Thursday, April 19, 2018

It's a Sign

Last weekend, I attended a silent meditation retreat with two of my teacher friends. On the way there, one of them asked, "If you wake up with a song playing over and over in your head, does it mean something?" We had an active discussion about this, in which I shared a story about a time when that happened to me, and very soon after, it became clear to me that the song really was a sort of "sign" - that it was part of a message that was being sent to me from spirit or the universe or God or however you like to think of a higher power.

My friend's song was Funky Side by Donna the Buffalo and she had heard it recently at a live concert. She played a little of it on her ipod in the car. It had a great beat, but none of us could make out the words, so we couldn't say what the message for her might be, if there was one.

At the retreat, the leader shared with us the story of a sequence of terrible events that she had experienced some time back. Her house was lost in a flood, her father-in-law died and then her mother died, all in quick succession. During this time of heartbreak and loss and confusion, she came across the book, A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle. She said that as soon as she started reading it, she knew that it held a message for her that would change her life. It was that book that led her to take the training to become a meditation leader.

The 10th anniversary edition of A New Earth with a new preface by Eckhart Tolle. With his bestselling spiritual guide The Power of Now,...

I tried reading that book many years ago when it first came out, but I had no idea then what Tolle was talking about! In the intervening years, I became interested in spiritual self-help and then pursued becoming a yoga teacher. I was exposed to the teachings of Buddha and deepened my understanding of spirituality. When our meditation leader read to us from A New Earth at the retreat, I understood everything Tolle was saying. Not only did I realize how far I had come in my understanding of so many things, I felt that this was a sign that I was now ready to re-read that book to find out what messages it might hold for me in the present - messages that perhaps I just wasn't ready for back when I first tried reading it.

My teacher-friend with the song in her head told us that she really needed that meditation retreat because her mind was on overload. She felt disconnected and stressed out. The retreat helped her reconnect to herself and reminded her to take time for meditation on a regular basis. She said that our outdoor walking meditation was especially powerful for helping her feel her connection to nature and the earth and all living things.

Thich Nhat Hanh on Walking Meditation ..Thich Nhat Hanh is a renowned Zen master and poet, and author of more than forty books

Yesterday, she texted me the lyrics to Funky Side, saying, "I'm pretty sure now that there WAS a message for me and that's why this kept playing in my head." Here are the words:

Funky Side by Donna the Buffalo

In the rain that falls
On jive street
In the truth that forms
On the rising steam
I'm here cleaning my connection
To the forces that be

In a trance of god
On the funky side
In a trance of love
On the funky side

In the shape I'm in
You can see for miles
Shooting through the cloud
On a magic sound
I'm here cleaning my connection
To everything around

The groove is getting deeper
My heart's open wide
So good of you to come along
We'll focus on the main beam
And we'll go to a world in which we belong.


I don't know about you, but I'm pretty sure she was right about there being a message for her.  So often in my life, I've asked God for "a sign" to help me know what to do or to let me know I am on the right track. And often, I would get what I thought was a sign but I wasn't sure, so I'd ask for another one - a sign that the first sign was a sign. I guess I'm not the only one who does that kind of thing, because I came across this and it made me laugh out loud:

This is the sign you've been looking for (neon light, neon art, neon sign)


If only things would always be that clear!

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Playing Around with Feathered Peacock Pose on My Lanai on a Tuesday Morning in April


I can't always teach Pincha Mayurasana - Feathered Peacock Pose - at the studio because of class size and limited wall space. It's a forearm balance - yes, that means you will be balancing your body weight on your forearms! So you want students who are just learning it to be near the wall for safety and so they won't worry about falling over. 

This pose would be practiced in the later part of class, after thoroughly warming up the spine, shoulders, legs, arms and back - without overworking the arms. So, some sun salutations to warm up, but not TOO many Dandasanas or Chaturanga Dandasanas, as you don't want to overly tire the upper body.!

Pincha Mayurasana requires shoulder and arm strength for sure, but equally as much, it requires that the shoulders be nice and open. Many very strong people find it difficult to kick into this pose because their shoulders and upper arm muscles are so tight. Bringing the torso upright, so that the hips come above the shoulders, is key to being able to go up. So, as with most challenging yoga poses -this one requires a balance between strength and flexibility.

This pose also has elements of a backbend - some variations take a scorpion-like shape with a deep back arch, others are more upright like headstand. Either way, it benefits from significantly warming up the back body and stretching the front body before doing. I like to practice it somewhere in between - not too upright and rigid; not too big of back-bendy arch. 


I have found that doing a backbend practice first is ideal for working up to Pincha Mayurasana. I begin with a general warm-up practice, then move into various stages of Bridge Pose and Bow Pose and utlimately to Urdhva Dhanurasana (Upward Facing Bow Pose) before doing this pose. In fact, when I teach this pose to my more advanced classes now, I always pair Urdhva Dhanurasana (first) with Pincha Mayurasana (after). 


This is Urdhva Dhanurasana - Upward Facing Bow Pose. This is my "peak" backbend pose before taking Pincha Mayurasana. After this pose, my shoulders are open, spine warmed and fluid, arms and legs stretched and warmed up.


I've done two variations of Pincha Mayurasana here - the first holding a block between my hands and with a strap around my upper arms to help me remember to keep my elbows in line with my shoulders, and then I've done it again without the block



Come into Dolphin Pose (Like Downward Facing Dog Pose but with the forearms down). Hands hold sides of block - note: pinky side down - this helps create an open position of the shoulders. Strap is snug to outer arms - but not too snug. Elbows at the width of the shoulders.

From here, you walk the feet in until the hips are above the shoulders, and then kick up, bringing your feet to the wall.


You need to press the forearms down and lift the shoulders blades up,to keep from collapsing downward. Tailbone stays long; avoid jutting the ribs forward. Here my torso is upright - hips over shoulders. Knees are back of the hips due to the feet being at the wall.



Now I'm practicing without the block. I've kicked up, feet to the wall. Next I practice bringing the feet away from the wall one at a time.



Here I am balancing in the pose in my preferred way - with a long arch that feels comfortable but is not collapsed in the shoulders or compressing the spine. My feet are away from the wall.


Here, I am showing the pose in a more upright position, like headstand. I'm not quite all the way in it here (still bringing the right foot into place) - my patient photographer was getting tired -- and so was I!






Friday, March 30, 2018

Happy Easter

Wishing everyone a Happy Easter! Easter was/is my favorite holiday next to Christmas. When I was a kid, the Epicopal church we attended had a special children's service in the afternoon, at which we each got our own potted geranium to take home. I don't know why they did that, but I loved getting my flower!

My mother loved Easter too, and we particularly liked the Easter hymns. Our favorite was "Christ the Lord is Risen Today." Mom passed away seven (!) years ago tomorrow, and I still think of us belting out this hymn with gusto, particularly the "Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-lay-ay-loo-oo-ya!"

When I was small we always had an Easter outfit and an Easter hat, and of course, white gloves for church. I don't have pictures of that, though I know there are some somewhere. I do however have this photo of me with a stuffed Easter Bunny. Honestly, I don't know what they were thinking - I look very skeptical of this rather creepy clown-faced rabbit!


Happy Easter, everyone!

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Review of Prayer Wasn't Enough by Dee Ready


Prayer Wasn't Enough: A Convent Memoir by [Ready, Dee]


Dee Ready’s memoir, Prayer Wasn’t Enough, is a journey of self-discovery that allows glimpses into the secret life of nuns, a life that is revealed to be both less dreary and more fascinating that I could have imagined!

Several questions naturally arose as I began reading: Why would a modern-era, college-educated woman choose life as a nun? What is life as a nun really like? And why, after initially being so certain of her calling to this path, did she ultimately choose to leave it?

These questions are answered through an artfully-woven series of vignettes that take us behind the scenes in the convent and at the mission schools where Ready taught, or that offer insight into a dysfunctional childhood that played a greater role in her life choices than she at first understood. The answers are revealed gradually, creating a degree of mystery and suspense that surprised me – I was amazed at how invested I was in the story of a nun’s life!

The stories she shares offer the perfect cross-section of Ready's experiences and are alternatively joyful, sad, surprising, maddening, insightful and humorous. Her writing is clear and vivid; we feel her joy and hope as well as her confusion and despair. We relate to her humanity – the clumsiness and stubbornness that get her in trouble, her quest for perfection and her attachment to ideals that sometimes conflict with the “rules.” We cheer for her ingenuity and perseverance, for her kindness, and for her commitment to doing what she thinks is right. We relate too, to the self-doubt and self-criticism that cause her so much suffering, and we root for her to develop the same amount of compassion for herself that she so readily shows to others.

Despite its particularly rare set of circumstances, Ready’s story reflects universal aspects of every life, in which choices and mistakes are made; in which we try and sometimes succeed and often fail. By sharing her unique story, Ready connects to us all and shows us that it is exactly this imperfect journey that allows us to grow and learn, until eventually we come to know and accept who we really are and what it really means to be human.

Prayer Wasn't Enough is available in Kindle e-book and paperback from Amazon.com. 

Click HERE to go to the page on Amazon.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

March

It seems like just a minute ago that it was the start of the new year and I posted "Begin Anew," followed by a few posts inspired by the wisdom of Thich Nhat Hahn. Now it is March 17th, St. Patrick's Day, and the year 2018 is almost one-quarter over.

It's been a strange March - my friends and family up in New England have been slammed with one big snowstorm after another. Some of them love it, but most of them are getting pretty tired of it. Down here in Florida, we had cold spells in January that I loved, then in February it got too warm, too fast and I worried that we'd go straight into warm, humid weather. But for most of March we've been back in a cold spell, and I've been loving it. Our weather and the weather up north is more like February weather, but we're getting it in March.

On cold days, I miss New Englandy-things like having a fire in the fireplace. So I got a DVD of a fire in a fireplace. It sounds silly maybe, but it's actually pretty nice and it does the trick of giving me a "fireplace fix." My husband laughed at first when I told him I'd gotten it, but then I put it on while we had our morning coffee and he was just as mesmerized by it as I was.

Here, you can watch it too.


This year is evolving strangely, though I wonder if any year is not in its own way strange? What I'm thinking of when I say that is that many people I know are dealing with sad or scary situations. A dear friend's son died from a drug overdose. My friend who visited me in February had to leave early to be with her brother, who was diagnosed with brain tumors. She is still there with him as he goes through surgery and his plan of care is developed. My teacher spent eleven days at his father's bedside, helping him through the process of dying. I have two friends who are being treated for cancer. I just learned that the husband of one of my students passed away suddenly and unexpectedly, and today, I learned that another friend's husband passed away - also suddenly - after seeming to have recovered from an illness.

I don't mean to be a downer. It just seems like a lot of heartache and sadness - many battles being fought; some being won and some being lost. It is life, with all its ups and downs. Yoga teaches us to be with it all, and my teacher was a great example of this. He posted essays describing the experience of his father's journey to let go of this life and his writing was sad, moving, exhausting, beautiful, heartbreaking and uplifting. Life is all those things. The work of being human is to allow for it all, to know that we will be okay through it all. Not that we will be blase and pretend everything is fine; not that our hearts won't break, not that we won't be sad, even devastated. But that we know that we will find our way through it; that we will also know happiness and joy again. For most of us, that's a pretty big challenge.

And, seventeen people - most of them high school students, died in a violent shooting in a school here in Florida last month. March is also a verb, and on the 24th of March, students will lead the #MarchForOurLives in DC, all over the country and the world, protesting gun violence and asking for sensible changes to gun laws. We plan to march too. There are things we can change and things we can't. We have to accept the things we can't change, but this sure isn't one of them.




Sunday, February 25, 2018

Plans

"Life is what happens to you when you're busy making other plans." ~John Lennon

I've been thinking about plans lately, because I've got a lot of them this year. And, because so far, some of my plans haven't worked out quite as expected.

First there was my trip to Dallas for a weekend workshop with my teacher, during which I fell and sprained my ankle. Then, this past week, my friend, Irene, came for her annual visit, to which we both look forward all year. Even before she arrived, though, we knew that she might have to cut her visit short, because her brother had been diagnosed with a potentially life threatening illness. And indeed, that's what happened - she's on her way to see him now.

I've learned to try to find a balance between looking forward to planned events, but not getting too invested in them. That's not always easy, especially when you are really, really, REALLY looking forward to something.

But when things go awry, it also becomes easier to focus on what really matters. In Dallas, I had to totally shift my expectations away from how I had expected the workshop to go for me, and to embrace a whole different perspective on participation and learning - while also keeping my ankle safe!

And, as much as Irene and I had looked forward to a long stretch of hanging out together, as soon as the situation with her brother was clear, we shifted into letting go of the expectations we'd had and honed in on what was now important: making arrangements to get her where she needed to go in the timeframe she needed to get there. We had two lovely days together, and though we were sad to have it cut short, we both also felt good and peaceful that she was doing the right thing.

I don't know that there is any big message here other than not to hold too tightly too our plans. It's just what I'm thinking about, given these two situations coming within weeks of each other. And, of course, I'm hoping this isn't a trend that will hold for the whole year. But if it is, I'm sure I/we will adapt accordingly, because, well, that's Life!

For February, I've focused my classes on heart openers - or back bends - because we associate February with Valentine's Day and hearts and love and all that good stuff. In my more advanced class, we worked our way up to Urdhva Dhanurasana, or "Upward Facing Bow Pose," often called Wheel. We had fun exploring the dynamics of coming into this challenging pose: arm and shoulder strength, open shoulders, flexibility, long relaxed muscles and the front body's ability to stretch.

So, here I am, doing the pose out on our lanai.You can see that it's the shape of an archer's bow, facing upward - hence the name. And you can see how it opens and stretches the chest and the heart space. As I mentioned, it's a challenging pose, but one that makes you feel great! With openness in our hearts, we are more able to adapt to life's surprises - especially the curve balls.








Sunday, February 11, 2018

Rest

Image may contain: one or more people, sky, tree, outdoor, nature and water



I've been resting. My sprained ankle is healing nicely, but it's remarkable what even a small injury can take out of you. When it happened, I think a whole lot of adrenalin kicked in to keep me going, because I was away from home, alone, in an unfamiliar, big city. I had to keep it together through the workshop and the travel. Upon my return home, I had two workshops and my regular classes to prepare for, all the while having to move much more slowly and cautiously to keep the ankle safe. It's taken a lot of concentration, and that's tiring.

So, I've been resting as much as I can, whenever I can, and it's helped a lot.

At our studio, we teach two classes that focus on rest - one that combines meditation and restorative practice, and the other that is only restful yoga poses. People say they love these classes, but attendance is spotty and never what you'd call BIG, compared to our active classes. One student said to me, "I don't know why there aren't 30 people in this class!" We've speculated about that a lot, but where I've landed is this: we humans think "doing something" is important and "not doing anything" is ...lazy, wasteful, unproductive. We think resting is somehow a sign of weakness and we don't make it a priority.

I know, I know. We're busy. We're busy, busy, busy. Some of that is real. And some of it is us, putting ourselves last. Don't get mad at me - maybe you really are that busy! Good for you - or not good for you, as the case may be. But I have learned that we make the time for what is important to us. We do. Sometimes we are forced into resting by an accident - like a sprained ankle, or by a cold or flu.

It's just a question to ask ourselves - why are so willing to deny ourselves rest?

Writing this has made me tired. Time for a nap. :)

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, standing



Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Mindfulness and a Twisted Ankle

Since the start of the year, I've been writing about mindfulness - the practice of paying attention and being present. This past weekend, I had the interesting experience of having a moment of mind-LESS-ness turn into an opportunity to practice constant mindfulness.

I twisted my ankle while I was at a weekend intensive yoga workshop with my teacher in Dallas, Texas. I didn't twist it DURING a workshop session; I twisted it while walking through the parking lot to my car in between sessions.

I'd never been to Dallas before. I was traveling alone, had a rental car and a hotel room a few miles from the yoga studio. Dallas is a big city and going from the airport to my hotel and my hotel to the yoga studio required navigating busy city expressways and trusting my WAYZ app (which I highly recommend) to get me where I wanted to go. I'd attended a yoga class and the first workshop session with my teacher when it happened  - in other words, it happened on the first day of the workshop.

Like all accidents, it happened Just. Like. That. I stepped on a small stone, my ankle turned and I felt myself go down. I didn't hurt myself hitting the ground, but I knew right away that my ankle was injured.

The good news is that I could walk on it - or limp, without pain. It wasn't broken, just injured. It swelled up and there was bruising below the ankle on the outer heel. But it didn't hurt to put weight on it - only when I turned certain ways.

Part of me wanted to cry and the other part thought, Well, this is just what happened. You can let it ruin the weekend, or you can use it to learn something different from what you expected. I decided to do the latter, and it turned out to be one of the best workshop experiences of my life. With guidance from my teacher, Tias Little, I was able to participate fully in the workshop sessions and much of what he taught helped the ankle feel better. 

I wasn't doing anything wrong when I fell, just walking out to my car during the break. But, I was probably hurrying when I didn't need to and I certainly didn't see the stone that took me down, so I wasn't "paying attention." In a moment of inattention - of mindlessness - I hurt myself.

From that point on, I had to practice CONSTANT mindfulness: I had to move slooooowly, staying conscious of every step and every movement. Throughout the workshop, I had to be constantly mindful of how I positioned my foot. I had to take the time to figure out how to transition down to the floor or up to standing. I had to determine if I needed to take a different position in a pose and if so, what it should be. Tias and his wonderful assistants offered suggestions to help me get the most out of it and stay safe.

This became, oddly enough, a rather fun and interesting challenge! I may have gotten more out of the workshop as a result of having to be so constantly present with and thoughtful about my movements. I felt a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction from figuring things out and participating, rather than relegating myself to wounded-bird status; sitting in a corner, pouting and feeling sorry for myself.

After the workshop, I had to navigate transfers at the airport and getting through security and to my gate. I got there early,  walked slowly and waited for crowds to dissipate before moving forward. People move fast in airports and think nothing of brushing by and bumping into you!

I got home safely and my foot feels better daily, though it looks like a small monster's foot. I still have to think about my movements and remain fully present with what I'm doing - every minute! 

I find it extremely interesting that I've been exploring mindfulness so much lately and suddenly was given the opportunity to put it into action in a BIG way - as the result of NOT putting it into action! I think we call that irony. 

Here are a couple of the stretches that we did in the workshop that really helped my foot and ankle feel better. I was lucky though, that it wasn'tsprained badly r broken - then it would have been too painful and not advisable to do anything but rest.


Supta Padanghustasana I

Supta Padanghustasana I Variation

Supta Padanghustasana II with Handhold Variation

Supta Padanghustasana III with Handhold Variation









Sunday, January 14, 2018

Light Up the Lamp

Still using the wisdom of Thich Nhat Hanh to inspire my classes and blog this week:


The word "mindfulness" and the admonishment to "be mindful," are now well-incorporated into popular culture. That's not a bad thing, but like any expression, overuse can lead to a loss of true meaning. So what does it really mean, to be mindful; to practice mindfulness?

Keeping it simple, we can say that to be mindful means:

To pay attention to what is happening in this moment, right now; to pay attention to what you are doing, what you are experiencing, what you are thinking and what you are feeling. Right. Now.

It's the same thing we mean when we talk of being present or being awake. How much of our lives do we miss out on because our thoughts are engaged with past events or with possible future ones? Have you ever sat through a magnificent concert, only to realize afterward that you "missed" the whole thing because, although you were physically there, your mind was somewhere else? On the other hand, have you ever been at an event of family or friends and had a moment when you suddenly stopped and looked and listened, and realized in that very moment, how wonderful the chaos of it all was, and how much you loved these people and were grateful to be among them? That's a mindful moment.

And the benefit of mindfulness is not only being present in our lives, it also helps us avoid causing suffering for ourselves and others. When we are disconnected from our lives, from ourselves, we react instead of respond; we say and do things that we later regret. We hurt others, and in doing so, we harm ourselves.

Most of us, much of the time, are not very present, not very mindful. A typical example is when we are in conversation with another person. Often, we don't give them our full attention, don't let them finish what they are saying, or even listen to them at all! What are we doing instead? Usually, we are thinking about what we are going to say, or about how quickly we can end the conversation. It happened to me just yesterday. I felt myself starting to pull away from a conversation while the other person was still talking - as though I had something better and more important to do - which I didn't! Luckily, I had moment of mindfulness, in which I saw what I was doing. That moment of awareness allowed me to change course and I engaged with her fully, making eye contact, listening and responding to her in a way that showed that I had been paying attention to what she said.

So how do we become more mindful, perhaps even making it our new normal? As Thich Nhat Hanh says, the oil of our lamp of mindfulness is "our breath, our steps and our smile." In physical yoga practice (asana) and in meditation, we bring our awareness to the breath. This simple act allows us to focus the mind in one place. We choose the breath because it is easy to find and always available to us, and also because it offers us a physical connection to our awareness - we can feel it.

With practice, this becomes a tool we can use to become more present in our busy lives, not just something we do during yoga practice. Remembering to feel our breath connects us back to ourselves, puts us back in our bodies and in our hearts. It slows us down, giving us the opportunity to consciously make a better choice about our next step. In my case, I was given the chance to choose to be respectful of another human being, rather than dismissive.

In a stressful moment, say, in the checkout line at the grocery store on a day when you are on a tight schedule, and find yourself behind someone who hasn't quite figured out how to use the new chip credit cards, your impulse might be to roll your eyes and cross your arms and mutter some complaint under your breath. You might find yourself getting more and more worked up. Or, you might remember to feel your breath. And in that moment when you connect to your breath, there is a pause, a pause during which your perspective might shift. That pause might be just enough to allow you to see the confused person with compassion, to feel empathy for him or her - we have all been that person in some situation. And maybe your next step would be to smile and even offer to help.

The oil of that lamp is our breath, our steps and our smile. Our practice is to light up the lamp.

In my previous post, Take One Step, I shared another Thich Nhat Hanh quote, in which he advised us to take just one mindful step, and if we can take one, we can take another and another. This is what he means. Step one, come back to your breath. During that momentary pause, you can make a conscious choice - a mindful choice - about your next step, one that you won't regret later. And don't forget the smile.





Sunday, January 7, 2018

Take One Step

I'm picking up the thread from the previous post "Begin Anew," and weaving it into this week's post, "Take One Step," continuing with wisdom from Thich Nhat Hanh:



As a new year begins, we are drawn to the idea of change - changing ourselves, our appearance, our behavior, our thoughts, our situation, our lives. For many of us, there is a tendency to think BIG, which is not a bad thing, but can, sometimes, be self-defeating. We want big results, and we want them fast. We're not always so interested in taking small steps, or in taking things one step at a time. But the reality is that creating long-term, sustainable change in any aspect of our lives is dependent on understanding that reaching a "finish line" is the result of taking many small steps.

"...the best way to take care of the future is to take care of the present moment." In yoga, mindfulness practice is a path to making change one small step at a time. This is the practice of learning to connect to the present moment, to being aware of what is right here with us, now, not what was in the past or may be in the future. The practice is simple, but not easy: we find a quiet spot, come to sit in stillness and focus our awareness on one thing - the breath, a word, a phrase, an image.

"...if you can take one mindful step, you can take another and another." If the goal is to run a triathalon and you are terribly out of shape, your first step is unlikely to be signing up to run a marathon next week! Rather, that first step might be as small and simple as today I will take a walk. If your goal is to meditate an hour a day, and you don't have much experience with it, or haven't had much success with it before, it is self-defeating to try to sit quietly for an hour on the first day. Or even a half hour. Even fifteen minutes may be too long. Try five, and if five is easy try ten the next day. You may find ten is too long. Go back to five. Let it be okay at first to take just one step.

PRACTICE:

  • Find a quiet spot with few distractions.
  • Set up a comfortable seat - a chair, or a stack of blankets on the floor.
  • If sitting on the floor, you might sit with your back at the wall for support.
  • Make sure that you feel connected to your seat and that you are sitting upright and not in a slouched position.
  • Set a timer for five minutes.
  • Close your eyes and feel your breath.
  • Try to keep your awareness with your breath.
  • When your mind wanders - which it will! - just come back to your breath.
  • Try to stay with each breath, one breath followed by the next. Nothing more.
  • There is no failure, nothing is ruined if your mind is busy and wanders a lot.
  • This is the practice - to keep the attention focused, and when it drifts, come back and begin again.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Beginning Anew

As this new year begins, I'm drawn to this wisdom from Thich Nhat Hanh:


I like this because, right off the bat, Thich Nhat Hanh changes our perspective on what it means to begin anew. He tells us that forgiveness from others, or even forgiving ourselves, is not a pre-requisite for starting fresh. The surprising message is that we shouldn't waste time with recriminations against ourselves; rather, we should let go of guilt or shame for whatever we said or did - or didn't say or do, and simply be here, now, ready and willing to act upon the opportunity to change.

This isn't to say that there should be no introspection - it is only through svadhyaya - self-study leading to self-awareness - that we come to see clearly where and why we went off track, and perhaps keep going off track time and again. Instrospection is necessary for knowing what we would do differently in the future from what we did in the past. But there is no need, and no point, in hammering ourselves over the head for behavior that was less skillful than we would have liked. 

Is it wrong or bad to ask forgiveness? Of course not. But, really, being forgiven only serves to put salve on our guilty wounds. It makes us feel better to be forgiven, but forgiveness in and of itself doesn't change anything. Change comes from seeing  and really understanding why we did what we did, said what we said, behaved as we did, and then - THEN, saying "Okay, what must I change in myself so that I do not repeat my mistakes? What must I change in myself so that I do not continue to act in ways that cause suffering for myself and others?" 

This is how we begin anew. And if we missed the first day of the new year with it, we don't have to wait until next January first. When you stop to think about it, every dawn brings the start of a new year. And we could even begin anew halfway through the day. There are no rules to it - just begin.

I chose Parighasana - Gate Pose - as my pose of the week. It symbolizes that taking of a first, simple step toward change - just open the gate and step through.

Protect the knee by padding it with a blanket. Align the knee directly under the hip. Extend the other leg to the side, resting the heel on the floor and the ball of the foot elevated on the block. I like to stretch away from the extended leg first, to create length on the underside of the torso and remind me to keep that length when I come into the full pose.

Here is Gate Pose. I side-bend in the direction of the extended leg, reaching the arm and hand toward the foot. The upper arm reaches up and over. Keep the hip and bent knee aligned; don't shift weight such that the hip moves out of position. Be careful not to put pressure on the extended leg knee. The pose is about length and extension as opposed to distance. The lower hand reaches toward the foot, but not at the expense of collapsing the torso forward or down.