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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.

 

 

 

 

July: The end of the world

One of my favorite movies is Until the End of the World, partially because the soundtrack is amazing but partially because of the prophetic message.

In one scene of the movie, people are given devices to sleep with that can record their dreams and they become obsessed with watching the recordings. In fact, they become so obsessed that they only can focus on sleeping and then watching their dreams.

It may sound crazy but if you have been on a city bus or subway lately and looked around you, you would have probably noticed everyone is on their devices these days.

While our phones don’t record our dreams, they do lead us on believing that all of our dreams are stored in our devices. Life is better on social media. Everyone is beautiful and happy. Ads promise bigger, better, fancier. It is all available to us all the time, we can dream all day and all night and it never has to end.

It’s amazing how often I flash back to my favorite movie of zombie characters obsessed with making all their secret fantasies come true through dreams. The line between reality and fantasy blurs and life becomes unclear, clouded, diffuse.

Yoga offers the opportunity to put down the device. We can practice anytime, anywhere. Silence, stillness, peace. Until the end of the world.

July: Go In

When I was going through teacher training, we often talked about yoga newbies or the uninitiated. Yoga can be intimidating, but I never fully considered how off-putting meditation and silence can be to people who are unfamiliar.

In my own experience, I’ve talked to several friends that had the wrong idea about meditation, which was based on their misunderstanding that it is about inhibiting thoughts to create a sense of silence or stillness.

As yoginis know, Meditation is the practice of non-attachment to thoughts. Throughout our lives, we attach to most everything that comes up and we become a feather in the wind being thrown about by the gesticulations of the day. Not only do our experiences throw us about, but our thoughts throw us about… until we begin to practice non-attachment through meditation.

I had never thought I was particularly good at meditation, then I realized that it didn’t matter. When you really think about, what does it mean to be good at something? Aren’t the benefits we receive the most important factor in comparison to our effort expended?

I was receiving benefits and I was going in deeper. My lucid dream showed me that it was worth my time because I was making progress. I was dreaming while awake, watching my thoughts as though they were a movie. Since the experience was unlike any I have ever had, I began to realize that meditation was much more profound then I initially considered. I decided to Go IN… or go through the door that was opened.

Whether it is a daily practice or courage to go deeper, going in the openings presented is the practice. The discipline is beyond most other activities that fill my life. It isn’t something that I have to get done in any given day (these things are so much easier to accomplish).

It is rather about stopping doing anything and going in. It gives everything and requires only the act of genuine discipline and commitment to something greater than our small minds that provide.

When in doubt, when frustrated, when confused, when overwhelmed… Go IN.

August: Life Lessons from the Woodstock Guru

woodstock GuruAs runners we understand the importance of a strong mind-body connection.

Many runners can find enjoyment and purpose regardless of external circumstances simply through the power of the mind to overcome feelings in the body, which can lead to bliss… sometimes when we least expect it and not necessarily when it is most needed!

Fifty years ago, Swami Satchidananda – the Woodstock Guru – opened the Woodstock Music Festival with a message of peace and love, encouraging everyone to ‘always choose peace by seeking the kingdom within.’ This August is the 50th Anniversary of Woodstock.

Races and runs can present so many challenges that truly the only peace available is deep within, and this calling is the highly-sought after magical trail that many of us seek.

In March, I ran a self-supported 108k trail “moving meditation” at Satchidananda Ashram–Yogaville to honor Swami Satchidananda—the Woodstock Guru. During the run, I focused on the hallowed ground beneath my feet; the majesty of Mother Nature that held me and comforted me every step.

I reminded myself of the purpose of the practice of running long distances with every mile. It is not about torture or pain or exhaustion. Rather, it is about finding peace and freedom within the challenge. It is about breathing into the tightness until there is a release. It is about creating a mental and physical habit of always maintaining stillness and ease despite any obstacles. For many truly dedicated runners (myself included), the meaning of life can be found in the experience of running.

Swami Satchidananda’s opening remarks and prayer set the tone for a historic three days of peace and music that the world came to know and remember as Woodstock.

The values of Woodstock—peace, love, harmony—are as important today as they were 50 years ago, yet they have gotten lost in the cacophony of a society that may be in as much turmoil today as it was then.

Swami Satchidananda’s message focused on uniting body, mind, and spirit in a state of equanimity is the pathway to peace, harmony, and love. His teachings offer guidance on how to achieve this connection, and as trail runners we can learn from his wisdom, specifically:

Find Your Inner Ease

Swami Satchidananda recommended finding the ease that each of us is born with and recognizing that disease is essentially dis-ease: disturbed ease. We can use the power of the mind to find the disturbance and remove it and to take care not to disturb our ease, once restored.

Through increased awareness, we can identify muscle tightness, imbalances and weaknesses that could impede our performance or lead to injuries. Identifying how to alleviate these issues can serve as the path toward greater well-being, improved performance and a stronger mind-body connection. Rather than trying to find solutions through the latest tools, tricks or trends… tune inward and listen.

In his words: “Actually you don’t have to do anything to heal the body and mind. If you don’t interfere, the body and mind heals itself. There is a healer within everyone. We don’t have to do anything to put health into the body. We have to stop doing the negative things that disturb the body and mind and then the good happens by itself.”

See the Same Spirit in Others

When we identify with our physical bodies and our minds, we see the differences that make us feel separate from one another rather than experiencing all that unites us. Once we realize that behind these superficial differences there is something that unites us all, we can then realize that everyone else is equally a spark of the same light.

We are all united. Our global community is our collective strength.

Recognizing the similarities in our goals and our individual journeys toward achieving these goals is powerful and uplifting. Celebrating our victories and the victories of everyone in their search for peace and harmony… and of course, more miles.

In his words: “If we want to be happy, we should work for the happiness of all people everywhere. In order to have a better world, a more peaceful world, we must have a universal approach. It’s time to know each other and to live as one global family. With that kind of feeling the whole world will be a haven and a heaven.”

Seek Inner Peace and Joy

There are constantly waves in our otherwise peaceful mind caused by selfish desires. If we realize that these desires will only lead to more disturbance in the mind, we can choose more positive thoughts that will not disturb the mind. By letting go of attachments and self-centered thoughts and replacing them with more selflessness, we can find greater tranquility.

As runners, we have a profound opportunity to disentangle the grasping of the mind to hold onto what isn’t needed. Unraveling this tightness to find greater freedom, can change the running experience from a physical activity to personal transformation.

Central to this journey toward greater peace is setting an intention that will serve what we most need. Identifying the reasoning behind goals can serve as a guiding force for not only achieving the goal, but ensuring that the achievement leads to personal growth and satisfaction. Set your intention on having a great adventure that expands your horizons and the experience will take on new and special meaning.

In his words: “Happiness does not come from outside you. No one ever gives you happiness, but only reflects your own inner happiness. You have the strength, courage, and capacity to experience the peace and joy within and to share it with everyone. If you want to be happy, work for the happiness of all people everywhere.”

Since Woodstock, the message of the Age of Aquarius has gotten drowned out by a loud and busy world. Remembering the message of Woodstock is a gift that we can give ourselves of greater peace, health and happiness.

May: where do we go

All week I have been thinking about running off to the mountains with my furry friend for a jaunt in the woods. But when I get there, I know that I’ll still be searching because what I am looking for is not anywhere, any place to be found.

I’m continuing this thread of without and within. With out, or outside of ourselves, there is great promise for everything we desire… and yet it never fulfills. It only leads to more emptiness. Within is where all the treasures can be found… it is where peace resides.

But I know that in nature there is a crying and an aching for stillness and silence. It is a reminder to draw inward while looking outward. Exploring all the things by reaching for an end that will only lead back to the beginning.

This week is filled with distraction because I am in avoidance mode. Avoidance of reality. The mountains provide a good daydream because the distractions will be diminished. I won’t be able to grasp. There will only be me, my furry friend and the mountains, which is so similar to right now and this moment with my girl curled up at my feet dreaming of the mountains.

But peace isn’t out there. It can’t be bought. No one can give it to us. No place can make us feel finally at home within ourselves. Only we can do that, and only here and now. There won’t be a magical time or a magical place or a magical person that can change everything.

It is so easy and yet so hard to accept.

It is easier to grasp and hold on and avoid. I’ve lived a lifetime doing it. Yet the only way out is steadiness and ease – sthira and sukha (in Sanskrit).

Today’s yoga class delivered on my dream of the mountains and brought me the peace that I’ve been craving for days because I found a few moments of presence.

The mat is always a magical carpet ride because it is only me and my awareness, which can take me anywhere I want to go. And the only place I truly want to go is home to the peace within.

OM Shanti. Shanti. Shanti.

April: The story of the penny

Recent estimates have suggested that there is $10 million in pennies littering the streets of the U.S. How many times have you stepped on a penny or walked past a penny without picking it up? Or are you a karma yogi and insist on picking it up knowing that it will bring you good fortune more valuable than a penny?

Yoga is a discipline focused on increasing our awareness and the insignificance of the penny is entirely significant based on its story. Have you ever wondered where a particular penny came from, and wondered if perhaps someone you know once owned the penny? Have you ever wondered if someone lost a particular penny and where it was located when it belonged to no one?

So many questions for one little penny.

Years ago, my then 4-year-old daughter found a penny on the sidewalk and excitedly decided that we needed to post signs on street corners to find the owner of the penny. She immediately began formulating a plan to screen would-be penny claimers to assess the validity of their claim – asking them to describe the penny and share the story of how it came to be lost.

While I was never quite certain if she was serious, I was fascinated by her curiosity and wonder at something we all take for granted, never giving a second thought to where individual pennies came from or who they may have belonged to in their past life.

Since the “penny incident” I’ve been asking students in my creativity workshops to imagine the story of a particular penny that I gave them, and indeed I have heard some fascinating tales that have changed lives, shaped history, and transformed societies all contained within the smallest unit of currency.

Focusing on the insignificant can lend significance to everything we see, touch and feel in our daily lives. Noticing the miracles and majesty contained in simple packages that we dismiss everyday is yoga.

So next time you see a penny on the sidewalk, pick it up, feel it, take a moment to breath and give it a story.

Om Shanti.

 

March: Better late than never

I could make excuses but I won’t, let’s just say that my life has changed dramatically in the past couple of months and I’m finally getting back to my yoga groove.

Stiff back, neck… tightness everywhere. Most of all in my psyche.

I have been working on a love letter to no one in particular since love is the foundation of yogic philosophy and it is the reason we are all here.

Everything pales in comparison to its importance. Our journey here should be guided by love. Our actions should be dictated by love.

But what happens if we lose our way? What happens when our path is not straight, but rather filled with twists and turns?

What if our path doesn’t feel like a path at all, but rather a tilt-a-whirl, vomatron, kick-you-in-the-keister roller coaster all wrapped together?

My love letter to no one is filled with these references as I’ve recently come to realize that my search for meaning and connection with someone special has had more to do with learning to protect myself rather than finding any such meaning and connection?

In other words, the path that we want to be one isn’t always the path that we’re actually on. Isn’t that truly wonderful? From my perspective, this is the meaning of life. Learning to recognize and adapt because there is a reason. This is yoga. Finding the quiet in the chaos. Finding the meaning when we are lost. This is yoga and it is indeed beautiful.

Here is my abbreviated love letter to no one based on this lesson:

…you weren’t there when I most needed you. At first, I hated being alone and then I hated hating that I was alone. I walked away from so many people who offered nothing of any value to me – the people who pushed me away but desperately needed me at the same time; the people who manipulated me and then manipulated others to believe things about me that weren’t true, I walked away from all of them; the people who couldn’t take no for an answer; the people who needed me to make themselves feel superior; the people who tried to make me feel bad in hopes that they would make themselves feel better. I walked away from all of them recognizing that sticking around would have been a journey of love, but not my journey. Because I continue to believe that there is more. More through peace and quiet. The wanting is the suffering. Recognizing and appreciating the love that is in my life, rather than focusing on what is missing… this is the journey of love. Loving myself to walk away every time that the lesson presented to me is one that I’ve already learned and I don’t need to stay. This is yoga. My small-minded moments wanting what I want and not caring about the lesson only lead to suffering, the real meaning and connection has always been inside of me, wanting my attention. Thank you for all the big bumps along the way, and all the messengers who have given me great opportunities to keep moving, walking away from suffering and walking toward greater meaning and connection. This is love. This is yoga. 

I love this topic, and I’m not done writing my love letter to no one. So stay tuned, more to come… soon

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!