Pondering the Finger or the Moon

Posted on September 13, 2013. Filed under: Path of the Healer, Random Musings, Spiritual Practice, Yoga |

I’ve been thinking a lot about a Zen teaching concept – “Finger Pointing at the Moon” – and just how valuable a lesson it is in so many aspects of my life from my yoga practice, in herbalism, etc.

MoonThe short version of the it is that the phrase points out you can obsess about details while losing sight of the bigger picture or end goal.

Or more elaborately when you overly focus on the minute details of the teachings and practice as if they were the point but instead they are just the finger pointing the way to the moon (goal.)

This shows up for me in yoga practice far too often where I can overly focus on those nagging Pitta Perfect Self questions like am I doing this asana right, etc.  And tending to forget where the practice is pointing in general.   More often than not this shows for me in not letting go enough by aiming for a non-existent “just right” asana – instead a looser spiraling exploration of myself in the journey of asana.

But occasionally I have funny moments of letting go like when I was kicking up into headstand the other night and did it with a bit too much gusto and instead of obsessing/panicking as I fell – I just let myself fall and enjoying my butt whopping into the bed and my feet whacking into the workstation sending the keyboard and mouse of my computer into their own lunar exploration!   Then I laughed, and set myself up and did it again! 😉

In herbalism, this is part of the reason I’m not big on leading plant walks.  There’s always something that has bothered me about going around just categorizing (identifying) and talking about how you can use things.

Mind you, I love me a big old fact filling info buffet as much as the next geeky herbal sort, but it seems too using and ungrateful.  I think I want to create a plant (un)walk where instead you go around thanking the plants and sharing how you have worked together with them.

Kind of like how one Thanksgiving instead of doing the normal nonsense we do that day in America.  I wrote thank you letters to the people in my life.   Giving THANKS!  Which is the point of the holiday isn’t it? -Rather than all the other stuff which just points to that goal.

One final way of looking at this all is how I explained cooking and life to a friend once.  I’m one of those folks who can just throw things together and yummy magic happens.   I said recipes are great but you really learn how to cook once you get to the point of letting go of them and playing in the inspiration of the moment and ingredients you gather.  And you really start living when you let go of the idea of a path (recipe) and starting playing/living your own way.

  • Just like in yoga when you learn enough to really play in the asanas, then you’re on your real path as a full yogi.
  • Or in herbalism when you learn enough to play with the herbs in ways that inspire you then you’re on your way to true herbalism.
  • There are no recipes/paths in your life.  A path is what is formed in your wake as you go forward.   Following others paths too closely never lets you create your own way.

Ponder the finger but let go of the finger once it helps you find the Moon.  Then you can dance in the moonlight.

Just my insane .02

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Forgive me my teacher…

Posted on July 30, 2013. Filed under: Blatant Silliness, Yoga |

Ever get the nagging feeling something is missing in your yoga practice and interactions with teachers?

A yoga class.

A yoga class. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sometimes there’s an attitude of relativity and acceptance that simply doesn’t always fulfill me.

I can always take down dog or child’s pose as I need to?  Or uses props and adjust as I want in the asanas?  It’s my practice and don’t need to compare it to others?

Really that just doesn’t leave room for good old fashion guilt! 😉

I almost feel like I want a yoga Priest/Priestess where I might confess my yoga sins.  Perhaps something along these lines:

Student:  “Forgive me my teacher.  It’s been a week since my last practice.  And almost two since my last class…”

Teacher: “Go on.”

Student: “I go to using a prop out of habit without awareness and so avoid really exploring the asana I’m working on.

Instead of listening and learning from my body’s action in a pose, I subtly twist and look at the clock to see how long I’ve held it so far and how long until the class ends.

Often in savasaana, I think about when, and what,  I’m going to eat afterwards and whether I worked hard enough to get a treat too….”*

Teacher:  “I see.  Take 3 extra Sun Salutations each practice and work on three new asanas you’ve never tried before in the coming week.  And work toward changing all that.  Now go and practice in peace.”

Whew.  Feeling better already!

I wonder if I’ve earned that chocolate bar I’ve been eying while writing this…

*  For the record – yes I do all of those things.  I’m probably the worst clock watcher ever.  Even when there is not a clock to watch I follow the time in my head and think about it. 😉

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Book Review – Hell-Bent: Obsession, Pain, and the Search for Something Like Transcendence in Competitive Yoga by Benjamin Lorr

Posted on July 17, 2013. Filed under: Book Reviews, Path of the Healer, Random Musings, Uncategorized, Yoga | Tags: , , |

I recently finished reading Hell-Bent: Obsession, Pain, and the Search for Something Like Transcendence in Competitive Yoga by Benjamin Lorr  for a book club discussion and have to admit that it, and the discussion at the book club, stirred up a lot of thoughts for me about yoga practice, healing, herbalism and life.

Cover to book Hell-Bent by Benjamin Lorr

Cover: Hell-Bent by Benjamin Lorr

The Basics:

Even setting aside my complete aversion to heat to the point which hot yoga is as about as welcome a practice to me as a soapy bath is to a cat.  I have to admit the book was a bit of bear for me even though there were parts that I found good (such as his way of really getting into the heads of the some practitioners) because there were others that I found almost painful (like his sidestepping the more egregious goings on.)   I felt at times that the author was trying too hard to present all sides and often looking a bit too much to rationalize some of the behavior in the beginning of the book.

While he does toward the end of the book begin to look at some of the problematic aspects of Bikram and his style of yoga – he tries a little too hard to sidestep using the word “cult-like” to describe some of the goings on and that is just screaming out even through the filter of the author’s narrative.  Let’s face it, what else can you call a man who while leading a teacher training sits on an elevated throne, with a special air conditioner to keep himself cool while overlooking a sea of students sweltering in the heat, as a collection of women massage his body – it’s hard to sugar coat the imagery, and expletives, which something like that invokes.

At times, I try to be generous and assume he’s simply trying to present “both” sides while trying to preserve his access to write the book – as well as letting us draw our own conclusions. At others, I suspect it’s a disturbing blind spot.  Still a worthwhile read in trying to understand a world I, for one, would never want to be part of.

 The Deeper Stuff:

What’s really interesting to me about all of this is the issues of pain, growth and what is yoga (and healing) in general that this stirred up.

I often look at these people who pursue these extremes of heat and exertion in yoga (and other things) and I tend to wonder if some of them are a bit addicted to the brain chemicals the body releases to help you deal with it pain and stress on the system.

Frankly, when it is hot your body doesn’t want to be terribly active.   And if you’re exerting yourself extremely in the heat it can only assume your life is in danger and releases chemicals to suppress pain and cover up the damage and shifts the flow of blood and oxygen to the where it would be most needed until the crisis is over (which means shortages to the rest.)

That’s where it gets interesting to me.  Advocates for that sort of thing talk about how you can get deeper into your poses than in normal temperatures.  But then I see accounts of people, like in the book, who can’t do the same poses in a normal temperature room that they can in a hot one.  So essentially it seems to me to be a prop – but one that some of the advocates aren’t letting go of so they can learn to do the work without the external aid.  So at best it can be a illusion of a short cut to what their practice could be like, but actually isn’t.   As well as perhaps illustrating a classic Western obsession with achieving a destination, while missing the point that the true wisdom lay in the journey there and not the actual destination.

More importantly, it seems antithetical to what I view yoga as being.  Part of yoga is learning to listen and communicate with your body.  At its best, it can be a deep communing and learning encompassing both the body’s places of ease and discomforts.  When you push into such  an extreme position that your body masks its own injuries and pain to keep you going you’ve lost that connection and communication and instead are embracing a lie and false view of self. That is missing the meaning of yoga for me.

Beyond Yoga:

What struck me beyond this- is how much it parallels the way it can be sometimes with Western medicine, with herbalism  and in life in general as well.

Too often, we seek a drug or an herb to mask a symptom – lose that connection with the body and so avoid the deeper truth of what is going on.  Cover up that persistent itch or pain that is a warning and miss dealing with the deeper cause of it because you mask the symptom – avoiding communication and exploration.

Or we do something to mask a symptom of what may be going on with our lives and cover up that discomfort rather then learn from it to see what it is we truly need to change about how we are, and what we do, in our world.

Something to think about, isn’t it?

Just my insane .02 in reaction to the book.

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Mind your mind – or it will mind you!

Posted on June 26, 2013. Filed under: Healing, Spiritual Practice, Yoga | Tags: , , |

While in my usual “I can’t” story, I forgot for a moment I couldn’t and so I did.   Wow, that sounds like the usual bad facebook picture meme with an inspiring picture – so let me try explaining that.

Sometimes our minds can be bullies,

Not always working together (Movie still from Fiend Without a Face)

Not always working together (Movie still from Fiend Without a Face)

and instead of us minding our minds, they mind us.  I had a nice example of this last night in my yoga practice, when I was working on handstands.

I’m at an interesting cusp in my work on handstands.  While I can kick up into handstand more often than not but still need a wall to prop my feet against to hold the pose once I do.   Not quite as developed as say my headstand where I can almost always kick up and I can balance without a wall.  But given that not too long ago I couldn’t kick up in either – the journey is definitely underway.

There’s a story in my head that I can’t balance in handstand without the wall yet, and when I try, I tend to fall down.   But since I don’t always kick up successfully to the wall, I have a moment in between that is really interesting.

There’s a point where after I kick up my mind makes a decision that either:

  1. Yes, I’m going to be able to get my legs up the wall and keeps going to do it
  2. Or, I’m not and slows things down so I fall back to the floor.

But then something happened.  I kicked up and my mind couldn’t decide which of my two “stories” was true – and I just paused neither falling nor touching the wall just balancing.  So as my mind was balanced in indecision between the stories, it lost a certain hold and I found balance that it thought I couldn’t have.

Of course, once my mind realized what was happening the pose fell apart. 😉

This is where a yoga practice is a great microcosm for how we are in life.  Sometimes our minds have stories of what we can and can’t do – but when we let go of those we can find more possibilities than we thought we had.

Remember to mind your mind and not let it run your life too much…

Good doggy (Movie still from Fiend Without a Face)

Good doggy (Movie still from Fiend Without a Face)

Or at least try to get it to stay off the furniture!  🙂

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Dem Bones and more – Anatomy fun with a yoga focus

Posted on May 7, 2013. Filed under: Path of the Healer, Yoga |

I’ve been a kick lately of studying anatomy mainly coming out of my yoga studies but it is, of course, very applicable to herbalism as well.  So I’d thought I’d share the random collection of resources I’ve gathered and have been working with.


  • BioDigital Human.:  I’ve recently fallen in love with this site, with its interactive 3D rendering.  It’s worth the time to study the controls and features and learn to work them well it will pay off really quickly.  The free version will do most folks but the paid is relatively cheap and includes some nifty features.   One of the things I really wish they would change is how they handle the quiz function.   You can limit the body the system (muscles, skeleton, etc.) but not focus on a particular section of that system in the body.  And it only really quizzes you on ID and not form and function aspects.  But still a great site.
  • Anatomy Zone:  a great collection of videos which are also on their youtube account, but I like using the website for easier navigation.

Both go really well together but I do wish they had more of showing the body in motion as they describe the actions of things.

Smart Phone Apps (all both Android and Apple!):

  • Learn Muscles – very nice app with surprisingly good graphics.  I love that the quiz section lets you do a varieties of things like focus on particular areas of body, ID, origin, insertion and actions.   I do find that extra features come at  price that sometimes it crashes mid quiz and it doesn’t shuffle the questions as well as I’d like.  But still a great little app.
  • Visual Bones and Visual Muscles by Education Mobile.   Not quite a nifty as Learn muscles but still pretty great.  These two apps give you the basics in a pretty good form.  The quizzes are only IDing but still useful.
  • Speed Muscle, Speed Bones and Speed Anatomy by Benoit Essiambre. A level down by comparison to the above and just basic quizzing on ID.  The navigation is a pain since it shows you the whole body rather than a part during the quizzing and it grades you by how close you are to the exactly location – which is hard to do on a small screen.  But basic and gets the job done.

Books – General:

  • Concise Book of Muscles by Chris Jarmey. Great overview of the muscles of the body.  I routinely come back to it as a quick reference.
  • Know Your Body: The Atlas of Anatomy by Emmet Keeffe. Nice simple basic reference to fully human anatomy and surprisingly readable.
  • Anatomy and Physiology for Dummies (and workbook). Always a good place to start.  I actually like Know Your Body better, because it is more anatomy and less physiology here at the cost of the anatomy.  But still worthwhile.
  • Trail Guide To The Body by Andrew Biel.  If you can find a good used copy.  It is totally worth having.  More oriented to massage student but useful for many folks.
  • Medical Terminology for Dummies.  You’d be surprised how useful this is to have around.  Some of the anatomy books are not the best at defining the terms they use and this comes in more than handy to make up the difference.

Books – Yoga anatomy specific:

To go even deeper into the yoga poses I live by this series of Ray Long books:

Such a great resource to look up any individual pose and how the the body works in them.  How to get into them, tips, focus, etc.

I hope this random overview of resources I’ve been gather helps.  🙂

And, of course, I have this song running through my head:

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Skullcap, so happy together

Posted on April 15, 2013. Filed under: Herb(s) of the Week, Plant Friends, Yoga |

In a way, I’m shocked that I haven’t written about Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora; Family: Lamiaceae, Mint) yet. Seriously one of my favorite herbs and my special nervine partner.

I just love it.

So much so that I can’t think of it, see it or hear about it without the Turtles song “Happy Together” running through my head.


Heck, I think my herby friends have a lottery going to see how long before I start humming the tune after someone says Skullcap.

Some of the other commons names for it are: Blue Skullcap, Hoodwort, Virginian Skullcap, Mad-dog Skullcap. Mad-dog Skullcap being the most amusing for its dubious use in the past for rabies.

Skullcap is a classic nervine, sedative, a bit of a bitter and mild antispasmodic. It is high in minerals useful for the nervous system, so it nourishes and supports it to help calm stress and anxiety. It’s a very commonly used for insomnia and pairs particularly well with Chamomile for sleeping issues in general.

Different nervines have different affinities and are better suited for some folks than others depending on their nature and the nature of the issue they are working on.   I tend to think of Skullcap as best for when you’re finding your nervous system is over stimulated and needs help to tone down.

My first flush of love for Skullcap was when used to have a dreadful time sleeping at night and it was a regular part of a tea blend to help me sleep. Nowadays that isn’t so much an issue for me and my regular use of Skullcap fell by the wayside, then I re-discovered it in another way.

Skullcap ties nicely with releasing tension in skeletal muscles, and helps ease muscle tension in general – especially related to stress as well as general physical or emotional exhaustion. It’s not a full on muscle relaxant, you’d look to something like Kava for that, but I’ve been finding it particularly adept in supporting my after yoga practice issues.

Sometimes when I’m working in new asanas or beginning to really have conversations with muscles long dormant and make demands on them they’ve never felt before. They get cranky and carry a bit of specific nervous tension to them for a while.

During those times I will often drink more Skullcap tea generally paired with Nettles for the extra minerals punch which cranky muscles love. Or eat more seaweed for the same mineral awesomeness. (And, of course, extra quality protein in building those muscles!) I’ve been finding the combination incredibly supportive in my yoga work.

So Skullcap has become a big part of my life again in my yoga practice.
In general, in Western herbalism we use the aerial parts (leaves, stems, flowers) which is an interesting contrast because it is originally a Native American herb (used mainly by the Cherokee) and they tended to use the roots and in somewhat different ways – more as a women’s herb. Where it was used in purification ceremonies associated with menstruation. Decoctions of the root were used to stimulate menstruation and ease breast pain. And it was also used to flush the kidneys as well as for diarrhea. None of which are uses we follow with in contemporary Western herbalism. But sound like interesting areas to explore….

Anyway, Skullcap has proven a twice blessed herb in my life first for aid in for sleeping problems I used to have and now again it support of my yoga practice.

Who knows what the future holds for us…

“Me and you and you and me
No matter how they toss the dice, it has to be
The only one for me is you, and you for me
So happy together…”

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Troubles ahead and troubles behind – a tale of my yoga struggles

Posted on April 8, 2013. Filed under: Yoga |

Ever notice how people love posting wisdom sharing bits to demonstrate how wise they are?  Or tales of initial struggles and challenges turned to triumph or valuable self-realization?  This post ain’t one of those.  Instead, it is about an in process struggle in my yoga practice – surprise!

Right now I’m in the midst of comical struggle with a pose, and as I work toward it all these emotions keep coming up for me.

So what’s the pose? Adho Mukha Vrksasana, aka Handstand.  Yeah, really.   I’m fine when I get into it, and can be aided into it and have kicked up into it by myself a handful of times over the past year or so.  But kick up into by myself on demand – not so much.    (But kicking up into headstand so not a problem.)

And shush any yogic B.S. like “you just release your spirit and fly, etc.”  Not only is that not remotely helpful it is vaguely condescending when yoga folks fall into such yoga-speak.  It’s kind of the yoga equivalent of a thin person telling someone trying to lose weight – “Oh, I just eat whatever I want and never gain a pound.”  Which I think is legal grounds for smacking them with a clue 2″ x 4″ in at least 12 different states.

Which makes it great fodder to work on right now,   so my teacher is having me just spend part of my regular daily practice just focusing in on it.  Then to up the anty she says don’t get so frustrated doing it…..

Oh, but that is not so easy, because as I throw myself toward it or throw my legs to the wall and it just ain’t happening…I get oh so frustrated.  Little bits of self doubt try their best to nibble at my consciousness.  And I get annoyed with myself.

And I get annoyed with the cats…


(Found on the internet…)

Uber flexible show offs!  But so cute!!!!

But wait isn’t his back rounding too much?  Or is that just the pot calling the kettle black?  Yeah sometimes I do round my back in yoga when I shouldn’t.   😉

It’s okay though.  The thing about feelings like those in practice is that they aren’t as “bad” as portrayed.  We have all kinds of feelings flitting through us at all times.  When we come up against something in a yoga practice a whole range of feelings can come roaring up.

But too often we get so condemning of some feelings as being negative or “unyogic” while allegedly cultivating others as being positive or “yogic.”

Feelings are constantly flowing over you but what matters is if you get too possessed by them or possessive of them.  And what you do with them is even more important.   In this case, I’m just taking all that and am motivated to keep trying and working on my practice but don’t attach too much to them.  When I feel frustrated I just put the energy into trying again and then let it go when I’m done.   (It’s only a problem if instead I was diving into it and avoiding my practice by wallowing in those feelings.)

So no resolution yet.  I practice, stuff comes up, I work with it and keep practicing.  Sometime that asana won’t be the mysterious problem it is now.  (And no doubt there will be another one to take its place down the line. )

Crap.  I guess there is some wisdom in here and growth from even an unresolved practice story.  Sorry about that.  🙂

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Yoga – now I get it!

Posted on March 19, 2013. Filed under: Yoga |

I had a shift in my perspective about my home yoga practice that really opened up something amazing for me.  You could say everything I knew was wrong!


For a long while I did my daily home practice in the morning.  But since I work for a living this involved getting up way, way too early.  Tragically early in fact, so I would have time practice get ready for work and get to work on time.    Partly this was because my then new practice felt still fragile and I believed at the time I wouldn’t be able to keep it going if I did it when I got home after the struggles of the day.

Then with time as I both felt more confident in my practice’s stability and growing annoyance with getting up so blasted early –  I shifted my practice to when I got home from work, but pretty much right when I got home then went on with my evening – eat, work, prep for the next day and bed, etc.

But in time that began to feel off and vaguely unsatisfying.  It gnawed at me how I seemed to be running from task to task.  Like an overly caffeinated ferret running about – not very yogic or even fun at all.

At first, I thought I needed to pause a bit by having a bit of herbal tea when I got home before I dived into practice.  Which helped but it felt like I was getting closer while still not quite there.

Then I realized there’s a rhythm to my time home and I was working against that and creating unnecessary disharmony.

A good yoga practice is opening and helps to shift one’s energies and self profoundly.  So it was great that I was practicing when I got home and removing all that running about frenetic energy.  But then I was re-building that energy as I going about my work at home.  Instead I needed to shift it and have my yoga practice complement my day.

So starting last week I changed it all about:

  • I come home and change, cook, eat and do the work I need to do.
  • Then when I’m done with that working energy, I do my yoga practice to release and shift out of my working day.
  • My time after yoga is spent strictly relaxing, unwinding and easing to my time of sleep.

I’ve found that profoundly changed my practice.  I stopped treating my yoga practice as another task of the work day and instead made it the pivot point of change from that frantic, rushing self to the calmer, restive open self.

Took me long enough to realize that.  But really I think it was my developing yoga practice that helped me to understand what my yoga practice truly was and let go of what I thought it was.

Now it’s time for some yoga….


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Killing Creativity by Should and Empowering it by Could

Posted on February 27, 2013. Filed under: Random Musings, Site News, Urban Herbalism, Yoga |


creativity (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

I’d become stuck in my blog writing the past month because I had been planning to review an herbal book that I read recently. Part of my resistance was my disagreement with the book but part of it was me having a bad case of Should (I should do this; I shouldn’t do that, etc.)….

As I read the book, I found my hackles rising. They had so many exact, seemingly arbitrary rules to their brand of herbalism it just struck me as soulless or at the very least very stifling. It was filled with rules that you Should only use one kind of alcohol for tincturing and no others were good, you Should only press out your tinctures at exactly x number of days and not sooner or later. Beyond feeling that was just plain wrong, it felt so undermining of the creative aspect of herbalism that I relish – of course, they had a bad case of Should too!  The result was that I felt very uninspired about reviewing the book, but I couldn’t let go of planning to review it because I Should…

I had also been really busy in my life the past month or so.  Heavy BASS (Busy Annoying Stressful Shit.) Sometimes when that happens I get into crisis mode where I become very seemingly calm and organized. This is great in an actual crisis (no panicking!) but very limiting and stifling to my creative self because it is all about what I Should be doing instead of what inspires me.

We all do this from time to time and in different ways.  When life gives us stress or chaos we try to impose order.  Ranging from full almost OCD rituals to subtler rationalizations – “I did it this way last time and things worked out, so I Should do it again the same way.”  Or when we feel out of control in one, or more, parts of our life we try order to impose order in others or actively avoid change and focusing on what we should, or should not do.

That’s Should.  But Should can be oh so stifling because too many rules can undermine creativity and strict rules can kill creativity.  Yes that is a rule but let’s not look behind that curtain.  Thank you Dorothy….

I see this pop up in herbalism a lot.  I’ve had conversations where an herbalist wondered why I was thinking of trying different types of alcohol in my tincture making when the ones I make were so amazing.  “You found something that works so you shouldn’t change it.”

Why?  Because that is how you learn and grow.  Being willing to shift things about is a foundation of creativity.  (As it turned out one of the different kinds I tried was even better.)

It also drives me nuts when herbalists, or anyone, gets caught in the better/quicker/more (BQM) trap – just because a particular herb or menstruum may work/extract BQM doesn’t mean you have to use it.  Others will work just fine.   Just because something is familiar doesn’t mean you should keep doing it that way!

Should is often all about ruts.

I realized how it was showing up in my yoga practice as well.  In my home practice, I found that too often after a long day of work  I tend to just go back again and again to a combination of asanas I remember and feel “comfortable” enough doing. And so a rut is formed….

I know plenty of other ones (even if that I’m not so skillful in them), just somehow when I get home after a long day and I’m rushing around shifting things in my space to practice I find my brain goes on holiday. Brain: “Nope, other asanas. Never heard of them…”  I know these so I should do them, but I don’t know those so well so I shouldn’t do them.

But how else do you grow but by practicing and trying what you can’t do, or don’t know, well?

Sometimes you get stuck because you find something you can’t let go of.  I’ve always loved this Zen story:

Two Zen monks, Tanzan and Ekido, traveling on pilgrimage, came to a muddy river crossing. There they saw a lovely young woman dressed in her kimono and finery, obviously not knowing how to cross the river without ruining her clothes.

Without further ado, Tanzan graciously picked her up, held her close to him, and carried her across the muddy river, placing her onto the dry ground. Then he and Ekido continued on their way. Hours later they found themselves at a lodging temple.

And here Ekido could no longer restrain himself and gushed forth his complaints: “Surely, it is against the rules what you did back there…. Touching a woman is simply not allowed…. How could you have done that? … And to have such close contact with her! … This is a violation of all monastic protocol…” Thus he went on with his verbiage. Tanzan listened patiently to the accusations.

Finally, during a pause, he said, “Look, I set that girl down back at the crossing. Are you still carrying her?”

Which is a great example of Should as well as not letting go of what doesn’t work for you anymore.

This brings me back to how I was stifling my own creativity by getting too narrow in my vision from being busy and becoming caught up by Should.  But also not letting go of what didn’t work for me.  You see, my blog wasn’t reflecting all of who I was anymore.

Yes I’m an herbalist, but I actually spend just as much time, effort and self in my yoga practice and studies.  So I’m just as much a yogi.  Then it hit me, that is where my authentic self lay in herbalism and yoga and my blog Should reflect it.

I’ll still blog about my herbal explorations, but I’ll also blog about yoga explorations.  Heck in the time I hadn’t reviewed that herbal book I didn’t like – I had read several yoga ones that I did.  I’ll also blog about my particular intersections between my yoga and herbal lives.  (Neat post about that coming up soon!)

So time to embrace change and real creativity through playful exploration and doing things a bit differently – or in other words by embracing Could instead of Should.

Which is one of the overarching themes of this blog, ain’t it?  Somehow Should caused me to forget that.   🙂

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Opening up to Change: A Yoga Retreat Crucible

Posted on October 29, 2012. Filed under: Yoga |

I was on a yoga retreat the other weekend.   Sounds simple doesn’t it?  But it was not only my first, but ended up being quite profound for me partly because of a rough start.   So I decided to make this one of my occasional personal and yoga related posts.   Admittedly, it has taken me a while to pull this out of me.  In fact, every time I thought it was time to birth this post, it crawled back up my metaphorical uterus (I used to be in a doctoral program in Women’s history so a metaphorical uterus was very handy.)

Cabin at the Retreat (Image by Michael Blackmore – Mad Crow Herbals)

A lot of people focus on retreats (spiritual, yoga and otherwise) as valuable because they can get away from those distractions that they feel impede them from deepening their practice.  But I find there is another aspect which can be just as important.   Where you lose those normal routines, habits, familiarity and security of your daily life and it tends to shake at some of emotional structures that may need to work on or have been ignored.  In other words, suddenly being in a different place with different routines, structures, rules, etc. can bring a little emotional earthquake and who knows what arises out of that rubble.  And that definitely was my experience.

Plus it takes me a while to adjust to things before I feel comfortable enough to be present.  Be it a couple of hours in the morning, a couple of days in a new place or a couple of meetings with new people – some part of me needs to be quiet and observe to feel safe and secure before connecting out.   New place, new people, new things but you’re only there a short time so you really don’t have that luxury in these circumstances.  This also totally shows up in my yoga practice where it takes me a few times to even remotely get something slightly new.  😉

Then there was the yoga practice itself which I approached with trepidation.  I had never gone on a retreat before, could I do it?  That was 10 hours of yoga in just a couple of days, that’s a whole lot yoga.  Some of the sessions were three hours long, could I do that?  For me, it represented some hard work, but thanks to the teachers it was not scary at all and it was the best part.  If fact, it is where the magic began!

A yoga practice can be a powerful microcosm of your life and how you are in it.  Because of that a yoga practice can be a bit of crucible for re-shaping your life and a good yoga retreat even more so.

Essentially you have a vessel where with intense focused energy you can break down separate parts or broken pieces and meld them together to something new and stronger.   Or another way to put it is that the old structures and blockages are stressed until they no longer hold allowing new ones to form.

In Ayurvedic terms I’m predominately Vata with Pitta as my secondary.  Not so much Kapha.  But I like thinking of such things as what your strengths and tendencies are.  So for me, I’m very connected to my brain, my mind is a special skill, well developed, etc.  – big honking surprise there.  And I have some connections and strengths in the emotional/spiritual realm.  But groundedness and connection to my body – embarrassing not so at times.

How much so?  Well, I often joke that in my yoga practice I’ve started dialog with parts of my body that I’ve never dealt with before – I really didn’t know they were there.  Sadly, not always a joke – and on more than one occasion my teacher would ask how an asana felt, etc. only to be greeted with a very blank stare.  🙂

So during the retreat all the little tricks my mind uses to maintain control via routines, habits, knowing the land of the land, etc.  just weren’t there.   Nor were the emotional crutches and barriers working so well.   So my stuff came up in spades.  And combining that with the deep growth in yoga practice created an opportunity to build my connection to my body, ground myself and grow, that I wouldn’t normally have, in a powerful new way.

I didn’t realize this was happening at first during the retreat but I definitely started noticing the shifts in the weeks afterward.  Even now I’m kind of amazed at some of the changes in my practice, approach to practice and in my life and my approach to it as well.  Really amazed.

Does that mean the work is done?  I’m fixed, better, amazing, etc.?



Sorry I was laughing aloud at the notion.   I’m far from amazing with lots and lots of work still to do.    Working on yourself is a continuing journey and process.  You’re never there.  If you’re doing it right you can play in a wonderland of adventurous change, exploration and learning.  It is where frustrations, breakdowns and setbacks abound but also where the excitement is found.   Frankly, if anyone thinks, or acts like, they are “there” – that’s funny at best and sometimes a bit sad, IMO.  “There” is stagnation at best.  No matter how it may seem at the time.

What I did do was get shaken up and change, get a glimpse of new possibilities.  And the profound realization of the notion that yes I can do it.

But that’s all my insane .02

Sum Up:

Which is all a long way of saying:  I went on a yoga retreat, stuff came up and with the help of my teachers I deepened my practice and myself – and even had fun doing it!

And that is just made of awesome.

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