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FULFILLING YOUR DHARMA

Posted on February 28th, 2017 by Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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By Gary Kraftsow

We all have certain fundamental responsibilities and obligations to fulfill in life. As parents, we have a responsibility to our children. As adult children, we have a responsibility to our elderly parents. As husbands and wives, we have a responsibility to our mates. As social beings, we have responsibilities to our employers, employees, society, and government. As students, we have responsibilities to our teachers . And, as teachers, we have responsibilities to our students.

These responsibilities must be fulfilled—they constitute a personal dharma from which there is no honorable escape. They are the basic requirements that give our lives the order and cohesion that hold us together and that support us on our journey through time. To see the truth in this we need only observe how rapidly our lives begin to fall apart once we become unable, or unwilling, to fulfill our basic personal responsibilities.

Beyond these personal responsibilities, there is also an ultimate dharma—a responsibility to that which we all share in common, to a univesal common good. This is described variously according to different traditions, the common thread being the fulfillment of our highest potential as human beings. The ancients suggested that the first step toward fulfilling this ultimate aim lies in the fulfillment of our personal responsibilities. All too often we use our ideas of the spiritual realm as an escape from the real situations of our lives that face us day to day. And thus they taught “dharma rakṣati rakṣata,” which loosely translated means “as we take care of our responsibilities, we will be taken care of.”

Excerpt from: Yoga for Transformation: Ancient Teachings and Practices for Healing the Body, Mind,and Heart by Gary Kraftsow.

 

KraftsowGary Kraftsow

Gary Kraftsow, the leading proponent of viniyoga therapy in the US, has been a pioneer in the transmission of yoga for health, healing, and personal transformation for 30 years. After studying in India with T.K.V. Desikachar and his father T. Krishnamacharya, Gary received a special diploma from Viniyoga International in Paris. In 1999 he founded the American Viniyoga Institute where he is currently director and senior teacher of the Institute’s teacher and therapist trainings.

To learn more about Gary Kraftsow, check out his DVDs here at Pranamaya.

 

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6 Steps to Building Your Capacity in an Uncertain 2017

Posted on February 3rd, 2017 by Both comments and pings are currently closed.

 

 

 

 

meditation by robert sturman

by Tracee Stanley

How can you find stability and clarity and when everyone around you is in a constant state of reactivity to every tweet, every post, every news article and every friend who has a differing opinion? The answer is that you must build your capacity. Build your capacity to hold everything — all of what you perceive to be good, bad and more. What exactly does that mean? It means remaining stable in the midst of chaos. It means riding the ebbs and flows of life and not getting caught in the undertow. This is not apathy or some form of magical thinking, but seeing things as they are, not how you wish them to be…and being okay.
Build your capacity for discernment, to see what is true and what is not. Build your capacity to know what to do, when to do it and how. If we can see clearly and cultivate stability we will know what actions to take and we can navigate life and it’s obstacles with more ease and grace. But we must have the awareness, strength and steadiness to accept and process what is in front of us.
This kind of powerful capacity often awakens in you when you least expect it. It happens when you have to dig deep to walk into the room of a dying loved one to say goodbye. When you have to take part in an intervention with a friend or loved one who desperately needs help. When a friend calls you as their last hope because they are ready to take their own life. You find a deep reserve of energy and space; a place you might not have known existed within you. You resolve that you are not going to be swayed; that you can and will be strong and clear. And then you find that you are being guided by your inner knowing and you withstand something that you may have previously thought was intolerable. You not only withstand it, but you excel in the doing of whatever needs to be done. I am asking that you not wait for tragedy to strike, but that you build the qualities of capacity, strength and stability now. The more we exercise the muscles of building and maintaining capacity in the everyday, the more stable we will be in what others might call the worst of times. If these first few weeks of the new presidency are any indication, we will all need to build our capacity no matter what side of the aisle we are sitting on.
Here are some simple ways to begin to build capacity:

1.Create a media safe zone in your home.

Designate a room in your home that is media free. If possible, allow your bedroom to be the place where you can retreat for silence and reflection. This will not be a place to escape to but a place to be present with your thoughts and feelings. Place a journal on your nightstand and journal every morning and night for 10 minutes.

2. Be present with what you are feeling.

Part of becoming more stable and grounded is acknowledging what it is that you are experiencing — without shame or judgment. When you hear “bad news” you may feel something arising within you. Just stop whatever you are doing and breathe. Let the feeling of whatever it is bubble to the surface. Don’t push it away. Now notice that it has a texture or essence; maybe even a vibration that accompanies it. Ask yourself — what am I sensing right now? When was the last time I felt like this? If you can begin to trace back to the very first time you felt this way it may be helpful for you to see how much of what you are experiencing has to do with the current “bad news” or with a prior event in your life.

3. Discern between your thoughts, feelings and emotions.

As you continue to become more awake to what you are experiencing you can begin to more easily recognize the nature of that experience. Is a thought, such as “This really makes me mad when people do x,y, or z?” Is it a feeling or sensation, such as “I feel my whole body becoming hot and tingly?” Is it an emotion, such as “I feel anger arising?” Notice where you feel it in your body. Be with it. See what is there are perhaps it even has a message for you. LISTEN. Go to your safe zone and journal.

4. Cultivate the opposite.

When you feel something arising. Imagine the exact opposite. Remember you are not imagining the opposite situation. For example you are not imagining that your preferred candidate is now president. You are tapping into your emotion and imagining the opposite emotion. So if you are feeling helpless close your eyes and sense what you are feeling in the body. Now imagine feeling powerful. Take yourself back to a time when you felt powerful, if even for a moment. Remember how it felt. Where do you feel that in your body? Vacillate you attention between where you feel helpless in the body and where you feel powerful. Notice that it is very possible to have them both present within you at the same time. Remember that energy follows attention. Notice what you choose to pay attention to. Take a few moments to journal in your safe zone.

5. Dissolve everything.

Set your timer for ten minutes. Sit in a chair or on the floor with your eyes closed. Notice your thoughts, feelings and emotions arising. Each time anything arises, imagine and feel whatever it is being subsumed and dissolved by light. You are not labeling anything good or bad you are just dissolving everything that comes into your awareness. Feel yourself becoming more and more spacious. Feel yourself grounded and stable. Remind yourself that whatever happens, you can handle it. After the 10 minutes has passed, take 5 minutes to journal.

6. Commit to a daily ritual of meditation, long walks, periods of silence, yoga nidra, journaling or self-inquiry.

The more you are able to find moments of silence for reflection and contemplation the more capacity and stability you will build for yourself. Others around you may become drawn to your stability and ease. Share with them whatever tools worked for you.
This is a time that we must each become self-aware and resilient. We must get to know ourselves. In doing that we may begin to understand more about others, bridging the gap between good and bad, and right and wrong. Maybe if we can all commit to building our capacity we can find a way to live together in harmony, to find solutions and to be more responsive and less reactive. And when action is called for in any moment we will know how to use our energy and attention for the greatest effect.

 

Tracee Stanley is a Meditation and Yoga Nidra teacher in Los Angeles. You can download a free meditation from her until 2/12/17 at Pranamaya

Photo by Robert Sturman

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Why You Shouldn’t Skip Savasana

Posted on December 1st, 2016 by Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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Savasana: Corpse Pose

To practice self-care is to activate, embody and embrace self-love and what better way to show our physical bodies, mind and emotional wellbeing self-love than by resting. When we come into a resting pose during the culmination of our practice or anytime throughout the day, we are nurturing our bodies, listening to our intuition telling us we need to slow down, take in the magic of our existence and experiences and simply unwind. Savasana or corpse pose does just that- relaxing the entire body and permitting the integration of emotional, mental and physical benefits from our practice to dissolve into our soul and energize our vital life force- the prana within.

To physical embody savasana, begin by lying on your back with your arms resting comfortable at your sides, shoulders rolled down your spine while slighting lifting the heart and chest up from the bottom of your shoulder blades and your legs lying flat onto the mat atleast hip-distance a part and your feet can be spread open wider than the distance of your legs to really achieve restoration. To increase a sense of relief on the tail bone and lower lumbar spine, position a bolster or pillow underneath your knees and allow your knees to gentle settle in over the supper. Try to find a position within the body so that you can really let go of any sense of control, gripping or tension throughout any physical limbs. The deeper you are able to relax the physical body, the more the body throughout all spectrums spiritually, emotionally and mentally, can absorb the effects of your yoga practice and the preceding asanas. Give yourself permission to go into a state of total relaxation for atleast five minutes. Afterwards, slowly deepen your inhales and exhales and introduce a gentle sense of movement back into the body by wiggling all your fingers and toes and rotating the ankle and wrists in opposite directions. Then, on your next inhale slowly roll over to one side with bent knees using your forearm as a pillow and mindfully, with the help of both hands, push yourself back up into a sukasana or easy position and rest here for a minute before moving on with gratitude and serenity to enjoy the rest of your day or night.

Viniyoga Master Teacher Gary Kraftsow reminds you of the importance of letting go in order to rejuvenate your wellbeing as he eases you into savasana in his Viniyoga Therapy for Anxiety practice.

 

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Apanasana- Calming and Grounding Yoga Pose

Posted on November 11th, 2016 by Both comments and pings are currently closed.

 

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Apanasana: Knees-to-Chest Pose

“Let it go.” It is a phrase we often hear as encouragement to free our grasp onto sentiments, experiences, feelings, thoughts and distractions that no longer serve our wellbeing. Easier said than done right? While the journey to free our hearts and souls from the burdens of negative or rather disheartening self-talk is a continuous travel inwards taking steady and much dedication, yoga and in particular viniyoga is here to remind us to focus on intention and the natural calming wave-like rhythm of the breath. In particular, apanasana or knees-to-chest pose is an energy freeing pose that focuses on the downward and outward energy flow also referred to as the apana vayus.

When embraced through numerous cycles of a repetitive and constant breath, apanasana releases tensions of the lower digestive systems by detoxifying the entire body. Apanasana also releases back pain and produces a general sense of openness in the body, especially within the hips and internal thigh region. Emotionally and mentally speaking, this detoxifying pose relieves stress, mild depression and anxiety. In his Viniyoga Therapy for Anxiety, Gary Kraftsow conscientiously guides you through the calming affects of apanasana.

To go into the pose that opens up the anterior hip muscles and stretches the lumbar vertebrate, begin by laying on your back with the left leg straight and right leg bent at the knee holding onto the right knee with both hands. As you exhale, strength the naval-to-spine connection by pulling the navel inwards, bending the elbows and and pulling the right knee towards the belly. As you inhale, release and repeat this cycle of breath-guider movement four times. Then upon your next exhalation, bend the left knee and release the right leg to repeat the transition onto the opposite side if the body four times. Afterwards, on your next inhaling breath bend both knees so that you gently hold on to each knee with both hands. On an exhalation breath, pull both knees into the belly, tucking the chin slightly down and consciously pushing the sacrum into the mat. If your hips are tight, slightly widening the distance between the knees is not only a great modification but again, eliminates unnecessary strain on the physical body. On an inhalation, release to the starting position.

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Sukhasana

Posted on November 7th, 2016 by Both comments and pings are currently closed.

 

 

 

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Sukhasana: Seated Easy Pose

Whether it’s been a long day or week filled with joyous times or a few more bumps along the path than preferred, we could all use more moment of serene peace, reflection and gratitude. An ideal asana for meditation, Sukhasana or seated easy pose supports your journey of surrendering and becoming the witness to such an emotional, mental and physical release.

To come into a comfortable and cross-legged seated meditative pose, feel free to sit on a chair or a bolster to alleviate any sense of discomfort in the hips, lower pack or tailbone region. To create a sense of effortless ease, preparing your mind, body and soul to release all worries and outside influences, place blankets under the knees making it easier and more comfortable to sit in Sukasnana for longer periods of time. Bring your attention to your intention for the practice and present moment of stillness. Notice your thoughts, habits of thoughts, and if you feel distracted just notice it, but do not allow such distractions to overwhelm you and bring your attention to alignment: the long extension of your spine, neutrality in the back of your neck as your crown reaches up towards to the sky.

The asana’s relative ease on the knees allows your hips to open without discomfort. You are welcome to sit in this pose for any length of time, but if you practice Sukhasana on a regular basis, be mindful in alternating the crossing of the legs. Physically, the benefits of Sukhasana include strengthening the upper back, knees and ankles. Emotionally and mentally, Sukahasana when practiced with diligent and gentle pranayama work, calms the mind and nervous system achieving a sense of internal peace.

To help you safely strengthen and stabilize your thoracic and cervical spine, Gary Kraftsow guides you through an intentional and progression-based sequence in his Viniyoga Therapy for Upper Back, Neck and Shoulders DVD.

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The Foundation of Steadiness and Ease in Yoga

Posted on November 4th, 2016 by Both comments and pings are currently closed.

 

 

 

 

bidalasana

By Sarah Powers

Patanjali’s linked concepts of “sthira” and “sukha” — steadiness and ease — can help structure your teaching. Learn how situating your instruction between these two poles can help your students find harmony.

In describing the qualities of asana with the adjectives “sthira” and “sukha,” Patanjali uses language very skillfully. Sthira means steady and alert–to embody sthira, the pose must be strong and active. Sukha means comfortable and light–to express sukha, the pose must be joyful and soft. These complimentary poles–or Yin and Yang co-essentials–teach us the wisdom of balance. By finding balance, we find inner harmony, both in our practice and in our lives.

As teachers, we need to help our students find that balance in their practice. Our instruction should assist them in an exploration of both sthira and sukha. In practical terms, we should begin by teaching sthira as a form of connection to the ground, and then move to sukha as a form of lighthearted exploration and expansion. In this way, we can teach from the ground up.

Manifesting steadiness (sthira) requires connecting to the ground beneath us, which is our earth, our support. Whether our base is comprised of ten toes, one foot, or one or both hands, we must cultivate energy through that base. Staying attentive to our roots requires a special form of alertness. Our instruction should begin there by helping students cultivate this alertness at the base of a pose. I will demonstrate this form of instruction for Tadasana, the blue print for all the other standing poses. The principles of Tadasana can be easily adapted to any standing pose you wish to teach.

In all the standing poses, steadiness comes from rooting all sides of the feet like the stakes of a tent. We need to teach students with high arches to pay particular attention to grounding their inner feet, and show students with fallen arches to move their ankles away from each other.

After rooting the feet, we move up, reminding students to draw the kneecaps up, the upper inner thighs in and back, and the outer sides of the knees back. This allows students to notice whether their weight feels evenly distributed between the right and left leg, the front and back of the foot, and the inner and outer thighs.

Next we should remind our students to adjust the pelvis, allowing the weight of the hips to be above the knees and ankles. This often requires them to draw their weight slightly back in order to allow the point of the coccyx to face down. In this alignment, the tailbone is not tucked nor lifted, but merely directed down between the fronts of the heels. Those with flat lumbar spines will need to allow the tailbone to move slightly back, moving away from tucking, while those with over-arched backs will need to encourage the tailbone to draw slightly in.

We should then instruct our students to lengthen the side waist, lift the top of the sternum and relax the shoulders down the back, aligning them over the hips and ankles. They should bring their heads above their shoulders, aligning the chin in the same plane as the forehead. Finally, they should relax the jaw, allowing the tongue to float freely in the mouth and the eyes to soften.

Once our students have attended to steadiness, the other qualities of alertness and comfort become accessible. They are now ready to bring their hands into Namaste position and reflect on their motivation before beginning their practice.

Encourage your students to view this grounded base as their home base, the foundation from which they can create, explore, and at times expand. From there, they can navigate to a place of ease or sukha. Just as steadiness requires and develops alertness, comfort entails remaining light, unburdened, and interested in discovery. By teaching this quality, we encourage a balanced equilibrium rather than impose rigid rules for alignment. This helps students develop a natural respect toward their bodies and themselves, while encouraging them to fully inhabit their bodies. They can then learn to move away from commanding their bodies to perform poses, and instead breathe life into them from the inside.

With sthira and sukha as the points on our compass, we can organize our teaching and help our students enjoy exploring their places of limitation and liberation in every pose. As a result, regardless of your students’ individual abilities, their practice can focus on celebration and refreshment.

At a deeper level, the way we practice and teach yoga poses mirrors the way we live the rest of our lives. As we reflect on our practice and our teaching, we can use yoga as a tool for developing greater insight into ourselves and the world around us. Sthira and sukha can then become not only tools for teaching or understanding yoga, but also principals that help guide the way we live.

Sarah Powers blends the insights of yoga and Buddhism in her practice and teaching. She lives in Marin, California where she home schools her daughter and teaches classes.

First Published in Yoga Journal Newsletter, September 2005

 

To learn more about Sarah Powers, visit her website at www.sarahpowers.com, and check out her DVD’s and online courses here at Pranamaya.

powers

 SARAH POWERS

An internationally acclaimed master teacher, Sarah Powers weaves the insights and practices of yoga and Buddhist meditation in an integrated practice that seeks to enliven the body, heart, and mind. Her yoga style blends a yin sequence of long-held poses to enhance the meridian and organ systems, with a yang or flow practice influenced by Viniyoga, Ashtanga, and alignment-based vinyasa teachings. – Read more HERE.

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Maintain a Healthy Spine Through Yoga

Posted on June 17th, 2016 by Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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By Paul Grilley

Some yoga instructors insist that students avoid curvature of the spine by insisting on tucking the pelvis. But any healthy movement can be overdone. Rather than insist on always having the pelvis tucked encourage your students to utilize the full range of pelvic motion in their practice.

Bad News Ballet?

The idea that a “tucked pelvis” is good for you comes from ballet. Ballerinas are taught to tuck their pelvis so they can spin on a straight axis. It is difficult to spin multiple times if the pelvis is not tucked. Ballerinas are also taught to tuck their pelvis so they can maximize the height and appearance of leg extensions. Many yoga instructors are former dancers and it is habitual for them to remind students to tuck their pelvis.

If ballet is bad for you, why imitate it?

Well, number one: ballet is not bad for you. Much of ballet training is about balance, stretching, and learning to isolate movements. This is good for you. Number two: tucking the pelvis is a natural movement you should learn how to do. It only becomes destructive if you remain stuck in that position.

Is an arched pelvis better than a tucked pelvis?

The last two covers of Yoga Journal magazine feature photos of young women in deep backbends. This is the opposite movement to a tucked pelvis. The poses look beautiful and one can’t help but admire the ease and range of motion of the models. But I doubt if anyone would think it healthy for someone to habitually hold their spine in this deep bend. If anyone attempted to do so, the discs in their back would degenerate painfully.

Then is a neutral position best?

Constantly arching the spine is unhealthy. Constantly tucking the spine is unhealthy. So should we live our lives in a timid neutrality of spine position, neither tucking nor tilting the pelvis? The answer is an emphatic “No!” The neutral spine position is how office workers live their lives, and statistics show that 80 percent of them will suffer serious back problems.

Inhale and exhale, tuck and arch, life is about movement.

To have a healthy spine, we must systematically move it through its full range of motion. This means sometimes we tuck the pelvis to flatten the spine, sometimes we tilt the pelvis to arch the spine, and sometimes we keep the spine neutral. This is the Taoist view of life, a constant alternation from one opposite to another. The contraction and expansion of the heart are opposites, but by alternating they are the Tao of circulation. The expansion and contraction of the lungs are opposites, but by alternating they are the Tao of breathing. Tucking and tilting the pelvis have opposite effects on the curve of the spine, but by alternating they are the Tao of posture.

Tuck it and arch it.

When practicing backbends such as the Cobra, don’t try to tuck the pelvis but let the spine arch. When practicing forward bends such as Paschimottanasana, don’t try to tilt the pelvis but let the spine round. These are normal movements for the lumbar spine, and to fight against them is to nullify the effects of the poses. Of course, overstretching an already injured spine could make it worse. But sooner or later, the goal of all physical rehabilitation is to regain the natural range of motion. Yoga practice helps us retain our full range of motion so we can easily alternate from a tucked pelvis with a straight spine to a tilted pelvis with an arched spine. Both these movements are necessary to maintain healthy posture.

 

To learn more about Paul Grilley, visit his website at www.paulgrilley.com and check out his DVD’s and online courses here at Pranamaya.

Paul Grilley:  A well-known master of yin yoga, Paul brings a thorough grounding in Hatha and Ashtanga yoga as well as anatomy and kinesiology to his teaching, which integrates the Taoist yoga of martial arts master Paulie Zink and the Chinese meridian and acupuncture theories of Dr. Hiroshi Motoyama. Paul’s book, Yin Yoga: Principles and Practice, explains how yin yoga can teach us to relax, be patient, be quiet, and focus on the skeleton and its joints—a necessary counterpoint to today’s more ubiquitous muscular yoga.

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Living Yoga by Sarah Powers

Posted on May 25th, 2016 by Both comments and pings are currently closed.

Answering the Call

FOR THOUSANDS OF YEARS, retreat has been a crucial part of yogic life. All over Asia, whether in mountain caves or lush forests, seekers striving to free their minds recognized the importance of renouncing the worldly life, temporarily or permanently, in order to concentrate more fully on meditative practices.

Although there are still lone ascetics and communities of monastics, today most practitioners of yoga and Buddhism choose to remain in the world. As lay practitioners, we are blending the insights and openings we garner from these paths with the numerous responsibilities of a life that includes business and family. We live in a fast-paced digital era, but there is still no better way for devoted practitioners to encourage spiritual unfolding than to relinquish busy schedules and practical concerns and go on retreat. Whether we go for four days or three months, these periods of uninterrupted practice and quiet reflection allow us to melt away the distraction of compulsive busyness.

On retreat, we give ourselves (and everyone else) the gift of stripping away the mind’s obsessions and revealing what Buddhist sages call our undistracted and compassionate Buddha nature.

In both the Hindu and the Buddhist spiritual traditions, 99 percent of practitioners have a need for retreats. A gifted few, with an abundance of spiritual karma from past lives, realize enlightenment with a minimum of practice and exposure to the teachings. But most wise teachers do not recommend simply wishing and waiting for this; instead, they advise seekers to repeatedly go on retreat to strengthen their understanding and to rest in the spaciousness of uninterrupted practice. The last teaching the great yogi Milarepa gave his chief disciple was to turn and show his student his behind, deeply callused form long years of sitting on the granite of the Himalayas. Milarepa’s wordless message: You have to practice.

Embracing Silence

When I am about to leave on retreat, inevitably someone says, ” Have a good time!” This comment amuses me, for I know that their idea of a good time is mostly not what I will be having. When I simply want to let my mind roam and body relax, I go to a warm sea with my family and friends. But I have gone on enough fun vacations to lose the illusion that feeling content has very much to do with what is going on outside me. When I really want to face and disempower the habits of discontent that continually resurface no matter where I am, I go on retreat. While it is not always easy or fun, I have found that going on meditation retreats and facing myself in silence allows me to see my fears and attachments more clearly, to embrace them with compassion, and to grow in intuition and trust of my true nature.

Going on retreat gives us the opportunity to pay attention to three essential aspects of spiritual practice. First, we learn or revisit the tools of awareness taught within a particular tradition. These are the specifics of asana, pranayama, and meditation appropriate for our level of understanding and application. On retreat, we also have the opportunity to hear the philosophical teachings that underlie these practices. In a traditional class or workshop, there just is not the time to delve into these areas very fully. Second, retreats give us an opportunity to reflect on these ideas and practices. This contemplation often sparks an uncompromising and unsentimental yet more truly compassionate view of ourselves and our lives, which is often a necessary precursor to change. Third, retreats strengthen practice. On retreat, in the absence of the tasks and distractions of our everyday lives, we are encouraged not only to practice more, accelerating our understanding and unfolding, but also to sustain the lens of mindfulness throughout each day.

By going on retreat, we are able to practice living in a way that engenders clarity and compassion.

Once we’ve spent time on retreat, living with awareness day after day, we are more likely to catch ourselves and interrupt the habits of distraction when we return home. Instead of feeling irritated and restless when we get stuck waiting in a long line, for example, we may find it easier to turn inward with meditative awareness, appreciating the unhurried moments. By going on retreat, we get to practice living in a way that engenders clarity and compassion, the inner abodes of the awakened.

Unveiling Wisdom

RETREATS OFFER a theater in which our lives become the backdrop and our misidentification with the ego-self takes center stage. Sages have long spoken about an unchanging internal substratum of being, the true Self that is naturally full of bliss and love. They remind us that freedom is an inner alignment that neither comes into being nor dies, but is simply evoked by our quiet, undistracted, sustained surrender to its inner stream. But from childhood on we have learned to identify with other, less essential aspects of the self . We have been taught to find our sense of worthiness through our actions and the praise or blame heaped upon us by parents, teachers, friends. and mates. We have been trained to acquire knowledge about things but not about our innermost nature. If we are just quiet and still, a barrage of voices questions this strange behavior that does nothing to prove our worth.

So how are we to allow our inner wisdom to become unveiled? When we commit to an awareness discipline that places strong emphasis on watching the mind, like yoga and Buddhist practices, we take a first step. We go to teachers and learn new tools for working with our body, breath, heart, and mind. As time goes by, we practice and continue to receive teachings. Yet eventually we may feel a calling to go deeper, to put aside our practical and personal affairs for a time, to really dive in and see who we are apart from what we do -not just what we do for a living, but what we do as mothers, husbands, friends, and yoga practitioners.

Retreats allow us to see how illusory and impermanent such identities are, how we make and remake ourselves in every moment. Seeing this lack of solidity can be very unsettling at first, but it also provides a life changing liberation.

As our minds loosen their obsession with our practical affairs and everyday identities, we can open to glimpses of the inner peace that underlies our restlessness and discontent. And when the retreat is led well, we are guided further into this inner quietude. Our teachers give us pointers about the roadblocks that inevitably surface and about how to navigate them. When the ramblings of the mind rest in abeyance, we are allowed to peer into our unconditioned, true nature. However imperfect the glimpses may be, we will never again be the same. We now know that although it is often shrouded, within us lies a reservoir of ease, a source of well-being and inner wisdom. We realize that we simply need to learn to return to this wellspring within. And we see that retreats offer a safe vehicle that protects us from distraction on this inner journey.

Identifying Loneliness

FOR ME, RETREATS remain an essential part of spiritual unfolding. On one particular retreat in Burma, I encountered an emotional whirlwind that threatened to spiral me into deep despair and doubt. I had been away for a few weeks and was missing my husband and 8-year-old daughter immensely. I looked around and saw few wedding rings on the other meditators. I tormented myself, imagining I was practically the only one with attachments at home -no doubt the only mother with a young child. I deserved to be having a difficult time, I thought. I had come at the wrong time in my life. My family needed me; I should never have left them for so long. Even more, I felt I needed them.

A retreat is a superb opportunity to accelerate the release of conditioned, habitual ways of being.

This story ran obsessively inside me, and I became unable to focus my mind. I lost sight of the intentions that had brought me halfway around the world. I even considered leaving. After a few days of this, realizing I needed some help, I brought up my inner state with my teacher. I knew he too had a spouse far away, so I asked him about missing her. His reply went straight to the heart of my longing.

“Have you ever noticed that in their presence you also sometimes feel this yearning?” he asked. When I nodded, he continued. “In reality it is not them you are missing so much, You are missing you! You are missing being at home inside yourself, and you are displacing the feelings, blaming it on the absence of your family. This disconnected feeling remains with us, whomever we are with and wherever we go, until we are finally willing to stop chasing temporary circumstantial happiness. Once you touch your own inner reservoir of joy and contentment and learn to rest there, it won’t matter so much where you go or whom you are with. When the voices of discontent resurface, you won’t emotionally identify with them, and they will vanish as easily as they came. Only then will you experience true happiness. Of course, you will still have people you are naturally closer to, but the attachment to their presence will subside. You will carry them in your heart with you everywhere, in the place where your own inner radiance already shines.

After our conversation, I returned to my practice aligned again with my initial commitment to awakening, reminded that the retreat was a superb opportunity to accelerate my release of conditioned, habitual ways of being. I felt reassured that it would enable me to be more present and loving, and therefore a more compassionate and mature wife and mother. When I returned home and my husband and daughter sensed the changes in me, they became even more enthusiastic in their support of my retreat time. We had all confirmed that being committed to a spiritual life and being in a worldly life need not be in conflict.

Having had many such experiences of new insight and growth on retreat, I can think of no better way to uproot the weeds of discontent. When we start going on retreats, we can find the glimpses we get into the true Self to be a beautiful blessing and an incredible resource. Through the hours of meditating, we can come to witness our internal warring voices from a place of impartial interest, eventually realizing that no one can dispel the discontented false self except us. Certainly we need compassionate teachers to point the way and redirect us when we get derailed from our intentions but, they cannot do the work for us. Only dedicated use of the tools of practice, again and again, gradually transforms us. Instead of identifying ourselves as bad or wrong, we learn to disidentify from the charade of the ego-self and to begin the slow, gradual process of compassionately metabolizing these patterns into our larger nature, our authentic Self. More than any other practice I know, retreats are the way to make ourselves accident prone to the grace of presence.

First Published by Yoga Journal, April 2002

To learn more about Sarah Powers, visit her website at www.sarahpowers.com, and check out her DVD’s and online courses here at Pranamaya.

powers

 SARAH POWERS

An internationally acclaimed master teacher, Sarah Powers weaves the insights and practices of yoga and Buddhist meditation in an integrated practice that seeks to enliven the body, heart, and mind. Her yoga style blends a yin sequence of long-held poses to enhance the meridian and organ systems, with a yang or flow practice influenced by Viniyoga, Ashtanga, and alignment-based vinyasa teachings. – Read more HERE.

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Tips to Help You Embody Self-Care

Posted on April 28th, 2016 by Both comments and pings are currently closed.

Be Your Own Sunshine

Everyday Tips to Help You Embody Self-Care Right at Home

 FullSizeRender

By Sabrina Samedi

Let’s face it, we may strive to nourish our soul with self-love and put ourselves as a priority on our to-do list, but as the perfectly flawed humans we are, we don’t always pass with flying colors on a self-care test. If you are crunched for time or can’t afford a trip to the spa, why not bring the bliss-inspired effects of self-care home with you?! Here are some tips to help you feel renewed and rejuvenated this spring season and hopefully every season.

1. Gratitude is the Best Attitude

  • Symbolizing the bookends to the chapters that fill our days, allow the essence of gratitude to energize and seal your day. Wake up thinking of one thing that you are grateful for and before slipping away into a dream state slumber, again think of one thing you are grateful for and utter those magic words- THANK YOU! I’m sure your gratitude list is pages long, but in case you have writer’s block and a post-it is seemingly the size of a daunting 8’ X 10’ canvas- just repeat any one of these prescribed stress-relieving affirmations that are more than enough to warm up your heart with no ill side effects, we promise!
    • My life is unique and wondrous and for this fact alone, I am thankful.
    • I am grateful for all the health, love, laughter and goodness that my life has revealed to me.
    • Any day I am able to feel the support of the earth beneath me and breathe in the fresh energizing air around me is a good day. I am thankful for these precious moments.
    • I am enough- I am grateful for everything that I am, I love every fiber of my being.

 

2. Breathe

  • Take a few minutes, even two minutes is enough if that’s all the time you have and breathe. Yes, it’s that easy. Breathe. We do it every second of every day, but how often are we actually aware of this magical cycle- mindfully taking in prana, vital force energy and exhaling all that does not serve us- letting go of emotional turmoil, doubting thoughts and replaying negative experiences in our heads. Elongate the inhalation, perhaps to the count of four, expanding your lungs to take in all the radiating positive life energy around you and match your exhale to the count of four as well releasing all that does not serve the growth and balance of our well-being. Take a few rounds of breath just like that- matching the duration of the inhale to that of the exhale. An uplifting sensation travels up your spine, through your heart center and towards the crown of your head as you inhale and on your exhale such an invigorating breath generates soothing effects as it travels out of your physical body as a bright light illuminating the spaces outside of yourself that you hold sacred.

 

3. Good Ol’ cup of Joe

  • The best part of walking up is coffee in your cup or in this case, on your face! You can use a coffee scrub on your face and your entire body. Coffee scrub has several renewing and immediate benefits that include: exfoliating and anti-inflammatory effects thus temporarily reducing cellulite, improving circulation, reducing eye-puffiness and cleansing away dry or dead skin spots; therefore, leaving your skin feeling smooth. Be mindful however, not to use day-old dry coffee grind leftovers as the consistency would be too harsh for the skin. Ideally, to create the coffee face and body scrub mix quality and fresh coffee grounds with natural ingredients such as honey, coconut oil or lemon rinds or peels to create a unique self-mastered blend that will leave your skin feel hydrated, nourished, moisturized and perky-fresh. And an additional goodie- your skin will smell fabulous all day!

 

4. Be Your Own Cup of Tea

  • Oftentimes, an old-fashioned cup of tea not only overwhelms you with serenity but magically and with certainty makes all your problems vanish into thin air– out of sight and out of mind. Served iced or hot, tea is always in season and the benefits are beyond refreshment. In relation to your physical health, tea helps to fight free radicals in the body and contains antioxidants projecting and boosting your immune system as well as your exercise endurance. Despite the caffeine in certain flavors, tea is hydrating to the body. Take a some much-deserved “me-tome” today and match your cup of tea to your mood and needs. For example, if you need help sleeping, a soothing batch of chamomile tea can do the trick, if you need a stress reliever STAT, a mug of herbal honey-lavender tea works like magic and in case you ate something that threw your belly off track and left you feeling nauseous, an herbal ginger tea is a great remedy while peppermint tea aids in digestion.

 

5. Aromatherapy Bliss

  • Be your own champion in relation to well-being- seek and promote a state of balance within your body, mind and spirit through aromatherapy! Aromatherapy, also occasionally referred to as Essential Oil therapy (it is ESSENTIAL to your well-being), is the magnificent blend of the art and science of utilizing naturally extracted aromatic essences from plants to harmonize your physical, mental and emotional bodies. Benefits of aromatherapy include its ability to reduce anxiety, ease depression, boos energy levels, induces sleep, strengthen the immune system, boost cognitive performance while helping to eliminate headaches. To get started in your aromatherapy practice, collect a few basic oils of your favorite scents aiming the scent with the perfect purpose. For example, lavender is ideal for relaxation while rosemary is often used to aid in concentration and lemon as a deodorant or to freshen the air. Rub a single drop of two of your desired on the palm of your hand or onto in the inside of your wrist, run your palms together and then gently inhale the scents. If you prefer to avoid oil-to-skin contact, then a diffuser works wonderfully. A ceramic passive diffuser is used to get the essential oil into the air without using heat and scents a small area without irritating those around you whom might be sensitive to such scents.

 

6. Eat the Rainbow

  • Fuel yourself with healthy, delicious treats! Tune in and hear your body’s cravings as a sign of reflective needs. If you have a jam-packed day ahead, make sure you give yourself more protein to keep you running on all cylinders or if you’ll be seizing the great outdoors for a majority of the day, plan mindfully and stay hydrated. Your body is here to stand strong with your, feeling it’s best rather than depleted. The Deep Blue Sea Blend is one of our favorite morning smoothie recipe coming straight from The Plantpower Way. Check out the delicious and healthy blend recipe below:
    • The Deep Blue Sea Blend brims with manganese, thiamin and vitamin C, this sweet, tropical island elixir supports a healthy immune system. The spirulina delivers the ocean within by providing potent detoxifying properties, phytonutrients and a high level of protein from the sea. Drink this blend and immerse yourself in the healing aqua waters of Hawaii. Aloha!deepbluesea blend
    • Ingredients
      • 2 cups chopped pineapple
      • 1 frozen banana
      • 1/2 cup raw coconut
      • 4 cups coconut water
      • 1/2 teaspoon spirulina
    • Preparation
      • In a Vitamix or high-powered blender, add all the ingredients, blend on high for a minute. Drink!

 

7. Catch Up on them Zzz’s

  • Cat naps are even acceptable! Beauty rest is pivotal here as it not only makes you feel better, boosts your mood and banishes those less-than illuminating under-eye circles, but getting the adequate 7-8 hours of REM sleep per night is an intricate part to leading a healthy lifestyle. Adequate sleep improves memory, stabilizes concentration and keeps stress at bay. Thus, go ahead and hit that snooze button.

 

Let your movement throughout the day be mindful. Thus, eliminating the results of burn out and injury by being honest with yourself. As you start the day with gratitude, use those morning minutes to check in with yourself, plan for your day and prepare in body, mind and soul. To keep yourself grounded and focused throughout the day, embody self-love through any one of the self-care tips and remember, your practice is here to support you! To aid in your self-care journey, we offer the timeless wisdom of master yoga teachers such as Gary Kraftsow and Paul Grilley via DVDs and online courses to not only enrich you’re practice, but deepen your yoga and meditation education.

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Cultivating a Home Yoga Practice

Posted on April 13th, 2016 by Both comments and pings are currently closed.

Home Yoga

By Sabrina Samedi

For many of us, the time we spend on the mat whether it’s for a sweat-cleansing power flow, a nourishing vinyasa series, a healing yin yoga practice or for meditation, it is considered “me time.” Time to step away from all the hustle and bustle, noise and distractions of everyday life and step into our true self- it’s our dedication to our self: to listen and honor our mind, body, spirit and soul. Hence, self-care is the manifestation of self-love and such compassion should not be jeopardized simply due to the fact that you couldn’t make it to the studio for your meditation or yoga class.

Let’s face it,  we have all been there- starring at the jumbled yoga mat in the corner of our room as it dauntingly seems to whisper- breathe now or forever lose your peace. It takes willpower and commitment to practice yoga whether it’s asana-based, pranayama work or meditation with consistency. Classes at studios can add up and after a steady series of visits it can feel as if our center of zen is in a heated debate with our wallet and our wallet is in the lead as a victor as our zen turns into financial worries. Between work and running errands, time can restrict us to practicing before sunrise or well after sunset; thus, time restrictions are an honest determinant for when we can carve out studio space. It is quite harmonious and healing to share your practice with the gracious breath of community members, but often times it an uplifting challenge to remove and all distractions and simple focus on your breath, your body’s needs, and your strength without any inclination towards judgement nor competition.

Therefore, cultivating a home yoga and/or meditation practice is a great compliment to your community studio-based classes as well as a wonderful tool to utilize when traveling or when time and budget act as bumps along the road to tranquility.

Tips on how to create and maintain a home practice:

1. Hold the Space and Honor Yourself

  • Be kind to yourself as you would in any class. When a teacher suggests a modification and you tune in realizing that since your lower back has been aching lately, you decide it’s best to lower down onto your knees during a Chaturanga Dandasana or bend your knees as you lift into Ardha Uttanasana. Thus, you are listen to your body and are taking the instructor’s suggestion. You are your own guru- listen to the teacher within your soul and treat your body with compassion.

 

2. Strengthen Your Willpower

  • Your manipura or solar plexus is engaged here as you dedicate the same adherence to studio etiquette to your self– show up on time, no texting or taking calls while invested in your practice. The e-mails and pile of laundry can wait- there is no where else you need to be than right here, right now. Be present and flow with your breath.

 

3. Find the Right Flow and Style 

  • Getting a little help from our yogi friends is key here; while listening to your inner teacher you may still need guidance from a yoga instructor and rest assured we’ve got you covered. Invest in yoga DVDs and/or online courses that you’d be able to access from any platform (ie tablet, iPad, iPhone, etc) and find as well as explore the diversity of class styles and duration that pike your interest. For a vast and unique selection of classes and lectures taught by our own master teachers click here. Our collection includes: Yin Yoga, Yoga Therapy, Viniyoga, Vinyasa and Meditation.

 

4. Don’t Forget Savasana

  • Savasana or corpse pose is oftentimes considered the most important asana as this is where our bodies truly integrate all of the emotional, physical and mental benefits of the practice to our subtle and conscious bodies. You’ve exerted quite a bit of effort, energy and time. Thus, give yourself the chance to soak in the benefit and recharge your soul. Give yourself permission to let go and simple be- rejoice in the highest form of self-love: self-care.

 

Namaste! Thank you for sharing your practice with me and inviting me into your home. I hope you find this information insightful.

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