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  • 01/19/2024 11:42 AM | Anonymous
    The other day I was speaking with a new teacher. She told me that she did a 200-hour training. “But when I got out there and started to teach,” she said, “I realized that what I had learned in my training was completely inappropriate for the people who were turning up for my classes.”

    *Sigh* – I’ve heard this story way too many times.

    My first experiences with yoga were slow and mindful in the ’70s and ’80s, so I was surprised when, after returning from living in Asia for 4 years, I went to a class in 1995 in New Jersey which was a fast, sweaty, thumping-with-music kind of workout. The teacher and her front row students could do all sorts of amazing things with their bodies – and those of us hiding in the back were labeled “beginners” (in a friendly enough way) and encouraged to work harder because, eventually, we’d get there too.

    But, I would later learn, “You’ll get there eventually” isn’t accurate. Mobility is largely genetic and use-dependent—if your mom was Gumby, you’re probably golden, or if you were trained as a gymnast or dancer, you have some advantage.

    Thankfully, very soon after that, I found some Viniyoga classes and in them, something that resonated with me and how I’d originally learned to practice. It also dovetailed well with the qigong I had studied. These classes weren’t easy, but they also didn’t feel out of my flexibility league or risky. They were intentional—I was confident in what I was doing with my body, and I felt like every pose had a purpose and there was a mindful, logical order to the sequences.

    Clearly things have changed in the yoga world over the past 30 years. With a growing body of promising research and increasing recognition from health care professionals, yoga teachers are more aware that many people are coming to yoga for reasons other than flexibility or fitness, such as stress relief and the mental health benefits.

    Which means yoga teaching is necessarily changing.

    Recently, I’ve been hearing and reading about “functional” yoga. It’s a term that’s being used to describe more adaptable ways of teaching and practicing. Instead of creating goals around accomplishing poses, the idea is that you use asanas as a way to support movement in your daily life.  

    “Functional yoga” is an offshoot of the functional movement trend in the fitness industry. It’s being positioned as an alternative to “aesthetic” yoga practice, or doing asanas to create pleasing looking shapes. So instead of focusing on trying to do the pose “the right way,” you focus on how your body feels with the movement and how the movement supports your needs.

    This, in turn, is meant to help you develop strength, flexibility, balance, and stability. Like other functional fitness training, functional yoga may target specific functional movements such as squatting, lunging, twisting, reaching, and bending.

    And all this is great—because asanas should be functional. I’m a big fan of function.

    However, I’m left wondering… If your yoga practice isn’t functional to begin with, what have you been doing to yourself? And, for teachers, what have you been teaching others?

    Have the past 3 decades of yoga in the West been such a dysfunctional mess that now the consensus is that a new style of asana practice must be developed to counter the effects? In order to rectify the problems created by ignoring biomechanics and individual differences for so long?

    The older I get, the more I enjoy and need asana practice, and I know many people who feel the same. It’s great that yoga teachers are working on trying to teach yoga in a more functional way. But if many teachers have been trained to teach a fundamentally dysfunctional practice, what is the scale of the harm that has been done? What is the scale of harm that is still being perpetuated by not focusing on the functional?

    Recently I saw a video of a physical therapist saying, “We do too many forward bends in yoga, and so our hamstrings are weak, overstretched, and thin. And we do too many quad exercises in yoga, and so our quads are overdeveloped and tight.”

    Which left me wondering, Who is she talking about when she says “we”? And what kind of yoga is she referring to exactly? What kind of yoga did she learn when she studied it? What kind of yoga does she believe everyone is doing?

    The answer, of course, is the mainstream stuff. Which, it appears, fitness and movement professionals are now starting to call out as dysfunctional and to dismantle.

    Of course, I feel empathy for people who’ve spent a lot of time and money learning to teach yoga that is not functional to begin with; however, the alternatives are out there—and they’ve been out there for a long time. You will have to chip away at the veneer that’s crusted over social media in order to find yoga that has always been taught functionally, but it’s there, mostly ignored or labeled “beginner” or “gentle.”

    I always thought more functional ways of practicing were overlooked because they weren’t exciting, but who knows, it looks like functional may become the new sexy.  

    Please join Kristine on February 10, 2024, for Subtle Yoga: The Science Behind Slow, Mindful Yoga Practice.
  • 12/11/2023 9:12 PM | Anonymous

    It was the late 1960s, and I was living in Kamakura, Japan, where my parents were doing research for their degrees in Asian art history. Each Saturday, we would go to our local Zendo of the Sanbo Kyodan lineage, where Zen-Buddhist master,Yamada Roshi, resided. To prepare our bodies and minds for a full hour of this rigid and disciplined form of meditation, my mom had a local yoga instructor give us a weekly private class in our home, beginning when I was six years old.

    Upon our return to North America four years later, my parents continued their spiritual quest, exploring numerous world religions and traditions, even moving us all into a commune that we later realized was a cult that they had to kidnap us from in order to escape!! Crazy times, for sure.  

    But between all this exposure to different religions and ways of thinking and seeing the world, the one thing that became solid within me was the knowledge that at the core, the true teachings are all the same. No matter the external package, the message is universal. And so it was with ease that I slid into Hindu philosophy and, more specifically, the traditions of Kashmir Shaivism, when I met my own spiritual teacher in my mid 20s. My on-and-off lifelong meditation practice became steadier, and I now had a sangha to study and grow with. I had been working as an actor in LA for a number of years, and after being cast as and playing the role of Amanda Krueger—the mother to horror icon Freddy Krueger in Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child—I found that my opportunities suddenly became limited to horror films only, which was not at all the kind of work I had wanted to do. For that, and a few other personal reasons, at the height of my career I decided to walk away from it all, and I moved to an ashram in Ganeshpuri, India, where I chanted and meditated and did yoga daily and offered my seva working on their mobile hospital, where we would travel from village to village, serving the Adivasi population, providing basic medical care and nutrition, and my job was education through storytelling, with the aid of an interpreter. 

    I was learning all about the Yamas and Niyamas, taking wonderful yoga classes with world-class teachers, and blissing out on nightly kirtan, rising before dawn for sublime meditation, and chanting the Guru Gita. I also was undergoing so much Tapasya, as layers and layers of my outer shell was being annihilated. It was the most blissful and the most difficult two years of my life. One morning, I awoke to discover a deep transformation within me. I felt completely ready to dedicate the rest of my life to the seva I was doing and to commit to a monastic life, living full time at the ashram. I hadn’t spoken a word to anyone about this shift that I felt, but I just felt certain that this was where I wanted to spend the rest of my life.  

    But that very morning, seemingly out of the blue, one of the monks found me during breakfast and asked me to follow him to his office. Once there, he informed me that my guru had, just that morning, instructed him to “let me go.” 

    What do you mean by 'let me go'?? Am I being kicked out?” 

    It is time for you to leave the ashram,” I was told flatly. “You haven’t done anything wrong, but you can no longer stay here. You are to pack your things. You will be taken to the airport and sent to the ashram in New York, where you will have one week to find a place to live. Your time in the ashram is done.

    I was shattered. Shattered to the core. And New York? I had spent most of my young adult life on the West Coast and knew only one person in New York, an author I had met in the ashram in India. I rented a room in his apartment and found myself a temp job with a fortune 500 company, of all places. At its holiday party, I met the man who, two years later, became my husband. Fast-forward a few years and my husband and I moved to Rockland County, NY.  We bought a lovely home and began to create a family. I was taking prenatal yoga at Yoga Mountain, and a few of the teachers suggested I take their teacher training program, and the rest is history. I received my 300- and 500-hour certifications there and opened my own studio, Willow Tree Yoga, in 2006.  

    For me, yoga is how I live, how I breathe, how I see the world, and how I move through the world. I am an extremely rough work in progress, with faults and blind spots galore, but I am forever grateful to the teachings and practices of yoga that have seen me through the death of my daughter (who died in my arms moments after her birth) and have given me the strength to go through my son’s three open heart surgeries (to rework his heart that is missing its left ventricle). Every time I sit on my mat and face a class of students, I am filled with gratitude for the incredible gift and honor that we, as yoga teachers, are given, to be able to share this incredible practice with our fellow journeymen on this mystical, challenging, and ever-sacred path of life. 

    So hum.

    Please join us for Beatrice's workshop on chair yoga stretch on January 13, 2024. Note there are both in-person and Zoom-only options.

  • 10/25/2023 7:24 PM | Anonymous

    Align with the divine is a Tantric teaching that has incredible meaning and importance in life. Fate is what’s given to us. Destiny is what we do with it. In the Tantric tradition, we have agency, which means that we have the power to change our life and live our dream. We have the power to control our destiny. 

    The journey is always about the dance and interplay between our effort and grace. Like two wings of a bird, we need both effort and grace to fly. But so often we only flap the wing of effort. It’s all too easy to overdo everything, overdo relationship, work, taking care of others, eating. We get into cycles of overstriving that can leave us exhausted and depleted. Similarly, if we only flap the wing of grace, we tend to become ungrounded and spacey. We need the balance of both effort and grace to fly and glide through life’s ups and downs.

    When we have the balance of effort and grace, the heart opens. The heart is the place in the middle. There are three spiritual chakras above and three worldly chakras below. When you live in your heart and follow your heart, you’re in the dance of life. Sometimes you lead and grace follows and, at other times, she leads and you follow. 

    When there’s a balanced coparticipation between your own effort and the universe, it leaves you glowing and thriving in life. This is Tantra Yoga. When you align with the divine, you’re aligning with your deepest essence. But so many of us get out of balance. Without a strong personal practice, when we go out of balance, it’s difficult to get back into balance. We can often stay out of balance for days, weeks, months, or even years. Consistent practice over a long time brings us back to balance very quickly. We want to learn how to teach from this place.

    During the workshop on November 11, you’ll have the opportunity to come back into balance, let go of whatever is holding you back, and return home to your heart—to rest and digest and nurture yourself. You’ll have the opportunity to gain a deeper reflection of who you are as a spirit being and the life you’re creating. 

    As human beings, we are meaning-making machines. It’s not the experiences we’re left with that define who we are. It’s the meaning we assign to our experiences. We can either assign meaning that brings us down or lifts us up. As yogis and teachers, we want to uplift people. We want to support them to remove the veils that keep them small, covered, and burdened. And in order to give that to others, we need to do the deeper inner work ourselves. Yoga is a freedom, living in freedom, being free, and helping others choose to be free. 

    When you align with the divine, freedom begins to flow, windows of opportunity open up around you, and suddenly you’re in the right place at the right time. 

    There are times when I’m so aligned with the divine that I’m overwhelmed with gratitude. I’m able to see the perfect orchestration of my life and all of the events of my past, both positive and negative, that have brought me to where I am today. I’m able to appreciate the miracle of the moment and the miracle of this life. 

    This is what I call living in grace. It’s possible for all of us. As teachers we want to live from this place more and more so that we can become an inspiration for our students. We are the role models of balanced living, of living from the heart, of living and being the authentic experience of yoga! This is exactly what we’ll do in this workshop. It will be an honor to be with all of you! See you on the mat.

    I’m really looking forward to offering this workshop for the Yoga Teachers Association of the Hudson Valley. Hope to see you there!

    To learn more about Toddvisit ashayayoga.com.

  • 09/20/2023 8:41 PM | Anonymous

    I am quite delighted to present my workshop, Empowered Embodiment from the Earth to Ether, and travel that long distance together with you on uncharted pathways. I have no thoughts or intentions of teaching any of you, my peers, anything new. We’ve all been practicing for a while and exposed to all forms of yoga through many different formats.

    What I am planning to do is to share the teachings, inspirations, and intuitions that have arisen on my journey, grounded on Earth, and how my yoga practice encourages the physical form with its limitations to reach for the light in the Ether.

    The age old questions “Why am I here? and “Where am I going?” often provoke deep thought when on the path to the higher energies. As a long-term teacher of dance, movement arts, and yoga, my curiosity about these questions is continually arising, leading to awareness on many levels that come from the knowledge contained within the moving body. These are but minute segments of many different aspects in the various depths within that open us to the answers we seek, even as we learn the body’s language, when the technique of communicating is in the form of sensation (pain) or unease (dis-ease).

    I hope to lead the practice to the deepest places within to discover the highest sources of consciousness and the rich wisdom we possess, enabling us to grow and reach for the light with trusted support from our very own being.

    The practice of yoga, during this workshop will remind us to seek balance,
    not only physically, but to explore the techniques of inner balancing to help us through the challenges of our lives, at any time. The asanas (Tadasana, the Warriors, and Vrksasana) and other standing poses help us to ground, restore, and reclaim strength to empower our physical and emotional sense of well-being
    to “stand on our own two feet” and to “stand our ground” with self-trust, dignity, and integrity.
    The seated poses will encourage focus on our upper body and breath as we stretch and expand to reset our body’s connection with the self via the nervous system and the brain.

    I will also attempt to travel back to the earliest of times when the ancient wise ones, attuned to the universal wisdom, began to extrapolate the information that influenced our current practice of yoga, and the understanding of our “instrument and vehicle” and what we can do to keep running smoothly.

    There will be discussions, techniques, and practicalities to connect with the kinetic power we have to deepen the development and process of asana. Bring any props that you like to use for seated and standing postures…and questions you might have.

    It is the long and arduous journey of a seeker, and our practice has proven again and again that it provides the opportunity to explore self-trust, truth, and transformation that leads to the next level that we prepared ourselves for and are ready to reach. It is never ending, but it makes life valuable and I would very much like to share my findings and how they presented themselves in my experience.
    Please join me to walk this path together.

  • 08/06/2023 5:00 AM | Anonymous

    A Stand-Alone System

    Yoga with weights is neither yoga nor weight training, but a synthesis of the two forms of exercise. It’s a higher level of conditioning. Holding the weights in your hands and bearing the weights on your ankles fires and develops your muscles. The weights sculpt and tone your body. Meanwhile, as you strike the yoga postures, you develop flexibility and a conscious awareness of your body.

    Yoga with weights adds another dimension to yoga. Because you’re supporting weights, the challenges that normally accompany yoga exercise—of knowing which muscles to flex and which to relax during an exercise—are made even more demanding. The weights stabilize the body and encourage you to feel the action of the yoga practice itself. The weight helps the muscles understand where they’re supposed to be and what they’re supposed to do in an exercise. The result is a more intense, more exact exercise discipline. 

    Yoga with weights also builds body self-awareness. You can think of yoga with weights as a dialogue between your mind and your body. As you exercise, your brain sends a stimulus to a part of your body telling it to move in a certain direction. Then a signal comes back to the brain saying that the body part either can move or can’t move any further, and the brain sends out another signal asking the part of the body to flex or relax a little more. This ongoing dialogue amounts to a self-exploration of your body. In a very profound way, it makes you more aware of your body and enables you to extend the physical limits that your body is capable of reaching.

    For the past several years, Sherri has worked with an elderly man who had polio in his youth. Her experiences with this man showed very clearly just how beneficial yoga can be to body awareness. Yoga was able to help the man so-to-speak reconnect the muscles and nerves in his body. He can now bend over, sit up, and walk with more ease, confidence, and coordination. His muscle strength, range of motion, and overall sense of well-being have improved physically and mentally. Yoga helped him rebuild the lines of connection in his body. It helped him restore and rewire what we call the nerve highways and pathways that had been damaged by polio.

    Remember: Like traditional yoga, yoga with weight emphasizes correct breathing and an awareness of how you breath. This attention to breathing gives you a sense of calm relief, a feeling of grace, a feeling of steadiness similar to what you get from a traditional yoga workout. The addition of the weights brings the very physical feeling you get from weight training. You feel your individual muscles and you get the solid feeling that weightlifters get. 

    Finally, the addition of the weights makes you feel the effect of the yoga training sooner. The weights train the muscles where to be and where to go. In a beginning yoga practice, it sometimes takes a year for students to “get it.” It doesn’t take students practicing yoga with weights that long.

    Should I have had some weight training?

    You don’t need to have lifted weights before to study yoga with weights. The weights are only three to five pounds and are not difficult to get the hang of.

    If you’re an avid weight trainer, you may have to unlearn one or two things before you attempt yoga with weights. Sherri can’t count the number of times weight trainers and big-time body builders have told her, “I want to come to your yoga class.” But they never show up. They’re intimidated by the yoga room and they never make it over the threshold because they’re not flexible and because they’re used to being the fittest, best athletes in the gym. Stepping out of your element and comfort zone is a challenge for everybody, body builders included. But the beauty of yoga with weights is that it benefits classic body builders in new and balanced ways, allowing them to reclaim full range of motion and flexibility while maintaining their strength. This is just the thing they often need.

    One of the biggest attractions of yoga with weights is being able to lift weights and still maintain your flexibility. You can get the same muscular tone you get from weight training and work on your flexibility as well. You won’t get “bulked up” or muscle-bound, but your muscles will be toned, defined, and strengthened.

    Yoga-with-Weights Breathing

    If you’re new to yoga with weights, you may wonder why you have to pay so much attention to breathing. In every exercise, we tell you when to inhale and exhale and how long to inhale and exhale. In between exercises, we instruct you to pause for three deep and steady breaths. We have you focus on breathing because breathing correctly helps you to feel emotionally centered, physically stronger, and mentally alert. In the full-body workout, you use the complete breath (Chapter 4 explains what that is). Breathing complete breaths is a mindful practice that will harmonize body, mind, and spirit. It’s important to remember never to force a breath into your lungs; simply welcome a full breath to move in and out naturally. Breathing consciously helps you move safely as you exercise and connect to undiscovered areas of your body. The deep rhythmic breathing you do in these exercises also improves your circulation and de-stresses your mind.

    Excerpted from Yoga with Weights for Dummies, by Sherri Baptiste and Megan Scott. Wiley Publishing, Inc., Indianapolis, Indiana, 2006. Available wherever books are sold.

  • 05/14/2023 6:07 PM | Anonymous

    Use the light that is within you to regain your natural clearness of sight. Seeing into the darkness is clarity. Knowing how to yield is strength. Use your own life and return to the source of life. This is called practicing the eternal.                      

    ~ Lao-Tzu

    I began my journey to improve my vision after attending a lecture with Dr. Marc Grossman. He maintained that in many cases, vision can be improved by decreasing the “bad” and improving the “good”:

    • Reduce factors that degrade eyesight (stress and physical and mental tension) 

    • Understand, apply, and integrate healthy habits of using our eyes

    For myself, how to relax and energize the eyes became a practice of combining Bates Method eye exercises with insights from the Chinese meridian system, as well as stress reduction through yoga and qigong. Over the years, I’ve successfully reduced my glasses prescription by 50% and continue to see improvement. 

    Even if you don’t need corrective lenses, the exercises I review in the workshop will help you with tired eyes, computer eye strain, and other bothersome eye conditions. As yoga practitioners, I think we will find much resonance in understanding and applying the principles and practices of yoga to vision improvement.


    Yoga as a Path to Better Vision

    In a nutshell, as we relax and open the body through yoga we simultaneously relax and open the mind, and as we relax the mind, our vision, both inside and outside, is enhanced. 

    What does it mean, “inner” vision? It means our sense of self, our identity, our purpose, our “beingness” in the world. And “outer” vision? Our sight, our appreciation of color and form, the ability to perceive with clarity and vividness the beauty around us.

    Basically, yoga works on three facets of the human being and has specific techniques for each aspect. These are the physical body; the energy body; and the mental body or mind. 

    The yoga practitioner seeks to harmonize these three dimensions of the human being and through doing this, achieve optimal health, happiness, and self-understanding; this would include optimal inner and outer vision.

    Let’s look at these three dimensions individually.


    Physical Body: The Anamayakosa

    The physical poses of yoga, known as asanas, are designed to increase both strength and flexibility of the body, improve balance, and at the same time enhance circulation and energy flow, cleansing organs and other systems. 

    The poses that most benefit the eyes are:

    • Stretches for the head, neck, and shoulders. Releasing tension from the neck and shoulders not only improves posture but boosts vision by allowing more circulation of blood to the brain; the eyes are simply extensions of brain tissue.
    • Asanas that open the liver/gallbladder meridians; in Chinese Medicine these meridians are responsible for vision (again, both inside and out).

    In the workshop, I will be teaching these beneficial poses.


    Energy Body: The Pranayamakosha

    All the breathing exercises in yoga are designed to enhance energy and oxygenate the blood, improving circulation while removing stress. 

    One of the most beneficial pranayamas for vision improvement is Kapalabhati, or skull-shining breath. Easy to master, this breath brings oxygen to the brain, and cleans the blood. It improves the oxygenation of blood in the body, which helps in better nourishment of all the structures of the eyeball, along with the nerves.

    Another piece of the workshop will be including Kapalabhati with yoga eye stretches.


    Mental Body: Vijnanamayakosha


    The goal of yoga is union with the “divine,” which one could also call reality, or the Tao, the creative infinite, nature,“that which is,” or the Universal. In yoga philosophy, the Universal is said to exist in the space between thoughts, which is nonthinking, and in this infinite space, the truth of being is said to reside. This place of “no mind” is meditation. 

    Many advanced practitioners of yoga and meditation who can enter the “space between thoughts” report improved vision afterward. To quote Michael Hutchison from The Book of Floating,  “As I went out into the world (after going into the state of no mind) my senses were extremely – almost unbelievably – sharp and keen. Everything I saw seemed to be beautiful and miraculous, and the colors of everything were extraordinarily rich and beautiful. I saw everything clearly as if objects had sharp edges around….Everything has become much sharper and clearer than it normally was.”

    The takeaway is that external vision can be improved as one raises one's level of consciousness. In other words, deepening one’s meditation practice (ie, inner vision) can be a doorway to improving one's eyesight (outer vision).

    In the workshop, I will be including a breath meditation practice that will benefit vision.


    Vision Improvement and Practices From Other Systems

    In addition to using the modalities of yoga as vehicles for vision improvement, I will be sharing Qigong exercises to benefit the eyes, as well as Chinese Eye Massage.

    As was said by one Chinese sage, “From the base of the mountain, many paths. From the peak, only one moon.” My job as the workshop presenter is to guide you on some of these paths; our collective goal as we navigate the various paths up the “mountain” is the one “moon” of inner and outer clarity. 


  • 04/18/2023 11:22 AM | Anonymous

    Prenatal yoga is one of yoga’s best kept secrets. Beyond the full range of benefits addressing the physical and emotional transformations of pregnancy, many do not know that the prenatal yoga class also includes key elements that are not found in regular yoga classes. Most importantly, these elements are beneficial right away, from the first trimester onward.

    Let’s take a closer look at some of the aspects of prenatal yoga practice that make it so unique.  


    Building a Mom Community

    Going through pregnancy, labor, and parenthood is momentous and the process comes with a plethora of physical, mental, emotional, and social shifts. This life-changing event truly deserves some support and acknowledgement that is not easily found out there. Fortunately, prenatal yoga is a perfect forum to allow moms to connect.

    In prenatal yoga, time is set aside to ask questions, share resources, learn more about pregnancy, celebrate milestones, and make new friends. This is an invaluable benefit because prenatal yoga is one of the few places where moms-to-be can get together, practice together, and simply talk. I’ve found over the years that the connections made in prenatal yoga class are significant and often last for years to come. 


    Reducing Pregnancy Discomforts

    Each trimester of pregnancy presents its own set of joys, as well as discomforts. Prenatal yoga is specifically designed to hone in on the needs of each trimester and to address the common discomforts experienced at various stages of pregnancy. 

    Since everyone in the class is pregnant, it is easier for the teacher to target specific issues and help students understand the physiology of pregnancy, which includes ways to manage discomforts when they arise. Specific tips on managing day-to-day challenges are also provided and can include: how to prop for better sleep at night, ways to sit more comfortably at work, positions for round ligament pain, engagements for improved pelvic stability, pelvic floor toning, and many other common pregnancy concerns.

     

    More Easeful Labor

    Studies indicate that expecting moms who practice prenatal yoga experience significantly less pain (Research Strategies for Normal Birth by Amy Romano and Henci Goer, Lamaze International, 2008) suggesting that prenatal yoga helps prepare moms for the demands of labor. Anecdotally, my own students often comment that prenatal yoga was fundamental in preparing them for labor and consistently report feeling more relaxed, informed, and confident for the birth process.

    Perhaps this is because moms actually practice a wide range of mind-body strategies in prenatal yoga that are directly applicable to the labor room. These include strategic vocalization practices, propping techniques for better support during pregnancy and labor, pregnancy-friendly movements that increase the chance of optimally positioning babies for birth, and ways to reduce contraction discomfort through breath practices, guided meditations, affirmations, and comprehensive relaxation.

     

    Breath Awareness and Deep Relaxation

    Yoga is all about breath and relaxation. This is as true in regular yoga classes as it is in prenatal yoga practice; however, in prenatal yoga, moms dive more specifically into the process of breath and relaxation within the context of pregnancy and birthing. Training the body exactly how to achieve a state of deep relaxation (while also being in labor) takes time and consistent practice. This is just one reason why starting prenatal yoga sooner, rather than later, in pregnancy can be so helpful! Too often the practice of natural techniques for coping with contractions are not offered until the very last weeks of pregnancy, or even during labor itself. Fully embodying these techniques often takes more practice than just a handful of classes, and obviously labor is never a good time to learn.

     

    Celebration of Pregnancy

    Prenatal yoga class is a special time to engage in a beneficial practice for both mom and baby. The class is so much more than just yoga. It provides time for connecting with other moms, bonding with the baby, addressing the rapid changes of pregnancy, gathering resources, asking questions, having a laugh or two, and dedicating a time simply to slow down, breathe, and celebrate pregnancy in the company of other moms-to-be.

    Prenatal students do not need any previous yoga experience to participate. I also encourage grandmothers-to-be to attend, as well as curious yoga teachers who just want to know what happens in this class. I look forward to seeing you on the mat! 

    To learn more about Kelly, visit yogadevi.mom



  • 03/22/2023 5:35 PM | Anonymous

    My beloved child, break your heart no longer. Each time you judge yourself, you break your own heart.

    ~Swami Kripalu/Vidya Carolyn Dell’uomo

    How many hundreds of yoga classes did I teach, quoting my teacher at the end of each class, before my heart’s mind understood those words? Why did saying them to my students still bring tears to my eyes? Why, after years of meditation, therapy, and medication, was I still so mean to me? Before I began a daily yoga practice in the late 80s, no amount of meditation turned the volume down on that monster in my mind. Every one of us has an inner critic. Mark Twain said that if we talked to our children the way we talk to ourselves, we would be arrested for child abuse. I was particularly hard on myself in the 70s, after my marriage failed. Had anyone been listening to my self-abuse, they would have locked me up and thrown away the key.

    My secret name for myself was “Amy Shamey.” Shame wasn’t just a thought or belief. It wasn’t just an emotion. It was a part of my physical being, a daily visceral experience that whooshed through my body, bringing waves of heat and a deep sense of humiliation and with it, grief. No amount of talking about it in therapy, watching it arise on the meditation cushion, or numbing it out with meds, touched the core of my self-hatred. Of course, my body image had a lot to do with it. I saw myself as chubby, unattractive, and clumsy, compared to my beautiful mother, whose expressive face appeared on the covers of pulp fiction magazines like True Confessions and Romance in the late 1940s. My body was not my friend. It had hair in places it shouldn’t. It had ungraceful hands. It had an embarrassing plumpness in the places that should have been lean and an embarrassing flatness in the places that should have been round. From this description, you might think I wasn’t pretty. We’re talking about self-image here, not reality. Pictures attest to my cuteness as a kid and my downright beauty in my teens. I don’t think my creative dance teacher would have tried to convince my mother when I was eleven to enroll me in a proper ballet studio with daily classes, if she hadn’t seen in me a grace and fluidity I couldn’t see in myself. But whatever the source, I hated my body and nearly everything else that went by the name of Amy.

    So what changed? In the late 1980s I made my first visit to Kripalu Center in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, and took my first yoga class. I had been meditating since the early 70s, and had practiced a bit of yoga asana with a library book and some LPs made in the 70s by an American yoga teacher named Richard Hittleman. But it wasn’t until I was on a blanket at Kripalu for the first time, that a teacher invited me to listen to my body and accept it just as it was. It may have been during that first visit to Kripalu, that a teacher spoke the words attributed to Swami Kripalu but that were actually written by long-time Kripalu disciple and yoga teacher, Carolyn Dell’uomo: “My beloved child, break your heart no longer. Each time you judge yourself, you break your own heart.” I’m sure I wept on my mat, when I heard them, although I don’t remember. What I do remember is emerging from the class feeling a sense of spacious abundance, a touching into wholeness that I had never experienced before. In those moments after class, it didn’t matter what I looked like or what mistakes I may have made in my life. I had touched something deep within me that was absolutely perfect, just as it was. In those moments after class, there was nothing I needed to fix, no way I needed to change. I left Kripalu with a bag full of audio tapes to practice at home, as there were no yoga teachers in my town. I came back to my mat, day after day, sometimes struggling to get there with a head full of self-condemnation. And after every morning practice, of stretching and breathing and staying present to the physical sensations the poses evoked, I felt more at home in my body. I rose from my mat feeling at ease with the Amy who looked back at me from the mirror.

    The self-judgment didn’t cease in the hours I spent off the mat, at least not right away. At first the daily whoosh of shame came weekly, then monthly, and then eventually, it disappeared altogether. The simple attention to sensation, the backing off from a pose when I needed to, the true listening and honoring of my body, began to change me in the most profound way. Compassion for my body was the first thing to change. I listened to my body’s needs on and off the mat, and a lifetime of suffering from constipation disappeared. I began to crave healthier foods, and without dieting, I lost weight. Eventually, when my inner critic attacked, I found myself talking back, instead of believing everything she said. When I rolled out my mat to practice, her voice fell silent. When I made a mistake or fell short of my own expectations, she always had something to say, but I didn’t necessarily believe her anymore. By the early 90s, I was teaching a workshop at Kripalu called, “Befriending Your Inner Critic,” leading others in exercises to find that compassion for themselves, including their shame parts and their nasty inner critics.

    These exercises help bring more fresh oxygen and release old carbon dioxide from the lungs, enabling you to fully sense and be present to physical sensations. This sensory awareness is the portal into finding compassion for all your parts to outshine the weakening voice of your inner critic.

  • 03/14/2023 9:38 PM | Anonymous

    Yoga is samadhi, a state of union with the object of contemplation, states Vyasa. Yoga is collectedness, or samadhana, proclaims Shankara. Both of these ancient teachers are offering their commentaries on Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, the composition of classical yoga philosophy built on the dualistic notions of purusha (spirit/eternal/immutable consciousness) and prakriti (matter/primordial manifestation). While Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita espouses the value of being engaged in the world, stating that yoga is skill and equanimity in action, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras systematically codify how we can achieve liberation from our dukka (suffering) through citta-vritti-nirodha (focusing one’s entire mind-body-attention). The latter represents only one of the ascetic traditions in ancient India. Meanwhile we have the Tantric traditions, where there is a radical embracing of samsara, the world, and the assumption is that transcendence and sensory pleasure are not incompatible. All of the above have roots in Sanatan Dharma from the Indian subcontinent. Buddhism and Jainism, Sikhism, and Sufi lineages have their own interpretations, manifestations and philosophies of Yoga.

    Yoga is thus a splendidly multi dimensional and multi layered collection of practices, encompassing various branches, cultures, and traditions. There are a few broad commonalities and themes that course through these teachings :

    1. That we are all deeply, viscerally, and spiritually interconnected beings infused with atman/spirit/purusha/consciousness.

    2. The practice of yoga is defining, discerning, and centering consciousness as a vehicle of transcendence from the phenomenal world.

    In other words, the paths may vary, but there is a deep yearning within to expand our awareness, to evolve from our identification with the material realm, to release ourselves from physical-emotional-mental and spiritual suffering, to know and be in our truest essence, and to revel in our primordial nature, which is beyond the limitations of individual mind-ego and socio-cultural conditioning. Liberation (mukti or moksha) is thus the aim of yoga.

    Through millennia, yoga practitioners have embodied these esoteric teachings in unique and authentic ways. Some have dedicated their lives in service to the challenges of the times. Some have shared their gifts of discernment, inquiry and logic, while others have radically connected with the divine through joyful creations of music, dance, and art, eliminating tremendous systemic obstacles of caste and gender in their path. While some of these thought leaders and change makers have caused seismic shifts in their spheres of influence and disrupted prevailing systems of oppression such as imperialism and patriarchy, folks who are known to this day, others have been erased or are lesser known due to the cooptation and appropriation of yoga by capitalism and colonization. These are our yoga ancestors.

    Each of them have forged their own paths, leveraged personal agency, re-imagined their circumstances, and shed light on how one can overcome suffering, thus transforming their own life and creating ripples of change around them, indelibly impacting the collective. We can learn much by listening to their stories, their triumphs and tribulations.

    We are living through overwhelmingly challenging times. Systemic and institutional inequities abound along with wars, a global pandemic, racial injustice, trans lives endangered, religious fundamentalism, and a climate crisis that seems insurmountable. Many of us who practice, teach, and study yoga seek to make a difference, and to have an impact on the community in skillful and sustainable ways. Our yoga practice helps cultivate clarity of thought and perception into our own internal lives, invite harmony in the ways in which we commune with the Earth, discern our positionality within systems regarding access or distance from power and privilege, and also learn from the triumphs and travails of the past.

    Yoga unites the perceived polarities of inner psycho-spiritual work with the outer work of being agents of social and political change. The gift of yoga is in the agency it offers each of us in our quest for liberation, the transformation that occurs when we practice yoga on and off the mats. When we look toward the philosophical and spiritual wisdom, we can access insight into the functioning of our mind, our emotions and our spirit. When we practice svadhyaya (self study), we may begin to unravel why we do the things we do. When we practice vichara (inquiry), we may begin to be curious about our conditioning and the samskaras. When we practice viveka (discernment), we may look deeply into our positionality and know where we land in the world around us, our proximity or distance to power and privilege.

    We can heal the rupture in our relationships by leaning into the wisdom of interconnectedness. We can hold each other accountable for perpetuating harm and co-create spaces of equity and inclusion. We can gain clarity in intentions and honesty about the impact of our actions and/or inactions. We belong to each other, each one of us as a part of the human family has a role to play. At its essence, yoga is meant to be lived and experienced, not merely taught or learned intellectually or practiced physically, but embodied in all ways.

    From Accessible Yoga, Defining Yoga: Agency, Liberation & the Wisdom of Interconnectednes*, Writings and Press, Anjali Rao. 


  • 02/13/2023 6:06 AM | Anonymous

    Beyond learning and practicing poses and pranayama, yoga has emerged as a condition of being, rather than a practice. Perhaps for most of us we first discover or experience yoga on a mat and follow a teacher through a sequence of poses and awareness of breath. Indeed that is how I came to experience yoga. And like all lasting relationships yoga has evolved. Not only do I experience yoga on a mat, through pranayama and in meditation, yoga has emerged in my consciousness as a condition of being. While I am not always in a condition of yoga, I’m aware where ease lives, and when I suffer physically, mentally, or emotionally, I know I am not in yoga. What is different for me now is that I know that it is with a few spirited breaths that I rejoin yoga’s energy. No longer does suffering mean I’ve done something wrong or need an intense practice and an egotistical effort to become worthy of the grace of yoga. That’s not to say expressing the many, many tools that cultivate yoga are not of value…indeed we can’t get there without them because they illuminate and distinguish what is our true nature, and what is the ego seeking to overshadow our brilliance.   

    When I refer to yoga, therefore, I am referring to a personal and universal condition of union. The value in this union is a reduction of harm and suffering to self and others. When in yoga, kindness of mind reigns, gentleness in heart leads, and acceptance in body exists. Together the mind, body, and breath generate energy that already knows how it is to express, where it is to lead, and offers trust in living day to day. 

    So how did this all come to be? And does it mean I am always happy, joyous, and free? Yoga has emerged gradually over 15 years of study and practice—and I am not referring to perfect practice or perfect commitment. I am far from the imagined devoted yogi I thought I needed to be, wanted to be, and strived to be. Rather, I am an individual who has made peace with the flaws that come with being human. Those who know me likely hear me say, I am a bundle of blind spots, black holes, and moments of brilliance. It was the distortions of the ego mind that sought to control and bruise my sense of self that made me strive for the illusion of perfection. I can tell you the relief of not having to try so hard is an expression of grace. Yet, that doesn’t imply I have settled for an expression of mediocrity. Indeed, can you recognize it is the ego that poses those questions? The den of the ego again suggests an idea of perfection or mediocrity. 

    The answer to how this came to be is offered in the workshop I am privileged to present. I will introduce the living opportunity each of us has to anchor our body and spirit in a ritual that reflects what we can do and offer it to the potential of nurturing yoga within us—seeking to guide us in a life that radiates the light of our spirit, and shapes the true role of the ego mind—the service to the soul. 

    I hope my expression intrigues you, and I hope you will join me. I’ll be asking you to inquire into the illusions and challenges of living in your body and mind.  I’ll provide a process to create a personalized practice that will address what the yoga in you needs to emerge and guide your life.  Mudras, mantras, asana sequences, and pranayama meditations that will through practice dissolve the Samskaras, and allow the radiance of your true spirit to lead you forward. While this workshop is three hours, what you experience can last a lifetime. 

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