My beautiful mom passed away last week just 2 days shy of her 91st birthday. I am sad and I miss her, yet at the same time, I feel surprisingly full. I am overwhelmed by the support that I have gotten from friends and extended family, and I am filled with gratitude to my mom for the gifts that she gave me.
For starters, she gave me life. And she gave me a loving and solid childhood. She gave me the gift of education, and taught me that nothing was ever beyond my reach. Her life was not always easy, but she never complained, and she handled every difficulty in her life with grace and fortitude.
Just 3 days before she died, my mom gave me a wonderful gift. She opened her weary eyes, looked straight at me with full recognition, and said “I love you”. When I went home that evening, I thought that if that was the last thing that I got from her, I could live with that. As hard as it has been to say goodbye, I know that she is now freed from the bondage of a body that was no longer serving her. Her spirit flew away and for that I am grateful.
This past week has been a whirlwind of activity and emotions, and I have barely had time to sit back and reflect on it all. As I look back on the week, it seems as if time shifts when you are dealing with death. Somehow, it stretches out, almost like it is elastic.
My mom’s passing was not unexpected, and I was with her the evening before she passed until about 11:30 at night. When I left, she was comfortably curled up and asleep, and I knew that this was probably my final goodbye. She passed at 5:00 am in the morning, and when I got the phone call from the nursing home, I had just woken up and was about to meditate. In retrospect, I wish that I had taken the call and then just sat with it for a bit and meditated. It would have been good for me to have just let that emotion wash over me. Truly, there was no rush at that point, but instead, I immediately jumped into action, called my brother and sister and rushed over to the nursing home. And once I did that, the wheels were in motion, and life became frenzied. I think I just went on auto-pilot and did what I needed to do to get through the week.
Now that things are starting to settle down, I have been able to sit with it a bit more. Yoga teaches us that nothing in life is permanent, and nothing brings that lesson home more than the loss of someone that you love. I have been thinking all week how life is such a paradox. On the one hand, when things are good, we want everything to stay just as it is, with no surprises and nothing to interrupt our pleasant and peaceful life. Yet, truly that is not what we want, because if that were the case, there would never be anything new in life, and how boring would that be? So… life marches on in time, and in time, all things – good, bad and everything in between – come to an end.
I certainly did not want to lose my mom, but at the same time, I realize that she lived a long and wonderful life. She was full of light, and her light shines on, even though her time here with us is complete.
As I contemplated my mom’s passing, I wrote this poem:
Ode to Irma
A star winked out from the earth today
A beautiful star – full of grace and light
An old star – one full of wisdom.
A star winked out from the earth today,
and the earth feels a little darker.
Upon further reflection, I realized that there may be a different way to look at this. Here is an alternative version:
A star winked ON in the heavens today
A vibrant new star – full of promise for the generations to come
A young star – full of the wisdom of the ages.
A star winked ON in the heavens today,
and the world is a little brighter for having known her.
Add a comment
The Practice of Ahimsa
This is a difficult blog for me to write. Generally, I have been reluctant to get involved in political conversations, and especially to use this platform for that purpose. As a Yoga teacher and studio owner, I have focused on promoting the practice of Yoga and attempted to avoid getting sucked in to mainstream conversations. However, the events of the past year have made that increasingly difficult, and over the past few weeks, I have felt more and more compelled to speak out.
One of the cornerstones of Yoga is the practice of Yamas and Niyamas as a way of living a yogic lifestyle. These are considered the basic precepts of yogic living.
The five Yamas are essentially social restraints that dictate how you live your life. They are:
- Ahimsa: nonviolence or non-harming
- Satya: truthfulness
- Asteya: non-stealing
- Brahmacharya: non-excess (often interpreted as celibacy)
- Aparigraha: non-possessiveness, non-greed, non-grasping
The five Niyamas are personal practices relating to our inner world. These are:
- Saucha: purity
- Santosha: contentment
- Tapas: self-discipline, training your senses
- Svadhyaya: self-study, inner exploration
- Ishvara Pranidhana: surrender (to God)
The focus of this blog is on Ahimsa, or “non-harming”, which is the first of the Yamas. I have been thinking of this a lot during the past week, especially in the wake of all the flurry of news about the NFL and players kneeling during the National Anthem. I saw numerous posts on Facebook both for and against this, and found myself getting angrier and angrier at what I perceived to be misconceptions among many people. (Interestingly, after reading a first draft of this blog, my husband sent me a link to an article describing how Russian trolls may have been using the NFL protests to stir up Americans online. Apparently it worked on me… How crazy is that?)
Today, I was contemplating the idea of Ahimsa and asked myself: what actions are harmful and what are not? Here are the questions I asked, and some of the thoughts that came to my mind:
Is it harmful when our government turns its back on young adults that have lived most of their lives in this country and threatens to deport them to their “homeland” which is barely a memory for many of them?
For me, as I have watched the news, and listened to what many of those affected are saying, I would have to say that yes, this is harmful. This is creating a huge amount of stress and anxiety among many, many people (and as a yoga teacher, I know firsthand what stress and anxiety can do to people). So, yes, I believe that this is harmful.
Is it harmful when our president denigrates women, blacks and other minorities?
The concept of Ahimsa covers non –violence in many forms: physical actions, speaking badly of someone, and even thinking harmful thoughts. So, yes, I would say that publicly denigrating anyone verbally is harmful.
Is it harmful when our president calls people who disagree with him “sons of b-s”?
Once again, a verbal assault on someone is considered harmful.
Is it harmful when sports professionals kneel during the National Anthem as a non-violent show of protest against how the country is being run?
This is a peaceful statement of protest against those who are doing things that are eroding the very fabric of our foundation as a country. It is not an insult to the flag, as some have asserted. Rather it is a public way of sending a message to those in control of our country and I fail to see how this is harmful. I am going to go out on a limb here and admit that I am not a huge fan of football (as a native New-Englander, I know this is considered sacrilegious), but there you go. That is my opinion. Is it harmful for me to state that?
Even with that opinion, I truly respect what the NFL players are doing right now and am grateful to them for using their power in a positive way. I saw a woman on the news say that she was very upset with this, because she didn’t want to watch protests. In her words: “I came here to watch football, not protests. If I wanted to watch protests, I would watch the news.” When I heard that, I thought that the attitude of keeping our heads in the sand is what allowed Hitler to come to power, and I realized that it is time for Americans to stand up and speak up for what is right, not for what is easy. And perhaps, that is what is giving me the courage to finally sit down and write this blog. For a long time, I have felt like my voice doesn’t mean much, but like little Jo-Jo in “Horton Hears a Who”, every voice counts, and perhaps mine will be the one to break through the cloud of misperceptions that so many Americans seem to have.
Is it a coincidence that immediately after I wrote the first draft of this blog, I picked up a new book, and on the first page read this quote from Benjamin Franklin?
“Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.”Add a comment
I am often asked this question.
For many years, the only “exercise” I’ve done has been a daily practice of Svaroopa Yoga, along with about 20 minutes of Ujjayi Pranayama (our basic breathing practice). I have not worked out at a gym for a long time. Recently, I joined a gym because my husband and I will be going on a very active trip to the mountains of Peru this summer, where we will be doing some hiking and biking at an altitude of about 10,000 feet. While I have felt like I am in pretty good shape physically, I don’t want to get there and find out that I am unable to do all the things we want to do! So, I joined a new gym in town in order to be prepared physically for that trip.
I admit that I was a bit nervous before the first class. Was I really in okay shape? Has the Yoga and the breathing practices that I’ve done for the past 25 plus years really done anything for me? Or have I just been fooling myself? I figured this would be a good test.
I actually enjoyed the gym more than I anticipated. While it was work to keep my heart rate up, it wasn’t torture – not nearly as much as I expected. I did struggle a little with some of the weight-lifting parts of the workout, but that didn’t really surprise me as I was using muscles that I don’t normally use in my daily life. Overall, I felt that the Yoga I have done has helped me to maintain a healthy body. And after the first class, I felt pretty good physically. The gym experience was and will continue to be a confidence builder for me. I figure that if I go to the gym twice a week for the next few months, I will feel a lot more confident about my ability to navigate our trip to Peru.
So, how is Yoga different from a workout at a gym? The difference lies in Yoga’s effect on the mind. The true purpose of Yoga is to quiet the mind and to prepare the body for Meditation. Yoga uses breathing practices and asana (physical poses) to do this, so a healthier body is actually just a side effect of the Yoga, not the goal. When you go to a gym, the goal is a healthier body. I experienced this firsthand when I went to my second gym class. Before the class, I left my house in a very bad mood. My kids were fighting with each other, and there was a lot of tension at home, and I was feeling the effects of that. I was hoping that the workout would ease some of that stress. I worked hard at the gym, and after the class, I felt good physically, but the thing that struck me was that the workout didn’t really quiet my mind. I was still churning from the turmoil of the morning, and that mental chatter was not stopping. I thought about how I usually feel after a typical yoga class. Even when I go into the class with a lot of inner turmoil, I can count on all that disappearing by the time the class ends.
If you are trying to decide whether to work out at a gym regularly, or go to a weekly Yoga class, consider that it doesn’t need to be an “either/or” choice. Think about what your goals are, and you may find that the two activities can be quite complementary. And if you are getting your exercise elsewhere, than a Svaroopa® Yoga class is the perfect way to balance out that energy and give you a quieter mind.Add a comment