Josh believes in the importance of moving yoga beyond the studio and into everyday life. His even-tempo flow based classes focus on consistency of effort, breath, and attention. Beyond yoga, Josh spends his free time biking, swimming, and listening to hip-hop.
This week’s blog post is an Excerpt from Lotus SF Founder, Jasmine Tarkeshi’s New Book: Yoga Mind and Body Handbook-Easy Poses, Guided Meditations: Perfect Peace Wherever You Are. Now available at the Lotus! Join Jasmine for a Class, reading, signing and celebration on Friday, April 14th at 5:30!
Our breath plays an integral role in the functioning of our entire body and is also a reflection of our state of mind and emotions. Better breathing patterns make us more present and grounded, ready to take on whatever comes our way. When our breathing goes awry, we may find ourselves stressed, overwhelmed, and out of balance. The same is true in reverse: when we’re happy and healthy, we tend to breathe easier. With conscious breathing, we can impact our inner world.
What Is Good Breathing?
Learning to consciously regulate our breath is one of the most powerful tools we can cultivate. It helps us control our emotions and let go. As we covered earlier in the book, yogic breathing practices are called pranayama, which means “to control or extend the breath.” Prana is our “life force” and ayama means “to extend.” With slow, regulated breathing, the quality of our lives improves dramatically.
When we are stressed, our breath becomes shallow. We breathe quickly and only fill up the top part of our lungs with oxygen. Our chest barely expands with each inhale, which triggers our flight or fight stress response.
In contrast, when we’re fully relaxed and present, our breath becomes slower and deeper. This triggers our rest–and-digest response, which lowers our heart rate. With each inhale, our entire chest and belly expand, flooding us with oxygen. With each exhale, we fully contract all of these parts of the body, releasing carbon dioxide. In this manner, each full inhale nourishes every part of our being, while each complete exhale cleanses and releases toxins from the mind and body.
Why does all of this matter? Well, the average human being takes over 20,000 breaths a day. Each breath brings us the opportunity to positively affect our state of mind and benefit our overall health. When we talk about good breathing, we’re talking about a conscious slow, even, and deep breath that satisfies our need for oxygen, and also helps us maintain a calm and present state of mind. With conscious breathing comes conscious living. This is what we strive for in yoga.
Yoga uses a variety of breathing or pranayama techniques to help facilitate different outcomes. Ujjayi breathing, which we discussed earlier , is one of the most common types of yogic breathing. Most often used during asana, it allows us to create a steady,even rhythmic, breath and link our breath to movement. In this practice, every inhale is a movement that expands the chest, such as inhaling the arms up, and every exhale promotes a contraction, such as exhaling a forward bend. The inhale accompanies a movement (such as reaching the arms up), and the exhale accompanies another movement (such asmoving into a forward bend). There are also slight pauses between breaths to help us experience stillness.
Long, deep breathing is used to calm the mind during meditation or any time you’re in a stressful situation. This breath focuses on expanding and contracting the belly to engage the diaphragm and create a slow, even breath with a slightly longer exhale. This allows for space to calm the nerves, quiet the mind, and let go.
When you’re feeling sluggish, a bellows breath can be just what you need. The exercise pumps the breath from the belly rapidly, stimulating the effects of aerobic exercise, including increased metabolism, increased heart rate, and release of serotonin to the brain.
Alternate nose breathing, where you use your thumb and pointer finger to alternately cover each nostril, is thought to balance the left and right hemispheres of the brain and balance our emotional state.
All of these techniques can help you breathe better to live better.
Complete instruction on all the breathing practices available in the book!
Jasmine Tarkeshi is the Co-Founder of Laughing Lotus Yoga Centers in NYC and SF. She is a devoted student of Yoga for over 25 years and grateful teacher for 20 years. Jasmine has dedicated her life to being of service to Yoga’s transformative teachings and holy teachers through her weekly lasses at Laughing Lotus Yoga Centers SF, Teacher Trainings, International workshops, online videos and now, published book! For more details: http://sf.laughinglotus.com/jasminetarkeshi/
When I was growing up, I remember my mom taking sign language classes and coming home to show us kids the different signs. “Thank you”, “Please”, “What’s wrong with you” (my favorite) and “I love you” (still used to this day whenever I say goodbye to my mom). This was my first introduction to understanding that our hands can speak, our gestures have meanings, and our body language can say something
In asana practice we use different poses to do the same thing, connect and personify movements, gestures, and intentions with our body. Whether traditional poses brought to us by yogi’s past, or newer poses from the west, when we move our body with this kind of awareness we are creating language with our limbs.
Mudras are sign language (seals) of the soul. They are gestures to take our intentions further with the use of our hands. I have even heard them expressed as icing on the asana cake, something to bring us more fully into the present moment. We can use our hands, which can often times be limp or unexpressive or forgotten about in practice, to drive the pose deeper and bring more awareness. To seal the deal, so to speak.
One mudra that always seems to be speaking to me is the Ksepana Muda, the gesture of pouring out and letting go. As human beings we are constantly changing, shape shifting, and transforming who we are. The idea behind the Ksepana mudra is that we let go of the layers that no longer fit us: the identity, the preconceived ideas of ourselves, and the stuff that just doesn’t have any room in our lives anymore.
I often refer to the body as a storage unit. We accumulate past traumas, dramas, memories, habits, addictions, toxins, movements, and thoughts. It takes a constant clearing out process to help eliminate whatever negative energy we are storing and free that space up for what’s good. The entire practice of yoga is geared toward this action and to free of these things that bind us.
The Ksepana Mudra functions curiously like a hose. The fingers are clasped together, while the index fingers point out towards the ground, and the thumbs cross over each other. You can envision a stream of sludge or sewage pouring out of the index fingers unclogging the muck that has been stored for years, decades, or lifetimes. This mudra is to be held for 7–15 breaths with the concentration on the exhale.
It is no wonder that this mudra also stimulates elimination through the skin (sweat), lungs, and large intestines, releasing stored tensions as well for a physical and emotional clearing. It is all part of the letting go process.
With a baby on the way less then five weeks out, I find this mudra quite appropriate for my life. I am in a constant state of clearing and uncluttering my apartment, my body and mind. There has got to be an emptying out of my life to ensure space for this little one when he arrives. I don’t want my baggage to be stored in his closet so to speak.
An interesting occurrence I have recently been witnessing is my absorption of other people’s energy. This month I attended a large, 3-day music and arts festival here in San Francisco, surrounded by many people in a different situation than I was and found myself needing to have as much space as possible. Not only did I feel crowded but also like a sponge absorbing other’s energy that wasn’t always pure or aware. The Ksepana Mudra can help with draining the unconscious energy we pick up from others that we don’t want to hold onto.
Gertrud Hirschi, author of the book MUDRAS – Yoga in Your Hands, offers an affirmation to go along with the Ksepana mudra. “Spent energy in my body, mind and soul flows away from me, and I thankfully accept all things that refresh me.”
As you hold the mudra and think these positive thoughts you can envision the sludge becoming expulsed with each exhale; becoming more clear, all the while, knowing that this process of pouring out and letting go is a constant and gradual practice.
by Ella Ben-Zvi
It was a midsummer’s day, the sun was hanging high in the sky, and the train was late as usual. I was on my way to a meeting, knowing that there’s no way I’ll ever make it on time. My bag was heavy on my shoulders and there was no shade to hide in. But something unusual happened – none of that bothered me at that moment. I was not annoyed, anxious or angry at all. For some reason, for no reason, or perhaps for every reason, I was just happy.
Everyone at the train station was frustrated with the delay, sweating and suffering in the humid heat of August. One guy was shouting at the conductor, blaming him for everything that is wrong with the world. Another guy was pacing back and forth aimlessly, trying to pass the time. A mother was complaining over the phone, while her kids were complaining to her for refusing to buy them ice cream. As I was looking around me at all those people, a sudden wave of joy had washed over me. They were all surrounded by a beautiful glowing aura, and I was in love with each and every one of them. It felt as if my heart had expanded with love that was pure and unexplainable. It was a glorious feeling.
Finally, the train had arrived and we all moved on to our different destinations. The moment had passed and I was left feeling enchanted without truly understanding what just happened. But it was absolutely clear to me that I must find my way back to this place, to this exploding sense of love that had burst my heart wide open.
Have you ever had an experience like that, even just for a second? Feeling in love with everybody, without knowing who they are, without knowing their names, and without knowing if you’ll ever see them again? “Once you have drunk from the water of unconditional love, no other well can satisfy your thirst”, said Ram Dass in his book Be Love Now. This is neither romantic nor caring love, but a spiritual love that comes from the “Spiritual Heart”, as Ram Dass calls it. A kind of love that has no cause and carries no result. A kind of love that doesn’t depend on what you get in return, and doesn’t stem from something you have already received. It is unconditional because it has no because.
So how do we get there? And where is this Spiritual Love? Well, I looked everywhere… From Spain to Nicaragua, back to my home in Israel and all the way to California, and it was nowhere to be found. I had begun to accept the fact that it must have been a one time thing and I will never feel this love again, until I stumbled upon the path of Bhakti Yoga – the yoga of love and devotion.
When my friends first invited me to come with them to Kirtan, one of the main practices of Bhakti Yoga, I must admit I was really skeptical and even cynical. I remember thinking to myself that there is no way I am ever going to sing mantras for the Hindu gods in this ancient Sanskrit language… But they promised me we’ll eat at Gracias Madre before, so I had to say yes.
Kirtan or Kirtanam is one of the nine devotional activities of Bhakti. It translates to “praising through sound”, which simply means to use your voice to chant mantras, but also to use your ears and listen to the sounds. This is why Kirtan has two elements – call and response. “Music has a unique ability to convey emotion”, says Ram Dass, “and when it combines with the vibrational quality of a mantra, there is nothing like it to bypass the mind and open a direct route to the heart”.
Exactly as Ram Dass promised, the mantras, the repetition and the vibrations of the sounds had opened a pathway to my heart. And when the heart is open, love can flow freely. In spite of all the skepticism, I had finally found my way back to the place I discovered during that scorching summer’s day at the train station. A wave of joy had again filled my heart, and I fell in love with everyone around me. It was not only the singing and the songs, but the energy of the people in the room – that is what makes Kirtan so powerful. The coming together, being together, is what took me back to the train station. I was truly amazed. All my doubts were gone and I was completely hooked! Kirtan was my express train to Spiritual Love!
The simplicity of it all
Another wonderful aspect of Kirtan is its simplicity. You don’t need to know Sanskrit, don’t need to memorize the mantras and their meanings, and you don’t even need a good singing voice. All you need to do is just be there! It’s as simple as that. Bhakti is a direct route – there are no complications and it is accessible to anyone at anytime!
I was thrilled to find my non-stop ticket and started going to Kirtan as often as I could. I had not expected any more bumps in my road, but there they were. Walking the streets with a heart wide open is not easy. It exposes you not only to love, but also to the suffering of everyone around you. I found myself drifting away from love back to worry and anger. The clouds of doubt had covered my vision again, and I needed to find some answers.
So I took a turn from the path of Bhakti and hopped on another train – Jnana yoga, the yoga of knowledge and wisdom. There was nothing simple about that! Jnana yoga is complicated and intricate with its main goal finding liberation. I was ready to engage all my time and energy in order to get there! I started spending more time reading and meditating by myself. The warmth of Bhakti was replaced by the cold intellectualization of philosophical ideas. This train was slow and grueling, but I was committed to reach my destination!
My mind and ego were satisfied with this decision to achieve freedom, but my heart was quietly whispering the word love. I could barely hear it, as my mind was set on its resolution. I was focused on freeing myself from suffering, freeing myself from desires, and freeing myself from fears. But then it hit me, the inevitable question – what will I do with all this freedom?
Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, a world renowned guru from the Jnana yoga tradition, answered this question with the claim “I am free to love!”. Nisargadatta was a liberated man, who realized himself through devotion to his guru and to the mantra given to him. He was a Jnani yogi, but he found it as a Bhakta. His love took him to freedom, and his freedom allowed him to love.
Enjoy the Ride
“The devotional path isn’t necessarily a straight line to enlightenment. There is a lot of back and forth”, explains Ram Dass, “You look around at all aspects of suffering, and you watch your heart close with judgment. Then you practice opening it again and loving this too… Your heart keeps expanding until you see the whole universe as the beloved, even the suffering”.
So how do we get there? Which path should we take? All paths of yoga will take you there, but on the Bhakti train, “there” is not the destination, but the road itself. Instead of closing down, I chose to open up and to take it all in. It might not be a smooth ride, but as Frederick Lenz said, “The path of love is its own reward”.
“Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.”
I never wanted to be a teacher. Whenever that profession was floated, more often than not by a well-meaning, yet clueless adult, I would roll my eyes and dismiss it. A noble profession for sure, but not for me. I was intended for something else, I wasn’t sure what, but I was certain it wasn’t teaching. You see, I thought I knew what being a teacher meant, because I had (as we all do) teachers all my life. To me, a teacher was someone who passed along content knowledge. A teacher was an institution; the person in front of the room, who lectured, gave assignments, and wore unfortunate khakis. None of this sat well with me (and still doesn’t).
Years passed, degrees earned, indecision grew, and an opportunity was offered. At the ripe age of 22 I found myself in front of 32 children, underprepared, overextended and all of a sudden being called, “teacher.” Days passed, lessons were taught, tears (mostly mine) cried, academic gains made, and all of a sudden when people asked what I did, I would answer, “I am a teacher.” And I would see that moment of recognition, when the schema of teacher would unlock, the person would nod, and say something generic, benevolent, but more often than not, dismissive.
As my time in the classroom extended, I found myself drawn to matters of the heart and alienated by demands for academic achievement. Students came into my classroom hungry, hurt, abused, neglected, worn down and failed by a system that was actively working against them. Pressure to hit marks of academic growth overshadowed the social and emotional needs I saw in my students. Every day I felt that aspects of this work were so right for me, and others so wrong.
Stressed, overworked, and at a loss I turned to yoga. Suddenly, for the first time in years, I had a teacher again. And this time it was different; this teacher did not care about the grade I got on a paper, or what school I got into. He didn’t care about MLA formatting, or a transcript. He cared about my whole being He cared about the union of body and mind and my ability to love myself. He cared about the open nature of my heart, because everything depends on an open heart. And it was on the mat that my education truly began.
And as it always does, these teachings on the mat started to bleed into all aspects of my life. I now was able to verbalize what being a teacher meant to me, and it transformed how I showed up for my students. Whenever I found myself frustrated by a limited understanding of my profession it became my goal to show, explain, and share what it meant to truly educate, helping myself and others shed fixed and limited understandings of teacher to one that included heart and mind.
The word Yoga means to yoke; to join and bring together. And that is what a true teacher does; they yoke matters of the mind to matters of the heart; they teach students to recognize, understand, label, and express their emotions so that they can communicate their needs effectively and always be in control of their actions. They teach that a healthy body sets the stage for a healthy mind. And they know that everything depends on an open heart. This type of education can be found both on the yoga mat and in classrooms across the country (and happens to be a definition of teaching that I can get down with).
If this is a definition that sits well with you as well, then share it. Talk about the teachers who have done this type of work in your life (in school or on the mat), or in the lives or your children. Support organizations that develop these types of teachers, and always hold high and celebrated space for this work.
by Alex Crow
I didn’t journey to India looking for anything in particular. I wanted to experience the land that I had already learned so much from through my practice of yoga, with an open mind and heart. Of course I came to know that what they say is true, “the guru finds you when you aren’t looking.” I can safely say that the term “guru” is generally misunderstood and misrepresented here in the West, but in India, “guru” is commonplace. In fact, there are hundreds (if not thousands) of men claiming to be gurus, exploiting their own “powers” of extreme flexibility, intense discipline, or ridiculous skill. While these men deserve recognition, it would be unwise for anyone to follow them as you would a true guru.
We all have many teachers, people that help to light our path. But, there are some things that make a guru…a guru. The great mind of Osho, speaks to the qualities of the guru:
1. “A guru is a person who has realized truth. Now he is the original source; he himself has encountered reality, he is face to face with it.” Truth can only be experienced directly. At times, we are slapped in the face with reality, at other times it sets in slowly. Regardless, it is only the truth that is worth repeating. If it doesn’t resonate as truth, it probably isn’t.
2. “A guru is not aware of his guruship; he cannot be. A guru cannot claim that he is a guru-there is no claim like that. A person can only know whether or not he has fulfilled the condition of egolessness; otherwise he cannot encounter truth.” The truth tends to purify all individual opinions, which leaves no room for the phony.
3. “The guru is not necessarily present, he is a presence. His very non-claiming, his non egoistic, non teaching attitude, and his living the truth, are the communion.” Ram Dass speaks about Mahara-ji (his guru in India) as being like a pillar of pure unconditional love. He didn’t have to say anything to express the truth that was in his heart.
It is in this that I recognize the divine beauty of the guru – while there may be authentic individuals with followings (such as Amma “the hugging saint”, and Neem Karoli Baba “Mahara-ji”), the love and honest truth that these gurus emit is a strength and power that all beings posses. So who was the guru that came to me when I wasn’t looking? The guru revealed itself to me in the glimmer of every eye that I met along my path. She was in the gaze of the old woman who blessed me with flowers in Hampi. He was in the smile of the young rickshaw driver who helped me when I was lost and a bit frightened in the streets of Mumbai. She is in the heart of every friend, and inside every word of truth. The guru winks at us in the words of mystics such as Rumi and Hafiz, and sings to us in the ancient mantras of the Vedas. And most of all perhaps, the guru reveals itself when we are at our most vulnerable, most present and exposed state. When we finally surrender the effort of understanding, and unveil the truth and knowing at the deepest layer of our being, we come to find that the guru is also within.
“I am the Self, dwelling in the heart of all beings, and the beginning, the middle, and the end of all that lives as well.”
-The Bhagavad Gita (10:20)
Guru Brahma Guru Vishnu
Guru Devo Maheshwara
Guru Sakshat Para Brahma
Tasmai Shri Gurave Namaha
Alex Crow is a teacher at Laughing Lotus Yoga Center, a space where she can share what she loves. You can catch her teaching Yin and Lotus Flow on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Alex is in unending gratitude toward all of the teachers that have helped to light her path, especially her Laughing Lotus Family, Jasmine Tarkeshi and Keith Borden. You can find out more about what Alex Crow is about at: alexcrowflies.com
I have no memory of a time before my first mantra. It was two words my mom told my sister and me, a mantra from the lineage of yoga my parents practiced at the time. I forget exactly how she explained it to us, but it was clear the words were magical, and sacred. They were alive, and a way to call upon what we needed. I repeated them to myself every night as I fell asleep. I repeated them when I was anxious or worried, when I couldn’t sleep, when I wanted to be with myself in a certain sort of way, still and calm and separated from regular life. Coupled with this mantra was my mom’s instruction each night as she turned the lights off in our room and said, “Good night. Look for the light inside you.” I began to conflate these two actions, the repetition of my secret words, and the light inside me. I thought those words, repeated with devotion, called upon the light, dormant somewhere behind the darkness of my closed eyes. Then I thought I found it, of course, pressing on my eyelids until purple flares burst there. I was aware that perhaps this was cheating but I didn’t care. I contained these colors and lights, these sounds, and I had sensory proof. I echoed with all of it, repeated for years and years. In some ways I’ve never really stopped this mantra practice. My being echoes with the sounds of a lifetime spent whispering the words given to me by my mom.
Nada Yoga is the yoga of sound. It translates to “union through sound.” Like all yoga practice, this particular type of yoga contains everything, its own contradictions included. OM is the universal sound, containing all sounds. It is comprised of three syllables, but the fourth syllable is silence. And Nada Yoga works similarly. Nada Yoga is not exactly mantra. It is the inner sound, the silence. I have heard it described as the vibratory hum you hear right inside your ear when you are quiet. That sound you hear inside yourself is similar to breath, in that it can be a focal point of meditation, and a reminder of the fact that nothing is ever beginning nor ending. This sound is another manifestation of energy that was around long before us and will be around long after us. It is another layer of reminder. It is a place to return our attention. I find this tremendously comforting. I find it as comforting as the mantra my mother gave me all those years ago. The comfort comes from the reminder that we can call out, and when we do, we call out to all existence, and to ourselves.
There is so rarely silence in our lives. The moments we take to actively seek it, or the times when it finds us anyway, are true gifts. The moment in a yoga class after you chant OM, allow yourself to feel the vibration in the air as the room falls silent. That is Nada Yoga. It is often so palpable it seems to have a texture, as if everyone’s voice is sinking back down and re-entering us via some other form. You are feeling the fourth syllable of silence. For me, when I am in Child’s Pose or a forward fold, those are moments that call on Nada Yoga. At these moments of turning a bit more inward, we hear our own existence, the beat of our heart, and the sound of our breath, even the energy we have created through our practice moving silently (but not silent!) inside us.
That being said, I think the opposite of silence is part of our Nada Yoga practice as well. I have a Spotify playlist that is my home practice soundtrack. It is full of hundreds of songs, some quite yogic, and others quite not. I find myself often putting loud, dark songs on this playlist. Songs that are dissonant or jarring in some way. Songs I would never include on a playlist as a teacher because they might be disruptive or not quite right for the mood I am trying to create. But I love practicing to them by myself. When these songs come on I find myself more reminded of the visceral truths of myself and this body that I use to practice yoga. It is a wild, unlikely, and temporary place, this physical self. Sometimes I want to close my eyes and move and feel the sounds swirling and growing louder and louder all around me. This sensory experience is both profoundly physical and also not. Again it all returns to this idea of union, of oneness. There is no distinction. There are times in our practice when we more fully feel the truth of that, when it moves beyond words into an experience. For me, my music blasting, I often am able to enter that space.
My most recent mantra practice is with a long, healing mantra. It is a chant to Rama, who reminds us of our great power to heal ourselves. My new Rama mantra reminds me of my childhood mantra, the power it gave me to calm myself, to be present, to feel that I could call forth the light inside me. I am chanting this Rama mantra because of health issues I am having, in particular on my right side. And I love the symbolism of the sounds Ra and Ma. Ra is associated with the solar current that runs down the right side of our bodies and Ma with the lunar current that runs down the left. By repeating Rama we balance these two energy channels. I have chosen a particularly long mantra, which took me awhile to remember. I say it in formalized ways during meditation, but I also find myself whispering it on my bike, it is simply starting to be everywhere inside me: Om Apa-damapa Hataram Dataram Sarva Sampadam Loka Bhi Ramam Sri Ramam Bhuyo Bhuyo Namam-yaham. I sit, interlace my fingers, place them over my right side and chant this, sometimes aloud and sometimes silently. Bring your healing energy to the Earth, to the Earth, the mantra requests. I love the repetition of it. I feel the light inside me. I don’t have to press on my eyelids anymore to see it there. In the silence after my mantra is over, I breathe in and breathe out, and I listen to those final syllables.
Laura Schadler is a San Francisco based yoga teacher and fiction writer.
by Amy Ruben
At the age of 16, I was told that I had the knees of an eighty-year-old woman. I will never forget my doctor’s fatalistic declaration that my knees were essentially doomed. Years later, I would discover through a dedicated yoga practice that my knees actually did have a chance, and that my body was merely working according to Divine plan.
Today, I refer to my knees as my greatest teacher and the guiding force that has brought me to the guru. The word guru can be broken down into the syllables gu, which means darkness, and ru, which means light. The darkness refers to our shadow side, or the parts of ourselves that we unconsciously turn a blind eye to. The light refers to our innate wisdom, radiance and perfection. Therefore, to contemplate the inner guru is to shed light on our True Nature, our whole and holy Self, which naturally reveals both the parts of ourselves that we want to see as well as the parts of ourselves that we might not. Moving towards our inner light is an act of moving towards healing and freedom.
I like to think of this concept of darkness as an access point into a process of self-study, or svadhyaya. It is through opening our eyes in the dark and looking within that we can access the supreme knowledge that destroys avidya (ignorance). My experience of moving through rather than avoiding my knee pain has taught me that turning towards my darkness does not have to happen all at once. It requires patience, maitri (loving kindness), and tapas (dedication). We can take one step towards our darkness, and then one step back, and then two steps forward, and two steps back, and so on. Eventually, the bolted lock on the door of our True Nature will open to let the inner light shine through, and then the real healing begins. As the great Sufi poet and mystic, Kahlil Gibran, says, “your pain is the breaking open of the shell that encloses your understanding.” The guru resides within that very shell and will only appear when we are truly ready for a dedicated path of revealing, understanding and healing.
In my own search for spiritual guidance, I have come across countless teachers who have taught me something vital to my path, or my dharma. However, a teacher is not the same thing as a guru. Because the true guru lives deep in our hearts, in order to experience it fully we must turn our attention inwards. In the meantime, the guru may appear in human form as a guide, someone to reflect upon our need to turn within and discover that the inner guru is actually our own essential Self. The spiritual leader, Ram Dass, explains it well: “If you think of the spiritual path as the road home to your true Self, a teacher is someone standing next to you, pointing and giving directions, while the guru is up the road ahead, beckoning to you from your destination.”
The practices of yoga have brought me closer and closer to my own inner guru. The cosmic interplay of asana (physical postures), pranayama (breathing), meditation, and mantra (chanting), turns into a Divine dance, which reveals what we are–the physical bodies we reside in, the emotional habits we have adopted, and our reactions to challenge and stillness. But who we are, our True Nature, is revealed when the dance forces us to look deep within and take the first step towards finding the inner guru. In other words, I have learned that I am much more than a person with challenged knees, that my physical pain does not define me, and that my emotional responses to suffering can be shifted with patience, love and devotion.
During December, the darkest month of the year, we honor and celebrate our gurus in human form, or the Divine beings who have uplifted, guided and encouraged us to open our hearts to the radiant light of healing. The winter solstice, on December 21, will be the darkest day of the year. But there is good news: the days are going to start increasing in light! If you have not yet met your guru in physical form, do not fret, for they will appear when you are ready. Come dance with us on your mat to first spark the fire within!
Amy bows in deep gratitude for the guidance of all of her teachers and gurus as she continues to walk the path of yoga. She is dedicated to supporting others on the path of healing and embodiment, and is currently working on a Masters to become a Somatic Psychotherapist.
Amy teaches Morning Flow on Tuesday from 7:00-8:00AM, Lotus Flow 1/2 on Friday from 9:00-10:00AM, Lotus Flow 2/3 on Saturday from 8:30-9:45AM, and co-teaches Friday Night Live from 8:30-10:00PM.
by Roche Janken
“Whoever with loving devotion offers unto Me a leaf, a flower, a fruit or water, I affectionately accept that devotional offering from that pure-hearted being.”
–Bhagavad Gita 9.26
Several years ago, after the economic meltdown, my dad quit his job as a financial planner and started teaching high school math. Being a thoughtful guy who likes to gather information and be prepared, he asked if we could sit down to talk about his new job–he wanted my advice on some of his classroom strategies. My dad LOVES math and loves problem solving, and as soon as we sat down he brought out his notes and began to try out some of his mathy explanations on me. We definitely got into it–I love math too–but at a certain point, I stopped and said to him, “Dad, what you’re doing is great, but don’t forget that school is really ALL about the kids. Most of them won’t use any math beyond arithmetic in their adult lives, but you have a chance to influence the way they live in the world!” His eyes lit up–he instantly got it. He put down his notes, started asking me about my experiences as a student and tried to get a real understanding of what it’s like to be an adolescent these days. Now, when we talk, some of his stories are about interesting ways to teach complex theorems, but mostly he’s talking about the lives and well-being of his students. I can tell how much heart he puts into his new work, and once in a while he shares a note from a profoundly grateful student that talks about how his caring attitude in class changed their lives.
“What does this have to do with yoga?” You may ask. Well, if you’re reading this blog, you probably spend some portion of your life doing yoga poses. As students, we work in partnership with our teachers–we filter their offering through our own set of ideas and goals for our practice. While we are practicing, we have a choice: We can prioritize the “math”–the poses and their perfected execution–or we can turn our attention to how this practice can be a vessel for care, joy and strength, regardless of the way the poses turn out.
Many spiritual teachings, including those of yoga, remind us again and again that our accumulated possessions or amassed knowledge or masterful asana are of no consequence–that what matters is the LOVE in our hearts. This is not always easy to remember in this city or this season, but the time we spend practicing yoga has the potential to bring these deeper values back to the surface of our attention. The choice is yours.
Roche’s mantra is Have Fun, tempered by the knowledge that having fun relies far more on how she guides her mind than the task she’s engaged in. She teaches from a sense of delight in the miracle that muscles and bones work so well together, a belief that devotion easefully enlivens any practice, and gratitude that we humans have the ability to dance. The play between rigorous study, brazen sensuality and deep wonder is the grounding for the work that she does in all the forms she loves.
Catch a class with Roche for Happy Hour from 5:30-6:30PM on Monday and Tuesday, and Alignment lab on Sunday from 11:45-12:45PM.
by Patsy O’Brien
Guru guru guru. Many people seek gurus throughout their lives. What do we seek in gurus? Defined as “a spiritual teacher,” almost anything can be a guru. Life lessons can be teachers — your successes and your failures. Your parents can be your spiritual teachers, even if the relationship is painful. Animals and nature can be spiritual teachers…what does a fox teach you about living in the woods? Then there are the more classical spiritual teachers like the Pope and Thich Nhat Hanh.
Like so many others, I’ve had a complicated relationship with teachers. While growing up, I consistently received very poor grades, usually ranging from C-’s to F’s, regardless of my efforts. I just didn’t seem to ever really understand the assignment or pass the test. It was only when I found a college that didn’t assign grades or administer any tests, that I was finally diagnosed as dyslexic.
I am still negotiating what being dyslexic means as an adult, but it felt great to finally have an explanation other than “you are just not a book person.” Growing up my teachers thought I was lazy, slow, or rebellious. Since my academic struggle began in elementary school, I began the work of disassociating letter grades from my identity at an early age. “That D has nothing to do with me”, was a recurring thought I remember having as a child. I would watch movies that always had similar plots of “The enthusiastic teacher who believed in the lone, sad, seemingly-stupid-but-really-a-genius student and helped them become the most successful person of all time.” I was always looking for that teacher who would finally SEE me, SEE that yes, I was terrible at tests and took a while to read, but I was actually an undercover genius. But it never happened. I even came up with speeches in my head carefully articulating the moment when I would accept a prestigious life achievement award: “and to my teacher Blah Blah Blah who believed in me when no one else did… we made it! We finally made it!!”
I actually had the opposite of the “I believe in you” relationship with most of my teachers from elementary through high school. Not only did they not believe in me, they also didn’t trust me. So by the time I was in middle school, there was one thing I learned pretty thoroughly — it was to not trust THEM. In 7th grade I began to have a more f— you attitude toward teachers. I began realizing that there wouldn’t be any authority figures to keep me safe or stick up for me, so I would have to protect myself (and my twin sister).
I began to question everything that people in authority told me to do. “But WHY? Why do we have to do XYZ?” The questioning made relationships a lot worse. It was only after finding my yogic path that I was confronted with my lingering feelings of uneasiness around authority figures. I was always vacillating between two thoughts: “I hope the teacher finally sees me and thinks I’M the most special and will think I’m smart”, and “oh no, what if I lose myself and what if I get taken advantage of?”
Happily, yoga doesn’t encourage blind faith or not questioning at all, yet at the same time it is also about practicing surrender. All of those ‘terrible’ teachers I had really were my gurus and I still have time to make amends and bow down to what I learned from having them in my life. I still believe that grades do not equate intelligence and that school CAN be a positive experience for everyone.
When you are a kid being harassed or just disappointed by authority figures, there is a lot of time spent speaking to your INNER guru. When life puts you on the sidelines, that is the time for inner reflection, for knowing that deep down, you have the strength and smarts to pursue any dream you can dream up. So listen! Listen to it all. Listen to yourself, to your mirrors all around you. It doesn’t mean you have to ‘do what they say’, but just to keep awake and truly listen. People can have an all-or-nothing feeling around Gurus. In yoga and Buddhism, it’s a good thing to question, but how much skepticism is healthy? There can be such low self-confidence in Western practitioners and at the same time a widely held dogma of “Be your own authority” in a way that is all about talking but not about listening.
So don’t fret, if you are still looking for your Guru or are scared to even find one…If you listen clearly, you will hear all of the spiritual teachings that are always being clearly laid out by your spiritual gurus, moving you towards awakening.
Patsy has been in love with meditation and yoga at Laughing Lotus SF since 2009. She completed Yoga School at Laughing Lotus in the Fall of 2010 and is currently one of the substitute teachers at Laughing Lotus SF! Having a beginner’s mind is particularly important to her on and off of the mat. She loves to paint, teach yoga, write, and surround herself with her Laughing Lotus community!