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Archive for the ‘Retreat’ Category

What you think on grows

At the beginning of every year, a sense of excitement and renewal seems to gather in the air around us. People speak of resolutions and new ways to design their lives. There is a resurgence of confidence that comes of believing we can wipe the slate clean, that we can give legs to new projects and bring them to life.

At the same time, the constant noise of modern life can easily drown out that impulse. The sheer quantity of messages around us creates perpetual mental overload, compounded by the fractured nature of the messages themselves as “sound bites” take precedence over more weighty communication. The mind in these conditions becomes not a place for germination and fruition of new ideas, but a traffic-jammed highway system.

To create an environment for big ideas and real personal development, peaceful focus is necessary. The mental faculty that is engaged in traffic control cannot possibly engage in meaningful integration of new input. First we must EDIT.

A common theme in public discourse at the new year is “Improve yourself,” or “New Year, New You.” Here’s a radical proposition: perhaps the “New You” we are craving is more like the Old You than we might think. The New You just has fewer distractions.

Intention is a powerful tool to facilitate such editing of the chaos around us. An intention serves as your north star and invites forward a particular focus at a particular time. By repeating your intention when you realize you have lost focus, you connect again to your vitality.

An intention is distinct from a goal or resolution. A goal becomes an item on a “to do” list, and if it never gets checked off, we may feel we have failed. An intention, by contrast, invites exploration. There is an inherent acknowledgement in an intention that we are not in control of the outcome – there is room for the mysterious to intervene.

You can set an intention for a certain event – a meeting at work, say, or a yoga class, or a family dinner – or you can set an intention for a specific period of time – a week, one day, or even a whole year.

An intention can take many forms – it could be a statement or phrase, it may be formed as a question, or it may be summed up in one word. For example, consider the influence any of the following intentions might have if you held it in your awareness during a tense board meeting:

  • “I intend to be open to differing opinions.”
  • “Relax the belly”
  • “Who can I admire and acknowledge during this meeting?
  • “Quiet Confidence”

As 2013 begins unfolding its new wings around us, it can be a powerful practice to craft an intention for your year. While New Year’s resolutions may bring forward our Pitta tendencies to judge or get rigidly practical, intentions call forth Vata’s creativity and Kapha’s compassion and acceptance of the unexpected.

Play around with different forms of intention. Questions inspire the brain to seek out the answer. Single words are inspiring in their simplicity. You’ll know you’re on to something when you feel excited or like a puzzle piece clicked into place. Write your intention on a sticky note and paste it in your car, on the bathroom mirror, in your datebook. Write it in secret places. When the busy noise of life around you builds to a roar, repeat it in your heart.

Remember, “where your attention goes, prana will follow.” Intentions help us direct our prana towards the vision we want to create. Let the waxing moon energy carry your intentions into expression as we embark on this new year.

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Last weekend, as part of my New Year’s retreat, I envisioned the year ahead of me and what I want it to hold. (As I wrote in my last post, I chose to conceptualize my new year’s vision setting as a quest for a one-word theme for the year. Read on to learn the word that rose to the top….) With the tumult of 2011 behind (or within) me, I am discovering that many aspects that I want to focus on in my life are already moving towards me. I am reminded of one of the lessons I took from mother India – the open, beckoning path is often the ideal one to follow.

Hatha yoga has been an important part of my life for over a decade, both as a personal practice and increasingly as a professional calling. Over the past two years, as I have been traveling and in transition geographically, I have been on a teaching hiatus. My personal practice has certainly evolved in that time, and I am eager to see how my teaching will change accordingly, for surely it will. While I have some premonitions, I suspect there will be some suprises ahead for me as my teaching habits collide with what’s been woken up in me over the past two years.

As I begin putting down roots again, I am thrilled to return to teaching. For those in the Austin area, you’ll be able to find me on Wednesday evenings at YogaYoga Westgate teaching Hatha Flow at 7:30pm. My first class was last week, and I am appreciating the expansive welcoming studio space and the kind people I am meeting there.

Beginning Jan. 26, I will be teaching a Gentle Meditative Yoga class at Soma Vida Wellness Center in East Austin on Thursday evenings at 6pm. Designed as a therapeutic foundational class, it will be welcoming for those new to yoga, as well as those healing from injury or illness. Soma Vida is a sweet home-like space filled with warmth, a place that invites practicing yoga as a deep restorative practice.

I am also now teaching a yoga class at a residential addiction treatment program as part of a fabulous non-profit organization called Community Yoga Austin. We bring yoga to Austinites who might not otherwise have access to this transformative practice. This coming Saturday morning at 8:45am, I will be teaching a free yoga class to raise awareness about Community Yoga Austin at the Lululemon store (6th and Lamar). Come join me for this community-building class and learn a bit about CYA and the work we do while sharing a practice together. Last week’s class with CYA teacher Geoff O’Meara was really beautiful – if you’re in the area, I hope you’ll join us!

In addition to teaching yoga again, I am excited to return to my mat this year as a yoga student. In the past few months, I have enjoyed meeting some of the many, many yoga teachers in Austin and exploring the wide variety of teaching styles. Yoga has always been a deeply grounding and joyful practice for me, reconnecting me to my sense of my inner light, that quiet calm place inside where I really DO know everything is going to be alright. Yoga fosters in me a sense of self-mastery, not physically but mentally – I feel less dragged around by my thoughts after practicing, more able to drop the stories running through my head and to sit quietly in that divine puddle of calm. Yoga frees up space for my highest self to rise naturally to the surface – less a sense of self-control than a sense of knowing that, regardless of my lack of control, I will be able to meet future circumstances with integrity and generosity. In the year ahead, I will cultivate and invite this sense through the word Sovereignty.

What word are you inviting in this year? Make it loud and concrete by sharing in the comments below – I am eager to hear your vision!

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Tomorrow is New Year’s Day, and I plan to Retreat.

I come from a long line of Retreaters, so a few excellent strategies were passed down in my genes. I’ve picked up a few more along the way. I tend to Retreat on a regular basis, whenever I have a sense that my life is running away without me or I need to re-charge my batteries.

To me, Retreating is about creating the right environment for deep nurturance, reflection, and vision. It is a liminal space set apart from the daily-ness of life in which to step back and get a different perspective on life. It’s not a coincidence that the word “Retreat” is used – it usually involves stepping BACK from something, from the “to do” list, from your family members, from your usual routine.

I find it particularly useful to Retreat at times of transition: a birthday, the dawn of the school year, after completing a big work project  – or indeed, at the New Year. It doesn’t have to be on New Year’s Day, it can be just as fulfilling two days later, or the following weekend, or whenever you may have time. It doesn’t require a great deal of time either, but it does take some– and the more time you can wrangle, the juicier.

If you would like to join me tomorrow or in the days ahead, here are some jumping off points:

1) Decide on your chunk of time and set it aside – an hour, the afternoon, a whole weekend, even thirty minutes can do in a pinch. The key is that you set it ASIDE and get support from any necessary folks in the vicinity so you don’t get interrupted. “No interruptions” is absolutely vital. Turn off the cell phone.

2) Prepare your Retreat nest. Decide on your location and clear the clutter – you don’t have to clean out the closet, but do remove the piles on the surface. An empty and peaceful visual field invites in clarity and new thoughts.

3) Gather your Retreat equipment. Here are my requirements:

  • A canvas of some kind – a journal, a sketchbook, collage materials, something to capture thoughts and allow creative musings to flow. Find some colored pencils, finger paints, a favorite pen.
  • Soothing sustenance – warm chai, rich hot chocolate, herbal tea… or my choice for tomorrow: tulsi tea, a remarkable tonic herb known to support the body during cold and flu season (Organic India makes a fabulous selection often found at grocery stores or natural markets).
  • A cocoon – a cuddly blanket, warm slippers, the perfect sunny spot by the window (our dog always knows the best spots in the house).
  • A piece of nature – either to walk in, or in colder climes at least a vista to gaze at. Nature is the best source of restoration, a powerful reminder of our natural rhythms and the most efficient, effective guide to find balance if it’s been misplaced.

These are my bare minimum needs to Retreat, but feel free to add your own. I prefer silence for contemplation but maybe you need some music. Get creative in building your walls to hold the distractions out and the sweet stuff in.

4) Decide what to do. For me, the three critical components of Retreating are nurturance, reflection, and vision. The most compelling ideas for creating those components will come from within you. What seems absolutely nourishing and indulgent, but also special, a step away from “normal” life? What do you want to focus on? Is there something specific you are aiming for? Here’s my plan for tomorrow:

– Review the past year. How have I changed? What can I celebrate from this past year? What did I learn? What am I giving up going forward?

– Choose a one-word theme for the coming year. I’ve always loved the soul-searching and optimistic sense of frontier I find in developing New Year’s resolutions (although my resolutions have changed form over the years). Early on, I tended to fall into the trap of listing ways to “improve” myself, missing the truth that we are always exactly where we are supposed to be in our evolution. This year, I’ve decided to focus my vision by choosing one word that calls forward my fullest self, a word rich enough to be provocative for a full year. If that sounds intriguing, here are some ideas to get you going: Serenity, Power, Integrity, Clarity, Confidence, Celebration, Depth, Truth, Non-violence, Contentment, Discipline…. My process for choosing one word will lie in writing and seeing what rises to the top. As in all travels, the journey is as important as finding the destination.

– Take a walk in nature. Let the mind wander as the feet do. Inevitably, the pace of my steps slows as my thoughts do. I am reminded that I’m home already.

The Art of Being
By Ann Coray

The fern in the rain breathes the silver message.
Stay, lie low. Play your dark reeds
and relearn the beauty of absorption.
There is nothing beyond the rotten log
covered with leaves and needles.
Forget the light emerging with its golden wick.
Raise your face to the water-laden frond.
A thousand blossoms will fall into your arms.

Happy New Year to you, my friend. May it be full of joy, love, compassion, vibrant health, unshakable trust – and whatever vision you call into being.

~ivy

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