dwelling in the light

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“We are to think of ourselves as immortals, dwelling in the light, encompassed and sustained by spiritual powers.  The steady effort to hold this thought will awaken dormant and unrealized powers, which will unveil to us the nearness of the eternal.”                           – Charles Johnston 

This says it all: the life of a yogi is sustained and encompassed by Light.  The holiday season begs me to dedicate (even a few) minutes of silence in nearness to the Eternal. It hardly matters if you are religious, if you are non-religious, if you have never practiced yoga, or if you practice every day: the Eternal is always near. During the holidays, I am very aware of the mystic, magical quality of life.  Amid the twinkle lights and the holiday decorations, every moment becomes magical.  The Eternal is near to us in the effervescent joys, the promises of love, and the moments of witnessed compassion.

Yogi’s are born mystics and born seekers: always looking for a way to discover more light and joy in this world.  Mysticism is the belief that union with the Absolute may be attained through contemplation and self-surrender. It is the belief that the Eternal is near enough to touch.  It is the Light. May you dwell in the Light this Holiday Season.

behind your heart there is courage

This article was originally published on lisaashyoga.worpress.com “articles and insights page” October 2013.

“Behind your heart there is courage and behind your heart there is fear. 

You choose.”

Last week, seven teenage girls in state-issued baggy sweatpants unrolled borrowed mats haphazardly in a conference room-turned-yoga-studio and flopped themselves down on the floor, looking at me with skeptical anticipation.  Their looks said to me: “I might do what you tell me to, but I’m probably not going to enjoy it.”  One girl groaned dramatically at the effort it took to sit down on her mat, the whole room laughed nervously; that was my cue to begin.

We chatted for a few minutes about the history of yoga.  I expected questions about the physical benefits, the psychological gains, or the philosophical underpinnings of this great tradition.  They asked me: “You got any kids?” and “How old are you?”  I could tell I was really getting through to them.

 Tadasana.  Mountain Pose.  I asked them to stand tall on two feet, close down their eyes, and bring their hands down by their sides.  I explained that the stillness within the asana practice is often the most difficult part of the practice: being still takes courage.  Being still takes trust.  When I peeked up, one of my ‘students’ was standing in front of me, arms crossed, hip cocked to the side, lips pursed and eyes challenging my every statement. Her guarded heart told me she felt too vulnerable to close her eyes.  Being still takes trust.

These girls, aged thirteen to sixteen, are residents in a rehabilitation program for youth exiting the juvenile criminal justice system.  Sometimes a dozen girls live here, hoping to re-enter the public education system and rejoin their families when their probation period ends.  While these ladies are criminals in the eyes of the law, they are not deviant; they are young souls trapped in fear and surrounded by unhealthy influences in their home communities.  Many of the girls were arrested while following their boyfriend’s prerogative.

I led the girls through beginner level asanas, trying desperately to convince them with every breath to take this practice seriously.  They weren’t convinced.  In utkatasana (chair pose), I reminded them that sometimes life gets difficult: we practice difficult, strenuous asanas on the mat so that when life gets challenging off the mat, we react with courage and strength, not fear and desperation.  One girl nodded, clenched her teeth and bent her knees a little deeper.  One girl gave up and rolled her eyes.  Another girl sighed loudly in relief when we stood tall out of the pose; her reward was a courtesy laugh from the others.

I then led the class through a Warrior Series, digging deeply into their foundation of strength.  I asked them to practice being present on their mat, even if they’d rather be somewhere else.  All of them would rather have been somewhere else.  And I realized: these girls don’t have a choice.  In this program, they are told when sleep, what to eat, where to go, and how to dress.  At home, they are told they aren’t good enough, that they will never be anything better than their crime, that they won’t ‘make it’ in life, and that they will never be a member of a healthy community which sees them as an individual of worth.  Where can they base their foundation of strength?

So we sat down.

And I introduced Durga.  Immediately, all eyes were glued to the illustration of this untamed goddess riding a lion, fierce hair blowing wildly, wielding a weapon in each of her eight hands.  Durga is the Warrior Goddess of Protection and Inner Strength.  She is the contemporary icon of liberation and power; she is what these girls need.

durga ladyy

I told the myth of Durga and her epic entrance into the cosmic battle between two armies of men who wanted to control the heavens and the earth.  The armies were led by two demon brothers who had (stealthily) struck a deal with Brahman earning themselves invincibility.  The deal was that no man or god could defeat them in battle.  These demon brothers took over.  Everything.  The ‘good guys’ (called devas in this mythological system) didn’t have a chance for several thousand years.  Until a wise yogi visited the court of the devas and pointed out a loophole in the demons’ deal: no one said anything about a woman.

Enter: Durga.

Sally Kempton writes that Durga is, “Not just a battle goddess…She is also the power behind spiritual awakening, the inner force that unleashes spiritual power within.”  Durga is the accumulation of all that is admirable in the feminine force: strength, empowerment, compassion, capacity for caretaking, and unwarranted wisdom.  She kicks butts and takes names.

She challenges the demon brothers and their armies in battle and crushes their egotistic perceptions about goddesses.  She wins.

She wins because she recognizes that she has a duty to always stand up for what is right, not just what is easy.  She wins because she is a strong woman with strong convictions.  She wins because she chooses courage over fear.  Durga is exactly what these girls need.

durga eye

I challenged the girls to stand back up, but this time, to stand in power.  To stand tall with courage.  To stand up for what is right.  To stand up like they are worth something.

We took the Warrior Series on the second side, and this time, the girls were transformed.  Instead of sullen, self-conscious teenagers, I saw women cultivating the strength to choose between fear and courage.  We practiced Vrksasana (tree pose) and I reminded them that life is not about giving up, it’s about giving in to the force of God that loves and sustains us, even when everyone else leaves us out to dry.  Every girl fell out of her balance pose.  Every girl got back in. This practice was a success.  

I left the ladies with this thought:

“Behind your heart there is courage and behind your heart there is fear.  You choose.”

I leave you with this thought, and encourage you always to choose wisely.

Sally Kempton.  Awakening Shakti: The transformative power of the goddesses of yoga. Boulder, CO: Sounds True Publishing, 2013.

roasted corn and shiitake mushroom crock-pot soup

Seriously, I love my crock-pot.  It is how I enjoy winter.

Here’s a totally original recipe for a crock-pot soup:

Roasted corn and shiitake mushroom crock-pot soup

Husk and brush three ears of corn with a vegan butter substitute and rosemary.  Roast on a cookie sheet at 375 for 20 to 30 minutes.

In the meantime, dice and put in the crock-pot:

  • 3 ribs of celery
  • 6 handfuls of chopped kale
  • a dozen or so shiitake mushrooms

Remove corn from oven, let it cool, then use a serrated knife to cut off the kernels.

Add to the crock-pot:

  • roasted corn
  • 1 box Trader Joe’s Organic vegetable broth
  • 3 shakes all-purpose spice
  • salt and pepper to taste

Set it (low) overnight and forget it.  Enjoy for lunch and dinner the next day. (Makes about 4 servings.)

If you want to learn more about the health benefits of mushrooms, check out this link:

http://www.foodlve.com/article2.php?url=8+Types+of+Mushrooms+and+Their+Health+Benefits

crock pot

what is your story?

what is your story?

I once heard a health professional say that their job as a healer was to take someone out of their story; to give that person a chance to ‘stand a little taller’ without the weight of their past on their shoulders.

Although it sounded curious at first, it eventually resonated with me as a way to interpret a rewarding yoga practice.  On your mat you have the opportunity to be someone else.  Literally.  You have a chance to remove yourself from a story that binds you to timidity, to fear, to the need to control, or to past burdens.

To remove yourself from your story means stepping onto your mat and choosing courage over fear in every moment, in every asana, in the very act of living.

Kids do this best—they use their yoga practice as a stage to perform and create something new.  They create with their bodies something novel, something inspirational. Asking children to perform “Downward Facing Doggie” immediately leads to wagging tails and barking voices.

054My little cousin Emily especially loves to be on her hands and knees, meowing loudly like a kitty as she stretches her spine and her smile in Cat/Cow.  Her giggles are infectious.  She naturally uses the illustration of her body to write herself into a new story.

As adults, we often allow outside pressures to write our story.  We willingly bring onto the mat pressures from work, family-related stresses, or latent memories of past failures that dislodge from our practice our sense of the present.  These memories stored in our bodies and in our hearts dictate the emotional energy we communicate in each pose.  However, in yoga practice, we can write a new ending to an old story.  There is no place for timidity in Virabhadrasana B, so we instead choose boldness in our stance. 

View More: http://janamariephotos.pass.us/lisa-ash-yoga

photo cred JanaMarie

In Bakasana, we trust our hands to be our foundation, an extraordinary act of bravery.  In Sirsasana, we turn our world upside down and dare to see life from a brand new direction, despite the fear that arises from giving up control.  We carve out a new story in which we are the valorous, strong, content, and creative person we’ve always wanted to be. 

We have a chance to stand a little taller, walk a little stronger, live a little healthier, and have a little more fun in life than our old story may have allowed.  Our yoga mats are the manuscripts, our bodies the instruments, our lives the admirable stories.

  I look forward to reading your story.

-lisa