I Can But I Won’t – Dharma

“I can do this, but no thank you I will not.”

I am practicing saying no to activities that I can do but that I do not want to do. Every task, even the familiar and simple, requires a set amount of energy from our energy banks. When we continually say yes we deplete more and more credit, leaving ourselves energetically bankrupt.

Just because I can, does not mean I will. For example, last week I was asked at the last minute to teach an early morning private yoga class. I had the time however my day from 10 am thru 3 pm was stacked with work that had no flexibility. Atlanta traffic plus client expectations meant that I was praying to skip thru the day with punctuality. I realized that taking on this private would add to my subtle anxiety about my day’s task list.

Saying “I can do this but I won’t,” connects me to one of the tenets found in Ayurvedic medicine, the ancient Indian study of the science of life. Our Ojas are our grounding “roots” in our body. They represent our vital, calm energy, similar to the light surrounding the moon. This folk wisdom from ancient Indians emphasizes balance in mind body and spirit.

The Ojas, when strong, provide peaceful vibrancy. When our Ojas are nurtured we experience excellent immunity, sleep, digestion and overall vitality. We nourish our Ojas by recognizing the need for work, relationship and healthy living balance each day. When I say “no thank-you” to extra tasks I am keeping my Ojas intact.

Western science uses the term adrenal fatigue to define too much of anything, even a good thing, leading. Adrenal fatigue leads to excessive cortisol employment and a physically drained existence.

“I can do this, but no thank you I will not” protects me from fizzling and potentially facing this fatigue.

So no to the client, no to picking up photos during rush hour, no to the wine-tasting and no to the extra load of the laundry. I can but I won’t. Reading in bed by 8 pm tonight will nurture my Ojas and cultivate peaceful vibrancy.

Namaste,

Kem

Random Acts of Kindness Day + Loving Kindness Meditation

February 17th is Random Acts of Kindness Day. Here is the good news: if you want the greatest return on your meditation investment, then practice loving-kindness in meditation and practice random acts of kindness in real life. You will, without fail, experience a buzz of happiness.
Neurologists have shown using MRI brain scans on long-term meditators (think Buddhist monks) that the greatest changes in the amygdala and prefrontal cortex occur to those who practice the ancient art of loving-kindness in meditation.

Loving-kindness, or Metta, is a tremendously important practice in Tibetan Buddhism. The practice encourages us to harvest compassion for our fellow humans. To begin, sit in a quiet space, seated on the floor, a sofa or against a wall. Breathe normally and place your attention on your warm energetic heart. Say to yourself, “may I be free from suffering, may I be free from the root of all suffering. May I be healthy and happy, may I be at peace.”
The words above may be altered to suit your needs. They must come authentically from your heart in order to resonate. After you have repeated the sentences above, think of a person in need and send them the same caring words. Truly feel your heart extend loving-kindness towards the person you chose. The words become like prayers. You can return to sending the prayer to yourself and then back to another person in need. Feel deep compassion in your heart for the experiences of pain that will manifest in all of our lives. Going deeper, think of a person you know who creates pain in your life and send them the loving kindness prayers, “may you be free from suffering, may you be free from the root of all suffering. May you be healthy and happy, may you be at peace.” Repeat over and over and feel your heart puddle up with compassion.

On February 17th I challenge you to send loving-kindness to people that you meet in the grocery, office, bus line or other public space. Your loving-kindness prayers will become random acts of energetic kindness. Sure you can pick up litter or pay for a person’s coffee in line behind you, but why not send as many random people a loving-kindness prayer? The science shows that over time we benefit. Our return on our meditation investment is all profit. We feel the happiness buzz when we practice loving kindness, compassion and random acts of kindness.

Namaste,

Kem

Happy Galentine’s Day to You

Most of my audience is female and to each of you I say, “Happy Galentine’s Day.” I adore my husband and I am grateful to have a loyal, romantic partner. There is no date night on Valentine’s Day planned. I know, after twenty-four years of marriage, that a cupid date would need to be planned by me.

In contrast, some of the most sincere demonstrations of love, care and concern have come from my girlfriends on Galentine’s Day, February 13th. To quote the great Leslie Knope on the TV show “Parks and Recreation” (where the name originated), “Oh, it’s only the best day of the year…Ladies celebrating ladies. It’s like Lilith Fair, minus the angst. Plus Frittatas”.

I deeply appreciate the loving friendships with my gal pals that have endured over the decades.

We understand each other’s worlds well from the complexity of being a perimenopausal woman to the heavy weight of minutia involved in family life each day. My girlfriends and I discuss the saturation of motherhood and the desire to be autonomous. We know that we love our families and yet, as Christine and I muse, we want to live with anonymity some days. We want to travel to a city where no one knows our name.

I depend on Janie for always listening to my stories without judgment. I depend on her wise questions afterward. I know she will always offer empathy for my concerns and not try to fix each situation. I know she will remind me of faith and God and surrender.

My girlfriends and I find joy in dates with our husbands and yet, as Kathleen and I muse, we cannot understand their essential maleness at times. When I watch the show Top Gear with my husband and son I am reminded that I am all woman in psyche. I do not understand how men enjoy being reckless with cars and idiotic in challenges. I do understand how a Merchant Ivory film slows down time and emphasizes beauty and how a home fix-it show is vicariously satisfying.

We girlfriends understand the deep pain of groundlessness as my friend Deborah has experienced in the California fires and mudslides. I know she wants to enjoy the mundane life of carpool, dishwasher loading (and unloading) and night after night in her own bed. I know the evacuations do not empower her with a firefighter mentality. She wants the peaceful simplicity of being in her home.

We girlfriends are not after a romantic outcome when we wish each other Happy Galentine’s Day. There is no nooky waiting after red roses are presented.

We gal pals remind ourselves on February 13th of the necessary role of friendship in our lives.

May you be blessed with many long-term authentic reliable and GIRL FUN friendships.

Namaste Gals,

Kem

Where Is Your Sweet Spot in the Day?

When your life is good on paper and you are constantly grumpy, tired and lacking in joy, then you are not balanced. You are not finding distinct sweet spots in your day.

I learned the hard way that I had to find distinct sweet spots in my day, every day. Buddhist teachings remind us that joy is our birthright and it took me forty-five years to find joy by scheduling sweet spots in my day.

Before I went on insulin, I was pushing aggressively to manage my blood sugar with over exercising, under eating and extra working. I probably had adrenal fatigue. My hair was dramatically thinning and I was always tense. The online tests for adrenal burnout matched my physical symptoms. I was mentally inflamed with my self-flagellating habits.

I finally decided to surrender to my body and depend on insulin to manage my insulin. Insulin allowed me to eat more, exercise less and enjoy sweet spots in my day. Doing less gave me more joy. I became a kinder, softer person to my family and friends when I surrendered to the power of medicine. My life became sweet.

Where is your sweet spot? My first sweet spot is in the morning when I awaken long before the family, around 4:30 am. I enjoy my matcha tea without having to feed our cat and dog. I actually enjoy emptying the dishwasher without my husband, son and daughters buzzing around the kitchen. I meditate without any texts or phone calls needing a response. This early wake up grounds me. I feel nourished by meeting my day quietly and with organization. It is said that when you win the morning you win the day. I feel the “win” when I awaken early.

Around 1:30 pm I enjoy my second scheduled sweet spot. I usually attend a yoga class at noon and return home to eat a slow lunch and enjoy my favorite websites. I adore design and health blogs. I waltz thru my bookmarks of favorite websites. This period is designated pleasure time before I work again.

My final sweet spot is before bedtime. I head to bed before my husband and turn on my diffuser with frankincense oil and read. I am surrounded by the pillows and heavy blankets that drive him crazy. This quiet time away from the coats, cups and mail (that remind me there is always housework waiting) helps me decompress.

I cannot hit this sweet spot three times a day when I travel for work, attend swim meets and spend long weekend days photographing clients. I can downgrade my expectations on these days and rename what is sweet.

Where is your sweet spot in your day?

Kem

Create Boundaries Not Judgement

During the past holiday season, I consciously chose to focus on establishing boundaries and minimizing judgments with people in my life. It is instinctual for me to judge others and label them good or bad. I have a natural urge to analyze other people’s behaviors. Somehow I find myself arrogantly speaking about people as if I am an experienced therapist with all of life’s answers. I have learned that I can compassionately establish personal boundaries for myself without judging others. We all need to give each other the gift of non-judgment even when a person falls out of our healthy boundary zone.

It is prickly work for me to live and let live. I have only recently recognized that I do not have to like a person. People do not have to like me either. I can place a person outside of my boundary fence without judgment. I can let other people be who they are at this time… and I need the same allowance in return.

We are all souls on our own journeys in our own time zones. We arrived here in our karmic destiny from past lives. We have this lifetime to curate our dharma (a Hindu term meaning purpose and right living) and we are constantly evolving.

In order to establish boundaries, we need to identify our own core values. I value creativity, integrity and compassion. When I define these values I am able to determine if I am operating in wholeness, simply put I know when I like myself. I feel best when my days are creative, my actions are with integrity and my heart is filled with compassion.

I believe that daily creativity matters. I am drawn to creative people who are curious, open-minded and seeking unique self-expression. I create when I design jewelry for the east+west collection and link the meaning of each piece to a spiritual symbol. I feel creatively empowered even when organizing a closet or wrapping a gift. Curating a new playlist for Young Hearts Yoga is meaningful as well as cooking a new recipe. Creating a logo for my website is gratifying. Creative opportunities saturate our days, even if it does not involve watercolors or a camera.

I have learned to accept the creative expression of other people and work hard not to judge expressions. I prefer paintings over piercings and chanting over church. I know that creativity comes in all flavors.

Operating with the value of integrity keeps me whole. When I judge others I feel more like a gossip, hacking away at someone else’s choices. I am then not whole, I become as hacked as the words I use to judge others. This extends to listening to and reading online gossip. I feel flat when I am the audience to a friend’s gossip. I feel even flattered when I choose to read celebrity gossip. I recognize at these times that I am not existing with integrity.

I have learned that I lack integrity when I continue to interact with people outside of my healthy boundary zone. I notice unkind thoughts ruminating in my mind and I recognize I am in a space without personal integrity.

Compassion is a heavyweight quality and important value to me. When I choose compassion rather than judgement, I am happier. The Dalai Lama says, “if you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” There are times I see homeless people asking for money and I wonder if they plan to buy alcohol or drugs with donations. If I donate with compassion, I am happier. If I refrain from judgment and focus on the challenging weather conditions then I am comfortable with making a donation. I live in a cozy home. Instead of judging why this person is living on the streets I need to feel compassion; then I like myself better.

Thomas Merton so perfectly explained compassion in this quote, “The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all these living beings, which are all part of one another, all are involved in another.”

In 2018 I will establish boundaries and limit judgment. I will instill my values of creativity, integrity and compassion in daily life. I know I will like myself and my community.

Love in 3-D During Holiday Season

Some of the best family movies of the year are released in theaters from during the period of Thanksgiving thru Christmas. Movie attendance rises during these colder months, especially when students are out of school and many businesses close for the holidays.

Likewise, Thanksgiving thru Christmas are also traditionally family weeks with attendance required. Family members, like me, anticipate moments of holiday bliss served with DNA chafe sauce around the dining room table.

My goal this season is to LOVE and ACCEPT my family in three dimensions. I will put my 3-D movie glasses on to appreciate my family in depth.
I want to expand beyond the flat planes of my judging mind and remember the positive qualities I have observed in each family member. The uncle who is two hours late (again) for Thanksgiving dinner? I will focus on his ability to be totally present when he is with our family.

The daughter who is always asking “when is it ready?” I will remember she patiently helps in the arena that suits her best. This daughter helped my dad code his website.

My dog who will probably steal some turkey and have gastrointestinal distress? She cuddles with unconditional love.

So join me and put on your 3-D glasses on this holiday season. Together we can embrace a richer and more interesting family movie. What is the title of your movie?

Karma Yoga

Karma Yoga presents two distinct and related roadmaps for me. The first and obvious path is in the action of serving others. There are grand ways our communities need service. We are blessed by volunteers who provide service to shelters, churches, hospice, animal care and youth organizations.
There are also modest ways we can serve our communities. I pick up liter in my neighborhood. The Buddha said, “if you light a lamp for somebody it will also brighten your path.” My dog walks are prettier without sedentary trash in the sidewalk. My path is brighter.

The second Karma yoga path resembles an affirmation and is more nuanced. Simply put, the affirmation, “I work for God,” covers both the action of karma and the meaning of karma for me. When I employ this affirmation I am serving in divine form, even in work with financial compensation.

God has blessed us each with gifts which serve his people meaningfully. My gifts are teaching, inspiring and connecting. My dharma is to use these gifts with my creative skills in the fields of writing and visual art production.

This second path of Karma yoga additionally helps me manage my anxiety in my dharma framework. I relax when I repeat, “ I work for God.” I can take on challenges when I repeat this phrase because I know when I work for God everything falls into place. As Dharma Mittra says, “everything is perfect.” I resoundingly trust the channeling of God. I recognize that all my work is in service to God and the resulting abundance is God’s grace.

The Dalai Lama has said, “if you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping in a room with a mosquito.” This quote reminds me that even our children are never too small to make a difference. I encouraged my three children, from an early age, to discover their own dharma and effectively employ their karma yoga skills. I explained to them that God had given them unique gifts and it was their job to discover these gifts. God needs all of us to share these gifts with our community. When we share and give to our community, we are graced with meaningful lives. Children, with all of their purity, recognize that karma yoga is often precious and sweet. Brushing the dog or chatting with elderly neighbors are two activities that come to mind. Children are quite capable of being the mosquito the Dalai Lama references.

When we choose to work only for ourselves and personal gains then our karma is misaligned. If we work only for financial profit, for example, God does not bestow his gifts of peace and meaningfulness in our hearts. We receive God’s blessings in many forms when we embrace the notion of karma yoga. I believe that we can live a financially abundant life and still fulfill our karmic yoga destiny. Have you ever heard of Oprah Winfrey? Enough said.
I have chosen to use my gifts of creativity to create a collage for the Dharma Yoga Center using my God-given artistic skills. I will blog for the social media channels of Dharma Yoga.

I will be working for God, channeling community needs and using my dharma.

Pema Chodron beautifully shares “The idea of karma is that you continually get the teachings you need to open your heart.” Enough said.

My Ego and Life of a Yogi Training

Are you a yogi considering 500 hour training with the Dharma Yoga Center? I highly recommend this esteemed program. It was challenging and meaningful and truly life-changing. The hardest aspect of the training for me was letting go of my ego.

My ego was bruised in Life of a Yogi (LOAY) teacher training. I recognized immediately in the first group practice that I was surrounded by the 1% of the 1% of yogis practicing Dharma Yoga. Our mentors represented the 1% of the 1% of the 1% of yogis. The beautiful backbends and handstands into scorpion were nonchalant and commonplace on West 23rd.

In Module One of teacher training, I felt despair. I had sunk from being a yoga student in the top tier in my home studio to sediment at the bottom of the Dharma pond. I wondered if I truly belonged in the presence of so many gifted practitioners. The first asana I had to learn in LOAY training was called “NO-tasana EGO-skrikasana.”

In both LOAY trainings in New York, I had to talk my ego down from the quit cliff. I had to remind myself that yoga is mind, body and spirit. Yoga exists importantly off the mat. I may never be able to fold my legs into lotus (padmasana) from a forearm balance (pincha mayurasana) but I can remain calm and present while waiting for a delayed flight at LaGuardia. I could practice 10,000 hours of urdhva dhanurasana and still hesitate walking backwards and pulling up to standing. it does not remotely feel like a pose in my body’s range of motion. I instead watched others practice these beautiful asanas.

More importantly, I am really good at feeling group energy with my yoga classes and planning the most flow for my students.
I am often embarrassed when I lead the Om in class. I would love to OM like an opera singer but instead, I sound like a whining cat.
On a positive note, I remind myself that my teacher LOAY feedback forms usually mention my voice as soothing in Yoga Nidra. Students describe me as calming, whew.

LOAY has been an excellent opportunity to keep my ego in check. Back home I feel proud (code for arrogant) attending yoga classes as a student. I learned in each eight-day module of LOAY to admire with wonder the 1% moving gracefully. I felt like I was seated at the front row of a glamorous circus at times. I have in turn practiced the mental asana of accepting my skills and not comparing myself to others.

I was reminded in LOAY that every yoga teacher has a weak spot in life and that a perfect yoga “performance” does not mean a perfect yogi life off the mat. I am grateful I have maintained a healthy marriage and raised three children. These are not my weak spots.

LOAY training has been demanding on my mind, body and spirit. The inter-module homework takes two hours per day. I was unaware of my commitment when I signed up for 500 hour training and at times I have doubted that I belonged in this rigorous program.

The LOAY program requirements parallel a Dharma class. There is deep work and a holding pattern. The challenging asanas, like the long pranayama, are intense and rewarding. The journaling and mala japa coloring remind me of the Sun Salutations warming up the body.

I have been humbled in LOAY. I respect the intensity of the program. Dharma Yoga inspires me to rise to a higher level of yoga practice. I watch Dharma himself with awe, recognizing that we are all pure potential. All poses are accessible, to some degree, at any age. Dharma’s messages are much more potent than the physical goals of my ego.

If you choose Dharma Yoga LOAY 500 hour training you will work hard. Your commitment will be tested. You will be surprised at the demands on your time off the mat. You will, without a doubt, respect your distinguished diploma.

Your Body, Your Yoga, Your Flow

It is normal to attend a yoga class and want the clock to tick faster. I do this, delaying the present moment gifts of simply breathing into my practice and moving my body.

Flow is defined as moving in a continuous stream without awareness of time. I want more flow in my personal practice.

I encourage my students to find flow by noticing the sensations in their bodies. Enjoy your physical body experiencing stretching and strengthening on a mat. Enjoy your bare feet, strong hand. Breathe and flow. Simple directions right (hard to follow)?

Yoga is the perfect time to scan your body for spaces that need to open. Ventilate, open the windows of your physical body and use your breath to open your heart.

As Dharma Mittra says at the end of class, “may you be receptive to the grace of God.”

Emotional Minimalist

It is basic to be a minimalist with material objects. It is commanding to be a minimalist with your emotions.

The training with Dharma Yoga, in addition to my love of Buddhist texts, has encouraged me to distill my emotions and be an emotional minimalist. I find it easy to maintain a veneer of composure while inside my thoughts swirl with drama. I know the “what if?” thoughts of marinating anxiety. I recognize my hungry ghost thoughts wanting an updated bathroom. I identify the desire to find flaws in those who out-perform me.

To be an emotional minimalist, I have to drop the emotional orphan that dwells in me. The emotional hoarder that wants to fill the empty spaces of my mind and latch on to thoughts. The orphan feels that she never had enough and needs to store unnecessary words in my head.

The orphan believes that she must take and take more so that her earth siblings do not ‘win.”

This summer I gave away cookbooks, vintage yoga clothes and (gasp) designer jeans that never worked with my style. I gave away extra coffee mugs and silver plated candlesticks. I have been distilling materialistically. Now it is time to distill emotionally.

Chanting the Dharma favorite, “Lokha, Samastha, Sukhino, Bhavanthu” has helped me clarify and distill my overly accessorized mental space.

The mantra loosely means “may all beings be happy, may all beings be free from suffering.”

Namaste,

Kem