Something Bigger

By Brima Jah
Brima in camel pose
A day before my 15th birthday, my parents gave me what-at the time-seemed like the foremost authority on puberty: a book called All About Sex. All About Sex was not all about sex and left something for me to desire about other, not necessarily so sexual forms of relating. Alongside many of my teen friends, I was left almost entirely to my own devices to explore definitions of relating.ways that love showed up in my life.

At a time when I felt frequently paralyzed with “puppy love” for certain heartthrobs, I needed to learn more about other forms of love. I had lived surrounded by what I imagined was my parents’ everlasting love, however imperfect, until it dissolved into their eventual separation. I had seen images of love in movies, for example, almost believing in the sentiment of “you-complete-me” kind of love as spoken by Jerry Maguire. I gagged at the very public fairytale wedding, marriage and controversial divorce of the late Princess Diana and Prince Charles. I had been witnessing around me images of love created under certain conditions, that when unfulfilled, often led to both the “lover” and the “beloved” feeling judged, ashamed and inadequate.

Practicing bhakti yoga has offered me exploration of a different, more freeing form of love. Known to many as “devotional love,” or a “love for God,” bhakti yoga has nine forms including “srvanam” or listening to stories, and kirtanam, or kirtan, which has attracted enormous attention in the West. That said, bhakti yoga can often be misunderstood as fanaticism or reduced to simply religion, sometimes conjuring up limiting images of monks in orange robes ceaselessly chanting “Hare Krishna” in the Haight-Ashbury.

Those of us who may not have “God” or “devotional” in our daily vocabulary may experience bhakti yoga more as re-defining love in a way that is “seeing” the essence of “God,” or seeing the “good” in all things-living or not. The “devotional” aspect of bhakti yoga, as I’ve found most authentic for me has been how I choose to devote my time, resources and energy to something or someone I “believe in.” As a “recovering Catholic,” who is rehabilitating from many church rituals I never understood, I’ve made it my own practice to build a relationship with “something bigger” that doesn’t feel limited to any one place of worship or community-something more universal. A fundamental principle of bhakti yoga is that we are all born divine, that within each of us is “God,” or goodness. Yet because of “maya,” or illusion, we forget our true divine true nature, or in some cases, forget the true divine nature of others around us. Out of this this lapse in memory, we attempt to fill a void through our desire for objects in the material world. In short, we may overindulge in our desire for objects of romantic love, or a particular house, a job, bank account, smartphone upgrade, etc. only to find ourselves continuing to desire more, wanting to give back what we desired or desiring something different. It is said that the only way to end this cycle of “karma” is to no longer desire-anything. Taken literally, experiencing karma can mean we believe in returning to earthly existence through several different lifetimes.

Yet understood symbolically, karma can has, for me, felt a lot like recovering from heart break. I once had a friend say to me, “when our breaks, it breaks open.” My friend’s wisdom speaks volumes of capacity for navigating human relationships with a belief that “something bigger,” perhaps a more mature love, outlasts infatuations with teenage heartthrobs, disappointment in separating parents, enchanting Tom Cruise love stories, or fairytales gone real. This love-or rather a connection that binds all beings to divinity and to one another rather than to suffering-is known as “Krishna consciousness.” I’ve experienced it as having less to do with a mishevious, charming blue-man deity and more about becoming more conscious of “Krishna,” him, her or them in whatever form they take in my day-to-day life-co-worker, neighbor, stranger and intimate partner alike-to put into action unconditional love as much as is humanly possible.

Brima Jah has always wished that Sesame Street would do a segment to illustrate how the word “om” has been brought to you by the letters “a,” “u,” and “m,” and like no one member of community, each letter can only resonate as one .as “ohm” when they stand together.

Join him for a Bhakti Yoga and Backbending workshop on Sunday, June 15 from 1-3:30PM for a heart-opening celebration filled with lots of mantra chanting and harmonium vibrations, storytelling, and of course, lots of bending over backwards. Sign Up Here

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Flipping Worlds by Roche Janken

Roche in headstand

Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.
–Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

A lot has changed since my last Inversions post for the Laughing Lotus blog about a year ago. Back then, I was fascinated by the concept of pratipaksha bhavanam, translated as “taking another view”, and I wrote about how consciously steering your mind towards positivity was an essential part of practicing inversions in asana, and of course in living a fabulous yogic life.

In these last 12 months, without necessarily choosing to consciously flip my thinking, my long-term life vision has changed. If you had asked me a year ago what I wanted my life to look like, I would have told you that my desire was to make a living entirely in the field of movement–to be either teaching yoga, offering massage or getting paid to dance. I believed that my dharma was to take my skills from a lifetime of professional dancing and use them to help folks live a more healthy and embodied life. I still saw yoga as a way to take the reins on my busy brain–like Arjuna in a runaway cart slowly reshaping my mind to be less poisonous and more loving. As I’ve continued to show up for my yoga practice, that mental shift has often manifested–but to my surprise, my perspective on my own dharma has continued to change.

Last summer, I started dreaming of a new dance company, vîv. I would get together with a group of powerful women and find a new way to bring beautiful and joyful dance into the world. Creatively this project has been everything I had hoped and dreamed…a pathway into dancing that allows me to mature and ripen as a professional. But the shock to me was how much pleasure I also got out of the organizational side of creating the company. The work that I did behind the scenes was actually as satisfying as the dancing itself. Dare I say even more satisfying?!? Acknowledging this was yet another shift for me–flipping of my life yet again!

I had thought that I wanted to make a life in movement and dance all day every day, and there I was sending logistical emails to producers in Southern California and loving every minute of it! It was a realization for me–that I didn’t need to be practicing asana all day long to feel like myself.

I’m sure this is not news to most of you–I’ve watched so many of the glorious spirits that I shared yoga school with find the right balance of practicing/teaching yoga and working at another interesting job—but I have always had to learn things through experience. At this point, the idea of being a yogi/teacher with another largely unrelated career who also makes art is beginning to feel like a victorious homecoming.

I’ve heard time and time again that “consciousness changes everything”. Rather than deciding in advance what’s happening in any given moment, becoming more aware and awake is slowly leading me to a life that is a better fit for me. Anxiety and worry seem less urgent. Goals shift and change altogether. What was once seemingly important becomes a distant memory and what’s interesting and beautiful about THIS moment is easier to access.

You might ask, “What does this all have to do with doing a handstand?” Well–who decided that doing a handstand was the goal in the first place? I just want you to put your hands on the ground and start kicking. Who knows where you might end up?!? It’s sure to be different from where you started. We’re here to learn, feel, experience our lives more fully and understand our bodies more clearly. You might pass through adho mukha vrikshasana, but we’ll all end up in the same place–sitting in hero’s pose and saying my mantra: That was awesome!

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A High School Meditation by Meisha Bosma

Teen Yoga Students I recently spent a full day in a high school. If you haven’t had the opportunity to step back into that beautiful chaos, it’s a potent experience. My last hallway roam was nearly 25 years ago, but I met the adolescent girl in me immediately. Flooded with memories, excitement, sadness and a wild array of thought and reflection, I felt the need to ground myself so I closed my eyes and took a few deep breaths. I could feel it in my bones and skin, the tactile sensations of youth desperately seeking identity, self-worth, direction and confidence. I heard the crackling of fearful voices, uncertain of themselves, overshadowed by the boisterous voices asserting themselves provocatively. And then I felt the energy of those communicating in their painful silences, those particular beings that seem to yearn for something even more basic, the feeling of safety.

I was there to teach six periods of meditation and breathing. My only goal was to facilitate an enjoyable experience, and perhaps cultivate (did I dare hope?) a desire to sit still again. These were teenagers! Do teenagers actually sit still? I had no idea what to expect.

Seated in the traditional desk/chair contraption, we organized ourselves in a circle. My partner and I shared the 50-minute session. She began with a short inquiry to find out what they knew about words like awareness, meditation, relaxation, emotions, doing and being. Pleasantly surprised, I heard responses like, “awareness is knowing what I’m doing,” and “meditation is when I am relaxed and calm,” and “I love when I can just be me!” This was a start I thought. The vocabulary was kind of there. It seemed promising.

As we entered the meditative experience, my words drifted into a quiet, slow and
d-e-l-i-b-e-r-a-t-e pace. With a gentle and warm tone I invited them to “feel the feet squarely on the floor and let your eyes close.” I love this part as it shifts the energy instantaneously. “Let yourself breathe in and out of your nostrils and allow the breath to expand your two lungs…make space for yourself to be just as you are.”
And here’s where I met a flurry of fierce resistance. Teenage eyes began rolling, uncontrollable giggling was permeating the entire room and their youthful bodies, despite sitting in the desk/chair contraptions, began to slither and squirm in protest of something I had just said. I drifted into a deeper calm, and I noticed their agitation amplify big time. And yet underneath all this opposition, the energetic presence of intrigue and a desire to surrender was there. It was very there.

So I continued.

I stayed with the protocol of Yoga Nidra, an ancient guided meditative practice for deep healing and relaxation. The protocol is this: meet and greet everything that is arising in awareness. So I greeted what wanted to be met. As the meditation deepened into feeling the body, the sensation of breath in the chest, belly, hips, legs, feet, fingers and toes, their protest grew like a hairy monster. And I was called to greet the monster of resistance. I just let them be where they were at, loving everything that was happening in that room.
It sounded like this, “I am aware of your laughing, and I love your laughing. I am aware of rolling eyes, and I love rolling eyes. I am aware of squirming bodies, and I love squirming bodies. I see shaky knees, and I also happen to love shaky knees. I hear voices of judgment and I love judgment.” It lasted like this until there was no longer anything left to resist. Resistance was petering out. Into the desk/chair contraption their bodies softened, and a soothing silence saturated the room. Eyes and mouths stilled. They were sitting still and we were in deep meditation. This was a profound moment.

It might sound Pollyannaish, but there was so much love in that room, and it felt so good. There was something tender going on, as we allowed each other to be exactly who we were, in every moment. Everything allowed naturally falls away. What’s left is love. And without resistance, a peaceful calm was remembered.

The teachers who sat in observance were speechless at first. Later they told me they could not believe their eyes. They were stunned to hear the meditative words of acceptance and love for the very behaviors they typically oppose, judge, try to change, squash, ignore and re-route. And when the meditation was over, the students asked to do it again. This made me smile inside and out.

The practice of meditation created safety, compassion, strength and love on that day, and I’m grateful for sharing the experience with Logan High School students in Fremont, CA.

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How does your garden grow?

by Katharine Otis
Cherry Tree
Yoga is a process of the flowering of the Self, which could be compared to tending to a garden, and its practices (asana, pranayama, meditation) are like garden tools that can be used to make both subtle and gargantuan shifts upon the surface of ones inner landscape. The Yogi(ni)s plants seeds of peace, self-awareness and contentment through their practice and bit-by-bit the tools cultivate more peace, self-awareness and contentment in their everyday lives. Knowing which tool to use at which time and in which degree is what can potentially make one a successful gardener or Yoga practitioner.

The backyard of my childhood home was a place of great curiosity and wonder and often I would sneak between the ferns and bushes to look at the world from a snail’s perspective. On one such visit to the backyard I remember spitting out a cherry seed into my hand and planting it not even an inch into the soil. In my young mind, I was certain there would be a cherry tree in that place the following week. A week passed, nothing. A month passed, nothing. The next year, nothing. Uncertain why it didn’t take, I forgot about the cherry seed and went on with my life.

When a student is introduced to the practice for the first time it is like they are holding the seed of Yoga in their palms. Many great outcomes are possible for that very seed, but without the right conditions for the seed to germinate and grow nothing will happen.

How to practice sowing the seed prana in the body?

Step 1 Stratification: Before the Yogi(ni) begins a breathing practice there must be a moment of gathering one’s attention and awareness within, by closing one’s eyes and sitting in an upright meditative posture one can transition from the world of the senses into the awareness of the body breathing. Without this time to simply observe the breath and the mind, there will be a lack of clarity regarding what needs to be practiced and cultivated specifically by the individual.

Step 2 Plant yourself: There are many different breathing practices and each has a different effect. For example: Ujjai Pranayama (breath of victory) is used for an overactive body and mind that needs focusing, while Kapalabhati Pranayama (skull shining breath) is used for one lacking mental and physical energy in order to show up to the practice with vigor. Committing to the right breathing practice at the right time is incredibly important for the seed to take.

Step 3 Nourish yourself appropriately: In Yoga sutra 2.50, Sri Patanjali describes the extension of prana in the physical body as a process that happens by allowing the breath to become slower (Kala) and more subtle (Sukshma). Applied to the metaphor of gardening, one shouldn’t just throw a bucket of water on a seedling and expect great things, one should water the seedling with a mister or a hose, slowing down the passage of water from the source to roots thus assuring the efficient landing of nourishment in the right place. The yogi(ni) doesn’t breath in a general way, but begins to get specific as where the prana is being sent in the physical, emotional, and spiritual bodies.

Step 4 Residing in grace: Once the seeds of Yoga have been planted and watered, the last step is to let go and bask in the glory of God. Yoga practitioners recognize that the source that created them is in everything, including ones own most basic experience. Not every seed will sprout immediately, but through continued effort, bit-by-bit, wonderful things will begin to emerge. One’s face become sweeter by meditating on their own light. One’s limbs become servants of the soul, which carry the practitioner with ease. One understands the nature of one’s own suffering. Stay patient and committed. The purpose of all the breathing practices are to contain the vital force that moves through the breath into body in order to reside in one’s own light. In this way the Yogi(ni) begins to move forward in life with clarity and eminence. As the great teacher T. Krishnamacharya said,

“Inhale, and God approaches you. Hold the inhalation, and God remains with you. Exhale, and you approach God. Hold the exhalation, and surrender to God.”

Namaste.

For more information on how to plant cherry seeds, Click Here

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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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