Called to the Dance Floor

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This made me laugh. The uninsured motorist who slammed into my car and gave me two forms of fake insurance is now filing an injury and vehicle damage claim against me thru my insurance company. Hahahahahaha! I really feel for him. On some level I feel angered by this and have a desire for more integrity and accountability. In a larger sense, I am grateful that I am in relationship with the universe in a way that inspires me to make different choices. I sent him a sweet picture of my painted car with a Hafitz poem last week. I still stand by it.

Ultimately, this is a big gift. I get to actively choose to respond from a place of rigorous honesty, compassion, forgiveness and love. This senario is absolutely calling me to be in integrity and look at the places within myself where I am not. I humbly state that I don’t need to learn these lessons like this in the future (listen up universe! I’m receptive already! I’m receptive! hehe!) but thank you for this opportunity now.  I get to actively unravel my own karmic samskara bit by bit.

Even as a look at my broken car, feel my (temporarily) injured body and experience small wisps of fear cross my mind about what else this man may be capable of, I get to CHOOSE to TRUST.  It’s like this whole experience is the universe tenderly calling me onto the dance floor. I get to be led by the most skillful dance partner! I get to surrender into the warmest strongest embrace I’ve ever known and discover what it is to be truly held. I am so open to and already receiving support in limitless ways I have yet to imagine.

I forgive this man. I wish him well. I hope whatever place in his heart that inspires such unconscious action is filled with sweet tender warmth. Really. This is frustrating me still but I won’t judge myself as the waves of frustration move through me. The love is bigger and carries more weight. 

~ artemisia shine

Courage to Marry Forgiveness

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Before and after. Ahhh, feels so much sweeter.
PicMonkey Collage

My inner response to the driver who was uninsured and provided two forms of false insurance after plowing into my car: I am calling in the support I need to fix this. My insurance does not cover my car but I am holding hands with the universe and she has me in the most tender embrace. I forgive you. May you be cared for, live with peace in your heart and have all that you need.

love,
~ artemisia shine

The moon starts singing
When everyone is asleep
And the planets throw a bright robe
Around their shoulders and whirl up
Close to her side.

Once I asked the moon,
Why do you and your sweet friends
Not perform so romantically like that
To a larger crowd?

And the whole sky chorus resounded,

“The admission price to hear
The lofty minstrels
Speak of love

Is affordable only to those
Who have not exhausted themselves
Dividing God all day
And thus need rest.

The thrilled Tavern fiddlers
Who are perched on the roof

Do not want their notes to intrude
Upon the ears
Where an accountant lives
With a sharp pencil
Keeping score of words
Another
In their great sorrow or sad anger
May have once said
To you.”

Hafiz knows:
The sun will stand as your best man
And whistle
When you have found the courage
To marry forgiveness

When you have found the courage
to marry
Love.

~ Hafiz

I sent this to the driver as an offering along with an invitation to choose to act with accountability and provide financial support to help us acquire a vehicle.

However he responds (or not) is perfect. In the face of so much community feedback to hire a lawer, this feels so much more in alignment with me.

Most importantly: It was SO FUN to do!

~ artemisia shine

Healing Breath

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Healing Breath

Source: Yoga Journal • Kate Holcombe • August 2012

Try these three simple practices to reduce stress, quiet your mind, and connect to your inner Self.

By Kate Holcombe

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A few weeks ago, my seven-year-old son, Hayes, told me he was having trouble falling asleep. He said that he was having “many thoughts” at night and couldn’t stop his mind from thinking. I told him about a breathing practice that I had taught his older brother, Calder, a few years earlier, and I suggested that Hayes could try it while lying in bed at night to help him relax and fall asleep. The practice was simple: a few minutes of diaphragmatic breathing followed by a few minutes of consciously and gently extending each exhalation.

“Maybe you’d like to try it?” I said to Hayes. “I think it was helpful for your brother sometimes, and maybe it will help you, too.” Just then, Calder, who had been passing through the room, announced: “You’re wrong, Mom.” I held my breath, wondering if he’d tell Hayes that my advice wasn’t going to work. “It doesn’t help me sometimes,” he said matter-of-factly. “It helps me all the time.”

I was pleasantly stunned. I hadn’t realized that Calder was still using the practice I had taught him three years earlier. As I knelt on the living room floor to teach Hayes the same practice, I was reminded that pPranayama, the fourth of the eight limbs of yoga outlined in Patanjali‘s Yoga Sutra, does not have to be complicated.

Pranayama, which literally means “to extend the vital life force,” or prana, is an incredibly rich practice made up of many breathing techniques that vary in complexity from ones simple enough for a child to do to those appropriate only for advanced practitioners. While the best way to practice pranayama is under the guidance of an experienced teacher, there are simple techniques—such as gentle diaphragmatic breathing and comfortably lengthening the exhalation—that can be used at any time to transform not only your breath but also your state of mind.

In my work as a yoga therapist, I treat people struggling with a variety of issues, including depression, anxiety, sleep disturbances, chronic pain, and even life-threatening illness. Time and time again, I’ve seen simple pranayama practices reduce stress and anxiety; promote restful sleep; ease pain; increase attention and focus; and, on a more subtle level, help people connect to a calm, quiet place within so that they experience greater clarity and well-being on every level.

In the Yoga Sutra, Patanjali describes pranayama as a process by which you can break your unconscious breathing pattern and make the breath long, easeful, and smooth. Most people’s unconscious breathing patterns are anything but easeful and smooth; they tend to be tense, shallow, and erratic. When we are afraid or hear bad news, we often gasp—inhaling and then holding the breath. These breathing patterns can activate the sympathetic nervous system (often referred to as the “fight or flight response”).

One of the primary reasons that pranayama techniques that foster a long, smooth exhale (like the ones presented here) are so beneficial is because, when practiced correctly, they can support the parasympathetic nervous system and activate what is commonly known as the “relaxation response,” reducing stress and its effects on your body and mind. As a result, your resilience in the face of challenge or adversity increases, and your mind becomes more focused and still.

A Quiet Mind

The eight limbs of yoga outlined in the Yoga Sutra are a path to help you reach a state of Yoga, or focused concentration. But this focused concentration is not the end goal. As Patanjali tells us, the result of reaching this state of attention is that you experience clearer perception and a greater connection with your true Self.

When you’re connected with your true Self, it becomes easier to see what is not your true Self—your mind, body, thoughts, feelings, job, and essentially all of the changing circumstances around you. This discernment allows you to act from a place of the Self, and when you do that, you experience less suffering.

Pranayama is an important tool to get you to this state of more focused concentration, leading you to clearer perception, a greater connection with the Self, and ultimately a happier life. In Yoga Sutra 2.52, Patanjali writes, “As a result [of pranayama], the covering that blocks our own inner light is reduced.” In other words, through the practice of pranayama, you can reduce all of the mental noise—the agitation, distractions, and self-doubt—that prevents you from connecting with your own inner light, your true Self. In this way, pranayama can have a profound effect on your life.

The Practice

Though practice of pranayama is safest and most effective when guided by an experienced teacher who knows your needs and capabilities, there are several simple techniques you can try at home as long as you’re in good health and you don’t push beyond your capacity.

The three breathing practices that follow—relaxed, diaphragmatic breathing; Sitali (or Sitkari) Pranayama; and gentle “extended exhale” breathing—are a good introduction to pranayama. Each supports the parasympathetic nervous system, quiets the mind, and helps to bring about a state of more focused attention. As you continue to practice these techniques over time, you may start to notice when you are unintentionally holding your breath or breathing shallowly. You also may begin to associate patterns of the breath with your moods or states of mind. This self awareness is the first step toward using the practices of pranayama to help shift your patterns and, through regular practice, create positive change in your life.

Try each practice daily for a week and observe how it affects your body, breath, and mind in order to figure out which is best for you. You can do them at just about any time of day, though preferably not immediately following a large meal.

Basic Breath Awareness

This gentle introduction to diaphragmatic breathing teaches you how to breathe more fully and consciously.

Benefits: Quiets and calms the entire nervous system, reducing stress and anxiety and improving self-awareness.

Try it: At least once a day, at any time.

How to: Lie comfortably on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor about hip-distance apart. Place a palm on your abdomen and breathe comfortably for a few moments, noticing the quality of your breath. Does the breath feel tense? strained? uneven? shallow? Simply observe the breath without any judgment. Then gradually begin to make your breathing as relaxed and smooth as possible, introducing a slight pause after each inbreath and outbreath.

Once the breath feels relaxed and comfortable, notice the movement of the body. As you inhale, the abdomen naturally expands; as you exhale, feel the slight contraction of the abdomen. In a gentle way, try to actively expand the abdomen on the inhale and contract the abdomen on the exhale to support the natural movement of the diaphragm and experience the pleasure of giving yourself a full, relaxed breath. Continue the practice for 6 to 12 breaths.

The Cooling Breath

Sitali Pranayama is often translated as “the cooling breath” because the act of drawing the air across the tongue and into the mouth is said to have a cooling and calming effect on the nervous system. To practice Sitali, you need to be able to curl the sides of your tongue inward so that it looks like a straw. The ability to curl the tongue is a genetic trait. If you can’t, try an alternative technique called Sitkari Pranayama, which offers the same effects.

Benefits: Can improve focus; reduce agitation, anger, and anxiety; and pacify excess heat in the system.

Try it: Twice a day, or as needed during stressful times. Sitali and Sitkari Pranayama are particularly supportive when you’re feeling drowsy in the morning or during an afternoon slump when you need to improve your focus.

How to: Sitali Pranayama: Sit comfortably, either in a chair or on the floor, with your shoulders relaxed and your spine naturally erect. Slightly lower the chin, curl the tongue lengthwise, and project it out of the mouth to a comfortable distance. Inhale gently through the “straw” formed by your curled tongue as you slowly lift your chin toward the ceiling, lifting only as far as the neck is comfortable. At the end of the inhalation, with your chin comfortably raised, retract the tongue and close the mouth. Exhale slowly through the nostrils as you gently lower your chin back to a neutral position. Repeat for 8 to 12 breaths.

Sitkari Pranayama: Open the mouth slightly with your tongue just behind the teeth. Inhale slowly through the space between the upper and lower teeth, letting the air wash over your tongue as you raise your chin toward the ceiling. At the end of the inhalation, close the mouth and exhale through the nostrils as you slowly lower your chin back to neutral. Repeat for 8 to 12 breaths.

The Long Exhale

This 1:2 breathing practice, which involves gradually increasing your exhalation until it is twice the length of your inhalation, relaxes the nervous system.

Benefits: Can reduce insomnia, sleep disturbances, and anxiety.

Try it: Before bedtime to help support sleep, in the middle of the night when you’re struggling with insomnia, or at any time of the day to calm stress or anxiety. (In general, it’s best to avoid practicing 1:2 breathing first thing in the morning unless you’re experiencing anxiety. The relaxing effects of the practice tend to make it more difficult to get up and go on with your day.)

How to: Begin by lying on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart. Place a palm on the abdomen and take a few relaxed breaths, feeling the abdomen expand on the inhalation and gently contract on the exhalation. With your palm on your abdomen, mentally count the length of each inhalation and exhalation for several more breaths. If the inhalation is longer than the exhalation, you can begin to make them the same length over the next few breaths.

Once your inhalation and exhalation are equal, gradually increase the length of your exhalation by 1 to 2 seconds by gently contracting the abdomen. As long as the breath feels smooth and relaxed, continue to gradually increase the exhalation by 1 to 2 seconds once every few breaths. Make sure you experience no strain as the exhalation increases and keep going until your exhalation is up to twice the length of the inhalation, but not beyond. For example, if your inhalation is comfortably 4 seconds, do not increase the length of your exhalation to more than 8 seconds.

Keep in mind that even an exhalation that is only slightly longer than the inhalation can induce a calming effect, so take care that you don’t push yourself beyond your capacity. (If you do, you’ll likely activate the sympathetic nervous system, or stress response, and feel agitated rather than calm.)

If your breath feels uncomfortable or short, or if you’re gasping on the next inhalation, back off to a ratio that is more comfortable for 8 to 12 breaths. Then finish your practice with 6 to 8 natural, relaxed breaths.

Kate Holcombe is the founder and president of the nonprofit Healing Yoga Foundation in San Francisco

Progress on the Spiritual Path: Krishna Das

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Progress on the Spiritual Path: Krishna Das ◦ Interview in New York

beautiful stream

“If you want to know if your making progress on the so called “spiritual path,” then see if you’re kinder to people. See if you’re a little easier on yourself. See if you obsess about your own self and all the stuff in your life a little bit less. See if you’re happier during the day in a simple way, more content. And see if you’re treating people more like you would like to be treated.  That means it’s working.”

~ Krishna Das
Come celebrate progress (not perfection!) every Tuesday and Thursday with me at Hatha Flow 11-12:30pm at Om Shala Yoga!

Ram Dass: Fierce Grace

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Ram Dass: Fierce Grace

I love this man. This beautiful movie is about Ram Dass’s experiences aging and the radically life changing event of getting “stroked.”

“Healing does not mean going back to the way things were before, but rather of allowing what is now to move us closer to god.” –Ram Dass

Rod Stryker on Tradition

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Eight Pearls of Wisdom from Rod Stryker’s Tradition Talk

Rod Stryker shares some compelling and controversial thoughts on the role of lineage and tradition in the study and practice of yoga. Below are eight peals of wisdom I gathered from the 1 hour dharma talk.  Watch the video below to gather your own favorite insights!

  • yoga is waking to the essence of being, the essence of life – the hight of becoming
  • you can do asana and not be established in yoga and you can be in yoga and not do asana…
  • asana is the adjunct, a tool that we use to achieve a greater freedom but we can have the freedom without the asana
  • you can only go so far as the quality of the thing you’re paying attention to
  • if you have that hunger then do the work of getting ready – when you are prepared the teacher will come
  • mentor-ship is an extraordinary model based on mutual love and respect
  • your teacher’s job is to turn you to your inner guru to give you the boat to get to the island that is your teacher
  • for those of us who have been practicing yoga for a while, we can’t ultimately reach the destination if we’re practicing in a one dimensional way

Enjoy the video!
Love!
~ artemisia shine

To schedule a private yoga session contact Artemisia Shine at 707.234.5411 or [email protected] / www.artemisiashine.com

p.s. Also check out this sweet short video “Is Tantra a Religion?” from Rod Stryker’s teacher and founder of The Himalayan Institute, Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD – “Find freedom in the world, not freedom from the world.”

Is Tantra a Religion? from Himalayan Institute on Vimeo.

Taking a moment to answer a few questions received from facebook and Twitter, Pandit Tigunait discusses some interesting topics, such as:

  • Is tantra a religion?
  • What is tantra?
  • How does yoga intersect with tantra, and how does tantra differ from yoga?
  • What advice do you (Panditji) have for yoga practitioners interested in studying authentic tantra?
  • What do you (Panditji) mean when you say: “Find freedom in the world, not freedom from the world”?

If you are interested in learning more about the Living Tantra Series, visit http://www.LivingTantra.com

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Tradition: Modern Yoga’s Missing Treasure or Obsolete Relic?
Rod Stryker at the Wanderlust Festival Speakeasy – Colorado 2012

Source: Wanderlust Festival You Tube Channel Rod Stryker • March 2013

Published on Mar 11, 2013

The sacred teachings of yoga have thrived from time immemorial thanks entirely on lineage—-the unique relationship between master and student. Yet, modern yoga is practically devoid of it. Why was this ancient paradigm for study considered so precious? Moreover, can the most elevated understanding of yoga (in the modern age) be realized without it?

Join Rod Stryker as he explores the concept of “Tradition: Modern Yoga’s Missing Treasure or Obsolete Relic?” at the Wanderlust Festival Speakeasy in Colorado 2012.

Rod Stryker is the founder of ParaYoga and the author of The Four Desires: Creating a Life of Purpose, Happiness, Prosperity, and Freedom. Rod is widely recognized as one of the West’s leading authorities on yoga, Tantra, and meditation. His teaching weaves a profound breadth of knowledge and experience, along with his unique ability to make the deepest of the ancient teachings accessible to students of all levels. Rod has taught for more than 30 years and leads retreats, workshops, and ParaYoga Master trainings worldwide.

For more information on Rod, you can visit his website athttp://www.parayoga.com/. You can also dig deeper on his writings by exploring his book “The Four Desires” or his meditation CD’s, “Meditations for Life” and “Relax into Greatness”, available in his online store here: http://parayoga.com/store/. Follow Rod on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/RodStryker and keep up with his tweets here: https://twitter.com/RodStryker108.

Wanderlust Festival is also endebted to Hay House (http://www.hayhouse.com) who helped us realize the entire 2012 Speakeasy Lecture Series across all four festivals (Stratton, VT in June 2012; Copper Mountain, CO in July; Squaw Valley, CA in late July; and Whistler, BC, Canada in August). With Hay House’s amazing roster of speakers (which you can witness in person at their incredible “I Can Do It” events), it’s no wonder that they helped elevate the conversation at Wanderlust’s Speakeasy this summer. We encourage you to stay tuned to the Hay House FB feed to make sure you know the next time one of their authors is speaking near you (https://www.facebook.com/hayhouse).

Speakeasy Series Realized in co-operation with Hay House
Speakeasy Video Production by C3 Presents & Greenheart Creative
Speakeasy Series produced by Karina Mackenzie
Makeup services provided by Dr. Hauschka
Music in introduction by MC Yogi “Sita Ram”
Motion Graphics by Victoria Nece

The Practice Of Love

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The Practice Of Love

Source: Shambhala Sun • John Welwood • May 2000

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“By allowing yourself the space to be as you are, you discover a self-existing sanity that lies deeper than thought or feeling,” says John Welwood. “For many of us this may be the hardest path of all—opening our hearts to ourselves.”

Freud once admitted in a letter to Jung that “psychoanalysis is essentially a cure through love.” Yet while many psychotherapists might privately agree that love has some kind of role in the healing process, the word “love” is curiously absent from most of the therapeutic literature. The same is true for the word “heart.” Not only is this term missing from the psychological literature, the tone of the literature itself also lacks heart.

My interest in the place of heart in psychotherapy developed out of my experience with meditation. Although Western thought often defines mind in terms of reason, and heart in terms of feeling, in Buddhism heart and mind can both be referred to by the same term (chitta in Sanskrit). Indeed, when Tibetan Buddhists refer to mind, they often point to their chest. Mind in this sense is not thinking mind, but rather big mind—a direct knowing of reality that is basically open and friendly toward what is. Centuries of meditators have found this openness to be the central feature of human consciousness.

Heart and Basic Goodness

Heart, then, is a direct presence that allows a complete attunement with reality. In this sense, it has nothing to do with sentimentality. Heart is the capacity to touch and be touched, to reach out and let in.

Our language expresses this twofold activity of the heart, which is like a swinging door that opens in both directions. We say, “My heart went out to him,” or “I took her into my heart.” Like the physical organ with its systole and diastole, the heart-mind involves both receptive letting in, or letting be, and active going out to meet, or being-with. In their different ways, both psychological and spiritual work remove the barriers to these two movements of the heart, like oiling the door so that it can open freely in both directions.

What shuts down the heart more than anything is not letting ourselves have our own experience, but instead judging it, criticizing it, or trying to make it different from what it is. We often imagine there is something wrong with us if we feel angry, needy and dependent, lonely, confused, sad, or scared. We place conditions on ourselves and our experience: “If I feel like this, there must be something wrong with me… I can only accept myself if my experience conforms to my standard of how I should be.”

Psychological work, when practiced in a larger spiritual context, can help people discover that it is possible to be unconditional with themselves—to welcome their experience and hold it with understanding and compassion, whether or not they like it at any given moment. What initially makes this possible is the therapist’s capacity to show unconditional warmth, concern and friendliness toward the client’s experience, no matter what the client is going through. Most people in our culture did not receive this kind of unconditional acceptance in their childhood. So they internalized the conditions their parents or society placed on them: “You are an acceptable human being only if you measure up to our standards.” And because they continue to place these same conditions on themselves, they remain alienated from themselves.

The Dalai Lama and many other Tibetan teachers have spoken of their great surprise and shock at discovering just how much self-hatred Westerners carry around inside them. Such an intense degree of self-blame is not found in traditional Buddhist cultures, where there is an understanding that the heart-mind, also known as buddhanature, is unconditionally open, compassionate, and wholesome. Since we are all embryonic buddhas, why would anyone want to hate themselves?

Chögyam Trungpa described the essence of our nature in terms of basic goodness. In using this term, he did not mean that people are only morally good—which would be naive, considering all the evil that humans perpetrate in this world. Rather, basic goodness refers to our primordial nature, which is unconditionally wholesome because it is intrinsically attuned to reality.

This primordial kind of goodness goes beyond conventional notions of good and bad. It lies much deeper than conditioned personality and behavior, which are always a mix of positive and negative tendencies. From this perspective, all the evil and destructive behavior that goes on in our world is the result of people failing to recognize the fundamental wholesomeness of their essential nature.

Meditation, Psychotherapy and Unconditional Friendliness

While studying Rogerian therapy in graduate school, I used to be intrigued, intimidated and puzzled by Carl Rogers’ term “unconditional positive regard.” Although it sounded appealing as an ideal therapeutic stance, I found it hard to put into practice. First of all, there was no specific training for it. And since Western psychology had not provided me with any understanding of heart, or the intrinsic goodness underlying psychopathology, I was unclear just where unconditional positive regard should be directed. It was only in turning to the meditative traditions that I came to appreciate the unconditional goodness at the core of being human, and this in turn helped me understand the possibility of unconditional love and its role in the healing process.

The Buddhist counterpart of unconditional positive regard is loving-kindness (maitri in Sanskrit, metta in Pali). Loving-kindness is unconditional friendliness—a quality of allowing and welcoming human beings and their experience. Yet before I could genuinely express this kind of acceptance toward others, I first had to discover what it meant for myself. Meditation is what allowed me to do this.

Meditation cultivates unconditional friendliness through teaching you how to just be—without doing anything, without holding onto anything, and without trying to think good thoughts, get rid of bad thoughts, or achieve a pure state of mind. This is a radical practice. There is nothing else like it. Normally we do everything we can to avoid just being. When left alone with ourselves, without a project to occupy us, we become nervous. We start judging ourselves or thinking about what we should be doing or feeling. We start putting conditions on ourselves, trying to arrange our experience so that it measures up to our inner standards. Since this inner struggle is so painful, we are always looking for something to distract us from being with ourselves.

In meditation practice, you work directly with your confused mind-states, without waging crusades against any aspect of your experience. You let all your tendencies arise, without trying to screen anything out, manipulate experience in any way, or measure up to any ideal standard. Allowing yourself the space to be as you are—letting whatever arises arise, without fixation on it, and coming back to simple presence—this is perhaps the most loving and compassionate way you can treat yourself. It helps you make friends with the whole range of your experience.

As you simplify in this way, you start to feel your very presence as wholesome in and of itself. You don’t have to prove that you are good. You discover a self-existing sanity that lies deeper than all thought or feeling. You appreciate the beauty of just being awake, responsive, and open to life. Appreciating this basic, underlying sense of goodness is the birth of maitri—unconditional friendliness toward yourself.

The discovery of basic goodness can be likened to clarifying muddy water—an ancient metaphor from the Taoist and Buddhist traditions. Water is naturally pure and clear, though its turbulence may stir up mud from below. Our awareness is like that, essentially clear and open, but muddied with the turbulence of conflicting thoughts and emotions. If we want to clarify the water, what else is there to do but let the water sit?

Usually we want to put our hands in the water and do something with the dirt—struggle with it, try to change it, fix it, sanitize it—but this only stirs up more mud: “Maybe I can get rid of my sadness by thinking positive thoughts.” But then the sadness sinks deeper and hardens into depression. “Maybe I’ll get my anger out, show people how I feel.” But this only spreads the dirt around. The water of awareness regains its clarity through seeing the muddiness for what it is—recognizing the turbulence of thought and feeling as noise or static, rather than as who we really are. When we stop reacting to it, which only stirs it up all the more, the mud can settle.

This core discovery enabled me to extend this same kind of unconditional friendliness toward my clients. When I first started practicing therapy and found myself disliking certain clients or certain things about them, I felt guilty or hypocritical. But eventually I came to understand this in a new way. Unconditional love or loving-kindness did not mean that I always had to like my clients, any more than I liked all the twists and turns of my own scheming mind. Rather, it meant providing an accommodating space in which their knots could begin to unravel.

It was a great relief to realize that I did not have to unconditionally love or accept that which is conditioned—another’s personality. Rather, unconditional friendliness is a natural response to that which is itself unconditional—the basic goodness and open heart in others, beneath all their defenses, rationalizations, and pretenses. Unconditional love is not a sentiment, but a willingness to be open. It is not a love of personality, but the love of being, grounded in the recognition of the unconditional goodness of the human heart.

Fortunately, unconditional friendliness does not mean having to like what is going on. Instead, it means allowing whatever is there to be there as it is, and inviting it to reveal itself more fully. In trying to help clients develop unconditional friendliness toward a difficult feeling, I often say, “You don’t have to like it. You can just let it be there, and make a place for your dislike of it as well.” Similarly, letting myself have my whole range of response and feeling toward my clients allows me to be more present with them. The more maitri I have for myself, by letting myself be, the more I can be with others and let them be themselves.

This of course holds true for all relationships. For instance, it is only when we can let our fear be, and hold it in a friendly space, that we can be present with our loved ones in their fear, or when they are doing something that stirs up our fear. We only react to others with blame and rejection when their experience mirrors or provokes some feeling in ourselves that we cannot relate to in a friendly way. In this way, developing loving-kindness toward the whole range of our own experience naturally allows us to have loving-kindness toward others.

The health of living organisms is maintained through the free-flowing circulation of energy. We see this in the endless cycles and flow of water, the cradle of life, which purifies itself through circulating, rising from the oceans, falling on the mountains, and rushing in clear streams back to the sea. Similarly, the circulation of blood in the body brings new life in the form of oxygen to the cells, while allowing the removal of toxins from the body. Any interference with circulation is the beginning of disease.

Similarly, when loving-kindness does not circulate throughout our system, blockages and armoring build up and we get sick, psychologically or physically. If we fail to recognize the basic goodness contained within all our experiences, self-doubt blooms like algae in water, clogging up the natural flow of self-love that keeps us healthy. But if we can extend unconditional friendliness toward our own or another’s whole range of experience and very being, this begins to penetrate the clouds of self-judgment, so our life energy can circulate freely again.

This understanding allowed me to approach psychotherapy in a new way. I found that if I could connect with the basic goodness in those I worked with—the underlying, often hidden longing and will to be who they are and meet life fully—not just as an ideal or as positive thinking, but as a living reality, then I could start to forge an alliance with the essential core of health within them. I could help them meet and go through whatever they were experiencing—as frightening or horrifying as it might seem—just as I myself had done on the meditative cushion. Orienting myself toward the basic goodness hidden beneath their conflicts and struggles, I could contact the deeper aliveness circulating within them and between the two of us in the present moment. This made possible a heart-connection that promoted real change.

I was inspired in this approach by the example of the bodhisattvas in Buddhism, who, in their commitment to help all sentient beings, join compassion with the discriminating wisdom that sees through people’s suffering to the embryonic buddha within. For me, seeing the buddha in others is not a way of denying or minimizing their suffering or conflicts. Rather, in the words of Robert Thurman, “A bodhisattva sees simultaneously how a being is free from suffering, as well as seeing it with its suffering, and that gives the bodhisattva great compassion that is truly effective.”

When bodhisattvas engender this kind of all-seeing compassion, according to the Vimalakirti Sutra, they “generate the love that is truly a refuge for all living beings; the love that is peaceful because free of grasping; the love that is not feverish, because free of passions; the love that accords with reality because it contains equanimity; the love that has no presumption because it has eliminated attachment and aversion; the love that is nondual because it is involved neither with the external nor the internal; the love that is imperturbable because totally ultimate.”

Honoring Our Experience

The poignant truth about human suffering is that all our neurotic, self-destructive patterns are twisted forms of basic goodness, which lies hidden within them.

For example, a little girl with an alcoholic father sees his unhappiness, and wants to make him happy so that she could experience unconditional love—the love of being—flowing between them. Unfortunately, out of her desire to please him, she also winds up bending herself out of shape, disregarding her own needs and blaming herself for failing to make him happy. As a result, she ends up with a harsh inner critic and repeatedly reenacts a neurotic victim role with the men in her life. Although her fixation on trying to please is misguided, it originally arose out of a spark of generosity and caring for her father.

Just as muddy water contains clear water within it when the dirt settles out, all our negative tendencies reveal a spark of basic goodness and intelligence at their core, which is usually obscured by our habitual tendencies. Within our anger, for instance, there may be an arrowlike straightforwardness that can be a real gift when communicated without attack or blame. Our passivity may contain a capacity for acceptance and letting things be. And our self-hatred often contains a desire to destroy those elements of our personality that oppress us and prevent us from being fully ourselves. Since every negative or self-defeating behavior is but a distorted form of our larger intelligence, we don’t have to struggle against this dirt that muddies the water of our being.

With this understanding, work with our psychological blockages becomes like aikido, the martial art that involves flowing with the attack, rather than against it. By recognizing the deeper, positive urge hidden within our ego strategies, we no longer have to treat them as an enemy. After all, the strategies of the ego are all ways of trying to be. They were the best we could do as a child. And they’re not all that bad, considering that they were dreamed up by the mind of a child. Realizing that we did the best we could under the circumstances, and seeing ego as an imitation of the real thing—an attempt to be ourselves in a world that did not recognize, welcome or support our being—helps us have more understanding and compassion for ourselves.

Our ego itself is testimony to the force of love. It developed as a way to keep going in the face of perceived threats to our existence, primarily lack of love. In the places where love was missing, we built ego defenses. So every time we enact one of our defensive behaviors, we are also implicitly paying homage to love as the most important thing.

As a therapist, meditation was my aikido teacher. As I sat on the meditation cushion with a whole range of “pathological” mind-states passing through my awareness, I began to see depression, paranoia, obsession and addiction as nothing more than the changing weather of the mind. These mind-states did not belong to me in particular or mean anything about who I was. Recognizing this helped me relax with the whole spectrum of my experience and meet it more inquisitively.

This helped me relax with my clients’ mind-states as well. In working with someone’s terror, I could honor it as the intense experience it was, without letting it unsettle me. I also took it as an opportunity to meet and work with my own fear once again. Or if I was helping someone explore an empty, lonely place inside, this gave me a chance to check in with that part of myself as well.

It became clear that there was only one mind, though it may appear in many guises. While this might sound strange and mystical, I mean it in a very practical sense: The client’s awareness and mine are two ends of one continuum when we are working together. Fear is essentially fear, self-doubt is self-doubt, blocked desire is blocked desire—though these may take on a variety of forms and meanings for different individuals. Realizing that I shared one awareness with the people I worked with allowed me to keep my heart open instead of retreating into a position of clinical distance.

Whenever two people meet and connect, they share the same presence of awareness, and there is no way to divide it neatly into “your awareness” and “my awareness.” This basic fact—that other people’s experience resonates in and through us, whether we like it or not—is why other people can grate on our nerves and “drive us crazy.” Yet this “interbeing” is also what allows us to feel genuine empathy for what someone else is going through. Before we can truly embody this vast space of empathy and compassion for others, where we can totally let them be who they are, we must first be on friendly terms with our own raw and tender feelings. For many of us this may be the hardest path of all—opening our hearts to ourselves.
JOHN WELWOOD, Ph.D., is a psychotherapist in San Francisco, associate editor of the Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, and author of seven books, including Journey of the Heart and Love and Awakening. This article has been adapted for the Shambhala Sun from his book, Toward a Psychology of Awakening: Buddhism, Psychotherapy, and the Path of Personal and Spiritual Transformation, published by Shambhala Publications. © 2000 by John Welwood. 

The Practice Of Love, John Welwood, Shambhala Sun, May 2000.
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Emotions in Motion

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Emotions in Motion

Source: Yoga Journal • Donna Raskin 

You reach up and back, your chest opening into a supported backbend. Then, suddenly, you’re in tears. How did you move from serenity to intensity in just one moment?

By Donna Raskin

Last summer, Danielle Pagano hurried to her favorite yoga class feeling rushed but happy. Everything was fine until it came time to relax into Child’s Pose just before the end of class. With her head bowed and attention focused inward, Pagano, a 33-year-old vice president of an international investment company, began to cry. She spent the next few minutes struggling to contain herself, and wrote the experience off to exhaustion. When it happened again the following week—this time earlier in the asana progression—she was stunned.

What had at first been a relaxing hour for Pagano had become a stressful obligation. She realized that something significant had happened, but she refused to return to class until she felt confident that an emotional upheaval wouldn’t occur again. Not comfortable talking with her yoga teacher about it, Pagano skipped class for a couple of weeks, choosing instead to discuss the incident with her therapist.

Though Pagano didn’t know it, her experience is a common one, as are the concerns it raised for her: Was something wrong with her? When would she be able to stop crying? What did the people around her think? And why did this happen in yoga class and not, say, while she was eating lunch or taking a walk?

It’s a Good Thing

“The holistic system of yoga was designed so that these emotional breakthroughs can occur safely,” says Joan Shivarpita Harrigan, Ph.D., a psychologist and the director of PatanjaliKundalini Yoga Care in Knoxville, Tennessee, which provides guidance to spiritual seekers. “Yoga is not merely an athletic system; it is a spiritual system. The asanas are designed to affect the subtle body for the purpose of spiritual transformation. People enter into the practice of yoga asana for physical fitness or physical health, or even because they’ve heard it’s good for relaxation, but ultimately the purpose of yoga practice is spiritual development.”

This development depends on breaking through places in the subtle body that are blocked with unresolved issues and energy. “Anytime you work with the body, you are also working with the mind and the energy system—which is the bridge between body and mind,” Harrigan explains. And since that means working with emotions, emotional breakthroughs can be seen as markers of progress on the road to personal and spiritual growth.

That was certainly the case for Hilary Lindsay, founder of Active Yoga in Nashville, Tennessee. As a teacher, Lindsay has witnessed many emotional breakthroughs; as a student, she’s experienced several herself. One of the most significant occurred during a hip-opening class. She left the class feeling normal, but during the drive home became extremely upset and emotional. She also felt she’d experienced a significant shift in her psyche—something akin to a clearing of her spirit. Lindsay felt, as she puts it, released. “There is no question that the emotion came out of my past,” she says.

By the next day, her opinion of herself had taken a 180-degree turn. She realized she was a person who needed to constantly prove herself to be strong and capable, and saw that this was partly the result of an image instilled by her parents. Her spirit actually needed to recognize and accept that she was a proficient person and ease off the internal pressure. This realization, Lindsay says, was life-changing.

Not every spontaneous emotional event is quite so clear-cut, however. Difficult and stressful breakthroughs occur most often when the release involves long-held feelings of sadness, grief, confusion, or another strong emotion that a person has carried unconsciously throughout his or her life.

“Whenever something happens to us as a kid, our body is involved,” says Michael Lee, founder of Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy, which is headquartered in West Stockbridge, Massachusetts(see “Therapy on the Mat,” below). “This is particularly true of trauma. The body comes to the defense of the whole being. In defending it, the body does things to stop the pain from being fully experienced.

“Emotional pain is overwhelming for small children, because they don’t have the resources to deal with it,” he continues. “So the body shuts it off; if it didn’t, the body would die from emotional pain. But then the body keeps doing the physical protection even long after the situation has ended.”

Painful experiences, Lee adds, can range from small, acute ones to intense, chronic problems. Still, the mechanism at play is unclear: “We really don’t understand the body-memory thing,” he says, “at least in Western terms.”

The Body-Mind Connection

In yogic terms, however, there is no separation between mind, body, and spirit. The three exist as a union (one definition of the word yoga); what happens to the mind also happens to the body and spirit, and so on. In other words, if something is bothering you spiritually, emotionally, or mentally, it is likely to show up in your body. And as you work deeply with your body in yoga, emotional issues will likely come to the fore.

In the yogic view, we all hold within our bodies emotions and misguided thoughts that keep us from reaching samadhi, defined by some as “conscious enlightenment.” Any sense of unease or dis-ease in the body keeps us from reaching and experiencing this state. Asanas are one path to blissful contentment, working to bring us closer by focusing our minds and releasing any emotional or inner tension in our bodies.

Though the ancient yogis understood that emotional turmoil is carried in the mind, the body, and the spirit, Western medicine has been slow to accept this. But new research has verified empirically that mental and emotional condition can affect the state of the physical body, and that the mind-body connection is real. (Newsweek and Time both dedicated issues to the topic last year.)

Many doctors, psychotherapists, and chiropractors are embracing these findings, and are now recommending yoga to help patients deal with problems that only a few years ago would have been viewed and treated solely in biomechanical terms.

Hilary Lindsay recently experienced this firsthand. “I woke up one morning with my body completely distorted,” she remembers. “I went to see a chiropractor, who told me plainly, ‘There’s nothing wrong with you physically.'” The doctor suggested she try a Phoenix Rising session, which she did. The practitioner put Lindsay into some supported yogalike positions on the floor. “He did not focus on anything more than, ‘Here’s this pose and how does it feel?’ I would say something; he would repeat my word and say, ‘What else?’ until I would say there was finally nothing else.” The therapist never analyzed or discussed what Lindsay said, but still, she felt he helped her to see her problem.

“When I drove off on my own, I realized my words had just painted a clear picture of my approach to life,” she says. “I saw a power-driven maniac who was probably in the process of driving herself nuts.”

As the day went on, she felt physically healed, and attributes that to the emotional outcome of the session, which the asanas helped her access. In other words, she was able to release the distortion in her body only by releasing her inner tension.

“I did not have any repeat of the symptoms,” Lindsay adds, “and I felt the calm that comes with knowing yourself a little more than you did before. The awareness does not occur like the lightbulb over the cartoon guy’s head. It doesn’t come ahead of its time. The student has to be ready to receive it.”

Forcing the Issue

Teachers are divided as to whether it’s productive to actually try to raise difficult emotions on the mat. “One shouldn’t really try to have an emotional release during asana, but if it happens, that’s fine,” Harrigan says, voicing what seems to be the majority opinion.

Ana Forrest, founder of the Forrest Yoga Circle studio in Santa Monica, California, is an experienced yoga teacher who has had her own emotional breakthroughs both on and off the mat. She is proud of her intention to push her students toward—and through—their own emotional blockages (see “Poses That Push You,” below). “It’s not that I push with my hands,” Forrest explains. “But when I work with people, I really ask them to go deep, and I educate them along the way. I tell them, ‘You’re going to hit what’s stored in there. Let it come up and be cleansed out of your cell tissue. It’s a gift of the yoga.'”

At the beginning of each class, Forrest asks her students to “pick a spot that needs extra attention, so you can connect to that spot and then feel what emotion is connected to it.” For example, when a student tells Forrest she’s just had her heart broken, Forrest offers this advice: “Challenge yourself to make every pose about moving energy into your heart.”

Her approach has worked well for many students, she says, but it’s not without controversy. “People challenge me on this all the time,” Forrest says.

Richard Miller, Ph.D., a yogi and licensed psychologist, says trying to cause an emotional release is a subtle form of violence, because it suggests that “you need to be other than you are.” A true yogic view focuses not on change, he argues, but on self-acceptance on the student’s part. “In that way, change and spiritual growth will unfold naturally,” he says.

Miller, who is also a contributor to The Sacred Mirror: Nondual Wisdom and Psychotherapy(Paragon, 2003), a collection of essays by meditation practitioners and psychotherapists, stresses that it’s important for teachers to neither comment on nor try to “help” a student through any release. “The moment we become helpers, we become hinderers,” he says.

Forrest, however, believes that “most people need help with this, as our culture doesn’t educate us on how to work in a healthy way with our emotions,” and that without assistance, many people will remain stuck. Students trust her, she says, because of her own traumatic past (which includes sexual abuse, she openly shares) and her experiences working through emotions. “I’ve had years and years of therapy,” she says. “I’ve still got twisty places inside of me, but I know how to accept and work with whatever memories need to come up.”

Forrest tells her students, “I’ve walked the road you’re on; I’m just about 10 miles ahead of you. But I still have a road to walk. I’m not enlightened, but I know what it is to have my spirit directing my actions.”

And it’s not just the student who learns from the teacher. Forrest says that through her students, she has grown from having “an emotional range of about four inches to a larger capacity—but there’s always a lot of room for breakthrough.”

Teardrops on the Mat

When a breakthrough does occur—even if it’s much-needed—it can be hard for a person to cope with it. “If there is a release of emotion in a particular asana, according to Patanjali‘s Yoga Sutra[II.46–49], the thing to do is relax into the pose, regulate the breathing, and focus on the infinite to become centered in the deepest aspect of one’s self,” Harrigan advises.

Harrigan thinks teachers should encourage their students to find a comforting and inspiring word or mantra to turn to anytime during class and to correlate with their breathing. “This is a centering device that is always at the student’s disposal, no matter how or when the emotional release occurs,” she says.

“I also recommend that people taking a hatha yoga asana class keep a journal of not just the physical experience but what goes through their minds and their emotional states,” Harrigan adds. “This way, they can consider the spiritual aspect of their lives very consciously.”

When a student is facing a welling-up of emotion, the most powerful action teachers can take is to simply offer him or her quiet support. “I would teach the teacher not to judge the event but to observe it with the discriminate buddhi [wisdom] faculty,” Harrigan says. In this way, teachers can help their students disidentify with the feeling but use it later for self-study, either in yoga class or out—as Danielle Pagano did with her therapist. It is always wise, Harrigan adds, for teachers to be on the lookout for students who might benefit from a referral to a psychotherapist.

It’s important for students to use their buddha minds too, and to get help when they need it. Whereas Lindsay felt released and was easily able to process her feelings on her own, Pagano knew she needed to talk with someone. There are times when a good therapist—as opposed to a good yoga teacher—is the right choice, agree all the teachers interviewed for this article.

Better yet, says Richard Miller, is a combination of the two approaches. “Some therapists don’t have an understanding of the universe as a oneness; instead, they often believe they are helping their clients to have better lives by supporting them in achieving certain goals or resolving specific issues,” he says. “Meanwhile, yoga teachers who speak only of hamstrings or Pigeon Pose are not communicating a true yogic view of enlightenment or inner equanimity.” The truth, Miller concludes, is that “we are not here to try to change ourselves. We are here to meet ourselves where we are.”

Poses That Push You

Asanas are not prescriptive for emotional issues in the same way they can be for issues in the physical body. But most of the yoga teachers interviewed for this story agree that some poses seem to initiate emotional responses more than others.

“Camel, hip openers, and lunges” Ana Forrest suggests. “Camel because of its immediate impact in exposing the heart, hip openers because they tap into the vital feelings stored in the area, and lunges because there’s a lot of unchanneled potential and power in the thighs.” Twists and backbends can also trigger an emotional release.

However, what works for one person may not work for another. You cannot demand release and expect a response, although you can certainly, as Forrest asks of her students, listen to your body and discover where it needs to untie an emotional knot. If your heart feels heavy, if your stomach is constantly in turmoil, if your inner child needs comforting, you can create an asana and pPranayama program specifically for your condition, the same way you might practice inversions or balancing poses if you want to challenge yourself physically.

—D.R.

 

Therapy on the Mat

As a longtime devotee of both the therapy couch and the yoga mat, I was curious how the two blend together in Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy.

Michael Lee created Phoenix Rising specifically to help students cope with emotions. It combines assisted yoga postures, breath awareness, and nondirective dialogue based on the work of Carl Rogers, in which the therapist acts as a sounding board, repeating much of what the student says to allow her to stay with her own train of thought.

Lee drew inspiration from his own encounter with emotions on the mat in the early 1980s. He was living in an ashram where morning practice took place each day at 5:30. “Every day for a year and a half, the guy on the mat next to me would get about one-third of the way through class and begin to sob profusely,” Lee remembers. “Some people found it disturbing. One day, I said to him, ‘What’s going on?'”

“I don’t know,” the man answered. “I just get overwhelmed by sadness. I try to hold back a little so I don’t bother people.” It turns out that he had been experiencing these intense outbursts every morning for 10 years.

“The guru had previously instructed the man to just stay with his practice, because he believed his emotions would work themselves out through asana alone,” Lee recalls. “But even back then, I thought the experience required a more integrated approach.”

Lee talked with the man extensively about his experience and, in helping him, created Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy. He launched the program at the DeSisto School for emotionally troubled teens in Lenox, Massachusetts, in 1986, building on his background in group dynamics from the psychology movements of the 1970s. (Lee is not a licensed psychotherapist.) Practiced by yoga teachers, bodyworkers, physical therapists, and psychologists, the method aims to bridge the gap between body and mind. Unlike traditional therapy—which might focus on eliminating a phobia or improving a skill, such as communication between spouses—Phoenix Rising sessions focus on helping people recognize their own body’s wisdom and get to the source of emotions that may be causing aches and pains, physical or otherwise.

I wanted to experience the method for myself, so I turned to Carol S. James, one of 1,012 Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy practitioners around the world. We began by talking on a couch, where James asked me about my health, state of mind, and background. After telling her about a few things that were troubling my mind on that particular day, we moved to another area in the softly lit room, where we sat facing each other on a large, puffy mat. James asked me to focus on my breath, which brought me into the moment and allowed me to begin to talk.

Throughout the session, she moved me into very gentle supported poses (backbends, forward bends, and leg stretches), almost the way a personal trainer might stretch a client at the end of a workout. She asked me to tell her more about my thoughts, and repeated many of my words. The session sounded something like this:

“I feel sad that I’m 40 and alone.”

“You’re sad that you’re 40 and alone.”

“It’s surprising. I didn’t expect this to happen.”

“You’re surprised. Tell me more about that.”

And so on, until I found myself leaning back, physically, directly onto Carol and telling her more—a “more” I had never gotten to before.

The experience of physically leaning on someone while revealing myself to the person was one of the most profound I have ever had. During my session, I felt a connection to my deepest self, the self that is at peace. The combination of discussion and touch was sweet and deep.

At the end of the session, my heart was as open with love toward myself as it had ever been. The emotional breakthrough was not traumatic but physically and spiritually enlightening. I hate to glibly paraphrase Bob Dylan, but I truly felt released, and as Richard Miller said, I met myself right where I was, with love.

—D.R.

Donna Raskin is a yoga teacher and writer in Rockport, Massachusetts, and author ofYoga Beats the Blues (Fair Winds, 2003).

What Makes Your Heart Sing?

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What Makes Your Heart Sing?

by Artemisia Shine

We each waltz with a unique vibration that adds to the richness and texture of the unifying symphony of the Universe. We are here to playfully embody our deepest passions, gifts and skills in harmony with the cosmic dance. Let’s get our boogie on!
 
As you rise each morning, what is your life in service to – your work, your loved ones, amassing material resources, clinging to momentary pleasures, seeking validation, creating beauty, avoiding pain? What part of this equation is in service to your highest calling? WHAT ANIMATES YOUR SPIRIT? How do you honor that each day? 
 
Close your eyes and tap into your deep inner-rhythm; what inspires your heart to sing? Do you create time each day to listen? How much of your life is organized around this song? You are the eyes, the ears, the breath of essence experiencing life through you. Your entire being is a sacred offering. This body, this lifetime is a precious gift and we are each a miracle wrapped in temporal skin. Every moment is ripe with opportunity to tune into your unique rhythm. Take a moment right now to breath and listen for your own heart wisdom. How does the universe hum through you? Consciously offer up your enchanted vibration to the collective symphony.

Choose what you give your attention to. Not tomorrow, not next week, not after you loose those pesky 8 pounds or when you get a better job. Now. Right now. This moment. This breath. Step into the limitless stream of beauty, strength, love and inspiration that moves you in line with the joy of your own beingness.
 
Let your day unfurl from a continual return to conscious awareness. Find your heart beat in between the big moments even as minor irritations and major obstacles clamor their dissonant chords. Nestle into that pulse of aliveness. Open up to whatever arises as a tuning fork for your soul. 

This practice is not about becoming someone else or morphing into a better version of you. It is about revealing who you really are when you’re not diverting your attention by people-pleasing, minimizing your gifts, affecting a façade, making excuses, or safe-guarding your heart. It’s about realizing the Self through your most tender moments of expression.

You were born to revel in the exhilaration of doing what you most love. Let your presence bring you back to what is sacred within you. Dive headlong into the river of music within. Live on purpose. BE that which most lights you up. Wildly belt out your “YES!!”

Originally Published in the  March 2013 – Issue #01