A blessing and a curse

Keep feeling fascination … and you end up with a blog.

All yoga, all the time June 20, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — tiffanyfox @ 4:39 am
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I like to think of the “om” symbol as the tattoo that got away. I’m inkless and don’t mind being so (giving birth was enough pain for me, thank you very much), but if I were to get a tattoo it would be the mighty aum — that illustrious symbol of  the one pursuit I keep coming back to, that steadfast friend that welcomes me to the mat when I am ready and able,  or waits with a patient heart while I flail around in confusion, gather my wits about me, and return anew.

There aren’t many other things in my life that can lay the same claim. Sure, I’ve loved french fries since the moment I first laid eyes on one, but I’m not about to get a tattoo of a crinkle-cut Ore Ida. And now even the aum tattoo has become a little too trendy and ubiquitous for my taste (but then again, when you think about it, that’s pretty much the point of a symbol that represents the entire universe).

I started practicing yoga in 1995 at the ripe old age of 19 when my hippie university dance teacher taught the class a vinyasa sequence as part of our daily warm up. I didn’t even know I was doing yoga at the time, but I still remember the unique series of postures, which started with vrksasana (tree) and moved in a graceful symphony through Virabhadrasana (Warrior)  I, II and III. I used to practice the same sequence in the blistering heat of my sandy compound in Cameroon while a Peace Corps volunteer, and to this day I believe it single-handedly kept me fit, thin and sane (even if the local villagers took me for a complete lunatic).

My practice gained intensity when I joined the Yoga Teacher Training Program at UC San Diego, which led to a few gigs substituting for teachers in my hometown of Encinitas, Calif. — a world mecca for yoga practice with a studio on just about every block. One particularly memorable class I taught took place during high tide at Swami’s beach (at the base of Yogananda’s Self-Realization Fellowship) and ended with the entire class backed up against the cliff during savasana, the sand flies messing with our meditation and the waves threatening to overtake us all.

My practice lurched off its tracks in dramatic fashion when I experienced three miscarriages in the span of one year. I had been taking rigorous ashtanga-based classes up to four times a week, and even though I knew it was completely irrational and contrary to all scientific evidence, I became convinced that yoga had killed my babies. So I stopped. And then I got pregnant again. And in my second trimester, after I had seen the baby’s heart miraculously beating and his lungs miraculously inflating on an ultrasound, I took my own heart and lungs back to the mat and once again, stayed fit, (relatively) thin and sane throughout my full-term pregnancy. Savasana became far less relaxing with a human being kicking at me from inside the womb, but it was during those nine months that I finally began to understand love, and God, and the true meaning of aum.

Now, four months after the birth of my baby, I can only manage to practice in fits and starts (take your pick of about a dozen different excuses — I’ve got them all covered). My yoga of late has primarily been the practice of focusing my attention on my child, experiencing the present moment in the splash of bath water, an unexpected giggle, the sigh of my sleeping babe. But  I will begin a twice weekly class again at the end of June, and  I plan to finish the last requirements for my teaching certificate next spring. I’m not sure if teaching is truly my passion, but I like to finish what I start, even if I stop once, twice, three times over. As long as my feet make their way back to tadasana at some point, as long as my hands come together in anjali mudra … well,  the stuff in between is yoga, too.

And now, in honor of my renewed vows, a little renewed focus and study:

  • New to meditation? Need a refresher? Try a short guided meditation from Mohonk Mountain House and then check out some more substantial tips from Deepak Chopra. For even more in-depth study, visit How to Meditate.
  • Once you’ve achieved stillness, bring some movement into your meditation. A Slow Hands practice is a great way to tune into prana, and a walking meditation can sync the breath with each step, making your next walk to the bus stop a transcendent experience.
  • Most yoga classes touch on meditation and pranayama (breath work) at least briefly, usually in the form of savasana. But pratyahara, or sense withdrawal — the fifth limb of Patanjali’s eightfold path —  is a less common though equally important element of the complete yoga practice, especially in these over-caffeinated times. Yoga Journal has a good introduction to the practice of pratyhara, with an exercise to get you started.
  • What’s the opposite of pratyahara? A little quality time with Call of the Valley and this yantra spike mat.
  • For some more iPod inspiration, download this fascinatng NPR story about Pierre Bernard, “the Omnipotent Oom, Loving Guru of the Tantriks,” who helped introduce yoga to America.
  • This frame-worthy yoga poster (pictured at right) is yours for the taking, provided you have enlargement capabilities and the appropriate printer. And who knows … it might even make for a very lovely tattoo.
 

God doesn’t bite October 30, 2008

Filed under: Sprituality — tiffanyfox @ 11:59 pm
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Once, when I was about six years old, my mother rushed my sister and I into the bathroom of our home, shut the door behind us, and turned off all the lights. She hissed at us to be quiet. Her eyes were wild.

There was someone knocking at our front door, and from the fear I saw on my mother’s face I assumed it was evil incarnate, a monster with gnashing teeth come to suck the marrrow from our bones. After a few long moments, we heard footsteps as the monster walked away. The tendons in my mother’s jaw relaxed. She could breathe again.

Later, I found out that the creature at the door wasn’t the boogeyman, a winged harpy or even the creepy old man who lived down the street. It was a Jehovah’s Witness, come to talk about God and Jesus and salvation, which, to my mother, was just as terrifying. Apparently, someone of the faith had once told her she was going to hell, and it had spooked her for life. Spooked her to the point where an innocent knock on the door caused her to leap into action, to spirit her children away as if gypsies had come for our very souls.

Another time, my friend Renee gave me a small red book. I liked the faux leather cover and the pretty, colorful pictures inside of children frolicking with lambs and lions. When I told my mother I might like to go to church with Renee sometime, she got a pinched look on her face and tried to talk me out of it. I didn’t understand. I just wanted to see more pretty pictures. I don’t think I even realized at the time that that little red book had anything to do with God.

These two experiences — along with the unveiling every year of our as-yet-unexplained Christmas nativity set — comprise the whole of my religious upbringing. I was taught, more through actions then words, that religion was something to fear, that religious people were odd, deluded and possibly even wicked. For the first 30 years of my life, I wrote off religion and church entirely. I stayed away from moterhomes parked on the street, for fear that people inside would snatch me up and whisk me away to their “cults,” as my mother once warned me they would.

And then decades later, came Hurricane Katrina. As if compelled by some hidden force, I found myself at the First Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Hillcrest, totally overdressed and more than a little perplexed. I don’t recall how I decided that this church, of all the multitude of fellowships out there, might have something to offer to me, but there I was, sobbing in the pews as I listened to Rev. Arvid Straube talk about how what happened in New Orleans wasn’t fair and wasn’t right and that we needed each other to get through it.

It was nothing I didn’t know already, but just being there, listening along with other people, was profoundly spiritual. I attended First UU a few more times, and upon moving to Encinitas, Mike and I have found UU San Dieguito, which we have come to love for its tolerance for all religions and its doctrine of “deeds, not creeds.”

The skeptic in me keeps waiting for the other shoe to drop. I’m convinced someone’s going to come out from behind a corner one day and say “Just kidding! You’ll need to hand over your first-born child, or you’re going to HELL!” But so far, I’ve felt nothing but a sense that I belong to this place, and that this place belongs to me.

And I might be right: I recently took the “Belief-o-Matic” quiz on Belief.net (try it! you’ll like it!) and discovered I am nearly 96 percent UU. I am also, however, 100 percent Neo-Pagan. So that’s something.

What’s strange is that I still find it difficult to admit to people that (in hushed voice) “I attend church.” I feel as though others will question my intellect or my sense of individuality, since I’ve always been one to silently chastise people who fashion their lives from something some dude wrote in a poorly translated ancient text. But then I remind myself of what my man Gandhi said: “I will not be a traitor to God to please the whole world.” As long as there is love in my heart, I don’t have to answer to anyone.

 

Gandhi vs. Orwell: Ultimate smackdown June 27, 2008

Filed under: Sprituality — tiffanyfox @ 5:40 am
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I read Orwell’s Reflections on Gandhi on the train ride home last night. I was surprised by his dismissive tone — I always thought of Gandhi as someone beyond reproach — but Orwell was a Brit living at the end of the colonial era. I suppose one should attribute his bitterness to the agony of defeat (and at the hands of a half-naked, emaciated lawyer, no less).

At any rate, after reading the essay, two things came to mind: 1) Why can’t there be balance between humanism and sainthood? Must one choose between the ascetic life and the life of pleasure? 2) Can’t we trust our intuition to guide us in our decisions, to lead us to choices that will serve both man and God? It’s pretty simple really. Many of us do this every day. If our gut tells us that something is wrong on any level —  human or cosmic — we re-evaluate our sense of direction and gain the proper footing once again. Gandhi

One could argue at this point in our planet’s history that the lifestyle Orwell found so distastefully “sanctified” is actually the more humanistic approach. Vegetarianism is sustainable, celibacy prevents overpopulation, and choosing to love humanity over any single man or woman will bring the whole world together. Apologies to Orwell, but I’m a meat-eating married woman who’s trying to get pregnant, and I’m still pretty sure Gandhi had it right.

 

You don’t have to believe everything you think June 26, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — tiffanyfox @ 6:15 am
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In yoga, the brain is symbolized by the moon.From Yoga Journal: “It might seem strange to us that the yogis place the seat of wisdom in the heart, which we typically associate with our emotions, and not the brain. But in yoga, the brain is actually symbolized by the moon, which reflects the sun’s light but generates none of its own. This kind of knowledge is worthwhile for dealing with mundane affairs, and is even necessary to a certain extent for the lower stages of spiritual practice. But in the end, the brain is inherently limited in what it can know and is prone to what Patanjali calls misconception (viparyaya) or false knowledge of the self.”