Grieving, Yoga, and the Art of Healing

Originally published on

In October last year I followed Mirabai Starr to New York City, where we boarded a train that meandered upstate along the Hudson River, through trees and rounded rock, into the softening age of Autumn in the Hudson Valley. I was joining Mirabai as a yoga teacher for a week-long retreat she was leading on Loss and Longing at Old Stone Farm in Rhinebeck, NY.

The studio there is the original 18th-century Dutch barn on a 350-acre farm which is now devoted to the owner’s love for horses. In the early morning I would attempt to cross the grounds in the dark through the intense howl of wind in the East Coast trees, to practice yoga myself before teaching the others and then spending the day in writing, discussion, contemplation, ritual for lost loved ones, and holding witness to everyone’s mourning. Some days I was too afraid to go for my own practice, my imagination of ill-tempered witches in the trees suddenly seeming real, and I would return to bed; other mornings I’d be brave. In either case, it was suggesting the way a waking dream will that as the week progressed and the depths were stirred, I was finding connection with my own elusive and indomitable grief, like something I hadn’t known was really there and so hadn’t believed in.

Mirabai and I were both delighted, but not surprised, at how yoga practice dovetailed effortlessly with her work. Mirabai, who is an internationally acclaimed author and teacher, shared interspiritual teachings from the mystics like Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross, Rumi, Goethe, and Hafiz, and so many more, all of whom expressed how the healing balm for loss was in the very longing itself. By going compassionately into our irretrievable loss we find something bright, and beautiful, ecstatic and irresistibly our own.

If one were to draw an umbrella explanation of the teachings of yoga, it could possibly be that the object is to be present within our own body, mind, and heart. By bringing awareness to what we experience physically, mentally, and emotionally we begin to glimpse our body’s own mystical quality and our ability to transmute suffering.

In yoga asana, we allow the body to intelligently hold all that we are, including the gems that show themselves when we are present with loss. We take ourselves by the hand, as it were: this here is my body, this my breath, this, what I can’t believe, and this my heart being undone. We allow things to surface, deep emotional patterns that when given attention via breath within form become something else.

This is how we started the day at the Rhinebeck retreat, with gentle and considerate reverence for the body and the presence it held for us to guide the energy of sorrow. After breakfast we would reconvene with a meditation led by one of the participants, a long-time Buddhist practitioner. Then we would find that same contemplative presence, in witness to each other, as Mirabai guided us through readings from the writings of the mystics and piecing through our own web of understanding. It was an exquisite becoming, as created by everyone there, an art that unfolded gently and with tremendous grace as we went along.

And so of course, it was only obvious that we should do this in our own beautiful community in Taos. We’ve created a weekend retreat, Yoga and the Broken Heart: September 18-20, 2015, at Casa Gallina-An Artisan Inn. Delicious meals will be catered bringing in hand-picked greens from the Casa Gallina gardens, and we’ll have music and kirtan Saturday night to the sweet voice of Kirry Nelson.

For more information please check us out at: For Mirabai’s website: For Casa Gallina: To register, please email:

The Alchemy of Crystal Bowls and Yoga Asana

Originally published on

It is sweet to uncover the subtle energies in our bodies in a way that’s sutied to the moment. Sometimes energetic asana practice, like dance, art, or any other creative endeavor can bring us into deep harmony with our true selves unaffected by the stimuli of the world around us, other times it simply takes focused sitting practice, or a walk in the woods.


Much of the power we source when we go within, what we call awareness, comes from withdrawing attention to the outside world via the power of our senses, and bringing it back into ourselves. We bring our vision to a still point either somewhere on our body, like a thumb or big toe, or somewhere in close proximity to our body, like the space just in front of our nose. We cultivate attention to our breath by keeping the lips together and watching the inhale and exhale trace through the nose down the back of the throat. And we learn to listen to our breath, one of the most intimate songs we can hear. We experience the openness of the skin as a fluid organ, an ever-graceful and devoted counterpart to the movement of the patterns of breath, so that very much like waves rolling one into the other on the ocean, we lose the perception of ourselves as something separate, a perception so deeply defined by our relationship to form.


Through Yoga, form actually becomes a gateway to freedom. By finding the crossover of contact between breath and body, we become sensitive to the vibratory quality of our physical nature and then we can take that back out to hearing the world with a more sensitive, authentic ear. There are many kinds of Yoga, many ways to drop into an intuitive experience of life. In the vast canon of Yogic text there is a list even, by no means considered exhaustive, of ways to connect with the divine, whatever that means to each individual. Yoga, after all means union–with the Self, the world, all of that which appears to be other than us. On that list is asana (Yoga postures) as well as cooking, love, and music, to name a few.


If you’ve ever heard live music that moved you emotionally or inspired you to dance, perhaps a church choir or organ concert, or you’ve heard the sound of singing bowls bringing your mind to a delicious suspension within peace, you know the power of sound to affect us. VagYoga is an ancient practice of sound as a vehicle to experience aspects of our mind and physicality outside of music’s common frequency. Jvala Moonfire spent eighteen years in India studying VagYoga, Sanskrit, Mantra, Meditation, and Kundalini Yoga. For six months out of the year, she lived in caves in the Himalayas, bathed in the Ganges, and walked the paths of pilgrimage in self-study not only learning the traditions but doing it traditionally, something extremely rare for Westerners.


When I first lay down for a one-hour crystal singing bowl sound bath with Jvala, who combined activated mantra and kirtan chants with the bowls’ vibrations, I felt myself in the space of mental and physical connection very similar to what 25 years of Yoga asana has unfolded for me. I remained lying down for the entire bath, but later found myself quite curious about what vinyasa (the practice of linking Hatha Yoga poses together) would be like with the indescribable sound and vibration of Jvala’s voice and crystal bowls. Not long after that we decided to give it a try; the result was a blissful union of body absorbed in sound that we, not so facetiously, refer to as a “prana party”. And from that blossomed The Alchemy of Crystal Bowls and Yoga Asana.


Finding presence in the body does not require an advanced asana practice, just a desire to listen. It can occur in standing, sitting, simple vinyasa. On November 17, we’ll be joining vinyasa sequences with the soundscape of crystal bowls and mantra in an all levels practice that we encourage anyone to attend, even those who have no Yoga experience. We’ll be inviting people to follow along with the group-guided vinyasa as it feels right, while exercising the option to be more still when the intuition strikes.