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Living Yoga
May 03, 2022
In Focus of the Month
सर्वे भवन्तु सुखिनः सर्वे सन्तु निरामयाः। सर्वे भद्राणि पश्यन्तु मा कश्चित् द्दुःखभाग् भवेत्।। sarve bhavantu sukhinaḥ sarve santu nirāmayāḥ sarve bhadrāṇi paśyantu mā kashchit duḥkha bhāgbhavet May all be happy. May all be free from sickness. May all look to the good of others. May none suffer from sorrow. —Vedic Prayer Ahimsā, non-harming, is a practice that can lead us to yoga and is categorized as a ‘restraint’ or yama – a practice of holding back or restraining ourselves from causing harm. The idea of restraint implies that harming may already have been there – unconsciously – in our thoughts, words, and actions. The first step is looking with clear eyes at the way our actions impact others. It means reflecting on ourselves deeply and with clarity, honesty, and humility. We can start by trying to reduce the harm we are doing in the most outward ways in our lives, the harm created by action. This is a practice and implies returning again and again to the same action (or restraint) with intention and consistency, it does not imply perfection but the willingness to apply effort and persist, until we are able to sustain the new, desirable habit. As we practice, we start to move more inwardly, going beyond action to our words, thoughts, and even where the deepest root of the motivation to cause harm comes from, our underlying beliefs and attitudes. Where does the motivation to harm come from?When we begin a new habit there can be a certain amount of discomfort. Shri Brahmananda Saraswati says “Submission of lower desire to higher desire is called yoga.” We have to be willing to be uncomfortable, go against the grain of our habits, our immediate desires, and culturally conditioned actions if we want to make a better world possible. The willingness to be a little uncomfortable is the first step. After some time, giving up a harmful action ceases to feel like restraint but begins to feel more like an affirmation of life and an alignment with our innermost values. It no longer feels uncomfortable, but becomes an act of joy, love, and upliftment of all beings. At a point, ahimsā transforms from a turning inward, a ‘restraint’ into its opposite; an offering, an expansion of Self. Julia Butterfly Hill says, “ahimsā is to live so fully and presently in love that there is no room for anything else to exist.” As the practice grows and expands, ahimsā becomes much more than a practice of restraining harm, but as a practice of creating good. Ahimsā not just as a ‘no’ but as a resounding inner ‘yes’ to nurturing the web of life. As the desire to say no to unecessary harm transforms into a yes to increasing the good we may find that the sense of who/what I am expands. We do not exist in isolation, we are interdependent on all that is. Think deeply on that, contemplate the sum total of beings that make your existence possible. In the yogic sense, liberation or freedom cannot exist for the individual as isolated from existence. Its all for all, and the yogi goes all in! In yoga we are trying to understand the self as expansive, as beyond what we usually consider the self – our body and our mind. Expand sense of “me” to include not only other people, but the plants which are responsible for the atmosphere that gives me breath, the butterflies, bees, moths, beetles, and bats (yes bats!) that pollinate the plants. The rivers and the oceans which evaporate and creating an ocean in the sky that turns into rain, the sun that creates evaporation and provides energy to so many. If we zoom out far enough, and contemplate the web of life and the interconnections between all molecules, minerals, elements, beings… There is nothing that is not me. The entire concept of self-care radically shifts to Self-care, that is care for the air, water, soil, and ecosystem that supports all of life. In Jivamukti we emphasize the meaning of asana as our connection to the earth. We strive to cultivate a steady and joyful shape in the form of the physical practices. On another level, studying the connections and relationships that were previously unknown to us. Healing our relationship to the earth means honoring and nurturing our environment. Sharon Gannon would often suggest in class that we “feed the birds” as a way to practice yoga. It doesn’t literally have to be birds, the idea is that we have a daily practice of nourishing someone else. Her suggestion was that we look out into the world of our daily life and see where our shared spaces no longer benefit our fellow earthlings. We may not be able to remove all of the harm that a city creates but we can make an offering every day to those animals around us whose habitats have been lost. Many of us may feel a sense of resignation or hopelessness in the face of this escalating climate crisis. When we see ourselves as separate we may not seek or create community support and collective action. We may feel that our actions won’t produce a desired result. Even the stories that our culture usually tells about activism and change, highlights the individual act, the individual person. This is almost never how powerful change occurs, it occurs in cultural context, an ecosystem, with many thinkers, activists, community builders, and change makers — sometimes working together, sometimes working in parallel — to bring about a cultural shift. Individual action is also the product of the environment it grew out of and you too can make a difference.
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Living Yoga
Mar 23, 2022
In Focus of the Month
What are we infusing your practice with this month? A month long chakra balancing! Building a strong foundation from the base or root chakra in the first week up through to the throat, third eye & crown chakras by the end… don’t miss the journey. Learning about each chakra in turn, using your body & breath purify them one level at a time, expect to feel changed by the end of the month. We know how much you love our chakra tuning workshops & there will be one as the culmination of all the work done in the month on the 2nd April 8-10:30am. Do the full month to dive deep into chakra work of shifting & releasing old stuck ideas & programs. Then join us for the chakra tuning workshop which will be the 🍒 on top!
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Living Yoga
Mar 23, 2022
In Focus of the Month
Satyam Jñanam Ānandam Brahma Truth, Knowledge, Bliss, Absolute Yoga is a word that encompasses a very wide range. It can refer to practices as well as end results. There are yoga traditions that hail from the Himalayas and those that have been reimagined and brought west. The word yoga has become well known in many circles and you have probably even asked someone “What type of yoga do you practice/study?”. There is a level of understanding that there are different methodologies each with its own distinct interpretations, teachings, and beliefs. We live in a world replete with nama and rupa; name and form, differences. Differences are important especially if we find ourselves searching for a spiritual practice. Before we endeavor to truly immerse ourselves into any tradition or methodology we must first ask and investigate a very simple set of questions: What am I looking for and does this method/tradition align with my values. At first glance, it may seem unnecessary to state that we are all different. Yet it is important and is reflected in the different traditions and lineages. Each may have subtle divergences on important issues, emphases on ritual or service. Depending on what those distinctions are, we may be drawn toward or pushed away from various methodologies. What draws us to a “spiritual practice” in the first place? What is it we hope to achieve, what are we looking for? A spiritual practice may call to us in part because we feel something is off or unrealized in ourselves. We may experience a deep questioning on the core concepts we have been taught about the world around us. This questioning in turn can cause us to experience an unsteadiness or unhappiness as we cycle through the hardships, suffering or transient nature of the world. We may find that what was once our foundational understanding of the world is no longer satisfying and so the spiritual journey “begins”. The differences in the various lineages and methodologies become important because if the foundations of them do not align with our core values, current or desired how could we ever have the longevity needed to maintain a practice. We may find charismatic teachers or other practitioners who we admire, but if the path is not right for us then we will not be able to give it the time required to make an impact. We may not find that desired steady and joyful connection through our association with it. Exploring the foundations of each lineage, investigating them deeply will in turn give us insight into our our foundational beliefs. Where does this method want to take me, and how will we get there are helpful questions to ask. For example, the original word Jivanmuktih refers to “one who is liberated while living; One who is still operating in the world, still seen as an individual by others, but not having that separate self as the core of experience.” The aim is to find transcendental consciousness while we are alive instead of practicing for a time after the passing of this body or trying to use the practices to leave this body and world behind. We may not become enlightened in this lifetime, it is indeed a very high goal to set for oneself. However, we may find that along the way toward sovereignty or liberation we become incrementally more aware, kind, caring, and compassionate. Jivamukti is based on 5 tenets Ahiṃsā: Non-Harming, Bhakti: Devotion, Dhyāna: Meditation, Nāda: Sound, Śāstra: Studying the teaching of the masters. With these as the foundations, many practices can be used and artistic creativity brought forth on this journey. The one thing we are asked to do is remember the goal, Freedom or Liberation. Our mind will wander away and the foundation support us and bring us back. All we need to do is take a moment to check-in. Are our actions aligned with or coming from these foundations. Do we feel that steady and joyful nature more because of our association and practice? Do we still want what we used to from the yoga practice? What does yoga want from us?
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Living Yoga
Feb 02, 2022
In Focus of the Month
GOD IN DRAG by Ian Szydlowski-Alvarez | ॐ पूर्णमदः पूर्णमिदं पूर्णात्पूर्णमुदच्यते । पूर्णस्य पूर्णमादाय पूर्णमेवावशिष्यते ॥ ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः ॥ oṃ pūrṇam adaḥ pūrṇam idam pūrṇāt pūrṇam udacyate pūrṇasya pūrṇam ādāya pūrṇam evāvaśiṣyate oṃ śāntiḥ śāntiḥ śāntiḥ oṃ pūrṇam adaḥ pūrṇam idam pūrṇāt pūrṇam udacyate pūrṇasya pūrṇam ādāya pūrṇam evāvaśiṣyate oṃ śāntiḥ śāntiḥ śāntiḥ Invocation of the Isha Upanishad That is whole. This is whole. From the whole,the whole becomes manifest. From the whole when the whole is negated, what remains is again the whole. Ādi Shaṅkarācārya the great Vedantic scholar from the 8th Century said this verse was not meant for ritual, like so much of the Vedas but that its purpose was to reveal the light of awareness as the nature of true Self or Atman. The Isha in the title of this Upanishad means Lord of whose root ish means to reign, rule or have power, as in the word ishavara or personal god. This Isha is All: it is pūrṇam, it was written to be complete and pervade all of creation like saltwater pervades the oceans or heat pervades a metal ball when heated by fire. The Sanskrit word pūrṇa also means circle, a shape that is without beginning or end and is complete in and of itself. ○ Pūrṇam is Adah or That, the source of creation and our physical universe. Pūrṇam is Idam or This – equally as our physical body together with our consciousness. Both are part of everything that moves and breathes together on Earth. Pūrṇam is the sum of This and That and It alone represents this vast knowable totality. The beloved western bhakta and psychologist Ram Das once said, “Treat everyone you meet like they are God in drag”. It was his humorous way to say things are not always as what they appear to be. That we should be ready to see the Good/God in others, even when they, or those appearances and situations are not according to how we would expect them to be. If we renounce finite-nes we become infinite. When a reporter challenged Gandhi ji to sum up his philosophy in three words, inspired by the Bhagavad Gita he said “renounce and enjoy.” Only when we renounce all worldly fruits and the results of short-sighted gain and pleasure can we truly enjoy the atman as a living state of pūrṇam. If we renounce a conditioned microscopic state this invocation invites us to experience and enjoy the power of pūrṇam as oneness with all of existence. If we could peer beyond ordinary appearances with yogic vision we could start to see how the macrocosm and microcosm weave together, where the individual self and the cosmic soul touch. To experience this kind of vision Patanjali says we can practice and cultivate yogic skills of discrimination (viveka) and reason (vichāra) we might also begin to ask ourselves – what actually limits our experience and our existence? What separates us from the connection to pūrṇam? Do we see ourselves very differently from those that we meet? Anger or jealousy and fear are based on this deep seated misunderstanding of underlying wholeness. When we treat others poorly, or even worse causing them direct or indirect suffering – this is just one result of forgetting. We can also observe how our increasingly contracted and fractured societies have a dramatic and adverse affect on our entire planet. On a spiritual and material level we stuff our larger selves into a false and fragile shell of mis-identification. The practice is meant to shake us up and wake us up. It should not be practiced as idolism or theater or vivid imaginings. Rather, this verse invites us to practice yoga as a science of Self-discovery, it encourages us to use our practice like a telescope –to ultimately reveal ourselves to our own true Nature. We do not necessarily need to go to India to find this but we can begin to transform ourselves from what we have right here close by. Sharon writes that even when we sit down to eat, within our own daily microcosm we can have a huge impact on the lives of others and the macrocosm as a whole. The practices of yoga are simultaneously an ancient and contemporary antidote to the great poison of forgetfulness. It can be as simple as bringing our attention to our breath or becoming more receptive to the awareness in our body and soul. It could also reflect back on us how willing we are to connect to pūrṇam? How willing we are to protect and preserve wholeness as a loving attitude. In yoga asana we can start to experience ourselves as an extension of the Earth, establishing and generating increased states of harmony and balance. As we put pūrṇam into focus, we can even start to see how even our perceived weaknesses or shortcomings can be transformed into greater and greater strength. What is our least favorite asana could become our favorite if we “shift our perception” and show up for our practice and not only in the largest sense but even in the smallest details and patterns that can ripple through our daily lives. Doing this for ourselves can give us confidence, and help us make positive changes that broaden our outlook and perception. Then there is nothing that is not pūrṇam. Even empty space or śūnya (emptiness) is said to be whole, even our calamities and forgetfulness could become meaningful and propel us towards liberation if we can bring them into the light of pūrṇam. Life is enough, it is neither too small nor too big. It could be comforting to feel that nothing can ever be truly broken or lost from pūrṇam. That we always have another chance to re-connect, and as Sharon and David often say re-member to serve all beings as pūrṇam. This can lead us from diversity to inclusion with an invitation to celebrate difference and creativity and open up a window to show us our unique place here- right now.
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Living Yoga
Jan 17, 2022
In Focus of the Month
Dying daily by Moritz Ulrich श्री कृष्णः शरणं मम śrī kṛṣṇaḥ śaraṇaṃ mama I take refuge in the all-attractive Lord who is the true identity of all being. (translation by Sharon Gannon) It is the new year, and you might have expected a more uplifting title. Dying is not the first thing that comes to mind when we contemplate over new year’s resolutions. They usually focus on creating something new or adding a habit like: “From now on, I will practice Yoga every single day!” or “This year I will finally switch to a vegan diet!” or somewhere along these lines. And I think those are great goals to be set, although at the same time we usually have some roadblocks that are preventing us from reaching them. Some hindrances might be easy to be solved (“I need to buy a yoga mat first.”) others might be less tangible: “What will my partner think about a vegan diet?”. Goal setting is a powerful practice, and becoming clear and precise about those goals is an essential first step. What is often missing is: can we imagine how we need to feel to achieve them or what would be the necessary mindset? Something Has to End for a Beginning to Arise. For anything to start, something has to cease. This is the universal cycle of beginning, middle, and end. We can find this cycle everywhere. Think of the holy trinity of Brahma (beginning), Vishnu (middle), and Shiva (end) or the sounds of OM: A (beginning), U (middle), and M (end). Or our very own life: We have been born, we live, and we will die. Whenever we see something new to blossom in nature, there certainly was something else that ended. If summer begins, the winter has ended. For new plants in some world areas to grow, a fire might be needed to destroy most flora and fauna. If we want to take on a new habit, we will likely give up another one, sometimes inadvertently. We need to especially give up the thought that holds us back from incorporating a new behavior into our lives. The Fear of Ending. To lose something or someone can be challenging.Most of the time we think and speak about new things instead: A baby that has been born. A partner we married. The money we made. Any other achievement. Most of us enjoy these events and happily indulge in them. If you picture the opposites of these examples, it might be completely different. We would rather hide them or bury them deep inside and not celebrate them accordingly. This behavior is true for most cultures. Yet, a party happens in some areas of our world when a soul leaves its body. There is chanting, dancing, and time for praising the deceased. Where does that fear of things coming to an end come from? It might be our education, something we have experienced growing up, or just a pure survival instinct. In my opinion, finding out the exact cause does not matter, whereas becoming aware of it is the more critical step. Śavāsana is an Important Practice. During the asana practice, there is an outstanding opportunity to do so. Śavāsana translates into “corpse” (śava) and “seat” (āsana). It is the time during a class when we can practice dying. Some consider this asana the most important one that should never be skipped. Nevertheless, I have experienced many people leaving right before lying down on the mat for corpse seat. Being asked, they all have excellent reasons: Not wanting to be late for another appointment, difficulty lying on their backs, not wanting to lower the energy they had built up, etc. And while some of these things might be true, I am convinced that in most cases, the underlying causes of why we would not practice śavāsana is the fear of letting go, the fear of surrendering, and ultimately, our fear of death. Patanjali mentions abhiniveśāḥ as one of the five hindrances on our way to the state of yoga. Literally, it can translate into “clinging to the body” or simply “fear of death.” There are multiple ways to support this process of letting go. Playing some music is helpful. Keeping the eyes open at first is also an excellent way to make people feel more secure. Or they are focusing on the breath for a while before letting it go. A guided relaxation or yoga nidra practice can help practitioners intensify the experience and “take them by the hand” and create a step-by-step approach. Taking Refuge by Surrendering. Using a relaxing massage lotion such as lavender can have profound effects. If you are giving this massage to someone, keep in mind that your job is to facilitate the process of letting go, the process of dying. This is not the time for a deep tissue massage. Instead, think of a tactile way to make feeling the other at ease, so they can fully and completely let go. As a more advanced practice for yourself or your students, you can suggest using phrases like “Krishna, take me. Take my legs, arms, and body”. Of course, Krishna is a placeholder here for whatever is close to one´s heart, for whatever one uses as a cosmic divine form in life. It is the ultimate practice of surrendering to the divine. It is a way of taking refuge in the universal, the ultimate, the unchanging. Let us become more aware of the importance of endings and therefore make space, internally and externally, for new marvelous things to begin.
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Living Yoga
Dec 02, 2021
In Focus of the Month
THE YOGA OF RELATIONSHIPS by Camilla Veen | December, 2021 Tvameva mātā cha pitā tvameva Tvameva banduśca sakhā tvameva Tvameva vidyā draviṇam tvameva Tvameva sarvam mama deva deva Oh god, you are my mother, father, relative, friend, knowledge, wealth. You are my everything. This verse is from the ‘Pandava Gita’, a collection of poems to god in the form of Krishna. It is often also chanted to the guru, as god and guru are essentially the same. In the Indian tradition the first and maybe most important guru is your mother – mata – and the second guru is your father – pita. Understanding that is very important to be able to receive the teachings that they have given you. A wise man – the late Ram Dass – once said these famous words: “If you think you are enlightened, go spend a week with your family!” I think the reason why this quote has become so popular, is because most of us can relate. It is in our relationship with others, especially those who we are close to, that our equanimity and peace of mind often get most disturbed. We practice asana, we meditate, we chant to the divine, we practice love and compassion – and still some people seem to always find a way to press our buttons. What to do? Ram Dass spent much of his life exploring ways that a spiritual practice could permeate human relationships and gave numerous workshops and talks about this. He thought that issues related to relationships of all kinds take up a lot of space in our minds and could be one of the main obstacles to spiritual evolution, therefore they should not be bypassed nor neglected as part of the practice. He said, “you can make your relationship your yoga, but it is the hardest yoga you will ever do.” In verse II.46 of Yoga Sutra we find the following advice or definition of yoga asana: ‘Sthira sukham asanam’. This translates to ‘steady joyful seat’. Traditionally asana in this regard was understood to represent a seated posture for meditation practice, but over time a variety of asanas were practiced and took form – literally! In the medieval text of Hatha Yoga Pradipika we find 15 asanas mentioned and in the 18th century text Joga Pradipika, we find 84. Parallel to this growing number and diversity of asanas, the idea that they provide both spiritual and physical benefits was established. Most teachers of more modern times also agree on this. Asana means ‘seat’. A seat is a way that we place our bodies on the earth, or we could say, a relationship between our body and the earth, which leads us to the translation of sutra II.46 in the Jivamukti Yoga Chant Book; “The connection to the earth should be steady and joyful”. What is the earth? It’s the ground beneath our feet and what supports us, but it is also, in a wider sense, every being that we share this earth with. How often are we really steady and comfortable in our relationships with other beings? How can we improve the steadiness and joy in those aspects? Well, we could start by following Ram Dass’ advice and make our yoga asana practice more than just a physical practice by seeing it as a way to practice getting better at relationships. In the Jivamukti Yoga method we call this “asana as a way to perfecting our relationships with others”. This way, yoga becomes less something we ‘do’ and more something we ‘are’. The word ‘yoga’ – yuj – union, implies that something has been separated. The true essence of the union that yoga speaks of, is love. Any exchange of love requires two separate entities. The great Indian sage Chaitanya Mahaprabhu described this with the saying ‘achintya-bhedabheda-tattva’: Simultaneously one, yet distinct. That is yoga – a relationship. It doesn’t matter how many hours you practice yoga or meditate by yourself, the union of being in relationship with others is what will eventually heal you, and the world. Yoga teaches us that isolation and separation are the root cause of suffering, and connection is the essence of healing. This union that is referred to, is not just an intellectual idea, but more an experiential reality, an amazing experience of life itself. What would happen if we did not dedicate time, attention, and effort to our yoga practice? Nothing. We would stay the same. Relationships are no different. They require dedication, passion and discipline in order to grow and unfold over time. Any yoga practice can be a relationship practice. As the author and meditation teacher Gregory Kramer puts it: “There is sitting meditation. There is walking meditation. Why not listening and speaking meditation? Isn’t it sensible that one could practice mindfulness in relationship and so get better at it?” Enlightenment is the goal of yoga. What is realized in the enlightened state is ‘the oneness of being’, that we are all one and that we share the same consciousness. So what to do if we are not there yet? Keep on practicing. Or, like my dearest teacher David-ji says: “If you are still seeing others, be nice to them.” Those seemingly others are after all not IN your way, they ARE the way.
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