerusalem where I was met by an uproar of voices. As I descended a broad stone stairwell that led to the main floor where crowds congregated in modest clothing and head coverings. As I scanned the panorama of ancient architecture among sunset backdrop, I witnessed a few thousand people gathered in two seas split by a thin partition - men to the left and women to the right. There was so much movement! I stood in a kind of surreal awe at this mass of people in prayer of all kinds - dancing, singing, swaying, reading holy texts, repeating scripture, standing in silence, crying. (This remains an ineffable moment for me, but I'm doing my best to illustrate some sense of it for you here.)

Standing among thousands of people in their most sacred space, listening to the clamor of individual prayers coming together in waves of sound, I started to unravel the yogic idea of intention, and it's power. 

Without hesitation, I will tell you that I am not a religious person and I do not pray. That being said, I understand the desire to have a dialogue with something great and, albeit, divinely more "put together" than myself. I get that prayer is like intention, with a religious twist.

When I make an intention, I am creating a dialogue with myself in order to realize a more integrated version of who I am, my practice, or some other aspect of my life. Focusing awareness to draw up an idea or vision of what we want to see in our lives allows our quieter parts a chance to tune in to this idea, grasp it, and begin to create it.

Standing within the walls of a city that's been revered for it's holy antiquity and fought over for centuries, I felt at home with this sense of reverie and conviction. Often, I am beside myself as I learn how the body works as an integrated system, and that I am consciously aware of this inner working. The kotel symbolizes for the Jewish people the last tangible structure of their most significant house of god, their temple. They stand before it in honor, in worship and on Shabaat, in prayer.

It is commonplace for a person to come to the kotel  with a small piece of paper inked with a prayer. They press these notes inside cracks in the wall as a way to communicate directly with god. People come to this place from all over the planet, to dialogue with their holiest and most sacred.

As I walked through the stone corridors that led the way to my hostel, the echoes of mass prayer trailed behind in a blurry kind of bass. During very quiet moments, I feel this kind of reverberation in my own body, in the chambers of my throat as I chant and within the walls of my lungs as I breath. Inside of me their is a city whose people are reverent and history, antiquated -like Jerusalem.

Take the Brain Out: How Hip-Hop is like Yoga

I love hip-hop. Not the trash on pop-radio, not Kanye West or any rapper whose subject matter is money or women, and definitely not the stuff that's played in clubs. I love real Hip-hop - drum machines, stabby guitar lines, samples, scratching, intelligent lyricism, word play, cross references, subtext, collaborations.

KRS One, who to many is considered the father of hip-hop, defines the genre as "more than music," and challenges that it's a philosophy as well as a lifestyle. In his track "Hip Hop Lives ft. Marley Marl," he explains that, "hip is the knowledge/hop is the movement/hip and hop is intelligent movement or relevant movement."

Hip-hop is's vinyasa. It's a philosophy that encourages mindfulness, of staying relevant and moment-specific, of speaking from the heart to communicate clearly, of moving with meaning and standing for a cause. Like yoga, hip-hop culture demands participation, self-actualization, creativity and respect.

Friday night I had the luxury of seeing one of my favorite hip-hop artists at the El Rey Theatre in Hollywood. I've followed Aesop Rock for over 10 years, have loved every one of his albums, and his newest is no exception. His wordsmithery is impressive and calls into question the vernacular finesse and diction of so many of his peers.

Aesop Rock released his first album in over 5 years a few days before I saw him at the El Rey. One of his tracks off the new album, entitled "Homemade Mummy," instructs listeners how to mummify your cat. Give it a go and you may hear what I did - a deeply yogic subtext paired with a verse that educates.

"Take the brain out/keep the heart in..."


p.s. if you're not into hip-hop but are open enough to check out the link above, keep this in mind: I love this guy because he challenges your listening skills. Like a busy brain in a yoga class, tune in and listen. Adjust as needed. Repeat.