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welcome.

I am so happy you are here!

The list of benefits from a regular yoga practice is indeed long, and a few of these benefits are particularly important for runners, including:

• Increased flexibility
• Increased muscle strength
• Improved respiration, energy and vitality
• Greater protection from injury
• Improved mental acuity and concentration
• Improved balance

Perhaps most importantly, yoga can help improve the mind-body-spirit connection, which is so critical for improving athletic performance.

As the name of this blog indicates, you can start with OM to create the foundation of your practice that will lead you to a better, more peaceful life.

OM is the sound of the universe and represents the union of mind-body-spirit, which is the goal of yoga. (Note that there are as many definitions for OM as there are stars in the sky but this is a basic definition for beginning to understand the concept!)

OM is significant as it is often used as part of a centering technique to focus the mind and move into deep relaxation or prepare us for what we are about to do. Experiencing the openness of the “O” sound and the vibration of the “M” sound can be helpful for drawing inward.

As you make the sound either quietly to yourself or out loud, allow it to increase your awareness and presence in the moment. In the words of Ram Dass – Be Here Now.

Ideas for beginning to practice with OM:

  1. First thing in the morning, sit up tall as you rise from bed and breathe in gently and on the exhale quietly voice the sound OM, repeat three times with the breath
  2. If you feel stressed or upset during the day, take a moment to breathe and repeat OM three times to yourself
  3. If you are getting ready for an important moment – such as a job interview, first date, big work presentation – use your OM practice to center yourself before launching in
  4. Before you go to bed, sit up tall and breathe in gently and on the exhale quietly say OM, then repeat three times
  5. Before you run… before you eat… before you speak… before you shop… before you check your mail… before you say, I love you… you get the picture
  6. As you practice with OM, gradually shift your experience to a heightened sense of relaxation with the goal of fully experiencing the sound

We will explore more meanings of OM and additional practices using the sound, but start with this technique to begin a new journey toward strengthening your mind-body-spirit connection through the power of yoga.

If you are uncomfortable with practicing OM, use your breath and focus on the inhale and the exhale as you slow your thoughts. Chanting OM or another mantra can be helpful to tune into your inner world, so over time you may want to try again and focus on the experience of OM without judgement or expectation.

The sound vibrations can be deeply meaningful and bring you closer to a pure experience state, so it may be worthwhile to try again as your relaxation practice deepens. Or it may just not be for you, which is fine as well. I encourage you to follow my blog as there may be other practices that are relevant and helpful to you.

Start with OM is personally relevant for me as this is the practice that I struggle with the most.

In lay terms, I have often run frantically into burning buildings filled with assumptions, fear and negativity rather than taking a moment to clear my mental slate and breathe through my OM practice. I dive into important conversations and meetings before taking a moment to draw inward and focus and clear my mind so that I am fully present and available to the people who need me the most.

Start with OM is a journey for me as well, to remind me to focus on the simple act of empowering my scared, hurt and frustrated inner child using OM.

I am thrilled to be starting this new journey with you, using OM as the light guiding us forward to greater peace, love and joy.

OM Shanti. Shanti. Shanti.

 

 

 

 

By the time he got to Woodstock…

woodstock Guru
There are trail runs that rock your world and there are trail runs that change your life, my self-supported Yogaville 108k was both. (Recall: http://integralyogamagazine.org/running-a-moving-meditation/)

I got to Yogaville on Wednesday afternoon and changed in the campers bathhouse and took off down the maze of magical trails. Not even a half mile later I bonked my nugget on a tree that had fallen across the trail and never even saw it coming. In fairly short order, I started balling my eyes out thinking I was in way over my head and now my head wasn’t quite right after being knocked silly – No tribe, no pacers, no crew, and very little common sense.

I asked Swami Satchidananda to be with me for the next 67 miles and felt a sense of peace come over me, I was in his home and knew that I would be ok. Shortly thereafter, I ran past a tree that was shivering. The leaves were rustling and the entire tree seemed to be moving, I could hear the leaves from a few hundred feet away as though it were alive. Other nearby trees were completely still. I took this as a sign that I wasn’t alone.

I broke most of my rules in the early miles – my yoga and meditation stops became extremely brief, I was not following my nutrition plan since I desperately needed the caffeine and sugar to keep me moving, and I stopped more frequently than originally intended.

Wednesday night was the only time that I stopped for dinner during the run and they were serving mushroom soup, which melted my heart and softened all my hard edges. I didn’t just eat this bowl of soup, I elevated my being through this soup – it was a spiritual experience. Only long dirty hard-fought miles can make me appreciate seriously good food this much.

When the sun went down on day one, I started listening to live recordings from Woodstock and did some long miles on the LOTUS road, stopping and bowing at LOTUS temple, the tomb of Gurudev and Nataraj shrine each time that I passed. As the miles wore on, I started confusing the spiritual sites and mixing up the names, I was getting tired. (Jai Gurudev, Jai LOTUS, Jai Nataraj)

Not only that, I was terrified running in the dark. It was pitch black and the Ashram was locked up and shut down, and I could only see a few feet in front of me. But here’s the thing that kept me going – the most amazing sky full of stars that I have ever seen in my life. I secretly wished that everyone who loved Yogaville could experience this at some point, I cried deeply over how beautiful it was and how much I appreciated this experience… all the while listening to Hendrix and CSNY and Joe Cocker and on and on rock out at Woodstock.

But the fear became overwhelming and I climbed the stairs to the Kailash shrine and headed for home. There were more than 200 metal steps (I lost count). The night was dead silent and I could only hear my footsteps, until about halfway up the stairway to Heaven (that’s what it looked like in the darkness). My footsteps started to shake the metal contraption and it sounded like there was someone behind me, which greatly added to my fear. I looked down the steps and saw several dozen steps lit up and then drop off into darkness, and I looked up the steps and saw the same and felt that the world had disappeared and it was only me and these steps that seemed to take forever and a day to climb. My breathing was fast and my heartbeat was racing.

Reaching the top of these stairs and looking out over all of Virginia (recall: amazing sky full of stars) was breathtaking, yet still I was surrounded in blackness and now found myself in a big open field with only a couple feet of light ahead of me. (Recall: so scared)

I got back to the room, took a hot shower and climbed into one of the most comfortable beds I have ever slept in. Here I should note that Yogaville set me up in a special guest suite, since this is clearly a step above monastic life at the Ashram. They also put a bowl of fresh fruit harvested from their organic farm in my room. Special, indeed. Day one mileage – 18.

I woke up before dawn and scrambled to put on my muddy shoes and flew out the door. By the time the sun was coming up, I was running along the James River surrounded by deer who seemed to always be nearby. Since I had meetings in the afternoon (I do pro-bono work for Yogaville), I could only run until about 12:30pm. Day two am mileage: 19.

Post meeting I threw on my muddy shoes again and set off. This time, I only ran a few miles since the fear was even worse than the night before. By the time that I got back to the room, there were three deer right outside my door. It was special. Day two pm mileage: 10.

I woke early to wrap up the miles and set the strongest pace for all three days. I was getting seriously hungry at this point because of the high mileage and no meals of substance for several days. Fistfuls of Pringles, PBJs, bananas, Clif Blocks were my only sustenance… and lots of Tailwind, of course.

Near the finish, I stopped by the Yogaville Distribution Center and picked up mala beads as a reward for finishing. It was odd wrapping up 67 miles and not telling anyone, although there was a guy in the parking lot fixing his pick-up and he asked me how many miles I had just run and I explained to him. The look on his face was priceless. Day three mileage: 20.

My love for Yogaville can’t be captured in words and these miles made me feel a special connection to this Heaven on Earth that I had never before experienced in all my visits. I usually feel like a visitor on the trails, but this time I felt like I was at home.

I sat down with one of the Swamis that day and was distracted and hurried and focused on organizing myself and getting back on the road home. Of course, this Swami was filled with peace, love and contentment and she drew me in quickly and everything else seemed to drop away.

This is life as best as I know it – In all of the chaos and confusion and distraction, magic is happening. The goal of life is to not miss it, to be aware and present for it. The look in her eyes and the feeling of being with her is what has always brought me back to Yogaville, there is an energy there that I haven’t found anywhere else in the world.

Running those miles filled me with gratitude for what I have been given through Yogaville and through my life. My birthday was the next day, and someone (I think I know who!) tipped off the Swamis and they sang the Sanskrit happy birthday song (Mahamrityunjay mantra) to me, then the English version then a funny version that I had never heard before and I felt like the luckiest person in the world.

I always cry like a baby when I’m leaving Yogaville, filled with a new sense of focus and purpose. Being alone out there helped me make peace with being alone, and with that acceptance comes a feeling of never being alone. The people who are supposed to be closest to me – my daughter, my parents, my siblings, my long-time friends – are the people who are genuinely closest to me. With them in my life, I will never feel lonely even if I am alone. They are always with me and I do not lose the relationships that truly matter.

I was never alone on those trails, but I did feel a sense of empowerment that comes from supporting myself. The next day, I celebrated my 47th birthday. Three days later, I bought a house on my own. I broke down laughing when I saw my name in the middle of the contract – TRACY COOLEY, A SINGLE WOMAN.

Good reminder that I am standing on my own two feet, whether I am running 108k or buying a house and the lesson that I learned to get me here is the greatest lesson of my life. Maybe there will be another closest relationship in my life but being TRACY COOLEY, A SINGLE WOMAN buying the house, running the miles, eating the Pringles, savoring the mushroom soup and praying with the mala beads is profoundly awesome.

Jai Satchidananda. Jai Woodstock. Jai Yogaville. Victory, victory, victory!

 

 

 

February teaser

February was a busy month, I wrote this on a flight to Vancouver in between nodding off. So, take this with a grain of salt (or sand?!)

What if the universe could be contained in a grain of sand, as William Blake has suggested? If it is infinite, then wouldn’t that mean that size and space become irrelevant. Does a grain of sand contain infinite multitudes?

Just as our DNA – our biological building blocks of life – is infinitely complex yet too small to view without a microscope, couldn’t a grain of sand be equally as infinite?
Places can shape our feelings and guide our thoughts. There is a world of feeling in all places, an infinite source for newly experiencing ourselves. The opportunity for reinterpretation of whatever in us is stuck or rotting.

Places have an infinite wisdom, and can be an external mirror to our internal self.
I’ve always identified with certain places as microcosms of peace that I can go to whenever I want. Whether it be Olympus Mons, or the furthest end of the ocean. Hovering over the water and listening to vast open space, filling in every detail of the sky, the stars, the ripples in the water. Letting go of the grasping, letting it all fall away to the beauty of a place that expands consciousness by simply being.

Knowing that this place actually exists, and is available to me through my thoughts is one of the most profound truths of life. It gives meaning to the term infinite, and yet I cannot begin to imagine what the word truly means although I know that I feel more infinite when I choose a place and go there in thought.

These are the safe havens that fill the universe and are always available. They are real, and traveling to them in our thoughts can make life feel more real. The concept of infinite can be tangled in complexity and unending realms of meaning, or it can be touched through simple thoughts that reach beyond the layers of what is mundane and expected and limiting. The mind is infinite, anything is possible as there are no corners of the universe that are inaccessible through thought.

Once we go to a place, it never leaves us. Even if we go through mind-travel, it stays with us forever. How we view places and, specifically, our place in places is a reflection of who we are and this is the origin of the infinite. Interpretation and experience of a place provide infinite depth and breadth as it is different for every person, situation and time.
Yet places are real on their own. Living and breathing with matter and energy, even if there are no living organisms certain places exist as part of a collective energy. They give energy and serve a purpose.

We are part of the places that we inhabit, there is no separateness. We feel separateness but it is consciousness that produces the feeling of separateness. In reality, everything and everyone is inter-related. We all represent a collective consciousness and places are included in this consciousness. They exist in an energetic universe, they are the energetic universe just as we are the energetic universe.
It is impossible to understand or comprehend, but amazing to consider. We feel separate but we are not separate.

help me spread the word!

IY Mag cover
My Yogaville 108k is quickly approaching and I am asking for your help in raising awareness! To learn more about the run, please check out the story in Integral Yoga magazine:

http://integralyogamagazine.org/running-a-moving-meditation/

I am using this as an opportunity to raise awareness for the Woodstock 50th Anniversary and Swami Satchidananda’s role in setting the tone for the event as a gathering of peace, love and joy.

This will be a “moving meditation” run on sacred ground – the message that Gurudev delivered at Woodstock captures the intention of this run to align mind-body-spirit in all endeavors.

I know that many of my followers are fellow bloggers and I enjoy checking out your content. If you are interested in a guest blog post from me, or sharing content (you share a guest blog post with me, I share a guest blog post with you), please reach out!

I’ll be sharing more details on the experience in the coming weeks, please stay tuned…

OM Shanti. Shanti. Shanti.

 

January teaser

My New Year’s resolution is to write a book, which sounds much more ambitious than my true intention. I want to record thoughts that have been with me the majority of my life, and I have never taken the time to write them down.

And here’s the thing – I always follow through on resolutions… even the resolutions that have initially seemed crazy impossible. So, this year I considered what I really wanted more than anything… recording all the thoughts and ideas that have captured my attention and imagination for decades emerged quickly as the priority.

Since I have a full schedule right now, these ‘chapters’ will be brief but will perhaps serve as a starting point for future writing. I don’t know where this will go but excited for the possibility.

In January, I wrote about the geography of the moon.

Each month, at the end of the month or thereabouts, I will post a teaser and at the end of the year, I will post the full-length book of thoughts and ideas.

So, here is the January teaser:

the moon is a balloon

Olympus Mons is the tallest planetary mountain in our solar system. I discovered Olympus Mons when I felt my life was in the abyss and I needed to go to a place that was as unreal to me as my own life.

Here’s why I became so intrigued by Olympus Mons – it took billions of years for the gigantic Martian mountain to grow and the main reason the shield volcano is different than any found on Earth is the limited amount of plate shifting. Olympus Mons is three times higher than the elevation of Mount Everest. It was formed by lava slowly flowing down its sides. Collapsed craters – or calderas – stack on top of one another rather than forming separate volcanos because of the limited plate shifting and movement beneath the surface.

Imagine a great god deep inside of the moon – heavy breathing filling the inside of the moon – making its way toward the surface as it builds up and intensifies for hundreds of billions of years until it is finally released. Yet instead of a volcanic fiery explosion, it is released slowly like a gigantic sigh as it rolls out in every direction and issues forth, creating a new landscape pulled from the depths.

The un-realness of Olympus Mons became more real each time I considered how it had formed and why as part of the big universal mystery of why anything forms that is outside of our comprehension. My limited understanding of cosmic truths created challenges in making it real but the power of perception – merely thinking about it made it more real – became a miracle that led to other miracles.

There is truth and meaning in focused attention, and thinking of Olympus Mons gives it greater significance. My limited understanding of science combined with my endless fascination for the magical and fantastical of the universe led me to the chapter on the Law of Miracles in Autobiography of a Yogi, which is the story of Paramahansa Yogananda’s life.

Light is used as a reference for awakening, enlightenment, clarity. Light is one of the greatest mysteries of the cosmos. Yogananda describes a non-mechanical reality, or as Sir James Jeans writes in The Mysterious Universe, “The universe begins to look more like a great thought than like a great machine.”

This theory adds weight to my affection for Olympus Mons and inspires me to invest more energy in thinking about my own personal concept of the dreamy landscape of a Moon volcano and the great god that resides deep within.

I hope you enjoyed and stick around for more teasers to follow…

Om Shanti. Shanti. Shanti.

Dude-asana

The Big Lebowski is one of my all-time favorite movies. But it had been years since I watched it and recently found myself wanting to check out of reality and clicking on the Dude.

Since I had last seen it, I have spent hundreds of hours on the mat and another 200 hours or so getting certified. So, imagine my surprise when I noticed all the references to yoga philosophy.

The most obvious, and therefore perhaps least compelling, is near the beginning of the movie. Jeff Bridges who plays the Dude actually does a rather inspired yoga move before bowling in which he arches his head back and splays his arms out and seems to have a moment of quiet contemplation. (I’m definitely using this, calling it the Dude-asana.)

But the over-arching theme of the movie is the most relevant – throughout the movie he struggles to find peace from the crazy characters who relentlessly try to disturb his sense of calm.

The Stranger, played by Sam Elliott, mysteriously appears at the bar in the bowling alley twice during the movie to explain to viewers the point of the story. The line that he highlights – the Dude abides – is actually a reference to Ecclesiastes 1:4. “One generation passes away, and another generation comes: but the Earth abides forever.”

This refers to how the Dude, like the Earth, can remain the same in spite of any changes or chaotic stirrings.

In yoga terms, these fluctuations are referred to as “citta” (prounced chee-tah) or mind stuff or stirrings that threaten to disturb our peace. One of my teachers at Sun and Moon described it as similar to a washing machine mixing up our thoughts and our clarity.

These stirrings come in many forms – from thugs urinating on our rugs, to unpredictable and bold best friends who rip the rug out from under us just when we think we have it all figured out, to green toenail polish-wearing seductresses who appear to be an angel before we realize that they are the devil in disguise.

Two terms that can be helpful for understanding how best to overcome fluctuations of the mind are parusha (supreme knowledge) and prakriti (experience of life). When faced with challenges, recognizing these experiences as such – prakriti – to help overcome any disturbance to knowledge of the higher self – parusha – can be helpful in returning us to peace.

A question that is often posed for further consideration is whether or not we are spiritual beings having a human experience, or human beings having a spiritual experience. Each of us must answer this question in our own unique way.

The Dude answers this question by using the word ‘man’ exactly 147 times during the movie, or approximately one and a half times per minute. This seems to be his way of level-setting, in addition to drinking many white Russians.

Here’s a bit of real-life commentary based on the movie, Metallica is referenced in the movie as the Dude says that he was once a roadie for the band, but called them a bunch of “ass holes”. Apparently, members of Metallica appreciated being mentioned in the movie and loved it. BUT, Glen Frey did not like the fact that the Dude did not like the Eagles and even told the Coen brothers when he crossed paths with them at a party.

Finally, for anyone familiar with the band Kraftwerk – they had a single called Autobahn… and in the movie there are a few cameo appearances from the fictitious although based on a real-band band (Autobahn), which coincidentally included Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

The Dude is an inspiration and I’ll enjoy his unique asana… and I don’t think I’m alone. Whether or not it works is the subject of many miracles to be realized and those that will never come to fruition either through yoga or on the big screen but are great fodder for endless commentary.

Om Shanti. Shanti. Shanti.

 

OKT: Yogaville 108k

woodstock Guru
Sri Swami Satchidananda speaking at Woodstock in 1969

The Spiritual Life Board at Satchidananda Ashram-Yogaville has approved my request to run 108k on the trails of Yogaville to honor Sri Swami Satchidananda, the ‘Woodstock Guru’ as this year is the 50th Anniversary of Woodstock.

I’ll be running the “Only Known Time” for 108k at Yogaville on my birthday weekend at the end of March. This run will be different than any other trail run that I’ve ever taken on since I will be primarily focused on honoring Gurudev and the Ashram.

The significance of 108 is that it is the number of beads in mala beads, which are used for prayer and meditation. In addition, the number has a scientific foundation as the circumference of the sun times 108 is the distance between the sun and the Earth as well as the moon and the Earth. There also are 108 nadis – energy channels – in the body.

Yogaville is located at 108 Yogaville Way in Buckingham, Virginia. Swami Satchidananda chose the location from a helicopter as he recognized the area as a spiritual place and the preferred site of his dream of ‘heaven on Earth.’

Yogaville follows a Daily Schedule that includes meditation in the morning, at noon and in the evening in addition to a morning 90-minute Hatha yoga class, as well as an evening Hatha yoga class. I will be participating in all meditation and yoga sessions during the run. When available, I will be stopping for Puja at Kailash as well. In addition, I will be taking my shoes off to walk through all sacred sites and will stop to show respect at Kailash at the Nataraja Shrine, Chidambaram, and LOTUS on each loop.

I will follow the general guidelines of Yogaville – no meat, fish, eggs, alcohol and only minimal intake of sugar and caffeine. My phone will be off throughout the weekend.

Yogaville encourages a monastic lifestyle to quiet the mind and bring peace. The message that opened Woodstock 50 years ago remains the powerful message of Yogaville – Always choose peace by seeking the kingdom within.

The run will be a moving meditation for me, each step will be guided by Gurudev and the beauty and peacefulness of the magnificent hallowed ground beneath my feet. The opportunity will allow me to promote the message of Yogaville and importance of appreciating the peace, stillness and happiness that is ever present within each of us.

Nothing brings me greater peace than becoming one with nature by freeing and opening myself to the freedom that is available when fear drops away and the journey fills with pure possibility. To bring this passion to my experience on the trails at Yogaville is a profound, magnificent opportunity.

My sangha – spiritual community – at Yogaville has changed my life. I am deeply grateful to Siva, Prem, Santoshi, Swami Mataji, the Spiritual Life Board and all the beautiful people who have inspired me during my sacred times at the Ashram.

While I haven’t decided on the path that I will follow, I’m estimating 2-mile loops on trail primarily, with a few brief road sections within the LOTUS gate and on Karuna Lane leading to Kailash. Not only will I be following a “leave no trace” approach on the trails, but will stop to care for the trails as necessary.

I will be camping during my entire stay and will arrive early to first establish a greater sense of well-being before beginning the run.

While I still have more planning to do, I am thrilled to find more ways to honor and respect Gurudev, my sangha, and the Ashram through this moving meditation.

Peace, love, joy to all.

Om Shanti. Shanti. Shanti.

 

Sharing the journey

beach yoga

I led my first beach yoga class recently and, naturally, started with OM. It was a beautiful day in Naples, although the sand fleas were particularly feisty and left me in an itch coma for days afterwards.

This is a good example of how deceiving pictures can be since there was a lot of yoga-bliss out there, but we were all dealing with a biting reality that is ever-present in yoga and in life. Nothing is ever as perfect as it seems and once we find peace and stillness, something will always come along to knock us off balance, even microscopic bugs that leave behind mega discomfort.

During the session, I practiced mind over matter and refused to acknowledge the discomfort in hopes that others would follow since, just like a sneeze, giving in to discomfort can be contagious.

After the session, I continued to focus on not giving in because I know that once I started itching, it would only get worse. Then the next day, the small bites had turned into small blisters all over my body – I had about 40 or so. They didn’t just itch, they hurt. So, I started taking ibuprofen, which I rarely take, and stayed on a steady diet of anti-inflammatory meds for the next several days. I lathered on the anti-itch crème and aloe. I took cold showers. I made a promise to myself that I’d never go to the beach ever again, which I knew I would break even as I was mid-vow.

While miserable, this is the practice. While not perfect, this picture tells a perfect story that helps understand the nature of reality and duality or the paradox of being alive. Without the misery, we would not be able to experience the beauty. Without the discomfort, we would not be able to experience the joy of being free from discomfort. Without being alone, we would not be able to experience the joy of being together.

As I learned in my training, ‘energy follows awareness.’ As Krishna Das describes it, ‘we have to wake up within the world we are in.’ The world we are within is full of misery and sadness and discomfort while it is also filled with joy and peace and wonders beyond belief. As Jack Kornfield has said, ‘mindfulness is the invitation to freedom.’

Most of my thoughts were focused on me during the session and in the days after the session since I was dealing with significant discomfort, yet the freedom was available in recognizing that I shared the journey with others and I was grateful for their presence. Freedom was available in recognizing the magnificent sunset and powerful waves in front of us. Freedom was available in appreciating when the discomfort began to subside, giving way to a renewed sense of well-being.

Is it challenging?… Always. Is it intuitive?… Never. Is it worth it?… Yes.

I fail more than I succeed, regardless of how big or powerful the crustacean is, and once the current crustacean is finished with me… there will be another one right behind him.

Or as Lao Tzu describes it – “Be content with what you have, rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the world belongs to you.”

This is yoga. This is OM.