April 2018~ Subject: The Senses / Pose: Shoulderstand and Inversions

The Senses- How We Experience Our World
Embrace each of your senses in turn,
Seeing as being touched by light.
Hearing as immersion in an ocean of sound.
Tasting as enlightening.
Smelling as knowing.
Touching as electrifying.
Then leave all these behind,
and be intimate with the unknowable.
Lorin Roche, The Radiance Sutras
Our senses- how we see, touch, taste, hear and feel, define our relationship with everything in us and around us, providing the foundation for the workings of the mind. The mind is regarded as the sixth sense in yoga because in its natural, luminous state its function is to experience what the senses relay in an uncolored and pristine way. This informs us of our place in it all without comparison or separation, an unfiltered reference point from which to think and move. What happens when the mind becomes deeeply conditioned to filter and organize sensory intake around what best serves me, and my likes and dislikes, is evident in the current state of the world around us. We lose our ability to intake information with precision and objectivity because without even realizing it, we have formed a co-arising opinion based on our known likes and dislikes. Instead of experiencing anything as it is, we think and come to believe that the colored perception of the mind is an accurate depiction of the world and its happenings. This literally changes the way we experience the world through the senses, as the mind selects and prioritizes the things we intake that support our views. It’s a fascinating study of self, and we can look to the places we get defensive, self-righteous and judgmental to see how our mind strives to protect the world it has created for us at the expense of clear understanding of the broader human experience.
Finding our way to greater clarity and less conditioning requires us to take a big step back from what we think we know and go back to the basics of what is. Certainly the many lovely and beautiful yogic meditations/practices on the senses can help us find our way to slowing down, experiencing and feeling fully what is actually present in more moments of life. The Vijnana Bhairava Tantra, and its accessible translation by Lorin Roche as the Radiance Sutras, are comprised of mini-meditations for daily life that place our attention on what is happening in each moment. Each time we do this, we override the mind’s tendency to think, “I already know this, I already like/dislike this”, and give ourselves a chance to create new grooves in the functioning of our mind that encourage curiosity and connection. We take back control from the mind and say, “Let me see for myself right now how this tastes, sounds, looks, feels, and smells,” and use that information to constantly fine-tune our understanding of the world instead of falling into the old ruts and reinforcing our preconceived notions.
Throughout the day as well, we can simply check our minds again and again to notice when we have a strong negative or positive sensory experience, and see what the underlying source of the reaction is. Perhaps we review it and find that it is valid in that we really like or do not like that particular sight, sound, taste, etc. We can trace that back to what it reminds us of, what specifically about it we do or do not like. We can see if we held it as a personal like or dislike without making judgement about others who may like or dislike it. We can see if our mind already imprinted labels on the sensory information before we had a chance to even experience what was going on in this occurrence. Through this, we begin to rewire the mind to move again toward the experience, not the instant analysis, in order to feel fully our life as it happens.
Spring outside, and enjoy the gifts of nature in this vibrant season-  your senses will be delighted!

SOM~ March 2018 Shakti- Moving in Beauty and Rhythm

“Beauty is the force of consciousness that moves all things toward harmony.”  ~ Parvathi Nanda Nath

“From now on, let everything be harmonious. Let all be in beauty. O you, creator of universes, you are my only companion, It is only according to your will that I walk, And by your sacred path I am restored and renewed.” (Morning prayer of Diné’h – Navajo)

Shakti is the feminine aspect and power of absolute consciousness that is in all form and all movement. The dance between Shakti and Shiva provides the possibility for every cycle of creation, sustenance and dissolution in the universe. In the human realm,  Shakti energy provides the play in life that allows us to fully experience samsara, both the happiness and the suffering, so we can confront our fears and make choices toward liberation.  When we choose movements that align with our dharma (actions that maintain harmony), we have the possibility of living in beauty and loosening karma that otherwise would keep us bound in samsara. Don’t confuse this fierce and absolute beauty with the vapid, objectified and co-opted version that is pushed in our society; the beauty of Shakti does not depend on an externalized field of relative value or rest unconcerned while there is injustice, suffering and abuse of power in the world.

Our work is to distinguish between the wisdom actions of dharma and ignorant or self-serving actions of adharma. No problem, right 😊 ? As we have discovered, what sounds like an easy distinction becomes complicated as soon as our emotions and reactions get involved. Unless we become vigilant at watching our mind (which loves nothing more than to distort our perceptions in a way that aligns our thoughts and actions with our ego being served, protected, or elevated), we can spend a lot of time controlling, blaming, and defending with no progress toward recognizing where we get hooked. Shakti always reflects Shiva, the source of our luminous wisdom mind, our eternal and beautiful Self. When this light is obscured by jealousy, hatred, arrogance, uncontrolled desire or overwhelm, we are not able to access wisdom. Our movements become disharmonious. We get stuck in a limited groove, out of step with the flow of dharma, feeling far from beauty. Luckily, Shakti is present even here to ask us back to the dance floor.

A harmonious dance in samsara can seem impossible until we remember that we already know the rhythm, from there we can learn the steps. Shakti is the rhythm in every breath and heartbeat that longs to move us toward what we are underneath the veils. She sparks the desire to learn the steps so we see that differentiations in form are not inherently problematic, rather they make life interesting, textured, vibrant and fresh.  Differences without comparison or stratification provide the dance floor of liberation, as we get to work out our “moves” and learn what adds to harmony and what detracts. With practice, dedication, and grace, we feel the rhythm more clearly, and we become able to effortlessly make the more complex steps of choosing our actions skillfully and holding our experiences responsibly. We begin to intuitively analyze without judging, listen without deconstructing, speak without manipulating, and act with strength through service. Shakti, the power in consciousness, becomes the illuminating power in us. Here, the dance of life is filled with beauty and rhythm.

POM~ March 2018 Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose) and Shoulder Openers

“Why would we want to twist our body into the shape of a cow’s face? Sometimes the Sanskrit name of a pose can reveal a hidden intention or unexpected aspect of the posture. Gomukhasana translates literally as “cow’s face pose.” Go is a root word that refers to the senses, because they nourish the conscious mind, just as cow’s milk nourishes our body. Mukha means passageway or an aspect of something. Combining the two words we see that gomukha refers to the art of working with the senses as a gateway to a deeper aspect of the mind.” Sandra Anderson for Yoga International

As with many Sanskrit words, gomukhasana can be translated at more than one level. The traditional translation is accurate and fun as we look for the cow face in both the position of the arms and to our folded legs and feet in this position. Along with that, this pose is wonderful as we move into spring, combining a powerful shoulder opener (much needed after this winter!)with a grounding and unique hip-opener. The option to come forward to a fold deepens the opening capacity of the asana for both shoulders and hips,and should be approached with care and contentment to where you end up! Remember props, especially straps to help with the shoulder binds, a blanket under the hip of the top leg or a block to sit on or between the knees if there is a lot of “in-between” space. One-half cow-face pose with the bottom leg extended is great for Gentle Level, as is the reclined version where thighs are crossed and knees drawn toward the chest. In more advanced classes, feel free to progress to Firelog Pose or wherever open shoulders and hips care to happily transverse!

Coupled with our Subject of the Month, Shakti, this pose also brings us to gratitude for all forms of the nurturers on our planet, of our bodies, our spirit and our minds. Those beings that renew and support life and endlessly give more than they receive in service to righting a cosmic balance that is currently out of harmony. Start humbly and see what the subtleties of this whole-body asana bring to you as space is revealed in your form!

See https://www.yogajournal.com/poses/cow-face-pose for detailed instructions on gomakhasana.

Subject of the Month~ Jan 2018 Sankalpa, The Resolve from Within

For many, this is the time of year to set into motion our resolutions, those changes we feel will bring improvement to some aspect of our life. There has been a great deal of study over the last years on how our approach affects whether our resolution will make a sustained positive effect in our life.  This research points to what the teachings of yoga have always told us; the most beneficial approach is to set a sankalpa- to go deeply into the longings of the heart and mind, touch the qualities here where we are most genuine and undefended, and set a resolve that aligns our energy, thoughts and actions with what serves that. Sankalpas are broad, and include the well-being of others as well as our own needs simply because they are rooted in a space that is inclusive and compassionate. By building on the realizations of what we already are, and the intelligent energies we already have, we touch a vast wisdom space of patient, steady, limitless resolve to embody our sankalpa skillfully toward a specific goal, or in a general life direction.

In the last months, our practices have strengthened our connection with this heart/mind space through seva (selfless service), loving-kindness meditations, and resting in stillness. Continuing with these, yoga nidra, and gentle inquiries, our sankalpa can form and be revealed. The qualities of strength, right effort and resilience developed from our asana practice can guide our movements in bringing this outward to the world. We can hold the same resolution as we would make in the traditional sense, yet approach from a place more far-reaching, communal and pervasive.  Remembering the underlying sense of purpose or joy that inspired our sankalpa will help immensely in keeping our desire to maintain it strong.

In his recent New York Times article, “The Only Way to Keep Your Resolutions”, David DeSteno summarizes the research that indicates a reason hard-nosed, willpower fueled resolutions often fail is that they place the brain in a constant battle between giving up pleasures of the present for perceived future gains. A good measure of self-control is needed to effect any change, yet if the nervous system feels forced into the new behavior, stress increases.  It therefore becomes more likely we will opt out as our mood deteriorates and the future gains lose their relative value. However, the research shows if we can approach the change we want to make from a place of gratitude, compassion, and pride (not arrogance, rather an appreciation of what we can do), it ties us to a kind of social more that uplifts the future value because the value now includes the well-being of others as well as our “future self”. As communal beings, we are hard-wired to want to sustain activities that benefit the group as well as the individual from the perspective of survival and emotional connection, and setting a sankalpa optimizes the energy of this. “Feeling pride or compassion has been shown to increase perseverance on difficult tasks by over 30 percent. Likewise, gratitude and compassion have been tied to better academic performance, a greater willingness to exercise and eat healthily, and lower levels of consumerism, impulsivity and tobacco and alcohol use. If using willpower causes stress, using these emotions actually heals: They slow heart rate, lower blood pressure and reduce feelings of anxiety and depression. By making us value the future more, they ease the way to patience and perseverance…. In short, they give us not only grit but also grace.”

To transcend our limited and separate sense of self, we need to know the the Self that lies beyond our personal desires, and our sankalpa provides the grace for that introduction. Once that meeting happens, a whole new and beautiful relationship with all in our lives is possible.

To get a head start on your sankalpa for 2018, check out the following workshop:

Creating Intention-Your Sankalpa for 2018 (Newtown) with Susan Sprecher                                                             Fri : Jan 05 2018 From: 6:00 PM – 8:00 PM


Reference: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/29/opinion/sunday/the-only-way-to-keep-your-resolutions.html

Subject of the Month~ Dec 2017 Stillness- The Essential State of Yoga

When you lose touch with inner stillness, you lose touch with yourself. When you
lose touch with yourself, you lose yourself in the world. ~ Eckhart Tolle
The famous philosophical texts of Yoga have different styles and means of pointing to the same truth- To know the true Self, one needs to truly know stillness. Indeed, not only in Yoga, but in every major spiritual tradition, stillness is revealed again and again as the secret to wholeness in heart, mind and body, and in experiencing the Divine. It is what allows communication between the relative and the absolute, and drops the individual self into the vast eternal Self. It is what allows a sense of ease and connection even in the most outwardly turbulent situations. The ancient metaphor is the top, when balanced from a stillpoint at center, the outward constant movement can be harmonious and seemingly effortless.
So many gifted poets, artists, musicians, philosophers have eloquently expressed the possibilities for union and peace in stillness. Pablo Neruda, Mary Oliver, the Sufi Poets, David Whyte, Thomas Merton, Ramana Maharshi, Lao Tzu and so many more.  Weave in practices from yoga – yoga nidra, guided relaxations,  mini-meditations during an asana pose, calming pranayama – and ease into this precious space of stillness in our classes this month.
There are many beautiful quotes from different traditions for contemplation if you’d like to take a look: http://effortlesspeace.com/stillness-quotes/.
Here is the pdf of “Stillness Speaks” by Eckart Tolle from which the opening quote comes. Enjoy his interpretation of some of the classic approaches in yoga and spirituality toward resting in stillness.

Pose of the Month~ Dec 2017 Savasana and Supported Poses

“REST is the conversation between what we love to do and how we love to be”   is just the beginning of a beautiful soliloquy on Rest by David Whyte, available at  http://sacredtremor.com/blog/david-whyte-rest   <3

Let’s be still in restful, supported poses and extended savasana this month. Whether your class has been moving and shaking or gently easing along, winding down in these poses allows the nervous and immune systems to balance and align with the natural inclination of the body to turn inward as we move toward the winter solstice.


Subject of the Month ~ Nov 2017 Maitri and Tonglen Practice

Practices in Yoga and Buddhism have been used for thousands of years to stabilize reactive thought patterns so that we are better equipped to deal with life when times are difficult. Why are these so useful now? The human mind processes information in a way that amplifies the effect of anything we perceive as a threat to our well-being, and also prioritizes input that supports the viewpoint we have already established. With the continual reactionary feed of news and social media in the electronic age, it is easy for our nervous system to get looped in a high stress state of alarm, with its resulting overwhelm, irritability and energy depletion. This month we will explore one way toward balancing our emotional and mental states so we can stay informed, involved, and appreciative, without feeling constantly stressed out.

The essential practices of Maitri (Loving Kindness) and Tonglen (Giving and Taking)  establish steady ground in us by instilling clear-seeing, gratitude, and compassion. In recognizing that our suffering in all its guises is only alleviated when we reach beyond our own concerns, these practices align our intention with the greatest good and allow us to see all the places we do have enough. In these meditations, we touch our own humanity at its depth of love and of fear to understand and connect to what others are experiencing. The connection is not made (as we usually do) by assuming that we know another’s experience by relating it to our own, but rather by connecting at the level of equanimity, that all humans have the same basic needs and wants and by starting from there.

In removing the separation caused by our pre-conceived notions, we become less likely to diminish and judge another person due to the problems brought on by their unique set of circumstances that we couldn’t begin to understand from a distance. As we begin to listen, we have a chance to move through our assumptions and prejudices, and to bring ourselves side-by-side others in true compassion. We do this first in these meditation practices, yet once the connection is established, it spontaneously overflows into our daily thoughts and activities. We shift from being consumed with how it all threatens “me”, allowing tension to release from our nervous system. We free up energy to serve, and can do what we need to do with more calmness and grace. We embody gratitude, and abundance in any aspect of life becomes a great gift, the opportunity to extend to others what can be shared, taught or given.

Our aim in each class this month is to include a Maitri or Tonglen practice. They are simple in approach, and no prior experience is necessary. You can also set aside a few minutes each day to practice on your own at home as we build a community of compassion. If you come up against resistances, be gentle with yourself. Begin with the first link to strengthening a loving relationship with yourself through Maitri practices if you are newer to these.  If you have some experience, either Maitri or Tonglen will be wonderful as a daily practice as you can.

Give it a try…as they say ( and with Thanksgiving coming up)…the proof is in the pudding!

Sraightforward steps to follow from Pema Chodron through links below (there are also many Youtube videos of Pema on these topics):

Maitri: https://theheartofawakening.wordpress.com/tag/pema-chodron/

Tonglen: http://www.meditationplex.com/how-to-meditate/tonglen-meditation-compassionate-practice-pema-chodron/

Extended Maitri: http://www.mindfulnet.org/Loving%20Kindness%20Practice.pdf

Pose of the Month~ Nov 2017 Urdhva Dhanurasana and Setu Bandhasana

Let’s approach the Holiday Season and colder weather with open hearts, shoulders, and hips! These poses are backbends with an inversion quality, thus having a positive effect on our whole physical bodies, while uplifting our emotional and mental state as well.  Upward Bow in particular is an extremely energetic pose, having a huge opening effect on the shoulders, chest and entire front body. It should be moved into with an understanding of proper core engagement,  shoulder rotation, and hip alignment. Shoulder and chest openers are essential in preparation, as well as hip-opening sequences.  For those newer to Wheel Pose,  modify by using blocks under the hands, the blocks should be supported against the wall. Students who are not ready to lift into Upward Bow Pose can find Bridge Pose is a great alternative, bringing arms into yoga mudra to increase the chest and shoulder opening capacity once in the pose. In Gentle Level classes, or for those who have significant low back, wrist or shoulder issues, please explore Bridge or Supported Bridge Pose only.



One reference for guiding into these poses is below:



Downward Dog ~ Pose of the Month October 2017

As one of the most recognizable poses in Yoga, Downward Dog or Adho Mukha Svanasana, is also one of the most misunderstood as far as alignment and orientation. Tightness or hyper-flexibility in the body require different approaches to this common pose, as do shoulder, wrist or low back conditions. The good news- there are modifications or adjustments for everyone in approaching this pose that allow an expression of downward dog that reveal the strengthening and flexibility for the body that is inherent in the pose. Approach your dog this month with curiosity and awareness, wiping the slate clean of what you think you know, and create from the ground up a presentation of downward dog that reflects where you are in your practice today! Even if you have been practicing for many years, you may be able to teach your old dog a few new tricks!


The Subtle Body~ October 2017 Subject of the Month

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious – it is the source of all true art and science. ~ Albert Einstein

The idea of the subtle, or energetic, body takes some getting used to for many people. If you came upon yoga as I did- for strength and flexibility, to unwind, or even to learn to quiet the mind a bit-  it wasn’t hard to get a feel for these benefits of yoga with just a little time invested.  I noticed I was stronger, more flexible, my mood was better, and intellectually it all made sense! But when teachers started to talk about the seemingly mystical energetic blueprint of the subtle body, I, as many students, didn’t know where to turn for a reference point, or what to make of it. Resistance came up in the places this practical, comforting science met a kind of “yogaspeak” that made little sense to me.

As a story or a metaphor, I could understand how the map of the subtle body was useful as a tool. Even as the idea sounded fantastically appealing, this vast system with channels of light, vibrational vortexes, sheathes and spirals, its actual existence as a highly developed structure was foreign to me. Coming from a background of hard science, I was used to not accepting something I could not validate through proven research or experience, and I didn’t have enough of either at this point to get past my skepticism. Resistance came up as I didn’t know what I had to believe in this. Luckily for me, my wonderful teacher, Parvathi Nanda Nath Saraswati, allowed me to put the whole dilemma aside with one precise statement: “You don’t have to believe anything I say about anything, as a matter of fact I much rather you question it all and find out for yourself!”   Ahhhh…something a research scientist could get to work on!

As any good scientist, I began my exploration of the unknown with what I did know, my asana practice. It is said the asana practice is not to be underestimated as a tool for strengthening and opening the channels of the subtle as well as the physical body. When I experimented, I found it is exquisitely designed to do just that, and that it does it well and we can feel it. Each asana shapes the physical and energetic body into a unique yantra, a full body experience that opens us to prana, the force in the breath that vibrates with consciousness. It is truly a marvelous practice that includes but is not limited to the physical body, and through it I discovered my direct connection to the subtle body. Many can begin here, simply by feeling the rasa (loosely described as the mood or atmosphere in the body) during each asana as well as the physical shape. Becoming curious about the physical or mental shifts that deepen the rasa and the ones that diminish it can constantly inform of skillful directions of movement. This connects a practitioner more deeply to their relationship with the underlying force field of the subtle body.

As I continued as a student of yoga and began more diverse practices, I became even more curious about the noticeable shifts in my demeanor, mood and outlook on life. I felt different, and others said I looked different. Still far from perfect, I was evolving in a way that allowed me to feel more aligned with this mysterious energy that lightened life and provided support and clarity when needed. It became apparent that what were once the mystical practices that I resisted, were in fact now fueling this transformative relationship between body and mind, allowing both to be more clear, resilient and strong. In retrospect this is not surprising as these ways in which to clean, strengthen and expand the subtle body and their profound effects have been described by many texts and teachers from many different traditions of yoga for thousands of years. Still, experiencing is believing in yoga and in the experience I gained my understanding. I have become content to let some of it remain mystical to me. The sweetness is better assimilated by the wholeness of the luminous mind, not endlessly analyzed. The mysterious indeed had become to me the most beautiful part of the art and science of yoga.

Enjoy learning about the different ways we map and describe the subtle body this month. Through the koshas, the channels, the chakras, and the vibrational field of the body. simply feel what you feel and remain curious. Explore the practices in asana, pranayama, kriya, visualization, and meditation that point toward your mysterious subtle body. Take it all in, and by all means, don’t believe a word anyone tells you about what you have to feel or think about it.  Find out for yourself!