Winter’s Gift

Winter’s Gift

“When we are attentive to our actions we are not prisoners to our habits; we do not need to do something today simply because we did it yesterday. Instead there is the possibility of considering our actions fresh and so avoiding thoughtless repetition.”

    …TKV Desikachar

Winter scene

As we move toward the winter solstice, we can bring our awareness to the messages of the coming season. The deciduous trees have let go of their leaves so they can husband their life-sustaining resources. Most perennial plants have died back to the ground in a time of dormancy. Ground hogs, rabbits, and chipmunks hibernate or reduce activity to conserve their heat, food, and water. We, humans, dress warmly to go outside, heat our homes, nourish ourselves with warming, heavier foods, and perhaps rest and sleep longer encouraged by the increasing hours of darkness. Warmth and energy are to be conserved this time of year, whether you are a maple, a lily, a groundhog, or a person.

Along with the cold that all life must pay attention to in winter, there is also a stillness that can feel quiet and reflective. This quiet energy calls to that same energy within each of us. That is why I look forward to winter. It is a time of reflection.

As TKV Desikachar’s quote above reminds us, it is easy to slide into activities that we perform out of habit. They may be things we think about as “being what I have always done.” Or we may think that they are things expected of us, so we just do them. Yet, our days can become filled with activities whose usefulness and appropriateness to our time of life has faded. Or, they may be activities that have become so habitual that we do them mindlessly, so at the end of a day, it may be hard to recall where we have spent out time.

The quiet space winter offers can be a call to reflect upon “our actions.” We can examine what may have become part of our life just out of habit. We can ask ourselves what activities or commitments may no longer serve us or fit our stage of life? What changes might we make to live more intentionally and in keeping with what is most important to us?

Dharma is a concept in yoga that refers to personal responsibilities. Thinking about our dharma means to be aware of our own unique nature, our roles, duties and responsibilities to ourselves and society. For example, I have the dharma of a teacher. I also have the dharma of a wife, a mother, and grandmother. In terms of societal dharma, I have the dharma of a citizen in a representative democracy. For me, I need to look at what these mean in my life as a woman of 70 years. What are my responsibilities, and what are the actions/activities I want to have in my life? How do I balance these responsibilities?

The answer, according to my teacher Fran Ubertini, to whether we are on the right track is how we feel. We know we are in the right dharma because our “heart is content.” We are acting from a calm and focused mind.

Yes, I look forward to winter. I see it as a gift, providing space to reflect on the choices I am making. It is an opportunity to apply Desikachar’s advice to my actions and activities “fresh” and consider whether they are in keeping with my dharma. Winter may look like a fallow time, but it also may be an opportunity to plant seeds that will grow and blossom.

Winter Solstice Yoga

Winter Solstice image

Friday, December 21, 2018
5:45 pm – 7:30 pm
TMC Wellness through Movement
2134 N. 2nd St.
Harrisburg, PA

Event by donation to support the Harrisburg Peace Garden

December, more than most any month, can go one of two ways. One is all tangled, all covered with bramble. You can get lost, what with all of the noise and all of the bright colored lights. But December, if you choose, if you allow it, can be the trail through the woods that leads to light, far off in the distance.

Join us to celebrate the winter solstice with yoga by candlelight in a practice of movement, breath, chant and meditation.
Class taught by Elizabeth Terry

Please reserve your spot by June 20th:
Elizabeth Terry or (717) 645-0067


Event Flyer
The Movement Center website


Fall Foliage Yoga

Fall foliage

Come Celbrate Autumn’s Beauty
Led by Elizabeth Terry

Saturday, November 3, 2018
Loaves and Fishes Farm
1810 York Road, Dover PA 17315

Yoga from 10:00-11:30am. Light lunch and fun to follow!

Give yourself a day to be refreshed, nourished, and shared with a supportive, uplifting community. Bring your yoga mat, walking shoes and farm friendly clothes for yoga and checking out the goats and newest calves, petting donkeys, visiting the sheep, hugging chickens and enjoying the fall foliage at the farm.

Yoga practice will be outside, if weather permits, inside if there is rain or cold. A free will offering will be accepted to support the work of Loaves and Fishes Farms.

Please reserve your spot by October 30th:
Elizabeth Terry or (717) 645-0067

For more info on the farm, check out their Facebook page – or contact:
Farmer Jen Briggs or (717) 774-0794
Farmer Bonnie McCann or (717) 319-7721

When you become part of the Loaves and Fishes Farms’ family, you join us in our commitment to grow and eat healthy food that replenishes the soil and protects air and water.”

Directions (from Harrisburg area)

Interstate 83 south to the Yocumtown Exit. At Light make a left and then an immediate Right on to Taylor Road. Follow that road for about 3.5 miles. You will cross over Rt. 382 (Lewisberry Road) which then becomes York Road, this is curvy and you will pass the Susquehanna Speedway and the farmer market on your left and you will pass a church and school on your right. The Loaves and Fishes Farm is on the corner of Red Bank and York Road. It is a white house with green shutters – the kitchen is in the garage (doesn’t everyone have a kitchen in the garage?)

1810 York Road
Dover, Pa 17315

Event Flyer

Accepting Help

2018-0920 blog image

On August 5, my husband, Jim, drove me to the Frederickson Surgery Center to have a hole in the macula of my right eye repaired. Needless to say, if I could have found another way to fix the distorted vision in that eye, I would have chosen that. The success of this surgery required that I keep my head down, as if I were looking for ants on the floor, for 45 minutes of every hour for 5 days. That meant sleeping on my stomach with my head in a device similar to what you rest your head in when you have a massage, while resting my torso on a cushion that elevated my hips slightly and aligned my body so my head could rest in the elevated head rest.

For daytime use, we had rented a chair similar to those you see used for massage at the airport. The chair, with an attached tray, was quite clever, really, and it came with a separate mirrored device you placed on the tray so you could see the TV or someone sitting in front of you. I also listened to the book Rocketman, which I had downloaded to my phone.

Jim is a good cook, so I was fed well. He was also determined that I mind the 45 minute rule of head down, so meals were not leisurely, although never rushed.

You would think that the most difficult part of this experience would be the five long days of inactivity and disrupted sleep. However, my daughter keyed in on the biggest obstacle for me: having to allow others to take care of me. As I reflected on my daughter’s insight, I began to understand how the vulnerability that accepting help implies clashed with how I saw myself.

I have held a strong belief that I needed to be strong, in control, self-sufficient. Especially as I have aged this has become more important to me. In our culture aging does not have a positive connotation. To age is to raise the possibility and probability that if we live long enough, we will become more vulnerable and need more help to manage our lives. That is an image that I, and perhaps many others, want to deny might apply to us. “Having to be taken care of” raised that image for me. I have to admit that I placed a high value on my ability to be strong and self-sufficient, even as I noticed the changes in energy my age is already bringing.

In the Yoga Sutra, Patangali talks about five klesas or afflictions that are the source of all human suffering. Avidya is the affliction of misperceiving what is temporary and changing for what is real and enduring. Avidya underlies all the other klesas. For example: To be vulnerable, if only for five days, was a wake up call to face the reality of the vulnerability implied in aging. Not thinking that could happen to me is the avidya. Observing and reflecting on this allowed me to remember that there is a deep, unchanging spirit within me and everyone that is what is truly of value and real (vidya). The YOGA is to identify when avidya is taking hold and then return to knowing our true nature or spirit, which is unchanging and eternal.

Closely related to avidya is asmita, which is a confusion of who we are: we ‘identify our true value with things inside or outside of ourselves, all of which are subject to change.” For example: being at peace when you are healthy and strong and being totally depressed when you identify with weakness and vulnerability. My resistance (and a bit of suffering) was based on seeing myself as vulnerable and needing to be taken care of as I recovered from surgery. This identification of being less than, allowed for feelings of inadequacies, even while knowing intellectually that this body, its strength and ability to care for itself, is not eternal.

In the midst of discomfort, I was able to find some joy in gratitude. I accepted help. Jim made me meals, monitored my adherence to recovery rules, drove me wherever I needed or wanted to go, and generally looked after me. My dear friends came and read to me, talked to me, brought me goodies, made me tea, and just lightened my five days. While the idea of being cared for was an obstacle to agreeing to the surgery, I was very grateful and even relished the kind attention I received, the inquiries as to my recovery, the thoughtfulness, and the prayers. In the end, I accepted help and realized my recovery was an opportunity to be real and allow others to identify with their own generous and kind natures.

Heating with Wood

wood pile

About a month ago the woodman arrived a little before 8 am on Saturday and dumped two cord of wood in our driveway – the first load of two or three more cord to come. If you have no idea the size of a pile of two cord of wood, let me tell you, it is really a lot.

I was stunned when I first saw it. I knew when I saw it that I would be working with my husband to schlep wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow full of wood across our backyard and down beside our house, unloading and stacking it carefully in preparation for the cold to come months later.

My husband could not do this alone. It would be too much. Besides, we both enjoy the warmth the wood provides, as do our cats. I knew, unfortunately, what I would be doing in the July heat!

Patanjali in the Yoga Sutra describes the yoga of action, called kriya yoga. Kriya yoga has three components: tapas, a new behavior, often challenging, creating heat not just in the body but also in the mind as the change in behavior must be conscious and deliberate; svadhyaya, self-reflection, noticing the effects of our new behavior and making changes as required; isvara pranidhana, focusing on the quality of our actions rather than on the imagined result.

In all honesty, I never liked loading, schlepping, and stacking wood. In the past my mind resisted this work, usually resenting every minute of it. But here it was again requiring behavior beyond my usual activities, beyond the demands I usually place upon my body. But this year was different. I surrendered to it.

First of all, we made some agreements that acknowledged our physical limitations. We didn’t work on the woodpile every day, but we did work on it consistently over three weeks. We decided to spend 30 minutes each time doing the loading, schlepping, and stacking, and then clean up the detritus left in the driveway. We tried to avoid the hottest days, but there were a few. In the process of this work, I began to see that this was a kind of yoga practice for me, a kind of kriya yoga.

While the work required a change in my usual physical behavior, the change in my attitude toward the project also constituted my tapas. Some days I did not really want to “do wood,” but I would start, focusing on what we needed to do, and doing it. It was ok. I practiced svadhyaya in observing not only my mind but my body. I reminded my self to keep my back upright without leaning forward and to bend my knees while carting the wood in the wheelbarrow. I limited the weight of the loads. I made sure to do yoga postures to care for my back. And, I realized that I was focusing on my actions, my work, doing it to the best of my ability, and taking pleasure what each day accomplished. The bigger picture for me was being able to see how changing my attitude, recognizing and adapting to my limitations, and just focusing on the quality of my action could change my entire experience.

Some of the most profound changes for the better that we make are yoga that does not take place on the yoga mat. It is about seeing clearly enough to move away from behaviors and attitudes creating suffering and limiting our lives. It is moving what is positive. Yoga teachings and yoga, itself, are about life, and available to anyone interested in practicing and changing.

A Wonderful Gift


No matter what happens in the world “…faith is embedded in our heart and nobody can take it from us.”

– TKV Desikachar, “What Are We Seeking?” (165)

On May 24 my husband, Jim, and I held our dear kitty Bagheera in our arms as the veterinarian injected a drug into his vein, and he drew his last breath. I know we are not alone in having to make hard decisions that determine how the last days of a beloved animal companion will pass. But when you are actually in that position, indecision, uncertainty, fear, and grief may all surface making clear thinking impossible.

Bagheera was 18 years old. He had a mass on his bladder, diagnosed only a week or so before it led to his failing. That was among the many health issues he faced all his life. The numerous bottles of pills that sat on our kitchen counter over the years testified to that. And, in spite of the fact that I was the daily dispenser of pills, occasional liquid medications and shots – all of which he hated – he still treated me like a buddy.

He came into our lives when he was about nine months old from a PAWS rescue site. He was skinny, had a thin coat, and a nervous demeanor. But it didn’t take long until his little belly grew round and his black fur grew thick and shiny. Bagheeera loved to be petted and brushed, which of course we indulged. But he indulged me, as well, as he folded himself into a meatloaf and lay on my belly purring while I lay in bed at night. In the winter he slept on the back of the chair where I sat in front of the wood stove, his tail draped over my shoulder. I know many of you will know exactly what I mean when I say we had a very close relationship, and I loved this cat just as much as if he were human. I was not alone, as people who knew him loved his sweetness too.

When it became clear that Bagheera was not going to survive the tumor, I grieved. Mornings I didn’t want to get out of bed. My first thought was that I couldn’t deal with watching him die, with losing him. Jim and I struggled to figure out what the best choice was for him – to let him pass peacefully at home or to intervene and have him put to sleep – a euphemism that hardly speaks to what it really is. To pass peacefully at home was a wonderful thought, but what about pain?, What if his death was the furthest thing from peaceful? What path was the kindest? What was most respectful of his life? The conversation in my head flipped anxiously from my suffering and loss to Bagheera’s. I felt immobilized.

And, then I prayed. I asked for help, for guidance, for strength, to just be relieved of my self-centered concerns and to be able to be a source of comfort to this kitty who needed comfort now.

What I received was “faith.” I don’t mean faith, like religious faith, I mean what the Yoga Sutra calls sraddha. Sraddha is translated as conviction, courage, confidence. It has been described as “a deep, positive, unshakeable conviction that reveals and nourishes strength.” And, the teaching is that sraddha is present within each one of us. We just have to tap into it. For me, sraddha was the certainty that I would be able to care lovingly for Bagheera as he needed, and that Jim and I would know the kindest choice for Bagheera’s end of life.

This sraddha allowed me to hear the feedback of others. A friend who was a nurse told me that now we were dealing with “kitty hospice,” helping me to see this time was really about Bagheera and making him as comfortable as possible. The veterinarian who had been caring for Bagheera said there was nothing more that could be done, and with the mass he had, he would most likely suffer greatly.

Faith is sometimes knowing what the next right thing is to do and having the courage to do it. But it doesn’t mean there is no loss or sadness. Some days the heaviness of the air and quietness of our house can feel great.

But I ask myself, how do I want to remember Bagheera and our life together? Do I want it to be the images of his last days when he could no longer even walk, or eat, or drink? Those images grow less vivid as I work instead to see him as he was when he was well. When I do, I can almost smell the sweet smell of his fur, feel its softness, hear his loud “meow” as he carried his stuffed bear, and the exquisite joy of looking into his big green eyes. When my mind goes there, so goes my heart. He was ever faithful. Ever a blessing in my life.

Choosing Wisely

Choosing Wisely

Blog image, 5/16/18

Exercising clear judgment, taking into account what is helpful versus harmful…
can help us avoid future suffering.

– Nicolai Bachman, The Path of the Yoga Sutras

When I opened the email and read its first few paragraphs, I was hooked – heart and mind. The email described a program called the Kripalu School of Mindful Outdoor Leadership.

This training – which combines forest bathing, yoga, Ayurveda, outdoor skills, and an overview of relevant research on nature’s health benefits…”

And it goes on to explain that the program is designed for those who are called to share nature’s gifts by integrating their love of the outdoors with mindfulness.

How perfect this would be for me, I thought. Isn’t this what I do in my yoga classes and meditations – use images from nature to help students connect to qualities that support them, or give them a sense of calm, or energy, or joy, or peace? The coolness of the full moon to calm them, or the movement of a stream to bring energy, or the light of the sun to encourage clarity, or the mountain for stability? Just the idea of sharing “nature’s gifts” excites me and brings joy.

I tried to convince my dear friend that the program would be perfect for us. We could become nature and mindfulness guides. I tried to convince my husband that he and I could do this program together, sharing the adventure of nine days of training in the Berkshires in late October, early November. After all, we have loved adventures in the past, like the month we spent in India studying at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram, and our time in Japan on a yoga retreat, as well as driving Route 50 wherever it went across the U.S.

He was cautiously interested. More cautious as he thought about spending 10 hours a day for nine days outside, which the program required. He was even more cautious as he looked up the temperature highs of 52 and lows of 32 at the time of the year the program is offered.

After my conversation with my husband, I sat quietly in contemplation. My intent was not to reflect on the program or anything in particular, but to be open to the wisdom of a source beyond myself. This kind of self-reflection or svadhyaya, one of the three components of kriya yoga, has kept me more than once from going down a road that wasn’t right for me.

So, as I sat, I came to realize that my enthusiasm for this program was not really training to be a nature guide. What I wanted was to spend time walking in a forest or on a hiking trail. To have more time to be outside. I wanted the peace I feel in nature.

I also reflected upon who I am and where I am in my life. As a yoga teacher and vedic chanter committed to sharing the teachings so generously given to me, why would I disrespect this wisdom, my years of study and experience to take up a different path. As a woman of sixty-nine, with a husband, children, grandchildren, relatives and friends I love, do I really want to commit my energy to this program? Would it bring me joy?

My mind can trick me into responding as if I am thirty-nine instead of my real age. In yoga, this is called asmita. Asmita is a misidentification with who we really are and is one of what Patangali, in the Yoga Sutra, calls the klesas. We are all subject to the klesas, and things generally do not go well for us when they are dictating our actions.

Rather than allowing this misidentification to lead me astray, I found checking in with my friend and my husband helped me to recognize that more reflection might be needed before signing up for this training. My reflection allowed me to have the discernment to see more clearly and choose more wisely what I was going to do. Lastly, after sharing my initial writing on this experience with my teacher, I realized how yoga’s teachings have guided this process of discernment and reassured me that what I am doing, and who I am, is truly enough.