Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Traveling Within the Walls

Every Sunday morning, I travel, passing thru locked doors and gates into a world surrounded by concrete and barb wire.  Welcome to the Anchorage, Alaska Correctional Complex, a huge juggernaut of non description, tucked into a hill with the endless Alaska skyline of mountains in the distance.  

Wait! Let’s back up…and start with some context.  

First, you have to know something about me, I love to travel! 

The exhilaration of going to new places, hanging out in interesting destinations, and having unique experiences that only such places can give, brings me great joy. Going out into the world whether it be across the globe, locally or just to some weird occurrence, all make my heart sing. These moments expand my horizons, literally and symbolically. When I get to combine this love of travel with yoga, that’s even more blissful. Retreats, visiting other studios in different cities, and the novelty of practicing in picture tag worthy locations, these are all fantastic and truthfully fun experiences.

But, there is a catch.  

An unavoidable contrast  emerges when traveling with a yoga mat under my arm. The distinction between my own privilege with those who lack any of the same such liberty sharpens in my mind. Once observed and recognized, it is everywhere. The contrast and disparity now appear wherever I roam, whether here in my own city or out there in the vast wide world. 

It’s hard to ignore an eye opening experience.  It changes us. The awareness flows into every corner of our lives.  As I step on my mat the realization of privilege challenges my personal affirmations and lifestyle. It leads to a question. How can I continue in my traveling yoga lifestyle  and freedom unless I help others claim their own personal independence? Instead of traveling outward and filling my life with endless adventures and experiences, I want to start sharing my yoga with those who lack the ability to go anywhere.  

Where to start?  Sure, I could go on some service trip to a developing nation. I have done such things.  Back in my thirties, I partially owned a business leading others to do just this.  But even this can be an opportunity of privilege.  I want something raw.  After reflecting, it came to me.  Prisons!  Right here, just miles from my house are three such places,  Actually, a variety of homes that I lived and stayed in during my life had correctional facilities  nearby. If you look at where you live, I bet you will be surprised to see that correctional centers are near you too.  

So, it begins.  

Every Sunday I travel within concrete walls. Unseen eyes behind camera lenses watch as I pass through the double sets of shatter proof doors with a yoga mat under my arm.  After wandering through a labyrinth of heavy hallways and up staircases I enter the chapel. Really, it’s a multi-purpose room with non-descriptive institutional chairs, colors and whiteboards around the chamber.  Boxes of Bibles are tucked away in corners, religious pamphlets litter a table by the door and some grave verses taken out of context  are written in wet marker on the boards.  Fluorescents shine above brightly, giving light but no illumination. 

I take the next fifteen minutes getting  everything ready. I unroll mats and stagger them around the room, walk to the corners of the room reciting mantras then take several sun salutations on different mats.  The clock reads 9:30am, almost time.  The rattle of keys and the clicks of locks open heavy doors in the hallway. Twelve men in yellow scrubs walk into the room escorted by a guard.  They great me, shake my hand, some of them bowing slightly with hands pressed in front of their hearts.  

We begin, traveling inward with every pose. Together we are free.  We are explorers going beyond this chamber into realms untouched by the woes of this world.  We enjoy the experience and every moment even if just for 90 minutes. Then, it’s over.  Keys! Locks! Guards! Farewells with an Om and a Namaste. These are my students. This is my studio. 

Every Sunday I travel within concrete walls…

You can check out my adventures, teaching schedule and  my new blog on my website.  If interested in prison yoga please follow our work at Turiya of Alaska  on Instagram or Facebook 

Namaste Everybody!

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

New Website

Starting to develop my own page.  Check it out and let me know your thoughts!

Monday, July 17, 2017

Practicing Serrenity

Can you believe it?  This weekend our workshop is happening!  You know...

Practicing Serenity and The Way of Meditation

A few months ago a client casually asked if I would be interested in leading a recovery minded meditation mini- retreat  in the small village of Ninilchik.   Without a moment's hesitation, I declared, "Yes! Absolutely!" Wait...what?  Indeed, I did. Then, I suggested in a following conversation that the mini-retreat have the word serenity somewhere in the name.  Now why did I do that?

Context is often everything. Let's begin with what I do for a living.  I am a yoga teacher and try hard to follow the principles of that path in my life (postures, pranayama  and ethically reflecting on my actions).  Although people often think of movement, meditation is a huge part of working as a yoga teacher, probably one of the most important aspects.  It's impossible for me to teach yoga without meditating.  All this can be work and sometimes an inward struggle with lots of growing experiences long the way.  Still, I wouldn't trade this lifestyle for anything because this path  brings with it profound moments of sweet insight and raw bliss. I love speaking about the yoga journey so I figured this retreat would be a wonderful opportunity.

Now there is a supreme goal to all this yoga stuff. Behind these practices is the cultivation of inner calmness which in the ancient yogi tongue of Sanskrit is called "prasada".  Prasada can be translated as inner calmness but a more contemporary meaning is serenity.

Serenity is the goal.

I figured any workshop on yoga and meditation needed to speak about serenity.  It's the intention for both yoga and mediation. It makes sense for it to be the focal point. Coincidentally, serenity is a huge concept in the recovery world as well.  Those who know this movement will recognize the word from the abridged and succinct "Serenity Prayer" found in many twelve step and related meetings.  This prayer asks for serenity so that one has courage,  stillness and more importantly discernment.

There began my research and serenity become my focus.

Now how about some honesty.  I wish I could just go on pontificating about serenity and come across insightful. is the disclaimer.  I  get way crazy sometimes, forget things and make weird mistakes even with all this yoga stuff under my belt.  Yes, it's true.  My mind runs in rapid circles of wild thoughts, loop stories and interesting but questionable realities. If I act on these random ideas, get lost in them or worse let them lead me on wild chases then my life turns to chaos.  I am certain many can relate to this challenge.  So, my findings come with a very human spin.

What did my research reveal?  No mysterious short cut exists. It takes effort of a very particular kind.   One can't just decide one day to be serene, read a book on how to do it, listen to a podcast, talk oneself into it or  just think positive, hoping it happens.  The list goes on.  Nope! One will be thwarted in all these attempts.  Life may even get worse.

Serenity involves developing particular actions on a regular daily basis or to use recovery terminology, one must practice certain steps in one's life.  It is a constant evolving practical journey.  Once we embark upon the undertaking, the goal of serenity and what we think it means becomes phantasmal.  We discover that the path of serenity is what we sought all along and the ultimate prize.

What does the practice of serenity look like?  Setting an intention, living right, treating others and yourself with respect, learning how to be still and developing focus through meditation.  Yoga calls this journey the eight limb path.

This weekend, down the coast in little Ninilchik Alaska,  our goal is share with you in yoga terms what the eight limb path might look like on a practical level.   Regardless of whether you are into  yoga or not, the universality of what we share will inspire and translate into your life.   At least we hope so.  Maybe, you will be there and we can talk about this in greater depth, better yet, maybe you will be there so we can practice this mystery together.  Just come as you are, and let's see what happens.


Tuesday, May 16, 2017

On Travel and Being Here Now

Travel!!! See the world around you.

Why bother?  It's true, you can probably find what you want and are looking for where you live as far as the comforts and modern conveniences of life.  But...seeing the world around you with feet on the ground teaches a profound lesson if you are open. just a little more.

Curious about traveling and the boon of the road? Yes, then, continue reading.  Remember, this is just my experience, you will have to  pack your Patagonia Blackhole bag and see where you land to get what I am writing about.

As I hacked at these reflections on my last long trip, my darling wife and I were rolling across the Northwest from Vancouver back to Seattle riding leisurely in the lounge car of the Cascades Amtrak line (a wonderful way to travel).  We took eight days off from our lives in ANC and set out for a leisurely get away.  At first, it we wanted some far off destination with sunshine and maybe beaches  but honestly that's not really us.  We wanted to do the things we love most of which revolve around nice long eye gazing meals, artsy neighborhoods and random classes at chic yoga/fitness studio boutiques.

Ultimately, we bought some inexpensive tickets to Seattle (only one jump away which for an Alaskan is important since it takes a lot of effort to leave this attached island), rented some hipster envy AirB@Bs and  added some international flare by getting return train tickets from Seattle to Vancouver.

Mind you,  we could theoretically in a certain sense do all the things here in Anchorage that we did on our trip.  It's true. Currently, we reside in a funky art cottage within in a artsy hood called Spenard. There, we know the groovy restaurants and what classes to take from the best instructors.  Still...there is something about going somewhere else and doing it all the same sort of way in a different context, most of all there is one lesson above all that doing this  teaches.

What is it?

Learning to be where you are when you are there or as that joyous mystique Ram Das declares, "Be here now."

When traveling, one needs to be present to the details and open to the randomness that the road brings.  Sure you can plan everything to a perfect plan.  Many people do.  We probably know people who do this and we know how exhausting that can be.  I am referring to a different path. Instead, I am thinking about the journey  when you leave open moments for the magic to shine through.   One needs to plan enough to have a framework.  I absolutely agree that a certain amount of intention setting and organizing needs to be done so one can enjoy the trip without anxiety.  After this minimal planning,  it's essential just let it roll out before you and  enjoy every moment that you are in.  Or else, you will miss out on the miracles, the secret gems of discovery, the right restaurants off the guide books, the groovy streets that nobody ever talks about back home, the pleasure of meeting people you don't know and just those indescribable serendipitous moments that only a traveler knows.

But...step off the present, start answering emails, texts, tagging oneself and guess what?  The now vanishes and the other worldly portals of the road grow dim.  To experience all that a trip brings one needs to be right there and attentive to the now of the journey.  I know this to be true and have been in awe of how things just worked out, and in honesty have also missed so much, focusing on "life" instead of being in the "it" of where I was at the time on all those trips over the years.

So...what's the point?  Travel, let go of needing to be in control and see what everybody is telling you to see, step away from your guidebook and trip organizers then let yourself be free in the world of blessed coincidences.

Then, come back to where you are and bring this attentiveness to the moment with you. Be here now and let your life be one of openness.

Om Shanti...


Thursday, May 11, 2017

Getting into your Shape

Getting into shape!!!

What shape are you trying to get into?  Who is telling you the shape you should be?

I can't help but think abut these expression and the questions flying around.  They are always on my mind.  And why wouldn't they be when you think about what I do for a living?

Currently, I teach yoga, instruct  high powered indoor cycling class and have some private clients in a more personal training setting.  Many of my clients and students wrestle with issues of weight, body image and the whole world of insecurities and thoughts of physical worthiness that often surround such work.  Ok, let's be honest I too struggle with the same things, especially as a middle aged man who doesn't have the body type that we see in most images for health.

Who wouldn't struggle with such things?

It can be so discouraging to look at social media, advertisements and literature that promotes healthy lifestyle because the people often used to market health have a certain way to them.  You know what I mean, young, super slender, the latest fitness fashions and most of all genetically predisposed to be a certain way.

Now before you think I am a hater just read on.

There is nothing wrong with being thin, being genetically predisposed to have a certain look, taking care of yourself and wanting to articulate a certain style of physique in one's body.  Trust me, I work quite hard at taking care of myself, practice in ways to further my own body type and have lots of hip fitness leisure wear.  We all want to feel good about our bodies and celebrate these mysterious temples that bear us through the world.  But... have we lost something in the process of attempting to fulfill this desire for getting into shape?

I would say...Yes!

We have obscured the radiant and fantastic message of diversity.  Each person, every fantastic being has his/her own body shape with unique attributes that make help define each person as who they are. You, the people around you, the mass of society we see here and there, each individual has a way, a physical path to walk and a body designed for what they need to do in life.

Maybe this is too cosmic for you to think about but it's time to step past the limited idea of what a healthy person looks like and ponder such things.  Pause! Take a moment with me, look up from your device and notice the people around you.  As I sit in the coffee shop where I am hacking this out, I observe so many shapes, gestures and body types, a variety of people doing their lives and fulfilling destinies.  Wow!!! Sure, some of these people may be less refined in their personal care but they have their way.

What does this tell me?

It's not about Getting into Shape but instead the fitness (another word we should talk about) journey is about Finding your Shape and awakening to the person who you were meant to be.

Remember, you are beautiful, the body you have is an incredible work of art so stop trying to shape it into something it may or may not be.  Instead just be who you are, take time to discover your body and the shape that is meant to be you.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Walking Here and There

So...about five months ago my car got hit and stopped being road worthy.  Honestly, it was sort of a relief once the immediate crisis of the scenario settled in my mind.  Although that car hauled me around for five years it was a lemon from the time of purchase.  Often, it's mechanical oddities stressed me out, and although I wanted to be all mindful and let it go, this question of whether or not I would actually get to where I was going always rested in my mind.  Probably the best thing about the car was that I developed quite a Japa yoga practice chanting Om, Sohum and the Ganesh mantra while driving around and wondering if it would make it.  So, rather joyfully, I sold it for parts and pocketed the money I received for damages.

At first, I went to the bank and started the uncomfortable process of financing and that entire intrusive dance.  After the dismal investigation of exaggerated car costs and interest laden payments, I had second thoughts about the whole structure of our society and the cost of cars.  I am not an eco-warrior and not trying to make a statement but after a rather heated conversation with a bank official and shady vibes from more than one car salesman I decided to put one foot in front of the other and begin walking since I am lucky enough to live only twenty five minutes from work by foot.

Now, remember, I live in Alaska and this all happened in October.  Winter and cold were approaching but I was determined to make a change.  I purchased a warm slick jacket then made sure I had toasty gloves and hat.  Smart Wool socks and beat up Extra Toughs came next.  I was ready.  Yes, I walked through snow and cold then into the bursting spring of Alaska.  Most of all, I started to use my legs, felt connected to my body on a deeper level and saw the world around me again with fresh eyes.

When one walks, a whole vision opens up! One starts to see.  Of course, we always see but do we see?  The obvious images of the same old landscape that I saw everyday now began to take on a character and a depth.  The nuances of sky at different times of day initiated  awakening before me, the shifts in air and the subtleties of the atmospheric moisture made sense to my body.  I started to see the beauty again of Anchorage, Alaska even in the midst of grimy streets, wandering street people and dirty snow.  The never ending whirl of light and darkness in this frontier landscape became real again for me as I watched the sunshine diminish in winter  then return again behind the mountains as spring came back.

Then, there were the people of the street.  The wandering folk of Anchorage who one sees on corners or at cross walks making their way through the elements.  Sometimes drunk , sometimes moody, sometimes just getting by but always friendly, there is a certain communal aspect that they share and I get to be part of it as one of the walkers.  We greet each other, sometimes just a nod or at times a random conversation about weather while waiting for a red light so we can cross some raging road.

Walking clears the mind and focuses one on the here and now.  I believe this completely and this experience has furthered my conviction on this point.  I think I will continue to walk and keep this connection to myself and the greater world.

Take sometime and just walk here and there.  Find a way to let your feet carry you and enjoy the journey.

Om Shanti...

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Curious Musings on Karma

Recently, I taught class on the Bhagavad Gita to a new group of Yoga Teacher Trainees. at Anchorage Yoga and Cycle.  These were some of the thoughts I held as we wandered through this epic tale together.


What do you think of?

Having something good happen because you did something positive at some point earlier in your life or maybe the opposite you are having a bad experience because of some former act?

Caste systems? Social injustices brought about from metaphysical causes?

Reincarnation? Past lives?

How about working or volunteering for free class at the local yoga studio?

These are all pretty unsatisfying answers and rather base in their understanding.

Karma is a pretty lofty word and I am sure some scholar in an ivory tower could tell us all about the etymology, ontology and massive footnote knowledge but that is probably unsatisfying too.

My only insight into this topic is what I personally experience.  Isn't our experience ultimately the one that informs us as to how we see and interact with the world. I would dare say that experience is always the ultimate authority regardless of what experts, teachers and the like tell us.

Karma? What is it?

Cosmic payback?

Having a bad day because you were a jerk the day before?

Something you do at a local studio or food co-op in exchange for classes or discounts?

Ok, scholars I am sorry but here is my lay person yoga teacher definition-action and the fruits of these actions, good, bad and whatever.

These actions are certainly influenced by our origins, propensities and contexts but there is always a result of what we do.  It seems that karma isn't good or bad, it's just the perpetual wheel of actions.  One thing will roll into another. I think it can make one feel pretty helpless after a time and lock one into a constant guessing and evaluating of what one  has been done, what one is doing and what one might do in this attempt to control the roll of karma.This seems maddening and nothing more than a circus tricks of a clown with a set of spinning plates, he gets them started then whirls around from one plate to another while riding a unicycle in an attempt to manage  them, trying to keep them all aloft and moving in harmony.  This manner of living will never get anywhere and seem rather unproductive in the end.

How to step off this wheel?  Once we figure out that then karma becomes the tool to push us towards our path instead of making us feel trapped by actions.

When I read the Bhagavad Gita and the sections on karma, it certainly suggests on a literal level that each one of us belongs to a chain of being with actions  rolling out in our lives many of which pours down to us from previous events in this life and beyond.  But on a deeper level it suggests a more meaningful experience of karma, one of teacher and liberator.

It  that when we approach an action or something that we have to do, we just have to move forward into it with the best intention and faithfully do what is asked by the context.  But here is the kicker, we are asked to act without any expectation that what we are doing is good or bad,we focus in the task and follow it through.  Through this saying yes and being in the moment of this act we start to step off the wheel of maddening desire for things to work out in any sort of way.

This may seem simple and rather naive.  Just do what lies before us?  Yes, exactly, do what is before you, let go of the expectation.  Start this then the magic will begin to happen.

What is the magic of this path?  We start to serve the the way things are flowing and this grants perspective, one above the immediate and into the skill of what we are doing.  We are drawn into the the now, focusing on what we doing and in this process stepping away from all else.  We begin to lose ourselves or maybe it's better t say we start to find ourselves free of the fretting about before and after and into the now of skill building.  This skill it takes to complete a task becomes the guiding principle from this point on.  We leave the urgency and reactive nature of doing and start to move into the action we are performing instead of pondering its meaning, it become the meaning.

Through this we go deeper into the act, we start to see our own skill and awaken to the path of our destiny.  Think of somebody who is involved in a job where he or she may or may not be passionate about.  If one focuses on the fact that this isn't something of personal interest then it becomes a shift of doing this or that in order to get a paycheck, make the day go by without problems and maybe even please the boss.  This what most of us are wrapped up in when we go to work or start a project.  Life is like that to a certain extant.

Stepping back from the emotion of like/dislike and of the expectation for it to provide opens the door.  If one just does the task regardless of what one thinks about it and starts to lose oneself in task then the task becomes the meaning.  It's true!  One loses the timeline of desires and is just in the moment of being.  One steps off the timeline of what happened, what will come of it and so on.  The moment becomes complete and in this  performance of the here and now  there is no consequence of anything just free uninhibited action.

We get to see into our own skill and even more importantly experience that realm of just being or what what some may call "being in the zone".  Even if what we are doing at a particular job, isn't our life's goal, still, we get glimpse into a higher self, one of achievement and resilience in the face of challenges as long as we decide to make an effort to do move forward.  Along the way, we will end up doing things we never imagined but most of all get a glimpse of what we really want to do, that thing that places us in the zone more often than naught.  Some call this bliss, a vocation, life's purpose, the way, ad infinitum...let's call it...


Karma when listened to and followed leads to one's dharma and when this is recognized one is free to  move into a life where karma is left behind...

...and that's another topic.