When I was a kid I grew up with the Buddhist religion as part of my culture. My grandmother would pray before an altar and my mother would pray before bed every night. In Thailand, Buddhism is more of a cultural practice than a religion, more of a community and ritual, than a set of prescribed tenets or values. While the culture internalizes certain values of acceptance, tolerance, and charity, they are not necessarily attributed directly to Buddhism.

The traditional Thai Buddhist prayer is Namo Tassa Bhagavoto, which monks chant in repetition for hours. It's quite beautiful and sonorous to witness this live, and it can be transfixing.

In yoga, we often begin with an invocation or chant. It's a bit reminiscent of the Buddhist chants of my childhood, except often with a musical Western spin.

We are told that yoga is preparation for meditation, that it prepares us to be still in both meditation and in life, which calls to mind the monks who sit and chant as part of their daily prayer and mediation practice. Perhaps it brings them closer to the cosmos, or God.

In college, I practiced silent mediation. It's challenging to 'watch' your mind and the way your thoughts wander and sit with your imperfect mind.

I often contemplate how to reconcile meditative practices with the Western world, how to bring sitting quietly into my routine. I've recently explored guided meditation, which I find more accessible, and also calming. As an addition to this practice, I decided to introduce chanting into to my meditation practice. I play a CD of chants and sit in a dark room in front of a window. It's calming and beautiful. 

Today I tried it with a Western song, and I realized that music itself helps to access a different level of consciousness that is as close to God or meditation as it gets. After all, these expressions are all of them ways to tap into our higher selves, selves that exist beyond the scope of language. 

So whether it's silent meditation, guided meditation, chanting, or just listening to music and focusing quietly, just takes some time to sit still, and enjoy it deeply.

Thought Sketches

I'm always captivated by art exhibits that showcase an artist's sketches. I often find this section more fascinating and interesting than the finished pieces. It's awesome to have a window into someone's thought process and the development of their ideas. From an artistic perspective, I love to see the line quality in an artist's sketchwork. From a philosophical perspective, 'rough' and unfinished is beautiful on its own.

Blogging is a bit like sketching, because it can be casual and evolutionary. Since, I'm just starting this blog, I'm still learning what direction it will take, and what I'm looking to 'get out of it'. So far, it's turned into a bit of a series of small reflections.

I was talking to a yoga friend about the revolutionary experience I recently had in Stephanie Synder's yoga class at Urban Flow. Yogis often discuss moments where they feel transcendent and experience a waft of emotions. People describe bursting into tears during Svasana. I've often wondered about these experiences and why they occur. 

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Be a witness.
— Stephanie Snyder

On this night, I had my own transcendent moment, or rather, series of transcendent moments. The room was candlelit, and I looked around and thought, 'wow, how many people have had feelings like this before me, and who could possibly be having one now?' That's the beauty of yoga. You're in a room full of people, but you're also 'turning in' to yourself and being reflective. Here's a small 'thought sketch' I had.

On collaborative communication

A friend and I have recently been practicing compassionate communication, which is about empathizing with the other party.

This time, I thought about trying to practice a new potential form of communication: collaborative communication, which is less about empathy, and more about creating a combined reality. I was thinking how many opportunities I may have missed because I didn’t truly collaborate. I’ve been afraid to express what is really on my mind, or ‘put myself out there’ because I fear a negative or unknown outcome.

Instead, communication becomes a rapid calculation or an unintentioned power play, where we choose our words in anticipation of the other party’s reaction, not knowing that they too are uncertain as well. Or we simply want to 'get our thoughts out there', without realizing that our own thoughts are just something in the ether. I think we do this without even knowing that we are doing it. We communicate the ‘appropriate’ message, rather than truly thinking about what we ‘want’ and working with the other party to see if we’re aligned. What would happen if I didn’t fear the outcome, but instead took a moment to reflect, and then came to the table with real collaboration in mind?

This applies to personal, romantic, professional relationships, really anything. When I think about collaborative communication, I'm thinking about approaching communication with an inquisitive mindset. For tech people, it's sort of like a 'pull' method v. a 'push' method. It's about saying things with a question mark in mind rather than with a period. Rather than saying, 'this is what I want' why not say 'this is what I think I'm feeling right now'. Rather than saying, 'this is what I don't want to happen', why not say 'this is what I'm afraid could happen'.

Because at the end of the day, the thoughts we have inside us are only part of the story, the reality inside our heads is not nearly as interesting as the combined reality we create when we open the door to the possibility of shared communication.

When I forget myself I serve you. When I know myself I am you.
— Hanuman

Christmas songs

Today I was lucky enough to experience the yoga of Christmas. Class at Urban Flow was packed wall to wall. I was surprised that so many people came out for yoga. The energy was lovely, and Rusty made a reference to the movie 'Splash', and the sense of wonder that the mermaid has when she sees a rabbit. I've been thinking a lot lately about the mystery of mermaids so this stuck out to me in a serendipitous metaphysical sense. 

Let's live every day with this sense of wonder and surprise.

A Christmas song is just a song that we love to sing together
— Rusty Wells, yoga teacher

Here's a taste of the musical arc the class took. From fun, to hip hop, to Christmas, to invocation, to serene.

Dance closer to the one that you love. Seems self explanatory.

Try Again by Aliyaah. Bittersweet nostalgia. Try again. Because we always mess up. 

Rusty's favorite Christmas song. 

Svasana. And my favorite Christmas song. This is the Sarah McLachlan cover of Joni Mitchell's classic. This song invokes love and sadness. I found myself singing along in Svasana and I think Rusty noticed.

So that was Christmas morning. Yoga is a bit like church, it leaves you feeling reinvigorated and closer to everyone around you in the room. We do it with our collective energy, with our music, with our voices and our songs. 

Yoga prepares us for the unexpected outside 'off the mat'. It allows you to step outside of your comfort zone, to work on things that are challenging and unnatural. 

I'll leave with one more quote from Rusty:

If it feels natural, then you’re probably doing it wrong.

Cheers to that continued sense of wonderment and to embracing pieces of life that feel less than natural. 

flowers in december

Merry xmas yogis and yoginis! It's a lovely December in SF. Today I walked out in a tank top and shorts. It's quite a difference from where I grew up, on the East Coast, with snow, New York chestnuts, seeing the fog when you take a breath, ice skating.  I've bought chestnuts from street vendors with my parents, held hands and skated in Central Park with boyfriends, taken pictures in front of the wire angels in Rockefeller Center. 

I've lived in the Bay Area for twelve years. i've stayed here for six Christmases. Christmas without snow is somewhat surreal. While we try with trees and mock rinks, we can't quite recreate the effect.

It's an interesting time of year because the 'majority' of the city is out of town. SF is full of transplants. Last night I was at dinner with a friend, talking about the gentrification here, and the disparity between the 'haves' and the 'have nots'. 

It's been a prominent debate in the past few months. I've lived here through two booms and one recession. I do believe that this 'boom' has been the most pronounced, and I'm curious to see what 2014 has in store for us.

The holidays in San Francisco highlight the city's transplant culture. It's entirely empty. The aura of the city is different during this time, quieter. It's a novel city. Parking is open, restaurants are easy to get into, subways and buses are empty. It makes me sad how many people live here, but don't really live here.

What is a West Coast Christmas? 

Some friends and I have made a tradition of volunteering on Christmas for Little Brothers - Friends of the Elderly. I've done this for a few years. The practice -- we bring gifts and flowers and Company to elders in the city. The idea is that people need 'flowers' as much as they need food, that we need company as much as the essentials. I think it's a rewarding thing to do on a holiday like Christmas, where it's easy to get caught up in the materialism. I think that the elderly are an often underserved population, even though we'll all be there sooner than later. I'd like to continue this tradition with my own family when I have one, to remind us to appreciate the company we have, to appreciate the flowers that we have every day.

The need for flowers unites us. It doesn't matter how much we have materially, we'll always be grateful for company. At the end of the day we are all 'have nots' without each other, so let's not forget it...