Spring. Being alive.

Spring is a beautiful time to be alive.  Emerging from the last late snows, with memories of frigid mornings and aching fingertips slowly fading, you might feel a bit more awake, brighter, and refreshed after a slower-paced winter.  The days have become longer, everything seems to appear more vibrant, colorful, and you can almost feel the growth all around.  When you bask in the warm spring sun, relaxing on the patio or running on a trail, the simple feeling of pure aliveness can be overwhelmingly pleasant and immediate. 

Does this remind you a bit of yoga?  That feeling of pushing your body, building internal heat, stretching the joints and muscles, attention to the movement of breath, the sensation patterns in the body, and eventually the release and absorption of savasana.  When you practice yoga, you are alive, awake, ever changing and growing, and again – the simple feeling of pure aliveness can be overwhelmingly pleasant and immediate.  Just like spring.

Last year, I spent much of the spring far away from Colorado, up on the Greenland ice sheet, camping in unthinkably cold temperatures in the middle of a vast white ocean-like nothingness, traversing by snowmobile, and somehow staying alive and doing good science.  When I returned to Boulder, the transformation was complete, and it felt absolutely tropical with all the lush green vegetation.  This year, instead of doing fieldwork in the Arctic, I am thoroughly enjoying the spring:  The scent of blossoming trees, morning birdsongs, spring skiing, trail running, sunny afternoons in the hammock on the patio, fresh pesto and salads, challenging asana practice and powerful pranayama.

Sometimes you feel most alive after a close encounter with death or catastrophe.  Last weekend, after a day of skiing and a lovely meeting with a yoga teacher-friend, Eli and I narrowly avoided a catastrophic accident on our way down from the mountains.  I was driving, and as we reached the Veterans Memorial Tunnels on eastbound I-70 (just east of Idaho Springs), suddenly the cars in front of us stopped still.  I had what is usually comfortable stopping space ahead, and slammed on the brakes, but the anti-lock brake kicked in (I’m not sure if it was because we were sliding on ice or skidding on pavement).  Hurtling toward the cars and a truck stopped ahead in the tunnel, I couldn’t stop.  I had the clear thought that I needed to aim the car around the obstacles, but there were cars in the other lane to my left and no obvious gap to fit through.  By some unbelievable stroke of luck (or divine intervention?), as I steered into the left lane (still sliding/skidding) the cars melted out to either side in the tunnel and we somehow flew through the space without hitting or being hit by anything.  I don’t know how many cars were involved in the accident (and I hope there were no serious injuries or casualties – I couldn’t find any news or report of the accident, which is probably good news), or what happened initially to set off the chaos, but I am still in awe that we made it unscathed through that tunnel, and immensely thankful that I could reflexively find the clear mind and steady hands that I did for those few seconds (I wouldn’t have been surprised to hear celestial chimes and see flowers falling from the sky as we emerged…).  The outcome could have been very different.  We don’t typically know when we are going to die – it could be any day – but that was not our day.  It is beautiful to be alive, and not just after close calls or in remarkable situations.  This constant appreciation and wonder of life is what yoga teaches.

As you rejuvenate in the warmth and get stoked for long summer nights and adventures, don’t forget the joy of pure consciousness and simply being alive.  I highly recommend incorporating some basic yoga into your daily routine:

  • Even if you can’t commit to a full practice or make it to a class every day, try a few flowing sun salutations in the morning to wake up the central axis of the body, and a few rounds of nadi shodhana (alternate nostril breathing technique) to create a sense of balance for the day.
  • If you feel distracted during the day, relax your belly and take 10 breaths, softening and deepening with each one, just feeling the movement patterns inside to re-center and refocus the mind.
  • Practice some seated stretching poses just before bedtime to wind down and bring your attention inward to help you sleep soundly.
  • A little bit can go a long way.

When you are alert, clear-minded, and comfortable in your body, this affects every decision you make, every interaction – and your presence as a person in the world has more influence than you probably imagine.

on ice.

I recently returned to Boulder after about six weeks of science research on the Greenland ice sheet, including some delightful and restorative tent yoga practices (i.e. Yoga in Confined Spaces).

The Arctic is a wild place. Imagine flat white as far as you can see to every horizon, with nothing but sky and rippling waves in the snow – like being in the middle of a solid white ocean. Imagine camping for weeks, every few days traversing by snowmobile 60 miles or so to the next site, setting up and breaking down camp so many times it becomes automatic, but your forearms develop shooting pains from fastening so many tent clips. To bathe, you thaw out a frozen wet wipe every few days and get the most offensive areas. You fall asleep hugging a bottle full of hot water. It never gets dark, so you sleep with your hat pulled down over your eyes and your head buried in your -40 degree sleeping bag. You keep your toothpaste, sunblock, and contact solution in your sleeping bag with you – even so, one morning your contacts are frozen solid in their case. You sleep with your boot liners in your sleeping bag as well. On especially cold mornings, you might want to put hand warmers in your boots, but the ironic thing about hand warmers is that they won’t get warm when they’re frozen – so you have to warm them up first. Sometimes the wind is so loud you can’t sleep, even with earplugs. Other times the wind finds ways to sing, winding its way through anything it can, a lonely frozen whale-song.

Your camp of bright orange tents stands out, the only discernible feature across the entire landscape, a camp of ice gypsies. You know that if you wander away from this bubble of life, there is nowhere to go and no way to survive. Once or twice you are amazed to see a solitary bird swooping overhead, some sort of gull, hundreds of miles inland on the ice. You don’t know where it is going or if it will make it – there is nothing to eat and nowhere to rest but snow.

While I was away, Boulder transitioned into full spring mode – so green and alive (even off the ice sheet, Greenland has short tundra grass, tiny wildflowers, no trees whatsoever). As the plane came into the Denver airport as the sun was setting behind the mountains, I was struck by the fact that, for the first time in weeks, it was going to get dark. Incredible, it seemed, and so calming. But I miss the ice already.

See our project blog to learn more about the science, and also click here to see some more of my photos from the traverse to get a view into this other-worldly world.

back from India.

I am back home after three weeks in India – the ‘World Famous’ International Yoga Festival in Rishikesh, and bumming around in the Himalayas in Dharamsala.  What an adventure in clarity it was…

The calming, constant Ganga Maa (Ganges River), sunrise yoga at a mountaintop Shiva temple, darshan (teachings) with the ashram’s Pujya Swamiji, intense and amusing Kundalini kriyas, aggressive monkeys, squat toilets, beautiful public cows, the best parathas, terrible overnight bus rides, Tibetan culture and the home of the Dalai Lama, waterfalls, trails, rain, and so much chai.

Have a look at some more photos from Rishikesh, and from post-yoga Himalayan trekking in Dharamsala.

See you soon at the Yoga Loft and Earth!

Come to India with me!

Lila Yoga Group Trip to Rishikesh, India for the International Yoga Festival.

February 27-March 10, 2016

I am unbelievably pleased to be going to India next winter, my first time back in 8 years, and my first time to the Himalayas. Along with master teacher Yogacharya Erica Kaufman, we will be traveling to Rishikesh for the International Yoga Festival. I would love for you to be part of it!  Let me tell you more (or just look at the Workshops and Retreats page).

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