by Jaime Moreland
I was sitting in a favorite neighborhood coffee shop, when my new 84-year old buddy, Nate, asked what I did for a living. Until recently, this question weighed heavily on my heart. For most of my life, I based my self worth on my job; I once believed that what I did for work was my identity. Today, thanks to my daily yoga and sitting meditation practice, my perspective is different, regardless of where I hang my hat. My identity and self worth are no longer intrinsically tied to anything outside of me. So, with pleasure, I told Nate that I am a yoga teacher, and I found peace in offering what is true for me in this moment.
The elusive moment—where we are meant to live, and this sacred space is where we find the highly coveted, happily ever after. The present moment is all we really have, and yet, more often than not, we push it away—reaching for another now, a better now, one that matches our ideal version of who we are in the world. We are receiving messages all the time, but we are either moving too fast to receive them, or we are trying to manipulate the situation to fit our expectations. When we let go of how it is supposed to look and feel, we are able to see with renewed clarity that each moment is full of opportunity and wisdom. Discovering the gift of now has taught me to be myself, knowing that underneath my resume is a radiant gem. Today, I have the great fortune of teaching others how to connect with this truth.
I made the shift from looking outward for fulfillment to diving inward by finding community where others walk the talk. I have immense gratitude for the teachers and members of The San Francisco Shambhala Center and Laughing Lotus Yoga Center. Practicing with these communities has enriched my life exponentially, sewing seeds of compassion, and inviting me to create space to feel through life’s winding roads. These centers have helped me gain a sense of clarity around being true to the creative inspiration emanating from within, relaxing into the cadence of integrity and that is peace.
Yoga and sitting meditation have been tremendously powerful catalysts in shifting my perspective. I am growing into a new human, one who is capable of engaging in life without pushing away the uncomfortable parts. Although the early stages of this process were terrifying, with practice and time, I continue to gain trust in myself, and my experience. Yoga and meditation help me to come clean, washing away the stories running through my monkey mind of the past and future, in order to arrive with curiosity into the present moment. Now it feels safe to slow down and listen to the messages my heart whispers.
In fact, if we slow down enough to experience the true now, we write the story rather than play out an old script. Learning to stay present and accept whatever arises is a dance that entails courage, and it takes dedicated practice. This is simple, but not easy. Yoga and meditation are the bedrock of my daily sadhana (practice). These ancient practices allow me to let go of a fixed idea of me and allow for a fluid expression to take shape and transform like the blowing breeze. Sounds pretty, right? Well getting here meant pulling the rug out from under me.
A yogi once told me that practicing yoga is like “making love to yourself.” To echo the words of Beck, a modern musical genius, ‘hell yes!’ I say, let’s practice letting the love flow together. That is where the real magic happens—in community. My direct experience has illustrated time and time again that when we include others, we can go deeper than if we were alone. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot to be said for sinking into the proverbial mud and tasting it with your bones. Our shadow is the doorway, and I have intense respect and reverence for the experience of getting intimate with the dark caverns of the ego. Going into those dark places has helped me move through the shadow into a much brighter and peaceful space.
Peace is an experience we all long for, and although we do not have a rubric for measuring the felt experience, ain’t nothing like the real thing, baby. I think we can all attest that in our fondest memories, we do not always recall an exact conversation, instead, we remember the evocative sensation of the experience. Would you agree that the sweet taste of unconditional love delivers a warm wave of safety? Feelings are in the present and connecting to the juicy ones helps to cultivate more of the ones we want. This is how we create a life worth living, fully being in all the moments and practicing coming back to them.
As a little girl in New Jersey, I loved to dance and sing, learn and love and now I get to do this everyday when I teach. My practice has taught me to receive the gift of wholeness over and over again with each inhale and exhale. Sharing this with others awakens that same joy I knew back then. So, what do I do? I teach love.
With great honor, I am helping bridge Laughing Lotus Yoga Center and the San Francisco Shambhala Center with the intention of lighting the way for others to find their own internal center, that radiant gem. On November 7, we will have a launch party at The Shambhala Center to celebrate this new partnership. The Shambhala Center will offer regular donation based Lotus Flow yoga classes. Join us at the Center where we can practice being in the moment together, and inspire all beings to be at peace in their true self.
Jaime has been a member of the San Francisco Shambhala center since 2013, and is an intuitive energy healer with a passion for live music and service. She teaches community classes at Laughing Lotus and is one of the celebrated yoga teachers at The San Francisco Shambala Center.
by Patsy O’Brien
If yoga has taught me anything, it is about being okay with who I am. I’m not going to say that after I took my first yoga class, I transformed into a confident, self-assured person. No, it took time. It took finding myself through a precious elephant deity to understand that who I am is essentially good.
There are MANY people who are drawn to this deity, making him one of the most popular deities in all of Hinduism! That’s right, I’m talking about Ganesha.
The thing about being a freak, is that there is often something traumatic that happened in our lives to make us that way. Before Ganesha was the beautiful elephant man who we have all come to know and love today, he was just a strong, good-looking young man–a powerful, handsome god. One day, his mother, Parvati (an unbelievably beautiful goddess), asked Ganesha to guard her bathhouse so that nobody would come in while she was bathing. This was a bit tricky, because at the same time, she sorta-kinda summoned Ganesha’s dad, Shiva (one of the most POWERFUL gods — he’s blue and amazing), whom Ganesha had never met before. Parvati might have wanted to make Shiva a little bit jealous… just for a second! Because, like I said before, Ganesha was a good-looking young man! Ganesha, of course, didn’t back down to Shiva. Shiva, who didn’t know he had a son, decided to cut off the gorgeous young man’s head for not letting him enter his own house. Well, you can imagine how distraught Parvati was when she realized that her baby’s daddy had just cut off his own kid’s head (now THAT is mercury in retrograde)! After finding out that Ganesha was his son, Shiva decided he would find him a new head, which he took from a devoted elephant demon (another long story), and then placed the elephant head back on the young man’s body.
I have never had my head cut off, but I have gone through difficult experiences that have helped me become the freak that I am today. We go through metaphoric beheading throughout our lives, which is why it is said that everything and everyone in this life is your teacher. Actually, it is a good thing to be metaphorically beheaded, because YOU are still alive and what you THOUGHT you were (your ego) is actually now separated and gone from yourself.
My beheading experience happened when I participated in a ‘direct action’ against the Iraq war in 2004. I thought that it would be like any other protest, where you go, chant, meet people and then go home. But when I showed up, I saw people getting beaten with batons and sprayed with pepper spray for no reason at all. I was so outraged, I decided to stand in front of the front lines (and not just “supportively” watch from the side lines). Right before the cop hit me, I felt like I was doing the most courageous thing I had ever done in my life. Before I knew it, I was injured, arrested and charged with a gross misdemeanor. I spun into shock, depression and deep paranoia. For several years, I forgot who I was, and I couldn’t remember. I couldn’t comprehend who I had been BEFORE experiencing that pain. It wasn’t until I found meditation, and then my yoga practice, that I would begin to regain memories of myself — bodily, mental and emotional — from when I had been genuinely happy.
It is not only okay to have experiences that transform us–it’s profound! It is important that we don’t cling to the different identities, but it is wonderful for us to be different from each other, our families, and our culture. It’s a gift to be able to articulate our manifestation as it is. You and I and we will never be again. There is only one moment in time where we get to shine. We get to wave our flag — not to separate ourselves or to make ourselves inferior or superior to others, but to live with a lust for our own particular, peculiar lives! Ganesha would want us to. He wants you to be you! And so do I!
Patsy has been in love with meditation and yoga at Laughing Lotus SF since 2009. She completed Yoga School at Laughing Lotus in the Fall of 2010. Having a beginner’s mind is particularly important to her on and off of the mat. She loves to paint, teach yoga, write, and surround herself with her Laughing Lotus community!
by Sean Johnson
Up until I was 12 years old, I loved to sing – there was nothing that made my body hum and my spirit soar like singing. I sang throughout my childhood, composing dramatic spontaneous soundtracks to my toy soldiers’ battles, Hot Wheels car races, and Lego construction projects. Intensely shy, it was so difficult to even talk and buy a donut from a cashier, but for some reason I could stand in front of a packed theatre audience and belt out songs. I felt so free singing, and it lifted my mood, coloring a duller world with each turning note of song.
When I was 12, the school chorus teacher recruited me for a special Christmas concert. She heard that I was in the New Orleans Symphony Children’s Chorus and wanted me to sing the lead solo part, the summit of the evening. I practiced at home, rehearsed with my peers at school and everything seemed on course. Posters were plastered all over the school that announced: “Christmas concert featuring Sean Johnson of The New Orleans Symphony Children’s Chorus.” That evening, hundreds of kids and their parents gathered in the auditorium. I was introduced with a big round of applause. I walked up on stage and smiled. The chorus teacher raised her baton, and I began to sing.
Suddenly, I couldn’t control my voice. Shrill, high-pitched sounds, totally out of tune, leapt randomly, like wild, frightened fish from my throat. I sounded like a cartoon character, crowing “HAH-LEY-LOOOOOO-YAHHHHH!” My voice quivered and broke, unrecognizable. Shocked, I looked out at the chorus teacher as I sang the last verse. She was horrified. She shook her head and buried her face in her hands. I cried myself to sleep that night. My spirit sank.
The kids teased and taunted me for days. I was so embarrassed that I quit the Symphony Children’s Chorus. Soon after, I realized that an unexpected guest had arrived at that ripe moment on stage. It was puberty, and my voice was shifting with all the other alien physical changes. But, in my adolescent mind, the damage was already done. I was filled with shame. I stopped singing. I put my voice in a cage and threw away the key.
A decade passed and none of my friends during that period knew that I once called myself a singer, that there was a time when I loved singing more than anything. As a young adult, thinking back on this incident from childhood, it seemed ridiculous that it would still hold power over me, nevertheless it did. I longed to sing, to feel my body buzz again with that freedom. But, I had buried my singing voice under the rubble of fear.
One day, in college, I enrolled in an Irish Studies course. My professor, Seán Williams, offered to teach a few of the students these beautiful, highly ornamented, sean-nos (old-style) Irish songs, sung in free time, acapella, that she had learned from Joe Heaney, one of the greatest Irish singers in this song form. I learned that these songs were significant in Irish history, cherished during an era of oppression when the British rulers commonly burnt all the musical instruments in the villages in an effort to extinguish Irish culture and identity. But, the people still had the most primary musical instrument — their voices. They would gather, often in secret at night, around the hearth, and sing these songs, many of them laments.
In the sean-nos singing tradition the singer typically closes his or her eyes, or even turns their back to their audience. The song transports the singer and the listeners, stirring their hearts to a great depth of feeling. Each song, no matter the roughness or quality of the singer’s voice, is regarded as a treasured gift to the community.
When I heard these beautiful songs, they awakened a hunger in my heart to sing again. After the first lesson, I went home, locked the door to my room and dimmed the lights. I reached into the cobwebs for my voice, which like a wounded bird had been held hostage for a decade by my own childhood shame. I closed my eyes in that moment, and sang into the scars. My body disappeared. My ancestors were waiting for me inside these songs. It was rough at first, but gradually, with practice, patience, time, and guidance, my voice rose from the ashes, and I was soaring, once again.
The Sufi poet Rumi wrote, “Birds make great sky circles of their freedom. How do they learn it? They fall. And falling they’re given wings.”
Not long after, I was introduced to Sufi chanting, yoga mantra chanting, and kirtan. I relished new forms of prayerfully joining with others to sing from the inner space of the heart. That was nearly 20 years ago, and to this day, I feel most alive and most awake when I’m singing.
I share this story with you to give you the courage to free your voice from the cage of fear, and to find your own unique way to express the depths of your heart. Life is too short and too precious to hold back. Sing your song!
Sean Johnson and The Wild Lotus Band, our favorite Kirtan wallahs, are coming back to Laughing Lotus to celebrate our seventh year in San Francisco! Join us for our birthday bash/Dia De Los Muertos party on Saturday, Nov. 1st (register here)!
by Laura Malouf-Renning
Change is in the air. You can feel it. The moment the sweltering heat of summer cools into the crispness of fall is a palpable moment. You can’t see that exact moment, but there is a shift in the air, in mood, and in feeling. Here in the Bay Area, we’re starting to see our first rainstorms, the shift of nature’s palette to fall colors, and a shift from sandals and tank tops to coats and boots. But there’s something else. Something we can’t see.
In yogic philosophy, we say that our world is separated into things we can see, touch, taste, feel and hear, called Prakriti, and that which is beyond our senses and understanding, called Purusha. Our human minds can’t conceive of the unmanifest, so we create metaphor to explain our unseen world. From that creation of metaphor, all the gods and goddesses of our understanding come to take form in our world to help describe our hidden qualities, and shed some light on them. It is from this attempt to make sense of what we can’t see that the rich myths and stories of the gods come to be.
This time of year, when pomegranates come into season, is when I think most about one of my favorite myths: the myth of Persephone. According to Greek mythology, it fell to the goddess Demeter to cause the breezes to blow, the rivers to flow, and the earth to grow good things. Her daughter Kore, a fairy maiden, loved to dance and play in the meadow and encourage flowers to bloom and fruits to ripen. One day, Hades, the lord of the underworld, came to the surface and spotted the fair maiden. He wanted such beauty for his kingdom, so he kidnapped her and took her to his realm below. Demeter was shattered. She fell into a deep depression and stopped tending the earth. Breezes stopped blowing, rivers stopped flowing, and the earth ceased to grow good things. The first winter fell on the land.
When it became known that Hades had taken the fairy maiden for himself, Demeter sent Zeus to fetch her from the underworld, offering to make him king of heaven in return. Zeus gladly accepted, and went below to bargain with Hades for Kore’s return. Hades agreed to let her go, as she had done little but mope and weep below the earth, on the condition that she not eat or drink anything as she returned, as it would bind her to the underworld. When Kore saw that Zeus had come to get her, she gladly followed him back to the surface, but on the way up, she spotted a pomegranate tree. As they were her favorite fruit, she cracked one open and ate six of the seeds. Hades had granted her return to the surface, but she had also bound herself to be among the underworld. Demeter and Hades reached a compromise that Kore would be on the surface for six months of the year, and in the underworld for the other six months.
During her six months on the surface, Demeter schooled her beloved daughter in how to take her rightful place at Hades’ side, and to rule with him. At the end of her six months, Kore went down below and became Persephone, Queen of the Dead. She became so powerful and Hades became so besotted with her that people began to cry out her name when they died.
We have just crossed into the dark time of the year, so according to that myth, Kore has just gone down below the surface of the earth and become Persephone. Fall is also a time of change and transition in a lot of ways. I will be making my own transition soon. As I begin to step more deeply into the world of yoga therapeutics and teaching plus size yoga classes, it has become clear to me that it is time for me to leave the nest here at Laughing Lotus. Like Persephone, I plan to embrace these changes with equanimity and grace. Namaste.
Laura Malouf-Renning is a yoga teacher and therapist, dancer, body diversity activist, and crazy cat lady. Formerly a Laughing Lotus teacher, Laura now teaches yoga for eating disorders, plus size yoga, and private therapeutic sessions in San Francisco and Concord. She embraces her new life transition while making sure there are plenty of pomegranates in her grocery cart.
The morning after it rained last week I went for a run. The air felt like a sheet of blank notebook paper: clear and crisp and full possibility. The dust was gone from the telephone wires and the sky felt full of purpose. The world felt how I feel after yoga.
About 5 years ago I lead a creative writing middle school afterschool program in which we published a poetry magazine. About 85% of the poems were about complete and utter heartbreak. Heartbroken because he ignored her at lunch, heartbroken because she never answered that AIM, inconsolable after being slighted at the mall. They were emotional and sensitive and raw and not afraid to pore it all out all over our literary journal.
I thought the poems were sweet but tried to get my writers to vary their subject manner, and use other words except “heart.” I thought that they were hormonal and emotional and sensitive and they would grow out of it. I was 22 and heartbroken that he didn’t answer that text, and heartbroken that I didn’t get that job and inconsolable about being slighted at the bar. I wrote poems that were sarcastic and raw and kept them in a folder labeled “bills” on my laptop.
Human beings are fragile machines and it is not something we outgrow. We are still raw and heartbroken inconsolable but our writing has gotten more refined, our text messages more sophisticated. It is not just our emotional bodies that are sensitive-our physical bodies and our nervous systems are all deeply affected by our environments and experiences. A loud noise is enough to send the nervous system spinning into fight or flight and send messages of stress to the entire body.
Every time we are slighted or afraid or heartbroken or sad or anxious a layer of debris is created in our psyche and our bodies. Seemly insignificant encounters can stick into our gears and begin to wear us down. This debris is what creates the distance between us – old hurts and fear of being hurt again keep us from creating authentic relationships. Yoga is a practice that begins to shorten that distance by clearing away the debris. Much like the sky after the rain, after we are clear it is obvious that we are indeed all connected and that what we are meant to do is love each other.
Osho says, “Love, and the earth becomes a paradise again. And the immense beauty of love is that it has no reference. Love comes from you for no reason at all. It is your outpouring bliss, it is your sharing of the heart. It is the sharing of the song of your being.”
It is liberating to admit that the world affects you. It is liberating to admit that even small encounters leave a mark on you. And it is liberating to surrender that pain. When our mind and bodies are clear, it is obvious that those 13 year olds were right- that the only thing that really matters is love and that we are in fact, love incarnate and our hearts are all that matter.
Rebecca believes in leaving yoga classes feeling better. She feels privileged to have found yoga as a way to to connect her mind, body and spirit and is honored to lead others in this quest for wholeness. Her classes are playful, loving and full of light. She is dedicated to helping others find the breath of thread within themselves that connects us all with each other.
Join Rebecca for class at Lotus SF on Mondays at 9am, Tuesdays & Thursdays at 12pm, or Baby & Me Lotus Flow Tuesdays and Thursdays at 1:15pm. (Sign Up Here)