Make A Date with Destiny this Valentine’s Day

I can’t think of a more appropriate occasion than Valentine’s Day for a lesson on purushartha and the four desires of the soul. Aside from the obvious connection of desires (including kama or pleasure), this workshop is really an exercise in love, specifically self-love (cue Whitney Houston’s The Greatest Love of All).

Rod Stryker creator of ParaYoga wrote an illuminating book called The Four Desires outlining a detailed process for excavating our deepest wants so we can understand and pursue our unique purpose. His rallying cry to modern day yogis is to move beyond asana to where the physical practice prepares us to go. He provides meditative techniques and lessons from the Vedic scriptures to explore the self and answer questions about what it is that we aspire to become.

The goal is to come to know and understand our soul’s desires and to build a life based on those. Imagine the happiness and satisfaction gained when we are able to fully live in accordance with our true nature. It all starts by inquiring within through meditation and reflection practices approached with love and compassion.

This Saturday’s workshop gives an introduction to the four different types of desires and an opportunity to take the first step in exploring what lies within through meditation. Consider this workshop a “blind date” with your soul. As such it may feel a little awkward at times, a bit exhilarating and challenging, and undoubtedly worthwhile. Who knows? You may just find you’re soon going steady with your lovely self and wanting to keep the relationship growing;)

~K

Excerpt from the book The Four Desires. 

 

Discover the Power of Loving Kindness

I close every class I teach with these words from a loving kindness meditation:

May all beings everywhere be healthy
May all beings everywhere be happy
May all beings everywhere be safe
May all beings everywhere find peace.

Meditating on loving kindness (also known as mettā meditation) is a practice intended to develop benevolence. Through this process, the practitioner can experience joy in celebrating the happiness of others. It’s a somewhat simple, yet potent practice. I find reciting just the four lines above – a mere portion of a complete mettā practice – is a powerful reinforcement of my intentions and aspirations for compassionate living.

A traditional mettā practice begins with an offering of loving kindness directed toward oneself. The offering is then repeated several times, each time directing the energy to a specific person or group such as a ‘neutral’ individual, a loved one, an enemy, and then to all beings throughout the universe. In the meditation, the practitioner breathes in suffering and exhales happiness.

Research on the benefits of mettā meditation are mounting and show how mind training in loving kindness impacts the practitioner’s own happiness. The evidence shows that it:

  • Improves Well Being
  • Promotes Healing
  • Builds Emotional Intelligence in the Brain
  • Combats the Negative Impact of Stress
  • Strengthens Social Connections
  • Increases Self-love

Emma Sappalla, Associate Director Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research & Education, provides a stunning checklist of metta meditation benefits along with links to the corresponding research in her post 18 Science-Based Reasons to Try Loving-Kindness Meditation Today.

Mettā meditation is a highly accessible practice. I’ve even used this with my kids as a bedtime ritual to close out the day. As with any practice, the key is to – well – practice.

This 30-minute guided meditation from Sharon Salzberg author of Loving Kindess: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness provides a lovely introduction.

K

Can Yoga Improve A Child’s Education?

More and more evidence points to the improvements yoga and mindfulness training can make in the lives of children and adolescents. Yoga has been proven to decrease anxiety, conflict, and attention disorders. It’s been used to curtail bullying in school settings. Some studies show that teaching kids to manage stress and cultivate compassion can have a profound impact on the overall quality of their education as measured by grades and engagement in activities.

The good news is you don’t have to be a yoga teacher to use yoga in the classroom. You don’t even have to have your own yoga practice. If you’re a school teacher and you want to arm yourself with some simple effective techniques to help your students become caring mindful learners, join BAMBU instructor Lauren Foreman for a special 2-hour workshop Yoga In the Classroom: A Toolkit for Educators on Sunday, February 8. Details here.

Special note for those who want to do more to bring yoga into schools in their area: The Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health is bringing educators, researchers and yoga teachers together for the Yoga in the Schools Symposium February 17-19.

Further reading:

 

Meet Ho Tai for Admiration and Inspiration

At the studio we have a tiny statue of what is known as a Laughing Buddha. While not technically the Buddha, the round-bellied bald-headed figure represents a monk whose Chinese name is “Ho Tai.” Our bright orange version shows Ho Tai with hands overs his eyes. This is one of three related statues. The other two include one with hands covering the mouth (speaks no evil) and another that covers the ears (hears no evil). Our version sees no evil.

Our miniature Ho Tai reminds us of the danger when we editorialize what we see and to keep our perspectives in a positive nature. For example, if the person on the next mat is moving easily through the sequence and you’re barely able to breathe, try not to get caught in comparative thoughts like “I’m not as good as she is, therefore, I am not good at yoga.” It’s easy to become discouraged, frustrated, and unmotivated when this happens. We call this type of thinking compare and despair.

Throughout your yoga journey, you will undoubtedly encounter practitioners who are at different points along their path or who have different natural abilities when it comes to asana practice. Maybe that person who took their first yoga class three months ago when you did is now doing hand stands in the middle of the room. What you may not know is how her previous experience as a high school gymnast prepared her for this pose.

So when you feel someone is doing something better than you can, don’t compare and despair — admire and inspire instead. Let their successes remind you of the wonders of the human body and all that is possible. Let their light be a reminder of the equally beautiful light inside you. Trust that no matter where you are along your yogic path, you are exactly where you need to be at this moment.

Namaste.
-K

So You Want to Learn Yoga, Part 2: 12 Tips for Your First Class

Congratulations, you’re starting your yoga journey! These 12 tips will help you prepare and know what to expect with your first class:

1) Wear comfortable clothing. You don’t need anything fancy for yoga. Just comfortable, stretchy bottoms and a fitted top (so it doesn’t ride up during certain poses). Layering with a long sleeve tee or light jacket allows you to adjust your clothing as your body temperature rises during class. If you’re practicing hot yoga, minimal clothing (shorts and strappy tops) will be most comfortable.

2) Remove shoes and socks at the studio. Yoga is best done barefoot. This allows for greater stability in the poses and an opportunity to strengthen and flex the feet.

3) Use a sticky mat. The studio may have mats available for use (sometimes with a rental fee) or for sale. Ideally bring a mat of your own that meets your needs for comfort, stickiness, and size. Mats are readily available for as little as $5 with higher performance mats costing well over $100. It’s fine to start with a low end model and upgrade as you see fit.

4) Allow two hours after meals before practice. Yoga is best done on an empty stomach. Certain poses can put pressure on a full belly causing discomfort. If a two-hour window leaves you light-headed, try a small serving of fruit, juice or yogurt before class.

5) Come to class hydrated. Sip, don’t guzzle, water during class if needed. Drink plenty of water after class.

6) Arrive early to class. If you haven’t signed up online, you’ll need a few minutes to get set up with the studio and take care of any fees and paperwork. Arriving a few minutes before class starts gives you time to find a spot, set up your mat, stow away your personal belongings, and use the restroom.

7) Alert the teacher about any medical conditions. Tell the teacher before class so he or she can properly guide you with specific modifications during the practice. Arriving early to class will enable you to speak to the teacher privately about any health issues.

8) Be open-minded. Your first yoga class may be unlike any other wellness class you’ve taken. It will likely include centering and mindfulness exercises. There may even be chanting. Go with the flow. Be receptive to these types of experiences. The benefits may surprise you.

9) Honor your body. There’s a difference between a pose that challenges the body and one that hurts. If something doesn’t feel right, work with the teacher to find variations for the pose.

10) Watch and listen.   It’s okay to hang back and simply take in what’s going on in the class from time to time. Be sure to take cues from the teacher. Listen carefully for the instructions on getting in and out of poses.

11) Be ready for assistance. Your yoga teacher will verbally explain how to move throughout the practice. She will also provide physical assists to students from time to time. Hands-on-instruction is helpful for learning proper alignment and encouraging deeper opening in a pose.

12) Stay positive. Resist the tendency to compare yourself to what others are doing. Everyone is on their own path and each body is unique. Wherever you are in your practice today is exactly where you need to be.

Once you’ve completed your first class, keep at it. It’s called a “yoga practice” for a reason. Every class offers something new to learn and experiences to expand your path. Just keep moving forward. You’ll be glad you did.

See also So You Want to Learn Yoga, Part 1.

So You Want to Learn Yoga, Part 1: Set Up Your Journey

“Yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the self.” ~ The Bhagavad Gita

Perhaps you’ve been hearing about the benefits of yoga and how it can improve your quality of life. Maybe a medical practitioner has recommended you take it up for health reasons. Or it could just be that with the new year you want to finally discover what this yoga stuff is all about. Whatever the reason, if you want to learn yoga, we’re here to offer some guidance on how to get started.

In Part 1 of this two-part post, we look at the big picture and prepping for your journey.

1) Explore different paths to find what’s right for you. There are almost as many varieties of yoga as there are teachers. You may find certain styles more appealing. If you’re athletic and like to explore physical challenges then consider Bikram, Power, or Acro yoga. Gentle, Restorative, and Yin practices are ideal for those just beginning a physical routine or who want to balance out an already physically challenging lifestyle. Vinyasa flow and hatha are the broad categories of yoga that you will find typically offered in studios, gyms, and recreational facilities.

2) Find a guide for your journey. You’ll want to learn from a qualified teacher whose style resonates with you. Seek recommendations to help narrow your options, and then evaluate your candidates by taking a few classes with each. When you find one who seems like a good fit for you and where you are in your practice at the time, stick with them. The more they get to know you the better they can direct you.

3) Be ready to go off courseAs you move forward in yoga, you’ll venture into different physical, mindfulness, and breathing practices. The further you travel in your journey the more you’ll come to realize that the road is not straight and narrow. For as you become ready and receptive to new lessons, the Universe will supply what you need to learn them.  That may mean a new teacher, a different route, and from time to time a respite from the road itself. Know that this is all part of this new adventure you’re embarking on and embrace it with an open heart and a willing mind.

In part 2 we’ll dive in with the nuts and bolts of beginning a practice.

 

YOU CAN GET STARTED WITH YOGA BY JOINING US FOR AN UPCOMING ABSOLUTE BEGINNERS PROGRAM. LEARN MORE.

Let’s Savor Our Successes in 2015

Each and every day students and teachers achieve milestones in their yoga practice. From finding stillness in savasana for the first time to coming into handstand in the middle of the room, there are always new achievements to be grateful for and to celebrate.

Moments like these easily get lost as we focus on the next ‘big’ thing we want to do. But when we make the effort to enjoy the things we did get done, we keep our energies in a state of celebration and that energy fuels us to do more.

So anytime you experience a ‘win’ or a ‘shift’ in your practice, we invite you to mark these landmarks along your yoga journey in our Community Celebration Jar. To record those experiences, victories, and observations, simply jot a note on one of the colored paper squares in the studio. Date your note and add your name if you like, then place it in the jar.

Each time we look and see the notes filling our jar with all the colors of joy, we’ll be reminded of how far we’ve come together! We’ll then commemorate our journey and acknowledge these beautiful memories at celebratory events throughout the year.

Namaste.

A New Way to Resolve in the New Year

The new year is brimming with new beginnings, new commitments, and new resolve. An estimated 45% of Americans make resolutions at the start of the year. According to one study by the University of Scranton, those who make a resolve are 10 times more likely to meet their goal than someone who does not. However that same study also shows that only 8% of those who set their resolve actually succeed.

If stating a commitment increases the likelihood of following through, what is that keeps 92% of those who do from achieving the goal? The problem is likely the resolution itself. Typical resolutions stem from a place of negativity, rooted in the belief that the person making it is not good enough and needs to change and improve.

In yoga there is an alternative approach: the practice of sankalpa, a resolve or vow that stems from your heart’s desire. A sankalpa is a statement or phrase that serves as beacon to help navigate the day-to-day choices that come up at every moment in our lives. When we have a choice to make we can simply look to our sankalpa to decide which way to turn.

One way to understand sankalpa is to compare it with a typical new year’s resolution. Let’s start with the most common one:

I will lose weight.

Because this statement is in the negative it would not work as a sankalpa which should be positive. So let’s change the phrasing to:

I will be fit and healthy.

Closer, but this statement puts the emphasis on a future tense. As with all areas of yoga, we must remember that we are already all that we need to be, that we are enough as we are, and yet at that same time we are constantly evolving. We accept the duality of both being and becoming.  With this in mind, we can turn our resolution into a sankalpa by stating instead:

I live a fit and healthy lifestyle.

It’s easy to see how practicing this sankalpa on a daily basis gives clarity to the many decisions made that could impact weight. Questions such as “what shall I eat for lunch?” or “will I take a cab or walk the 10 blocks to meet my friends?” have clearer answers if this is how I live my life.

This form of sankalpa will help with making specific changes or reaching a specific goal, however there is another type or level of sankalpa that is much more encompassing. This is where we tap into our heart’s desire which is already present and waiting to be accessed.

One way to get to this deeper resolve is to take whatever resolution you are considering and then ask “why do I want this?” Explore your answers and see what that tells you. Using the example of a resolution to lose weight I can begin to tap into my heartfelt sankalpa, by asking “what do I gain by reaching this goal?” Answers such as ” I’ll be happy” or “I’ll feel better about myself” may surface. This tells me that being content and happy with myself and my appearance is important to me. From here a sankalpa stating self acceptance might be created such as:

I am at peace with myself and trust my inner compass to guide me.

This is a statement that shines a light into more areas than simply what I eat or how much energy I expend. Nearly any choice that arises — big or small —  can be held up to this statement for guidance and direction. I can then choose to follow only the options that align with my feelings of inner peace and trust in my own instincts.

Finding your personal sankalpa isn’t difficult, but it does take time and effort. You can start by writing down resolutions or goals that come to mind for you for the new year. Then take each one and explore the reasons these goals are important to you. With gentle prompting see what arises as you strive to create a sankalpa that both guides you and reflects on who you truly are.

Namaste.

~K