Yoga – My Personal Journey to Awakening to a Lifestyle of Yoga
My journey with Yoga started when I was in my early 20’s with Barbara Currie in England. At first I was attracted to it because I wanted to tone and strengthen my body as well as gain flexibility – I also knew it was spiritually cool, but I didn’t quite get it yet. But before long I found myself experiencing less anxiety and feeling more peaceful and calm. It wasn’t until a decade later of on/off practice that I realized my consciousness was changing, that my world view was evolving and that I felt more aligned with a deeper calling in life. So I went to my first silent retreat… it was meant to be for five days, but by the third day I really wasn’t getting it and so my girlfriend and I busted out, called our boyfriends and told them we were escaping this weird place – it was a Sivandanda Center and in the next five years I’d come to really love appreciate this practice. But although I wasn’t ready for that depth yet, I started to have a sense of conviction that even though I might not have looked like I had any aim or direction, some deeper fabric of intelligence was weaving its way through me and the best thing I could do was bow to it and let it flow… wherever it took me.
I was also becoming more and more aware that there was something very beautiful about the people I was starting to mix with. They had a light in their eyes and an open heart to their ways. They were kind and gentle, yet strong and focused. They thought for themselves and didn’t follow the norm like hypnotized sheep. On the whole there was a balanced sense of groundedness in their ways and an inner air of confidence absent of the arrogance I was experiencing in other realms of life.
There wasn’t drama in their talk and their talk wasn’t as self centered as what I had started to feel mine was. It was as if the people I was beginning to mix with held a perspective that I wanted more of. It was as if their way of life was just a better idea than the one I had previously held. So about the same time I began awakening to this, I took up a meditation practice and ever since I have realized that these two practices are what keep yoga communities sane, balanced, alive and vital in a world of conflict and fast paced change and transition. It is through these practices that we realize we are not alone, that we are an intricate part of a greater whole and that how we think and feel about ourselves and how we treat ourselves effects the Collective…. including the Planet and her entire gift of life. I learned that Self Love is so, so, so very important. Not the arrogant, “I’m better”, “I deserve” blah, blah” kind, but, the authentic, kind, caring kind of love that woo’s ourselves and the world out of malnutrition and abuse, competition, war and conflict, and into health and well being, collaboration, love and peace.
These practices open up our minds to more evolved ways of thinking and our bodies begin to feel on more and more subtle levels so that our physical experience in the world is fully embodied and experienced beyond just our physical layer. We become more sensitive to our environment and the energy that people, communities and society emit – and we want to make a difference. It’s not the transcendent type of high that negates the body’s wisdom, instead it is a fully embodied experience of what it is like to be Spirit in body; to give consciousness it’s arms and legs; to truly, wholly and fully LIVE life. And I wanted more of that. I wanted to more consciously experience life, to more fully FEEL that which life in the physical had to offer. I wanted to fully feel my physicality AND my spirituality. I wanted to meet the God and the Goddess within and without…. and I wanted them to come together in a fully functioning whole that was more sustainable and lovable than the the God I’d gotten to know growing up. Finally I was Waking Up!
So prior to this awakening my idea of spirituality was very Mythic or New Age and my experience of physicality came from indulgence or escapism via food and alcohol, sex and travel. Now my spiritual experience of life could evolve more intelligently and I could start to see God/Spirit as not some mythical force beyond my control, or later within my control – as in the Law of Attraction – but instead three faces of God emerged as the beloved within me, in front of me and all around me in nature and the environment itself. God was now EVERYWHERE and in EVERYONE and I was God. This changed things radically for me, for now I truly was giving consciousness it’s arms and legs in how I showed up in the world and so I needed to do this more consciously than I had been.
It was time to go back to the silent retreat. So I dove deep into a 10 day silent Vipassana retreat…. 110 hours of sitting over 10 days… and I loved it. I was hard and challenging but I never contemplated leaving. Leaving wasn’t as option this time. This time I felt like I had come home. I haven’t been back to do a Vipassana since. But I found Zen not long after and it resonated so deeply… the rituals… the solidness of the practice… the philosophy… it fueled me in ways I didn’t even know I needed.
And so my physicality would shift to living and engaging fully in the present moment – fully, consciously embodied in the trillions of cells that harmoniously worked together to give my soul a vehicle in which to ride the wave of life in a meaningful way. And now the trick became to learn to hold a present moment perspective, while remaining functional in a human householders way of life….. its the modern day yogi challenge! Silent retreats of three, five and eight days became common place….. and while the monk inside me was uber please with this progress, the sugar addict was not.
Awakening to this experience totally blew my circuits because, on a physical level, it meant that now sugar wasn’t food or a reinforcement of love, it was a poisonous toxin. Food was green and leafy and came from the earth in my back yard, something which I would learn to tend to in the same way you might raise and nurture a child – for this was the life-force that would sustain my soul intention while in this body and would in itself create the future I would experience. Alcohol was no longer an ignorant and joyful escape, it was a ridiculous waste of cosmic consciousness and precious time in the fleeting gift of life. Sex could have a whole deeper, more self- embodying, as well as transcending, quality to it where it could become more about connection with God, simultaneously allowing me to feel Spirit alive in Body. Travel no longer needed to be from country to country and could now happen inwardly where the whole Universe awaited my presence – and this form of travel had a far more economical and sustainable carbon footprint! (Something I wasn’t even aware of before Yoga busted my world wide open).
On a spiritual level I’d first became aware that there were Three Faces of God pulsing their urge to co-create in every area of life. I had realized there was a God I experienced within me, one I could bow to in devotion sitting in front of me and one that surrounded me as the rivers and oceans, mountains and forests. Later I realized that the Spirit at the heart of our Universe, that which I had come to know as God, had two qualities – a Masculine AND a Feminine, a Yin and Yang, a God and a Goddess, there was both Shiva and Shakti – and one could not live without the other; it was the ultimate cosmic love story happening inside of the entire Universe, as well as within myself. As my practice deepened in Zen it somehow began to feel a little dry and I became bored with it. I didn’t look forward to it anymore, even though I remained (and still am) deeply in love with my Zen master, and I knew it’s benefits were enhancing my life in multiple ways.
But as I became more aware of the Feminine, the Shakti, I realized that spirituality and yoga wasn’t just about finding Pure Awareness and the ability to simply “be” with What Is. If it was going to be a full practice that encompassed a more full Truth than the one I’d been embracing then it would also include another aspect of Consciousness, that being the Creative Impulse, aka Divine Love and it’s ecstatic and constant urge to evolve. We get into the crazy of our SHE, the emotions, the mess, the gore and the blood, as well as the beautiful, the sensual, the cyclical and the seasonal. Here we don’t just BE with what is, we ENGAGE and ACT and DO. From my Hindu studies and from Tantra I learned that Shiva without Shakti is a corpse – he’s dead. And Shakti without Shiva is just plain crazy! So we need to learn about and delve into both aspects of consciousness so we can bring them together again into a genderless whole. And this requires re-engaging with the Divine Feminine which has somehow managed to become deeply lost in our world today. And it is this time that we are in today (post Trump Election) that I believe we are in the womb on the Underworld… in the Dark before the Dawn – and it is always darkest, just before the dawn. How dark this time has to get, I do not know… but what I do know is that all seeds, including the embryos of babies and all of life, gestate, take root and grow their foundations in the dark. So we are living in a time where we want to be more conscious than ever what seeds we are planting.
For more on how you might re-engage with the Goddess read this blog here.
So I digress… but for me I got Shiva from Zen through my Zen Master, JunPo, and from Hindu Mythology and Tantra I’ve gotten Shakti, primarily through Sally Kempton, formerly Swami Durgananda. I deeply admire how JunPo has bought Shakti into Zen and how Sally has bought Shiva into her teachings. It’s a true accomplishment to have evolved to encompass and include both qualities. Both Shiva AND Shakti. Both the Divine Masculine and the Divine Feminine… and moving forward, as a Collective, I believe it will be the coming together of each in the Cosmic Marriage that will birth us from the Darkness and into the Dawn of a new Light. We cannot separate that which is inseparable.
So eventually my relationships changed quite radically, both with myself and others. My attitude to work changed. My idea of what was ‘fun’ changed. I was no longer restless and instead each moment held a sacredness to it that I could never ever waste again. Life was for LIVING – fully living, and for saying YES to what made my heart sing. Now my Soul was living it’s deeper purpose and intention for being embodied in this fleeting gift of life on our precious Mother Earth. And my job was to serve others in any way I could. I was finally aware of the Shakti that pulsed through me and when JunPo gave me the name Kali to rise to it was game on… well it was after an initial bought of deeply internal resistance to the changes She was initiating!
I had no idea how Kali’s fires of transformation would blow through my life and turn it upside down as She did. I would have far more preferred a more gentle, motherly Goddess to heed. But no, I got Kali, the fierce Warrior Goddess who’s pursuit is ultimate freedom and liberation, no mater what the cost. And she put me on a plane and blast me back to America so I could start all over again… You can read more about a part of that process here in my most personal blog ever. (And if you stay tuned to that blog by signing up for Love Notes from the Goddess within, then you’ll get more of that process as it unfolds).
So the asana, or physical practice, aspect of yoga is just such a tiny wee part of it. These movements are the gateway from contracted to expanded, from depressed to joyful, from confusion to clarity, from trapped to free, from a meaningless to a meaningful way of life – a way of life that, to me, is just a better idea than the one I grew up thinking was real. And each time I stop practicing, that old heavy cloud comes back and I feel the coat of depression slipping its way over me again…. so I get back on my mat, and back on my cushion, and I show up again… and I just recommit each time I slip back down the hole… it seems to be an ongoing process. But it has changed a lot these days where theres not as far down the hole to slip and the duration between slips seems to get longer and longer too.
Before coming back to america in 2013 I spent several years in deep spiritual Sadhana (practice)…. It was the kind of practice that turned my home into an ashram of sorts where there was no music or tv. I went to talk therapy, acupuncture and other healing modalities frequently, meditated daily and practiced a lot of yoga, including regular silent Zen retreats. At the time I was pretty fully immersed in an Iyengar yoga practice and a Zen meditation practice, with a strong Sivananda practice as it’s support. Luckily – for it was the path of Sivananda that opened the gateway to the Hindu world and the deity practice that fuels my life today. During this time everything I ate was unprocessed, live food that came direct from Mother Earth… it was the kind of practice that stripped me of the ‘me’ that life had conditioned me to be and revealed a different ‘me’ that felt more aligned, more authentic. A ‘me’ that was validated from within, who no longer needed constant companionship to reinforce that I was ok. A ‘me’ that knew that this ‘me’ too would fall away to reveal successive versions of ‘me’ as my practice and life experience evolved. It was the kind of practice that transformed me from the inside out… leaving me feeling much more comfortable with uncertainty and ‘not knowing’, yet still very strongly tied to the inner knowing of what my fundamental human needs were. It was during this time that I learned how embodiment is the name of the human game… not transcendence… that comes when we leave the body. This thing called human life is about loving, supporting and caring for each other while we navigate our emotions, dreams and desires in fruitful and sustaining ways.
I now live in the beautiful lake side town of Tahoe City, California, at an altitude of 6,200 feet at lake level with mountains rising up to nearly 10,000 feet. My practice has shifted and changed over the years as I have mellowed into a practice that gives me plenty of time in nature and honors my moon cycle and energy levels. I’m honored to now be offering classes at Wanderlust Yoga Studio in Squaw Valley as well as The Yoga Room and Asante Lake Side Fitness in Tahoe City. I have completed the Wanderlust 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training program and am finally a Yoga Alliance Certified Instructor, as well as advanced hours with the Avahana School of Yoga.
For my current class offerings you can visit this page here. Or if you would like to arrange private, custom made, group classes at your home or vacation rental or a round of hypnotherapy session in person or over Skype then please just ask. Whether you want to stretch after skiing or ready yourself for your next challenge or layer of growth, a class or session unique to your needs is just a phone call away.
Over the years I have come to realize a practice that doesn’t honor the cycles of our inner rhythm does not serve us on the deeper levels. Shakti is at play in our yoga practice… Shiva just is… Shiva sits in meditation… but Shakti ebbs and flows – so honor Her needs in your practice. Listen to Her. She is so, so wise and She will communicate to you through the energy of your body – because that is who She is, your energy, your internal nature.
So if you don’t have a spiritual practice yet, then get yourself one and try it out… The times we are now living in will demand you have a strong and unwavering connection to what is true beyond the surface of things. And I guarantee it will unlock doors you never suspected had a key.