Hi Friends! Fall is in the air… What times these are! Jiyu and I have never been more overextended, BUT we know that if we set aside time + space and invite community to share in nourishing practices, we can, will and must make it through! Our new online 8-week morning program Fantastic Fall Wonder Workout starts TOMORROW! Each module is highly adaptable and you can come and go as you please. Here’s the schedule in Denver time:
One of my most influential teachers left his body yesterday. I had been thinking about him and wondering how he was feeling. We are so connected to those we love, especially at times of transition. Now as I write I have finally started to cry, knowing we won’t see each other in this form again, but up to this point today I felt a lot of joy. If there is one person who really lived and prepared for death it was Cliff…
Cliff Barber lived in a gorge on a Greek island for a few decades, practicing yoga and studying intensely. I never mentioned him on social media or put him in my bio where anybody would really look, because it didn’t feel right to send more people to his humble and open home, where he would sit and listen and engage with visitors until they left, never getting up for food, rest or relief even if they stayed the entire day and into the night.
In fact he was quite a legend in the Ashtanga world. Hundreds of people did come by to meet him each summer. He wrote down their names and remembered each of them. The first times I visited him (introduced by my mentor Petros Haffenrichter, who grew up on that island) were brief, and yet the next year he’d happily yell out my name and we’d pick up right where we left off.
In 2009 I lived a few dozen steps from him on the river for 2 months. I think he had just turned 80. It was the first year he no longer practiced across the river. A year or two before he was photographed in some wicked Advanced Series poses, but that summer he began to slow down and do more pranayama. I would practice, dive into the river and swim over to have tea with him, which he prepared on a fire.
Most mornings it was just the two of us. He gave me a lot of guidance on kriya and pranayama, and I loved practicing that summer. I developed some strange but comforting fevers that felt productive following some practices, and unlike the usual situation in the modern yoga world where we live far from our teachers and they are overburdened with responsibilities and distractions of the western hubbub, I knew he was there for consultation or to help tailor the practice so that I could benefit from it.
It was an amazing balance between being alone to try things out and having regular very special contact with a very experienced teacher with zero investment in selling anything and complete freedom to advise me as he truly saw fit. His students paid for his food and that’s all he wanted or needed while I was there. Hard to believe something could be so simple and work so well in our modern world, granted far removed from the usual urban scene.
We talked a lot about India, the horrors of capitalism, what the practice really accomplishes, doubts, weird pranic phenomena… It was one of the only times I have had an honest talk about death. He did not pretend to be above fear or uncertainty, nor use quotes from the Upanishads to appear masterful, but there was an acceptance and curiosity that imparted an inspiration and ease to me, encouraging me to engage with life, understanding that it is leading towards death.
One thing he said that I remember most every day came as we discussed the obsession western students have with the performance of contortions. He said that yoga is supposed to make us more human, not into some kind of super-human. I hope that perspective becomes more widespread!
In the afternoons some others would join, like Danny Paradise with his guitar and David Williams with his chess board. Or the few of us who lived there would pile into a clown car of barefoot yogis, 7 of us in a tiny Fiat, and head to the village for weekly groceries. Cliff said the 2 worst inventions ever were shoes and bathing suits. That summer made me a believer. The callouses on my feet remained for at least 8 months afterwards.
He proudly showed me a large form he had just completed, made from hundreds or possibly thousands of tiny paper triangles that he cut unbelievably precisely with a protractor and x-acto knife and glued together. He wanted to have it made into crystal. Later he began painting and wrote a book about sacred geometry (cliffbarber.com).
He had tons of books and we discussed his findings on many of the pearls of the yoga tradition. He was not a blind follower, and drew from other traditions as well. In fact he was a huge fan of Jesus. He tried out the prescribed practices steadily over many decades and came to his own conclusions, delivering his insights with a lot of kindness and humor, never pedantic or holier-than-thou. It was so easy to be with him, no expectations, no awkwardness, no ego games or transactional bullshit, just mutual respect.
That summer was one of the most profound times I have ever had. I was never one for camping, but sleeping less than 2 meters from a gorgeous river you could drink out of with no tent and no mosquitos was sublime, actually going to bed when it was dark and getting up at dawn… Had I not lived that way for a while, I would not even be able to fathom how far our lives have strayed from nature right now, ever more so every single day with the manipulations of mankind interfering with the wisdom and joy of life on every conceivable level.
The only predator I met that summer was a wild pig who was ravaging some campsites on the other side of the river. I came face to face with him while we were each running toward each other on a path. Luckily he had just stolen and eaten a resident’s weed stash and was rather starry-eyed, swaggering like a drunken sailor. We acknowledged each other and went on our merry way.
Cliff told me I could walk/swim down the river to the palm beach on the coast, so I did, having no idea how long it would take. It was the first and possibly only time I have ever felt completely safe. If I hadn’t made it back before dark I could’ve just slept by the river. I felt protected by the nature there. It didn’t matter who I was or how long anything would take. It was the only time in my life when I felt I could really just be for long enough to really get what that is…
The top photo is his home. He slept on an old blanket behind those shrubs and we had tea just a few feet downstream. I have this picture hanging in my living room along with 3 other photos with sentimental value from my travels.
Many thanks to my dear friend Carla, whom I met that summer, and who told me about Cliff’s passing.
Now, more than ever, we need to carve out time, structure and communities to tap into greater ways of knowing, feeling and loving!
Our new 4-week course starts Thursday, April 16th and runs through Friday, May 15th. Jiyu and I will be sharing our favorite practices with you each weekday morning. We will chant, invoke healing, guidance, protection and inspiration, engage in shamanic journeying, spend some time expressing ourselves creatively, as well as learn and practice nervous-system savvy techniques to remain adaptable during this critical period in history. You will also have opportunity to share with each other in our online group. These practices leave me feeling connected, capable and energized, and I hope you will also benefit from them. 🙂
Early bird continues through tomorrow 6pm Denver time! Live sessions take place on Zoom 7:50-8:50am, but if that doesn’t work for your schedule, the video will remain available until the next one is posted. More details and registration here!
Registration is now open! Only 10 spots available. Early bird pricing through November 4th 🙂
Anybody looking for a refreshing and deep-diving alternative to the holiday madness? Come and join our Omen Days Retreat! We will tap into silence and listen to our bodies and souls through a variety of powerful methods: TIAVY (Trauma Informed Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga), meditation, shamanic journeying, expressive/creative arts and movement, chanting, group process and divination… Prepare to enter 2020 rejuvenated, with a sense of clarity, purpose and readiness.
This retreat will take place at our home studio in Denver at the end of the year during the Omen Days from the Winter Solstice through the beginning of the New Year (December 20, 2019-January 1, 2020), a time considered by many cultures to be especially potent for doing inner work and setting the tone for the year to come. If you find you cannot join us for the entire time, a daily option will be opened after the Early Bird registration period is over.
There will be free time each afternoon for nature walks led by Jiyu, drawing and journaling, doing restoratives using our extensive prop collection, and optional add-ons like IR sauna sessions. You may also choose to add on a juicing and/or V-GF organic kitchari cleanse package for turbo detox and renewal.
The bulk of the retreat will be held in noble silence. For our purposes this means allowing ourselves to get away from talking about our usual concerns and identities and speaking only when necessary or when encouraged during group practices. (To whatever degree possible, you are invited to take a break from electronic communications as well, such a relief!) Through guided group and partner activities we will create space to feel seen, heard, held and thoroughly appreciated for the star beings we truly are.
New Year’s Eve will be an even bigger celebration than every other night and additional members of the community may join in. We will have a healthy & delicious V-GF potluck, dancing, kirtan/sing-along, puja to bring our intentions for the new year into consciousness, and finally we will sit or move in silence for the last hour of 2019. At midnight, we will salute the new year with 108 repetitions of the mantra LOKAH SAMASTAH SUKHINO BHAVANTU (may all beings be happy) and have a brief toast with tea, snacks etc. before retiring so as to be fresh for 7am ceremony on New Year’s Day!!!
Jen-Mitsuke will be leading all of the activities and also practicing and retreating along with you. She will teach TIAVY self-practice on Sundays as well as Christmas Day and New Year’s Day during this period (4x), practicing yoga right beside you on other days. You must therefore be familiar with “Mysore-style” classes and be confident in your own practice, as group yoga instruction will not be offered. (Seasoned practitioners in other lineages are also welcomed. Just let me know where you’re coming from and we can decide whether it’s a good match.) Shamanic journeying, expressive practices and group processes will be thoroughly explained, so no prior experience with those is needed. Please contact Jen with any questions or concerns.
Locals may commute daily, and for those from out of town, we may be able to offer you a couple of competitively-priced options for staying here with us. These accommodations afford varying degrees of privacy and comfort, and all involve a shared bathroom. Please inquire if interested.
We invite you to join us 7 days per week during the month of October for morning sadhana at our extremely well-appointed and pleasant home studio in Denver. We encourage you to undertake a diverse and individually-appropriate practice that helps to ground you and serve that which is most meaningful to you in life.
Feel free to include kriya, pranayama, meditation, strengthening exercises and restoratives in your yoga routines! We have a plethora of specialized equipment for your enjoyment. You are also welcome to do creative work during that time if your schedule does not permit staying the full morning. Need help tailoring your personal practice or incorporating additional creative or healing elements? Set up a private session with Jen.
Creative Hour will consist of puja, chanting and drumming/rattling followed by 40 minutes to spend as you choose for personal journaling, dream analysis, artwork, movement exploration, etc., and ending with a neuroplasticity-stimulating meditation for happiness and resilience.
You may attend whatever times work for you, but please refrain from arriving or departing during group savasana, ceremony or meditation times (8:30-8:45, 9:00-9:15, 9:55-10:00). 45-minute IR sauna sessions can be booked (at least 24 hours in advance) as early as 5:30am and finishing as late as 10:45am.
We are looking to foster a sense of regularity and support in community, so we only offer monthly subscriptions. Our friends from out of town or locals looking for a retreat may purchase 7-day memberships on a space-available basis. We will be a group of 10 or less.
Please note, there will be no practice on October 25, 26 and 27th (Friday-Sunday) as Jen will be traveling for her PhD studies. Otherwise, Jen leads the daily chanting, puja, drumming/rattling & meditation. Additionally, she will teach TIAVY self-practice from 6:30-8:45am on Wednesdays and Sundays. At other times Jiyu is there to supervise as Jen practices alongside you. 🙂
6:30am–Ashtanga Vinyasa Invocations
8:30am–Group Savasana & Closing Chant
8:45am–Tea & Satsang
9:00am–Puja & Ceremony
10:00am–Bring Your Best Self Out Into the World!
October Unlimited (includes 2 IR sauna sessions) — $180
15-day Punch Card (expires end of October 2019) — $150
10-day Punch Card (expires end of October 2019) — $120
7-consecutive-day Punch Card (sign up for October dates) — $80
Congratulate me! 😉 Jiyu is toasting to my future as a PhD student (yet again!) at Pacifica Graduate Institute in California. I will be studying Depth Psychology with a concentration in Integrative Therapies and Healing Practices.
In working on the curriculum for my TIAVY (trauma informed ashtanga vinyasa yoga) teacher training this past summer, I realized just how committed I am to spreading the word about trauma and how we all need to whittle away at our own ever-replenishing load! It became clear to me that I wanted to integrate some shamanic and expressive modalities into the yoga and psychotherapeutic-neuroplasticity framework I have been developing over the past 6 years, so this program seems to be right up my very interdisciplinary alley!
I’m hoping to meet a lot of inspiring colleagues from various healing professions and learn a lot. The first time around (2000-2004 at Princeton University studying neuroscience), I wasn’t far enough along on my own path to feel confident of making my own contribution to the field. It was fascinating, but it seemed like I was just doing more of what my predecessors did and not likely to make a lasting difference in peoples’ lives. I was still meandering towards my deeper purpose.
My own illness, subsequent contemplative trainings and counseling degree have added to my way of understanding the healing process, with all of its universals and particulars.
I hope to stand with myself and others on their healing journeys and expand my ability to tap in to Spirit, the unconscious, conscious relationship, and eastern and western techniques for nervous system regulation in my sessions and workshops. I increasingly hope to attract students and clients looking to make a profound investment in their intrinsic intuitive, relational and creative abilities.
I will be traveling to CA monthly but remaining in Denver at other times so stay tuned for upcoming offerings! And please sign up for my blog and email list if you have not done so already 😉
Hi Friends, Jiyu and I are so enjoying our morning mini-retreats and hope you can make it to experience a very complete practice, which will then inform any one of the practices you do in the future! We have added options for 2 days/week, a 5-pack, and a single drop-in, depending upon your schedule. Please see full details here.
Jiyu also wants me to let you know that in the cases pictured, the students asked him to do these particular assists. He does not want you to feel that he will be giving paws-on assists without your explicit consent and guidance 😉 After all, we teach TIAVY (trauma informed ashtanga vinyasa yoga)! Looking forward to practicing with you.
Wishing you could go on a tropical yoga retreat, but have to stay home and work? Join the club. Get more benefit and less food poisoning by joining Jiyu (the teacher) and me (your dedicated fellow practitioner) for one or more 5-weekday morning self-practice retreats at our home in Denver! (Can’t pull off 5 days in a row? Jiyu and I still want you to have a taste of the delicious nectar of this experience, so we have devised drop-in or 5-pack experiences for students we have worked with in the past. We just ask that you thoroughly familiarize yourself with the protocol laid out here so that the flow is not interrupted for those of us already in the groove.)
I was listening to neuroscientist Richie Davidson in an interview lately, and he mentioned how much more potent retreat practice is for making modifications to brain structure and function. I have felt this on my many extended retreats. Although we will not be secluding ourselves for long periods, we will nonetheless propel ourselves into full potential mode with this amazing morning routine, providing a combination of the most potent practices plus a warm and friendly community vibe that we feel is essential for most of us to experience optimal benefit.
The mini-retreats will take place weekdays from Monday June 3rd through Friday July 12th. Start your day with a brief puja and shamanic invocations to sanctify and empower the space for healing, then dedicated time for kriya and asana, tea with friends, 3 kinds of meditation and pranayama! I have developed this schedule based on recommendations from my principal teachers Richard Freeman, Mary Taylor, Jennifer Hinton & Patrice Bazile as well as my own long-term practice and the scientific research on healing and neuroplasticity.
I am looking so forward to doing this that I am sure it will be my best summer ever! And Jiyu is sure it will be his best yet as well (after all it is his first)! Be prepared to relish some puppy kisses as Jiyu matures in his teaching role. In that regard, his ideas of trauma-informed adjustments are a little different than mine, and once in a while you might end up with a dog and/or bone on your mat, but he gives paws-on assists (like those in the photos) only with your explicit consent and very careful direction! Usually he aids you by his fantastic demonstrations of care-free relaxation. 🙂
The 6 available self-practice retreats are Monday-Friday (no moon days observed). If you are not able to make it every day that is up to you, though I would encourage you to think of this as a special opportunity to practice more consistently and intensely than you may normally be able to do. You may sign up for any number of weeks:
5:55am Morning Puja
6:30am Zazen Meditation*
6:45 Metta Meditation*
6:55 Competent Protector Meditation*
7:00 Ashtanga Invocation, Kriya & Asana
8:57am 4-minute Quiet Meditation*
9:01am Utplutih & Group Savasana*
9:15am Closing Chant & Tea with Friends
*Please do not come or go during the silent periods (6:30-7:00 or after 8:55).
Morning Puja: We will delineate our sacred space through the invocation of the King of the Nagas, the ultimate support, invite Ganesh to have a seat in our sacred space, and then call in benevolent spirits from the 4 directions and 3 realms to be with us and bring their wisdom, compassion, skillful means, guidance, help, healing and curative energies while we practice together.
Pranayama: If you have been given a breathing practice by a competent teacher, please feel free to do it. If not, you can schedule a private lesson with me live or on Skype to develop one, or you could download Richard Freeman’s Yoga Breathing (2 CD/ MP3 set) onto your phone and bring earphones to do CD 1 or 2 with him. (The first 3 practices take about 30 minutes and would be a great start for anybody who is new to pranayama. You can do them sitting up or laying down.)
Zazen Meditation (15 min): This is seated (or standing if needed) meditation on breath and posture. If you have your own silent meditation practice, you are welcome to do that during this time.
Metta Meditation (10 min): This is compassion meditation, which has the potential to very deeply change our way of relating in the world. If you are familiar with this practice, implement your favorite method. Otherwise a script will be included in the chant download.
Competent Protector Meditation (5 min): This exercise is meant to restore healthy attachment, which is a prerequisite for most all forms of healing. It has been recommended by neuroscientists, trauma therapists and shamanic healers alike. You will visualize a real or imaginary being capable of providing you with protection, support, companionship, wisdom, warmth, and all else that you need. You will bask in the feelings associated with that support in order to retrain the nervous system to feel safe and cared for, which will allow your own innate healing mechanisms and life talents to gain a stronger foothold in this universe.
Kriya & Asana: Kriyas you might want to practice before coming include skin brushing, oil pulling (swishing sesame or coconut oil in the mouth for 5-20min–do NOT swallow!) during your shower (possibly warm with a 30-second cold rinse at the very end to invigorate the nervous system), salt water flush, or while here, kapalabhati and uddiyana bandha kriya… (Need a brush-up or want to learn more? Schedule a lesson with me live or on Skype. For those signed up for a mini-retreat, I am offering a 50% discount on private lessons.)
You will be encouraged to enter finishing postures (following backbending) with 20 minutes remaining. These are some of the most detoxing and rejuvenating postures when we take our time with them. If not inverting, you are of course welcome to do restoratives, etc., just as you are welcome to make the rest of the practice your own. I have slings and every prop I’ve ever seen available for your enjoyment.
We will sit for 4 minutes following the yoga mudra/ujjayi postures prior to utplutih. At this point in the practice it feels most natural to sit quietly. We will then reap the benefits of a nice long savasana.
Tea with Friends (15 min): Time for satsang (spiritual company), a light snack if you want to bring one, and fun with the puppy. I will need to get ready for work by 9:30.
INVESTMENT & REGISTRATION–
Each week will cost $50, or if you want to go all-out, you can sign up for all 6 weeks for the discounted price of $250. There will be no refunds for missed days, and if you register but then cancel within 48 hours of your start date, you will still be responsible to pay for the week. You must register by reading and signing this form by Sunday 12-noon prior to the week you intend to practice in order to ensure that there is room. You will then get the exact address (near Water World, 84th & Pecos) and final details from me.
For those unable to book a full week, drop-ins are available for $25/day, 2x/week for $40, or if you plan on coming 5 or more times this summer, you may purchase a 5-pack for $85 upfront, good through July 12th. No refunds. Please follow the protocol above, registering by noon on Sunday before the week you first wish to attend so that I have time to plan and send you the infos.
Jiyu and I are looking forward to practicing with you!!! 🙂
In these intensive trainings, we will explore key concepts in trauma healing and apply them directly to our yoga practice. We will study fundamental features of trauma physiology and gain awareness of how culture, philosophy, the practice environment and student-teacher relationships influence the nervous system and perpetuate or alleviate trauma in ourselves and others. Most exciting of all, we will investigate how elements of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga (such as bandha, mudra, pranayama, visualization and chanting) can fit in alongside some of the most ground-breaking trauma theories available, potentially enhancing evidence-based yoga interventions for PTSD. While trauma robs us of our capacity for joy, spontaneity, empowerment and connection, rehearsing these in our practice can serve as a potent daily reminder of our nearly unfathomable potential to live and to give. By inquiring deeply into neuroscience, psychology, yoga technology, our own personal circumstances and deepest intentions, we will begin or continue the never-ending journey of constructing a practice that truly serves us and our world.
Greetings, everyone! Thank you for visiting my blog. I hope it will contribute in some way to true happiness and freedom for all beings.
Ganesha is here to get us off to an auspicious start. He blesses beginnings and is often said to be the remover of obstacles. Our material on this blog will address many issues that tend to be seen as hindrances: sickness, physical limitations, modern worldly commitments, relationship complexities, change and loss, character flaws, habits or addictions that appear to get in the way of our practice or ability to live fully… They say the trick is to regard the “problem” as Ganesh himself, giving us the chance to behold it with greater respect and allowing for the possibility of learning and growing from it with humility and gratitude.
In this photo Ganesh is looking quite studious, and in fact he is said to be Intelligence itself. We could all use more of that! Or perhaps I should just speak for myself… Well, even in his case, this lesson was hard-won as is illustrated by the following story, a version of which is often told by my teacher:
Shiva (Ganesha’s father) was needing to go out to perform some godly duties and didn’t want to leave his wife, Parvati (Ganesha’s mother) unattended. He asked Ganesh to guard the door and be sure not to let anybody in. As a test, he came disguised a few different ways and was very pleased to find Ganesh unrelenting in this task. Shiva then felt reassured that everything was taken care of and was gone for quite a while. Upon arriving back home excited to see his wife, he found that Ganesh refused to let him in! No matter what he tried (entreaties, subterfuge, force…), he could not gain entry. In a fit of frustrated fury, he sliced the boy’s (human) head off. Needless to say, this did not go over well with Parvati and the homecoming festivities were further delayed. Eventually they found an elephant, and Ganesh was outfitted with a new head. After that he learned to get to the heart of the matter and not take things so literally (or seriously).
It’s astonishing to see how easy it is to develop fundamentalist attitudes and adhere to them even when they don’t apply. We see this happening in the yoga world all the time when we hear a certain instruction meant for a particular person in a specific situation and we turn it into a universal rule and try to impose it on everybody. Without understanding that the external posture is there to serve internal processes that can lead to open awareness and end all suffering, we try to cram our bodies into forms fabricated from fantasy and inflict more suffering on ourselves and others. We then waffle to the opposite extreme, telling our entire social media network that this style of asana is injurious, nonsensical and definitely not meant for me… We are forgetting its (and our) ultimate purpose (and potential). Even the best technique will fall short unless we take it in, digest and assimilate it in a way that is appropriate for us. It is far more challenging to look at our individual circumstances critically and use our own capacities to respond creatively and adaptively to them…
This brings me to Ganesha’s ears, which are quite large for divine listening. Listening (with any of our senses) brings us into the present moment and our unique reality. Rehashing the past, dreading or hankering after imagined scenarios in the future, and tugging at our experience right now wishing for it to be other than it is (or as other people tell us it ought to be) are all recipes for distraction and dissatisfaction. When we listen (be it to our bodies, other beings or our environment), we can act in skillful or even enlightened ways that ultimately benefit us all.
We all want to be happy and discover the real cause of happiness. The more I study various long-standing and apparently legitimate practice/wisdom traditions and interact with those who have truly immersed themselves in them, the more convinced I become that this goal is realizable and not some New Age magical thinking. When we inquire deeply and sincerely, guidance comes, whether we see it as such or not. May we explore together and find our own ways. May we perceive bumps in the road as little jabs from the tusk of Ganesh and continue on the path with a more open heart and better sense of humor!