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Yoga for Labor and Birth

Groovy Pregnant

This is a post written over two-years ago, but if you are looking for my current  pregnancy and birth support services, classes and workshops CLICK HERE. 

Whether you are having a scheduled cesarean birth, are planning a water-birth at home or something in between, yoga provides wonderful tools for working with the energies of labor and birth in an empowering way.  The techniques you will learn in this workshop are helpful for both the laboring mom and her entire support team.  These ways of breathing, sounding, moving, communicating, making decisions and for touching/interaction, are compatible with all childbirth methods.  This is an experiential workshop so wear comfortable clothes and get ready to make some noise, move around and have a lot of laughs while you prepare to welcome your newest family member with love and light!  No experience with yoga, meditation, or birth is required.  Tuition is for the birthing mother and up to one birth partner/support person.  Ideally, Mom comes with her primary labor and birth support person, but if they aren’t available, then come with a friend/neighbor/Aunt/your Mom—-whoever you want!  Plus, you are guaranteed to have a chance to watch and listen to me do my best Alaskan moose impression.  This workshop is not be missed.

REGISTRATION DETAILS

DATE: Sunday, September 18, 2016

TIME: 2:00 to 5:00 pm

PLACE: Mookshi Wellness Center

PRICE:  $50 with pre-registration (this is for up to two adults)

 

Introduction to Fertility Awareness

Girl with Blue MoonThis is a workshop for women ages 17-100 where we will explore methods for being aware of cycles of fertility in body, mind, and spirit.  Here are just a few ways that a woman can benefit from learning fertility awareness techniques at any age:

  • menstrual cycle and reproductive health
  • learning signs of your most creative and intuitive days for the purpose of conceiving a baby, starting a new project or making changes in lifestyle or relationship
  • learning the signs of your least fertile days for the purpose of family planning and engaging in quiet and nourishing activities

Whether you are looking to better understand your menstrual cycles, conceive a pregnancy or reduce your chances of conception, learning about your fertility provides incredible insight and keys to overall reproductive health. In this workshop, you will learn the basics of the energy of a fertility cycle and the physical anatomy of that cycle. You will learn three different ways to chart your cycles to determine patterns and signs of when you are most fertile and least fertile. Finally, we will look at techniques for taking advantage of the most fertile parts of your cycle for creativity , intuition, and decision making in relationships, at work, in your art and for the creation of new life (if, and when, that is what you desire).  As a bonus, if you provide your birthday when you register, I will give you information about an additional period of fertility you might not have known about!

On a Personal Note

No prior experience with fertility awareness is expected or assumed.  While the the majority of information provided on using fertility awareness for family planning is admittedly directed at women who are having sex with men, I warmly welcome women of all sexual orientations to participate.  Women who are on the pill or using other hormonal methods of contraceptives are also welcome.  I feel, rather strongly, that all women have a right to learn as much as possible about their reproductive health and capacity for creativity.  This workshop is really a general introduction to fertility awareness and you are welcome, just as you are.  I make an effort to create a respectful, open, and fun environment during my workshops.  Please let me know before you register if you have any concerns at all: sharon@yogamatrika.com.

REGISTRATION DETAILS

DATE: Saturday, September 17, 2016

TIME: 2:00 to 5:00 pm

PLACE: Mookshi Wellness Center

PRICE: $25 with pre-registration by September 10, 2016
($35 from 9/11-17 as space permits)

 

Buddhist Philosophy and Yoga Anatomy Workshops

These workshops are no longer being held fall 2016. Please check back for future collaborations and check out Mark’s website for his teaching schedule.

Philosophy and Embodied Anatomy Workshops

I am honored to host our guest instructor, Mark Chandlee Taylor, the Director of BodyMindMovement to facilitate the following embodied anatomy workshops yoga students and teachers.  All workshops are held at Mookshi Wellness Center in the Regent Square neighborhood of Pittsburgh.  Sessions begin with an hour of practice and discussion of the required text with Sharon which will be followed by a short break and then three-hours of anatomy with Mark.  All workshops are from noon to 4:00 pm.  I recommend that students obtain a copy of “Awakening of the Heart: Essential Buddhist Sutras and Commentaries” by Thich Nhat Hanh and read both his translations and commentaries in preparation for discussions.  Alternatively, I have provided links below where you can find PDF versions of the required texts.

As space is limited, pre-registration is highly recommended.  Workshops are $45 when you register online.  If you are blocked from online registration, please email Sharon Fennimore with your interest and you will be added to the waiting list: sharon@yogamatrika.com.  If space is available on the day of workshops, you will be warmly welcomed for $60 drop-in tuition.

October 16, 2016 (SUNDAY)
Text: Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breath (Anapanasati Sutta)
Anatomy Focus: Anatomy of Movement & Bone

November 6, 2016 (SUNDAY)
Text: The Foundations of Mindfulness_ Satipatthana Sutta
Anatomy Focus: Knees, Hips and Pelvis

December 10, 2016 (SATURDAY)
Text: Heart Sutra (Prajnaparamita Hrdaya Sutra)/New Translation by Thich Nhat Hanh
Anatomy Focus: Spinal Anatomy & Alignment

How to Throw A Dinner

Today, I received an email from Martha Stewart Living.  Yes, go ahead and chuckle.  I love Martha Stewart and her magazine “Martha Stewart Living”.  I actually find that her posted recipees are simple to make and sometimes she has very unique ideas for crafts or ways to make things more special with just a little more than the usual effort.

Well, the title of this one made ME laugh:

“How to Throw a Rustic French Dinner”

While not the intention of the linked article, I immediately envisioned myself conservatively dressed sitting at a table of people I didn’t know how to talk to with a plate full of a French rustic style dinner in front of me.  I could see myself in the vision just picking up the plate and throwing it as hard as I could.  Not at anyone.  Just throwing it.  I certainly do not need Martha Stewart to instruct me on the right way to throw a plate of any kind of dinner.  If I had any doubts, I could always hand it to my five year old daughter as she has no patience for dinner parties and a rather awesome left-arm pitch.

Just a little reminder not to take yourself so seriously.  And, also, thinking something isn’t the same as doing it.  So, allow a little mischief to creep in around all your good intentions when it comes to your imagination.  Why not?

Buddhist Philosophy and Embodied Anatomy for Yoga Workshops

 Philosophy and Embodied Anatomy Workshops

I am honored to host our guest instructor, Mark Chandlee Taylor, the Director of BodyMindMovement to facilitate the following embodied anatomy workshops for experienced yoga students and yoga teachers.  All workshops are held at Mookshi Wellness Center in the Regent Square neighborhood of Pittsburgh.  Sessions begin with an hour of practice and discussion of the required text with Sharon which will be followed by a short break and then three-hours of anatomy with Mark.  All workshops are on Sundays from noon to 4:00 pm.  I recommend that all trainees obtain a copy of “Awakening of the Heart: Essential Buddhist Sutras and Commentaries” by Thich Nhat Hanh and read both his translations and commentaries in preparation for discussions.  Alternatively, I have provided links below where you can find PDF versions of the required texts.

October 16, 2016
Text: Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breath (Anapanasati Sutta)
Anatomy Focus: Anatomy of Movement & Bone
REGISTER for 10/16/16 Workshop

November 6, 2016
Text: The Foundations of Mindfulness_ Satipatthana Sutta
Anatomy Focus: Knees, Hips and Pelvis
REGISTER for 11/6/16 Workshop

December 10, 2016
Text: Heart Sutra (Prajnaparamita Hrdaya Sutra)/New Translation by Thich Nhat Hanh
Anatomy Focus: Spinal Anatomy & Alignment
REGISTER for 12/10/16

Second Location

One of the most significant changes that came with parenthood was the demise of my ability to travel to a “second location”.  I had attended college in a neighborhood that was not safe (understatement) and have always been an urban dweller and I regularly attended public safety workshops where I learned important skills like yell “fire” instead of “help” since more people will respond to a potential threat to their own safety than taking the risk to assist someone else in trouble.  I also learned to be prepared to poke someone’s eye out.  Which, honestly, may be good advice, but I’m not sure what it would take to be inspired to act on it.  But, the advice that seemed both strongest in message and reason was to do whatever it took not to be taken to a “second location”.  Apparently, even if someone has a gun to your head, statistically, you have a better chance of surviving the assault if you run or try to get away than if you get into a car to be taken to a second location for further violation.  Yikes!  Who wants to think about these things?

I started thinking more about the “second location” when I first became a mother.  It’s a mistake I made a few times before I realized that my days of multi-tasking at multiple locations was over.  It starts out innocently enough.  Say, you are on your way back from the playground and you remember that you are running out of milk.  So, your inner mind-voice says, “That’s OK, we can just stop by the grocery store on our way back from the playground.”  Except, it turns out that your baby was holding on to some explosive poop and really needed to nurse for an hour–or else.  Your baby was counting on playground and then home.  There was no way for you to know this because you can’t really consult with your baby and they might seem kind of tired and zonked out in the back seat.  It appears that your baby can withstand a 15-minute or less pop into the grocery store.  Sometimes, you park the car and go as far as reaching into the car seat to remove the baby and they start to scream or tantrum and you can realize the error of your ways before you make it to the interior of your second location of choice.  Then you just re-buckle and drive away thinking that it is likely you can sneak out later or send someone else or just bloody do without the milk.  But, in many cases, your baby lets you put them into the grocery cart and away you go to second location hell.  It’s like the Hotel California—you can check-out any time you like, but you can NEVER leave.

The next thing you know, baby has an explosive poop and you find yourself dangling them over your lap while you change their diaper in some restroom most recently used for a hobo’s sink bath, but you feel confident because you remembered a diaper and a change of clothes and you’ve got this!  So, 20-minutes later you emerge from the bathroom victorious with a cranky, but clean and dry baby and you are back on your way to the dairy aisle.  At this point, your cranky baby loses their marbles and just starts screaming, which, you figure is OK because you are within arm’s reach of the gallon of milk and then all you need to do is check-out and you can get back into the car and home before the REAL meltdown.  Again, you’ve got this!  Now you’ve got a crying baby and a bag of poopy clothes and a gallon of milk and you get into the shortest line right behind someone who only has one or two little things left on the counter and you are sure that your turn to check-out is imminent.  Score!  Except, that person needs a price check because they are sure they were over-charged for something and the manager needs to be called.  It takes them 10-minutes to figure out that the charges are correct, but still…….you feel like you are close to checking out.  At this point, you look over and realize that your baby has grabbed a few chocolate bars and scattered some SUN news magazines all over the floor.  The chocolate on their face leads you to believe that maybe they have gnawed through one of the wrappers, but you don’t think a little chocolate will kill your baby.  Until you see that it is a Reese’s and you were kind of hoping to keep peanut butter out of their diet for a while, but, you know, they are still breathing at this point so maybe that’s just not a concern.  And that is when the person in front of you starts returning some items from their order, one by one, because the price differential between what they thought something cost and what it actually cost has put them over what they were prepared to spend.

Still, it’s 45-minutes since you parked your car and you thought it was going to be just 15-minutes, but you aren’t quite ready to give up yet because you have that gallon of milk in your cart and you are SO CLOSE.  With horror, you realize that your baby is now throwing up.  Was it the peanut butter?  It doesn’t matter, because now they are soaked in puke and so is the cart and, oops, looks like they got your shoes too——good thing all those magazines are scattered on the floor!  And, seriously?  They are calling the manager again!  Frozen, you don’t know what to do.  Do you try to switch lanes.  Everywhere looks crowded.

You give up.  You pick up your crying and puke covered baby and leave the cart and the puke and the magazines and wrappers and that flipping gallon of milk right there in the check-out lane.  It’s an hour since you left your car and before you put your baby in the seat you take off all their puke covered clothes and add them to the bag with the poopy clothes.  You put your diapered and otherwise naked baby into the car seat.  Screaming.  They are screaming.  Are you cursing?  You don’t even know because your heart is pounding and your head is pounding.  Now you drive home.  You drop the bag of disgusting clothes on the porch, take your screaming baby and sit on the couch where you nurse for two hours.  Each time you try to disengage your boob from your “sleeping” baby’s mouth they wake immediately and start to scream.  So you just sit there.

Do you know what the mistake was in this scenario?  It was the “second location”.  Once you have a child you can no longer just “pop-in” anywhere.  No, you can’t just pick up the dry cleaning on your way.  No, you can’t stop for burgers on your way back.  No, whatever that second thing is that you thought you could squease in, you can’t.  Maybe you did this once and nothing bad happened so you got some false confidence?  Maybe you are naive?  Maybe you had one second location trauma, but you assumed it was a singular incident.  No, it wasn’t.  Once you are a parent you get to choose one thing and make that one thing happen and that is it.  One. One task.  One location.  ONE.

Experienced parents have embodied this knowledge.  We can say things to each other like, “No, we can’t meet you at the museum on Sunday afternoon because we go to church in the morning.”  Sure, people without children might wonder why you can’t get somewhere in the afternoon if church is in the morning.  But those of us with a child know that even just making it to church was a coup.  A second location in one day would be a miracle. Us parents only get so many miracles and we aren’t going to use it up on some outing to the museum.  I remember a multi-tasked life where all kinds of things were possible, but now it is a distant memory.

Beware the second location is both excellent urban safety and parenting advice.

So Much Feels Arbitrary

It is the first line of a Marge Piercy poem that I think of often, on many days and for many years now since I first read it more than ten years ago when my son was first born.

“So much feels arbitrary.”

Poem “The Mystery of Survival” in “The Crooked Inheritance” (2006) page 131-133

And yet, I also have it’s equal and opposite thought a great deal of the time.  Generally, a sense that I have on occasion that even the smallest act of kindness means just about everything.  Sometimes I feel overwhelmed as a parent that each decision from the smallest “Which toothpaste to buy?” to the larger “Which school should I send my child to?” seems like it could radically shift the tragectory of my child’s life.  In these cases, Marge Piercy’s poem both soothes my sense that every little thing is the most important thing and also terrifies me.

IMG_7017Part of what I love about my Pilgrimage Pittsburgh project is that I meet people while I’m walking around.  It’s much easier to feel connected when we interact with the people in our neighborhoods and communities.  There are so many people that live less than a block from my home who I don’t know at all.  When I was in the yard that these pictures are from, a woman walked by and said to me, “Oh, the yard looks so beautiful.  She just put a lot of work into it and I stopped by to tell her how great it looks.”  I said, “I don’t know the person who lives here, I’m just taking pictures of the statues in the yard.  They seems special.”  The woman who I was talking to said, “Well, you know her husband died about a year ago.”  No, you see, I didn’t know this woman who lives here or her grief or anything other than the fact that her front yard is filled with spirit.  While some people might consider the appearance of their yard to be “arbitrary” or simply a matter of personal preference, nothing could be further from the truth.  The person who created this yard is seeking solace through grief and also expressing a deep spiritual joy and profound faith.  I felt the faith as I stood in the yard with the mixture of iconography and balance of playful and meaningful that existed there.IMG_7018

IMG_7019Next door to this small garden is a larger one with just as diverse iconography.  In this yard, which has a prominent “Please Curb Your Dog” sign in the middle of the lawn, I found the most delightful “foo dog”, which is really a Chinese guardian lion.  When the mouth is open like this it means “in and out” of the breath,IMG_7020 like the symbol for “OM”.  The ball under his foot suggests that this is a male guardian lion.  The female version usually has a small pup with her rather than a ball.  And, in another part of the yard, the most flat and yet delightful turtles.  Turtles are considered a symbol of wisdom, endurance, wealth, and long life.

It turns out that as I pilgrimage around the neighborhoods of Pittsburgh that we have an incredibly diverse expression of iconography.  This is both true of a single site and across multiple connected sites.  In Diana Eck’s book, Darsan, which inspired this Pilgrimage Pittsburgh project, she illuminates how the iconography is an expression of the diversity in major religious traditions in India (Eck, page 24).  She quotes Mark Twain’s journals from his travels through India when he states, “In religion, all other countries are paupers.  India is the only millionaire.” (Eck, page 24)  Yet, the diversity of iconography in these Pittsburgh neighborhoods suggests to me that we have an incredible diversity of presence of spirit, belief and faith.  I sense so strongly that these leprechauns, turtles, protective lions and saints reflect on a commitment to higher powers, to playful energies and protection that is available to us through sources we can not see with the human eye.  Therefore, we put these statues, that we can see with our human eyes, in our yards and make our communities a reflection of these powerful beliefs.  This, in my opinion, is a commitment to a joined belief that we are, in fact, not arbitrary.  That we are conduits for great ideas, beauty and profound hope.  It is not an arbitrary act to set a leprechaun out on your front wall.

If this is your first Pilgrimage Pittsburgh post reading, I started this journey looking for “sacred images” in Pittsburgh and on my travels about three-years ago after reading a short book by Diana L. Eck called, “Darsan:Seeing the Divine Image in India”.  I am using the third edition from Columbia University Press (1998) for my references.  I keep a Facebook page for the project too and I hope that you will go there and “LIKE” the page because I post there when I have a new set of images and ideas up.  If you aren’t into Facebook, then every Sunday, if there is a new post on my blog, my newsletter subscribers get an email newsletter with links to the new content.  SUBSCRIBE HERE

Post by Sharon Fennimore, a rogue anthropologist, yogini and women’s health coach based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

 

Perspectives on Unity and Karma

Last week, under a news story about some other tragedy, the news source suggested some other stories I might be interested in.  While I don’t usually take these recommendations, as part of my feeble attempt to control the negative media that I permit myself to absorb, this time, the top story caught my interest.  At the Metropolitan Zoo in Santiago, Chile, a young man (a child…really…too young to order a beer in the United States), jumped into the lion enclosure, took off all his clothes and began to taunt the lions by shouting biblical quotes.  They found a suicide note with the man’s clothing and the note was signed, “Jesus”.  In order to save the man, the zoo was forced to shoot and kill the two lions.  The male lion had been born into captivity. The female lion had been rescued from the circus.  And, in that moment, the lives of the man, the lions and the zoo staff and all the children and adults who witnessed the happening unfold came together in a most unexpected and terrifying way.

I am a mother.  I have empathy for those who love the man who jumped into the enclosure thinking he was God.  Of course, they are sad about the lions and all the children who watched the lions shot and killed before their eyes.  But, their prayers are for their boy.  The young man’s mother had recently passed away and perhaps it was the depth of his grief that put him over the edge?  Perhaps it was the angelic force of maternal love that saved him in that moment from death?  From their perspectives, everything needed to be done to save the life of their friend, brother, son, nephew, lover.  What happened was tragic, but necessary.

I am a human.  My heart feels broken for those lions who never had a chance, never saw it coming, and were trapped in that deadly narrative not of their own making.  While it could be argued that those lions did not have to suffer the natural cycle of hunger, hunting and being the hunted, we also must examine the price that they paid for this relief.  A protected life behind bars may be an oxymoronic statement.  Perhaps being behind bars creates the greatest vulnerability of all?

Yet, it’s a singular story.  One specific day, with one young man who happens to believe he is God and decides not to swim with the sharks, not to wrestle with flamingos, not to cha cha with chimps.  No, the man wants to sacrifice himself to lions.  Say what you will about zoos, this sort of thing doesn’t happen everyday.  As a matter of fact, I’ve never read anything like it before.  So it brings up all these questions for me about perspective, fate and how the things we spend so much time worrying about aren’t likely to be what gets us in the end.

with tigerIn the Spring 2016 issue of Tricycle: The Buddhist Review magazine, there is a very interesting teaching by Thanissaro Bhikkhu on the idea of “interdependence”.  He suggests that “…We’re related not by what we inherently are but by what we choose to do.”  (SOURCE)  Basically, we are interconnected through action.  It’s terrifying and yet liberating because, while we may not be able to control the flood of thoughts through our mind, most of us have control over our actions.  We can learn how to watch our perceptions, desires and clinging to pleasure and rejection of pain and start to see how what we might consider a “fact” is really just our opinion or a particular way of looking at things.  The picture is of me, with my almost two-year old son, sitting outside the tiger enclosure at the Pittsburgh Zoo.  By “outside”, I mean that there is a piece of plexiglass separating us from the tiger.  But, the fact remains that we were sitting right there next to the tiger.  In many ways, the facts of this picture are not unlike those of the situation at the zoo in Chile.  Of course, there are some very important details that are not the same, but it’s less than a centimeter between us and that tiger.

Our actions impact the lives of others.  Everything from spraying urine on the seat in a restroom and not wiping it up before leaving the stall to how we talk about our neighbors to what we plant in our gardens and whether or not we drive or take the bus to the fruit we eat (Is it in season?  Is it local?  If not, where did it come from? What was the human cost of that harvest?)……every action we take or fail to take brings us into unity with the vibration of all living beings.  While some tragic events make this obvious, such as an act of terrorism or a mentally ill young man killing most of the first graders at the neighborhood school, we can deny it for the less obvious choices we make every moment of every day.  How did you treat that snarky sales person?  How did you treat yourself today?  Did you say mean things to yourself about your appearance, weight, intelligence?  Did you feed yourself an entire box of twinkies at your desk?  Or did you feed yourself something nourishing and say kind words to yourself about both your perceived successes and failures?

We can look at this isolated and obviously tragic incident as separate from ourselves, or we can see how we are implicated in the system.  Is it my fault that man decided to jump naked into the lion enclosure at the zoo? Well, no.  But I am a part of this system.  The Buddha’s teaching on karma, as taught by Thanissaro Bhikku in this Tricycle article, is that, “…the most compassionate course of action is to practice for your own awakening…The path to awakening involves generosity, virtue, and the skills of meditation, which include developing attitudes of unlimited goodwill and compassion. (TRICYCLE, Spring 2016, pages 76-77).”  Be nice to your barista, compassionate with your assistant who messed up your calendar for the morning, and understanding to that lady who just cut you off in traffic, but gave you the middle finger mudra.  Breathe. The actions you take today have just as much of an impact on the lives of other living beings as those of the man who thought he was Jesus, as much as the people who tried to save that lion from a circus, as much as those who shot those lions dead and the children who cried as they witnessed the situation unfold.

 

Lions

BY SANDRA MCPHERSON
Lions don’t need your help. In the Serengeti,
For instance, one thousand like the very rich

Hold sway over more than Connecticut. The mane
Of the lion, like the hooked jaw of the male salmon,

Acts as a shield for defense and is the gift
Of sexual selection. His eyes are fathomless amber.

The lion is the most social of the big cats.
Pride members are affectionate among themselves.

They rub cheeks when they meet. They rest
And hunt together. And cubs suckle indiscriminately.

But strangers or members of a neighboring pride are not
Usually accepted. If a pride male meets a strange female

He may greet her in a friendly fashion
And even mate with her

But the pride females will drive her off.
Male lions, usually depicted as indolent freeloaders

Who let the lionesses do all the hunting, are not mere
Parasites. They maintain the integrity of the territory.

Lions eat communally but completely lack table manners.
Indeed, lions give the impression that their evolution

Toward a social existence is incomplete—that cooperation
In achieving a task does not yet include

The equal division of the spoils.
More bad news: lions are not good parents.

But prowess, that they have. Their courage comes
From being built, like an automobile,

For power. A visible lion is usually a safe lion,
But one should never feel safe

Because almost always there is something one can’t see.
Given protection and power

A lion does not need to be clever.
Now, lions are not the most likable kind of animal

Unless you are a certain type of person,
That is, not necessarily leonine in the sense of manly

Or ferocious, but one who wouldn’t mind resting twenty
Of twenty-four hours a day and who is not beyond

Stealing someone else’s kill
About half the time.

Lions are not my favorite kind of animal,
Gazelles seem nicer,

A zebra has his own sort of appealing pathos,
Especially when he is sure prey for the lion.

Lions have little to offer the spirit.
If we made of ourselves parks and placed the lion

In the constituent he most resembled
He would be in our blood.

Sandra McPherson, “Lions” from Elegies for the Hot Season (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1970). Copyright © 1970 by Sandra McPherson. Reprinted with the permission of the author.
Source: Elegies for the Hot Season (Ecco Press, 1970)

Written by Sharon Fennimore, a rogue anthropologist based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  I love to travel, take walks and seek inspiration in my environment.  When I find something interesting, I share it on my blog and Facebook page: Pilgrimage Pittsburgh.

I Am The Door

Here are two common scenarios for me:

Scenario One: A Friend or Client is Stuck

This happens to me a lot and I guess it is an “occupational hazard” of sorts, but people come to tell me their stories when they feel stuck.  Many of my clients and students have tried everything, gone to every doctor, had all the tests, done all the treatments and they still don’t have the results they desired or the well-being that they were hoping for. I have friends that tell me about their stuck feelings in jobs, work relationships, personal relationships and just how they feel in their lives at this moment.  In many cases, though not all, a path to freedom seems clear to me, the observer.  When I first started this work, I was so delighted when I saw such a clear path because I assumed that if I could communicate it, then my clients could folllow my vision and get free fast.  But, what I immediately realized is that the clear path has always been present for my friend or client and for some reason, they aren’t going to walk down it.  Each of us has to keep putting one foot in front of the other and find that next step on our own.  In many ways, this has been my greatest challenge as an integrative health coach—-learning to walk beside my client offering insight and clarity, but not getting so attached to the “results”.

Scenario Two: I Am Stuck

Oh yes, I get stuck in the ditch of life myself quite often.  And, when I am down there in the darkness of the ditch, all I want is for someone to yank me out and say, “Girl, THIS is what you have to do right now.”  I want someone to provide me with direction, the next step, the right thing to do to get out of the ditch and back on level ground.  Except, just as in the case with my clients and friends, I also know that I would be unlikely to just accept and follow that advice, even if some magical force did yank me out of the ditch and tell me what to do.  It’s likely that I’m down there in the ditch with a shiny and solid ladder right in front of my face.  Why am I not climbing the ladder?  I don’t know.  Why aren’t you climbing the ladder in front of you?  You don’t know.

I AM THE DOOR

We don’t climb the ladder for a lot of reasons, but it is likely because of a spiritual issue, a karmic matter or a soul condition.  I don’t like to talk like this because we all want scientifically proven and documented treatments, cures and methods.  I don’t like to talk like this because as much as I am confident that it is true, I don’t actually know what it means.  All I know is that if you are down in a ditch, that there is a ladder in front of you and you aren’t climbing it because divine order wants you to sit down there a little longer.  Who knows “why”?  Maybe Divine Order wants you to climb up that ladder at the precise moment that you would meet someone walking along who will change your life in a profound way?  Maybe you need to be a certain age or have a certain amount of experience before you can accept what is at the top of that ladder?  It’s absolutely maddening to be in relationship with someone who isn’t climbing their ladder.  You know the friend I’m talking about, the friend who does nothing, day in and day out, but complain about their awful job, but they haven’t even dusted off the old resume to even consider a new job search.  Or, whatever it is…….joyless lovers, sullen sisters, tempestuous rascals….ditch dwellers!  All of them!

IMG_6947That’s why I can’t shout enough about how much I love, adore, admire and am inspired by these church doors in Philadelphia!  The ones that say, as if these red doors weren’t flipping obvious enough even to the legally blind, I AM THE DOOR.  Just in case you were wondering how to get in there, the path to God, to figuring out your relationship with the Divine with a capital “D”, you FOOL with a capital “F”—-I AM THE DOOR.  Because, this is the nature of the human condition.  The human condition is that all that we need is right in IMG_6946front of us, but we need to walk through the door, we need to take action.

The key though is not to think that the fact that the door is obvious makes it “easy” to walk through it.  If we aren’t ready, we can walk in and out of the doors as much as we like, but we will still feel stuck.  They key is being open to inspiration, transformation and the energetic shift required to open to joy.  This is the radical reason why we don’t do anything that is good for us.  I tell people I’m a yoga teacher and they generally have one of three responses:

  1. Oh, I’m not flexible.  I can’t even touch my toes!  I can’t do yoga.
  2. Oh, yoga……I NEED yoga.  I should do yoga.  Really, I am supposed to do yoga.
  3. I love yoga.  I take yoga classes all the time.

Yoga IS a transformative practice.  For the record, you don’t need to be flexible and touching your toes is neither a measurement of general flexibility nor relevant to the practice of yoga.  But, the second response is interesting because it means to me that the person talking knows on some level that practicing yoga would be transformative for them, but they don’t do it.  They are choosing not to walk through the door.  The unlocked door just sits there, closed in the cobwebs of their conciousness, but they aren’t going to approach it and open the door.  They don’t want to know.  “Knowing” doesn’t solve any problems and it might just create additional ones.  Yes, doing yoga can cause a lot of problems.  Walking through the door, coming up on the ladder—it’s messy, ugly and potentially going to rock the quiet little rowboat of your life.

My favorite is when people tell me that they “can’t meditate” because as soon as they sit down their mind starts to race.  News flash!  You know what this means?  It means that your mind is CONSTANTLY racing and you are just letting the distractions of life keep you from this fact.  Your mind didn’t start racing when you sat down, it’s just that you finally took a moment to observe your mind.  That racing mind of yours is causing all kinds of problems for you under the surface.  And, I’d venture a guess that it is causing all kinds of problems for you in your relationships, at work, with your diet and with your satisfaction with life.  You are eating when you aren’t hungry, making agreements you don’t agree to, buying things you don’t really want or need, signing gym contracts when you’ll never see the inside of that locker room, going on that second date with that guy who had too many drinks on your first date but you are really hoping it isn’t a problem and yet you know that it IS a problem…………..Yes, I’m suggesting that you sit there all uncomfortable with your mind racing and your stomach in knots and your shoulders all tied up and tense around your ears and your breath shallow and unsatisfying in your chest.  Just sit there and suffer.  Because that suffering is your door.  You can’t medicate it, avoid it, distract yourself from it, circumambulate it—all you can do is be with it.  Go through it.  See it.  It’s just as obvious as the fact that the red door is the door, yet that church leadership knows that they need to make it plain and simple regardless of how obvious it is.

I AM THE DOOR.

Written by Sharon Fennimore, a rogue anthropologist based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  I love to travel, take walks and seek inspiration in my environment.  When I find something interesting, I share it on my blog and Facebook page: Pilgrimage Pittsburgh.

Extroverted-Introverts Guide to Large Social Events

This past weekend, I went to my 20th college reunion.  My college is my “happy place” and I also love the city that it is in, Philadelphia.  Also, so many of the people that I met in college are some of the most intelligent, creative and genuine people I’ve ever known.  I love to see them and it’s great to be reminded of the magic that is being unique.  Truth be told, I’m not much into socializing with large groups, crowded bars or lots of noise, but I signed up for all the reunion events anyway.  I feel confident that I can protect my energy and since I know the city very well, I also had a personal backup plan for fun things I would do if the reunion events weren’t feeling right to me.

That’s one of the great blessings of yoga in my life that I’ve learned to make choices based on my unique sensitivities that do not limit my participation.  I’ve always been sensitive and sometimes that makes me choose to stay home, to hide, to not say “yes”.  But, that’s not always the best choice for me.  Now that I understand that it is my sensitivity to the energy of others, to sounds, light and the environment in general, I know that I always need a back-up plan.  My back-up plan and early escape route help me feel that I can attend events that might be overwhelming with confidence.  If you feel sensitive in groups or shy, I highly recommend choosing to participate fully in life and just make sure that you have an escape plan that is very attractive to you.  If your “escape plan” isn’t good, then it is easy to feel like you “failed” at the social experience.  Also, you need a healthy escape plan.  If your escape is remaining in an uncomfortable situation and drinking too much alcohol or doing drugs to try to numb yourself to how you really feel, that isn’t nourishing and you will likely take even longer to recover from both the energetic toxicity and the toxins you ingested.  But, if your “escape plan” is something you know you will truly enjoy and can nourish any depleted energy from the time you were in the group, then it feels really wonderful to know that you can have it all.

In addition to having an ecscape plan, there are also things that you can do before attending the event that can help protect your energy in large groups.  First, I like to practice some deep belly breathing while visualizing a shiny silver light all around the perimeter of my body.  I see that I am whole and not easily invaded by the energies of others.  Beyond the silver light that coats the perimeter of my body, I visualize a cotton candy pink light about one foot beyond the silver light.  This is a soft pillow of sweetness that is a barrier to anything harsh or toxic.  It only takes a couple minutes to do this, but I find it is very helpful.

Having a touchstone in your pocket or purse or wearing jewelry with gemstones that protect energy can also be helpful.  I like to keep an emerald quartz in my pocket and then hold it in my hand or rub it with my fingers if I need to ground myself.  Emerald or rose quartz are suited to the hand chakras and are associated with the heart chakra and may be best for big family events, weddings, baby showers and the like.  Tigereye is my preferred touchstone for meetings, interviews or events where I need to remember my personal power.¹  If you aren’t into gemstones, keep something you like in your pocket to touch—maybe a pebble or shell you found on the beach, a colorful marble, or a trinket specially designed for such purposes.  There is a store near me that sells lucky pigs, pocket-size metal guardian angel coins and other items intended to be touchstones.  If you feel like you are susceptible to the energy of others, wear silver jewelry, especially bracelets.

JoyI’ve personally found myself very sensitive to synthetic scents lately, but I like to use my sense of smell to stay sacredgrounded and calm.  I use the essential oil blend “JOY” made by Young Living by placing a drop on my palm and rubbing into into my low back, a drop on each wrist and then placing a dab behind each earlobe.  Since JOY is made in limited quantities, each Young Living member is only permitted to purchase up to one bottle each month. I also recommend an essential oil blend called “SACRED MOUNTAIN” because it is soothing and grounding. This oil is also limited in sales quantities and only available to members. Due to their limited quantities, I do not personally sell these oils, but you can purchase it yourself at a 24% discount off retail pricing as a Young Living member.

24% Membership Discount

stress awayIf you are in the Pittsburgh area and it is convenient for you to pick-up oils in Squirrel Hill at Ola’s Herb Shop (on Forbes Avenue above Ten Thousand Villages), then I do sell two products that you can carry in your purse and use to center at any time: Stress Away Roll-On and Tranquil Roll On. If you want your essential oils shipped directly to you and at a 24% discount, then I highly recommend exploring the membership option above.

BUY Essential Oils

HiResIf you would like a personalized essential oil consultation, then I offer 45-minute consults where you can try out the oils and receive recommendations for the oils that are best for you and how to use them. The consultations are $60 and can be held at my office in Regent Square or at Ola’s Herb Shop in Squirrel Hill. With your purchase of an essential oil consultation, you will also receive FREE enrollment in my online meditation course “A Mindful Month” ($25 value). If you decide to sign-up for a Young Living membership with a premium starter kit after our session, I provide you with a $20 credit towards a future service or online course enrollment with me. You are under NO OBLIGATION to purchase any oils from me or become a Young Living member.

Essential Oil Consultation $60

¹Gemstone information is from “A Handbook of Chakra Healing: Spiritual Practice for Health, Harmony, and Inner Peace” by Kalashatra Govinda.  If you are looking for more techniques for protecting your energy, then try Cyndi Dale’s book, “Energetic Boundaries” for some very helpful ideas for healing and protecting.

Creation Meditation

I was doing some internet research on energetic wounds and back pain and happened across a recommendation for this “Creation Meditation” (this is a very feminine meditation, but it is made available to men as well) and you can also find an audio guided experience here (NOTE: the actual meditation doesn’t start until around 7-minutes into the recording).

Enjoy!

Written by Sharon Fennimore, a yogini teaching yoga, meditation and providing integrative health coaching services to women and families with young children based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  Sign up for my newsletter and get FREE membership in my online community “Make Room” where you will get all the support you need to clear emotional and physical clutter.

Say What You Mean

There is a short essay by Brian Doyle in the March 2016 issue of The Sun literary magazine titled, “The Way We Do Not Say What We Mean When We Say What We Say” (page 23) that suggests that, “Perhaps languages invent themselves and then have to hunt for speakers.”  When I read this, it made me think of a poem by Hafiz:

Your Beautiful Parched, Holy Mouth

A poet is someone
Who can pour Light into a spoon,
Then raise it
To nourish
Your beautiful parched, holy mouth.

(Translated by Daniel Ladinsky and found on page 59 of “I Heard God Laughing” 2006)

Many of you who have studied with me know of my fascination with the Matrika, the vibration of truth that finds its home in the central energetic channel of the subtle body.  It is the vibration of that which is most true and each of us has a unique symphony, that the human ear can never hear, yet is playing within us since the moment of our conception.  This truth, one that we can never speak with our mouths, is vibrating in every cell of the body.  We know that we are in alignment with this vibration of truth when we experience well-being, peace and a calm sense of purpose.  When we are out of alignment with our Matrika, we feel anxious, worried and find ourselves in comparison with others and failing to recognise our gifts and contributions to the life force around us.  For, the magic of Matrika is that all living beings are vibrating with their own symphony. When we witness someone who is intimate with their Matrika, we have a sense of their peace and it is a beautiful thing to see and feel.

Lissa Rankin, in her profound book, The Fear Cure, says that, “According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 80 percent of visits to the doctor are believed to be stress-related.  Yet …what is ‘stress’ if not fear, anxiety, and worry dressed up in more socially acceptable clothing?” (pg. 11, 2015).  If  friend asks us how we are doing, claiming we are “busy” or “all stressed-out” are not only socially acceptable, they are badges of being “responsible”, “productive” and “active”.  What would happen if we told the truth?  What if we said, “Well, I had a really nice breakfast and my kids are healthy, but I can’t escape this terrible nagging fear that I’m not living my best life and I’m simply terrified of everything, all the time!”.  If you were in alignment with your personal sense of truth, you would not worry, would not rush, would not feel a sense of loss even when everything around you is “ok”.

So, we medicate our anxiety with diets.  Food diets that support our greatest health and help us obtain our “ideal weight”.  Organization diets that support us in our scheduling, sorting, managing our stuff and our time.  Relationship diets that help us know what it is ok to ask for from our partners and what makes us selfish or unlovable and instruct us in how to schedule social time, date nights and be a really wonderful parent at the same time.  Beauty routines, exercise routines, and self-control so that we get enough sleep and wear just enough make-up to look alive enough to be “presentable” and we walk around like we are about to fall apart, but the package sure looks nice. As Ben Franklin said, “Some people die at 25 and aren’t buried until 75.”.  For many of us, hours, days and weeks….years!…go by and we are just trying to “get by” or “fake it until we make it”.  I’m no exception.

I will say that my yoga and meditation practice, over the last twenty-years, has become a barometer of my alignment with my Matrika.  I can tell when I need to attune to my inner guidance and find a more open ear for divine guidance.  I watch for patterns, repetitions, chance meetings and shifts in my energy, weight, flexibility and experience.  I notice my sensitivities to touch, smell and temperature.  If I start to have any physical symptoms, then I pay attention without judgment.  I go to places where they sell herbs, teas and supplements and I see what makes me curious and asks me to pull it from the shelf.  Just yesterday I bought some kukicha (twig tea) that I haven’t had in years and having a cup this morning it felt like my feet were more firmly planted on the earth.  Why twig tea? Why now?  It doesn’t matter.  If it feels good, tastes good, smells good, then I say, “More please and thank you.”.  I start to eat by desire and I pick out the vegetables that seem bright and joyful, try out a new cookbook that happens to catch my eye at the library.  I try to spend more time with people who are inspiring and less time with those who drain my energy. Basically, I sense into what I need to move forward in alignment with my purpose and true path.

What language has put its words in your mouth?  What scent, taste or environment is calling out to you?  What people and foods nourish you?  Say yes to what brings you joy and you will find yourself in greater and greater attunement to your Matrika.  If you are so lost that you don’t know anymore where the words you say orignated and you can’t taste your food and you can’t feel your joy, then do not despair!  For me, the first step to tuning back inwards is through movement.  I choose yoga and walking.  I love to swim and to dance, but these aren’t always possible.  I can do yoga and walk pretty much anywhere.  When I move, my thoughts roam freely without my judgement or commentary for my interior narrator.  After I move, I usually have a lot more thoughts about what I like or want more of.  I don’t pressure myself to take action.  Sometimes I just let the idea sit out there as a reminder that I have choices, that I have preferences, that I am a person who knows how to access joy and creativity when the time is right.  I’ll tell you, I’ve got an idea in my mind these days that I’d like to go to Portland, Maine.  I’ve never been there, but it has been calling to me.  There’s an aromatherapy workshop I would like to go to this summer in New York.  It’s kind of expensive and it’s before my kids are out of school, so it’s not convenient or probable, but it is out there.  Even if I never go to Maine or take the workshop, having these ideas help remind me of who I am.

Many of my clients come to me because they have lost this ability to dream, to desire, to open to the languages that wish to come to them.  I have sought out mentoring, training and counseling for this very reason myself.  Sure, we could put a label on “it” and call it depression or “the sadness” (as I like to call mine sometimes), but it’s really when the weight of ourselves, our lives, our fears and the desires and wants and judgments of others and ourselves has gotten so heavy that it has blocked the light.  The sound of our own personal symphony is muffled or stamped out.  But it can’t be stamped out forever.  Our Matrika is, in fact, infinite.  Our Matrika is patient.  Our Matrika will wait for you to step outside and walk around the block, to daydream, to write some words on paper, to color something, to imagine, to get on the plane, to say the “no” that really means “YES” to something else that you really, really, really want.  It’s like that brilliant Jim Carrey movie (2008), “Yes Man” where he has to say “YES” to everything.

I hope you sip the light from your spoon soon my dear!

Written by Sharon Fennimore, a yogini teaching yoga, meditation and providing integrative health coaching services to women and families with young children based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  Sign up for my newsletter and get FREE membership in my online community “Make Room” where you will get all the support you need to clear emotional and physical clutter.

Pounding On An Open Door

“How long will you keep pounding on an open door, begging someone to answer?”  ~Rabia

As soon as I read this quote, I knew it was a question I needed to deeply consider.  It was illuminating to read this because I immediately visualized myself pounding furiously on the open door of life hoping that someone would arrive to help me find my way through.  Yet, there is no need to pound on the door, to kick, scream, beg or demand because the door is already open.  You can walk through, just as you are, right now.

According to the Bhagavad Gita, “There has never been a time when you and I have not existed, nor will there be a time when we will cease to be.  Therefore, play the role you’re meant for right now.”  It’s so hard to accept this in the busy, fast paced life of self-improvement projects that we all live in right now.  My clients all present various anxieties and fears that they are, at the same time, doing too much and missing a certain joyful quality in their lives that they are certain “should” be there and not doing “enough”—to be good partners, good parents, good employees, good citizens of the world.  We are overwhelmed with the sense that something is amiss and that we don’t have a right to just walk through the door and experience the joy that is being alive.  So, we improve ourselves and pound and kick away at the door only to find that there is no bell because there is no one to receive us.

A month or so back, I was attending a Quaker meeting and someone rose and quoted Micah 6:8 from the bible: “He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?”.  Ever since then, the word “kindness” has been coming up for me absolutely everywhere.  Later that same Sunday, I was in the library and the first book I saw was this little, almost pamphlet sized book by Ajahn Brahm called “Kindfulness”.  I checked a book called “Love Kindness” by Barry H. Corey out of the library.  The more I thought about it, the more I realized that cultivating kindness was part of my divine life journey.  Later in the same meeting, someone stood and told a story about how they were really pleased when the principal of their child’s new school asked that all students have respect for one another and their teachers during the orientation, but she thought that what they should really offer one another was kindness.  Kindness, she went on to say, is what is due to all humans, no matter what.  Respect, on the other hand, is earned.  I found this to be profound.  We do not have to earn kindness and we should not ask anyone else to earn kindness from us either.

How are all these things linked?  Well, honestly, I don’t know.  For me, reading is a part of my practice. When these types of ideas present themselves to me through my spiritual life, in my readings, and in my daily life, I try to pay attention.  Even on a surface level, I have to believe that expressing ourselves authentically, walking right through that open door and being gentle and kind to all the other people we meet is a path to great joy for ourselves and everyone that we meet.  How do we get the courage and grace to do this?  Practice.  It takes a lot of practice so that we have compassion for ourselves and others, so that we are aware and so we are mindful of our power to take actions that either improve or decrease the quality of life for everyone we come into contact with.  For today, no matter what your circumstances, offer at least five strangers your brightest and deepest smile.  Tell at least someone you know something that they do that you are truly grateful for or just tell someone that you notice them and all that they do.  Release your narrative in a relationship and just give your special someone a hug and tell them that you are so happy they are there—because, yes, they probably press your buttons and shrunk your favorite sweater and can’t help but burn toast every morning—but what is most important, is their beautiful presence, the light they shine in your life, your house, your family.  I am convinced that offering everything with “kindfulness” will not only profoundly improve my quality of life, but it is a step towards peace in my house, in my community and my world.

Written by Sharon Fennimore, a yogini teaching yoga, meditation and providing integrative health coaching services to women and families with young children based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  Join my online community Make Room!

Everything Changes

[I said to Suzuki Roshi,] “I could listen to you for a thousand years and still not get it.  Could you just please put it in a nutshell?  Can you reduce Buddhism to one phrase?”…He was not a man you could pin down, and he didn’t like to give his students something definite to cling to. He had often said not to have “some idea” of what Buddhism was.  But Suzuki did answer.  He looked at me and said, “Everything changes.”

~David Chadwick

For the past 24-hours, here in Pittsburgh we have been bathed in the light of the sun through clear blue skies. I feel the sun in the fluids of my body and, all of a sudden, my dreams seem possible.  When you live in a place that offers shades of gray (and not in the exciting way) for most days of the year, the light of the sun brings profound shifts in conciousness.  This shift is welcomed because it is warm, light and inspiring.  As much as this change in season from cold and dark to warm and light is welcomed, the truth is that at the end of last summer I welcomed the cooler air.  The abundance of heat had become stifling and I desired a shift towards cooler breezes and an internal retreat.  Therefore, it is neither cool or warm that is desired in and of itself, but rather the energetic shifts that come with those changes.

It is curious to me that I can see how these shifts in temperature and light and energies related to the seasons are important to my well-being, creativity and mind-body, but I hold on so tightly to so many things.  I worry about losing things.  I am terrified to lose people, either through death or natural shifts in relationships of all kinds.  My dog is very old.  She is such a sweet and loving soul and sometimes I feel my heart breaking just a little, tiny bit, even while she is still alive and well because I know this can’t go on forever.  My clients are terrified by global warming, their mortality, their mental and physical health concerns.  I feel my own suffering and that of others so deeply.  All of these sufferings and fears are rooted in my inability to embody the wisdom presented by Suzuki Roshi, “everything changes”.  When things are “good”, I am already suffering because I know that they will change and I wish I could hold onto that “good”.  When things are “bad”, I forget that they won’t walways be that way and I identify with that darkness as if it will go on forever.

A few days ago, I was standing outside of a building and a woman appeared who was searching for a medical office, but it seemed like she was at the wrong address.  I had my phone with me and offered to use Google maps to search for the address and see where it was in relationship to where we were and as I searched, she told me a little bit about her story.  You see, she was going to have her second open heart surgery in the next week and she needed to see a dentist before the surgery.  Somehow, she used to have dental insurance, but her health plan was switched without her knowing it and she no longer had insurance.  She was rushing around and trying to get the pre-surgical care she needed and she was upset and scared.  On top of her concerns about her health and having to recover from having her “chest cut open again”, she didn’t know how she was going to pay for the dentist and now she couldn’t even find the dentist that had agreed to see her without insurance. This is not healing.  This woman needed to be cared for, nourished and soothed.  I wanted to sit with her in a calm and beautiful place and help her visualize a healing surgery followed by an uncomplicated recovery.  I wanted to sit with her around lush greenery and nature so that the color of the heart chakra, green, was surrounding her and she could breathe it in. I didn’t want her to worry about the dentist or how she would pay for it or the pain.  It’s so easy for us to become completely absorbed by our own story and our own suffering that we forget that everyone is also experiencing these cycles of suffering.  Everyone.  No matter how much money you have, resources, education, or fancy shoes that match your suits……..it simply doesn’t prevent change.

My students know that I have been working with a gatha (meditative poem) by Thich Nhat Hanh for the past year and I believe it is the perfect way to work with this energy of suffering around change or to release attachment to change that is perceived as beneficial.  This poem brings a sense of equanimity.

Breathing in, I calm my body.  Breathing out, I smile.  Dwelling in the present moment, I know this is a wonderful moment. ~Thich Nhat Hanh

In his book of guided meditations, The Blooming of a Lotus (1993), Thich Nhat Hanh provides this same gatha with breathing instructions for each part of the poem:

  1. Breathing in, I calm my body.
    Breathing out, I smile.
  2. Breathing in, I dwell in the present moment.
    Breathing out, I know this is a wonderful moment.

In short:

Breathing in: CALM

Breathing out: SMILE

Breathing in: PRESENT MOMENT

Breathing out: WONDERFUL MOMENT

I hope you will find this simple poem and breathing practice as helpful as I do in bringing peace and equanimity into this moment regardless of our circumstances.  It is in this state of equanimity that we can also be compassionate to all other living beings as they navigate their changes.

Written by Sharon Fennimore, a yoga and meditation instructor and women’s health coach based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  Please join my online community MAKE ROOM and learn how to meditate for clarity and peace. I’d so very much be delighted to have you join us!

Pure Brightness

Today, April 7, 2016 is the Festival of Pure Brightness (Qingming, or Tomb Sweeping Day) in China.  It is a three-day festival that is as much about honoring ancestors as it is a way for people to have time to go outside and enjoy the new greenery of spring.  There are spring outings and kite flying.  When I was a teacher in China, all of my elementary school students made their own kites and went out into the schoolyard to fly them.  Since I was in the far north of central China, there was nothing in bloom quite yet, but the worst of winter was over and the majestic willow trees graced the main street.  It is customary to hang willow branches on your door during the Festival of Pure Brightness.  This has roots in the traditions of Buddhism because Guanyin is pictured sometimes with a vase of water and willow branches in it and this is meant to scare away demons and ghosts.

As we move into seasons of light, it can be beneficial to take some time to reflect on all the people who have come before us who have circled through the seasons of life and, without whom, we would not be here.  We carry our ancestral qi (potential) as “jing” in the kidneys and I invite you to drink more water than usual for a few days to ritually cleanse and honor this energy that you carry within you from all generations past.  You may be interested in reading my blog posts about foods that nourish the spring body or spring meditation and yoga practices that support the energies of this season.  Or, if you are looking for a book that will force you to laugh out loud, then try this one.  

egretsA poem in translation by Du Fu titled “Overflowing” (SOURCE)

The moon’s reflected on the river a few feet away,
A lantern shines in the night near the third watch.
On the sand, egrets sleep, peacefully curled together,
Behind the boat I hear the splash of jumping fish.

Sometimes, we need to sweep away areas where we feel stuck or tight.  If you are burried under physical, emotional or spiritual clutter, then why not make a personal commitment to spring cleaning by joining my online community called MAKE ROOM?  For as little as $8 a month, you will have access to audio and video instructional downloads, a discussion board where you can get support for your de-clutter challenges and learn how to make room in your life for all that desire.  There are lots of artists, parents, dreamers, healers and collectors in our community and no judgment.  You don’t have to set any goals or feel embarassed about anything at all.  The online course starts with meditation instruction and tools for being mindful in everyday life.  If you don’t want to clear away clutter or you simply aren’t ready to let go of your can tab collection from middle school, we understand and we want you to keep it for as long as you wish.

 

Lavender Soothes Lions and Lambs

Lavender Essential Oil

lavenderWhether your March has come in like a lion or a lamb, I suggest some lavender to ease the transition to spring.  Lavender holds the energy of summer sun, but the blue color is cooling and creates a sense of equanimity.  Click on the image to the left for information on how to buy a bottle of essential oil with a 24% discount.

Lavender for Eating

Thanks to Elaine’s Lavender Page for the delicious lavender cookies recipe: 

lavender cookiesRECIPE FOR LAVENDER COOKIES.

Ingredients

2/3 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 tablespoon dried lavender flowers
1 1/2 cups self-rising flour

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 deg. Grease two baking sheets.
Cream the butter and the sugar together,
then stir in the beaten egg.
Mix in flowers and the flour.
Drop spoonfuls of the mixture onto the baking sheets.
Bake about 15-20 minutes, until the cookies are golden.
Makes about 30 cookies.

If you are looking for culinary quality dried lavender flowers, I recommend Mountain Rose Herbs.  I order online and have been really happy with this company and the quality of the products.

Lavender is an aromatic perennial evergreen shrub. Its woody stems bear lavender or purple flowers from late spring to early autumn, although there are varieties with lavender flowersblossoms of white or pink. Lavender is native to the Mediterranean, but now cultivated in cool-winter, dry-summer areas in Europe and the Western United States. The use of Lavender goes back thousands of years, with the first recorded uses by the Egyptians during the mummification process. Both the Greeks and the Romans had many uses for it, the most popular being for bathing, cooking, as an ingredient in perfume, healing wounds, and as an insect repellant. Lavender was used as an after-bath perfume by the Romans, who gave the herb its name from the Latin lavare, to wash. During the Great Plague of 1665, grave robbers would wash their hands in a concoction called Four Thieves Vinegar, which contained lavender, wormwood, rue, sage, mint, and rosemary, and vinegar; they rarely became infected. English folklore tells that a mixture of lavender, mugwort, chamomile, and rose petals will attract sprites, fairies, brownies, and elves. (SOURCE)

Lavender for a Soothing Spring Bath

Take a soothing spring bath with a few scoops of Epsom Salts (not actually salts, but the magnesium helps with muscle relaxation and headaches) or Sea Salt and put 6-8 lavender bathdrops of lavender essential oil into the bath.  Just sit back, breathe in the steam and the aroma and relax.  If you would like, use the very simple meditation suggested by Lama Surya Das:

Breathing In—-Just this, here now.

Breathing Out—Just this, here now.

Just make sure that you don’t relax TOO much and fall asleep in the bath and be aware that oils and salts can make the bathtub and tile floors a little bit slippery.  

lavender eye pillowLavender Crafts

How about these heart-shaped lavender sachets designed by Martha Stewart?

These little lavender soaps are so cute!

Make a lavender eye pillow.

This post written by Sharon Fennimore, MA, E-RYT, RPYT, a yoga and meditation instructor based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and working with women all over the world on creativity, insight and joy.  Find out more about Sharon.  Join Sharon’s online community MAKE ROOM for just $8 a month and clear all your physical and emotional clutter.

Insight Sessions

An insight session supports you in setting aside time in your life to make important decisions and create clarity around your priorities.  During insight sessions, we will address a singular concern, decision you are trying to make, problematic relationship, or goal and using relaxation, visualization, somatic feedback and energy work.  For clients who are interested in or open to divine insight through oracle card readings, Sharon will also use oracle cards to help clients clarify issues and priorities in their lives.  These cards are not used to “predict the future”, but in many cases, the images, words, and themes spark memories and invoke a heart-centered response to the challenge at hand.  Sharon also uses aromatherapy with pure essential oils for clients who are open to this type of healing work.  Obviously, aromatherapy is not possible for distance sessions, but Sharon will make a recommendation for clients about an essential oil or flower essence that might be helpful in their decision making.

These are 45-minute sessions for $60 each.    These sessions can be held using SKYPE, FaceTime or at Mookshi Wellness Center in Regent Square.

Purchase and Schedule Your Insight Sessions at Your Convenience ONLINE

PURCHASE YOUR SESSION(S) HERE
SCHEDULE YOUR SESSION(S) HERE

Modern Menstrual Education 101

Modern Menstrual Education 101
February 28, 2016
1:00 to 3:30
$30 per person REGISTER BY CLICKING HERE

Open to adults (defined as 18 years of age or older), men and women, who are interested in learning more about menstruation.  Workshop is experiencial and will include movement, discussion, plenty of time for questions and lecture.  Yoga instructors will receive a certificate as evidence of participation and valid for 3 CEU credits towards maintaining Yoga Alliance registrations.

Are you a man who was lead out of the health classroom with all the other boys by a male gym teacher while the girls stayed behind to talk about their periods?  Does your partner, wife, sister, mother or running partner say things to you about their periods that you nod your head to when all the while you have NO IDEA what they mean?  Are you a male yoga instructor that would like to feel more comfortable guiding menstruating women towards an energetically nourishing yoga practice during their moon cycles, but you aren’t even sure what is OK or not?  Can a woman get pregnant while she has her period?  Is it dangerous to have sex with a woman who has her period? How can you avoid premenstrual arguments with your girlfriend or wife that seem to happen like clockwork around her period?

Are you a woman who has no idea when she ovulates or if she ovulates at all?  Do you have cramps or mood changes or appetite shifts around your menstrual cycle that are bothersome and you don’t know how to be comfortable or take care of yourself?  Would you like to learn more about the energetic implications of your menstrual cycle and how to take advantage of parts of your cycle that enhance pleasure, creativity and inner quiet and calm?  Do you have no idea when you are going to get your period and just wander around with pads or tampons in your purse wondering when it is going to “show up”?  Do you wish you could ask for space or ask for deeper intimacy sometimes and don’t know how to communicate with your partner or friends around your cycle?  Do you know when you are most likely to conceive a baby and why?

Honestly, what you don’t know about your period is A LOT.  Both men and women need to understand the very real physical and energetic cycles around what women experience so that we can honor and enhance the presence of shakti in our lives.  Regardless of your age or sexual orientation, you live in a world of both men and women—we live together, work together and play together.  Menstruation is a part of women’s lives in a very physical way and they have to learn skills to manage the flow of menstrual fluids in a way that men do not have to learn, but energetically, men are implicated in almost every part of women’s cycles and should not remain ignorant to this incredibly powerful creative cycle.

Everyone is welcome and I ask that you come prepared for honest, open and respectful dialogue around something that many people have considered as dirty, taboo or “women’s business”.  All of your questions will be answered.  If you do not feel comforable discussing body fluids, reproductive health, sexuality, pleasure, birth control, etc. in mixed groups of men and women, then this is not the workshop for you.  But, everyone is warmly welcomed and we will benefit from the diversity of experience that is present.

Sharon Fennimore is a doula and childbirth educator with an interest in fertility and working with women and men to better understand their reproductive and creative capabilities.  She has over twenty-years of experience teaching and practicing yoga and meditation and brings all of these experiences to her workshops.

 

Mary of Greenfield

Statues and images of Mother Mary are pervasive in the Greenfield neighborhood of Pittsburgh.  Even out on a short 6-block urban walk, I passed many unique images of Mary.  Even if we aren’t out looking for the divine, the presence of this nourishing mother figure impacts our lives in ways we may or may not be aware of.  Regardless of your personal connection to this figure, her presence in this neighborhood impacts the spirit and energy of the community itself.  Intellectually, we may allow ourselves to live such distracted lives that we don’t notice the divine images all around us.  We may think that we are non-believers or non-practitioners and that we need to go to a church or temple or religious center to find the divine, yet even a simple and brief urban walk of a quarter mile results in opportunities to think about the presence of beings more powerful and compassionate than humans.  All we need to do is go out and be a witness to what is perceivable to the eyes.  I find it interesting to find that so many statues have been placed beside utility meters.