Yoga On The Bike

Written by Heal Your Heart on . Posted in This and That

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Biking is one of those outdoor activities that one has a love – hate relationship with depending on one’s physical conditioning, endurance and the ability to enjoy solitude. For several summers, we biked as a family, our young daughters trudging along in their Burleys. But there has come a point where they have outgrown these convenient, lightweight carriages but are still too young to bike long distances with us. Hence, for the last two summers, I’ve stayed home with them while their dad went for long weekend rides. Besides, I’ve favored indulging in intense, 90-minute yoga sessions during the weekends to boost my daily practice. Yesterday however, my husband prepped our bikes and it was impossible to resist the urge to accompany him (particularly when we have willing babysitters in visiting grandparents!). So, I laced up my hibernating sneakers and got on my bike…

This experience was totally different from my last ride two years ago. I followed my husband at a distance getting reacquianted with the bike, the seat, the gears and the roads. Within minutes, it was as if every cell in my body had become attuned with the environment – the crunch of the gravel, the clicking of the gears, the vibration under the bike as cars passed by, the symphony of the morning birds, the myriad of colors of wildflowers, the smell of the wet grass, the cacophony of dogs barking all at once, and the cool wind in my face. An acute awareness descended on me as I felt my muscles cry for oxygen and threatening to go into anaerobic metabolism, my heart and lungs working hard to provide the precious life-giving gas, and my brain effortlessly coordinating every activity like a seasoned conductor.  Throughout the 10-mile ride, an intense joy came over me even as sweat poured and muscles whose existence I had forgotten announced their gratitude to be worked out. As I tuned in to the joy, Eckart Tolle’s words of “There is only this moment” came true. It then hit me that this was yoga!

Yoga is “union” in Sanskrit – union of awareness and movement, of body and thought, of consciousness with the unconscious to transcend the limitations of life as we know it. Yoga is more than exercise. In fact, for those who practice it regularly, yoga becomes a way of life. Yoga has transformed me as an individual in ways that astonish me. It has brought an intense awareness to every aspect of my life. Of my body – there are days when I can easily get into the headstand or effortlessly slip into Kapothasana (“King Pigeon”, an advanced yoga pose) or Chakrasana (“Wheel”, another advanced pose). On other days, I find it difficult to touch my toes with ease. This has brought an awareness of what makes my body more flexible – a light diet, warming up, staying active and hydrated. The motivation to get into and stay in advanced poses makes me choose healthier options. When in a pose and holding it for prolonged periods, the traditional teaching is to become aware of the breath and “let the breath body take over”. I’ve found that this is true for all other areas of life as well – letting the breath body take over when agitated, angry or fearful puts a space between the “me here” and “that there”. Thus, a shift in perspective occurs – gradual but definite and palpable. Becoming aware of the Self within has led to many other “perks” – greater creativity and focus, the ability to maintain one-pointed attention for extended periods, to take “good” and “bad” with increasing equanimity and grace and most importantly, the ability to relate on a much deeper level with one and all. I find this to be the greatest gift of yoga. Thanks to yoga, I connect with my patients in a way I didn’t before, somehow sensing that all that is going on in the other person to be going on within me. Likewise, there is a greater empathy while interacting with all – family, friends and even strangers. Finally, yoga has given me the ability to connect with myself and to see that none of what I see is me – not the face in the mirror or the body that can twist and turn into many poses, not the incessant stream of thoughts that claim to be me, not the ebb and flow of emotions that I thought defined my life so long ago. I am all of this, yet not this. I am much more that all of this, as evidenced by the occasional glimpse into the vastness of being. Yoga has taught me to feel pure joy just to be alive this moment.

As I found out this weekend, yoga can be performed ceaselessly – even on a bike ride.

Life, Liberty and Happiness

Written by Heal Your Heart on . Posted in This and That

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It has been a whole year since my last blog post. It has been a year of incredible growth; immense joy, immense pain and immense love, all of it culminating into coming face to face with myself. Stripped of all that I have held to be true and “me”. In total, naked honesty. And finding that this truth is what I have been seeking and yet running from, for as long as I remember. But never mind, the inspiration is here now to write again.

Going through all these changes during an election year has had me thinking long and hard into what it really means when we talk about Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness in the Declaration of Independence being our three most celebrated rights. Here is one perspective, from the viewpoint of a spiritual seeker..

What is Life? A question I’ve asked for many years, and now discovering that Life is literally the phenomenon of simply being alive. And that my right to Life, to just “being”, is simply about learning to let go into Her (it might as well be a Him, or It – gender is irrelevant). To trust Her. That She will take care of it all. It is learning to stop resisting, to really and deeply know that I am here, in this place, because Life put me here, because this is where the learning for me is at this moment.. In my work, in my family, in the mundane issues that come up constantly that I would like to escape sometimes. Even in the pain that arises on occasion that I would like more than anything to go away.  Finally, I am beginning to trust Life, and to truly be okay with the uncertainty of where this is all going. To not just be okay with it, but to thrive in it. Because, if Life did not think I needed this right now, I would not have this, or be here. How long it has taken to realize this! How long have I fought it, thinking that “I”, this little ego knows better? And amazingly, the more I trust Her, the better it gets. It turns out that whenever a change in my life or situation is needed, She either hands it to me, or creates circumstances where a change is necessary. Whether it is made willingly or unwillingly on “my” part is irrelevant to Her – She will not have it any other way. How long have I kicked and screamed, trying to change the course of things.. How much have I lamented when things have not turned out the way “I’ wanted them to? And miraculously, each and every single time that things did not turn out the way I wanted them to, it has been, in retrospect, the best thing that could have happened to me, and I have grown monumentally  as a result of it..  So there it is – trusting Life, and surrendering to Her is not just my inalienable right, but positive foolishness to not do so..

Then there is Liberty – ahh, the ideas this word conjures up! Is Liberty just the right to express myself in written or spoken word, and do as I please? Am I truly free with that sort of Liberty? Only now am I beginning to discover the sweetness of freedom – what it means to be free in this moment; free of past conditioning and judgment and to function in the here and now in a state of free choice. I can choose to behave in a certain way, no matter what has happened in the last moment. And this comes down to how much I can let go and trust Life.. Am I able to do this all the time? No. But, when I’m present in the here and now, interacting with people or situations, and living life without any pre-suppositions, I experience joy and beauty that I have never known. Most importantly, this kind of living in the now has led to fading of the continuous judging, comparing, and criticizing voice that most of us seem to take for granted as a ‘normal’ state. With that voice gradually subsiding, I am aware of a vast, expansive space, the space of true freedom. Liberty, it turns out, is a direct result of trusting Life – the more I trust Her and surrender to Her, the more freedom I experience..

Finally, the pursuit of Happiness.. What gross misconceptions of Happiness have I carried in my mind for so many decades! Even though I’ve joined the bandwagon and declared “Happiness comes from within”, I never really knew what that meant and never could really convince myself. Turns out that Happiness comes neither from within nor without – it is who I am, when I trust Life and live in a state of Liberty. It is the natural state of every being, when the mind is quiescent and the heart is full. The quality of Happiness is not an ordinary joy of having a desire fulfilled. It is that precious “gap” between thoughts, which becomes longer and longer as we learn to abide in it. It is silent, full, blissful, radiant.. It just is.. In the times that I rest in that silent happiness, it feels expansive, going in and out simultaneously, loving without discrimination, giving without concern and deeply connected with everyone and everything.

Our wise founding fathers sure were on to something when they placed Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness as the basic rights of all citizens. As we grow, learn, become pliant and let go of compulsive control, we find that these rights come to life within ourselves, touching our core and bringing us alive.

It starts here

Written by Heal Your Heart on . Posted in This and That

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The beloved City of Lights mourns. And the world mourns with her. As we watched the news last night, my family and I sat in silence. We had nothing to say to each other. Even, “Oh no!” seemed superfluous. In the aftermath of such an event, we expect anger to be the natural reaction. In fact, we expect retaliation in kind as a natural and just response.

Fortunately, my day began with a text from a dear friend. John is exceedingly wise, kind and beautiful. As we chatted, he poignantly stated, “I hope that we can all be still for a moment, reflect and pour our energy in the form of love towards France and her victims, rather than becoming immediately agitated and misdirect the same energy towards violent revenge. Yes action must, I think, be taken. But let us be still first.” His words felt like a soothing balm. 

I was reminded of a prayer verse from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad:

Lead me from the falsehood to truth.
Lead me from darkness to light.
Lead me from death to immortality.

The falsehood here is the total entrapment in the ego and of the ‘us versus them’ paradigm. It is the result of ignorance that shows up as darkness. In this model fear of death is inevitable. Violence is the result of fear. Retaliation is fear’s reaction to violence. Darkness begets darkness. 

Can we find stillness in this pain? While we mourn for the innocent victims of insanity, can we find compassion for the perpetrators? Think about it. How dark might be the hell for those living in hate merely in the hope for an imagined heaven? How depraved must one be to surrender to such perversion?

Stillness is the necessary prerequisite for illumination. When we remain still, we come to see that darkness is known by the light of awareness. Like the sun that doesn’t discriminate between the flowers and the weeds, the light of awareness allows everything to be known. Weeds are known only in comparison to the flowers – by the light of the sun. As long as we remain enchanted by the flowers and the weeds, we cannot turn our eyes toward the sun. We remain in falsehood, fearful of death. 

In the illumination of stillness, we come to see that there is no ‘other’. There is only me, no matter which way I turn. This is a peculiar light. It breaks the heart open so that it bleeds love. The love colors everything I do. Actions and responses that arise from light are surprisingly radical and ‘out of the box’. In turning to the light, I move from death to immortality.

Does this mean the world needs to sit back and condone acts of hatred and violence? Of course not! It means that we allow the light to lead our actions and not our rage or grief. We can continue to fight darkness with darkness. Or we can discover the light that expels it instantly.

Paris has stood tall through the wars and revolts that have shaped her history. She will stand tall again. We can aid her return to light – by becoming still, as John sagaciously stated.

It starts here. It always has.

Image: Jean Jullien (see here for an interview with the artist whose symbol of peace for Paris is trending everywhere).