Don't Seize the Day


When I was a kid, some teacher or adult taught me this rhyme: “Good, better, best. Never let it rest. Until your good is better, and your better best.”

So the indoctrination into striving and accomplishment, and not accepting anything less than the very best effort and the very best outcome, starts early. Jumping up out of bed, getting right to work, being productive, are all considered markers of a balanced approach to life. Of course the opposite, staying in bed until noon and sleepwalking through the day, isn't optimal either. Somewhere in the middle is a life that honors the rhythms of nature. 

We are creatures of the earth. We are made of clay and water. As I write this, it is winter, a few weeks before the Solstice. It is dark by 5:00pm and the sun traverses the sky in a low arc all day long, a weak winter light. The rhythm of the natural forces around us are all reminding us to hibernate, to withdraw, to rest, to dream, to wait. Can you hear them? Can you follow their example?

This doesn’t mean don’t go to work, don’t follow your calling. It means to do so with one ear tuned to the quiet voice of discernment, which will tell you when to say yes, when to say no. No can be a lovely word when it defends what you hold as sacred.

Let the day come to you, walk a half breath behind, look around at the different shapes of leaves, the moving art that is the clouds. It is possible to “hurry slowly,” when you are required to accelerate to the speed of industry and power. Your contribution to the easing of some of the anxiety of this world could be the quiet calm of your presence as you allow the day to embrace you in its own infinite variety and changeability. Open palms, open heart, nothing seized, nothing grabbed.



 Image Credit: Mia Lane

Image Credit: Mia Lane

The physicists tell us:
Matter is not solid; it moves, waves,
Unfolds, refolds, expands, contracts.
Matter literally dances.

The sages tell us:
The mind is not firm; it rests in light,
It enjoys clouds, poetry, music, laughter.
It rekindles itself in the preciousness of silence.

And this rekindling changes the world.
Your inner world: from compulsion to compassion,
From fear to a wholesale embracing of this life,
From suspicion to generosity,
From a tight hoarding of your own intellectual property,
To a genuine joy, a simple gladness,
For the enjoyment and triumphs of others.

The Dalai Lama asks, "Do you want to increase
Your potential for happiness a millionfold?
Then practice happiness for others." It takes
Nothing away from you.

Last week I saw: a puppy in a toy car,
A construction worker careening down a city street
On a dolly, his buddies screaming in delight,
A kid doing a handstand in a school bus.
Get out: Practice looking for delight, silliness.
Create some of your own.

Go outside, look at the sky,
Let your mind get that big,
Invite your heart to burst out of your chest,
Feel this earth's pulse of life,
Birth, death, growing, fading.

Isn't that magnificent?
Don't despair just yet, don't believe
You are the only person on earth,
Not entitled to a noble heart.
Wait five minutes,
Lie with your ear to the earth,
And listen to the grass growing,
The grass and the sky will save your life,
Again and again.

Originally published September, 2007. 

Image credit: Mia Lane.



Amped Up and Exhausted

 Image Credit: Simon McChuen

Image Credit: Simon McChuen

One of the ironies of our current state of busy-ness is that, for all the stimulation we are exposed to on a daily basis, it doesn’t seem to give us energy. Instead, the way we navigate our days leaves us exhausted and depleted. We seem to operate at two speeds—full on or asleep.

Yoga is a practice of living in the middle space, where energy and life force is lifted, but not overly stimulated. And where energy and life force are simultaneously calmed, but not lethargic. There is a Sanskrit word for this balanced state: sattvic. In some ways, the goal of yoga could be seen as an intention to inhabit the sattvic state more and more.

As we know, yoga is not just a physical practice. All our systems are involved. Yoga involves meeting often uncomfortable physical sensations and developing the resources internally to meet them, with curiosity and patience. At the same time, our brains are designed to love novelty—the latest Facebook post, the newest video, the tweet that came 10 seconds ago.

For the hour and a half or so that you are in a yoga class, you are in a device free zone, and there are no distractions from what is most immediately happening; the feeling of stretch in your legs, your breath, the transitions from pose to pose and moment to moment, the tribal delight of moving with a group of people, silently. There is novelty in these experiences, it is just a more subtle and nuanced form of novelty, a novelty that asks us to go inward instead of outward. 

Master meditators will say that every breath they take is different, like every snowflake is different. There’s a Buddhist saying, “Know whether you fall asleep on the inhale or the exhale.” That is the kind of immersion in subtlety that moving and breathing consciously can bring us toward. We are all engaged in a struggle right now with the magnetic and often irresistible tug of fast moving images and information, what author Jared Lanier, a refugee from working in the social media world, calls “dazzlingly designed forms of cognitive waste.”

Our poor brains and nervous systems are helpless in the face of this onslaught of pretty things, ever new things, more and more things. But when you slow down, the compulsions slow down as well. You feel more spacious, more content, more creative. It is in this wide-open space that you can feel into who you are, a precious gift indeed.

Feed Your Head

“I felt in need of a great pilgrimage, so I sat still for three days.” - Hafiz 

It’s not a surprise to anyone that we’re drowning in information. And as Stephen Pinker says “The news is not a good place to get information.” For one thing, the news is primarily fear-based content. That’s what sells. And we are currently experiencing a moment where we are being force fed fearful information like veal being fattened for slaughter.  

Minds are delicate structures. Our psyches are poorly designed to be able to resist the quantity of imagery coming our way. We check the news because we seek reassurance about what’s happening in the world. But checking the news makes us more fearful.  


The yoga tradition gives us theories of mind and consciousness. One idea is that whatever comes through your awareness leaves an imprint. There’s even a Sanskrit word for this, “samskara,” which roughly means “conditioning” in English, and refers to the processes by which the human mind is imprinted by information and experience. Assuming this, feeding your mind fearful food creates deeper and stronger impressions of fright and anxiety. 

One can potentially progress out of this samskaric state by feeding the mind creative and even transgressive content, i.e. reading the writings of the great saints and thinkers, feasting the eyes on art, engaging in more than surface level conversation.  

If samskaras are impressions created deep inside our subtle body as a result of what comes through our consciousness, this is hopeful. Because the swirling and creative energy forms that make us human are also malleable and changeable. We are still in a process of evolution. Ask yourself what you are “eating” mentally.  Are you ever giving your mind an opportunity to rest? Resist the temptation to overfeed the mind with negative content, resist the urge to rush and ignore the body. Being intentional about your information diet creates the conditions for evolution of heart and mind.

Patiently Springing Ahead

“A waiting person is a patient person. The word patience means the willingness to stay where we are and live the situation out to the full in the belief that something hidden there will manifest itself to us.” ― Henri J.M. Nouwen


Signs of spring are everywhere in Seattle. Each day my tulips are taller and closer to blooming.  The trees have tiny buds that will eventually form a canopy of green over the summer city. There is a promise of new beginnings all around, and yet it is a slow turning.  It is a practice in patience.

Just as we can’t control nature’s timetable, neither can we hurry or force the unfurling of ourselves through our yoga practices. We set the stage for growth and awakening by coming to the mat and meditating as our time and schedules allow.  We commit ourselves to our practices, but then we must wait.  We soften and permit.  We watch and listen for the gentle stirrings of change.  Sometimes the transformation comes in a burst, like the sun suddenly appearing from behind a dark cloud.  Other times it’s slow to occur.  And just as a windstorm will blow through and remind us of winter’s relentless grip, so too will we experience bumps and stalls along our way.  Our old patterns and habits may cling tightly, but spring will eventually yield to summer, and with patience and dedication we will continue to bloom.

The Language of Yoga

As practitioners of yoga we are among a small percentage of Westerners who have any knowledge at all of Sanskrit. Sure, people are familiar with words like karma and guru, but most are unaware of their origins or even their true definitions. While Sanskrit is one of the oldest languages on Earth, only about 14,000 Indians (out of 1.252 billion!) claim it as their native tongue. Sanskrit is often thought of as a dead language. So why study it? 

Sanskrit is the language of yoga with a capital “Y.” It transports the practice beyond the act of stretching on a mat into a richer philosophic and historic context that is the yogic tradition. Its sounds are perfectly aligned with the human vocal structure so that simply uttering them results in a physical experience through the vibrations they create. The Vedics believed that the sound of each word conveyed its energetic meaning. So when a mantra is chanted or a Sanskrit term is used to name a pose, the practitioner experiences a union of sound and body that resonates deeply within and transmits out in all directions. 

Because of the powerful vibrational qualities and meanings inherent in each sound, it’s important to learn and teach Sanskrit with proper pronunciation. Taking a workshop with an experienced teacher (we happen to have one this coming weekend!) is an excellent way to gain familiarity with the sacred sounds, the alphabet and a few integral words that can help elevate your yoga practice.  An understanding of basic Sanskrit will enable you to delve deeper into, and perhaps gain a renewed understanding of your favorite chants, sutras and philosophical texts.

According to Jay Kumar, the San Francisco-based creator of the instructional CD The Sacred Language of Yoga, “More people are coming to understand that there’s a deep, rich philosophy behind yoga practice—and that Sanskrit is the language by which that philosophy lives, breathes, and flows.”




​Thanksgiving: The Gift that Keeps on Giving

“You have given me a gift such as I have never even dreamt of finding in this life.” – Franz Kafka

How does it feel to be appreciated?  To be thanked?  To have someone be truly grateful for who you are or what you’ve done?  Well, it turns out that you can get that same warm and fuzzy feeling when you express your gratitude toward someone or something in your life.

A growing body of evidence shows that the emotional effects of saying “thank you” are biologically rooted in our bodies.  Both the acts of expressing and receiving appreciation lift our oxytocin levels, which can have the same effect as receiving love or a warm hug.  In fact, oxytocin has been referred to as the “cuddle chemical” and the “bliss hormone.”

Without intervention, the human brain has a bias toward the negative. It’s a practical matter of self-preservation.  Yet focusing on problems can lead to stress, frustration and even depression.

Just as in yoga we practice to create space in our bodies, minds and hearts, we need to make space in our lives for gratitude. Gratitude is an attitude that should be practiced and exercised for it to take root.  Even on bad days.  “By living the gratitude that we do not necessarily feel, we can begin to feel the gratitude that we live," says Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., professor of psychology at the University of California at Davis.

There are many ways of cultivating gratitude.  Start small.  Say thank you.  Smile at the checkout clerk.  Include a statement of gratitude in your meditation practice.  Keep a gratitude journal.  Perform a random act of kindness.  Find something every day to be grateful for.  And perhaps, very soon, you’ll come to see why giving thanks is the gift that keeps on giving.

Thanks for reading!


Get Your Asana out of Bed!

As if waking up early wasn’t hard enough for many of us, here come the dark, cold mornings of a Seattle fall and winter making it feel almost impossible at times. And yet we know there are a number of profound benefits that can be found in the wee hours of the day. In almost all traditions, early morning is a holy time for prayer, meditation and conscious movement.  The early bird gets the worm and the early yogi can revel in the quiet contemplations of the dawn.   

Luckily for us, Claudette Evans is waking up early this October to lead an inspiring and fun morning series based on the research and writings of Brene Brown: Unmasking our Vulnerability.

If you would like to join the early morning series or just want to turn over a new leaf (autumnal pun intended) to experience the stillness and spaciousness of the early hours, here are some tips and inspirations to help you get up and at ‘em.

  • Establish regular circadian rhythms by going to bed and waking up at the same time every day.
  • If sleepiness is persistent, open your eyes as wide as you can and look in every direction. This will stimulate and wake up your brain.
  • Have a foot massage ball near the bathroom sink and use it as you brush your teeth.
  • Tap your fingertips strongly on your sternum like Tarzan to stimulate your thymus gland.
  • Try to talk very little first thing in the morning. Language brings you into discursive thinking.
  • No radio, newspaper or email first thing in the morning. If you read anything, let it be a spiritual or inspirational book.
  • If your life allows it, do your creative work in the morning. Your mind has just left the depth of its creative source and will be primed.
  • Watching a sunrise is a reminder of the mystery and power in which we usually unconsciously live, and brings a sacred quality to the entire day.
  • Remind yourself that even with struggle and disappointment, each day is one of precious human embodiment. 

What I Loved about the Seattle Yoga Arts 200-Hour Yoga Teacher Training Program

 The SYA Teacher Training Class of 2014 on our final day together. What a ride!

The SYA Teacher Training Class of 2014 on our final day together. What a ride!

As the new Director of Outreach and Student Happiness here at Seattle Yoga Arts (yay!), and a recent graduate of the 200-hour Immersion and Teacher Training Program, I am perhaps uniquely qualified to extol its virtues through the lens of my own experience.

I’d been itching to start a teacher training program for years, but kids and jobs kept getting in the way.  When the stars finally aligned and the timing was right, I researched all the programs in the Seattle area.  On paper, the program at SYA met nearly all of my requirements.  In reality, it surpassed all my expectations in terms of what I would learn, how I would grow and what I would discover.  Here is a glimpse of just some of what I experienced:

  • A dedicated staff of passionate, innovative, highly-educated and supportive teachers
  • An accessible and enlightening exploration of yogic history and philosophies
  • A deeper understanding of the benefits of meditation and the encouragement and support to establish a meditation practice in my life
  • The courage, the tools, the confidence and the appreciation of what it takes to hold the seat of the teacher
  • An in-depth study of anatomy and alignment principles necessary to practice and teach asana in a safe and sustainable way
  • A community of intelligent, inquisitive, supportive fellow yoga students with whom it was a privilege to study

Whether you have a desire to delve deeper in your personal practice or feel called to share the gifts of yoga with others, you’ll likely find what you’re looking for in the 200-Hour Teacher Training Program at Seattle Yoga Arts.  Click here to learn more. 


Introduction to Yoga at Seattle Yoga Arts

How you begin an introductory yoga class is important. It may be the difference between trying yoga once and deciding it's not for you, or having yoga become a lifelong friend. First off, a short primer on the broad sweep of styles in modern yoga.

Flow Yoga - Refers to most yoga these days where you move from pose to pose in a pleasing linked manner. Upside of this form: Our bodies love continuous streaming ways of moving. Downsides: the movement can be very fast, without sufficient time to work with alignment; and the poses may be too advanced and too quick for beginners.

Iyengar Yoga - One of the oldest forms in the U.S., and it's actually difficult to find a pure Iyengar class these days. The practice focuses on using props (blocks, walls, blankets) and is very persnickety about alignment, which is good for beginners!

Hot Yoga - Seattle is a hotbed, so to speak, for this style of yoga. Maybe it's our gray days, and cool air. Hot yoga is taught in a room heated anywhere from 80 degrees to over 100 degrees. If you have lizard blood, have an understanding of optimal postural alignment, and have no major injuries, this may be a realm for you to explore cautiously.

Yin Yoga - The polar (groan!) opposite of hot yoga, yin yoga is a style where poses are held for long periods of time, sometimes up to 10 or 15 minutes. Upside of this form: provides good release to persistently tight tissues. Downsides: this isn't a great form for folks who are already flexible, and who actually need to build more muscle strength, not keep over-stretching their already bendy bodies.

Seattle Yoga Arts - The yoga at our studio contains a little bit of all the ingredients mentioned above, except extreme heat. We keep the room at a comfortable and reasonable temperature for practice. Our introductory series will teach you the nuts and bolts of optimal postural alignment, and you'll practice in a way that flows, but slowly enough that you can keep your bearings and stay in contact with what your body may be trying to tell you. As well, we aim to philosophize the class just enough (not in an icky way) to infuse movement with more meaning and joy. 

Call us if you have questions! Check the schedule page for the next Introductory Series.

Denise Benitez