Nov 2018~ SOM Bhakti Yoga and POM Surya Namaskar

Long for it intensely, so that the mind melts in devotion ~ Ramana Maharshi

SOM: Bhakti Yoga, The Yoga of Devotion– Bhakti Yoga manifests in many ways and Kriya Yoga, the Yoga of Action, springs effortlessly from the heart of devotion. To begin to understand devotion, we need to consider what  is precious to us? As practitioners of yoga, we learn that when our longing is rooted in wisdom, serving that longing selflessly in our actions is the path to liberation and oneness. Bhakti Yoga is a path that is strong and fierce, as well as tender and beautiful. It involves the recognition that in the absolute sense, all is indeed love and wholeness, and we honor that in ourselves and others when we touch it. Yet in the limited world of form and duality, the idea that “it’s all good” is not realistic, at least for most beings on the planet, and the planet itself! Through devotion to divine wisdom, or the greatest good, we can find what actions are dharmic, in harmony with consciousness, and which are not. The embodiment of liberated qualities such as compassion, tolerance, courage, and justice is fully possible if we devotedly serve peace, love and understanding until we have the non-conceptual experience that “we are that”. If something that is precious to us is threatened, isn’t it worth showing up again and again to do what we can to protect and increase it? It is the eternal intention in yoga for all beings to be happy, healthy and free from suffering, and it is the power of devotion that fuels  and sustains the movement toward this. We will encourage our hearts, minds, and awareness to be fully open as we explore the many practices and philosophies of Bhakti Yoga this month through chanting, meditations and gratitude.
In gratitude and devotion to our teachers, staff, and community  ~ our continued love through the Holiday season <3 Cathy and Laura
POM:  Surya Namaskar: Half, A and B- As we move through these sun salute series, we can be reminded that the source of these flows were given as teachings by the yogic masters long ago as expressions of devotion by combining movement with mantra and breath to honor a higher power in us. As the modern yoga practice has become more about the physical aspects, the sun salutes hold a unique and sweet balance in serving the needs of the physical and energetic body, providing harmonious opening in both. Remember modifications as needed, especially if shoulder, wrist or low back considerations are needed. Though full sun salutes are not part of our Gentle classes, we can explore with modifications an appropriate flow and many of the elements, such as the standing poses and downward dog. Remember precision and alignment serve your greatest good, no matter how many or few sun salutes you complete. Allow the surrender to breath and inner rhythm to bring you to the sweet place of Bhakti in yourself!

July 2018 SOM~ In Community: Movement that Matters POM~ Kapotasana and Variations

Subject of the Month: In Community: Movement that Matters

Kapota, the Rishi for whom Kapotasana (pigeon pose) is named, is said to be unmatched in power, vigor, strength, agility, and intuition. He not only led with his heart as we do in full pigeon, he literally led with his soul which traveled in front of his body by several feet! His wisdom and clarity were so profound that sons of the gods asked his guidance and advice. His actions were said to be so effortless and beautiful in all he did it appeared his feet didn’t even touch the ground as he moved. Like a bird soaring high in flight, his actions had an innate skillfulness, a perfection in timing that is the embodiment of effortless, clear, spontaneous action.

We all have touched this kind of action, when we feel we have the wind beneath are wings, when we are carried on high, when we are “on a roll”, inspired, smoothly efficient. We feel in step with the rhythm, and capable of the requirements, in our own lives, and this spreads to our movements in the larger communities in which we live.  We feel confident and vital, purposeful, capable, effective and kind. We have trust that the flow of life will carry us, and this gives power to actions that serve others, and the understanding that this results in greater harmony for all.

When there is so much calculated divisiveness and manipulation effecting the communities to which we belong and care about, it becomes much harder to find any sustained rhyme or reason in the steps we take.  It becomes more difficult to determine what actions to take, and if our efforts make any difference at all in a constantly shifting landscape with so many moving parts. As things we truly value as essential to stability, safety, health and basic rights become threatened or taken away from ourselves or others, we can feel overwhelmed and out of balance on many levels. It is difficult to feel joy or even kindness at times. Many have expressed feeling helpless, drained, full of doubt and worry about what to do and where we are headed. Individual and group efforts have felt ineffective against the momentum of a seemingly bigger movement that divides to conquer. All this depletes our ability to cope and stresses our nervous system. We stagnate, or we become a whirlwind of activity with little focused direction, frenetic in our movements. In either case, we are less able to organize our actions around any sense of purpose that allows us to make and sustain movement toward a greater good, to do anything efficiently. How do we stay internally strong through the callousness of deliberate chaos and lack of caring?

Strength and support can be found by moving in community with others, and even more so in compassionate community where selfless service brings purpose.  In this kind of focused, effective action we are replenished and inspired to lead with our heart. What would it feel like to go further and lead with our soul as Kaputa did? Would we be willing to let others see right into that beautiful space where everything is held in oneness-  our mistakes, our failures, our pettiness, our triumphs, our dedication, our love- so we all can see that whatever happens to another affects us, and that everyone matters equally. When everything is included and integrated, this is Yoga, this is union, this is Paramashiva, the state of totality. Here, every action is effortless, spontaneously arising and sustaining. Here, the strength comes from an understanding of what our actions and inactions ultimately create and allow. Staying the course of action to serve justice and compassion becomes choiceless as any other option doesn’t hold the line of what it is acceptable to our own integrity and knowing.

We will explore community and movement in many ways this month, in and out of class.  Through our asana practice we will engage in an integrated and skillful approach toward the challenging pigeon pose and its variations, with world music and different types of movement practices interwoven. Let’s remember to have fun and move to find our groove, and practice the things we know bring us strength and joy. We will have kirtan, and other pop-up opportunities to practice, sing and move together. What if each of us extended an invitation to coffee or tea, or for a walk, to someone this month that perhaps we wouldn’t normally think to do, or joined in support of an event for the rights of someone else to have what we have? What if we reached across the gap of culture to support those in need that don’t look like us, or share a language, a continent, or even a species? What if we let ourselves dance and sing, hold hands and hug a little more, all the while showing up in word and deed in support of the basic intention of yoga, that all beings everywhere have what they need to be happy, healthy and free of suffering?  Would it make a difference in how we felt and what we could do? Let us find out, together!  Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti ❤

Pose of the Month: Rajakapotasana and Variations

We can practice kindly putting aside our differences as we move into variations of pigeon pose. What works for everyone will be different. Still, the approach is the same- skillful approach, patience and support as needed. Can we learn something from each variation, whether it is easy for us, difficult, or not happening in this lifetime? What does our mind and body tend to do in each of these experiences? Can we support others without comparing to our own practice? Can we find strength and purpose in the sustained, skillful effort, even if the results toward our goal are not coming as quickly as we like?

https://www.yogapedia.com/pigeon-pose-6-variations-of-yogas-popular-hip-opening-posture/2/8394

Let’s do this Yogasphere, and be birds of a feather, flying together 😊

June 2018 Subject of Month- Breath and Pranayama~ Pose of Month- Ustrasana (Camel)

Both our Pose and Subject for June encourage vibrant openness and ways for keeping strong, receptive, balanced and flexible!

Pranayama, the guided breath practices of yoga, can help us maintain a balanced internal atmosphere amidst the external wild fluctuations in everything from weather to the definition of a fact.  Pranayama practices can activate and clarify the mind, or calm and balance it. There are practices for warming the body, cooling the body, deeply relaxing the body. Diaphragmatic or deep belly breathing, when done in an unforced manner, is one of the simplest and most effective ways to disengage from the chronic “stressed-out” state in which the sympathetic nervous system prioritizes body systems toward flight-or-fight mechanisms resulting in emotional reactive patterns and bodily imbalances. Observe your breath to get an idea of the state of your mind!

Enjoy the following introduction to Pranayama by Anthony Serpiello, Yogasphere Instructor. Join Anthony from 8:30 – 9:15 am Tuesdays at Newtown for Guided Meditation and Pranayama, $5 cash drop in!

Pranayama (Expansion of the Life Force) is the fourth limb of Ashtanga (Eight-Limbed) Yoga. It consists of breathing exercises which help us to build a reservoir of vital energy in the body.

            In the Eight Limbs, Pranayama is preceded by Asana (Postures). The Asana are used to cleanse, strengthen and stretch the physical body in order to prepare it for higher practices in which we must sit comfortably for extended periods of time (Pranayama and Meditation). Pranayama is then practiced to cleanse and strengthen the Nadis (Energetic pathways of the body).

            Pranayama follows Asana because it is the bridge between the body and the mind. A person’s state of mind is reflected in their breath. When we are nervous we breathe quickly and shallowly. In dreamless sleep we breath smoothly and deeply because our minds are untroubled. When we are intently focused on some task we hold the breath without even realizing it. This is because the mind is still at that moment and this is reflected in the suspension of the breath. By controlling the breath we can control the mind. This is the practical use of Pranayama.

            Physiologically, Pranayama expands our lung capacity and allows us to absorb more oxygen. Over time, it also decreases our normal rate of breathing. If we look at animals, we can see how the breathing rate is directly related to life span. Mice take between 80 and 220 BPM (breaths per minute) and their average life span is 1 to 2 years. Dogs take between 20 and 30 BPM and live on average 10 to 20 years. Horses take 8 to 15 BPM and live about 50 years. And the tortoise breathes only 4 times per minute and on average lives 150 years.

            Consistent daily practice is the key to success in all Yogic practices. I hope this encourages you to develop a Pranayama practice and experience all of these benefits in your own lives.

   Ustrasana, or Camel Pose, allows us to open and offer our hearts, combining the strong support of the legs and core with the flexibility of the spine and openness of the  chest and shoulders.  Backbends encourage outward movement and connection, perfect for the late spring and early summer. They can be warming as well, so balance with cooling pranayama or forward folds as counter poses to bring the body and mind into harmony.

 

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!

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.

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.

 

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:

https://www.ekhartyoga.com/more-yoga/yoga-poses/upward-bow-pose-or-wheel-pose

https://www.ekhartyoga.com/more-yoga/yoga-poses/bridge-pose

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!

 

Pose of the Month~ August 2017 Hip-Openers featuring Hanumanasana

 

Using the heat of the summer toward gently easing more openness into our hips is a great way to get that spring back in our step. Just as our hero Hanuman had many misadventures before his famous leap after which this yoga split is named, often in our exploration of hip-openers we meet all sorts of obstacles along the way.  For many, a tremendous amount of patience, care and persistence is necessary when approaching even moderate hip-openers, which is a very different approach to success than what we see in the world around us. To move toward an advanced asana like Hanumanasana, a level of devotion toward the self is of paramount importance and can teach us so much. Whether we build up our props, or move into the pose unsupported, the ease and joy is in the uplifting of our spirit to meet the courage and grace in our hearts.

A reference for getting into Hanumanasana is found here: https://yogainternational.com/article/view/hanumans-pose-full-splits

Always warm up properly for any advanced hip-opener, and keep your practice within the limits of what your body can safely and happily manage.

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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