Taozi Tree Yoga

The seeds we water are the seeds that grow.


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Silent Meditation: Vipassana in Australia

Getting Silent to Find Peace.

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This article was written by a dear friend Kate Morton, who lives “down under”! Kate  lives in sunny Brisbane, Queensland Australia. Kate was introduced to Yoga at the tender age of fifteen to help her manage her asthma. As life took hold, adventure and work took her overseas travelling and working for many years. A busy life and Yoga fell by the wayside. She loves finding healthy living options for the mind, body and soul and is now reconnecting with what makes the soul tick.

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 I had the pleasure of meeting her while we were in Australia in the fall of 2011. She is an inspiring women and to see the effects that a dedicated yoga and mediation pracitice have… it is truly inspiring! And here her piece begins:

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I recently undertook my first seven day silent Meditation retreat. Yes… silent and no eye contact. A gregarious extravert I can be, this was going to be extremely challenging. My idea of meditation was a 5 minute lie on the couch..then being allowed to turn on the tv.

What was the motivation?

Meditation has come up a healing strategy for me for many years, so time to address it. So my motivation was to experience and learn the benefits of daily mediation, shift something, restore energy having experienced Adrenal fatigue for 12 months  … and someone to cook great vegetarian food, and that it was.

Was it what I thought it would be?

Possibly something I could of looked into more before I committed to booking in 5 days before it began, but hey when do I ever, I just go do it!!! And glad I did.

We have a reputable Vipassana Meditation retreat in beautiful Pimono Sunshine Coast, QLD Australia, a few friends saying it was life changing….but pretty strict….not something I needed as being too hard on myself, probably a result of the Adrenal fatigue,  was not the idea. So an alternative was run by the Australian Dharma Insight group. Finding a comprehendible comparison or outline on either is difficult now I look for information, making it difficult to explain …something I now remember when listening to friends and their experiences.

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What was it?

A 7 day Meditation retreat done in silence. ‘Why’ I hear some people say.

Quote : (and excuse me if you already know) …Insight Meditation (also known as Vipassana) refers to both Buddhist meditation practices and a largely Western form of Buddhism. A feature of Insight Meditation as a form of Buddhism is that it is either free of ritual or has minimal ritual. Aims of Insight Meditation include coming to a deep understanding of ourselves, and developing compassion for all living beings.  There are different styles of Insight Meditation. Some common threads are that they all place importance on acting in an ethical way, and they all have a focus on settling the mind, developing a level of clarity, and looking carefully at one’s experience.

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We had those practicing style opportunities and I was in an environment where structure was provided. The schedule included a 6am wake up (reasonable I thought), eight 45 minute opportunities during the day to sit, in silence, in the meditation hall. Of course you could sit additionally to this. An evening talk. Breaks for meals, a bell was rung to indicate time to move onto the next session. And an opportunity for individual conversations with teacher.

All sessions were optional, not compulsory and being in the beautiful (cold)  hinterland off the Gold Coast, QLD Australia, lots of long walks with nature were in order when the sun appeared.

Vegetarian meals were provided, we had a daily 30 minute job – mine was breakfast clean up so there was a necessary opportunity for some talk then.

So the mixture of structure and flexibility was great and the teachers adjusted to the groups needs.

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What did I experience ?

I can now sit comfortably, the perfect stool and sitting position helps. I averaged 5 sits a day and 45 minutes a day got easier – I wasn’t going to beat myself up. I had naps when I needed. And ate like a trooper. I put on weight that I needed to put on.

The biggest challenge was ‘this is weird’ ..no eye contact felt like I was surrounded by a room of zombies. Am I doing this right? Gosh they are serious about this stuff. Who are these people? I’ve got some great ideas of how I could renovate the kitchen….Eventually my thoughts did slow down after some particularly strong emotions and breakdown that needed my attention and assistance from teachers . The realization being that I can be in a pretty dark place after a shit year and I was hearing myself laugh again …even in silence.

In talking to the other students on the last day in order to re-acclimate to the outside world, I was hypersensitive to engulfing myself in others ‘stuff’, so I focused on feeling the joy others were experiencing and was quite surprised in their intrigue how I survived as a first timer. Maybe they had forgotten their maiden retreat now they had become regular ‘retreaters’ .

So I left with Trust and patience, trust to reduce the effort for things to work, as a result the sit became easier. And it was a great debrief and giggle with my new friend on the drive home.

What now?

I write this in a period of transition, but I can’t help but feel optimistic about the future. Will I join the Sunday night mediation group? Will I have more energy and focus, motivation and will meditation be a permanent part of my daily routine? Who knows. I certainly enjoyed the process of settling the mind and like the benefits.

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I know what these silent retreats involve and now I have a stronger interest in Yatras – silent meditation 6 days walks. Combining my joy of walking, exploring new areas and peace of the silence.

So if the aims of Insight Meditation include coming to a deep understanding of ourselves, and developing compassion for all living beings, this is certainly a great way to stop and take time out to BE.

In the days since returning from the retreat, some notice being able to maintain an incredible level of focus and a sharpening of all the senses. I’ve noticed being grounded and less flighty, maybe I can call it a glow. But is it waning. Time to get back on the stool.

These experiences allow me to feel confident in saying there is something in meditation for everyone who is brave enough to give it a go and sit…….in silence.

*** Please visit Taozi Tree Yoga on Facebook for more on Taozi’s travels, inspiration, and yoga pictures!***

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Doug “The Lion” Vitale, The Witch, and The Wardrobe

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Doug and Lex. Many say they never saw a couple more in love. Ever. Doug “the Lion” Vitale, lost both of his legs and suffered sever brain damage after stepping on an IED in Afghanistan. A young U.S Marine, built like an ox, charming,  funny, and passionate.  His wife, the smart, beautiful, courageous, and devoted Alexis, my cousin.

Their story is one of unprecedented courage, compassion, and love. It has sprouted from his service, his tragic accident, his family, his community and ultimately the American spirit. This story has changed my life as well as any one else who has been touched by it.

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Doug

 Doug was deployed to Afghanistan with the US Marines in July of 20011, soon after their one year anniversary. On September 25 th, a little over 2 months after he arrived, after many of his patrol had passed by safely, he stepped on a roadside improvised explosive device, instantly changing his life forever.

 The Witch: The War in Afghanistan

 Doug was deployed as part of the War in Afghanistan, started in 2001, after the attacks on the twin towers in New York City, to dismantle Al-Queda and the Taliban, a.k.a “the war on terrorism”.

 Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect when meeting Doug and seeing my cousin Alexis for the first time since the accident. I am ashamed to say that for the last couple of years I have subconsciously tuned it out, looked the other way, unwilling to fully embrace the severity of the situation, in hopes of avoiding feeling anything. For those that know me, I can be quite emotional, and this felt beyond my capacity. Being thousands of miles away made it easy to stay in fairy foo foo land. My own opinions and feelings towards the war and our involvement are intense. So much so that I gave up maintaining them after leaving the US in 2007, six years after the US invaded Afghanistan. I totally detached myself. Doug’s accident has brought  the reality of the war into our families heart. And while visiting them in Pennsylvania, during Doug’s homecoming, it was due time to re-evaluate my feelings and to face the truth.

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The war in Afghanistan (as well as Iraq), I just didn’t get it. I was hearing mixed messages and conflicting attitudes about it. Never ending excuses for why the US was sending all these young men and women across the oceans to “protect our freedom” and to “save us from the Taliban/Al Queda/ terrorists”. It was about retribution, about saving them,  saving ourselves, about finding Osama, and constantly about freedom.  Pie charts, diagrams, graphs, maps, images of the war were at one point abound on the news. Too many things swirled around that it was hard to latch on to anything substantial and slowly we all just started accepting it.

 From my limited perception, the results were not what we had hoped for. It looked like confusion, chaos, and there was no end in site. There was no quantitative evidence that things were going well. It seemed as though we were aggravating a hornets nest and our troops were returning home… unhappy, discouraged and torn apart. Men like Doug, only a few months before, over six feet tall with an entire life ahead of them, were coming home…changed men. I have  a new appreciation for how brave our service men and women are, they risk their lives to protect what they believe is our freedom.

 As part of our around the world tour, visiting my Italian family in Pennsylvania was a must. We decided to head to PA specifically for this past week. When Doug would finally return to his hometown and be honored for his service. After we first arrived and we were sitting around discussing the accident, Doug, and Lex… my eyes welled up with tears instantly.  The common factors that everyone would discuss were that a) Doug, has improved… so much so that there is vibrant emotion in his face b) that Lex is a hero, worthy of a medal of honor herself for the way she has stood by her husband and supported him, willingly and happily, the way she treats him like nothing is different… and c) that Doug and Lex’s families, along with the city of Pittsburg has lifted them up and supported them in a way unprecedented and historical.  This past week in Pittsburg PA, we had the honor of participating in and witnessing this support in a first hand way, it was truly a magical and life changing American experience.

The truth is that Doug was very seriously changed by his injuries sustained in Afghanistan. Ghastly so. He suffered amputations of both of legs due to a substantial loss of blood, he suffered two strokes that caused sever brain damage. “Doug was left unable to speak or effectively communicate and unable to move his body appropriately, But his sense of spirit soars on. His sense of humor is right where he left it and he understands much of what is going on around him”. *Lt. Dan Band’s Website. Still,  it is heart breaking to see him. The way that his family and his community has decided to step up and support him and his wife Lex is truly remarkable. They called him Doug “the Lion” Vitale because of his courage, strength, and power before the accident, and they still do.doug 2

The Wardrobe

The Stephen Siller Tunnel to the Towers Foundation and The Lt. Dan Band, lead  by Gary Sinise, (Lt. Dan from Forest Gump), united to form a coalition devoted to raising enough money to build a high technology smart home for Doug, who is in need of extra home living support. The smart home will be complete with tracks on the ceiling to help carry Doug from different points in the house, easing the work load for Lex immensely, an art room for Doug to paint to his hearts desire, and wide open doorways to allow him to move freely with his wheelchair.  So much of the project has been developed, implemented, and donated by so many different members of the community that the thanks needed are unceasing.  On Friday there was a concert held here in Pittsburg, starring The Lt. Dan Band and Doug,  with the proceeds from the show and preceding activities devoted with the goal of raising $500,000 USD. For the last week Doug and Lex have been honored and supported in so many incredible ways.

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It began with his homecoming parade with motorcycle riders, fellow soldiers, and hundreds of local supporters welcoming him. Through out the week he got to hang out with the Pirates, the Steelers, his family and friends.  On Thursday at the VFW in Peters Township,  an American patriot by the name of Scott LoBaido dedicated a large American flag painting he did on the side of the building to Doug, a small token of our countries appreciation for the sacrifices made during his service in Afghanistan.  It was here that I met Doug for the first time.  In his face, his emotions, his expressions lies a peaceful Lion.  I felt a powerful affinity for him instantly. Looking into his big beautiful brown eyes, it’s as if he can see right into you. His smile. The most genuine and real smile you can ever hope to see.  While witnessing his interactions with his best friend Brian, it becomes evident the kind of man that Doug is. It brings a smile and a warmness to the heart.

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The Lion

Friday night was the big show. It was sold out and people turned out in droves to support him. As Doug was wheeled out the audience erupted in applause and I could not restrain the tears. The band was incredible, it was fun, there was dancing. At the end of the show, Lex and Doug were honored and presented with checks from the Miller Family, The VFW, and more. They have earned well over the intended amount and the evening proved to be one of the most overwhelming and moving experiences of my life. Seeing Doug on stage, with his smile, sitting next to his wife, and his parents, Gary Sinise and fellow soldiers… recognizing that he was being held up by those around him, with thousands of members of his community in front of him…holding up lit candles… cheering him on, truly incredible.

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It is my belief and guess, that Doug sees more, and understands more about life and the human experience now, then any of us could begin to comprehend. With the combined experience of being in Afghanistan, seeing what he saw,  experiencing the trauma of the accident, the dramatic shift in his physical form, and then the lack of his ability to communicate… it is all fertilizer for growth. If pain is the foundation for growth, then there is no doubt that Doug is now one super advanced human being.

What is perhaps most incredible is how his experience has changed others, in both monumental ways, and small. On a micro level, he has brought the awareness and realization home, that what is going on “over there” is effecting us “over here” in profound ways.  A reminder that the war in Afghanistan is still “on” though it often gets swept under the rug. Doug’s trauma and the awareness it has provided has given his family, friends, and the  citizens of Pittsburg an opportunity to stand up and support him. Doug, a fellow man who was brave enough to serve for a government he trusted and a country he loves.

Doug’s family and friends have been changed in huge ways. Seeing the spirit of Doug, and the supreme surviver he is serves as proof that God is present in his life in the biggest of ways. And Alexis… has shown her true colors as an angel. Deserving of the highest honor for supporting him with devotion and courage unlimited.

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So… how has meeting Doug, and seeing the American Spirit in full swing changed my heart? Well… it has brought me back to a place of TRUST.  If Doug was brave enough and strong enough to trust, then I can be too.

I have come to the place where, because I am American, and because I love the United States for what it fundamentally stands for, I have to trust it.  Trust that the people in charge know more then I do and will do what they think is best for our country and the world. What do I know about foreign diplomacy? Not much.

However… I do know that there is a right time and a wrong time to be involved. A right place and a wrong place to send our troops. A right place and a wrong place to accept casualties both military and civilian. There are right reasons and wrong reasons to get involved. It is a fact that there are only limited factors and quantities of information that lead governments to their ultimate decisions.

 In 2001, before we engaged, we would hope that the US took each question in turn. Is it the right time? The right place? The right reason? We would hope they answered an unwavering yes to each and next, with out hesitating and with deliberate and calculated execution began the operations. We would hope that the US government saw that the sacrifices to come would lead to something positive. That the injuries incurred by Doug were for the greater good. It seems hard to believe.

This is where I always end up. Why? Was it worth it? And again… why? These are the similar sentiments of dissatisfaction and wonder that plagued our country after Vietnam, when broken soldiers returned home. What has  been evident by watching the activities here in Pittsburg this past week, is the way that we treat our veterans once returning home from a war that, even though we may not understand it, we appreciate their service.  Our feelings, attitudes, and beliefs about the war do not need to impact the way we treat the men and women who serve.  It is IMPOSSIBLE to say one way or the other what a country should or should not be doing based on the information we have.

It is possible however to trust in its authority and to stand by those who risk so much. I love the United States, I love Doug “the Lion” Vitale, I love my family, and I love the American Spirit that has been so vibrant here in Pennsylvania this past week, so yes… I can trust.

If you are interested in making a donation to Doug, please visit

http://www.ourbravest.org and donate to Doug Vitale.

For more information on these organizations… visit

http://tunnel2towers.org

http://ltdanband.com

*** Please visit Taozi Tree Yoga on Facebook for more on Taozi’s travels, inspiration, and pictures***


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How to find out who you are? Take a risk…

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It is better to do what you were meant to do poorly, then to do something else, well.

The Baghvadgita

Listen to your gut*. Be willing to take risk. The two key ingredients needed not only to fully enjoy life but also to live the most flourishing, purposeful life possible to you.

*Gut- In this context your “gut” can mean many things… your higher power, your inner voice, your intuition… you know… your gut. It is the voice that points us towards our dharma.

Imagine a baby bird approaching the edge of its nest for the first time. Does it experience a fear of the unknown?  To the baby bird the nest is comfortable and familiar. Flight may seem impossible, and yet the baby knows intuitively that it was created to fly. Thus, it takes its initial leap out of the nest and is taken into a new world.

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In a similar way, we were created to fly. Each one of us was born with an inherent gift, our Dharma… given to us to share with those around us. In Rod Strykers book, The Four Desires, he starts by vividly describing the growth of a sunflower seed. Inside of each tiny seed it knows that it is supposed to grow towards the light and blossom into a beautiful flower. We are born with the same inherent knowledge of what we are supposed to become, however, unlike the sunflower seed, or the bird, we lose our ability to take directions from this inner voice due to outside distractions and our very own egos. We have no idea who we are or what we are really supposed to do. We become motivated by worldly things and disconnected from our gut. We become fearful of stepping outside of our comfort zone, making flight or reaching our true purpose impossible.

The Rat Race. For many of my peers in the western world we chose our path by searching for the answers from the outside world, rather then listening to our gut…

We are pushed down the road of destiny with three motivating factors being 1) desire for financial success 2) prestige and 3) beating out the neighbour…

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The world can often seem like a competitive place. At a young age we look to others to see what matters. What we find may not be the best examples.  By looking to the media and society at large, partying, high society and money seem to matter most… Our perspectives become totally jaded, blocking a clear view of our internal being.  How do we really tune into our gut? How do we become present enough in our selves to hear what it is that we were inherently born to do? You simply get quiet, and listen.

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My own life has been an interesting example of the duality between the external and internal motivating factors. As a University student, I picked my major, political science, around the idea of eventually going to law school or becoming a politician. I had visions of being a politician, a lawyer, or some big time diplomat. After graduating I decided to move to China to learn how to speak Chinese so I could infiltrate a multinational company. Around the same time I coincidentally got into yoga, became more aware of my body, mind, and spirit, and as a result, got a different picture of who I was supposed to be. I went to a job fair in Beijing and was offered two very different jobs.

1)   CNPC China National Petroleum Company: Consultant, communication and education manager of China’s largest government run energy agency. Working 9-5 in a suit, big title, money…

2)   St Paul American School: Art teacher… Working 8-4 creating my own classes and playing with art with international school children…

The job I wanted was working for CNPC. A large part of me was motivated by worldly desires 1) desire for financial success 2) prestige 3) beating out the competition…  I wanted the suit, the high heels, the office and the power… or did I? Something inside me didn’t feel right about it. The art teaching job had appeared out of the blue and seemed surprisingly appealing to me. Unknowingly I returned to the recipe for a fulfilling life A) Listen to your gut and B) Take the risk. In my gut I was clearly being  pulled in a direction that scared me. My creative spirit was awakened but it went against the world’s primary motivating factors.  Risk… Would I be willing to give up a job I had always thought I wanted to do for something far less prestigious that sounded… dare I say… Fun? This was a truly pivotal decision for me. I went with the art teaching job and my life has been the ride of a life time ever since.

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By following my gut and taking risks, life feels magical. Often very scary, but I can face it all with faith. I have discovered that unlike the baby bird, we may have many opportunities to take new leaps of faith!

In June of 2011, after 4 years of living and working in China, I faced another monumental decision and left all that was comfortable in order to follow my gut. Together with my fiancé Ross we packed up our life in Beijing and have since been traveling the world living out of suitcases. Nearly 2 full years! I have had the privilege of travelling all over the world… studying yoga, teaching yoga, working with yogis, working on art projects of all sizes, and at the same time, learning priceless information about myself and the world we live in. I have discovered that I get the most fulfilment out of loving others, out of being a healthy happy yogi and sharing these principles with others.

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The global adventure is now coming to an end and we face the exciting prospect of “settling down”. Destination unknown.  Jobs unknown. Again I am the baby bird, ready to fly, ready to use the unique skills and experience given to me to share.  Ready to fully step into my Dharma by flying out of the nest. I am ready to spread my wings… again…   😉     The question is… are you? Are you currently living a life that is most fulfilling to you? What is your purpose here on Earth? What small steps  can you take today to help you become more acutely aware of your dharma?

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*** Please visit Taozi Tree Yoga on Facebook for more on Taozi’s travels, inspiration, and yoga pictures!***


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“That’s the way it is.” A Chinese Parable

What does this beautiful Chinese parable and yoga have in common?

SANTOSHA: The second of the niyamas means, contentment. I don’t think that Santosha necessarily means happiness, although being aware of the simple things that bring you pleasure, helps. I believe that experiencing Santosha is all about having trust in a supreme universal force, whether it is Jesus, Buddha, Muhammad, or the ocean breeze. Santosha is about believing in every moment that all is exactly as it should be. This reminds me of a beautiful parable of a Chinese farmer…

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A man named Sei Weng owned a beautiful mare which was praised far and wide. One day this beautiful horse disappeared. The people of his village offered sympathy to Sei Weng for his great misfortune. Sei Weng said simply, “That’s the way it is.”

chinese3A few days later the lost mare returned, followed by a beautiful wild stallion. The village congratulated Sei Weng for his good fortune. He said, “That’s the way it is.”

Some time later, Sei Weng’s only son, while riding the stallion, fell off and broke his leg. The village people once again expressed their sympathy at Sei Weng’s misfortune. Sei Weng again said, “That’s the way it is.”

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Soon thereafter, war broke out and all the young men of the village except Sei Weng’s lame son were drafted and were killed in battle. The village people were amazed as Sei Weng’s good luck. His son was the only young man left alive in the village. But Sei Weng kept his same attitude: despite all the turmoil, gains and losses, he gave the same reply, “That’s the way it is.”

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***As told by Chin-Ning Chu, in “The Asian Mind Game: unlocking the hidden agenda of the Asian business culture — a westerner’s survival manual,” New York:Macmillan Publishing Company, page 182. (1991)

Obviously, the meaning of this story is that everything happens for a reason. Nothing is neither good nor bad but simply a train of events carried on outside of our own control. Life contentment is found by not attaching oneself to these external circumstances, as hard as it may be.

Honestly, today I find life to be a miracle. It is not always perfect, sometimes I feel better then others, but the way I feel doesn’t alarm me. I spend time each morning trying to get into the right frame of mind, by connecting to a power greater then myself, then no matter what happens, “That’s the way it is” is my response. (At least sometimes this works ;)… )