On Kindness


I have been thinking a lot about kindness lately. Because it really seems that everyone is dividing into factions of dislike, distrust, and just plain dissin’.

As you move through life: how are you treating the people you don’t know?

It makes me think of earlier in the year, when I went to shop at an upscale department store; I had a gift card from Christmas. I picked out some really pretty pajamas, a gift for my mother-in-law, and a couple things for my daughters. It ended up being a pretty good pile of things. As I was being checked out, a line formed behind me. So I began taking the clothes off the hangers, folding them, and making sure the tags were facing up so the clerk could easily scan them. Another person came to help check people out, and everyone was taken care of. As we finished the transaction, the clerk leaned across the counter. “Thank you so much,” she whispered under her breath, “This is the first time since I began working here that anyone has ever helped me, and it means so much to me.” Wow. I was shocked.

This reminded me of my Guru telling us that to serve means to treat everyone like you would treat your guru, or your lover, or your own child.

So I am wondering if sometimes we are only kind to people we know, or when we feel that our kindness will return to us some benefit. Kind of like only donating to charity for the tax write off.

Intention is everything, and it is between you and the Mother-Father God to determine whether you do things out of a genuine kindness, or just to get your name in the paper. Gifts of money or time can accomplish great things, indeed, but I wonder if an accumulation of spiritual merit comes mostly from what you do when no one is looking.

Do you walk the way of kindness?

I have spent many years bumbling through life; worried only about myself and what was happening in MY life, to MY family, MY friends. Maybe it was the blinders of youth, or if I was comfortably oblivious; I know other times I willfully ignored those around me who struggled or were suffering.

Getting older has made me more aware of how important it is to walk through life as softly as you can; how important it is to choose to smile, instead of getting stuck in the dark places that my mind can create.

There is great joy in little kindnesses. Opening doors for strangers. Telling the hotel maid that she did a great job on your room. Letting someone pull out in front of your car. Taking a moment to admire someone’s adorable dog.

While you are practicing this art of kindness, there’s another aspect to it — (here’s the kicker); you cannot judge those people who are not moving through the world mindfully. Particularly because, you’ve been one of them, at one point or another.

It simply takes a moment of thought — When someone cuts you off on the highway, think that maybe they are hurrying to the hospital to see a loved one. When a forgetful someone makes a mistake, ponder that they may be mourning a loss, nursing a headache or heartache, or have recently buried a child.

We all rationalize our own behavior, cutting ourselves serious slack that we would never offer up to our fellow beings – particularly to people who make different choices, live different lifestyles, or have a different color skin or language

The old adage of “walk a mile in another’s moccasins” still rings true.

Go back through your day today, starting from the minute your eyes opened to now. Imagine for a moment that you will only receive back to you the kindness you gave away. How did you do?

Remember to act as if the quality of the rest of your life depends upon it. Because, it does.

Shanti,

Jill

Confidence

After teaching a class a few weeks back, a student approached me to chat. We made small talk, and then he mentioned a class he had taken with another instructor from the Studio. “Her class is really good,” he said, “She’s a great teacher.” “Please tell her that,” I said to him. She is amazing; truly coming into her own power; but all of us who are teachers have moments of doubt about their ability. He looked puzzled and surprised. “Okay,” he said.

Then he asked, “Hey — what about you? You never seem to have any lack of self-confidence.” I responded as I always have to compliments, especially the back-hand variety. “Oh,” I laughed, “I’m just faking it.” He laughed. “Me, too” he said. And we went our separate ways.

I’ve been thinking about that exchange; and I’ve realized something.

I’m not faking it anymore.

Maybe that sounds like bravado; and let me tell you, it’s not that I am brimming with confidence every moment of every day for sure. I realized in that moment that most of my life I have been faking any confidence I exhibited.

It’s a given, in this society, that you have to exude self-assurance; be certain what you’re doing, and why you’re doing it – even if those concepts have yet to fall into line. So you develop a firm handshake; look people in the eye; and sometimes waste years bumbling down the wrong roads in life because you’re so busy pretending you know what you’re doing, you never stop to ask directions.

Reminds me of a family story we’ve giggled about for years; we were all in the car when my father turned the car out onto the road, going completely the opposite direction of where we were supposed to go. He was already in a grumpy mood, and no one wanted to be the one to tell him of his error. We continued, driving down the road, and my mother tactfully asked — “Do you know where you are going?” “YES!” he bellowed. Two beat pause. “I’m going the WRONG DAMN WAY, that’s where I’m going!” Then, of course, we all cracked up.

You could pretty much describe my first marriage with this symbolism, but let’s not go there.

What is confidence, really? In my thinking, It relates to the ego. In many yogic or religious schools of thought, they talk of subduing the ego; diminishing the ego; eliminating the ego.

Not so in Kriya.

In Kriya yoga, they speak of building the ego – not to make yourself into a defiant, separate entity; not to inflate your opinion of yourself and your worth; and certainly not to compare yourself to others. You strengthen the ego so that you know who you are; what you are trying to accomplish. You know what you value; you know your own strengths and limitations.

You also know where you’re going, and what the real goals are.

Having an ego helps you to discern that faint line that differentiates between being of service to your fellow beings, and being the flat little doormat under their feet.

I’ve served my time as a doormat. And the thing is, it doesn’t help anyone to achieve anything other than the negative karma the other person creates from harming you, and the negative karma you create for yourself by ALLOWING others to diminish you.

Where does self-confidence come from?

For me, it has emerged from finally beginning to know (and accept) myself; by testing myself and pushing out of my comfort zone; understanding the outer limits of my mind; of my body; recognizing myself as spirit – unchanging, undying – untarnished.

It has come from taking responsibility for everything, EVERYTHING that comes into my life; the good, the bad; the sublime, the ridiculous.

It comes from TIME. You know, certain things just take TIME. If you want an apple pie, you need to plant the apple tree. But it takes years from planting the tree to making the pie.

So many people don’t bother planting the tree.

I am not always confident; I am sure that there will always be times when fear invades, confusion interferes; when I crawl back in time to being the person I was instead of the person I have become.

Though even the fearful me, the confused me, the lost me — at the end of the day, can stand before a mirror, and look myself in the eye; smile; bow and say “Namaste” – which means the light of God in me sees the light of God in you; and I honor you.

Try it sometime; it is not as simple as it sounds. And it will tell you a lot about yourself.

Shanti,

Jill

Hair Raising


I’m not much of a girlie-girl. Never have been, even when I wanted to be.

Oh, I can dress up; did the pantyhose, high heel, makeup thing for years. But it doesn’t feel very natural these days. Pantyhose reminds me of sausage casing (eeeww!), high heels unground my femurs and make me feel awkward, and makeup just takes too long to put on AND get off.

I do make an effort; only because it makes me feel better in my own skin; get my hair colored by my talented friend Julia, who is a magician. Put on a little mineral makeup to smooth out the skin; draw on some eyebrows, since my thyroid gland decided to make them start falling out; and put on some lipstick, so you can discern my lips from the rest of my face.

A couple weeks ago it was suddenly quite warm here – temps in the 80’s! Heading to take a yoga class, I decided it might be a good idea to (a) wear short pants and (b) shave my legs for the first time since, oh, last October.

Was bending over in parsvottanasana, breathing deeply. Glancing at my shin, I realized that what I had done was given my leg a Mohawk. Nice inch-wide racing stripe of LONG hair still left all the way up my shin.

It was not much comfort to do the pose on the other side and realize I had a matched set.

Lovely.

So this tells you a little bit about me as I talk about the hair on my head. I’m attached to my hair; I’m not one of those people who would look even remotely attractive without it. Been coloring it forever; it’s one of the few things I do spend any time or money on. And, wow, the last couple years, it has started to really change.

I think that thyroid gland has a little to do with it, but so does heredity and age. Breathing hard on 43 here; gotta expect a few changes to the body.

A year or so ago, I started to grow these white hairs on my head. Seriously white; glowing white; don’t-take-no-color white. And they are thick, coarse hairs. Some are straight as a board, others like a corkscrew; others go straight and then veer off at an angle. I call them “white wiry witch hairs” (no offense to witches, please). I would pull them out.

Now, as anyone can tell you, that works for a while. But when you reach a certain critical mass of hair, it becomes a problem. When they would grow in, they would all be the same length; and these are gravity-defying hairs. Sticking straight out, or up, depending upon their location on my head. I looked like one of those stick figure people with the little lines waving out from their head.

Oiy.

So, I decided the only thing to do was suck it up, and let them grow out; hoping that perhaps length would weigh them down, tame them.

Ha — not so; these are untameable hairs; defiant hairs. Rebel without a cause hairs.

Interestingly, I am growing to like these quirky hairs, and I think it may be because I am growing to become more like them.

I am a lot less tameable than I used to be; definitely a little more defiant; tend to speak my mind and worry a little less about what others think. I have a tendency to rebel against the rest of those compliant, little lying down hairs. Oh, you can knock me down; but I spring back up pretty quickly.

I am apt to go one way, and suddenly, go another; sometimes I walk a straight, strong path to my goals, and other times, it’s a lot more like a spiral. I don’t mind being the one who is forging ahead, finding my own way.

I am more aware that my essence is colorless, pure; at the very core, unchanging and unchangeable. You and I, we may not look the same, but our essence is exactly the same. Hair that is wet may look different than hair that is dry; a pony tail is different than a buzz cut; there are different colors, textures and styles — but at the end of the day — hair is hair is hair.

I’m making peace with my white wiry witch hair; after all, I have earned these uppity hairs. Bring on more white, more gray, why not? Maybe it will become the beautiful silver or white color of my parents; or perhaps gorgeous gray like my friend Joyce. When it reaches a certain stage of evolution, hopefully I won’t feel the need to pretend it’s still blonde.

My hair — and maybe me, too — can be exactly who we are.

Shanti,

Jill

Book Recommendations

Looking for some quality reading material? I’ve got some recommendations; books I’ve read more than once, and refer to frequently. Books I recommend to my students, and wish everyone would read.

First off, Eat, Pray, Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert. Yes, it may be a mass-market book by now, but it is a compelling story of a person in transition; dealing with radical spiritual and emotional shifts; AND it involves yoga, travel and food. No downside here; totally clicked with me. I suggest reading it once a year – I’ve read it cover to cover four times; loaned out my original copy; bought it again; loaned that one out, too. Get it. Now.

Feng Shui Your Life, by Jayme Barratt. This book may have pretty pictures, but it is not just about re-arranging your furniture, painting your kitchen, or buying a Buddha statute. It is a book that can give you specific objectives and concrete ways to make inner and outer shifts that will improve your life. The pictures are pretty – but most of us aren’t living that Pottery Barn existence. But with the life you have, you can still use this book to help organize, clean up, clear out and straighten out both your inner and outer self. Great book.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. Because eating these days is complicated; Mr. Pollan cuts through the confusion; or adds to it, depending on your point of view. But seriously; if you’ve not devoted some time to thinking about what you eat and/or where it came from – it’s time. This book will help you to make wise choices – which is more difficult than you might think.

Moving Toward Balance, Eight Weeks of Yoga with Rodney Yee, by Rodney Yee with Nina Zolotow. Okay, you’re looking for a yoga book – about poses (asana); something that will show you “how to,” give you sequences; help you to develop a home practice. This is my favorite go-to book. Beautiful, detailed photographs; each pose has three variations, depending on your level of expertise, and uses props when needed; and then, of course, there is the beautiful Rodney Yee. His alignment is perfect, and he’s a gorgeous man. Win, win.

Happy Yoga, by Steve Ross. Steve Ross is my original guru; I discovered yoga through Steve Ross on the Oxygen network, with his 6:00 am class called “Inhale.” Sitting on the couch, half-asleep, nursing a baby. Looking at beautiful, happy, flexible people. One day I taped the show; got my butt off the couch; and it completely changed my life. His book is easy to read; accessible; and very easy to skip around as you choose what you are interested in, and pass over what doesn’t yet click with your mind. Great book, light read, fun stories; and plenty of things that will make you think.

The Spiritual Science of Kriya Yoga, Goswami Kriyananda. Complete disclosure here, Kriyanandaji is my spiritual grandfather; just the sound of his voice puts me in my happy place. This is the book to choose when you are ready to look beyond yoga as a physical practice. Yes, asana will change your life. Ready to embrace the entire eight-limb system? Start here. Brilliant chapters on the yamas and niyamas; great information on pranayama and meditation; get past the initial chapters on cleansing techniques (some sound scary!) and you’ll be on your way.

Jivamukti Yoga, Sharon Gannon and David Life. Nobody makes loving God and living a holy, spiritual life seem more hip and current than Jivamukti yoga founders Sharon Gannon and David Life. Great information here for those of you looking for a unique and modern spiritual path.

Autobiography of a Yogi, Paramahansa Yogananda. Another disclosure here ; Yoganandaji is also my lineage. And I find the complex, formal English that he uses a little tough to wade through – but it is worth it. Follow him as he grows from boy to man to yoga master, living the Kriya yoga tradition. Through success and failure, confusion and certainty, this book is full of inspirational passages, and fascinating glimpses of what it is like to experience the path of the yogi living in the ashram; beautiful tales of life in India; as well as a vision of the beautiful path of the householder. It has earned its place as a classic. Very worthwhile.

The Essential Edgar Cayce, by Mark Thurston, Ph.D. If you at all connect to Jesus Christ, you will be fascinated by the psychic readings of Edgar Cayce. This book gives the basic concepts of the nature of reality, keys to health and healing, and some insights to mystic Christianity as given through the readings of Edgar Cayce. A great launching point into the Cayce material that will help you to discover your interests, and lead you into a deeper understanding.

The Astrology Bible, by Judy Hall. I have a lot of astrology books. And astrology is a deep, multi-layered science. This book is small, easy to read and very complete. Great for beginners, but also offers much to the experienced student of astrology. Concise; attractive; detailed enough, but not overwhelming. Great starting point for your astrology studies.

Sooooo . . . no excuses for sitting in front of the television, or blobbing out on Facebook; this is a fascinating, amazing world; there is so much to learn, so much to experience; and you chose to be here.

Hit the library, the bookstore, or Amazon.com.

You’ve got some studying to do.

Shanti,

Jill

Breathwork Homework

I am taking a Restorative Breathwork training course in order to become certified as a Barratt Breathworks restorative practioner. Part of my homework for this month is building an awareness of my own breath. Taking time to lie in savasana (the corpse pose/final relaxation pose), and explore the rhythm, depth, location, movement, pace – everything! about my own natural breath.

This sounds pretty simple; it is not.

Not only that, but for me, locating time to lie quietly and breathe in a household of three children is difficult. Convincing them that what I am doing is actually homework is mission impossible. But the toughest part is trying to concentrate, stay present with the breath, and not allow my mind to go bonkers when they (inevitably) interrupt.

My daughter wanders in, seeing me lying on the floor, eyes closed.

“Mommy. Mommy. Mommy.

Mommy?
Mommy??! MOMMY!!!!!!”

I pop off the floor — “WHAT!????!! — I’m doing my homework!”

“Homework?” she replies, “I wish that was MY homework.”

I do a mental eye roll. This is not easy; my breathing homework is hard. Breathwork digs up emotions, breaks down barriers; breathwork is WORK. I lie back down, close my eyes, and try to resume my practice. Relax the body; quiet the mind; notice my breath.

My son wanders in, lies down next to me and curls up close, snuggling my arm. As I open my eyes, his head lifts and he smiles down at me. “I guess this is cuddle work,” he says, and then lays back down.

Ah, yes – cuddle work. I think I’ll pursue my Ph.D.

Why blog?


Well, my friends, I am joining the ranks of individuals who think they have something to say, and hope they have someone to say it to. I’m beginning a blog.

Why? Well, mostly for the Studio – to help get the word out about yoga; not just classes, not just Uttara, but, YOGA.

The word yoga translates from Sanskrit to mean “union” or “integration.” So many in this country associate it with stretching, relaxing; maybe getting a stronger core or loose hamstrings. But truly, yoga is a system for solving human problems; it’s been on the planet, tried and true, perfected and taught for at least 5,000 years. Spandex and sticky mats are very recent additions.

When I teach yoga to children, I find it fascinating to ask them what they think it is. Most of the time they quickly arrange themselves into “criss-cross applesauce” (sitting cross-legged), place their arms dramatically out to their sides, thumbs touching pointer fingers, close their eyes, and hum. It is beautiful that they immediately hook into the meditative, quieting aspect of yoga.

The word for pose in Sanskrit is asana – and the asanas will help you to create a more healthy, functioning body. And a healthy, happy body does help you to create a healthy, happy life. But there is so much more to yoga than just stretching and strengthening. So much more than strong arms and tight abs. We perfect the body in yoga so we can forget about it and get on with the important work we have come here to do.

In the coming months I look forward to exploring yoga as a lifestyle, not a class. And I offer this viewpoint from the unique perspective of someone trying to blend this ancient tradition with my very average American life. As anyone with children can tell you, hiding in a cave somewhere and meditating for hours can sound pretty darn attractive. The path of the householder, of blending a spiritual practice and lifestyle with being a wife, mother, teacher and business owner can be complex, to say the least.

I hope you’ll join me on this journey, and we can learn from each other.

Blessings to you, now and always,

Shanti (peace),

Jill