Piles and piles of meditation homework

Shiva Rea is big on altars. She had a traveling one that her assistants set up every day during teacher training. She inspired me to clean up mine and make it even prettier for my nightly meditation.

My favorite things.

I haven't been here nearly as much as I should. My daily 30-minutes meditations have been sacrificed for work, television, dinner with friends, etc., although I am getting in 30 minutes a day at least four times a week. *Pat pat pat.* But now that we're on Week 5 of 6 of meditation class with teacher Rodney Smith, there is so much meditation homework, I can hardly keep up. Here's the running list:

  • Meditate 30 minutes a day.
  • Sleep eight hours a day.
  • Do one thing mindfully a day. (I'm still sort of mindfully brushing my teeth.)
  • Be totally mindful for an hour a day.
  • Do something kind for yourself once a day. (Rodney was very specific that this does not include eating chocolate.) 
  • Develop compassion by seeking out pain in the newspaper or people you see who are suffering. Put aside defense mechanisms like avoidance or saying they deserved it and instead see the suffering. Feel their pain, feel your own vulnerability and whenever you encounter pain, offer the phrase: "May you be free of pain and sorrow."
  • Perform simple actions that demonstrate the difference between language and experience. Touch something that is soft, think about how to describe it to a friend, then forget the description and feel the experience, not the words. How can thought inform but not determine your relationship to the world
  • Are you still with me?
We're supposed to be adding another mindful thing each week, so I am technically up to five mindful things per day. I sometimes call yoga my mindful hour, but frankly, my head is floating in the clouds for a good chunk of my practice. The compassion meditation was particularly rough. I have been exposed to my share of people experiencing life at its traumatic worst and felt their pain cut through me. I didn't think I was an avoider. But I realized during the week of compassion meditation that I avoid the eyes of the homeless woman wrapped in a yellow rain jacket who stands at the same corner every day during rush hour. She makes me sad, so I look away. This week, I looked.

Rodney had some profound words tonight. I always thought the 15-minute walking meditation, when our focus is each step and nothing else, was simply a physical exercise in being present. Tonight he clarified: What is movement like when it is not about where you finally arrive? When we live life outside the present moment, always thinking about the future or the past, the current moment never feels complete. Meditation gives us sanity, allows us to be satisfied with the here and now and helps us to feel our own sense of completion instead of looking outward for the answer. With meditation, we walk fully grounded.


Shiva Rea + Steve Gold = perfect yoga weekend

I don't like superstar yoga teacher worship. It feels wrong and a little icky. It didn't used to matter for me with master teacher Shiva Rea. The last two times I practiced with the surfing goddess yogini, I didn't dig her style. She was hard to follow, I couldn't hear her over the music and I couldn't relate to why people loved her so much.

I changed my mind.
  Shiva loves to dance.
Photo credit: Kelly Davidson via Yoga Journal 

After a 20-hour weekend teacher training with her, I still find her directions unclear. When she discusses yogic rituals, yoga's cultural roots and other elements of spirituality, she is sometimes incomprehensible. She throws out Sanskrit like nobody's business.  

Despite all that, Shiva unleashed some powerful realizations in me that took me by surprise. She encouraged us to jumpstart our creative juices in simple ways, like dancing in bed in the morning (truly), in the shower and even putting on headphones and grooving at work (It really works.) During the creative flow, she pushed us to drop any preconceived ideas we had about our practice, feel the music and let our bodies guide us. It was an amazing rush and release through music and movement and an intense reminder for me of how easy it is for me to hold back my authentic self out of some sense of propriety and concern about what others think. It's nonsense.

 You can't see the sacred ash smeared on my forehead above the red, which represents fire. You had to be there.

To build off of that day of inspiration through movement, that Friday night there was inspiration through song. Steve Gold was back in Seattle for a session of kirtan singing. I adore Steve and his wife Anne-Emilie. I still remember a retreat in 2007 during a kirtan session around a fire pit in the North Cascades when Steve, then a landscape architect, talked about the moment when he realized his true path was creating community with music. Look at him now, playing music full-time and traveling with Shiva Rea. Singing with Steve is so rejuvenating and I felt relaxed, free and open. Life should be like this all the time. Be yourself, let the creative juices flow, dance and sing with joy.


Meditation and mindfulness with an assist from Spoon

Two years ago, I tried to see Spoon at the Showbox. But there was very little planning, so the night involved my friend Lauren and I wandering First Avenue in downtown Seattle, hoping to find someone selling tickets to the sold-out show. We did not find said person, just a lot of other people doing the same thing. We gave up and got drinks at Chez Shea. This year, we were determined not to let that happen again. We bought tickets to Spoon (with incredible openers Micachu & the Shapes and Deerhunter also on tap) months in advance. On Saturday, we finally saw them at the Moore Theatre, and were rewarded with a fantastic, amazing show.

Picture courtesy Nasty Little Man via starpulse.com

I tell you all this long story about Spoon because it ties into the weekly meditation class that is kicking my ass, big-time. I decided during this very loud concert that I would be really present during the show. The goal was to do nothing but listen. I'd been excited about this show for a long time, so it seemed like a great idea. It was, in theory. I was lucky if I lasted 30 seconds before my mind wandered. I'm scared to think what decibel level is required to keep my mind present.

Our homework this week was to be mindful for an hour a day. I was barely keeping up with the two minutes of mindfully brushing my teeth at night, let alone the half hour of daily meditation. I've been trying to stay mindful during my 45-minute morning routine and have succeeded in roughly 15-second spurts. Teacher Rodney Smith also elaborated on identifying and detaching from emotions. For example, instead of taking feelings of loneliness down the rabbit hole and turning it into, "I'm lonely, I'm sad, I'll never meet someone, I'll be alone for the rest of my life," etc. (you know you've been there), he said just feel lonely and then it will go away about 15 seconds later. Everyone has feelings. Feel them, then let go. It sounds so simple, and it is so hard.

During a walking meditation in class, Rodney told us to focus on each step, how our weight shifted, how the carpet felt beneath our feet, how my jeans brushed against my legs to keep us present. He then said: "This is your life, right now." It's been my mantra for the week.


Yoga for Dudes, sometimes known as Broga

I saw this video the other day called "Three Reasons Why Men Should Practice Yoga." I can think of a lot more reasons than three, but I appreciate the effort. Most men I know still don't practice yoga. I ran into a friend awhile back who proudly announced he had checked out one of my studios. Me: "Great! Did you sign up?" He sheepishly said he didn't make it in the front door. He was stopped in his tracks by a picture of a guy wearing spandex. "Do I have to wear spandex to yoga?" he asked plaintively.

 It's my old friend Rodney Yee. Don't pay attention to his clothes.

For the record, a T-shirt and shorts are easy and just right. But for that reason plus many more, there's still a serious lack of dudes in yoga classes despite all of the guys who are interested in healing injuries or working on flexibility. One male yogi once told me he wanted to start "Broga" to help guys focus on poses more specific to their body type and, just as importantly, to eliminate the very distracting landscape of hot women in spandex. Touche.

Yoga is scary for women too. When I started five years ago, I was anxious about what other people would think of me in class, that yoga had swept the world and I missed the train, that I was not flexible enough, and it would not be enough of a work out. Wrong-o on all counts! But I suspect male emotions toward yoga are similar. I don't know if any male yogis are even reading, but if you are, what was the scariest part of stepping into your first yoga class? Or, guys, do you want to try yoga and you are just very, very afraid?


Review: Salvation via the Saka Pinda backpack

This is me, toting my mat with the Saka Pinda backpack. This is me, smiling because I love my new backpack.

I promised to follow up on the Saka Pinda backpack ($79), so here I go. After reading the accolades that rained down on this bag, I ordered one and hoped it was as great as everyone said. The dark blue yoga mat backpack showed up on my doorstep a couple of weeks ago, and I already wonder how I lived without it. My shoulder was suffering mightily under the weight of a huge canvas bag where I stashed all my yoga gear, and it already feels better. The shoulder straps are cushy and comfortable, my mat straps right in and I am so much more organized now thanks to all the handy pockets. There's even a little pocket on top that is perfect for a Caveman bar, my favorite between-yoga-class snack.

(I am quite obsessed with Caveman bars, an energy bar made in Washington. They are produced in small quantities, and my favorite, the coconut almond bars, has just three ingredients -- brown rice syrup, coconut and almonds. I even started buying in bulk at the Ballard Farmers Market just so I could have a constant supply. I'm that crazy, and they're that good.)

Look, more pockets.

I don't have a lot else to say about this bag other than if you're looking for a yoga mat bag, get this one. The main compartment is narrow and a little small, and I also would prefer a waist strap to keep it snug to my back, but maybe that's just habit from hiking. It would be nice if there were colors to choose from. Regardless, they are minor, minor criticisms. I adore this bag, and I would get it again if that wasn't completely illogical. I am happy to carry this bag every day.
Header Image from Bangbouh @ Flickr