Lessons from the Banyan Tree

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Secure roots go deep
A strength and resilience passed on from ancestors.
Roots connected to tough skin and long branches – extending, reaching.
Stretching up for dreams.
Spreading out – holding knowledge, creativity.
Turning back to the earth – becoming roots.
Securely grounded – solid, calm, quiet.
Nourishment from the upper, lower and middle worlds – sun, air, water, soil.
Its energy emanates – do you feel it?
I bow to you wise tree.
I am humble to your greatness.
Tell me your stories. Show me your visions.  Let me breath in your wisdom.
I’ll receive it with eyes glistening.
I hold you sacred.
I feel your strength as I gently touch your bark.

Kundalini Yoga - Sadhana (Morning Practice)

Ong Namo Guru Dev Namo
I bow to the lessons of the day – from the world around me.

Extreme weather, political chaos, hate, an anxious child, lower energy at work, a mending heart, a friend having surgery, death of a loved one, relationships changing, a future unknown.

Morning sadhana - my time - for my self.
Almond oil, the shock of cold water.
Warmth in my bark, wrapped in cotton fabric, leaves knotted on top of my crown.
Summer mugginess in the air, alone on my porch.
A navy blue sky with star patterns and a moon looking down.
My straight trunk sends roots down – bringing in nourishment, releasing what is no longer needed – diffused into the earth.
My branches are up and out, releasing sadness, pain, hurt, fear and loneliness.
Breath of fire, ego eradicator, the vulnerable bow pose – that leads me to tears some of the time (used to be all the time).
Arching, pressing, twisting, bending.
Then stillness – a letting go.

And then I chant – which it turns out, is a beckoning for my cat Nico.
Who has loved me through it all – and finds his place in the curve of my lap.  I scratch that spot, on the neck, he leans in, with a purr.

I find my voice – joining voices from my phone – voices that lift me up from the community.  They slowly teach me to project.  They slowly teach me to feel lovely.  And they slowly help me find my quiet power.

The sky lightens. The air feels lavender.  The peepers fade to quiet and the birds start their own mantra.  The natural world’s disciplined practice. Go within, emanate out.  Breath up - Chant up.

– Every morning resets my intention -- to flow with positivity.  And to rise up and be the banyan tree. 

A daily Kundalini yoga practice is called a Sadhana. Sadhana is before the sun comes up, before the energy of the day. It starts off with almond oil on the skin and a cold shower, followed by a Kriya. A Kriya is a specific sequence and timing of breathing, postures, meditation and mantra as taught by Yoga Bhajan. Learn more. Join me for Kundalini Yoga each week at Ananda Yoga in Hadley - Thursdays from 6:45 -- 8:00 p.m. Find peace in a chaotic world. Learn more about the class on the Ananda Yoga Website. You are welcome as you are. Bring your self.

Falling to Earth

Camping by Lady Tree and Secret Beach

Camping by Lady Tree and Secret Beach

Lady tree - elegant and wise. photo courtesy of emily snyder :)

Lady tree - elegant and wise. photo courtesy of emily snyder :)

My sister calls these my "have a story to tell" shoes -

My sister calls these my "have a story to tell" shoes -

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Jackie and me on solid sand - we never saw a candy house and no one tempted us with treats.

I keep it moving.  Get it done.   Onto the next thing.  In Kundalini yoga and meditation, I’m learning the power of stillness.  In stillness, the message finds us. The path is revealed.  It doesn’t feel natural to me.  I want to search for, run to and push through for the answers, for the path, for the next thing in my journey.  I’m impatient.  But lately, it isn’t working.  I push, I run, I take control of forward movement and I feel lost – I can’t find my way.  I give up. Sit down. Cry.  And when all my tears are cried out and there aren’t anymore.  I look up – tired and quiet.  I have to concede.  I have to relinquish control and let it be.  It’s counter intuitive to me – as a doer all my life – to wait, be still and let the next thing be revealed.  It feels lazy. It feels passive.  It feels unproductive.  

This summer, I camped out in my solo orange tent on an island in Maine, where my family has a cabin.  I love my tent.  I love creating quiet spaces for myself.  I chose the perfect spot and learned from others that it’s a favorite  spot of many – lady tree and secret beach.  Lady tree has intertwining branches and roots that twist like a serpent off of the earth and onto the sand.  She feels wise, solid and ancient.  She connects the magical forest to the sandy beach and water.  Some of her branches are dead and brittle but she is still very much alive and her roots hold her securely while she reaches up to the light.  She’s elegant – lady tree.  The site is protected and close to water sounds and views.

I woke up before my alarm sounded and decided to get up.  It was 3:30 am, my alarm sounds at 3:50 am for my 4:00 am daily sadhana – my kundalini yoga practice.  It was dark.  I changed into leggings, t-shirt and a hoody.  I slipped on my red “they have a story to tell” keen, rubber toe sneakers, zipped out of the tent, peed and turned on the light from my iPhone to get me about a mile away to a little cabin for my practice.   It’s cool in the mornings in August and often dewy on the earth – so the empty little cabin destination for yoga had been working well all week.  I headed towards a path that led through the woods, across a little bridge and to a field and up to the “Hilton” – the cabin.   

After about twenty paces, I realized that Jack, our toy poodle, was not by my side.  I called for him – nothing.  I retraced my steps all the way back to the tent and found him.  Why did I think Jack could navigate a trail in the darkness?  At first I tried to use my phone light to help both Jack and myself navigate but Jack was very slow, carefully picking his way.  I scooped him up in one arm and held the light with the other.  There was a narrow path to follow and off to the right, through trees was eventually rocky shore and ocean.  Further to the left was a larger path that a jeep could navigate. 

I lost the path very quickly.  Sometimes I would retrace my steps and try again but mostly I would just forge ahead, ignoring that I had lost the path.  I knew the general direction and had the ocean to my right and the destination straight ahead – how bad could it be?  I became entangled in sharp pine branches, moss, rocks and no path in site.  It got too thick and I was forced to back up and try again.  Sometimes I would see a buoy, like a cairn, to let me know I was on the trail but then I would lose it again.  I started sweating.  My glasses fogged up and my arm was tired from holding Jack.  I stepped over rocks, scooched under sharp branches and barreled forward with my unabashed motivation to reach my destination.  My frustration mounted “Are you Serious!” I put Jack down and cried a few tears of utter frustration.  I looked at the clock.  It was 4:30 am – I had been wandering for almost an hour.  Getting nowhere, going in circles.  I completely lost my sense of direction.  I decided to head to the rocks on the shoreline which I could follow around and lead to the bridge – I heard a lobster boat and headed towards the sound.   I made it to the big granite shore but it was too hard to navigate.  The rocks were cliff-like and with the tide as high as it was, couldn’t be passed.  It was very dark and I might hurt myself.  Sometimes I put myself in unsafe situations so I knew enough to retreat. So back into the trees I went – beep beep beep – back it up.  But I was stuck.  Where to go.  Tired, frustrated and sweating, I took off my foggy glasses and put them on the ground.  I put Jack down, took off my sweatshirt, sat on the mossy rock and cried again.  I felt like Hansel and Gretel, lost in the woods – like in a fairy tale.  I wasn’t scared.  I was frustrated. I wanted to get out – to find the path.  But I couldn’t. 

My routine strategy of sheer force did not work this time.  I gave up and decided to do my yoga right there – right where I was.  I put on my phone recording of the Magnetic Field and Heart Center Kriya.  I was on about day ten of a 40 day commitment – for nervous system repair and balance of the psycho-electromagnetic field.  I tuned in with the Adi Mantra, started with the Heart Center Opener with the breath of fire and went from there.  The set takes about 55 minutes.  After I finished the set, I always do the navel adjustment kriya – only four asana of one minute each – stretch pose to bow pose to wheel pose to fish pose.  Then I set myself up for chanting the seven mantras of the Aquarian sadhana for 62 minutes.  Rooted in the earth, spine straight, hands in gyan mudra, eyes closed – at peace.  In the middle of the mantra, my phone died.  I continued on my own, estimating the proper timing for each.  It was nice hearing my sole voice in the quiet woods – it helped me focus on the sounds with no musical accompaniment.  It felt good that the only voice was my voice.  I ended with the “Long time Sun” – inhale, exhale and done.  Calm.  The sky was lighter.  I could see the green moss, the brown trees, the branches, sky.  I stood up to get back on the path and started thinking about a cup of coffee - but where were my glasses?  I had taken them off – sweaty and then for yoga.  Where did I put them in the darkness?  I looked and felt the ground for the familiar plastic frames.  I was feeling the earth--  searching the ground with touch.  No luck.  I took off my sweaty t-shirt and put it on the ground, like Hansel and Gretel leaving bread crumbs – so I could come look for it later.  I put on my hoody over my nakedness, slipped into my “story to tell” red sneakers and started off again, with our fuzzy view metaphor still in place.    “My yoga studio” that morning turned out to be right by the path itself. I was where I intended to be.   I was literally where I was trying to be.  I just didn't know it. I headed to the main cabin to make coffee.  My sister already had the kettle on.  I told her what had happened.

Couldn’t find my way

Couldn’t see the path.

Pushed through the darkness.

Was tired and frustrated and going in circles.

Stopped.

Cried.

Dropped to the earth.

Slow down.  Wait.  Breathe.  The path will be revealed. 

I needed the literal experience to get it. 

Pine needles in my hair, dirt in my leggings and fuzzy view.  I spent my time rolling around,  stretching, chanting and singing --  grounded in Maine dirt., trees, moss and pine needles.  

For the rest of the week, I kayaked from the tent to the  field – more light on the water – still a little touch and go (!) but an adventure.  Never found my bread-crumb-of-a-t-shirt and never found my glasses.  I decided the spirit animals in the magic forest by lady tree are playing dress-up with them.  Maybe they were giggling at me –  watching me trying to find my way and finally, falling to earth.

 

 

Haleakala - Taking Yoga to the Summit

Above the clouds

Above the clouds

Early in the morning, either with friends or alone, biking has become one of my favorite ways to move through our world.  Biking gets me out of my regular grind - out of my head.  It connects me with views, vistas and quiet.  It creates space for sharing with bike friends.  It makes a space for conversation and connection.  Biking is life - hills and valleys.  When a big hill is in front of me, I lower my gaze, focus on the moment, focus on the breath and pedal.  Looking up and ahead at big challenges can be overwhelming and scary.  And biking isn't without its fear.  Having an accident makes one vulnerable and aware of danger and risk.  Staying alert and careful is part of its experience.  

I started training for my biggest biking goal ever - to bike up Haleakala volcano in Maui - a 10,000 foot elevation.  I like to share that it's taller than Mt. Everest, however, 20,000 feet of it is under water.  I hired Maui Cyclery for support and guidance.  They had a truck to refill water bottles, replenish energy bars and to carry warmer clothing until needed - it can be freezing up top.  Donnie Arnoult, the owner and ex pro, kept me laughing with stories of his life on Maui.  Ed, who drove the truck, picked up a Jackson Chameleon on one of our breaks and kept me hydrated - it was a special day.  

Jackson chameleon

Jackson chameleon

But I started getting tired around 5,000 feet, only half way.  A dull headache set in from the altitude.  I kept hydrating and took it slow.  I stopped talking and listened.  Donnie instructed me to breathe through my nose for maximum efficiency and oxygenation.  While the ride to the summit was only 38 miles, I had to train for 100, due to the elevation and averaged 4 miles per hour.  At about mile 28, Ed and Donnie bid me farewell - what?  Somehow I had missed the memo that guides were not permitted into the park.  Donnie stuffed my leggings and jacket into my jersey pocket, filled up my water bottles one last time, replenished my energy bars and bid me farewell.  I didn't like the idea of finishing up solo but as I pedaled on it felt right.  Now it was the volcano and me.  Only ten more miles anyway - but the punchline there is that I was only going four miles per hour - so ten miles is over 2 1/2 hours.  Off I went.  Head down, breathing through the nose - long and deep.  Focus on the breath - "You got this Janet."  I couldn't tell how much ground I was covering.  I wasn't keeping track of time or distance traveled.  I was in the clouds on a seemingly endless winding incline.

I got to a "7,000 feet" sign - only 3,000 more! My headache continued and nausea set in. As a student of Kundalini Yoga teacher training since October, we have been exploring strength - the strength of our nervous system.  We are stronger than we think we are and can accomplish more than we think we can.  When I asked Donnie if I would make it to the top he said, "Maybe.  We'll see."  This wasn't what I wanted to hear.  He told me it was hard to predict.  Those that seemed okay would stop and those that didn't - sometimes they made it.  It didn't come down to physical strength - it was the strength of one's own will.  In Kundalini yoga, some of the asanas (postures) and mudras (hand positions) are challenging,  where my mind starts dancing around to a melody of "I can do this - I can't do this." And round and round it goes.  But with discipline and strengthening - we can do it.  Through the headache and nausea, I focused on the breath.  I chanted in my mind.  This was an important strategy.  Taking yoga to the summit.  Sat Nam, Sat Nam - Breathe in Sat and exhale Nam - Truth is my identity.  

I coached myself in the third person.  For the first time that day, I thought I might not be able to do it.  I felt sick and my right foot was throbbing.  I got off my bike and sat on a rock.  I took off my shoes and rubbed my feet.  I hydrated and ate an energy bar.  "You got this Janny.  You are fine.  You can do this.  Take your time.  It's okay."  I loved myself up.  I spoke to myself kindly.  My mantra became, "You got this" for a while.  I said the words out loud so that I heard them.  My own voice assured me in a kind way.  

Why did I do this bike ride? I've asked myself this question.  If it stops being fun - then why?

The last several years have been tough.  Big life changes, introspection, turning a page and healing.  A physical challenge like climbing a hill is an illustration of life challenges.  It makes a struggle literal.  As I heal, as I see life as an adventure again, I can imagine reaching the summit, which brings me back to Kundalini Yoga.  I've always been athletic - always kept my body moving.  But about two years ago, I needed a new strategy - a way to quiet my mind, find peace and connect with something bigger than my daily life.  I tried yoga and it was Kundalini that helped me feel peace, opened my heart-center - to forgive others and myself.  I spontaneously and impulsively signed up for Yoga Teacher Training at Yoga at the Ashram in Millis, MA and spent one weekend there each month, graduating in June 2018.  It's hard to find words about the training.  I was scared - i didn't know what I was getting myself into.  I stayed with the same group of women in our A2 apartment each month.  Kundalini teacher training was a way to scratch the surface of my self and go deep.  It's hard to pick one word for what it meant to me because it was so many things - it was hard, emotional, tiring, intense, healing and empowering.  I feel grateful that I impulsively signed up.  I had no idea what I was in for and it's probably better that way.  I'm so thankful to know of the healing potential for myself and others and know that it changed my life forever.  Kundalini includes a daily personal practice - a Sadhana - preferably before the energy of the day, before the sun rises. I've been committed ever since.  It's a commitment to the self - to our true spirit - our center.   Kundalini Yoga helped me in my own life and helped me get up that volcano. 

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I saw a sign that the summit was two miles away - only a half an hour more.  I got this.  And I wasn't alone.  In Kundalini, we are taught about the power of community - how we balance out each other's energy - high with low, happy with sad.  Even when practicing alone we are taught to imagine our community with us.  We are never alone because we are all connected and connected to the infinite.  This is comforting to me and comforting on the ascent up the volcano.  .

I biked up that volcano for many parts of myself - the shy girl who was bullied and scared; the divorced 55-year-old, finding power and independence; the mom of three beautiful children; for my "self" which is not defined by others.

Life is an adventure again.  When it gets hard we step off the road, coach our self, cuddle our self and then get back on the road, breathe and go slow and feel the support of friends.  We love our self the most.  We fall.  We get hurt.  We make mistakes.  We get in our own way.  We cry.  With a soothing voice, a breath, a chant - we center, focus and start again.  And we give thanks.  Thanks to my biking group for training with me and all the words of encouragement and support from yoga friends, Amherst friends, old friends, college friends, family........ :)