by Yael Kievsky
As I write these lines, the sun and the moon come to togetherness, as a New Moon reveals the stars against a backdrop of darkness. As I’ve written before, the New Moon is an opportunity for prayer, intention, attention, and faith-feeding. We make new (gentle or bold) mini contracts with ourselves and with spirit, about the weeks to come, pertaining to a particular theme. The theme in question is brought up by the sign in which the Sun and the Moon conjunct. This week, the moon will be new in Virgo, and the “window of opportunity” — let’s call it window of invitation — lasts for a few days.
I look forward each year to the Virgo new moon and the empowering teachings and healing it can offer. The Virgo moment brings a longing for accomplishment, growth, efficiency, maturity, and most importantly, the potential for personal healing through service to others (this last bit being the real underlying Virgoan theme). It is no wonder that back to school in our culture happens always on or around the Virgo moon cycle.
An interest in the learning process is what Virgo is all about. Developing discernment, processing information, and honing an offering that can be matured into real service. School, in an ideal world, promotes these qualities in all of us. Virgo is a complex archetype in the zodiac because it also represents a point of crisis: our sense of worth is questioned, the inner self is measured against the demands of creating an outward offering. Crisis, as we know, is a fissure where opportunity is born. Virgo carries the seed for bright blossoming, under the right circumstances. Unfortunately, in this world, and in these times, most schools are hardly the place where a daring and genuine inner journey of inquiry is fostered.
This is how I fell in love with Yoga School at Laughing Lotus, six years ago, after a particularly desperate Virgo moon prayer. I had prayed for inspiration and for an inner uplifting that I could follow through towards an outward offering. I prayed to find my voice, heart, and hands all working together in a loving and unique way. I had been stuck for too long in a cold city on the East Coast that did not have my heart, a career in music that constantly made me feel less than apt, and an underlying feeling that my true worth was dormant, elsewhere. Powerful, magical, life-changing, and very much elsewhere. But where?
I did not know how to change my life around, but I sure knew how to pray. If you can breathe, if your heart beats, if you can dream at night, you can pray. In late August 2008, I prayed to step into true studentship, true empowered leadership, and into my real life. I prayed to learn about my own self.
I prayed for days. After a few days of this ‘last resource’ emotional behavior, I literally heard a voice inside me break and say: “I’m moving to San Francisco.” I had never been to the West coast before, nor did I have any friends or connections. However, I had an instinct as large as the whole state, and I followed the magical inner clues of this little voice until I realized what it was trying to point to. I boldly made a phone call to a personal cell phone number that I don’t remember how I even tracked down. “Hello. Is this Jasmine….?”
And so my prayer, in the right tone at the right time, led me to the right place. San Francisco? Sure. But most importantly, a teacher and a path that led me to myself.
School doesn’t necessarily focus on fostering our inner journey, but when it does, we have come into the realm of real learning. After understanding what the little voice was trying to say, and following it all the way to Laughing Lotus San Francisco Yoga School, I was able to meet, scrutinize, and befriend the very internal inflection point that the Virgo Moon was pointing at. I experienced four months of profound transformation that aimed to groom within me a new powerful sense of self. Throughout the ensuing weeks of Yoga School, and under the compassionate guidance of my teachers and mentors, my language changed, my physical relationship to myself changed, my relationship to the planet, and most dearly, an ability to feel like a useful and precious part of the whole was born inside of me.
All through this process, I was challenged, guided, and celebrated. I had arrived wanting to deepen my understanding of myself, and I graduated four months later with a deeper sense of reverence for life itself, and an unstoppable inspiration to share its treasures, through song, movement, and prayer.
Becoming a yoga teacher was, in my case, an inevitable consequence of this process. Many aspects of my prayer were being answered at once: a journey of self-worth, and most importantly, a concrete way of serving, helping, and healing others. The tools I gathered in those four months were more than I could count at the time and today. I deepened my relationship to yoga, and I developed a trusted personal practice. I found friendships and camaraderie, and I learned theory, philosophy, anatomy, psychology, and sanskrit. Yes, I gained a voice and a purpose. Yes, I became healthy and turned my whole life around. Above all else, Yoga School became proof that my prayers were being heard, were tended to with care, and would always be answered.
Yoga School is in itself a prayer. It is like stepping into a prism of one’s many selves and potentialities and many layers of relationships with the concrete as well as with the divine. It is a maze of inner kingdoms. It is still, to this day, unfolding. I move its rippling magic through me each time I teach a class.
Yoga School starts on Sept 12, and if you were waiting for a sign to sign up…. well, just look up at the sky, and the moon just might be winking down at you.
Yael teaches Level 1 on Tuesday from 10:45-11:45AM, All Levels from 12:00-1:00PM on Wednesday, and Level 2/3 from 8:30-9:45AM on Saturday. Yael works as an Astrologer, enjoys art and prayer, building altars deep in the woods, and baking goodies for everybody all the time. She seeks to inspire a sense of awe and inquiry in her friends and students, and a shared reverence for all Life. Namaste!
A few months ago, I realized the critical voice in my head sounds like a snarky bubbe (yiddish for grandmother). If I leave work on time to make a yoga class, she might say, “Why isn’t your tuchus still behind a desk like everyone else’s?” As I revise the ending of a short story, she might announce, “All aboard! The schmaltz train has arrived!” And during a yoga class: “It’s Peaceful Warrior, not Schmutz Warrior.”
I think she’s been blabbing away for years, but I credit yoga for giving me enough distance and awareness to recognize it. I also credit yoga with helping me understand I’ve got to work on this bubbe situation. Though you might imagine her with smudged glasses and smelling of honey cake, all that guilt and nitpicking violates ahimsa.
Ahimsa, which translates to non-killing or non-violence, is one of five ethical principles, or yamas, that comprise the first of yoga’s eight limbs. Initially, ahimsa might seem straightforward: don’t kill or commit other acts of violence. However, T.K.V Desikichar explains, “Ahimsa is more than just lack of violence. It means kindness, friendliness, and thoughtful consideration of other people and things…Ahimsa also means acting in kindness to ourselves.”
While I was going through the 200-hour instructor course at Laughing Lotus last fall, my teacher, Jasmine, asked us how we could practice ahimsa in yoga classes. Until then, I hadn’t considered that ahimsa could be an issue in a yoga class. What’s ahimsa got to do with an instructor guiding a class to balance, calm, and bliss, and the students who came for all that peaceful goodness? Luckily, one of my articulate and insightful yoga compatriots explained that as teachers we must respect our students’ limitations and not force an experience on them, and as students we must respect our own limitations and treat our bodies with compassion.
I went home from yoga school that night and couldn’t sleep. Though I didn’t want to look, the ahimsa discussion put a mirror to my practice, an honest mirror: In a typical yoga class, I jammed myself into poses—joints strained, breath gone, jaw clenched—while a soothing soundtrack of Tibetan chimes or monks chanting played. I’d look around the room and feel frustrated my body couldn’t practice like the people in the first row.
About a year prior to yoga school, I had been in paschimottanasana when my teacher came over and asked if I would like a “gentle” push. My hamstrings already felt taut, but I nodded, giving this well- meaning teacher the go-ahead to blow-out my hamstrings.
This kind of behavior and treatment of myself was not isolated to the yoga mat. During graduate school, I went on medical leave for nine months because I pushed and forced myself into everything I should be doing. I thought taking care of myself was self-indulgent.
Before yoga school, if you had told me sometimes child’s pose and savasana are the most advanced, I would have thought, “Stop with the woo woo ladi da! Lying on my mat like a shmata is not advanced.” However, a few days after the ahimsa discussion, I returned to Laughing Lotus for a class with the intention of not using force, and not comparing myself to others. It was a struggle. Sure my body felt better when I took child’s pose instead of a vinyasa, but my ego was rioting. Not surprising: We all know breaking a habit can be extremely difficult, and up until that point, self-criticism was fundamental to my karmic patterns. The shift toward ahimsa was going to take time. Lots of time.
But there was a bright side to the situation: My ahimsa practice on the mat would inform my practice in the world. As my yoga school mentor Roche Jenken explained, “How you do one thing is how you do everything.” Our asana practice is a moving metaphor for our behavior out in the world, and often it’s much easier to initiate change on the yoga mat than in the fray of life off it. Yoga school also helped me understand that if I could cultivate more compassion for myself, it would lead to more compassion for others. Certainly my graduate school experience taught me that you can’t take care of anyone else if you don’t take care of yourself. The stronger you are, the more support you can offer.
Six months later, and I’m in the thick of it with my ahimsa practice. Every time I practice yoga, I’m trying to shoo away the bubbe voice. More and more, I’m trying to shoo her away in other parts of my life, and, to my surprise, another voice has emerged. The new voice is more objective and less judgmental—no yiddish so far, but who knows. Of course, I’m still struggling (the critical bubbe was 32 years in the making), but that’s why it’s called a practice.
Sarah teaches Yoga and English to middle and high school students at Fusion Academy Marin. This post comes to you while she’s still glowing from Jasmine Tarkeshi and Keith Borden’s 50-Hour Advanced Teacher Training: Courage and Grace. She bows with gratitude to Jasmine, Keith, and the other Lotus teachers who continue to inspire her practice on and off the mat.
by Amy Ruben
“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom” –Anaïs Nin.
Two years ago, my adventurous, soul-seeking self took a pilgrimage to India. This was my second time to the the sub-continent of contradiction and sensory overload. The first time twirled me around and spat me back out in America after three weeks, smelling like incense, with a pocket full of rupees, and turmeric stains smeared on all of my belongings. The large bag of turmeric, which I smuggled home for future culinary pursuits, exploded in my bag on the 17-hour plane ride. India quickly taught me the meaning of the “cosmic joke.” Despite my misfortune, I was not deterred by my yellowed belongings, nor was I by my lingering digestive problems that haunted me for months.
As a gemini, who has little tolerance for complacency, I returned to India a year later. This time, I left with what I coined “a no-plan-plan.” A “no-plan-plan” was absolutely nonsensical to my American-Jewish family, as was the thought of me spending up to a year in the exotic land of India (of all places). When I broke the news to my grandmother that there were, indeed, no Jewish delis in Delhi, I was sent on my way with less than a blessing. Like many soul-searching westerners, who had paved the trail before me, I travelled with the intention of “finding myself.” However, I had a very vague idea of what this actually meant.
India has a divine way of guiding you to where you need to be; it teaches you to surrender to the lila, or the cosmic dance of life; to the inexplicable; the horrific; and the divinity that resides in everything and everyone. Soon after I arrived, I danced my way to Dharamsala, India; the home of His Holiness, The Dalai Lama; where I started working as a journalist for a Tibetan refugee publication. During my time there, I had the privilege of attending darshan with the Dalai Lama, at his temple in McLeod Ganj. In one particular dharma talk, he spoke about the importance of maintaining a beginner’s mind, and told the following fable from the time of the Buddha:
Once upon a time, a clever king invited several people blind from birth to visit his palace. He brought out an elephant and asked them to touch it and then describe what the elephant was like. The blind man who rubbed its legs said that the elephant was like the pillars of a house. The man who stroked its tail said they elephant was like a feather duster. The person who touched its ears said it was like a winnowing basket, and the man who touched its stomach said it was like a round barrel. The person who rubbed its head said the elephant was like a large earthenware jar, and the person who touched its tusk said the elephant was like a stick. When they sat down to discuss what the elephant was like, no one could agree with anyone else, and a very heated argument arose.
“Bhikkhus, what you see and hear compromises only a small part of reality. If you take it to be the whole of reality, you will end up having a distorted picture. A person on the path must keep a humble, open heart, acknowledging that his understanding is incomplete. We should devote constant effort to study more deeply in order to make progress on the path. A follower of the Way must remain open-minded, understanding that attachment to present views as if they were absolute truth will only prevent us from realizing the truth. Humility and open-mindedness are the two conditions necessary for making progress on the path.”
I tucked this well-known fable into my back pocket, as I was not fully ready to recognize the true meaning behind it. What does it mean to have a beginner’s mind? I wrote this question on the first page of my journal, and I looked at it every day for months. I thought about this question as I meditated in silence for ten days; I thought about it as I trekked the highest mountain passes of the Himalayas; I thought about it as I met siddhas, or divine beings; I thought about it as I watched deceased bodies float in the holy Ganga river in Varanasi; I thought about it as I completed my first 200-hour yoga teacher training; and I thought about it in every moment I learned something new, which fortunately coincided with every breath. Yet, I still didn’t have the answer.
My ego was still inextricably linked to my accomplishments and what those accomplishments meant to the outside world. I wanted everyone back home to know that I was on a spiritual quest, that I was studying yoga, that I was a strong woman traveling solo, that I was constantly meeting and seeking my edge, and that I was eccentric beyond measure. What I was completely blind to at the time, was that my ego was barricading my personal growth.
As most India travel stories go, I found myself severely ill from a bacterial infection. Only then, when my ego burned in the agni (fire) of my own body temperature—of my own karma–did I realize that I must surrender my attachments to my present views and my image to have a beginner’s mind. Agni doesn’t always form from the involuntary act of a fever or illness and usually takes great will to ignite; however, we need that spark of fire and determination, or tapas, to purify the body and mind to prepare for an act of surrender.
In The Yoga Sutras, Patanjali describes this act of surrender as Ishvara Pranidhana. Ishvara is a Sanskrit word that translates as supreme, or personal, God. Pranidhana means to devote, dedicate, or surrender. In the practice of Ishvara Pranidhana, if we are able to completely surrender our individual ego identities to God (our higher self), we will attain the identity of God, or Atman. The act of surrendering our ego—letting go of all we think we know—is not a one time or easy fix. We must do it again and again as we are presented with new information, teachings and wisdom. The more I learn, the more I realize I don’t know; it’s the imperative of learning.
A beginner’s mind contains the mutual relationship of tapas (purification) and svadhyaya, a means of self-reflection through which we come to a deeper level of self-awareness and self-understanding. By cleansing the mind and body, tapas makes us fit for svadhyaya; by examining ourselves, svadhyaya helps us to understand exactly where we should direct our practices of purification. In our relationship between purification, self-examination and surrender, we create the space and tenacity to learn, grow and evolve.
I am confronted with my own ego every time I learn something new that contradicts what I think I already know. This is extremely prevalent in the world of yoga. There are many lineages of yoga and countless ideas of how something should be, look or feel. Often, I replace new ideas for old ones, and sometimes, I prefer my old concepts over newly learned concepts as my truth—my dharma; the choice is the seeker’s. What’s important, is to view each person we meet as a teacher—as a mirror that reflects our own light—to remain an open heart and mind to the wisdom they share, and to recognize that our capacity to learn is never full.
A year ago, I took my beginner’s mind into Yoga School, or “love school,” at Laughing Lotus. Love school provided me the opportunity to dive deeper into the depths of my practice and find my inner guru, in the company of a radically beautiful sangha, or community. However, as the ebb and flow of life has it, I sprained my ankle a quarter of the way through the training, and was forced to sit to the side and observe the physical aspects of the course. This was definitely not the elaborate Van Gogh painting I had crafted in my mind; however, this time, yoga presented me with the tools to see my pain and misfortune as a great teacher. It allowed me to surrender my ego, again (and again), to the lila of life, and call on my beginner’s mind.
I’m honored and excited to continue my yogic studies in the Advanced 50-hour Courage and Grace Training with my teachers, Jasmine Tarkeshi and Keith Borden, this week!
As a writer and musician, Amy lives by the motto, “you must first fully embody the rules, and then you can break the rules.” The same goes for yoga: one must study the science, with tapas (discipline), and an open heart and mind, and then, the practice naturally and magically becomes a true artistic statement of the self.
Amy teaches Morning Flow Tuesday and Friday from 7:00-8:00AM, and co-teaches Friday Night Live.
She is starting her Masters in Somatic Counseling Psychology at the California Institute of Integral Studies in September.
by Meisha Bosma
The first few moments of any regular practice are precious. Whether you’re practicing in a group or solo, the beginning matters because it sets the energetic
frequency for the entire experience. I like to start with a Mudra. A mudra is a gesture, or seal. In Sanskrit, the word mudra is derived from two root words: mud,
which means, “delight,” “pleasure” or “enchantment,” and rati, which means, “to
bring forth.” When consciously used, mudras evoke psychological and spiritual
awakening that bring forth the subtle qualities that are necessary for optimal health and healing and support the living of life with vitality and purpose.
There are mudras for pretty much everything, and what I love is they’re non-
verbal. Without speaking a word, your capacity to communicate with the invisible,
yet highly potent layers of your physical body, mind and spirit, is palpable. In the
fingers and hands, the energies of the chakras, the elements and the planets are
housed. And because of this, specific finger combinations offer a wide range of
possibilities for balancing the whole being.
There are mudras for migraine headaches and allergies, menopause, the digestive
system, asthma and easeful breathing, weight management, healthy immune system and anxiety. There are mudras for boundary setting, flowing through the stream of life, fearlessness and letting go. You can also tap into mudras for heartfelt acceptance, compassion, opening to new possibilities and self-empowerment.
Mudras can be used when seeking refuge in the Divine, for cultivating devotional
love or to call forth spiritual freedom. There’s a unique essence to them all, and you can feel the resonance in your fingertips as they bend, cross and connect with one another. In a mudra practice, the gesture itself guides the breath and has the ability to change the speed, focus, quality and location of the breath almost
instantaneously. You can think of mudras as your energetic keys, and each one
unlocks a core quality from within that naturally leads to the waking up of what rests dormant inside.
I started a regular mudra practice three years ago. I use them everyday. I wake up
and ask my Soul what’s needed for the day. A thought, emotion or image might appear and I find the mudra to support it. After three years, the most important thing I’ve learned so far is this: You must believe the mudra is going to work. To not believe might feel something like skepticism, judgment or doubt. You must channel the mudra with conviction. In the land of judgment or doubt, it’s kind of strange, or maybe downright crazy to think that by simply touching my two pinky fingers together, my level of stress and high blood pressure will decrease, my connection to the earth will deepen and I’ll feel confident and supported by the universe. But to believe is to feel the tremendous pulse of unyielding certainty. To be certain is to know. Belief indicates an unwavering trust that something is true and real. Belief makes it happen, and when made with conviction, a mudra feels settled and profound. That’s why a mudra practice is, at its core, a practice that cultivates belief.
To believe a mudra is going to work for you, leads straight into seeing it, feeling it, embodying and being it. Our experiences are shaped by what we believe. When we believe – so strongly – in something, someone or a particular thought, it has an
energetic vibration that can be felt; it takes root and then grows into life. To doubt or judge has it’s own vibration, and although it usually doesn’t feel good to be in this landscape, it also manifests in its own gnarly manner. Judgment, skepticism and doubt can be completely transformed with a regular mudra practice. From my own first-hand experience I’ve come to believe in the mudra practice whole-heartedly, and it’s empowering to believe, at my core, that I am creating all of my life experiences, and shaping the reality of my body, my mind and my spirit moment to moment.
An excellent way to get to know each mudra is to hold it silently, so that you can
deepen your sensitivity to the subtle layers of your physical, energetic, psycho-
emotional and spiritual being. To go further, a guided meditation can be added to
the practice. I often start my classes with a Mudra meditation. This
links thought with gesture, and it’s radically powerful. I find this enhances the whole mudra practice.
Join us at the Lotus Temple during the entire month of August, where you’ll be introduced to the wide and abundant universe of the mudras. Come and Believe!
Meisha smiles to the healing balm practice of yoga and meditation. Growing up in a home where spiritual teachings were forbidden, her hunger for Truth was fueled at a very young age. She discovered her first sacred space in the dance studio where curiosity, imagination, and a practice of honest expression were celebrated.
She is passionate about sharing these teachings, and now enjoys walking side by side with others on the yogic path. Her classes are a cosmic expression of movement, meditation and inspiration. Meisha teaches from a place of personal experience and empathy, and she’s rooted in her belief that transformation happens when we begin to meet every part of ourselves, just as we are. She loves being part of the collaborative effort that reveals the beautifully peaceful voice, forever waiting to be nourished from within. She graduated from Laughing Lotus Yoga School in the summer of 2011 and has been serving as a teacher of yoga and meditation ever since.