November 19th, 2013

Gratitude And Graciousness

By Manduka Ambassador, Dana Damara

Twelve years ago, I stepped on my yoga mat for the first time. Ten years ago I became a yoga teacher. Nine years ago I was officially a mother of two. Five years ago I woke up to what yoga really meant. Three years ago I left my marriage. One year ago I moved from Portland, Oregon to Northern California. Presently I am a single mother, making my way in Northern California and loving every minute of it!

The road has been extremely bumpy and continues to take twists and turns that sometimes leave me a bit nauseous. However, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Even when the days are long, and the girls are tired, and I’m looking at my pile of things to do thinking, how will that get done?… I give thanks for the abundance in my life and every single lesson that has brought me to now.

Where do I feel the most gratitude these days? I bow down and give thanks for my mother-in-law. Thirty days after my husband and I told everyone we were splitting up, my mother-in-law decided to move from North Dakota to Portland to be near her son. After years and years of begging her to move closer to her only grandchildren, I couldn’t believe this was happening. Why would she wait until now? What good was it going to do me, inquired my ego.

Fate would have it that just prior to her relocation, I was offered a job in San Francisco, California but I couldn’t take my daughters with me right away. They had to finish school. Guess who was going to be helping out with my daughters while I was away? My mother-in-law. At first the thought made me want to roll over and cry; cancel my trip; take the girls with me. But the funny thing is, I let go. I shut my ego up and said, let’s roll with this. Through clenched fists, gritted teeth and curse words when I was alone, I accepted that this was my greatest lesson: ultimate liberation from control.

You see, her and I never got along; ever. Fifteen years in a marriage and Jane and I never got along. We just tolerated each other. And here I was leaving my children under her care when my ex-husband couldn’t care for them.

What happened from the day I left was nothing short of astounding. I still get teary eyed when I think about it. My daughters got to experience the most amazing bond with their grandmother without me trying to butt into it. She drove them to school every single morning, picked them up almost every day, made Sloppy Joes on Wednesdays, took them to dance and went to every single soccer and volleyball game they played on the weekends.

My mother-in-law (who by the way raised her three, now grown boys on her own), got to be girlie for the first time in her life and experience girl drama just about every single day. When I told her how grateful I was for her and this gift, she admitted through tears, that this was the best gift I could have given her. She thanked me, after all those years, she thanked me.

When I let go, truly let go of it all, the grip we all had on what we were “supposed to be doing” dissolved. And from there, we were all able to see what was important, which was the girls and what example we were all setting for them about the dynamics in relationship.

I remember when I first heard that Jane was moving to be near us and I had to leave the room, hide in the bathroom and curse into the mirror with the door shut. Now, I am sending them off on a plane happily, to visit with their Nana because the joy that relationship brings to my heart is unparalleled to almost anything else in my life right about now.

Stepping onto our mats brings authenticity, truth and integrity into all relationships. Especially the ones we have with ourselves. The breath moves truth through us like a freight train and we can either get on board or try to stop the train with our ego. Personally I prefer getting on board. The healing that happens when we allow life to usher us forward is nothing short of a miracle. When we let go, we allow gratitude to bask over every experience and we see the light in it all. We may start out clenching our teeth or throwing a temper tantrum, but in the end, if we truly allow unconditional love in, everything flows to and from love. And that’s all you see… ever.

November 14th, 2013

The Car Ride

By Manduka Ambassador, Dana Damara

When you are beginning to grow in your spiritual awareness, some people who once resonated with you begin to drop away from your conscious circle. It’s nothing to be sad about, or feel bad about... it’s a natural progression of your own spiritual evolution.

You won’t be able to talk the same language anymore. You won’t like the same things anymore. Your awareness of what is real and your interests shift and if you keep in mind that nothing is permanent, it’s all okay!

Additionally, remember that every single person on this planet has a path. And their path is different from yours. Your paths can’t possibly be the same… you are uniquely you and they are uniquely them! It’s the way the world works!

This is why you work toward eliminating judgment from your thoughts. You can’t judge other people and why they make the choices they make, or why they do the things they do. It’s not your business.

This is an easy process—the dropping away—when you are talking about a stranger, co-worker, distant relative, or a friend that you don’t see that often. They aren’t in your face every single day, so their choices don’t affect you and yours need not affect them. It’s simple.

However, what happens when someone close to you is staying complacent in their growth and you are spirituality alive and growing? Then what? Did you feel that flip in your stomach? That’s because there is a need to take action on your part, but there is fear and turmoil about what to do.

I equate this situation to a car ride. When this happens, do put the car in neutral, stalling your own growth, hoping they will catch up? Do you feel like you are sticking your head out the driver’s side window saying, “Hey, c’mon! This is going to be fun!” If you are doing that now, stop it. It’s self-defeating to you and demeaning to the other person.

You can’t hope they will “catch up” to you. Maybe their path is completely different from yours. Allow them that space to grow on their own. Maybe they want to go down the dirt road and not get on the freeway… you don’t know!
Maybe you put the car in reverse and back up to get them. It’s not too far back there and honestly, you love this person, so it’s worth the time, right? Maybe they will learn something from this simple act of kindness and self-sacrifice you just demonstrated. NEWSFLASH! That is NOT spiritual growth—that is saying in clever way, “I am better than you and I am going to give you another chance to see it. Now get in!” Not OK.

The only way to deal with this type of thing when it happens is to continue along your path and go at a pace that is comfortable for you. It’s YOUR journey regardless of what role they have played in your life up until now. It’s THEIR journey regardless of what role you have played in their life up until now. Stalling or reversing won’t work for either of you. Your journey together may be over for this lifetime… or it may cross at certain junctions along the way.

It just is what it is. All spiritual growth comes with some separation. It’s okay… let go and keep driving.

November 12th, 2013

Appreciating Your Asana

By Manduka Ambassador,

“The essence of all beautiful art, all great art, is gratitude.
Friedrich Nietzsche”

Yoga at its essence is the art of transformation. Its practice is accompanied by magnificent postures that can reach super-human levels. As a practicing yogi/yogini, appreciating these postures (asanas) as a work of art and a path to magical transformation can sometimes be difficult. Getting into poses that require a lot of strength and dedication are not an overnight phenomenon. Yoga has been “celeb-ified” by yogis and yogini’s getting into beautiful poses with grace and ease in magazines, facebook, twitter, instagram and the like. It is absolutely incredible, so how am I going to get there? And how long is it going to take? How can one appreciate advanced asana with gratitude and as a work of art? Especially when we sometimes find ourselves listening to the “inner critic” because your asana doesn’t look like your neighbors.

So what’s the point? Is it that important to my own personal transformation to get into pincha mayurasana? Well.. the answer is of course NO. A BIG NO. I think the bigger question is to grasp a higher understanding of who and what we really are. Of course, wanting to get to these poses can most definitely help propel a yoga practice into action. I know that was the case for me. I would hear my teacher instruct the more advanced yogi’s, and I would feel completely left out. Even though she would preface this by stating how “acceptance” and “patience” should be our practice if we couldn’t get into that particular pose on that day. Well, come on.. That’s just not going to happen, that’s the truth. You hear the words, but somehow, when your over run by your “inner critic” you do not hear “have patience”, you hear… “What’s your problem?” “Why did you even come to class?” “She’s totally fit, so its so easy for her.” “That guy just came to yoga for the first time? What gives!” Or whatever other story likes to play on repeat.

The purpose of such postures is to get to what lies beyond the surface, the connection between the body and mind. Most which require strength, balancing prowess, compassion and a whole lot of patience.

In my personal practice, I was able to moderately move towards more advanced poses with a lot of work, practice and PATIENCE. The practice itself is what has had the most effect on my life. I began to really evaluate what the purpose was to getting into these more complex postures. It wasn’t about balancing, or fancy sequencing, it was about appreciating, and having gratitude for where I was in that particular moment. It took me longer than I would like to admit to come to that realization.

A few days ago one of my students was having a hard time getting into Bakasana (Crow Pose) on her first go. She was so frustrated, and I thought how lucky she is. I remember this feeling- the feeling of defeat when everyone else was able to get into a pose and I was the only one who was trying to figure out what was going on. Those are some of the best moments to experience. That is the moment of transformation; that is the practice of yoga, of union, of patience, of love. What an incredible learning opportunity.

Looking on Facebook and Instagram on the daily seeing people post pictures of these incredible forms have a different affect on me now. I know how much effort and work this entails, and how these bodies are truly a work of art. I have realized that advanced asana is subjective. On a practical level advanced asana requires a proper warm up, prep poses and extreme mindfulness. Asana is an integral part of a yoga practice, but most importantly is your approach, your intention. How you appreciate and accept where you are in THIS moment with deep gratitude.

November 7th, 2013

No One Smiles In Chair Pose

By Manduka Ambassador, Patti Cocciolo

No one, except my 85-year old mother, that is.

My Mom, Dolly, started doing yoga only two years ago. She had just lost her beloved husband, Jack, and was in need. Of something. When your heart breaks, it creates a space, an opening. Fortunately, into that space came yoga, by way of her amazing teacher, Cathy Yonaitis.

When Cathy and my Mom first started their work together, my mother was very weak – both physically and emotionally. She was unsteady in every sense of the word. By starting with restorative poses, Cathy helped Mom find the space in her body and the permission in her heart to work through her grief. From the start, the focus was on the breath, allowing her to literally breathe through her feelings of loneliness and loss.
As my mother’s heart started to get stronger, she and Cathy added core and back strengthening poses to support in her body what was happening in her spirit. And now, after almost two years together, Mom is working with balance poses, both against the wall and in the middle of the room. She is a fierce warrior and a steady tree. And yes, she even smiles in chair pose.

Cathy put it best. She told me, “During our sessions, your mother and I breathe, we laugh, and sometimes cry at the situations that life deals us. We honor each other’s feelings, and we connect with each other’s light, the divine presence within. Yoga teaches us that no matter what the circumstance, happy, sad, strong, or weak, yoga is here to serve us. By honoring where we are each day, we can begin our practice new each day, and choose a practice that serves us.”

My Mom’s life has changed dramatically. She has the ability to maneuver every day life so much better than before. She can walk steadily without her walker, and she sometimes gets across the room before she realizes her cane is way back where she started. My mother has found her voice again. She is as warm, as funny, as sharp, as involved, and as interesting as ever. And her heart has opened again. That, as anyone who knows her will tell you, is a beautiful thing - for everyone she comes in contact with.

When Cathy mentioned the first yoga sutra, "Now the exposition of yoga is being made", she translates it as, "We begin here.” She said, “This means that each day, each moment is an opportunity for growth, transformation, for healing, for love.”

I can’t imagine anything better at any age. Maybe that’s why Mom’s smiling.

November 5th, 2013

A Step Off Of The Karmic Hamster Wheel

By Manduka Ambassador, Caleb Asch

It’s no secret that most yoga teachers aren’t in it for the money. Like any profession there are those who are the “rock stars” but the majority of us do this because we love it.

Being one of the latter group, I have a family of four and making ends meet at the end of the day is a challenge. We all know that money matters, especially when it deals with survival and is stressful. I have found many ways to deal with the stress. One of the most effective is a healing modality called the “Emotional Freedom Technique (“EFT”), aka “Meridian Tapping” or just plain “Tapping”.

The technique is really quite elegant in it’s simplicity and accessibility. You simply bring up an issue (and it works with ANY issue, especially physical pain), you find the emotional charge underneath the issue (there always is one), and you “tap on it”. The actual tapping itself is done on the acupuncture meridian points around the eyes, cheeks, mouth, collarbones, ribs and top of the head. There are nine points in all. Ergo, if you want to calm down, this technique will get you there. What’s more is the issues that you tap on don’t come back, so the peace you feel is real and lasting. (For more information on “tapping” go to

After having used this technique successfully for anxiety, I opted to try it on my issues around money. The first step is always to see how you feel. Is there a corresponding sensation in your body? In my experience and practice, if you quiet down and be honest with yourself, there is always an emotional reaction to the reality. In my case I was angry and frustrated. I also felt victimized by my circumstances, and was blaming them. Even though I am one of the hardest working yoga teachers I know, I was stuck. There was an invisible ceiling that no matter how hard I worked I couldn’t get beyond. No matter what I did I couldn’t get ahead. The more I pressed, the more it pushed back.

If you pay any credence at all to the “Law of Attraction” then you know that on a vibrational level at least, you attract what you’re focused on. The trick is to become aware of what you’re focused on. It’s not some intensive narrowing down of your attention. It’s different than “Ok now, I’m just going think about a million bucks in my bank account,” and if you do that long enough it “magically” happens. I found that when I wasn’t looking, my mind was always worrying in the background, always anticipating the next breakdown. I realized that I perceived my world through the filter of my own personal scarcity glasses. What I looked out on as my reality gave me back evidence for my beliefs. Everywhere I looked I saw struggle, lack, not enough, and “I don’t deserve” or “I’m not good enough”. And I noticed a distinct lack of joy in my life. True joy isn’t really about anything in particular. There is no reason for joy; it just is, and I had forgotten the last time I felt it!

I looked into my past for more beliefs and ideas I had created around money, i.e., “it’s scarce”, “in order to make money you have to work harder”, or “money isn’t spiritual”. I made a list and I tapped on all of it. Afterwards, I felt much better.

Around this time the studio I work for notified me that I was eligible for medical benefits under their plan. Financially, it wasn’t feasible, so I chose to look at my former professional industry and what was available to me upon retirement. As it turned out, upon my retirement I was eligible for full medical benefits for my family, and additional income way beyond my expectations.

This opportunity has been available to me for the last 4 years and I didn’t know it because I couldn’t see the forest through the trees of my money beliefs. The last 3 years have been the hardest on us to date financially, and the only reason for the difficulty was my coming from my ingrained, limited, world view of there never being enough.

The actual amount of money I own hasn’t changed, but I cannot look out into a world of scarcity anymore.

Since this breakthrough I have “found” over $1500 that’s either owed or coming to me in some way, giving evidence to my belief that my outer reality is a reflection of my inner reality.

When I reexamined these old wounds, and the decisions that came out of them, I was continuing to run on my financial Karmic hamster wheel forever. Letting go of all this past baggage, which had been robbing me of the fullness of my life, has freed me to cultivate trust in my reality as a benign, supportive, and nurturing one. The universe is abundant! Period. I am so grateful.