Subject of the Month~ June 2017~ Rasa – All the Tastes of Life

“And so I fall in love just a little, oh a little bit, every day with someone new” ~ Hozier

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A friend recently asked if I had heard this song by Hozier and quoted the lyric. I hadn’t but the lyric caught my interest. I began to wonder if in my travels each day, it were possible to make that level of connection to a person I did not know, to “fall in love a little bit”. Without differing my approach due to who they appeared to be, if I were relaxed and open, smiled, said hello, met their eyes and moved along, would it be possible to have a shared moment of truly seeing each other? After all, isn’t that what falling in love is?

I’m generally a friendly person, yet this consistent approach to truly meet another through a greeting dramatically opened my eyes to how we set the mood for many interactions, even very casual ones, simply by the care taken (or not taken) to be genuinely present in the moment of connection. I will leave it to you to experience the different feeling tone that arises when moving through the world like this if you choose to give it a try. It’s a very different taste of life, or rasa, I can assure you.

Rasa (rah-sa) is a Sanskrit word that carries the essential emotional characteristic of an experience as a mental state. It translates imprecisely as juice, sap, or fluid but perhaps can be better understood as the taste, mood or atmosphere. It is perhaps best described as the all-encompassing felt experience of an interaction. It is traditionally applied in Indian art, literature, music or any creative dynamic between subject and object to evoke mood. It can also be applied to a person’s relationship with an aspect of themselves or the world around them that is deeply influenced by an emotional response.

Each Sanskrit letter of the alphabet has a unique rasa, which in different combinations form unique vibrational matrices of consciousness (liberated emotions) in the space they are recited. To simplify however, we can consider the eight rasas that are outlined in the Natyasastra by Bharata Muna: love/eros, humor/joy, disgust/pity, fury/anger, compassion/sadness, heroism/bravery, terrifying/fearful, marvelous/awe-inspiring.

The ground of our exploration is how we feel when consumed by one of these rasas in a creative interaction. Rasas are not just suggested or contrived, they are literally formed in the space of the body/mind by the experience so that the “one who experiences” is immersed to the point that analysis and judgement dissolves and pure experience engulfs. Where at this point does the rasa begin and the experiencer end? Can we learn to deeply feel the intensity of emotions in an orchestrated creative space so that we can better hold it in a personal interaction? What do we need to drop so we can fully experience the essence of a life experience, a true connection, even for a moment?

Traditional Indian music, poetry and dance are specifically designed to connect the participant to one or more rasas through precise vibration, rhythm and subtleties of language. Similarly, we often use elements of music, language, literature, mantra and skillful sequencing in a yoga class to create a specific mood or theme so that instead of thinking about it, we are immersed in the wholeness of it. This is what allows us to be fluid, responsive and open in the physical and energetic body during class. This is also why we often feel good, and sometimes we cry, during or after class. It is in the non-thinking mind that the experience arises, and the rasa holds our attention here in the experience so we can more fully feel it, not separate from it.

Some achingly beautiful examples that convey rasas exquisitely are the stringed instruments in ragas and much classical music, poets of the Sufi tradition, Pablo Neruda, and many vibrationally precise kirtan recordings of Krishna Das and Jai Uttal. There are many, many more examples of art, music and experience that don’t merely touch the heart, but encourage and even dare it to expand to its fullness and beyond. If we allow our hearts to remain just a little bit more open each time this happens, maybe we can fall just a little bit more in love each day.

Pose of the Month~ April 2017~ Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (pigeon) and related poses

These lovely poses bring the energy lines of the body back to life after a more dormant feel in the winter.
We will be teaching how to safely approach openness in many of the joints of the body in our monthly pose, Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (pigeon), and related asanas such as  Gomukasana (cow face pose), Agnistambhasana (Double Pigeon or Fire Log Pose). These poses can be challenging on hips, knees, low back and even shoulders and ankles, so please take care to support yourself, and listen to the suggested modifications if they apply!
Also enjoy the variations in our flow classes that allow you to twist, open the heart, and even fly!
You can read more about getting safely into the Pigeon Pose series at : https://yogainternational.com/article/view/one-leg-king-pigeon-pose
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Subject of the Month ~ April 2017~ The Elements and Emotions

Mother Nature has certainly let herself be known in the last weeks, giving us an elemental extravaganza of howling winds, pouring rain, vivid sunshine, spacious blue skies, and the sweetly re- awakening earth. Like any system, our natural world thrives by using the energy of creation to spark rebirth and avoid stagnation. The season of Spring carries this vibrant and fresh energy, and the elements around us encourage our participation, interest and delight. Every day we can look outside and see change and growth, enticing our senses to get us out and play. And everything seems new and animated in the space outside after the winter- the lively touch of the wind, the vividness of the colors, the deep smells of the newly turned earth, the clear taste of food and water. As we enjoy this generosity that Mother Earth abundantly gives, let us consider how we can best interact with these elements that comprise both our inner and outer environments.

 

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Let’s begin with our external environment, and use our senses for what they were designed to do, experience and appreciate this glorious world and season. Let that spark in nature inspire a renewed appreciation in us to connect with her and ourselves. Read or write poetry, sing, take a walk or nap outside (without our phones), get messy in a garden, go jump in a lake, eat farm fresh fruits and veggies! And in return for this beautiful gift, consider what we can do to be a true steward for the earth and her waterways and airways. She needs protection now, and it is only where she is healthy that we as well can thrive. We can serve by fighting the current legislation that removes protections and allows further industrialization in delicate eco-systems. We can work to sustain and replenish her well-being by cleaning up our own neighborhood parks and open spaces and moving outward from there.

We can take a cue from Mother Nature in our internal environment as well and institute our own spring-cleaning, as the spark of transformation within us is also strongest in Spring. We, too, are comprised of the elements, and because of the distribution of each element in our major organs (air in the lungs, water in the kidneys, earth in the spleen and stomach, fire in the liver, and space in our hearts), the elements form the emotional environment of our bodies just like they often set the mood of the outside world. The elements together give us a map (or mandala) of our emotions that allow us to see where there are vital seeds of growth and creativity to nurture and where there is the stagnation of our internal “waste dumps”.  The good news is the map gives us some clear trail markers so we can better identify the places leading to positive growth and the places overrun by poison ivy or quicksand. Just as when we observe the natural environment we can see what is pristine and what is polluted, we can do the same in our internal environment with these markers.

The markers are organized around the elements and their corresponding emotions, with each element having a positive essential emotion (a nectar, or path to sweetness) and a negative essential emotion (a poison, or path to suffering).  The nectars (or sweet spots) to watch for are the places where we feel generosity/ease (earth), stillness/calmness (water), passion/interest (fire),  trust/confidence (air) and wisdom/wholeness (space). The poisons (or toxic zones) to watch for are where we feel pride/intolerance (earth), anger/impatience (water), attachment/distraction (fire), jealousy/anxious (air) and deliberately ignorant/fragmented (space). We all recognize some things on the list as familiar! As much as we can at the beginning, we simply notice the ones of interest, “mark” them as nectar or poison when we feel them, and move on.

To develop this a bit more, we can focus on one marker for a few days. It  can be either a nectar or a poison, and watch for when that emotion arises in us. If interested, we can make a note of it, and what caused it, if we know or can guess. Also, we can note what we did or thought when we felt it, and how it influenced our mood. Track the one marker for a time (journaling is great here), and then move to another.  In this way we can start to fill out our own map of what situations and choices bring each of us to feel sweetness in our life and which brings us toward trouble and suffering. As we do this with more markers, we can refine our internal map so we begin to more quickly recognize paths and processes toward harmony and freshness in our life, and the detours that get us stuck and down-in- the-dumps before going so far off-track. With this caring and consistent approach, we can become stewards of our own well-being, as well as the world around us, working toward returning both to their natural state of pristine beauty.

 

The Elemental Emotion Mandala (Map) is adapted from the teachings of Parvathi Nanda Nath.

POM- February 2017 Dhanurasana (Bow Pose) and Related Backbends

The backbend series Bhujangasana (Cobra), Shalambasana (Locust) and Dhanurasana (Bow) include backbends that allow us to explore heart-opening in ways that can be safe for the trickiest low back if we stay close to the earth or expansive and free as we lift higher off the ground. Remember, the strength in these poses comes from the inner core and moves outward, and not from pushing and pulling yourself to where you want to be. Develop grace, strength and flexibility as your heart gently opens to what is!

https://yogainternational.com/article/view/bow-pose

Lie on your belly with your arms resting alongside you. Bend your knees and reach back with your hands to grab hold of your feet or ankles. Be sure to reach both hands back together (not one at a time) to avoid twisting your pelvis. Spread your toes to activate the muscles of your legs. Resist your shins in toward each other to avoid splaying your knees. Press your feet (or ankles) back against your hands to lift your thighs away from the floor, and lead with your chest (not your chin) as you rise up into the backbend. Broaden your collarbones, lift your sternum, and allow your head to follow the movement of your chest, lifting it slightly but still maintaining length in the back of your neck.

Modifications

If you can’t reach your feet or ankles, wrap a strap around the fronts of your ankles (or feet) and hold on to the ends of the strap.

SOM- February 2017 “When Things Fall Apart, Heart Advice for Difficult Times”

How do we stay open-hearted and effective in an increasingly confrontational world? In discussions with people from many points of view these days, it is apparent that pretty much everyone has a heightened level of uncertainty about the future. “Feeling what we feel” has long been taught as a valued practice in yoga, but what do we do when those feelings begin to overwhelm us? We want to stay present, yet get lost in the emotional smokescreen produced by the escalated tension, callousness, and rhetoric that is the new norm. Pema Chodron, in this month’s focus, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times cuts through the smoke to the clarity and reason needed to stay strong and united right now.
Methods for working with tough emotions have been taught in the Buddhist tradition for thousands of years, and are expounded upon in this text. We train, sometimes for years, in developing the skills to access courage, compassion, and clarity through our yoga practice. Now, on the playing field of life, we are called to embody these skills, not as concepts but as our tools as conscious individuals, and communities.


Boddhicitta, the space of the awakened and courageous heart, acknowledges the pain and fear, and yet holds the transformative space that allows us to move through fear to the presence. We uncover the strength of boddhicitta by holding a mirror to our fear and seeing what in us is afraid, and starting there. We are given instructions on where to look for our fear by examining the eight dharmas which show us how we get constantly caught in a never-ending ping pong game between our likes and dislikes. We learn how to feel and sit in our fear with more steadiness through tonglen, a meditation practice in which we connect directly with suffering that all beings have. And we develop strength and resilience of mind by practicing the six paramitas which allow us a non-moralistic way to courageously act with an open-heart and unrelenting focus.
As a lived process, our exploration will allow us to feel our fear, while bringing a new perspective on how our opinions, language, and reactions can contribute to more aggression if we are not careful. It will show how we can spiral when “how we want it to be” or “how we thought it was” smacks up against the cold-edged reality of “what it is”. It will reveal the places where we want to be heard and respected, but find it difficult to fully listen and remain skillful in communication with different viewpoints. Ultimately, it will demand that the smokescreen of fear be dispersed in us to find what is relevant, practical, and efficient in bringing the strength we need to light.
The teachings and practices we will explore this month are not easy, yet either are these times. They ask us to dive into the undercurrents of emotions we may have spent many years avoiding. As bodhisattvas, warriors of light, it is necessary to exchange our crutches for the finely- honed tools of courage, integrity, clarity and steadiness. Feeling fear in difficult times is natural; the space of boddhicitta is vast enough to hold the fear, understand it, and use it to guide us to where our presence is needed the most.

POM~ December 2016- Supported/Restorative and Extended Shavasana

“There is force in the universe, which, if we permit it, will flow through us and produce miraculous results.” Mahatma Ghandi.

In December, let’s open to the miraculous healing forces in the universe. We will use the healing poses of yoga that help restore steadiness and soundness to the body and soul. Supported and restorative poses, as well as extended savasana, allow us to touch the stillness our bodies yearn for this time of year to move forward together into the new year with a renewed sense of clarity and purpose. Remember to support yourself completely so that you are comfortable in these asanas, then relax deeply!

SOM~ December 2016- Healing (Ourselves and Our Nation)

The human heart is the first home of democracy. It is where we embrace our questions. Can we be equitable? Can we be generous? Can we listen with our whole beings, not just our minds, and offer our attention rather than our opinions? And do we have enough resolve in our hearts to act courageously, relentlessly, without giving up—ever—trusting our fellow citizens to join with us in our determined pursuit of a living democracy? The heart is where we integrate what we know in our minds with what we know in our bones, the place where our knowledge can become more fully human.—Terry Tempest Williams

As a nation we have spoken about healing in the last weeks- healing from the divisiveness, the sense of loss and disillusionment, the acerbic atmosphere in general. The kinder and gentler ideal of democracy based on human decency and caring seems to have given away to aggression, rhetoric and isolationism. We’ve seen increased incidences of hate crimes both locally and nationally, and a general worldwide disregard for the welfare of millions of people that have been displaced by war, terrorism, and lack of the barest necessities of life. As a community that is rooted in wisdom teachings of compassion and kindness, this can be especially shocking and cause deep dismay. In order not to get stuck in the overwhelm or hopelessness, it is necessary to heal enough to hear the call to wake up to what each of us can do to have our voices be heard and our actions be counted. The process of healing requires one thing to begin and as yoga practitioners we are familiar with it- the willingness to see things clearly as they are and accepting what is. This is the only approach that allows for movement toward wholeness.

When we remain in denial or avoidance of current events and their underlying causes as they come to the surface, we delay healing and remain stalled. In a medical diagnosis, once we hear and accept what is there, only then do we become knowledgeable, and much more skillful in making our decisions. Healing does not guarantee a cure, or allow the illusion that it will be easy if it is a deep wound. It doesn’t mean we get it the way we want it. It means we begin to want to work with things the way they are simply because that is the only way that makes any useful progress toward a change that can be significant and make a difference. In the current state of our society, once the collapse of our illusions brings the shadowy places to light, we begin to see that this place was not created by any one happening or person, yet a series of patterns and events that were allowed to accumulate for a very long time. A humility sets in as we realize our own blind spots and vulnerability, how we have contributed to the current state of affairs.

Accepting “what is” does not mean giving up or succumbing to this as the way it always has to be. As a matter of fact, when we wake up in that moment of seeing it, we have a singular chance to use that jolt to remain engaged enough to have the energy to sustain the fight toward goodness. We can use this energy more efficiently in choosing our battles, and our methods once we have seen what is wrong. Only when we see the darkness, do we have a chance of dispelling it. But it’s not easy. We need to listen more, ask the right questions, and remain vigilant and committed so don’t allow ourselves to get lulled to sleep again.

Author Parker Palmer gives 5 steps to a sustainable heart-centered process toward establishing a just, kind democracy in his book Healing the Heart of Democracy (2011, JosseyBass). “Five Habits to Heal the Heart of Democracy” written for the Global Oneness Project distills this to its essence (https://www.globalonenessproject.org/library/articles/five-habits-heal-heart-democracy). The steps he lists, and which are expounded upon in his writings, are: an understanding that we are all in this together, an appreciation of the value of “otherness,” an ability to hold tension in life-giving ways, a sense of personal voice and agency, and a capacity to create community. Perhaps we can begin our own healing by inquiring what these steps mean to each of us, and in each of us?

We will set aside time in each class to explore practices including healing mantra,mudra, gentle pranayama, nyasa, Yoga Nidra, guided relaxation, loving kindness meditations to facilitate healing and connection.

Pose of the Month~ November 2016: Sun Salutes A and B

SURYA NAMASKAR A and B
We’ve been learning the components of these flowing series, now let’s bring it all together for Surya Namascar A and B in our practice this month to keep the body strong and the immune system boosted as we move into fall.  Always practice with modifications as needed for Level 1/2, and even in more advanced practices as the way we align shoulders, spine, and wrists becomes very important.  And remember it’s all about the breath 🙂
Six Half Sun Salutes or three Surya Namascar A or B every morning are a great way to start your day even if you can’t make it to class!.
The best part, we can interweave the Lojong Trainings into this practice as we look at where we are predictable, critical, tuning out or pushing a bit too much with our Sun Salutes. Enjoy the energy of movement and grace. and breathe!

Subject of the Month ~ November 2016: Lojong Teachings

                                     LOOKING TO AWAKEN YOUR HEART?                                   DON’T GIVE UP, GROW UP!

 The Buddhist Lojong (mind-training) slogans have been on my mind quite a bit over the last months as the nation has become increasingly reactive and divided on many fronts. It seems hard to feel that we are one community, one nation, or even one human race when so much has pulled at our deeply held concepts of right and wrong, and propelled us on the wild search to find fault. There is plenty of blame to go around, yet blaming can’t mend the damage this chronic cycle of corruption has caused. Corruption is the result of repeated misuse of power which quickly deteriorates trust, communication and respect between all involved. Whether in a societal relationship dynamic or a personal one, the misuse of power propagates more and more division, blame, harm, resentment and superiority. It sets a pattern that causes fragmentation in society as we have seen, yet also in ourselves as individuals. Our mind can provide a very good place to start if we are interested in becoming more responsible in our own use of power, and this is where the lojong teachings focus. If we apply the teachings and do the work, we will feel less hopeless and move toward growing up into fully present beings.

 

In the lojong teachings, forward movement is never about blaming or shamIng ourselves or others. We use practical slogans, or training methods, to “re-mind” the mind of what its natural function is. These are necessary and compassionate teachings, whether they are prompting us to be accountable, to be kind, or to be curious in discovering where life may be leading us if we clear out some of our junk. They instruct us in how to practice watching our thoughts carefully in order to reclaim the counsel of our own clear, unbiased intelligence and reflect its radiant light out to others. Just as young children often fail to fully see (or care) how their actions affect others, our untrained mind can lead us to hide in the shadows of irresponsibility and complacency or bake in the glaring spotlight of unchecked ego. We never pause to consider how we use our mind, or how we might better direct its power of attention. The lojong slogans are not “brain-washing” in the usual sense, yet they do serve in ultimately clearing a whole lot of junk from the mind that clogs up the works! All we have to do is pick one, be attentive, and practice, practice, practice!

 

This month get ready to watch the wily mind as it goes through its twists and turns, like a cartoon villain that sets off the fuse of the gunpowder trail far from the dynamite yet still gets burned each time! Through lojong, we practice redirecting the thought patterns of the mind from constant focus on needs of the individual self to the clear wisdom of the universal Self. This is a broader perspective that recognizes our needs but is not controlled by them. Pick one slogan to work with each day, each week, or all month. Practicing even one of these slogans can help us follow our patterns back through all the permutations to the source. There, we can begin to see what drives our mind and how to reclaim our power from unhelpful habits (and avoid lighting a few fuses that may explode in our face along the way!) Practice in this case may not make perfect, but it can make sure we don’t give up before we grow up to our full amazing potential. That is where we will discover our awakened heart <3

 

Pema Chodron has recommended 19 lojong slogans out of the 59 as representative of the essence needed in our training routine at http://www.lionsroar.com/dont-give-up/.  It’s a great reference with just enough explanation to be clear without confusing! Scroll through the list, when one grabs your attention, start there. More in-depth discussion of Lojong, can be found in “Start Where You Are” by Pema Chodron as well as many other resources on shambala.org and Buddhist texts.

Pose of the Month Oct 2016~ Dog Poses

For our pose of the month in October, we are letting the dogs out….all and any of them! The 1/4 dogs, 1/2 dogs, supported dogs, up dogs, down dogs, flip dogs, twisted dogs , three legged dogs-  any or all are will be integrated into our classes with emphasis on proper alignment as usual. In addition to fine-tuning your physical practice for these asanas, use the opportunity to explore the many energetic differences in the subtle body as you move from one dog pose and another.

To maximize the experience of the subtle body in each pose, Erich Schiffman in his well-known book “Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Moving Into Stillness” relates three cues we can give ourselves to increase the energetic openness in a pose:

  1. Be as relaxed as possible –  once in a pose, check for areas where we are “over-doing”. This can be evident in a tense jaw, locked knees or elbows, over-engagement of large muscle groups and competitive or harsh thoughts. Having enough support through proper engagement of physical body strength, modifications or props so we can relax into the structure of the asana increases the capacity for opening the physical body and releasing tension. This relaxation immediately activates the subtle body.
  2. Find the desired intensity – once we have relaxed enough to realize there is a spectrum of intensity available, we can increase and decrease  levels of activation in small increments until we find a place that feels right (energetic/involved yet relaxed). Do not strain, or collapse. This desired intensity will be different for every student, every day in every pose.
  3. Alternate the current- allow the energetic flow in the body to pulsate with the breath. The most common way to feel this is to activate or enliven the energetic current on the inhale, and soften or relax it on the exhale. Another way to experiment with this is to lengthen/extend outward on the inhale, and deepen/move inward on the exhale. The idea is to not push for too much or fade into too little. Allow small shifts to fine tune the shape of the body, and once in a supported, relaxed form, allow the energetic body its full play.

This approach increases strength, flexibility, endurance and vitality. The practice of yoga is uniquely designed to open the physical and subtle body  yet we will limit the benefits if we approach it like a competition, to see how many or how far we can get as the primary goal. Moving into the stillness is the way we “win” as the wholeness of the practice here allows for true self-exploration and knowledge.