• 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. 

  • 01/17/2023 6:00 AM | Anonymous

    When I was asked earlier this year to contribute my perspectives about the pursuit of compassion for a veteran and fellow yoga teacher’s blog, I immediately said yes–followed by “OMG! What does compassion mean to me?"  

    Like the nerd I am, I googled compassion and the first definition was “sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others or to suffer together and feel motivated to help.” Next, I looked up pity and found it means “cause for regret or disappointment or as a verb to feel sorry for the misfortunes of.”  Finally, I looked up sympathy, which means “feelings of pity and sorry for someone else’s misfortune or a mutual common feeling between people.”

    Diving a bit deeper into compassion, sympathetic pity means “kind condescension to another’s situation without action.” Wow, that’s barely a surface level connection to another human being’s situation, so there must be more to the meaning of compassion. Expanding my research, I found that the definition of empathy is the vicarious participation in another’s situation.  It seems that compassion can mean feeling bad for someone’s situation and not feeling motivated to help–or it can mean suffering together and feeling motivated to help alleviate the suffering. So confusing! Compassion is either feeling motivated or not feeling motivated.

    Clearly, I was missing something, so I began to think about applying this to real life when suddenly, the Oscars aired and the “slap heard around the world” happened. Like almost everyone reading this, I personally don’t know any of the players, but I think it still applies to this discussion. Broadening my outlook related to the players in this scenario I looked at their roles relating to my favorite ancient philosophical text, the Bhagavad Gita.

    This is an allegorical battle between our internal and external selves resulting in the understanding that if you live your Dharma, there is no Karma. Dharma means "your true nature, purpose in life," and karma is the "fallout of not living your dharma." In other words, when you live your dharma there is no karma.  My hope for those in our Connected Warriors world, veterans and active-duty service members and their families, is for them to truly embrace their dharma with self-compassion so they can reduce karmic outcome.

    Let’s start with Jada Pinkett Smith; she was the insulted party. Watching her face as the joke was made, she politely smirked–but then her expression changed to anger when she felt she was being “dissed” for her disease. When I saw that she was deeply offended, I immediately felt empathy because I too have been made fun of because of the way I look (non-white SoCal gal)I have walked in those shoes. With the lens of dharma, Jada is a bad-ass woman; she is an accomplished heavy-metal rocker, wife, mother, and actress and her response was dharma-appropriate being the source of a joke.

    Now let’s look at Will Smith; he was the one who acted out because his wife was the subject of a joke related to her disease. After being horrified and rewinding the video because I couldn’t believe that what I saw was not a set-up, I felt pity for him–he clearly responded from his gut and not his thinking mind. Will’s dharma response was inappropriate to his role as a man, award-winning actor, husband, and father. His karmic outcome was his resignation from the organization that hosted the event. Self-compassion means that he was able to see that his actions were not his truth, and he is now committed to finding that truth so he can truly “show-up” in a way that supports his dharma.

    Finally, there’s Chris Rock. His joke was the reason why the slap happened and once I realized it was not staged–I sympathized with him and felt compassion for his resultant action. He kept his cool and continued with grace under very trying circumstances. Chris lived his dharma as a comedian, man, father, and husband; he delivered a joke and maintained compassion for Will by continuing to do his job on stage as a presenter–no karmic rebound for him. 

    When I turn the lens back on myself, this scenario reminds me that our words and actions matter. Part of my pursuit of compassion is to get in front of myself and have a sense of how my words or actions will land on another before it happens.  Self-awareness is the key to this ability, so you are not only aware of how you think and feel, but you take it to the next level and apply it to others. 

    So, a final view through the lens at what happened with Jada, Will, and Chris–can you step in each one of their shoes and feel compassion for the others, as well as self-compassion? Jada for being the object of a joke, Chris for being the recipient of the outcome of the joke, and Will for reacting to the joke without conscious thought. Now can you be truly compassionate to yourself and another person’s circumstances and go beyond mere pity?  

    My last question for you to live in in 2023: Does one nonmindful act define you and your future?

  • 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 | Deleted user

      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.
    Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software