Tag Archives: yoga

Esalen Experience

Esalen Experience

I made a number of incorrect assumptions about Esalen. Because they have no cell service, I thought it was east of the two-lane Highway One, up in the mountains overlooking the ocean. It’s not. It overhangs the ocean.

Esalen Baths – Not My Photo

I had been following the authors of The Radiance Sutras online for a couple of years and wanted an in-person experience. I knew they had been teaching at Esalen since the previous century. Here is a photo of them with the original, self-published version of the book, of which I have a copy. When they announced a September class, I signed up quickly because I wanted the low-cost, communal, sleeping-bag-on-the-floor room. On their Zoom calls, nearly all the participants are women, and most are 50+ so I assumed I would be sharing a room with older ladies. Error. I also did not realize there would be more than one program going on at the same time.

Lorin and Camille at Esalen with First Edition Book – Not My Photo

There were five in the communal room, two of whom were in my group and two in the dance group. All four were 30-ish. The Esalen demographics were dumbell-shaped. Young people without kids who were just out of their twenties who had some time and money to work on theselves, and people 50-ish whose kids had left home for college and were turning their attention toward themselves. With gasoline prices hovering at $6/gallon, my trip cost about $1000 including the stay at Moss Landing. Others, who decided at the last minute that an Esalen experience was what they needed, had much more invested in the five-day/four-night Radiant Sutras seminar. One professional woman with a daughter in a California college flew in from Ontario, Canada and a 30-ish lawyer from NYC who had hit the stress wall so hard she was on medical leave had to accept the most expensive lodging along with last-minute air fares so their investments were north of $5,000. We all got partial refunds. One member got a complete refund. Here’s what happened.

Encounter Groups

I first heard about Esalen back in the 1970s when I was in graduate school. We did our Massachusetts-version with a mash-up of students in the graduate school of Education (where Bill Cosby was a doctoral student) and students in graduate business school. We rented a seminar/business-conference place and spent the days sitting on a circle on the floor, interspersed with talks from instructors (usually post-docs teaching at the graduate level). The goal was to break through your inner barriers and the cliché was to shout, “I hate my mother!.” This is what I expected at Esalen.

Yet another incorrect assumption. Even though people were naked in the baths (pictured above) and the warm-water swimming pool on the lawn in front of the dining hall, complete decorum was expected at all times. Cannabis is not allowed on the site, and alcohol is served only from 6-7:30 p.m. and is low-quality and costs extra.

Dining Hall on Left – Warm Water Pool on Right

In an effort to solidify my streed-cred as “woke,” I wore my new $30 baseball cap embroidered “Stacey Abrams, Governor” the first morning as I stretched on the deck in the early morning light, waiting for the 6:30 a.m. orientation class by JJ. To my dismay, a beautiful young black woman walked up beside me. About 30, she introduced herself as Nicole, a massage therapist from Los Angeles. In an effort not to appear pandering, I swept the hat off my head and tried to unobtrusively turn it inside out as we chatted. I was struck by her elegant posture and friendly, accessible manner. The orientation class was outstanding, combining a chakra talk with the economics and history of Esalen. I was surprised to hear that they were $7 million in debt. The surprise diminished as I discovered the expansive concrete earthquake stabilization/handicap access work that had been done. The students at 6:30 a.m. were mostly young and about 60% female.

The sutras class started at 8 a.m. but I slipped out to go next door for the 10:15 “Inhabiting the Body” yoga class with Liz which helped me feel safe and protected. When I slipped back in to the sutras class, members were thanking Nicole for her share which I missed. The following afternoon (Wednesday) the trainer played a video a lot like this two-minute version of Reginald D. Hunter’s act, twice. The trainer played it twice.

The version the white male trainer played did not have the final joke about Reginald’s conversation with his father. I understand this concept well — insult humor and the feeling of oppression, and I laughed saying, “I speak Irish.” At the end of the Wednesday afternoon session, Nicole walked past me as she exited the room and it seemed she was so angry that steam was coming out of her ears. As I left the meeting room, the lightbulb went on about the language in the video clip. I realized the trainer was in big trouble.


At dinner, the professional woman from Canada was sitting at a table with Nicole and others. I joined them as the meal was winding down, and the training couple stopped by. The Canadian woman engaged the male trainer in a discussion about the video, saying that “it hurt my heart.” The trainer completely missed her point and replied with something about soothing a hurting heart. Nicole, fuming, left the table.

The couple led the Wednesday night session starting at 7:30 p.m. and he kept giggling and seemed disorganized. I wondered if he was stoned. He told the story about how his wife danced each of his translations and helped him select the best one. A few people read aloud sutras from his book. Later on, someone not in our sessions told me that several women objected to the wife’s name not appearing on the book even though she was integral to the work.

Esalen Eggs are Pale and Tasteless. Vegetarian Options are Better. Bottle from Earlier Vacation.

Thursday morning before breakfast I danced my brains out at Jovina’s “Soul Movement Sanctuary” dance fest. The sutras session started after breakfast with the female co-trainer weeping for about five minutes before she apologized for the “hurtful language” in the previous day’s video. The male trainer just sat next to her making notes. Finally, Nicole got up and gave the damp 70-year-old white woman a hug and the emotionally/socially/attunement-deaf husband took a photo of them hugging. [He was later forced to delete the photo.]

Far up the canyon, in the Ventana Wilderness, Porter Springs bubbles to the surface to provide about 75% of Esalen’s Water

He then started the class with no reference to the video. A different white woman raised her hand and politely asked for an apology, saying that everyone makes mistakes but that it was not sufficient for his wife to apologize, she was asking him to apologize. He insisted that he was using the video for training and it was unfortunate that she missed his point. Other class members raised their hands and politely requested an apology. When the trainer accused the First-Amendment-Rights attorney of “projecting” her issues onto him, the other 30 year old attorney from New York left the room because it brought up her suffering from the dominating language used by the man she had been with for seven years.

The trainer challenged Nicole to “coach” him. She declined saying it wasn’t her job. By this time I was sitting next to her and I volunteered to coach him. I stood chest-to-chest with him and, in an effort to build connection before attacking, I acknowledged that I got the point and that Ireland has no history of black enslavement. This got Nicole to say her piece directly to the trainer. I went back to sitting next to her as she finished. His response continued to deflect and dissemble and Nicole left after several minutes of it. He continued with his denial and I quietly left too, joining the New York lawyer on the lawn by the swimming pool. Things were crumbling.

Around lunchtime we were told that Esalen was intervening and there would be a 3 p.m. meeting with an Esalen mediator prior to the 4 p.m. regular session. I skipped both, instead going to the yoga class scheduled for 2:15 where the teacher did not show up, so classmate Anthea taught it instead. I went to the baths and learned that our explosion was the talk of the Institute.

The Baths in Afternoon Light

When the bar opened at 6 p.m., I bought a beer and sat down with the British producer who attended the 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. sessions and who had been very polite yet very insistent that the trainer apologize. The Brit told me that the Queen had died. I offered my condolences and smirked, “England’s difficult is Ireland’s opportunity.” “Don’t say Ireland!” he replied in mock horror. I cracked up, then asked if the trainer’s apology was sincere or theater. He considered this for a beat, then said sadly, “theater.” A little later on, we asked a nearby daytime soap actress the same question. She thought about this, then her face looked sad. “Theater.”

The Canadian professional woman came by and offered to refill my beer. I followed her in to the bar, but while we were waiting I started talking with Marjan. By the time we finished and I returned to my waiting beer, I had missed dinner. I spent the rest of the evening talking to Marjan’s husband, Robert, who plays the hand-pan which is a Swiss-made refinement of the steel drum.

My Roommates

The moon was almost full on my final day, and I watched it set into the Pacific Ocean from the deck in front of the communal room where I slept with four others. Somewhat dehydrated from two beers and no dinner, I went to the dining hall for some tar-black leftover coffee diluted with hot water. The male trainer came in and sat where I could see him. I greeted him but did not engage him. My roommate Adam came in and sat with three friends from the dance group. Lorin button-holed Adam and walked him out to the deck where I could not listen to their conversation.

Deck Outside Dining Room – Not My Photo

When it was finally daylight, I went back to the room to pack my gear, silently, because Maggie was still sleeping. Geoff came in with a loud greeting and I absent-mindedly greeted him back and we both woke up Maggie who forgave us and engaged in the conversation. Geoff launched into the most interesting riff of the stay.

Why tell the truth? Bad people don’t tell the truth — why give them the advantage? When you lie, it just evens the playing-ground. You don’t have to make it a big lie, just say you were late because your dishwasher overflowed and you didn’t want it to leak into the ceiling of your downstairs neighbors so you had to mop it up right away. Make it easy for them to forgive you.

It had never occurred to me that other people, like men or those with English accents, thought it was okay to lie. I had always thought that they knew it was wrong and did it anyway. What if they don’t even think it’s wrong? “All’s fair in love and war.” Maybe Lorin thinks it is okay to stonewall, gaslight, obfuscate, deflect, and deny.

When Adam returned, he told us what happened when Lorin walked him outside. Lorin was trying to elicit his support against the “conspiracy.” Then Adam said, “I learned the value of a simple apology, so, Anet, I apologize for waking you up with the air mattress inflator.” I was surprised and said, “Thank you for that.”

Another hot day was forecast (it was 115° in Santa Rosa two days earlier) and I wanted to get on the road early enough to beat East Bay traffic because I was planning to go through San Leandro, Oakland, and take and Richmond-San Rafael bridge home. I talked to the front desk and requested my refund and left about 10:15 a.m., got home by 3 p.m.

The Canadian professional woman got a substantial refund, and Nicole got all her money back. She had the good grace to attend the 3 p.m. apology session, I don’t know if she went to the sessions after that. She gave me a hug and a kiss on Friday morning when I said good-bye.

Vagus Nerve: High-Tone, Low-Tone Dorsal

Vagus Nerve: High-Tone, Low-Tone Dorsal

Vagus Nerve High-Tone Low-Tone dorsal

As I learn more about Polyvagal Theory by Stephen Porges, I am starting to understand why experts say that one must be in the Ventral Vagal state to really heal. Starting with an image from an article in Frontiers in Psychiatry written by Swiss researchers, I added information on high-tone and low-tone dorsal from Meditate Not Dissociate.

Adrenaline is like stepping on the accelerator; ventral vagal is the ideal coasting state — generating nice Alpha waves, relaxed, engaged, compassionate, fully-present-emotionally, “tend and befriend” or “feed and breed.” Low-tone vagal is described as a gentle brake on the nervous system, allowing a calming/relaxed and alert state, “rest and digest.” High-tone vagal is slamming on the brake and accelerator pedal at the same time. It LOOKS calm, but inside the systems are disintegrating. The graphic below describes three states, but there are really four.

three states of vagus behavior

Update August, 2021

As I continue to watch Stephen Porges videos and participate in Rick Hanson on-line meditation sessions, I have refined the graphic. This version clearly shows that the ventral vagus, which develops myelination through interaction with caregivers, stops at about the navel, while the unmyelinated vagus, fully-functional at birth, extends all they way through the intestines. I lined up the stomach with the direction the brain is facing on this version, and clarified that high-tone dorsal (stuck in the high-beta wavelength of fear) is like pulling on the hand-brake while still in gear.

The myelinated ventral vagus is a state of biological relaxation where one can play, including wrestling the way puppies do or touch football, and still feel safe and connected. It is the interoception of the cues of safety from the ventral vagus that allows play. Modulated voice, smiling face, welcoming vibe. The ability to sit still and listen to another.

Grounding and Self Soothing

Grounding and Self Soothing

A quick note to self with some grounding practices. First, Max Strom as recommended by Therese Smith. I call this 4-6-8 breathing.

Second, the University of Rochester Medical Center 5-4-3-2-1 technique for coping with anxiety and to reconnect to your body and to the earth.

Slow, deep, long breaths can help you maintain a sense of calm or help you return to a calmer state. Once you find your breath, go through the following steps to help ground yourself:

5: Acknowledge FIVE things you see around you. It could be a pen, a spot on the ceiling, anything in your surroundings.

4: Acknowledge FOUR things you can touch around you. It could be your hair, a pillow, or the ground under your feet.

3: Acknowledge THREE things you hear. This could be any external sound. If you can hear your belly rumbling that counts! Focus on things you can hear outside of your body.

2: Acknowledge TWO things you can smell. Maybe you are in your office and smell pencil, or maybe you are in your bedroom and smell a pillow. If you need to take a brief walk to find a scent you could smell soap in your bathroom, or nature outside.

1: Acknowledge ONE thing you can taste. What does the inside of your mouth taste like—gum, coffee, or the sandwich from lunch?

Prioritize Yourself, Attend to your Internal State

The techniques to deal with TMS as described by Dr. John Sarno are described Alan Gordon

iRest practices that include listening to meditations on this page and Body Sensing. Feel the earth, feel your feet. Ground your electrical charge into the earth.

Contact water will ground a dangerous electrical charge: take a warm shower, wash your face, wash your hands, take a drink of water.

NYTimes article on Cutting as a form of self-soothing.

Quotes from Carl Jung.

Inner Resource – iRest

Inner Resource – iRest

We all have hardwired within ourselves an Inner Resource that we can call upon in every moment. This Inner Resource is a powerful ally that enables us to remain grounded, self-controlled, at peace, in harmony, and at ease within ourselves; it helps us respond to each and every situation we encounter throughout our lifetime.

The Inner Resource is unique to each of us; a powerful companion of unchanging stability; a foundational stone in our practice of yoga, meditation and iRest that supports true health, healing, resilience and well-being.

Richard Miller, PhD
Link to free, downloadable mp3 meditation


Happy Birthday, Trish!

Happy Birthday, Trish!
Patricia Pascual Yoga

Birthday Collage for Trish

Patricia Pascual celebrated the Grand Opening of her new Yoga Studio in Rohnert Park, and her birthday, with a party. I have a really hard time finding places in Sonoma Mountain Center (formerly Agilent) so it took me 45 minutes of trying doors, talking to security, walking around buildings and driving to finally find the place. By then, it was 9 p.m. and I was too cranky to take off my shoes and find a place in the studio. Anyway, happy birthday, Trish!

How to Stop Suffering

How to Stop Suffering

Like trees, our physical body is changing. It’s born, grows, stabilizes, declines, and will die. But what about ‘this,’ in which our awareness of these facts is arising? Various names have been designated as pointers to ‘this’ — concepts like God, Pure Awareness, the Unconditioned, Pure Being, or the Great Mystery.   These concepts are pointers to the ineffableness that comprises our unchanging essence.

Suffering arises when we refuse what’s changing.   It’s never the event that causes suffering, but our attachment, aversion, or feigned neutrality to it.   What’s astounding is to realize that suffering, attachment, aversion, and neutrality are changing movements within a vaster background of unchanging essence.   When we’re willing to shift attention from foreground to background, we realize ‘this’ that’s always present, but all to often ignored and forgotten.

So what happens when we relinquish attending to the ever-changing foreground movements of our body, senses, and mind -— to sensations, emotions, and thoughts -— and instead turn our attention to realizing ourselves as the unchanging, which has no defining characteristics,   is outside of time and space,   is never in need,   yet is one of the most vital inquires we can make during our lifetime.

Richard Miller, Ph.D

Anusara Yoga Meredith Rom

Anusara Yoga Meredith Rom

Photo of Meredith Rom by Meredith Rom

Photo of Meredith Rom by Meredith Rom

Yoga One opened a new studio in Santa Rosa and offered free classes for a few days. I checked out Meredith Rom‘s Anusara Yoga class because I had read about their recent scandal in Southern California.

I knew this style emphasized flow and feelings of love. Meredith moved through the room with fluid grace and gently connected with each student, quietly asking about injuries and introducing herself by name. She asked us to create an intention for the class and suggested love, compassion or beauty. We briefly chanted OM and went through several rounds of down dog, plank and cobra to open up the front of the chest. While the postures were mainstream for an introductory class, the vibe was distinctive. Very loving, both toward the inner self and the all the people in the class.

I was especially touched by her guidance as we slipped into a brief moment of shivasana. Meredith said, “Connect with your inner core of goodness.” Wow! This is so different from the Catholic indoctrination “You’re not good enough for God. You came into this world stained with original sin” and the repetitive chant at Mass, “Lord I am not worthy that you should come into my house. Say but the word and my soul shall be healed.” Catholic children are taught that they are, by definition, stained and unworthy.

This Anusara Yoga proposes a profound shift. I found two really interesting posts by Meredith on Elephant Journal.

  1. 10 Ways to Know if Yoga is Working
  2. Her review of several powerful books and an elite class for yoga teachers

Tip number 5 in the second link above is a quote from Mathew and Terces Engelhart’s book, Kindred Spirit.

I make powerful requests as an exercise in worthiness and remember that “no” doesn’t mean anything. I build my self-worth by making powerful requests and get at least one “no” everyday.

I am starting to see it is important to keep the concept of worthiness in my mind. It’s not just what I put into my body, it’s what I hold in my mind too. I am learning that toxins are not limited to food and beverages. Consciously choosing loving thoughts is as important as choosing to breathe into the discomfort in yoga. I am going to continue to check out Meredith Rom’s Insights.

Richard Miller – iRest

Richard Miller – iRest

Meditation invites us to release internal conditioned patterns of emotion, belief and localized identification so that our attention is free to abide ever more frequently in simply being. Being is the portal that supports the blossoming of our innate open heartedness, compassion, love and connectedness to ourselves, and the world around us. Living as being opens us to wonder, delight and astonishment, revealing how we are the Mystery, incarnate.

The Importance of Tone

The Importance of Tone

I just got back from Zumba class at the cheapo gym. I wasn’t the oldest, and I wasn’t the fattest. It was more like an aerobics workout with an leader who could actually keep time to the music. (You would be amazed at how many aerobics instructors can’t keep time. Like it is elevator music in the background.) But I may have been the only one wearing dance shoes. I got them because they are required at the other place I take Zumba.

Last November in a OMG-my-birthday-is-in-a-month moment, I signed up for the “$100 for all you can eat in a month” at the expensive, tony Pilates studio called, ahem, Tone. I am so cheap, I got my average per class cost down to less than $5.

It is run by a Phillipina who sets the Tone. She is not a natural beauty (which is how they describe Michelle Obama) but her energy is irresistible. She looks 40ish which means she is 50ish, her long black hair flying like a witch when she leads Zumba. The room is packed. Max occupancy is 40, she squeezes in 44 because the receptionist and the other teachers want in also. Monica is a dance-and-movement teacher and the owner of the studio. I took her 6 a.m. Yoga class on New Years Eve (20 other women were there) and the class was held in the dark with a cluster of candles in the center of the room. This weekly class has 3 weeks of normal wakeup yoga and the fourth week is restorative (so totally feminine witch). This was the restorative and it was held in near silence, in the candlelit midwinter dark. Monica gave a quiet sermon about the end of the year and the start of a new one, renewal of spirit, renewal of love, renewal of commitment. “Joy in everything, all the time. Take a candle when you leave.” Talk about setting the Tone!

But Monica’s Zumba class is full of energy. Sherisse works for Monica, she also teaches the Pilates class at the cheapo gym and at city Park & Rec. Sherisse is black as ink, wasp-waisted and highly trained in dance-and-movement. She was at the front of the class along with her dreadlocked friend, also with a dancers shape. The Zumba class had some Latin rhythms, but many hip-hop songs as well. I tried to follow the moves, and the other white ladies didn’t look much better than I did, but Sherisse and her friend — wow! It all made sense when I watched them dance. Yes, they are trained dancers, but when they did the “urban” dances my eyes popped. It was so beautiful and strong!

I was in the back of the crowded room, trying to be invisible, but I was under the skylight and the beam of noontime sunlight illuminated my, um, blonde hair. In the mirror I could see that I looked radiant and dumpy at the same time. Halfway through the class, Monica paused between songs and waved to me, “Hi, Anet!” she said.

Frankly, I’d rather be invisible. But the energetic music really boosts my mood. Monica has set up Tone as a dance-and movement studio so the floors are bowling alley perfect, hence the requirement for clean dance shoes. Most of the people spend most of the time on the floor doing Pilates and Yoga, so the floors and mirrors have to be impeccable for the experience to be spiritually nutritious. So that is why I have dance shoes. And why Monica’s class is so popular.