Pranayama

by Laura Malouf-Renning
Laura Malouf-Renning For as long as I can remember, being in tight, crowded spaces has always been a stressor for me. Even as a kid, I would feel my chest get tight, my heart start to pound, and my breath come in shallow, rapid gasps. My mom would notice what was going on and begin singing to me. Since I’ve never been able to resist the siren call of a song, I would start singing with her, and eventually the tension would begin to fade, and I’d be able to cope with my surroundings. Over time, that was how my family coped with stressful moments; we would sing to each other. My sister and I even wound up singing camp fire songs to each other on my wedding day to soothe my nerves.

My family had stumbled upon a rather powerful practice without knowing it: pranayama. The word comes from the Sanskrit root words “Prana”, meaning our life force or energy, and “Ayama” which means to retain or control. The most tangible way for us to notice the movement of prana in our bodies is to observe the movement of the breath. In fact, breath itself is prana! We can live for up to ten days without sleep. We can live up to a week without food. We can live for several days without water. But without the breath, we can only live for a few moments. So in essence, our breath is the link between our physical body and our energetic body. Since the average person breathes about 20,000 times a day, we have ample opportunity to observe how the breath affects our mind, our emotions, and our physical body.

By altering how we use our breath, we can influence the very health of our body, mind, and emotions. More energizing breath practices like kapallabhati (skull shining breath), Breath of fire, and Ujaiyi breath (victorious breath), can act as a cosmic cup of coffee to wake us up, fire up our metabolism, and even lift us up out of the heavy funk many of us may have found us in this winter. More soothing breathing practices like rhythmic belly breathing (exhale twice as long as inhale), nadi sodhana (alternate nostril breathing), and sitali (cooling breath) can cool us down, soothe anxiety, and balance our minds. By altering our breathing patterns according to what we need, we can direct our own prana wherever it needs to go in order to heal ourselves. Amazing!

This is why singing with others and chanting can feel so good. When we sing, we are working with a lengthened exhale, which turns off the fight or flight response and turns on the rest and digest response. In addition, the soothing vibrations of our voices nourish and balance our mind and emotions by stimulating the ventral vagus nerve. A number of scientific studies have shown that this nerve stimulation increases heart rate variability, which guards our bodies against heart attack and stroke, and even stimulates our immune system. So, chanting not only feels good; it’s actually good FOR you!

Our breath is inextricably intertwined with our yoga practice on the mat. Each inhale and exhale moves us mindfully and smoothly from one asana to another, anchoring us in the present. When I first began practicing yoga, I noticed that I felt more connected to myself and others, as well as less leery of crowds when I had made it to my mat that day. Now as a yoga teacher, I have a daily breath and asana practice that anchors me in my day.

A testament to my daily practice arose while I was on vacation last week in New York City. I was at Penn Station at rush hour, and I boarded a crowded A Train in order to make my way back to my hotel. We were packed in like sardines, but this time I noticed something different: I was completely calm and at ease. My breathing was slow and deep, and I was able to enjoy the experience and the people around me. It was at that moment I realized that my sense of peace wasn’t dependent on my outer environment; it was wholly dependent on my sense of inner space. If I can find that in New York City rush hour, I can find it anywhere. And so can you.

Laura teaches regularly at Laughing Lotus San Francisco. To find out when you can catch one of her classes, visit our class schedule page. (Click Here)

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SIRSASANA demo by Brima Jah

Standing on our head flips our world upside down, quite literally! Practicing Sirsasana (headstand) can help us face our fears both on and off the mat, and serve to shift our perspective and see the flip side of life! Check out Brima’s beautiful demonstration of how to practice this famous inversion

If you want to learn more from Brima, come check out his amazing Lotus Flow 2 Classes on Mondays & Wednesdays from 6:45pm-8:15pm
(Sign Up Now!)

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Opening our Energetic Pathways of Creation: Liberation and Manifestation

by Inbal Meron
Ace of Pentacles

I like to reminisce: thinking back to when I was a little girl, gushing with creativity. I had such a vivid imagination, and was always busy with projects. No setbacks or fears…my mind was free, my heart was big, and I was inspired by everything.

Looking back, it seems that as I grew older this free-flowing energy of creativity and manifestation really slowed down. I had less creative ideas, and the ones I did have would just float around in my head. For the most part, nothing ever came out of them.

When I started practicing Yoga, I noticed a lot of changes in myself. I was inspired again! Where I had been feeling stuck and frustrated with life, I started to feel alive, and with that, creative ideas began to flow. However, a new frustration was arising: I was inspired, and ideas were coming, but nothing was happening. I was too afraid to follow through. In the same way that our arteries can get blocked, or clogged from unnecessary substances, so can our energetic channels and hubs: the nadis and the chakras. Boy, was I blocked!

Our Chakras

At the base of our spine we have our First chakra that corresponds with the energy of Earth. Our Second chakra is in the area of our hips and reproductive organs, and corresponds with the energy of Water. Our Third chakra is in our core: the center of strength, and corresponds with the energy of Fire. Our Fourth chakra is in our heart center, where we open to receive others and corresponds with the energy of Air. Our Fifth chakra is located at our throat, our center of expression and communication and corresponds with Vibration. Our Sixth chakra is located just above the center of both eyes, known as our third eye, our center of perception and sight, and corresponds with Light. Lastly, our Seventh chakra is located at our crown: it is our center consciousness and is expansive. It corresponds with Space and Ether.

Liberation and Manifestation

As the energy moves up our central column, it gets less condensed and more spacious and expansive, from Earth to Space. This current of energy is that of liberation. When our channels and hubs are open, our energy can flow. Instead of being concerned solely about our survival and our needs, we can be open to bigger and more expansive experiences. Our perspective changes, and we feel the vastness of our possibilities and opportunities. Just like a child we can be open and inspired; creative energy can flow through us freely.

The upward moving energy, the current of liberation, is exciting and inspiring; however, with the downward moving current of energy, there is a quality of manifestation. From very vast and expansive ideas, we begin to have a vision: we define it with our words, we share with others, we find the confidence and strength to birth our ideas, bring them into form, and offer them up in the world. Both currents of energy are vital.

One of my favorite Tarot card is the Ace of Pentacles. I draw so much inspiration from this image. The pentacle is a coin and it reminds me of a chakra, round and pulsing with energy. It symbolizes the quality of Earth and manifestation: actual things in this world that have form and can be seen. The coin itself is so simple, the star in the middle represents the vastness of our possibilities. It is encompassed by two circles showing that something vast and expansive has been brought into form. The hand that holds the coin is our very own: we all have so much to give, every single one of us!

So, how do we do it?

We open ourselves, we clear out the passageways. Through the practice of Yoga, we work hard to open our bodies, hearts and mind. We twist and turn upside down and inside out, in order to detox and cleanse. We cultivate awareness and new perspectives. We become sensitive to ourselves. We begin to sense where a blockages might be.

In my own experience…the more I opened, the more aware of myself I became. I could see very clearly where I was blocked, and with the same clarity, could see what to do in order to move through the blockages. The beauty of it all is that the smallest change, a shift in our self-awareness, can bring such big change into our lives! These days, I’m so inspired, just like when I was a kid. Only now, I am much more open and able to bring my visions into form and so are you!

To read more about Inbal visit www.inbalish.com
Like Inbal on Facebook: Yoga and Tarot with Inbal

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The Healing Medicine of the Sun and the Moon

by Yael Kievsky
Yael March this year began on a New Moon, precisely at 12am and zero minutes on March 1st (for us West coasters). A New Moon is the exact alignment (from our perspective) of the Sun and the Moon on the sky. It is the beginning of a new moon cycle -the word “month” derives from the word moon-, a cycle of 29 days.

It is a time when thoughts and actions carry potential for manifestation, and thus it is the time to purposefully weave the song of the life we want to live, articulate our intentions, pronounce the sounds of what we want.
All across the planet, most earth-based systems of belief and spirituality honor the new moon as the time keeper of the monthly cycle. The New Moon is that magical time when everything is pulsating, full of potential, seedful. Farmers know to plant their seeds at this time, priestesses know to cast their prayers at this time, holy men smoke their holy smokes at this time.

Why is this time believed so powerful in cultures far and wide? The Sun and the Moon represent the Masculine and Feminine, Day and night, Hot and Cold, Right and Left, Fire and Water, Positive and Negative polarities. They are, in themselves a model cosmology, a polarization and symbol of all that is and could be. When aligned together, they create a symbolic mini Big Bang all over again, a new birth; the ever turning yin-yang becomes One energy circle, neither black nor white. A magical full-spectrum wheel. When activated, it gives birth to the following 29 days to come.

As with everything in this ever-unfolding prismatic Universe, the cosmology of the bigger world finds a mirrored cosmology in our inner world: our anatomy.
In our energetic anatomy, Moon and Sun, Left and Right, are represented by the Nadis, the meridians that travel up and down the subtle body. “Ida” is the meridian associated with the feft hemisphere of the body, the lunar, darker, yin qualities. “Pingala” moves through the right, bringing solar, bright, yang qualities. Ida and Pingala are like archetypal lovers that travel up and down the spine, beginning at the base of the system and traveling up through the crown. But here’s the really interesting part: Ida and Pingala cris-cross on their travels, drawing apart and then aligning in a perfect spot, creating nodes and sine-like wave patterns…. not unlike the cycles of the celestial Moon and Sun. The point where Ida and Pingala meet happens 7 times, and at each spot, a wheel is created… not yin not yang, but a perfectly ever-spinning whirl carrying a full spectrum of potential.

The medicine of subtle energetics believes that by fine tuning and balancing the energies of Ida and Pingala, their cris-crossing becomes focused and precise, creating healthy, full-powerd, brightly churning wheels (chakras).
Just like we experience externally on a monthly basis on the new moon, the energy channels of the body are moving and churning up an down our spine’s central axis, cris-crossing and creating “new moons”, the magnetic co-mingling of solar and lunar forces, as they go. Each of the seven are the 7 chakras, each expressing properties of their own, all of which combined create a complete journey of experience from base to crown.

For me, honoring the new moon every month is a little bit like paying attention to Ida and Pingala; tuning the master key for healthy vibrant wheels of energy in every aspect of my life.

So, during the New Moon, I choose to be mindful of my thoughts and language, knowing that words carry power on these days, as if each word were in itself a magic spell. It is a time to feel the buzz of energetic opposites coming together in the Sky, a time to glean their medicinal energy and perceptible vibration into intention-setting activities and simple ritual, like writing down a personal prayer and honoring the physical elements of Fire and Water. I like to inhale and exhale knowing that this too is a symbol for the bellows of all of creation, masculine and feminine, dancing together.

Wherever there is a meeting of two opposites, there is an alchemy that takes place, carrying potential for transformation. It acts like a whirlpool of energy. In the sky, the lining of Sun and Moon carries the whirly potential for real magic ( traditional “witches” and “wizards” of lore would brew their spells on the new moon, not full moon as we were made to believe!) In the body, this whirly potential is the Chakras, activated like muscular lights by the kissing of Ida and Pingala (the kiss that activates the spell… much like fairy tales, the symbols do come to real life inside the body!)

Our cosmic sky within our own spine shines 24/7…. no need to wait for a specific time of the month to work with Ida and Pingala, yet the reminder is strong, in my own personal practice, when the outer-space calendar hits alignment time as well. On March 1 at midnight I was reminded this month of the healing beauty and powerful medicine of working with left and right hemispheres of our bodies to honor, from within, the outer alignment: left and right, Moon and Sun, our whole energetic body is the Cosmos as a whole.

Here are some ways in which our Yoga practice gives us tools that focus specifically on cleansing and fine-tuning the cris-crossing of Ida and Pinala to brighten and heal our energy wheels. I did these at home by my altar at Midnight at the beginning of this lunar month, as my personal ritual, but I invite you to try these anyday, anytime!

-Practice Nadhi Sodhana, a pranayama that clears and balances the left and right nadhis quite deeply. We inhale through one nostril and exhale through the other (use the thumb and ring finger of either hand to block one nostril at a time), then reverse the flow, holding our breath gently in between each inhale or exhale. You can’t help but feel it’s effects after a few minutes of this practice!

-A hand mudra/excercise that will create new pathways of connection between left and right hemispheres of the brain: Clasp your hands, interlacing all the fingers, then re-clasp with the opposite index finger on top (the claps looks the same but feels very awkward!). This is non-habitual routing for left and right hemispheres, and simple as it sounds provides a radical shift in how right and left talk to each other inside the body. Try clasping your hands in your non-habitual way each time you practice from now on, and you might notice a shift!

-Eagle arms. The windy, twisty quality of this arm and hand placement brings anatomical attention to the weaving of left and right energies.

Are there any other practices, physical or mindful, for balancing left and right energies that you can think of? All is valid exploration in the ever-flowing healing medicine of the Sun and the Moon!

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From Black Swan to Bhakti

by Roche Janken
Roche I used to believe that I did not like people. I think of that time in my life as my Black Swan Period–I spent years dedicating all of my heart and soul (and time and money) to dance. Some days I felt inspired and in love with everyone around me, but most days I felt VERY alone. Wherever I looked, I saw people who were more together, more sophisticated and more successful than me…and they were my competition. I couldn’t even really let loose in front of my friends because I thought that if they saw the hot-mess that I truly was, they’d push me away.

Fast forward to 2009 when I landed on the doorstep of Laughing Lotus San Francisco, ready to start Yoga School and Become A Yoga Teacher. I was prepared to do asana all day. Spiritual readings and introspective writing–no problem! Nothing could be more challenging than my monk-like life as a dancer, right?

I walked into the center…but wait! There were other people there! Yoga buddy?!? Mentor group?!? Tea and cookies and casual chit-chat after yoga class?!?

AND…I was smitten! Across the room there was this person with a beautiful smile and an orange hat…and I just wanted to get closer.

All through Yoga School, I was on 2 journeys; I was learning the incredible teachings from Jasmine and Keith, and also navigating Being Around People and having a GIANT CRUSH.

As we read Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, I realized that the fear and competitiveness that my mind spouted did not have to be the end of the story. We read Jack Kornfield and I felt like perhaps I might be able to love well.

We learned anatomy, we practiced teaching, we memorized the sanskrit names for the yamas and niyamas…and I started to relax with my yoga buddy. I laughed with my mentor group. I started sitting and sipping tea for a few minutes after class instead of bolting to my empty room. Participating in the satsang (aka community) was opening me up as much as practicing adho muka svanasana.

And finally, after 14 agonizing and wonderful weeks, on the day after the last day of Yoga School…my crush and I went to the movies together. And we held hands. And my heart beat so fast–faster than in handstand. But we kept on holding hands…not running in terror but doing our imperfect, human best to just be with each other.

These practices are powerful. The Yoga Sutras talk about the siddhis or supernatural powers that truly devoted yogis can attain with devoted practice. I doubt that being in real friendships, lighthearted conversation or romance was what they had in mind, but practicing love is part of the path of bhakti yoga, and the openness that I feel now in my life truly feels like flying.

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A Roundabout Way to Bhakti

by Rebecca
Rebecca I was a chubby kid that wanted everyone to like me. Sometimes the need to be liked made me shy and sometimes it made me work hard in school and sometimes it made me tell jokes and sometimes it made me lie. It made me hate my chubby body because no one could like a chubby girl.

Sometimes it made me kind and sometimes it made me cruel or quiet when others were being cruel. All I wanted was for everyone to like me, but sometimes it seemed like the only way to be saved from being an outcast was to let someone else be an outcast. I was lonely and awkward and lived in constant fear that everyone was making fun of me and at the same time fearful that I was invisible.

Thank God for best friends, especially when you’re 12. Olivia and I created a sort of fortress of jokes and secrets to protect ourselves against the horrors of middle school lunch time. She liked me and wanted to hang out with me and it made me feel like I was someone worth liking.

A few years ago, I was having dinner with Olivia and we were having one of those conversations about puberty that you can only have with someone you have known since forever, and I said something like, “Thank you for liking me even though I was chubby.” And what she said next blew my mind.
She said, “I never noticed you were chubby.” And she meant it. She just accepted my body as the house of the person that she loved. I didn’t realize until that moment, sitting in a restaurant in Manhattan, post college, that an equation I had invented and lived by was flawed.
At some point in early puberty I concluded that having a boyfriend was a way the people liked you. Not only did the popular girls have boyfriends, but having a boyfriend was bona fide proof that someone liked you. And no one would ever date a chubby girl, so I would have to get skinny. So I starved myself resented every ounce of my flesh until it started to get smaller. And it kind of worked, for a while. I started getting more attention from boys and I started getting more acceptance from girls. The fact that it worked was problematic. In my deep dark murky mind it confirmed that total resentment of my physical body made people like me more. And it made me think of my body not as a temple but as a product for everyone else’s consumption. I thought that if I had the right product people would like me. Which is really all I wanted. I was lonely and I just wanted everyone to like me so I would be less lonely.

Almost every decision I made up my early 20’s was based on wanting everyone to like me. So the decision to walk into my first yoga class was based on wanting to be liked. I thought yoga would help me firm up my butt and that would make people like me more. (Really? yes, really) And I did yoga for years for this reason. I would go bikram yoga classes and stare at myself in the mirror and hate everything I saw.

Here’s the thing about the yoga practice though- it will change you even if you don’t think you want to change. It will make you work through your baggage even if you prefer to keep it in the overhead compartment.
Through lots of twists and turns and airplane rides, my yoga practice led me to Laughing Lotus. Slowly, bit-by-bit, my yoga practice and a whole cast of patient teachers made me see my body not as something to be consumed and judged but as a vehicle to take me deeper inside of myself- a place beyond bathing suit sizes.

And it was all so subtle at first I hardly noticed that I was changing. I was going to yoga and I felt better after but beyond that I didn’t put much thought into it. I was burning calories and I felt good so who cared why?
But then I was sitting in class one day and the teacher asked us to find an intention for our practice, and I suddenly realized my intention was not to get skinny. It was to feel better. And after class I felt better and I kept going, religiously even, and I was in another class and the teacher told us to feel our connection to the earth with our feet and I could suddenly feel how I was connected. And even after class I could feel how I was connected to the earth and the earth was connected to me. And then at another class the teacher told me to connect to my body through my breath and I did, and for the first time in my life I was inside my body and I even kind of loved my body. And then I was in a class and the teacher said to breathe with the other people in class and I realized as we breathed together that I wasn’t alone, even if I felt alone. That I was connected to the earth through my feet and connected to my body through my breath and that I was breathing with everyone else. And these connections were not contingent on what my body looked like or even whether or not I could do handstand. The connection I had with my body and with the ground and with people was a gift given by the universe and the universe would not take it back not matter what. That whether or not people liked me I was not alone.

Since those first few months at Laughing Lotus, I have devoted myself to these connections. The connection I have to the earth and the connection I have to my body and the connection I have to all living things and how all of these relationships are just big foils for my connection to the Divine. To me, this commitment to the connection is Bhakti yoga. Bhatkti means to participate, but not in a way where if you do these certain things you win the race and everyone will love you. In Bhakti, you’ve already won, you are already loved. And through participating and opening up to the possibility of seeing and feeling these connections, you will never be alone.

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Living the Gita

by Brima Jah
Bhagavad Gita On the morning of New Year’s Eve 2013, I make my regular visit to a local hospital. I arrive and check in at the infusion center, where I receive intravenous drug treatment for Crohn’s disease every eight weeks. At each visit, I’m attached to an IV in one arm, with a blood pressure and heart rate monitor attached to the other arm. I get cozy, wrapped in a generous bundle of machine-warmed blankets, all amidst the sterile yet refreshing scent of rubbing alcohol in the air. I’m surrounded by the sounds of quirky, chatty nurses telling morbid jokes, which include flippant mentions of the death and mortality they witness daily while at work. My fingers peel through the now tethered pages of my copy of Swami Satchidananda’s “The Living Gita,” one of the many transliteration of the “Bhagavad Gita.” I begin reading the second chapter, “Yoga of Wisdom,” where my gaze arrives at sloka (verse) 13 (2:13):

“As the embodied soul continually passes, in this body, from childhood to youth to elder hood, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. The self-realized soul is not bewildered by such a change.”

In our “svadhyaya,” or self-study through verses of the Bhagavad Gita, we learn that sloka 2:13, refers to the ever-changing, impermanent quality of our “annamaya kosha,” otherwise known as our physical body. Despite our daily efforts to brush our teeth, bathe, or consume the endless supply of costly youth-preserving remedies. So long as we live, we will always have tooth decay, body odor, and my least favorite, wrinkles. Our bodies literally decompose each time we inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. (All of this I mention as I daintily apply eye cream before bed.)

I was an overweight, chubby boy who didn’t outgrow my husky pants until after I began high school varsity sports and slimmed down into adolescence. My “prakriti,” or the form and nature of my body, further slimmed down as I progressed into adulthood. By the time I reached my 23rd birthday, my body was attempting to adapt to the conditions of my then undiagnosed Crohn’s disease. I had become my slimmest at almost 20 pounds lighter than the “healthy” range for my height. Almost 10 years ago at around December-ish 2003, I was officially diagnosed with Crohn’s disease and joined a legion of people living with a diagnosed chronic disease or condition.

Having a chronic disease or condition is, however, temporary as a disease that will be in my body only for this particular lifetime, depending on whether or not one believes in reincarnation. In the two weeks just before I receive routine drug treatment for Crohn’s disease, I experience a range of symptoms including nausea, fatigue, poor digestion, loss of appetite, and painful abdominal cramping. What I think about myself as I notice these symptoms in my body can be as fleeting as the symptoms themselves. Judgements of my Self, range from feeling like a modern day victorious Hanuman (thanks to cross fit) to feeling like the feeble-looking “Apasmara,” the symbolic embodiment of ignorance on whom Shiva does his dance.

I continue peeling through my books pages. Here, another sloka continues the over 700-verse scripture of the Bhagavita Gita, sloka 2:14:

“[…] the nonpermanent appearance of happiness and distress, and their disappearance in due course, are like the appearance and disappearance of winter and summer seasons.”’

With each sloka of the Bhagavad Gita, we learn of Krishna’s imparting wisdom upon Arjuna (who represents us: everyday humans). In sloka 2:14, “Bhagavad,” or the Supreme godhead as embodied by Krishna, mentions our natural attraction to “sukha,” or pleasure, and on the other hand, our natural repulsion from “duhka,” or suffering. The symptoms of Crohn’s disease are as fleeting as how I feel about them—whether in moments when I have a sense of relief from the symptoms after treatment or feel dreadful of not having treatment soon enough.

Speaking of dread, along the banks of the Gange River in Varanasi, India, I’ve witnessed people bathe and wash their clothes in the same water where cremation ceremonies take place. In the West (whether in America or otherwise), we tend to separate the places where we bathe and wash our clothing from where we hold ritual for the death of our friends and family. This separation can contributes, in part, to our general fear of mortality, for which Krishna offers solace in slokas 2:22-23:

“As a person puts on new garments, giving up old ones, similarly, the soul accepts new material bodies, giving up the old and useless ones.”

“The soul can never be cut into pieces by any weapon, nor can he be burned by fire, nor moistened by water, nor withered by the wind.”

This blog, the Mac laptop on which I type it, my fingers, and ultimately, the body attached to the fingers will all perish over time. What remains and was has always been, is the “jiva,” or soul. Chronic disease, sickness, body odor and injuries of the body or mind…all of these impermanent conditions of our impermanent body may all serve the function of bringing us along the symbolic “river banks” of life. Even miles away from the Gange River in India, we can still be reminded that we are not ever as it may seem separate from death. In the meanwhile, we continue brushing our teeth, bathing, weight lifting, hair dyeing, moisturizing, moisturizing, boob lifting, moisturizing, body building…[fill in the blank here with your signature “life-saving” strategy].

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Yoga Systems in the Bhagavad Gita: Gita Wisdom

By Mireia Yogimani
Mireia The Bhagavad Gita is a classic scripture of the East, and epic poem, an a book of Yogic wisdom. The Gita represents an allegory of our human condition, and its cosmic universal truth can be shared with all cultures and religions. I believe that at the very core of every religion, we find the same message; the same truth. Born and raised Catholic, the Bhagavad Gita has opened my mind to receive yogic wisdom, and has opened my heart to receive Krishna.

The story described in the Gita is a dialogue between the the Yogic God, Krishna, and a warrior named Arjuna, and it takes place in the battlefield. I believe that this story is symbolic of our human experience; our own inner battle, for we as humans all struggle between our own good and bad qualities. The Gita provides tools to yoke the infinite. Absorption and practice of the teachings in the Bhagavad Gita means to yoke mental consciousness with infinite consciousness. Below are the major yoga systems explored in the Bhagavad Gita:

Yoga of Wisdom: Krishna explains Atman (self). The first step in yoga is the knowledge of the immortality of the self. Krishna provides direct information about the self. The self is not of nature’s elements, and nobody completely understands it. A body can be discarded but not the self. A sincere seeker has a total conviction about Sadhana (spiritual practice). To practice yoga of wisdom is to experience immortality.

Yoga of Action: Karma yoga is the way of selfless action – a natural state of not feeling the need of anything. A yogi is a witness and understands the secret of karma by perceiving action from the state of inaction, and enjoying inaction in the midst of action. He has gone beyond pairs of opposites, maintains equanimity in success and/or failure, and although it appears that he is doing things, he is not bound by his actions.

Yoga of Renunciation: Freedom from the dualities of the mind brings liberation. We can watch our own life movie because we are not the ones doing things. By letting go of attachments to results, becoming the observer, and dedicating our actions to God, we experience higher states of consciousness. Atman becomes Brahman (God) and rises above the constant changes in this world.

Yoga of Meditation: We do everything as an offering to Brahman and we make our daily activities a meditation routine. Every time that the mind wanders away, we continue to bring it back to rest in the true self to experience the infinite bliss of Brahman. We see Atman in all beings because all bodies and minds are made of the same elements of nature. When we see this essential unity, we are in full communion with Brahman.

Yoga of Devotion: Devotees that are the nearest to God think of the welfare of all other creatures, renounce attachments, and mediate on God with a one-pointed mind. This renunciation is followed by PEACE.

Yoking mental consciousness with infinite consciousness is a spiritual practice and it doesn’t happen overnight. No matter what happens, I will never give up trying to reach the ultimate Truth. Most importantly, I believe it’s important to not just carry a big book and loose the essential teaching of the Gita. I feel that if one chooses to be good and do good, that one is partially there. We are Krishna, and Krishna is Us.

From February 16 to March 02, 2014, Yogimani will be traveling to India to guide the Meditation program of the Yoga Retreat with Astrud. Please, call 888-359-7776 to learn more.

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The Search for A Guru

by Steven Mih

“A king asked a sage to explain the Truth. In response the sage asked the king how he would convey the taste of a mango to someone who had never eaten anything sweet. No matter how hard the king tried, he could not adequately describe the flavor of the fruit, and, in frustration, he demanded of the sage “Tell me then, how would you describe it?” The sage picked up a mango and handed it to the king saying “This is very sweet. Try eating it!” – Hindu Teaching

Krishnamacharya and Desikachar
A guru is someone who lends help in overcoming obstacles to one’s spiritual journey. On modern yoga’s spiritual but non-religious path, most people are wary of the traditional practice of seeking a living guru to guide their spiritual inquisition. Really, why would you want to find a guru? Would you be risking losing your independence and self will? What does one need to see to recognize a guru? Even more, what does seeking a guru do for you?

One of my favorite yoga stories is from Tim Miller, an American yogi, who shared his own experience with his guru, Pattabhi Jois. When Tim first began practicing with Pattabhi Jois, he would complete his personal practice but skip out a procession where his fellow students would bow at the feet of their teacher at the end of the day. After many days, he worked through his aversion to this and went to join the gathering, thinking “why not?” When he bowed down at his teacher’s feet, he felt a never-before deep sense of surrender and relief. He looked up, saw his guru smiling down at him, and felt the tears filling his own eyes.

As Tim’s story prescribes, the process of seeking out a guru has benefits in and of itself. The seeking opens up one’s spiritual potential. And the devotion and surrendering nourishes the seeker just as much. As a old Indian proverb asks, “If you could choose between meeting God or meeting your guru, which do you choose? Your guru, because you may not recognize God until they introduce you.”

The next question is, then, what does one need to see to recognize one’s guru. There are many paths to spirituality so it is hard to know which one is best suited to you. Just take a quick look at the types of yoga there are. Some primarily focus on the physical postures known as asana, some involve no asana at all. Some heavily utilize mantra and traditional scripts, while some simply perscribe questions like “Who am I?” Whichever direction we go, there is potential teaching available when we are ready to hear. Personally, I find it most helpful to just keep in tune and impartial at those moments that provide me much joy in my life. Joy can be our teacher as well. I now enjoy the practice of chanting and find it deeply connecting. On the other hand, I’d say that even though I was quite adept at both laughing yoga and gibberish yoga sessions in India, both practices didn’t really stick with me.

The second quality to cultivate during a search is your own discriminating wisdom. As you watch and learn your practice from any teacher, you’ll want to be aware of what they’re saying and doing. Instead of blindly agreeing with what is said, we must ask ourselves why and what for. A guru has specific qualities to check out for. I have borrowed from the notes a friend brought back for me from him own search in India. A few of the key ones are: Do they practice the ethics of what they teach? Do they possess an ability to concentrate? Do they have a wealth of scriptural knowledge? Have they realized oneness or a deep experience in meditation? Sometimes the answers can be vague. And everyone’s answer would be unique, of course. I recall sitting with an Acharya (spiritual teacher) in Mysore, India who explained how his samadhi (state of oneness) began with hearing of sounds fading away. But honestly, we could all recognize a few common qualities as basics: can they teach in a skilled and compassionate way? Do they have great patience? And last but not the least, are they willing to teach us? Some gurus are just too busy or are too remote to have a real relationship with. Some, however, are right close to home.

While a guru may or may not have appeared in your life, there are many benefits to the search. Explore with us in classes this month, the gurus within, gurus out there, and in each other.

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Life and Guru are One!

by Jasmine Tarkeshi
Jasmine

Guru Brahma, Guru Vishnu, Guru devo Maheshwara,
Guru sakshat, param Brahma, tasmai shri guravay namah

“Our creation is that guru (Brahma-the force of creation); the duration of our lives is that guru (Vishnu-the force of preservation); our trials, tribulations, illnesses, calamities and the death of the body is that guru (devo Maheshwara-the force of destruction or transformation). There is a guru nearby (Guru Sakshat) and a guru that is beyond the beyond (param Brahma). I make my offering (tasmai) to the beautiful (shri) remover of my darkness, my ignorance; (Guru) it is to you I bow and lay down my life (namah).“ -Translated by Sharon Gannon

I first heard and chanted this sacred mantra at the Jivamukti Yoga School in New York City on Second Avenue around 1996. My roller coaster of a life had me once more longing for a deeper internal happiness that nothing I seemed to achieve externally, no matter how hard I tried seemed to fulfill. So, I found myself yet again at the feet of the wise, wonderful and whimsical Sharon Gannon.

As someone who never had much guidance in my life, I loved that I had found a Teacher who seemed to know so much, not about Yoga and the Universe, but who spoke to me about love, life and loss, and hauntingly seemed to know everything about ME! This is the Guru’s roll, to shed light on the true self, and show us the parts of us we want to see and those we don’t. Gu means darkness, and ru means light; the light that dispels darkness or ignorance. During times of darkness and doubt, she was that light.

“Guru is the remover of darkness: Gu means darkness, and Ru means remover. Darkness refers to what obscures the light of awareness. Guru is the enlightenment principal that aids one in the realization of the true Self, the whole Self, the holy Self. The guru removes avidya, or ignorance, which is a case of mistaken identity. It is when you think you are your personality, mistaking your body/mind container for who you are and ignore who you really are. It is when you feel separate from the whole.” Sharon Gannon

One day when I was in quite a bit of despair, I ran to class and to my disappointment she was not there! Instead, it was her fiery assistant, Dana Flynn. With my attachment to who I thought was my Guru, I would usually leave and not take class, but on this day I was desperate and stayed. Flynn started class with the Guru Mantra and I chanted along in perfect Sanskrit. Then she read the translation on the Mantra sheet and I got it! Sharon was even teaching me about my ignorance without even being there!
Not only was Dana an incredible teacher in a different form, and someone who continues to guide me to this day, but my whole life, family and difficulties themselves that I had been running from were my very Gurus!

I have had the honor to sit at the feet of the Great Yoga Teachers and Gurus, traveled to India to Ashrams and the Kumbh Mela but the Maha Guru Mantra has been my guiding light. It is what informs my practice, life and teaching. Life IS our highest teacher when we bow our heads in surrender of our egos with our hands in prayer to each moment, and throw ourselves in full pranam or prostration to every experience no matter how beautiful or terrible. We truly learn about life when we become quiet enough to LISTEN with an open mind and heart to the great wisdom being whispered behind the cloak of our daily interactions with others.

Like the great Sufi Poet and Saint Hafez says:
“How do I listen? As if everyone were my beloved Master whispering to me their cherished last words.”

“Life and Guru are inseparable. Your life is the Guru tatva (principle). Throw light on your own life. The wisdom that shines through your life – you need to honor, that is honoring the Guru. See, life has taught you so many things – what you did wrong and what you did right, and if you don’t throw light on your own life, then the Guru is absent. So reflect on your own life and honor the wisdom that life has offered you. That is honoring the Guru. Are you with me? It is serious stuff.” ~ Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

And Hafez says again:
“How did the Rose ever open it’s Heart and Give to the world all of its beauty? It felt the encouragement of Light against it’s Being Otherwise we would all be too frightened.” – Hafez

During December, the darkest month of the year, we honor and celebrate our Gurus, the incredible beings who have devoted their lives to awakening and share their inspiring stories and teachings to uplift and encourage us all to open our hearts and give to the world all of our beauty!
This is the practice of Svadyaya, Self Study through studying the lives of great beings and spiritual texts as cosmic mirrors reflecting and sparking our own Light and Truth.

The winter solstice is actually the turning from darkness towards the LIGHT. The 21st will be the darkest day of the year and then the days will start increasing in LIGHT!
So it truly is a time of Celebrating all the magnificent teachers, prophets, poets and saints who we discover have at some time, also been sinners as well as soul and rock and roll voices, authors, artists, madmen and women and pioneers of the Spirit that have inspired change and revolution!!

During this time of reflection before the new year, it is great to look back and honor every teaching we have received from our lives, our own parents, grandparents, friends, teachers, nature, the Great Mystery and yes, even our foes and difficulties to inform our choices and lives in 2014.

Join me on December 13th at 5:30 for an Info session for our Celebrated Teacher Training in 2014 to soak in Yoga’s timeless wisdom and awaken the teacher within you to share the teachings from your own living experience.

On Friday, December the 20th, give thanks and praise to all life’s experience during Solstice Kirtan and Join me and Astrud for our Annual Yogic New Year’s Eve of exhaling 2013 and Inhaling into 2014 with Intention setting, fire ceremony, Yoga, and singing and Dancing into the New Year.

Namaste and Love,
Jasmine

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