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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.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Balance as Breakthrough

A lot can be learned from a good tree. Vrksasana helps to improve balance and the ability to center and focus, which can be very helpful for running as it helps prevent injury and improve overall performance.

There are many ways to approach tree, from resting the bottom of your foot on the opposite ankle while using the wall for stability to placing the bottom of your foot on your opposite inner thigh with arms outstretched and eyes closed.

Moving gradually through the variations of this pose provides an opportunity to explore limitations and capabilities. At any point, if you feel challenged then tune in to identify what is happening in your body that may need special attention.

What I love best about this pose is that it quiets the mind and encourages inward gazing to pinpoint where there may be imbalances or weaknesses that need to be addressed. Runners can learn a lot from these slow quiet practices of drawing inward and strengthening the mind’s ability to identify what is happening in the body.

Don’t under-estimate the power of this pose to prepare you for miles on your feet, the subtle shifts require attention and care.

Tree can also be fun with friends, simply touch the tips of your fingers together in a circle while in the pose. The subtle shifts can represent a strengthening connection and build trust and a stronger bond. Also, experiment with swaying tree by moving your arms gently overhead for an added challenge.

Since there is no such thing as mastering tree pose, you can keep this asana in your repertoire of movements and come back to it again and again, each time experiencing slightly different sensations in the body.

Enjoy. OM.

 

Go with the flow

flowThis book – Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi – was on my reading list for as long as I can remember and it did not disappoint. It is a book about yoga… it is a book about running… it is a book about life and how to find happiness.

Not the superficial kind of happiness that leaves you feeling hollow but the deep-down rock-your-world happiness. In one word – flow… it’s all about flow.

Csikszentmihalyi defines flow as ‘the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.’ (Sound familiar, ultra running friends??)

He cautions that problems can arise when people are so fixated on what they are trying to achieve that they don’t derive pleasure from the present moment (the golden present!). Here he starts to uncover the secret to contentment in life…

Many beautiful concepts in this book center on the ability to find enjoyment and purpose regardless of external circumstances. Again, meaning of life stuff and reminiscent of many foundational yogic philosophies that connect state-of-mind and perspective with inward bliss.

So many profound truths in this book, here are a few:

  • We create ourselves by how we invest our energy
  • Attention shapes the self, and is in turn shaped by it
  • To improve life one must improve the quality of experience
  • The meaning of life is meaning: Whatever it is, wherever it comes from, a unified purpose is what gives meaning to life

When I read this passage, I put the book down and cried happy tears for a while because it perfectly describes the flow experience that I have had difficulty relating to others who aren’t familiar with or who don’t regularly experience ‘flow’…

Flow helps to integrate the self because in that state of deep concentration consciousness is unusually well ordered. Thoughts, intentions, feelings and all the senses are focused on the same goal. Experience is in harmony. And when the flow episode is over, one feels more “together” than before, not only internally but also with respect to other people and to the world in general

And…

The self becomes complex as a result of experiencing flow. Paradoxically, it is when we act freely, for the sake of the action itself rather than for ulterior motives, that we learn to become more than what we were. When we choose a goal and invest ourselves in it to the limits of our concentration, whatever we do will be enjoyable. And once we have tasted this joy, we will redouble our efforts to taste it again. This is the way the self grows.

All truly dedicated yogis/yoginis and runners and lovers of life know what this is all about, but it helps to refine our thinking around the flow experience and this book explores every dimension in-depth.

Check it out!

OM

 

 

Why start with OM

Friends, I have a new blog to share yoga practices that can help and support runners and people who are new to yoga. Please visit and sign up to get emails.

Why start with OM? I believe that the greatest benefit of yoga for runners is meditation and pranayama (breathing) practices to build a foundation for developing a stronger mind-body-soul connection. Asanas (poses) flow more freely from this deep connection, and running becomes a moving meditation and celebration of the self.

Starting with OM is a reminder to tune into the golden present. Most yoga classes start with a simple OM chant or a moment of peace through silence. The OM discipline is profound and life-changing, and while I’ve only experienced it briefly in my life… I hope to explore how to instill a greater commitment to OM through practice.

My next exploration will be following the Daily Schedule that is used at Yogaville for one week. So, here it is – The Daily Schedule:

5am – 6:15 Morning Meditation

6:20 – 7:50am Hatha Yoga

Noon meditation (30 minutes)

5pm – 6:30 Hatha Yoga

6:30 – 7pm Meditation

And of course, no alcohol, no caffeine, no sweets and vegetarian or vegan diet. I will be journaling everyday to record my experience. I have followed this schedule at Yogaville, but I’m interested in assessing the effects of the Daily Schedule integrated with my life in Arlington, which is very different than my life at Yogaville.

Looking for others to join, let me know if you are interested! Ooh and sign up for my newsletters, please and thank you!

Hari OM.

The god bone

It was a big weekend with Doug Keller at Sun and Moon, was kicked off with a deep dive into the sacred sacrum or ‘god bone’ as some call it.

So many new things to me, embarrassed to say that at first I thought he was talking about mutation to describe the tip or tilt of the sacrum, but in actuality he was talking about a nutation (the tailbone tips up and lower back arches) and counter-nutation (the tailbone tips down and lower back is in flexion).

We learned to scrub the sacrum – lying on our backs, knees bent and gently dragging the sacrum on the mat upward, feeling the flat portion of the sacrum.

Here’s why it’s important to understand the sacrum and how it works (especially if you are a runner) – it is a point of origin for many injuries (this is my definition, Doug Keller never explicitly said this). If your sacrum is locked and tight, then it causes problems in your hips, spine, knees… you get the drift.

Unlocking it is subtle, quite simply… do yoga. There are many poses that can be helpful in unlocking the sacrum, particularly back bends, cat/cow, twists, etc. But most importantly, draw your awareness to your sacrum by learning to scrub your sacrum and feel your sits bones.

Keller described the sits bones as the little feet in your lower glutes that you feel when you sit up very straight. Movement can help keep the fascia or connective tissue surrounding the sacrum “juicy” (technical term). If it’s juicy, then it can freely move within your pelvis and therefore protect you from injury.

Many running injuries are linked to a chain reaction throughout the body and the key is to find the origin of the injury rather than solely addressing the symptoms. Pay attention to the sacrum and surrounding tissue, fascia or connective tissue throughout the body, and the IT band. While most runners are familiar and aware of the importance of caring for the fascia and IT band, it’s important to include the sacrum for pre-hab and re-hab as well.

Jai Doug Keller!

OM. OM. OM.