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Tantrik Adventures in Lucid Dreaming

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Tantrik Adventures in Lucid Dreaming

In the past three weeks, I've had two lucid dreams in which I've declared real life intentions from my Tantrik yoga practice. Here I recount both dreams.


Dream 1:

It's been my plan for a few months to attempt to summon the Tantrik goddess of divine intuition and unconditional love Para Vach in a lucid dream so I could see what she looks like to me (because I always have trouble visualizing her in meditation) and to ask for a direct transmission of her blessings. (Aim high, right?) I didn't have a lot of expectations about how this might go, but I really wanted to find out.

So when I finally went lucid on July 20th after an annoyingly long dry spell, I flew up into the clouds and I yelled, "I want to see Para Devi and directly receive her blessings!" Nothing happened, even after several attempts. So I tried a few different iterations of the wording, because subtle wording choices make a big difference in lucid dreams. Eventually, I dropped the demand and the "direct" blessing reception half (which my energy body may not yet be equipped to handle) and just asked "Can I see Para Devi?"

With that question, the clouds in the sky parted and I saw a still, turquoise lake with snow all around. Then it was as if a version of the movie Samsara began to play before my eyes. Unfortunately I don't remember the details now but many, many scenes from life (not my own) came on to that screen/stage in the sky and floated by before me. I found it interesting, but it wasn't really what I asked for. 

I woke up disappointed that I didn't get to see Para like I had hoped. But when I shared the dream with my teacher, he reminded me of the beautiful 2nd sutra in his translation of The Recognition Sutras (which I'm currently studying). The sutra reads: "Out of Her own free Will, She unfolds the universe upon the screen that is Herself." My reaction? Pure WOAH. I was expecting to see a human-like goddess figure. (If that's what I wanted, I should have been more specific.) What I saw was goddess awareness in the form of the universe unfolding -- on a screen and everything -- just as depicted in the Tantrik scriptures. Consciousness is incredible, I tell you. 

Dream 2:

Since my last LD, I've been incubating a new intention: to digest the big undigested experiences from my life that (overtime) have created hard, energy-blocking samskaras within me. This is an important practice in Tantrik yoga, and at this stage in my life, I welcome it. I thought that if I put in the request in a lucid dream I could get the process over with in one fell swoop instead of drawing it out over years (or lifetimes). Ambitious, but worth a try, I thought.

So last night in a dream I was in a helicopter with a friend after dropping someone off at the hospital to have a baby. My friend encouraged me to hop out of the helicopter with him, but I was scared, because we were still about 40 feet off the ground. "You've done it before!" he said as he slipped out the door. I noticed he was floating instead of falling at a gravitationally realistic rate and realized something was up. A moment later, with the shock of recognition ("I'm dreaming!"), I hopped out of the helicopter and flew up into the sky.

Things got dark and I thought I might wake up, but then I found myself in a big house. I must have spent at least 20 minutes walking around in that house, shooting the shit with dream characters, before I finally woke up. Because I let the dream go on for so long, many details (such as dialogue) now escape me, but I do know I was overjoyed to be lucid. And I recall at one point floating through the halls of the house singing, "Om hrim namah shivaya tas maye shri gurave namaha!"

Throughout the dream, I remembered I had a specific intention to implement, but I couldn't remember what it was, so I decided to just enjoy myself until it (hopefully) came to me.

Eventually - with another shock of recognition - it did. I remembered what I wanted to try. I ran to a window, stuck my head out, and shouted up into the sky, "I want to digest my big samskaras!" As if in response, my stomach rumbled -- a sign of digestion? Nothing else happened, but I still ran through the house repeatedly yelling my intention at the top of my lungs for all my dream characters to hear. And then, per usual, my partner moved and I woke up. Unfortunate timing, but at least I was able to plant that important intention directly in my dream, which Tibetan Buddhists say makes it 9X as powerful.

So undigested samskaras, COME GET ME.


At this point -- knock on wood -- I feel like I'm on an LD roll, but I'm not sure what I should try next. So if you have any suggestions, yoga-related or not, please share! I'd also love to hear about your lucid experiences, so please share those as well in the comment section or by contacting me directly.

 

Photo by Sarah Gustafson

 

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3 Tips for Your 2017 New Year's Intentions

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3 Tips for Your 2017 New Year's Intentions

This morning I woke up with a throbbing temple and smarting, knotted shoulders. My brain felt raw against my skull. "That's it!" I said to myself for the trillionth time. "I'm done with drinking!" Except this time it only took one drink to get me to this state, an Anchor Steam Winter Ale I cracked open and enjoyed last night over Netflix's new show, The OA. The brew was tasty and refreshing, a welcome treat at the end of a day's work. But was it worth it?

My body has been sending me consistently clearer signs it doesn't like when I drink, and I'm finally ready to listen. In addition to my ongoing "golden rule" resolution, my resolution for 2017 is to give up alcohol.

My New Year's resolutions for the past few years have consistently included "drink less," but this year I'm taking it one step further, because "drink less" hasn't been enough. I've wasted too many hours that could've been productive and full of life on hangovers. On headaches and body aches and misery and confusion and regret. Moreover, I want to be fully present and lucid in each moment. Drinking prevents that, and therefore has to be let go.

I'll admit giving up alcohol is not going to be easy for me. First of all, alcohol is everywhere. It's a quick way to (temporarily) destress. And, most importantly, I actually love the taste of beer. I crave it with dinner, after yoga (I know!), and during times of leisure (like when kicking back on the beaches of Belize as I'll be doing in January). I think it's fair to say I've been pretty attached to alcohol.

But now I'm starting to understand this renunciation won't be as hard as I've previously thought it would be either. With the growing clarity I've been cultivating through meditation has come a true courage that liquid courage pales in comparison to. The courage to just be, even when that being is awkward, bored, or stressed. These days I feel simultaneously grounded and light and strong. It's time.


As you set your own New Year's resolutions for 2017, here are my three tips:

#1 Think About What Really Matters

Are you looking beyond the superficial? A quick way to tell is to ask yourself whether your goals are driven by ego or something else. For example, is losing 10 pounds really going to solve your problems, or is there something deeper at the root of your suffering, such as over-identification with your physical form? If so, why not attack that instead?

#2 Keep It Simple

If you're like me, most years you make too many resolutions, and end up keeping very few. In our culture we tend do go a bit overboard with the drive to achieve. Last year I set more than ten intentions, including learning Turkish and finishing my 500 hour Yoga Alliance teacher training certification. (I did neither.) It's not that there's anything wrong with leaving resolutions incomplete. The problem lies in spreading ourselves too thin by attempting so many big things at the same time. We risk getting tired, forgetting to enjoy each moment for what it is, and losing clarity. Try choosing quality over quantity this year.

#3 Look Back On Old Intentions and Surprise Yourself

This one's for your own amusement, and perhaps for some inspiration as well. What did you resolve to do last New Year's? How about ten years ago? In preparation for writing this, I looked back through my old resolutions. Just three years ago, I resolved to "practice yoga two times a week." Now I'm teaching it, and three+ times a week! After you write down your resolution(s)/intention(s) this year, try hiding them somewhere you never look. If/when, years later, you stumble upon what you wrote, you might be surprised by just how much you've grown. As Pattabhi Jois loved to say, "Practice and all is coming!"

One last thing: When you break out your eggnog (spiked or not) and get down to setting your intentions, don't forget you're already perfect, so avoid thinking in terms of changing yourself, but rather removing the ego clutter layered on top over the years. And when you're done planting your seeds, consider treating yourself to a sweet 20-minute savasana :)

Happy Holidays, and see you in the new year!

 

Blog photograph by Sarah Gustafson

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What does practicing while on vacation look like?

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What does practicing while on vacation look like?

"I'm going to meditate and practice yoga every day while in Japan," I told myself just before heading there for a two-week vacation. I sincerely believed it at the time too -- but yeah, right.

When I actually found myself there I didn't want to sit still and "just breathe." I wanted to immediately dive into my surrounds, into the sights, into Japanese culture. And into Japanese food.

Instead of starting my mornings off with yoga, most days began with desperately trying to find breakfast in a country that doesn't really do breakfast places (but apparently still does breakfast). I'd usually end up at Mos Burger, the only eatery around open before 11am, where I'd chow down on a rice, egg and soy sauce sandwich and alternate between sipping coffee and miso soup. Then I'd waste no time in taking to the streets, rarely coming back to my hostel before sundown -- there was too much to see. And too much people-watching to do. 

The first several days (the entire time I was in Tokyo) the bliss of practicing yoga took a clear backseat to the joy of exploring a fascinating and brand-new-to-me country. But eventually, in Kyoto, I began to crave some breath-led movement and centering. I was getting cranky, sluggish and overwhelmed by mental clutter. I missed my practice. It was time to circle back to the mat.

Instead of practicing at the Airbnb apartment I stayed at, where where there wasn't much space and because I was incredibly curious, I decided to check out what public yoga in Japan was all about. Over the course of three days, I attended three yoga classes, all taught in Japanese, at a studio called Tamisa in the middle of a shopping center not far from Gion. The first class was Level 1 Vinyasa. It was very slow. Lots of low lunges. The second was a busy Level 2 Vinyasa class. It was less slow. Lots of low lunges. The final class I took was a noon class, something called Tri Yoga. It was the slowest, but also the most challenging class of the three. There was a strong focus (I inferred from the teacher's body language) on smooth ujjayi and moving with the breath. Lots of low lunges. An unreal amount of cat-cows.

Chaturanga wasn't instructed once in any of the three classes I attended (though I have to admit I snuck a couple in). And the unhurried pace felt great. It was the perfect vacation yoga.

I wonder if most yoga in Japan is in line with what I experienced: gentle, leisurely and more focused on stretching than strength. I should probably practice that way more often.

In my personal practice, I know have an excess of fire that needs to be balanced, but even though I know water'd be good for me, I only ever crave fire. I'm always thinking "vigor." I avoid restorative and yin and anything too sleepy, but in Japan it came to me. And, you know what? I didn't hate it.

In fact, in Okinawa, my last stop in Japan, I stayed at a summer cottage with plenty of floor room for yoga. I finally rekindled my home practice there, and I did it in the Japanese style. I lingered in each breath and doused each pose in breath. Three-legged down dog, which is usually a one-breath affair, I held for five. And it felt like smooth, hot sake in my body. You might guess I took several low lunges. I did indeed. And I certainly took my sweet time to wind it all down before savasana. 

Looking back on the trip, I explored a lot and practiced a little (but the little I did do taught me a thing or two about the power inherent in practicing with tenderness). I think I did alright in terms of maintaining balance...for a vacation. But next time I'll bring breakfast bars so I can at least fuel a daily morning meditation session. #vacationyoga

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A cold cushion, still.

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A cold cushion, still.

One of my teachers is currently writing a book about yoga philosophy. I was chatting with him about the book's content earlier this week and he said there's a memoir element to it that he's trying to approach carefully. He explained that yoga teachers tend to publicly share only experiences in which they learned, overcame and grew -- in other words, experiences in which they came out on top. Because nobody relates to perpetual triumph, my teacher said he is consciously striving to include stories of failure as well as stories of success in the personal parts of his book. 

That makes sense. Enlightenment isn't an effortless pursuit, after all, so why do we yoga teachers keep acting like it is? So let me tell you about something I'm struggling with, for once, versus something I've achieved. Wouldn't that be a nice break from all the self-congratulations that flood your social media feeds each day? Wouldn't a splash of vulnerability be refreshing?

Now this is far from the biggest struggle of my life, but it's one I'm dealing with right now and it directly affects my yoga teaching: I teach mindfulness but I'm not always mindful. I should, but I don't meditate regularly.

Why not? Well, one, it's freezing in the mornings -- the only time I ever really successfully meditate -- and, two, I don't want to give up any sleep: those are my two pathetic excuses. Seems like they'd be easier to overcome, right? Especially when you compare the list of Pros to the Cons. 

What are the Pros, you ask? Why do I want to cultivate a daily meditation practice, anyway? To become more mindful, certainly. But also to no longer ever feel like I need a drink or a vacation or any kind of bigger retreat from what is. How crazy would that be? To have every day truly count, and not just the weekend days or those days spent "away from it all." And, of course, to more deeply embody what I already preach: presence. Yoga asana alone isn't enough to grant any of these benefits fully.

So here I am, still working towards warming up my sitting cushion, one day at a time. All it takes is a choice and I've been working on making the cold and sleepy choice for a while, with several previous blog posts about my intention to cultivate a meditation practice as proof. There are many weeks my butt never touches the cushion once. I'm not perfect yo. But I always set it out for myself with plans to return. 

Much like the practice of meditation itself, it's about recommitting over and over again. Recommitting to the cushion each time I observe my focus has strayed, my mindfulness has slipped -- perhaps when I catch myself checking out of conversations or reacting quickly and angrily at work or on public transportation -- just as while meditating we recommit to concentrating on the breath each time we observe the mind wandering somewhere else. 

So at least I'm being mindful about the need to be mindful. (See how I snuck that pat-on-the-back in there? After all, yoga teachers have egos too, if you haven't noticed yet.) But intention, sankalpa, isn't enough here. I know this. My work when it comes to meditation practice continues to be discipline. It's time for tapas, and I'm not talking small plates of delicious food. I'm talking sitting still and breathing and being bored and dealing with whatever shit comes up that I've been avoiding facing. That's my work right now. What's yours?

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Almost a yoga teacher!

I started my yoga journey via a 200-hour yoga teacher training program five months ago, on Valentines Day. Every weekend since then (with the exception of Memorial Day weekend and Easter weekend) I've been devoting each Friday night and three solid hours smack dab in the middle of each Saturday and Sunday to the study of yoga - specifically to the study of yoga history, alignment, pranayama, anatomy, yoga and pregnancy, assisting, meditation and philosophy. There are just a few weeks left, during which we'll cover sequencing. Then - come end of June, it's all over! Wait, what?

The last few months of training have reinforced for me that attachment is the root of all suffering. Despite all teachings though, I've acquired many attachments - okay, addictions - as a direct result of training. And I'm too addicted to say goodbye.

First off, I don't know just how I'm supposed to quit my fellow yogis and teacher trainees. It's hard to pay attention to our lecturers sometimes when all I want to do is turn around and gaze lovingly at the 30-or-so wonderful souls I've been traveling this strange road with and think about just how much I love each and every one of them. There's Abby. She's quiet but her crazy headstand variations and countless colorful tattoos speak volumes. There's theatre-star Kathryn with her half-shaved head and animal sounds. Every week I look forward to our Friday nights - starting with "happy hour" heated yoga class at Valencia (where the teacher thinks we're dating) followed by teacher training philosophy lecture and drives home during which we geek out together about silent retreats, self rediscovery and the simple beauty of life. Then there's dancer Andrew, a sassy, mystical, irreverent vinyasa master. We take class together often and we have similar teaching styles. I would love to co-teach a class with him someday. There's also Alissa, a fellow blogger. She's been through some major shit over the past few years and her healing process is visible. She's so strong and so smart and so beautiful - she's pure power. And of course there's Remington Bain - only his full name would do him justice - an ex-Marine turned acupuncturist, always sitting in full lotus, always interjecting with nuggets of wisdom about the human anatomy and the subtle body and life itself. These are some of the souls on which I've gotten hooked. I'm addicted to my classmates.

Then there's my addiction to the asana practice. At the beginning of class: "Come to a comfortable sitting position at the top of your mats." These words make me giddy every time I hear them, even though I hear them almost every day now. And I can't help but smile to myself when after a few namaskars the class starts to glisten and the smell of yoga begins to slice the room, specifically the piercingly tangy scent of our yoga mats and/or kombucha sweat (almost indistinguishable smells if you haven't yet noticed). It's gross but it pleases me. Conditioning. I've also become addicted to certain teachers and styles of yoga. I'm constantly checking the schedule to see who's teaching what where and when. If I can't find one of MY teachers, I generally choose to practice by myself in my room with my music at my pace. This lone-wolf practice, something rather new to me, is something I've become addicted to as well.

Finally, I must mention my addiction to the new outlook teacher training (and yoga in general) has given me. Over the past five months, I've renewed my spirituality, shifted my priorities and have begun the process of remembering who I really am. I can't help it. I'm attached - obsessed - addicted to cultivating inner Awareness.

All suffering results from the perception of loss directly correlated with attachment to that which was lost. The greater your attachment, the greater your perceived loss and, therefore, the greater your suffering. Despite knowing this, and reinforcing it regularly through my practice, I have developed the aforementioned attachments thanks to teacher training, and I'm not quite ready for the journey to be over.

But it isn't over yet. It's never over, just as the smell of kombucha will never leave the linings of my nostrils. The love will continue to live on and that comfortable seat at the top of the mat will always be there for the assuming. We can always come home, because home is within. And so is yoga.

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