One of everyone’s favorite poses in a yoga class is savasana, aka corpse pose, as it is the easiest to perform but in my opinion one of the most difficult to master. Sensory stimulation and external distractions are minimized to help the body relax while mental energy is channeled inward to engage in mindful awareness. But what does awareness look like? What is this state of consciousness we are undertaking?
Visualize a dishwashing or laundry pod; those small capsules of concentrated detergent covered in a thin dissolvable film that breaks apart and dissolves in water. Now imagine that we are these pods and the water is consciousness. Agitation, or heat, is needed for the film to dissolve and release the capsules of detergent in the water. That agitation or heat is our yoga practice (tapas) and the sheath of the dissolvable film is our ego. Our practice helps us turn down or disengage the ego. And those small capsules of detergent are our thoughts. So as we lay in savasana and the residue of our practice washes over us, our thoughts begin to percolate up. If we stay entangled and caught up in our thoughts they will not dissipate or dissolve in the water of consciousness. However, if we can simply observe what arises and stay unattached, the capsules of detergent will dissolve. And our dharma, our purpose, is not lost as now we are soapy water working in unity with consciousness. We can clean the clothes or dishes in harmony with the greater good. Welcome back to the cosmic soup yogis, Namaste.
Yoga is more than physical exercise; it has a meditative and spiritual core. It is a system of philosophy and practice to yoke the mortal self to its divine nature of pure consciousness. It is not a religion but a path to realization through physical, mental and spiritual disciplines. In our yoga practice we heat and cleanse our body, train our senses, and let go of physical and mental attachments and aversions to our body and thoughts. As we move from asana to asana, focusing on our breath and staying present in each moment, we are brought to awareness in the ecstatic edge of our experience. It turns us inward to face something harder to comprehend. It dissolves the coverings of separation and anxiety that obstruct our realization of the creative force that is ever arising from the center of our being. We learn that happiness is not attached to an outcome or circumstance but something that resides inherently within us based on our peace of mind.
When we are seeking and investigating happiness not found through external pleasures but through peace of mind it becomes evident that it is the absence of the uncomfortableness that we call suffering. Suffering ceases when we have an understanding of life in which happiness is not the gaining of anything but a functioning of our perceptions and relationship that we have towards ourselves. Guilt, blame, pride, worry, and expectations keep us bound in this psychology that our happiness is outcome driven versus the real phenomenon of our attitude. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali provide us with the tools to suppress the activities of the mind. The Bhagavad Gita gives us real-life skills to separate from contact with suffering. I am beyond thrilled to share A History of Yoga next weekend which will delve into these sage wisdoms to live a more fulfilled life off our yoga mats. Lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu.
Every part of us vibrates. Whether we realize it or not, within every cell, every tissue, every thought, and every memory is a specific vibration that makes up the total vibration of who we are. Everything around us also has a vibration, be it a plant, an animal, or a cell phone. Some of these vibrations combine and create harmonious patterns; some of these patterns create disharmony and dis-ease. Within our body, there are seven main chakras where subtle energy from higher planes becomes denser through acupuncture points and meridians eventually condensing into the physical body. The chakras get energized by specific vibrations enabling healing of the organs and emotions related to them. By balancing the chakras, imbalances in the physical body will often disappear.
Everything is in a constant state of vibration. As each and every atom produces a particular sound on account of its movement, rhythm or vibration, these form a universal harmony in which each element, while having its own function and character, contributes to the whole. Sound is a vibration that resonates in every cell of our body and has the power to heal not only on a physical level but also on emotional and spiritual levels. When we look up “heal” in the dictionary it says “to make sound”. When we look up “sound” in the dictionary it says “normal and healthy, not weak, diseased or impaired”. Sound healing is when we combine this powerful medium of vibration with the intention to heal allowing the body to adjust and recalibrate back to health. Join me on the auspicious evening of the equinox, a day of equal daylight and darkness, a day of balance on Saturday, September 22nd for Autumn Equinox Chakra Balancing. We will restore ourselves to wholeness, balance, and well-being using Tibetan singing bowls tuned to each chakra while lingering in restorative yoga postures creating more harmony in ourselves, our lives and in our world.
Kindness. Consideration. Friendliness. These words embody ahimsa meaning non-violence and one of the yamas in the eight limbs of Ashtanga yoga. In the second chapter of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, the Sadhana Pada, Ashtanga is referred to as the eight practical integrated steps leading to a greater gradual awakening of yoga. The first limb or step is yama, our social observances and behaviors, in other words, how we relate to others. In Yoga Sutra 2.35, ahimsapratisthayam tatsannidhau vairatyagah, it is explained that when we live in a state of non-violence, those around us will cease to be hostile. It’s rather simple really…as old adages go…it takes two to tango or two hands to clap. If we do not react when someone has a conflict with us, no dance, no sound, the conflict will end. This interpretation does not imply to just turn the other way and ignore it. In fact, it is far from that.
My heart has been really heavy from the repeated and increasing gun violence in our American culture over the last two decades. It can’t be ignored which is exactly what we are doing. We hear of another deadly mass shooting as we say, oh god not again. We see the homeless on the street and look away. We go into a difficult asana and hold our breath. If we don’t like something we move away from it instead of working through the uncomfortable depths of ourselves. How about we look into the person’s eyes who we have conflict with and see ourselves responding with empathy and compassion? How about we look into the homeless person’s eyes and see ourselves with a genuine smile? How about we speak kind words to ourselves to build positive attitudes? When we cease harmful actions, speech and thoughts, love can shine through. It is the force that underlies the energetic structure of the universe. When we align ourselves with love others will no longer feel angry, fearful, and alone because there is nothing that separates us. And in that peace, harmony begins. Ultimately we help one another remember that we are all part of something so much greater than each of us as individuals. Cultivate love yogis, Namaste.
The Bhagavad Gita, originally delivered in Sanskrit, is a sweeping saga on the epic war about the Kuru dynasty of India translated today in nearly every language. This story of a 3,000-year-old battle is considered a foundational text for the practice of yoga. But how can reading about war lead to inner peace? And what does this have to do with yoga today? The Gita serves as both an ancient story of battle and a spiritual text on the inner struggle for self-mastery and the attainment of happiness through yoga.
The Bhagavad Gita takes place as a dialogue between Prince Arjuna and Sri Krishna who is disguised as his chariot driver, friend and council. The story opens with a scene on the battlefield with Arjuna asking Krishna for guidance. Knowing that by engaging in this war family members and friends will be lost on both sides of the battle line, Arjuna is faced with a personal and ethical crisis. The resulting conversation between Arjuna and Krishna develops into a discourse on the nature of the soul, the purpose of one’s life, and the threefold path of yoga. Scores of philosophers have likened the battlefield of Kurukshetra to the battleground that lies within each of us. Though Arjuna’s conversation with Krishna is deeply personal, it touches on topics of concern to people everywhere that continue to trouble us today.
For students of yoga, the Gita brings to life its foundational principles and methods: discernment, equanimity and non-attachment. By incorporating the yogic philosophies within his responses to Arjuna’s dilemma, Krishna patiently and eloquently teaches Arjuna how to apply them to his life to relieve him from his suffering and to attain eternal happiness. Through hearing Krishna’s examples and allegories, we too learn how to further understand and apply these teachings to our daily lives. With every age, the important words will carry new and expanding meanings but its central teaching will never vary. Join me Friday, June 1st at 6:30pm for An Introduction to the Bhagavad Gita in which we will dive into this deep well which reveals the complete science of yoga and self-realization by refining our understanding and practice of the tools of yoga.
I love yoga because of the way it makes me feel. Breath, movement, focus. Pranayama, asana, drishti. With movement, the oceanic-sounding ujjayi breath is long and smooth drowning out the mind-stuff, the citta vrtti. In the pose, it becomes more subtle and everything quiets like the surface water on a lake. I am reminded of those rare days living on the southern California coast when the Pacific Ocean resembled Lake Michigan in the days of my youth and I am humbled. I feel smaller than small, greater than great as the ego settles and comes closer to communion with Self.
Every morning I watch the sunrise overlooking the Tennesse River. Existence, ego, consciousness. Samsara, ahamkara, Purusha. It’s calm glassy surface carried by a swift current fluidly moving everything downstream to the source, the ocean. Nothing stays constant yet everything is the same. Dynamic yet everlasting. There is so much excitement, peace, and relief in the realization that this cosmic manifestation is a chance for our conditioned souls to go back to the Source, back to home. There is no doubt that the place of freedom– of enlightenment– lies within the infinite palace of the heart within all of us. Persevere on yogis, Namaste.
It takes less than 90 seconds for an emotion to be triggered, surge chemically through the bloodstream, and then get flushed out. After that, we have to recreate it for it to last longer. We do that by attaching a story to the feeling, which we feed and repeat.
In a yin yoga practice, we settle into long surrendering postures for several minutes and use the breath to guide us. We learn to stay present with the subtle sensations and rhythms of a feeling. We pay attention to how it feels in the body. We breathe and give it space. We risk loosening our focus on the mental story attached to the sensations and discover that a feeling we felt stuck in for a long time is simply made of energy. Energy is never still or static; it is always shifting and changing. Even the most uncomfortable feeling that we spend our entire life trying to avoid, takes only a few minutes to transform once allowed its momentum. Join me on the Frost Moon in Scorpio for Full Moon Yoga where we will use breathwork to free ourselves from the emotional circuitry loops that bind us. Breathe on yogis, Namaste.
The Sun is the star at the center of our universe. Our concept of time is measured by this relationship, as it shapes our reality and perception of the world. It is the most important source of energy for life here on earth and in some cultures regarded as a deity because of its power and strength. In Hindu mythology, Surya is worshipped as the sun god, the giver and protector of life and illuminator of the intellect. Surya Namaskara, the sun salutation, is the foundation for the entire method of the practice of yoga.
Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, the father of modern yoga, spent his youth traveling India studying Vedic philosophy then later at university studying Ayurveda, Vedanta, and Sanskrit and even spent over seven years in a remote cave in the Himalayas with his guru studying the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, learning asanas (postures) and pranayama (breathwork). He ultimately came back to Mysore to teach others such as Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, B.K.S. Iyengar, and Indra Devi among others. Many considered him a scholar and yoga master but he never took credit for his teachings rather attributing the knowledge to his guru or ancient texts. He stressed the importance of combining breath work with the postures and meditation so that health, clarity of mind and spiritual elevation may be achieved.
Simply performing Surya Namaskara without focusing on the mental energies is just exercise, losing meaning and outcome. Pranayama, bandhas (energy locks), drishti (gaze) and meditation on the mantra are equally important. Practitioners develop control of the senses and a deep awareness of themselves, emotions, and workings of the mind. By maintaining this discipline with regularity and devotion they develop steadiness of body and mind. When the practice of breath is synchronized to movement, the asanas become linked together on the thread of breath called vinyasa. This also creates heat within the body, increases blood circulation and flushes toxins from the body through the sweat. With strengthened bodies, sense organs and minds, one becomes healthy and righteous and able to attain eternal liberation. As Pattabhi Jois said “yoga is for everyone – man, woman, the young, old, healthy, and infirm. It is all a matter of having an inclination for it. Laziness or lack of interest are the only things that get in the way of its practice, nothing else. This is a universal truth.” Practice on yogis, Namaste.
I attended the Denver premiere of ‘Hare Krishna: The Mantra, the Movement, and the Swami who started it all’ last night at Sie FilmCenter with an enlightening post-screening Q&A with co-director and screenwriter Jean Griesser. The film was a beautiful portrayal of A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and his work in a very tumultuous late 1960’s America. What struck me was that this man began his quest at 70 years of age in a country where he knew absolutely no one and came with absolutely nothing. It was his devotion that fueled his purpose to “offer spiritual wisdom to the people of the world!”
The film takes us behind-the-scenes of a cultural movement born in the artistic and intellectual scene of New York’s Bowery, the hippie mecca of Haight Ashbury, and the Beatle mania of London. I was particularly captivated by never before seen interview footage of Allen Ginsberg and George Harrison. I have always been fascinated with that historical time period, which ultimately led me to the Grateful Dead and turning on, tuning in and dropping out in my youth. What I believe was lost in those times was vibrating at a higher consciousness masked with getting high. To be high is not to be realized. It is a beautiful tool to alter our awareness and reality, also known as Maya, the illusion, opening us to wider perspectives in this transformation. We often look outward in this exploration seeking knowledge and experience, however, the ultimate truth is found going deeply introspective to self-realization. The spiritual path is deep, hard and exceedingly difficult to comprehend for the earthly mind but as Prabhupada says “Krishna consciousness resolves everything. Nothing else is needed.” What a long strange trip it is yogis, Namaste.
A scent can bring on a flood of memories, influence people’s moods and even affect their work performance instantaneously as smell is intimately linked to the parts of the brain that process emotion and associative learning. The olfactory bulb is part of the brain’s limbic system which has access to the amygdala, which processes emotion, and the hippocampus, which is responsible for associative learning. Aromas can have positive effects on mood, stress reduction, sleep enhancement, self-confidence, and physical and cognitive performance.
An odor has no personal significance until it becomes connected to something that has meaning. In the initial encounter, we begin forming nerve connections that intertwine the smell with emotions. No other senses have this kind of deep access into our nervous system. Pick a distinctive odor, then pair that aroma with a calming meditative session. After a few sessions, the odor itself will elicit a relaxed state, even when we don’t have time to meditate.
We can use naturally occurring aromatic compounds in essential oils made from plant extracts to help relax, to provide mental clarity, to help cope with emotional conflicts, and to energize physically, emotionally or mentally. By incorporating these scents into our everyday life, we improve the way we feel about and respond to life. Two of my favorite products right now are La Luna Alchemy’s Ritual Oil, an essential oil blend created for each moon sign, and Apothecanna’s Stimulating Body Oil, a spicy citrus scented oil which also contains healing CBD (cannabidiol) to soothe muscles after morning Mysore practice. Connecting body, mind and spirit in harmony with nature in every thought, action and moment of our daily life is the Yoga. Stay bendy yogis, Namaste.