Rituals in Transformation Sacred Space

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A fung shui master said that the mountains protect this space; the imposing turtle in the back, and the gently sloping dragon's tail on the left.  The sea, at the front of the property, is auspicious, as is its orientation to the east.  And the cold springs of water that trickle from the mountains protect even the sea from stagnant energy.  This didn't surprise me, as I had instantly felt the tranquil flow of energy the first time I set foot on this site, neatly tucked away on Greece's Peloponnesian coast.  A hidden gem, and unbeknownst to most, it became a sacred space, where I came to reconnect with mind and spirit, free from the external distractions of busy harbors and bustling tourist spots.

Humans have always been intuitively sensitive to the flow of vital energy around them.  The nomadic people of the Neolithic period, unencumbered by external societal distractions, often identified "sites" of heightened spiritual energy. Whether a tree, a spring, a stone, or a cave, such sacred spaces were marked by simple stone altars, alerting others to these portals of divine energy.  Shrines appeared in these same places during the Bronze and Dark Ages, and later became the sacred sites of the vast temples erected to venerate and connect with the mysterious and powerful universal energies, embodied by anthropomorphized gods and goddesses.  

Fast forward a few thousand years, and humans are still searching for such places of peace, tranquility and transformation.  I was blessed to come upon this place a few years ago, and since then have made every effort to return as often as possible to practice yoga, rest, think, indulge and allow myself to be nurtured by the landscape.  A morning swim here becomes a moving meditation, simultaneously soothing the nervous system and energizing the body. Savasana on the warm, healing stones of the rock beach is revitalizing.  And pranayama under the shade of the olive trees and amid the dry yet salty air allows for a depth of breath unlike anything I have ever experienced.  The indulgence here is the absence of noise and distraction, and the constant swirling of abundant positive energy, allowing one to revel in the beauty that is life.

Everything feels different, and better, here.  Perspectives change, problems dissolve, revelations appear, and hearts mend. All feels possible, when one connects with universal energy on this level, and thus, transformation occurs.  In today's noisy world, spending time in a quiet, natural space is essential to physical, emotional and spiritual health.  And while most of us do not have daily access to majestic places such as the one described above, a week spent in a place like this can produce incredibly healing and therapeutic effects that linger long after the retreat has ended.  Magic happens here; magic that one can bring home to the sacred space of their own meditation cushion, yoga mat, cozy corner, or back yard.  

This intoxicating location will be the sacred space for next year's Rituals in Transformation yoga retreats, where we will explore asana, pranayama and meditation practice, indulge in thalassotherapy, sample the nourishing and delicious cuisine, absorb the charming local culture, and rest in simple yet comfortable suites overlooking the sea.  Yes, this place is hard to leave.  But imagine the possibilities of such a stay.  Transformation awaits.`

 

Copy of Happy Place

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Copy of Happy Place

I was having a conversation with a friend yesterday, about how happy I am in our little Greek village, lamenting that the first half of my stay has passed so quickly.  "I know it's your happy place," commented my friend.  "Where's yours?" I asked.  After a quick moment of contemplation I received a reply; "I don't have one yet."

It took me about a second to realized that once, I too, did not have a happy place.  Of course, I believed I was happy, not really giving the particulars much thought as I ran through the hectic pace of my life.   And while I intuitively knew that my happy place was physically somewhere by the water, (hey, I'm Greek, so no stretch there...), I could not see it in my mind's eye, or sense it, or feel what it was like to be happy there.  

It was after a few years of practicing yoga when I realized that my mat had become my happy place. It was subtle at first; a happy feeling that flooded me after I left class.  The feeling started to last longer, seamlessly blending into my days and nights.  I felt light and bright every day; truly happy, despite the fact that I was going through a very difficult and turbulent time.

My yoga practice saved me; keeping me afloat so I would not succumb to the weight of my world's circumstances.  Every minute on my mat took me deeper into myself.  By peeling away the superficial layers of my existence, and challenging the illusions to which I clung, my awareness turned deeply inward, guiding me to a place of honesty and freedom.  I bravely re-established my beliefs and gently acknowledged my shortcomings.  I practiced forgiveness, empathy, and compassion, toward myself and those around me.  By freeing myself from my attachments, I began to experience pure joy.

Much has happened since that realization, and I can still say that my yoga mat is my happy place. But my conversation yesterday was revelatory in one very significant way.  My friend, (and you know who you are) expertly shined the spotlight so I could acknowledge a true milestone in my journey; that I am truly happy!  Regardless of my life's circumstances, I have come to a place where I know what it feels like to live in pure joy, and to carry that feeling with me everywhere.

I believe that people come into our lives for a reason.  With a happy heart, I send my gratitude to all of my friends who have supported me on my path, with the sincere hope that you, too, find bliss in your happy place!

Namaste

 

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Transformation is all about the journey...

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Transformation is all about the journey...

 Limani Gerakas, as we are leaving the village by boat

Limani Gerakas, as we are leaving the village by boat

Three years ago, I embarked on a journey looking for solace.  It was a trip I had wanted to make for some time, but circumstances, some serious and some ridiculous, kept me from my desire.  To say that I was going through a rough time would be a gross misrepresentation of fact; by the time I arrived at my destination, I was tattered and depleted.  Bereft of physical, emotional and spiritual energy, I was an empty shell, desperately searching for replenishment.  

 My destination was a small seaside village on the southeastern coast of the Greek Peloponnese. This picturesque seaport was founded and inhabited by my great grandfather in the 1860’s, and cultivated into a bustling stopover for ships bound to the Cycladic islands from Pireas.  The jagged, rocky coastline of this region is unfriendly to most ships, with the exception of our little harbor, which still serves as safe shelter when the seas turn rough.  The town is studded with whitewashed homes and a small church erected to honor St. Nicholas, the patron saint of sailors, resides on the cliffside.  

 Ariana Beach

Ariana Beach

I experienced a profound healing that summer.  Armed with a journal, a camera, and my yoga mat, I set out on a 6 week journey of transformation.  I practiced Asana as the sun came up over the mountains, serenaded by the cries of the roosters.  I sought comfort in the therapeutic waters of the Aegean, relaxing fully in its briny, supportive embrace.  I let the brilliant hot sun warm my skin, and welcomed it’s heat as it seeped deep into my body, purifying my psyche.  My lungs and breath expanded to the rhythm of the surf, and I finally connected, once again, to my true voice.  I let the locals, many my extended family, nourish me with their food, love and wisdom, as we shared meals, stories, laughs and tears.  I offered prayers, set intentions, and sat in meditation in the little stone church my great grandfather built by hand.  My body and mind had begun to surrender to the magical beauty of the landscape and its people, and my transformation had begun.

I learned a lot as I explored this amazing region, as it has been one of the cornerstones of Greek history, from antiquity to the present day.  Woven into the culture are sumptuously detailed stories boasting larger than life characters leading extraordinary lives, the lessons of which are the threads that bind fact and fiction.  This is the land of the Myceneans and Helen of Sparta (Troy), the birthplace of rose wine (yes, it’s true!), and the envy of many foreign powers, whose occupations were met with fierce opposition.  Evidenced by carvings in archeological ruins,  sunken cities, shrines built around ancient relics, and cavernous voids in mountainsides from exploding bombs, there is much here to see and learn.

For three years, I have returned to this magical village and its surrounding towns, and each visit has manifested in me a most astounding tranquility.   The peaceful pace of life here encourages thoughtful contemplation of both the body and spirit, whether one is enjoying the magnificent ocean vistas or entertaining a cultural curiosity.   As I pondered this thought at the end of last year’s trip, I had an epiphany…I NEED TO SHARE THIS!

The culmination of my experiences has brought me to create two very unique retreats for the summer of 2018, a taste of which I invite you to experience on FaceBook and Instagram as I chronicle my travels this year.  I hope I entice you to join me on my transformative journey in person during the summer of 2018.  While we all should remember that life is about the journey, there are just some destinations that make the journey that much more thrilling!

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Why I Love Restorative Yoga

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Peek through the door of my home studio on any given evening, and chances are you will find me on the floor, my body supported by blankets and bolsters, and a strap binding my legs in a deep hip opening pose.  For me, this is the stuff that sweet dreams are made of, as I surrender into one of my many favorite restorative yoga poses.  At a time when the superficial remains of my day are stubbornly beginning to take over, I turn to the grounding energy of this practice to dissolve my burdens, physical and otherwise.

If it sounds luxurious, you’re right; it’s downright heavenly!  And its compelling benefits have been researched many times over.  From easing the symptoms of chronic illnesses such as autoimmune disorders, cardiovascular disease, depression and anxiety to improving cognitive functions and sleep, restorative practices are now being integrated into many therapeutic regimens as part of a more holistic approach to treatment.  Western medicine is confirming what ancient yogis have known all along; that restorative practice changes your brain on a cellular level, and helps it to communicate more effectively with your body. 

How exactly does it do that?  By bringing the nervous system back to its resting state, which is a tall order in today’s pressure cooker world (which is taking a toll, even on our kids!). Most of today’s common health problems are either caused or exacerbated by stress, and the body’s reaction to living under the daily control of the ‘fight or flight’ response.  It’s true; stress causes dis-ease.

Most of us have a tough time getting our brain to shut off the stress response.  When stress becomes chronic, our bodies continue to produce stress hormones, even when we “think” we are resting. In a restorative practice, we support the body for optimal levels of relaxation while shutting out external stimuli and employing the breath to slowly ease the brain back to its parasympathetic (rest and digest) functions.  Once those happy chemicals are flowing, the benefits are astounding!  Here’s a list of a few..

  • Improved sleep (the body’s great healer)
  • Stabilized mood
  • Pain relief
  • Balanced energy 
  • Improved digestion
  • Increase in circulation and detoxification
  • Improved muscle tone and posture
  • Increased breath capacity
  • Relief and management of disease symptoms
  • Quickens recovery time after surgery, illness or injury
  • Overall sense of wellbeing 

It’s amazing how much one can benefit by doing nothing more than laying on the ground.  (There are a few other benefits too, which I'll leave it to your imaginations!) 

So, how much restorative yoga does one need to do?  It takes about 20 minutes for your brain to switch back to it’s rest and digest state.  A weekly hour-long restorative yoga practice is a terrific way to get yourself back to feeling fantastic.  Why not make a date with yourself and check out a class for a little self-love?  Your body and brain (and probably your significant other) will thank you!

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Valentine's Day Every Day?

Ahh… another Valentine’s Day has come and gone, with the usual red and pink fanfare of chocolate concoctions, floral arrangements, and adorable stuffed animals professing their affection holding heart shaped pillows.  Its a somewhat mandatory expression of love, for who can possibly contemplate suffering the fate of a St. Valentine’s Day Grinch?  Endure loneliness until the end of time?…I think not!  So we send valentines to our Valentines, in the hopes that we can perpetuate or even renew the fuzzy feelings of love and affection that we are “supposed” to be feeling on this day.

Which, of course, brings one (ok, me) to ruminate on the topic of love in its many incarnations, and I seem to stumble upon one great mystery; that of unconditional self-love.  Of all the forms of love that we, as humans, search for, I believe true self-love to be the most illusive.  During my high school years in a parochial school, my morality teacher, Sister Anne always said that love is a decision, which certainly did not make any sense to my then overly-emotional, love-struck teenage brain.  Now, having been through the tumults of life and love, having married, had children, and divorced, I can honestly say that Sister Anne had a point;  that there is an element of decision making in every love relationship.  So, why do most of us make the conscious decision to omit ourselves from the love equation?

The answer, my friends, is that we are not in the habit of taking the time to truly know and appreciate ourselves as entire beautiful beings, complete with gifts, talents, flaws, and quirks, who have been graciously bestowed with limitless emotional and mental capacity.  Our daily grind keeps us so externally focused, that we begin to view everything from this lens, hence our illusions on what constitutes real love, especially toward ourselves.  And as we all know, illusion is the root of much suffering.

For me, the journey toward self-love occurs every time I decide to step onto my yoga mat.  Remember, love is a decision!  Regardless of whether I am practicing alone or in class, the parameters of my mat become the boundaries to my internal world; my time with myself.  As I focus on my breath, my consciousness travels inward, where I can observe myself objectively and without judgement.  I learn to use my strengths to overcome my weaknesses.  I learn compassion for myself, and ultimately, empathy for others.  I become empowered by my ability, and yet humbled by my tiny existence in the context of the vast universe. I have identified gifts that I didn't know I possessed, and found appreciation for my life’s challenges in helping bring those gifts to light.   I feel like I am a better person to myself, my kids, my loved ones, and those around me because of what I learn about myself every day.

The reason I am so compelled to write about my little ‘love fest’ is because it is what drives me to teach the life changing practice of yoga to teens.  What a gift to share with the generation who is moving up behind me, than to help them on the path to really knowing themselves fully, especially during a time when they are trying to figure out who they are!  For teens today, the world around them changes as quickly as their growing bodies, becoming harder to navigate and understand.  Competition and judgement abound as everything moves at lightning speed around them.  Yoga allows them to find a safe harbor in the storm, to check in,   rest, and gather their internal tools for navigating the rough waters.  They learn that they can be resilient instead of anxious, steadfast instead of scared.  They become empowered by identifying their own unique gifts, and what makes them truly happy.  They learn that self-love is, indeed, a decision, and one that they can make daily to keep themselves happy and whole.

The beautiful song “Humble and Kind”, sung by Tim McGraw, is a sweet reminder of what we, as parents and caregivers, ultimately want our kids to learn during their time with us.  The following words strike me..

Don’t take for granted the love this life gives you

When you get where you're going don't forget turn back around

And help the next one in line

Always stay humble and kind

Teaching the path to self-love is as essential for the next ones in line as it is for us.  Let’s decide to pass along this beautiful gift, and celebrate true love way beyond St. Valentine’s Day.

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A conversation with my 7 year old

“Mommy, can you buy me ‘George the Interactive Puppy?’” my daughter asked brightly, one afternoon.  I nearly fell over laughing, because we already have an interactive puppy; a real one.  An adorable, playful, sweet, and most importantly, INTERACTIVE puppy named Nike, that rolls over for belly rubs, fetches tennis balls, and bounds playfully with a toy in her mouth in hopes of a game of tug-o-war.  When I mentioned said dog, my daughter countered, “but the Interactive Puppy does tricks, like jump when I tell it to!”  I explained that Nike could do that, if my daughter taught her how to do it.  “But that’s too HARD!”, insisted my daughter.

Welcome to parenting in the 21st century.  And perhaps more importantly, welcome to a new reality.  They say that out of the mouths of babes comes the truth, and here it is.  We are increasingly (and at tender age) moving toward the EASY; automated, synthetic, imitation, ubiquitous.  Our devices make our lives easy and we are no longer using skills like writing complete sentences or engaging in meaningful conversations; simple tasks like sweeping the floor have been replaced by robotic vacuums, and pre-packaged “ingredient in a box dinners” are delivered to our doors so we don’t even have to pick our own produce.  Now, don’t get me wrong here, I am a busy single mom of two, and am often quite grateful for these and other life hacks.  However, it is occurring to me that the more we look for those things that make our lives easy, the less “living” we actually do.  I mean, seriously, why train a dog if you can get a programmed one right out of the box?  (Insert rolling-eye emoji here.)

The frenetic pace of life today has us constantly searching for short cuts.  But it's precisely for this reason that we should SEEK out the traditional, long-handed ways of doing things that really matter, especially if it means that these tasks bring us closer to our selves, our loved ones, our world, and our beliefs.  The richness of the process that we experience when we are fully present allows us to grow and flourish as human beings, and to fully understand the reciprocity inherent in the interactions we have with each other and our world.  So go ahead and let robot vacuum the floor; but by all means, interact with that puppy!