The World's Third Greatest Gift is....
Posted by Ken on Fri Mar 29 2013
Dear Fellow Yogis and Yoginis!

The first of the month is also known as April Fool's Day, one of those "holidays" that has not been very commercialized, unless you consider the increased sales of whoopee cushions!  No matter how you feel about it, it surely is a special day for pranksters of all ages who have the ability to turn our frowns upside down.

I wanted to play a practical joke of some kind for this month's newsletter.  I considered making a big announcement about quitting yoga and going to work for a tobacco company, or post a new study that found yoga to be harmful to our health!

And then, I paused.
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While I enjoy a goofy gag, a jesting joke, and even a playful prank, I sense that our world has certainly changed in the last few years.  Especially in light of the many ‘doom and gloom’ newscasts around us, people generally seem to have forgotten to laugh with others or at themselves.

Laughter can convey meaning more effectively than words and is a special language in itself. It can heal and help us connect as a community.  And I am not about to give up what the Muppets refer to as the world’s 3rd greatest gift –laughter--just yet!   I know you are with me on this one!  I therefore propose the month of April be a month where all of us nurture our playful and sometimes silly inner child.
 
Here are a few suggestions to try out this month:

1) SMILE MORE.  Start you morning with a smile and repeat frequently through the day, specially when you make eye contact with another person.

2) LAUGH MORE, or find more things to laugh about.  Scientifc Research shows us there are health benefits to laughter.  Believe it!

3)  SHARE A FUNNY OR LIFE AFFIRMING QUOTE OR STORY, specially with someone having a rough day.

4)  PLAY an appropriate, emphatically-minded, and harmless "joke" on someone you love.  Make sure to have plenty of connecting time afterwards. Click here to read an article about how to apply humor in your life.

5)  BE SILLY and PLAYFUL.  Devote some time to play with your loved ones, or your pet(s).

6) Practice LAUGHTER YOGA!
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Just in case you get too carried away with the laughter and fun, please be assured that there is an FDA-approved "cure" for your happy condition called DESPONDEX!  Click here to get your laughs!



Playfully yours,
Ken

An elephant walks into a room and....
Posted by Ken on Mon Feb 25 2013

Ken and the Elephant

 

Have you ever heard of the story about several blind people and the elephant?

 

There are many versions (click here for Wikipedia and here for another version)  but the overall theme of the tale (not the tail, but we will get there eventually) is that several sightless people are all holding various parts of an elephant (obviously a very patient, friendly, and understanding pachyderm).  The group of humans can articulate what they are touching such as a long furry ropelike object (tail), or a tree-like stump (leg), or a smooth curved surface (tusk) and even though you, the reader, gets the picture rather quickly, these men just can’t seem to figure out how each individual’s tactile experience is connected to the others in the group.  Eventually, the humans begin to talk about their experiences and just as important, they actively listen to one another until they come to the realization that they are indeed interconnected through this shared (albeit unusual) experience.   


What lessons might we learn from this Indian parable? 

- Communication, including active listening, can help us connect with one another.

- In a shared experience, each person has his or her own unique and sacred perspective.

-Denying something that one cannot perceive ends up becoming an argument for one’s own limitations. 

 

Our world has become increasingly more complex and fast-paced.  

If you are interested in reading some of the research that shows just how harmful our zip-zip zoom-zoom culture is for our health, check out these stories.

 Click to read article ONE and TWO on how our fast-paced world is making us sick.

If only we could all slow down and go to the local elephant petting zoo with several others who hold different political, spiritual, or personal views and work things out, how happy the elephant would be and how much more peaceful might the human community be?   When I worked for a high school in Oakland, I learned about an organization that teaches youth how to acknowledge differences and celebrate them through an activity at lunch time where people are encouraged to sit with someone outside of their usual circle of friends.   It took courage and patience but year after year, the experiential mixer became an annual event celebrated by teachers and students AND the best part was, I and the other staff noticed subtle positive ripple effects throughout the school with fewer fights and enhanced group cohesion. 

So, how might a yoga practice help improve societal strife such as intolerance, discrimination and hate crimes?  Well, I am going to ask you to join me in saying loud and clear the greeting or the blessing that we say at the end of most yoga classes.

Come on, I didn’t hear you…

 Ok, that’s better!  Yes, it’s NAMASTE!

These 3 syllables say A LOT! 

One of the most common interpretations of NAMASTE is the following:

 

 “I honor the place in you in which the entire Universe dwells,

I honor the place in you which is of

Love, of Integrity, of Wisdom and of Peace.

When you are in that place in you, and I am in that place in me,

we are One.”

 

So, the first step in resolving larger issues of indifference and intolerance is for each of us to deepen our own personal relationship to ourselves,offering ourselves doses of lovingkindness and patience to counteract any of the power that our inner critic may have over us.  Nobody can do that for you.  I can’t.  Your acupuncturist can’t.  The Dalai Lama, the Pope, Tim Robbins or Oprah Winfrey, your parents, your partner….nope!  It’s our own individual work to be done, and while it might be a daunting task at the start, YOU are definitely  worth the effort.

 And the icing on the yoga cake is this:  each person we come in contact with can then help mirror back certain things about who we are and what we like and don’t like about being who we are.  Further, each person that comes into our lives can also help us improve upon areas of our lives that do not serve us any longer.   The Universe has it perfectly set up so that even with all of these interactions, all these inspiring folks amongst us, we still get to do all the inner Journey work on our own.   No short cuts, but oodles of learning opportunities every step of the way.   And while we are on our own unique path, we also get to cross paths with others who can inspire us along the way. 

 

As Lily Tomlin says:             

“We are all in this together, by ourselves.”

 

So let’s return back to the people and the elephant allegory.  Typically in a yoga class I would ask you to close your eyes, but for this one, I am asking you to open your eyes.  Open all of your senses.  This includes your inner senses, too.  Your intuition, your compassion, your empathy are all needed here.  Take a close and mindful look around at how you are connected to those around you.  Especially take a close and compassionate look at how you are connected to some one or some group that you consider to be ‘other’ than your usual safe set of connections.

 

How am I related to you?  How am I related to that homeless person I just walked past?

How am I related to the coworker or that neighbor that I nod to everyday? 

How am I connected to that random person that smiled at me in the supermarket?   

What do I have in common with the person that just abruptly cut in front of me on the freeway? 

 

One thing is for sure, we surely aren’t all groping an elephant with our eyes closed, but I have a hunch that if we first open ourselves up to the question “How is my experience connected to the experience of others?”, then the answer will find its way into our hearts. 

 

As I close this MINDFUL CHATTER, I thank YOU for teaching me about your life experiences via our online interactions or our brief chats before and after a yoga session.  If ever you and I did have a chance to hold an elephant (with our eyes and other senses wide open), I am sure that elephant would feel lots and lots of human love and compassion from our touch! 

 In peace and harmony,

Ken

 


Taiwan’s Living Room Yoga, my childhood Light Bright set, and YOU!
Posted by Ken on Thu Jan 31 2013

Light Bright

“No matter where you go, there you are.”  -Buckaroo Bonzai

 

For me, yoga is as much about alignment of the body as it is about the energy we connect within ourselves and within the community in which we practice.    I have been a part of the San Francisco Naked Men’s Yoga community since 2006.  It all started during the time I was enrolled in Darren Main’s yoga teacher training program, and Darren invited me to take his Sunday evening class.   One thing led to another (when do they not?) and shortly after graduating from the training program, I stepped in to cover for Darren.  It was a daunting experience and I still can recall how nervous I was. (The proverbial technique for overcoming stage fright: “just try to imagine everyone in the group as naked” didn’t work so well in this case.)   I can also recall that the class was incredibly welcoming and supportive.  Many of the students had been practicing yoga much longer than I, yet they treated me with such generosity of spirit, offering kind words of encouragement and enlightening feedback that I could integrate into my future teaching.  This is one of many instances where I felt the power of our community of naked yogis to  lift one another up and celebrate one another’s paths. 

 

Eventually as the community grew,  I had the honor of stepping up to start a second class in the middle of the week.  Fast forward almost 7 years later to a community that now has 3 locations, 9 classes, 6 regular teachers and it seems that we still have some exciting growing to do.  While we don’t have solid stats on how many people have attended our classes over the years, we have 600 readers of our monthly newsletter, and I would guesstimate that our community is well over 2,000 men.   Being part of this community of ‘brogis’ is one of the most rewarding parts of being a yoga instructor.   

 

I am just returning from a trip to Asia where I got to participate in a beautiful yoga community’s holiday gathering in Taipei.   I was so touched to be invited to speak about the Naked Yoga for Men movement here in the Bay Area and to witness the yoga community growing in Taiwan as well.    Getting to step into another community in another country was a refreshing RESET for my mind/body/spirit.   While there were language barriers and cultural differences, I was also enlivened by the warm welcome I received from the group of Taiwanese gay men bravely working to create a safe space for them to practice yoga.   The group started with one teacher and two students in a living room.  It has grown to over 50 students and four classes in the past two years.   These dedicated teachers are making history in establishing the first gay men’s yoga sangha in Taiwan.    While the sangha of men does not practice naked yoga, we explored the differences and similarities of our two groups, especially around the theme of empowerment through our yoga practice. 

 

I can imagine there are many places in the world where it is still not completely safe for like-minded (or open minded) men to gather and practice yoga together, with or without clothes.   I acknowledge that not all men that come to the NYM SF classes self-identify as gay or queer, moreover, each of us come to the class to explore different parts of who we are.   In fact, my hope is that our group continues to evolve in a way that allows for even more straight and trans-men to join us.    And I have not given up on the vision of having an all-inclusive (all genders welcome) class.  

 

In any given class, whether I am student or teacher, I can look across the room of naked yogis and not know a thing about what each person does outside of the room in their personal and professional lives.  I can only stand with each of them and be in awe of their courage, strength and dignity when each man rolls out his mat, sheds his clothing and settles into his practice.  And for me, that is where the joy of being part of this community lies.   

 

I have shared this story in class a few times about one of my favorite toys growing up.

(No, not my Barbie doll or the Easy Bake Oven…those will be stories for another time.)

This story is about me as an 8 year old and my cherished Light Bright toy.   You know, the one with the triangular plastic case, a simple light bulb in the back, a black cover with numerous holes, and a box of colorful pegs.  I don’t even think it had an ON/OFF switch; rather when I plugged it in, it was ON, when I unplugged it, it was OFF.  This toy was pretty basic and downright dangerous if you left the light bulb on too long.   Well, I would spend hours taking different colored pegs, plugging them in and seeing the various pictures and designs I could create.  If I came up with something I favored, I would use it as a night light for a while.    It was exactly what a shy 8 year old growing up ½ mile from his closest friends needed during cold and dark Pennsylvania winter nights: a toy that kept him entertained as well as feeling safe and warm, even when he was all alone.


I was reminded of this long forgotten toy from my distant past one day when I became emotional standing in front of a room full of naked yogis, which appeared as a room full of unique lights all shining brightly.   This random gathering of men just happened.  Or perhaps there is nothing random about it at all.  I could only stand and admire the room of men who were sweating, breathing and practicing this ancient art of connecting to one’s own Truth.   How blessed I felt to be here with my brothers in a safe and supportive space to let go of who the world thinks we ‘should be’ and relax into who we truly are.    I felt just as safe as I did as when I was 8, but I also had the comfort of no longer being alone.  

 

To each of you who is part of this community, and to those that are part of other gatherings, thank you all for holding space for each other.  Your breath, your practice, your intention are all changing the world for the better.  And as our communities in Taiwan, in San Francisco, or in any corner of the world grow, we have more opportunities to shine our own light and be inspired by the light of others.

 

Thank you GQ (the yoga teacher who dreamed and manifested the gay men’s yoga group in Taipei) and the others at Living Room Yoga for all that you do for your yoga community in Taiwan.  I look forward to practicing with you again!

Living Room Yoga


Eleven years later and 9/11 still remains both a mystery to the rational mind and an opportunity for the healing of the heart.
Posted by Ken on Tue Nov 27 2012

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

 

"Listen to your being. It is continuously giving you hints; it is a still, small voice. It does not shout at you, that is true. And if you are a little silent you will start feeling your way. Be the person you are. Never try to be another, and you will become mature. Maturity is accepting the responsibility of being oneself, whatsoever the cost. Risking all to be oneself, that's what maturity is all about."

-Osho

 

Eleven years ago, we all experienced a shocking and life-changing event when 4 hijacked planes crashed in various parts of the East Coast.   There remains much mystery surrounding the incident and like any tragic event that impacts our lives, recalling this historic event can cause ongoing distress. 

While we may never fully understand how or why 9/11 happened, we each have an opportunity to allow time to heal wounds and evolve into more compassionate and resilient beings.  


A common initial reaction is to move into survival or ‘flight/fight’ modes.   These reactions involve increased fear and can lead to shutting out the opportunity to learn about self and others.   In a traumatic event, this is a very natural response as our frontal lobe is overruled by our ‘reptilian brain’ with its general discharge of the sympathetic nervous system,priming us to run away from or directly confront the danger.  

 

Further, this reaction when not fully understood can also lead to hatred of the  ‘other,’ as in other beliefs, other lifestyles, other ethnicities, etc.    This only perpetuates the illusion that we are all separate from one another and we lose sight of what we hold in common. 

 

My hope is that as we each deepen our meditation and yoga practice we begin to see through the illusion of separateness and begin to develop a secondary, a more evolved and sustainable reaction to this historic tragedy.   We can all take the time to question and learn about other ways of life.   We can each open up our minds and our hearts to those that may hold very different values and beliefs.  I am not saying this is easy, but I am confident we humans are capable of moving beyond this fear-based attitude towards the world. 

 

 In an interesting article by Lisa Firestone, the Huffington Post explores the impact Trauma is having on our society and ways to help one another overcome some of the symptoms. 

 

And Pema Chordron shares her wisdom that also give us a Buddhist perspective on how our lives are full of both gloriousness and wretchedness:

“Life is glorious, but life is also wretched. It is both. Appreciating the gloriousness inspires us, encourages us, cheers us up, gives us a bigger perspective, energizes us.  We feel connected. But if that's all that's happening, we get arrogant and start to look down on others, and there is a sense of making ourselves a big deal and being really serious about it, wanting it to be like that forever. The gloriousness becomes tinged by craving and addiction. On the other hand, wretchedness--life's painful aspect--softens us up considerably. Knowing pain is a very important ingredient of being there for another person. When you are feeling a lot of grief, you can look right into somebody's eyes because you feel you haven't got anything to lose--you're just there. The wretchedness humbles us and softens us, but if we were only wretched, we would all just go down the tubes. We'd be so depressed, discouraged, and hopeless that we wouldn't have enough energy to eat an apple. Gloriousness and wretchedness need each other. One inspires us, the other softens us. They go together.”
Pema Chödrön, Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living 

 


If you are reading this blog, this means you are a crucial part of the healing that is already taking place around the planet.  
Whether the tragedies of September 11, 2001 directly or indirectly touched your life, or whether you have suffered from other losses or unfortunate situations, know that we are all in this together and you are NOT alone.     

 

I encourage you to share this blog with someone in your life and to add your own two cents for deepening a sense of interconnectedness and community.

 

In peace and unity,
Ken


Bank of America has taught me so much about my yoga practice. Here are the ten practical and spiritual lessonsI have learned.
Posted by Ken on Tue Nov 27 2012

Lessons Learned from my unlikely teacher, Bank of America....

Monday, March 05, 2012

 

“On the mountains of truth you can never climb in vain: either you will reach a point higher up today, or you will be training your powers so that you will be able to climb higher tomorrow.”
— Friedrich Nietzsche

One of the earliest tales in yoga mythology is about the warrior Arjuna heading into battle while consulting with Krishna about the moral dilemma of engaging in a brutal war with his fellow humans.   As it turns out Krishna encourages him to follow his Dharma or his ‘duty’, which in his case, was to wholeheartedly step into the battle so that he can restore balance and justice. 

In this modern era of global conflicts that are not quite as easy to understand as the ancient battle described in the yoga texts, there are still some comparisons that can be drawn.   Everything from poverty, to corporate and political injustices, to basic human and civil rights seem to be more and more intense these days.  While it may feel better to turn off the news (and I highly recommend that as a practice from time to time), we can no longer simply go back to sleep and pretend that we are not living at a very critical time in our collective history. 

Ever since the Occupy Oakland camp in front of City Hall was disbanded (or raided or imploded, depending on how one looks at it) in December 2011, I have not been able to teach yoga on the streets to the Occupiers and the commuters in that area so I reapplied my energies to daily life including my social work jobs, yoga classes, and yoga therapy workshops.  For the past few months, I actually felt that things were going fairly smoothly and on some level I did allow myself to ‘go back to sleep,’ forgetting the bigger societal woes that many face -- that is until one fateful day in February when I received TWO separate and contradictory letters from the exact same representative at Bank of America. I was then abruptly shaken out of my slumber and I am wide awake now!  And much like Arjuna, I am called back into a battle that I would prefer not to deal with but it seems this is my Dharma or my ‘duty’ to see it through. 

I want to explore how my current ‘battle against Bank of America’, my campaign to save my home from foreclosure, holds some key practical and spiritual lessons for me. 

In mid-February, I received both a foreclosure notice and a ‘congrats on your trial loan modification’ letter from the same person at BoA.    While the legal experts I have consulted with say that this is legally acceptable practice, even they agree that it is a more costly procedure for the banks.    And a more stressful and confusing process for their customers. 

Now if my relationship with BoA were a relationship between two people – not a preposterous idea considering the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Citizens United – how would that look?   If I were in a relationship with someone  (i.e. landlord, parent, friend) who was letting me live in their home and they came up to me and slapped me across the face and said, “I am going to kick you out sometime soon.  Not sure when, but be ready to be kicked out!” and then in the next moment they gave me a huge hug and said, “I know how hard you have been working to pay me for your room, so I am going to give you a chance to stay.  I won’t give you any specifics, but just keep paying me and we will see how it goes.”   And should I inquire about any specifics or which scenario is more likely (getting kicked out or getting to stay), the reply causes me even more confusion and distress because I can’t get a clear answer.  What type of relationship would this be?  I would say I am in a pretty messed up dysfunctional one for sure.    So, how do I stay engaged, and not loose my cool or my mind? 

Over the past few weeks I have come up with 10 key practical and spiritual lessons I am learning through this experience.

1)    My Mantra is the “Serenity Prayer” 

In moving through this process, I remind myself over and over that there are some things I have control over (i.e. my breathing, my attitude, and if I decide to walk away from this ‘battle’) and some things that I have no control over (i.e. the bank losing my documents, the outcome of the loan modification decision).  The Serenity Prayer definitely brings clarity to an otherwise perplexing situation and allows me to channel my energies into the things I can change and let go of those that I can’t. 

2)    Speak my Truth  (Satya) 

In yoga, knowing and speaking one’s truth is a very powerful and empowering action.  Sure, the government bailed out the banks just a few years ago, and yes the banks managed to settle a major class action lawsuit in which they walked away not having to pay for all their misdeeds.  And part of my practice is to not forget these wrongdoings.   (For a very comprehensive description of the Truth about our banking industry, check out Rolling Stone’s article:  “Too Crooked to Fail”:

3)    Always be compassionate with everyone, even the BoA representatives

Ok, so even if there is a lot of top management wrongdoing going on, whenever I get on the phone with a front line representative, I do try to cultivate as much compassion and lovingkindness for the person on the other end.  I have learned that some of the phone representatives barely make $15/hour and so far as I can tell, none of them have a Union backing their jobs.   In this fading empire, people are struggling to make ends meet so I feel for those who have to deal with stressed out, disgruntled customers with little training or backing from their employer.    I even got one of the representatives to be a little bit choked up about her work situation and another to disclose her own housing woes.   I TRULY hope there is healing going on in these bank-customer conversations. 

4)    Set a Clear Intention

Let’s get one thing clear: I would like very much to remain in my downtown Oakland home and live in a wonderful community that is such a crucial part of my overall wellbeing.   I am going to take very good care of myself and stay on top of what I need to do to keep my home from being taken away by the banks.  And those that know me do know that I am very well equipped for a social or economic justice battle.  Bring it on, BoA!

5)    Deepen, don’t avoid, my meditation and yoga practice

I am very aware at how the “worrying mind” will take on this situation and gnaw away at it endlessly.  Sleep and eating habits have been impacted.  Now is the time to make sure that my morning and evening practice is not interrupted.  Now is the time to keep my mind-body in its optimal health so I can deal with the increased amount of stress this ongoing dilemma has brought my way. 

6)    Maintain Balance

I am learning all over again how to turn off the computer, to limit the amount of news articles on the banks I read every day, and how to keep the positive and healthy things in my life (i.e. relationships, exercise and mediation routines) from falling by the way side.   The best way I have found is to schedule in brief periods of time when I focus solely on the ‘battle with the bank’ and other longer times when I do not talk or read about the banks at all.   

7)    Maya:  playfully accepting that this is just one part of ‘reality’

According to Wikipedia, “Maya is a Sanskrit term that has multiple meanings, usually quoted as "illusion", centered on the fact that we do not experience the environment itself but rather a projection of it, created by us. Eastern philosophy understood what Keanu Reaves was dealing with long before there were special effects to make the Matrix seem so scary, foreboding and triply. I remind myself every day that the world is a reflection of my internal experiences. According to some, Maya is merely ‘the structural integrity of one’s ego” and it keeps us from waking up to what is real. The way I see it, if I am distraught and preoccupied by a call I received from the bank a day ago, what beautiful things in life I may miss out on all together. The vibrant spring blossoms, the reassuring hug of my partner and the innocent laughter of children are there whether I notice them or not. It’s up to me to acknowledge my relationship to the world around me and how my attitude will be a filter in how I experience it.

8)    Reach out to others, never go it alone

Now that I have a better understanding of what it takes to deal with a financial institution, I know I am not about to do the Don Quixote method and tilt at windmills alone. I now have on my team my State Assemblyperson, a powerful nonprofit that helps people deal with the banks, and a legal consultant. It’s a shame that so much energy has to be put into something that has become so complex and so unmanageable that no one person could possibly do it alone. Nonetheless, I have met many very well intended professionals who have their hearts in their work and put fairness and economic justice first. A beautiful reminder that there is goodness in all people and we must come together if we really want to see the world change.    

9)    Part of the “Battle” is for the greater good

I realize that there is a good chance that within the next 6 months, I will have to walk away from the home that I love so much.  My hope is that through networking, speaking up for justice and sharing my               experience that some others may also benefit.   I have shared with many people via Facebook and in person standing in front of a bank, handing out copies of the Rolling Stone article, and I hopethat people     will not go back to sleep and will find for themselves a way to ‘pay it forward’, creating a positive ripple effect in our society.  If we continue to live in a society where money is first and everything else including     health and community are a distant second, then even after my housing situation is resolved, I know that I will still continue to put time and energy into helping improve our society. 

10) Practice Nonattachment

I tell myself over and over again that I must practice not being attached to my home or the outcome of this battle.   I also know that a certain amount of passion and energy comes from having something worth    fighting for.   So many of the invaluable lessons mentioned above help me practice staying engaged but also staying emotionally neutral with how it all turns out.   As with so much of my yoga practice and my    personal development, I am a work in progress. 

Kathleen McDonald stated:   Overcoming attachment does not mean becoming cold and indifferent. On the contrary, it means learning to have relaxed control over our mind through understanding the real       causes of happiness and fulfillment, and this enables us to enjoy life more and suffer less. 

 

 

I hope that whenever you are faced with a stressful situation, you will come up with your own list of grounding lessons or mantras that help you through to the other side.  All of the wisdom of yoga is ready and waiting for you.   And it doesn't have to cost you a thing!  Just as each of our life journeys are unique, the obstacles you face in your life may be quite different from what I have described above.  The yoga mat may be where you first find a moment of clarity or connection to your True Self and a break from the chattering of the monkey mind.  

But that is only the beginning. 

Stepping off the mat and facing the everyday joys and stressors is really where the practice takes off.    

Trust me on that one!  
 
Peace, Ken


I woke up one morning to realize, I am living on "borrowed time"....Now what?
Posted by Ken on Tue Nov 27 2012

A Matter of Life and Death....

Monday, March 05, 2012

Last month, I had two reminders of how precious and brief life truly is.

First, on February 8th, I had the distinguished honor of sitting with my neighbor during his final hours of life. He was 30 years old. His wife had supported him through many years of chronic illness and multiple medical complications that eventually took its toll on his physical body. His mom and his wife were at his side when he passed away that evening. It seemed that they were already prepared to say their good byes as he had been in hospice care for the past few weeks as his body surrendered to the inevitable final transition. Tears were shed, laughter was heartfelt, prayers and hugs were part of the late night evening when other family and church members arrived to celebrate how this man touched each of their lives.

A week later, on the morning of Valentine’s Day, I awoke with the sweet remembrance of my mother who passed away from a short battle with pancreatic cancer exactly 20 years ago. I reminisced about how my humble and compassionate mother managed to selflessly raise my brother and me as well as act as the surrogate parent for many youth in our neighborhood. She was the go-to person when someone needed a baby sitter; she often stepped in to offer minor veterinarian care for those that could not afford to take their pet to the vet. She worked a minimum wage job to help her younger son through college, something her parents were not able to do for her. My mother was 42 when she passed away. According to one way of thinking, I will, therefore, be living on ‘borrowed time’ when I turn 42 in August of this year.

The minister at my neighbor’s memorial service boldly stated:

“Life is a gift, not an entitlement.”

The minister’s message touches my heart. I realize that every day, every breath is a gift and that my yoga practice is about staying present with this awareness.

I dedicate my service as a social worker and as a yoga therapist to my mother’s spirit, I also continue to deepen my understanding of what it means not to take anything for granted. As I find gratitude and balance in my life, I honor that my yoga practice on the mat is a metaphor for a constant need to recalibrate with the constant changes that occur How can I push myself to my physical limits while remaining in my open heart of compassion and lovingkindness? How do I balance my thinking mind with my feeling heart? How can I discern what pose to stay in and when to rest? When do I take in the wisdom of the teacher leading a class and when do I let my inner teacher lead my practice? How do I celebrate my body without getting attached to how it looks or how it feels in any given moment? How do I surrender into my final resting pose and stay fully aware of my relaxed state without falling asleep?

Lately the wisdom of the Muppets continues to remind me of the simple yet profound way I learn how to be present in each vulnerable moment of my vulnerable life. The other day, I was listening to my Muppet’s station on Pandora and this sweet little song came on. It’s Kermit’s nephew Robin singing a poem by A.A. Milne (of Winnie-the-Pooh fame).

Here's the link if you would like to view and hear the original recording of

“Halfway down the Stairs.”   

I actually remember watching this episode back in the 1970s and experiencing such an intense sense of vulnerability for this little Muppet creature who sits and quietly sings a song from his heart.   "I hope no one comes down those stairs and accidentally steps on him," I thought to myself.  

I am dedicated to keeping the most important things in life as simple as possible. I thank those that have demonstrated what it means to live life fully and die with dignity. I am grateful for the lessons my mother taught me as a child and the lessons my recently departed neighbor taught me during the brief time I got to reside near him.

Likewise, I dedicate my yoga class teachings to be an opportunity for each of us to dwell in mindfulness, to be grateful for each breath and smile. The practice of yoga can be an opportunity to remember our best selves, our true selves, and to make ourselves open to the new eternal present moment.

And I close with this quote by Erich Fromm:

“Who will tell whether one happy moment of love or the joy of breathing or walking on a bright morning and smelling the fresh air, is not worth all the suffering and effort which life implies.” 

I know who, and I am certain you do, too!

 

Peace, Ken


Take a Leap of Faith with me!
Posted by Ken on Tue Nov 27 2012

Taking a Leap into One's True Potential

Monday, January 30, 2012

 

“Life is a travelling to the edge of knowledge, then a leap taken.” -David Herbert Lawrence


I have always found it very peculiar that every four years we get an extra day in February, but to be honest, until today I never really took a leap into exploring why that is the case.

I found a scientific and somewhat satisfying answer on WIKIPEDIA, and from there I also read STRAIGHT DOPE’s explanation.   Now, I am no math whiz, but the more I read, the more contrived the answer became. I realized I had better stop trying to reason out the following list of exceptions –

Every year divisible by 4 is a leap year (adds an extra day to February),
EXCEPT the last year of each century, such as 1900, which is NOT a leap year . . .
EXCEPT when the number of the century is a multiple of 4, such as 2000, which IS a leap year ...
EXCEPT the year 4000 and its later multiples (8000, 12000, etc.) which are NOT leap years.

– and just go back to my comfort zone of pondering the existential opportunity this EXTRA day offers, all the while breathing a sigh of relief to know that not finding a clear-cut answer is THE answer.   WHEW!     

The Zen Master Dogen stated:

The life of one day is enough to rejoice.
Even though for just one day, if you can be awakened, that one day is vastly superior to one endless life of sleep...
if this day in the lifetime of a hundred years is lost, will you ever touch it with your hands again?

This is where I ask myself, what does being totally awake and present mean to me right now?  In the finite number of years I have to live, what do I want to do with my time?  How could exercising an even more mindful approach to life enhance my quality of life?  And as a yoga therapist, how can I support others in doing the same?  I guess this extra day in February could come in handy after all.  

Just as 2012 is our Leap Year, the last day of this short month is our Leap Day.  And that is what I think we all should do!  Take action.  Do something.  Move forward.  Be proactive.  Jump out of a rut.  And LEAP towards our true potential.  Most importantly, be present with who you are and where you are RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW!


So, if you are already enjoying each and every moment you know what it means to live life to the fullest.  Then you also already get what it means to have an entire EXTRA day (24 hours or 86,400 seconds) to experience life in such a magical way.  

 But,for those of us still asking ourselves: “So what is so precious about an entire extra day every 4 years?”, I hope that even non-Trekkies will see the value of watching this short scene called “The Perfect Moment” from the STAR TREK: INSURRECTION film in which Capt. Picard learns the amazing benefit of being present and fully awake.  

Click here to watch.  

I realized that I worked way too hard in 2011.   While I was able to revamp my website, grow my private yoga therapy practice, establish a series of well-received workshops and take on the extra responsibilities of leadership within the Naked Men’s Yoga SF community, by the time I got to my end-of-the-year retreat in Hawaii, I was exhausted and it took me quite some time to overcome feeling unmotivated and uninspired.  Now, I realize that amount of self-disclosure coming from a yoga therapist might be taken the wrong way; but as I proceed into this leap year, I set an intention to realign my work ethic with my yoga ethics.  It is such an honor to do the work I do, but I am taking my own advice – something I learned from the airlines – that indeed I need to “put on my own oxygen mask first.”  That is what I am leaping towards:  a better balance between serving others and taking care of myself.   

The cellist Yo-Yo Ma once said:  

Things can fall apart, or threaten to, for many reasons, and then there's got to be a leap of faith.
Ultimately, when you're at the edge, you have to go forward or backward; if you go forward, you have to jump together.

Here I would like to invite you to come along with me on this interesting Journey, to mindfully take a leap into whatever will make your life more fulfilling, more rewarding, more satisfying.  

The world really needs you and me right now.  And the more we nurture ourselves and those around us, the better the world will be.  We can sit around and wait for the economy to turn around, or we can spend more quality time with one another.   We can complain about how things are getting worse, or we can realize that by simply being kinder to one another we are adding to the positive energy of our whole community.  We can let fear immobilize us or we can foster courage and take a leap of faith.   

And in the words of the greenest leaper of them all, Kermit the Frog:

Kermit: [singing] Life's like a movie, write your own ending...    
All Muppets: [singing] Keep believing, keep pretending; we've done just what we've set out to do, thanks to the lovers, the dreamers and YOU!

Are you with me?  Are you?  Well then, why are you still reading this blog?


It’s time to LEAP forward and enjoy the day!


Ken explains Partner Yoga: KTSF Interview by Pei-chun Liao
Posted by Ken on Tue Nov 27 2012

Interview Series

Saturday, April 23, 2011

It is also beautiful and dynamic metaphor for life. Similarly, partner yoga offers two people (i.e. friends, spouses, significant others, relatives) a safe, playful and supportive space to develop a practice of mutuality, respect, compassion and awareness of oneself and the other person.  I thoroughly enjoy guiding two people in a yoga practice where each person gets to borrow the other person's physical and energetic bodies to support the deepening of their shared yogic experience.  

 

*Please note that this interview is in both Chinese and English.

>> Watch Video


Yoga Therapy for overcoming Trauma
Posted by Ken on Tue Nov 27 2012

Dr. Bessel van der Kolk on yoga as a form of treatment for PTSD

Friday, April 15, 2011

As I have worked with many inner city youth in the Bay Area, I often applied yoga tools such as pranayama (breathwork) and asana (poses) as a form of treatment of trauma and chronic stress. I was especially impressed by Dr Bessel van der Kolk, one of the worlds leading authorities on PTSD, and his evidence-based approach to treating persons with yoga. Please check out an interview of Dr. Bessel van der Kolk by clicking here.


Meditation
Posted by Ken on Tue Nov 27 2012

Friday, April 15, 2011

New Research shows the benefits of Meditation and Yoga...as if we didn't already know!

Huffington Post's Wray Herbert writes about how meditation is good for mind, body, spirit AND our DNA!

CLICK HERE to read this interesting article.


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