Sunday, April 24, 2011

Ask Parvati 9: The Yoga of Easter

Ask Parvati 9
The Yoga of Easter

Dear Parvati,

As a practicing yogini who is versed in Eastern and Western traditions, what is your take on Easter?

Thank you for your question. It feels very resonant for me that this year’s Easter weekend takes place over the same weekend as Earth Day. (May Earth Day be every day!) It is also special for me that Easter is always so close to Passover, the Last Supper being a Seder meal. Though your question is about Easter, my answer does not focus on a specific religion, because I feel that the essence of Easter is not contained within a religion, but is at the heart of many mystical traditions.

The name “Easter” is derived from Eastre, the Teutonic goddess of spring and fertility. Originally, Eastre was a celebration of the rebirth of nature that happens every spring. Rabbits and eggs are symbols of fertility that have made their way from pagan times into popular culture.

For Christians, Easter is a high holiday that celebrates the risen Christ. What I have come, through my practice, to understand about the meaning of the risen Christ is that we are not limited to physical form, the illusion of the solidity of matter, but exist within the realm of the infinite.

The notion of being infinite beings can seem abstract and is a far stretch from the seductive sugar we are offered in chocolate bunnies and creme eggs. As one who practices meditation, I feel a kinship with the idea that we are infinite beings having a finite experience. There is a space between each breath that touches the divine, giving pause to the push-pull cycle of the mind’s tendency to divide and categorize.

Though my practice, I have felt that one aspect of the Easter message is that Christ was showing us how the death of the ego leads to the birth of the eternal self. The experience of the infinite, our timeless self, is available to us in each moment, and we access the moment when we let go of the human habit to overlay a story upon that which is. When we are willing to pause, expansion begins. In that expansion, there is no control, but a joyful, undivided sense of service to what is. In that space, consciousness arises. And that gives birth to the eternal Self.

When we learn to bring our attention into the moment, we begin to experience Easter, a fluid, expansive, non-attached rhythm of life-death-rebirth that embodies the eternal. I offer here some passing words that arose through my meditation this Easter Sunday.

Wishing you eternal joy.
Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu.


Easter Breathing




Feel the lungs fill with air.)


The mind focus
along the breath




“Where are the edges
to grab



The air expands to fill these lungs.
The lungs expand to greet Life.
Life slides between thoughts.
Life opens.



There is no mind…
a field dancing
with electric possibility.
I Am.



            No breath…
Omni directional energy.

In this moment the infinite is born.
In this moment All Is.
There is no “I” but a shimmer
the Divine Dream.


This moment is

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Ask Parvati 8: How To Find The Right Yoga Practice and Teacher For You

How To Find The Right Yoga Practice and Teacher For You

Dear Parvati,

I would like to get into yoga classes, but I feel overwhelmed by all of the choices and styles. How can I tell what kind of yoga class will actually be good for me and suits my body and temperament? What should I look for in a yoga teacher?

Various Kinds of Yoga

Yoga is a 5,000-year-old life science and art. It touches upon many topics and areas of inquiry, such as herbal medicine, meditative and contemplative practices, ritual, chanting, astrology and sound – just to name a few. The yoga most commonly known in the West is Hatha yoga, a practice that cultivates the experience of a balanced and unified state of being through physical exercises. The Sanskrit word yoga means to join or to yoke, to unify. All practices that are said to be yogic would have the development of a harmonious way of life and ultimate God-realization as their goal.

The balancing and purifying principles that are at the root of Hatha yoga have found broad appeal around the world, as the benefits of stretching, strengthening and relaxation are immediately evident, and the cultivation of inner peacefulness is available for those who are willing.

In the yogic tradition, there is a saying: The paths are many, but the truth is one. Whether you choose Iyengar, Ashtanga, Scaravelli, Sivananda, Kripalu, Bikram, Kundalini, Vinyasa, Yin Yoga, Anusara, Moksha, Jivamukti… you are ultimately doing a hatha yoga practice, which is using the body as a tool to experience a harmonious relationship between spirit and matter. There are many different types of hatha yoga practices, because there are many types of people. It is not appropriate, for example, for someone who tends to run hot to do a heating yoga practice. Nor is it appropriate for one who tends to be heavy in body and mind to do a practice that is particularly slow (non-dynamic).

For example, Ashtanga practice is very popular today. It is a powerful practice and has many benefits. It is a practice that cultivates heat and, as such, is appropriate for some, but not everyone. The heat generated in the practice is an internal heat geared to purify the physical body but also the subtler channels and the spiritual body. A particularly feisty go-getter type person may be attracted to the heat in this practice, feeling that they like the vigorous workout. However, this can often add more heat to an already overheated system. So, though a person may run from the boardroom and slip into a yoga class, and dash off to their next appointment, in effect they have not truly paused to do yoga. They have kept their heated go-getter engine on throughout the yoga class and on into the next thing. I have seen, in the years of my yoga therapy work with individuals and with groups, many people who have experienced the ill effects of being in the wrong practice for their type. Choosing the right practice is very important.

Different Styles for Different Body Types

Ayurveda, the herbal medicine branch of the overarching body of yoga, is a sister to Hatha yoga. It breaks down the human constitution into different types. When you are looking for the right yoga class for you, it is useful to have a sense of your type. Ask yourself the following:
·       Are you thin, find it hard to gain weight, wiry, nervy, agitated, with energy that comes in sparks and flashes, more of a sprinter than a distance runner?
·       Are you fiery, muscular, determined for the long haul, competitive, maybe even aggressive, with a burning appetite for life?
·       Are you slow, calm, stable, steady, sturdy, reluctant to change, with the potential to be stubborn or lazy?

Just as people’s body types can break down into these three different groups, yoga practices can also be broken down into these three different groups. People that tend to be wiry and nervy do best with slow, nurturing, grounding and comforting practices, such as Kripalu, Sivananda, Scaravelli, restorative, integral or Yin yoga. People who run hot, and are competitive by nature, are likely to be attracted to more physically intense yoga practices, which is okay as long as the primary directive of the practice is not to generate heat. Anusara, Iyengar, Sivananda, Scaravelli or viniyoga would be good practices for this constitution. If you have a heavier build, tend to be slow by nature and would benefit from a little more inner fire, then Ashtanga, Jivamukti, power yoga, Kundalini, Bikram and Moksha yoga can be good practices for you.

When there are specific injuries to the body that need to be addressed, restorative yoga classes can be good. Pre- and post-natal classes are excellent support for the birthing process.

There is no harm in trying out a variety of practices. The ill effects of which I speak in this blog are effects that happen over a long term. If you are generally fit and generally in good health, there is no ill effect in trying any style of yoga to see how it feels, as long as it is done in moderation. It is advised, however, to eventually stick with a practice. Because the effects of yoga are deep and lasting, they happen over time. So a consistent practice with the correct method, with a skilled teacher and a willing student, will yield maximum results.

Finding a Teacher

Because the instructor is guiding you through the development of an intentional body-mind relationship, going to a yoga class can feel for me like wearing somebody else’s body. Though for some, going to a yoga class can be seen as just a great way to “get fit”, there is something much deeper going on. I seek teachers that embody at least an aspect of yoga, that is, that they exhibit and live by a deepening body-mind connection that serves the greater good of all. I have seen many very popular yoga teachers that I feel seem disconnected from who they are and what they are doing, and as such they do not exemplify yoga for me. If you are not sure, try a class, and see how you feel afterwards. Do you feel grounded? Do you feel too heavy? Do you feel elated? Do you feel too high? Do you feel energized? Do you feel too peppy? Notice how you feel. Above all, you should feel balanced. That is, grounded and inspired, rooted and expansive, relaxed and alert. The way this balanced feeling is developed through a yoga class is by the awareness of one’s spine, and the way vital life-force energy moves through it. I would stay away from any teacher that uses terminology such as “push” or “pull”, or who acts with too much force, and who does not bring your awareness back to your breath and to the movement of energy in your spine. Though many years of teaching can indicate a more skilful teacher, I have also seen young teachers who seem to naturally “get it” and are genuinely inspired by the yogic path. So, though credentials matter, what matters most, again, is this feeling of balanced connection.

In my years of teaching, I have experienced a shortage of teachers who understood the value of a practice inspired by a surrendered relationship to the vital life force that runs as a vast mystery within. Yoga is not an external practice of bendy poses that turn your body into a pretzel, but the development of a deep internal relationship with the self and the Divine. This is why, through the natural development of my practice, my personal teaching style, YEM: Yoga as Energy Medicine, arose. When we are willing to listen within, our greatest teacher is our humble relationship to the cosmos that exists as a guiding force within ourselves, expressed within our body. At best, your yoga teacher mirrors that relationship back to you, as a guide to help you get out of your own way so that your finite body may embody the eternal Divine. A teacher is not to be copied, but is to inspire your own unique personal path.

I wish you much grace as you explore the riches of yoga.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Ask Parvati 7 – Cultivating the Sweetness of Humility

Ask Parvati 7 – Cultivating the Sweetness of Humility

Dear Parvati,

You mentioned in your last entry that a gem of a spiritual seeker will have a warm humility. I try to practice humility, but struggle with a tendency to go straight into self-loathing when I feel that I have done something egotistic. I feel this tendency is not humility. Can you explain a little more about humility and how it is different from beating yourself up?

I feel grateful for this question on a topic with which I am very much in process. I am no expert here, so I share some of what I have learned and witnessed so far on my journey. The lessons that have taught me aspects of humility have been among the toughest I have experienced, but also the sweetest. As the hard shell of the coconut cracks to reveal sweet meats, so too the hardness of our ego must dissolve in order to experience the nectar of lasting bliss.

Humility is an essential spiritual quality that we must all learn to cultivate if we are to walk the spiritual path. Because of the powerful strength found in the deep softness of humility, this topic is often easily misunderstood. I acknowledge its sweet immensity in wonder and awe.

Part of the process of evolution is learning to find a balanced relationship between the temporal and the eternal, the mundane and the cosmic. We are vast, radiant beings, like shining stars, learning to face, with grace and ease, situations and events that may make us feel constrictive.

Our life events are a reflection of our previous karmic tendencies (residue from our past) and an opportunity to flow within the divine play of pure consciousness arising. We learn to soften and welcome this moment, open to the teachings and the wisdom within it that give us what we need to let go of that which no longer serves, and embrace the fullness of who we are.

Just as a star eventually collapses and goes supernova, along the spiritual path there is a death of who we think ourselves to be, in order to become eternally free. The key elixir in the process of this death is the deceptively powerful force of humility. Humility has the alchemical power of transforming the base metals of our previous karmic tendencies into the gold of this moment.

The power of humility is a balanced dance within form and formlessness, where we understand that to meet this moment, to let go, to embrace what is, allows the stars that we are to be born into supernovae. As such, humility is a refined state of consciousness that both guides and teaches us on our spiritual path.

What makes humility so powerful is that it provides us with a balanced attitude of being an integral part within a vast and immense whole. Only in being humble can we truly learn to embrace this moment in all that it brings. Only in being humble can we truly learn to let go of how we want things to be, and learn what we need. Only in being humble are we rooted, vital and expansive enough to realize our true nature. We all cast shadows on this earth. The more we stand in pride, judgment and in illusions of grandeur, the deeper our shadow. By being willing to kneel in gratitude, bow in reverence, let go in wonder, the depth of our shadow decreases. And the death that we experience is the death of the temporal, the death of “me”, “mine” and “I”.

We commonly think of humility as a sheepish, apologetic state, which in itself speaks of a shadow of the ego. The ego is tricky, yet is also quite simple. It expresses itself in any feeling that makes us feel greater than or less than.

The Buddhist practice speaks of near enemies. For example, the near enemy of the sophisticated state of compassion would be sympathy. To be sympathetic for someone is a very different state than to be compassionate. So in the same way, nobodyness can often be misunderstood as humility. Nobodyness would be more along the lines of the ego’s tricky play of feeling less than, which is often rooted in self-loathing or shame.

Self-loathing can come in various forms. It can be an active aggression against oneself, or a more passive attachment to a sense of self-disgust. It is perhaps useful to think of self-loathing as the personality’s misguided understanding of the energy flow in this moment. This misguided understanding brings one into the experience of an emotional dead end, feeling trapped with no way out. The pattern of self-loathing becomes a self-sabotage technique that pulls us away from the fullness of the moment and into a disconnected, painful state.

Of course, there is the potential for the vicious cycle of loathing the self-loathing, which just generates more suffering. The opportunity for us is, once we realize we are in a pattern of self-loathing, to stop, to breathe, and allow ourselves to be right here, right now. It is natural to feel overwhelmed when we first start to practice this. It’s like a new muscle that takes time to develop. So continue to bring your awareness back to whatever this moment is for you.

And in that space, the tendency for self-loathing will likely return. But in that space, we can begin to witness it rather than react to it and give it energy. In the process of witnessing it, we can begin to make different choices, choices rooted in a more connected sense of self, choices inspired by the freedom of humility.

It takes humility to learn to release this misunderstanding of your true nature and begin to consciously choose different avenues of expression. Life is an ongoing opportunity for us to meet face-to-face the results of our previous actions. We can resist, dislike, judge and feel ashamed of what we see as a reflection of who we are; or we can choose to move a new way, out of the dead end and into the flow. The ability to see clearly that we have been self-loathing requires humility, asking us to soften to what is, to find a middle place that is neither mired in a painful tendency nor steeped in avoidance. This humility holds within it both the gentleness required to meet the moment and the alignment to an energy greater than the self, that is in service to evolution. So rather than fighting or avoiding self-loathing, humility teaches us to see it as it is, accept it in all its colours, and return to our connection, to our radiant star-like reality, and shine.

We can feel resistance to realizing that we are stars, let alone to knowing that we can go supernova. In the last blog entry, we explored the trickiness of the ego and how all that shimmers may not be light. So to even come into alignment with the realization that we are stars requires humility. To say “Hey, wow, look at me, I’m a brilliant star!” or to sheepishly avoid shining, are both expressions of ego-driven disconnect. Humility teaches us a relaxed acceptance of our true nature, that we are perfect beings within a perfect universe, with imperfect qualities that require conscious attention to refine.

We are perfectly equipped with everything we need to evolve. It takes humility to maintain a non-comparative, non-judgmental point of view so that we can just get on and do our work just as we are and be in a relaxed, celebratory state of awareness that we are within an intelligent, vast whole.

I cannot say whether one arrives into a permanent state of humility, because on my journey so far, I am very much in a deepening, ongoing evolutionary process with it. But sages remind us of a reality in which all aspects of the ego dissolve and we experience a continual flow of unity consciousness and bliss. May you find the light, playful wonder to meet the moment with humility so that you may realize the fullness of who you are.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Ask Parvati 6 - Seeing Past the Shimmer: Discernment on the Spiritual Path

Seeing Past the Shimmer: Discernment on the Spiritual Path
April 3, 2011

Thank you for all the questions submitted this past week. In this week's blog, we take a look at the shadow of spiritual seekers. Please send your questions to be picked for next week’s topic to by Thursday, April 7.

If you have not yet done so, please listen to the meditation for Japan that I recorded recently to support those in need. I am grateful for your help in passing it on.


Dear Parvati,
I have a friend that I find confusing. She is sweet, an active spiritual seeker who volunteers and seems to care for others. But when I am around her, I feel uneasy. When I ask myself why, I feel in my gut that I can’t trust her. She seems spiritually wise, so I find it hard to understand the reaction I have. My gut tells me she is hiding something, like she is not what she seems. How can you tell when a person is truly the light they project or is shining light as a decoy to nasties in their personal basement?

The Shadow of the Spiritual Seeker

Thank you for this question. When I lived in India for a year where I eventually met my guru, I was known for saying that I was seeking yogis, not bogies. As they say, not all that shimmers is gold. And the world of a spiritual seeker is no exception. There are a lot of self-proclaimed prophets who are attached to power rather than learning to serve. As spiritual aspirants we need to learn to discern the fool’s gold from the real gems.

Sometimes people think being spiritual is being a Pollyanna, pretending to be perfect and ok with all that comes, while really feeling in knots on the inside. I am sure you have heard people say “it’s all good”, when you can see terror in their eyes, glazed by a thick dose of denial.

Other people misinterpret the spiritual phrase “we each are expressions of the Divine” and begin to think of themselves as gods, rather than energies in respectful and humble service to a wise, potent, co-creative, flowing force with immensity beyond our wildest imagination.

Thinking of yourself as either better than or worse than another is an expression of the ego and is an easy pitfall for anyone. I find the power of discernment, rather than judgment, to be a key tool on my spiritual journey. It fills me with the possibility to witness that which is, rather than separate myself from the moment and impose my own story on it. I can pause, enquire, feel, explore and see, before I act. Judging something closes my mind to it, whereas discernment supports my choice to co-create with energies that amplify the presence of I AM consciousness. Out of guilt, self-pity, loneliness or fear I may allow myself to get pulled into energies that are tricky and pull me off path. Discernment helps me see that.

Each one of us has a unique life force that flows through us. We each are the gatekeepers of that life force. When we experience energies that do not expansively support that life force, it is healthy to say no to them. It is essential to remember that everything that happens in our life is an opportunity for us to grow. That which we see in another is a reflection of ourselves. That which we cannot stand in another we cannot stand in ourselves. That which makes us judge another is some thing we judge in ourselves.

Trickiness Disguised as the Light

Here is a little anecdote to which you may relate:

I feel I have known Stephanie before. Perhaps it is a past life thing, or perhaps because I feel I have met many people like her on the spiritual path. On this journey to help heal the planet, it is no coincidence that I would meet a woman with such beauty that seems on the same wavelength but also seems to carry a darkness that I sense could act out hurtfully at any moment.

Having sought the Divine through drugs and alcohol, she came to yoga, meditation and healing naturally through her own painful journey. Born out of necessity, she is a good healer. But she must manage her shadow moment to moment lest it take over. When things don’t go her way, she explodes into temper tantrums and exhibits powerful rage. Yet once the heat has passed, she has forgotten all about it, as though it never happened.

In the minds of many people like Stephanie, it never really did. Deeply attached to her self-perception as a spiritual person, in denial about the depth of her own pain, she uses her spiritual insight and energy to try to control the moment, rather than humbly meeting it, because she is too afraid to see her own vulnerability and lack of control, and touch her inner wounds.

We all have an aspect of Stephanie in us but to varying degrees. Some people live by denial and don’t even know it has become their core identity. I have met very few people who I would say are evil. But I have seen evil energy come charging through people, even those I have called friends. Such is the risk when one opens, when one seeks. One must be ultimately discerning on the spiritual path.

Just because a person has a guru, and feels they are committed to the light, does not mean that they will act in righteous ways. I have seen practicing yogis and healers fly into a rage when their buttons get pushed, toke up before teaching a yoga class, eat a hamburger before giving a lecture on the necessity of being vegetarian. It takes a certain fierce courage to be willing to face one’s ego and meet the moment as it is, not as we want it to be. It is a kind of death, a death of the temporal to be born again into the infinite. A real gem of a spiritual aspirant will not be overly shiny, but will radiate a warm humility, a potent kindness, a strong, inner steadiness and fierce dispassion. By resting in vast stillness, the infinite light shines through.

Spin Doctors and ego tricks

The ego is a tricky place. It only seeks self-service. As such, it is a voracious consumer and life force constrictor. It can be trickiest to see the ego in people who are spiritually minded. Having adopted a certain skill in the unseen, it is easy for people with spiritual knowing to learn how to manufacture perceptions that manipulate and twist reality to suit their own shadow. They know how to turn situations around to make it seem like it is you who is off path. This is a powerful aversion technique, and sadly, it is really they who most lose out. Through manipulation and often heavy doses of denial, the opportunity to look within is side-stepped. I call these people Spin Doctors.

To help avoid this shadow tendency, yogis are classically taught by an enlightened guru who has the fierce ability to mould the aspirant’s consciousness so they may have purity of heart and use subtle spiritual power only for the good of all. Many spiritual aspirants are unaware that they use spiritual energy to amplify their ego attachments. Learning to navigate through that tendency is part of an ongoing aspect of spiritual maturation. Our shadows lie dormant in the corners of our personalities until situations that push our buttons and go against our will activate them, giving us a chance to see them, if we are humble and courageous enough to do so.

A Call to Compassion

I believe we are all a lot more alike than different. I would say that the light you see in your friend is a reflection of the light you see in yourself. And the shadow you sense in him/her is a reflection of your own discomfort with your own inner shadow.

Whether you are acquaintances or are best of friends, whether you hang out every day for the rest of your life or never see the person again, is secondary to the opportunity to grow from this now and deepen your own spiritual awareness. I would see this friend as a gift from the universe for you to learn greater discernment, practice tuning into what you are feeling in the moment and acting in a way that honours your inner voice.

Next time you are around this person, ask yourself:
  • Do I feel expansive now? If not, how come? If yes, how come?
  • Do I feel safe now? If not, how come? If yes, how come?
  • What wonderful qualities do I see in this person? How are these aspects of myself?
  • What can I not stand in this person? How are those aspects of myself?
  • Can I allow myself to just be, watch this person/situation as it is, without reacting?
  • Does it feel rooted, vital and expansive for me to stay with this person now? If yes, stay. If no, go.

As a tool to learn discernment and develop compassion, I mention above to ask yourself in the moment if it feels rooted, vital and expansive to stay with that person or move along. This question is a powerful litmus test to see if the sparkly, Pollyanna side in you is in fact masking your own shadow, as you hang out with someone who may be doing the same. If it does feel rooted, vital and expansive to stay, then do so and fully relax and meet the moment in all its wonder. If it does not feel rooted, vital and expansive to stay and you choose to stay, then you too would be playing the shimmer game by remaining. It is far more honest and compassionate to all involved (which includes you!) to kindly choose to interact no longer, wish the other well, and move on.

The gift here is in the power to discern what feels expansive and supportive for you and learning to accept both yourself and others exactly where you each are at. We don’t need to be friends with everyone, but I believe we are called to learn to love everyone, equally. By “love” I don’t mean a sentimental attachment, but a commitment to be real, honest, open, humble and courageous in this moment. By “love” I mean developing the state of witness consciousness, to see all of life… the beautiful, the painful, the glorious, the ugly… unfold as it is.

Love is like a flower that blooms in the fertile soil of self-love. As we learn to love ourselves exactly as we are, we become able to love others as they are by seeing through appearances and being present for what is, without judgment, attachment, fear, guilt or trying to change the outside world to suit our needs. In every moment we have the choice to embrace our evolution or resist it in some way. By rooting our actions in self-love, by practicing discernment through non-attachment, we can learn to cultivate timeless love and see beyond temporal, manufactured sparkles into eternal, expansive light.