Viparita Dandasana: Supported Straight Rod Pose

Viparita Dandasana: Supported Straight Rod Pose. Feeling a bit tired after a long day of activity? Viparita Dandasana creates mobility in spine and shoulders, releases tension in diaphragm, and increases circulation throughout adrenal and thyroid glands. As a side note, it counteracts depression and mood swings while it relieves fatigue.

Please note, if you are suffering from a migraine or undergoing chemotherapy, Viparita Dandasana is not recommended.

Required Props for Viparita Dandasana:

  1. Two Rectangular Bolsters (One Horizontal/One Vertical).
  2. Four Foam Blocks.
  3. Five Blankets.
  4. Two Chip Foam Blocks.
  5. Yoga Strap.
  6. Elastic to fit your feet.

PropsMethod for Viparita Dandasana:

  • Place two vertical foam blocks together at the wall.
  • Place one rectangular bolster horizontal across the middle of the mat.
  • Place a second bolster vertical on top of it with the widest and a foam block under each end of the vertical bolster for support.
  • In front of the vertical bolster (the end away from the wall) place two narrowly folded vertical blankets. Ahead of these stack 1-2 foam blocks with a folded blanket on top of them.
  • Have 2 folded blankets on each side of your mat for your hands to rest on. Now you are set up!
  • Apply a strap to your mid-thighs to hold thighs in place.
  • Apply a toe elastic to each big toe to hold your ankles in place
  • Recline into the pose as shown above, with your feet against the wall.
  • Make sure your shoulders fall off the bolster onto the blankets.

 Modification #1:  If you have back pain, then raise the height of your heels by stacking two more foam blocks under the heels. Still pain? Then add another two foam blocks to the stack.

Modification #2:  If you have neck pain, then place another folded blanket under your head. The spine should be effortlessly in a concave position thanks to the support of the bolster and blankets.

By Helen Mikuska, SOYA, E-RYT500

Contentment

Understanding Contentment

Dr Ananda offers insights into understanding contentment from a yogic point of view. Unexcelled ease and bliss awaits those who manifest the virtue of contentment.

Reprinted with permission.

Santoshdanuttamah sukhalabhah (Unexcelled ease and bliss awaits those who manifest the virtue of contentment)- Pantanjali’s Yoga Sutras II:42

Santosha is contentment. When one achieves that “state” of contented oneness, unexcelled ease and bliss is the reward. Un‑ease and non‑bliss are the result of dichotomy, division, duality. Oneness is contentment.

If we are able to be content with whatever we havephysically, emotionally, mentally, spirituallywe will be at ease (sukha) with ourselves, wherever we are. This is not the contentment of a tamasica nature. Tamasica contentment is for those who do not do anything (or those clever enough to have someone else do it for them). The rajasica contentment is the quality of those who seek recognition. The sattwica contentment is of those who act without showing that they are doing. From the outside the sattwica sadhaka looks as though they are not doing anything at all. The extremes seem to the external, superficial view to be the same. Both the tamasica and the sattwica approach towards santosham may look the same (as they are not seen doing anything) but the sattwica are acting without seeming to act and thereby attain santosha. Contentment is not complacency or stagnation. Those stuck in a comfortable rut are not experiencing santosham. They are simply sleep‑walking through life. True santosham is vitally awake and alert.

Unexcelled joy comes when one is at peace with oneself and totally at ease. When we are content with whatever we get, we get everything we need. Dichotomy and duality disappear in contentment as one becomes the Universe. If we are united at the universal level, at one with the cosmos, then everything and everyone in the cosmos is “us” and we possess all. What is there to gain? What is there to lose in such a state? Hence, supreme contentment ensues. When the Divine knows that we are not after anything, it will give us everything.

Why do people want a degree, a job, a wife, children, a house, a car? Because they believe such things will bring happiness. But, they make a drastic mistake. These desires only feed discontent and fear. Discontent comes because the object does not bring the happiness we sought! Fear comes because we are afraid we may lose what we have gained. The moment we realize that we can have happiness with whatever we get, we get all. Interestingly in the Dravidian Tamil language, santosham also means happiness.

Discontent is a synonym for unhappiness.

As my beloved Swamiji said, “You do not have a problem, you are the problem!” When we help ourself by ourself, we no longer have problems and experience contentment.

Discontent is being cultivated by modern advertising media and the business interests. This is also true in the world of yoga. Instead of saying “Yoga will solve all your problems” one should say “Yoga can help you cope better with your condition”. This is more correct. Otherwise, one only feeds more and more discontent. In the world of yoga today the market is for gadgets: mats, straps, bricks, belts and trendy toys. What nonsense! If you do not have the right gadgets you cannot practice yoga! Isn’t that the most absurd thing you have ever heard? Contentment is being able to say with honest feeling, “I know I have got enough”.

Santosham is the inner attitude of being content with who we are, where we are and with every life situation we face. This is the key to tuning into anandamaya kosha, the universal blissful existence. Think about the concept of nishkama, as espoused by Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita: do not be attached to the fruits of the action but only concentrate on making the best effort. Let go of the results. Why do we do things? If it is in anticipation and expectation of the result, we will never be content. The curse of discontentment will follow us like a dark shadow until we wake up to the reality of love and life. The truth is that: everything we need will be given to us when we are ready for it.

When we live in contentment, we will be able to fulfill our dharma, as we will be able to live as ourselves.

Do things out of love. Do them out of profound and deep spiritual interest. Do not be motivated by limited and mundane material interest. One’s life will then be blessed every moment by santosha.

Yogacharya Dr. Ananda Balayogi Bhavanani is presenting at the SOYA Annual Retreat June 1-3, 2018 at Sorrento BC.  He is a Certified Yoga Therapist with IAYT, the Director of CYTER, and the Chairman of ICYER at Ananda Ashram in Pondicherry, India.

Hindu Trinity

Kumbhak Pranayama with Bhavana

Practicing kumbhak pranayama with bhavana is a technique of loving kindness, where we develop a mental attitude that is rooted in compassion and love toward ourselves and others. Love is the ultimate expression of God, the Creator. Bhavana means “concentrated thought,” or a loving mental attitude focused on God.

This technique on page 68 in my book, Letters from the Yoga Masters, is from Swami Shivananda Saraswati of Assam. It assists us in developing this loving kindness through concentrated thought, focusing the mind and extending love to the gods of the holy Hindu trinity. If one prefers, substitute another aspect of God to fit your personal spiritual path.

Swami Shivananda Saraswati of Assam described this technique as follows:

Indian Sadhaks generally think Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva—the Gods of Trinity. When they practice these pranayam, with inhale they think Brahma, the Creator, whose colour is like Fire. Fire is the symbol of Creation.

When they retain the air (Kumbhak), they think Vishnu, the Preserving Deity, whose colour is Blue. Blue is symbol of Infinite.

When the air exhaled, they think Shiva, the Deity of Destruction, whose colour is white.

Bhavana of Brahma should be in navel region, Bhavana of Vishnu in heart region, Bhavana of Shiva in forehead region or Bhrumadhya.[i]

The Hindu Holy Trinity: Right is Shiva, Centre is Brahma, Left is Vishnu.

Hindu Trinity

Pranayama can sometimes cause one to feel anxiousness, so be gentle with yourself. It is easier at first to break this pranayama down into stages. You can use a gentle sukha purvak (alternate nostril) breathing, or breathe through both nostrils (in the technique described below I am using sukha purvak). Simply watch the breath in the process, without controlling it. Let the breathing just happen. Practice with a concentrated mind, feeling loving peace extended toward the sacred within yourself.

Technique

Begin with a few rounds of gentle sukha purvak (alternate nostril) breathing until your mind and body relax.

 Using Vishnu mudra to seal the right nostril. Inhale slowly through the left nostril and lovingly bring your attention to the solar plexus or manipura chakra.

Close both nostrils and retain the breath briefly while loving bringing your attention to the heart region, the anahata chakra.

Open the right nostril and exhale slowly through it, and lovingly bring your attention to the space between the brows, the ajna chakra.

Now inhale slowly through the right nostril and lovingly bring your attention to the solar plexus at the manipura chakra.

Close both nostrils and retain the breath briefly and lovingly bring your attention to the heart at the anahata chakra.

Open the left nostril and exhale slowly through it, and lovingly bring your attention to the space between the brows, the ajna chakra.

Now let’s add to this technique using the same pattern of breathing, alternating between nostrils:

Inhale slowly through the left nostril and lovingly expand the colour red like fire at manipura chakra. This is where the personality resides.

Retain the breath briefly and lovingly expand the colour blue at the anahata chakra. This is where the soul resides.

Exhale slowly through the right nostril, and lovingly expand the colour white at the ajna chakra. This is where the personality and the soul merge as one.

Repeat, completing the round by first inhaling through the right nostril and exhaling out the left nostril.

Adding further to the technique, we bring in the holy Hindu Trinity, representing the cycle of creation, preservation and transformation, which all manifestation experiences:

Inhale slowly through the left nostril and lovingly think of Brahma, the creator of all. Sense all of creation around you.

Retain the breath briefly and lovingly think of Vishnu, becoming aware of all that you preserve in your life.

Exhale slowly through the right nostril and lovingly think of Siva, the destroyer, who removes and transforms all that is no longer needed in your life. Feel yourself lovingly letting go as you exhale.

Repeat, completing the round by first inhaling through the right nostril and exhaling out the left nostril.

Putting it all together now:

Inhale slowly through the left nostril red flowing prana to the manipura chakra. Lovingly think of Brahma, the creator. Create and expand your loving, compassionate personality.

Retain the breath briefly with Vishnu at the heart, expanding the colour blue at the anahata chakra where your soul resides. Lovingly think of Vishnu, preserving your infinite soul and all that is good within you and around you.

Exhale slowly through the right nostril the colour white from the ajna chakra. Lovingly think of Siva, transforming the personality as it merges with the soul as One.

Repeat, completing the round by first inhaling through the right nostril and exhaling out the left nostril. Continue doing as many rounds as you feel comfortable with.

This technique engages the mind, so it does not wander or become distracted. The purpose is to connect the heart and mind through focused attention. Pure love is extended for each of these aspects in one’s life—creation, preservation, and letting go of that which is no longer needed. It is very purifying, and it helps us to accept this natural flow of creation, preservation, and destruction as it occurs in all things manifested, including our personal lives.

MugsMARION (MUGS) MCCONNELL is a founder of SOYA and published author of her book, Letters from the Yoga Masters. She will be leading a workshop in Ft McMurray in April, Calgary in May and the SOYA Yoga teacher training in Calgary in July. This article is reprinted from her book with permission from North Atlantic Books.

[i] Swami Shivananda Saraswati of Assam, Shivananda Yogashram, 471 Netaji Colony, Calcutta, 50, India, Letter to My dear Dickman, April 4, 1966, p.6.

 

Honouring the Culture of Yoga

A yoga teacher training that includes teachings beyond asana

by Mugs McConnell

Seeking out a yoga teacher training must be one of the most confusing things to do for a yoga student. Most people who desire to become a yoga teacher do so because of the great benefits and joy they have experienced in a yoga asana class. However, there is so much more to yoga, and if only asana is taught, then, in my opinion, we are not honouring the culture and history of yoga. Sadly, the student is being shortchanged on what they could and should be exposed to.

If you really want to learn to teach yoga, it is important to understand that asana is only one aspect, and by far not the most important.  Patanjali and several other classical figures of yoga teach us that there are 8 important limbs of yoga. A yoga teacher should not only know about these 8 limbs, but be rooted in their practices and able to teach them with skill and expertise.Kriyas

There are 8 limbs of Yoga

  • Yamas & Niyamas are the first two, which are the ethics or the ten commandments of yoga. They are the foundation for your behaviours – things you should do and things you shouldn’t, if you really want to be a practicing yogi. Things like telling the truth, not stealing, cleanliness, and practicing contentment. There’s more, but this gives you the idea.
  • Here is where Asana comes in; your stable seat. Being comfortable in your body so you can enjoy health and movement with good circulation, and to sit comfortably for the other, deeper practices.
  • Pranayama or control of the life force through breathing techniques. Even though our breathing happens without us thinking about it, we can benefit hugely by paying attention and making use of our lung capacity. There are many practices that play a key role in raising our consciousness to the higher states that we haven’t even thought of, but the yoga masters have known this for centuries!
  • Pratyahara is the withdrawal of the senses… our senses draw us outward and away from our inner self. Here we learn to turn inward, away from sensual distractions, even for a moment. There are very easy practices, like yoga nidra, that help one to achieve pratyahara. A yoga teacher should be able to guide the students through this very important bridge to your beautiful spirit within.
  • Dharana, or concentration, includes practices like gazing at the candle flame, or a flower. These techniques help to tame the mind and become focused. A wandering mind will struggle with communication, listening, and being present.
  • Dhyana or meditation is a deepening of concentration where one experiences spaces between thoughts, where the real meaning of yoga or union begins. Here in these spaces of thoughtlessness is a sublime peace that cannot easily be described, but is far from empty, and very attainable. There are many techniques that help us to move into these spaces of silence, including mudras and japa and visualizations.
  • Samadhi, nirvana, or enlightenment at last…. A place of true unconditional bliss, not tied to the pleasures and pains of this world. This is a very healing state of being and comes as a result of practicing well all the other limbs.

MeditationKnowing about these practices is one thing, but knowing how to do them and to teach them is more important for a yoga teacher. In the classical yoga texts it remind us that we can do all the reading we want, but unless we put these into practice it means very little on the path of yoga.

The students in your asana classes don’t need to know all these practices, but very often you will find they want to!  It will serve you well to be well versed in these techniques. Then you can taper classes to suit the needs of a variety of students; such as those who want athletic yoga, those who want a spiritual yoga and those who need to breathe more effectively.

The 5 main paths of yoga

Let’s add to this vast abundance of yoga knowledge the fact that there are 5 main pathways of yoga! These are the yoga of compassion and love (bhakti yoga), the yoga of the mind and meditation (raja yoga), the yoga of wisdom (Jnana yoga) and the yoga of selfless action (karma yoga). Then there is the yoga of the body – Hatha yoga – the youngest of them all.

Being well educated as a yoga teacher allows you to still favour the hatha yoga asanas you love! These other limbs will enhance your hatha yoga practice greatly. As you learn more about the other limbs and pathways of yoga, they too will be enhanced by each other. And oh, there is so much more!

Most of your highly respected “rock star” yogis of today did their homework. They are well trained, dedicated teachers with a strong knowledge of yoga beyond asana. You deserve to get that kind of training too, so you get all the pieces of the puzzle. It doesn’t matter what the minimum standard is for a teacher training – set your own standard and do your homework to investigate, like you would if you were choosing a University to attend. Take advantage of the gift of these teachings that the yogis of the past have shared so generously with us, and find a teacher trainer who can really teach them.

I for one believe yoga is life-changing. All the gifts that yoga has to offer have given me a life map. After 45 years of yoga, 40 of those as a teacher, I wouldn’t have lived it any other way. By finding teachers who know the teachings and share them willingly made all the difference,. These beautiful techniques of Yoga have enhanced my faith, increased my confidence, and helped me find my voice. I hope it offers you the same.

 

Mugs McConnell is leading a RYT 200 hour yoga teacher training in Calgary Alberta July 4-19th. She has been practicing yoga for 45 years and teaching for 40 years as a classically trained teacher.  She is a published author of the highly acclaimed book “Letters from the Yoga Masters”, containing classical teachings passed on to us through the masters of the past.  To learn more about her and her book and workshops or trainings visit www.lettersfromtheyogamasters.com

 

Chandra Mantras: “Om Chandraya Namaha!”

Chandra is known as the Moon; the cosmic feminine force and the giver of delight.  The Moon represents the feminine, whereas the Sun is the masculine. The feminine is personified through the three goddesses Saraswati, Lakshmi and Kali or Parvati. They portray the three complementary aspects of lunar energy to the masculine energies of Brahma (creative), Vishnu (preservative) and Siva (transformative).

The planetary deity  Chandra is propitiated through increasing mental health and peace of mind. The esoteric result is intuition, spiritual acuity, the understanding of weather phenomena, and dreams.

Chandra rules over our emotions, feelings and creativity.  Since the moon rules over the water element and the soma nectar, physiological associations are fluids in the body such as saliva, perspiration, and other secreting functions, the lymphatic drainage, the sympathetic system, the digestive system, the pancreas, and the female reproductive system. It deals with the elimination and assimilation of nutrition, and the overall protection of the organism.

The moon has many different names relative to her different qualities and actions. If you would like to learn some of these names, join me in a mantra workshop dedicated to Chandra, the Divine feminine.  These mantras help to develop peace, faith, receptivity and surrender.  We will practice the mantras related to the Moon Salutation (Chandra Namaskar), and conclude the class with a Moon Meditation.

By Helen Mikuska, E-RYT500 in Calgary, AB

Friday, February 16th ~ 7:00-9:00 p.m. at Harmony Yoga Pilates Studio, Calgary  $25.00 (incl. gst)

For information please contact Helen at info@harmonyyogapilatesstudio.ca or phone (403) 809-1402.

 200hr immersion Calgary, AlbertaHelen Mikuska is an E-RYT500 and certified mantra teacher is a lead trainer for SOYA yoga teacher training in Calgary, Alberta, July 4-19, 2018. 

Information in this article is summarized from:

Dr. David Frawley; Ayurvedic Astrology: Self-Healing through the Stars.  Twin Lakes, Wisconsin: Lotus Press. (2010). 

Thomas Ashley-Farrand (Namadeva Acharya).  The Ancient Power of Sanskrit Mantra and Ceremony, Second Edition, Volume II.  Pasadena, CA: Saraswati Publications. (2002).

Seasonal Affective Disorder

Yoga and Seasonal Affective Disorder

Early November, I woke up with a sinking feeling and an aversion to participating with life.  My old friend Seasonal Affective Disorder, (S.A.D) was back. It has hit me every year for as long as I can remember. I can’t wake up fully, I withdraw from social activities and basically move through my day with a low level despair. For many years, I set my life up to travel for the winter months but that’s not in the cards this year. As days of grey increased, so did my anxiety about surviving the winter.  My solution is to address it from all angles: light therapy, supplements, affirmation/mantra and S.A.D specific yoga.

Many articles suggest S.A.D has to do with an increased production of melatonin (what makes you sleepy) and a decrease in serotonin (what makes you happy). The pineal gland is involved in the regulation of serotonin and melatonin and the stimulation of the pineal gland will be at the core of my S.A.D specific yoga.  Here are a couple of practices you can include at home if you too are needing some support with your mood this time of year.

Tratak: steady uninterrupted gaze

Sit in front of a candle in a dark room (or stare at a point tip or a black dot) that is approximately 20inches from your eyes. Gaze at it for as long as you can without blinking. When you must, do so, and then start the gaze meditation again. Set a timer for as many minutes as you can sit for. This technique improves memory and concentration and stimulates the pineal gland.

Half Sun Salutation

Synchronizing breath with movement (i.e.: Cat-Cow) regulates the functioning of the entire endocrine system. And is an awesome way to start your day.

  1. Start in Mountain Pose
  2. Inhale, raise your arms overhead
  3. Exhale fold forward towards the floor
  4. Inhale, raise your back level with the floor
  5. Exhale, fold again towards the floor
  6. Inhale, rise to standing and extend your arms overhead
  7. Exhale rest your arms to your sides.

Other poses that may be helpful are Shoulderstand and Fish Pose, spinal twists and Headstand variations (consult an instructor for help with these as they aren’t suitable for everyone’s bodies).

Yoga Nidra or guided visualization

Here’s a simple body scan I recorded that you can use

Gratitude Practice

Keep a gratitude journal. List 5 things in the morning and 5 things before you go to sleep that you are grateful for.

One of the huge gifts of yoga relative to S.A.D is that on the mat, we are encouraged on witness thoughts without engaging in them. We become aware of all the ups and downs internally that show up even in the span of one class. We are invited to observe them and compassionately decide if they are helpful to our well being or not.

And this is exactly what I’ve been doing this past week in the dark mornings and afternoons. Staying vigilant about negative self-talk and devoting a little extra energy to sustaining my sanity through these simple but potent techniques.

May your light stay lit these winter months and should you need extra support, check out my Yoga classes at Purple Lotus Yoga in Penticton, or join me for the SOYA Yoga Teacher Training from March through June.

By Kamala Wilkie, E-RYT500, SOYA lead trainer in Penticton BC

200hr Extended Penticton BCKamala Wilkie is the SOYA lead trainer for the 200 hour and 300 hour Upgrade yoga teacher training programs. She is the owner of the award winning Purple Lotus Yoga studio in Penticton. Have a quick listen to what Kamala has to say about the teacher training!

Puja Ceremony

The Puja Ceremony by Marion (Mugs) McConnell

There is one invisible, formless spirit called Brahman which manifests itself inside every living thing. Hindus believe in one God, and they worship God through the many forms of gods and goddesses known as deities. The gods and goddesses, with all their gifts and strengths and personalities, help us to understand what God is like. By showing love and respect to the deities, we are showing love and respect to the One that is the Source of all.

For example (and a really simplified one), Lakshmi is the bountiful provider and has gold coins falling from one of her hands. Brahma, the creator, has four heads so he can see oversee all of creation in the four directions. Ganesha is the remover of obstacles along our spiritual path. He has an elephant’s head, representing the power and strength of an elephant to get those obstacles out of our way. These specific qualities represented in the individual deities are all qualities that come from the One God, and are potentially manifested in each and every one of us. We focus on one of these deities in order to tap into that strength within ourselves.

One way to show respect and devotion to God is called puja. Puja is a ceremony that can be performed every day or on special occasions, in a home or in a temple or shrine. One can have pictures or statues of the deities they are honouring in that particular puja. The place for the puja should be clean and comfortable – a place to meditate or pray.

During the puja ceremony many mantras are chanted, which are prayers and verses from the Hindu holy books. These various mantras usually end in “samarpayami,” meaning “I have offered.” Many items are used in the ceremony, such as a bell, a copper pot of water, a diva lamp, and a pot of red kum kum powder. The worshipper then makes a series of offerings to God during the repetition of mantras. The offerings include pushpam (flowers), phalam (fruit), gandham (sandalwood paste), dhupam (incense), deepam (light), naivedyam (food), and jalam (water).

puja tray

Items used in Puja:

Each item used in puja has a special symbolism or meaning. When we understand the meaning then the offering makes more sense and we become more sincere in the process.

Puja thali: This is the tray on which the puja items are placed. Often participants in the puja will place in the tray special items such as rings or mala beads to be blessed during the puja. Water and rice are offered into the tray blessing these items.

The bell is rung to let God know that you have come to worship. You invite God into the home. The bell produces an auspicious sound (and helps drown any inauspicious or irrelevant noises).

The Conch shell is believed to make the purest sound – AUM – which is the sound of creation. Often it is used as a vessel to pour water into the Thali plate.

The diva lamp is lit and moved around clockwise in circles to bring light to the shrine. This light is a symbol of God’s presence within us. It reminds us that even in our darkest hours, there is also light.

The incense stick is lit and moved around the shrine in circles. This cleans the air and brings a lovely smell to the shrine for the gods and as it dissipates into the air, we are reminded that God is everywhere. Incense also represents the desires we possess. We burn these attachments before the Lord.

Water is offered to the deity on a spoon or poured from a conch shell. This is to show respect. It symbolizes offering a drink of water, and also bathing or washing the feet of the deity, as if using the water from the sacred Ganges River.

Rice is revered as a potent symbol of auspiciousness, prosperity and fertility because of its basic life-sustaining qualities. In the puja ritual it represents feeding the deities. Rice also symbolizes steadfastness and dedication and stands for peace.

Kum Kum is a red powder is a symbol of loyalty, devotion and commitment. It symbolizes the emotions of the worshipper. Hindus use this to make a dot on the forehead of the statues or pictures of the gods. This is a sign of respect and devotion to the gods. They will also make a mark on their own forehead (at the ajna chakra) as a sign that God has blessed them. The dot, or bindi, is a means to worship one’s intellect. Worship of the intellect ensures that thoughts, speech, actions, habits and ultimately one’s character becomes pure. The ajna chakra involves balancing the higher and lower selves and trusting inner guidance. Its inner aspect relates to visual consciousness and clarity on an intuitive level. The bindi placed at this position is said to retain and enhance this energy, strengthening one’s concentration. Men generally apply the kum kum with the thumb and women with the ring-finger. Kum kum may also be applied by the priest when a puja is completed at a shrine or temple.

Chandan (sandalwood paste): This is sometimes also placed on the forehead of the deities or participants, at the point of the third eye of wisdom.

Sacred Red thread (kalava) symbolises offering new clothes to the deity after being bathed by the water. It chiefly symbolizes unity, helping to unite the congregation as one symbolic body during worship. The color red symbolizes purity, mastery and bravery.

Flowers represent growth and beauty, and the good that has blossomed in us. Flowers vibrate a certain state of consciousness that represents purity. Flowers represent renouncing ones desires for enlightenment. As flowers are close to our heart, symbolically one is offering the soul or atman to the deity.

Fruit: The offering of fruits signifies our detachment, surrender and self-sacrifice. The tree surrenders its attachment to the fruit, allowing it to release itself. By giving up something sweet we develop our self-control and cultivate inner strength.

Prasad: Worshippers offer food for the gods to bless it, transforming any karma involved in acquiring the food into spiritual mercy. This blessed food is called ‘prashad’. After the food is offered to the deities, it is eaten by the worshippers.

There are many different formats for pujas, including short forms that may only take 15 minutes and those that may last several hours. Every puja is special and sacred. May you be blessed with the opportunity to enjoy participation in this sacred event.

Mugs McConnell will be performing short 15 minute pujas during the Pura Vida Yoga Retreat in Costa Rica along with teachings from her book Letters from the Yoga Masters this coming March 1-8. For more details please go to www.soyayoga.com/events

Essential Oils

EXPLORING ESSENTIAL OILS

EXPLORING ESSENTIAL OILS at the PURA VIDA YOGA RETREAT IN COSTA RICA.
Terri McDermott shares a bit about essential oils…

After 20+ years working within the medical profession as a Certified Medical Assistant, as well as my education and continued studies of Anatomy, Yoga and Ayurveda, I have come to the realization that nature offers us some amazing products for our health.

Essential oils, derived from nature, in conjunction with yoga, pranayama and meditation have been my constant “go to” for stress, anxiety, clearing energy channels, the common cold and boosting the immune system. The benefits of each of these components used individually or in combination with one another can be easily incorporated into our daily routines, assisting the process of healing in so many ways.

When I say essential oils are derived from nature, what I mean is they are natural compounds extracted from various parts of a plant, such as the flowers, leaves, stems, and roots. The oils can be taken topically, aromatically with a diffuser, and in some cases internally. As the oil is concentrated, it is very potent, so not a lot is needed to produce the desired effect.

So what do essential oils do? Researchers continue to study the effects of essential oils. Some studies have shown that lavender helps to reduce anxiety, tee tree oil can help one feel more grounded, and lemon oil can elevate your mood. The oils can be used as a natural deodorant or even a perfume. Some oils have been shown to help with digestion, normal hormone function and inflammation. Headaches have different causes so there are a variety of oils for relieving them. Peppermint oil can be used for sinus headaches, chamomile for stress headaches, and lavender for tension or migraines. These are just a few examples of how these oils from nature can assist us toward a healthier life.

I am excited to share with you at the Pura Vida Yoga Retreat some of what I have learned about essential oils. We can explore a bit each day on the use of the oils, and if you want we can do a bio-impedance test to assist you with determining the essential oils your body is lacking and how they can benefit you! I hope to see you there!

Terri McDermottTerri McDermott is an E-RYT200 from Traverse City, Michigan. She is a passionate yoga teacher who is leading the Pura Vida Yoga Retreat with Mugs McConnell next March 1-8.

Terri will be leading asana classes and a session on essential oils. Mugs will be sharing teachings from her book “Letters from the Yoga Masters” and doing daily pujas, along with all the outdoor adventures we can take in! Read more on Pura Vida Yoga Retreat

Ganesha

Spiritual Temple Tour of India

Temple tourI can’t wait to return to India for a spiritual temple tour! I have been to India twice now and after each time I returned home, I said to myself, well, I can scratch that off my list of experiences.  But India calls you back to experience that deep stillness in your soul and the feeling of flower petals dropping into your heart.  I know some of you will say, but there are SO many people, limited or nil sanitation, worries about what you will eat (cleanliness), constant loudness of many varying sounds and the hustle and bustle of all who live there.  But within all this chaos, there is this indescribable peace; the Shanti of India.

GaneshaThe first time I went to India was in 2007 with my guru, Namadeva Acharya (Thomas Ashley-Farrand) for the Shree Ashtavinayaka Darshan (pilgrimage) visiting the eight holy shrines of Ganapati in Maharashtra.  Words could never describe all of my experiences, but I will list a few here – Peace pouring down like rain that brought tears to my eyes when meeting the Jagadgurus in Kanchi Math.  At the Rama Krishna Centre in Bangalore, I sat outside on a rock with my feet grounded to the earth.  My meditation was short due to time limitations but very intense.  I could feel all of my chakras vibrating all at the same time.  When I stood up, I could feel all of my energy lodged into the earth and I could not move my feet; possibly an indication that I did not want to leave yet.  Attended an evening puja and when the priest rang his bell, I could feel intense heat and an upward flame burning from my forehead where the marking lines of Vishnu were drawn.  Meditated at a Ganesh temple feeling my heart full, chakras vibrating in my hands with purple lights clouding my vision.  In a meditation in the Himalayas, felt like my hands and feet had separated from my body.  These are just a few of my experiences.  Seven years later in 2014, I returned to India again visiting Rishikesh, Haridwar, Vrindavan, Mathura, Agra and Jaipur with many more wonderful experiences that I will never forget.

Spiritual Temple TourIndia calls again, four years in this upcoming March, when I am leading my own tour (Harmony Spiritual Temple Tour in Tamil Nadu, March 12-27, 2018).  My tour guide is Mina Tilakraj who has worked 30 years in tourism and whom I met in 2014.  I have extensively researched everything for the tour, all planned and ready to go!  I am taking a small group but there is room for you if you wish to experience a dedicated Sadhana practice in India.  Tamil Nadu has 33,000 ancient temples and I have selected very special ones.  We will visit the five temples for the elements (earth, wind, fire, air, ether) and the nine planets (Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn, Rahu and Ketu) plus visit many other temples for Shiva (including one temple with 468 Lingams), Parvati, Brahma, Saraswati, Vishnu, Lakshmi, Krishna, Rama, Shesha Naga, Sudarshana Chakra, Kali, Narasimba, Durga, Ganesha, Hanuman, Bhuvaneswari, Yama, Mother Gayatri and Dhanvantari.

At each temple there will be a planned Sadhana practice (pranayama, mantra, meditation, mudra and journaling in a tour book I will be providing to all aspirants).  This tour is totally spiritual; our main goal.  Oh yeah, with a little bit of shopping.

Temple Tour

By Helen Mikuska, SOYA, E-RYT500, Lead Trainer for SOYA teacher training in Calgary.

For further information, please visit www.harmonyyogapilatestudio.ca or email info@harmonyyogapilatesstudio.ca.

Woman Dancers

Ayahuasca as Medicine Part 2

In last month’s Newsletter, I talked about the benefits of working with Ayahuasca and Tobacco as a tool for our healing and spiritual growth. I believe that no single practice can take us where we need to go and do.  We need to be open to all the possibilities that are available to us, but only if they speak to us.

It was after my trip to Ecuador in May that Grandmother Doreen Spence came into my life. She is an 80 year old Cree Elder who acts like she is 50 years old. She is a woman of tremendous knowledge and spirituality. In June we did a Traditional Native Teachings course with her in Victoria. It was here that I knew a new path was being laid out for me.

We had a drum journey at this event. In the journey there was a bear and he led me to the top of a mountain. Then an Eagle came by and picked me up and took me across the mountains and landed me in the prairies. Here my journey became a continuation of one my Ayahuasca journeys, and I knew that the prairies held a special significance for me.

View from Writing on Stone of the Milk River.

Mugs and I had our summer all planned out. We had our home up for sale and we were going to travel through the Kootenays and Northern BC looking for property. But Grandmother changed everything. She invited us to a sweatlodge in Cochrane. “Of course!” we said, and our plans had to wait.

The sweat was a great experience – very cleansing and detoxifying. We spent a couple of nights at Grandmother’s home hearing her stories and gleaning her wisdom. She is not a fan of Ayahuasca, but feels it does have a role and she seemed to accept me going to a Shaman in South America.

We left her place without really knowing where we were headed, and at the same time there were areas that intrigued us. We had a summer of

Writing On Stone Provincial Park. Art work by the Blackfoot nation has been dated back 5000 years

following our intuition, looking for the signs and paying attention. We had faith that where ever we ended up was where we were intended to be.  As a BC boy all my life I could not ever see myself living on the prairies, but when one begins the journey there is no stopping it. Grandmother says “there are no coincidences in life”. When you place your trust in your inner and divine knowledge, that is within every being that surrounds us in our day, we can’t go wrong, because everything just is.

Writing on Stone Provincial Park held a special significance for us. Our campsite was full of robins. I never seen so many robins in one spot. I looked up the meaning of the robin and it was “new beginnings”. Our property sold while we were camping there. After we left the park, our plan was to return home and Mugs could catch up on her work. But…….I felt we had to go through Cardston on the way home. The little town was interesting. There was something about it.

After a few days at home, I couldn’t shake the feeling that we had to go back to Cardston. There was a POW WOW in a week. So after telling Mugs she could be home as long as she wanted, I lined up some houses for us to look at and off we went to Cardston.

We weren’t impressed with anything we looked at, but I kept saying to Mugs, “I hope the realtor has something unlisted. Something that a friend has that he is allowed to show.”  Well, after looking at all the houses the realtor had for us, he could see nothing had grabbed our interest. He then said ” I have a friend, who has a house and he told me to bring somebody by.”

We stepped out of the car at this house and we were in love with it. What a manifestation! I said I could live in a two-bedroom house with one bathroom if it had an office, a garage and a yoga space. It had it all and character in spades. This is how a BC guy ends up in the prairies.

My point is, from this year of following our intuition, that the learnings from my lovely wife, Erich Schiffmann, Tantra, Ayahuasca and now Grandmother, all become part of my tool box. I am not just a yogi; I am not just studying Shamanism; I am not just working with Indigenous spirituality. I am the totality of everything I have learned. There are four colours to the medicine wheel, Yellow- (Asian), Red- (Indigenous), Black- (African) and White- (Caucasian). It is said that when the four colours come together there will be peace on earth.

When the fruits of our spiritual practices come together, will we become enlightened?

 It is with great sadness that I had to cancel my Men’s retreat in Ecuador this year. But the journey continues and I still intend to go back and bring men and women with me, as many of you have expressed an interest. I am hoping that this will be the beginning of helping people come and experience what the Plant Medicines have to offer. Please feel free to email me if you are interested. 

Bob McConnell is a RYT500hr yoga teacher and co-owner of SOYA.