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. To learn more, please CLICK HERE

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 7-9

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.

 

 

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~

Way Seeking Mind: A Meditation and Yoga Retreat for Women

by Katharine Kaufman

open pavilionI offer a women’s retreat twice a year, on the hottest, longest days in the middle of summer, and the coldest, dark winter days. I see myself as more of a facilitator of this retreat, rather than a teacher. We arrive alone and together, 12 or 15 of us, and we simply practice yoga, sitting, sharing. Something subtle and close transforms because of this turning our discursive gaze inward. There is a luxurious break in the afternoons to hike, read, rest, or visit with each other. Transformation is not always a smooth ride. We have our practices, the support of the schedule, teachings, to hold us—and each other.

My favorite part of this retreat is when we individually choose a place outdoors, and practice solo the four postures of meditation. These beautiful places we choose offer us the chance to simply be in one area in nature, with no agenda. We understand the gentle wind, grasses, texture of rocks, as good friends, not just scenery. We can lean against a tree, close our eyes, listen, create a temporary nest.

It seems natural to pause, reflect, sit, gently move, talk and find silence amongst other women. This phrase, ‘Way Seeking Mind’ struck me when I first heard of it during a Zen women’s retreat. I hesitate to define it. It should speak directly to one’s heart and marrow, and not pause too long in any cerebral place. We have a sense of what that mind is—what that journey is. Or perhaps it is a big mystery.

This women’s summer retreat is special to me since it takes place in the eight-sided pavilion, which happens to be built on the old Girl Scout’s fire ring. This rustic pavilion is separate from the main area, tucked in the pines. The winter walls will be removed so that we experience a space both inside and outside—a living metaphor for our practice. To me, this is coming home to a place that has always been waiting—wild, familiar, natural. It’s reflected outside but of course, also in us.

The gap between what we experience and what we desire—inside and out—is not so far apart as we had imagined.

This retreat is now full.

Reawakening Amazing Inner Places

by Erica Kaufman

This year I traveled quite extensively in India. So much teaching…and of course I learn from each student. Regardless of their spoken language, I learn from their ways and this helps me to teach accordingly.

Erica teaching yoga in Bangalore

 

I teach the eight limbs of yoga, they are portals into the intuitive home. Life is a journey and the eight limbs of yoga are a beautiful guide into intuitive clarity.

Erica sitting with woman

That journey is of central interest in my life, and in teaching Lila Yoga.

I am here, solo and not. I am sometimes alone but I am not lonely. As I relax into new-ancient rhythms, I experience the home of GENEROSITY.

I will explain:

Generosity flows naturally, when we understand the inter-connectivity of it all.

Tat Tvam Asi. We are That…That which Is…
No need to horde…impossible to hold onto anything…what could we hold onto?

When we live sensitive to this,

it breaks down defensiveness and possessiveness and Generosity opens.

Generosity of Spirit, Love, Patience, Time…

We have within us/around us/between us, an endless source of these qualities.

No need to ration. Fear of loss from Giving looses potency

when we realize the true nature of Generosity.

Home unfolds wherever you are.

I am here. I am there. I am home.

 

 

Erica and GuruKnow a home so deep that land does not matter, a familiarity so clear that wherever you go you feel the strength of curiosity, respect, and joy. As you meet new friends, join new families, and feel the give and take of interconnectivity, know that you have blessings within you of excited ease.

 

I invite you to join me for the Lila Yoga Retreat: Accessing the Brilliance Within.

Our weekend will explore the boundless joy of gratitude, the ability to feel thankful to BE.

Please join me for a Lila Yoga Retreat June 28-30.

Love Blessings Faith

OM NAMA SHIVAYA

~ Erica ~

In the Company of Women: Precious Knowing

By Katherine Kaufman

Katharine Kaufman, MFA, is ordained in the Soto Zen lineage of Kobun Chino Roshi. She taught and practiced yoga for many years at Richard Freeman’s Yoga Workshop and has studied in India. Below she shares the inspiration for her annual winter women’s yoga and meditation retreat “Precious Knowing.”

Home At Shambhala Mountain CenterSAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

On InspirationDSC_2735

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.

Upcoming Program:

Precious Knowing: A Meditation and Yoga retreat for Women | February 19–23, 2014