When Your Hair (or Life) Doesn’t Turn Out the Way You Expected

I’ve been dying my hair on and off since my early teens. Then it was for fun; now it’s to cover the grey. In earlier days I favored bright Manic Panic hair colors that you could buy at the record store, shades like “Cyclamen”, “Wild Orchid”, and “Fire Engine Red”; these days it’s more about making it look “natural”, as if I can even remember what that is.

I decided to try a new shade that promised a “warm auburn glow”. But I was quite surprised when I combed it out. Instead of a warm glow, it looked like beets on fire. I washed it nine times in three days, but it would not tone down it’s fiery brass notes.

A few days later I was in a yoga class. “Oh! I like your hair!” lots of people said, except that instead of taking in the compliment I had to tell the story about how it hadn’t turned out as I’d expected. “This wasn’t supposed to happen,” I’d say. “It didn’t look like this on the box.” How many times could we say that about events in our lives that don’t turn out the way we’d hoped? Lots.

Throughout my class I began to think about my attachment to my hair. “Geez, it’s just hair. It will grow. The color will wash out,” I’d say to myself. I realized it wasn’t very yogi-like to be attached to the physical body, or to any sense of permanence. I felt caught out in my own ego.

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra II.6 reads:

Drgdarsana saktyoh ekatmata iva asmita.

False identification is confusing the nature of the seer or Self with the nature of the instrument of perception. In other words, false identification happens when we mistake the mind, body, or senses for the true Self.

Asmita happens when you identify with the parts of yourself that change–your beet-red hair, your aging body, your marital status, your job, even the style of yoga you practice–instead of recognizing that your true core, your inner Self, is unchanging.

We can appreciate and value all the different aspects of ourselves that make us unique, but connecting with the part of yourself that is unchanging, true, and authentic, means that you’ll be less likely to be bothered by physical changes, or any life changes, that are beyond your control.

You can nurture this sense of connection by spending time with yourself, doing yoga, singing, running, or any activity you enjoy can help you focus beyond the physical body. Over time, pose after pose on the mat, you cultivate that relationship with Self, and your yoga, or your hair-coloring ritual, becomes truly a practice in action.


Can Yoga and Technology Be Friends?

Can yoga and technology work together?


When you think of yoga and technology, do they occupy separate areas of your life? Do you think technology has a place in the yoga world?

I personally enjoy being geeky and use a lot of technology to manage my life and business efficiently, but I also use tools specific to my yoga and spiritual practice. I use Reminders to say a mantra at a specific time each day. I have an asana app that I use when traveling for a quick guided practice. I use pranayama timers to practice different ways and paces of breathing. And if I want to do a freeform meditation practice, I have a timer that gently lets me know when it’s time to wrap it up. Voice memos allow me to create custom meditations for clients, and I can even teach a class on the other side of the world through my phone.

I was delighted to hear that Stanford University now has a Calming Technology Lab, an inter-disciplinary group of scholars, designers, and builders that are inventing and evaluating technologies that create states of calm. This team draws on Stanford’s research groups in human-computer interaction, persuasive design, the psychophysiology of stress, the science of compassion, and social & cognitive psychology. Some of their current projects include calm breathing patterns to use at your computer, motivating text messages, daily resolutions, and much more.

I think we all agree that technology such as cell phones should be left at the door when practicing in a yoga studio or sitting down to meditate. Part of the discipline of a practice is learning to be calm and centered in the midst of distractions, but we don’t have to add to the chatter in our already busy minds. Technology can help you stay motivated and on track, just use it wisely.

Here are a few of my favorite free apps, all available through iTunes:

1. All-In Yoga

Over 300 asanas that you can break down individually or combine in a class. Lots of ready-made classes tailored to your needs. Perfect for practicing on the beach or on the go.

2. Universal Breathing

Guided pranayama that is progressively paced. Great for beginners.  I love that it animates the areas of the body in use during particular breath work.

3. Yogic Breath

Another good pranayama app that offers step-by-step instructions and either a video or audio practice.

4. Sadhana Touch

This app has timer functions to pace your meditations. You can use it to count mantras, and to pace pranayama practice.

More for-fee apps:

Stillness Buddy provides timed prompts to stretch, meditate, or do a breathing exercise. Great if you sit at a desk all day and need reminders to take a break!

f.lux dims your computer screen as bedtime approaches to remind you to unplug and get ready to sleep.
I would love to hear about any other applications you’re using to enhance your yoga and spiritual practice.

Be well!

Are Backbends Scarier Than Roller Coasters?

Which of these scenarios do you find scarier?

Backbend Thrills?

Roller Coaster Thrills?

The stomach-dropping speed of a roller coaster, or coming into a deep backbend? I personally love roller coasters. Maybe not the loop-de-loop kind seen here, but I love the creaky old wooden roller coasters, the kind that smell like grease and feel like they’re going to blow apart into splinters at any  moment. I even wrote a book about one. But the feeling of being slightly out of control can be one woman’s rush, and another one’s fear.

I noticed this when I first began to practice Camel Pose, Ustrasana, in earnest. Camel requires you to move backward into the unknown, to trust that you’ll be there to meet yourself.

I was doing Bikram yoga when I first began to explore this pose in depth. Funnily enough, Camel is a great pose to help calm anxiety, yet just thinking about it produced anxiety in me! There it was, pose #22 of Bikram’s 26, always waiting for me. I began to feel nauseous as the pose approached and escaped into Child’s Pose many times to avoid doing it.

How could I be so comfortable with the wild undulations of a roller coaster, yet have so much fear around doing a backbend? Gradually I came to stand on my knees, working on getting my pelvis tucked under and my foundation strong. I wouldn’t even reach back at first, I’d just look up with my eyes. Waves of anxiety came and went, some so strong I thought I would vomit. But I continued to stay present, breathing up and down the waves.

The other piece of Ustrasana is that it is a major heart opener. Opening your heart can be scary! It makes us vulnerable to the risk of loss, but it also allows us to receive love more freely. When Camel and I met in Bikram’s class, I was struggling with this balance. Our society encourages us to move forward, to lead with our heads. Camel allows us to surrender the head to the heart, to lead and move from a place of openness and acceptance.

Vertebra by vertebra, day by day, month by month, I began to extend backward, always refining my foundation so that I moved from the upper spine. One day I felt like I could move my hands away from my lower back  and reach back toward my heels. Wow! A major step!

Once you develop flexibility in this pose, you can focus more on the heart opening qualities and on refining your overall posture. Camel stretches the entire front body and is great for opening the lungs and heart, calming anxiety, and relieving fatigue.

To capture the photograph of me in Ustrasana (above), we had to take many shots. Some of the poses I held for 15 breaths or more while my photographer made adjustments. There was a trace of fear and anxiety; I was counting those breaths! I had a lot of time to reflect on how far I had come in this pose. Then I realized I was back in my head, so I took a deep breath and inhaled the beauty of Sunset Cliffs through my heart and CLICK! We were done.

Being in Love

Once a week or so I visit nursing homes, residential care homes, and adult day care centers with my rabbit-friend Molly in tow. We volunteer with Love on a Leash.

Love on a Leash (or in a stroller)

Most of the people we visit are elderly or in need of physical assistance. Many are dealing with mental health issues, or recovering from illness. We often get to see the same people each week. I see so many levels of consciousness, and sometimes marked change. Sometimes we find an empty bed, and know that the next week we’ll meet someone new. I try to remember that behind each person and action is the same god-source.

When I first started volunteering with this organization, I felt like I needed to be a good “hostess”, making sure I kept the conversation going, asking about people’s lives, trying to acknowledge them as individuals. Many people can’t hear or understand as well as they used to. It was good practice for me, just accepting people as they are. Accepting the aging process. And some people simply aren’t interested in rabbits or animals or touch, and I worked on accepting that, too.

Molly also seemed to blossom. At home she was more confident, trying new things readily. Wherever she went and whatever we encountered, she seemed to take it all in stride. She simply lived in the present, being love. Watching her attitude toward life inspired me, too.

The most important aspect of love is not in giving or the receiving: it’s in the being. When I need love from others, or need to give love to others, I’m caught in an unstable situation. Being in love, rather than giving or taking love, is the only thing that provides stability. Being in love means seeing the Beloved all around me.”—Ram Dass

Molly and a friend

Over time we got to know a few regulars, people who sought us out during our visits to make sure they got some “Molly time”. During these visits, the small talk began to fade away. I noticed their faces softening, the eyes partly closing, their attention simply on being with another living creature. I found I could just silently witness the energetic exchange taking place between Molly and her friends. I didn’t have to say a word. Being present was enough.

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