Monday, January 31, 2011

Martin Kirk and How I Found My Tibia

Yesterday just before dinner, I came home from a weekend away and scooped up my four and a half year old daughter, kissed her, listened to her adorable recounting of the day. I cuddled her up and said, "Oh, Elle, I just love you so much. Let's be best friends forever and never ever fight."

This is a line we have been using on each other for a year and a half. But today, she just smiled as if she were the mom and I were the kid and said, "Oh, Mama, I don't really think that is possible."

I burst out laughing, hugged her again and marvelled at her maturity. We agreed that it would be OK to fight as long as we made up and forgave each other; and that that, in fact would be even better than not fighting at all. Fighting, it can be argued, can be sort of fun.

Five minutes later, she was lying on the floor having a tantrum because her dad was serving edamame for dinner and this was unacceptable. Twenty minutes after that, she was sitting in my lap gobbling up that same edamame and declaring it the best meal ever.

I spent the last weekend at the Yoga Sanctuary in Northampton, where readers of this blog know that I have been doing an Immersion in preparation for a teacher training for the past year and a half. The workshop I just attended, taught by Martin Kirk, was on anatomy. I wasn't sure what to expect--after all, anatomy has never been my strong suit. I could never remember which of the six bones in the arms and legs were which. (I think maybe I knew that the femur was the thigh bone, but humerus, tibia, ulna--whatever.) But from the moment I took my seat in that gorgeous orange room on Friday night, I knew I had come to the right place.

Martin started with a discussion of what Anusara yoga founder John Friend calls "The Divine Matrix." "There is an underlying Source that directs this dance [of creation, of life] called the Invisible Matrix. It is unseen, unmanifested energy that is you--the you that is you before you were you. That Invisible Matrix is always still there. In Anusara we are trying to line up to our individual matrix [or what is sometimes called our 'optimal blueprint'] But we are all connected to a Supreme Matrix."

I am not sure what exactly prompted me to push aside so many projects last year to focus on yoga. In many ways, it seemed a strange choice. I whittled down my coaching practice to make room for yoga classes and trainings during a year when I was under pressure to deliver a book to a publisher by a certain due date. I proceeded despite an injury to the wrist. I studied the Bhagavad Gita when I should have been blogging or writing songs. And even though the benefits of yoga for my mind and body have been abundant, I remained unclear about what inside me was so dogged in my pursuit.

And here we pause for some amusing Before and After pics.

After one month of yoga:

After 10 months of yoga:

After 15 months of yoga:

The discussion of the optimal blueprint answered my question. This was why I was here. The number one guideline for Anusara yoga teachers is to help students "Align with the Divine;" and that alignment will be different for every single individual on the planet. My job is to align with the optimal blueprint of me, and to thereby be the Nerissa-est Nerissa possible; yours is to be the Elizabeth-est Elizabeth possible, or the Fred-est Fred possible.

This is exactly what I tell my clients and the writers who write with me. The hairs on my ears and arms, not to mention the back of my neck all rose when Martin reminded us teacher trainees of this number one directive. And this: When we're injured, we ask "let me see if I can line up again." When we are off track in our lives, don't we ask ourselves the same question? What worked before? Where am I now? How to I get back to home/back to wholeness. When we find ourselves, our true path, we feel as though we have come home. When we heal, we become whole. We become holy. We return to our individual matrix.

I had a client recently who was in deep despair because he believed his whole life's work up to this point was a reaction to what his father wanted him to be rather than what his own dreams were. "And now I think that even though he was a bastard, my dad was right. I should have gone to med school. I should have become a doctor. Instead I am a failed writer who can't stop watching Grey's Anatomy. I cut off my nose to spite his face. Only it was my face."

There is a Tantric sutra that translates "Even the individual whose nature is consciousness in a contracted state embodies the entire universe in a contracted form." The laws of physics tell us that if you cut a hologram in pieces, you still retain the entire image, though it does weaken in its resolution as it gets smaller and smaller. Martin called these pieces "God molecules," and insists that "It takes pure light to project the fullness of each piece. Only you are your frequency. Refine the pure light of your own frequency and you will be luminous and unstoppable. Even the parts of you you don't like are God. It's all condensed God."

He was preaching to the choir. This is right in line (in line!) with everything in my understanding of late; that God is in the sweetness and the bitter. That everything we live through is allowed. AND that we can get closer to our own individual matrix, our optimal blueprint. Which reminds me of that old aphorism, "God loves me just the way I am and too much to let me stay this way."

But how do we refine the pure light? What is the pure light? What if we wake up on a dark snowy day with a head cold and a pipe has burst and it's negative two outside and our spouse is in a bad mood and the news on the radio makes us want to vacate the planet? And I'm not even mentioning the writer's block.

Another aphorism: "The greatest gift we can give someone is our attention." So far, this is my version of turning on the light. I give myself my own attention for starters. Instead of turning on Facebook (not that I don't love it) or the TV or reaching for a donut or a beer, I sit quietly and listen to myself whine. Sometimes this takes a long time. But it works.

When my daughter was apoplectic over her dinner selection, I just held her and let her moan. Sometimes I repeated back to her what she had shouted to let her know I heard her. Eventually she cleared up, just like the sun coming out from behind the snowfilled clouds and wiped her eyes and took a bite. And remembered she liked edamame.

I listened to my client complain about his dad and his "bad" choices for a long time too. Sometimes I repeated back what he had said to make sure he knew I was listening. I try to be like a good yoga teacher; to offer support where needed, especially when I hear a painful unnecessary thought. I offer an adjustment. I point out when the form is gorgeous and right. But mostly I give my attention. In the light of pure attention, something miraculous happens. The client begins to heal himself. Yes, I definitely point this out, encourage the healing path. But, again, like a good yoga teacher, I am not the healer. I just make the space, offer the simple instructions. Then I let him work through his own possibilities. Should he at the age of 47 go to med school? Should he become a body worker? Or maybe send his resume to a medical journal for an editorial position? My job is to listen and ask him how each of these possibilities ricochets around in his body. What feels exciting? What feels deadening? What thoughts are contributing to each feeling? It is painstaking and delicious work. And nothing is lost from the process except a bunch of used up stories that he finds were not serving him. He finds himself a free man, free to rejoice in his past, and free to make new choices for his future.

There is a phrase in Anusara, an instruction a teacher will often begin with: "Inner body bright." Martin's version of this instruction was: "Let the sun shine in your heart." I, of the notoriously slumped shoulders (which are getting much better!) notice that when I hear this instruction, I naturally lift the sides of my body as well as my rib cage. This small action not only erases the slump, it raises my spirits. I can't help smiling and feeling hopeful, even on the darkest of snowy days. And I dare say, I think this is the way we shine that light to reconstitute our God molecules into so that we, in turn, become luminous.

Here's to the return of the light.

Nerissa Nields is a musician, writer and coach who lives in Northampton. She works with groups and individuals to find their optimal blueprint on the page and off the mat. She has been studying Anusara yoga since 2009 and can't believe her good fortune in finding this joyful path and sanctuary. She writes about the nexus of art, family and yoga (skill in action) on her blog at

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Come out this Sunday, January 30 for a Community Yoga Class and Discussion about Yoga and Social Justice!

Around a year ago, I watched a documentary film narrated by the late Peter Postelthwaite that looks back from 2055 when human civilization as we know it has ceased to exist and the earth has been virtually destroyed. From his post-apocalyptic vantage point, Postelthwaite reviews the evidence of climate change that could have served as a warning if only we’d paid attention. Toward the end of the film, he asks, why didn’t we save ourselves when we had the chance? “Is the answer that,” he posits, “at some level we didn’t think we were worth saving?”

This struck me, not just as a poignant question, but as the fundamental issue at stake, and as the very essence of yoga. Our belief in our essential worth is about recognizing consciousness and light within our own hearts and recognizing our place in the greater web of the universe. My experience has taught me that this practice does make me feel happier and better on a personal level, and it is much larger than just that– I believe that valuing ourselves is truly the way to shift and heal the planet. When we remember our true nature — our innate goodness and worthiness — we naturally extend that value and treat others and the earth with kindness, compassion, and respect.

On a personal level, my yoga practice helps me cultivate light and abundance within, and I find myself wanting to share the fruits of my practice with others – to reach out and get involved in the community.

Do you share this feeling and experience? Do these ideas resonate with you?

If so, come join us for the first monthly Kula Project class on Sunday, January 30, 2011 at Yoga Sanctuary!

The Kula Project is a new group forming to expand the consciousness of the yoga community to include engagement with issues of social justice and social activism and to enrich the activist community through participation in yoga and embodied practices. More at

The theme of Sunday’s class and discussion will be “Valuing Yourself Is A Radical Act.”

What: A community yoga class (all levels) and discussion.

Class co-taught be Kendra Hodgson, Lisa Leizman, and Allison Page. Discussion facilitated by Lisa Berkovits.

Donations (cash and check only) to benefit Seeds of Solidarity (

When: Sunday, January 30, 2011

Class: 4-5:15 PM

Discussion: 5:15-6:15 PM

Where: Yoga Sanctuary, 3rd Floor Thornes Marketplace, 150 Main St., Northampton, MA

Share the event with your friends on Facebook.

More about the Kula Project:

Written by Kendra Hodgson

Friday, January 7, 2011

Living in the Fullness of Time

Sitting here on the cusp of 2011, I have been contemplating what the shift in a calendar year means and the traditions that surround it. I believe (and regularly partake) in the practice of setting intentions, yet I have long felt a subtle resistance to the idea of New Year’s Resolutions, though until recently I hadn’t spent the time to identify and articulate what it was that I was uncomfortable with.

In my understanding, setting a New Year’s Resolution starts from a place of feeling not good enough, essentially of being in a place of lack. So the message seems to be that we need to do something — lose x # of pounds, study harder, eat more vegetables, etc. — to be better. In yoga, we begin instead with the premise that we are already worthy just because we are alive. Our deepest nature is innate worthiness. Worth is not something that anyone can give or take away from us, and it is not something that we can achieve through dieting, going to the gym, studying, etc.. We already have it. Rather than making ourselves somehow better through our yoga practice, we instead use our practice to uncover and realize our own true nature more fully.

I have noticed, too, that resolutions are also often about starting from a clean slate — wiping away the previous year and starting fresh in the new year — and this relationship to time feels discordant to me. In yoga, there is a beautiful concept — kalapurnata — which means “the fullness of time.” Kala comes from Kali, who is known as the goddess of time and change, and purna, which means “fullness” or “abundance.” To live in kalapurnata means to live fully in past, present, and future all at once.

So, rather than wiping away 2010 and starting with a clean slate, we look back on the year and see what we can learn from it. And all of the experiences from the year are worthwhile — even the places where we stepped out of alignment and perhaps said or did things that we wish we hadn’t. Those experiences are also teachers and when we reflect on them mindfully and consciously, we can use them to inform our present and our future. We remember our past and use it to act mindfully in our present and to consider what lies ahead.

Why does this matter? Now, more than ever, the earth needs us to be fully awake and to be living consciously from *all* of our experiences. To use our past to live mindfully in our present, with an eye to the future, is to be thoughtful of ourselves and considerate of one another and respectful of the impact our choices will have on future generations.

Seventh generation sustainability is an ecological concept that originated with the Iroquois — The Great Law of the Iroquois — that urges humans to think about the impact their current decisions will have on the seventh generation in the future. To do that is to realize that we are so much greater than just ourselves, to realize that our choices do matter and will affect not just others in our immediate sphere but people who come after us much further in the future.

To live in kalapurnata is to be aware that we live in a continuum of time, that we can never wipe away the year gone by (nor do we want to!). I invite you to look back on 2010 and take it all in — swallow it and assimilate it all, let it become a part of you. And from that place, look forward to 2011. Keep one foot in the past and one foot in the future, and it will then be possible to live fully in kalapurnata in the present.

I wish to thank all of my teachers and friends for the giftss of wisdom and guidance that have contributed to my offering of this writing. Most especially here, I would like to thank Amy Ippoliti for introducing me to the concept of kalapurnata and my dear friend Lizzy Tyler for her reminders to always begin from a place of fullness and worth.

Questions for further contemplation:
* What were your greatest teachings of 2010?
* In what moments or experiences did you feel in clear alignment? How do you want to bring that forward with you into 2011?
* In what moments or experiences did you feel out of alignment? How do you want to use that to inform what you do in 2011?
* What would it look like for you to live in kalapurnata as you enter the new year?

Written by Kendra Hodgson

Check out Kendra's classes at YS and learn more about her at