February 26, 2014
February 26, 2014
September 19, 2013
The time is now, and now is the time.
Along with the shift in the weather in these early Fall days, the pattern of shifting continues in many aspects of our lives. We shed our old summer skin and slowly adapt to changes in living patterns, environments, responsibilities, wardrobe, even eating habits. And often, that means less time for our own pursuits, including yoga, even though this is when we probably need yoga the most. School is back in session, and for parents of smaller kids, this is the time when we establish new routines, manage homework and school responsibilities, and try to get back in some kind of groove. Big kids in college and in grad school are trying to keep their heads on straight right about now as they settle back into the process of busying their brains and managing new workloads. Even those of us who aren’t in school seem to be nesting, staying closer to home, going inward. So how, in this time of sometimes forced introspection, do we get motivated to either rekindle an old routine that we once loved, or start a new one? A yoga practice is one of the most beneficial gifts you can give to yourself: the hardest part sometimes can just be getting off the sofa, into your car, and into the studio, especially when you’ve been away for a while. Once you’re there, it’s pretty much guaranteed that even if just for a short time, all other obstacles will fade away. Herewith, some reasons why now is the perfect time to get back on your mat.
- Life’s energy is never static – it is always shifting, sometimes by the minute. Sometimes we’re happy. Sometimes we’re sad. Happy, sad, comfortable, uncomfortable are always interchanging. So how do we learn to stay sane in the moments when we feel like losing it? How we learn to relax into this dynamic is vital, and your yoga practice gives you skills to do just that. Yoga teaches us to stay with our breath and find ease in even the most effortful circumstances. Our practice ON the mat becomes, in essence, training for the way we live our lives OFF the mat. Yoga digs a well from which we draw serenity. The more you practice, the deeper your well becomes and the more you have to draw from.
- Schedule your yoga practice as you would your most important appointment. And then don’t bag out. You would get charged if you missed a doctor’s appointment, and you would possibly get fired if you missed a business appointment. Isn’t it just as bad to miss the appointment that will bring you calmness, balance, and the tools to function successfully in the REST of your life?
- If you think you’re too busy for yoga, chances are you need it more now than ever. There are 6am classes, noon classes, 8pm classes. If you make it a priority (see #2), you will find the time for it.
- Remember how good you felt when you were in a regular routine of practicing yoga. As Patanjali tells us in Sutra 1.14, your practice must be consistent and attended to in all earnestness in order for the state of yoga to be achieved. Think how good it feels to be in this pattern: the rhythm of walking into the cozy studio, smelling the incense, hearing soft music, being sincerely welcomed, taking your shoes off, rolling out your mat, and disappearing inside of yourself for a little while. How relaxed you felt. How your day melted away. How great your body felt after a bout of consistent practice.
- Modify your practice to meet your current needs. If you don’t feel “ready” to go back to a class you once frequented, don’t go. Dial it down. Go to a beginner’s class, even, or a restorative class. Earn back the ability to relax into even the most effortful poses: forget about the physical benefits for a while and get in touch with your practice and your breath, then build from there. Physical strength will come, but this is really just a (albeit awesome) byproduct. You are not competing against anyone. You are being compassionate towards yourself by honoring exactly where you are right now.
- Wash and fold all of your yoga clothes and put them in a specific place, ready to be thrown on, so you’re not rushing around looking for your favorite pair of pants. Dust off your mat and put it in your car – for that matter, keep an extra set of clothes in your car. Remove all potential impediments and reasons not to leave your house.
- Go to teachers who uplift you. Even if this involves a long drive or some special arranging (a private class is always a nice way to reenergize your practice), make the time and seek out your favorite class. When my teacher Lisa lived in Norfolk, she would occasionally drive all the way to the Jivamukti center in New York City for one class with her favorite teacher, Ruth, and then drive all the way home. Fortunately we have fabulous teachers in Hampton Roads: try out different studios, find someone with whom you resonate.
- Make a commitment. Don’t be too lofty or unrealistic. Keep it real, keep it simple. Practice with full attention and do it as often as you can. Consistency is key, but figure out what consistency means to YOU. I will go to two yoga classes this week…a week for the next three weeks…for a month…from now to Thanksgiving, etc. Find what works, make the commitment, and stick with it.
- Grab a friend, and make a pact. Come together, put it on your calendars, and keep each other focused and motivated. Send inspiring quotes and texts to one another during the day. Get excited to share the journey with someone – such great conversation manifests out of practice. Make it fun, maybe grab dinner or a glass of wine or a beer afterward. Ask people form your class if they’d like to go with you – one great thing about yoga studios is that they generally attract pretty awesome people. We are products of the company we keep: build your satsang (a group of people coming together for the purpose of upliftment and enlightenment).
- Remember that you’re not just practicing for yourself: you’re also doing it for the benefit of others. Your significant other, your parents, your friends, your coworkers, your boss, your kids…You are a nicer, saner person when you practice yoga. You handle things more consistently and with less anger and annoyance, like when someone at work burns popcorn in the microwave, or someone cuts you off in traffic. You lose it less when you step on a Lego with bare feet and smile instead at the fact that you have a beautiful child. You are more compassionate towards YOURSELF, and in turn become more compassionate towards everyone else. When you practice consistently, everyone benefits.
Here’s a bonus #11: your teachers will welcome you with open arms. We won’t ask you where you’ve been or why you haven’t been coming, and we won’t shame you for not coming to class. We’re here when you’re ready, and we can’t wait to see you.
January 2, 2013
Goodness gracious do we love when David-ji writes the focus of the month.
This month’s focus is such a sweet, empowering way to kick off the year. It is an exciting reminder of how our yoga practice extends far beyond the realm of these 24″x72″ rubber rectangles upon which we practice sun salutations and pincha mayurasana. Our mats are just the gateways, the doors to transformation. Every day we are extended the opportunity to transform the world around us with simple acts of kindness and responsibility to the common good. Yoga isn’t concerned with changing the world, but instead is about changing the individual so that we can then go forth and be the conduit for all of this goodness, this compassion, this PEACEFUL power. Power without the use of weapons, fear, manipulation or violence.
Mother Teresa once said, “if we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” We all have to help each other find the path back to the garden. Read on, my dearies, or click here to visit the Focus of the Month on Jivamukti’s website.
Vibhuti – The Way Of Power
Welcome into the community of the powerfully peaceful. Our tribe is carrying the banner of all the great visionaries of peaceful change, like Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and John Lennon. You are the ones we’ve been waiting for. You can change the world. You ask how can I do that? The answer is that the “you” that you know as “I” cannot do it, but the essential you—the “I AM”—is a force for peaceful transformation that can work through our bodies and minds into the world. Our first task then is to transform ourselves into an instrument for the change by being that change. What is the change that is needed? Well, for one thing, a shift away from I-centeredness to other-centeredness. This is the first step in conducting “peace-power”—seeing ourselves in others—and it is the way of the tribe. Next step: cradle-to-grave security for all life forms on Earth.
We have responsibilities in the world, and the three main ones are:
- Responsibility to the whole family of living beings—all species;
- Responsibility to Mother Earth—the natural world—composed of earth, air, fire, water and space; and
- Responsibility to world leadership and the welfare of the common good.
Our culture’s concept of power has two aspects. Power is taken to be the cause of any change that we observe, including death, and power is also a latent force within that has the potential to cause change, like muscle power or willpower. Human beings are the only animals who confuse power with force, coercion, deceit, manipulation and death. We must change this misperception in order to access “peace-power” and live up to our responsibilities. Our true power is the power of friendliness, the power of kindness, the power of One, the power of Love.
How to accomplish this transformation? The most important step is purification of all our bodies—physical, energetic, emotional, mental and causal. The yoga practices purify us on all levels and pave the way for us to become peaceful warriors.
For thousands of years yogis have been using the same techniques to re-create themselves and as a result, re-create the world we all live in. In the Yoga Sutra, Patanjali teaches that a result of yoga practice is power (vibhuti)…
- power to fly in the sky of infinite possibility;
- power to be invisible to the demons of envy, greed and low self-esteem;
- power to know the great forces of the universe;
- power that moves the sun, moon and stars; and
- power to channel those forces for the good of all beings.
These powers can transform the world we all share.
With a steady yoga practice, you will develop powerful calmness and joy that will allow you to express a vision of the natural world where we live together in peaceful harmony with all living beings.
With a steady yoga practice, you will develop a powerful vision that will cut through the old way of seeing the Earth as a thing to be manipulated and tamed and that will open the eyes of everyone to Her invaluable connection to our own Being.
With a steady yoga practice, you will become a powerful citizen of the world who advocates for the well-being of all, rather than the enrichment of the few.
With a steady yoga practice, you will empower yourself and learn to conduct that power into the actions of the perfect citizen of the world.
– David Life
The Art of War, by Sun Tzu
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Principles of non-violent conflict resolution
Maitri-adishu balani (PYS III.24)
Through friendliness, kindness and compassion, strength comes.
Sa tu dirgha-kala-nairantarya-satkarasevito dridha bhumih (PYS I.14)
Abhyasa, meditative practice, becomes firmly and naturally established when, over a long period of time without interruption, one fixes one’s mind on the Self, the “I-am,” with constant effort, reverent and dedicated energy, and great love. (translation by Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati)
- Some styles of yoga today are described as “Power Yoga.” There are many great and distinguished Power Yoga teachers, and there is no reason to judge them negatively. But we should look at the idea of power as it relates to yoga. The distinguishing feature of these yoga methods is not the techniques that are used. The same techniques have been used in yoga for millennia. What really distinguishes these styles is the attitude and fervor with which one performs the techniques. It seems to reinforce ideas of “making” something happen by working somewhat ruthlessly—unrelentingly and with a self-improvement approach. Our culture tells us that this is how anything is gained.
- Patanjali tells us that attitude and fervor are important but he defines them differently than we do in our culture. As far as attitude, he advocates friendliness, kindness, etc. And his idea of fervor suggests working steadily, uninterruptedly, for a long period of time.
- Vira is the peaceful warrior. As we move through the Virabhadrasana series and model the archetype of the peaceful warrior, we perfect our understanding of this gentle art. From the outside two warriors may look identical, display resolute confidence, and appear formidable. What distinguishes the master, however, is not an outer display, but an inner wisdom and joy that make him or her undefeatable.
- When we sit in Virasana we learn to face adversity with the joy and wisdom that come only fromtitiksha (forbearance) and tapas (austerity), together with ekagraha (single-pointedness), which leads to samadhi (all-pointedness).
- There are really two issues here: the acquisition of power, and the exercise of power. We can acquire power in many different ways. As yoga teachers our power comes to us from our students. As children our power comes to us from parents and teachers. As yoga practitioners our power comes from the infinite source of all power. Whenever we acquire power we have to choose how to exercise it. For many of us it is difficult not to resort to the stereotypical power plays of our culture. For men this means exercising their power in a “manly” way, and for women it means exercising their power in a “womanly” way. These very limited expressions of power belie the true limitless potential that we have. When we do a yoga asana practice we experience the expression of dog-power, bird-power, tree-power, mountain-power, etc., and we experience an open doorway for expression of power as life itself.
- Create sequences: dog to bird to tree to mountain to…
- Create stories for the future acted out through asana.
- What is your vision of peace? Will war really ever stop? Will people ever stop killing the animals and forests?
- We experience power, or energy, as prana. Prana always flows…it never stops flowing. We can, like the clever rice farmer directs the water to his rice (PYS IV.3), direct the prana as a positive force of peace into the world.
December 12, 2012
You hear this number a lot in yoga, but why? What does it mean? When people ask me about the number’s significance, I find myself pausing, wondering where to start explaining. There’s no one specific answer, and some of the explanations, while significant, can seem a bit esoteric to someone looking for something concrete. The meaning of the mystical number 108 is open to much interpretation – indeed, it seems that more and more significance gets attributed to 108 as time passes. Fans of the TV show LOST will recall that the theme of 108 ran through virtually everything of significance: 108 was the sum of “The Numbers” – 4 + 8 + 15 + 16 + 23 + 42 = 108. To prevent a potential global catastrophe, the person manning the station had to enter a series of numbers into the computer every 108 minutes. 108 x 5 = 540. 540 was the number of days until “your replacement” would arrive at the Hatch. On and on ad infinitum did the creators of LOST scatter 108 easter eggs into the show’s theme, but why?
In part, because the show was all about mystery, and part of the mystery and significance surrounding 108 is that it can be found in SO MANY things both ordinary and extraordinary: There are 108 stitches on a regulation baseball, for instance. 108 cards in an Uno deck. Stonehenge is 108 feet in diameter. On New Years in Japan, the church ring a bell 108 times to rid the 108 evils in the body. You can have a ball figuring out all of potential links to 108 found everywhere, but maybe it’s not so crazy and coincidental after all: there are just too many facts to support its significance.
As it is relates to the practice of yoga, there are 108 beads on a traditional mala. A little bit of digression here for the purpose of explanation…a mala is a strand of beads. (Yes, Virginia, those beautiful strands of beads that you see people wearing that we have for sale at Satya – they actually MEAN something!) Similar to a Catholic rosary, mala beads are used for prayer, and specifically for the repetition of mantra, or a group of words repeated over and over with intention for the purpose of meditation or reflection. When we meditate, we use our malas as a tool, either to keep track of how many mantras we have recited or as a physical reminder of the beginning and end of each breath or silently repeated prayer. The practice of using malas to meditate is called Japa Mantra. In all honesty, malas help you focus and pass the time. It becomes something tangible to do as you meditate so that your mind will remain harnessed and you’ll be less likely to become bored, achy, tired, or distracted. It helps with one-pointedness, allowing just enough distraction to keep your interest while serving primarily as a tool of focus. Personally, I don’t count beads when I meditate, but instead use the texture and feel of my favorite mala, given to me by my teacher Lisa after the completion of my first certification, to further the expansiveness and significance of each breath or my favorite mantra.
And now, back to 108. A significant aspect of yoga is the relation of the subtle body to the physical realm. In the subtle body, there are energy channels called nadis that move prana, or life force, through the chakra system. There are said to be – you guessed it – 108 nadis converging to form Anahata, the heart chakra. (this is just one of many examples. more on chakras and the subtle body in my next post – as one of my dear teachers says, “eat the elephant one bite at a time.”) To celebrate a significant date, such as the summer and winter solstices, somebody’s birthday or an anniversary or occasion, you’ll often find yoga studios gathering people together to practice 108 surya namaskar, or sun salutations, a fundamental series of movements which typically begin a yoga class or practice. This is a pretty daunting task, even for a seasoned yogi, which is why we often do them in rounds, with participants taking turns.
In the world’s most ancient religious traditions, 108 is held as a significant and holy number. In Islam, the number 108 is used to refer to God. In Jainism, 108 are the combined virtues of five categories of holy ones, including 12, 8, 36, 25, and 27 respective virtues. The Sikh tradition has a mala of 108 knots tied in wool, and as mentioned above, in Buddhist and Hindu traditions, a traditional mall is made of 108 beads of varying materials.
In Hinduism, which is inextricably linked to Yoga, the meaning of 108 is profound. The addition of digits 1+0+8 = 9, the number 9 being related to Brahma, the creator god, and one of the mythological Trimurti of “ruling” gods, along with Vishnu and Shiva. The ancient Indians excelled at mathematics and numerology, and the pattern of 108 appears in many forms (get ready to have your mind blown):
The number 108 connects the Sun, Moon, and Earth: The average distance of the Sun and the Moon to Earth is 108 times their respective diameters. You can imagine how this fact has influenced the practice of yoga, where much significance is given to the balance of Earth and the Celestial realm. At a foundational level, the word “Hatha,” as in the physical practice of yoga, is the alignment of sun (ha) and moon (tha), a balance of opposing forces, dualism, masculine and feminine energies. In Sanskrit, the language of yoga, there are 54 letters in the alphabet. Each has masculine and feminine, Shiva and Shakti, and 54 times 2 is 108. Nearly all of the ancient Vedic texts, which are the philosophical and foundational works of Hinduism, carry a theme of 108 in one form or another: for instance, there are 108 Upanishads. It has been said that 1 stands for God or higher Truth, 0 stands for emptiness or completeness in spiritual practice, and 8 is of course a recognized symbol for infinity. The numbers 9 and 12 have much significance in many spiritual traditions: 9 times 12 is 108. Also, 1 plus 8 equals 9. 9 times 12 equals 108. 108 is a Harshad number, which is an integer divisible by the sum of its digits (Harshad is from Sanskrit, and means “great joy”). There are said to be 108 lies, 108 earthly desires and 108 evils and deceptions in mortals. Then there are the Powers of 1, 2, and 3 in math: 1 to 1st power=1; 2 to 2nd power=4 (2×2); 3 to 3rd power=27 (3x3x3). 1x4x27=108.
See what I mean when I say that I often don’t know where to start explaining the significance of 108? But these are some of the myriad reasons, none more important or “correct” than others (and wait! there are even more…) that will give you an idea of the scope of the mythology surrounding the number. Now you have something interesting to discuss at your next cocktail party, or with the person seated next to you on a plane, and who knows? The person with whom you’re speaking may even chime in with more meanings.
For Satya’s one year birthday on January 23rd, 2013, we’ll be holding an open gathering to practice 108 sun salutations. We hope you’ll join us for a few.
November 28, 2012
Sat-sangatve nissangatvam nissangatve nirmohatvam
Nirmohatve nishchala-tattvam nishchala-tattve jivanmuktih
Bhaja govindam bhaja govindam bhaja govindam mudha-mate
-Shri Adi Shankaracharya from Carpata-Panjarika
From the wise, sweet and beautiful mind of my teacher Sharon-ji. Sit with these words as you would a good glass of wine – infinitely gratifying are the actions we take to surround ourselves with positive people, a beautiful, light bhav, or atmosphere, and things that will uplift us. Satsang is the key to rewarding relationships. Read on…
“Good and virtuous company gives rise to non-attachment. From non-attachment comes freedom from delusion. With freedom from delusion, one feels the changeless reality. Experiencing that changeless reality, one attains liberation in this life. I-AM is the ocean of awareness. Realizing this, one feels, ‘I am not the body and mind, although I have a body and mind.’ Realize Govinda, realize Govinda in your heart, O wise one!” This is the inspired translation/commentary by Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati of one verse from a longer poem by Shankaracharya.
[author's note: Govinda is another name for Lord Krishna, as is Gopāla.]
The verse is inspiring on many levels: it suggests that through good association-attaching your self to others who believe that awakening is possible-your awakening will be possible. When you associate with others who are focused on enlightenment, then your own progress towards that goal will be not only encouraged but also assured. You can live as a liberated soul-a jivanmukta. Yes, enlightenment is a possibility for you in this lifetime! God dwells in your heart as your own self-so let your heart sing. Bhaja means to sing and to tell the stories of God, and as you do you are able to enter into your own heart and come closer to your beloved. This adventure is only for the wise ones, not for those who are deluded and still feel their body and minds as separate from the cosmic unchanging reality-body of the Divine.
Keeping good company or satsang could be considered a practice of saucha, one of the niyamas that Patanjali gives as a practice that could help to hasten the dawning of awakening or yoga. Saucha means cleanliness. To keep yourself and your surroundings clean is one of the ways that one can practice saucha. But saucha means more than physical cleanliness. It also means cleanliness of mind. To a yogi the only real dirt is the dirt of avidya or ignorance of the true Self. When you are ignorant, you are deluded and mistake who you are for your temporary body and mind. Delusion disallows you from recognizing your divine self and so you are also unable to see the divine in others.
One of the best ways to clean the mind is to be careful about what you expose it to. The mind is like a clear crystal. A crystal will take on the color of whatever it is near-it will reflect its surrounding environment. In the same way your mind is colored by what you expose it to. If you hang out with criminals you will most likely become a criminal yourself and land in jail. But it can work in more subtle ways than that. For example, if you watch television or movies or read magazines or books which have disturbing content-e.g., violence and/or gratuitous sex-your mind and your thoughts will become tainted by those images, and your life will thereafter be negatively affected. But if you instead immerse yourself in reading inspirational books and even watching movies that inspire, educate and uplift, you will begin to purify your mind. Consciously purifying your speech will also positively affect the content of your mind. Refraining from “swear words” (words that defame God, natural bodily functions or sex), as well as from gossip and hurtful words that are used divisively, will purify your mind.
Sat means ‘truth” and anga means “attachment,” so the word satsangmeans “to be attached to the truth” (satsanga is the Buddhist equivalent). Traditionally satsang meant to keep the company of the enlightened, to spend time with your guru or a saint or to make pilgrimage to a holy place where a saint may have lived or taught. Of course it is not always possible to live 24/7 with a saint, so the practice of satsang involves doing your best to make the most of your time. It doesn’t mean that you immediately have to quit your job, move away from your family or divorce your husband or wife because they are not yogis. What it does mean is that when you do have a choice as to how to spend your free time, you spend it with kindred spirits. You go to a yoga class every day after work, you attend evening meditation classes or join a kirtan group and chant God’s name, or attend a weekly lecture on the Bhagavad Gita, or sign up for Sanskrit lessons, or go away for a weekend spiritual retreat. Satsang can also take more subtle forms, like surrounding yourself with inspiring books and reading the Yoga Sutra, Hatha Yoga Pradipika, biographies of saints and yogis or mystical poetry. You can also start your own satsang, by inviting people to your house to practice meditation together once a week, or form a study group around a book that has inspired you.
Above all be careful not to fall into the holier than thou trap where you use satsang to segregate yourself off from others in order to criticize or judge others as unconscious, ignorant, bad or unholy people. Remember that the purpose of satsang is to strengthen and broaden your mind so that ultimately you will be able to see clearly and perceive the divinity in all beings and be comfortable in all situations-being yourself the illuminated crystal which radiates the light of love, O wise one.
November 12, 2012
Aparigraha and Veganism
aparigraha-sthairye janma-kathamta-sambodhah (PYS II.39)
When one becomes selfless and ceases to take more than one needs, one obtains knowledge of why one was born.
In the Yoga Sutra, Patanjali gives us five recommendations, called yamas, for how we should treat others if we want to attain liberation. The fifth yama is aparigraha, which means “greedlessness.” When we desire happiness for ourselves at the expense of others, it is called “greed.” Patanjali recommends that yogis seeking enlightenment should try to live a simple life based in moderation rather than excessive consumption. In other words, “Live simply so that others may simply live.”
Real needs are not wrong; wants, on the other hand, can become problematic. We have become habituated to look outside of ourselves for happiness and, in the process, have created powerful addictions that drive our choices. Many of us have become so out of touch with our innermost selves that we do not know where need ends and want begins. We identify with what we have, need, and want. Due to avidya (ignorance), which gives rise to asmita (excessive identification with ego), we think we are our personalities, and with that thinking we lose touch with the true Self.
Our culture has conditioned us over thousands of years to hoard, stockpile, accumulate and save for a rainy day. The amount of things we own gives us a sense of security and creates a legacy of self-importance that we pass on to our children in the hopes of being remembered or immortalized. No other animal besides us would destroy a whole forest or cause the extinction of an entire species while imagining that that has no negative effect upon them or the lives of their children. Unlike us, animals do not approach their food with bags, shovel the food in, fill the bags and then carry them away, leaving nothing for others.
According to the U.N., over 52 billion animals are killed for food worldwide every year. In the U.S. alone, approximately 10 billion land animals and billions of sea creatures are slaughtered for food annually. It is hard to know how many sea creatures are killed, because they are not counted as individuals, but by tonnage. These are staggering numbers, especially if you consider that the human population of the U.S. is around 304 million and that there are only 6.7 billion human beings on the entire planet. These billions of suffering and terrified animals create a planetary atmosphere of fear, terror and violence which we all live and breathe in everyday. One could easily call this amount of animal slaughter excessive.
We are on the brink of an apocalypse that some have prophesied that in the year 2012 will result in a radical shift in how we relate to time. The Greek word apocalypse means “to reveal; to uncover; to stand naked, exposed without artifice, clothing, or possessions.” One implication of this apocalypse may be that when we let go of holding on to things, become less greedy, our hands will be open to receive everything.
We have created a relationship with time in which we believe that life is made up of a linear series of events. Civilized humans have lost their connection with the cycles of nature. We have become time-bound, enslaved to the clock and wristwatch. When we exist fully in the present moment, there is less fear of not having enough in the future and less inclination to greedily stockpile a surplus. All fears come down to the fear of losing: losing fame, youth, money, hair, health, love…and ultimately the body. The result of letting go of the desire to possess (even your own body) is to be liberated from the fear of death. If you think of yourself as mortal, your whole life will be haunted by the fear of death. Through the practice of aparigraha, the yogi becomes conscious of his or her true existence as having never been born and with that realization is able to defeat death; for it is only those who insist they were born who will die. Through adopting a compassionate, vegan lifestyle, we take the first big step toward becoming established in aparigraha, and with that, we step into a bright, enlightened future for ourselves, for the animals and for this planet.
Words by Sharon Gannon, adapted from her wonderful book Yoga and Vegetarianism
October 8, 2012
If you Google “Beginners Yoga” you’ll find tons of these ‘things you should know before you come to your first class….’ lists. They’re all pretty informative, but I wanted to go a little bit deeper in areas that I didn’t think had been covered enough. So if you reeeeaaally want to know as much as you can before you step into a yoga shala (that means ‘studio.’ ha! there’s something new you learned already!) for the first time, this is the list for you.
Recently, to my overwhelming delight, my brother Chad found yoga. I knew it was going to happen eventually, but it was important that he found it on his own, in his own time. Now we have these intense discussions about things like yamas, karma, and Sanskrit grammar. And basic questions, too, about yoga etiquette and what to do or not do in a yoga studio. This list was born both of those conversations and my own memories of being nervous upon entering a studio for the first time and feeling like I was going to do something wrong. At Satya we are open and nice, so never feel weird about asking us anything. We’ll guide you lovingly to the mat and keep you coming back.
What You Should Know Before You Attend Your First Yoga Class
- Know the right class to go to - do your research. Come into the wrong class your first time out of the gate and you might never come back. Read the class descriptions on the studio’s website, or call/email the studio and let them point you in the right direction. Choose a Beginner’s class or a restorative class.
- Tell the teacher you’re new. They’ll be sweet and excited for you – it’s an honor to teach someone who has never taken a yoga class before. They’ll watch you carefully during class but will never single you out. They will make sure you feel safe and have the best experience possible.
- Wear the right clothes. Something that’s comfortable and that won’t make you self-conscious. A happy medium between flowy and restrictive. You want to be able to have range of motion without being hindered by too-tight pants, but you don’t want your shirt to fall over your head in Downward Facing Dog, either. You want your clothing to be so comfortable that you don’t even think about it for an hour and a half. Something that won’t bunch. Something that you won’t have to pull down over your belly or out of your butt crack every time you move. We suggest cropped pants from Lululemon Athletica http://shop.lululemon.com/products/category/women-crops for ladies and shorts like this for guys http://www.naturalhighlifestylestore.com/yogishort.html. Keep in mind if you’re a guy, some studios prefer that you leave your shirt on. Ask before class.
- Don’t eat before a class. Leave a few hours between the time you eat and the time you practice. You need to be able to connect with your breath, and that’s hard to do with a full stomach. You’ll be twisting your torso and moving your body in all different shapes that will be hindered by a full stomach.
- Leave your cell phone in the car, or for the love of god, turn it off. There’s nothing worse than having your blissful savasana relaxation hijacked by someone’s AC/DC Back In Black ringtone, and you don’t want to be the one who ruins it for others.
- Take your shoes off. We keep our yoga floor very clean, as you will have your face next to it at points. Street shoes bring in dirt and all kinds of ickiness. Not only is it more hygienic to not wear shoes on the yoga floor, but its also a sign of respect for a sacred space. Every yoga studio has a place by the front door where you can stow your shoes. Pada Mukti….liberated feet!
- Put your mat in the back of the room so that you can watch other more experienced practitioners. This gives you the dual benefit of not feeling self-conscious like everyone is watching you (they aren’t) and learning by watching someone who has been practicing longer.
- Feel good about using props. Blocks, straps and bolsters aren’t just for beginners: it’s nice to use them sometimes in certain poses, regardless of your level of practice. They allow your hand and arm to have an end point so that the muscles can relax and you can release and deepen into the pose. Not everyone’s arms are the same length, and its nice to be able to bring the floor up a little bit to meet your level of flexibility. Props rock. Use them. If you’re not sure what you should grab before a class, ask your teacher – they’ll make sure you have everything you might need, and also watch closely during class that you’re using them properly and that you are stable in the pose.
- Your mat is your microcosm. On it, you are the king or queen of your own little 23”x62” rectangle. There is no one to impress, and no one to answer to except yourself: it’s one of the only spaces we can truly call our own. One of the only places we can take risks and feel safe and supported doing so. Love and appreciate the collective energy of others practicing around you, but withdraw inward into the breath, onto the notion of stilling the mind.
- Let your breath lead, not your ego. Don’t let your ego guide you into a place where you could possibly get injured – it’s okay to be a beginner: we ALL were at one time. It’s important to realize that no one cares that you’re a bit wobbly, nor do they judge. We will never push you to “achieve” any pose or overextend your threshold.
- Let go of comparative thinking. There’s no winning in yoga, no gold medal for “Best Tree Pose.” Your yoga practice is your own highly private time for individual transformation. Very much like your fingerprint, it’s not like anyone else’s. How can it be? You are a unique individual. We all have differently-shaped bodies, different length arms and legs, and unique ways of moving our bodies. Never judge yourself because you aren’t “doing” a pose like someone else in the room. That person in a beautiful Bird of Paradise has probably been practicing for years and couldn’t balance worth a damn the first time she stepped onto a mat. You’ll notice that at Satya there aren’t any mirrors: this is purposeful. We judge ourselves, judge others, and feel judged so much in our daily lives that its nice to find sanctuary from that. There is absolutely no room for comparative thinking in a yoga shala. If you are practicing in a place that makes you feel judged, find another studio.
- If it gets to be too much, come to child’s pose. No one’s going to judge you. You always have this option, regardless of what’s going on in class. It’s like the human version of a roly poly bug curling up into itself for protection. It’s wonderfully isolating, and yet another bonus of a yoga practice: you can just curl up into a ball and people will leave you alone. If only we could do that OFF the mat…
- There’s sometimes crying in yoga. And believe us, it’s a good thing. Enviable, even. Where else can you completely let go of all the emotional crap locked up inside of you, not be judged, and walk out feeling like a million bucks?
- Cultivate your friendliness. You’ll be among nice people. Yoga studios are one of the best places to meet people, in fact: you’ll have at least one thing in common to discuss over coffee.
September 19, 2012
We’re starting our movie nights at Satya with one of our faves, Sita Sings The Blues, on Friday September 28th at 7pm. It’s appropriate for all ages, but please leave the tiny ones at home (in other words, the ones who won’t be quiet during the movie). We’ll have more to announce on this, so stay tuned. Check our Facebook page and invite your friends!
September 10, 2012
Atha Yoga Anusasanam
Here follows a wonderful explanation of Jivamukti’s September Focus of the Month by Sharon Gannon. This is first chapter of the first book of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra. We recommend the translation by Sri Swami Satchidananda, which you can buy at Satya Yoga or by clicking here.
In this sutra, Patanjali tells us that it is possible for any of us to experience yoga and realize the truth, because this truth is available all around us; if we are willing to look deeply into things, we would be able to realize it. Everything is more than it seems. There is always something hidden underneath the surface of a person or a thing, but to discover it you have to be willing to look deeply.
Significantly, not only does this sutra begin with the word atha, but this whole book begins with the word atha. Atha is a most auspicious word. It means “now.” It calls our attention to the fact that a teaching of great importance is about to be given-right now-not “once upon a time” in the past, or some time in the future-but now in the present moment. This is so encouraging, because when anyone opens this book and reads that first word, automatically yoga has relevance to that person; it’s about them-it has implications to the life they are living right at that moment. Atha makes yoga a living teaching, not something archaic that was studied by ancients at some point in history, but an invitation to Be Here Now.
The word anu from anushasanam means “atom”-the minute, most indivisible parts that make up the whole. This relative world is composed of many jivas or individuated atomic beings. For a yogi-one who can step into the present moment of now-all atoms (separate component parts) can be seen as yoked or threaded together making up the whole. Shasanam is from the root word shas, which means “to instruct.” So when it is connected to anu, it means that the atoms will instruct you: the essential nature within all of life will be your teacher-Nature will teach you. The wisdom that you need is all around you in the very forms of nature. Every encounter has profound meaning, providing a means to link or yoke you to the infinite, which is where you really belong. But Nature can conceal as well as reveal. The atom is the innermost essence of life, and it is waiting to instruct you, but only if you want to know its secrets. All of life no matter what it is, from an oak tree to a bumblebee, has a heart-a place inside that isn’t often noticed by someone who is only looking on the surface. But it is in the tiniest of seeds, like the Biblical mustard seed, that the history of the world is stored, as well as the history of me and you, for are we not of the world?
Only when we observe nature carefully will we discover the universal truths that are concealed. This sutra is an invitation to live a deeply examined life, imbued with sensuality and feeling, and through that experience come to know the natural world not as existing separate from you but as your teacher-able to provide you with open doorways of limitless possibilities in the here and now. There are natural laws of geometry governing harmony, proportion and beauty which can be discovered in the forms of life expressed as flowers, sea shells, trees, animals and even the heavenly bodies of the stars and planets. The universe is alive, and all of life communicates. When a sparrow flaps a wing in one part of the world, the breeze can be heard all the way around the world. Most of us have just forgotten how to listen.
The message of yoga is to first look here on this earth for intelligent life. Stop speculating on whether or not intelligent life exists on other planets. We haven’t yet been able to admit that nature is intelligent: we have been so obsessed with exploiting her for her resources, we haven’t taken the time to stop and listen, much less try to learn from Her. Be so completely present that nothing escapes unnoticed. Don’t wait for another time or place to discover the Truth. It is wherever you look-but only if you are able to look deeply, if you look with yogic x ray vision, that is. Most people stop their observations of Nature on a superficial level-at face value-where differences are most apparent and get caught in classifying and breaking things apart from each other into separate categories based on those outer differences. This analysis, or breaking apart by the intellect, may be useful and interesting in some respects, but yoga is a practice of intuitive synthesis-putting yourself and the world around you back together again, consciously engaging in the interactive process of renewal.
Look for hidden meaning-that is what Patanjali is advising to those who are interested in yoga. Yoga is an esoteric, secret, occult science, which means that it doesn’t reveal itself at first glance. Its teachings are veiled in symbols, codes and poetry and presented as sutras-threads, which weave themselves into and out of plain view. It will take the most astute student, one who is disciplined and focused, one with a sense of adventure, to be able to immerse themselves into its mysteries. But once you enter on the path, there is no turning back, because by entering on the path, you step into the eternity of the present-that which ever renews itself-and it is that experience which eventually but inevitably will transform you from an ordinary illusionary to a cosmic luminary.
Read more from Sharon-ji and more about Jivamukti Yoga by clicking here.
August 13, 2012
We all need more balance in our lives, along with better posture, alignment, flexibility and peace of mind. Satya is very psyched to be offering a Beginner’s Class every Monday night at 6pm. Taught by Elisa Mangubat RYT500, this class will focus on proper alignment in standing, balancing and seated postures, basic sun salutations, and teaching you how to move in concert with your breath. We will also get comfortable with chanting (Om and some beautiful Sanskrit verses), meditation, and learning to live in in a more balanced state. We will take the intimidation out of yoga and make it something that you love…we hope you’ll join us!