a boots-on-the-ground view of the change that's a-foot

Posts Tagged ‘yoga’

I Do Not Want These

Tuesday, July 6th, 2010

Ok, well – all 28 bones (27 for me, I’m missing one sesamoid bone) and 20 muscles in my feet want them, but I feel more than slightly ridiculous at the thought of wearing  these sock-like, shoe thingies.

But, science is science, especially when it’s logical and aligns with everything I know about feet and movement. And, as a yoga teacher and a trail runner, I know quite a bit in that regard. And, I have funny feet with really high arches. Yoga keeps them strong enough, but I can’t deny that the idea of running and hiking ALMOST barefoot really sounds exhilarating as well as possibly the missing fitness link for not only my feet, but the rest of my legs and core.

The bottom line is, your feet need to move within their full ROM to stay mobile and strong. And they set the stage for the rest of your body to be the same way. I often tell my yoga students that one of the worst things that happened to our feet in the modern world, is really really really good shoes — meaning those with a support system that, in essence, does the work for you. Bare is better.

If you want to know more about the shoe-less shoe technology and your body, go to I did and then gave in to a pair of these. They immediately felt comfortable on a hiking trail – no breaking in necessary. I could feel the gravel and stones through the bottom – sometimes not so comfortably, but in the end, the soles of my feet only felt more “awake” – a little like a massage.

But, I still don’t want these. They look ridiculous.

In fact, they make me crave the really high pair of heels sitting in my closet.

Form or function? I guess it’s all about balance.

Suffering With Meaning

Saturday, July 3rd, 2010

A friend went to get inked today. He left a message saying he hoped that he would not suffer too much in the process. It made me think again about the idea of suffering. I believe we not only benefit from a certain amount and type of suffering, but I believe we  – knowingly and unknowingly – seek it out. Why?

Unlike all other beings and despite our comfort-seeking nature, humans have a craving for suffering with meaning. And, I think the allure of getting a tattoo is linked to the bit of physical suffering that we endure in the process.

You can apply this theory to things like extreme sports, or other uniquely human experiences like piercings, sweat lodge, fasting, and other pursuits.

In yoga asana, we twist and turn our bodies to explore our edges — or productive limits – that live somewhere between discomfort and pain. Our physical and mental edges blend together, it results in a genuine spiritual experience, freeing us from distraction.

Without the ability to reach that internal place of suffering, we can’t express our full creative potential. The task is to find a way to contact the dark but then bring it into the light. Suffering can have meaning.


We are Super Heroes

Friday, November 13th, 2009

Everything is an opportunity for growth and learning – absolutely everything. Sometimes it stares you in the face and other times you have to look a bit deeper for it, but it’s there. What did I learn last night as I climbed into my attic several times, after 24 hours of rain, to stuff towels around my leaking chimney – ?

That I could do it. That yoga has kept me agile and strong and balanced enough to crawl/walk/wiggle through rafters, under and over duct work. That I could keep perspective in the face of frustration and worry. That I am more capable than I think, and that friends and even strangers are willing to help you, even if it is the middle of the night.

I learned that it’s possible to summon our inner super-hero when we need it – and that people do talk out loud to themselves in challenging moments. l actually heard myself say, “I have to handle this. I have no choice.”

And, well, I did. It wasn’t exactly fun but it was engaging and absorbing when figuring out the problem and oddly satisfying once things were resolving.

This made me think of the “leaks” we are finding in our systems and habits and how much we resist summoning our super-hero powers, even when the long-term consequences are dire (a lot worse than a soggy ceiling). When confronted with the problems and presented with more sustainable, albeit less convenient, choices – some that may require some bending and twisting, I would love to hear all of us say…

“We have to handle this. We have no choice.”


As The Man Burns

Thursday, September 3rd, 2009

By Tao Oliveto

Burning Man is on again. Below is a re-post from 2007 after I had watched a documentary about Burning Man and came close to attending the festivities myself. It’s 2009, I haven’t yet gone – yet – and still have lots of questions to ponder about the whole thing.

At each Summer’s end, when Burning Man energy begins to build towards this momentous event, I find myself drawn to the experience, yet wrestling with some lingering questions…
As a long-time student of yoga, I’m not a stranger to the possibility and power of the transformational process and I wholeheartedly support this tribal gathering and ritual. Having been subjected to the twists and turns of the spiritual path, I understand that change within (and therefore without) depends on our ability to go beyond our earthly day-to-day responsibilities and find ways to come together and take a deeper look within.

There’s no denying that the survival (and celebration) of 40,000 people for 6 days in the desert has its environmental impact, but a thorough perusal of the BM web site shows that “leave no trace” is taken sincerely and seriously. As portrayed, most “Burners” pack out what they take in, including trash, compost and ashes. Even used water (forbidden to be dumped) is collected in evaporation pools. Water bottled in plastic is discouraged – most people bring large stainless steel tanks. Although generators are allowed, more are now powered with biodiesel and many use solar powered lighting. Designated “green camps” are growing in number, for those who want to pool together their renewable resources and make a stronger environmental statement.

There’s still the problem of finding your way (from all over the country and possibly the world) to Black Rock City. Booking an airline flight, then renting a car or RV is the modus operandi. Tent campers arrive with carports (or have them sent ahead) for more shaded personal space. This is a consumption issue at best and a pollution issue at worst.

Offsets to the rescue. Burning Man uses, encourages and advocates retail Offsets for all energy use and carbon emissions. And, though not entirely clean, burning the Big Guy is a worthy and life-changing spectacle in my opinion. Fire is more than a metaphor. It is primally linked to all cultures and to our very existence. Destruction before creation, death before rebirth, the mythical Phoenix rises from the ashes transformed. Burn on, Burning Man. My spirit goes with you.

Practice Anyway

Tuesday, August 12th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

I hope that you are still following the blog of No Impact Man. He has a lot to say about changing the world. He also talks a lot about how change can make us happy. Lately, he’s been asking us to not just talk about change or to simply give up some of our excessive consumption habits, but he’s asking us to take the next step – to be pro-active. So, if you have already changed your lightbulbs, stopped eating meat and driving your SUV, but don’t know what to do now – read this post where NIM says, “When It Comes To Saving The World, Just Try, Try, Try.” (Then search the word, “happy” and see how often his efforts have made him feel that way.)

It’s something that’s been in my thoughts a lot lately. I’ve been teaching some new yoga students and I’m reminded of what it’s like to be a human trying to do something new – something that we know will benefit us in the end, but in the moment it mostly seems inconvenient, awkward and/or difficult. Because I’m the old-school trained teacher, I emphasize the importance of using discipline and will to move through the hard parts.

In fact, by watching and listening to many yoga students over the years, I’ve written my own account and philosophy of the 3 stages that we all go through. The first stage is Arrrgh  – the hard part, the second is Ah-ha, when things start to make sense, and the 3rd is Ahhh, when you find the ease in the effort – the happy. I’ve also emphasized that without the struggle, yoga would be useless. For example, one student thought she was simply not cut out for yoga, coming to me to say, “I’m not strong, I’m not flexible, and I can’t focus. I don’t think yoga is for me.” My response went like this:

“If you came to me and said – I want to do yoga because I’m strong, I’m flexible and I have great focus – I would tell you that you don’t need to be here.”

I’d also like to share one simple definition of yoga that comes from the ideas of the great and enduring teachers. Yoga is simply doing something you could not do before.

So, yoga, as life, is about growing up and out and not just accepting change, but making it happen – whether it’s within ourselves, within our communities or in the world. It is about the work. It is about simply trying. And in the end, it’s about the freedom and happiness that comes with discipline. That’s why when my students come to me with all the reasons they cannot fit yoga into their lives, they hear two words – “Practice anyway.”

So, I want to point out that maybe this changing the world stuff is not supposed to be easy. What we can gain – personally and otherwise – just might come from the fact that we had to try. If you struggle to drive less, try anyway. If you struggle to use less water and electricity, try anyway. If you struggle to do something you haven’t done before, like talk to your congressman about change, try anyway.

What you learn from a yoga practice translates directly into how you are in your life. And how you are in your life translates directly into how we are in the world. It’s up to us to make change happen and to make ourselves happy along the way.

Practice Yoga…and then what?

Monday, June 2nd, 2008

by Tao Oliveto

By now, we’ve all heard about the many benefits of a consistent yoga practice – calmer mind, healthier organs, detoxification, better digestion and sleep, balanced nervous and hormonal system, muscle flexibility and strength, stronger core, back and joints. And I can tell you from both my practice and teaching experience, that all this can be realized through regular practice of a reputable system of yoga.

But, can yoga really make life easier? Well, yes and no. Obviously, all of the above things can make you fell a heckuva lot better than the average, non-yoga person. Still, yoga cannot make the outside problems and harsh realities of life vanish. So, while yoga does not make life easier, it does make you easier with life. “Through a regular yoga practice, we become less hindered by our past and less invested in our fantasies”, says Donna Farhi, one of America’s most respected yoga teachers and author. Practice gives you direct access to an inner place of grounding and presence which can allow us to stop feeling overwhelmed by thoughts and emotions stirred up by daily events and relationships. In this space of stillness, we can find more acceptance and listen to the messages and wisdom that come from the mind and heart working together.

Now that we have our sh** together, what about the world “out there”? It is difficult not to experience periods of hopelessness in the midst of the world’s suffering and uncertainty. Yet, be hopeful we must, as well as find the things that we can do to be part of world change in both small and large ways. Ultimately, more people finding hope and peace will have an effect on the world. So, just how do we get there? Here’s some ideas:

1. Have hope about the future even while accepting uncertainty. Share that hope in some way each day. Discover valid reasons why we can expect good things to happen and tell others.

2. Develop your awareness. Live with continually increasing openness and sensitivity towards others, the earth, animals and yourself.

3. Do a lifestyle check. What are the consequences of the way you live and consume natural resources? What could you, your workplace, your business, be doing differently?

4. Contribute to a cause outside yourself. We have a big job ahead of us and it will take everyone to get it done. Resist the temptation to sit back and wait. Become pro-active in your life and community.

5. Stay informed (but not always from television news). Turn to less sensational news sources, read and talk to others.

5. Send out positive, life-changing energy. Choose a mantra or a prayer of your own and repeat it to yourself several times a day.

6. Smile and breathe.It’s o.k. to find a happy, peaceful place inside yourself. Go there to heal and restore when you need to. Laugh, entertain each other and have some fun. The people around you will benefit and you will be able to accomplish more.

7. Keep practicing yoga daily. It makes all the above possible.

To Be Happy – and make CHANGE HAPPEN

Monday, May 26th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

Several years ago, I received one of many phone call inquiries regarding my yoga class schedule. After a short, informational conversation, this person, whom I had never met, said he felt compelled to pass something on to me that had been shared with him at an important time in his life. Being forever curious and interested in spontaneous and mysterious opportunities, I accepted the invitation to listen. This is what he told me…

There are 8 things you need to be happy –



A loving connection to others

To contribute beyond yourself

A feeling of uniqueness

A feeling of importance

A compelling future

A personal relationship with Nature

I was, at this particular time, in the midst of making decisions about my life and future and what he told me later became a guiding force in all of it.

Although I never spoke with him again, I’ve always remembered what I learned in that call and, on occasion, have shared it with others. I now see that happiness is a large undertaking, requiring us to be wholly engaged and involved in the big picture of life – the joys and the sorrows – and to find the meaning in everything. I believe that these things will not only make us happy, but in doing so, can help us change the world.

Some things to think about

Friday, April 11th, 2008

“As in both yoga and life, the edge is not the point where you quit – it’s where everything happens.” Tao Oliveto

“Salvation is not what you get – it’s what you do.” Jerry Stifelman

THE TAO OF CHANGE [the way of a better world]

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