Short Meditation

If you got just a few moments, read and reflect on this:

just pause
you are already spectacular in this moment

the wind is blowing just right outside
its all here and now,
a fine moment to connect to breath & body
move your legs toward lotus
root down through the sit bones
inhale up and lengthen the spine
let the body find
a steady posture
soften everything into ease
relax the shoulders
relax the jaw
let the eyes fall silent
bring awareness to the third eye

notice and settle awareness
on the breath

Reflection Poem: Two Pine Tree Lovers

Last Sunday morning while I meditated in my car in the parking lot behind Yoga Tree in Berkeley I caught out of the corner of my eye two shadows of these thin pine like trees playing against the wall of the neighboring building. The image stuck with me all week and time and time again I came back to it in my journal and my thoughts. Today I sat down at my office desk and let the image play in my mind and imagined what it would be like if I was one of these pine trees. Here is my play with the arising images.

Two Pine Tree Lovers

Seeing the shadows of two pine trees
dancing and kissing reflected on the orange brick wall
behind Yoga Tree
Sunday morning in Berkeley
got me wishing that
I was one of these two pine tree lovers
having this sacred
dance and play

One thing I know is that I wouldn’t wait
for the wind
to move me closer
to my lover
to offer her my arms

I would go running in her direction at first sunlight
tearing the parking lot and earth up
beneath my weathered roots

All I can think of is her gracefulness when she moves and sways
The fresh scent of her pine and the rainbow glow of the morning dew
burning off of
her slender body

Perhaps why I am so taken by her
is my intimate experience
of the years of rain
eroding the earth and dirt
between us
our roots finally touching
and my aged knowledge
and love
I’ve accumulated
for even her most crooked and limp branch

We’ve seen so much together
Many bird eggs hatch and
worms for breakfast
and been home to a great many
squirrel families and their stash
of nuts and sometimes pizza lifted
from the dumpsters below

We have even survived a lightening strike
or two
and a bout of drought

What I have learned is that no matter the
season and the weather
She is everything a pine tree lover could ever be-
steady amidst a world of change
always reaching to the sun

Her whispers with the wind
are always so soothing
her needles
both prickly and soft
I can never get enough
of her brush
her touch
the tickle of her pine cones
falling on my feet
in the chill of October

I ask her please lover
don’t ever stop expanding and growing
into your full blossom
and pine tree potential
For I am so happy to be your partner
making these seemingly silly and
beautiful shadow projections upon
this orange brick wall
for all
to admire and wonder about

people can learn a lot from our love,
patience, and acceptance of each other exactly as
we are-
How we year by year find joy
in this shared Divine Earth space

Our eternal dance and hugs and our ascending and
descending sense of spirt, love, and purpose
How we clean the air and never take more than we need

How we openly love it and secretly laugh when the rare
boy or girl climbs our trunks leaping between branches
and hanging a tire swing

Even better was that stretch of years we watched boy and girl
and boy and boy and girl and girl
become men and women beneath our canopy of branches
mimicking our dance, our movements, our kisses and falling
so far in love just like us
and just like so many of our pine tree ancestor lovers

OM… Shanti, Shanti, Shanti

Thank you for reading… I am all caught up in how great and so beautiful we all are. We are all children of the Divine Mother Earth and are always resting in her loving arms. May we all serve to protect our Great Mother.



Five Minute Practice Tip

Yoga and mindfulness practices aim to keep us grounded and centered amid the ever-changing fluctuations of the world around us. We are so fortunate to have the body and its basic five senses to help keep us firmly established and rooted in the present moment. By focusing our attention on each of the five senses throughout the day we can begin to discover (or rediscover) all of the tremendous beauty and magic that is alive around us.

Consider taking just five minutes out of your day to spend 1-minute sitting with awareness of each of the five senses. You can use the timer on your iphone to cue to shift awareness to the other senses. The order I typically practice in is:

Center by noticing the breath then,

1. Body/Touch (first external awareness of body’s connection to the earth; then internal awareness; then, back to the external, the surface of the skin)

2. Sound (notice the sound around you)

3. Taste (the taste in the mouth; have fun with this one and eat your favorite candy)

4. Smell (enhance this modality with incense or essential oil)

5. Color of the internal gaze (or look at an object in front of you)

Come back to the breath, bring the hands to heart and bow to yourself and hold a moment of gratitude for the body and the senses.

This is a very basic way to reconnect to the vibrancy and ecstasy of the present moment.

Yogāsana As A Magnifying Glass

Yogāsana As A Magnifying Glassaltheadshot

by: John P. Rettger, PhD, RYT-200

With all of the recent dialogue happening about the New York Times article, “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body” and the Equinox yoga video circulating on YouTube, I thought it was worth taking a pause and reflecting on my practice and teaching of yoga. When I first came to yoga, I was a student of psychology. In practicing yoga, it did not take long for me to realize that yoga was much more than the physical postures performed. My psychological background naturally led me to inquire more deeply into the āsana (posture) practice of yoga to understand the psychospiritual and transformational aspects of the practice.

In my personal practice, I typically set aside an equal amount of time for posture, meditation, and self-study (svādhyāya) and reflection. It is through introspection and reflection we can begin to articulate the psychological and spiritual significance of the physical practice. Working with the body on the mat leads to a far deeper awareness and exploration of the patterning of thoughts, emotions, and the various memories and mental images that arise in my post-āsana self-reflection time. By paying skillful attention to the arising body and mind phenomena in the practice, one can be alerted to body cues about impending injury, and come to a more full understanding of how our ego gets invested in physical performance and comparison with others. On these occasions we can develop a greater trust in the wisdom of our body to signal us to practice with more patience, more kindness, gentleness and ease.

Over the years, I have become more of a student of yoga, rather than just a student of āsana. In only practicing āsana (only one of the eight limbs of yoga), we may impose limitations on the true healing and transformative capacities of yoga. By practicing all of Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Aştanga-Yoga, we can transform our minds, hearts, bodies, spirits and bring healing to the world around us. In integrating all of the limbs, I have come to learn how to become more accepting of my own limitations and temper my thirst for big postures and at times pushing my body beyond safety. Including the Yamas and the Niyamas (the first two limbs) provide us with a set of ethics helpful in promoting well-being and safety for ourselves and others. The other limbs of yoga include āsana (posture), prānāyāma (breath-regulation), Pratyāhāra (withdrawal of the senses from external objects), Dhārāna (single-pointed focus on a physical object), Dhyāna (steadfastness in meditation),  and Samādhi (state of oneness with the object of meditation).

I do my best on the mat to apply concepts such as not harming (ahimsā) and contentment (santoşa) to build acceptance, gradualness and safety in my practice. When I become aware that ego has taken over, I gently remind myself that I would much rather practice a bit softer today in order to preserve my body tomorrow. Breathing deep into this self-kindness reveals to me how satisfying those moments are when I choose to ease into Down Dog, rather than pushing my body to flow through that one extra vinyasa. I have discovered that by integrating Patanjali’s limbs in āsana, the practice is suddenly something more wholesome than just the post-savasana glow or the satisfaction of an arm balance.

I have learned that every day on the mat is unique and my body invites new challenges and new discoveries. I am continuing to work on accepting that my body, while beautiful and full of surprises is mortal and physical, and as such it has natural limitations, it is continuously aging, and will inevitably experience tension, discomfort and physical death. At those moments of tensing, the practice then truly evolves into something amazing. In the space of tension, a deep breath in and a softening opens me up to true freedom, love, divine joy and liberation. Psychologically āsana has taught me acceptance. I have learned to accept my body where it is, accept others where they are and to celebrate all of the beauty vibrating in the yoga classroom.

I have come to see that āsana practice works like a magnifying glass hovering over the unconscious. Āsana not only magnifies and brings to awareness whatever is inside of us inviting our love and attention, it also ignites our commitment (tapas) toward healing. I am reminded of the words of the Sufi poet, Rumi, “Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.” All of what arises in our awareness in yoga arises for our healing, our integration and health. They are divine offerings from the unconscious inviting us toward wholeness. Much like a precious diamond hidden below the earth, our own true and beautiful nature is often veiled by our own judgments and expectations. Thus the wisdom body reveals to us our very own hidden jewels and we learn to fully be with our emotions. We discover that whether it is joy, happiness, sadness, grief, or loss, it is tolerable and impermanent. It is through journeying with the pain that we can then behold the divine face of love and joy. The yoga practice teaches us how to be in loving communion with whatever is and how to respond to the demands of life with loving and compassionate action.

I would love to walk to path of yoga with you at one of my upcoming classes. Check out my schedule page to find a class near you.



John P. Rettger, PhD, RYT-200

Mindful Half Day Retreat at Blue Elephant on Jan 28th

Come and learn the foundations of mindfulness practice and how these may increase your sense of well-being, quality of life, improve your sleep, and lessen your experience of stress, anxiety, and depression…

Free Yoga Class – Mindful Hatha Yoga

Enjoy a free mellow flow mindful yoga practice this Saturday at 10:30 – 11:30 am at Blue Elephant. The flow practice will yield to an extended savasana and meditation. I hope you can join me!

Blue Elephant Yoga
744 San Antonio Rd. Ste. 19B
Palo Alto

While the practice is freely offered, donations in support of John Yoga at Blue Elephant accepted with gratitude.



photo credit: trout farm photo, san fran. Yoga Tree, San Francisco


Alternative Gift Giving: The Gift of Presence

Alternative Gift Giving: The Gift of Presence
by: John Rettger, PhD, RYT-200
Time is running out on finding the perfect holiday gift for those you love. However, it is never too late to offer your loved one the best gift of all- your complete, undivided and full attention and presence this holiday season. Thich Nhat Hanh, a wise Buddhist teacher noted: “the most precious gift we can offer others is our presence. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.” Sounds poetic and beautiful, but what does he mean by presence and mindfulness? And how can I offer my presence as a gift to others? In this article I aim to describe what this type of mindful presence is, and offer a meditation practice to facilitate greater presence and aliveness this holiday season.

It is easy to underestimate the power of offering more of yourself as a gift to others. But perhaps deep down, it is what we all truly want of those we love and haven’t yet figured out how to ask for it, offer it, or to receive it. Attention and presence truly are precious jewels. Besides, if you have the money, the time, and the courage to brave the shopping malls, its a piece of cake to swipe the credit card and buy the latest and best iPhone, flat screen TV, gaming system or yoga gear. Don’t get me wrong, these are all awesome gifts, and you certainly need not return them! As yogis and yoginis however, we are continuously called toward a greater depth of self-examination and transformation. The holiday season provides us with an excellent opportunity to put our practices into action. Perhaps you have wondered how many moments of your life you missed, or didn’t quite fully embrace because you were thinking about something else or multitasking. This is likely a common experience for many of us and we are certainly not at fault considering how fast everything moves around us. In our era of distraction, it truly is challenging to simply be calm, present, and fully attentive in our moments as they are happening.

Presence seems rather straight forward at its most basic physical level. According, presence is merely “the state or fact of being present, as with others or in a place.”  In a psychological context, presence is much more and carries important meaning. Presence in this context, is about being emotionally connected through empathy and compassion. To be present is to join the other with a heart wide open, the senses wide open, and our “third eye” focused on the inherent, divine beauty and grace in the other. And remembering that same divinity resides in all of us, including you! Our presence is linked to our attention and they seem to be fluid. They naturally drift from being oriented toward the external environment and our internal experience. We can learn how to train our attention to become more focused and thereby increase our sense of being present in our lives. Mindfulness and yogic practices are particularly effective at training and focusing attention.

Mindfulness is a wholesome state of non-judgmental present moment awareness. In a mindful state, one is intentionally focused in the here and now, and aware of inner emotional and physical states, as well as the external environment. Mindfulness is about greeting the world and our unfolding experiences with open arms. As we practice and grow, we learn to be able to be present to our experiences, without disconnecting, or distracting ourselves from our joy or our suffering. While we are focusing on increasing our connection to the present moment, it is also important to recognize that in extremely stressful situations, disconnecting may actually be an appropriate and adaptive response. So, how do we put these ideas into practice?

We can deliberately cultivate mindful presence through the meditation practice described below. I invite you to treat this practice as an experiment, engaging your curiosity and wonder, and not being concerned about the “right way” to meditate. Simply allow what happens in the practice to happen, and remain accepting and compassionate towards yourself. I have broken the meditation down into steps that you can follow. You can decide how long to stay with each step in the process. A couple of minutes with each step is a great way to begin.

Meditation for Presence

1. Establish yourself in a comfortable seated posture and close the eyes. Take a moment and quiet down by bringing your full awareness onto the breath. Inhale and lengthen through the spine, draw the shoulders back and let them release down as you exhale.

2. In this step, bring your full awareness onto the breath. Observe the air flowing in and out through the nose. Allow one breath to flow into the next. Continue in this way for several minutes. Focusing on the breath will build mindful presence by providing you with a direct connection to the body. The body perpetually lives in the present moment through its location in space and time. Know that the mind will wander, and when it does, softly acknowledge this, and come back to the breath. When you feel ready to transition to the next step, let the awareness of the breath move to the background and turn your attention to the body.

3. In this step, we will bring full awareness to the body. As you breathe in, become aware of the connection of the body to the earth. Scan your awareness from the base of the body to the top of the head. Sense a straight line of energy flowing through you from the earth to the sky. Take note of the sensations as they flow through the body like water. Even pay attention to the taste in your mouth and air on your skin. Notice how focusing on sensations cultivates presence. Spend a few minutes observing the dance of sensations, just saying “yes” to whatever is present. When you are ready, allow the awareness of sensation to move to the background and turn your attention to the thoughts in the mind.

4. In this step, bring your attention to your thoughts. Compassionately acknowledge thoughts, images, and emotions that arise. Notice how quickly the mind may grasp and cling to the thoughts. When you notice the mind has drifted, kindly acknowledge that the mind has wandered. Gently come back to the awareness of the thought process, rather than the content of the thoughts. Watch how thoughts give rise to memories, anticipation, or other emotions such as happiness or sadness.  Perhaps there is something seductive about the positive thoughts. See if you can equally accept the positive, negative, and neutral thoughts. Remember, you can put aside anything that arises that feels overwhelming. Do what you need to do in order to take care of yourself. Practice here for a few minutes, and when you are ready to transition, allow the thoughts to move to the background and become aware of the sounds around you.

5. In this step, become aware of the sounds around you. As best as you can, refrain from becoming caught up in the labeling of the sounds. Rather, stay with awareness of sounds as they are. Spend a few minutes resting in the sea of sounds. Sounds are always happening right now. We cannot hear sounds from the past or the future. Thus, awareness of sound anchors us into the present-moment. Spend a few minutes here, and when you are ready to transition, allow the awareness of sounds to move to the background. Let go as you exhale.

6. Spend a few minutes, preparing to close the practice. Allow your attention to freely move between the breath, the body, thoughts, mental images, emotions, and sounds. Just allow awareness itself to decide where to go based upon what is most prevalent in your field of awareness. Spend a few minutes observing all of the splendor of the senses and your present moment experience. It truly is a magnificent symphony.

7. When you are ready, intentionally bring your practice to a close by deepening the breath and opening the eyes as you exhale. Bring the hands to the heart and thank yourself for taking this time to practice and awaken.

You may be wondering, what lessons can we take away from this experiment? A major lesson is one of humility in realizing that it truly is hard to stay fully present, even when directing all of our efforts onto this type of awareness. Considering the challenge of staying present in a formal meditation, reflect on how challenging it is to offer our full attention to our partners, spouses, parents and children amid the chaos of our everyday lives. Think about how our attention is constantly divided between people, cell phones, PDAs, and other distractions from the environment. It is important to acknowledge the challenge, and have compassion for ourselves and others, realizing that everyone is doing their best. By practicing, we develop the ability to notice when we have drifted away, and by becoming aware, we are able to more quickly reground ourselves in the present tense. Rest assured that with continuous practice and by focusing your attention on building this type of presence, you will become more awake, more alive, and more able to give and receive this beautiful gift of presence. In entering the sacred space of the present moment, we are able to remember, as Kabir once noted, that “this place where you are right now, God circled on a map for you.” By accepting ourselves as we are, we can then truly compassionately join the other where they are and be lovingly present for them. It is in this shared space that we recognize we are all destined to awaken and journey through the vast mysteries of existence together.

I wish you abundant joy over the holidays, the New Year and on your path of awakening. For further love and support on your path, please celebrate yoga with me at my Restorative classes throughout the bay area. Check out my schedule at



Five Tips for Holiday Stress Management

Five Holiday Stress Management TipsWith the holidays quickly approaching, things may start to get stressful and challenging. In this article I offer 5 simple Mindfulness and Yoga-based tips to help keep you centered.


merry christmas

1. Practice Beginner’s MindTake a few moments to center yourself before entering challenging situations. Considering practicing Mountain Pose after you ring your family’s doorbell and are waiting to enter. In short, let go of the history, open the heart, and maintain proper interpersonal boundaries.

As best as you can, try to approach each experience as if it was your first day on planet earth. Unless you are a certified psychic, you cannot predict how a certain situation is going to unfold. There is this idea of the “self-fulfilling prophecy”- if you hold strong beliefs about a particular situation and it’s outcome, you may unconsciously change your behavior in such a way that will confirm your prediction. For example, if you believe that your holiday family gathering is going to be stressful, you may approach the situation with negative energy. Others will likely pick up on this and respond in a more defensive or be emotionally closed.

2. Practice Awareness of the BreathIt only takes one second to redirect your attention onto your own breathing. By coming back to the breath in moments of stress, you can liberate your mind and body from tightening. Even while stopped at a traffic light, you can take a full breath in and move your attention into the belly and feel the belly expand, stay with the breath, and watch the belly fall. The challenge is remembering to take this step in the midst of the fight/flight response.

Find encouragement by remembering this piece of wisdom from the Bhagavad Gita: “Little by little, through patience and repeated effort, the mind will become stilled in the Self”.

3. Realize that stress is most often about our perception, rather than what is happening around usYes stressful events do happen to us, and we do not have control over everything happening in our lives. In the moment, we may have to take certain actions, such as shut down emotionally, or maybe isolate socially. It is important that once things settle down we take the time to acknowledge what our feelings are and to talk about them with someone we trust. We can even take this further by taking some quiet time to reflect on recent events and inquire as to whether or not, our thoughts and reactions to certain events accurately portray the actual events themselves, or was our reaction more about our emotional reactivity, or our ego not getting what it wants.

Journaling is a great way to examine perception. If something or someone has triggered you, take a moment to write down your thoughts, emotions, and note the sensations in your body. If there are particular negative thoughts, try to find objective evidence to support the thoughts, and try to balance the negative by rewriting the thoughts in a more positive way. Take to time to read your new, positive script and observe the calming effects.

4. Cultivate and maintain a non-judging mind As best as you can, realize that things as they are, are OK. Try to let go of, or minimize the gap between how you wish the world would be, and how you believe the world actually is. If you find this challenging, take a few moments and fill your mind’s eye with the image of something, or someone, that represents total unconditional love and happiness. Rest in stillness and silence with this image, and allow these feelings to spread throughout your entire being like a wildfire.

Take note of the physical sensations associated with these emotions, notice the peaceful stream of thoughts flowing through the mind, and take a mental snapshot of these qualities. Next time you feel stress coming on, head it off at the pass by droping awareness back into these thoughts, images, and sensations.

5. Maintain a daily practiceRemember the wisdom of the Bhavagad Gita above, in particular the recommendation of patience and repeated effort. While your holiday plans may involve travel and a disruption of your normal routine, remember that even taking 1, 5, or 10 minutes out of the day is a daily and regular practice if done consistently.

Realize that no matter where you are, you always have the breath and the body, and these two gifts are always accessible in the present moment.

Hopefully these few tips will help to keep the bliss flowing for you during the upcoming holiday season. I wish you all the best and many blessings this upcoming month.

Jai Ho,


John Rettger, PhD, RYT-200

Free Classes w/ John for Yoga Source community

Come join me on Tue 11/29 & Weds 11/30 for free classes while Yoga Source is closed. Check it out:

Restorative/Yin at Yoga Source during studio renovation work:

The Color Building at 201 Hamilton (at Emerson Street) in Palo Alto (just across from Peninsula Creamery). These classes are FREE to current YogaSource Palo Alto students who have previously registered and attended classes.

More info:

John’s Restorative Yoga Coming to Walnut Creek!

I am currently working with Bloom in Walnut Creek on offering Restorative Yoga at their new center. Please check them out at Stay tuned for further details! I will post schedule dates and times as they become available.