Tag Archives: yoga sutras

Finding Contentment in Uncertainty

In honor of the approaching publication of A Killer Retreat on January 8, the next three blog posts will be devoted to yoga teachings and practices mentioned in the book.  Enjoy!

Forest  path

In a few weeks I’ll launch the second book in my series, A Killer Retreat. Of course, the main plot revolves around solving a murder, but my yoga teacher/sleuth Kate is also faced with a choice: should she put the brakes on her relationship with her boyfriend Michael and risk losing him forever, or should she marry him and risk losing herself? Of course, there are many other options, but those are the only two Kate can see, at least at first.

And it terrifies her.

So instead of making the decision, she does what any moderately neurotic person would do when faced with multiple, irreconcilable options: she avoids all of them.

As you might guess, the strategy doesn’t work very well, at least not for long.  In Kate’s own words, “Ignorance is bliss. Until it isn’t.”

Kate’s dilemma isn’t unique. I know from experience that running away from change only works for awhile, and it’s a short while at that. No matter how fast I run, no matter how far I go, my problems go with me. But what if the actual choices we make in life are immaterial? According to The Yoga Sutras, they may be.

The Yoga Sutras promise  that although there are many potential paths in life and at least a gazillion things over which we have no control, everything we experience–good and bad–is fodder for our growth. If that’s true, then every path we take serves us in some way.

So we can take comfort in knowing that there are no absolutes, only opportunities for our development. If you travel your pathway with mindfulness, focus, kindness and compassion, the destination will always be your true self.

The meditation below may help you find santosha—contentment—in the midst of change.

Many Paths, One Destination Meditation

  1. Close your eyes and bring attention to your breath. Focus your mind on the soft, subtle sensation of the breath as it enters and leaves your nostrils.
  2. When you are ready, imagine yourself standing at the intersection of several paths, each of which represents a different choice. There is no right choice; no wrong one, either. Only different roads to the same destination. Even though you can’t see it, contentment lies at the end of every path.
  3. In your mind’s eye, stand at this intersection with your feet planted solidly on the earth. Imagine how you will feel when you unite with contentment at the end of your journey. What will contentment look like? Feel like? Smell like? Sound like? Taste like? Involve all of your senses as vibrantly as possible.
  4. For the next several minutes, mentally and physically practice contentment, so that when you begin walking your chosen path, contentment will accompany you.
  5. Continue this meditation for several minutes or however long feels perfect.

Regardless of the paths we choose, may we all walk them in peace.

Namaste

Tracy Weber

          A Killer Retreat

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and check out Tracy Weber’s author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series.  A KILLER RETREAT is available for preorder now. MURDER STRIKES A POSE is available at book sellers everywhere

Yoga, Attachment, and Testing Error–Ode to a Bad Week

I’m pretty open about what happens to me in life.  Some of my friends and students use words like “gutsy” and “courageous” to describe me. Detractors sometimes refer to me as “overly self-revelatory.”  Regardless, after 50 years on planet earth, I’m unlikely to change.  I always warn my teacher training students that when they choose me as a teacher, they get what they see.  Readers, I guess the same is true for you. I’ve always felt that the best yoga teachers are those who use The Yoga Sutras to learn about themselves.

I had a stressful week last week.  My husband learned that his job will be moving to Oklahoma next year.  We will not be going with it, so after 30 years with the same company, our primary bread winner will likely embarking on a new career, and we will shortly thereafter be looking for a new home.  We are both committed to staying in Seattle at least until 2016 when I will finish my next 200-hour yoga teacher training  and release my third book. After that?  It’s one of our current life unknowns.

We learned that on Monday.

On Tuesday my doctor e-mailed me the results of some routine blood work.

It wasn’t good.  Well, that’s an exaggeration.  Most of it was, indeed, very good.  There were some hints that I need to eat more veggies (smoothies, anyone?) and I definitely need to take more vitamin D.  None of this was news to me. One number, however, was oddly high.

I called the doctor’s office and they said we should re-do the test in case I was dehydrated.  In the meantime, hubby and I independently did what you should never do: we Googled it. According to the Internet, if that number went up much higher, I would be at risk for sudden heart failure. Husband sent me a scary article and we talked about him learning CPR.

To make a long story short, I was terrified, and my doctor was less than helpful. Friday, I received the results of the re-test.  The original number was a lab error.

I’d love to say that this week gave me some great insight on life, or that it has inspired a new story that will soon top the best-seller lists.  I’d even love to say that I handled the situation with the aplomb and equanimity you’d expect from a yoga teacher.  In the end, I can only say that those were three days of my life that I’ll never get back.

Why do I write about this?

I guess to say that my yoga knowledge did actually help me last week.  I’m surprisingly calm about Marc’s job situation.  The teachings promise that there are several life paths we can take, all of which are a source for our learning.  I’m confident that Marc and I will end up in the right place, even if it’s a challenging one.

And in the midst of my health-related panic, I remembered that according to yoga, the mind is riddled with error. Most of what we worry about never actually happens. That was my mantra. It helped, at least a little.  The teachings also say that fear of death is a source of suffering for even the wisest sage.

No one said yoga was magic.

Finally, even yoga teachers have flaws.  This particular one has too many to count. If I were truly in samadhi, I wouldn’t be attached to this body, this life, this city, this house. I’m rather fond of all of them. Life offers us many challenges, and as my husband says, the future is always an unknown. The yoga teachings provide hope.

Namaste

Tracy Weber

          A Killer Retreat

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and check out Tracy Weber’s author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series.  A KILLER RETREAT is available for preorder now from Whole Life Yoga. MURDER STRIKES A POSE is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble,  and book sellers everywhere! 

Thriving after Trauma

This past week I participated in an interesting discussion on the Sisters in Crime Guppies Yahoo group.  The thread coincidentally began while I was preparing to lead the next Yoga Sutra discussion for Whole Life Yoga’s advanced yoga teacher training.

For those of you who don’t know, Sisters in Crime is an organization that supports crime writers, like yours truly. “Guppies” stands for the “great unpublished,” of which I’m gratefully no longer a member. Many of us continue to hang out together even after we’re published because, frankly, we’re heck of a lot of fun.

This particular discussion centered around current backlogs of DNA evidence and how such backlogs might be incorporated into our future crime novels.

The confluence of these two conversations got me thinking, and when I get thinking I inevitably get myself into trouble. This time, I considered this age old question:

Why do bad things happen to good people?

Many spiritual teachings, including the Yoga Sutras, have an answer.

For their own growth.

Many of you know, either from the Guppy thread or from past conversations, that I survived something almost two decades ago that was, to put it mildly, painful. Some of you know the specifics, some of you don’t. Honestly, they don’t even matter. There isn’t a person alive over eighteen who hasn’t known trauma in one form or another. At least no one I’ve met.

The question is, when we experience said trauma, how do we deal with it?

The Sutras say that we have no true control over what happens to us or around us. The only thing we can control is how we react to it. An easy enough concept, if sometimes seemingly impossible to put into action. But the teachings go on later in Chapter 2 to hint that anything that happens to us has a purpose. The bold font and words in brackets have been added by me

Sutra 2.18:

“The seeable [our experiences, good and bad] has the characteristics of brightness, activity, and inertia. It is embodied in the elements and experienced by the senses. It exists so that the seer [you and me] may experience it and then become free.

About a year after my personal trauma, I met with a counselor. I told her that I knew there was a purpose for what had happened to me, but I hadn’t found it yet.

She looked at me, deadpan, and asked a question.

“What if there isn’t?”

My answer came from a place so deep inside of me that, until that moment, I didn’t even know it existed.

“Then I’ll have to create one. The alternative is too awful.”

That was the day I began to heal.

Who knows why bad things happen to good people? I sure as hell don’t. But can we find growth, perhaps even peace, in spite of it? The sutras say yes. I’m inclined to agree with them. I wouldn’t trade my life for any other on earth, in spite of the traumas (and like all of you, I’ve had more than one) I’ve experienced along the way.

I’ll leave you all with one final comment, also from the Sutras. This is for those of you who are now feeling cranky with me. The translation is my own.

“Individual results may vary.”

May your life’s experiences—good, bad, beautiful, and challenging—serve as a springboard for your growth.

And ultimately, may you find peace.

Namaste

Tracy Weber

          A Killer Retreat

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and check out Tracy Weber’s author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series.  A KILLER RETREAT is available for preorder now from Whole Life Yoga. MURDER STRIKES A POSE is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble,  and book sellers everywhere! 

Is Yoga Unchristian?

I had an unusual e-mail conversation with a potential reader a few days ago.  Unusual in that we disagreed with each other, yet the tone of our conversation remained respectful, supportive, and honest.  At the end of the conversation, I lost a reader.

It still makes me sad.  This lovely woman had originally entered a contest to win Murder Strikes a Pose, and she was very excited.  She asked me to mail her some bookmarks so she could spread the word.  She is a huge cozy mystery fan and she loves German shepherds.  What book could be more perfect? Then it hit her.

Murder Strikes a Pose is about a yoga teacher.

She became concerned.  She and her friends are Christian, and they believe that yoga conflicts with the teachings of the Bible.  I myself was raised in the Christian church, and although The Yoga Sutras use terms that sound unusual, that’s primarily because they are from a different language. But as far as religion, The Yoga Sutras teach that for a believer of ANY faith, the most effective path to mental clarity is by practicing that faith. The sutras never say what form that faith should take.   For nonbelievers, there are other tools that can bring clarity as well.

Still, I wanted to be honest with this reader and respectful of her concerns.  My protagonist is an often-not-yogic yoga teacher, but she tries to follow the teachings, and she does occasionally throw out a Sanskrit word or two.   So I found what I thought was likely to be the most concerning passage in the book and sent it her. I’ve included it below.

“Less than twenty-four hours later, I was elbow-deep in my least favorite activity—updating the studio’s database—when the Power Yoga class entered Savasana, a pose of quiet rest. Vedic chanting flowed from the studio’s speakers, filling the lobby with sounds of cherubic bliss.

Ahhhh … just the excuse I was looking for.

I cracked open the door to the yoga room, intending to eavesdrop as the instructor lulled her students into a state of samadhi—yoga-induced ecstasy. I returned to my chair, leaned back, and closed my eyes, mentally transporting myself out of the lobby and into the practice space.

In my mind’s eye, I savored the room’s peaceful atmosphere. Dimmed incandescent lights reflected off unadorned yellow-beige walls, illuminating the space in a soft golden hue; meditation candles cast dancing light beams along the maple floor; a fresh-cut bouquet of soft pink tulips decorated the altar, symbolizing the rebirth of spring. The room currently held twenty practicing yogis, but in my imagination, it was mine. All mine. I practically purred, feeling as content as a recently-fed kitten.

The teacher’s voice soothed my nerves and dissolved salt-like grains of tension from behind my eyes. “Release your weight into the mat. Imagine that your muscles are made of softened wax, melting on a smooth, warm surface.” My jaw muscles loosened. My shoulders eased down from my ears.

She continued her spoken lullaby. “With each inhale, imagine a white light entering the crown of your head and pouring through your body, illuminating every cell.” A soft sigh escaped from my lips. “With each exhale—”

The now-familiar sound of barking drowned out the teacher’s voice and jolted me awake.

Loud, angry barking.

My momentary tranquility vanished. As if in one motion, my jaw tightened, my shoulders lifted, and my hands clenched into tight fists. An embarrassing litany of swear words spewed from my lips.”

Reading this passage confirmed the reader’s fears.  She said she couldn’t read Murder Strikes a Pose without violating her ethical principles, and she couldn’t in good conscience recommend it to her friends.  She donated her copy and the bookmarks to a bookstore.

All-in-all, I was thoroughly impressed with this woman.  She was kind, respectful, ethical, and honest.  And I’m sad.  Sure, I think she would have enjoyed my book. Sure, I want to find every reader I can.  Sure, I was hoping she’d become a rabid fan and spread word of the series to everyone she met.

But I’m mainly sad that she’ll never try yoga, and even sadder that some people think my life’s work is unchristian. Yoga teaches us compassion, honesty, and faith, among other principles. It simply calls them ahimsa, satya and sraddha. My Bible studies as a child and teenager taught me the same concepts.  To me, yoga IS Christian. And Hindu. And  Jewish. And Buddhist. And Athiest. It is for all faiths and all belief systems.  Yoga teaches you how to become clear, understand your own values, and live in alignment with your own spiritual beliefs.

What do you think?  How can we, as people who practice and teach yoga, make this work accessible to all faiths?

Namaste

Tracy Weber

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and check out my author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series.  MURDER STRIKES A POSE is available now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Whole Life Yoga, and other retailers!

What Color is Your Monster?

Whole Life Yoga’s advanced yoga teacher training started this past weekend with a three-day retreat, the primary goal of which was build a single, cohesive community out of thirty students from ten prior trainings—some that took place almost a decade ago.

I planned several small group activities, but I consciously decided to leave out the introductory large group circle, in which every person shares information about themselves, their goals, and their challenges to the rest of the group.

Three weeks ago, I had a sudden feeling that omitting the circle was a bad idea.  I sent an e-mail out to the students to get their opinion, and they agreed: the activity had to be on the agenda. One person teased that if we did the circle activity, I might give her another crystal.

Now I had a problem.

My circles come with presents, and these students knew it. In the 200-hour training, each person who introduces themselves receives a clear quartz crystal to place on the mat in front of her. The crystal tells us who has already spoken. Even more, it symbolizes my hope for each class member: the clarity of mind promised by persevering yoga practice.

What did I want for this group, and how would I symbolize it?

I already knew these wonderful people from their 200-hour trainings. Some have studying with me for well over a decade; others less than a year.  We were about to start another sixteen month journey, much of which wouldn’t be easy. Many of them were already struggling through very tough times. Clarity. Of course I wished them clarity.  But I wished them more than that.

I wished them strength.

Strength to overcome internal and external struggles. Strength to face the inevitable challenges that life would throw their way. Strength to overcome their own internal gremlins.

I told my husband to grab his car keys. Destination: Archie McPhees.

I searched through shelves filled with squishy balls, wind up dentures, rubber chickens, and bacon flavored dental floss. I finally found what I needed in a display rack next to rubber horse heads and assorted Halloween costumes.  Monster finger puppets.  The perfect symbol for the silly, yet powerful, inner demons we all have. The doubts we allow to hold us back.

Sometimes our demons are critical voices inside our head. Sometimes they take the form of exhaustion. Sometimes they feel a whole lot like fear. But in all cases, we give them their power.  Yoga promises that if we take the time, do the work, and have the courage to look at them clearly, they will have no more power over us than these silly rubber toys.

My challenge to all of you, teachers-in-training or not, is to look for the inner demon that holds you back. Confront it. Laugh at it. Refuse to let it stop you. Be all that you want to be and more.

Yoga can help.

Namaste

Tracy Weber

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and check out my author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series.  MURDER STRIKES A POSE is available for preorder now from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Whole Life Yoga, and other retailers!