Yogis Doing Yoga, For Real

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I’ve been teaching yoga for over 20 years now. One the one hand, that’s barely any time at all; just a blink of an eye. I’m still in beginner mind, filled with awe and wonder over how much I don’t know and how much I am still growing and unfolding into who I am. On the other hand, two decades plus a few more years is a long time. The teachings have taken root in such a way that the fruits of the practice are my now normal: Yoga is a way of life for me.

What? Dog pose is my way of life?? No. Yoga is my way of life, not asana. There is a distinction between the two.

When I first started out in yoga, I didn’t have a clue about this. Since there were no studios here then and I had never been to a class, I was completely self-taught. I was a long-time group exercise instructor and had gotten introduced to yoga at an international fitness conference in the mid 90’s, when mind/body disciplines began to appear on the “aerobics” circuit. I decided I wanted to bring some of this stuff into the cool-down portions of my classes, so I started reading lots of books and studying some VHS tapes. The internet wasn’t even a thing then, which is so hard to picture. But none of the books or tapes I had mentioned anything about yoga being a way of life, it was all about how to do the poses, the asanas. I didn’t know there was anything more yoga than asana specifics until The Universe blindsided me with a bizarre series of events that would lead me to my one and only teacher, Erich Schiffmann. When I miraculously crossed paths with Erich, my learning and my life started to rocket off into a whole new realm, to say the least.

I began to learn that Yoga is not synonymous with asana, as I had originally thought, and as most people think. The two are not necessarily the same thing. Again, the books and the tapes I had weren’t saying this. Yoga is about the experience of unity consciousness, our deepest truth; feeling the experiential fact that we’re not separate from God, never have been, never could be, and never can be. We are the specific and unique manifestation and expression of The Divine, and so is everyone and everything else. And it’s not just about experiencing this truth, but it’s about how we live our lives when we’re centered in that experience. Yoga is a spiritual lifestyle, such that we are inwardly guided by God/Source/The Infinite in every single thing we do, in every single moment of every single day.

The problem is that we have forgotten the truth of who we are. We think we’re all by ourselves, alone, separate from Spirit and everyone and everything else. Why is this a problem? Because mindstate (how we’re choosing to use our mind) is everything. Mindstate doesn’t exist in a vacuum; it causes ripples of effects that that flow through our body and out into the world. Being in Yoga mindstate (experiencing our truth and inseparable unity with Source) naturally ripples out effects of calm. A tension-free mind ripples outward into a tension-free body, and outward into actions that are inwardly guided and healing in every moment. Being in separation mindstate (mired in a false sense of separation) ripples out effects of conflict and tension in the same sort of way – mind, then body, and then ultimately out into actions that are hurtful and inappropriate. Those actions finally get our attention and we think, “There’s got to be something I can do, some sort of practice, so I can make a change in myself and start living a life that’s in the flow, so I can start feeling better.”

Yoga is a something we can do. It’s both a practice of bringing ourselves back into the experience of the truth and it’s also the state of experiencing the truth that has been here all along while we were off forgetting. So, this experience of feeling our conscious unity with All That Is, and letting it guide us through our daily lives is called Yoga and the practices that we can do in order to get back into that mindstate of truth is also called Yoga. Yoga is anything we do to bring ourselves back into the experience of Yoga. There are many ways and practices to do this, most of which don’t even have anything to with a yoga pose. In fact, everything we do can become a practice, a means, of feeling Unity Consciousness.

But here’s the thing: It’s not about the practices. The practices are simply a means to a greater end. The practices are only there to get us back into the remembrance of the experience of truth so we can live it. If we pledge allegiance to the practices only, if we glorify the means only, then we’ll miss the whole point of what the practices are for. You can do asana all day long and never do any actual Yoga. You can do Yoga all day long (which is the whole point of all the practices) and never do any asana.

This idea was not well represented in the books and video tapes I studied back in the 90’s, and it doesn’t seem well represented in the way most people learn about yoga today: the internet. A quick search on “yoga” brings up studios in my town, articles on best poses for beginners, yoga for weight loss, and image after image of people doing asana, mostly highly contorted asana. With yoga gaining such huge popularity, which is wonderful, I wonder if these images – often of white, thin women in expensive outfits doing what looks like gymnastics on a sunset beach – is representative of what yoga really is about?

I love JP Sears’ videos. In his video called “How to Meditate” he says this about meditation, though it can be easily applied to asana: “You’ve got to post pictures of yourself meditating on social media… 100% of all people will rightfully assume that an innocent bystander was walking by and they were so taken aback by the powerful tranquility of your meditation that they couldn’t help themselves but to take a picture of this natural wonder… If a tree falls in the forest and nobody’s there to hear it, does it make a sound? If you meditate and nobody sees a picture of it, did you really meditate?”

Since our world is becoming increasingly visual, I think it would be so great to have some accurate representations of real people doing Yoga, for real, not people just doing asana for the camera. What would that look like? Certainly not glamorous, exciting, or sexy enough to get many Instagram likes. From the outside, living the Yoga looks just like doing the ordinary things that you do in your day – drinking coffee, eating lunch, being at your job, picking up the kids, working things out with your spouse or partner, laughing, crying, looking at the sunset, feeding the dog. However, on the inside, it’s radically different. It feels like living a life that’s in the flow of universal harmony. It feels like being tuned into the listening state as we go about our daily live, following the feeling of rightness in every morphing moment. It feels vulnerable, finding the courage to rest in uncertainty and trust things that we cannot yet see. Someone scrolling through images of that in a news feed likely wouldn’t even stop.

I’m not saying that pictures of asana aren’t helpful or interesting to look at, because they certainly can be, but asana is just one of an infinite array of means, not an end unto itself. It would be so wonderful to see the means less glorified and the end – living a spiritually guided life – more talked about and represented and elevated. Completely unexciting on the outside, but man, what an incredible inner experience.

IMG_5302 2Here’s my first ever Yoga selfie. I took it this morning. Here I am, doing Yoga, for real. I’m centered in it, feeling the unity, feeling my truth, listening ears open for what I need to know, looking out at the light in the back yard. I’m drinking coffee from my Bob Ross mug. I often use Bob Ross analogies when teaching and a student gifted me with this mug and a box of Bob Ross bandaids that say “No mistakes, just happy accidents.” I’m wearing my robe. No makeup. I haven’t even brushed my hair or my teeth. That’s Yoga? Oh yeah… that’s Yoga.




The Fertile Ground of Questions: “How Do You Let Go of a Grudge?”

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At the beginning of every class or workshop that I’m teaching, I always start with something like this: “Does anyone have a question or anything they’d like to talk about?”

This is an homage to my teacher, dear friend, and Freedom Yoga pioneer, Erich Schiffmann. When Erich had just turned 20, he was in India studying with TKV Desikachar, the son of Krishnamacharya, who was perhaps the most influential yoga teacher of our time. Krishnamacharya was the teacher of Pattabhi Jois (who founded the Ashtanga system), teacher of BKS Iyengar (who founded the Iyengar system), and, of course, teacher of Desikachar (who founded the Viniyoga system). Erich would ride his bike to Krishnamacharya’s house, salute the guru himself on the front porch, and continue inside for is private lesson with Desikachar. Can you imagine that? It gives me chills just thinking about it.

Their sessions would open with Desikachar apparently engaging in “small talk,” until one day Erich finally realized the lessons would not really begin until he asked a Yoga-related question of Desikachar. Once he did, the teachings opened and flowed directly from what Erich wanted to learn, what he was interested in. The teachings became pertinent to the moment, rather than planned in advance; something that would carry through Erich’s own teachings and become a foundational element for what would later become known as Freedom Yoga.

So, this is how I began all of my classes. I love it because it keeps the tradition of the lineage alive, but more importantly, it creates a fertile ground and organic space for Spirit-led spontaneity to occur. The discussions that result are incredible; rich with gems of learning and insights that none of us could have orchestrated by ourselves.

Yesterday in class, I asked the question, as I always do. These questions don’t revolve around asana specifics – how to put our arms or legs in a yoga pose. We’re interested in talking about how to live the Yoga, which is the whole point of all the Yoga practices, mat and non-mat based. The deeper you go into living the Yoga, the more questions arise, as they should: “What’s really going on? What’s the truth?” After I asked the question, there was some silence, as there often is, as we ponder what’s on our hearts. I thought it might be a day where no one wanted to say anything, because sometimes that happens. Then a student asked,” How do you let go of holding a grudge?”

What a great question.

We hear a lot in the so-called yoga world and a whole lot in the religious world about “just let it go.” Turn the other cheek. Be humble. Forgive. Love. Just be the light. Be the bliss. Send peace to everyone. Yes, all that sounds great, but what are we to do with intense feelings of anger and resentment as they arise? Because they will. Emotions – the ones we like and the ones we don’t like – are the water to our souls; a necessary element to our inner fluidity. They shift in and out, like the weather, and arise to help us take a particular action in a situation. We’re often told that anger is a useless emotions and is just plain wrong to feel – it’s not lady-like, not yoga-like, not Christian-like, or whatever-like. So when anger arises and resentment stirs, the tendency is to think that we’re just not good enough at yoga or good enough at fill-in-the-blank to be able to rise above the so-called “negative emotions” and live in the constancy of bliss and peace.

What I know with my years of boundary work is that anger and resentment are always clear signs that we need to strengthen a boundary somewhere. That means we need to say “no” to something so that we say “yes” to the important something that we value and need to protect. And here’s the big insight for me: if my boundary is weak, then my power is draining away from me. Anger and resentment are signs of disempowerment. If I’m in the space of resentment, churning around about what that one did to me, thinking about all the ways it was wrong and all the ways I want to get back at them…then I have let that person become my higher power. Instead of keeping the focus on myself, my thoughts, my feelings, my behaviors, and my higher power (all of which keeps me empowered), I let my energy seep out to the person that I’m resenting. It becomes an obsession and all focus and power shifts away from me onto the other.

In my view, getting better at yoga means not rising above emotions into some heady idealized platitude, but coming down from the head into the heart…and being willing to stay and listen to what the heart wants to tell us. It means getting our hands dirty in the messiness of being divinely human, of being perfectly imperfect. It means shifting out of thinking and going deep into feeling.

So, how to get from the heady “let it go” to an actual action of letting it go? In other words, how can we get into the space of real forgiveness – not condoning what the other did, necessarily, but releasing the grip that it has over us? The heart is the space where true forgiveness happens…not the head. A little mantra I’ve learned over the years that really helps me is this: “The only way out is through.”We’ve got to come down and feel. That’s the only way through.

What helps me come down from the head and into the heart, into the healing, feeling space, is to immerse myself in anything creative, and not hold back at all. I recently dealt with a situation where I was in the place of resentment, thinking I had been wronged, and the state of victim-hood was eating me alive. I wasn’t sleeping, I was on edge; I felt horrible. Finally, I remembered…ah, creativity. I got out a canvas and some paints and painted exactly what I felt. I let my heart pour what it wanted to say onto the canvas without thinking about it. It wasn’t a pretty painting – it was mostly black with very dark colors – but it was such a satisfying and cathartic painting to make. The heart doesn’t tell itself that if it were a better yogi, it wouldn’t be feeling this or that. The heart is always true. Even if the reaction of the resentment is not logically accurate, it’s real to the heart. After I finished painting, I picked up my guitar, went into my yoga room, and wrote a song called “I’m not over it.” I wasn’t over it, like I thought I was. I couldn’t “head” my way out of it. The only way out was through and the only way to find movement through was to feel.

Honest journaling is another great tool. When I feel jealousy creeping in, resentment starting to swirl, or any other red flag of powerlessness starting to arise, I get my journal. In the safety and privacy of those pages, I pour out all the petty grievances and ways that I’ve been wronged, how “this always happens to me,” and how I am a total victim. I pull no punches of writing down exactly how I feel, as petty and kindergarten-level as it usually is. I don’t edit anything; this is simply an exercise in letting the heart be heard. No one ever sees these entries. This is deep heart work just for me. When I put the grievances (as embarrassing it is to read) on paper – or on a canvas or in a song – they move, they flow, they exit. And once they are given expression in a healthy way, I can then begin to use my executive functions of thinking to look at what’s happened: what was really going on here and what is important for me to learn? I can’t truly get to that place until I feel first. Any attempt to circumvent feeling and try to rationalize the feelings away only result in my being caught in an eddy that keeps me from flowing onward.

This process feels to me like weeding an overgrown garden: getting down on my knees, with my hands in the dirt, feeling the coolness of the earth, pulling up the weeds from the roots, and making space for something new to grow. From there, I can plant the seeds of something different, water it, and watch it sprout and eventually flower into something that is always a beautiful surprise. To me, that’s Yoga; being present to this ever-changing process of presence, in this body, on this planet – and creating the space to really wonder about it all, question it, discuss it, and formulate new questions. That keeps the Yoga real for me. It keeps me in an ongoing state of learning, open to infinite possibilities, grounded in inner guidance, and anchored in courage and self-trust so I can inch more closely into the full expression of the real me.

Not My Chicken: Reclaiming Your Power

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“Summer Camp for Adults”; “Not My Chicken”; “You Are Sooo Good Looking!”…  just 3 of the things that come to mind often after attending Carie’s 2018 Be The Real You retreat at Feathered Pipe Ranch. You had to be there to know, to feel, to grow. Carie has hit her stride.  2019 will be awesome! Soul Food for sure!”

 ~ CM, Washington, 2018 retreat attendee


I am so grateful this testimonial from one of my Feathered Pipe friends. I really love it because it speaks to the often unconventional nature of my teaching style and to the kind of fun that we have together in Montana. “Summer Camp for Adults” is something that folks were saying at our retreat last August that stuck during our week. That one is pretty straightforward, but the other two sayings require some explanation.

“You are soooo good looking” is a little Seinfeld joke that I use in class. In one of the episodes of the show, Jerry thought how nice it would be instead of saying “bless you” when someone sneezes, to say, “You are soooo good looking.” I mean, we just don’t hear it enough, right? So I do that in class when someone sneezes and now, my students do it to me when I sneeze. At Feathered Pipe last summer, we were all saying it in unison to the designated sneezer. It’s funny, we all laugh, and it lifts us out of the “yoga should be serious business” attitude, bringing us back to a place of natural lightness and childlike fun.

And what’s this about “not my chicken?”  Ah. This one is good.

Back in 2009, I began a life-changing addition to my yoga journey: 12-step recovery from co-dependency. Over these past 10 years I have learned to empower myself from within, instead of looking outward to others to provide my worth and my truth. I’ve learned how to own my voice and my opinions, especially when they differ from others’ voices and opinions. Most importantly, I’ve learned what boundaries are and how to set them. I now clearly know where I end and someone else begins, which helps me to know what I’m responsible for: my feelings and my choices only; not anyone else’s. And one of the biggest things I’ve learned about boundaries is that others’ problems are not mine to fix.

When I started this work, I had never heard the word “boundaries” before. When I was deep into my co-dependent patterns, I became entangled in everyone else’s issues, such that it felt like everything was my problem to fix. I felt responsible for other people’s feelings. If someone was angry with me, it was my fault. If someone was sad, it was my job to cheer them up. If someone was going through a hard time, it was up to me to figure out their solutions for them. Living with weak and/or non-existent boundaries is completely dis-empowering; I gave my power over to everyone and everything else.

Through recovery, I learned a very important phrase that changed everything for me: “It’s not my problem.” The healing and self-affirming words of “it’s not my problem” allowed me to put the pause on the pattern I was mired in, step back and detach, and realize that this issue is someone else’s and not mine.

I now have another phrase for “It’s not my problem.” I’ve taught it to my students and use it in class all the time. I’ve taught it to my friends, my kids, and my husband, Bill. It’s a perfect, incognito, boundary-needed-now phrase: “It’s not my chicken.”

But you have to know the story.

In 2011, I think it was, I was in Ojai, California with my dear friend, Stacie for the Ojai Yoga Crib, a lovely weekend yoga event. We were on our way to the Saturday evening kirtan with Sean Johnson and the Wild Lotus Band. I had done an 8-day bhakti immersion with Sean and the band in New Orleans that spring and had been telling Stacie and another dear friend, Pat, how fabulous the kirtan was going to be. I was super excited about it. The three of us were off to grab a quick dinner before the kirtan and stopped in at the local hippy health food store, Rainbow Bridge.

We got some dinner from the store deli and sat down at a table near a big window that looked out onto the sidewalk and street. A woman wearing a long coat, looking quite disheveled, was walking back and forth carrying a chicken. Now this would not be the norm for Texas, but hey, when I’m in California I see all sorts of things, so I kind of brushed it off: “Ok…a woman with a chicken is walking back and forth in front of my window while I’m eating dinner. Right, I’m in California.” My initial thought, though, was that she was probably homeless.

Well, a few minutes later, she appeared in the store with a man and sat at a table right next to us. With the chicken. And she was petting the chicken. When I tell this story live, I grit my teeth when I say “petting” because she was really gripping the chicken and petting him (or her?) with quite a lot of force. More force than I would use when petting a chicken. If I were to pet a chicken while seated in a restaurant, that is…

At this point, I was really trying to ignore her and stay grounded. I was fearful that I might witness something awful happen to the chicken. Mostly, I was trying to avoid eye contact with Stacie because if that happened, even for a microsecond, we would break out in uncontrollable laughter. I didn’t want to be rude. I didn’t want to make a scene. But it was just so weird. I mean, here I am in California, in this hippy store, and there’s a bizarre lady right there with a chicken in her lap. What was she going to do? “Focus on the kirtan, Carie” I thought. “Stacie and Pat aren’t even noticing the chicken anyway.”

We finished our dinner and walked silently to the car, parked just a few feet away. We got in, Stacie started the car and said the line worth a million dollars: “Whew… I’m glad that’s not my chicken.” Then the uncontrollable laughter started. We realized it was the perfect code phrase to “it’s not my problem!” “It’s not my chicken!!”

“Not my chicken.” It’s so funny, it makes me laugh – I’m even laughing now as I’m writing. It’s such an ideal, light-hearted way to tell myself I need to set a boundary, and it’s an easy way to remind someone that I care about to set a boundary. Bill uses it with me all the time: “Carie, it’s not your chicken.” He will even say to me, “Carie…you’re looking for a chicken,” when I start to get entangled in someone else’s problem. It’s not my chicken. It’s just not.

And I pull these things into class because Yoga isn’t about getting better at dog pose, or taking a better picture of yourself in dog pose, or getting a cuter outfit for your better picture of dog pose. Yoga is a way of life, being consciously connected to Spirit as we walk through our lives, listening for guidance on how to do all that we do. And all that we do is not always easy. It’s important for me as a teacher to share my struggles as well as my strengths. I’m still learning and growing; we’re all doing that together. I surely don’t have it all figured out. Nobody does. And when I forget that and start thinking I have all the answers, I can slide in the words “it’s not my chicken” and quickly shift into the space of allowing someone else the dignity of being on their own path.


If you’re interested in coming on retreat with us in 2019, we’ll be at the Feathered Pipe Ranch in Montana June 22-29 for a week called Soul Food:  A Celebration of Freedom and Authenticity. All the information and retreat details are here. It’s going to be an incredible week and I’d love to have you be a part. 





Soft Peace and Childlike Wonder


As I write, it’s December 23, 2019. We’re fully into the “holiday season” and the big day is almost upon us. And, I think for the first time ever in my entire life, I am calm, completely at peace, and immersed in joyful simplicity.

Typically, what I call the “holiday season,” the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas, is the hardest time of the year for me. It’s historically been the season of getting together with dysfunctional family members that I would ordinarily never choose to spend time with, and being around all the chaos that comes with that. In order to quell the inevitable turmoil, my old pattern of controlling perfectionism kicks into high gear, agonizing over the absolute best presents for people, wrapping them in the most beautiful paper and ribbons, having a fully decorated house, a gorgeous tree, and flawless family portraits to send out. It’s so ridiculous. And stressful and tense and awful. And then, to top it off, there is the issue of the incongruous square-peg-in-a-round-hole fit of my spirituality into religious dogma. I’ve never believed the Christmas story of Jesus’ birth to be actual fact, but rather a metaphorical and mythological story, somehow pointing the way to something much deeper than the “facts” presented in various churches I have attended.

So, every year, right before Thanksgiving, the “here we go again” brain grooves of the holiday season start running. Even though many of those dysfunctional family members have passed on and aren’t even in my current holiday season experience, the grooves are so deep that they’re still there and my awareness slides easily into them, like a needle on a vinyl record, playing the same tune the same way.

This year, I decided to create some new brain grooves.

I decided to have a 4-week “calm and centered for the holidays” class; 4 weeks of discussions, study, and practices to keep us anchored and grounded in this difficult time for many. I wanted to be intentional in walking through these holiday weeks in the spirit of exploration and change and wanted to walk through them in the divine company of the amazing people in my Freedom Yoga community. We began the Monday right after Thanksgiving and finished last week.

When I decided to create the class, I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do. Over my 20-plus years of being involved with Yoga, I have learned that “I don’t know” is the preferred place, the desired space I want to occupy when I’m opening myself to guidance and allowing something new to be created. Letting go of what I think I know is paramount to creation flowing in. And what came in really surprised me.

The vision came to revolve the 4-week class around the 4 weeks of Advent, as told in the Godly Play Advent story. Godly Play is an early childhood Montessori-based curriculum that I taught in the Episcopal Church a long time ago when my children were very young. It involves mystery and wondering, with the knowledge that children are still very close to their innate sense of the presence of God all around them.

The guidance communicated to me was that in order to create new brain grooves for the holiday season, I would need to enter into the mystery of this holiday season like a little child. I would need to let go of everything I thought I knew and dive fully into the gift of the present…the now…and be taught anew.

I had forgotten how special the Godly Play Advent story is. I borrowed the materials from the Episcopal school where I teach pre-K and shared the story with my new “calm and centered for the holidays” class and also one of my restorative classes, as well as two pre-K classes at school. This story is deep and profound, full of childlike mystery and wonder.

The story opens with this sentence: “Everything is changed.” It’s about the journey toward Bethlehem from four points of view: the prophets, the holy family, the shepherds, and the magi. The beauty of storytelling in the Godly Play way opens each child (or each yogi!)  to individual interpretation and deep wondering. For me, this journey toward Bethlehem represents the journey that each of us makes toward the re-emergence of the light inside ourselves, the birth of the light after a winter solstice season of darkness, quiet, and gestation. Each of us is a prophet on a hope journey, someone who listens to God and points the way for others; each of us is Joseph and Mary on a faith journey, staying the course even though it’s rough and we get tired; each of us is the shepherd, being terrified when we hear messengers of God, yet joyfully following the message; each of us is a magi, someone through whom deep spiritual wisdom flows; and…each of us is the Christ child, a gift from God to help light the world.

You can watch a beautiful version of the story here.

Week one of our class series was the prophet theme of hope and expectation. Prophets know what matter most; they look, listen, notice, and point the way for others to notice that something amazing is happening. Good things are happening and good things are coming, if only we stop and pay attention. What do you want to experience this holiday, this the new year, with a certain event? Get clear on it, make a mini vision board, draw a picture, write words, whatever it takes, and put this up where you can see it every day. Take time to do a noticing practice – pause all movement and thoughts and listen to a piece of music, light a candle and really watch the light, or simply get outside and look at the world like a little kid would, being wowed by everything. One night during the prophet week, I was sitting outside on my porch, noticing the world, looking at the light on the leaves, the shadows, the colors, and just before I went inside, a great horned owl swooped down in front of me and landed in the top of the tree beside me. I couldn’t believe it. I never would have seen her if I hadn’t been out there sitting quietly, noticing the world in soft peace…which were my hope/expectation words for what I wanted to experience this holiday season.

Week two was the holy family week of faith.When we know what we’re looking for and expecting good things, then our faith becomes strong. We begin to have confidence that good things are gestating, coming our way. We’re able to rest in the expectation and hope, even when things are hard or don’t make sense. We’re able to persevere and keep going with trust and patience. Part of this faith journey involves knowing when you need to stop and rest and feed your soul. What kinds of things feed your soul? What things do you love doing that help you draw strength from Spirit? During this week, we incorporated a few practices to feed the soul: simplicity – make one batch of cookies instead of 10; do one thing at a time, get out in nature every day, immerse in silence at some point every day. This year, I put up the tree only. My husband and I agreed to give one gift only, under $20. Instead of presents everywhere under the tree, like usual, there is one present only for each recipient. It’s enough. It’s so nice. Oh, and that flawless Christmas portrait this year? It was taken on a phone in the spur of the moment, before we left to take my son and his girlfriend to the airport. I’m wearing sweats and my hair had been up in a ponytail all day. It’s fine and I didn’t stress one little bit about it. In fact, soft peace was happening.

Week three of our journey was the shepherd week of joy. When the hope is clear, the faith is strong. When the faith is strong, we experience a feeling of subtle joy; a sense of well-being and a beautiful feeling of oneness with everything. We have the image of the shepherds out in the fields, keeping watch over their sheep when suddenly a bright light appears in the sky that scared them half to death and voices, which scared them even more. “Don’t be afraid,” the angels said. “Run and go see what has happened and tell the world.” These themes of staying awake and being present are hugely important in allowing joy to flow through us. If the shepherds were out in their fields on their phones, texting away like most of us do constantly, they would have missed everything, the whole mysterious miracle. Not only that, but this joy journey of the shepherds, and this place everyone was traveling toward, wasn’t a palace or the Hilton. It was a barn with a dirt floor and animals all around. What could be simpler? As much as we chase joy and try to find it “out there,” as soon as we slow down, become present, notice the more of what’s in our experience, and simplify…there it is…because joy is our natural state. And when you know what to look for, when you know the state of mind required to feel it, you’ll see and feel more of it. I was certainly feeling more of it.

Week four was the magi week of wisdom. Plato once said, “I am the wisest man alive…for I know one thing and that is that I know nothing.” Wisdom has everything to do with surrender, with letting go of that which we hold onto so tightly: knowing and being right. It’s only when we are able to rest in the place of “I don’t know” that they mystery of divine wisdom flows into our awareness. Spiritual wisdom is mystical; that is, it only comes from direct experience. It’s soft and quiet, like snow falling. Simple. Natural. And the whole point of spiritual wisdom, inner guidance, intuition, is to dare to follow it, to put it into action. So take time to meditate, to pay attention to what The Universe is guiding you to do. Nothing could be more important. Week four of the holiday season and I couldn’t believe how good I was feeling.

Of course, the last part of the story is the birth of the Christ light. Our light. The light of The Infinite as it comes up through us, guiding us, giving us joy, faith to rest in the mystery, and so much hope.

Presenting this child’s version of the Christmas story to my yoga class and revolving the class series around it was completely unexpected. Somehow, it allowed me to bypass the religious story that I never really identified with and helped me enter into the mystery of something so deep and profound: the light within myself. New brain grooves have definitely been created and I feel amazing; clear, buoyant, and just fully me. I never would have thought it possible to experience such a new thing at this time of year: real hope, strong faith, actual joy, deep wisdom and, of course, soft peace.   

The Georgia Blessing

When our daughter was a senior in high school in 2015, a friend of hers had a cat that had kittens. I knew what was coming the day we went over there to look at those adorable little kitties. We finally gave into the begging and pleading to bring one of the kittens home: the sweet little Addie Cat.

We love cats, but we have two dachshunds, Duke and Daisy, who would really enjoy killing a cat, as well as any other animal that might come into the yard, much less the house. We worked out a system for Addie to stay upstairs and to come downstairs only when the dogs were out. Then we trained Addie to start being able to go outside into the world. She would come right away when we called her name, usually dropping down from one of the huge oak trees in our yard. The dogs constantly barked at her through the doors and partitions that always separated them. And there was the time when she jumped out of our arms and, like supercharged lightening, Duke chased her up the stairs and had her pinned to a wall with his teeth. It was a bit stressful at times, but we grew to love Addie and she was part of our family.

When she neared her first birthday, she started getting sick. She would meow strangely when I picked her up and she soon began to be in a lot of pain. The vet did tests and noticed her white blood cells were oddly high. None of the medicines seemed to help and she was getting worse – not eating, not drinking, and not wanting to be touched at all. We finally took her to the vet school here and she was diagnosed with lymphoma. It was such a sad day. We ended up deciding to free her from the intense pain she was living with and chose to let her go on from this life. It was gut-wrenching awful. She was the sweetest, most loving little kitty girl we had ever known.

For weeks I cried and cried and sobbed and sobbed. I even made a grief altar, with pictures of her on it, her favorite toys, her collar, and some candles. That really helped me dive into the grief and let it move through me.

Interestingly, just a couple of days after Addie passed, I noticed some cats appearing in the yard. They would just sit in the grass, looking out at the world, like little sentries keeping watch. It was almost as though they knew what happened and were showing up to give me some comfort that Addie was okay. They seemed to be telling me very clearly that Addie thanks us for freeing her and sends her love. It did not seem coincidental at all, to me.

One cat, in particular, a little black and white kitty with gorgeous amber eyes (whose
markings are called a tuxedo cat, I later learned) started showing up next to the house, behind the shrubs near the front porch. She was a little ragged-looking and even had a bit of her ear missing, which I guessed was from a fight of some sort. She was so fearful and skittish; when she saw me in the window she would look terrified and run away. She also looked really hungry. Of course, I still had lots of cat food – even several cans of the epic primo wet food that we gave Addie. So I put some of that out on a little dish and put it out for her. Peeking out of the window, I could see her creep up anxiously and scarf down the food. Every time she’d see me, though, she would bolt.

After a few months, she was coming up to the back porch to eat, and after a couple more months, she would even come up when I was sitting there. I’ll never forget the day when she let me reach over and put my hand on her while she ate. She did nip at me quite a bit at first– not too hard – but would tug on my clothes with her teeth, which earned her the name “Bitey.” It wasn’t the most endearing name, so I finally decided to call her Georgia. She would come when I called her and, very interestingly, she’d often drop down out of one of the big oaks.

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Georgia this afternoon, happy to have her picture taken.

She brought another friend along, a cat that looks so nearly identical to Addie that I named her Grace (aka Gracie). Interestingly, she had a ragged ear, too. A friend told me that these cats were ferals and had been part of a trap/neuter/release program in town. The ear nick was a sign that the cats had been spayed or neutered. In spite of my firm insistence of feeding and loving two cats only and no more, soon we were feeding Sandstorm, then Melon, then Black Jack, then Little Jack Black. We have six ferals now that we feed and love. But Georgia is my favorite.

I was thinking about all of this today because just a few minutes ago, Georgia and I were sitting out on my deck and she was sleeping in my lap. I noticed she was walking around out back, so I went out, sat down in the chair, and she jumped up in my lap, curled up, and started the purr motor. She has no idea what a blessing she is to me. That little one has healed all the holes in my heart that were gaping open when Addie left us. I never, ever take these moments when she sits with me for granted. Every time she comes when I call her and every time she sits in my lap it just feels like I’ve been sprinkled with the magic dust of remembering and knowing, without a doubt, that Spirit/God/Source is real, that there is an Infinite Love at work, and that miracles really do happen. All I have to do is look around to experience it. It’s usually in the simple things right in front of me.

We sat there together for a good half hour. I was a little cold, but it was so lovely to just be there with her, looking at the changing leaves, breathing in the air, feeling our sweet connection. Nowhere to go and nothing else to do, except receive the miracle of divine love, right here on my lap and all around me all the time.

I am grateful for so many things, but especially today for this blessing of simplicity, this blessing of Georgia, My Georgia. A normal, everyday occurrence in the world like a cat on a lap doesn’t seem like such a big deal, but wow – it’s a huge deal, for me. I’m so glad I said “yes” to the invitation to slow down and feel that wow and remember that there is so much more going on that I’m aware of most of the time, and that the magic dust is actually always sprinkling…if only I slow down to notice it.

Keeping the Magic Going

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A few weeks ago, I returned from an amazing and life-changing week at the Feathered Pipe Ranch. This was my 16th annual trip to the ranch. Being there feeds my soul; it’s part of who I am. Every year feels transformative, but this year was different: I am deeply and profoundly changed. Our group gathered together from across the country and created one of the most amazing weeks I’ve ever experienced. We discussed, meditated, and explored Freedom Yoga in various creative ways, both on and off the mat. We helped each other to relax into uncertainty and spontaneity; we opened ourselves to inner guidance and infinite possibilities; and bravely let Creation move through us in everything we did all week long. We laughed, we cried, sang, danced, shared stories, and became the living art. We even painted our faces and chanted on a mountaintop; an epic experience I will never forget. But most of all, we let our true selves come to the surface and shine. We let ourselves be seen. I feel so real and so fully me; in fact, more so than I’ve ever felt in my whole life.

Many of my local students came on the retreat with me, which was a dream come true. Last week in class we had a wonderful discussion about keeping the retreat experience going. One student mentioned how fully authentic and real she has felt since returning home, and how things are flowing so nicely in her life. Then she voiced her worry and concern that all of this would soon go away in a few months and she’d be back to the way she was before the retreat. “How do I keep this going?” she asked.

One of the amazing and healing things about going on retreat, especially being at the sacred land of the Feathered Pipe Ranch, is that you have the opportunity to fully immerse yourself in remembering who you are. Many of the typical things that we employ in our daily lives to keep us locked in a perpetual state of forgetfulness are removed for a whole week, such as driving to work, dealing with everything that the 40168277_10215243438033620_6399218928479895552_nworkday brings, the incessant multi-tasking, figuring out what to make for dinner, etc. During the retreat week all of that is gone. There is nowhere to go and nothing to do except slow way down, turn inward, stay with the experience, let the unbelievable beauty wash over you, and watch your natural joy and childlike wonder bubble up to the surface as you start laughing more and being wowed by everything around you.

And then, at the end of the week, we take this profound, magical mountaintop experience of spiritual awakening and assimilate it back into our daily lives at home. This can be quite bumpy, which is why it’s often called “re-entry.” It’s difficult to come back into the world of forgetfulness and its accompanying tension and stress, when you’re wide open and in a full state of remembrance. The contrast, which we don’t usually notice, feels huge after a fully immersive retreat experience. The question becomes: How do we come down off the mountaintop experience and go back into the valley of everyday life without losing ourselves again? How do we keep the magic going?

A similar phenomenon happens when we go to our regular yoga classes, too, but on a much smaller scale. We leave all the “stuff” behind for a little while and after class we feel so great, so genuine and full, but then we’re often back to habitual tension of forgetfulness as soon as we put the key into the ignition to go home. In fact, I’ve been asked this same sort of question in class many times: How do you keep this experience going when you go back out into the “real world?”

Whether we’re talking about a fully immersive retreat or simply being in a great class for an hour, the answer to keeping it going is this: you do Yoga. I’m not talking about asana, the yoga poses that you do on a mat, which have become inaccurately synonymous with the word Yoga. Rather, I’m talking about capital-Y Yoga: conscious unity with Infinity. Yoga is the art of living a spiritually connected and guided-from-within life. It’s about remembering who you are: the specific and unique self-expression of The All, and letting that flow through you freely.  The trick is keep that going. Remembrance of the truth and living life from the fullness of that perspective is what’s real; it’s the real world. It’s the thing to keep coming back to, again and again, as many times a day as you’re able.

When we come off the mountain and go home, that’s the real world, too. There’s no “real world” and “unreal world.” There’s the real world only, experienced either clearly or unclearly. The difference in the experience is not caused by external sources, but rather the internal choice that we make of remembrance of forgetfulness. There is no force outside of ourselves that will come and take away the transformative experience that we have encountered on the mountaintop. There isn’t a black cloud that will eventually sweep over us, stealing our sunshine. The change in experience, which seems dependent on our location or the company we’re with, is simply the result of a choice that we ourselves make. And every choice is either built on the foundation of remembering our divinity or forgetting it. Each choice ripples out effects that we can feel and experience. So, if we’re not sure if we’re remembering or forgetting, all we have to do is look at what we’re experiencing – calm and peace, or tension and conflict?

Therefore, the power to keep the mountaintop experience of remembrance (of Yoga) going, as we go about our daily lives, lies within ourselves. Living the Yoga, remembering who we are, feeling the effects of calm and peace and being ourselves fully, is our natural state that’s empowered from within. We actually don’t have to do anything to keep it going; we simply just have to stop doing the forgetting.

For many years in my teaching, I have worked with something I call the “minimum edge.” In the asana practice on the mat, I encourage students to become skillful at finding the minimum edge in the pose, to be right there where change is just starting to occur, where you can just begin to feel the outer sensation of the stretch, for example. In that place, we immerse ourselves in the feeling of rightness and then practice following it in, wherever it leads, in minimum edge increments by minimum edge increments. This makes one extremely sensitive in the body, really being able to feel change as it’s happening, rather than after it’s already happened.

This is a great tool for coming back into the conscious experience of Yoga, but can be applied in reverse, as well. When we start to lose the experience of Yoga, the experience of remembering who we are, and begin sliding back into forgetful-world, it’s a process, a movement. You will begin to feel the minimum edges of changing sensation as you morph your way out of rightness. You will begin to feel the outer edges of dissonance, the very beginnings of conflict, of wrongness. The trick is to then catch yourself right there. You’re in the very center of the choice moment. You can continue to go down Forgetful Road if you want – the choice is yours and yours alone. With each step you continue to take forward down the road, the feedback of effects will increase. If you keep walking and disregard the feedback of effects, they will have to intensify quite a lot before they get your attention. Finally, you’ll be a tense, stressed-out mess, thinking, “Yeah, I knew that amazing feeling I had was too good to be true.”

The power is in the pause. Stop. Breathe. Feel. Ask yourself, “What is the quality of my inner experience right now? What am I choosing for – remembrance or forgetfulness?” The full-body pausing practice of seated meditation really helps to cultivate the ability to slow down and stay in the experience of remembrance, so that we learn to stay less in the experience of forgetfulness. With practice, you can access this ability to check in with yourself in moments of natural pause during the day, like the red light, or standing in the kitchen waiting for the microwave to ding. And, with practice, what I’ve found is that all the moments of pausing and remembering link together so that now, I have way less of a “re-entry” experience than I used to have. I’ve learned that the quality of my experience, which seems dependent on external factors outside myself, is actually entirely dependent entirely upon what I’m doing internally with my awareness. This is hugely empowering! It’s up to us. No one and nothing can take away the shiny radiance that we feel when we’re on retreat or even when we’re in a great class. All we have to do is keep on doing the Yoga.


I would love for you to join me at the Feathered Pipe Ranch June 22-29, 2019 for another magical week of Freedom Yoga, authenticity, laughter, community, and creativity. This is a life-changing week that will feed your soul. All the details are here: https://featheredpipe.com/feathered_retreats/freedom-yoga-retreat-2019/




The Leap of Faith


This picture says it all.

This is how I feel when I’m at the Feathered Pipe Ranch. This moment was from several years ago, during one of our July retreats with Erich Schiffmann. I say “our” because being at the ranch with Erich and all of my dear friends whom I’ve met there over the past 15 years, was always like a family reunion every summer. I’m so grateful to my friend, Robyn Gibson, for capturing this moment of something we used to love to do at the ranch: swinging on the rope swing.

This was a big, giant – I mean giant – rope swing that was attached to a cable between two huge pine trees, where you could swing out over the lake, let go, and drop into the water. Some of us realized that even if we didn’t want to drop into the water, we could swing on it anyway. It always took us a few days to work up to getting on the swing because it was so damn scary. We had to walk by it and look at it and give ourselves time to muster up our courage to get back on it. Usually, by the third or fourth day, we were ready.

Now, there’s a lot you can see in this picture up there, but there’s also a whole lot you can’t see. For starters, the length of the rope and the height of the attachment to the cable. The rope was really long and the attachment was very high up. Those big, tall, supporting pine trees would sway and flex every time someone was swinging. Secondly, I don’t know exactly how tall that ladder was behind me, but those first six rungs or so in the picture were just the bottom part! The entire ladder was very tall and had a little square plywood platform on top for standing – or, more accurately, for getting up your courage to jump off.  This is why it always took several days before we were “swing ready.” Plus, did I mention you swing right down through those huge pine trees out over the lake?

So, on the designated day at the appointed time, the swingers would gather over at the ladder. Who was going to go first this year? With a smile, you’d grab the bottom knot of the rope and hold it while make your way up those sacred ladder rungs.

Now, this was scary in itself because with each rise of a rung, there would be a little more tug from the rope. The higher you went, the bigger the tug forward. So, I’d go up a few rungs, sit there, look out over the lake and feel that ever-increasing fear with the ever-increasing tug of the rope. Then, I’d go up a few more. Wait. Feel my heart rate increasing. Then (and my palms are actually sweating right now, just thinking about it)…I’d creep up to the top platform, staying small, keeping my center of gravity low and then s l o w l y stand up. Oh my God. It’s such an exhilaratingly terrifying place to stand. I mean, I’m on a shaky board ladder, on a tiny little perch way, way up there, knees bent, leaning forward, feeling the strong pull now of the rope, beckoning me to let go and jump…and there’s the lake and everyone else way down there….

The only requirement now is to let go of the thinking. I mean, all I have to do is jump and I will naturally land on top of the little wooden seat that’s hanging down out there, several feel in front of me. It’s not a thinking activity. My body knows what to do. It’s either do it or don’t do it. It’s either jump or climb back down. I have a choice. Nobody is making me jump. I want to jump. Oh God, this is soooo high…

Then, in a huge act of self-trust, I take a breath, take a leap of faith, and jump. It’s a freefall for what seems like forever, going down and down, like a giant slide between
those two huge pines, and then a graceful swoop waaay out over the lake and way up into the Montana blue sky. The scream that comes out of me is always primal and comes from the depths of my soul. It’s awesome. The swing goes back and forth – gotta be
careful not to hit the ladder on the swing back in. And then I lay out my whole body, Rope Swing.jpgletting my feet go way up into the air first, looking backward at my friends on the terra firma. (There’s Anne doing the layout.) We’re all screaming and laughing and now. The swing slows after several passes out over the lake and back and it’s easy to hop off. Well, sometimes easier than others! But wow, it’s unbelievable taking that plunge and that wonderful leap of faith.

1625801_109568486987_3495553_nThis swinging practice we had at the ranch is a whole lot like Yoga. Living an inwardly guided life, with one ear turned toward The Infinite in all we do, calls us to let go, take a leap of faith, and sometimes jump into the unknown. But when we leap, the net will always appear, just like the little wooden seat always ended up right under me, to support me and carry me out over the lake and up into the sky. And then we soar into places we never thought possible. There is nothing more freeing.

A few years later, the pine beetles took out those two massive pine trees and the swing had to be shut down. It’s open again now, with new supports and even a new ladder. I haven’t been back on it since the old days. Maybe this year, when I get to the ranch in August, I’ll give it a try. I’ll at least walk over to it and think about it for a few days and see if my courage wells up.


I invite you to join August 18-25 at the Feathered Pipe Ranch for our week-long retreat – Be the Real You: the Art of Self-Trust. This is a sublime week celebration, laughter, community, creativity, and open-hearted authenticity. We’ll explore the themes of Freedom Yoga, the practice of inner listening, courage, and deep self-trust, and give ourselves permission to color outside the lines, release comparison, and bravely be the ones we are waiting for.