FLOW: I Move Because I am Curious

By Katharine Kaufman

Katharaine Kaufman will be leading FLOW: A Meditation and Yoga Retreat, April 25-27

I start in stillness. Then I recognize I am breathing. The breath appears to be more clear—prominent. I recognize a sense of body—what is touching the ground, what is a little snug, what feels tired. Hello body. I relax my jaw and shoulders and along with this, discursive movement relaxes too. Breathe out. I am landed. Where does movement start? Mind? A reflex? Breath? I move not because I am uncomfortable and want to change my posture. I move because I am curious. I am looking for what my mentor, Barbara Dilley, calls, “kinesthetic delight.”

I open my peripheral view to the others in the room. Pretty soon we are moving through space, slowly, and somewhat together. I don’t have to hold this body up—by myself. I think of my yoga teacher, Richard Freeman who always said we can “ride the breath.” And there’s a sense of support from the group. When we slow our movement we can take care of ourselves as we enter and leave the poses. When we slow even more we don’t need to push at anything. The breath seems to carry us. Gravity seems friendly.

DSC_2289Photo by Barbara Colombo

The creative yoga sequences are funny— and there is some laughter, and a few groan as someone is challenged with how to unwind from a pose. When we enter a twisted posture it seems that the breath is all that moves. Our entire body works as a unit in strong poses. When we balance there is a tremor. Someone who usually toughs it out chooses to rest for a while and then joins a little later. So it goes—starting simply, we move into more complex poses and then return to the simplicity of sitting or standing, or lying. We have been around the block -–looked into our alleys and windows… With each sun-salutation, plank pose, and savasana we feel both the limits of our movement and the expansiveness—We know ourselves as moving beings. After all this moving it feels natural to sit, so we do.

This is what we do with our short time together. This is practice. The land supports us in our practice. The staff understands. They are friendly and gentle. Other programs support us in our practice and the practice itself supports our practice. Zen Master, Kobun Chino said, “practice is a fancy word.” It’s not special. It’s ordinary and visceral. We have the opportunity to go to the depths as well as shallows, and to let our recognition of each current exploding moment expand us.

Then there are meals –beautiful vegetarian meals —waiting for us. We walk in the springtime mountains. Are there flowers yet? I forgot. It has been a long time. Maybe there is a puffy spring snow that melts as it touches the ground.

After lunch I walk up to the stupa and around the perimeter a few times. I only hear the sound of my steps on the gravel so I try to walk more softly to match the silence. This allows me to really feel each step and swing of arms, legs. The wind shoots through the land. I realize I don’t know much about wind, this land, myself…I find this hysterical and burst out in a big laugh. When I enter the stupa I am surprised by a rush of energy and clarity as I sit, facing the mystery of who I am, what phase I am in. I feel the vulnerability of this human life. Here, I don’t need much to be satisfied.

Being removed from my habitual routes and places gives me the opportunity to look at my thoughts, body, relationships, and days from a bigger perspective. Questions arise as we move through our practice—in relationship with our own mind and body. They are questions that can be translated to our lives. I may ask, Where is space in this back bend? What flows? What is necessary? With what kind of energy and awareness am I stepping on the ground? How gracefully do I perform these stops and starts? Can I let go here—and here? Is my movement too swift for how my body really feels? The questions are enough. They don’t require answers.

Katharaine Kaufman will be leading FLOW: A Meditation and Yoga Retreat, April 25-27 — click here to learn more

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Katharine_Kaufman2Katharine Kaufman, MFA, is ordained as a priest in the Soto Zen lineage. She studied Yoga in India and practiced and taught for many years at Richard Freeman’s Yoga Workshop and Wendy Bramlett’s Studio Be. Katharine is an adjunct professor at Naropa University where she teaches Contemplative Movement Arts and is a student of poetry.

Is Today a Good Day to Die? How Meditation and Yoga Can Liberate You From Fear

 

I hope, as you read this, that you are well and free from any indications that your life will be cut short.  At the same time, I invite you to take a moment today to contemplate death.

Personally, I tend to skate by much of the time without reflecting too deeply on this inevitable aspect of life.  When I do contemplate impermanence though, the beauty and preciousness of my experience of living becomes illuminated.  So, it seems to me like something worth doing, perhaps more regularly.  Maybe you feel the same way.

In this video, Elysabeth Williamson offers some guidance for living in moment-to-moment, day-to-day relationship with our own death.  As she goes on to say later in the interview, the result can be incredibly liberating and joyful.

Watch the three minute clip below.

Click here to learn about our upcoming weekend retreat: Savasana: Exploring Our Death to Liberate Our Lives, March 13-15

If you feel inspired to deepen into this practice of contemplating impermanence and the preciousness of life, please click here to learn about the upcoming retreat that Elysabeth will be leading. 

Hear more of what Elysabeth has to say by checking out our full interview with her below. Watch the video or scroll down to stream/download the audio.

If you’d like to download the audio file, CLICK HERE and find the “Download” button. Otherwise, you can stream the audio below.

Please click here to learn about this retreat on our beautiful land in the Colorado Rockies — Savasana: Exploring Death to Liberate Our Lives 

Thank you for being connected with us — sharing this good life.

Wishing you longevity and much joy,
Travis Newbill

P.S. Here’s a photo I took of the full moon rising up from behind the eastern ridge of the SMC valley.  It’s sort of on theme with that “dead snag” in the foreground…

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PortraitTravis Newbill is a curious dude on the path of artistry, meditation, and social engagement who is very glad to be residing at Shambhala Mountain Center.  His roles within the organization include Marketing Associate and Shambhala Guide — a preliminary teaching position.  Follow Travis on twitter: @travisnewbill

In the Company of Women: Precious Knowing

By Katherine Kaufman

Shambhala Mountain Center hosts Precious Knowing: A Meditation and Yoga Retreat for Women, February 11-15, 2015

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I have the good fortune to be at the Shambhala Mountain Center at this moment so I can tell you what it is like in the winter here — at least right now. Still & quiet. Today I walked up to the ridge — maybe to get nearer to the sun. There was some trudging through snow and also big patches with no snow. I rested on an outcropping of rocks. A group of deer were close to the Stupa. They looked up at me and leapt away as if gravity were no problem. Inside the Stupa I was struck by what feels like the thickness of many years of people practicing. The good humored gentleness and authentic way of the staff feels so warming. I am called back to this place. This is one of my homes.

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My idea for the women’s retreats began from my sense that it would be great to gather, and do practices on the coldest day of the winter and the hottest day of the summer and that the retreats would reflect the seasons they are in somehow. Women particularly need gaps in routine to pause, leave their responsibilities, and have a time to reconsider where they are in their lives, and be with other women. That this is a retreat for women with emphasis on formal practices, is a big part of the title, “precious knowing.”

The Experience

Even though I have had many years to refine these retreats it still amazes me that something happens — it feels magical. We are very simply practicing together: gentle yoga, meditation, and a little improvisational movement in the afternoons. We take our naps, bundle up and walk in the forest and up to the Stupa alone and together. The group is small enough so that we can sit around a table for meals. We discuss things that are important to us, and begin to know each other in a way that is different perhaps, from our usual knowing another. In certain ways I feel like this must be how women in small villages live. It feels so natural, for women to join and support each other this way.

This particular retreat is one where I facilitate rather than impart knowledge and I also don’t see it as a training program. Although there is instruction and we are practicing ancient forms this retreat is really about participating in practices all together, as well as sharing our combined wisdom. On some level we each know what we need already. The practices of sitting, yoga, movement, and sharing help facilitate our inner knowing. Sometimes our practice requires silence, sometimes questions, sharing, laughter or an evening by the fire. Most evenings we listen as each woman has her time to share. We acknowledge our differences and find a sense of acceptance and kindness. So we do this for a few days — simple and basic. Time slows — or we — by our practice — slow time.

And from this work, and play combined with being on the land we begin to feel more of our inner experiences — something shifts in us — a crack in the view. Something that has been propped up melts, and underneath a sense of relaxation occurs. Our desire for some rest, connection, realization is simply exchanged for actual practice. We experience something tender. When we return to our homes, our ways and days, the practice and the precious knowing continues.

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Katharine_Kaufman2Katharine Kaufman, MFA, is ordained as a priest in the Soto Zen lineage. She studied Yoga in India and practiced and taught for many years at Richard Freeman’s Yoga Workshop and Wendy Bramlett’s Studio Be. Katharine is an adjunct professor at Naropa University where she teaches Contemplative Movement Arts and is a student of poetry.

Facing Death, Finding Joy: A Conversation with Elysabeth Williamson

By Travis Newbill

Elysabeth Williamson will be leading Savasana: Exploring our Death to Liberate our Lives, along with Margery McSweeney, March 13-15, 2015

Elysabeth Williamson says: “To live in moment to moment, day to day relationship with our death is maybe the most powerful practice we can do. Most people don’t want to think or talk about death and dying. And yet, just the willingness to do so, to openly face into it…the result is joy. Isn’t that kind of wild?”

Hear more of what Elysabesth has to say by checking out our recent conversation with her below. Watch the video or scroll down to stream/download the audio.

If you’d like to download the audio file, CLICK HERE and find the “Download” button. Otherwise, you can stream the audio below.

~~~

ElysabethWilliamsonElysabeth Williamson, ERYT-500, is the foremost authority on Principle-Based Partner Yoga, a style she founded and has developed since 1991. She is known for articulating and transmitting esoteric teachings in ways that are accessible and practical for everyone. She is the author of ‘The Pleasures and Principles of Partner Yoga’ and ‘Partner Yoga Touch’ digital video application.

 

Bringing Your Practice Home

By Katharine Kaufman

Shambhala Mountain Center hosts Bringing your Practice Home with Katharine Kaufman, November 21-23, 2014

Many poets, thinkers, and dreamers have talked about the inner voice, and a time of changing slightly what we are doing. The nudge leaves us trembling or is just a whisper, barely audible. At certain times in our lives there is a call to listen inwardly and be with ourselves. Maybe we are exhausted from busy days, or we feel stagnant in our yoga practice, or we can’t find time in our schedule to practice. Some of us travel and need a short daily boost. Maybe we want to devote an entire day each month to resting, sitting and yoga. Perhaps a close friend has died, or we find ourselves at a new intersection in our lives and our perspectives are changing. We might feel dull and would like to re-awaken our creative voice.

Regardless of our circumstances, the call is there—nagging perhaps, or a faint insistence that occurs in the guise of, “I need to do something differently.” It could be that our feedback comes from our circle of friends or co-workers! Small cracks in our thought habits occur, and the thought of other possibilities enter. If we are listening to this inner voice than our practice has already begun. How to continue? How can we possibly attend to practice as well as keep everything else in our lives afloat?

As we go into fall and winter we have the opportunity to be supported by the seasons toward this internal direction. This retreat is designed to inspire one’s own path.

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We will learn various ways to create yoga and meditation practices. We’ll start with this sense of what ritual is for us as individuals and then practice resting postures, and improvise from that place. We can create a practice conceptually, that has the elements we want, and repeats. We will practice the art of deep listening and let the space guide us. We may think we want one thing when we begin, and because we are listening and feeling closely, it turns into something else. We will brainstorm about where we find comfort, and delight, and think about places we can practice—conventional and not! We will sit, stand, and lie down. There will be led sequencing as well as spontaneous variations based on ancient wisdom lineages. We will consider incorporating contemplative artistic practices into our days as well such as dance, drawing, and writing.

My sense about this retreat is that the exploration and practices discovered are really ways to learn how to continue on the way of befriending, oneself. Can we take refuge; can we actually rest happily, in this rich sense of aloneness? What do we already know?

I practice by myself as well as with others. Both ways seem to me important aspects of learning of who I am and what it is to be with myself. This kind of closeness that develops creates the desire, ability, and confidence to want to be with others and our circumstances in a similar intimate way.

Here’s to listening to the small voice—our Way-seeking mind.

All Best,
~ Katharine

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Katharine_Kaufman2Katharine Kaufman, MFA, is ordained as a priest in the Soto Zen lineage. She studied Yoga in India and practiced and taught for many years at Richard Freeman’s Yoga Workshop and Wendy Bramlett’s Studio Be. Katharine is an adjunct professor at Naropa University where she teaches Contemplative Movement Arts and is a student of poetry.

 

Yoga for Every Body — Interview with De West (Audio)


Shambhala Mountain Center hosts This Moment, Beautiful Moment: Yoga for Every Body with De West, November 7–9, 2014

In De Wests yoga, participants may cultivate deep awareness of body and learn to uncoil obstructions to find greater freedom. In her rejuvenating retreats, we discover where we have developed patterns over the years. Even in the womb we favored one side or the other of our mother’s belly. Through slow, directed movements, we learn where we can focus our mind to create more energy and openness and less physical discomfort and stress — targeting our entire bodies gently rather than stressing some parts while ignoring others.

Recently, De took some time to have some discussion around these points. Please click below to her our conversation. And, if you’d like to download the audio, click here and find the “Download” button.

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De West

De West is a leader in the Boulder yoga community and is a co-director of Studio Be Yoga. Her teaching combines principles from Iyengar alignment and therapeutic yoga. As a teacher, De is insightful, intuitive, and attentive. Her years of work with osteopathic doctors allow her to apply yoga to many different people and conditions. Students leave De’s classes rejuvenated and grounded with a sense of personal and physical empowerment. Find more information about De at DeWestYoga.com.

Ancient Wisdom for the Modern Couple: The Metaphor of Ya​b-Yum

By Keith Kachtick

Keith Kachtick leads Loving Your Way to Enlightenment: Ancient Wisdom for the Modern Couple, September 12–14

In Letters to a Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke makes clear that a loving, romantic relationship is the practice for which all other mindfulness practices are the groundwork. “Love is high inducement for the individual to ripen, to become world for himself for another’s sake.” The ancient Tibetan tantric practice of Yab-Yum recognizes that romantic coupling is as an opportunity for profound spiritual awakening, a practice that invites us—deeply challenges us—to love our way to enlightenment.

Traditionally, in Buddhist thangkas and sculptures depicting Yab-Yum, the confluence of “masculine” compassion and “feminine” wisdom is presented metaphorically in the sexual union of a male deity, seated in Padmasana (lotus pose), with his female consort facing him on his lap. The symbolism is two-fold: Yab-Yum (literally “father-mother” in Tibetan) implies a mystical union of karuna and prajna within our own individual nature—the two Dharma wings that lift each of us to buddhahood; united, the two awakened beings (regardless of gender) then give birth to a romantic communion embodying the blissful, non-dual state of enlightenment.

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Much easier said than done, of course. But for anyone in a committed relationship, the Yab-Yum ideal of unconditional love—borne out of opening our hearts and fine-tuning our communication skills, as well as deepening our understanding of our partner’s needs and desires—is an opportunity and wonderful challenge to recognize and celebrate the highest in ourselves and in each other.

Ultimately, it’s all about soulful harmonizing. “We know little, but that we must hold to what is difficult is a certainty that will not forsake us,” Rilke reminds us. “It is good to be solitary, for solitude is difficult. That something is difficult must be a reason the more for us to do it. To love is good, too: love being difficult. For one human being to love another: that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation. This more human love resembles that which we have prepared for with struggle and toil all our lives: a love that consists in this, that two solitudes protect and border and salute one another.”

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Also, be sure to check out our recent interview with Camilla Figueroa: Loving Your Way to Enlightenment: Discussing Relationships and Spirituality

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Keith-KachtickKeith Kachtick, founder of Dharma Yoga, has taught meditation and yoga worldwide since 1999. Keith writes for Yoga Journal and is author of You Are Not Here & Other Works of Buddhist Fiction and Hungry GhostHe co-leads, along with Camilla Figueroa, Loving Your Way to Enlightenment: Ancient Wisdom for the Modern Couple, September 12–14 at Shambhala Mountain Center. To learn more, please click here.

The Virtue of Variety: A Practitioner’s Toolbox

By Troy Rapp

troy rapp prajna yogaEarly in my meditation life, I found myself drawn to explore different styles of practice. I was in the midst of my first fall training period at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center after having spent two years practicing meditation in the Soto Zen tradition, when I found myself drawn to study Korean Zen that winter. A group of monks from this tradition had come to visit and brought with them an English translation of their teachings. I discussed this with the teacher under whom I had begun to practice Zen, and was strongly advised against it. The basis of this instruction was a belief that it was not possible to deepen a spiritual life without unwavering devotion to one style of practice. This type of admonition is not uncommon in the world of spiritual practice. I’ve encountered it from many teachers in a variety of traditions over the years. “If you’re digging a well, you won’t hit water by starting a new hole” goes the metaphor commonly used to support this perspective. I recognize its merit. There is a danger that students can dabble in many different methods, and use it as a distraction from making a sustained commitment to deepening their practice. In addition, the contradictions between different teaching styles can be confusing, and this can weaken the resolve of the practitioner. It is also important to recognize that different students have different affinities. Some students have a strong affinity for a particular tradition and will be well served by one-pointed devotion to that tradition. However, I would like to offer another perspective on the merit of exploring different traditions and integrating a variety of practice methods.

While devotion to a particular style of practice can prove valuable, it is also possible to integrate a variety of methods so that various practices support and enrich one another. In Buddhism, this is known as upaya, which is commonly translated as “skillful means.” In this approach, different methods of practice are cultivated in response to various difficulties. For example, if a particularly strong experience of fear, anger or hatred is arising, and the intensity is such that equanimity cannot be established, it can be helpful to cultivate loving-kindness (metta) as an antidote. This method of practice can be used to take the edge off the experience. When the intensity has dissipated enough that equanimity can be established, then it becomes possible to engage in other methods, exploring the nature of the aversion more directly. Similarly, if one is overcome by drowsiness or lethargy in meditation practice, it can be helpful to engage in practices which build energy such as opening the eyes wide, taking a standing posture rather than a seated posture, or engaging in more vigorous physical activity.

In my own practice, the primary meditation object I have used consistently has been the breath. It’s what I started with. It works for me, so I’ve continued with it. However, in addition to this method, over the years I’ve explored many other methods, and have integrated some of them into my own practice in supporting roles. These include the practice of metta meditation, counting the breath, mental noting of where the attention is drawn, reciting the name of a Buddha or Bodhisattva, contemplating death, yoga asana, pranayama, exploring the mental and emotional landscape through dialogue, and the study of sacred texts from a variety of contemplative traditions.

diggingEach of these has proven valuable and supported the deepening of my practice in some way. I’ve come to recognize the possibility of a perspective which sees the integration of various practice methods as akin to having a toolbox stocked with a variety of tools for working with different types of challenges.

I’m also proposing a different perspective on the metaphor of digging a well. Rather than viewing the adoption of another style of practice as digging a new hole, I’m proposing that a variety of techniques can work together to support the deepening of the well. Just as one might use a shovel, a pickaxe, a rock hammer, or a pry-bar to good effect when encountering different layers of material in the course of digging a well, so might one employ different practices to deepen their awakening.

Troy Rapp will be teaching “Prajna Yoga: Full Spectrum Practice” with Theresa Murphy at Shambhala Mountain Center on October 25–27, 2013. Click here to learn more.

Interview with Cyndi Lee

 

cyndi leeShambhala Mountain Center is excited to host May I Be Happy: A Yoga and Meditation Workshop for Women August 30- September 2 with influential yoga teacher and writer, Cyndi Lee. She will give a talk and book signing in Boulder Colorado on August 29th.

Tell us about the beginnings of your yoga career and why you became passionate about the practice.

My yoga teaching career began in 1978 when I first arrived in New York City and realized that my $60 weekly paycheck from the Whitney Museum was not going to cut it. So I got a job teaching yoga at a little gym in the Village. For much of my professional dancing career, I taught yoga “on the side” instead of being a waitress like most dancers. When I met Gelek Rimpoche in the late 80s my mind turned to the dharma, and my dances started looking more like yoga than modern dance. My last concert was done in collaboration with my dharma brother, Allen Ginsberg, a long time student of both Chogyam Trungpa and Gelek Rinpoche. After that concert, I stopped dancing and started teaching yoga full-time.

My style of yoga evolved organically from my own background. I called it OM yoga: alignment-based vinyasa grounded in the dharma practices of mindfulness and compassion. After 15 years, I closed my NYC studio. OM yoga Center, to devote more time to personal practice. But I still teach OM teacher trainings, retreats, workshops all over the world and in 2012 I co-founded True Nature, a yoga and music festival based in Japan.

What was the inspiration for writing May I Be Happy?

May I Be Happy was originally titled I Hate My Body. I had an epiphany one day that my ever present inner voice, you know, that one that was always criticizing my body (too fat, too thin, too weak, too tight, too loose, blah blah blah) was a form of suffering. I had learned from my Buddhist studies that Suffering Exists and also that we create our own suffering. So I took a look at that and decided that it was not ok for me to continue to create this suffering around my body. I had to learn to let it go and to love my body. That is what inspired me to write this book. It was not until I lived the story of the book that I found the fruition of the quest and the ultimate title of the book.

Has this project expanded beyond your original intentions?

Well, when I started writing the book I did not know how I was going to turn this thing around. So finding the maitri practice as a personal path toward a more joyful life was a surprise. I also didn’t know that this book would resonate so strongly with so many people. I’ve heard from tons of people, all ages, men and women, that they have been touched and inspired by the book. So I have started teaching May I Be Happy classes and workshops and that has been very powerful.

What advice would you give to our readers on how to be happy?

Read my book! Come to the retreat!

Cyndi Lee’s newest book is the The New York Times critically acclaimed May I Be Happy: A Memoir of Love, Yoga and Changing My Mind. She writes regularly for Yoga Journal, Shambhala Sun, Yoga International and Tricycle Magazine. Her frequent TV appearances include the Dr. Oz Show; Live with Regis and Kathie Lee; Good Morning, America and she has a cameo in Cyndi Lauper’s Girls Just Want to Have Fun video, which she choreographed in 1983. Cyndi holds an MFA in Dance from UC Irvine and is a long time student of Gelek Rimpoche. Cyndi Lee is the first female Western yoga teacher to fully integrate yoga asana and Tibetan Buddhism in her practice and teaching.

Why Samadhi?

by Erica Kaufman

Erica Kaufman at SMC

We like to think of ourselves as living in independent time, separate from each other and from cosmic influences. But that is just it. We “think” and create mind play for our thoughts. In a way our minds are like the dominant child within us, the one that steps forward and likes to take over but is not always the most sensitive or intuitive. While our bodies are more like the quiet child within us, the kind that needs patience and is worth the wait.

That is why Lîla Yoga™ is such a powerful harmonizing tool. It is both meditation in motion and philosophy in motion. Through our asana practice we learn to quiet the mind and allow the truths within our body to lead us to a more revealed state of awareness. From this state of being, our true Self is more easily exposed. This process is called Dhyana (meditation) and Samadhi (absorption). It takes great discipline and consistent practice to calm the mind into a tranquil state of stillness for Dhyana. So why bother?

This life offers us the opportunity to learn, to understand who we are, how we function and react. It gives us an opportunity to reflect on the quality of our time spent. By practicing Dhyana we cleanse our active minds and allow the truths within our heart to shine. The more often we visit this exposed state of Self, the easier it is to access and the more it aids our perspectives in our daily activities.

I, like all of us, dwell in the creative manifestations of the material world, known in yoga by many names: shakti, prakriti and maya. I am deeply involved in this life; happily and knowingly interacting with the illusions of duality. I also know that no matter what cerebral activity I am involved in, I have tasted a deeper unwavering place that continues to intrigue me. My body is not the answer but the rhythmic cycles of my body are connected to larger forces (the tides, the pull of the moon, the sun) and provide me with a sounding board in which I can begin my journey into Dahyana and if I’m lucky, into Samadhi. My plans for this evening are to lie down in the open sky and watch, feel, join, meditate, absorb–will return soon, rested and ready.

Please join me for the Lila Yoga Retreat at Shambhala Mountain Center June 28-30, 2013

Love Blessings Faith

Om Shanti

~Erica~