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The Programming Karmi

Posted on: January 18th, 2017 No Comments
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Jen at the Tirta Empul Temple in Bali in 2013

by Jen DeSimone

“47 You have the right to work, but never to the fruit of work. You should never engage in action for the sake of reward, nor should you long for inaction. 48 Perform work in this world, Arjuna, as a man established within himself – without selfish attachments, and alike in success and defeat. For yoga is perfect evenness of mind.”

Excerpt From: Easwaran, Eknath. “The Bhagavad Gita.”

Last year I suffered a career crisis.  I hated what I was doing, and I was frustrated by the people with whom I was working.  It was so bad that my manager noticed and commented on it.  When I realized how evident my unhappiness was, I knew that something had to change.  I seriously contemplated whether it was time to change companies or careers even.  I eventually came to the conclusion that changing jobs was actually running away from the real problem.  The real problem wasn’t the job or other people.  The real problem was me.

My yoga students are often surprised when I tell them that my full-time job is writing software.  To them, as to many people, yoga lives in a completely separate world from technology.  I too am sometimes surprised, but not for the same reasons.  When I was in high school I wanted to become an academic.  While I was in graduate school, however, I became disillusioned with academia.  As a result, I quit school and got a programming job while I figured out what I wanted to do next.  Eighteen years later, and I am still coding.

Technology is, as everyone knows, a male-dominated field in which egos abound.  Last year during my career crisis, I realized that after almost two decades working in this domain, I had developed quite the ego.  To be clear, when I say that I had an overdeveloped ego, I mean to say that my self-worth had become dependent on how my work was regarded.  When I was praised, I felt like a rock star.  When I was criticized, I felt like a fraud.

When I was trying to figure out what and how to change, I realized that my attitude to my programming was in sharp contrast with my yoga teaching.  Since beginning to teach in 2012, I have always regarded my teaching as service (“seva”).  The class is never about me.  I observe and help my students as best I can.  If a class is well received, that’s great.  If someone has a critique or a suggestion, that’s great too.  I always walk away from the class with a clear heart and head knowing that I did my best.  This is in the spirit of karma yoga, the yoga of selfless action.  This form of yoga is described in one of the great Hindu texts, The Bhagavad Gita.  In it, the god Krishna teaches a reluctant warrior named Arjuna the importance of taking action, but all the while not being vested in the fruits of that action.

As a result, I realized that I needed to carry over this notion of service into my full-time job.  Of course putting this into practice didn’t happen overnight, but it helped that I had been doing this in my yoga teaching for a few years.  I volunteered to be in meetings more.  In those meetings, I listened to my coworkers.  I was also willing to toss my own assumptions out the window when they didn’t hold true.  And, when things went wrong, I didn’t beat myself up. Instead, I tried to learn what we could do differently in the future and moved on.

When I decided to make these changes, it wasn’t to impress anyone or to get ahead.  I simply wanted to end my own suffering.  The changes, however, did not go unnoticed.  People remarked on them to my manager, who later related them to me.  Whenever he brings it up, I simply say, “I try my best.”  And then, I silently think, “This is also yoga.”

Jen first discovered yoga in 2001 and has been practicing it ever since. Since completing her 200 hour teacher training with Laughing Lotus four years ago, Jen has been offering classes where students are met where they are. You can follow her on her Facebook page.


A Missed Shot

Posted on: January 4th, 2017 No Comments

by Josh Ehrenreich

josh-yogaKrishna totally missed, Arjuna thought.
 
The first arrow fired, a shot symbolizing the start of war between good and evil, didn’t hit anyone. It didn’t even hit a warhorse. All it did was sever a rope holding a bell, dropping to the ground with a clang.
 
It probably was that little bird’s fault.
One of my favorite stories regarding the Bhagavad Gita isn’t even in it. It’s a story I’ve heard that takes place after. Krishna had just finished explaining to Arjuna why he must rouse himself to action and fight. Arjuna took what Krishna had said to heart and was ready to lead his army.
That’s when the little bird flew up. He flew right up to Krishna and Arjuna and perched on their chariot.
‘I can’t let this war happen,’ he said. ‘In the middle of this battlefield are my five babies, just hatched with their mother. If this war starts my family will never survive the trampling of feet’
Mighty warrior Arjuna was kind. He shared with the little bird that, at times, our life circumstances seem overwhelming, impossible even, and that the lot we have been dealt may seem cruel. But these lots, these circumstances, are temporary. And once they are over, we return back into the unified whole.
The bird looked down. Sad as he was he saw the truth and beauty within. He made ready to fly away and spend the few remaining moments with those he loved.
But right before he flew off he paused, then cried out: ‘Krishna, if this is truly the case—if this is my fate to have, then let me send out my own little battle cry. Be victorious and mighty in this battle that awaits!’
And he flew away.
It can be difficult to accept the hands we are dealt. We can easily feel powerless in the face of mightier forces, helpless to lessen the suffering of others, whether that be a flock far off, or the one in our nest right now.
What we can do is face our circumstances with equanimity and perseverance. To work towards good regardless of scope of impact. Who knows what our future may bring, regardless of today’s predictions?
Upon Krishna’s fired arrow, the battle raged on. It was a terribly bloody battle, many deaths on both sides. Eventually Arjuna led the righteous to victory.
As he walked amongst the former battle field, he came upon the bell that Krishna had shot. He remembered, with slight embarrassment, how Krishna had missed the first shot of war, and kicked the bell over.
How could he have missed? Arjuna thought.
And suddenly, a little bird, the same little bird from before, and his five fledglings and their mother flew up. Protected underneath the heavy bell, they had avoided the ravages of battle and lived to sing of Arjuna’s victory.

Josh is a teacher at Laughing Lotus whose classes emphasize a mindful approach and steadiness of breath. Beyond yoga he is a project manager, hip-hop enthusiast, and coffee connoisseur.


Waking Up

Posted on: December 14th, 2016 No Comments

by Tina Spogli
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“People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on Earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child – our own two eyes. All is a miracle.”

-Thich Nhat Hanh

Open your eyes. What do you see? Notice the sounds. Let your vibration mingle with those around. Witness your breath flowing in and out. Feel yourself as part of everything. Wake up into now.

Our presence is a gift. Often it’s something we have to remind ourselves to bring into our everyday lives. As yogis, we feel the overwhelming sense of truth that comes from a practice of tuning awareness – connecting body with breath, breath to the mind, and everything to the moment. I remember in my early yogi days, feeling this great sense of shift and change. At the time I didn’t fully understand what was happening, but I knew I felt closer to the entire world around and within. And so I was hooked, running to the mat any chance I could!

As we continue along this path of mindfulness, our perspective shifts, and we see not only our time on the mat, but our entire lives as a practice of tuning in to receive the teachings right in front of us. It is meditation in each moment, a spiritual waking up that flows into the way we eat, sleep, breathe, walk, work, talk, and think. I like to compare it to John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ video, the way Yoko Ono opens up curtain by curtain in a dim room to let the light in. The light was there the whole time, but it takes some warrior training to see it.

Yoga is one of the several different kinds of practices that provide us with the tools to dive deeper into the moment and see the lessons life has to offer. Other mindfulness practices include martial arts, tai chi, qigong, walking meditation, seated meditations – such as vipassana, zen, loving-kindness, and mantra. But I like to think any activity that sparks our full presence is an avenue to experience the magic of the world, from photography, to going to the gym, or doing the dishes – whatever vehicle resonates with you!

As these moments of mindfulness grow, we acquire knowledge and information that cannot be found in any text. The realization is that everything is the guru, everything is acting as remover of ignorance and revealer of light and truth. Even in challenging moments, when we fall, wobble, and shake, there is something to learn. Every moment is an opportunity to say ‘thank you’ – thank you for moments of happiness, thank you to the plants and Earth that make it possible for us to be here, thank you for this breath, thank you even for moments of confusion and doubt, thank you for LIFE.

Tina developed a deep love for quieting the body and mind during her time living in one of the loudest cities. Yoga found Tina in 2007 while she was living in New York, and the practice quickly became her sanctuary amidst all of the hustle.

She believes in the transformative process of yoga, with its ability to bring us back into our bodies and breath, and stretch our mental limitations of what we think is possible – both on and off the mat. Her mantra is to come as you are, and observe what unfolds. Tina’s classes are thoughtful and intentional, sharing inspiration from her personal practice and life.

Tina is a 250 RYT, and a graduate from Laughing Lotus in New York and San Francisco. When she is not on the mat, you can find her in nature, exploring
photography, and hanging with her animal friends! She is very grateful to be a
part of the Laughing Lotus community of the east and west, and is thankful for
this space to share her heart and energy with you.


Let’s All Be Dangerous Yogis

Posted on: December 7th, 2016 No Comments

by Laura S
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It seems especially dark to me this winter as we move toward the Solstice. Others seem to agree; it comes up in conversation a lot lately. As I try to compose this, news of the fire in Oakland is almost more than I can even bear. I feel helpless and devastated when surrounded by such darkness. Words frustrate me. Even yoga frustrates me. No response seems quite right or like it’s anywhere near enough.

In this vast darkness, we need our gurus more than ever. Our teachers guide us, but they are also people capable of holding space for both the light and the dark. Pragmatically that ability is a lot harder than it sounds in poetic or symbolic terms. In the past, I’ve often interpreted the translation of guru to mean that the light illuminates the darkness. But this winter, I’m thinking about the light and the dark side by side instead.

In a recent NY Times article, “I Am a Dangerous Professor,” George Yancy discusses being put on the Professor Watchlist, a conservative website that targets specific teachers over the content of their courses. Reading Yancy’s words struck a nerve; our teachers are so vital to our survival, and it’s important to remember that the work they do on behalf of their students (us!) is not always easy or safe.

Yancy writes, “In my courses, which the watchlist would like to flag as “un-American” and as “leftist propaganda,” I refuse to entertain my students with mummified ideas and abstract forms of philosophical self-stimulation. What leaves their hands is always philosophically alive, vibrant and filled with urgency. I want them to engage in the process of freeing ideas, freeing their philosophical imaginations. I want them to lose sleep over the pain and suffering of so many lives that many of us deem disposable. I want them to become conceptually unhinged, to leave my classes discontented and maladjusted.”

I’m especially moved by the words “discontented” and “maladjusted.” Previously, these sensations were not necessarily ones that I invoked as a yoga teacher, or that I sought as a yoga student. Yet, I think we should, and I plan to start now. Our yoga practice should not help us sleep more soundly; indeed, it should cause us to lose sleep. We should feel unhinged!

Here is wisdom I’ve encountered in the last few days that has offered me some light AND kept me up at night:

Gandhi reminds me, “Those who say spirituality has nothing to do with politics do not know what spirituality really means.”

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi reminds me, “Now is the time to refuse the blurring of memory…Now is the time to call things what they actually are, because language can illuminate truth as much as it can obfuscate it. Now is the time to forge new words…Now is the time to talk about what we are actually talking about…Now is the time to discard that carefulness that too closely resembles a lack of conviction.”

(I highly recommend her recent article in The New Yorker “Now is the Time to Talk About What We Are Actually Talking About.”)

Jack Kornfield reminds me, “You are not alone. You have generations of ancestors at your back. You have the blessing of interdependence and community. You have the great trees of the forest as steadfast allies. You have the turning of the seasons and the renewal of life as your music. You have the vast sky of emptiness to hold all things graciously.

You have been training for this for a long time. With practice you have learned to quiet the mind and open the heart. You have learned emptiness and interdependence. Now it is time to step forward, bringing your equanimity and courage, wisdom and compassion to the world.”

Pablo Das reminds me, “While non-reactive presence to what’s happening within you and around you is foundational, for me non-reactivity simply creates the conditions for a wise response. Non-reactivity is not the end game. Action is! Please don’t be another privileged person who thinks sitting with YOUR sadness is enough. It’s not!”

As sad as I’ve felt in recent weeks, thanks to my gurus, I’m reminded again and again that my individual sadness is not enough. The words and inspiration of my teachers calls me to take action, participate, and be vigilant.

There is a lot of noise to sift through out there. But our teachers are everywhere. We must listen to them, and we must use their guidance to harness our own courage and strength. Our yoga practice cannot just be a solitary pursuit. If we come to our mat only to feel better and only to address our individual needs, then we’re missing the profound and much larger impacts our practice can and should have. Each person’s Trikonasana looks different, feels different, and is a specific expression of who they are. So too, we can each step off our mat and take action in our own unique way. Let’s use our practice to be dangerous, discontented and maladjusted!

I’ll end with one last mantra, a reminder from Sri Rainer Maria Rilke: “Let this darkness be a bell tower, and you the bell.”

There are many fundraisers to support the victims and families of the Oakland fire, and here is one through the Gray Area Foundation for the Arts: Fire Relief Fund for Victims of Ghostship Oakland Fire.

Slow down and reconnect with your practice in a Lotus Basics class with Laura on Tuesday/Thursday mornings at 10:45am and Friday morning at 9am.

Look for an Absolute Beginners workshop in the new year on January 22!


Restorative Healing for Vata Season

Posted on: November 23rd, 2016 No Comments

by Genevieve McClendon

genevieve

“Life (Ayu) is the combination (samyoga) of body, senses, mind and reincarnating soul. Ayurveda is the most sacred science of life, beneficial to humans both in this world and the world beyond.”  -Charaka Samhita, Sutrasthana, I.42 -34

I was walking home from the Bart train station at 8:40pm, when I thought to myself: How did I do everything I did today, and I still have a 20 minute walk ahead of me? I started my day with my yoga practice, a morning appointment, taught three classes in the afternoon and evening, commuted on two trains, took two uber car rides and one bus. I also made time for breakfast and some small snacks along the way. I find a lot of us live the life of “checking off lists” and existing in “overdrive” or “overload.” So how can we make the time to be present with ourselves and others? How can we allow ourselves to be so “alive” that we seize the juiciness of every moment and live in wholeness with our mind, body, spirit? Doctors say chronic activation of stress response damages our system, causing high blood pressure and flows of stress hormones that continue throughout the day. Hence, why a lot of us don’t feel good, have a hard time sifting through emotions, or can’t find our zest for life. I believe if we help ourselves come into our own unique harmony, we can heal the world one person at a time. So, how can we learn to remove obstacles present in our daily lives, cultivate inner harmony, and harness healing power? One way is Ayurveda!

Ayurveda is the ancient science of self-healing, also known as “the Science of Life”. Yoga and Ayurveda are sister sciences that came together to bring natural balance to the mind, body and spirit over 5,000+ years ago in India. It is considered one the most remarkable holistic practices in healthcare. Ayurveda allows the knowledge and skill to create a specific dosha balancing yoga practice. It enables us to use food with awareness, and create a basic lifestyle plan.

Through the practice of Ayurveda and yoga we can empower ourselves in self-realization and self-healing by learning how to apply daily care to our own constitution and dosha. In Ayurveda it is believed we are derived from energy, light and matter. These three powers make up the three elements of the dosha’s: Kapha (earth/water), Pitta (fire), Vata (air). We each have unique portions of each dosha within our constitution. It is how we each manifest our prakriti or nature in the living world. Working with our doshas, we help heal and harmonize ourselves. The doshas are also marked as part of our seasons and times of year in Vedic knowledge.

At this time, we are living in the season of Fall which in Ayurveda is also known as Vata season. Vata dosha and season is predominately an energetic, active, creative frame of mind, always on the go energy. When Vata is out of balance we experience anxiety, fear of the future or what’s going to happen and we tend hold our breath. Not letting the Prana (breath/spirit) flow easily we jeopardize our life force. I believe because we all live in such a fast paced culture, we all experience Vata disorder, even year round. Because it is Fall, and most of us are experiencing fast movement and anxious minds with the election and holiday’s arriving, I want to offer you some Vata calming support. Creating grounded spaciousness allows us to breathe and touch our own inner self. With a few easy to do Restorative yoga poses you can rest the anxious Vata and feel lighter, more stable and peaceful. These two simple versions of Savasana definitely help me in my journey to stabilize my Vata dosha.

“Yoga and knowledge are the two methods for dissolving the disturbances of the mind. Yoga is control of the movements of the mind. Knowledge is clear observation of the them.” -Laghu Yoga Vasishta V.9.72

savasana-1

For this basic form of Savasana, all you need is a quite, warm, comfortable space. You will need a pillow to support your head, a pillow or rolled up blanket to support the back of your knees, a small towel or washcloth to place over your eyes and an extra blanket to make sure your hands and feet are warm. Set your timer for 15-20 minutes and lay down. Feel your breath gently move in and out, relaxing your mind into the back of your skull, releasing all your weight into the ground. To come out of pose, bend your knees slowly into your belly, roll onto your side, using your arms to set yourself up to sit gently.

savasana-2

This is an elevated Savasana with the support of a chair or couch. This is great for if you sit a lot at work or on an airplane or if you’re feeling anxious. This pose helps bring energy into your root chakra and feet, supporting and relaxing the lower back. Find a space that is quite, warm and comfortable with a soft chair or couch, a small towel or washcloth to place over your eyes and extra blankets to cover up your feet and hands. Lie on the ground with your back on a soft surface with your legs elevated and resting on the seat of a chair or couch. Make sure your shins are parallel to the ground. Set your timer. Allow your breath to softly move in and out, creating a longer exhale for a few breaths and then come back to your normal breath. To come out of pose, bend your knees slowly into your belly, roll onto your side, using your arms, sit yourself up slowly.

Genevieve is committed to serving and helping others come into their wholeness. She is a compassionate teacher that invites all her students to live their truth and celebrate who they are as they are. She is a passionate Reiki Master/Teacher. Genevieve teaches Restorative Yoga with Reiki at Laughing Lotus on Friday from 6:45-8:00pm and Sunday from 6:15-7:30. Her website is InLightandSoul.com.