A moment of thanks is in order for you, the reader, my friends and fellow yogis here in Bali, my teachers, my family and all those who've contributed positively to my life here in the cosmos. This was a densely spiritual week, lots of breakthroughs and awakenings. These are accounts from my perspective only, I imagine my friends have very special recollections of their own. This is just a piece of my weird little puzzle. So grateful for Bali, Yoga and Love.
Week two has come to an end. A wave of emotions as active as the coastal waters in Bali has sent me deep within myself, deeper than I've ever dared to explore at one time. I'm reflecting on the last 7 days (feels like mere seconds and also like decades) from my favorite cafe in Ubud, this quirky and creative little shop called Seniman (artist in Balinese). Having spots like this creates a feeling of home; conversations with the owner, staff and locals help to establish roots that I aim to strengthen even after I leave. It's my fourth trip here this week, and while my fellow yogis may joke it's due to the impossibly beautiful Balinese man who works here (and that certainly doesn't hurt, I was born boy crazy and I may be very happily married, but I'm not dead, there is great joy in attraction and flirtation, and I always intend to enjoy that life pleasure), it is really this creature comfort I seek wherever I am in the world, a space to sit and be, to write, sip, chat and watch the passersby.
It is here at Seniman that I'm choosing to digest the miles of introspection I feel I've walked this week, where I'm absorbing the reality of where I am, literally and figuratively, and where I'm making sense of the peaks and valleys that continue to occur in this complicated but beautiful existence. In this second week here there were experiences of beauty and joy, exceedingly fun excursions and cultural events, combined with some very cavernous personal work inspired by the Chakras. Our teachers led, inspired, challenged and encouraged us greatly. They created a safe space to face exactly what we were feeling with courage and honesty, and it was because of their leadership and the energy they created that we were all able to surrender so deeply, and breakthrough so strongly. I'm so grateful for them and for this monumental transformation. I feel so cleansed and renewed, like I've done years of therapy and work in a matter of hours, and most importantly, I feel highly motivated to continue this progress in my days, weeks, and years to come. Here's how it went...
On Sunday we kicked off our usual way, 6 am Neti pot, 5 Tibetans, pranayama (manipulation of the life force, breath work), and asana. We began chakra week with the Root/ Muladhara. We had a very grounding, focused practice, placing importance on our foundation, our alignment, our strength, so that we'd have strong roots in order to grow tall branches. Feeling connected to the feeling of home within, to our community, our families, our tribe, we all took a look within to see how balanced we were from the root. It had me craving ritual, tradition, even closer connections to my loved ones than I already have. Whenever I feel frazzled, confused and unsure, that is precisely what brings me back to perspective, to the moment, to the truth that all is well and most stress I experience is mind made. The more grounded I am, the more courageous I feel in branching out. We were asked very inquisitive questions, ones we then answered on paper with our non-dominant hand (an extremely difficult task for me as I tend to judge and berate even the most meaningless imperfections in myself, so ultimately very helpful and therapeutic). We planted seeds of intention and trusted in our healthy roots to support their growth. I've always felt very earthy and my first teacher training had me recognizing I needed the balance of space. Now, I feel I need to re-establish my firm roots so I may continue to grow in a balanced and healthy way.
Muladhara inspired asana
That evening we were honored to have dinner in the home of Agung, our kind and loving Balinese caretaker who runs Soulshine beautifully. We were able to witness first hand what strong rituals and tradition means in Bali, and how seamlessly it is lived in this country. We were given a detailed tour of his lovely home, learned of the many Hindu customs and ceremonies performed in the temples and villages, and got a small glimpse into how an extended family lives harmoniously together for their entire lives. We were taught how to create offerings by first making a flower shaped tray out of palm or banana leaves, then thoughtfully placing flowers (in the proper order) until you've made a vibrantly colorful piece to thank God for a healthy, happy existence. The woman of the house (usually) makes dozens a day. I found the commitment humbling and daunting; what loving, dedicated people. We were also exposed to another tradition: Balinese dance performed by Agung's twin daughters. They were dressed and made up exquisitely, looking more poised and gorgeous than I could ever attempt, even on my wedding day. Each of their three dances were executed with precision and grace. The dexterity of their fingers, intriguing movement of their eyes, and overall detail was so impressive, especially for their young age. I was humbled yet again. We ate a delicious meal made with love, witnessed devotion and love, and felt nothing but love in the air and between us all. It was so perfect for our first chakra work, I'm so grateful for that whole day.
The next day the sky opened up, how befitting for it to rain on Swadisthana/ 2nd chakra day. This chakra lies within the pelvic bowl, behind the pubic bone, in front of the sacrum. Its element is water, the energy center being the source of our creativity, our sensuality and sexuality, and deeply housed emotions. It was also very appropriate it fell on a Monday, such a universally emotional day. I've always felt very connected to this chakra, I have almost an insatiable sexual appetite, I think of it early and often, I studied sexual behavior in college, I write about it now. I often feel very primal, very animalistic in my nature, and sex is the ultimate expression of that biological calling. But deeper than sex, deeper than creative pursuits, is the innate feeling of belonging in the world you live in, how comfortable you feel in being held, being helped, and being loved. I think I've always done a good job of appearing balanced but I've recognized through this inward journey that I've been far from it. I have no idea how to swallow my pride and ask for help without feeling guilty, insecure or ashamed. I'm embarrassed to share weakness, period.
That's even tough to admit now. But the lesson I learned as I wept buckets of tears on my mat that day was there is tremendous beauty in vulnerability, and more than that, immense strength. It takes guts to admit you're human, to admit you need love and support from others, and to open yourself to receiving it. Somehow receiving is an admittance to the need and my psyche always saw that as weakness. But I'd then repeatedly feel disappointed in my progress and would close myself off to the abundance I really wanted and clearly didn't believe I deserved. Belief, something I encourage my students to hone in themselves, but remained a personal struggle within me. Do I deserve love, abundance, freedom, support? Yes. And so do you. And I probably distracted myself with sex and creative expression, neglecting the softer more subtle energy that's so damn important in feeling balanced and whole.
We're all in this together. I've understood the concept of Oneness intellectually for many years, experiencing bouts of knowing within the context of yoga and some deep personal connections. In order to reach Samadhi, eternal bliss and consistent enlightenment, one must identify and connect with that universal consciousness, the string that ties us all together as one worldly unit. Yoga by definition means union and I intend to accept the help and love I hope I give. I intend to share my vulnerability as well as embrace my passion and unique expression with a sense of innocence and adventure.
After a very emotional morning and afternoon delving into the 2nd chakra, we made our first trip to Seniman. I'd expressed earlier in our training that I'd always had issues with patience, mainly concerning my personal growth and achievements. I never thought I was where I was supposed to be, like I wasn't working hard enough, doing enough to reach the success I thought I needed to feel good inside. My intention for the year of 2012 was patience. As I transition from Chicago to LA I must keep this grace so I don't make important decisions with haste, but rather living from harmony, surrendering to the flow of life with ease. With tears in my eyes, I flipped over a goddess card after practice, the one pictured below. Another message from the universe to be water, fluid and luscious, navigating life's wavy waters with humility, a sense of humor and acceptance.
Our ride into Ubud took an extra long time that day, the rain pouring down mirroring my inner release. What usually takes ten minutes took 45, another lesson in patience. We walked into the inviting open space of Seniman with relief and joy. We indulged in lattes and little sweet treats and struck up a conversation with the very dry, funny and interesting British owner. It was then I felt a masculine energy behind me, something I was drawn to but couldn't see. A moment later I turned my head and there he was, a muse of a man. He walked and worked with this calm yet strong energy, in no hurry but wasting no time. It was in that second my tears dried up and I returned to my favorite part of the 2nd chakra, the orange light emanating from my pelvic bowl, a little sexual feast for my eyes and loins. Between missing my delicious husband (who's secure enough not to feel threatened by my silly crushes) deeply, having an excessively emotional day, and the rain pouring down, that yummy treat was just what I needed. I felt cleansed, renewed and inspired from then on, thanks to Yoga, my teachers, my supportive yogis, my honest self reflection, and the tantalizing joy of desire. Yum, what a luscious, transformative day.
Svadisthana inspired asana
What a difference a day makes, and boy was Tuesday a different day. I awoke at 530 with some serious energy, like I'd slept for years or lost 40 pounds. I felt lighter, more alert, strangely more innocent, like I'd let go of this grown up filter and returned to my pure nature. I immediately loved that day, didn't care how it went, a small transformation had taken over and I was not going back. Luckily, it was 3rd chakra day! Manipura, located in the region of the navel and solar plexus, this is the seat of our soul, simultaneously housing our ego and our essence. How powerful do you feel? How firm are your boundaries? Are you comfortable saying no? How about yes? The answer to these and many other related questions can be found here, in recognizing how balanced your Manipura is.
Our practice was fiery, befitting the 3rd chakra's element, full of play and challenge, lots of arm balances and fun transitions. I loved it, it suits me. I am a fiery person by nature, very passionate in my personality, unafraid to emote or show strength. Naturally that is also one of my crosses to bear, finding a balance in strength and softness. I have a lot of power and yoga has helped build a ton of strength, but I need not find my confidence there. I shouldn't lead with that foot. I often remind my students it doesn't matter whether they can balance on their hands, twist into a pretzel or perform some challenging posture. It's fun, it can be empowering to see where your body can go, but it says nothing of who we truly are, and it is a mere fraction of what it means to be a yogi.
My intention for balancing this chakra within myself is to find a delicate balance of when and how to say no. In my work, I've often said yes too many times, which is only detrimental to myself and the person I'm saying yes to because it is not sincere. What I've agreed to is soiled with a worried lie and therefore will not extract my best. It won't foster a stronger relationship with the person in question either. A firm, tactful, nonemotional no is best. On the other side of the coin, I've often said no out of fear, the exhilaration of yes was too much for me to handle. Not wanting to showcase my fears and hesitations, or possibly make a fool of myself in front of others, I've kept myself safe many times, secure inside a no. This has improved majorly for me in the past few years, thanks to yoga and writing, reminding myself life is short and ultimately, the only person who cares if I mess up or fail is me. Empowering Manipura is about getting out of our own way, and that's precisely what I intend to do.
To celebrate earth, water and fire, our teacher training group took a trip to Echo beach. The sound and rhythm of the ocean is so therapeutic, so restoring. It's also tremendously humbling, watching the power of that natural force, witnessing the reckless order with which it crashes to shore. A fellow graduate student of mine, Kendra, mentioned a great piece of advice she heard in a hard time in her life, "if you're concerned about control, try stopping a wave." I've never in my life seen such active, large and gorgeous waves as I saw that day in Bali, a huge and consistent reminder that most things in life are out of my control. I can resist it, struggle, and stress over the unpredictability, or I can surrender and take power over what I can control: my attitude. The day was blissful, we explored tidal pools, climbed rocks, collected ornate shells, watched beautiful Balinese men fish and meander about, happened upon many dogs, cats, cows and horses, all on one beach!
Manipura inspired asana
We ate dinner sitting perched on a cliff overlooking the beautiful ocean, drinking coconuts and enjoying each other's company. We left just in the knick of time to make the fire dance, a popular Balinese custom and tradition. That evening they told the story of Hanuman, the monkey god son of Shiva and Paravati we'd heard and read before. It was difficult to understand the story but entertaining nonetheless. Townsmen of all ages sat in a large circle executing this very primal chant, something none of us can execute still, but we'll love and remember forever. After, we walked to the temple that stood strong out in the ocean. It was pitch black, the lit moon and stars creating an awesome silhouette, the ocean spray from waves guarding the temple's entrance. We humbly backed away, enjoying only from a distance, the lessons from the past three days really setting in.
On Wednesday we dove right into the heart, Anahata chakra, the forth of seven, the bridge between the higher and lower energy centers, and a personal juggernaut for me. I know I am loving, I've always had a keen sense of compassion, but somewhere along the way the doors to my heart opened less and less, an armor hardening the way in. Still to this day I consider few people close and trustworthy. I believe most humans are good, well meaning, capable of love and trust, but few resonate deeply enough with me to let in. Protecting yourself from pain really signifies a distrust within your being. I clearly didn't trust that I could handle disappointment, heartbreak or betrayal. But of course that isn't true. I've handled it before and I can handle it again. And so can you.
Then there's the difficult concept of worthiness. Do you accept yourself, good, bad, ugly, highs, lows, past, present, and every little nuance in between? Do you love you? It can be reflected in the mere acceptance of a compliment, many of us reject praise in that very basic way. Someone tells us we did a great job and instead of owning our positive piece, we dismiss the accolade and pick ourselves apart, sending yet another message to the universe that we are not enough, we're still not worthy of the love and success we want. Somehow we often can't see who's standing in the way of our bliss because it's us! We're that barricade that's withholding positive and loving energy to come in. And we are just the ones to lift it.
It is within that vein that I went into our practice that day, with a good honest look at who I still was, a well intended human being struggling to truly accept herself, to say I love you in the mirror and mean it. Our teachers really helped get us there and it was on that day and in that week that two postures which formerly eluded me finally found a home in my body. With heart opening you're usually blind, just going for it sternum first, collar bones in a smile like Hello World! Here I am, I love me so someone out there is bound to as well. I had trust and belief as my foundation so the courage to love boldly naturally followed. Fact of the matter is I was born into love, from love, grew up surrounded by love and abundance, somehow married the most loving man I've ever known, living with dogs full of love, moving to foreign countries and finding more love, studying yoga and encountering more love, and then to big cities where I was blasted by love in all directions, from friends, yogis, animals, you name it.
So my struggle was not only in opening myself to the abundance and joy in my future, but also in truly accepting that I'd deserved the beauty I'd already experienced. Again, worthiness. And however subtle my insecurities and rejection of love might have been, that was echoing in the universe and it kept me glued to the same place. In order to transition and keep growing as a teacher and human being, I needed to recognize the big and small ways I was sabotaging myself and decide right then and there to stop. And so I am. I am loving. I am kind. I am smart. I am creative. I deserve love and abundance. So do you. There is plenty for all of us, plenty of love, energy, time, money. We must accept ourselves and open up to receive it. We can encourage each other along the way.
Anahata inspired asana
I returned to Seniman that afternoon and it was on that loving day my handsome muse gave me a little love in the form of a simple compliment, "you look great." I smiled and said, "thank you, you look great too." How fun! I totally was emanating an energy of love, of myself and the world around me, and however small it seemed, the universe responded. I saw my curly haired soul sister that night, we'd both purchased these lovely chakra necklaces from the local yoga shop, mine being the green Anahata, and hers being the blue Vishuddhi, for throat chakra, the 5th, the very one we'd be delving into the next day. We chose symbols that resonated with us, where we needed to grow, how we wanted to lead. Each chakra is important on the path to balance, but some carry deeper challenges than others. I'm excited to help my students open their hearts wider as my teachers have helped with mine. I'm going to love and pay it forward from this moment on.
Thursday, Chakra 5, Vishuddi. Here we find our voice, our expression, our truth, the center of honesty and purification. When balancing the throat chakra, I often think about how well I speak versus how well I listen. This is very easy to observe in others. We've all been around talkative people who seem disinterested in the stories or responses from others, only wishing to project. And we've also been exposed to those who sit quietly, preferring only to listen and absorb, something inside holding their voices hostage. It is pivotal to our happiness and well being to respect our own truth while accepting that same power in others. It's very easy to hide behind shyness, to let fear cripple our throats. It's just as easy to project strength and confidence through loud, boisterous talking. But neither of the above reflect authenticity, balance or love. We must own our truths and intentions and be unafraid to voice them, willing to release stagnant patterns and old, unhelpful conditions.
For harmony in the 5th chakra we must purify. Not to worry, nothing crazy is required, unless that's you're bag, and if so, keep on keepin on! A yoga practice full of throat, heart, neck and shoulder opening coupled with audible breathing, chanting and guttural releases really gets things moving in the right direction. Staying aware of your thoughts, when you bite your tongue, when you should actually shut up and listen, and when you should tactfully speak your truth will be an ongoing guide on your path to peace. It's often helpful when speaking to ask first: Is it... Tactful Helpful Informative Necessary Kind?
If not, perhaps it's best unsaid. Use your wisest judgment and remember to T.H.I.N.K., our communication is providing constant karmic feedback. Listen to it.
On this beautiful, airy day, our Mukti yogis set off on another field trip, this time to a sacred water temple, perfect for intention setting and purification. It was overwhelmingly busy that day, a sea of devoted Hindus crowded the grounds and temples. We walked in with sarongs unsure of our next move. We opted for a look around, choosing to stop as a small group for some stillness and meditation, and then one by one took a journey into the waters. An open trough filled with coy, the water temple was equipped with over ten fountains, one just a few feet away from the next, each pouring refreshing water back in. One soul at a time lined up and doused themselves clean, purifying an intention only they knew. Walking right in, clothes on, I patiently waited my turn to rinse. I set intentions for each, selecting personal challenges to overcome, choosing to accept myself as I was and as I am, moving forward only with love, ready to open myself to whatever lessons, abundance and joy the universe had to give me. It was so powerful! I had no idea how truly cleansing it would feel. I'll never forget that day and each time I find I'm struggling with an intention, I'll reflect on how I chose to seal it in. And I will not look back.
Vishuddhi inspired asana
Friday brought both challenge and triumph as we delved into both Ajna/ Third Eye chakra, as well as Sahasrara/ Crown chakra, our intuition and our enlightenment. We began that morning with the classical Sivananda program, a beautifully balanced practice consisting of the classical Surya A's (sun salutations), first with one movement per breath, then rapidly to build heat and our heart rates. A mini svasana in between, we then continued with sirsasana/ headstand, held for roughly 3.5 minutes, breathing naturally as our teacher read us the accompanying codes, suggested moral guidelines to contemplate as you surrender into the pose. A series of well thought out counter poses followed, more mini svasanas in between, all culminating in a 30 minute yoga nidra meditation. Pure bliss! That practice was just what we all needed after a week of deep physical and psychological exploration. We needed the simple focus, to get grounded, recognize our strengths, re-cultivate our purpose and intentions, listen to the rhythm of our breath and hearts, watch our thoughts, move with a quiet ease, feel still. We needed to Be, and that practice was perfect.
That afternoon my buddy, Jen, fellow graduate yogi and sarcastic soul sister, and I went to Seniman (naturally). We shared their coffee dessert selection, a coffee granita, coffee ice cream, biscuits that pair well with coffee and lattes. As usual, everything was delicious, comforting, satisfying. We then walked around, perusing shops and bookstores, sweating under the Bali sun. Our favorite driver, Karge, picked us up around 4, and we took a very long, traffic filled drive back to Soulshine, passing the gigantic white statue of Arjuna, the many wood carving galleries, furniture stores, laundry shops, and Balinese motorcyclists until we finally, in the knick of time, made it back home.
Almost immediately after our arrival back on our mats we were regretting making it in time for our practice. Kundalini was rising and whether we were ready or not, it was happening. A fiery practice full of long, difficult holds coupled with breath of fire had us all digging deep into our selves. I endured it all next to my roommate and friend, the beautiful Yve, and we discussed later how we each garnered additional strength from the other. Somehow we made it through multiple rounds of camel pose, cobra and low boat for three minutes at a time, kapala bhati only deepening the challenge. During, our sweet, warm, loving teacher, Julie, was the perfect and ideal motivator. She consistently echoed how we can do this, we are stronger than our minds, and how persevering through this practice would show how we are capable of anything. Ain't that the truth! Holy shit, I was humbled and also inspired by that entire day, I felt reinvigorated and steeped in belief for myself and Yoga.
After our exhausting practice we read a story we all took turns contributing to. We each wrote and drew a page, only having looked at the page before. What resulted was a sweetly hilarious tale of a young girl in search of herself. Over the course of the nearly 20 page saga, she went from a girl to a woman, back to a girl again, had straight blond hair, brown hair, curly red hair, and many personal triumphs each related to our independent endeavors and understandings. We all loved it, our cheeks hurting from laughing so much, our faces cleansed with tears. Week two was coming to an end, we'd be saying goodbye to three of our loving yoginis, saying hello to one more day off, with Kriya week looming in the coming hours. There was a strong sense of hanging onto the moment, of enjoying every bit of the fun, laughter and love we'd experienced together, and savoring all the goodness Bali had bestowed upon us.
Ajna/ Sahasrara inspired asana
The graduate yogis went into town that evening. Yve, Jen, Kendra, Lara and I were dropped off at the Namaste store (a pricy place full of crystals, malas, singing bowls, books and yoga inspired jewelry) and slowly walked down Hanuman perusing its many shops. Jen found what she was on mission for, Yve grabbed a cafe at Kafe, met an interesting artist named Joe, and then we call reconvened at the Yoga shop, our favorite place for all things yoga. After, we put our name in at Kebun, a restaurant serving delicious looking pizza, a craving we'd all been building for two weeks, a must have on that Friday evening.
We decided to walk around some more rather than wait for our table and in that 100 meters out from the restaurant, maybe two minutes in, poor Kendra falls into one of Ubud's many holes. The street was dark, the hole almost entirely undetectable, and she quickly went in right foot first, about 2.5 feet into the earth, caught herself with her hands and leapt quickly back out. She suffered a gnarly cut on her shin, one that poured blood onto the side walk and across the street to the convenience store where we grabbed water, iodine and bandages. Kendra toughed it out with relative ease. Once we took care of her we had to attend to Lara, who was feeling quite faint at the sight of blood. It was pretty comical, we laughed a lot over our pizza and during our cab ride home. Another adventurous day came to a close.
The next day, today, Saturday, Yve and I opted for a relaxed day off. Our previous weeks and Saturdays had been full of adventure (read previous article if you're curious as to our antics!), we craved a slow moving day that felt like we lived in town, just meandering about with the locals. That's just what we did. After a tearful goodbye to Jen and Danielle, we set off for Ubud. We walked slowly around the streets, checking out shops as if for the first time. I got some little gifts for loved ones and then wandered into a dress store for a gift for myself. I saw this beautiful blue dress, long, sheer, with delicate white leaves weaved into the pattern. For the first time in my life, I tried on the dress and didn't take it off. I paid and walked out the door wearing the dress. How fun!
We spent the rest of the day chatting, eating, sipping coffee, reading and writing at Seniman. At this point, we were seeing some of the same locals, getting recognized by the staff, and gradually entertainingly a few of our fellow yogis as they passed through. It was so fun! It still is. It's been a very productive few hours and simply a fantastic day. It truly feels like we live here, and I just know how difficult it's going to be to leave one week from today. Before those sad feelings creep in, I remind myself that everything in life is transient, every event and being has an expiration date, so without attachment I will enjoy this magical place and these magnificent people, happy for every experience that comes my way, not upset that it's ending, grateful it happened to me at all.
Shanti, Love and Om Swastyastu