Time is the substance I am made of.
Time is a river which sweeps me along but I am the river;
it is a tiger which destroys me but I am the tiger;
it is a fire which consumes me but I am the fire.
~ Jorge Luis Borges
I love this quote because it offers an unconventional perspective on Time.
Time, like the oxygen we breathe, pervades every aspect of our lives.
Go ahead and just google TIME, and you’ll be met with hundreds of practical articles on how to manage, reclaim, and maximize it. There is no shortage of left-brain solutions for how to manipulate time in your favor to live a more efficient life. I get it, but it’s a little boring.
From a non-dual (Tantric) yoga perspective, Time is not some external force that abides by a code of ethics. Time is not something that happens TO us. It IS us!
In the Absolute realm time doesn’t exist; there is no here/there nor now/later.
But in the Relative realm (on this planet), it exists. And how! We’ve even created a Gregorian calendar and atomic clocks to track and capture it!
The sanskrit term for Time is Kāla.
In any manifestation process, as transcendent Energy steps down and becomes Matter in this relative world, Kāla-Time is born as part of that process. Kāla limits or veils our sense of eternal awareness by creating sequential awareness (a.k.a. Linear Time).
The great paradox of Time is that it can feel like friend or foe.
When tragedy strikes, time waits for no one. Bills must be paid, and earthly responsibilities need tending to. Time marches forward relentlessly. Oh, how I wish I could push a cosmic pause button when the going gets tough.
On the flip side, Time is that benevolent healer that softens pain, both physical and emotional. Time is on your side.
Actually I’d like to make a correction because we can push a pause button: Meditation/Yoga Nidra.
As we close our eyes, relax, and surrender, we journey backwards from the material to the transcendent. Our sense of Kāla collapses — we break the time barrier, and we rest back as the vast, spacious, timeless beings that we are.
My mom has lung cancer.
She shielded me from the diagnosis while I was teaching my Wyoming retreat last week, but the news arrived swiftly and sharply upon my return home.
Margherita is almost 95 and has enjoyed excellent health her entire life. Which is why I assumed, perhaps idealistically, that her eventual death would be an undramatic event — a generic death-by-old-age if you will. I suppose keeping things vague and gauzy is a worthy coping mechanism.
But lung cancer? Really? This is how it ends?
The words themselves slice through vagueness like a scalpel.
The abstract just got real.
Mom’s otherwise boring cough now carries a ring of despair.
And the once-comforting notion of infinite time has just morphed into time scarcity.
In the first 48 hours after hearing the diagnosis, I toggled between grief (in my heart) and panic (in my brain), until eventually both grief and panic just collapsed into each other.
But I’m observing two ways that my years of yoga practice are rising to serve me now:
1. Stay steadfastly in the moment
Cliché yoga-speak, I know, but it is vital. It is compelling to futurize and fantasize about what the journey and final destination will look like. Tempting as that may be, I vow not to conjure the final scene of Terms of Endearment, complete with Shirley Maclaine manically screaming for the pain shot. It’s too overwhelming.
One day. One moment. One breath at a time. Anything more than that, and I will be steamrolled by overwhelm and rendered paralyzed.
And a paralyzed Marc is of use to no one.
2. Self-care is non-negotiable
Emotional Eating (junk food) is tempting. The pull to over-sleep is real. Postponing meditation, avoiding the gym, sabotaging my healthy habits … It’s all so compelling right now. But I am already experiencing, firsthand, the stress placed upon my physical and mental body in ushering the end of one’s life whilst maintaining my own.
For a strong body and clear, vibrant mind, the self-care routine must continue not in spite of, but because of, my sorrow and anxiety.
On the first day of my Ayurveda practitioner training back in 2014, my teacher
Vaidya Jayagopal wrote the following in big block letters on the blackboard:
RELIEVING PAIN OF THE SUFFERING IS THE HIGHEST DHARMA
This was the overarching WHY behind the entire program.
Is this not the overarching WHY behind … everything?
Sitting here in Paris on this rainy day, I felt compelled to clarify and clean up some yoga language and concepts so that we can maintain the integrity of our practice.
Relaxation ≠ Savasana. Please don’t conflate the two! It takes the average, well-rested person 15 minutes to fully relax before savasana. That means 15 minutes to settle down and get the wiggles out. How do you know when you’re there? Well, you start to lose both a curiosity of the external world and a desire to move.
Here is when you lose the “ambition state,” and there is a conscious withdrawal of the senses (pratyahara). You hear something, perhaps, but you don’t “go with it” in your mind. This is a beautiful, absorptive state. Savasana is a practice!
Many teachers are leaving 5-7 minutes at the end of class for rest and calling it Savasana. Technically, what is being given is a guided relaxation practice. So a proper Savasana is …
15 minutes (relax) + 5 minutes (savasana) = 20 minutes.
3. YOGA NIDRA:
The beauty of this practice is that it already includes Steps 1 + 2 above. In a typical 30 minute practice, you pass through these states with breath cues, energy rotation, visualization practices, and intermittent spaces of silence to finally rest as Pure Awareness. It’s a profoundly meditative state.
Most times, we go to a lying-down practice because we are tired. That is Savasana time, not Yoga Nidra time. Give yourself rest when tired.
We are doing a grave disservice to ourselves and to Yoga Nidra when we are not clear on our needs and intentions.
In Ayurveda, every substance we ingest has a profile of at least three categories:
1. Rasa (Taste): Sweet/Sour/Salty/Pungent/Bitter/Astringent
2. Vīrya (Potency): Is it Heating or Cooling?
3. Vipāka (Post Digestive Effect): How does it affect urine/feces/sweat?
And sometimes there is a fourth. Ohhh, I really like this mysterious one:
4. Prabhāva: Unique or Unpredictable Action. 🤷♂️
Prabhāva means a dynamic action that cannot be explained by the logic of the first three categories.
- For instance, two teaspoons of ghee (clarified butter) with milk is a laxative, but, in a smaller dose (half a teaspoon), it is constipating. Why? 🤷♂️
- Rock salt and sea salt both possess the exact same profile of Rasa, Vīrya, and Vipāka, yet sea salt is not good for hypertension whereas rock salt is fine. Why? 🤷♂️
- Gemstones, crystals, and reciting mantras aid healing due to their prabhāva. Why? 🤷♂️
A desire to know Truth and a healthy interest in intellectual pursuits is commendable.
But are you too intense and intent on knowing Truth?
Are your doubts too great and irrational?
Do you need absolute proof of everything? Including Love?
All you fiery ones out there, your pitta dosha (fire) may be aggravated.
There is no shortage of empirical evidence to support the benefits of Yoga and Yoga Nidra. But sometimes we need to lie back patiently and have faith in its mystery – a mystery that cannot always be explained with hard facts.
Ask not whether the mystery and magic resonates with your head.
Rather … does it resonate with your Heart?
I’m happy to unpack more of this in Saturday’s Livekick class.
Prabhāva! Here’s to the Unknown!
May we all remain healthily curious well into our golden years.
I miss teaching beginner yoga students. In the early 2000’s, I taught both Basics and Advanced classes in Los Angeles.
One of the hallmark characteristics that distinguishes Beginner from Advanced levels of practice is how a yoga practitioner Reacts vs. Responds to a given pose.
For example, when I guide a raw beginner into a challenging pose relative to their level, there is more instant reaction – an Ouch!, a groan, some fidgeting, or even laughter. With a more advanced student, there is more silent response – breath, space, a slow adjustment, and finally stillness. There is more equanimity in the face of discomfort.
Equanimity is one area where Buddhism and Yoga overlap.
The First Noble Truth of Buddhism informs us that life contains unavoidable, inevitable suffering. The Buddhist will aspire to a higher-level framing of the Suffering-and-Pleasure principle by learning to encompass pain without its unrealistic suppression or avoidance and to strive for pleasure without attachment or dependence upon its perpetuation.
In The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali 1.33, we learn about equanimity:
The projection of friendliness, compassion, gladness, and equanimity(Upeksha) towards objects brings about the pacification of consciousness.
~ Translation: Georg Feurstein
Sometimes translated as “Indifference,” Upeksha is better understood as equanimity – a state of even-minded openness that allows for a balanced and clear response to all situations rather than a response borne of reactivity or emotion. It is neither indifference nor a bland state of neutrality.
Last week in Yoga Nidra, our Energy Rotation of the body included experiencing extreme cold and extreme heat in each body part while remaining in non-reactive, witness consciousness. This exercise an excellent way to train ourselves to cultivate equanimity.
Your asana practice also offers a great opportunity to become better at recognizing where, when, and how you get swept away by reactivity and to observe your attachment to results.
Bottom Line: Higher levels of equanimity naturally occur with consistent practice. Please consider joining me weekly for your Upeksha evolution!
Since the essence of my work as a human and as a teacher is to cultivate the authentic self, I think it is appropriate here to wish you all a Happy Pride Month on this first day of June.
Many may roll their eyes and ask why exactly we even need an actual PRIDE month or a PRIDE day or even just a PRIDE parade?
Well, because LGBTQIA+ people are marvels …
* We disappoint our parents.
* We’re at battle with our government.
* We’re stigmatized by religions.
* We’re bullied in our childhoods.
* We’re erased in our classrooms.
* We have survived a plague.
And still, we rise. We come out and say, This Is Me.
That is the spirit of an extraordinary species of people.
And, yes, I can even link this with Ayurveda:
* Ayur means LIFE
* Veda means TRUTH
Ayurveda is an ancient system of health and healing that understands that living a truthful, authentic, life is essential for longevity and well-being.
LGBTQAI+ or not … Come out and break the chains of inauthenticity.
Because all closets are dark on the inside.
I am not a parent so I should probably stay in my own lane when it comes to the topic of child rearing. But since Authentic Living IS in my lane, and I recently heard a lecture about authenticity and child development, let’s call this blog parenting-adjacent.
Living a Truthful Life is really at the heart of my work, both personally and professionally. In Ayurveda, it’s a fundamental ingredient for longevity and health. Veda means Truth. AyurVEDA means the Truth of Life. When natural, organic development is inhibited, it creates a fissure between the True Self and a Presentational Self. That fissure is a breeding ground for health degeneration.
The lecturing scientist offered this message to parents:
You do not get to design/engineer your kids.
There is a popular notion that a child is a blank slate onto which a parent can write and somehow engineer personality, sexual orientation, IQ, and academic achievement skills (to name just a few examples).
But Nature would never have permitted that to happen. Evolution would not have allowed a generation of a species to be so influenced by a previous generation. Your child has over 400 psychological traits that will emerge, and they will have nothing to do with your brand of parenting. (Don’t shoot the messenger!)
The better view is that a child is a unique, genetic, mosaic of your extended family. And a parent’s role should veer more towards the direction of being The Shepherd rather than The Engineer.
Shepherds are powerful people! They pick the pasture where the sheep will graze, develop, and grow. They determine whether the sheep is appropriately nourished and protected from harm. And while the environment is important, it doesn’t design the sheep. To put it another way, a shepherd will never turn a sheep into a dog. And, by the same token, no amount of hetero-normative influence on me (parenting, media, government, church) in the ‘60s and ‘70s would turn me into a straight guy.
As yogis, we understand that deep within meditation and a mindful Hatha practice, we are shepherding our journey toward the True Self. We plant a Sankalpa/Intention deep at the root, the Bliss Body, where all other voices are silent. Then, when we are awake, we can reinforce the Intention at the level of the surface mind. And yes, at this surface level, we can also “engineer” our destiny through efforts like study, networking, and choosing relationships. As adults, we are at once Shepherd and Engineer of our own destinies.
OK, so maybe playing classical music to your uterus whilst pregnant will not guarantee the birth of a genius according to hard science (The Mozart Effect).
But now that you are an adult: in your home, in your relationships, are you creating an environment that shepherds your own authentic evolution and unfoldment? It’s a lifelong process.
And your health depends on it.
On my computer screen right now is the outline of the Ayurveda Micro Habits program that I ran earlier this year. And beside my computer are the Feedback Forms that my students completed after the course.
In October, I’m relaunching the Micro Habits program, and my first order of business is to take a clear-eyed look at the feedback. After all, feedback is a gift, for how can we hope to evolve if we don’t see where we need to improve?
I’m a terrific feedback-giver (insert pat on the back here). I honed my skills in the early 2000’s whilst on the certification committee for Anusara Yoga. My role was to watch and assess video submissions from new teachers to determine whether their classes met the criteria for them to become Certified Teachers. Acting in this role taught me that giving and receiving feedback is like a muscle we need to train.
My Golden Rule when giving feedback:
Start with expressing the strongpoints.
This sets the tone for establishing trust and lets them know you’re on their side.
My Golden Rule when receiving feedback:
When feedback is clear, immediate, and concrete, I learn quickly.
When feedback is abstract, delayed, and opaque, I rarely learn.
As the recipient, I am so grateful for constructive feedback.
This notion of Brutal Honesty is horse crap. Honesty doesn’t have to be brutal.
A real cringe moment for me is when I take my own yoga class.
I force myself to do this every month, and it’s a painful proposition as I try to be as kind to myself as I am when I’m offering feedback to others.
On Wednesday, September 7, after taking a summer hiatus, I’ll be returning to the Livekick platform to offer my public classes (see dates and info below).
The inquiry I put to you is this: How can I serve you even better with my public classes? What would you like to see more of?
I’ve prepared a quick and easy, three-question feedback form if you’d be willing to help me evolve these live weekly offerings. It should take less than three minutes to complete.
CLICK HERE to complete the feedback form and contribute to my evolution as a teacher.
This is a story about kindness and a man named Calvin.
Before becoming a yoga teacher, I worked as a massage therapist. Back in the early 2000’s, when I was living in Los Angeles, I had a client named Calvin (pictured above). Calvin was a renowned vocal coach. From major Broadway stars to Hollywood royalty, his students eagerly made the pilgrimage to his humble L.A. home with dreams of training their voices to reach new heights.
In addition to being a mecca for vocal students, Cal was morbidly obese. Weighing in at close to 400 lbs (181 kg), he navigated life via wheelchair because his body couldn’t support his own weight. With white hair and a white beard, he was a veritable wheeled Santa Claus incarnate.
After our second massage appointment, as Cal was trying to get up from my table, it buckled under the crushing weight of his body. Cal hit the floor – hard – and my massage table splintered into pieces.
I instantly experienced an “empathetic shame” response in that I could feel the intensity of his embarrassment. Even now, a decade later, as I type these words, the awkwardness of the moment is painful to recall. Red-faced and a little teary, Cal apologized. He must have apologized 20 times in a matter of 20 minutes. After I helped him off the floor, he wrote me a check for the cost of a new table and for revenue lost until I purchased a new one.
Obviously, Cal never called for another massage, but we would go to dinner together once every few months. He loved The Cheesecake Factory. Once when I was wheeling him to our table, he asked me if I was embarrassed pushing him through the restaurant in a wheelchair. I said NO but that I was really embarrassed to be caught eating at the Cheesecake Factory! And with that, we shared a good laugh.
But aside from a few mutual Facebook likes, I haven’t been in touch with Cal in almost 12 years . . .
Which is why I was surprised to receive a call from his lawyer last week. The lawyer informed me that Cal had died earlier this year and that he left me a very small provision in his will. “Not a life-changing amount,” assured the lawyer. “But Cal insisted on leaving you a little something because you showed kindness to him during his life.”
But what exactly did I do? Push his wheelchair through a restaurant a handful of times? Not shame him when he broke my massage table? Was that it? I was perplexed that I was being rewarded for something that seemed so unremarkable within a friendship that felt inconsistent at best.
As it turns out, Cal died on my birthday, January 29. And while I don’t know yet the exact amount of what he left me, contrary to Mr. Lawyer, it IS a life-changing amount.
When I was young, I couldn’t wait to be an adult.
I remember being crushed under the weight of peer pressure – peer pressure to play sports, date girls, smoke pot, do dangerous things to prove I was a cool kid. And this is exactly the reason why I couldn’t wait to grow up – to escape this oppressive rite of passage.
Fast forward to last night. I met three old friends for a birthday dinner at a swank restaurant in Manhattan. Our ages ranged from 50 to 80. (Note to the New Yorkers out there: Caravaggio on Madison Ave. is a gustatory delight.)
It was quite cold outside, so when I got to the table, I ordered a hot tea to warm up. Since everyone was already drinking Cosmopolitans, I braced myself for the gibes, and I wasn’t disappointed.
“Tea?! C’mon! Live a little!!”
“Ohhhh Mr. Yoga has arrived.”
And then, just like that, the simple act of ordering tea became a Thing. It shouldn’t be a Thing. And by Thing, I mean that moment when a small, innocuous choice becomes amplified and draws both unwanted attention and more than a trace amount of defensiveness.
To be fair, my friends are gorgeous humans. But I realized at that moment that peer pressure never really goes away. And while I know my pals mean no malice or ill will, it’s still utterly annoying to keep reliving this adolescent paradigm.
Truth be told, I recently went to my doctor for the first time in two years, and while my overall health is excellent, blood tests showed evidence that I haven’t been Mr. Yoga after all. I hurt my back badly two months ago, so there has been very little exercise and a whole lotta compulsive sugar and fat consumption. My cholesterol and triglycerides had skyrocketed. Markers for pre-diabetes were elevated. And I had gained close to 10 extra pounds (!).
So I became super disciplined about following my daily Ayurveda habits these past weeks. And since I will be re-launching my Ayurveda habits course, Habit Evolution, in early 2022, I had to pull it together. I can’t teach what I, myself, am not practicing. Imposter Syndrome is real.
When we make clear, healthy choices to evolve our identity through habit change, the societal momentum to suck us back into an outdated identity is powerful.
Our relationships also need to evolve as we evolve.
When Habit Evolution launches, please know you will be part of a community of accountability partners who have your back when that momentum threatens to suck you backward instead of propel you forward.
Accountability Partner ≠ Peer Pressure
Accountability Partner = Peer Pressure, All Grown Up
Now, to conclude our dinner story, as dessert menus were distributed last night, and everyone ordered a lavish dessert, I braced once again as I ordered a peppermint tea instead of crème brûlée. This time even the septuagenarian waiter couldn’t resist.
“I guess you are Mr. Tea tonight!”
(Giggles from friends ensue.)
And, there again, an unremarkable peppermint-tea-moment became a Thing.