By Randi Schiffman
I am addicted to Yoga,
To the experience of union
The way my body intelligently moves through space
The way my mind empties all of its contents
Practice that purifies
The "yoga high"
Intimate relationship with the universe
Experiencing the microcosm of the macrocosm
Direct experience with life
Intentional time with myself
Opportunities to soften, surrender and let go
Realizations and epiphanies
I’m addicted to Yoga,
To lessons learned
Pockets of creativity released
The way it makes me want to be better
Helps me find grace
Shows me my judgemental mind
Honors and acknowledges all aspects of oneself
Directs and contains energy
Allows me to expand in one moment and contract in the next
The vibration of every cell in my body
Self observation and reflection
I’m addicted to Yoga,
To self inquiry
Alignment and refinement
Communion with Self
My romantic partner, my lover
Allows for dissolving into nothingness
Self Love and empowerment
Warmth and gentleness
Illumined like all the rays of the sun
A Thousand petaled lotus
When I do yoga, I want more...I crave more, like a drug. But, healthy addictions are still addictions and ultimately take me away from balance. My 90min practice quickly turns into a 4hr practice and all of a sudden I’m obsessive about the one thing that helped to balance me in the first place. Addictions are extremes and in any extreme, it’s not so sustainable long term. Where did I go wrong?
So if I can't practice my yoga one day, will everything fall apart? Will I be ok without this experience? When I am sick or tired and can’t move my body, do I lose this sense of Yoga? Do I become depressed and incapable of seeing clearly now? Does panic and anxiety fill my being? Hopefully not.
The Fourth Yama from The Yoga Sutras speaks about, Brahmacarya, or moderation. In fact, all the teachings of Yoga are about balance. The wild dance between our higher Self and our human nature. We must continue to comprehend that Yoga is everywhere; inside us, outside of us, and accessible in each moment and in each breath. It’s not a thing that we do, or are addicted to, but the way in which we live a healthier balanced life.
In terms of a balanced physical practice and to compliment the ancient teachings of The Yoga Sutras and The Bhagavad Gita, Mark Whitwell suggests we must “Practice actually, naturally and non-obsessively”
Swami Sivananda summed it up pretty well in this song, The Yoga of Synthesis:
Eat a little, drink a little,
Talk a little, sleep a little,
Mix a little, move a little,
Serve a little, rest a little,
Work a little, relax a little,
Study a little, Worship a little,
Do asanas a little, Pranayamas a little,
Reflect a little, meditate a little,
Do japa a little, do kirtan a little,
Write mantra a little, have satsanga a little,
Serve, Love, Give, Purify, Meditate, Realize,
Be good, do good;
Be kind, Be compassionate,
Enquire, ‘Who Am I?’ Know the Self and be free.
Take a moment, 3 conscious breaths perhaps and contemplate the things in your life you feel addicted to and don’t stop there. What actions can you take today on creating a more balanced life.
In gratitude of deep reflection,
"Remember, there is always a mental or emotional root cause that lies beneath the physical symptoms."
I have had a lot of epiphanies as of late with the help of some healers and body workers who have shed some light on the matter. I usually go into the story of playing the victim since it happens to me not because of me. The “it” refers to me waking up from a night's sleep and being debilitated by neck pain that lasts for nearly a month. Since I'm not an advocate of pharmaceuticals, I feel the pain deeply and try to heal through acupuncture, massage, oils and other modalities but the truth is, nothing seems to work other than time slowly chipping away at the extreme constriction and tightness. I could take an Advil or a painkiller to help to relieve pain and inflammation immediately but that's just putting a bandage over the real issue, isn’t it? I thought buying a memory foam neck pillow would be the ultimate cure, but it happened again and it turns out my cure-all is just like Advil. So, what now?
In the East, there is an emphasis on body, mind, spirit connection that the West lacks when it comes to healing. For every physical pain in the body, there is an emotion(s) directly related. When we can access the emotional barrier and start to heal those wounds the physical pain will begin to dissipate. This is my direct experience; my truth.
1. The neck is the bridge between the head and the heart; the mind and the body. If you tend to be one who over analyzes, makes to do lists, sits at a computer all day and generally works more from their head over their heart, you may be experiencing neck tension like this. You may want to ask, Is your head in alignment with your passion and hearts purpose or is it skipping ahead? What is the connection you have to spirit and can that connection be brought down through the neck like a flowing river that fills the heart and lives in you?
2. The neck is associated with the 5th chakra, Vissudha but also coincides with the energies of the 6th chakra at the 3rd eye, Ajna and the 4th chakra at the heart, Anahata. If you are having neck pain, it may be worth looking at how you are sharing your authentic expression in the world and how you go about speaking your truth. What can be blocking you from your intuition and wisdom and where in your life can you be more open to loving without limit. Can you listen so deeply to your intuition that it is naturally guiding you to open your heart a little bit more? How do you then go out in the world and express that love in your life?
3. If your tendency is to always look towards something in the future, neck pain may be a close confidant. When we are forward thinking and not fully present, our head tends to rest in front of the rest of our body causing the erector spinae at the cervical spine (muscles along the spine) to tighten and contract eventually causing a spasm.
4. Stress in our lives can be a huge factor for neck pain. Look at the areas of your life that make you hold your body tighter than usual; the jaw clenching scenarios (literally). Take a scan of the different areas of your life like Finances, Family, Job, Passion projects, Relationships, Education, Hobbies. Where are you unhappy or overly stressed? Is it time to make a shift rather than just accepting the discomfort and things as they are. You have the power to shift your life in the direction of your choice, so notice what is out of balance and is causing you to tighten and loosen the grip which may mean letting go of something that is not serving your higher purpose.
5. The location of your pain can be an indicator of what is out of balance. If it resides on the right side like me, you may want to think of how you can soften and surrender in every moment. Where can you give up control in your life? What are different ways in which you can cool down? The right side of the body is connected to the left side of the brain which analyzes and intellectualizes. Can you set boundaries for your think tank? Turn off the phones and the screens, finish work by a certain time everyday, invite more practice and meditation to cultivate deep presence. If the pain is on the left, this is an opportunity to ignite the fire that has been dormant perhaps. Its an invitation to bring your fantasies and dreams into reality with a focal point and a plan. Its associated with the right side of the brain that is connected to creativity but may lack the tools of bringing those creative processes down into tangible manifestations.
Perhaps you have gained some insight here to the relationship between physical and mental health and you have some tools to walk away with. Remember, there is always a mental or emotional root cause that lies beneath the physical symptoms. Rather than reaching for the Advil or getting surgery, exhaust all natural options first. Look at your lifestyle and see where you can find more balance in your life. When you are balanced, a holistic medical approach believes there will be no dis-ease in the body. Mind and body are mutually dependent on one another and one can not be healed without looking at the other. This is where we see fault in the western medical system. They look at the body without looking at the mind. If you take an eastern medical perspective, like Ayurveda, it looks at the mind, body and spirit as one. When we are out of balance, these 3 aspects of our being begin to separate. The process to healing is remembering they are one entity. We must nourish all aspects of self to bring harmony and health back into our lives.
As I sit down to write about Thai Yoga Massage for our upcoming 300hr Training in Peru, I can not help but reflect on my most recent trip to Thailand and the similarities I continue to explore between the 2 healing arts, Yoga and Thai Massage. I find it difficult to talk about one without acknowledging the other.
By combining these practices I’ve enhanced my skills as a healer with greater awareness on the power of the energetic body and the stories our bodies hold physically. If we continue to do the work internally to unify with mind, body and spirit — Yoga — we will be able to maintain balance and health in the physical body — the ultimate goal of Thai Massage.
I always tell my students, in Yoga, we reach the energetic body through the physical asana practice but in Thai Massage we connect with the energetic body to release the physical body. Both practices are ancient healing arts that are still very much alive today. Although accessed through different modalities, the result is the same as it cultivates and nourishes peace in the mind, body, and soul.
Through my studies in Thailand, I have found many ways in which this practice complements yoga. For practitioners of yoga, giving or receiving Thai Massage can help you to release tension and discomfort in the body, have a deeper understanding of your own energetic body, and relax through therapeutic and dynamic movement and stretching. For a Yoga Teacher, learning Thai Massage can enhance your ability to see and feel the body in a whole new way, increase your ability to sequence intelligently, and assist you in making confident adjustments in your class.
Thai Massage is performed without any oil and with your clothes on. It starts at the feet, as they are a map to the entire body. Thai Massage blends elements of Acupressure, Yoga, Reflexology, Physiotherapy, Meditation, Energy Healing, Chiropractic and Ayurvedic wisdom.
5 ways Thai Massage relates to Yoga:
Due to physical or emotional trauma, bad posture, injuries or limiting belief systems energy can get trapped or blocked, causing physical and emotional dis-ease. Thai Yoga Massage with its amazing multitude of techniques and adjustments can release these blockages and bring the body back to its natural equilibrium where perfect balance and well-being are present.
Thai Massage is a complementary and holistic practice alongside yoga, as it works all parts of oneself. If you are interested in advancing your awareness and practice by learning the skills of Thai Massage, please join me in Peru this Summer!
An exploration of the levels of experience within Asana
For many years now, asana has marked the start of my day, every day. It is the ritual that keeps me grounded through my movement across continents, and the practice that for me, like so many others, has been the channel into the much greater lifestyle of yoga. For many of us, ‘doing yoga’ means getting on our mats, stretching out, strengthening our core, and relaxing in savasana. But where did this idea come from? What journeys does it present for us within? And what does it really mean to be steady and comfortable in your seat?
2.46 Sthira Sukham Asanam
sthira = strong; steady; stable; motionless
sukham = comfortable; ease filled; happy; light; relaxed
āsanam = asana; posture; seated position; physical practice
Over the years of practicing and teaching, the concept of asana and the part it plays within a yogic lifestyle has always fascinated me.Even if our practice includes other things, most of us likely started yoga through asana, postures designed to create space in the body and focus to the mind.
Through my own personal practice, I have experienced first-hand the subtle shifts in awareness that begin with the physical form of yoga. For so many of us, the physical asana is our vehicle to be able to tap in and access different aspects of our consciousness. Through a deeper understanding of the philosophy of yoga, and through incorporating this into my practice, it has become easier to recognize the teachings that surface.
More than simply recognizing the teachings on the mat, as we get deeper into our practice, the challenge evolves into a question of how to take the teachings off the mat and into daily life. When we go back to the roots of yoga, as described in Patanjali’s Ashtanga (eight limbed path), we see that asana is described as above: sthira sukha asanam - a steady, comfortable seat.
Beyond the physical
Although Asana is commonly translated as a steady, comfortable seat, we will learn here that it is much more than just the physical seat that we are accustomed to. Asana undoubtedly affects the physical, mental, and spiritual worlds. When we physically take a seat in a specific way in order to align our structure, we also have the opportunity to access the more subtle, yet profound teachings of alignment through the philosophical and spiritual realms.
Simply stated, the term asana means ”to sit.” So let’s explore the nature of what it is to take a seat. Taking a seat prompts us to ask… how we can more comfortably sit with ourselves? Just like taking a physical seat, sitting with ourselves is a true journey through subtle shifts in awareness; from darkness to light. Seeing how we experience it through asana allows us to understand how we might experience it on other levels of our being.
First, we experience the physical discomfort of what it is to sit in alignment. Only when we take these steps and move through discomfort in our practice can we feel established and secure in our physical seat. Once our structure is secure, the discomfort in the mind often starts to surface. It is this place where we start to observe ourselves and the deep questions arise: “Who Am I?” Beyond these questions, a state arises where we are unable even to analyze with the mind at all - a state which for many can be uncomfortable - but it is here in this transcendence that the spiritual benefits start to arrive.
In all areas of yoga and shamanism we see a continuing theme of moving through our darkness - or at least noticing it - as a way of cleaning our diamond within. Asana is like a resetting, a surgery for our nervous system that allows us to find more comfort in who we are. It lets us literally sit with ourselves; the true goal of asana. It results in a more awakened state through a transformational journey from the head to the heart, arriving at our true essence.
In every posture or shape that we take in practice, we can see three shifts in awareness as we connect with the true meaning of asana meaning “to sit”. The first one deals with the physical seat, the second one is the philosophical seat, and the third is taking a seat in our soul.
I invite you to take a seat...
The Lower World: The Physical Posture
According to yoga master B.K.S. Iyengar, Padmasana is the only pose in which all four areas of the body are perfectly balanced: the feet, legs, and pelvis; the torso; the arms and hands; and the neck, throat, and head. When the body achieves perfect balance, Iyengar says, the brain can rest correctly on the spinal column and breathing comes easily. In other words, once the legs are settled in Lotus, the torso can soar upward without any effort and the diaphragm is able to expand more fully. Energetically, there is a cyclical source of energy that is not being given away, but continues to flow through us.
Why does it hurt so much? This is most likely from tightness in the hips. This is one of the benefits of the Tantric text, Hatha Yoga Pradipika, in which we find 16 seated postures, or variations of Lotus, to open the hips so that we can begin to sit with more comfort. There are safe and alternative ways to find a seat if this variation is unavailable.
Alternatives: Getting down on the floor to sit doesn’t mean forcing ourselves into Padmasana if our body doesn’t belong there. Even seasoned asana practitioners who can get into Lotus without a problem may not find it comfortable for long sits. Luckily other seated meditation poses exist and can provide many of the same benefits.
If you full Lotus doesn’t work for you, try Ardha Padmasana (Half Lotus Pose) or Sukhasana (cross legged). For people who find those postures too much on the hips, use the assistance of props (a blanket or block) to elevate the hips, so the knees are pointing down, which will allow the energy to flow more fluidly to the toes. Virasana (Hero Pose) also gives a firm foundation and can be used with props under the hips for more comfort. Sitting in a chair with the back straight is another modification that will help build postural muscles.
Challenges: When we are not used to sitting up straight, we may begin to feel soreness in our erector spinae muscles, either side of the spine, until we build strength to sit up properly. People who are overly externally rotated in the legs will find they experience tightness in the muscles around the hips, so should first internally rotate their upper thighs, to create more space. Be patient - every asana is designed to strengthen and support the seated postures, so over time, you will become more comfortable!
“Practice and all is coming.“
Sri K. Pattabhi Jois
As our meditative postures begin to grow stronger and more comfortable, we enjoy the occasional moments when sitting becomes effortless, the subtle channels of the body open, and prana flows with total freedom.
Middle World, The Mental/Philosophical
The philosophy of the Yoga Sutras suggests Asana as the 3rd limb of the eight-step approach to enlightenment, after we purify externally with the Yamas, and internally with the Niyamas. Sometimes we get lost in thinking the asana practice we experience today is how it has always been, but this is very far from the case. The asana Patanjali refers to is a seated posture; the seat intended for meditation and total absorption in the final stages of Ashtanga.
Only when the physical structure is secure can we begin to experience the rising of the philosophical teachings. As we deepen our state, the mind kicks in and tries to disrupt the steadiness and security of the posture. At this point, we have to look inside and see what comes up; we must go through it so we can get over it and lose interest in it.
But when our shadows begin to arise, how do we handle them? Here, we mentally train ourselves to lose interest in thoughts with what is known as discrimination; viveka. Discrimination is understanding what is the ego and what is the Self. We must try and remain steady and comfortable as we “sit” through the sifting and movement of the mind, so that the mind can eventually settle and relax into mental alignment.
We may experience all kinds of emotions at this level; once we are in proper alignment, the emotional body has space to experience its holdings. Allow yourself to “sit” through your thoughts and emotions, but do not identify as them. Be non-attached - a practice Patanjali calls Varaigya. We are the witness of our thoughts and emotions. Be grateful for these experiences, because without them, we cannot obtain the the key to the next realm.
Often times it’s easier to move our body out of the discomfort. From this mental realm, this can be viewed as trying to get out of a situation that we are in, rather than sitting through it; a behavior known as dvesa(avoidance). This is where the practice of sitting for meditation deepens.
How can we experience the movement of thoughts and emotions, without moving the body? We become the impartial witness, watching as the fluctuations of the mind come and go. The practice is to stay equanimous in nature. Watch as you shift states of awareness from the physical to mental.
Challenges: When things become too hard emotionally, we tend to avoid that space and suppress it further. We get stuck and allow the emotion or thought to take over, resulting in a winning mind. Other challenges may be waiting for the length of time it can take to get physically aligned and for the philosophical teachings to come through. Yet, if we allow them and even invite them to rise to the surface, the struggle can be released and eventually transcended.
The Upper World: Level of the Spiritual
Sutra 2.48 Tatah Dvandva Anabhigata Tatah
When Asana is mastered there is cessation of the disturbances caused by dualities (dvandva).
Translation by Dennis Hill
When the movement of the mind stops, so do the opposites, or dualities, cease to exist in the world. Dennis Hill continues to say, "Pain and pleasure live on one side of the coin, and bliss of Self on the other". In this third and final state, there are no longer options to choose between, but a stillness that has not existed until now: Sat Chit Ananda; eternal bliss of the Self.
This shift would not exist without first looking at the physical and mental realms, but when we find it, it is something to be present with. All dualities fade, and we bask in the essence of our true nature, untouched, yet uplifted.
In the spiritual realm of asana, we no longer experience the physical discomfort - we have transcended this level and cannot identify with the body at this realm. We conquer the mind as it settles and is retrained into concentration. We begin to access the fullness of the prana that lives inside us. We are connected and as expansive as the universe.
The mind settles here, and absorption can take place. When we are sitting in our true nature, spiritually, we experience the freedom of the body and the thoughts, and shift into a state of oneness. The teachings of Raja Yoga are working when we can feel and know asana now as more than taking a "steady comfortable seat". The full experience of asana on the spiritual realm is a shift into a higher state of awareness, where we can properly take a seat in our soul, our essence; who we are.
Challenges: It can be a challenge to build a steady practice in which we are extremely conscious as we shift through each world in our meditation and in our asana practice. Every shape we choose can result in these three shifts in awareness, starting with the physical, then mental, and into spiritual. Getting frustrated and stopping there is a common challenge. Breathe your way through your practice and find non-judgment as you play with your edges.
Revealing our True Nature
Asana is holistic in its process as it moves us into the depths of our own being. The trigger of the physical seat, or posture, will ignite a philosophical teaching. In this is a possible transcendence of all dualities, a chance to merge into the oneness that is the authentic experience of asana as intended.
Until asana is mastered, according to the teachings of Patanjali and the Ashtanga eight-step approach, we can not begin the practice of the 4th limb, Pranayama. When our posture is aligned physically, mentally, and spiritually, we are able to fully experience our own life force.
As yoga practitioners and teachers, we want to both experience this for ourselves and share this experience with others, so we do not only leave with a feeling of physical strength and relaxation, but with a teaching and a lesson we can apply to our lives off the mat. May we all take these experiences we have in our asana, hold them sacred, and allow this process to evolve and transform us so that we can properly “sit” in our true nature.
“Yoga is the blending of movement and stillness”- Dennis Hill
Patanjali says yoga is the restraint of thoughts in the mind. No thoughts = no mind. Easier said then done right?
One can sit down to meditate everyday and try and cultivate this stillness through being still… Sitting, watching. That’s what Patanjali would prescribe in order to obtain enlightenment.
The last 2 years I have experienced lots of movement. Lots of travel. Big cities, remote villages. My most favorite times of finding stillness though are in the most chaotic places. Airports. Subways. Chicken buses. Its possible, its about finding your inner peace always, your inner temple, your sacred space you can hold for yourself, without being effected by people and things around you.
Even when your in remote places though, it doesn’t necessarily mean its going to be easier. The mind is always going to think of something to distract you. At first, at the yoga farm, when we sat down each morning to meditate before the sun even rose of the volcanoes, I was frustrated with the birds chirping, the men in the boats laughing and fishing, the water pump, the wind brushing through the trees. I realized it was only a reflection of my inner state. I soon began to understand that instead of resisting the things around me, I can embrace them and they all began to become a beautiful symphony of the world around me, and getting to that state was no longer as challenging as before.
People are always getting discouraged by this concept of meditation and stillness. Here, we begin to introduce the concept of moving meditation, which is still meditation, since everything is moving all the time, we should work with the movement, not against it. It is what athletes refer to as being “in the zone” or a runners high, or do you ever enter a state of no thought when your folding laundry or washing dishes? You can live your life in a state of meditation. Cultivate this practice in everything that you do, with awareness and intention.
One of my biggest inspirations, Shiva Rea, led an ecstatic dance workshop and reminded everyone about the art of music and dancing. You can move in this state with complete stillness of the mind. When people say they “cant dance”, thats simply just not true. Everyone can dance, its just something you have yet to explore in your own body to feel the music. She says that dance is innate in everybody and it starts with the heartbeat. Boom Boom. Boom Boom. You hear the beat?
In yoga asana, we move more or less for an hour and a half, to move our energy, spread it out, free it from tension and blockages so that when we finish our practice, what do we feel in sivasana? Complete and utter stillness. No thought = no mind.
Essentially the same concept as Patanjali with regards to no thought = no mind. The view at the top is the same, but we all have different ways of getting to the top of the mountain to see the light.
So I encourage everybody as they move throughout their day, and may not have a sitting meditation practice, that you try and find stillness through movement.
Verify through your own experience.
Thats one theory and practice that is very much respected and I have experienced first hand.
I often times question, can we cultivate this same stillness through movement? In my personal practice and experience this is where I get to my deepest state.
If everything is energy then everything is constantly and consistently moving all the time. What happens when we are stressed? Our energy becomes constricted and therefore we are not able to move with ease and we begin to feel tension and hold on to it in our physical bodies, mostly in our neck, shoulders and hips. I know you know what I mean. You probably feel it there right now. I recently took a workshop with Erich Schiffmann (not related), and he reminded everybody to just “relaxxxxxx”. People say that all the time but what happens when you actually do it? Tension releases and your back in the flow. Essentially, when we feel emotional, it is energy is motion. When we start to bring awareness to this, and begin a letting go process, we begin to heal mentally, physically, spiritually, and emotionally. And we begin to “relaaaaxxxx”, as Erich would say. Think of all the tension and personal dramas and stories you have held on to throughout your whole life. What would it feel like to let go, clean the state, and start over. You would feel free, light, and be able to feel this energy moving through you, creating space for stillness.
Breath or prana is our life force. Once we stop breathing we stop moving. So how can we work with the breath rather then against it to find stillness? We can watch our breath, we can take longer, deeper breaths to start engaging our PNS (parasympathetic nervous system) and through that we start to “relaxxxxx”, release tension with every exhale, and become still, create room for stillness. When you do this you can find stillness at the top and the bottom of each breath, and then instead of focusing on breath, you begin to focus on the space between the breath. My good friend Michelle, Director of the Mystical Yoga Farm, often says allow your breath to become your dance partner. You are not in control in this world, and as soon as you can surrender to the intense power of the universe, you will begin to experience flow. Let the breath breathe you.
Water. Our earth is made of mostly water and so are we. This is a direct reflection of what water represents which is change, fluidity, impermanence, flow. Think of a river. We can’t be completely still or the river will take us over, we have to rock and roll with the river without resistance. “Go with the flow”.
In Ayurveda, the sister science to yoga, we learn that we have all of the elements of the universe moving in us all the time. Our outer world is a direct reflection of our inner world. Fire, water, ether, air, and earth. Proportions changing with every moment. Movement.
Tai Chi, another practice involving connection with the elements. The idea is to find stillness creating harmony and flow with the elements outside and inside of you, so you begin to glide and move into stillness.
Permaculture offers the same concept, using and moving with the environment around you to create maximum efficiency with minimal effort.
Thats the idea right? Where minimal effort is needed to get the most out of your intention.
I am currently living in community in Guatemala sharing transformational retreats and trainings at The Yoga Forest. After 7 years you get used to the scene here but for those of you who are unfamiliar with this town, you could literally pick it up and place it in the desert and call it Burning Man. I poke fun but this incredibly beautiful village on Lake Atitlan is named San Marcos. With that being said, there are many different walks of life here who are all either stepping on to a spiritual path exploring themselves or have been on one for a long time always continuing to deepen their understanding of Spirit.
Walking around town, I have many conversations with many different people usually about spirituality and the health and well being of ourselves and the planet. A big head spinner this season for me is commonly hearing the phrase “I am not the body” or “I am focusing my upper chakras”. Now, as a yoga practitioner and teacher, I understand the philosophy behind this phrase, but in my experience and here at the lake in San Marcos, they are not realizing also that….We are the body.
We are not the body and we are also the body. How can this be? I find the people living out this philosophy of identifying themselves as Spirit takes away from their experience of being human and having a body and a mind. There is too much on the emphasis of connecting to spirit that it’s causing an imbalance here on the earth. We as humans need to be aware and able to function in the body we were given. We know we are not the mind or the thoughts we think, but we still need to use our minds. So, what kind of relationship do we want to have with our bodies and minds? How can we live a meaningful spiritual life connected to the ethers while having 2 feet on the earth living in our human experience with a mind and a body.
My intention through my offerings of Yoga Teacher Trainings, Thai Massage Courses, and Transformational Retreats is to bring people back into their body and find more connection with the earth element. We must not lose our ability to put into action all the things that we dream up. We need a body for that. We are grateful for this body.
“It is through the body that you realize you are a spark of divinity”
~ BKS Iyengar
If you are not the body, then why when you’re fasting, do you feel the churning of the stomach and extremely low energy.
If you are not the body, then why when you break a bone do you feel immense physical pain.
If you are not the body, then why when you are ill do you feel so bad.
If you are not the body, then why do women experience birth; the gift of life through it.
Having a body is a beautiful thing; a sacred temple to house our spirits. We must nurture this temple and provide it with purity so it can experience divinity through us as individuals. We are a unique expression of spirit, separating and uniting as one. We must move the body to increase flexibility so that Spirit can more easily move through us. We must release physical blockages and holdings in the body through our practice so that Spirit can be flowing through this channel of divine Love that we are, Yoga Philosophy brings up the concept of duality for example in this case being the body and/or not being the body. Vedanta Philosophy on oneness states we are both the body and we are not the body. So, let us start nourishing the body like we nourish our spirits by connecting to them. I have observed this with a lot of the Bhakti Yogis here in town. Beautiful people finding connection through chanting mantra (I’m singing right alongside them) but sometimes discount or even mock the asana practice and the manipulation of the body. There is a scientific reason why we put our bodies in these shapes. It signals responses in the brain and the PNS (parasympathetic nervous system) switches on leaving you with the same experience and connection to spirit as singing mantra. They do say Bhakti Yoga is the easiest and most direct path to enlightenment and my experience backs that statement. Love to the Bhaktis, and at the same time I encourage people to hold movement and connection to the earth through the body in as high of a regard as the mantras or any other spiritual work that excludes movement. It is divinity as are you.
Whether you connect to spirit through plant medicine, meditation, asana, sound, or mantra, understand that these are all different avenues that lead us to the same destination. One is not holier than the other. They all allow you to experience connection to Spirit through the vessel that is you. All of the flesh and bones and body that is you because we are the body too. Hell yea, we are this body!
I have found myself; perhaps for the very first time as I roll to one side, reborn as I enter into a fetal position; breathing new breath, awakening to a new day, with new eyes and a new perspective. It is this practice of yoga that gifts me with fresh awareness and I know that I have found connection once again to the essence of who I am. Yoga on the mat simply becomes the practice for how I live my life off the mat. The practice of yoga is a journey from the head to the heart; a true process of Self Discovery.
I thought what most people in the West think; a great workout and increased flexibility. I had no idea the practice would change me from the inside out. All my life I wanted to change everything and everyone around me but I never thought to have a continuous practice of looking inside. Arriving on my mat daily allows me the opportunity to reflect and feel into any stagnancy or holdings I may have. The pure acknowledgment that this density exists helps me to move through it and release it. Each time I get on my mat I learn more about myself.
The practice is very much a personal journey but there is something about stepping into a room amongst people who are also there for personal healing. It makes it easier to be vulnerable and to come to the practice humbled, with an open heart. This complete surrender allows me to receive the benefits of the practice; physically yes, but mostly mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. As I create more space in my body for the breath, the stagnancy dissipates leaving me with a feeling of bliss; pure and unconditional love. These holdings are just stuck energy; stories or imprints in the body and the mind from past experiences. The practice is to release them with every exhale inviting new energy, creation and passion with each inhale. As I let go of who I am not, I breathe into the essence of who I am. With each practice comes a teaching, with each teaching comes awareness, and with each moment of awareness I have a greater knowing of my body, mind, and spirit.
Although a personal journey, you will see yogis start to congregate around the world in community. With the support of one another we can see each person as a teacher and a reflection of who we are. We are all in search of the same thing; union. Union with the self, each other, nature, and spirit; whether we know it or not. We are one and we are longing for this connection to feel whole rather than separate. I didn't know it at the time but I was looking for community; a family to grow with spiritually. To transform and to witness transformation in others. When I did my Yoga Teacher Training in an intensive environment; a community was formed as we lived yoga, breathed yoga, and studied yoga for 3 weeks together. Through my connection with others, I have reconnected to myself.
Although my main intention through yoga teacher training course was to deepen my practice mostly by conquering handstand, I found that what I got from it were tools to a life with purpose and intention. With this experience, i quickly jumped at the chance to facilitate this journey for others. I also realized yoga teacher training is not just for people wanting to become teachers, but for anyone and everyone so that we can all continue to awaken to our Soul's purpose.
After 5 years of facilitating and over 25 trainings later, I have found my tribe. This intimate beautiful family of friends and teachers; my closest reflection of who I am have become my Kula; commUNITY of the HEART. Our main mission is to help people awaken through Yoga Teacher Trainings and Transformational Retreats. This is our dharma, our Soul's purpose. What is yours?
5 Reasons to join KULA COLLECTIVE'S Yoga Teacher Training Courses (25 day intensives)
LIVE YOUR YOGA through daily PRACTICE
SELF DISCOVERY through TRANSFORMATION
SACRED LOCATIONS around the GLOBE
COMMUNITY and a SOUL FAMILY
GIVE and RECEIVE unconditional LOVE
Or is it the other way around?!?!?
The Yoga Sutras, a compilation of Patanjali’s teachings written by his disciples reflect on the systematic approach to a higher state of consciousness, or what the yogis would call samadhi, the 8th limb.
but first we must look at the meat of the Yoga Sutras; the 8 limbs. We must become aware and practice the internal and external disciplines of Raja Yoga to see how there is really no difference between yoga and life itself. They become reflections of one another. When we fully understand these teachings, we recognize that in each moment on the mat or off the mat we have a choice in the way we want to be.
As I understand these steps more fully, when i step onto my mat, each time becomes a philosophy teaching and a life lesson, rather then simply poses strung together to build strength and flexibility. There is a switch, a light bulb that turns on after a while where your practice becomes your healing rather then your exercise.
Yoga doesnt tell us what to do or how to be, but simply gives us guidelines on how we may want to live our lives so that we are in more harmony with our relationship to our Selves and our relationship with others.
My intention is to bring this ancient text alive in a simple way so that we can relate to these teachings today.
Ashtanga Yoga = this is what it really means. its a philosophical 8 limb practice, not just gymnastics yoga.
1. Yama – guidelines or morals
Ahimsa – non violence
sometimes we dont know that we are hurting others or even ourselves, we go about our days behaving violently unconsciously. Some examples include, killing bugs, putting chemicals in and on the body, eating and using animal products, and even the way we think can be harmful to ourselves and others.
Satya – truthfulness
what is true? truth is subjective. Do you ever notice what is true for you may not be true for everyone. Why do we feel the need to speak our truth all the time? Is truth really opinion? live in your truth, but you dont necessarily have to fight about it or share it all the time. Hold it sacred. Be open to hearing other truths. dont discount other peoples truths because they look different.
Asteya – non stealing
Stealing can come in many forms. Besides stealing things, I began to notice other things that were being stolen like time and energy. When i started teaching this became really clear as people would show up late to class and i would feel angry and disrespected. Now, someone who was always late and rushing which caused added stress and anxiety am never late to anything based on these teachings.
Brahmacharya – moderation
in the ancient teachings, this term was used for sexual abstinence so temptation would not distract the mind and purpose of self realizaition and now has become translated to moderation. We hear this time and time again in our lives. How can we balance. Instead of being serial daters, how can we have the patience to wait and cultivate the buddhist practice of right relationship. Moderation can be applied to everything. The way we do anything is the way we do everything. If you are an extremist, you know what im talking about.
Aparigraha – greedlessness
We live in a world where we want what others have because we are discontent. a teacher once said “the basic problem of mankind is we are always wanting. wanting, wanting, wanting” can we be happy for people and what they have without wanting it also. Especially when it comes to making money, when is it enough? when can we stop trying to make more? to buy the fanciest car? the biggest house? what will that bring you?
2. Niyama – observances
Sauca – purity
When we purify, we cleanse, when we cleanse we become clear. Notice when you have a clean room, how do you feel compared to when its messy. Clean your temple and use it as a vehicle for transformation.
Tapas – discipline
My favorite. It can be hard, but well worth it if you stick to whatever it is you set out to do. Have the discipline and the practice to do it anyway, even if you don’t feel like it. You always feel better in the end, don’t you? I always think of working out, studying, or anything you commit to. Are you too disciplined? does that keep you close minded in other ways? not disciplined enough? prone to laziness? See where you are lacking so that you can make shifts from a higher level of awareness
Santosa – contentment
Why are we always wanting? If its good… stay there. Stop trying to get to the next place or the next best thing because you lose out on the present moment. How come its so much easier to be dissatisfied? Be here now. Give gratitude in this moment, see how that correlates with contentment.
Swadhyaya – self study of mantra and sacred text
Inform yourself. Question what you believe and why you believe it. Always be humble enough to be a student, no matter how much you think you know. Study something and better yet experience it before you share an opinion on it. Do the practices that reveal the inner wisdom and allow it to shine through. Keep asking, Who Am I?
Ishvara Pranidhana – Surrender
Devotion and love. The highest for of Bhakti Yoga. Give it all up, to get it all back. Self-surrender is not a process of defeat or of mindlessly submitting to another’s will. It is the act of giving ourselves to a higher purpose. Are you attached to outcomes of an event or expectations, or can you surrender fully and be more in the flow.
3. Asana – to sit
steady comfortable posture. How can we embrace the discomfort, the things in life that come up, that we would rather avoid or suppress. How can we find the comfort and strength to sit through the times and experiences that are tough with grace and compassion. Today asana has expanded to lots of postures, but originally was used to take a seat and prepare the body for meditation.
4. Pranayama – regulation of breath
Patanjali says “when the breath stops, the mind stops” we learn to control the breath so that we can induce a more calming state, and switch on the rest and digest nervous system. The breath becomes longer and deeper with pauses at the top and the bottom of each breath so that we can calm the mind and slow down. Create pauses in your life instead of running around with a million things to do. In latin american countries they say “siempre hay manana” – there is always tomorrow. The pause reflects stillness.
5. Pratyahara – sense withdrawal
“To withdrawal the senses, you must first withdrawal the mind” As the mind stills, so do the sensations. Sometimes we experience and feel so much because of our senses. When you take away one sense, dont the others become much stronger? maybe they are just a distraction from getting to know the Self. what happens when you take away all of them?
6. Dharana – concentration
Drishti in yoga means to hold. Have focal points in your life. Narrow in on what you want to be focusing on. Wouldn’t it be better and more efficient in life if we could put 100% into one thing rather then 60% into multiple projects. Hold a job, hold a gaze, hold a conversation, hold your stocks, ride the wave and with more intention and focus, you will undoubtedly do everything better.
7. Dhyana – meditation
when you concentrate on a single object for long enough, the object then disappears and you fall into a state of nothingness. Some people refer to it as “in the zone” or no mind. When you are free from the mundane and you can be more fully present in NOW.
8. Samadhi – enlightenment
When all of these limbs are not perfected but practiced over time, there becomes a shift in identity. This is a state of non doing. Where a higher state of consciousness is revealed. It may be a glimpse or happen for longer periods of time.