ISIS or the rise in the feminine

Women Achieving Goals

women raised handsI woke up this morning aware of the tremendous change that is occurring. Maybe this was on my mind because of the horrifying actions of ISIS but I can see, feel and hear the voices of women. There is a sense that the energy needs to change from the masculine to the feminine. It needs to happen now.  We cannot wait.

Maybe it was my reflections on the Democratic presidential debate. I like all the candidates and their perspectives but the person at the energy of leadership was Hilary. Her leadership as a woman was clear. It is the time for women to lead in this country and others.  This needs to happen now.

We are in the 15th year of the millennium of the feminine, the number 2. It will take the millennium to make the changes needed in politics, war, health, environment, education and the values that lead…

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Graduation Ceremony and Feast!

Sundays graduation has finally come after 6 months, countless asanas, meditation, note taking, studying, overwhelm…

After everyone completes the final test, we start to prepare the room for the graduation ceremony. We have invited guests and are expecting 20 plus people! My dear friend Maya is coming to celebrate this day with me, yea!  There are husbands and friends, sons and daughters present to usher in this amazing wave of new yoga teachers into the world.

With Ananda Devikka’ Ma’, Maetreyii Nolan and Gayatri Dawson we come full circle again as we all sit on the floor together. Candles and flowers adorn the room and some of us put on special clothing or jewelry to honor our accomplishments. The smell of Indian spices waft into the room that is now holding nearly 50 people! My mouth waters as it does everytime Shashi cooks for us.

We sing together and give our thanks before we are each presented with a gorgeous “Certified Yoga Teacher” certificate. Some of my classmates have taken on their spiritual name and that is reflected on the certificate. At Gayatri’s feet are glowing necklaces and we each chose one. The Ohm of every Ohm I have Ohm’d reasonates in my body as I chose, yes, an Ohm necklace. I wear it for a week before it finds it’s home hanging in my rear view mirror. I find out later that Gayatri spent the last 2 nights, while we were all cramming for the test, sitting at her stove, dipping paper into beeswax to create a “last minute” treat for each of us. Thank you Gayatri!

I am touched as people share what the training has meant to them, the leap of faith, the challenge, the satisfaction of completing something, the changes they have experienced. And to my delight, the guests are asked to share how this program has changed or affected their lives. One man says how he got great joy in seeing his girlfriend be able to finally become a yoga teacher, something she had talked about for so long, and how he really supports and loves her for following her dream. Lovely

I realize for the first time that I am part of a spiritual community, something I have been *highly* resistant to. My strict Catholic upbringing is the source of much of this. The fears about having to give my power away to a guru or be someone I am not were just that, False Evidence Appearing Real. The tendency, the habit, compulsion or addiction to putting our power in something or someone outside of ourselves seems to infiltrate our very DNA.  But not here.  I have uncovered even more of who I am and given the space to have more compassion than I ever thought possible. To me, this is the essence of yoga, on and off the mat. That same compassion has been given to us and modeled for us by the teachers here at the ashram, and I am forever grateful.

Maya and I sit at the big table to taste the flavors of India. I’m distracted by the number of sweets on several large platters and vow to save room for them. I visit with people, make plans, laugh and feel a little sad, little giddy. The revelations of the last 3 days will be distilled over the coming weeks but not before I head back to the job that pays my bills, but doesn’t feed my soul’s purpose at all. So many of us are at this juncture and each of us have steps to take to move our work out into the world.

I have made several life long friends, even future creative collaborators, as well as a loving kind spiritual community. The parting is temporary, as we have planned a hike together and have other ideas on the table, including a retreat. I’m also called to continue to write about how I will take “yoga” out into the world and hope to inspire and support other people to share their gifts with the world.

To continue reading the next incarnation of my blog, go to: http: ___________.  And thank you for reading! I would love to know who you are, so please leave a comment and introduce yourself!

Session 6

March 2-4, 2012

I am so excited for this long awaited weekend and wake up easily when my alarm goes off at 5am.  One of the changes I have noticed is that I wake up between 5-6am naturally and either practice asanas or meditate for 15-30 minutes. Make no mistake, I am not a “morning person” and the only person I am interacting with is my cat. I’m not ready to engage with others, even said cat to be honest, and relish this internally quiet time.

This morning after I arrive, I feel energized and sitting meditation is more difficult. One thing I love about meditation is that it keeps me in “student” mode as I never know what I will feel, learn, notice about myself. I’ve had an experience of sublime bliss and the next day severe boredom. In some ways, I hope it will always be that unpredictable and yet I have more awareness of how to be receptive to divine flow in my space.

While in meditation, instead of creating MORE mind jabber, I send myself compassion and notice that I did just drive 45 minutes at speeds up to 65 mph to get here. So I arrive slowly, shedding layers of the corporate work week and all its pressures, personalities, challenges of bringing my best self to a work environment that does not nurture or value integrity, communication, leadership or creative expression of any sort. Just be present here, now is my mantra this morning.

The energy of our final weekend together is palpably different. Some would call it excitement, others anxiety. After having participated in countless groups/workshops/seminars in my lifetime, I know that everyone deals with endings in their own way. Personally, I used to withdraw and sometimes well before the actual final meeting. This time though, I am more present, more involved, more open, MORE than ever before and I feel great to be “here”, at long last. I have thrown enough endings away which somehow has effected the way I welcome in new beginnings. Hindsight is the best, isnt’ it?

And no doubt there is a buzz around new beginnings. And some of my classmates have visually changed since last time I saw them. Shining brighter, showing up bigger, I totally love it!  There are several cameras clicking away this weekend and so grateful for the photo memories to come.

Friday morning and afternoon we discuss the Varnas, the below taken from Wikipedia,

  • the Brahmins: vedic priests.
  • the Kshatriya: kings, governors and soldiers.
  • the Vaishyas: cattle herders, agriculturists and merchants.
  • the Shudras: labourers, artisans and service providers.

And PROUT: Progressive Utilization Theory, see

My we are blessed to have ancient teachings and alternative value systems with just a click of a hyperlink!

My meditation on Saturday morning with Maetreyii Ma is powerful. I realize I need to ask her for a spiritual name, which I do and all the while my critic or ego, whatever you want to call it, is saying very loudly: You already changed your name once, you can’t do it again. As Bryon Katie would say, I counter “Is that really true” ?  I had not given it much to a spiritual name before meditation. I have been known as Bella for the last 7 years, a name given to me at a time of much outward change. My logical mind rejected the idea of a spiritual name because my humanness didn’t want to go through the process of telling everyone I know and will meet my “new” name. But I know better than to question these very clear messages now, finally. I have exercised my right to make my own decisions plenty of times but that can be a more difficult path, not wrong just not “in the flow” as I call it. So after class, as we prepared the room for our morning asana practice, I caught Maetreyii Ma and asked her for a spiritual name. She graciously agrees.

Saturday the energy of the room is full of anxiety about the test but also excitement as the culmination of our training is within our grasp. After lunch, we enjoy a student led asana class and I announce the blog (this one) to the class. In the blink of an eye I realize how the blog is the foundation for a book that is a long time coming and I am so humbled by the clarity of this. As I am sharing this insight with some of my classmates, Maetreyii Ma came into the room, over to me, put her hands on my knees and said: Mirabai. I smile and ask her what the name means, she said Mirabai was an ancient poet who was so enraptured with love and life that she wrote beautiful poetry, danced in the streets, and poured her love into being the consort/wife of Krishna. I’m blown away, and I table the subject for a more quiet reflective time.  As the weekend progresses, I learn she was a princess in Rajastan and she was known for being a bit of a rebel, disobeying family and society’s view of what was ok and appropriate for women. Everything in my being starts to vibrate, reasonate with Mirabai. Stay tuned!

I’m in awe of how I can feel so confident and then the old “test” anxieties move in, they nab me Saturday afternoon. Bad. Gayatri is taking us through an auditory exercise of pairing english and sanskrit name along with the cue and breathing for each of the 35 poses. It is meant as yet another review but I find myself totally shutting down. Traditional learning via my very poor hearing (I have worn hearing aids the last 2 1/2 years and I am only 40!) historically gets me down, somehow my synapses don’t fire quick enough. The good news is I am having a sleep over with one of my fellow students, Lisa, and we are going to study. “I KNOW this material” I tell myself and give permission to gracefully opt out of participating outwardly and instead, study my index cards.

Here I want to say that I wasn’t always this compassionate with myself or to be honest, others. In the past I might have tried to “stay in the game” and beat myself up by internally feeding me all kinds of criticism and lies about who I am and what I can achieve. Those voices haven’t necessarily gone away entirely but I am aware of them, override them, gently ask them to put that in an email and send it to me to be read I dont know, never? I just don’t fall for it anymore. It’s a commitment but I found I really enjoy feeling good 🙂

Saturday evening I am lucky to study with Lisa (Shanti Deva)  the night before our test. As we go through each card and I say the sanskrit name, the english name, the number of rounds and details about the breath, I am surprised by how much I know! Surprised and relieved to be honest. One thing I have learned first hand is that it is one thing to be able to do the asana or vinyasa and another thing entirely to verbalize cues, how to breathe.  As Shanti quizes me, she talks through the logic on the poses  and I start to put together more of a story about each asana.  For example, bellows pose aka bhastrikasana is one of my favorite vinyasas and I naturally breathe and hold the exhale when my knee or knees are in my chest. If you think about it, it would be uncomfortable to be squeezing your knees into your chest with the breath held in, your belly is too big at that point whereas the exhale empties the stomach of all air. She also teaches me that peacock pose or mayurasana can be remembered as myyourawesoma because you are awesome if you can do this pose. I love it!

Sunday morning we arrive to our final morning meditation together. The word “bittersweet” is said and heard often when reflecting on this last weekend together. We have become a tight bunch of yoga teachers and of course shared personal changes over the last 6 months together. After a light breakfast, we jump right into our final teaching test, one at a time we take the teacher mat. Everyone shines…how can you not with the loving support of 17 other classmates and 3 beloved teachers?

Ohm Bliss Ohm

Session 5

February 10-12th, 2012

This is our 5th weekend together and I am excited to talk about the business aspects of creating a yoga practice. Gayatri talks about  insurance, how much to charge when first starting out, how to get started, where to get started… I begin to wonder who is my ideal student: a working mom with a hectic schedule looking for some quiet “me” time? athletes or elderly people? a first timer or lifer? The answer is I don’t know…all of the above? Instead of getting bogged down in that detail, I trust that the students that are attracted to my classes is my ideal student 🙂 Instead I focus on how to accomodate all of the above when they all show up to the same class!

I do ruminate on how/where/when to offer a regular yoga practice to my community. Since I live in glorious weather California and we are coming up on Spring weather, I think maybe at the local park. I also think of a friend’s large living room. Maybe I will rent a space at one of the local gyms in town. Or approach a gym and ask to teach there. The inquiry continues.

Ananda Deviika Ma speaks to us about the benefits of Yoga Nidra. The practice dissolves body/mind tension, releases old traumas and emotions from the subconscious. She also explains the “States of Consciousness”, Yoga Nidra falling into the “awake” category. I have had the pleasure of experiencing this form of yoga several times and only once was I able to stay “awake”. We are treated to a session during our morning session and no one hesitated to lay down on their floor, close their eyes and open their senses. I enjoyed the first 5 minutes before yes, falling asleep but at least I didn’t snore. One time, at the spa, I purposefully sat close to the instructor to be able to hear her speak and I was able to stay awake the entire class. What an amazing expansive feeling!

I am teaching the afternoon yoga class with 2 of my fellow students and am admittedly a bit nervous. The 3 of us have come up with a theme of grounding and to go with that, we are teaching some balance poses. How do you keep your center in the midst of challenge? The class turns out beautiful, each of us bringing in our own flavor and vibe and somehow it all works to create 1 whole class. It is a real learning experience to me as I lead Matsyendrasana/Twist Pose and get the arms and legs all wrong.  Twisting the wrong way, using the wrong arm…I realize while this pose may not be difficult to get into, it certainly is a challenge leading others to get into!

We are reminded that we are to turn in our homework journal, keeping track of all the hours we have done self-study: meditating, studying reading material and postures, asanas, and any other insights we have had during the 6 months. This reminds me that I have several yoga class write ups to complete. I love having “yoga research” to do, an excuse to try a new class or studio. Here I will mention I went to a restorative yoga class on a Tuesday night and was taken aback by the full size harp on the teacher’s mat. The atmosphere for the next hour plus was off the charts blissful and I was moved to tenderness at the sweetness of the space. This kind of yoga is also known as “yin yoga” which can be a wonderful vessel for the divine to come through you.

For me, this particular weekend is when the reality of completing the yoga teacher training starts to unfold. I am looking to restructure some aspects of my life to make more room to teach.  Along with this comes an embodied awareness, not merely a cerebral idea, of wanting to bring forth the best parts of me:  my “yoga” voice and heart, awareness and creativity.  I started a new job in September 2011 and began this yoga teacher training a month later. 6 months later at said job and there is an increasing tension between who I was when I started and who is showing up now, in present time.  In mediation, I am reminded to release all the thoughts and jibber jabber about creating a career in alignment with me and my gifts and instead, settle into a picture of me teaching, students on the mat, savoring the sweetness of the present moment.

As we complete our studies with Gayatri Sunday late afternoon and prepare the room for Dharmachakra, I catch her and hugging warmly (she is a great hugger), said hey I had this aha today and she said oh yeah, whats that? And I said “I am going to be a yoga teacher.”

Ohm Bliss Ohm

Session 4

January 13-15, 2012

We begin the weekend, as always, in meditation together. I am glad to be here after a hectic Christmas and New Year’s season full of travel and family obligations. I welcome ushering in 2012 in this quiet reflective way. I find that I long for a full daily yoga practice to compliment my nearly daily meditation practice. I renew my commitment to rising just 30 minutes earlier each morning.

Ananda Deviika Ma  starts off the lecture talking about the gunas: sattva, rajas and tamas. These qualities of nature exist in all beings though vary in concentration. A description of the gunas can be found in the Bhagavad Gita where Krishna tells Arjuna about the qualities of the gunas.

This weekend we also discuss Aruveda and learn about the 3 doshas: kapha, pitta and vatta

I notice that as we talk about the doshas, and the foods mainly related to each dosha, I see how profoundly my diet effects my physical, emotional and etheric body. I reflect on the past week’s menu of cheese pizza (twice) and ice cream 3 nights in a row. No wonder I feel lethargic, unfocussed, bloated and more difficult to feel my connection to the earth/creator. While I am not lactose intolerant, per se, my body does not thrive with so much dairy. I see how this “junk food” binge is directly tied to feeling stress and the need to shine the light of consciousness on that old personal and collective pattern.

In the afternoon, we discuss the recent New York Times article “Yoga will wreck your body” article and NPR’s forum talk on the subject. We have talked so much about the importance of honoring your body in your practice and encouraging students to do the same. How we can make suggestions about alignment to students. We’ve been asked to be curious and ask ourselves “why is the student moving this way” before putting our hands on them. To ask “where am I coming from” so the suggestion is not coming from a place of ego.

Karma Yoga: Each session we are assigned a short (15-20 minute) karma yoga assignment that are done as a small group or individually. Some of the duties include turning the compost or sweeping the porch. This weekend I am given the task of “rug shlepper” to remove the rug from the room to make way for our yoga mats. I had just injured my wrist moving a rug at my friend’s the previous weekend so I asked if anyone was willing to swap assignments with me. I was delighted that one of my fellow classmates, Joy, cheerfully agreee. She is so suitably named.

We’ve have started leading poses in class and notice the sometimes clumsy transition to doing the pose physically to leading the pose verbally, “cue-ing the pose”. There is such a wide variety of life experience that is brought to the mat and each one is on a journey to find our heart voice and deliver it with both confidence and tenderness. I am thrilled to among these knowledgeable soon to be yoga teachers!

I will be student teaching with 2 other students on Feb 11th, I am both excited and nervous! Stay tuned!

Session 3

December 2-4, 2011

We return to the Ashram Friday December 2nd for Session 3. The time between our classes seems to fly by and I am grateful to becoming more regular in my yoga and meditation practice. I have also started to log all the time spent studying and practicing yoga, which is also a requirement of certification.

As I incorporate yoga into my life more, I find I am sharing stories about the training, yoga classes and my experience of yoga with strangers and coworkers alike!

Maetreyii Ma shares Philosophy of yoga on Saturday, explaining the Kleshas or “mental states the cloud the mind and manifest in unwholesome actions. Kleshas include states of mind such as anxiety, fear, anger, jealousy, desire, depression, etc.” (from Wikipedia). The idea of Raga or attachment is described as “anything you manifest on the physical plan is temporary, you will lose it, die, it is not forever. Spiritual life, soul level work, then is an eternal state of being”. Such wisdom!

Ananda Deviika Ma shared about kundalini and chakras and says this: yoga, just as a physical practice i not enough. The subtle body is key to our overall growth and health. I love that each of us is able to chose how deeply we immerse ourselves in the teachings and how we have such knowledgeable and compassionate teachers!

Gayatri has given us the assignment to lay out an entire yoga class after we did several together in class. The benefit of this exercise is to realize how many options there are to a class! And how to best use the warm-up time to prepare the major muscles and bones for the “apex” or peak of the class pose.

We are treated to an afternoon asana practice with Trish, a former student in this training. I notice my body at first is achy, my hips want to move in circles, flowing. Slowing down. I have a major breakthrough as I realize how much I rush from one activity to another and what I really long for is stillness. Being. I am struck by how profound one “good” yoga class can be when I let go of and be totally present, allowing. I am once again inspired to create this feeling in my life and to teach in a way that allows others to experience this! Bellows pose, one of my favorites, smile 🙂

One of the big aha’s from this weekend was the topic of: Will I practice yoga while I am teaching? The short answer is no, I don’t think that I can be an effective teacher dedicating all my senses to my students if I am actually in my usual deep yoga practice. What I discovered, however, is that my body knows the poses and at this point in the training, we are learning and speaking the cues for poses. Personally, this will be my biggest challenge.

Session 2

November 18-20, 2011

With nearly a month since our first session together, I was eager to jump into Session 2. In just a month’s time, winter had arrived and we funnel onto our backjack, pillow, yoga mat, blanket to being our 3 days together.

7am on Friday, we open with kirtan and meditation. The kirtan we practice includes repeating a chant or mantra together while making a side-to-side motion with our feet and bodies. This particular morning, I enjoyed warming up with the kirtan and noticed how much more grounded the room felt after we sang and moved. I am also grateful for these transition times that allow for a gentle arrival. Kinda like the way a good yoga class draws the yogi more acutely into the present moment.

Later that morning, we discuss our experiences participating in yoga classes in our communities. I am fascinated to find so many venues for class: health club, community center, small home studio, large corporate yoga studio, spiritual centers…  Each person had a slightly different perspective on their class:  music was too loud, teacher had their eyes closed most of the class, no spiritual element incorporated, an out of place “ohm” in the middle of class, English name of the pose used in place of Sanskrit… While our experiences were varied, what we all shared was the opportunity to practice yoga with others, which is truly a gift.

The sharing is rich and I realize that my strengths lie in creating a healing space for people whereas my challenge will be to remember the Sanskrit name, for example. I will also be studying on how to provide ample instruction, including benefits and contraindications, but not too much. There are others in class that will excel in other ways. I trust that the right students for me will arrive, just as I have found a particular teacher’s style to reasonate with me.

In the last month, I notice that my food cravings have changed. The ashram recommends a sattvic diet, one devoid of meat, mushrooms, garlic and onions. I have given up eating beef, something I did for many years in college after seeing a cow slaughtered. This change has been coming for awhile, though the deal was sealed after watching the movie “King Corn”.  Crazy truth about the “corn” grown in my birth state of Iowa and the devastating effects of a culture that relies on corn syrup and cheap to market beef.

For the past 2 years, I have given up a favorite food. The first trial year I gave up bacon, something I savored to eat on many weekends. I found while I missed it, I treasured the choice I was making to be more conscious of the food I was putting into my body. After the year was up, I find I rarely eat bacon now and when I do it is such a treat. The next year, I picked potatoe chips since I could eat a whole bag and feel miserable as a result. I just have zero willpower. This includes “pop chips” yum, anything that is made out of potatoes basically. Corn chips I voted in and snack on them occasionally. 2012 is the year of no beef, though I haven’t eaten it since my 40th birthday on November 4, 2011. Head start 🙂

One of the benefits of Sahaj yoga is practing advanced breathing techniques. Unlike many other systems, the breath is held on the exhalation up to 8 counts, for advanced practitioners. The breathe should never be strained. I am enjoying this practice and notice that when I am dehydrated, tired, or just a bit out of sorts I am not able to hold the exhalation as long.  Those moments are an opportunity to have patience and compassion for myself, knowing I am exactly where I need to be.

We had the opportunity to study bones and muscles with a guest teacher, Deborah. She is a yoga teacher as well as an anatomy enthusiast! Much of this was review for me, muscle contraction and extension, agonist and antagonist but not in the context of yoga postures. Later in the weekend, we learned about the esoteric body or the chakra system.

One of the last teachings for the weekend includes forming sequences for a class. This is a rich discussion and a million possible combinations. We talk about the various elements of a complete yoga class and how to alot time for warm-up, “apex” and cool down.

We complete each day with kirtan and meditation. I notice for myself that I can fluctuate between totally engrossed in my meditation to being totally bored, tired, and impatient. Sometimes in the same day, and I have practicing meditation for many years! I suppose that is why they call it a practice.


Session 1

October 14 -16, 2011

Yoga – to yoke or unite with the Divine

To bring us all together for the first time, Ananda Seva hosted a dinner and orientation Thursday night, where us students met each other for the first time. The core faculty includes Maetreyii Ma, Ananda Deviika Ma and Gayatri Dawson.  The mixture of excitement was in the air as we sat together and shared our names, personal experience with yoga and what we hoped to learn from the training.

In my search for the best yoga teacher training for me, I realized that I wanted to learn a yoga system with a solid spiritual base. Ananda Seva provided both and many of the students expressed the same sentiment. I also appreciated the format being 3 days/once a month, a bit of a break from my hectic corporate work life. Like most people, I seek to find a balance between the responsibilities of being an adult and a meaningful life that fills my spirit with joy.

I should mention that Ananda Seva is located in Santa Rosa, California and just minutes from downtown. Up on a hillside, there are trees, a garden, and open deck to enjoy our breaks and meals. Many students live nearby, 1 as far as from Reno, Nevada drives in each month, and many from surrounding communities. I commute up from Marin though I have stayed in one of their rustic cabins for a weekend, a nice respite from the commute.

I shared that I have been practicing yoga for many years and don’t recall when or where my first “yoga class” occurred,  my first love was dance. In my studies at UCSC, I learned how much the inhalation and exhalation affect movement by immersing myself in modern dance. For me, like many others, I want to experience a deeper practice as well as learn how to instruct and support others in their practice.

During the sharing, someone shared that one of the aspects of being a great yoga teacher is finding ones “heart voice”.  This reasonated with me and as she spoke I settled into a rewarding, challenging and healing 3 days.

One of the first things we learned is the history of yoga, which I am not going to go into here, and saw the rich and complex journey “yoga” has made to make it to the 21st century! We will be learning the “Sahaj” yoga system, not as popular as some of the other more well known systems. And I learned that yoga was brought to Chicago for the Parliment of Religions in 1893 by Swami Vivekandanda.  Wikipedia states that “this was the first attempt to create a global dialogue of faiths”. What an exciting time we live in!

After enjoying our sattvic lunch together on the sunny deck, I the drank in the discussion on the asanas, the benefits, the contraindications, and the cues to lead each posture, I realized that I was back in school! With books and homework! There are over 10,000 asanas, by the way, and we will be tested on just 35. Did you know that asana means ” a seat comfortably held”?  As I leafed through the pictures in my training manual, I thought there is no way that I will ever feel comfortable in some of these poses! Then a wave of ease came over me as I relaxed into my desire to grow and find my own personal edge, which will ebb and flow as it does.

Each day we end with kirtan and meditation, a nice way to close the day. At first, the chants and songs in Sanskrit seem complicated and hard to pronounce. After just 3 days, I find I am able to drop into the moment deeper, the song coming from my lips easier. I am grateful to have the opportunity to carry the torch lit so many many years ago.

I am on my way to becoming more mindful and heart centered on and off the mat!

2011-12 Ananda Seva Yoga Teacher Training

Oct 14-16, Nov 18-20, Dec 2-4, 2011
and Jan 13-15, Feb 10-12, March 2-4 2012