The Approximate Yogi

Conquering life one breath at a time

The Passion Project

Dear Readers,

passion project

discovering my passion

As some of you may have noticed, my posts to this site have been slowly trickling off for a while now, and most recently kinda fizzled. The truth is, although Kundalini Yoga has played a huge part in my spiritual and creative growth, both as a student and a teacher, it has since shifted into a less important role in my present life.

I am no longer able to do it justice in writing about it. Therefore, I will no longer be creating new content for the site. I will leave it up since I feel, I hope, there is still a lot of useful information on it.

This was a bittersweet decision for me. I am sad to put an end to my first online writing project, but I am also filled with joy to continue, and share with you, my new project.

The Passion Project, an exploration of passionate people and the work they love, is now where I will be putting my creative energy. I would love for you to follow along on this new journey.

Read a little more about its creation and purpose here.

Read the first installment of The Passion Profiles, where I spend the day with my friend and museum curator, Mark here.

Thank you all for your support, inspiration, and readership. I hope to keep up with you at my new site. Come check it out and say hello!

passion project

tree pose atop the Northern Terminus of the Pacific Crest Trail

If you are someone who loves their job or would like to tell me about someone you know who does, I would especially love to hear from you. You can visit the sight or email me directly at

In love and light always,


P.S. A little update on my last major project –my husband and I completed the Pacific Crest Trail on Sept. 23, 2015, after 5 months and 5 days! We’re now living happily in the Pacific Northwest, still going wherever it leads 🙂



Saying Yes to My Heart, Saying Yes to the Trail


Poplar Stream Falls, summer


I wanted to share with you a little bit about what’s been going on in my life over the last few months. My husband and I have decided to quit our jobs, and spend the summer thru hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. Then we will relocate to the Pacific Northwest, looking for jobs that better suit us.

So how did we come upon this crazy idea of ours? When we finally realized it was crazy not to.

A little before Christmas, we headed out into the woods to get away from the world, as we often do. We were heading to the falls we got married at. We hadn’t done this trail since that day, when we hiked in as boyfriend and girlfriend, and out as husband and wife. On this winter day, we reminisced about the wedding, and talked of how much had changed in the surroundings. The trail and falls looked completely different, covered in snow and ice, than they did five short months ago on that sunny summer day. Everything was different.

PCT blog

We began to talk about what we wanted our life to look like, which often begins with wild and crazy ideas, then narrows to more realistic (and boring) ones. We’d been talking about moving, either back to Portland (Maine) or to the west coast. My husband, Jason joked that we should walk to wherever we move instead of drive, and we got caught up in this fantasy of walking across the country. This has been our go-to fantasy when our jobs are feeling really tough, and we want an escape. At some point on our way back on the groomed snow trail, I asked aloud, “Well, if this is something we really want to do, why can’t we do it?” (This may have been more of a revelation to me than Jason, who was quicker to jump on board.)

Back home, the fantasy got a little more concrete as we began throwing around ideas of walking for a cause, and researching others who have walked across the country. We discovered it would take a little longer than we maybe wanted to be walking, and the routes weren’t always that scenic.

Then we began to throw around the idea of hiking a long trail. Jason had already hiked the Appalachian Trail, so that was out. It would have to be something new to both of us that we could experience together. I had just read Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, and threw out the idea of the Pacific Crest Trail. We also looked at other trails like the Continental Divide Trail (a little more than I was ready for), or the Pacific Northwest Trail (a little less than we were looking for).

From that night on, our fantasy revolved around the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT, for short). We didn’t commit to any more than just toying around with the idea, but the more we both thought and talked about it, the more excited we became. In an attempt to shake a real answer out of me, Jason began telling me tales of how hard thru hiking is, what it is really like. I think he did this because he really wanted me to say yes to this, but wanted to really make sure I meant it, and wanted it.

I wanted it. The more I thought about it, the more sense it made. And when I say sense, I mean I felt it. It felt so right. During all of the previous thinking and planning out our next steps, ideas of places to move, jobs to apply to, I was riddled with indecision and anxiety. But with this plan, there was none of that. It settled into my brain so snugly, and then stretched out and relaxed there, until we both finally admitted this is what we had to do. We would quit our jobs, spend the summer hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, then stay out west at the end of it and see what will happen next.

I truly believe that one right decision leads to another. All my previous anxiety fell away, because those previous plans were not the right plans. I so strongly believe that if we continue saying yes to what our hearts want out of life, we’ll continue to be led to doors, and more doors we hadn’t even thought of will open up. So far, this has been true. Things are falling into place quite magically.

We also dropped the idea of doing this for some kind of cause –doing this because it is something we want to do in our life is the cause. This is another reason our plan feels so right. Jason and I are both coming to realize, for both separate and similar reasons, that neither of us are that suited for a “normal” life. (Let’s just admit it, neither one of us is that normal.) And I am finally completely ok with that.

This hike, then, is not an escape from “the real world.” This is the real world, lived out how we want to live it, not how convention dictates we should. We are both finally actively figuring out how we fit into the life that we make, rather than trying to fit into lives that society makes for us.

Since this decision, I have settled into feeling like myself in a way I haven’t felt for quite some time now. (It feels so good to be true to yourself.)

I’d like to leave you with one last thought –this lovely piece I came across while making the decision.

So, in the next six months I will be taking a break from The Approximate Yogi (unless inspiration moves me), and spending my writing time at my new blog (where a version of this post first appeared), documenting our new adventure. I know my yoga practice will be one of the things that supports me through this journey.

If you’d like to follow along, join me at

I hope to keep in touch with many of you there!

Here’s to saying yes!



Curating Silence

I’ve noticed in the last year that the word curate has become quite a popular one in our collective consciousness, especially online. Curate was once only reserved for museum directors; now anyone can curate. People are curating all kinds of stuff –everything from Rumi quotes to smoothie recipes, to bumble bee prints to workout music to favorite talk shows.

But sometimes all this stuff needs a rest.

I would like to create a space to curate silence. You can think of this blog post as just that space –a museum of silence. If you think about one possibility of a museum –a history museum, a place of antiques, or things that have become extinct; curating silence makes even more sense.

If I were to take silence out of the world to curate here, these are some places I might extract it from:

The car: When I turn off the radio, or CD player, or podcast I’m listening to, it is quite quiet in my car. It’s amazing how much more of the world outside my car I notice in this silence.

The living room: When I turn off the TV, shut down my laptop and Internet, the living room silence and snowbecomes a very quiet space. It even opens up space for conversation with others.

The forest: There is a lovely silence about a forest. Although the more you quiet there, the more you may hear.

In a cup of tea: You have to be silent when sipping. Tea is a liquid that somehow creates a hush of mind and body. With hands grasped around warm mug; stop talking, stop breathing, stop thinking even, at least for that one little sip.

And then another.

The predawn morning: There is nothing like the quietude when people, pets, machines have not yet awoken. When I can muster the courage to pull myself out of my cozy bed for a little extra me time in the morning, I never regret it.

I love doing my yoga in the space just before sunrise. The darkness there has this way of enveloping me, squeezing the thoughts to stay in their place. Squeezing my body to stay centered in the pose. The daylight expands my thinking into all that I will be doing for the day, and my mind gets carried away with the sun. But this soundless time before all that is priceless.

The night: Nighttime is made to be a quieter time. Darkness has a way of silencing. Too often, we shut out the darkness. Extract darkness to extract the silence from the night.

silence and snowSnowfall: Falling snow, like darkness, seems to have a way of winding down the earth into silence.

In our minds: This is sometimes one of the hardest places out there to find silence -but it is there. I find that meditation is an active work in progress in muting my mind. Some days, the task seems near impossible. Then there are those other sweet, sweet days when merely focusing on a few deep breaths draws that silence up like a spring.

I found this passage I had written a few years ago about a first snowfall that explains what I’m getting at. It encompasses three of the best places for me to find silence –snow, darkness, and morning:

The house is still quiet, still dark, only lit by the white from outside. I am sitting at the dining table looking out into our Christmas tree farm backyard; the snow falling now, slowing, but it’s there, stuck to the trees, laying on the ground, clinging to the browned leaves still on the cherry tree, even to the little cherries that no birds are feasting upon this morning. Everyone snuggled into some cozy nook, hopefully. And now all the movement of falling snow has stopped. So much energy falls from the sky, impregnating the air all around; only to bring complete stillness that lays heavy on the land. All that energy stops on tree branches, ground, roof tops, pressing into us, creating a vast silence; opening up some space for it; a quieting. Brown leaves remain on trees covered in snow, stilled in their process of dying. This silence here, creating enough space for my voice to come back.

You never know what you may find in the silence.

And lastly, this blog post: Yes, even here. My gift to you all is a moment of silence.

Sit in front of the screen. Close your eyes, if you are able. Shut off the TV. Insert your earbuds, then don’t turn on any music. Bring your laptop or ipad to a quiet spot in the house. You can even pretend you are still reading, pretend you are being productive. Go ahead, it’s worth the fib. Then let yourself experience a moment of silence, or two, or three, if you can spare more. The thing about silence is once you find it, it tends to multiply. You tend to find more pockets of quietude in the day to add to the space.

Ok. Ready? Go …

silence in snow


34 Reasons I Love Yoga (for my 34th Birthday)

Last year at this time I post 33 Reasons I Love Yoga, since today is my 34th I thought I’d add one more. Here is the list again +1:

Tom's Thumb, Arizona

Tom’s Thumb, Arizona

34 Reasons I Love Yoga

  1. Yoga keeps me honest
  2. Yoga clears my head in the morning –the best and fastest way I know to get those sleepies out of my eyes
  3. Yoga keeps me limber and flexible (body and mind)
  4. Yoga makes me less cranky (yes, my husband has on occasion asked the question on particular grumpy days, “Did you do your yoga this morning?”)

    chilly tree, Lake Tahoe, NV

    chilly tree, Lake Tahoe, NV

  5. Yoga makes me eat healthier
  6. Yoga strengthens my core
  7. Yoga strengthens my arms
  8. Yoga makes me laugh
  9. Yoga keeps me humble
  10. Yoga helps me release negative emotions, like sadness and anger
  11. Yoga helps me forgive
  12. Yoga calms my worries
  13. Yoga’s always got my back (It is always a Plan B in tough situations, even when it should be Plan A)
  14. Yoga never judges me
  15. I have met some wonderful souls through yoga

    Picture 091

    a hiking buddy and me treein’ it up at the Grand Canyon

  16. Yoga opens my mind to its more creative places
  17. Yoga makes me a more patient person
  18. Yoga makes me a better speech therapist
  19. Yoga makes me a better lover
  20. Yoga gives my lungs and body endurance when I’m doing non-yoga things like hiking big mountains
  21. Yoga taught me mantra. Mantra helps me get through really tough physical challenges or really scary times
  22. Yoga gives me commitment


    Poplar Stream Falls, on our wedding day

  23. Yoga made me a teacher
  24. Yoga helped me conquer loneliness
  25. Yoga took me to a place inside myself I’d never been
  26. Yoga keeps life light
  27. Yoga is fun
  28. Yoga is versatile (I truly believe there is a style out there for everyone)
  29. I get to wear comfy pants while doing it
  30. I don’t have to wear any pants while doing it
  31. I can take yoga anywhere with me
  32. Yoga helped me get through grad school
  33. Yoga gave me the idea for this blog
  34. Yoga waits for me


Did I miss anything? Why do you love yoga?

If you enjoyed this post, as a birthday present to me, will you share it with someone?



My Evolving Practice

As those of you who are regular readers have probably noticed, I’ve been a less frequent blogger over this past year and I’d like to try to explain why. After my knee surgery, I stopped doing yoga as I recovered. This was unexpected, as I often like to tell people that anyone can do yoga, no matter what the physical (or mental/emotional) limitations are. I still believe this to be true, but I now also see that it is a bit more complicated than that.

While my body weaned off pain medications (not a very long process), and then my physical body, along with the other 9 bodies, slowly recovered (a much longer process than I ever realized), I found that my yoga practice just did not fit into the current space my life was in. This did slowly change as I started to add a few poses to my day. But I still found that Kundalini yoga was still not a style I was interested in accessing.

After knee surgery, which may or may not be related, I began to process some emotions, and began a journey into my emotional state, through therapy that was intense and exhausting. While I still think Kundalini yoga can be a wonderful tool to process through emotions, for some reason it was not right for me at the time. I really needed a gentle approach to life. I continued a sporadic and almost luxurious hatha practice, in which I indulged my body in doing only the poses that felt right for it, without pushing myself. My knee was still healing, so many of the vigorous Kundalini poses, as well as many hatha poses still did not feel right, or I was incapable of doing them. I swan dove into sun salutations, and my practice mainly revolved around that, and the occasional silent meditation when I could muster it, for a long time.

I continued to take a break from teaching, because, since I am only certified in Kundalini, I felt I wasn’t qualified to teach the yoga I was practicing, and couldn’t honestly teach a yoga that I was not practicing.

This past month I decided to give Kundalini a try again. It was no coincidence that emotionally and spiritually I had finally come out of a place of turmoil and was now feeling strong again. I felt that I now had the space (and courage) in my life to begin to dabble back into Kundalini. I’ve been trying a few of my favorite kriyas, which are different for me now, with my new knee and less in-shape body, but also feel good in a new way. I have been especially drawn to the heart opening kriyas. I feel that New Lungs and Circulation is going to be an important one for me in the coming year. This vigorous (but not impossible) kriya works on opening the heart chakra, cleansing the lungs, and freeing up emotions, which seems to fit well with the space I’m in now.

letting go of shouldMy practice is a lot less rigid than it was before. I am only doing Kundalini probably every other morning, or less, and still indulge in those feel-good hatha sessions with some silent meditation on many mornings. Some mornings I don’t do yoga at all, but instead go for a run or a swim, or read or write.

This rhythm of practicing less yoga isn’t new, what is new (at least since I’d gotten more serious about my practice,post-yoga teacher training) is that I let my body dictate where my practice will take me. I listen to how I’m feeling that day, rather than to my mind telling me how I should be practicing. I do not feel guilt for not practicing enough, or not practicing in a specific way, or style, or certain routine.

This holds true for other aspects of my life as well. In other aspects of my life I feel like I am finally saying yes to what my heart and soul want to do, and no to how I think I should behave. It makes sense that my yoga practice is following suit.

In the coming months I will be taking an exciting new journey* that has nothing to do with yoga, but I’m sure that yoga will be a part of it. I have definitely learned through this last year (as I have discovered in other periods of my life as well) that yoga is always there for me. Even if I’m not physically practicing, I am still living the lessons I’ve learned on the mat, and my physical practice is always there quietly waiting for me, just as my mat quietly waits in its corner to be unfurled.

Yoga is not a part of who I am. It is a thing that I do. I think that is something I let go of this year. I had a lot wrapped up in the idea of myself as a yoga practitioner, yogi, yoga teacher. But yoga is not really a part of one’s identity. When I was able to drop that, I was able to drop the “shoulds” I had begun to insert into my practice and, with them, the guilt I felt if I wasn’t living up to what I thought I should be as a yoga practitioner or teacher.

Yoga is a tool that I use to support me in my soul’s journey through this life. I am not yoga. There is no practice I should be doing. There is only what I need to be doing.

As always,

In light and love,


*My husband and I have decided to hike the Pacific Crest Trail this summer, and continue on living in the Pacific Northwest upon finishing and see where it takes us!

DSCN2789 DSCN2824 Because I promised some wedding pictures too long ago, and because today is our six month anniversary!

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About the Difference between Pleasure & Satisfaction

Here is an idea that I’ve been batting around in my head for a few days and thought it would make an appropriate New Year’s post.

It occurred to me the other day during an act that should be very pleasurable but has lately been only satisfying, that there is a distinct difference between the two and that my life could use a little more of the former.

I have a lot of satisfaction in my life lately –I’m working on a lot of different projects, making progress on them, I have big to-do lists that I get done, accomplishments I continue to accrue –these things are all very satisfying to me, but are they pleasurable? Am I getting pleasure out of them? And, what is the difference?

I would say there is a big difference, yet it is a subtle one. It is a difference you probably can’t see on the outside, an internal one. Although maybe if you observed two people in the same activity you could tell which one is having a pleasurable experience and which one just a satisfying one.

The dictionary defines pleasure thus:

Plea-sure: n. 1. Feeling of being pleased; 2. Delight, joy; 3. Choice; wish

Although the third definition is a different meaning than what I am describing (as in “What is your pleasure?”), for me, I think it is key to the first two. You have a choice about it.

Satisfaction is defined as:

Sat-is-fac-tion: n. 1. Act of satisfying or state of being satisfied; 2. That which satisfies; 3. Opportunity to avenge a wrong or insult; 4. Payment of discharge as of an obligation

Let’s leave #3 out of it, but I like the use of obligation in #4. That gets at the difference I’m talking about.

Satsifaction is an act; pleasure is a feeling. Satisfaction is linked to obligation; pleasure is linked to choice, wish, even.

Obviously there are many cut and dry things in life that give pleasure and it’s great to add those things if they are missing –hanging out with friends, eating an extravagant meal, reading a really good book, making love. But what if you could add more pleasure to the everyday things in life? After all, we don’t live in ancient Greece; we do have responsibilities in our lives.

But I think this can be done. I think there can be a balance between pleasurefinding pleasure in the little things and satisfaction and I think you can have them both.

Take a simple task like watering houseplants. This is a chore I need to do, an obligation I have, since I decided I want to have houseplants. If not on my written to-do list, it is at least on my weekly mental list. I get satisfaction from checking off this task on the list. I have accomplished something that contributes to me having a nice home. But often there is no pleasure in this task. I get it done as quickly as possible and move on to something else before I’ve even given it a fully formed thought. Or maybe I’m even doing something else while watering them, like talking on the phone or watching TV.

I’ve completely overlooked the opportunity for pleasure in that task. I’ve missed noticing the new pink-purple blossom of the African violet, missed savoring the last coral-colored petals of the geranium’s flower, the new growth on the snake grass. I missed the simple opportunity to admire the lushness of green in my home, even if nothing had been new or changing.

And what is at the heart of the matter of pleasure? Of course, something I find myself writing about often here, as if I need a continual reminder in new forms that spark my consciousness in new ways –a slowing down, a conscious effort to be available for the present moment. A choice.

One must choose the present moment. For that is where the pleasure can be found, always accessed to you. But it’s the getting there, the remembering again and again, and then again to choose it.

So my New Year’s wish to you all is that you will remember to find the pleasure in life’s little moments, and then chose to follow them amongst (and not inspite of) the day’s obligations. This daily practice will get us through whatever challenges (and satisfactions) the new year may bring.

Here’s to a blessed and beautiful 2015!

In light and love,


Yoga Book Review — Poser: my life in twenty-three yoga poses

Poser: my life in twenty-three yoga poses, by Claire Dederer (2011), is a memoir of a mother and wife, but also of a yoga practitioner (she doesn’t like the term “yogi”), in which she weaves in threads of yogic wisdom she’s gleaned from her teachers over the years.

Yoga Book Review

She also scatters bits of the history of modern yoga throughout the book, yet it never gets bogged down by these facts. The book moves at a fast pace through her present life as a mother of two young children, and wife of a writer. She sprinkles bits of her own history in as well, and the book suddenly turns into an exploration into the modern woman and her ideas on marriage and family life. This was a happy surprise for me as a reader. Reading this book in the days leading up to my own wedding, I was giving a lot of thought to this topic.

Dederer, came to yoga, as many of us do, a skeptic, but looking for a cure for something. (For her, it was anxiety and tremulous nerves.) What she found was not that, yet so much more than that. Dederer offers us her experience of yoga, not from the perspective of a guru or teacher, but a humble practitioner, which creates a really refreshing and honest perspective. In her easy-going and humorous style, I found myself laughing with her, remembering some of my own thoughts and judgments while attending my first yoga class. She doesn’t pretend to be holier-than-thou, openly admitting to the things we all do in a yoga class –looking around to see what everyone else is doing, comparing ourselves, judging, longing, wanting.

These stories are all cleverly organized into chapters revolving around a specific yoga pose that further moves along the theme and/or narrative. I would recommend this book to anyone, whether a yogi or not (in fact, maybe especially not). I love a good memoir that lets me peek into the intimate details of someone else’s life journey, while enticing me to probe into my own. This book does that for me.

I’d like to end with this lovely little nugget Dederer discovers while attempting wheel pose:

It was easy to think of yoga as a cure, a program, a teleology. You were going to end up somewhere really great if you just stuck with it. I often thought about what yoga would give me: yoga butt, open hamstrings, equilibrium, a calm mind, that mysterious yoga glow…The idea was, you got better, looser, stronger while you were at yoga, and then you exported that excellence to the rest of life…What if, as [Boulder yoga teacher Katharine] Seidel said, we just enjoyed the way our bodies and minds were when we were at yoga, and stopped freighting it with expectations? What if the whole point of yoga wasn’t getting ready for the future, but was instead finding whatever pleasure we could in the present?

What do you think? What is the purpose of yoga for you?

Sidenote: Some of you may have noticed my infrequency in posts as of late. I have to admit, my focus has been elsewhere lately. You can find some of my other projects at my other blog, Creating, Cate’s Way. And for the month of November I will be participating in NaNoWriMo again, so you may not see much of me then either. But I hope to return to a more consistent posting schedule after the holidays. Hope you are all well. I have enjoyed hearing from some of you and about your own yoga journeys. Namaste.

Iyengar Leaves This World for the Next

I don’t have a lot to say tonight, but I wanted to at least share something.

B. K. S. Iyengar passed on today.

In looking for a quote to share by Iyengar from one of his books, I came across this passage that I hadn’t remembered underlining in The Tree of Yoga that comforted me:

Death is unimportant to a yogi; he does not mind when he is going to die. What happens after death is immaterial to him. He is only concerned with life –with how he can use his life for the betterment of humanity. Having undergone various types of pain in his life and having acquired a certain mastery over pain, he develops compassion to help society and maintains himself in purity and holiness. The yogi has no interest beyond that.

Iyengar lived this. May we all strive to do the same.

B. K. S. Iyengar was a powerful bright light in the yoga community and will be missed. I, among millions of other Westerns, owe my yoga practice to him. I hope we, as a community, can continue to carry the light in his absence.

This is a lovely personal account by a yogi who happened to be blessed with right timing to attend his funeral rites

NY Times obituary



(P.S. This is a quick post tonight, but I will return soon with more. The wedding was wonderful and I am looking forward to share with you)


Summer Lovin’

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a lovely lady’s slipper I found in my backyard

Hello Beautiful Readers,

This is just a quick note to explain some of the busy-ness I alluded to in my last post. I’m getting married this summer! The date is fast approaching and I’m starting to feel the pressure of juggling ten too many things on my to-do list.

So I will be taking the rest of the summer off from blogging. Since, I’m guessing, after the wedding I will be needing some time to pick up life where we left off pre-wedding, and to enjoy the beginning of married life.

Hope you all have a fantastic summer! Keep up with your practice, and enjoy that sunshine 🙂

I will see you again in the fall, (if I can stay away that long 😉 ) I’m sure with lots of new stories to share!

2014-05-31 11.44.43

feelin’ the love, the strawberry-heart punch my friend made me for my wedding shower

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a butterfly and some chives enjoying the summer breeze

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The Meditation Practice that’s Working for Me Now

As my life seems to be getting more and more complicated lately, I have had a strong need to simplify my yoga and meditation practice.

For some reason Kundalini Yoga has felt too complicated. I can’t quite explain why, and I feel this is probably a temporary state, but it’s where I am. I’ve moved back to the basic hatha poses and sequences I started my practice with.

My meditation time too has simplified. I was having trouble picking from one of the many many Kundalini meditations, not having anything in particular I want to work on right now, other than the meditation practice itself. I have been drawn to simple silent meditation. Even chant and mantra has felt like too much.

So I sit.

I sit in silence.

An outward silence anyway.

I long for the simplicity of silence from within.

But the thoughts come.

I try to ignore them.

More thoughts come.

I’ve employed one simple technique to stop the thoughts before they carry me away. This is a practice I first read about in the book A Gradual Awakening, by Stephen Levine. Recently I have gone deeper with it and found it the most effective way to stop my thoughts, dead in their tracks.

I simply call them something. I give them a label and it appears this stops any momentum they were beginning to pick up. It’s like throwing a wet blanket over that thought.

I get quite specific with these labels, and this was the new difference for me. Before, all of my thoughts got one of four labels –planning, thinking, judging, remembering. But I discovered I could be more specific. Some planning thoughts are near-future planning, far-future planning, work planning. Many are rehearsing, where I’m lead into an entire imaginary conversation with myself. Much of my “thinking” is analyzing, processing, longing, wishing, wanting. A lot of times, putting the label on it allows me to see how silly, or pointless, or useless the thought is for this present moment.

Then there are thoughts that don’t hold much power over me in and of themselves, but the emotion attached to them does. Most of these thoughts are remembering. The emotions attached range from guilt, to sadness, to anger, to joy. Labeling the emotion lets me see it clearly for what it is. Once named, the emotion can just sit there with me, without holding on to me. I can go back into the silence, and it can join me or leave me there. I’m still sitting meditating, with or without the emotion.

I can go back into the silence for another moment, until another thought tries to take it over again.

Some thoughts are distractions from my environment –noticing bodily sensations, feeling, hearing.

Sometimes I actually find myself spending too much time thinking of the label, so, as silly as it sounds that thought gets one, “labeling.”

Silence lies within the spaces between all these thoughts. Putting a quick label on the thought suspends it. The more I do it, that little label pushes the thoughts back, creating slightly bigger and bigger spaces each time.

And this is what I want to get at. The goal of my meditation right now is simply the practice of it. The experience of those moments, split seconds sometimes, of meditation that is pure meditation and my mind does quiet.

This morning I sat zoning out a bit before I began my practice, watching the trees and grass outside. The sun was on the other side of the house, and it was a partly cloudy morning. I watched as, in a moment, everything became brighter and brighter, more vibrant shades of green and blue. The whole world changed as the cloud moved from the sun. It illuminated everything. Then just as suddenly, another cloud came back over it, and the colors dimmed again.

thoughts in meditation

the world under clouds

soul in meditation

sunshine illuminating everything

Meditation is like that for me. My thoughts are the clouds that muddy the moment. I can still see everything clearly, but nothing is illuminated. Then the clouds part for brief moments, and the sun, soul, God-particle, whatever you want to call it, illuminates everything and I can see what is really there.

Labeling those thought clouds seem to push them through the sky of my mind, letting that soul-sun shine.









Introducing My New Blog, “Creating, Cate’s Way”

This is just a quick post to share with you my new blog project. I find that everything I want to write doesn’t always fit in the context of The Approximate Yogi. So I started a new blog, focusing on writing, art, and the creative process, called Creating, Cate’s Way

Check it out! Here’s a post on my creative process to get you started: “Let the beauty of what you love be what you do.”

I’ll still be writing at The Approximate Yogi as well.

You can also join me on this new creative journey on Facebook and Twitter.

And if you’re not a part of The Approximate Yogi’s social media circle and would like to be:

Join the Facebook page here,

And Twitter here.

I use them not just for blog updates, but to also share interesting articles and inspirations I come across, and little moments of beauty I find throughout the day 🙂

Thanks for taking the time to check it out, and please share if you know anyone else who might enjoy!


Finding Balance in Imbalance

working on balance

working on my balance pre-surgery

Yesterday I attended my first yoga class since my knee surgery. One of the things I had been wondering about in my home practice was whether I should continue to do the full expression of a pose (my full expression anyway) on my left side when I can’t do it on my right side, specifically standing poses like Warrior III (Virabhadrasana III), and Triangle (Trikonasana). My teacher suggested I should maybe do the full pose on my left side twice a week so my body remembers it can do it, but that the rest of the week the pose on my left side should match what I can do on my right.

It’s funny I had been debating the pros and cons of doing each with myself for a while and hadn’t been able to decide what was the best choice. But I hadn’t once considered this compromise –that I could do both. Sometimes I can be very all or nothing in my thinking. Allowing myself to compromise often admits a dose of reality I can’t always see. Yes, as much as I want to move forward in my practice, I have two sides of my body that are doing two different things right now as my right knee recovers, and I have to acknowledge that.

Imbalance –this is my reality right now. My left side, specifically my left leg (but I’m starting to notice the difference is in more than just my legs) is stronger and more stable than my right. Yet now, my right leg/side is more flexible than my left, because to get over the soreness in my muscles and stiffness in my knee joint I did a lot of stretching. A lot, like when I got out of my car to pump gas, when I stood up from my desk, in clients’ driveways. I sneaked stretches in the bathroom, or in the corner of the grocery store. I didn’t always have the time (or, let’s face it, the desire) to stretch both sides evenly since the necessity was in my right, so now my right side is quite a bit more flexible than my left.

tree pose, finding balance, yoga

imbalance is a part of life

I hadn’t quite realized the full extent of this imbalance, both of the imbalances at once — strength and flexibility, until class last night. Then it hit me, that is the word I was looking for to describe how I’m feeling at work lately. And emotionally lately. Imbalanced. This connection to my imbalanced body suddenly gave me a sense of relief. Yes, or course I’m finding it difficult to gain balance in my life, I am still gaining it back in my body. That body mind connection is such a strong one.

And that’s when I need to come back to compromise and acceptance. I need to accept a less-than-perfect, less-than-balanced reality, and submit to it, allow myself to compromise.

dancer pose, finding balance through yoga

As I get back to a more consistent yoga and meditation practice, it is easier to accept that life is a balancing act. As soon as you think you are on even footing, something will inevitably happen to push things in one direction or the other.

That’s ok. That’s life.

And compromising is ok. It is a necessary part of life.

How do you find balance in the imbalance of life? Where might you need to compromise?


Miso Soup with Maine Seaweed

Today is a lovely rainy spring day -perfect for my first time making miso soup! Miso soup is a light broth soup. It is made with miso paste, which is a salty fermented soy bean paste -that sounds gross, but it is quite good and quite good for you.


miso soup


kombu (left) and wakame seaweed varieties

Miso soup typically has seaweed both floating in it (typically wakame) and soaked to use for the broth (kombu). I went shopping for these two seaweeds at a local health food store and was happily surprised to discover a little coastal Maine company that harvests the sea vegetable, VitaminSea (their Web site has lots of recipes I can’t wait to try with the leftover seaweed).

Benefits of Miso

Miso is high in protein and rich in vitamins and minerals. It’s really healthy stuff. An insert I found in my miso container sighted a recent study linking miso consumption to reduced risk of breast cancer. There are a few different kinds, with slightly different flavors. I honestly am no miso expert (here’s a link that gives a brief overview of the different kinds), but it is the white kind you want for the soup.

Benefits of Seaweed

From reading the back of the package, I found out that kombu seaweed is a great source of soluble fiber, iodine, magnesium, potassium, and calcium. Wakame is equally nutrient rich, having the highest source of calcium of any sea vegetable, along with B complex vitamins, and vitamins A, C, and K.

The kombu needs to soak quite a while (the recipe I used said at least an hour and up to overnight) to create the broth or dashi. I started soaking mine mid-morning and made the soup in the early evening. But after that prep time, it comes together quite quickly. The seaweed is really fun to work with, watching it expand to more than double its size in the pot.


soaking wakame, smelled like the ocean in my kitchen (in a good way)

I used this miso soup recipe, at Je suis alimentageuse, a vegan cooking blog. This version of the recipe is vegan because you don’t add bonito flakes (dried fish), which worked for me because it was one less pricey and hard-to-find ingredient I had to buy. The other ingredients besides the seaweed can be found in most American grocery stores -tofu, scallions, miso paste (usually refrigerated and found near the produce), and I added some mushrooms to mine because in my book, everything is better with mushrooms!


white miso paste

This made a nice big batch that I ate with dinner tonight and can eat throughout the week for any meal -miso soup makes a nice breakfast! However, I read you don’t want to cook the miso, as it looses its flavor, so if you’re making a big batch I suggest putting all the other chopped ingredients into the broth then refrigerate. You can reheat the broth, then you’ll just need to whisk in about 1-2 tsp of the miso paste with a fork for each serving.


yum, miso soup feels so good!

What can you do with the leftover kombu seaweed after it soaks?

Make natural plant fertilizer!

Here’s my serendipity for the day. I spent the morning potting some houseplant clippings that had rooted. Then I went to the store to buy some tofu and was hoping they had a basil plant I could get, since I found this recipe for some red cabbage I needed to use up. They had one, and since it was in sad shape they gave it to me for free!

I read up online how to care for said sad basil plant and it needs fertilizer. It just so happens that all this seaweed I have lying around makes a great plant fertilizer, containing all of the nutrients plants need. So, I will be re-soaking the kombu, because I’m sure not all of its nutrients have left it yet, and use that water to fertilize my basil plant and the rest of my houseplants. I’m resoaking it in the water that the wakame rehydrated in.

Isn’t life and the Internet wonderful?

One more thought on red cabbage

The red cabbage recipe above turned out so delicious, I wanted to share a little more. The recipe is called Asian Red Cabbage Slaw with Peanuts, and I got it off of the Food Network’s Web site. But since I think raw red cabbage is a bit bitter, I wanted to cook it. So I sauted it for a few minutes, and since I was sauteing, I added 1/2 an onion. The result was kind of like a red cabbage pad thai. Very yummy, not to mention -what a healthy pad thai alternative!

Do you cook with seaweed? Got any good seaweed or miso recipes to share?

A Guide to Enlightenment

Sorry again for my inconsistency in writing lately, and again I’m going to blame it on the knee. I’ve started back to work full time, and between work and recovering, that’s about all I’ve got energy for these days. I continue to be amazed how healing one small piece of my body affects my whole being.

As far as yoga, I’m getting back into some standing poses, focusing on the basic sun salutation and some core strengthening poses. This time around, I am noticing the leg strength needed for each one, and my right leg’s lack of stamina. Being ok with going slow and a less-is -more approach is still my biggest lesson right now.

The Yoga-Sutra of Patanjali, A New Translation with Commentary by Chip Hartranft

The Yoga-Sutra of Patanjali, A New Translation with Commentary by Chip Hartranft

As I wait for my body, I am continuing to exploring yoga through my reading. This week I finished The Yoga-Sutra of Patanjali: A New Translation with Commentary, by Chip Hartranft. (I wrote about other yoga reading I’ve done in this and this post)

The Yoga Sutra is a classic yoga text, probably the classic yoga text. It’s author, Patanjali could be considered the grandfather of yoga, but not much is known about him (her? them?). Nearly 2,000 years old, the Yoga Sutra was written in a time when not many students were able to read, so it was done in a terse, quite poetic style in order to be easily memorized and recited by students. This type of text often needed the aid of a teacher to interpret, as it was written as a very sparse guide.

A guide to what?

Put simply, a guide to enlightenment. Patanjali outlines the yogic path to Samadhi, enlightenment, or as Hartranft translates it “oneness, integration.” This is definitely some heady stuff to wrap our minds around, but that’s just the thing –one can’t really wrap a mind around enlightenment. It is beyond the mind, beyond the self. Reading about it is very interesting, because it is, of course, all theoretical. I am not reading this as something I myself have experienced. And in the end, it really all comes down to the experience –the experience of reality, not through the lens of self, or even consciousness, but an “integration” with reality that us humans can’t really tap into through our daily lives as most of us live them.

So, is this discouraging? Yes, and no. Reading the sutras, I found myself frustrated with my own meditation practice at times –why am I so far from even glimpsing what Patanjali writes of? But then I remind myself, wherever I am on this yogic path is perfectly ok, because I am on it. This text is a beautiful affirmation of the heart of yoga, why we practice, what we can achieve, no matter where we are on this path.

Now, I don’t want to summarize the sutras, nor could I after only a first read. But it was a great introduction to a very dense text that anyone serious about their yoga practice should not only read, but read often (and by often, I mean I want to try to read it once a year). I will say that the yoga Patanjali describes is far from the asana-heavy yoga most of America currently practices today. In fact asana, as we know it, doesn’t really factor into Patanjali’s yoga.

Patanjali's yoga more closely resembles Gautama Buddha's meditating than your modern Vinyasa Flow class

Patanjali’s yoga more closely resembles Gautama Buddha’s meditating than your modern Vinyasa Flow class

So my big question now is how did we get from there to here anyway? I’m currently in search of a good book on the history and evolution of yoga.

Any recommendations?

I’ve been eyeing The Yoga Tradition: Its History, Literature, Philosophy, and Practice, by Georg Feuerstein as fitting the bill.

Has anyone read it?

A few last thoughts on the Yoga Sutras

I enjoyed Hartranft’s knowledgeable and scholarly translation of it. He also includes an interesting essay on its relevance and relationship to today’s yoga. I liked that he included a commentary-free English translation of the entire Sutra in an appendix, which I read first, then read the sutras with his commentary interspersed, which is the main portion of the book.

Other versions of the sutras I would like to read include B. K. S. Iyengar’s (Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali), and Swami Satchidananda’s (The Yoga Sutras by Patanjali).

Patanjali? This is, apparently, what he looked like


And I wanted to leave you with what I found to be the most poetic passage of Hartranft’s translation, as a little taste of the sutras. In Chapter 1, Patanjali makes a list of distractions (like apathy and doubt) that act as “barriers to stillness” of consciousness, then lists ways that one can subdue these distractions:

1.33 Consciousness settles as one radiates friendliness, compassion, delight, and equanimity toward all things, whether pleasant or painful, good or bad.

34 Or by pausing after breath flows in or out.

35 Or by steadily observing as new sensations materialize.

36 Or when experiencing thoughts that are luminous and free of sorrow.

37 Or by focusing on things that do not inspire attachment.

38 Or by reflection on insights culled from sleep and dreaming.

39 Or through meditative absorption in any desired object.

40 One can become fully absorbed in any object, whether vast or infinitesimal.

I just think that’s such a lovely list.


One last thing, since we are in the month of May, I thought I would share again this post with the recipe for May Clove Water. I’m continuing this practice for my allergies this year, since it seemed to help last year.

And if you have any recommendations for books on the history of yoga, leave them in the comments.


Celebrating the Earth Element in All of Us: Rooting Down on Earth Day

The earth is slowly waking up this month. Snow is receding, grass is greening, buds are sprouting, flowers are pushing up from the soil. I should not be surprised by this, but every year I am. I am astounded by these spring happenings, as if it is a new occurrence. How marvelous.

2014-04-17 14.52.41

spring ground!

It’s a lot like the little revelations in my life, which are the same revelations in slightly new forms, probably occurring around the same time of year, or month, or day, each time. Our little self-revelations are like little crocuses sprouting up anew. Each one does look astonishingly new and unfamiliar every year. Take this revelation –today it came in the form of a silly little fortune cookie, “Value your present moments.” The message is always worded in a slightly different shade, but its meaning is always new and astonishing, stopping me in my tracks. Yes, how many different times a day and how many ways do I need to be reminded of this before it sinks in?

I don’t know. And I will probably never stop being amazed.

Today I wanted to write a little something about Earth Day. I deviated a bit, but how appropriate that Earth Day is in the spring, when we begin to start noticing the world around us a little more closely. When it begins to wake up, when we might begin to wake up.

I like to try to really feel a connection with the Earth on this day. Here’s some ideas for yoga that might help us connect:

Earth Element

One way is to connect with the earth element within us.

A little bachground: According to Ayurveda and yogic philosophy everything around us, ourselves included is made up of five elements (or tattvas) –earth (prithvi), water (jala), fire (agni), air (vayu), and ether (aakash). Each tattva has different characteristics, physical properties, and energetic qualities. But we’re just going to talk about prithvi today in (symbolic) honor of the Earth.

earth, rock

earth, rock

Earthy Yoga

Prithvi represents solid mass. It is dense, heavy. In your body, think about the mass, the very concrete and physical –your bones, muscles, fat. Stand in tadasana (mountain pose) and root down into your toes, preferably outside, on a piece of real live earth! What do you feel? Start with your feet. What do the bottoms of your feet feel? Sense the bones and muscles of your legs and feet, and how they ground you onto your place in this earth. Slowly draw attention to the other muscles and bones in your body, feeling how they connect and work together to hold you in place.

Feel the air entering and exiting your nostrils for a few lovely deep breaths. The earth element is related to our sense of smell. Now close your eyes. What do you smell as you breathe in and out?

The chakra associated with prithvi/earth is the root chakra (muladhara). Located at the perineum, the root chakra is what grounds us, gives us stability. It is the first chakra. Strength in this chakra feels like home.

A great Kundalini kriya for the first chakra is Kriya for a Healthy Bowel System. This slow moving kriya is great for grounding and one of my favorite.

Uttanasana (standing forward bend) is another nice grounding pose for the root chakra. This is one of the few poses I am able to do right now for my knee (in fact, my physical therapist even recommended it), so I’ve been studying it a little more closely lately. It is actually done in two steps. 1.) On the exhale, bend at the hips and bring your hands towards the floor, (touching down beside your feet, if possible, if not, touching the ground in front of your feet, or putting some blocks or stack of books there for your hands to rest on), breathe here, lengthening the shoulder blades. 2.) on another exhale, fold further towards your legs, lift the knee caps by engaging (tightening) the front of your upper legs (quads), this creates a deeper stretch, especially for the back of the legs (hamstrings).

Message to Meditate On

May I feel grounded in the place that I am in. May I feel at home. May I root down into this moment.

May we all feel grounded in the place we are. May we all protect our home. May the Earth feel this love. May it heal. May you heal. May I heal.


Happy Earth Day! What are you doing to celebrate?

Resources and References:

Light on Yoga, by B. K. S. Iyengar

The Aquarian Teacher Level One Training Manual, by Yogi Bhajan


A few of my favorite Earth-helping organizations:

The Sierra Club, often has local chapters to participate in

Portland Trails

The Land Trust Alliance


Poetry in Motion: Celebrating National Poetry Month with Yoga

It’s time for a little something different.

Happy National Poetry Month!

Since I’m in a nostalgic mood lately, I found these poems I’d written during my early years of yoga.

Sometimes poetry just has a way of expressing an experience better than prose. What do you think?



I watch the falling flakes today as if

in a movie

frame by frame

the huge swirling globes not

falling, but suspended

at different intervals in space until,

touching down,

                     they run out of space.


            yesterday, in the middle of a floor pose,

            heal extended to ceiling,

            to blotched fluorescent light, to

            strand of cobweb dangling

            from the stippled water-stained tiles,

my body stretched through space,

                    for a moment, stretched out of the dream.




once wrung so taught,

a wet cloth twisted.


now softening, untwisting

into a heap

no longer wrought with the weight of things



                a moveable mass


New to The Approximate Yogi? Have a closer look. Thanks for visiting.


The Brutally Honest Story of the Evolution of a Yogi, Part 2

You can read Part 1 here.

Finally it was time to, reluctantly, move back home to Maine. One of the first things I did was look for a Kundalini studio. That’s when I met Kartar (who would later go on to take over my yoga class and half my speech therapy caseload when I left Maine for Arizona, funny how life works) and her little studio, Kundalini Community Yoga, in the front room of a downstairs apartment of the house she owned in the West End of Portland. Sloping pine floors, fire place and old plate glass windows, right beside one of the many fine restaurants in the town. (For a whole week I convinced myself that the smell of steak wafting through the windows as I lay in Savasana was a sign I should eat meat again. I bought one organic grass-fed steak and it was delicious, then I was over it).

I loved the same old Kundalini in this new style from a new teacher, so laid back, yet behind her, years of experience and commitment, knowledge and faith in the practice and what it can do for your life. Then she closed her studio and took a break from teaching.

There was another little Black Age for Catie and Yoga, no more Kundalini and I just couldn’t get into Portland’s obsession with Vinyasa Flow. There was another wonderful teacher, that taught a gentle open flowing hatha –Open Heart Yoga, but the East End Community Center soon closed too and she left with its closing (She has since come back to open a new studio). I was discovering that my first year working may be harder than my first year of grad school, now no longer having the supportive network of my grad school friends and classmates, adjusting to another new city I wasn’t quite committed to being in yet.

I decided to give the flow studio another chance and in the meantime had started entertaining the idea of taking a teacher training, browsing different programs in different tropical locations on the Internet and in Yoga Journal.

teacher training group photo

teacher training group photo and images we created learning about the chakras

I met Heather the next day in her Kundalini class, the same old great Kundalini, another different teacher’s style. She announced that night a teacher’s training would be taking place in a few months in New Hampshire, taught by a wonderfully radiant artist-yogi. It was serendipity; I was in!

The first weekend of the class was a few days after my grandfather’s funeral. Recovering from a cold, overwhelmed with grief and exhaustion, I survived week 1, beginning to meet, slowly and shyly, the women I would spend one weekend a month with for the next nine months, completely transforming my life. I enduring pain and poses I never thought possible, continued through the tears, came out on the other end of a 2 ½ hour long meditation, and began teaching in front of them.

I also started teaching a practice class to a few willing co-workers in our office’s basement. They helping me move the heavy conference table and chairs into the other room once a week, then put them back again. I was beginning to feel like a teacher.

Between yoga and the power of positive thinking, I completely transforming my life into a place I wanted to be. Portland became a wonderful city, my job became one to fall in love with, even the winters I had always struggled to get through I embraced and loved. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And I found my yoga studio. One day Heather was late to class, stuck in traffic. I started talking with another student, who, with more passion than I’d seen in a long time, told me he was opening up a donations-only studio and I should stop by and help out if I wanted. Painting those walls that vibrant sunrise yellow was like therapy to me. Yogavé soon opened and I was subbing for Heather who had come on board and soon had my own class Tuesday nights at 7:30.

I was firmly into a daily committed practice. In the mornings if I didn’t want to get up for me, I did it for my students – I owed it to them, was committed to them, they needed a good, prepared, well-balanced teacher. I also taught a few outdoor classes on the Eastern Prom overlooking the bay on beautiful sunny summer mornings.

Life was pretty blissful. But I got restless. I was young, I was free, not yet tied down to the family and relationship I secretly desperately wanted. So I left my oceanside apartment for the desert. The Southwest, a place that had been calling me to return to since I first laid eyes on the alien land in my cross-country trip to Oregon.

After a much shorter and often more pleasant cross-country trip with my mom, I landed in Surprise, Arizona to start a job at an elementary school, all wide-eyed, high hopes of bringing yoga to the kids and this suburban town. Who knows where I’ll be called to teach, as it had called me, no, fallen into my lap, before. Picture 101

No one knocked. In fact, no one answered my knocks, not the PTA or the apartment complex activities director, or my neighbors. And these whole nine months I felt guilt, guilt that I didn’t try hard enough to bring yoga to my new community. This was a desert in terms of yoga, as well. Not a single yoga studio. There was a yoga class in my apartment complex that fizzled, a “yoga club” with a sporadic full moon yoga class and other class times that were inconvenient for me. There was a sort of ashram in Phoenix, but I hadn’t yet found the hour drive just for a class worth it enough. Guilt at my own slipping practice, watching, as I needed to start work earlier the minutes of my a.m. practice slowly dwindling to a consistent 15-20 minutes, then skipping on early meeting days, then skipping just to skip, then the days I do practice more rare than the ones I don’t.

This new development, however, only occurred in the last couple months of my Arizona stay. I did maintain practice through most of my time there, and that is something. But the guilt still lingered. In the end, I felt as if the suburbs had beaten me. I had not conquered. I was a yoga teacher who’s knowledge was being wasted, crumbling. And my own practice crumbling too.

Then I came home to Maine again and yoga had still steadfastly been waiting for me to make my next move.

And then I did. While back in Portland I built up a practice in my new-old life, keeping it through a new relationship, keeping it even though I couldn’t find and really didn’t spend much time looking for a teaching gig. This time my yoga practice was instantly there to ground me in this new period of my life. I knew I wanted this relationship, but I wanted it to be different than the ones before. Yoga helped me open up to my relationship fears, to open up to him. And even though he didn’t practice with me, he whole-heartedly supported my practice, and saw its importance to me.

The relationship soon got serious, and after a while I found myself in a new town, much more rural, still keeping a fairly steady Kundalini practice. Soon the universe opened up again and gave me an opportunity to teach –three of them actually. I started up a little class at my local gym. Then the teachers I worked with found out I taught and I started an after school class for them. When school let out for the summer, I found a new venue to teach at, in a lovely yoga gazebo. When the new school year started, and a new year-round full time job, adult ed approached me to do a class through them.

This was all great, but felt like a bit too much on my plate, teaching twice a week, negotiating a new job, and of course, blogging about it all. This time, instead of my personal practice being strengthened by my teaching, it weakened. I found I only had time to focus on what I’d be teaching, instead of exploring and deepening a personal practice.

So I stopped. I stopped teaching, and for a while I stopped, unexpectedly, practicing. It started up a bit in spurts and sputters that didn’t get very far because in January I injured my knee. And everything stopped.

But, as I healed, as always, I soon found my way back to yoga. This time it was different though. I found I was interested in Iyengar-style asana, rather than Kundalini. I found this gave me the strength, balance, and courage to heal from my injury –body and mind. This was my pre-surgery recovery period.

2014-04-11 07.22.13

my new direction

The period after surgery while I was laid up, I read everything I could about yoga, deepening through study of the texts, and self-study. I’m slowly starting to be able to breathe again and do a few asanas. This is lovely, of course, but I’m also more interested in what my yoga practice looks like off my mat, another aspect of yoga I feel I’d been neglecting.

I still feel myself swimming away from Kundalini, and back to my hatha roots, but even more I’m curious about the origins of yoga and its evolution, and how it fits into our society. I find myself wanting to give all styles of yoga a try. I want to know as much as I can about the practice, and I don’t want to have an opinion about any of it yet.

I can’t wait till my knee heals to really get back into the physical practice in a new way, but until then, this period of bodily stillness has opened up so much, and given me a much needed kick in the pants in my evolution as a yogi.



Related Reading:

A different perspective: on the bastardization of yoga, like indigenous traditions by low-brow pop culture (good stuff in the comments section too):


The Brutally Honest Story of the Evolution of a Yogi

Part 1

opening my heart to the practice

opening my heart to the practice

Yoga. Since my first class at the YWCA–on cheap carpets and a beach towel under the low tiled ceiling, with the fluorescent lights turned off— I knew it was for me. My mom and I drove an hour each way to that class, getting up earlier than a teenager would like for the eight-week long beginner series. We might have done two series before we stopped. Life got too busy, the drive got too long. But the seed was planted.

Soon I went to college and found a new teacher that would instill the practice in me, really hook me for good–eventually. I went to the first class with a friend as a college freshman. It was in a community center, a beautiful open space –high ceilings, wood floor expanding between large stained glass windows of the old converted church.

I wasn’t quite ready I guess because it took me a whole year before I returned. When I did, boyfriend in tow (the only yoga class I ever got him to), even when the teacher questioned, I lied and said I’d never been, to get the first class free –not a very good karmic start, but I used the poor college student defense to overcome the guilt.

What began as a questionable start, soon formed into a regular event for me, letting the stresses of college go, for at least an hour. In the summers, I’d bike myself there in the late afternoon sun on my beat-up lime green bike I got for free. Then I’d carry that bliss back with me on my twilight ride home.

I had so many revelations on the church floor on the shared rubber mats. No, actually, by that time I owned my own. I bought it with a gift certificate at a little boutique shop for $45, the only store I could find one in. (Now you can buy a mat at CVS or Walmart for cheap, everyone’s got one, or two.) Oh, and the too-big yoga pants I bought at Ames because I needed something I could move in, I soon traded in for a more form-fitting pair that I still wear today. Actually, I’m wearing them now, as I write this. (I still wear the other ones too, only as snow pants over another pair in the winter, that’s how big they are!)

I had so many revelations about my body, my muscles and my mind in that beautiful spacious room. I learned so much, and to this day I still call upon ways that teacher described poses to get myself into them. He taught in Iyengar style, with such detail and care in every pose and breath. I learned the fundamentals and he taught them well.

I also dabbled into meditation at a weekly informal class in the university’s chapel room. Each week we’d explore a different form of meditation, learning how to sit with silence, sit with breath, even a laughing meditation.

Then I had to take a break from his classes for a semester when I went to Ireland, where the only yoga class I took was taught by an old Irish man in a suit. I kid you not, it was the oddest thing. It was more like a calisthenics class, or the warm-ups you’d do before gym class. I happened to be stretching in the front row as I’d come in a bit late. I remember he made fun of me for mixing up my right and left, and the whole class laughed.

I did not return, but instead discovered that I remembered some of the poses and sequences I learned in my classes back in Maine and I could actually practice them alone, getting up mornings before my roommates, taking over a little space in the back corner of the living room of our little flat. I was actually quite surprised that my body remembered so many of the poses and seemed to flow from one to the other, giving myself what I needed.

So in Ireland I discovered a home practice. Ever since, every place I live I find a spot that I dedicate to my yoga practice. Even hotel rooms, there is often a space between the bed and the window, if I move a table or chair and that becomes my yoga studio.

When I returned, my old teacher’s class soon transitioned to its new location, less spacious, and no longer a bike’s ride away, and I was busy with life and moving.

These last 11 years of my life there have been periods of not practicing as well, like when I moved cross country with that same boyfriend I dragged to class. Sure, I did a few sun salutations in the dirt and pine needles of our camping spots on the way out and I must have occasionally done some down dogs in our apartment, but I don’t remember much yoga going on when I first moved to Eugene, Oregon. It was always there for me though, just quietly waiting. It was the Dark Ages of my yoga practice and beginning to become a dark time for me too, not adjusting well to this big change and big move, watching my relationship with my boyfriend very slowly and quietly deteriorate for reasons I always knew and I’ll never know.

One night, just needing to get out of the house, get away, needing something, I stumbled upon a class at YogaWest, sounded good and I knew how to get there, on Hilyard Street. “Kundalini Yoga” – never heard of it, but yoga’s all the same, right?

Wrong. Woah! What the hell was this?!? Funny breathing, weird poses, where was my relaxation? Where was my flow? I slipped in late, after the tune in, I’m sure. The teacher was this young bearded man all in white with a funny thing on his head talking about how wonderful it was to wake up at 4 in the morning before the sunrise, take a cold shower, then lather himself with oil to start the day.

“Freak!” I thought in my head. “Get me outa here!” I left feeling very discouraged –worse than when I went in.

Eventually my boyfriend and I entangled ourselves from our nearly four years together. I started a post-bac year before grad school, as a complete and utter mess. But time heals, in school I again found a meditation class I went to inconsistently and caught a yoga class every once in a while –back to “normal yoga.” It was a powerful, fast-paced flow, with this instructor that was so hot he made me blush to watch him practice, eagerly standing in line for his after-class hugs, in a hip part of town that was near the funky bike recycle shop. I stopped going because he was too distracting.

Then there was the teacher in the church basement in jeans who taught for free. They weren’t the best classes I’ve ever taken, but he was true, and I learned. He gave us little seedlings from his greenhouse one night. I was sad when I couldn’t make mine live.

I made friends at school and among my new housemates. Things were looking up. But grad school was getting stressful and my closest friend suggested I take a yoga class with her at a studio right next door to her new apartment –YogaWest.

“Hell, no, I won’t go!” I protested. But she assured me the experiences she’s had there were nothing like the Kundalini class I described to her. It was a female teacher, all women class on a Saturday morning and she’d make me pancakes after class. Plus, she said, Sikhs were cool people. So I finally agreed to go (if mostly for the pancakes).

The first class I still didn’t like, but I felt pretty amazing afterwards, must be something there. Second class, the same post-class bliss buzz, the air smelled fresher, the birds chirped sweater – I was alive! I kept going, buying 10-class passes. It was my new drug. Between Kundalini and my weekend lover I survived my first year of grad school. The sex didn’t last, but the yoga did.

…Stay tuned for Part 2 next week…

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Meditation in Action

sTreeOfYogaIn my last post I discussed asana as I understood it through B. K. S. Iyengar’s The Tree of Yoga. But it is too big and beautiful a book to just stop at asana. Since I’ve finished reading it, I’d like to process a little more of it with you and get to the heart of it, the heart of yoga itself.

Yogic Background

Most of The Tree of Yoga is based off the source text of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras (next on my yoga reading list; let’s see if it takes me another 10 years to get to it!). In it, Patanjali breaks down yoga into its parts. Iyengar interprets these parts for us in practical modern terms.

According to Patanjali, yoga is an eight-fold path (eight limbs, which is where the name ashtanga comes from). These eight limbs can both be broken down into smaller branches, and put together into three larger parts.

Ok, stick with me for a bit!

Here are the eight, and their subcategories/principles that define them:

  • Yama –the five principles of which are: ahimsa (non-violence), satya (truthfulness), asteya (freedom from avarice), brahmacharya (control of sensual pleasure), and parigraha (freedom from covetousness and possession beyond one’s needs)
  • Niyama –the five principles of which are: saucha (cleanliness), santosa (contentment), tapas (ardour), svadhyaya (self-study) and Isvara-pranidhana (self-surrender)
  • Asana –“the various postures which bring the physical and the physiological functions of the body into harmony with the psychological pattern of yogic discipline (pg. 8).”
  • Pranayama –“the science of breath, which connects the macrocosm to the microcosm and vice versa (pg. 8).”
  • Pratyahara –“the inward journey of the senses (pg.8)”
  • Dharana –“concentration, focusing the attention on the core of the being (pg.8)”
  • Dhyana –meditation
  • Samadhi –“where the body, the mind, and the soul are merged with the Universal Spirit (pg.9)” or “diffusing the soul into each and every part of the body (pg. 73)”

These eight limbs can be divided into the three different levels of yoga:

1st: Yama and Niyama have to do with the social and ethical aspects of yoga, like the dos and don’ts of life in society.

2nd: Asana, pranayama, pratyahara have to do with your personal physical and mental practice, which lead to “the evolution of the individual, the understanding of the self (pg. 5).”

3rd: Dharana, dhyana, samadhi aren’t really part of the practice, but more like the product. They are the “effects of yoga which bring the experience of the sight of the soul (pg.5).”

Woah, I know that was more than a mouthful! But it had to all be said. The Tree of Yoga takes the rest of the book to go into more detail explaining these principles. The more you come into contact with these words, hear them repeated, and explained in different ways, they do all begin to slowly make sense and fit together.

I won’t go into Iyengar’s beautiful tree analogy here, you’ll have to read it for yourself. But these are the foundations of all yoga, no matter what the style or school. To me, it seems, the style or school (i.e. ashtanga, Iyengar, Kundalini) has to do with the interpretation of these eight limbs and where the emphasis is put.

The Nature of Meditation

Anyway, it was in a chapter near the end of the book,”The Nature of Meditation,” when this all seemed to click and I could see both the big and the small pictures. Iyengar’s main thesis of the book, it seems, is to place the physical practice of asana (hatha yoga) at the center of getting at all the other aspects of yoga, even meditation.

Before reading this I had always had the idea that the asanas are really just warm-ups for sitting down to meditate. Now, you can, and should, certainly be doing each asana with meditative mindfulness, but it didn’t seem like you could get at samadhi from asana alone.

Iyengar takes a different approach. He seems to see meditation, and everything in that third tier –concentration, meditation, enlightenment, as something that can be achieved during and through an asana practice. And this was finally making sense to me by this chapter.

The ultimate goal of meditation is not to reach enlightenment just while sitting on your nice meditation cushion in complete silence, but to maintain that state in everything you do in your life. Meditation is not wisdom, not the answers to all the questions in the universe we are seeking in a cave somewhere. Meditation is to help us live our lives the best we can, to live it through our highest possible Self.

So, I kinda had all that before (and when I say this, I mean “had” as in understood it on an intellectual level, not experiential, which is the tough part!). But Iyengar puts the body back into this equation –and why not, we can’t get rid of our bodies in this life. And by putting the body back into it, he activated it for me. He writes:

“When we become aware inside and outside, we can have the experience that meditation and physical action are not separate, that there is no division between body, mind and soul (pg.146).”

He goes on:

“You may practice meditation and develop awareness when you are sitting quietly in a park, and it comes quite easily. But when you are busy working, your life gets dominated by thought and it is hard to have total awareness. When you practice asana, pranayama and pratyahara, you learn to be totally aware –you develop awareness in your whole body while you are engaged in action. Then you can become totally aware in all circumstances. In a park, while you look at a tree, you forget yourself and you are one with the universe. Why can’t you learn to be one with the universe of your own world –that is to say, your self and your body? This way of looking at daily life is total awareness, total integration and meditation (pg. 146-7).”

maybe less of this?

maybe less of this?

Woah. This means my asana practice (as meditation in action) may more easily translate to meditation in the actions of the everyday than my previous idea of what meditation was.

I like this. I like it a lot. And of course you can see why you would need to practice yoga daily for the rest of your life! This isn’t something you just get one day on the mat and then “get” one day off the mat, and you’re done with yoga.

He ends the chapter with this lovely thought:

“You and I are runners in meditation, but we have not reached the goal (pg. 148).”

and more of this?

and more of this?

At least it’s a beautiful course! See you on the road.

But wait, am I totally giving up seated meditation? Probably not. But I like this new perspective on yoga that the book gave me. And there’s still more! He ends with two beautiful chapters on the art of yoga, and teaching yoga.

Do you have any yoga texts you love by other yogis? I’m looking for more good reading. 

(Note: This scheduled post was written on 3/16/14 as I take a break from writing to heal post knee-surgery.)

Resource: The Tree of Yoga, by B. K. S. Iyengar


My Yoga Family Tree

my new modified tree pose, coincidentally the shirt I'm wearing says "We'll get there eventually"

my new modified tree pose, coincidentally the shirt I’m wearing says “We’ll get there eventually”

I neglected to mention in my last post, since I didn’t want to sound whiny, that just about as soon as I returned home from my trip to Portland I got sick, and have been sick all week (the whole gamet –stomach bug to head cold to sinus infection, which is of course horrible timing. There, I’ve sufficiently held the pity party!).

So in this time of being laid-up, lacking any energy to do any yoga, I’ve been reading a lot about yoga instead. And since I process better when I write, I thought I’d share some of the things I’m reading.

Interestingly, I’ve been drawn to Iyengar-style hatha yoga as my knee is recovering and getting stronger, finding it hard to access the Kundalini kriyas. Later, as my knee got stronger, I probably could have physically accessed them, but there was something in my mind that was not interested in going there. I felt the need for static instead of dynamic poses, for moving slowly instead of the rapid movements characteristic of Kundalini. I was still very much enjoying exploring these hatha poses, remembering back to when I had first discovered them, and first discovered yoga. With this bum knee, it was like I was discovering the poses for the first time all over again.

So, as I waited for the library to get my new batch of books I requested, I opened up some old ones on my shelf I have to admit I had only read pieces of, rather than cover to cover. Both by B.K.S. Iyengar.

Light on Yoga

loyThe first I dug out as a guide to the poses –Light on Yoga. Now, I don’t think this book is really meant to be read cover-to-cover. Since most of it is a detailed list of poses with descriptions of how to do them, it is more of a reference book. But it does have a hefty introduction and a few other sections that I’d never read before. The introduction is really a great overview of ALL of yogic philosophy. For me, it was a nice review of concepts that I learned slowly over the course of my teacher training. If I hadn’t already learned them I think I would find it really confusing, but instead it was nice to refresh my memory, and come at it from a slightly different perspective (Iyengar versus Yogi Bhajan). It was somehow nice to affirm that all yoga (or at least these two styles) is the same and has the same fundamental goals and philosophy behind it, just different ways of getting there.

Tree of Yoga

Then, I moved onto The Tree of Yoga. A book, I have to confess, I’ve had on my shelf for probably about 10 years and still haven’t finished. I’m committed to it now and will finish this time! The book is based on lectures given by B.K.S. Iyengar on yogic philosophy, specifically how yogic philosophy and the spiritual aspects of yoga relate to and manifest in the physical practice of poses, or asanas.

Iyengar emphasizes again and again that the main purpose of yoga is union of body, mind, and soul, in order to create union with the Universal Spirit. I’ve always been drawn to Iyengar-style for its deliberate and slow experiences of each posture. That each posture in and of itself is a place of meditation, that a whole universe is going on in your body during each pose, and each pose is an entirely different universe. By this I mean, there is so much going on in the body and mind that we are often unaware of, slowing down in the poses helps us begin to be aware.

sTreeOfYogaThis awareness just deepens over time. When I first start practicing a pose, I am only aware of the muscles of action –the very pose itself. But slowly more awareness opens up. I then notice the muscles of inaction, and often discover they too are active in their own way, or sometimes reactive. There is balancing, stabilizing, stretching, releasing. Then I can start to focus on the breath in the pose. Then it can start to become meditative…and deeper and deeper.

I have to admit, most often I don’t get to this level of deepening. Practicing with my “new body” (post knee-injury) made me realize this again, and kind of relish in the slowing down, seeing just how slow I could go. My practice went from many poses to only a few in the same amount of time.

New things I gleaned about asana from The Tree of Yoga

Iyengar describes asana as pose and then repose, which really gets at what I described above. When I’m practicing an asana, too often I move on without the repose part. I pose, then pose, then pose, without taking the time to get at where the good stuff can be found –in the repose. He describes repose as:

“reflection on the pose. The pose is re-thought and readjusted so that the various limbs and parts of the body are positioned in their places in a proper order and feel rested and soothed, and the mind experiences the tranquility and calmness of bones, joints, muscles, fibres and cells.”

I love that repose has a double meaning, because this second step in the asana is a repose too –repose the noun: resting, in a state of calm and quiet. This is the time to connect body to mind, mind to soul. He writes:

“As the body is contracted or extended, so the intelligence is contracted or extended to reach every part of the body. This is what is known as reposing; this is sensitivity. When this sensitivity is in touch equally with the body, the mind and the soul, we are in a state of contemplation or meditation which is known as asana. The dualities between body and mind, mind and soul, are vanquished or destroyed.”

Good stuff, right?

Later, he adds to this idea of the asana that you must also taste it, taste its energy which I love.

“The essence, or taste, of energy has to be felt in the fountain of your body when you are performing asanas or pranayama.”

So we really do have a whole world going on in each and every pose. This is something I too easily and often forget.

Thanks for letting me process with you and I hope that maybe you were able to find it helpful too. I definitely recommend both of these books. The Tree of Yoga has many more beautiful nuggets in it, and covers all aspects of yoga. Asana was just the one on my mind tonight.

And, if it seems I have been focusing a lot on other yoga, besides Kundalini, it is because I have been. I haven’t abandoned Kundalini though. I am just taking some time to explore yogic philosophy in a broader sense, and through a different angle. I began my yoga journey in a more Iyengar-style class, so this has always been there, and there have always been aspects of this yoga that I miss in Kundalini. And aspects of Kundalini that I miss in hatha. I think I am now taking the time to reconcile the two in my life and strike some sort of balance.

Do you practice more than one style of yoga? How do you reconcile the differences? Or do you?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Please leave a comment if you feel so inclined.

(Note: This is a scheduled post written on 3/15/14 as I take a break from writing to heal post-knee surgery. By the way, the surgery went very well and I am recovering nicely.)


Light on Yoga, by B. K. S. Iyengar

The Tree of Yoga, by B. K. S. Iyengar


10 Things That Make Kundalini Yoga Different from Hatha Yoga

Styles of Yoga

Iyengar Yoga’s official web page

Light on Yoga (aka “The Book”)