Where Has She Been?

•February 18, 2015 • 1 Comment

I haven’t written in this blog in almost a year, as some of you may have noticed.

I’ve been taking a break from teaching yoga (although not from my personal practice) for over six months now, so I haven’t had much to say that fits well on a yoga blog.  I’m not sure when, if ever, I’ll go back to teaching; I had a long hard breakup with the business of yoga and am taking some space from it.  I suspect that my relationship with the world of yoga will, like all relationships, heal after some time away.  Or not…who knows.

In the meantime, I still have plenty to say!  In fact, as I have started to write more about my travels and explorations (other activities I am passionately committed to), I am realizing that I am, in fact, examining and musing on a lot of the same ideas that I poked at in my yoga blog – just via a different channel, through a different set of sunglasses.  That’s fun to see unfolding.

So, you might be interested in the blog I recently started to serve as a platform for these new writings – it’s called “exploraspective” and is hosted right here on WordPress.  I’d be honored if you checked it out.

Thanks for your past support.  Practice with passion, and go easy on yourselves.



Pitta and Vata Bodies, or Why Co-Teaching Rocks, Part 2

•March 14, 2014 • Leave a Comment
Different mental constitutions bring such wonderfully varied ideas and perspectives to the table!

Bridget and Neesha – different bodies, different brains, but similar outlooks and aspirations for our students….

Earlier this week I wrote about the amazing synergy that occurs when different mental types come together to teach yoga (you can check out that post here).  An equally cool and balanced perspective is offered when different body types join up to instruct, and that is another of the awesome advantages of co-teaching I get to experience when I lead The Yogic Life Intensive with the lovely Neesha Zollinger.

If you happen to know both Neesha and I, you already know that we’ve been put in two pretty different physical containers for navigating this world.

Neesha Zollinger in front of Jackson Hole's gorgeous Teton Mountains

Neesha Zollinger in front of Jackson Hole’s gorgeous Teton Mountains

Neesha has been a dancer all her life, and you can see that in her body.  She has what we call a “vata” body type with long limbs and a light frame.  She’s thin, graceful, and beautiful.

I’ve got a fairly different body, which is classically “pitta.”  I’m strong and solid, with pronounced musculature, a stouter frame, and some, uh, curves.

Bridget holding steady in Idaho's Big Hole Mountains

Bridget holding steady in Idaho’s Big Hole Mountains

Contrary to popular opinion, neither one of these frames is better or worse for yoga or for life – they each offer unique experiences for navigating in the awesome earthbound journey we’re on.  When Neesha and I co-teach, we’re constantly reminded of this – and so are our students.

There are some poses that are easier for some body types than others.  Neesha can do vashisthasana (side plank) with amazing ease.  Her long and light limbs seem to fly into the air and form beautiful lines in this asana.  I can do the pose well also, but for me it took a bit more work to get the length in my hamstrings for my hand to reach my toe with my leg fully extended.  It may not be quite as pretty of a pose, but once I’m there, I can stay there forever.  My sturdy frame and strong shoulders have no trouble supporting me.  Similarly, I can hold myself in handstands for several minutes, and do planks and chaturangas ‘til the cows come home.  Neesha can absolutely do these poses well, but she’s had to work to build up the stamina to hold them.

When we co-teach, we can show different ways to get into poses based on the advantages of each body type.

Case in point:  Astavakrasana.

Astavakrasana or 8-angled pose is a fun asymmetrical arm balance.

Okay, not the best photo - arm balances are hard to do with the self-timer going! But I wanted to make sure you could see the pose...

Okay, not the best photo – arm balances are hard to do with the self-timer going! But I wanted to make sure you could see the pose…

There are two main ways to get into this pose.  One is to press up into an easier arm balance – usually bhujapidasana – first, and while hanging out in “hover position,” swing your extended leg around to cross over your bent leg.  The other is to set up all the leg and arm parts on the floor, and then do a big push up maneuver to levitate up into the balance.  For Neesha, the first way in is easier.  Her long limbs give her the space to move body parts around while in an arm balance, and her flexibility makes the required maneuvers required accessible.  For me, the second way in is easier.  When I try to swing body parts around they often hit each other – they’re bigger and there’s not enough open space to move in.  However, if I can get all set up first, I have no trouble pressing myself into the pose and staying there, so the preparation on the floor works really well for me.

Not surprisingly, some of our students find one way in easier than another.  Most of them have never tried their “hard way,” but in doing so, they learn a lot about the geometry of the pose as well as about what it’s like to struggle.  They gain empathy for the challenges of different body types and a better understanding of how to teach to the variety of people that they will encounter in their careers.

Most of all, they – and we – are reminded that our world is a mixture of unity and diversity.  In so many ways all of our bodies are the same.  And yet, there are wonderful unique differences that emerge in a session of yoga play.  We are all so similar, we spirits on this human path.  And yes, we are very different too – we have different passions, make different choices, and experience different wonders.

I practice and teach yoga to remember this very basic rule of the universe – that we are all the same, and that we are all different.  It’s the duality AND the unity, held together in one activity, one worldview.  Co-teaching brings it to light just that much more.

If you are interested in exploring the idea of teaching yoga, or just deepening your knowledge of asana, philosophy, and anatomy, Neesha and I are running our fabulous Yogic Life training again this summer – it’s an RYT-200 Teacher Training, but the first three modules are focused primarily on your own practice and the conversation that is yoga philosophy and our quest for making meaning in this world.    You can read A LOT more about The Yogic Life here.

Click on the link to read a lot more about this terrific training in Jackson Hole, WY this summer!

Click on the link to read a lot more about this terrific training in Jackson Hole, WY this summer!

Pitta and Vata Brains – or Why Co-Teaching Rocks, Part 1

•March 10, 2014 • 1 Comment

Someone recently asked me why I teach with Neesha Zollinger, my instructional partner for The Yogic Life Intensive.  He assumed it was a strategy intended to avoid talking all day.  That’s a nice perk for sure….but it’s not the main prize.

I teach with Neesha because her brain works nothing at all like mine, and I LOVE that!  It makes for an awesome learning experience for everyone.

Neesha articulates alignment from the heart

Neesha articulates alignment from the heart

Case in point:

Last summer, Neesha and I were discussing where we get inspiration for our class themes, and how we work our themes through from a general idea to the concretization of that idea in a sequence of poses and physical instructions.  We were talking through this in front of our teacher trainees as we often do, so as to share our personal processes with these budding professionals.  I, the more left-brained one of us, proceeded to explain step-by-step how this happens for me: I choose a pose to apex with, decide what physical or emotional quality I need to that pose, and then brainstorm themes and stories that would support that combination.  I then list a bunch of vocabulary words appropriate for that theme, and write a series of explicit instructions using those vocabulary words which I make sure to sprinkle in throughout my well-delineated pose sequence.  I get to the studio early, do the sequence in my body, rehearse the phrases in my mind, and I’m ready to go.  Based on this process, I created a worksheet our students could use to plan their own classes and passed it out to the class.

Teacher trainees exploring their process for bringing forward their gifts

Teacher trainees exploring their process for bringing forward their gifts

After I spoke, Neesha said, “so, the process for me looks nothing like this.  There are no clear steps.  I pretty much download the theme.  It just comes to me.  I have to work hard to be accessible for that inspiration though — I journal a lot, and read a lot of philosophy texts, and set myself up to let the ideas flow.  I have a basic skeleton sequence of poses, but the directions and the variety of vocabulary I use comes to me in the moment while I am teaching.  I don’t really use a form like that.”

Right.  Of course not!  Neesha’s brain works differently from mine, as well it should.  I have a classic “pitta” style brain – it categorizes and organizes and comes to a clear point, like the tip of the flame of fire that is the element associated with pitta nature.  Neesha has a lot of “vata” or air/ether in her constitution, and, as a result, is much more flowy, open to creative inspiration, and less structured in how she thinks through material.

Different mental constitutions bring such wonderfully varied ideas and perspectives to the table!

Different mental constitutions bring such wonderfully varied ideas and perspectives to the table!

Guess what?  Neither one is better than the other; both of us teach terrific classes.  There were participants in our group who could totally relate to my method of class planning and were befuddled by Neesha’s.  And, there were just as many who were dumbstruck by the compartmentalized structure of my process and felt completely at home with the more fluid process Neesha described.  Everyone – myself included – left the conversation with a much better appreciation for the depth of the class planning process, regardless of which technique was used, as well as for the beautiful diversity of mind-types out there in the world.  How cool.

And isn’t that really the point of all this exploration after all – to wonder at the amazing variety of us all while also appreciating the amazing amount of intelligence and creativity we share?  That’s the point for me anyway.  It’s the point of life, as well as of a great yoga workshop such as The Yogic Life Intensive, which is really just a wonderful microcosm of life.

In Part 2 of Why Co-Teaching ROCKS, I’ll talk about the Pitta and Vata body differences and how those create profound learning in the context of yoga….

And, in the meantime, if you are interested in exploring the idea of teaching yoga, Neesha and I are running our fabulous Yogic Life training again this summer – it’s an RYT-200 Teacher Training, but the first three modules are focused primarily on your own practice and the conversation that is yoga philosophy and our quest for making meaning in this world.    You can read A LOT more about The Yogic Life here.

Click on the link to read a lot more about this terrific training in Jackson Hole, WY this summer!

Click on the link to read a lot more about this terrific training in Jackson Hole, WY this summer!

Why should I immerse in yoga anyway?

•March 4, 2013 • Leave a Comment

We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience.”  – Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Do you have trouble remembering this? I sure do.  Despite the fact that I have heard this quote hundreds of times, see it on someone’s Facebook page once a week, and truly believe it, I still have trouble remembering it – and LIVING it.

I know, I know – this dance between remembrance and forgetting is what we are here to engage in.  But still, I want to forget just a little less often than I do…


A beautiful and intricate replica of the Nataraja, at Suri's Murti Shop

Shiva Nataraja.  He represents the dance of remembrance and forgetting, and you’ll learn ALL about him in The Yogic Life…

Yesterday I drove to Jackson to do a workshop with my good friend and teaching buddy, Neesha Zollinger.  For three hours we played around with fun hard bird-themed backbending poses (that’s kapotasana, rajakapotasana, and eka pada rajakapotasana – the whole pigeon posse, if you don’t know!).  Not only did I do some cool and fun poses, in just three hours I arrived back at the remembrance of myself as a spiritual being having a human experience.  Phew!

EPK w Naoh_2

One of my teachers assists me in eka pada rajakapotasana.

The remembrance didn’t always happen that fast.  These days I can reconnect a lot faster now than I could when I started my practice.  Why?  This is where immersing in yoga comes in.  (You’re not seeing this connection yet.  That’s okay – I’m getting there!)

You know how the first time you hike a trail time warps in this funny way that makes you uncertain about how long you have been out?  Every view is new and different and exciting.  You take in every flower and rock, in awe of its newness and splendor.  You look at the map a lot, and you’re completely absorbed in reading it correctly.  You revel in the companionship of your hiking buddy, and you know you will always remember this first time on this particular trail with him or her.  Typically when you turn around to head back to your car, the time flies, and the return journey seems less than half as long.  The next time you hike that trail you’ll wonder why you had it in your head that it took 4 hours when in fact it takes only 2.  A few times after that, you’ll decide that you can just run the trail, or listen to a podcast while you hike because you know the twists and turns so well you don’t need to work as hard.  You’ll still love every flower and rock.  They’ll put instant smiles on your face, even while you listen to your Ipod.  In fact, you can just call up the buddy you hiked the trail with the first time and talk about your experience, and that alone can bring a smile to your face.


The path of yoga can be a lot like that.  If you’ve never immersed yourself in the philosophy and practice of yoga, you haven’t headed out on that amazing trail yet.  You need a map and guides, points of focus, and companions for the journey.  The first time you take a multi-day yoga workshop where you spend all day doing asana, tapping into life force, discussing what you’re doing on the planet, journaling about what’s important to you, and opening your heart to strangers and friends, you’re blown away.  It’s so COOL!  It’s so empowering!  It’s so….FUN!  Your physical practice improves by leaps and bounds.  Every nugget of philosophy is a portal to a new room of insight.  The time flies, and the folks you’re in the workshop with suddenly feel like your best friends – even though you may have only known them for 5 days.  They are great friends, of course – and different from your other friends.  Because you’ve connected about the BIG questions in life, you and your workshop buddies become “kalyana mitras.” A kalyana mitra is a spiritual friend – one that keeps you honest and on your path, one that reminds you of your radiance and power when you are feeling low, or knocks some reality into you when your ego gets a little too big.


I’ve got this relationship with Neesha.  Because we’ve immersed ourselves in multiple 5-day long immersions and teacher trainings with amazing groups of students, all it takes it rolling out mats next to each other and busting out a couple of poses for both of us to get right back to remembering our divinity.  Additionally, we’ve both been using asana and philosophy for years as our path back to the realization that we are spiritual beings having a human experience.  We learned the technology – the trail markers, if you will – from our teachers and have been hiking this trail day in and day out for years.  We don’t have to look at the map quite as often, so it doesn’t take us 5 days to get back there anymore.  Sometimes it takes only 5 minutes.  And what a gift that is!

TTflyersummerdatesThis gift is available to you too, through immersing yourself in yoga.  Neesha and I are gearing up to offer our communities a chance to walk this trail with us this summer.  If this path calls to you, join us!  We can promise you amazing flowers and rocks, as well as a few mud pits and wrong turns.  There will be insight, confusion, fun, knowledge, self-awareness, frustration, laughter, deep awareness, powerful connections with your compatriots, and more.  We can’t promise you that the journey will get easier right away – in fact, it almost always gets a little harder at first.  But if you stick to the path, you will certainly get to know it a lot better.  You’ll always have the technology to get back to the deep knowledge that you are a spiritual being having a human experience.

All you’ll have to do is show up and roll out your mat.  And maybe give your new kalyana mitra a call…


Want more info about our program of Immersion in Yoga called The Yogic Life?

Click here for all the details.

Or…watch Neesha and I chat about them here:










A Pilgrimage to South India

•January 24, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Some of you may have already seen this video…but in case you haven’t, here it is!

Rather than writing about South Indian ritual in general, and my experience of it in specific, I decided to put my thoughts into this format, complete with images both moving and still.

Don’t worry, there are more posts to come in written form.  They’re being digested!  In the meantime, please enjoy this alternate form of expression.

Chidambaram, Ritual, and Faith

•January 9, 2013 • 6 Comments

Chidambaram is a small city in Tamil Nadu, the southernmost state of India, unremarkable except for the presence of a temple of incredible significance.  Shiva is honored in the Chidambaram temple, and it is in the inner sanctum here that the famous bronze Nataraja – the “Dancing Shiva” – resides.


Two or three times a year, Douglas Brooks, Professor of Religion at the University of Rochester and a philosophy teacher with whom I study, leads trips to this part of the world where he lived and studied for over a decade.  I recently returned from one of those trips.  Our group spent three days in Chidambaram exploring its reknowned spiritual monument.  Douglas, his school (Rajanaka Yoga) and his students (us) have had a long relationship with the Dikshatars (priests) of this temple, and the mutual respect that flavors this relationship made it possible for us to not only enter the temple and participate in the daily pujas (ceremonies) but also to be able to enter the inner sanctum of the temple.  We were able to look more closely at the murti (statue) of the Nataraja, breathe smoke from the fires burning around him, and receive the gift of ashes that symbolize the dissolution phase of Shiva’s cycle of creation.

A beautiful and intricate replica of the Nataraja, at Suri's Murti Shop

A beautiful and intricate replica of the Nataraja, at Suri’s Murti Shop

The rituals conducted at this temple are simultaneously very orderly and primally chaotic.  On the one hand, the Dikshatars follow step-by-step recipes for every one of their actions – first bathe this statue in coconut water, then in ghee, then in curd, then in ash.  “Lather, rinse, repeat,” as Douglas would say.  Walk around the sanctum in a counter clockwise direction, lay one garland around the murti, chant this specific mantra, etc. – you get the point.  These prescriptives are not written down – they are passed on orally from generation to generation through the brahminic line of the Dikshatars.  On the other hand, every few minutes the priests and everyone attending the ritual break into a wild cacophony of chanting, horn playing, cymbal crashing, and bell ringing.  There’s usually fire wandering around the crowd somewhere, there’s a pungent smell of burning ghee (clarified butter) and jasmine flowers, and there’s guaranteed to be some pushing and shoving as everyone tries to get a view of the briefly unveiled statue.  It’s hot, stinky, loud, crazy, and unquestionably alive.  On display is the amazing interplay of the forces of order and chaos, culture and nature.

Vasu, a Chidambaram Dikshatar, applying kum kum to our foreheads.  Photo by Melissa Raffay.

Vasu, a Chidambaram Dikshatar, applying kum kum to our foreheads. Photo by Melissa Raffay.

For us as students of this tradition, each step of the process is replete with cosmological significance.  We have been taught that the opening and closing of the curtain in front of the Nataraja represents and replicates the dance of remembrance and forgetting, concealment and revelation.  We know why the Nataraja dances on a dwarf and holds a damaru (drum) and agni (fire) in his hands.  (Curious what all these symbols mean? Check out this asana practice video in which all of this is explained!)  And we always always wonder if everyone else knows this too. Douglas’s answer is a vehement “no.”  Most of the worshippers present are there because attending rituals at the temple is simply part of what they do.  It is what their parents did and what their parents’ parents did.  They show up and perform the steps of the ritual because it is how they show up for their version of the divine.


This is confusing to some of us western folks, including me.  An example: I asked Douglas if he ever asked the Dikshatars what they were thinking about during the ceremonies – some of which are 3-5 hours long (they must be thinking something, right?  I’m curious!)  He replied that he wouldn’t ask that question, or if he did, it wouldn’t make much sense.  In retrospect, his reply to me should have been, “it doesn’t matter.”  Because, in this culture, it doesn’t matter.  Faith is what you do and how you show up, NOT what you think or believe.  In Douglas’ words, “faith is your expression of a commitment to your behavior.”  No one – including the priests – cares what you think.  What they care about is what you do.

This is generally not the case in the US.  We’re actually quite consumed with belief, and with the intentions behind what we do.  In fact, sometimes we place so much importance on belief that we don’t even DO anything at all.  If we do nothing about what we believe, does what we believe even matter?  It’s only a thought then, with no manifestation in the reality of solid objects.  We tend to give it value, but does it really have any?

On the other hand, if we just perform actions without any devotion or heart quality behind them, do they matter?  This is what I am struggling with here.  I grew up Catholic and I spent a heck of a lot of my life saying words and making gestures that had no heartfelt meaning for me.  This has essentially made me both allergic to ritual practice and intensely intrigued by it.  I wore a sari to these temples, complete with braided hair and a bindi on my forehead – because Douglas requested that we do so, and because it was our way of showing respect for the culture and gaining access to what they hold and transmit.  I did the hand motions, said words when requested, clapped, and knelt.  Was my head in it?  Absolutely.  I got a lot of what was happening on an intellectual and I loved it – I loved seeing it come together, understanding the parts and pieces.  But was my heart in it?  I am not sure. I didn’t feel much.  So if I didn’t feel anything, should I have been there?  From the sounds of it, the answer might well be “yes!  You were showing up the way you should.  You were and are welcome.”  But the cultural context I grew up in suggests not.  That’s why I haven’t set foot in a Catholic Church for years.  I feel empty there, and therefore it seems disrespectful of me to even be present.

Our group, walking to the Temple

Our group, walking to the Temple

During the trip, my roommate Melissa said, “you don’t think you have rituals?  What about your asana and sitting practices?”  I replied that I didn’t think they counted as rituals, because I didn’t really expect anything from them and didn’t always put my heart fully into them (full disclosure: I routinely do my personal practice listening to 80’s music, or podcasts, or even with my computer at the side of my mat.  Sorry, purists.)  Clearly, I answered that question from a distinctly western perspective on ritual – if my heart isn’t in it, it’s not a ritual.  Perhaps the Chidambaram Dikshatars would say otherwise.  They might say that since I have a set time constraint, I put on a distinctive outfit, and I do what is required of my practice come rain or shine, I am showing up – walking the walk, if you will.  And they might say that those details are good enough.  Are they?

Douglas defined ritual as “a narrative that creates an opportunity for incongruity.”  There’s nothing about intention in there.  There’s no mention of adhering to structured dress, words, and actions either.  What I see in this definition is an invitation to examine an incongruity – a possibility of playing in a seam, a contradiction, a moment of transition, a moment of evaluation.  That invitation intrigues me, although I think it can be as present for me in the car on a road trip as it is in a millennia-old temple.  Granted, being in a temple in designated dress with specific scents and sights around can make it easier to shift to a contemplative mindset (heartset?) – but it certainly isn’t required.

So does that make my asana practice a ritual?  On most days, yes.  Even if I am listening to something distracting, I am in the liminal space between doing my worldly dharma and fusing with the universal.  And in that liminal space I’m nearly always looking around, watching my breath, feeling whatever is there to be experienced.  Some days I’m just showing up for the sake of showing up – but sometimes the practice works itself into me and then I’m moved into an exploratory awareness.


I’m not sure what I was expecting to think or feel in the Chidambaram Temple.  In all honesty, I didn’t really have set expectations, I just wanted to be there and see and hear and smell and touch what was around me – all of which I did.  And maybe that is enough?  I’d love to say that I felt the energetic coil of kundalini rising up my spine and moving me to a different level of consciousness, or that I was awash in a warm and multi-colored bliss.  But I’d be lying.  I long ago came to terms with the fact that glamorous spiritual experiences may never lie on my path.  And that’s okay.  I’m showing up for rituals of all sorts, hanging out in the seam, looking around, and asking a lot of questions.

For now I suppose I’ll just revel in that.


The Value of Spaciousness

•November 26, 2012 • 4 Comments

I recently returned from a retreat in Mexico with Darren Rhodes, a talented yogi with whom I have studied for some time now.  He gave each of us a copy of the Tao Te Ching and suggested that we choose a verse that resonated with us to memorize. This was mine:

We join spokes together in a wheel
but it is the center hole
that makes the wagon move.

We shape clay into a pot
but it is the emptiness inside
that holds whatever we want.

We hammer wood for a house
but it is the inner space
that makes it liveable.

We work with being
but non-being is what we use.

-Tao te Ching verse 11, Stephen Mitchell translation, 1988

It has become very obvious to me that spaciousness is my next frontier.  I know, that sounds like the beginning to a famous sci-fi movie we all know and love…but it’s true – it is my unconquered and unfamiliar terrain.

I can fill space like no one else, really.  My brain, when it’s not fully focused on some intense (ideally, life-threatening) task, is a professional, full-time space filler.  It makes lists of things to do – today, tomorrow, ten years from now.  It catalogs emotions, experiences, people.  It files through snapshots of every house I have ever lived in.  It calls up lyrics from Journey songs at the drop of a hat.  It plays out multiple endings for all sorts of life conundrums like an automated Choose Your Own adventure story.  I told a therapist about this once…she said “it sounded exhausting” to be me.  This was my first clue that maybe not everyone’s brain does this.  I guess that’s a relief to hear…?

I was listening to a podcast today in which chakra experts Anodea Judith and Lion Goodman were discussing the need for individuals to have a clear vision before taking action in life.  When asked about how to unearth that vision, they said, “make space.”  Both believed that all the information we need to make perfectly aligned choices is already in us, and that our problem that we are too full of extraneous data to hear and identify what is important.  In other words, the Bon Jovi lyrics and studio sub schedule details (in my case) are crowding out the big message.  They suggested the usual strategies for observing space that all of us “spiritual folk” already know about – sitting in meditation, being in nature, observing silence, letting meals be just meals.  Stuff I already know I need to do – and in some cases (like meditation) – I actually do on a daily basis.  The question is, when am I going to truly value the contribution of these space-preservers?  Somehow my list-making brain continues to convince me that what it wants to do is more important.

I like that this passage acknowledges that doing and being DO have value – they essentially make a container for the space.  So, I can – and need to –  think and plan and logisticize some (phew).  However, the value lies not in the thinking in and of itself.  It is the stillness held within the thinking that is the gold mine.  And that is harder to grasp…in the same way that emptiness is hard to clutch onto – it slips through your fingers.

Corroborating this ancient wisdom, my still mangled right index finger (see a previous post…) also points me in the direction of non-doing.  It’s not healing all that well – which is no surprise, since I haven’t taken the time to go to PT, and I haven’t slowed down in the way it has asked me to.  It’s disfigured, and in some ways it might be better if it stays that way, to remind me that it is the center hole that makes the wagon move.

We were asked to write a Tao-esque couplet to clarify our intention for the upcoming year.  Mine is this:

May I remain spacious to that which would be.

I used the word “would” on purpose.  It’s conditional.  Meaning, it will be if I let it be.

The question is, will I?  Hmm.  Stay tuned.