Yoga with LeeAnn – Introduction

LeeAnn Matson-Thomason is a certified Hatha Level 2 teacher, completing an intensive study of asana, pranayama, and meditation designed for experienced teachers and students. Her teachers, Mark Uridel Sadani and Heather Kier encouraged her to further refine her personal practice and her teaching.

LeeAnn’s Hatha classes are inspired by Viniyoga and the teachings of Gary Kraftsow.  She has had the wonderful opportunity to study with Gary and Mirka Kraftsow, Leslie Kaminoff, Donna Farhi, and Srivatsa Ramaswami, among others. She incorporates pranayama and variations of the traditional asanas into her classes to allow students to create different physical and meditative experiences for themselves.

LeeAnn‘s yoga story

Who I am now and who I was when I first began my yoga practice (while ultimately the same underlying person) is very different.  I might describe myself today as a mother and wife who has a wonderful opportunity to share the teachings of yoga as I was taught, in the Vini Yoga tradition.  And yes, I do teach yoga classes – but I do not consider myself by any means a yoga master.  The more I learn about yoga, the less I feel I really know.  I share what I have learned with others so they may experience yoga as a practice leading to the elimination of suffering.

Let me tell you about my first yoga experience.  I was living in Monterrey, Ca. studying dance and theatre at the Monterrey Peninsula College in 1992.  I had an amazing jazz teacher, Debbie, who told us one day “In our next class I am going to share some yoga with you.  So dress in layers of clothes because your body temperature will change according to what we are doing.”  I left class wondering what she was talking about.  I asked a fellow dancer, “What is yoga?”  Meredith’s response was something like “Uh, it’s just a relaxing way to stretch.  No biggie.”

So I came to the next class in layers of clothes, full of wonder about what to expect.  I was taken through a sequence of postures and poses that stretched my body in such a wonderful and gentle way. I felt as Meredith said, relaxed.  In fact, I was so relaxed I felt like I could just stay in the last pose she called corpse pose, forever…funny name and how I felt I could stay in that state forever, right?

And so I experienced my first yoga class.  Relaxed, refreshed and back to life I went.  I left and really didn’t give it another thought.  About once a month Debbie would share another nice way to stretch with us.  And every time I felt so relaxed and yet ready to go in the same breath. Not ready to leave, but ready to move and do and take care of things.  But I didn’t connect the feeling with yoga quite yet.  I just knew I was doing some gentle stretching of the body, which for a dancer was great.

It is nearly 19 years from my first yoga experience and I’m still learning and taking it in, trying to not only practice these poses on the mat, but carrying the focus into my daily life to bring some balance and understanding to whatever life might throw in my direction.

I wanted to share this, not only to let you know that we all have our first experience with yoga, but also to remind myself that where I began and where I am now is so different.  As a teacher, it is important to remember when someone starts classes, that sitting still, focusing and learning how to breath properly is not easy and not even on most people’s mind.  We all come with different expectations, or without expectations, wondering what yoga is about.  I had a teacher once tell me that there are two ways that yoga happens for people – those who find the physical practice easy to begin with, then yoga becomes more challenging as time goes by and those who find the physical practice difficult and find that yoga gets easier as time goes by.  I think you can guess that I fall into the first category. Physically I could do anything my teachers asked but going deeper inside myself was a challenge.

I can’t wait to share with you how this practice has changed for me through the years and why I stuck with it and began to share these teachings.  It has changed my life in so many ways, ultimately allowing me to discover some of the real me, not just the words that tell you I am a mother, wife and teacher.

Sat Nam
~LeeAnn Matson~

Reflections on the New Year

Finding an oasis in the city like McKinney Falls, fed by Onion Creek, keeps ennui at bay.  Walking in the afternoon sun on the last day of our winter break, Bill and I had to really use a sauntering eye.  When the scenery is spectacular, it’s easy to overlook small delights.  Maximizing little pleasures has long been a secret to keeping my heart fire lit, so with time and fresh air the flame steadies.  I’ve been thinking about Plato’s Allegory of the Cave and feeling chained by my work a day world. Time for meditation, reflection pictured below with shadow play to come. What is it about dreams, reflections, shadow and light that teases my imagination?

San Antonio Christmas and sauntering down 1826

It’s always nice to be with family for a traditional Christmas dinner. Our hosts, my sister Lucy and brother in-law Bill are beyond gracious. Growing up in a military family with a European mother and living oversees made me a world citizen before I knew I was American. In the last few years I’ve understood how much honor and courage means to me. It takes courage to face the ups and downs, the battle of life. Generally I prefer a more aesthetic approach, but one rises to meet challenges with grit, a quality I learned at home. Missing Aurora, who traveled north to Buffalo for a white (and frigid) Christmas, we were warm but not as bright.

The tables turned to more down home fare at the Salt Lick, as I meandered out to meet my sister Carol, Mike (my other brother in-law) and Dick, in from California and up for ribs. Holy smoke, I believe it has expanded threefold (like my waistline) but the food is still authentic and the people friendly. Except in the parking lot, where the feeding frenzy prompted snapping carnivores to lose some holiday cheer. We got our cheer back at the Duchman Family Winery (formerly Mandola’s) where we sipped some reds and whites, and split North and South. It’s probably clear to most who venture into this blog that I’m “big on Austin” but honestly, where else can you drive out in the country for great barbecue, enjoy the rolling hills and fields, cypress creeks, vineyards, an ass or two and Barsana Dham, a Hindu temple? The evidence speaks for itself. I hope you stay merry through the New Year and into 2011!

NPR submission to “This I Believe”

I believe that we are here to become Humane Beings.

We are born, one cell of the body human, comprised of some trillion individuals who are you and me. In asking the question, “Who is God?” I have stumbled into my humanity, accepting the call to evolve as a Humane Being. Embracing the whole of myself, the extremes of good and bad, means embracing all of you and knowing that we are one. It is by God’s grace and through my heartfelt prayers that I begin to understand.

I believe that love and compassion are more than smiling at a lonely grandmother at the grocery store or giving money to the homeless person who asks for help on the corner, although these acts of kindness are acts of evolution. I do know that love does NOT mean never having to say you’re sorry and that forgiveness is one of the most important things you can do for yourself or anyone else. I believe war is a nightmare that we must wake up from, that my great-grandmother, my grandmother, and my mother lost all they had in wars except their love.

I believe when we understand that you are just as important as I am that we will become more considerate of one another. And as we respect all the wonderful beings that share this Earth, we will come to know that God is God in any language and that God loves us all, as we are part of God’s own being. When we understand this, our evolution as Humane Beings will begin unfolding in ways we can only dream of. Listen to your dreams as they light the pathways to the wisdom of your Soul.

I once had a dream that I was swimming against a powerful current, losing ground but knowing that around the next bend there was shelter. As I thought to call out for help, a large hand grasped mine from beneath the water, holding me still against the rushing water. It was warm and comforting, holding my hand like a child’s. Suddenly, two more hands came from behind and pushed me up above the river. As I looked down to see who it was that helped me, a bright white, living flame came rising out of the water from the center of a brilliant azure circle and entered into my heart. I said, with utter sincerity, “I love you so much.” The words I spoke were simultaneously spoken to me inside my heart and in every fiber of my being. Feeling this love and acceptance so deeply healed me and helped me to realize that we are all beloved.

The evolution of heart and of mind occur in God’s time and place, in many lands and in many people, who will slowly change the way we understand and practice our humanity. We will become more Humane Beings when we understand that we are a part of All that Is, and no longer apart.

For the holidays

Awakening (Dec 2008)

The call to awaken is strong. I feel myself drowning in the dawns long fingers
stretching into days filled with work and family, pleasure and pain.

I teeter between the thoughts that claim me,
what’s left of my life after everyone gets their slice
And the river flowing to the sound of the monks chanting a blessing of purification
The deep calm of acceptance, knowing the impermanence, the wisdom in letting go

Precious moments squandered too many times, the hollow laughter,
clutching at the vanities of youth,
fearing old age leaves grace standing orphaned at the door

Some say the path to honor lies within through chastity, obedience and poverty.
The spiritual weapons of a simple life brings light to the lifeless,
drowning in the abyss of material intoxication

Realizing I have left my family behind, knowing my path has no standard reward
Learning to love the life inside each soul, brings peace
Desire transmuted resurrects spirit bringing succor to wounds laid bare by life’s follies

I am chastened, facing the futility of conditional love. If only this, then all is well
Hollow victories, sexual conquest like eating unripe fruit trades thorns for roses
Leaving the garden full of weeds

When centered, nourished by the source, our garden grows in beauty and love
Love long denied is given at last by one’s Self, our mysterious ground of being
Never lost to whim or woe, a sanctuary to which we must go

Then pleasure seeks another tone,
bringing harmony to the needy beast, which now is tame
A lion brought into the fold, with sheep lying regal in repose

My mother’s soul embraces the unknown with no map from me
she flies free to go where she will
I love her spirit and let our battles go,
the ego’s wounds healing with holy spirit’s soothing balm

Our healing path to eternal love will lead us on through time and trouble
in solitude and in the comfort of true friendships

It is God to whom we aspire in every moment of real or imagined bliss

78704 meets 78745

Searching for the soul of South Austin requires painting with a broad brush. Between Pluckers, Cherry Creek Catfish and Matt’s El Rancho (classic Bubba) and newcomers Soup Peddler, Full English Breakfast, Strange Brew, hipster, keeping it local enterprises, anything goes. We even have a second generation pseudo Bubba eatery in Red’s Porch. Much of the new growth can be attributed to the pioneering efforts of Central Market . As one of many homeowners in the Cherry Creek area, I can only say thank you, thank you very much, CM.

This weekend I made it to Full English with Bill and to the new Soup Peddler/Juice Box hybrid with Dottie. Full English breakfast was less together than I imagined, but this is a new establishment and I have high hopes for its success. The baked items and homemade chutneys are excellent. We were less impressed by the English breakfast. Bill’s suggestion that they plump up their plate with a more generous portion of mushrooms, a second slice of toast and a larger roasted tomato is a good one. The quality of the ingredients was very high, all local, organic or natural and homemade. They are offering a high tea for the holidays which I look forward to and I will be back to try another breakfast in the next few weeks.

The alliance of the Soup Peddler and Juice Box was born of mutual interest. Soup is popular in the Winter and Juice in summer. Thus, offering them together year round should boost the seasons for each. The New England clam chowder was delicious and the pineapple aguas frescas had little pomegranate seeds floating in it, very fresh. Standing on the border between 78704 and 78745, it represents the best of both. We got the funk, say it loud, keep it proud.

Dog show at Ladybird Lake

One way I stay in touch with Austin is to meet my friend Dottie at Ladybird Lake on Saturday for a stroll. The skyline is changing and there are new xeriscapes popping up here and there but the trees, the people are consistent, like the guy we say hello to who shares our time and space every Saturday but whose name we may never know. Some of the dogs are regulars too, a few are pictured below. People love to gush about their dogs. It’s a growing phenomenon, one that blurs the lines between species. PBS did a series on the plasticity of dog genes. They are so adaptive they can change physical form within a few generations. What we’re doing to the psyche of our dogs is worth considering. It used to be our kids, but now dogs are the new frontier in behavior mod. Take the undercover pug, better know to his fans as Ms. Douglas Bean. While I applaud the style with which Bean flaunts his neutered transexuality, did the pug get to pick the outfits?

And what are our dogs doing to us? Are they underscoring our pack mentality or could we learn a lot about unconditional love from our wards? I think guardian is a better term than owner, particularly given the expense to maintain our little buddies. Now is certainly an opportune time to wait out the great recession by generating a little side income in doggie paraphernalia. I’m hoping Addy will write that advice column I asked her editor about. The imagination is unchained. . . time to rethink the master/pet relationship at the very least.

North Austin Asian

Dinner found me in North Austin at the Peony Restaurant for a quick take out meal. While you may have problems downloading the menu, it’s worth a visit. I’ll wait until dining at the attractive, “casually elegant” restaurant to post a review. The sauce was flavorful and light with generous portions of fresh seafood with the pork fried rice fluffy, not oily. Looking forward to a future dining in experience.

Dim sum at Fortune for a birthday celebration led me deeper into North Austin, this time at Braker in the “China Town” complex of Asian shops and eateries. Dim Sum gives new meaning to the term fast food, whirling past at lightning speed. The conversation kept pace and two lazy susans got quite a workout. Savory bites of many appetizers with fresh, spicy condiments, who can complain? The large dining room filled with light from gilded age chandeliers and silk wall hangings convinced me that I would walk out the door into the streets of Singapore. Perhaps I exaggerate a bit. Even with the multi-national collection of families enjoying rolling carts of tasty delights, there was an insular, old world feeling, which of course dissipated as soon as we walked out into the parking lot. Normally I like smaller, less bright and quaint eateries, but the noisy human busyness complimented the experience. Two thumbs up.

Food Finds in South Austin

I begin to wonder if there is a typical dining day in Austin.  I started out at one of the best Mexican breakfast options in town, El Meson on Burleson Rd in SE Austin. There is something mysterious about this spot, but the food isn’t it. Great tacos, red hot but very flavorful hot sauce (you have to get there early for the really spicy one) and the best nopalitos and egg taco I’ve ever had. Bill swears by the chorizo and potato tacos. It’s self-serve and unvarnished, but home cooked goodness permeates the atmosphere. On a more pedestrian note, Dottie and I ate lunch at Scholtzky’s on South Lamar after walking Addy (the chihuahua with a Napoleon complex) around Lady Bird Lake. I wouldn’t mention it, but mid-way through my salad a magnificent rooster strolled by looking for a lunch snack. The staff said he comes by every day to visit, making out like a bandit I’m sure. I’ve seen some chickens loose in the woods by Lady Bird Lake before, so my guess is he makes the rounds; who knows where he has dinner?

After washing my car on Manchaca Rd., I noticed signs along the street for fresh, organic produce and eggs. I saw that a new cafe had opened with a large 78745 tag. Upon further investigation, I discovered Full English an English breakfast cafe and bakery that also serves high tea during the holidays. Their baked goods are all natural, mostly organic as are their eggs and bangers and their homemade chutney. What a find! I haven’t eaten there yet but did make off with some hearty raisin shortcakes that were delicious. They sell their baked goods at two South Austin Farmer’s markets. I knew about the Sunset Valley Market but the Austin Urban Farmer’s Market is one I will need to visit. The next time I’m out and about I will bring my camera.

Sauntering around San Antonio

Bill and I had fun in San Antonio, staying at the Hotel Havana on the Riverwalk. I was given a membership to the McNay Museum as an early Christmas gift, signaling the start of a new series of photo abstractions. I’ve included a few, but most are in development. Friday evening we dined at the famed Liberty Bar in its new location in the King William district (housed in a former convent). A lovely meal, nice appetizers and a particularly tasty Cotes du Rhone, easily 3.75 stars. Apparently, Black Friday was cause for celebration and a river parade, adding a little glitter to the experience and a lot of traffic. The Havana Bar was a fabulous dungeon with underground cellar or hotel elevator entrances, good drinks and quaint alcoves. While it was busy, Bill, Carol and I managed to take over a sitting room with little fanfare. On Saturday we visited the Pearl Brewery farmer’s market, had a drab cup of coffee and a questionable taco. Off to La Villita looking for blankets then back to the King William district for an outstanding breakfast at Tito’s. For a convenient overnight trip, this was a lot of fun. I recommend everything but the Hotel Havana for a quiet night’s sleep. Charm trumps comfort there.