Teaching Our Inner Heart with Lessons for the Outer Body

Building lovingkindness – an inner attitude of wholeheartedly wishing all beings experience happiness – is trickiest when it comes to extending these feelings toward those with whom we’re in conflict. Sometimes it can be difficult to know how to extend lovingkindness without condoning bad behaviors in others or accepting harm done to us.

In Yoga we can take our lessons from our physical practice and extend them off the mat. Let’s look at Revolved Half Moon Pose (Parvritta Ardha Chandrasana) and how it relates to lovingkindness practice.

Most heart-opening poses taught in connection with lovingkindness, involve big heart openings such as backbends. But in this version of Half Moon we must balance on opposite hand and foot. This creates restrictions in the body when attempting to radiate the heart center up and extend the other hand and foot outward. It’s much like trying to send out feelings of lovingkindness from a place of conflict. It’s harder to get where we want to go, but not impossible.

To move into the pose, we root down into the standing leg and lift the back foot to hip height, drawing both hips in toward the midline. The shoulder of the grounding arm draws in as the hand roots down. As we anchor hips and shoulder we fortify our core and our foundation from which we can twist and open up the heart center and extend the upper arm. Maintaining integrity in the foundation is key. If the hip of the extended leg begins to drop, reduce the twist. Don’t sacrifice the balance in the hips for the extension in the chest and upper arm. Greater ease and extension in the pose will come in time with consistent practice.

Note the importance of shoring up the torso where manipura (naval/courage) chakra and anahata (heart/compassion) chakra reside and the setting of boundaries (not allowing the hip drop) to keep the core steady. Developing a lovingkindness attitude toward those who are difficult for us, means opening up from a place of strength. It takes courage. It also takes practice.

For more on lovingkindness practice see our post here or practice along with this recorded meditation.

Does separation make us feel more connected?

Despite the technology that allows us to message or speak to one another at any time, you don’t have to look very hard to see the  growing struggle for individuals to connect with others. In the news and social media, inflammatory comments are rampant and creating walls between people of differing ideas and beliefs. What is going on?

Noted author and speaker Brené Brown has done extensive research on connection which she defines as “the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”

Because Brown contends that we are hardwired for connection, it’s puzzling to see the surge in “othering” (the purposeful separation created between a perceived “us” vs. “them”) that’s appearing in our daily discourse. Whether it be political leanings, skin color, religion, or ethnicity, the divisions in our country are growing deeper.

If connection is so vital to us, why then are we working so hard on separating ourselves?

There seems to be aamma-quote-2n evolutionary drive behind ‘othering.’ Psychologist speculate that having strong distinctions between groups was important in our tribal past when knowing who wasn’t a part of your group was essential for survival.

Despite the progress in globalization, societies around the world continue to cycle through periods of self-imposed divisions, most notably when fear and uncertainty are left unchecked.

The reason for our resistance to connection during times of stress, may be found in the teachings of the Tao Te Ching.  It reminds us of the value of opposites. There is no black without white, no light without dark, no good without evil, no left without right, no front without back. We experience things only in contrast to other things. The more we focus on the differences, the more value we give to the commonalities.

Could the reason for the increase in ‘othering’ and separation simply be a natural response to our increasing need to feel connected? With our 24-hour news cycles and constant bombardment of bold, sometimes shockingly candid discussions on social channels, could we be feeling less safe, less certain and be in greater need to seek comfort among those who are like us? And as we seek to make those connections, is it possible we inadvertently create more divisions?

I think so. I believe, too, that we can find connection without ‘othering’ by bringing more yoga to our lives. In upcoming posts, we’ll explore yoga’s role in helping us find greater connection – and unity – in a different way.

~ K

Maria De Noda On Core Strength Vinyasa and Her Upcoming Workshop

IMG_2851Maria De Noda has trained in many styles, and is influenced by many teachers but her biggest influences in body movement, alignment and anatomy have been Sadie Nardini, Leslie Kaminoff and Tom Myers. She has studied extensively under the guidance of Sadie in Core Strength Vinyasa and has a personal yoga practice of over 20 years. Maria is registered through Yoga Alliance as an E-RYT and is a member of the International Association of Yoga Therapists. Maria brought Core Strength Vinyasa to BAMBU at her sold out workshop in October. She returns later this month with Rediscover Your Power: Warrior Flow. We had a chance to ask Maria a few questions about the event on behalf of BAMBU students.

Core strength vinyasa yoga sounds like something for only very strong and athletic students. Is that true?

Not at all. Core Strength Vinyasa Yoga (CSVY) is a practice open to everyone. I teach it to all levels from individuals with health problems who practice in a chair to those who ran a marathon over the weekend. The practice works with the deep core line of the body, engaging deeper muscles than other practices. Most of us use the outer muscles of the body, but in this style of yoga, we learn to engage the muscles that are deep inside the body to make your yoga practice more effective no matter what your experience or fitness level is.

What differences will I notice with this style of yoga?

What is different about CSVY is that with it the body moves in a more natural, holistic and therapeutic way than the traditional yoga practices. The poses are the same, but HOW to get into them is different. A yoga pose is a template, and students in this style learn to fit their body appropriately into that template, with what feels right for them. Everyone’s pose shouldn’t be the same exact one and that’s OK. CSVY is about true balance and finding a practice that is right for you so you can own it. The practice is based on new, real world anatomy and biomechanics. As we learn more about the body a yoga practice needs to evolve and change. I will be bringing you the latest information.

Who is this workshop designed for?

The workshop is designed for everyone. New students can come and learn more about the body and how to safely transition from one pose to another. There will be plenty of modifications and suggestions. Advanced students will learn how to enhance their current practice by engaging deep core muscles that don’t get engaged in a traditional yoga practice. CSVY doesn’t take away from anyone’s practice; it adds to it. Yoga Teachers can come and get CE credit by studying with me and learn new ways to lead students in a more holistic, safe and natural way. Keep in mind that I am the only yoga teacher in this area qualified to teach this style as I am a CSVY Master Trainer and have spent the last couple of years studying the style with the creator, Sadie Nardini, in person and assist at her workshops. Come learn something unique. Your body will thank you.

Is this the same as the workshop you did in October?

No, this workshop is new and different from the previous one. While we will be reviewing some of the information from October as a refresher and also for anyone who might have missed that workshop, we will be learning new poses and new ways of coming into them. This workshop will focus on the Warrior series and I will be bringing in more things that I have learned as I continue to train with my teacher.

Click here to register and learn more about Maria’s Rediscover Your Power: Warrior Flow workshop on February 20 from 2-4pm.

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.


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.


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.