Meditation in the Grocery Store?
MONDAY, MARCH 1, 2010 AT 1:45PM
Have you ever tried to open your car door with one hand, hold your groceries in the other, and balance your cell phone propped between your shoulder and ear? When you rush to multitask,
without thinking about it you’re using your fight-or-flight response. Believed
historically to help us catch our dinner (or run from those who would make us
theirs!), this part of our nervous system gives us the drive to race from one activity
to the next. In short bursts this type of energy is helpful.
However, when we constantly speed from one thing to the next our body loses the
race: blood pressure and stress hormones increase, the stomach doesn’t digest
food well, muscles tighten, and we’re unable to fight illness as effectively. When we focus the mind, however, we enter what scientists and doctors call a parasympathetic state. In average-speak, that means we activate the part of the nervous system responsible for rest and digestion. This slows blood pressure, helps the body absorb nutrients, improves the quality of sleep, and produces more white blood cells to boost your immune system. Likewise, muscles relax and tension headaches and pain are alleviated.
But ahh, you were balancing that cell phone on your shoulder for a reason, right? You already have enough things to do today– how will you find the time to meditate and calm your mind? Let’s bring the meditation to you!
Start by doing the same things you regularly do, but really become aware of what you are doing as it happens, giving your mind the chance to focus. For example, the next time you walk from the car to the grocery store, breathe deeply and then take each step on purpose. Feel your shoes touch the ground. Sense the vibration from that gentle impact on your feet. Notice how strong and balanced you are. Perhaps you will feel a breeze, or the sun on your back. If you notice that your mind has wandered, well done! You can guide your focus back to what you are doing–for the moment, just walking. When you focus on your walk, this everyday activity becomes a meditation in motion and the mind calms. You might like this mini mental vacation, and discover even more opportunities to practice meditation in motion.
Imagine if each red light were a chance to make sure you are sitting comfortably in your car. Relax your shoulders and notice your breath. By the time the light turns green, you can leave not just dust but any distracting thoughts behind as you drive forward with an improved sense of well-being. Congratulations, you just balanced important parts of your brain to increase your health!
Article as featured in Our Berkshire Green Magazine (March-May 2010)
Our Marvelous Messy Connection
SATURDAY, MARCH 12, 2011 AT 5:06PM
I looked closely, surely I must be mistaken. Were those tears streaming down my instructor’s face? My distracting suspicion was confirmed when a fellow student piped up, “Karen are you crying?”. “Yes”, she replied. “My daughter’s pet died this morning, and she was really upset. It hurts to see my child feel such sadness.” Had she acted appropriately our teacher could have gotten a tissue, dried her eyes and
we'd have moved on. Thankfully, she didn’t.
Instead our fearless leader asked, “If it’s alright with you I’m going to keep crying while I teach.” What could we say? The room, speechless and unsure, gradually nodded with approval. To our surprise however, the world continued to spin, and class went on. While eventually Karen’s tears lessened and stopped, our connection as a group without judgment was stronger than ever.
I can’t remember what yoga pose we did next or how stretched or not my muscles felt after that class. I can’t tell you the names of everyone in the room, or what month of the year it was. But I can tell you that this moment has inscribed it’s self into my memory, earning a well deserve spot on my list of watershed experiences. For on that day, unbeknownst to her, Karen had unleashed upon me a challenge: Do I have what it takes to really be me, even if I think it’s not what people want to see?
At a recent gathering of Workshop Presenters and Wellness Center Executives, we found ourselves discussing who has inspired us. After the group listed many talent psychologists, spiritual leaders, and authors we set out to discuss why these particular presenters kept us coming back for more. And the answer was unanimous – they were human.
These powerful leaders, like my instructor, were strong enough to expose the messy sides of themselves. They shared personal struggles, failures, and disappoints along side of their powerful successes and inspiration. They’ve shattered the pedestal we’d wanted to place them on, reminding us that while they are exceptional leaders, they have also made mistakes. Yes, even celebrities, world leaders, and dare I say Lady Gaga, have said the wrong thing at the wrong time or experienced challenging moments. They’ve dared to remove their public mask and let us see the broad spectrum of life experience that makes them human. Geez, I think we’ve all seen Oprah cry at least once on air. We can connect to their messy stories and be reminded that perhaps there is hope for us too. Not just despite, but because of my own messy moments, I too have much to offer the world.
It would have been easy for us to judge our instructor, Karen – I mean her students were paying money to learn how to stretch not to be bummed out, right? But in the face of such honesty and gentle grief, judgment took a quick backseat to compassion. Every one of us in that room had a moment where we’d lost the battle to hold back tears at an inconvenient time. (I’ve caught myself more than once tearing-up from a television commercial or next to the Cheerios in aisle 4). Rather than judging Karen, however, I felt permission to witness my own experience, noticing how I was really feeling that day. If Karen would give herself permission to be human, feeling the full range of emotions, even if that appeared messy, could I too? Could I lift the restrictive bars of self- judgment long enough to let my true emotions surface?
Sometimes the answer is still no. “Nope, not ready to tell my boss she’s crazy.” “Nah, I’d look nuts if I laughed out loud in line at the post office.” But sometimes – the answer is yes. Yes, I will speak my truth on this one. “The truth is that it doesn’t work for me when you run late to all of our appointments, can you be on time next week?” “I’m having a hard day, can you come over?” And those messy moments make it all worth it. When I know that the outcome may be a deeper connection with the person next to me, any nervousness of speaking my truth becomes a small price to pay.
Despite extensive training and technique, many clients have admitted that the reason they enjoyed a session with me is because I am so playfully human. This is the highest compliment, that my humanness has inspired them to also enjoy what makes them unique. And I must say, with permission to be a “C” student in the classroom of external appearance, I am having much more fun discovering daily my marvelously messy connection to those around me. Got messy?
Article as featured in Our Berkshire Green Magazine (Sept.-Dec. 2010)
My Autistic Cowboy
MONDAY, FEBRUARY 20, 2012
We stood by the side of the road to catch our breath. Quinn wasn’t able to walk far without falling, adding yet another boo-boo to the connect-the-dots style scabs on his knees and elbows. His tiny hand gripped mine for balance. Though my hand was there, my heart and mind were far away. I was absorbed in my own world, in the midst of a challenging medical diagnosis and relationship breakup. How was I supposed to guide this little guy if I myself needed something to help me take the next step on our walk? I was out of ideas and energy, grasping more to my sadness than his hand, and so I asked for a miracle. I needed something big to convince my feet to take another step.
I’m not sure what I expected when I thought “miracle”. Perhaps the clouds would part and brilliant beams of light would illuminate the path for me. Perhaps Publisher’s Clearing House would stop us by the roadside and claim me the sweepstakes winner giving us a limo-style lift home. But instead the most subtly powerful thing happened – so understated I could have easily missed it. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Quinn, unprompted, picked up one knee and hold it there. Both of our worlds shifted. I knew something sacred had happened. Let me explain.
As a yoga educator, previously working in an international autism therapy center, I’ve had
the unique opportunity to work with the parents of autistic children and the professionals that
support them, from all over the world. I was always amazed by these exceptional families. It
seemed in their often exclusive behavior, that autistic children were connected to an inward
driving force that many yogis and spiritual leaders take a lifetime to acquire. In fact, to my
untrained eye, it appeared our busy reality was more disruptive than anything to the autistic
experience. I knew it was socially acceptable to say I wanted to help these children, but truthfully I wanted to learn from them as much as help.
To justify my want to spend more time with Austistic children I’d begun developing a yoga and breathing program for special kids. The goal being to help these amazing kids connect in comfortable ways to the world around them, and also support their caregivers and professional staff by sharing ways to avoid burn out and nourish themselves.
Now Quinn is a fascinating little boy. He is many amazing things, and also autistic. When I began working with him a few months ago a recent evaluation concluded that while he is five years old, he in many ways demonstrates the intelligence of a seven year old. The body however, that houses his brilliance, has the motor skills of a toddler. Ever had a nightmare where you are desperately trying to run away from the “bad guy” but you just can’t seem to move fast enough? This is how I imagine the intensity Quinn must feel when he wants to speak, or run across the room to reach something, but the words and movements get stuck in his body.
After physical assessments it was clear that Quinn’s core muscles were not always active, causing him to walk using his hips in his version of a squatting John Wayne style shuffle. His balance as a result was compromised making big falls a daily event. In short my goal was to help Quinn engage his core muscles, stretching upward, and become more aware of his legs and feet as he walks.
We had created fun games to inspire Quinn to stand up tall and feel his feet on the floor. In an effort to strengthen the stabling muscles in his hips that would help him catch himself from a potential fall, I had initiated our version of the Crane Pose in Yoga (traditionally done standing on one leg with arms outreached to the sides). Quinn and I call it “one knee up”. Now for most of us the reason we practice such a pose is because it is challenging. Give it a try –stand tall for a moment, draw your belly in as if hugging your spine. Allow your arms to be relaxed as you reach themout to the side and raise one knee to hip height. Once more imagine that for Quinn this challenging pose feels like he is standing a cushy pillow,
or wobbly skate board, rather than the solid ground we feel. For the shear challenge
of picking up one leg Quinn was often reluctant to try. Struggling to stand already, my
request to pick one leg up was often the last straw.
And yet on this day, when I paused and made a silent request for the strength to
take another step, Quinn showed me how. Quinn demonstrated that despite his daily challenges he was willing to not just walk the path ahead, but climb with legs raised high. Couldn’t I do the same? My brain and body worked in unison, if Quinn could rise to the occasion I? Now Quinn didn’t take off in a gallop down the road suddenly able to run free. In fact he held my hand dearly for support for the rest of the walk, but this time I held his on purpose. And we walked home, one step at a time, with the occasional “one knee up”.
Gradually Quinn’s John Wayne shuffle has given way towards a more balanced stride. While his swagger may have lessened, his modern cowboy style of strength of spirit has only grown. Quinn doesn't ride the dusty range, but this cowboy shows enough strength and spirit to rival even the toughest of western outlaws. My cowboy is five. He’s autistic. We take baby steps, and if I keep my eyes open I see the simple miracles he creates every day.
The 3 Minute Mental Vacation
TUESDAY, DECEMBER 1, 2009 AT 2:15PM
I get it, we’re busy. Between work, school, appointments, laundry, finding the right kind of apples in the grocery store… well it’s easy to forget to take care of ourselves. Over the years I have found myself in bed with migraines or aches and pains because, quite frankly, that was what it was going to take to get me to slow down and rest. The irony of it all is that when we are rested, healthy, and focused we can get much more done in a shorter period of time.
So open the window of your mind, and promptly throw out the old adage
“No Pain No Gain” because feeling better can be quite simple and fast.
Begin by sitting comfortably. With your next breath in, inhale as low as you can, allowing your belly to expand like a balloon outward. As you exhale, gently draw your navel back towards your spine, letting go of any remaining air. Not sure if you are doing it “right”? Place your hands on your belly and
practice feeling your stomach expand into your hands. Try this simple belly breath a few
The next time you inhale, allow your belly to expand, but then continue breathing allowing
the breath to rise up and expand outwards through the sides of your ribs. Exhale the air from
the ribs and then the belly. Try this 2-step breath a few ties. If it feels unusual that is OK, in
fact it’s a good reminder that you may not take advantage of all the room your lungs have
The final step is to inhale into the belly, let the air rise to fill the ribs, and finally continue to inhale as high as you can into the chest. Exhale, letting the air release from the chest, ribs, and then belly, in that order. Inhale from the bottom up – belly, ribs, and chest. Exhale from the top down – chest, ribs, and belly.
Notice after just a minute or two that your mood may have shifted. As you oxygenate your blood stream, every cell you have as more nourishment to work with. Likewise, your nervous system is calmed by the simple repetitive focus of your mind on each stage of the breath in and out.
Article as featured in Our Berkshire Green Magazine (Dec. '09-March '10)
Lettuce Wrap to Gangster Rap: A Yogi on Tour
SATURDAY, DECEMBER 10, 2011 AT 2:33PM
Whoosh, slide. I unfurl my yoga mat backstage, on a slab of concrete where limelightand divine light will merge. Pop, pop, and my meditation chime has been replaced with the recorded gunshots that blast through a sound system so large, it takes an army of tractor trailers to haul it around the globe. Hum and heat, tour bus generators provide the white noise to cancel out the screams of the crowd and synchronize with my ujjayi breath. I giggle. Did the ancient monks who founded yoga mean 40 cities in 60 days when they shared the idea of meditation in motion with us?
When rappers start drinking coconut water and doing yoga before busting rhymes that contain more bleeps than lyrics on the radio, one thing is clear: There is a meditation revolution happening. As the wellness coach for one of the most prolific celebrity rap stars of our time, I’ve had the opportunity to witness this firsthand. Right now, the only thing louder than the bass pounding is the voice of my inner guidance telling me that our stream of consciousness is expanding.“Karlee,” it says, “unless you want to paddle upstream, best go with the flow.” But as I put my boat in the uncharted waters, I wonder: Where will this river take me?
I grew up in a Kripalu, back when it was an Yoga ashram in Pennsylvania. We donned
all white for weekly satsang, joyfully did Down Dog as if it were our jobs (or, in this
case, seva), and, as kids, were told that carob was real chocolate. Suddenly, I find
myself squeezing between people on a tour bus to massage a high-profile client
clutching a Blackberry in one hand, with an assistant about to put some other device
in the other. While these surroundings may be a far cry from the tranquil woods I grew
up near and the devotees who raised me, being in this environment has taught me
that there’s more Deepak in hip-hop than I could ever have imagined. The rapper
Biggie Smalls told us, “Stay far from timid, only make moves when your heart’s in it,
\and live the phrase: Sky’s the limit.” It’s clear that the sky Biggie mentions continues to rise as both rap stars and yogis consistently expand the realm of what we once thought possible. From the mountains of India to the streets of Detroit, prophetic poets emerge from any and all places to help us expand our boundaries.
The triumphs of these rap stars, many of whom were raised in impoverished communities, speak to the power of focus,dedication, and inspired growth that can emerge if we choose to shine. In much the same way that my family gathered to chant with our guru, hip-hop fans also know the impact of gathering around those who have devoted their lives to celebrating that which makes them feel most alive. While our Sanskrit chorus didn’t hit the Top 40, the lyrics sung nightly by thousands of ticket holders carry with them a similar unity that empowers even the most timid of fans.
Again, I feel a strong force telling me, “If you think this is about rap, fame, or even the private jet you’re on right now, your foresight has been blinded by the glare from all this bling. This hip-hop empire is about channeling an energy greater than what we were told is possible, not just defying social standards, but creating entirely new benchmarks by which human success can be measured.” Indeed, these lyrics from the Kottonmouth Kings, a rap group, could have fallen from the lips of an ancient yogi: “You are a sacred being of light, projected into reality for a purpose! Demand the right to your moment in this holographic gift; with no rules, no borders, except for those you choose to accept and live by.”
I gave a talk last winter to a group of business owners about the power of integrating yoga into their livelihood. I asked them to consider what their yoga was, whether on or off the mat, to identify the activities they already engage in that help them feel most like themselves, and what gives them a conscious connection to prana, life force. Today, I ask a different question: What is your hip hop? Will you speak your truth even if it’s contrary to mainstream opinion? Will you embrace your talents, that which brings you the greatest joy, and dare to share that bliss with the world?
After the overnight drive, I step off the bus to bathe in the early daylight. I unwrap my organic protein bar and turn up the volume on my iPod. Right now, a good Sun Salutation will bring me the greatest joy, so I start here. I find the less I juxtapose the difference in these seemingly separate worlds I move in, the more time I have to bask in the truth they both offer. While I may not be in one place long enough to have a mailing address, yoga has never been about the external experience. I know it’s the internal journey that guides me home, and that has always been the case. Whoosh, slide … again my yoga mat opens to serve as the raft in this merging stream of consciousness.
Article as published by Kripalu Center December 2011
Simple Breath to Calm the Mind - Dirgha Breath
Raw, truthful, passionate and blissful - brief articles we've had published that speak to the human experience and our ability to live the life of our dreams one moment at a time.