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How I Turn Early-Waking Insomnia Into a Gift

I wake up early. Not by choice really. There’s not much to do at 4:30 a.m. or 5 a.m. but practice. I look serious here. But that’s the mood, the vibe, before sunrise. At least, to me. It feels like a time to consider and contemplate and journal. Life. God. Purpose. That kind of stuff.
This morning I contemplated the yoga terms abhyasa (practice) and vairagya (detachment). Abhyasa is often described as sustained, consistent commitment to practice over time. It is the effort it takes to repeatedly come back to the present moment, again and again.
Vairagya is the aspect of practice, the complement to abhyasa, and literally means ‘not getting stirred up’. Sometimes it is translated as detachment or letting go. The essence of it is the practice of not reacting to your perceptions, letting things arise in our mind and experience without a knee-jerk reaction based on our conditioning from the past. Vairagya is allowing life to unfold fresh and new in each moment...
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A Middle-Aged Journalist Grows Up to Be a Yoga Teacher

Last February, a few weeks after my 51st birthday and on the twisting road to becoming a middle-aged yoga instructor, I skulked through the orange-themed lobby at a Boulder, Colorado, CorePower Yoga studio. Past the racks of Lululemon yoga pants and T-shirts that read “Spiritual Gangster,” I finally came to a halt in Room 1: a wood-floored space with wall-to-wall mirrors. The other students were mostly about half my age. Their reflected images accentuated my feeling: I’m surrounded by youth.

I saw my reflection, too. I’m a typical fifty-something; salt-and-pepper beard, a few pounds overweight. But I still feel plenty young, and after I spread my well-worn yoga mat to join the cluster of fellow students, I noticed something else in my reflection. I was wearing a grin as wide as the world.

Here I was, of AARP age but embarking on a yoga teacher training, and I was excited and fearful at the same time. I had that happy but slightly unhinged feeling...

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How to Be a Spiritual Finder Rather Than a Perpetual Seeker

Transformation is hard. It takes work to break old habits and create new ones. We must stay diligent at “doing the work.” Yoga, meditation, self-inquiry, and therapy are methods that, when practiced regularly, can lead us back to our true selves. But I’ve learned that there are pitfalls to focusing too much on “the work.” Sometimes I catch myself being too diligent at doing the work. I forget about the other path to transformation: self-acceptance. When we focus too much on “the work,” we can easily become self-aggressive and escapist. As important as the work is, we must accept, maybe love, the person we already are. We are all we have, right. And wanting to be different is a trap that keeps us separate from our true selves.

For example, I am a lifelong seeker. I seek knowledge, wisdom, connection, even God. I read books about spirituality and self-growth. I travel to experience new places and new people. But I suspect seeking is really...

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What Yoga Taught Me about Faith

faith spirituality yoga May 16, 2020

I wake to a cold winter morning. I crawl out of bed and peer through the frosted window into dark. The weatherman was correct: a thick coat of white covers the ground. It’s deep. No walk this morning, I think. I make coffee and sit upright on a sheepskin rug at the center of my living room. I sip. I strike a match and light a thick white candle resting on a dresser in front of me. The room glows yellow. I hold a stick of sandalwood incense to the candle’s flame until it glows yellow too. Then I blow out the flame and place the smoldering incense into the small blue vase that once held my mother’s ashes. I watch the column of smoke rise, curl, and then dissipate, filling the room with a smoky fragrance.

“Hey, Google, play ‘Puja’ by Krishna Das,” I say to a small speaker resting on my dresser.

“Braaaaaah-ma. Viiiiiiish-nu. Shiiiiii-va,” the speaker groans the Hindu names for God. I sit up straight and hum with the spare...

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How a Daily Writing Practice Can Lead Us Back to Our True Self

Writing is more like yoga than you might think.

Both disciplines require learning specific rules and vocabularies. Yoga has its 8 Limbs, one of which is asana, or the physical poses that most Westerners consider to be yoga. Each asana asks the yogi to hold the body in a specific and precise way. By focusing on the mechanics of the pose and sitting in the uncomfortableness, we see ourselves in a mirror. We learn things about ourselves.

Writing–crafting sentences out of symbols composed of curved and straight lines–is similar. When we write, we see ourselves in a mirror and learn things about ourselves. Things that we couldn’t see before we did the writing.

Both disciplines can lead to waking up from the trance that afflicts us all when we get consumed by the demands of work, home, and society. When we do yoga or write, we experience ourselves in deeper and more subtle way. This isn’t spiritual mumbo jumbo. We actually become more human.

Both...

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How to Cultivate a Bigger View in Writing and Life

Seeing our planet–the entire misty blue sphere–from outer space changes one’s perspective. Astronauts who’ve experienced this say it’s like a mystical experience. It changed them.

This big shift in consciousness is called The Overview Effect. The term was coined by astronaut Frank White. He wrote that he was profoundly changed from seeing the earth as a fragile ball of life hanging in the void and nourished by a thin atmosphere. From space, the conflicts that divide people seemed unimportant. International borders are a fiction. White was overcome by feelings that we humans should unite and cooperate. We are all interconnected.

I heard similar stories from the cosmonauts I met years ago in Star City, Russia, while reporting a magazine feature story about Space Station Mir. The men and women who lived on that spacecraft were orbiting earth, so they didn’t see the full “pale blue dot.” But they, too, were changed. They spoke with...

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Yoga of Writing

Years ago, I committed to a daily yoga practice after two decades of casual three-days-per-week practice.  Within months, I saw tangible results. I became more fit, more flexible, a little happier, a little less reactive, and even more connected to my spiritual self, which I’d abandoned years earlier. All good stuff. I kept at it. The boons continued. And there was another, less anticipated result: daily yoga lit a fire within me to learn more about this ancient practice that promoted health, healing, and deeper spiritual connection.

What happened next?

I was a journalist and the author of a book about nature. I did what a journalist/author would do. I read everything I could get my hands on about yoga. It soon struck me that there was no end to what I could learn about yoga. I kept at it. My bookshelf became a yoga library.  But I realized that reading about yoga was woefully inadequate. I needed to learn about yoga in-person from a teacher or teachers. Next, I...

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How to Turn Your Writing into a Spiritual Practice

I once wrote a feature story for The New York Times Magazine about “the real Indiana Jones.” His name was Gene Savoy, and I met him at a seaside bar on Oahu’s North Shore. I was riveted by his tales about his swashbuckling days searching Peru’s jungles for forgotten ruins of ancient civilizations. All of his stories were memorable, but one in particular lodged in my mind, and only recently did I grok what he meant. The story was about the time he and his support team became hopelessly lost in remote jungle, and he became convinced they would all die.

 

The Solution: Paying Attention to the Present Moment

“The jungle was impenetrable. During the day, we’d hack our way a few hundred yards, and at night, the jungle would grow back in. One morning, as I was drinking coffee and looking over my maps, I heard a loud ringing sound, like a bell. Curious, I got up and went to where I heard the ringing. I found a team member hacking at...

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