Bhagavad Gita

Bhagavad Gita

The Bhagavad Gita, Mantra, and some of the tougher topics of life at the SOYA Annual Retreat.

By Mugs McConnell

After each SOYA retreat Bob and I are filled with an overwhelming gratitude to everyone who attends and makes the effort and time to learn together in this very special community of yogis. It is a joyous gathering of reconnecting and the opportunity to learn from some of the most renowned yogis in the world.

This year’s retreat with Brenda Feuerstein unfolded with quite a different focus, venturing into areas we often try to avoid, such as trauma, triggers, grief, and our responses to fear.  The truth is though, we yogis have to deal with these too. Yoga gives us tools to cope, but the subjects themselves need to be explored. This takes some trust, and letting go. It took me a while to digest all the teachings, and I probably will continue to assimilate them for some time.

“The moment we tighten we lose the ability to trust ourselves or others.”

Brenda taught us that trauma cuts off the frontal brain creating a “disconnect”.  Yoga gives us tools to help with this disconnect in several ways. Yoga engages both sides of the brain/body. Yoga teaches us to reactivate or reconnect to body sensations. Yoga teaches us inner guidance. Yoga teaches us to unlock areas where trauma is held.

After trauma, a person is forever changed. Far too often family and friends are waiting for their loved one to “return to normal,” but that normal is gone. They are likely asking themselves, “Who am I now?” Great comfort comes for everyone when we accept the “new person”, the butterfly that has transformed from the cocoon of healing.

During this exploration we learned it is important to know what “grounds us” in the event we become ungrounded. We learned a powerful technique to find our personal “resilience zone”, so when we feel ungrounded or triggered, we can return to a place of trust and stability.

The next big teaching for me came from diving into the Bhagavad Gita, making it as relevant today as it was centuries ago. Like Arjuna, when we are confronted with conflict, we can freeze with fear of the outcome. We are full of “what ifs” so much so we don’t take any action at all. Krishna, the Divine in form, reminds us to let go of any expectations, trust in the higher power, and do our best.

“Show up, and surrender expectations of the outcome. On this path no effort is wasted. Perfection doesn’t exist. We are just called to show up and do our best.”

I loved the Bhagavad Gita Warrior asana sequence, and the asana session each morning, plus each time Brenda suggested we do the asanas “our body is calling us to do” (or Freedom Yoga” in the words of Erich Schiffmann – another way to trust the inner guidance). I loved the slow, long holds, and being present during them, rather than continuously moving from one asana to the next. One student came to affirming the same – that she had forgotten how lovely it is to slow down and savour each pose.

“Being established in yoga, take action, and surrender the outcome. This is yoga, and the grand asana of life.”

The integration of the Bhagavad Gita and how Brenda captured the essence of each chapter in just a few words was so enlightening. It was a beautiful process to bridge the ancient text to modern times. And every one of these statements is so powerful in and of itself, they can be a meditation in and of themselves.

Chapter 1: Wrong thinking is a big problem in life.

Chapter 2: Right knowledge is the ultimate problem solver.

Chapter 3: Take the appropriate course of action without attachment to the outcome.

Chapter 4: Every act is an act of reverence or prayer.

Chapter 5: What does it take for you to stand up in the world?

Chapter 6: We need to connect with higher consciousness daily.

Chapter 7: Live what we are learning. Walk the talk.

Chapter 8: We can’t give up on ourselves.

Chapter 9: Whatever you do, do it as an offering. Dedicate your practice outward and upward.

Chapter 10: See Divinity in everything.

Chapter 11: Every problem is an opportunity. Let go enough to see Truth.

Chapter 12: Do everything with devotion, without expectation or obligation.

Chapter 13: Discriminate between Spirit and matter. Detach from delusion and attach to Divinity.

Chapter 14: Observe the play of the 3 gunas. Be sure the way you are living matches True vision – self adjust to make it so.

Chapter 15: Deeply connect with your Self – this is the way to the Supreme Self.

Chapter 16: Appropriate action is enough in itself. Do the right thing.

Chapter 17: Choosing the right thing to do over the pleasant thing to do is empowering.

Chapter 18: Let go. Move into union with the Divine and fulfill your dharma! Do It!

This is our call to action! Figure out your dharma, let go of the fear, and live the life you were meant to live!

“Self-Transcendence is to go beyond who we appear to be to ourselves and others.”

Brenda created the opportunity for sharing and asking questions often throughout the weekend, giving us the opportunity to learn from each other’s experiences in a safe environment.

Speaking of sharing, I have learned through working with First Nations people that “listening” while someone tells their story creates empathy, compassion and understanding. In the circle, everyone gets a chance to speak, no matter how long they need. Brenda is very rooted in appreciating First Nations culture. This “listening” can become challenging because our society is focussed on “hurry up and move to the next one.” Finding your voice and feeling heard are very, very important. Listening and speaking relates to the vishuddhi chakra at the throat area. Vishuddi is powerful, and if we don’t have a voice, or we don’t feel heard, or we never shut down our mind long enough to listen, it can impact our future enlightenment greatly.

“Empathy is putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and feel it. This is exhausting. Compassion is the desire to care for others. This is nourishing. True radical compassion opens you up.”

Sunday morning came so quickly. It was filled with the sound of Yoga. The Divine manifested. The sacred language of the Gods was telling the story of Creation through mantra. We chanted the Power Shakti Mantras 21 times each. AUM, AIM, HRIM, SHRIM, KRIM, HOOM, HLIM, STRIM, TRIM all the way through the process of creation to human form.

“Imagine the beginning of time. Imagine the sound underneath the beginning of time.”

This powerful chanting was followed with the chakra mantras, vibrating the beautiful lotus flowers within. All the chakras and all the koshas are affected. LAM, VAM, RAM, YAM, HAM, AUM, OM.  Every mantra ending with “m” transfers the shakti energy up. (If you attended the retreat and would like a recording of these mantras, send Brenda a private fb message and she will send it to you).

After 1½ hours of beautiful chanting together as One, we closed with arati. I was vibrating and grateful for being created. I left our community of yoga being filled with the reality of the Gita’s equation…

Action (karma yoga) + Love (bhakti yoga) = Light (Jnana Yoga)

Thank you Brenda, and all of you for making this weekend a reality.  Attached is my drawing of the great warrior sequence in case you didn’t take notes!  Namaste,  Mugs

The great warrior sequence:

Pain Care Yoga

Evolution of Pain Care Yoga

Pain Care Yoga began as a dream. I wanted to step outside the traditional medical setting, to bring my knowledge and experience as a physical therapist to people living in pain through yoga and contemplative practices. Even with lengthy and intensive training in yoga and yoga therapy, I did not feel ready. I wondered why people in pain would decide to spend their money and time learning from me. Mugs McConnell and Dariel Vogel, the lead trainers for SOYA were the tipping point. I am certain if you are reading this that you will understand how they encouraged me, making it clear that there was no reason to wait.

There is no shortage of people with chronic/persisting pain who will benefit from yoga. Most studies find as much as 20% of the population report constant pain of moderate to severe intensity, creating significant emotional distress and functional disability for longer than three months. Yet access to good care for people in pain is limited. Enormous gaps in the education of health professionals, yoga teachers and even yoga therapists translate into poor outcomes for those who seek answers outside comprehensive integrated pain management settings. Yoga, as with any approach is not the best path for everyone, yet level 1 research evidence provides enough support that it is now seriously considered as an option for treatment of people with chronic low back pain. Our students and clients would clearly benefit from knowledge and expertise integrating western pain care and yoga.

In 2008, at Salt Spring Centre of Yoga, the precursor of Pain Care Yoga began. At that time, I excluded health professionals and yoga teachers unless they were coming to learn and explore about their own personal pain experiences. Our focus was on self-gaining knowledge, practising awareness and self-regulation, and trying out new ways to approach movement, life and pain. Participants learned about pain biology, physiology, neuroplasticity and bioplasticity prior to and during yoga practices. This new conceptualization of pain and pain care is also supported by level 1 evidence. It provided the cognitive foundation for how greater ease of movement, enhanced quality of life and better pain control were possible, even if pain did not fully resolve. Imagine someone you trust providing you with knowledge and realistic hope, and then offering you yoga. The practices and techniques of yoga would reinforce what you learned, offering you experiences consistent with your new way of understanding pain and recovery. The possibly desperate hope of finding even one self-regulation technique that provided a smidge of relief would be surpassed. Not only would you know that science said it was possible to move with more ease and influence your pain, but you experienced these improvements, repeatedly. And YOU were the source of the change.

These workshops helped me realize my dharma – integrating yoga and contemplative practices into physiotherapy and ‘western’ pain care. By 2010, health professionals and yoga teachers were so insistent on joining these workshops that I acquiesced during another offering on Salt Spring. Health practitioners had the opportunity to practice and experience the techniques they would teach their clients, the chance to hear language we were developing to adapt instructions for the specific issues of persistent pain, and more important, they had the chance to listen to the stories and responses of people living in pain at a time when they did not need to be the expert or solve any issues. As much as the practitioners thought the experience was genius, the people in pain were delighted that I had created a situation in which the practitioners were taking the time to really listen to patient stories. Integrating people in pain and health practitioners was as successful as integrating yoga and western pain care.

The next step was to build a workshop to teach health practitioners more about pain science, about biopsychosocial and panchamaya kosha perspectives of pain, and about non-pharmacological pain care. Our focus was on providing care to ‘the individual’ in pain rather than how to teach a class. We offered knowledge – yoga philosophy and scientific evidence – and practice in how to teach aspects of yoga, contemplative practices and pain self-care specific to persisting pain problems which had been validated by people living in pain. Now the practitioners had the knowledge and conviction required when the student was hopeful yet skeptical of improvement.

We’ve listened and learned over the past 11 years, evolving the Pain Care Yoga Certification Course program and growing a team of passionate certificate holders and trainers. The current program provides 50 continuing education hours and is offered yearly in Ontario or Quebec and in BC, plus we have teachers offering this throughout the USA and Taiwan. The program includes six days of contact hour training for practitioners, three days of which we include people living in pain for group learning. Each practitioner is partnered with a person in pain in order to complete the case study report required to receive the teaching certificate.

You can join me this fall when I am offering the PCY certification program in Naramata, Sep 16-21. This is eligible for CEUs with Yoga Alliance as I have the YACEP designation and Pain Care U is an IAYT Member School. For those who have completed the PCY certificate and want more, the Advanced Pain Care Yoga retreat is Sep 30 – Oct 6, 2019 in Naramata. For even more, there is a new text available this August – Yoga and Science in Pain Care, co-edited by Neil, Shelly Prosko and Marlysa Sullivan and available from UBC Press. Thank you to Mugs, who gave us a wonderful endorsement including “[This] … is a book that every yoga teacher and therapist should study.”

To complete the evolution of Pain Care Yoga, we are developing a new program that will be launched by January 2020. Pain Care Aware training focuses on yoga teachers. Through online modules and in-person continuing education, yoga teachers will learn a new conceptual framework around pain plus the language and instructional cues needed to increase safety, decrease fear of injury and enhance students’ potential. We hope this training will be an easy fit within yoga teacher training programs, allowing all new yoga teachers to clearly direct students based on both pain science and yogic perspectives when asked for guidance in how much pain is okay in yoga.

For more information, email

Neil Pearson is a SOYA E-RYT500 grad, Physical Therapist, Yoga Therapist and Clinical Assistant Professor at UBC. He is the Director for Pain Care U and one of the authors of Yoga and Science in Pain Care: Treating the Person in Pain. This Book is now available for pre-order