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@paincareu.com

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  www.paincareu.com 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

Connecting Through Yoga

Connecting Through Yoga

We all long for connection… to others, to the world, and within ourselves.  Connecting through yoga gives us many opportunities to do this.

Though the teacher ‘sets the stage’, so to speak, by holding a safe space of acceptance and support, the yoga practitioner has an opportunity in class to engage in their connection process.  It has been shown that moving through class with others in a synchronized way increases a feeling of bonding and connection with others. This is no small thing in a society with growing isolation issues and being drawn into our electronic devices.

The yoga practitioner starts this process just by showing up to practice with a curious and exploring mind.  However, the next step is sometimes the most difficult… letting go and allowing rather than pushing to some prior expectation of success.  Being present and allowing the breath to move you through the practice is key.  When we explore and listen inwardly with non-grasping curiosity we can cultivate inner awareness and acceptance moving toward connection with Self.  From a moving practice we can then bring this inner awareness and connection into our meditation practice – on the mat and in daily life.

Gail Thompson, E-RYT500, is a Lead Trainer for SOYA Yoga Teacher Training in Creston, BC in the Kootenays. She is leading the SOYA Yoga 200 hour teacher training in Creston from Feb – May, 2020.

 

Parmesan Crackers and Cannoli

Parmesan Crackers and Cannoli

Mugs asked me to make some parmesan crackers the other day so she could take pictures of the process. I prefer making these to other crackers as they are very simple to make.

Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees. Take a tablespoon of shredded parmesan cheese and put it on a baking sheet or silicone sheet which I use. I manage to get 12 piles on and then I bake them for 10 minutes. I watch them very closely toward the end of the time as you don’t want the parmesan crackers to burn. You are essentially cooking the fat off the cheese and after they cool you have a gluten free crunchy cracker.

When they are done I have a few sheets of paper towel on the counter and I place the crackers on this to cool and to absorb some of the oil. I move them to cooling racks when the next batch is ready to go on the paper towel. You will need to wipe down the baking sheet of any excess oil before placing more cheese on it.

You can use cheeses other than parmesan, but the cracker tends to be a little chewy because of the fats. The PC Parmigiana and Reggiano cheese is what I like best. It is very hard and I use a food processor to grate it. A straight parmesan works quite well though and may be a little less expensive.

Yeild: I get about 60 crackers out of 800 grams of cheese.

Cannoli

Now let’s talk about Cannoli! We were at a wedding reception last weekend. Hanging out and talking with the guys, a conversation about the local restaurants in the area started. Someone mentioned a bakery sold cannoli made with a parmesan cheese shell. I thought to myself “hmmmmm I wonder if I could use my crackers as a shell?”

I’ve never had cannoli, so I got pretty excited. First I needed some tubes to wrap the cracker around. Out of cardboard, I made them in a cone shape (I think a rolled up straight tube is better).

Then I took two tablespoons of parmesan and created a slightly flattened pile, about a 3-4 inch circle. After they cooked, I immediately rolled the two large crackers around the tubes – they cool quickly and then it is not possible to roll them. I only made two at a time as they firm up very quickly.

You have to be very careful as the cheese is quite hot, so I used a small spatula to help me with the process of rolling them. If food safe latex gloves would protect you from the heat, I would try those and get a little tighter rolled tube. Smaller tubes would require a little less filling, making the cannoli not so rich.

Once they firm up (in about a minute) the tubes can be removed.

The Filling

There are numerous fillings on the internet. Most of them have ricotta cheese and a orange or lemon zest.

My recipe is:

¾ of a cup of ricotta cheese

2 tbsp of cream cheese

1/3 of cup of Erythritol

3/4 tablespoon of lemon zest

¼ teaspoon of Vanilla Extract

¼ teaspoon of cinnamon

I mix everything together with an electric hand mixer until it is smooth and creamy. I don’t have a pastry filler so I just spooned it in. Not the most elegant result, but good none the less.

This is fun to try. It amuses me doing things like this when I’ve hurt my back and I can’t golf or work on the house. Food always seems to be a great solace when one is in pain 🙂

By Bob McConnell

Affirmations

Affirmations

Affirmations as a Tool for Success

Affirmations are powerful, but they are not magic. The Fairy Godmother doesn’t appear to transform our lives with a sparkly wand whenever things are tough, as most of us know. When we want to achieve something significant, for ourselves or for others, it’s pretty certain that we will have to work hard for it — and the effort required usually turns out to be far beyond what we anticipated. Affirmations keep us focused on the outcomes we want, even when we feel exhaustion, have doubts and fears from within, or experience discouragement or resistance from others.

How do you want to go forward on your yoga path? Do you want to deepen your studies and expand your practice? Do you feel drawn toward working with specialized groups or in non-studio class formats? Once you articulate what you aspire toward, ask yourself, “What do I want to affirm?” Answer the question with a positive, time-specific statement. For example, several years ago I wanted earn RYT 500 status. My affirmations was:

“I earn 500-hour yoga teacher certification in 2014.”

(A caution: be concrete, but realistic when you set timeframes, and be prepared to adjust if needed. Things don’t always go as expected.)

Maybe you want to have a stronger relationship with a family member. An affirmation could be something like: “I establish a schedule that includes regular visits with Grandma.”

There is nothing tricky about writing such affirmations for yourself. Take a few days to jot some priorities down, then spend dedicated time to form a few simple, positive statements. Write, paint, or print them out and put them somewhere you can see them often. Look at them and read them regularly. Don’t forget this important step — affirmations only work when you are involved with them. You can always tweak when it makes sense.

Another type of affirmation is not strictly goal-related, but can be instrumental in making positive internal shifts. You may try affirming something general, such as, “I trust my intuition,” or “My work is important.” Or you may want to change an attitude such as self-righteousness or judgemental feelings toward yourself or others. An affirmation that I have said almost daily for the last three years goes like this:

“I recognize that others meet me from where they are, and that I meet others from where I am. I have compassion for both.”

Repeating this changes how I respond to snarly traffic, a slow cashier, or a cranky friend. We can teach ourselves to consciously recognize and soften our responses to things that we see as problems others bring into our lives by considering the opposing backgrounds and desires of both parties simultaneously.

Getting back to the Fairy Godmother — wishing for a magical resolution or praying for personal rescue is not the same as creating and working with an affirmation. Such half-hearted attempts absolve us of self-responsibility by side-stepping the tapas and swadyaya needed to move forward. But more than that, Isvara Pranidhana, personal devotion to the divine – however that presents itself to you – is left out of the equation. Instead, the desired outcome is swept into the nebulous “universe” with no effort, self-reflection, or follow through. (Niyamas, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, 2.1.)

Use affirmations to create structure and support, then through daily reference and repetition, you will start crossing your goals off your list – maybe because you have achieved what you wanted to, or maybe because they didn’t belong on your list after all. Affirmations have a way of clarifying and resolving what is really important in the end.

Paramhansa Yogananda’s method of using an affirmation is to first say it out loud, then whisper it, then say it internally. This sequentially brings it deeper within, turning it into a kind of focus meditation, and really sets the affirmation squarely into your awareness. (Scientific Healing Affirmations, Self-Realization Fellowship, 1958.)

Affirmations come directly from you, and their realization is created, step-by-step, from within an increasingly awake you.

No wonder they are powerful.

by Jools Andrés, BA, ERYT 500.

AffirmationsJools is a Lead trainer for SOYA Vancouver at the 200-hour and 300-hour teacher trainings. Jools has studied extensively in Yoga Therapy and travelled to India to learn directly from the sources. To learn more about Jools, or to study with her at her Restorative Yoga Teacher Training or the SOYA Teacher Trainings, go to https://joolsandres.com/about-us.php.

 

Spiritual Liberation

Spiritual Liberation

Liberation: Spiritual Freedom Now or Later

Spiritual liberation is realization of our innermost essence, the Self. This can occur after death or even before the body and mind have disintegrated. The latter form of freedom is known as “living liberation.” If it qualitatively the same as the former and is often known as enlightenment.

In both cases, the mind must be fully transcended. That is to say, there must be nothing in the way of pure awareness. While we are alive, Self-realization is a paradoxical state. On one hand, there is the disembodied, eternal Self, and on the other hand, there is the infinite body and an equally finite mind. This is a mind boggling combination!

The Self-realized adept who is alive has pushed the mind to its limits, such that it barely exists at all. Certainly, the adept’s mind includes no tendency to ward self-centeredness. In some cases, the master may spend more time being present as the Self. In (most) other cases, he or she dips into actual Self-realization periodically, which then has a profoundly transformative effect on the mind. Put differently, in the Self-realized adept, the Self – or God – is more present than the mind.

The process of Yoga is an unveiling of the ever-present Self. We are always free, or liberated. But the blocks in our mind prevent us from recognizing our innate freedom. This is comparable to a tree branch standing in the way of the Sun. When we bend the branch a little, the sunlight strikes our eyes. When we remove the obstructions in the mind – all the negative emotions like anger, lust, greed, and so on – we can welcome the light of the Self in our heart. Even a little bit of the yogic work can give us a glimpse of the Self. In a way, every step toward the Self is liberating.

Yoga is thus excavation work, which gets rid of the dross in the psyche. At first, this requires a very muscular effort. We have to apply ourselves systematically using willpower and self-discipline. Imagine spade and pickaxe. Later on, the yogic work becomes more subtle but also more challenging, because the impediments are not always easy to see. When you are still in the process of dismantling gross self-centeredness, you will in general know what to do. More subtle forms of self-centeredness involve mental obstacles that call for great discernment. It may not always be obvious to a disciple even which functions of the mind are self-centered. This is where a guru can be supremely helpful. He or she has struggled with the same or a similar problem.

Being more skilful on the ecstatic circuit of the spiritual path, the guru can point out where we are getting sidetracked. The experience of ecstasy – either in its lower forms or by dint of artificial means (such as drugs or mantras) – can itself be full of traps. Not every ecstasy reveals the Self. The ecstatic state can, however, look like the real thing. Only superior discernment – like a teacher is apt to have – will settle the matter.

Whenever we are close to Self-realization, our conduct is likely to become simple and inspiring to others. The nondual Self, after all, is simple. As long as our life is overly convoluted, or complicated, we are still closer to the mind than to the Self. On the spiritual path, the mind is progressively stripped of the need for complication and extraordinariness. In fact, disciples are to all appearances ordinary people. They don’t wear a special sign that proclaims: “I am a disciple.” Nor do disciples engage in extraordinary feats. If they do, then we ought to question their spiritual status. To behave in an ordinary manner while being extraordinary on the inside is a sign of freedom.

The freer we are, the less likely do we feel the urge to assert ourselves or display our specific neuroses. The liberated being is non-neurotic. He or she has overcome the wiles and compulsions of the mind.

By Brenda and Georg Feuerstein   (An excerpt from “The Matrix of Yoga: Teachings, Principles, and Questions” by Georg and Brenda Feuerstein. Used with permission from Brenda Feuerstein)

Spiritual LiberationBrenda Feuerstein will be leading our SOYA Annual Yoga Retreat at Sorrento Centre this May 31-June 2nd! An event not to be missed! Register Here! She is an author and yoga scholar. Her books include The Yoga-Sutra from a Woman’s Perspective, Yoga-Nidra/Yoga Sleep (audio recording) as well as co-authored works with her late husband and spiritual partner Dr. Georg Feuerstein include, The Matrix of Yoga, Green Yoga, Green Dharma, and The Bhagavad-Gita: A New Translation. She lives in the quaint village of Eastend, Saskatchewan.  Photo credit: Free download from Pixabay at https://www.pexels.com/photo/abstract-art-awareness-branches-268283/

 

Grieving

Grieving and Yoga

The Yogic Path of Grieving

by Brenda L. Feuerstein

I’d like to start by stressing that in terms of grief I don’t believe there is something to overcome, get over, and go through in some systemic manner, and there is no right and wrong way to grieve. Grief is a natural response to the loss of something or someone, and while it’s universal, the way it’s felt varies dependent on the individual. We grieve the loss of someone dear to us, a lost job, a family home that has been sold or burned to the ground, a relationship that has changed or ended, the seasons going, our youth and all it holds, our ability to do things for ourselves, the death of a celebrity we admired, and on and on. To live in a human body is to experience loss and grief and it seems no one goes untouched.

After several years of studying death, dying, loss, and grief from various cultural, religious and spiritual perspectives I believe that it’s still one of the most misunderstood human responses even though everyone experiences it to some degree or another. Over the years, I came to understand that while Yoga is not a universally accepted and embraced tradition, it does hold great potential to help us better understand ourselves and how we can befriend the psychological, physical, emotional, spiritual and social responses that we experience in life and especially as we learn to hold more heart-space for loss and grief.

Grief allows us to have the most intimate relationship with ourselves and the world in which we live, and the opportunity for transformation through the process of softening into grief is why I refer to it as the yogic path of grieving. This unique path invites us to gently get into it rather than over it, and on that path we are re-introduced to parts of us we have forgotten about or packed away for a later date. It sometimes also shows us aspects of ourselves we didn’t know existed and that can feel physically, emotionally, and spiritually devastating at times. Through the practice of Yoga we are given the tools to greet the plethora of responses and gently reclaim ourselves so that we can experience ourselves as a loving whole being.

When we look at grief through the various paths of Yoga we can see how each path holds a unique approach for us to experience loss and grief and reconnect to our true nature. Bhakti-Yoga calls us to feel deeply, to listen, to remember, and ultimately reconnect with love and devotion. Karma-Yoga reconnects us to selfless acts as a way to open ourselves to living fully. Jnana-Yoga reconnects us to the ancient wisdom we hold deep within and offers a three-fold path of listening, considering, and contemplation to help us better understand our human responses to loss and grief. Mantra-Yoga reconnects us to our inner heart-song and gifts us the opportunity to find our voice again. Tantra-Yoga reconnects us to ritualism and celebration as a means to feel our deep connection to each other and the world we live in.  Raja-Yoga reconnects us to the many facets of our mind to help us experience balance in our day-to-day life. Hatha-Yoga reconnects to our body and helps us understand the deep connection between the body, mind, and spirit in our human form.

As we offer acknowledgment and acceptance to grief we open to the parts of us that are holding painful and joy-filled memories and then we start to understand them as integral parts of ourself. We are called to turn toward grief and get into it as a way of honouring and respecting ourselves and our deeper connection to the world. In time, and through the yogic path of grieving, the body-mind integrates the experiences as part of the whole instead of seeing its separateness. When we allow ourselves to say “yes” in that way, a softening happens in the body and heart-mind and that gives rise to more opportunities. The softening is the embodied response to acceptance or saying yes to feeling grief. Obviously, there are times when “yes” doesn’t make sense such as when the emotions and physical sensations are heightened to the point where we can’t easily respond to them, but when we are able to say “yes” in a healthy manner we see how grief is woven into our inner landscape and we are called to learn to live with the addition not find ways to exclude it from our life experience.

The yogic path of grieving also acknowledges the heart in its totality. It understands how our heart functions as a physical organ, how it responds as an emotional organ, how it listens as a spiritual organ, and how it connects as a social organ. It further acknowledges how the heart communicates with the entire body to give us a unique human experience in every moment, and when given an opportunity to soften it becomes the ultimate Mother as it opens its arms to love in its purest form.

Grieving

Lastly, yogic path of grieving calls us to return to ourselves to hold sacred space for the various losses we experience in life, and through the yogic practices we have the opportunity for an even deeper experience of living life with inner-freedom.

Copyright 2019 by Brenda L. Feuerstein. All rights reserved.

Reproduction in any form requires prior written permission.

Traditional Yoga Studies www.traditionalyogastudies.com

Brenda L. Feuerstein will be leading the 2019 SOYA Yoga Retreat at Sorrento Centre, from May 31-June 2. For more details and how to register, visit www.soyayoga.com/events

Photo credit: Pixabay.com

Locust pose

Purna Shalabhasana – Locust Pose

Progressions to Purna Shalabhasana- the Full Locust Pose
SarpasanaThe Locust pose is a dynamic pose; a full body energizer and an excellent backbend for chest opening. The full pose is rather intimidating to most, but there are many ways to modify it so it becomes accessible. Here are a few progressions into the deeper forms of the pose.

I like to start slow, with Sarpasana, or Snake Pose.
• Lie flat on your stomach. Place your forehead on the mat, arms extended down the side of the body with palms down. Legs extend with the tops of the feet connected to the mat. Breathe.
• Inhale and lift the head, shoulders and arms off the mat. Breathe. Inhale and lift the legs of the mat. Breathe a few breaths and lengthen through the spine.
• When ready lower the legs, arms and head down.

NavasanaOptionally, I like to try to bring the arms out in front, as in Urdhva Mukha Navasana, or upward facing boat pose.
• Lie flat on your stomach. Place your forehead on the mat, arms extended out in front of you. Legs extend with the tops of the feet connected to the mat. Breathe.
• Inhale and lift the head and arms off the mat. Breathe. Inhale and lift the legs of the mat. Breathe a few breaths and lengthen through the spine.
• When ready lower the legs, arms and head down.

Ardha ShalabhasanaNext, we could explore the half locust, or Ardha Shalabhasana.
• Lie flat on your stomach. Place your forehead on the mat, arms extended down the side of the body with palms down. Legs extend with the tops of the feet connected to the mat. Breathe.
• Place the palms down on the mat beside you, or make fists with them and draw them together beneath you, as close together as possible.
• Inhale and raise the right leg. Breathe and hold for a few breaths.
• Exhale and lower the right leg down.
• Repeat on the other side, raising the left leg.
• Breathe and rest.

We could explore how it feels in Eka Pada Ardha Shalabhasana, or one legged half locust.
• Lie flat on your stomach, forehead down, and place your hands as stated above. Legs extend with the tops of the feet connected to the mat. Breathe.
• Inhale and raise the right leg. Exhale and bend the left knee, folding the left leg so the foot rests against the thigh (or shin if necessary) as a support for the right leg. Breathe and hold for a few breaths.
• Exhale and unfold the left leg and lower the right leg down.
• Repeat on the other side, raising the left leg.
• Breathe and rest.

Viparita Shalabhasana If you feel inspired, we could try Viparita Shalabhasana, or inverted locust pose, where both legs are lifted off the floor.
• Lie flat on your stomach, forehead down, and place your hands as stated above. Legs extend with the tops of the feet connected to the mat. Breathe.
• Inhale, then exhale as you raise both legs. Breathe and hold the pose for a few breaths.
Locust PoseThere is a point where when the legs reach a certain height overhead, balance changes and it becomes easy to rest on the chest. Once stable at this point, bend the knees and lower the feet toward the head. Breathe and hold the pose for a few breaths.
• Exhale and lower both legs slowly down. Repeat if desired, then breathe and rest.

The final phase of Purna Shalabhasana, or full locust pose is the deepest backbend, and certainly not for everyone!
Locust poseLie flat on your stomach, forehead down, and place your hands as stated above. Legs extend with the tops of the feet connected to the mat. Breathe.
• Inhale, then exhale as you raise both legs as high as possible with a little extra thrust. Press your hands firmly into the mat to help raise the legs.
• Inhale and straighten the legs overhead. Exhale and slowly lower the legs back to the mat. Breathe and rest.

Conclude the sequence of poses with child’s pose, pranatasana.
Cautions: Back and neck problems.

Modifications: Raise the legs one at a time, only an inch off the ground if that is what is most comfortable for you. An option in Sarpasana is to raise the upper and lower bodies separately, not at the same time. Pay careful attention to sensations in the spine. Again, stay within you realm of comfort and listen to the feedback from your body (your best teacher).

Benefits: Creates “elasticity in the spine.” Strengthens the abdominal muscles and major muscle groups in the back and legs. Opens the thoracic spine and chest area. Massages the abdomen benefiting digestion. Promotes blood circulation. For some it can provide relief from sciatica.

It is recommended to learn these poses in the presence of and under the guidance of a competent teacher. Please learn these poses from them, and then explore for fully in your own personal practice.

Malasana

Malasana

Asana: Malasana, Garland Pose or Squat

Malasana is an excellent pose for transitioning from standing asanas to the floor. It opens the hips, improves balance, and is a great prenatal pose.

In this photo, the hands are placed together in Namaskara mudra. However, the arms can also wrap around the knees, clasping the hands behind them, forming a garland or mala with the arms.

Method:

From a standing position, step the feet slightly more than hip width distance apart

Inhale, and exhale as you bend the knees, lowering yourself down into a squat position. Be sure your toes point in the same direction as your knees. Place your hands on the floor in front of yourself to help with your balance.

Engage the abdominals slightly (a slight mula bandha and uddiyana bandha) to support the low back.

If it is available to you, bring your hands together into Namaskara mudra (palms together) at your heart center. This joins ida and pingala nadis, or balances the energy of the opposites.

Press your elbows into your inner knees, creating a slight resistance between your knees and your elbows

Try to keep your spine straight, with your torso snuggled in between your thighs.

Benefits:

Stretches the ankles, groin, hips, legs, back and torso.

Cautions:

Low back discomfort, knee or ankle injuries, balance issues.

Modifications:

Do not bend down as deeply if it gives you pain in the low back or in your knees.  Feel free to put your hands on a wall or a chair to help with balance if you cannot squat down fully. If you are able to squat deeply into the full squat, give yourself permission to put your hands on the floor in front of you if you are unable to balance.

If your heels come off the floor, place a folded blanket or roll up a portion of your yoga mat with enough thickness to put under your heels so they can comfortably rest on it. This will offer support for balance, allowing you to relax into the pose.

Contributed by Marion (Mugs) McConnell, E-RYT500, SOYA

Mala Beads

Mala Beads

What are Mala Beads?
A mala is a garland of 108 beads used to count the recitation of mantras. Mala is Sanskrit for garland. Malas are used in Eastern spiritual practices, but more than 2/3’s of the world population uses prayer beads in their spiritual practice including Christians (Catholic rosary), Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism.  They are used as a meditation tool to count the number of mantras while chanting or reciting.

Made of many different types of beads including gems, wood, seeds, bone, and crystal; there are different properties or qualities to the type of bead, and the choosing of a mala can be a very personal experience or sometimes gifted from your Guru or teacher. Some mala users prefer to make their own, reciting a mantra as they make it to imbue the mala with those qualities of the mantra.
Mala Beads
Yoga practitioners use malas in their mantra practice. A mantra is repeated to help create focus and to allow deeper levels of awareness and relaxation. As you move along the beads, it has the effect of ‘waking you up’ to the moment and to the mantra rather than it becoming mechanical.  When not used in mantra, wearing the mala can help the wearer be mindful and have a sense of peace throughout the day.

I have a few malas, and I may vary which one I use on the energy I may need that day.  However, my most used mala is a very basic simple mala presented to me by my teacher Mugs at Yoga Teacher Training.

Gail Thompson, E-RYT500, is a Lead Trainer for SOYA Yoga Teacher Training in Creston, BC in the Kootenays.