• 12/14/2022 9:12 PM | Anonymous

    When something was important, the Buddha made sure it was repeated over and over again throughout his 45 years of teaching. Upekkha, or equanimity—the practice of a balanced heart and mind—is one of those things.

    Equanimity is a heart practice that cultivates a state of mind that does not allow one to be caught in the worldly winds of praise and blame, success and failure, pleasure and pain, fame and disrepute.

    Equanimity keeps us still in the midst of chaos, and is known to be the balancing factor in our faith, our wisdom, and our energy. It protects the heart from going into envy, the excitement of joy from becoming agitated, compassion from sliding into pity. Equanimity is a practice of a fierce heart. It allows us to go directly into the fire. Equanimity is not afraid; it does not back down. It stays present to whatever is arising without judging or reacting.

    Creating tender boundaries

    Equanimity is meant to be known and practiced while being engaged in “the ten thousand joys and the ten thousand sorrows” of being in relationship with other humans. In applying the concept to our interactions with others, I often think of equanimity as love + clear boundaries + tenderness without attachment.

    Boundaries. A lot of us get caught up when we hear the word. We think of cruelty, of kicking someone out. But when you apply love and tenderness, boundaries can create an environment of social harmony because they let us know we’re all playing by the same rules.

    I once worked in a community center that modeled radical hospitality–our commitment to creating an inclusive space for everyone who came through our doors. We were in lower Manhattan, near the site of the World Trade Center and just two blocks from Zuccotti Park, the encampment of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Our guests included Occupiers, folks who worked on Wall Street, tourists, people who were experiencing homelessness, high-school students and multi-faith leaders who would all converge in this 2000 square foot space at lunchtime. For this collective to co-exist, we had to come to agreements that allowed us to treat the space–and one another—with respect. When people weren’t able to do so, my boss would say: “I’m not kicking you out of my heart, but I’m kicking you out of the space today!”

    Holding what is yours

    The classic phrases of the Equanimity Meditation practice say that “all Beings are the owners of their karma; their happiness and unhappiness depends upon their actions, not on my wishes for them.”  This suggests, “I care about you, but I’m not in control of the unfolding of events. I can’t make it all better for you.” It means that I can walk you to the front door of an AA meeting, for example, but I can’t go in and find recovery for you.

    So many of us who work as health-care providers, educators, social workers, and in other healing and caretaking roles are conditioned and even trained to hold the hearts and suffering of others, when they’re simply not ours to hold.  Equanimity helps us to know what belongs to you and what belongs to me. (And also what belongs to our ancestors, as we often carry their burdens on top of our own.) I can walk alongside you, but I don’t have to carry all of the baggage.

    A commitment to the health of our community

    As our global community navigates this time of transition—this is a place of, “done with that, but not quite ready for this”—we might be exploring how to emerge with grace as we heal from the impact of a period of collective trauma.

    Finding a sense of equipose between our own mental health and our commitment to the health of our extended communities can feel like a balancing act. Equanimity allows us the space to find a sacred pause and to respond instead of react. It’s as if we’re able to slow down the world around us and to see the space in between—a space where we can bring in patience, generosity, and compassion for ourselves and for others.

    Equanimity as a meditation practice

    The first foundation of mindfulness is mindfulness of the body. This includes the physical body, breath and what Buddhists call the “sense doors” of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching. So in our formal meditation practice, it’s imperative to take time setting the body up for success so as we incline the heart and mind towards the subject of our meditation, the felt sense of the body can guide the way.

    I will often take a standing posture for this particular meditation because of the strength, stillness, and power it provokes. One of the four classic postures (sitting, walking, and lying down are the other three), standing can also bring brightness to a sleepy or restless body. If standing isn’t accessible, holding the energy or quality of standing will offer the same benefit.

    Feel the qualities of a mountain—strong roots, pelvic bone heavy, collarbones wide, crown of your head reaching toward the sky, while holding a softness and a tenderness throughout the rest of your body. Soft knees, soft belly, strong back.

    Place hands over belly. Feel your belly expand into the palms of the hands as you breathe the breath in; feel your belly reach back toward the spine as you breathe the breath out. Keep exploring the breath this way, or allow your hands to release, fingertips reaching toward the earth, and exhale as if through the bottoms of the feet.

    Feel into the stillness, the density, and the softness of the body, as gravity pulls the body toward the earth. Allow the earth to support you, as the breath might bring some movement or swaying to your practice.

    In the silence of your practice, random thoughts, imagery, or planning might arise. Notice where these thoughts pull your attention.

    Take a breath in. Without judging or manipulating the breath in any way, we begin to know our breath in its natural form. As you breathe the breath in, know that this breath is like this. As you breathe the breath out, know that this breath is like this.

    And when the next round of thoughts arise—maybe there’s boredom or agitation—notice where they pull your attention. Know that it’s okay to open your eyes to bring some brightness to your practice and begin again. Soft knees, soft belly, strong back.

    As you continue this dance of noticing where the mind wanders, feel into the body’s response to this thought: Is there a tightening in the shoulders, energy moving through the legs, sweating in the palms of the hands? Is the breath short and rigid?

    Bring yourself to the present moment. What’s happening right now is that my body is remembering something that has already happened, and is in the past. What’s happening right now is that I can feel gravity grounding this body as it stands or rests on the earth. I am breathing this breath in, and I am breathing this breath out.

    Allow this connection to the stillness of the body, or movement of the breath to be the anchor that brings you back to your practice when the mind begins to wander. As you continue to explore this practice, see if you can find the body coming closer to its center so you’re not living on the edges. Find a softness, and the capacity to stay.

    *Reprinted from “How Setting Boundaries Can Help You Find Balance,” by Leslie Booker. Yoga Journal, July 22, 2022.

  • 11/16/2022 11:00 AM | Anonymous

    Gentle Somatic Yoga® (GSY) incorporates therapeutic sequences, called Somatic Movement Flows®, that can help relieve chronic pain, stiffness, and postural imbalances. These flows significantly increase flexibility, support recovery from injury, and also prevent injuries arising from repetitive movements of everyday life. Through a process of brain-to-muscle repatterning most people find beneficial results that are immediate and long-lasting.

    The main intent of Gentle Somatic Yoga is to educate people and empower students with practical tools so they can take charge of their own healing process. Through the process of unwinding from deep stress holding patterns participants return back to their natural state, which is peace and well-being.

    In this three-hour experiential workshop, James Knight, founder of GSY and Somatic Wellness™, will introduce the key principles of Somatic Yoga designed to create a more integrated experience of body, mind, and spirit.

    What makes this method different compared to other popular styles of yoga? Gentle Somatic Yoga does not focus on stretching.

    In traditional Hatha yoga, asanas (postures) are often practiced with the intent to reach a “full expression and preferred alignment” of any given pose. In Gentle Somatic Yoga, however, it is more about having the attitude of discovery and exploration to explore the body (soma) from the inside out, on the level of internal felt sensation. In this experiential method muscles are re-programmed to their optimal length in a resting position.  

    This progressive method of movement incorporates Hanna Somatic Education, hatha yoga, meditation, breathing techniques, Core Energetics (body-oriented psychotherapy), as well as principles ascribed to quantum mechanics. GSY is dedicated to researching, pioneering, and facilitating the most leading-edge neuroscience in movement education.

    Keys to Overcoming Chronic Tension and Pain

    The cause of most muscular pain and stiffness is found in the brain. Oftentimes muscles stay contracted as if they were on “auto pilot,” despite our efforts to stretch, get massages, or have chiropractic adjustments. In Gentle Somatic Yoga, we call thisSensory Motor Amnesia.

    Sensory Motor Amnesia develops over time for several reasons: repetitive body movements, injury, emotional trauma, and other stressful life experiences. When the brain forgets how to relax muscles, the muscles stay contracted and we feel muscular pain even when we think we are “relaxing.”

    In this workshop, learn how to discover areas of Sensory Motor Amnesia to strengthen and integrate the brain-to-muscle connection. The more you can voluntarily control your muscles, the more choices you have in your body, and the freer you are through everyday movement.  

    This workshop is right for you if:

    • You or someone you know experiences chronic pain and other symptoms from an injury, disease, or condition, including but not limited to:
    • Neck, shoulder, back pain
    • Pelvic floor disorder
    • Sciatica
    • Fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue
    • Headaches/Migraines
    • Sports injury
    • Joint pain
    • Muscle tightness, stiffness, or spasms
    • Poor posture
    • Anxiety
    • You want to learn nourishing movements for an everyday home practice to keep your health and well-being thriving. 
    • You are a yoga teacher/therapist, bodyworker, or health care professional and want to learn new skills for your tool kit. These skills can be immediately integrated into group movement classes and/or one-on-one customized sessions.

    What you will learn:

    • Seven-plus therapeutic and restorative sequences, called Somatic Movement Flows®, that significantly improve flexibility, enhance strength, reestablish better posture, and dissolve chronic pain
    • Evidence-based and heart-guided self-care/self-healing techniques to improve your immune system, reduce anxiety, and increase energy levels
    • New appreciation and greater understanding of the difference between the main technique in GSY called pandiculation, versus static stretching. Also distinguish the difference between wellness and fitness.
    • New skills for yoga teachers, yoga therapists, bodyworkers, or healthcare professionals to share with their students/clients in group movement classes and/or private sessions. 
    Please join James on Saturday, December 10, for An Introduction to Gentle Somatic Yoga: Repattern Muscles from Head to Toe.

  • 10/16/2022 5:30 AM | Anonymous

    The ancient scripture, the Bhagavad Gita, contains the wisdom of the ages. Ralph Waldo Emerson stated that in all his studies there was "nothing that compared to the Bhagavad Gita,” that "even Shakespeare seemed adolescent in comparison.” Explore why this ageless poem has been a guide for much of the world in how to attain true happiness and live a life in accordance with a loving, all-powerful God by your side. 

    The main concepts set forth in the Gita are guiding principles to live by. The Bhagavad Gita is the quintessential text on yoga—not Hatha yoga, the yoga of postures—but Bhakti yoga, the yoga of love. All yoga practices rest on the foundation of this fearless love and how to attain it, set forth in this scripture. All interested yogis and yoga teachers should be familiar with its origins and essential teachings. 

    In India, there are vast amounts of ancient texts containing the wisdom of the sages. The Vedas, Upanishads, Puranas, and more are thousands and thousands of years old and expansive in their volume. It would take lifetimes to study all of these scriptures in total, but it is said that all the wisdom of all of these ancient yogic texts are contained in this one short epic poem. The Bhagavad Gita is a provocative discussion between Krishna (God) and Arjuna (the spiritual warrior), and we are fortunate enough to have the contents of this poignant moment put into writing for our study and practice. 

    The principles set forth in the Gita hit the core of our belief systems and challenge us about what we imagine the nature of reality is. In this discussion, Arjuna asks Krishna/God all the same questions you or I would ask if we had the opportunity to be in God's Presence: What is the purpose of living? How do I find my dharma/purpose? How do I live a “Godly“ life? How can I find happiness and contentment in this crazy world? Where do I go when I die? How do I guide myself every day through difficulty? All good questions that make for a very rabble-rousing, and possibly life-altering, conversation.

    For me, the Gita is pure joy and delight. Easy to read and dripping with devotion, the words have been a soothing balm for my soul since reading it in my high school English class many decades ago. It was the catalyst for my decision to spend much of my adult life in a yoga ashram (spiritual community) dedicated to the art and practice of yoga. I delight in sharing it with others. Over 20 years ago, I authored an audio series on the Bhagavad Gita for Nightingale-Conant that continues to be a best-selling product around the world. Curiously, it sells well in India, Germany, England, and Australia, but very little in the United States! 

    I would love to share my passion for this scripture and its wisdom with you.  I guarantee it will cause you to reevaluate at deep levels and create shifts toward more freedom and joy!  

    Join Devarshi Steven Hartman at his YTA workshop on November 12.

  • 09/15/2022 5:18 PM | Anonymous

    The intuitions received in yoga nidra enable one to find within himself [or herself] the answers to all problems. One’s true nature and integrity manifest, enabling him [or her] to live a meaningful and peaceful life in any environment. This is the opening of the ‘third eye’, which takes the consciousness beyond the conditioned personality with its tensions and complexes. No longer emotionally identified with the mind and body, 

    one’s entire being is pervaded with divine consciousness. 

    ~Swami Satyananda Saraswati

    Yoga Nidra is a term used for many forms of guided deep relaxation. Nidra in Sanskrit means sleep and Yoga means union, or single pointedness. The period of rest at the end of a yoga practice in savasana with guided instructions for progressive relaxation is often called yoga nidra. Some people refer to yoga nidra as psychic sleep. Today, yoga nidra is practiced by yogis from many different lineages. Nyasa yoga nidra is a specific multistep process for the integration of body, mind, and spirit. This multistep form of yoga nidra is based on the practices developed by Swami Satyananda Saraswati, the founder of the Bihar School of Yoga and disciple of Swami Sivananda….

    The practice of yoga nidra is part of the tantric tradition. It is developed from an ancient practice, called Nyasa. Nyasa is usually defined as to place or to take the mind to that point. Nyasa can also be translated as imprinting, consecrating, charging, energizing, arousing consciousness, and imbuing. Essentially the practice involves infusing divine energy into one’s body or into the body of another. Nyasa is traditionally practiced seated. In Nyasa, first…the body part is named, then it is touched or visualized, and then the mantra is placed there. There are different variations of Nyasa. In Nyasa [one can place] deities, mantras, mental objects, [and] the letters of the Sanskrit alphabet on the body physically or mentally. There are many types of Nyasa, with varying degrees of complexity. Nyasa can be done externally using the tips of the fingers of the right hand to touch the parts of the body, or it can be done mentally….

    On the threshold between wakefulness and sleep is a state of consciousness characterized by dream-like visions and unusual sensory occurrences. Psychologists call this stage hypnagogia, or the hypnagogic state....

    During REM sleep (the state of deep sleep when we dream) the mind free-associates through thoughts, ideas, memories, and emotions. During hypnagogia one is conscious enough to be partially aware of the mind’s activity. 

    The hypnagogic state lasts a few minutes at most. One is in limbo between two states of consciousness. There are some elements of sleep mixed with some aspects of wakefulness. In yoga nidra we inhabit the hypnagogic state for an extended period. 

    During hypnagogia, scientists have observed the presence of both alpha and theta brain waves. Alpha waves are the dominant brain wave mode when we are conscious but relaxed, for instance when daydreaming or meditating. Theta brain waves are associated with restorative sleep. Usually, these brain waves occur only separately. The unique combination of alpha and theta brain waves brings the visions and sensations experienced in the hypnagogic state. The state is also marked by reduced activity in the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which is responsible for planning and decision-making. 

    While in the hypnagogic state we experience a free flow of ideas and associations. Here the brain reviews and processes memories, thoughts, and feelings. Hypnagogia can be a rich source of creativity, ideas, and inspiration. It’s common for people to experience dream-like visions, static images, partially formed thoughts, sounds, flashes of color, insights, and sensations…. 

    Granthi means "doubt" or "knot.” It can more specifically [be] defined as "a difficult knot to untie." Granthis are knotted areas of energy that block the flow of prana in the body. Granthis can prevent prana from rising up through the sushumna nadi. These knots prevent one from realizing their full potential. Granthis are barriers to freedom and self-realization. 

    Granthis are what keep an individual entangled in their preferences, desires, and fears. Both knowledge and action are needed to work out the knots and transcend their restrictions. In yoga nidra we can untie our granthis….

    The increased body awareness fostered in yoga nidra promotes healing through the intervention of the mind into areas that it can now feel that it was once disconnected from. In yoga nidra, the mind reaches into areas of the body which hold memories, beliefs, and thought patterns that can be the root cause of illness, disease, tension, or discomfort. By bringing awareness to these areas, deep tensions that hold belief patterns in place can be resolved and released….The overall effect is the activity of the brain leads to the relaxation of the mind, body, and spirit.

    Tips for Using Yoga Nidra

    • Experience live yoga nidra sessions. 
    • Focus on one main teacher. 
    • After you are experienced with yoga nidra practice move from one teacher to a variety of teachers. 
    • Don’t overanalyze how you react—just experience the practice. 
    • To supplement your “live” experiences, work also with recordings. Preferably start out with many repeated listenings to a single recording. Then branch out to a range of recordings and voices. 
    • Once you have had some months of experiencing yoga nidra: transcribe a couple of your favorite yoga nidras and investigate the differences. 
    • Practice yoga nidra where you mentally guide yourself. 
    • Make recordings or your own yoga nidras—try them yourself and see how they make you feel. 
    • Practice yoga nidra on yourself—using unspoken mental commands and your own recordings and those or your favorite teachers for many months before you consider using it with students and/or clients. 
    • Be patient. 
    • Love the process. 

      *Adapted from "Nyasa Yoga Nidra Teacher Training Manual," Nya Patrinos, 2021.

    • 08/18/2022 12:13 PM | Anonymous

      The novelty of yoga has been worn down to almost nothing by a multi-billion dollar industry that cares little for its tenets, like the crumbling shreds of a shoddily made pvc mat from China. But from out of the ashes of craven images and advertising schemes, a new discipline is emerging.

      Early on, just as the nineties boom happened, I found my way into to a niche that challenged some of the conventional wisdom that became standard in yoga classes. As the years have gone on and the industry has grown, a lot of that conventional wisdom I was originally pushing up against has been morphed by standardized teaching methods and data-driven business models. In the absence of the old rubrics by which yoga was once gauged, alternate criteria for teaching and learning yoga are being adopted.

      Questioning power dynamics, inclusivity, and safety is the new normal.

      Never before have I seen so much “bottom-up” sort of change in yoga. There was a time when protocols all came from the masters atop the disciple pyramid. And while some maintain that this dissolution of the original hierarchy of transmitters is where yoga has gone wrong, the fact remains that the majority of teachers are no longer looking for answers from on high. Credibility is no longer something bestowed upon you but is instead determined by the work you do and the inclinations of the yoga-going consumer.

      Also, decades or more of sticking to unexamined directives and their related injuries have caused many to become disillusioned with the bill of goods we were once sold. Pain tends to be more convincing than the power of myth. And while those images of Tao Porchon-Lynch doing unbelievable poses at age 98 are still amazing, the three hip replacements she’s had along the way are seemingly more relevant than ever. Now that yoga has become so firmly codified as the emblem of a healthy lifestyle, the determination of its efficacy is being more thoroughly weighed against people’s actual experience and the rigors of science.

      Teachers are expected to make students feel safe in ways that early innovators were not concerned with. Even those who consider this trend to be a detrimental form of political correctness are still having to make adjustments to protect themselves in the new climate. Of course, this is greatly complicated by the advent and predominance of social media, which has created new avenues for obfuscation and garnering market share.

      Students are coming to yoga with an entirely different set of filters than previous generations.

      Average newbee yoga attendees of today rarely arrive with any expectation of deep philosophical inquiry, or are even interested in yoga outside of its potential fitness benefits. Emphasis on the physicalities, and the creation of gym-style scaled yoga centers,  have effectively compartmentalized and packaged classes into a sort of teaser, geared more towards enticing participation in lucrative trainings than providing instruction in any traditional sense.

      Evolving scholarship has not only been laying bare an edifice of faith, but has coincided with the passing of Guru lineage holders and the falling pedestals of once powerful brand ambassadors. Impassioned yoga students of today would have a field day with the likes of BKS Iyengar and Pattabhi Jois in their Yelp reviews. Harsh adjustments are becoming taboo, consent cards and trauma sensitivity training are the new fashion.

      Where does the influence of the teacher end and the students’ self-empowerment begin? Is yoga a process of adherence or discovery, or both?

      Most yoga teachers, on some level, were trained to tell people what to do. Most students expect this of their teachers. But, in absorbing all these shifts underfoot, sincere teachers are beginning to change what they are telling people. They are no longer comfortable with a continuation of the same shapes and cues that failed to lead to the heights they were promised. With external authorities stripped of some of their stature, practitioners have no choice but to resort to the discovery of their own devices.

      Good teachers are still imperative. Everybody needs a little help sometimes. There wants to be a way for someone to invite a friendly, and hopefully informed, outside reverence when pursuing a process of self-healing and support. Regardless of the viewpoint that we subscribe to in yoga, be it of a more athletic , scientific, or spiritual bent, the proof is always going to be in the people. Like it or not, we just can’t get away with the same old shit anymore. Those rising to the challenge by providing an example of transparency and honesty, are the ones inspiring new generations of earnest aspirants to carry the torch forward.

      The new discipline is inner-knowing. Teachers are only so good as they are conducive to a person no longer needing them. The veil has been lifted just enough that there is no pulling it back over our heads. Time has come for us to get clearer about what we are doing and why we are doing it. Effective yoga teaching is becoming less about imposing an arbitrary catechism on someone’s experience, and more about stirring the kind of inquiries that lead to students being able to make their own determinations.

      Originally posted at J. Brown Yoga Blog on December 5, 2016.

    • 05/23/2022 5:28 PM | Anonymous

      Yoga is known to be the ancient science of self-realization, uniting the body with the mind, urging us to look inward to discover who we really are. Growing up with the guidance of our loved ones who had our best interests at heart, to prepare us for acceptable socialization in the world, we were often times handicapped because we were urged to conform to outside opinions of who and what we could or should be, the beginning of our separation from self and obscuring one of our most healing resources, self-knowledge. Hippocrates, the father of Medicine, stated early on, “Know Thyself.” Even with the highest intentions they missed their mark, because the teachings created an imbalance and disavowed the importance of authenticity and autonomy. We learn fear: of failing, of making a mistake, of making a change. Becoming a creature of habits, patterns, and mindsets, we lose the capacity to be independent and strong in thought and action. These are attributes of Yoga, stressing the need for balance to create harmony within.

      ….Without a doubt, we can conclude that our practice is helpful in daily life as it increases our efficiency and productivity, working or playing, evoking emotional stability. One can also change their personality, making one better equipped to face the stress and strain of modern life. The synergy of balance and harmony between the mind and body makes one fit and healthy and is helpful when dealing with disease, which on closer examination reads dis-ease!

      Hatha Yoga and the Asanas are much more than physical; besides exercising the muscles and joints that comprise the infrastructure of the body, they influence the physiological systems by toning the abdominal organs, stimulating the endocrine glands, and soothing the nervous system. Digestions, elimination, and circulation are also benefitted. Respiration and breathing are strengthened by the Pranayama practices and have a positive effect on each and every cell in the body improving the oxygenation of blood, lymph, synovial fluid, and the cerebral-spinal fluid, adding to the effectiveness and efficiency of all the systems. It is complex and should have the supervision and presence of an experienced teacher, on site, to offer the proper guidance to ensure that the efforts made will be fruitful for the practitioner. This applies and extends to our Hatha Yoga practices as well.

      …Meditation and Raja Yoga….help to develop peace and tranquility, and the mental abilities of creativity, memory, and concentration, associated with sound brain function….The mind is not confined to the integrity with the borders of the brain and can entertain any truth it chooses for its own purposes. The brain processes and translates the contents of the mind’s belief systems…which can trigger nerve cell firing and chemical releases.

      The mind can lead to dangerous places as we all know and can manifest dire results when unbridled.

      Here is where meditation comes into the picture, uniting brain and mind to be an empowering and embodying force for the practitioner….My wish for you is to be truly inspired to make greater inroads into the scientific and philosophical body of resources that offers life changing possibilities, increasing and expanding the borders of our being.  

      *Excerpted from Heitzner, P. Yoga & You for a Year: From the Beginning to the End, pp. 88-90. Amazon KDP. 2020.
    • 04/20/2022 8:13 PM | Anonymous

      It's 1957. The 6-year-old boy is outside in the dead of winter looking at the Orion nebula with his new telescope. He is alone, as no one else wants to come out into the Chicago winter wind. He can’t look for too long at a time as the freezing metal eyepiece burns his skin. He pulls back from the telescope and gazes into the magnificently clear night sky. He is drawn to the red shoulder star in Orion, Betelgeuse. He feels a pull up and toward this star and feels at the same time joy and pain in his heart. He feels his connection to all things but also his confusion around the sadness in the eyes and face of one of his classmates. In this moment he sees the boy’s face and feels not only his pain but the pain of humans in the world. Tears start to flow from his eyes, freezing as they stream down his face. He gazes into the soul of Betelgeuse and asks out loud, “Why can’t all people be happy?” And then wishes for the happiness of all beings. His first memory of the Oneness in both joy and sorrow.

      It is now 1971. I’m outside on a cool autumn evening. I instinctively look up and see a group of stars, including a reddish star at the upper left. I feel a connection to these stars and a long lost memory begins to float into my awareness. What are these stars? What is this longing feeling? I have a fleeting image of a young boy looking at these stars in wonder and deep connection. “Was this me, was it in a dream?”

      I walk outside late the next  evening to look at these stars again, and I begin to hear the words of Orion, then Betelgeuse. “That’s a strange word,” I thought, and then a rush of memories flooded into my being. I was that boy gazing at the stars, loving Orion, the cosmos, living so fully, and praying for all people to be happy. What had happened to that full experience? Where had it gone all those years? Where had I gone?

      These questions reopened me to my inner self and connection to life on a deeper level. The connection I had until I was 7 years old, when I became embarrassed to be free in my actions and thoughts and constricted myself into a typical American boy. Here I was 14 years later, reconnecting to that freedom of thought and wonder and connection to life, activated by my recent delving into the science and practice of yoga. I had discovered and read a copy of the Bhagavad Gita at the college library. I had gone to the library with a friend and was magically drawn to the yoga philosophy section. The wisdom of the Gita felt so profound as it touched my soul. As if I had read these words hundreds of times before, the wisdom of the Enlightened Self guiding the ego mind, the connection of all things within ourselves.

      Yoga practice—yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, and the depths of meditation—taught so clearly in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, has brought a presence, richness, and openness into my life. It has led me to connect with wonderful people, find deep relationships and friendships, given me the confidence and clarity to spend my life earning a living practicing what I love: energy medicine, Reiki, and teaching all aspects of yoga all due to the knowing that the prana flow is real, more real than my mental concepts and judgments. It led me to living for 15 years at Kripalu ashram, where every day was a deep journey into life within and around me and to transition to day-to-day life in our cynical, materialistic culture. Through yoga workshops I have traveled all around the world, meeting people of many different cultures and connecting to yoga aspirants in an open, clear way.

      I have deep gratitude for the practice of yoga and philosophy and the profound effects it has had on my life and the life of many of those I have touched—family, friends, colleagues, and, students. It’s the vibration that is opened through the practice of yoga/union that not only vibrates throughout my being but affects the world around me. The energy of light/love/presence that resounds and travels is palpable and has been a true blessing in my life.

    • 03/20/2022 2:45 PM | Anonymous

      The first time I encountered dowels in the practice of yoga was on a very small scale—short dowels placed vertically inside an upside-down chair to help stabilize the base of the neck and inner shoulders in headstand in a class with my Iyengar teacher Kevin Gardiner many decades ago. I was instantly interested in the possibilities and began to explore with dowels of different kinds. Some were wider in diameter and much longer, others were slender metal dowels covered in a pleasant padded material, making for heavy but comfortable tools of practice that could also be used as weights; others were as short as those slender and short first dowels I had used but put to different purpose, for example, as spacers for the knees when working toward Lotus Pose.

      As I began to work with dowels more regularly, I found that they could be used as “hard” belts, long blocks, seatless chairs, and more. In other words, all props share some similarities, but are also separated by significant and useful differences. And even within one kind of prop, there are variations of size and weight that can be exploited to good end.

      Each kind of dowel has a character of its own. One of the things I love about a long six-foot dowel is its simple physical presence. Hold that dowel upright in front of you between the feet and you will perhaps experience a suggestion of lift, a sense of energy, almost as though it were an externalized mudra. Pull down on the dowel at chest height and it will cause your whole body to lighten and lift and become a tool for both spinal traction and joyful ease. 

      The dowel can be used to challenge range of motion or strength, or on the contrary facilitate a movement by offering a long lever arm or quieting support. If you place a long dowel behind the back and hold it in place with the arms, it will help reveal your true range of motion in a twist such as Wide Legged Pose or Prasarita Padottanasana. This aspect of the dowel as an instrument of proprioception is invaluable—knowing where you are in space and how your body is moving.

      This tool of proprioception is fundamental for the therapeutic spinal work I do. The dowel is a powerful instrument in helping students sense their body in space and find a balanced posture and clarity in the work to bring relief, healing, and newfound strength and ease in both the practice and life. Indeed our entire yoga practice should radiate out into our daily life as a seamless continuum. Speaking of which, there are even dowels in daily life—canes, walking sticks, hiking poles, and so on. Try a Triangle Pose when out hiking, using one of your poles as a lateral support and enjoy the relief from movement in the sagittal plane for a few breaths to each side!

      One aspect of the dowel that I delighted in discovering was how it could be used as a tool for massage either on its own or in conjunction with another prop such as a chair. When one is seated on a yoga chair for example, the chair can be a point of leverage for one end of the dowel, the other end rolling over the trapezius with more or less pressure. Place the dowel on the floor and the feet can be deliciously rolled over it.

      In short, the dowel brings lightness and spinal traction, proprioception, muscle release through stretch and massage, range of motion, directionality, and challenge. As it supports it can move, or follow one’s movement, one end fixed, the other traveling with you as you enter and exit a pose such as Triangle Pose. Using a long dowel is ideal for this, with the dowel standing just beyond the toes of the externally rotated foot and the same-side hand placed high on the dowel or at shoulder height depending on range of motion in the hips and legs. It’s then possible to move into Triangle Pose with support and encouragement to avoid laterally flexing the spine as one lengthens into the pose. Support is offered throughout, allowing for an elegant exit from the pose. 

      Other movement traditions use dowels or sticks, sometimes called mobility sticks. Some are flexible and allow for different kinds of work. As always, where there is flexibility, there will be less stability. So each kind has its virtues. All are valuable and fun. 

      ©Alison West, 3.13.2022. This article may not be reproduced without the author’s permission.

      Alison West, Ph.D, E-RYT, YACEP, C-IAYT is the founder of Yoga Union and the Yoga Union Backcare & Scoliosis Center, now online. Her on-demand course, Yoga for Back Health for Yoga Journal, is available for download. She is currently writing her first Yoga book, Yoga for Backcare, which will be followed by Yoga for Scoliosis.

    • 02/22/2022 12:41 PM | Anonymous

      In 1999, I had been practicing yoga for something like seven years. I was working a day job I didn't really like, and one day I saw a sign in the yoga studio where I was practicing (Om Yoga in Manhattan) that said "teacher training." I thought to myself, “That sounds interesting. What a nice way to deepen my practice.” So that's how I became a yoga teacher. It felt like a natural extension of my yoga practicelike I had to teach.

      A few years before I was certified, I taught movement classes at a summer program at Northwestern University. I incorporated yoga into those classes, and it worked. Earlier, when I was in college at NYU, my movement teachers were incorporating yoga too, because they were all going to the same yoga studio, Jivamukti, on Second Avenue, where I was going. I followed their lead, and then I started teaching my friends. So I was teaching informally even before I got my certification.

      My first real teaching job was in Forest Hills, Queens, in a continuing education program. There were about 30 people in the class; I traveled all the way there, I made nothing, nobody had the right props, but I taught. Then I taught at yoga studios in Manhattan and Brooklyn. I taught everywhere I could, as much as I could, sometimes as many as 20 classes a week. That was it. That's how you get good. Sometimes I feel like an idiot savant, born to teach yoga, but still you have to practice, practice, practice. Pattabhi Jois said, "Practice and all will come." Keep practicing and you will find out what you're doing, why you're doing it. 

      But the more I practice and try to perfect a pose, the more I realize that the practice is not so much about the pose but about what comes up in my attempt to do it. My perfection may not be a physical perfection but a perfection of understanding how to act in an effortless way, to do an action without a need for the outcome to be a particular thing. The Bhagavad Gita says: “Perform without worrying about the outcome.”

      What comes up for me in my practice are the same things I see in my students. I get frustrated, angry, doubtful, self-conscious, and competitive. I feel all of those things and that's helpful, because when I get on the New York City subway, all those emotions are going to come up in me. If I have really incorporated my practice on the mat into the whole of my life, it won't be so bad because I will have already dealt with it in the privacy of my microcosmic universe of yoga practice. So I can say, "Give me my frustration, give me my anger, give me everything that comes up with attempting to do something that is impossible." What happens when I try? Everything happens. So then, I learn what it's like to try and succeed, what it's like to try and not succeedall of this with quotations around it. It's just like every other day. But when I try mindfully, it's an informed day, a more intentional day, I'm not just getting bashed around by advertising and the newspaper, I have a little bit more of a hold on the reins and I also know that eventually the reins are going to disappear. 

      As you get older, you won't necessarily be able to do the same poses anymore. One of my friends, a beautiful yoga teacher, came to my class recently and said, "You know, I'm aging and I feel it. I can't do the poses that I used to do, and I need to be in a class where that's going to be okay." She was looking for a place where she could be with the group but be left alone when she needed to be left alone. It's the same situation we're all dealing with, which is that we're all getting older at the same rate. And this is not so dreadful. This is one of the recognitions that are probably going to set us free.

      I think the practice gives you the route to how much effort is correct. And I believe that we all go through times of too much effort and times of too little effort. And we all have to go through that to find a place of balanced effort. I've had people tell me that they've taken two months off and they feel slothful, but maybe those two months will be the best of their life for their practice. Maybe it was too much, practicing for months or years, on the same schedule. You may learn so much from the two months off than you would have had if you just kept going. Every day is different. Some days we feel like a gazelle. Some days we're a bull in a china shop. With practices where the poses are always the same—such as Bikram or Ashtanga vinyasa yoga practice—maybe it's easier to tell what's going on with your body, what kind of day you're having. It may be a bit trickier for us who want to create new sequences from day to day.

      But either way, it makes you feel alive. If you forget you're alive, do Warrior II for 10 minutes. If you start to fall asleep, metaphorically, yoga wakes you up. It sparks this life, helps us to see, “Wow, look at this body that I have.” And then, the practice is so deep that we say, “Wow, what about this yoga, and this philosophy and psychology?”

      Starting yoga is like a baby tasting ice cream for the first time, we're so astonished—wow, that feeling, that taste. Doing yoga is like that. It brings out that innocent quality in us—even in the toughest cases, the most unhappy people, feel lighter. No matter what age you come into it, you understand that there's much to discover.

      Adapted from an interview with the Association for Contemplative Mind in Higher Education.

      Find more about Carla at jayayogacenter.com or on Instagram.

    • 01/18/2022 5:03 PM | Anonymous

      Smile, breathe and go slowly.
      ~Thich Nhat Hanh

      Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh’s simple, direct guidance for meditation–for life, really–has shed light on the path from my introduction to yoga to the present.

      That introduction came in 2000, a transitional year in my life for which I was seeking solace, peace, and meaning. In other words, I needed to breathe and go slowly. What began as a way to shift my energy and find solid ground has evolved into a holistic lifestyle.

      I started practicing by watching Rodney Yee on VHS tapes in my living room. I moved through periods of Bikram and Iyengar practices in studios on both US coasts. Returning to Tucson, Arizona, where I grew up, I studied the Hatha yoga tradition in the lineage of Paramahansa Yogananda, earning my 200-hour certification to begin teaching in 2005, followed by a 100-hour mindfulness meditation training.

      I found my yoga voice offering the Eight Limbs of Yoga at Mindful Yoga Studio in Tucson. I smiled, took a deep breath, and went slowly into entrepreneurship, opening Mindful Yoga just under 10 years ago as the only Latina-owned yoga refuge in Tucson.

      Around the same time, I studied for and took the Buddhist precepts, adopting the Dharma name Shraddha, which in Sanskrit means deep trust and faith. Going from teaching at other studios to opening my own studio was, indeed, a leap of trust and faith.

      The foundation of my yoga practice and teaching informs my studio and my teachers to offer a safe space for students to explore, heal, and transform their bodies and their lives. I guide students in a rhythm that allows them to move in harmony with their breath and to stay open to the moment. The focus is always on mindfully honoring the body and clearing the mind and heart for whatever comes along on the mat, and more important, off the mat.

      As the Mindful Yoga Sangha grew over the years, so did my practice, my sense of confidence in my teaching ability, and a desire to expand into the larger realm of wellness. I undertook studying with teachers close to yoga’s origins, including Ganesh Mohan, a physician and Ayurvedic practitioner who directs Svastha Yoga Therapy and Teacher Training programs, and Saraswati Vasudevan, founder of YogaVahini training, therapy, and research center in Chennai, India. In 2016, I earned the 500-hour Healing Emphasis Yoga certification offered by Inner Vision Yoga in Phoenix, Arizona, and began specializing in yoga for cancer survivors, for first responders, for grieving, and for overall healing–physically, emotionally, and mentally.

      As part of my goal of offering holistic health and wellness to the community, I earned certification with the Integrative Health & Lifestyle Program at the University of Arizona’s Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine and a certification in craniosacral therapy, both in 2019.

      All the while, Mindful Yoga Studio grew, surpassing 1,000 yoga and wellness visits a month with more than 100 classes, workshops, and private sessions in 2019. We offered a yoga teacher training, attracting 12 yogis for the 200-hour certified program. My practice and my business were graced with great blessings.

      Then came the pandemic…. Smile, breathe, and go slowly.

      We closed Mindful Yoga’s physical space, and I found myself back where I started yoga–in my living room, this time offering classes live via Zoom. The generosity of friends offering first one vacant commercial space and then another allowed us to reopen for small classes of socially distanced yogis. At its peak, Mindful Yoga attracted up to two dozen students to a class. Now, we are limited to eight yogis in person while offering the classes live via Zoom for those who choose to practice at home.

      The revelation is that smaller classes offer an intimacy that helps create a more individualized practice. By my observation, that has helped our students to deepen their practice in a time when they are grieving personal losses and an overall loss of normalcy in life. Yoga’s focus on transformation of inner self is at the root of processing grief, and my students and I are doing that processing one asana practice, one meditation, one moment at a time.

      Smile, breathe, and go slowly.

      Shraddha Hilda Oropeza founded Mindful Yoga Studio in 2012 to offer a safer space for students to explore, heal, and transform their bodies and their lives. She guides students in a rhythm that allows them to move in harmony with their breath and stay open to the moment. She has a 500-hour Healing Emphasis Yoga certification and is trained in Yoga for Cancer Survivors, Mindfulness Yoga & Meditation, Yin, Restorative, and Hatha Yoga. Shraddha has been teaching since 2005 and has more than 3,000 hours of teaching experience. She was born in Sonora, Mexico, and has lived most of her life in Tucson. She is bilingual and has a Bachelor’s degree in Latin American Studies from the University of Arizona and a Master’s degree in Organizational Management. Shraddha is currently enrolled in the Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine Wellness Coaching program. She is a certified craniosacral therapist.

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