Yoga and Skiing at Snowbird

That moment…

When you see the beauty of majestic granite mountains,

When you smell the fresh scents of tall pine forests,

When you touch the softness of sun-drenched powder snow,

When you hear the songs of awakening Spring life,

And you feel the exhilaration of your body flowing freely with gravity…

Is when you know you have found bliss –

And when you know you have arrived at Snowbird!

There is something about Snowbird that makes my spirit soar! Ever since I first arrived over 30 years ago, I keep going back. Maybe it’s just the feeling of being connected to the natural beauty of the mountains. Maybe it’s the deep connection I feel with the Earth. Probably, it has something to do with an acute awareness of feeling my life as it’s supposed to be… free and flowing and joyful.

I brought my family there. I taught skiing and riding there. I almost moved there.

So why lead workshops that combine the practice of yoga and the experience of skiing and riding at Snowbird?

Yoga heightens our sense of presence, our feelings of connection, and our awareness of what’s going on. When combined with the present-moment exhilaration of flowing down challenging mountainsides with beauty and like-spirited friends all around to support you, the possibilities are endless. All of your senses feel peace and become positively-energized at the same time!

And awe-inspiring experiences are meant to be shared.

For me, as a yoga teacher, a ski and snowboard instructor, and a personal coach, it is a heavenly way to bring smiles to faces and to help people feel something wonderful!

In April of 2017, we will welcome our Heart of the Village Yoga community to a one-week yoga and ski trip at Snowbird! Join us. You will know when you have arrived!

The Wind Blows Through Me

Forty years ago, intent on solving the challenges of a growing society, I decided to pursue a career of civil engineering. Civil engineering soon morphed into structural engineering, which in turn morphed into architectural engineering and design.

Twenty years ago, I wrote the following article which was published in Healing Options in Spring, 1997. Now, after twenty years of letting go of the engineering career identity, I feel like I’m just now setting out again on the path intended for me, the path I felt so deeply when I wrote this article.

Tonight, I’m sitting on top of a mountain. The burning orange image of a rising full moon paints the sky purple as the blues of the sky get deeper and deeper. The long tail of a far-off comet starts to glow in the northwest skies. Stars start to twinkle above as house lights begin to twinkle below. I sit. I listen. I hear the whisper of the air as it moves through the branches of the trees nearby. They creek gently as they move in harmony. I listen some more. The whisper gets deeper, more like a deep hum or howl coming from far away and far above. I feel it move against my skin. I smell its fresh scents. I breathe deeply. The air blows through me. It seems to give me life and energy.

I start to move onward across the mountain top. But it’s almost as if I’m in a dream. My body is moving, lightly and easily, but my mind is elsewhere. It’s still on top of the mountain in a trance recapturing the spirit of the wind just felt. I’m reminded of similar experiences running on the beach or snorkeling in the ocean, hiking through deep green forests or biking across open fields. I’m reminded of similar sounds and feelings. I’m reminded of how the wind moves differently – sometimes with vigor, sometimes with gentleness – but it always moves. And it always makes sounds. I feel alive. I feel like I’m real. Everything seems to come together. Yet I keep dreaming…

For years I’ve worked primarily indoors performing a job that kept my mind challenged and my sense of accomplishment fulfilled. But there is something about being indoors that is stifling to me – like being stagnant and detached from what is really important. Inside, the wind is still. I sought the outdoors in my free time and continued to do what I supposed to do indoors. As a matter of fact, I still do – now and then!

For years I’ve studied and designed buildings, structures which give people protection from the wind and the elements of the outdoors. Some of these buildings were constructed with the sole purpose of helping people find peace and happiness. Homes, churches, and meeting places. That makes me feel good. But there is something about being outdoors which can’t be recreated inside a building. You need to experience it outdoors. Outside, the wind blows. It comes from far away and it connects through you.

It seems like years of thought and miles of travel, but I’m off of the mountain and back to my car. The moon is high in the sky and the stars are bright. My little story ends here. I must now go home to sleep, inside, hoping and dreaming that the wind will continue to blow through me…

 

Leading with Heart

Recently, someone asked me about my leadership principles. Words like vision, integrity, responsibility, and discipline rolled off my lips. Showing up with authenticity and presence, with a strong sense of inner knowing and mutual respect. Acting in a right manner, consistent in thoughts, words, and behaviors.

Of course, the archetype of leadership is the warrior. And last week, I spent 4 days hiking in the White Mountains along the 20-mile Presidential Traverse with 3 other warriors. (We started with 4 other warriors, but one was brave enough to say that the trip wasn’t for him. He became our base support.) Including our base support warrior, three were combat veterans; one was an amputee (and Paralympic alpine skier). I was the organizer and perceived leader.

Only one hiker other than me had mountain hiking experience. One was from the US Virgin Islands; not accustomed to sub-70 weather… They all knew me; only a couple knew each other before this week.

On our second day, after an initial first-day 4-mile steep climb towards the ridge line, four of us set out into the rain and clouds, temperatures around 50 degrees-F, and sustained winds of over 30 mph. Soon, at the ridge, we endured gusts over 55 mph. The way was rocky and wet. 7 miles.

It soon became very apparent that we were all leaders. We took turns in front. We took turns caring for each other. We easily became a close-knit group. There were no issues with where we were going. There were no issues as we adapted to options we faced. The tenants of leadership organically materialized, strengthened, and flowed naturally from us, individually and as a unit.

We’d later roll into the AMC Lake-of-the-Clouds Hut and people asked us who we were. We seemed so comfortable with one another, like brothers. People noticed; they felt our presence.

Upon reflection, we knew that we were not just warriors, enduring the hardships of our experience with determination and fortitude; we were also healers – we were relating to each other from our hearts, indeed as brothers. We discussed the relationship – the balancing act – between our warrior and healer instincts. We discussed the special relationship we shared with each other and with our natural surroundings. We became immersed in the bond of friendship and our connection with the natural world around us. It seemed like the power of our group was well beyond the power of four individuals.

In yoga, we become aware that, as individuals,we are on a self-realization journey discovering our own true nature. We utilize teachings from the Patanjali-Sutra that help guide us in our interactions: learning to live lives of non-violence (ahimsa), making ourselves more sensitive to the ways we often do subtle violence with our minds and our bodies to ourselves and to others; and learning to be authentic and truthful (satya), ennobling our own true nature through right action, allowing those around us to not feel deceived. We learn to be compassionate, with an open heart and an open mind. We feel safe being our authentic selves. We exude trust and faith in each other.

On our hike, these practices became our way of being. It was so nice to be in a place of sharing, of mutual support, of safety – even while immersed in a world of adventure and challenge.

Through heartfelt leadership, all of us as warriors and healers, balanced and flowing, we became one powerful unit, feeling successes well beyond the sum of each of our individual contributions.

In yoga, we look towards the ideal of pure awareness (isvara), surrendering to the unknown, letting go of perceived boundaries and past conditioning, having faith, and embracing the wisdom of uncertainty… together as one.

On this trip, I believe we scratched the surface of these feelings, towards this ideal, leading ourselves forward like we were one common soul – with heart. And in peace.

On these rocks, we became Brothers.

Of course, our next challenge will be bringing these teachings into our daily lives and to the world around us. Maybe as brothers, we can.

Okay, So It Was Only 180 Miles

Back then, there were no cell phones. Back then, there were no portable GPS’s. Back then, there were GoPro video cameras, no social media. Back then, I thought I had ridden about 200 miles. In one day.

So now, 38 years later, I finally checked my route on the computer. 180 miles. Give or take.

I had just returned from a Chuck Mangione concert at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. Children of Sanchez. “Without dreams….” still playing in my head. It was 1978. It was midnight.

My family was in Rockport, Massachusetts on vacation. I was working in Schenectady, New York for an architect doing drafting work. I had just finished my sophomore year in college. I wanted to take a few days off and go to the beach. So I did.

I got up at 3:00 am and started riding. A 10-speed, steel-framed bike with a hard leather seat and non-padded drop handle bars. I had never ridden more than 10 miles before. I did not have padded shorts nor gloves nor a shirt that covered the bottom of back. I did not know what dehydration was. I turned on the generator-powered light. Wrapped a bandana around my head. Off I went.

A flat tire in Hoosick Falls. Not a car on the road. “Every child belongs to mankind’s family. Children are the fruit of all humanity. Let them feel the love…”

Breakfast at McDonald’s in Bennington, Vermont, just as it opened. 7:00 am.

Up Route 7 to Prospect Mountain and Woodford. Down Route 7 to Wilmington (it was my first visit to the town that I would move to 20 years later). Up to Hogback Mountain. Down to Brattleboro. It was lunchtime. I was hungry again.

I remember having a burger across the Vermont border in Hinsdale, New Hampshire. It tasted like cardboard. I didn’t know why I didn’t have much saliva.

Then all I could remember in New Hampshire was up, then down, then up, then down… over and over. It was 90 degrees and humid. It seemed like the towns were always about 10 miles apart. I had a paper map. Get a drink every 10 miles. Hold my head up. Peddle on.

There is something about long-distance bicycling that keeps you focused. You just have to keep going. One stroke at a time. I observed my thoughts… Present-moment awareness. No choice.

Somewhere in New Hampshire, I was startled by a chasing dog who happened to get a peddle in his jaw as I was speeding down a hill. Momentum was everything!

“All man need a place to live in dignity….”

My lower back hurt. My butt and hands were numb. My mouth dry.

“Those who hear the cries of children, god will bless…”

As I crossed into Massachusetts, around dinner time, I realized I was not going to make it to Rockport that evening. New Hampshire, the smell of pavement and car exhaust, and 90-degree, had slowed my pace. I called Rockport.

You see, I hadn’t told my parents I was coming. “You’re where? Doing what?”

“Can you pick me up in Lowell later?”

So, 18 hours later, my father and my uncle picked me up on the streets of Lowell, Massachusetts, near some town park where weekend festivities were starting.

I spent a couple days on the beach. Nursing a burnt back. Trying to get feeling back in my hands and butt. Walking slowly. Drinking fluids. Humming music.

“As my children grow, my dreams come alive…”

No pictures to share. Just stories. And the music I remember.

“I will always hear the Children of Sanchez…”

I swore I’d never do something like that again.

But I did.

Many times.

With padded shorts and gloves. And a helmet.

As a yoga teacher nowadays, practicing present-moment mindfulness, I sometimes look inside with a deep sense of peace, awareness, and an inner confidence that knows that everything is okay. This feeling has remained present in my life even when the going has been tough. I suspect it has always been there, even before I knew what yoga was.

Hmmm. Is resiliency a learned behavior, a result of direct experience? Or, is it innate? Is it part our true nature to be open to the adventure and discovery of daily learning?

Hanuman

Last week, my wife and I spent the week with Dr. Manoj Chalam (a teacher of Hindu symbolisms and mythology), his wife Jyothi Chalam (a Vedanta scholar and South Indian classical singer), yoga and mindfulness teacher Christina Enneking, and about 80 other knowledge seekers at the Rising of Knowledge retreat in San Diego, CA. We practiced yoga, meditation, ceremony, and learned about Vedanta philosophy and yogic (Hindu) deities. We visited the Self Realization Meditation Gardens in Encinitas. Of course, it was an enlightening week. I thought I’d share some of Manoj’s teachings and their relevance to my life’s journey.

When you visit our yoga studio in Vermont, you will see murtis, statues of Hindu and Buddhist deities such as Ganesh, Shiva, Lakshmi, Sarasvati, and Hanuman. You can understand a deity at many levels. The easiest way to relate to them is as personal archetypes. The word archetype was coined by the Swiss psychotherapist, Carl Jung. An archetype is a symbol or a form that is imprinted in your subconscious.

There are archetypes from many traditions. For instance, the Sun God is called Ra (Amun Ra) in the Egyptian tradition. The same Sun God in the Roman tradition is called Mitra, while in the yogic (Hindu) tradition, the Sun god is also Mitra or Surya. Even though the cultures were thousands of miles apart, these are Universal archetypes. Interestingly, Mitra was born of a virgin mother on December 25, was a wandering preacher with 12 disciples and when he died, he was resurrected 3 days later! Of course, the cross is another beautiful archetypical symbol. The Hawaiians call these archetypes Aumakua such as Pele, Goddess of the Fire. And I’ve written before about the four archetypes of Warrior, Healer, Teacher and Visionary (I base my morning ritual on them).

The entire philosophy of yogic Self-Realization is embedded in the symbols of these archetypes. These archetypes are within our Collective Unconscious. These archetypes lie deeply embedded in our Causal Body and are available for the whole human race. They appear in times of transition in our lives and help guide us to achieve higher ideals in life. One of the highest ideals is knowledge about oneself (self-realization). When we know who our archetype is, we can learn how to invoke the associated knowledge and superhuman ideals in our lives. At its very core, these teachings are not a religion nor a philosophy. It is a Sadhana (Spiritual Practice) of actualizing our human potential in every stage of our lives. It is always Perfecting as opposed to Perfection and looking at the good in everything around us.

The Sanskrit word for archetype is Ishtadevata. Ishta means desired and devata means deity. The murtis (statues) are not “out there”, but within you as archetypes. They not only help you in your transformation, but they lead you to Awakening. As Joseph Campbell said, myths are Collective Dreams, while your dreams are Personal Myths! When your personal dreams, hopes, and aspirations are in tune with the Collective Dreams or myths, there is amazing harmony in your life.

Finding your archetype (Ishtadevata) is like falling in love: the form of the deity has to appeal to you. It is like walking into a room of new people and immediately liking someone, or going into an art museum and connecting with a piece of art.

Similarly, you can look at these deities, touch them, feel them, understand their Symbolisms and myths. Sooner than later you will find yourself gravitating to one, two or three deities. Usually you have one primary archetype and another secondary one. They change during your life because you change! These archetypes give you the reason to live with joy and help you in your personal, professional and spiritual aspects of your life. They also remind us of the grander ideals we can all live for. They bring out the yearning some of us have to make an impact on people and society and leave a legacy beyond the transitory nature of our lives.

About 20 years ago, I took a grand leap and left my job as a partner in a consulting structural engineering firm. As a young engineer, I had progressed quickly into a leadership role. I was quickly emerging as a firm and regional leader, designing large projects, developing key clients, publishing research work, and leading regional professional organizations. Knowing deep inside that there was a greater service-oriented purpose in my life, I resigned. I had no plans, no job, no idea what was next. But I felt this incredible sense of inner power and devotion to a greater purpose in my life.

Since that time, I have pursued work as a teacher, a coach, a wellness coach and mentor, a spiritual seeker, and as a yoga practitioner. I am a devoted step-father and husband… and son. I have taken additional leaps of faith on my life’s journey, often when my professional career leads me astray from my heart-felt greater purpose. Looking back now, after meeting Manoj and learning about these archetypes, I have realized that the Hanuman in me was guiding me and giving me the power to make these various leaps, especially since that time. But, like many other archetypes and spirit guides with whom I walk, I realize that Hanuman has always been with me.

In a nutshell, Hanuman represents superhuman strength and superhuman intellect with a high degree of devotion. He resides in the heart chakra. If there is one deity who embodies Bhakti (devotion or love-attachment), it is Lord Hanuman. Power comes from devotion. Hanuman represents service towards others with a keen sense of humility.

Hanuman is the ultimate quiet, non-attention-seeking superhero. He enjoys working behind the scenes to support others. Many aspects of yoga come from Hanuman, including many asanas. His father was Vayu, the wind deity so he taught the yogic world pranayama. His guru was Surya, the Sun god so he taught the world Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation). He is so intelligent that he is able to reconcile the three main systems of Vedanta philosophy: Dwaita (Duality), Vishishta Advaita (qualified non duality) and Advaita (non duality). Manoj illustrates this aspect in this story: When this unassuming monkey becomes a superstar of the Ramayana, at the end Ram asks Hanuman “Who are you?” Hanuman replies: deha bhavena dasosmi – when I take identification with my body, I am your (God’s) servant. This is Dwaita, duality where you are separate from God and thus express devotion, the path of Bhakti; jiva bhavena twadamshakaha – when I take identification with the traveling soul, I am a part of you – this is Vishishta Advaita, qualified non duality where you are part of God; and atma bhavena twamevaham – when I take identification with pure Consciousness, I am You – this is Advaita, pure non-duality.

And of course Hanuman’s mythical leap to move mountains is memorialized in the pose Hanumanasana. This pose asks you not merely to stretch your legs but also to bring true devotion into your practice. Hanumanasana expresses the expansiveness possible when devotion is in the heart—the sense that you can overcome any obstacle when your yearning to help is combined with reverence and respect, as well as an intense and fiery devotion. In Hanumanasana you strive to reach much further than seems humanly possible.

It is interesting how my personal musings and reflections in the past years have led me down the path of looking at God or the Divine from these various perspectives. I have always felt that I am really me when I am observing myself and the world around me as a totally interconnected, loving, joyful, and spiritual soul… Advaita. In this place, I feel ultimate power and our divine nature… and I see in others our power and divine nature.

Experiences are always shared; our lives are always connected. In you, I see me. I am, because we are. Or, as the Beatles might say: “I am he as you are he as you are me – and we are all together!” and “And life flows on within you and without you…”

Om Anjaneya Namah.

Thank you, Manoj, for being you… and for sharing your insights with the world. (Much of the content in this article is directly from Dr. Manoj Chalam’s teachings.)