The 108 sun salutation practice is the epitome of togetherness, the glorious mental and emotional reset and in many ways the triumph of love over fear. A room full of open hearted yogis who courageously leave their ego armor at the door and move, sweat, breathe and sing their way to freedom and do so together.
Less than a week ago, when this ever-unstable world got even more unstable, all classes, including the 108 practice, had to be canceled. I was going to do my own thing at home, but the together part is what makes this practice the magical experience that it is.
And just like when there’s a will, there’s a way, when there are open hearts yearning for healing through togetherness, nothing can stand in the way. We got together today, maybe not physically, but full heartedly all the same. And we moved, and sweated, and breathed and cried and sang and healed – together.
Thank you, my yogis, for joining me in this new way of continuing our together. We would have all preferred to share our practice in the same room to joining virtually but we joined, and that’s what matters and what heals.
This too shall pass.
Real hugs will return.
I love you ❤️
Many of you asked me to share the nine dedications that precede each round of 12 sun salutations, as well as the playlist. The dedications, and the songs I chose, start off very “human,” pained and dramatic even, although carrying an invitation to change our minds about the purpose of our pained and often dramatic and traumatic human life.
To make a choice for peace, we first have to look at the inner conflict. To rise, we first have to acknowledge that we have fallen. And to say no to the ego, or the fearful self, we first have to open our eyes and hearts to the presence of that fear inside of us.
As we continue this moving meditation (and it is definitely moving in more ways than just the physical), we gradually loosen our attachment to the little self, the part of us that feels insecure, trapped, fearful and alone. Because we have turned toward the fears of the seemingly separate “me,” we have diffused the power of that false self to reign over us. We slowly detach from the mask – the person – and move toward presence, the spirit and unbound love that we are in reality. Having remembered our true Self, we rejoice in the connectedness to the home we never left, even if that joy seems very temporary.
Truth is always true, just like illusion is never true, so even the tiniest moment of Self-remembrance is enough inspiration to move us forward on our way back home. As we continue to navigate the uncertain waters of this human experience, we find that we meet life’s lessons with a little more grace, trust and openheartedness.
This is the purpose of our practice of 108 sun salutations: looking at and moving through the changeful as we remain grounded in the changeless, ultimately remembering that we ARE the changeless and that the changeful has had no effect whatsoever on our reality as spirit.
Here are the dedications, followed by the songs I played for the respective round of sun salutations:
1 ~ I open my heart and offer my light to my human, imperfect self. Deep in my gut, I know that achieving perfection as a human being is not only impossible, but an unnecessary burden that keeps me stuck in fear and self loathing. Deep in my heart, I know that as a soul, I am progressing on my path just as I planned and that every experience I had and am yet to have is a perfectly chosen piece of my soul’s mosaic. I am a perfect expression of my divine nature in this imperfect human form. And so it is.
Superman by Rachel Platten
Heroes Fall (feat. Essa) by Hidden Citizens
2 ~ I open my heart and offer my light to all my fears, and all the aspects of myself I consider dark and negative. Remembering my own choice to experience the full spectrum of human emotion — the so called positive as well as the so called negative — I’m now making a promise to myself to own all the aspects of my personality that I have disowned out of fear of being seen as unworthy of love. In the name of love, which is what I am, I allow every fear, every feeling and every thought that arises to be fully integrated in my experience, so I can live with integrity, knowing that darkness is simply unawakened light and fear is nothing but a confused expression of love. And so it is.
Land of Confusion (Epic Trailer Version) by Hidden Citizens
Nothing Is As It Seems (feat. Ruelle) by Hidden Citizens
3 ~ I open my heart and offer my light to every obstacle yet to appear on my path. As I look back on my life, I can see that every seeming hurdle eventually provided impetus for my own growth and was therefore a gift. Bravely embracing my fear of the unknown — not pushing it away — I fully trust that whatever hardship and pain are yet to appear on my path are simply part of my path, remembering that ultimately, all of life is the path. And so it is.
Here We Stand by Hidden Citizens & Svrcina
Awake My Soul by Mumford & Sons
Believer by Imagine Dragons
4 ~ I open my heart and offer my light to all those who have ever shown me love. Every expression of love, no matter how small or infrequent it may seem to occur, completely imbues my being with the totality of All That Is, which is love. I give thanks to each and every being whose love fills my heart with the ancient song that reminds us all that love is all there ever was, is and will be. May we all be overwhelmed with love. And so it is.
Carry On My Wayward Son by Kansas
Carry You (feat. Fleurie) by Ruelle
5 ~ I open my heart and offer my light to all those who have hurt me, including myself. I know that every act that doesn’t come from love is simply a disguised call for love. Lack of love is evidence of the hurt we all carry in us, the hurt that stems from our ignorance of our true nature and the forgetfulness of our joint source, which is love. I ask love to show me the way every time I’m tempted to believe that I can be hurt. And as I give love and forgiveness to others, no matter what they have given to me, I know that I’m graced with love and forgiveness. And so it is.
Sigh No More by Mumford & Sons
Man In the Mirror (Acoustic) by James Morrison
6 ~ I open my heart and offer my light to the uncertainty every day brings. I give up whatever illusion of control I think I have over life, and instead choose to courageously surrender to the gifts of grace that abound in each moment. Knowing that who I am in reality can never be hurt or damaged, and that I can’t possibly ever fail or fall short, I allow life to come to me as is does. Expecting nothing and welcoming everything, I now promise to stop fighting with life and instead fully cooperate with what is. And so it is.
We Get By (feat. Ben Harper) by Mavis Staples
Carry On by Crosby, Still, Nash & Young
7 ~ I open my heart and offer my light to the eventual death of this temporary human form I inhabit. I open my mind to the possibility that any fears I may have regarding death are fears of my ideas of death and not death itself. As I listen to the whisper of my soul, which constantly reminds me that I have been on many such journeys countless times before, I remember that reality is infinitely larger than my human side can ever perceive. As a brave soul who chose to temporarily forget its immortality, I celebrate life and embrace my fear of death until that fear itself dissolves into my timeless recognition that life does not start or end, but simply changes form. And so it is.
I’ll Fly Away by Rising Appalachia
Down to the River to Pray (feat. Sonia Isaacs) by Wanda Vick
Sun is Shining by Bob Marley & the Wailers
8 ~ I open my heart and offer my light to all teachers that have appeared on my path and those yet to appear on my path, knowing that everyone and everything that teaches me about myself and helps my growth is my teacher. My heart is full of gratitude for those who have taught me through love as well as for those who have taught me by withholding love. How blessed I am to have been graced with teachers in human form and beyond, those born and unborn, and even those only my subconscious can perceive. I now can see clearly that this earth life, which seems full of suffering, is a school and that teachers and teachings abound in every moment, and I choose to learn as much as I possibly can, ultimately remembering that the only lesson to be learned is that love is all there is. And so it is.
Bring Me to Life (Synthesis) by Evanescence
Light of a Clear Blue Morning by Maggie Thorn
9 ~ I open my heart and offer my light to the ultimate source, the divine creator, infinite spirit, God, All That Is. How can I possibly live in suffering if I choose to connect to that which I’m never disconnected from? How much longer do I want to live in ignorance of my true nature, seeing myself as a separate little body when all the glory of God has been inside me all along? Once I was blind, and I forgive myself for that, but now I have opened my eyes and I see that I am That which I seek. My search for God has always been my yearning to know myself, and now that I realize what I am, I can’t help but lift my head and laugh at the sky. And so it is.
Stairway to Heaven by Led Zeppelin
Aad Guray by Deva Premal
What are you consuming emotionally, mentally, energetically and spiritually?
Everywhere we turn, we seem to be bombarded with opportunities to distract ourselves from the root causes of our pain, sadness, frustration, anger and fear. Instead of a compassionate, patient and honest — and private — inquiry into our own wounds, we latch onto the conveniently pre-packaged and heavily concentrated opinions, beliefs and views of reality as they are sold to us by the media, the pop culture and other offshoots of the mainstream mind and soul numbing machine. We adopt these ready-made life “facts” as our own, without even realizing that we have been fed toxic garbage our entire lives.
Some of us digest this sort of garbage easier than others, and we keep on “keeping on,” until we can’t keep on any more, in this lifetime at least. Some seem to even thrive on the soul sucking, fear and separation hungry energy being hurled at us from all angles. But those of us who find the ready-to-wear opinions, beliefs and “facts” of the mainstream extremely difficult to digest, those of us who have been nauseated by the spoon-fed version of reality since before we could even understand why it was so, those of us who yearned for a better way, a brighter world, a love-infused life rather than wishing for fame, success and recognition: we are the ones who have chosen to detox from illusion and drink and eat from truth instead. And just like with any detox, things seem to get hell of a lot worse before they get better, but they do get better.
So ask yourself again: what am I consuming energetically and spiritually? What sort of mental and emotional food am I choosing for myself? To what sources am I turning this day, and every day, for my daily bread? If you don’t like the taste of what you have been consuming, it’s time for a detox. Unplug, get quiet, learn to be alone with yourself — regularly — and repeat the process until the process itself becomes your daily bread. All the guidance you have been seeking and all the facts you thought you needed to find out who you are, and what the world is for, are waiting for you and have been waiting for you nowhere else but within you.
I started this painting shortly after my dad passed last November to work through my grief and also to remember him how I saw him, and not how he saw himself. He loved lions and was also a leo. Today would have been his 67th birthday. I wanted his lion to be wild, free and proud of all of the unconventional colors that made up his personality. He didn’t live his life like that at all, although I know that’s how he wanted to be. The saddest part of his story is that he lived like a lion who didn’t even know that he was a lion and was afraid to find out. It’s not an uncommon story.
Do you ever wonder why we say someone has a heart of a lion, and not the mind of a lion or the guts of a lion? A lions is a symbol of courage, so it must follow that the greatest courage we can have as humans is to live from our hearts. And to live in such a way, which is the only authentic way to live, we first must muster the courage to access our hearts, unafraid of what wounds we may encounter during that journey. And wounds we will find aplenty, no doubt about it. But what if the wound is the gateway to the healing? Maybe our emotional pain and freedom from that pain are two sides of the same coin, and all we have to do is have the courage to look at the side we have so far mistaken for the only side and flip the damn coin. Rumi wasn’t kidding when he said “the wound is the place where the light enters you.”
We are conditioned to spend most of our time and an incredible amount of energy hiding our tender places, doing everything we can to appear as if we got it all together. The armor we build around our hearts starts off as a natural response to the hurts of our childhood, but the longer we carry that armor, the heavier it gets. Instead of offering protection, the armor walls us off, not only from the people we love but from our own self. Ultimately we collapse under the burden of all of our unacknowledged emotional bruises because life becomes too heavy to bear. This is how my dad lived and died. A lion who forgot the power of his own roar.
I could have painted a lion with a majestic, golden mane and power and confidence in his eyes. Instead, I painted one with colorful, frizzy strands that don’t make sense to our linear minds, with sad but clear blue eyes and a beard that shows off wisdom forged by the fire of facing one’s wounds. And to me, that’s a picture of beauty, strength and grace.
May we all realize we already have the heart of a lion and spend the remaining days of this human experience with courage to dig deeply into the muck within our wounds and transform it into gold through the miraculous power of self compassion, self forgiveness and self love. There really is no other purpose to being here but to remember who we are at the core of our being, which is love unbound. But to get to the core, layers and layers await. I won’t say let’s not be afraid to face those layers because fear will be there, you better believe it. Instead, let’s decide that diving into the heart and setting free our own inner lion is not negotiable.
Don’t waste another moment pretending to be who you’re not and who you were never meant to be. Plunge into the depths of self discovery and trust that love will be there every step of the way, because how could love not be with you and within you when love is what you are?
Remember your first yoga class? Just holding downward facing dog, supposedly a resting pose, sapped all your strength in the first breath and resisting the urge to just collapse on the floor and cry suddenly became your only focus. Yoga requires physical strength, lots of it, but the real strength that this practice builds in all of us who stick around long enough to notice is the strength to stay open, soft and receptive, no matter what’s happening in the body, in the mind or in the world. This openness and gentleness guides us to feel without believing the mental commentary about what we’re feeling and why we’re feeling it.
Because human life is difficult, and it is so by design, we mistakenly conclude that being hit by any kind of calamity implies that we are not strong enough. If we were, the thinking goes, we could just somehow ward off any kind of trauma, pain or discomfort before it trespasses into our space. And so we buy into all kinds of build-a-better-me strategies, which may temporarily succeed in making us more agreeable according to society’s terms. But if I need to build a better version of myself, that means that the way I am now is not good enough and not worthy enough to be loved now, whether by myself or by others. Look within yourself, and then look around yourself, and notice how prevalent this messed up logic is.
I often remind my students (and myself) that this practice of yoga, on and especially off the mat, is not a self-improvement course, but a course in radical acceptance of who and how we are now. It’s a profound softening toward one’s inherent and inescapable human flaws. It’s a merciless openness to all of life’s happenings, and an incessant curiosity about what those happenings are teaching us and how they’re propelling us toward the ultimate and the only goal, which is self love. To practice yoga and life in this way is to embody the real kind of strong.
When you think you need more strength, ask yourself whether softening a little would get you even closer to whatever you’re aiming for. More often than you think, staying open, soft and receptive in times of turmoil will prove to be the tail wind you need.
And don’t expect the world to pat you on the back and validate you. In other words, prepare to often feel alone on this path of the real kind of strong. We humans are conditioned from early on to manhandle everything, including ourselves and our humanness. We work really hard to weed out any appearance of softness and vulnerability, not realizing that, as A. D. Posey beautiful put: “Vulnerability is the portal to feeling, and feeling is the portal to strength.”
In today’s yoga practice, I led my students through a flow that concluded with kapinjalasana, or partridge pose. As if side plank were not intense enough, we challenged ourselves to balance on one arm and one leg, while creating a bow shaped backbend on the other side of the body. It’s possible to hold side plank using your strength only, but to expand into partridge pose, openness, gentleness and softness are key. Which is why I chose this pose for today, Mother’s Day, as we all had a chance to recalibrate ourselves to reflect more of this archetypal feminine energy of caring, nurturing, gentleness and the untiring expression of love, which is in all of us, regardless of whether we’re a man or a woman.
Let’s practice the real kind of strong by staying soft, open and vulnerable. It’s time to take off the silly hard armor because it doesn’t work anyway. It won’t protect you, but it will obstruct your path toward self love, which is what all of us are looking for, whether we’re aware of it or not.
When I was a little kid, my brother, who’s five years older than me, told me once that I was actually adopted. He said I fell out of a gypsy wagon that came through town and our parents felt sorry for the lost gypsy baby so they took me in and raised me as their own kid. He told me I could never tell our parents because if I did, they’d have to take me back. We laugh about it now, but back then, it was a little scary because I believed him, at least for a while: until I realized that I look just like my dad and not very gypsy like. But this “fake news” my brother fed me as a joke never actually shocked or terrified me because I could see, even at single digit age, that it was possible I was adopted because I always felt out of place growing up with my family.
Of course I spent my childhood and teenage years, and most of my 20s, to be honest, feeling misunderstood by my family and wishing they’d see me for who I was. I’m sure my story sounds at least somewhat familiar to your experience. We humans are not very original in our issues, although we often feel like we’re the only person who’s ever felt insecure, unworthy and unloved. The shift happened within me when I finally realized that my being different, or at least feeling different, was such an enormous gift, and maybe the most valuable lesson I’m to learn in this lifetime: Find out who you are even though, and especially when, the people closest to you can’t validate for you who you are.
In other words, learn to stand your ground when the ground feels so shaky that standing seems like a ridiculous idea.
To stand your ground in no way implies we insist that other people understand, appreciate or even like us. It’s not at all a demand that people change their ideas, opinions and behaviors. Standing your ground is completely about YOUR ground, and your ground has nothing to do with anyone else. Which is why this lesson is so damn hard to learn and implement.
The human side of us is hardwired to seek approval and validation from other people. We all have learned very early on in life that displaying certain behaviors and expressing particular feelings may result in love being withheld by our parents and other people we depended on. Since we’re also hardwired to seek love, we learned to modify ourselves to create a version of ourselves we thought would get maximum love and approval. And along the way, we found that we have lost the ability to stand our own ground. When I’ve replaced who I am with a watered down version of who I think I should be to be seen as worthy and lovable, how can I possibly know where my own ground even is? Also, all this seeking for love and approval has somehow left us hungrier for love and approval.
Is this being human a cruel cosmic joke because it seems the harder we try to gain love and validation the less we feel loved and validated?!
That’s because we have been seeking in the wrong place: outside of ourselves. All the times you have felt misunderstood, unsupported, invalidated and unworthy of love were quiet but persistent invitations to turn the direction of your seeking from without to within. After spending years and decades and, who knows, probably even lifetimes trying to stand on someone else’s ground to feel safe, we figure out at some point that standing on our own ground is the only way to feel that connection we have craved for so long. Because the connection we crave is not from them to us, but from us to us.
To be able to stand your ground you first must find out what your ground is. No matter what anyone thinks of you and no matter what you think they’re giving to you or withholding from you: what is YOUR ground? Finding that out is the beginning of a beautiful relationship with yourself, and the start of renewed relationships with the people in your life.
I won’t tell you to stand up for what you believe, to fight for what’s right for you or to say no to what you don’t want. Because once you find out what your ground is, you’ll figure out the rest with relative ease. You may not know in every instance what you want, but you’ll know what you don’t want. You may not always know what to do, but you’ll know what not to do. You may not quite know who you are, but you’ll know who you’re not. And you won’t need to justify yourself or defend your choices because you will feel secure, standing on your own ground.
I mentioned earlier that the light came on for me when I realized that my biggest lesson was finding out who I am even though the people I loved and depended on couldn’t validate for me who I was. They couldn’t validate that for me because they couldn’t validate that for themselves either. Everyone is chasing their own tails just like you and I did, or still do, not realizing that each one of us has the sought-after tail and it’s been attached to us all along.
Standing your ground requires a great amount of courage to look within for love. The side effect of our remembering that we are love is instant compassion for ourselves and every other human being because we finally see that we’re all playing the same game of hide and seek, while forgetting that we chose to play that game. We’re all hiding from ourselves and looking for ourselves and the only way to find ourselves is to find the ground on which we stand and have been standing this whole time.
Would you buy a shirt that says “dare to wake up?” I don’t usually wear messages on my clothes (especially the “spiritual” kind), but I had to think of this — and I laughed to myself in the middle of the store — when I recently saw a tank top with the writing “dare to dream.” An invitation to dream is fully acceptable and commonplace in our world, but how often do you see invitations to wake up, at least in the mainstream?
Waking up is not as trendy or sexy as dreaming because the process of waking up is bound to be distressing in many ways. And as humans, we know how strongly we’re wired to seek pleasure and comfort and avoid pain and discomfort, all the while presenting to the world an exterior of a perfect life. But no matter how long we choose to ignore the soul’s yearning to know itself, the lifetime, the year and the day will come when staying asleep won’t be an enticing option anymore. And from that moment on, knowing truth, which is the same as knowing yourself, will replace comfort as your ultimate goal.
Being comfortable is in no way a bad thing. The idea that enjoying the comforts of the material realm is somehow “unspiritual” is a confused attempt to avoid one’s humanity. But to enjoy is not the same as to attach. How attached are you to your many comfort zones, especially the concepts, ideas and assumptions you mistake for the foundation of who you are?
Ask yourself whether you want truth more than you want comfort, and watch how your body and mind react to that question. Are you willing to be completely exposed to the relentless light of your own being? That light is benevolent because it IS love and it is who you truly are, but it is also ferocious because it burns away all illusions, all of our tightly held and jealously guarded beliefs, opinions and judgments about ourselves and about the world.
Are you willing to open your door to the whirlwind of self discovery?
How much of the made up self are you willing to give up?
How much brutal self-honesty can you handle?
Is the price of freedom too high for you?
This is not some sort of Biblical process of sacrificing everything you hold dear for the sake of gaining God’s favor. That kind of thinking is fear based and is a complete misinterpretation of the way spirit operates. You don’t just decide one day to wake up so that your life gets better. That wouldn’t be asking to wake up but asking for a more comfortable dream. When the pull of your soul toward awakening is genuine, and truth becomes your compass, you don’t concern yourself much with whether your life will go this way or that way because you trust that whatever form your life takes is the perfect medicine for your own growth. Always.
Truth and comfort are in no way mutually exclusive. Experiencing the truth of who you are and organizing your life around that revelation is a way of being that far supersedes the human idea of comfort. There is no home but self realization, and lucky for all of us, all roads lead to home.
How soon would you like to start walking yourself back home?
Are you willing to admit to yourself that you have been searching for yourself in all the wrong places?
Are you willing to ask in the silence of your own heart for a different way of seeing and a new way of being?
Are you ready to dig through the layers of dirt to retrieve the diamond that you are?