Posts Tagged ‘teacher’

Lotus Love Blog

Recognizing the Mother by Alex Crow

Posted on: July 14th, 2017 No Comments

It has been said that we came from the waters. As the story goes, all life was once a seed planted in the womb of Earth’s oceans.  I feel this to be true in my bones when I’m close to the ocean shoreline.  Maybe it’s just in my Mediterranean blood line, or perhaps it is simply the recognition of my body to its mother.  It feels deeper than instinct.   

I grew up without much of a conscious relationship with the Earth.  We didn’t have a garden at home.  My parents did their best to cook for my three sisters and I when they could, but we often ate fast food for dinner with how busy we all were.  I didn’t learn how to speak to the Earth through song or dance. I never learned the ways of plants, and I didn’t camp (except once in my own back yard).  It wasn’t until I moved to California that I began to develop a spiritual relationship with the Earth, mostly the ocean.  As a child I was blessed to visit family along the Mediterranean Sea quite a few times, but never did I truly understand my roots until moving to California.

The ocean calls to me.

There have been days where the only thing in the world that could sooth my “mid-twenty weariness” would be to literally run into the cold Pacific Ocean waves.  The deafening sound of the wind, and the soft but strong force of the ocean currents could rock me back and forth until my worries had simply been washed away. The salty-sandy texture left in my hair and on my sun drenched skin only added to the sweetness of release. I know the ocean as my mother, our mother.  She has shown me compassion through the space she creates for healing, power in the sheer force of her body, and she blows my mind away with her vastness.  Every time I go to her I am renewed; she gives me space to be, and I love her like I love my own birth mother…with an intensity i do not fully understand.  

I sometimes wish I had gills so I could live within the ocean world and be close to Her in that way.  As a child I have memories of submerging myself underwater in my grandma’s pool.  I loved looking up at the surface from below.  It seems I have always been a deep diver… someone who finds joy in going deep within myself and with others.  I just feel comforted by the direction – IN.

This is a story is of recognition.  We all feel the energy of the Mother in our own unique ways.  With me, it’s through the waters.  And now, every time I approach the ocean, I do so with reverence and gratitude.  I honor the connection we have.  The bond is sacred, and I hold it with deep love and responsibility.  I feel it as my duty to do my best to return the love that she so selflessly gives to all of her children, to protect her as I would defend my own mother, and to honor her with every breath, every meal, every sip of water, every bath I take in her healing waters.

Mama Earth, I thank you for all that you do to sustain my life and the lives of us all.  I love you.

<3 Alex Crow

“Knowing that you love the earth changes you, activates you to defend and protect and celebrate.  But when you feel that the earth loves you in return, that feeling transforms the relationship from a one-way street into a sacred bond…I wonder if much that ails our society stems from the fact that we have allowed ourselves to be cut off from that love of, and from, the land.  It is medicine for broken land and empty hearts.”

~Robin Wall Kimmerer

Alex Crow teaches regularly at Laughing Lotus Yoga Center in San Francisco. She is also a Reiki Master and a co-founder of vîv, an all female Bay Area dance collective.

We Are All Made of Sacred Sound by Genevieve McClendon

Posted on: June 21st, 2017 1 Comment

“I was born with music inside me. Music was one of my parts.  Like my ribs, my kidneys, my liver, my heart, like my blood.  It was a force already within me when I arrived on the scene.”

-Ray Charles

We are all made of sacred sound.  Each one of us living our own unique vibration in the orchestra of the universe.  I love even visualizing this! Nada yoga allows us to celebrate and honor the healing capacity of sound.  Nada means inner mystical sound and yoga means, union.  The union of sound within, honoring the divine sound within. One way we can empower our vibration is through mantra.  Mantra is a group of words that hold a psychological and spiritual power.  When we align a mantra to our energy system, aka chakra system, we are able to take responsibility and alchemize our very being.  Dr. David Frawley explains, when a mantra is carefully chosen and used silently, mantras are said to have the ability to help alter your subconscious impulses, habits, and afflictions. Mantras, when spoken or chanted, direct the healing power of Prana (life force energy) and, in traditional Vedic practices, can be used to energize and access spiritual states of consciousness. Mantra is a spiritual practice that should be done on a regular basis for several months for its desired effects to take place. We can empower ourselves by learning which chakras within our own energy field need support and align a mantra with that chakra. There are sacred mantras for each chakra to help create inner peace and harmony.  This map shows the chakras and the mantras that heal and align each chakra, you will know which of your chakras need support as you read:

Root Chakra-

Mantra-  Om Gum Ganapatayei Namaha

On the rainbow bridge the Root Chakra’s color is red and its sound is LAM.  It is based at the bottom of tail bone.  The Root Chakra’s energy is stability, feeling safe, security, and standing up under pressure.  When Root Chakra is out of alignment one may experience fear, insecurity, lack of courage, muscle and structural weakness, and hip, knee and foot problems.  A way to come back into harmany is to honor Ganesha, the remover of obstacles with this mantra.

2nd Chakra- Sacral Plexus

Mantra- Om Shrim Maha Lakshmyai Namaha

The Sacral Plexus is the color orange and its sound is VAM.  It is right above the Root Chakra in the pelvic bowl.  The Sacral Chakra energy radiates powerful emotional and creative forces, along with movement, sensuality, and relationship to ourselves and others.  When the Sacral Plexus is out of alignment we may feel controlling, guilty, frigid, dependent, a lack of creativity, close minded, emotionally stuck, and difficulty in relationships.

3rd Chakra- Solar Plexus

Mantra- Om Hum Hanumate Namaha

The Solar Plexus color is yellow and its sound is RAM.  It radiates in the belly right above the Sacral Plexus. This energy center holds self-confidence, self-empowerment, honesty, digesting life easily, courageousness and authenticity.  When the Solar Plexus is out of alignment one may experience shame, powerlessness, shyness, worry and victimization.

4th Chakra- Heart

Mantra- Om Shri Krishnaya Namaha

The Heart Chakra is green and its sound is HUM.  It shines at the heart and chest right above the Solar Plexus.  It is the energy center where the earth self and the divine self connect.  The Heart Chakra’s energy when in alignment is of love, compassion, forgiveness, acceptance of others, open heartedness, connected mind and heart, joyfulness, happiness, gratitude and grace.  When out of alignment the Heart Chakra may contribute to experiences of anger, hostility, resentment, jealousy, attachment to others, sadness, grief, sadness, rage and violence.

5th Chakra- Throat

Mantra- Om Namah Shivaya

Throat Chakra’s color is blue and its sound is YUM.  It is located at the throat and neck space above the collar bone.  The Throat Chakra’s energy is of honesty, mercy, compassionate words, positive words, speaking truth, being heard.  When out of alignment the Throat Chakra may cause babbling, verbal diarrhea, empty words, criticism of self and others, or victimized words.

6th Chakra- Third Eye

Mantra- AUM

The Third Eye’s Chakra color is indigo and its sound is OM.  It is located between the eyebrows, on the forehead. The Third Eye’s energy is of wisdom, intuition, clairvoyants, clairaudient, heightened smell, clairsentience, all knowing, seeing beyond illusions.  When the Third Eye is out of alignment we may experience narrow mindedness, arrogant, narcissistic, stuck in structured paradigms and avidya (ignorance).

Crown Chakra

Mantra- Silent AUM

The Crown Chakra’s color is white light.  It is located at the crown of the head. The Crown Chakra’s energy is our connection to source and divine.  This energy center radiates self realization, self love, expanded consciousness, all seeing, all knowing, all feeling, all sensing, walking between the illusions of the world.  When the Crown Chakra is out of alignment we may experience lack of spirituality, underdeveloped higher self, addictions to substances, belongings and emotions.

Once you have identified which mantra you would like to use to empower and strengthen your chakra system aka life force, try repeating your mantra everyday for 40 days.  I know, 40 days can feel like a lot!  But allow yourself to witness how the sacred sound of this mantra will uplift and empower your inner sound!  You can do this by finding a quite place to sit, relax your body and tune into your breath.  Then state your mantra silently as you inhale and exhale. When we align the helpful mantra vibration with our chakra system we allow ourselves to be even more connected to the divine with in.  This helps our mind to focus and dissolve the ego’s belief that we are separate from each other and divine source.  We are “One Verse”, we are the “Uni-Verse”.  Each one of us plays our part, vibrating our own unique sound in the cosmic band of the universe.  Let us take responsibility for our own sound and vibration we put into the world.

“The path to enlightenment is not a group trip.  It’s between you and God.  This means you’ve got to go inside.  The fewer external distractions and the more concentration you have, the easier it is to get there.”

-Bhagavan Das

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

The Intuitive Ear by Adriana Feliciana

Posted on: June 14th, 2017 No Comments
The practice of Nada Yoga…a time to celebrate the beauty of sound. It makes sense that the first organ developed in the fetus is the ear when you think about sound being the first thing that was made when the Universe was created.
When my children were little, I quickly learned to hone in on the lack of sound – 9 times out of 10 it meant trouble. Once I found my 4 year old son, his little brows knitted together with such silent concentration, as he painted, back and forth in large bold moves, all over my brand new white couch…with my waterproof black mascara.
Now that my children are adults, I am trained to listen to the silent gaps in a conversation that usually mean they have something important to tell me. I can still remember the scary silence I heard when my daughter was trying to tell me she was all grown up and moving out to live on her own. I knew the time was coming, she was over 18, but I still wasn’t ready to hear it. I tried hard to let the silence happen so she could speak,
Staying present and listening to what people are truly saying can be a challenge sometimes. There are so many distractions that can easily lead us astray. Mantras are an excellent way to focus and celebrate the beauty of sound. Easwaran said, “Mantras are handrails for the mind.” So Hum is an excellent mantra for staying present. The meaning of this mantra is simply, “I am.” It helps us enter the ground of our being. Bede Griffiths describes the ground of our being as, “Being present everywhere, in everything, yet always escaping our grasp.”
To practice this mantra, lengthen the spine, roll your shoulders up by your ears, and then press them back to open the heart. Allow your shoulders to melt into your back, and let your heart stay open. As you attune to your breath, use the syllable “So” on the inhalation and “Hum” on the exhalation. Take your time and allow the power of the inner sound to resonate. This mantra can be used in silence with the breath being the only audible sound. Think of it as one of your “pocket mantras” to keep on hand the next time your mind starts to wander during a challenging time or conversation.

Adriana loves yoga because the practice allows her to truly inhabit her body and find a comfortable and livable space deep within. Inspired by Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga, Adriana blends compassion for all beings with a challenging mindful asana practice that supports where her students are while encouraging them to explore their edge. Come to class with her, and your prana will be stoked through conscious breathing techniques while cultivating inner perceptual awareness and increasing concentration.

Two Trips to the Lake by Josh Ehrenreich

Posted on: May 24th, 2017 No Comments
Recently I went camping in Los Padres National Forest. I had never been and was awestruck by the range of natural beauty it offered. From amazing views gained by mountain hikes to rock hopping along the river bank, it was a great weekend getting back to nature.
And birds. So so many birds. Each morning I would awake to the sounds of birds and those songs would continue past sunset. Everywhere you went you would hear birds eagerly singing out to the world.
One of those places was a small lake. Walking around it, with no trees to impede their chirps, you could hear a clear and resonant call of red-winged blackbirds perched upon a single reeds, bending in to support the gentle weight.
However I was with a large group and hushed bird watching was not the main focus. It was a party, a friend’s birthday. Lots of talking and laughing, moving fast with loud foot steps. Far too many entertaining distractions to choose over the lake and it’s bird songs.
So after we returned to camp, I resolved to head back to the lake. I wanted to experience it distraction free, with no jokes or questions to call my mind away. No footsteps to drown out the call, just sitting and birds.
Free of distraction, I was able to experience the blackbirds’ beautiful song. I could track them swooping into the reeds only to reemerge a minute later and zip over to another spot. I heard songs from unseen birds in trees surrounding and listened to their warble echo across the lake. It was one of my favorite moments of the trip.
Usually when I think of meditation, I think of it as sitting down and being quiet for 10 minutes or so. The transition from preparation to meditation is so quick that I rarely have thought them as separate. But in this case I feel as if the meditation was the walk down to the lake. Meditation was the action to clear my mind of all the distraction and to allow something greater to reveal itself to me.
In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna instructs his faithful discipline Arjuna “When meditation is mastered, the mind is unwavering like the flame of a lamp in a windless place. In the still mind, in the depths of meditation, the Self reveals itself.”
The ‘reveal’ is not meditation. Meditation is the work to free oneself from the constant distractions of the mind, from the constant wind against the flame. Meditation is a practice to suppress the mind chatter so that we may experience the reveal. It is not a specific thing that we experience in our chosen seat, it is the practice of taking the seat and stilling the mind.
And if what is revealed to you happens to be soundtracked by a choir of birds, so much the better.
Photo credit: rblood

Josh believes in the importance of moving yoga beyond the studio and into everyday life. His strong and even-tempo flow based classes focus on consistency of effort, and attention to breath. Beyond yoga, Josh spends his free time biking, swimming, and listening to hip-hop.

The Art of Meditation by Tina Spogli

Posted on: May 17th, 2017 No Comments

Atha yoganushasanam, Now begins the study of yoga (Patanjali, Sutra 1:1). Please begin in a comfortable seat, crossing the ankles and sitting up nice and tall. Bring your palms face down on your knees, letting there be a soft bend in the elbows so that they drop right below the shoulders. Close the physical eyes. Bring your attention to your breath, with no need to change anything about it, just noticing this breath in, and this breath out. As thoughts or sensations begin to pop up, notice and acknowledge them, then choose to bring the attention back to the breath. Be the observer, watching the thoughts pass with less judgment and attachment to them. Open yourself up fully to everything within and around.  

We are training the mind this month with the magic of meditation. Just as we learn the discipline of body in our asana practice, we learn the discipline of mind in our meditation practice. When we harness and focus the energy of the mind, it can be a powerful tool to help bring us back into the present moment. We can think of meditation as mindfulness, in that we are opening up every part of ourselves to sip in the nectar of NOW. Bringing the energy of mindfulness to wherever we are, and whatever we are doing, is meditation. The Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh says, “Meditation is the practice that consists in bringing the body and the mind back to the present moment, and every time we practice that, we come to life again.” The yoga practice is about waking up, again and again, to the fullness of the moment.

Meditation practices can take many different forms. We can find our focus through the opening of the senses – particularly the eyes with our drishti, meaning ‘soft gaze’ – and other traditional ways including breathing meditation, walking meditation, mantra and chanting, visualization meditation, qi gong, and many others. Any activity that moves your attention into the moment is a meditation. One of my latest favorite ways to meditate is through drawing, a creative outlet from the past resurrected. Letting myself be a clear channel, I sit down with pen and paper and draw what comes, rather than setting an expectation of what the drawing will be beforehand. So much of meditation is an openness to everything around and within us, to be able to observe without judgment and attachment, and to let the divine energy move through us like water flowing in a stream.

Our meditation practice is a discipline, but it’s important to note that we can give our practice permission to change and evolve. I like to cycle through different meditation practices throughout the week, based on what I’m drawn to that day. The moment we tell ourselves we have to meditate in a certain way, creating too many rules and restrictions, we have let the mind take over and leave room for the possibility that we will get stuck or bored. We want to look forward to, and be inspired by, our meditation practice.        
When we give our attention to only one thing, we quiet the thoughts to a whisper and are able to hear the inner voice of truth. Much of our practice becomes being able to look at ourselves completely, the dark and the light, and making peace with all of it. In this way, we accept both sides of ourselves, body and mind working together, the two unite and become one. Those more negative things that have been buried tend to re-surface here. Embarking on any meditation practice takes a warrior strength of heart. We come as we are, and practice embracing our emotions – including the negative ones – with the energy of mindfulness. As Thich Nhat Hanh says, we embrace our emotions with the same love as a mother to a child, or big sister to little sister. Not denying, not judging, but with a level of understanding. This is how we begin to find freedom through our humanity, the freedom that comes from looking deeply, recognizing our wounds, and beginning the process of healing. As we heal ourselves, we heal the world. By living peace within, we manifest peace without. Namaste!

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.

Awareness Before Control by Josh Ehrenreich

Posted on: April 26th, 2017 No Comments
The practice of Pranayama allows us to become more skilled at controlling our breath, but before control comes awareness.
I had a wonderful opportunity to practice this recently. A couple weeks ago I participated in my first race. The day before I had some early pre-race jitters and thought it would be a great opportunity to observe the variety of breath I experienced throughout race day.
The first breath I observed was upon waking and not wanting to think about what was ahead—if I was prepared for the swim, if I could handle the hills. I just focused on breathing in, breathing out, and not getting worked up. This steadiness became more and more difficult to cultivate as start time got closer and closer, right up until I found myself standing at the edge of Lake Berryessa.
And suddenly the breath changed. I am a fairly new swimmer and it still amazes me how foreign breathing feels when swimming through water. I take for granted I can open my mouth and inhale air unobstructed; swimming in the chill of early morning, trying to avoid being kicked or kicking others, I was reminded of how satisfying a free and easy breath of air is.
On the bike, the breath served a different purpose—warming my hands. Cold from the swim, and chilling further from the air racing past I exhaled upon my near frozen fingers as I feebly tried to warm them up. When I could no longer afford to take hands off the handlebars, I imagined each breath penetrating my fingers, waking them from their numbed slumber.
Looping back down the mountain, the breath became more joyous. The gasp at those morning clouds rising off the lake—only an hour prior I had swam right through them. The sigh of relief as the merciful sun broke through and shone upon my fingers and the sensation of feeling returning. The first inhale upon finishing the run, fully stopped, heart galloping, and the satisfaction held within.
Later on, in the afternoon, observing my lungs expanding and contracting, with a napping loved one in my arms. Later still, now alone in my apartment, in front of my altar meditating—experiencing the lengthening of inhale and exhale, each working to further ground me deeper into my seat.
A race day may offer an extreme example but the lesson is universal—our breath changes with us and our encounters throughout the day. Maturity in practice comes with awareness. It is true for Asana, it is true for Pranayama, it is true for everything we undertake.

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.

The Yoga of the Breath by Jasmine Tarkeshi

Posted on: April 12th, 2017 No Comments

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!

Breathe. Let go. And remind yourself that this very moment is the only one you know you have for sure.
Oprah Winfrey

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 were 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 were fully relaxed and present, our breath becomes slower and deeper. This triggers our restand-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, were 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. 

Breathing Techniques

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 youre 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 youre 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:

Seals of the Soul

Posted on: August 17th, 2016 No Comments


by Valerie Starr


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.

Get on the Bhakti Train

Posted on: February 24th, 2016 1 Comment

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.

Unexplainable Love

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”.

Defining the Teacher

Posted on: December 30th, 2015 4 Comments
by Erica Martin


“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.