Monthly Archives: November 2016



One of the most pervasive myths in the Hindu lore is the long and intricate story of the “churning of the ocean.” I have been considering this myth as I have been processing and practicing this last post-election week. Here is a shortened version with the salient details applicable to my current consideration.

The devas (gods) and asuras (demons) were both seeking the nectar of immortality (amrta or soma). To get it, they worked together to churn the ocean. They upended a great mountain, and wrapped a huge snake around it and churned and churned for a very long time.

Eventually a variety of different things emerged, like a cow, an elephant, the goddess Laksmi, and jewels, happily claimed by the churners.

Then as they continued churning, a dark viscous noxious substance started to emerge. It was quite toxic and threatening to the world. They had to call upon the god Shiva to handle it. He held it in his throat, which is why one of his names is Lord Blue Throat (nilakantha). He transmuted the poison in this way and the churning resumed until the amrta emerged.

I have heard this story interpreted in many ways, a favorite is as a metaphor for our practice of yoga, particularly meditation. As we practice, we are churning our own consciousness, from which emerges gifts like centeredness, clarity, and creativity, and eventually more blissful states. But as well, along the way, we must deal with and transmute any poison that resides in our own individual consciousness.

We experience this in our yoga asana practice as discomfort arises physically due to tightness in our bodies or old injuries. We transmute these through conscious breathing and correct and therapeutic alignment such that eventually there is healing. But it may be unpleasant for a while.

And as well in yoga asana and especially meditation, frustration, residue of old patterns, and all kinds of psychic gunk can be churned up. The practice gives a context and methodology within which to transmute these challenges.

As I’ve thought about the story of the churning of the ocean in light of our current political climate, I’ve been thinking of the ocean in this myth representing our collective consciousness, and how we’ve stirred up and unleashed the poison. And the question becomes, who will transmute it? In the story it is Shiva, who is the consummate yogi. Shiva was called upon to handle it, he held and transmuted it.

Many of us have had the privilege and blessing of many years of yoga practice. As yogis we have many tools at our disposal to shift energy and transform our beings. We practice asana, pranayama, meditation, and chanting. We study the scriptures for guidance. And as we deepen our studies and practice, we have the power of transmutation.

The form this takes can vary. On a very practical level, for me it involves staying steadfast in my yoga practices, stabilizing myself in a place of connection to my heart. As a yoga teacher I will continue to aid others in this process, teaching the tools for transformation. As a citizen of this planet, I intend to do whatever I can to acknowledge the poison when I see it, and seek to transmute it by whatever means I have at my disposal.

I hope we can each remember and seriously consider utilizing the gifts we have received through the practice. We begin by acknowledging the poison is there, it has been unleased. Acknowledge as well that the gift of yoga has led to some degree of awareness, that you are awake at this critical time. Are you willing to engage, to work to transmute it in whatever way you have the power to do so?

Feel free to leave a comment regarding how you would like to transmute the toxic energy.

Choosing to Go Left


I received a suggestion/challenge from a student in one of my yoga classes recently: can we sometimes go to the left side first? She felt she was tighter on the left and that it seemed we spent more time on that first side.

I found this an interesting challenge because it would require me to practice what I teach on several levels.

On the physical level I often have students switch up how they clasp their hands behind their back, in order to balance things out. This is a little different, but the same principle operates: not giving preference to one way of doing it. I often use the hand clasping as an example of a certain mindlessness and habitual patterning we allow in our practice, and in our lives as a whole, and the same thing applies to switching up which side we move to first.

In our yoga practice, most times we just automatically do it. When the teacher says clasp your hands behind your back, my tendency is to put my right index finger on top of my left. Over time, this is going to have a subtle imbalancing effect on my shoulders. But as interesting is that choice moment when I act seemingly without thinking. I just do it automatically, as if there is no other choice. This happens in our yoga practice, and in many other domains of our life.

This is an example of a habit pattern. Notice how we don’t think about it, we reach with certain hands, turn certain directions. We have a repeated way we travel from point A to point B. We have “our” way of doing things, perhaps honed from our own trial and error to discover the “best” way of doing things.

Maybe, maybe not.

Or perhaps a teacher told us to do it that way. In the tradition in which I began doing yoga, we always moved to the right side first. Some might argue there is a physical or more esoteric advantage to this.

Maybe, maybe not.

I realized I had established a pattern that I was perpetuating, and chose to see what it was like to start shifting that pattern.

It was challenging. I was constantly flummoxed as I taught because after 25 years of teaching it one way I had grown lazy with my instructions. I didn’t have to think about it, I just did it. And now I had to be mindful.

I persevered. I announced to my students we were going to start moving left first in some classes. It became a bit of a game as they noticed and reminded me when I slipped into my old patterns. And they got to see their own patterns as I switched it up, and they were challenged to shift their own patterning. We giggled at ourselves together, and together we began to shift the pattern.

In summary, here’s the steps of how I worked with it:

– Notice the pattern. This is often the hardest part because it is so automatic. In this case, I was open to feedback. Someone sweetly mentioned a pattern that might not be altogether positive, and I listened. At first I was resistant, and I had to look at that and evaluate whether or not I wanted to shift.

– Set an intention. I made it public. I asked for help and accountability. I announced it to my classes so they could remind me. This allowed them as well to look at their own habits and resistance.

– Make a plan. I committed to starting on the left side first on the first and third weeks of the month. I made it concrete.

– Do it. Again. And again.

– Flounder. I allowed myself to flounder. I made mistakes. I allowed myself to not be perfect.

– Stop in your tracks when you are enacting the old pattern. Choose again the new pattern. When I became aware I was caught in the old pattern, I stopped and switched, right there in the moment. I didn’t wait to shift it until later. So my students have had to endure starting on one side, only to have me shift, but as I said, they were in on the game, and they’ve played along very sweetly.

– Understand it is a process. It is challenging. Allow it to be challenging

– Acknowledge success. I noticed how it became easier as I established the new pattern. With the switching the hands behind the back, it is hard now for me to discern that the new pattern feels weird.

Of course this is a somewhat trivial example in the larger scheme of habits in our lives we could benefit from shifting. But it makes the point. We all have patterns, some of which serve us, but others that may not. As we refine our lives we need to be mindful that we are making choices, and whether we are choosing the optimal choice. Our ability to pause and make conscious choices is one of the greatest gifts of our humanity. May we enact it.