Eyes Wide Open

By Mary-Louise Parkinson, President IYTA

It was a normal, general hatha yoga class. One held every Monday morning at the exquisitely beautiful Mollymook Beach on the NSW South Coast. The major distraction of the class, other than the golden sandy beach and clear blue sky, being pods of playful dolphins coming to surf the waves and demonstrate their acrobatic prowess.

As a senior lecturer with the International Yoga Teachers Association (IYTA), I have always reminded students of the importance of keeping their eyes open when teaching. I personally follow my students closely: to see if they are understanding what I am saying, to see if they are placing their body into a non-harmful place and to check the look on their faces – puzzled, struggling, strained, in pain or relaxed. I know that sometimes if I am exhausted I would like to close my eyes and speak from that space of inner bliss. However, in my opinion, this is the right of my students, not me.

EyesWideOpen (1)Safety and ahimsa (harmlessness) is always my highest concern, for my students and also for me, as a teacher. With Australia now topping the USA as one of the most litigious countries in the world, I like to be confident regarding what I teach, how I teach, and how I care for my students. My classes at Mollymook were usually quite large and attracted a wide variety of people. Regular students included Sydney and Canberra retirees, pregnant girls (my specialty), new mums and several people suffering from cancer.

Nancy was one of my regular students. Other than gardening, yoga was Nancy’s weekly, not-to-miss activity. An older student, Nancy had some previous problems with shortness of breath and also hearing. For this reason she always sat at the front of the room, so she could keep an eye on me, but more importantly so I could keep an eye on her. On this day, I noticed Nancy seemed tired and was short of breath. She mentioned she’d had a big weekend gardening but stressed that she would prefer to be at yoga rather than stay at home. I took particular note to watch her throughout the class to remind her to rest. We went through a fairly gentle Dru class, with suggested modifications for those less flexible or with particular conditions requiring assistance. The class progressed as usual. The dolphins entertained everyone, proving what an attraction they are not only for the tourists but also for the locals and, in particular, my yoga students. Then came time for relaxation, the part of the class that everyone waits for. Students were guided to relax in Shavasana and I proceeded to lead them through body awareness and relaxation. I always leave a space of stillness and quiet at this point, but make sure that I myself remain alert and watchful while the students relax.

It was at this moment that I noticed Nancy in some sort of discomfort. She attempted to sit up and grasp at her throat and clothing. When I approached her she said her clothes were constricting her breath and she was hot. I asked her what else was happening and she explained tightness in her chest, weakness and a painful sensation down her left arm side of her body. I could see immediately that this was serious and suspected a heart attack, but didn’t jump to conclusions.

While attending to Nancy, I kept speaking in a calm voice to the class, who were continuing in deep relaxation. I then approached a student who I knew had nursing experience and asked her to help Nancy – and mentioned my suspicions. I left Nancy in capable hands while I went out of the room to get help. Luckily the room I hired was in a Surf Life Saving Club and a couple of off-duty life guards were in the gym, so I asked for their help and at the same time rang an ambulance and Nancy’s daughter.

When I walked back into the room, Nancy was having difficulty breathing but was being attended to, so I calmly spoke to the class (who were still in deep relaxation), guiding them back to the present. I informed them that a member of the class was not feeling well and asked that as they came out of their relaxation, could they calmly and quietly gather their belongings and leave the room. By this stage the ambulance was at the door. The paramedics had administered oxygen to Nancy and were preparing to take her to hospital. Nancy asked if I could go with her. Her daughter had arrived, so she and I accompanied Nancy, all the while keeping a calm disposition and positive attitude. Nancy was taken to the local hospital where they confirmed she had suffered a heart attack and immediately moved her to a larger regional hospital. There they administered a drug – to which she suffered an anaphylactic reaction. She was then flown to Royal Prince Alfred in Sydney to have an emergency operation to fit a stent.

Fortunately Nancy made a full recovery. She returned to yoga once she was well enough and credited the fact that she had attended her regular yoga class instead of staying at home, with saving her life. Here are the lessons I learnt from that experience and would like to share with other yoga teachers:

  • Keep your eyes open at all times when teaching – particularly during meditation and relaxation. It is during relaxation that sometimes the body can go into spasm or react emotionally and physically to a past activity or trauma.
  • Keep your first aid certificate up to date and know how to recognise the signs for stroke and heart attack.
  • Know the background of your students. I knew who in the class had nursing experience. (I also had a student who is a doctor but she was not present on that particular day).
  • Ensure that students needing extra care sit at the front of the class so you can keep an eye on them. Ask other students to move if necessary.
  • Keep a register of nearest of kin – luckily my contacts were in my phone.
  • Don’t panic. All of the students in that class had no idea what was going on until they came out of their guided relaxation. They all calmly and quietly left the room as instructed. This ensured the environment for Nancy was calm and quiet and further aided in her ability to cope with the situation.
  • Don’t mess around – act immediately.

The dolphins play on and thankfully Nancy and her family are still watching them. Hopefully you are watching your students.

MaryLouiseParkinsonReprinted by kind permission from Mary-Louise Parkinson,

President of IYTA International Yoga Teachers Association

Previously published in the International Light magazine, Oct-Dec 2015, and Australian Yoga Life.


Training Yoga Teachers

5 Things I’ve learned from Training Yoga Teachers

By Kamala Wilkie, E-RYT500 and lead trainer for SOYA Teacher Training in Penticton

Natasha Scott and I just finished leading our annual SOYA 200hr Immersion Yoga Teacher Training program in the Okanagan. I always joke with students at the beginning of the training that they might have thought they were coming to get certified to teach yoga but the Immersion training is actually a personal growth course disguised as a yoga teacher training. When I look around the room on the first day of training, I usually see eyes filled with doubt, fear and excitement. Their eyes have usually been opened while completing philosophy and anatomy lessons for several weeks prior to arriving to the residential 16 days training. Participants sleep, eat and breathe yoga from 7:30am-7:30pm, and a transformation happens that is nothing short of magical.

These are some of the insights I’ve had through the great honour of ushering in new yoga teachers over the past 6 years.

1.            Anchor before you speak.

Speak from a place that’s authentically and intelligently you but humbled by the fact that you are a compilation of all the incredible teachers you’ve had so far with the magic fairy dust of Grace sprinkled on top. We are all there to be a clear and open channels so that the wisdom of yoga can be conveyed and received to the best of our ability. Speak from a place of service.

kamala2.            You will need to get skilled in holding space for awkwardness, tears, anger, extreme appreciation, confrontation and mushy loveliness- yours or others.

How do you get skilled? Through the dedication of your own practice. Can you be present with your own emotions? Can you bear witness to Life’s intensities without reacting? If our interest as yogis are in self inquiry and self-compassion, the work has to start on our own mats in the jungle of our own minds.

3.            Your level of self-care is proportional to the level of service you can provide to your students/fellow trainees.

Early on in trainings I noticed that when the quality of my own or student’s sleep or nutrition was compromised, there’s no energy to do either of the points above. Prana (life force energy) in the body is best supported through clean nutrition, rest and doing your practice and own inner work. The quality of your output is completely dependent on the quality of your input.

4.            The pull towards your fullest self is stronger than fear.

Trainees often arrive and admit to feeling vulnerable, like they don’t belong, uncertain of their choice to be there or of their ability to lead a class. Yet, they show up. Not only do they show up but they recommit every day to a strong workload and long hours. We all have the voices that don’t like change, the voices that can keep us from growing. This sense of separateness (I don’t belong here) holds us back but the underlying longing to maximize our personal potential is so much more powerful. Sometimes it needs fertilized and watered (that’s our jobs as yoga teachers) but it’s always there.

5.            The value of community.

For your sanity, seek out like-minded people to bounce ideas off of, to answer questions, to guide and help you grow, to call you on miss-steps and to honour, reflect and celebrate paths you walk down. If yoga is a huge part of you, it’s important to have people in your life who you can talk chakras and 8 limbs with and share the revelations that this kind of transformational practice can spark. Teacher training or your yoga studio /community often provide this kind of arena where very fundamental layers of you can be seen and shared.

If a 200hr or 300hr upgrade teacher training is for you next year, visit SOYA for the full listings of trainings in BC, AB & Mexico.

down dog

Yoga journey with SOYA

My Yoga Journey as a Student with SOYA by Peggy Mitchell, SOYA 500

Early on a Sunday morning in September 2009, I arrived at Chinook Yoga in Prince George to tell Carla and Cindy I had decided to not enroll in SOYA’s 500 hour yoga training program. I had several reasons why: I had 2 small children at home, money was tight, I wasn’t a good enough yogi, but mostly, I was scared.

Cindy and the group of students there that morning convinced me to stay – even though they were part-way through the Upanishads and I had no idea what they were talking about! Seven months later, we moved from Prince George to Maple Ridge. I was thrilled to know I could continue my yoga studies with the SOYA group in North Vancouver. That group, led by Chris and Dorothy, quickly became a life-line for me. Chris and Dorothy would gently bring us back when, in philosophical discussions, we’d go off on tangents about the latest happenings in our lives (but somehow related to whatever book we were reading at that moment!)

down dogAt some point during my 500 hour training, I became very interested in yoga nidra – and who doesn’t love a super long Savasana? Every student in the advanced training must research a topic and write specialty project about it… maybe this would be my topic! I attended a workshop in Vancouver, further cementing my interest in this ancient meditative technique.

SOYA teacher training did more than certify me as a yoga teacher. It prepared me for life’s challenges! Since I began my yoga teaching journey, I’ve moved to different towns, returned to the school system, and have taught Kindergarten through Grade 7. I’ve taught and assisted at many yoga classes and summer yoga camps. The one constant in my life has been my yoga practice. So many times I’ve thought to myself, “Thank goodness for yoga!”

In the past two years because of some health issues, I’ve been forced to take a step back from the asana limb of yoga. I’ve enjoyed this opportunity to explore meditation and experiment with a daily practice. Last winter, while feeling “stuck”, I had a conversation with my sister and sister-in-law. With their support, along with that of my husband and kids, I decided to follow my dream and pursue further training in yoga nidra. Among the books I’ll be reading are Patanjali’s Sutras – my favourite from my SOYA training.

The SOYA training prepares its graduates for so much more than asana! It creates a solid foundation for all the deeper studies you may wish to embark on!

In conclusion, why am I writing this? I guess it’s to acknowledge my journey… our journey… the wonderful people I’ve met along the way and their generosity of spirit. None of this would have come to pass had I not allowed myself to be embraced by the yogis in that room at the SOYA teacher training in Chinook Yoga Studio, back in 2009. So, thank you, friends and fellow yogis, Mugs and SOYA, for igniting that spark in me and for keeping it lit along the way. I’ve been so blessed and I am forever grateful. Namaste.

Yoga at God's Mountain

A meditation inspired by Rumi

“Be the Beauty You Love” – a meditation and retreat inspired by Rumi

By Natasha Scott, ERYT500 and SOYA lead trainer

Meditation deckOne of the many things I look forward to is an early morning meditation on the yoga platform at God’s Mountain Estate. There is this beautiful deck that has been built in this wild field overlooking Skaha Lake. Often when I arrive on this platform I feel like I could sit here forever and meditate on the vast beauty of what is. Surrounded by the birds, the deer, mountain sheep, the sky, the warm breeze, trees and the lake, it takes me to that quiet still place within, so quickly.

In yogic philosophy there is a place inside of us that is always still; that always knows. The ability to connect and listen from this space is meditation.  I have found that in those moments when we start to feel “burnt out” it is the “Samadhi Station” we need to get ourselves too. Samadhi. meaning “sameness of vision.”

One of my favorite ways to enter into meditation on the platform is this:

Slow down your breath. Become aware of your senses.  Feel the temperature of the air on your skin. Feel any breeze. Become aware of any sounds you can hear, whether they be way up high in the sky or right beside you. Become aware of any scents in the air, such as the cedar of the deck or something being carried by the wind.  Be aware of any tastes that you have in your mouth. Take a moment to watch the back of your eyelids, becoming aware of any shapes that appear. Spend some time here.

Connect to a softer and longer breath. Once you have connected to a softer and longer breath, start to watch the breath, like a parking lot attendant watching cars go in and out. Watch the breath come and go.  Spend some time here.

Settle in for a while. If you find that your mind starts to wander (and that’s what minds do!!), just notice. That is the key. Notice and bring you mind either back to the senses or back to your breath.

If your mind needs more than this, give it the mantra “So Hum” to ride on every single breath. On the inhale silently say “So” and on the exhale silently say “Hum”. This simple, beautiful mantra means “I am That,” meaning you are one with all this beauty surrounding you. The mantra will help the mind slow down so you can connect to that still, knowing place within. You are this beauty. You are the silence and the knowing. You are the sameness of vision…

After about 30 minutes of meditation you may start to take deeper inhalations and exhalations. Slowly start to open your eyes.  Pause here as your heart is refueled. Take in the beauty, become aware of the vividness of colors; aware of how beautiful this feels.

I have found myself lately creating yoga classes that have at least a 10 minute meditation practice.  A quote from Max Strom says, “It does not matter how you connect with the silence, it matter’s that you do.” We all need to get to the “Samadhi Station.”

The meditation platform at God’s Mountain Estate inspired me to offer a retreat there next summer. There will be morning meditations on the yoga platform from 6:30-7 am, and a few evening ones too. I can’t wait to sit with like-minded students and refuel ourselves at the Samadhi station on the yoga platform at God’s Mountain.

At God’s Mountain the food is locally grown and prepared with love. The rooms are unique and cozy. I hope you will join me for adventures, the beach, acupuncture and yoga! Just like our meditation. We may travel far away looking for peace, stillness, and knowing. But the truth is, it is always inside of us – we just need to come home to the heart.  This retreat is in honoring of reconnecting with home. I hope to see you here next summer, in this paradise I call home.

Natasha2Natasha Scott, E-RYT500, SOYA is a lead trainer for the SOYA 200 hour yoga teacher training at God’s Mountain Estate near Penticton each October. To learn more about her 5 day retreat, “Under The Sun: An Okanagan Lifestyle Adventure” at God’s Mountain, August 4-8, 2016, go to:


Gentle Yoga

Overcome Pain with Gentle Yoga

A Review of DVDs created by Neil Pearson and Shelly Prosko, written by Mugs McConnell, ERYT500.

Yoga is becoming more and more recognized as a way for those suffering from chronic pain to regain some range of motion through gentle movement. Neil Pearson is one of the leading experts in yoga for chronic pain. He and Shelly Prosko, both physical therapists and yoga therapists, have created a series of videos on gentle yoga practices for those coping with chronic pain.

It is so important to move the body even a little. In this series, Neil and Shelly demonstrate how to modify the yoga poses within each sequence to fit the degree of movement possible depending on one’s level of pain at any given time.  Because we are all unique, there is no “one size fits all” practice or sequence for those dealing with pain, but the concepts in this series can be translated into any asana practice for each individual. Each pose is adapted to be done either sitting on a chair, standing, or lying on the mat. The student is guided with encouragement and sensitivity to bring awareness to the sensations in the body, without judgment, from a calm, centered place. Everything is focused on relaxing into the pose while observing its effects. Meditation and breathing are key to bringing one to a place of awareness and inner quiet. I like the focus on right and left nostril breathing, which brings balance to the yin and the yang, the opposing energies with in us. The yin aspect relates to the left nostril and helps us to removes judgment and stay within our level of comfort. The yang aspects relates to the right nostril and gives us the energy to try. These practices bring awareness to both.

If your level of pain has brought you to a fearful place when you exercise or attempt to regain movement in your body, I highly recommend you try this series with Neil and Shelly. Each class takes you through a meditation, breathing technique, asana and relaxation. You can rent the videos one at a time from or buy the entire series of 7 videos. Level 1 is also available on Vimeo. If you want to learn how to overcome your pain with gentle yoga, these two are experts in the field and are doing their best to get you pain free.

Mugs McConnell, ERYT500, is a founder of the SOYA Yoga Teacher Training program. She is the Canadian Representative for the International Yoga Teachers Association (IYTA) and a member of the Yoga Alliance Board of Directors.

reclined straddle

Yin….What is Chi

Yin is in… …but what is Chi?

By Nicole Schulz E-RYT 200 & RYT-500

“Chi” is equivalent to Prana, Spirit or Life Force. What it means is the energy we need to move, to keep up the basic bodily functions or defense systems. In Yin Yoga we repetitively talk about the Chi because it has an immediate connection to the meridians, the energy passages that nourish the vital organs, and the flow of the Chi through the body. But it is more than that. Influenced by Chinese Taoism, the word “Chi” is a broader concept. Is it the subtle force that moves the universe, found everywhere, in all inanimate and animate things. Everything contains Chi, for example our food, our breath, our body. Without Chi there wouldn’t be any life!

Processed foods contains less chi than natural, unprocessed foods. A potato fresh from the field is full of Chi whereas potato chips which have been processed in a factory have nothing left of this beautiful energy.

Chi that flows through the human body has various sources. Some Daoists have discovered 32 different kinds of Chi!

One way to acquire Chi is to give it to the baby when it is born (Yuan Chi or Original Chi), the Chi from both parents flow together and is being forwarded to the unborn in the womb. Another way is to receive Chi from our food (Gu Chi or Grain Chi), a healthy diet. The fresher, more natural and nutrient our food is, the more Chi we provide for ourselves. Or we breathe in the Chi (Kong Chi). If the air that is surrounding you is clean and we breathe in deeply into our lungs with each breath we take, more Chi is entering the body. When we sleep we produce Chi energy with our deep breaths. This, besides many other reasons, is why a regular sleep is so important for one’s regeneration.

Chi is also being produced by modest movements, meditation and relaxation exercises. Yin Yoga plays an important role in this scenario. In the long held postures we create an accumulation of Chi, hindering its flow. The accumulated amount of Chi then moves into the connective tissue networks until we release the position. What happens is similar to a dike in nature: all the Chi rushes through the meridian, improving the supply of Chi in the vital organs (Ying Chi or Nourishing Chi) and removing blockages.

It is very clear how important Chi is to our life and our health. Smoking, increased consumption of alcohol and stress, repetitive injuries and excessive, extreme work outs reduce the amount of Chi significantly. Bernie Clark, author of ‘The complete guide to Yin Yoga” speaks of 4 key pathological conditions of Chi:

– Deficient Chi: manifests as shortness of breath, dizziness, fatigue, paleness

– Sinking Chi: manifests as prolapse of the organs

– Stagnant Chi: manifests as various forms of pain

– Rebellious Chi: manifests as coughing, belching, vomiting or hiccupping

reclined straddleLearning how to improve, acquire and utilize Chi may, besides other factors, have an impact on a person’s expectancy of life! Reclined Straddle is one posture as an example:

Benefits: Opens the hips, groin. Provides a gentle opening to the inner knees. Stimulates the ovaries.

Contraindications: A strap helps to avoid too much stress to the inner leg lines.

Stimulated Meridians and Organs: Liver, Kidney and Spleen.

Hold for at least 3 minutes, up to 8 minutes.

Releasing the pose: Inhale the legs back up together. Bend the legs into the chest and lower both knees down to the side. Take your time to release and feel the sensations of Chi!

nicoleNicole Schulz, SOYA, E-RYT200 and RYT-500 specialized in Yin Yoga with 85 hours of training with Bernie Clark. “I teach for the love of teaching, from the heart.” You can also check out her personal webpage  .

worry free

The kleshas:

Overcoming “troubles” through self-inquiry

By Jools Andrés, SOYA, E-RYT200, RYT500.

In The Yoga of the Bhagavad Gita Paramahansa Yogananda uses the word “troubles” as an English word that corresponds to the Sanskrit word klesha.[i] “Afflictions,” “causes of suffering,” and “obstacles to enlightenment” are also commonly used translations. However we name them internally to help ourselves understand them, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali explains the five kleshas as qualities that all spiritual seekers must come to terms with in order to find truth. (Sutras II.3 – 9.)

To overcome our troubles it is helpful to become aware of all five kleshas and how they can play out in our own lives.

Ignorance – avidya

Nearly all of us identify most strongly with our temporal surroundings. Our conditioning in this regard is deep and strong and can manifest in yoga practice and teaching by focusing primarily on the physical effects of asana. This can (and often does) make us hold yoga in a confined, even confused conceptual space. The distortions we form on the physical level filter through to the mental and spiritual levels and obstruct us from blossoming fully as practitioners of yoga’s eight limbs, as outlined in the Yoga Sutras, and create stubborn roadblocks on our journey toward becoming enlightened beings. This condition of ignorance is also the source of the remaining four obstacles.

Egoism – asmita

In The Essence of Yoga: Reflections on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali author Bernard Bouanchaud translates Sutra II.6 thus: “Individual ego consciousness of ‘I’ sees mental and physical activity as the source of consciousness.”[ii] It is worth reminding ourselves on an ongoing basis that seeking / receiving praise for the mastery of an asana leads us away from the true gifts of practice. Yes, keep working to build physical confidence bit by bit, and then channel that feeling of power and strength toward faithful, patient meditation practice. Over time you can and will experience samadhi, inner peace, which is the very opposite of ego identification and the ultimate goal of yoga. (Sutras I.1 – 4.)

Attachment – raga

As you continue on with your day or evening after reading this, pay attention and see if you can notice three or four things that you are quite attached to or attracted to as they arise. Most often these things provide pleasure or reassurance of some kind, so we tend to return to them repeatedly, sometimes even mindlessly. It could be that you are fiercely bound to the routine of your day¾do you feel anxious or even paralyzed when something happens that upsets the usual course of events? You may notice a habit of consumption such as having a glass of wine, comforting yourself with a certain snack, or turning on the TV at a regular time. “Passions,” obsessions, addictions¾all have a way of overtaking us and diverting us from our intentions. Once we become aware of these habitual attachments we can make progress toward keeping them in check.

Aversion – dvesah

The consequence of rejection, or any unpleasant experience, is aversion or avoidance. While it makes sense to stay away from negative or abusive people or circumstances, we can also avoid facing our own roles in our situations by projecting blame onto others. Group dynamics often provokes emotional responses that are linked to difficult childhood experiences. For me the key is to recognize that, although I may not always understand the “why” of feelings of anxiety that arise in certain situations, I can recognize that the feelings that these triggers conjure are (usually) unfounded in the present situation. If I freeze or run away I do not engage in a way that allows for expanded awareness. Yoga master Erich Schiffmann tells us, “Immerse yourself in stillness and pay attention. Allow yourself to be taught.”[iii]

Fear – abhinivesah

This klesha is often translated as “fear of death.” This may be because underlying all of our dreads is the fear of not completing what we want to do in our lifetimes. Whether it is a leaving a body of creative work, helping to improve the lives of others, amassing a valuable estate, or seeing our friends and family one more time, there is always more to achieve, always something that causes us to believe that our lives are perpetually unfinished. This misconception leads us right back to ignorance and primary identification with our existence on the physical plane. Observing our thoughts and behaviours and taking positive steps to temper our responses leads us to develop consciousness of and confidence in our true, innermost selves. Our fears eventually, certainly, melt away over time as this faith grows.

Be patient with yourself as you cultivate a positive mental attitude to overcome the kleshas. Once you discover that your own personal brand of “troubles” is surmountable, you are well on your way to triumph. As expressed in Lorin Roche’s beautiful translation of The Radiance Sutras: 112 Gateways to the Yoga of Wonder & Delight, “Once you have set out on the path of intimacy with the immortal essence of life, never turn your back on it, my Shining One. Never turn away.”[iv]

Jools Andrés is a writer, editor, and yoga educator from Vancouver, BC. She will be assisting at the upcoming SOYA yoga teacher training in Pitt Meadows, BC this fall. Visit 

[i] The Yoga of the Bhagavad Gita, Paramahansa  Yogananda; Self-Realization Fellowship, 2007, Los Angeles, CA, p. 40.

[ii] The Essence of Yoga: Reflections on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Bernard Bouanchaud; Sri Satguru Publications, 1997, Delhi, India, p. 82.

[iii]Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Moving Into Stillness, Erich Schiffmann; Pocket Books, 1996, New York, NY, p. 322.

[iv]The Radiance Sutras: 112 Gateways to the Yoga of Wonder & Delight, Lorin Roche; Sounds True, 2014, Boulder, CO, p. 171.

©Julie (Jools) Andrés, 2015; used with permission.



Erich Schiffmann

Erich Schiffmann Celebrates with SOYA

“What is the Truth Here, Really?”

By Jeff Lutes, SOYA, ERYT, from Prince George, BC

Contemporary Yoga master Erich Schiffmann spent four days with us in Sorrento BC at the conference celebrating the 20th Anniversary of SOYA. Each time I have done trainings with Erich I am astonished at the inner joy I feel and grateful for the opportunity to sit at the feet of a Yoga master and learn from the wisdom of a life dedicated to practice. Erich creates approachable and joyful ways to apply our practice to our daily lives.

Erich SchiffmannErich has been my most influential teacher. Early in my “Yoga career” I was given audiotapes of his Asana practices from his home studio in Venice Beach. Several times I was struck in practicing with these tapes at the newness of each session regardless of how many times I had done it before. Since 2010 I have had the pleasure of doing some trainings with him in person and attending some of his classes. In reviewing the notes I have taken over the years from these trainings and comparing them to the notes from this year’s retreat I was amazed to see the same words written down, time after time, year after year. During this past retreat with Erich I had the question on the tip of my tongue many times-“how do you find the inspiration to teach many of the same ideas, year after year?” What prevented me from asking is that I felt I knew the answer: Practice. Erich teaches what he practices and his practice is continuous. New nuances may be learned and applied but the reality is that what Erich is teaching with amazing contemporary clarity, whether he realizes it or not, is the ancient practice of Yoga and the knowledge written down thousands of years ago that we continuously learn from.

One of Erich’s primary teachings is to practice the “conscious pause” or the “Holy Instant” a term he is currently using. In practical terms this is meditation-“listening” and practicing “conscious union with infinity.” This is the essence of Yoga-realizing that we are all together in the universe and that the universe is infinite, constantly erupting in our own unique and individual ways as Beings being in the “new now” and that there is no other truth. The applicability of this to daily life is to apply the discipline of meditation to the times when we feel otherwise, when life seems difficult and overwhelming and a sense of separate self emerges. Meditate in these moments he advises-“10 zillion times a day” and ask yourself “what is the truth here really?”   The truth is we are at our best in our innate state of peace and stillness.

This is why we practice Yoga, whether it be through Asana (moving meditation), Pranayama (liberation of vital life force), Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses from the external world), Dharana (single pointed focus) or Dhyana (meditation itself); the purpose is to achieve Samadhi (ultimate peace and stillness). These moments may be fleeting but with time and practice the moments become more normal and long lived.  As Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita, meditation allows the “seeker to know the joy of eternity.” In the yoga Sutras of Patanjali the practice of meditation allows us to free ourselves from our egoism so that we can become aware of our interdependence and that practice is “any intentional re-patterning of feeling and thoughts towards “interdependence.” Interdependence is recognizing the reality that we are one infinite mind looking at itself from within, each as individuals. The truth of this reality is acceptance and from that space love for self can emerge and as a logical extension, love for the people around us.

In the 200 hr teacher training offered by SOYA, students are immersed in these ancient texts of Yoga; the Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita. The intention is for students to be grounded in the philosophy of the practice, to understand that it is a practice about much more than Asana. It is a practice devoted to self-realization and finding inner peace and stillness. What Erich demonstrates as a teacher and Yogi is that the ancient philosophy is easily applicable in our contemporary lives, that it is a matter of devoted practice, to find the simplicity in the reality of the universe and to find love and joy in each moment that comes across our paths.

Yoga TeacherJeff Lutes lives in Prince George, BC and is a co-owner of Chinook Yoga Studio, a long-standing host of the SOYA Yoga Teacher Training. 



By Jeff Lutes, SOYA500, ERYT200. Jeff is a lead trainer for SOYA teacher training program in Mexico. He is a co-owner of Chinook Yoga in Prince George, BC.

ShalabhasanaShalabhasana pose is a dynamic pose; a full body energizer and an excellent counter pose for forward folds.  This pose can be modified in many ways and is accessible for all Yogis.

  • Lie flat on your stomach.   Initiate the pose with forehead connected to the mat, arms extended down the side of the body palms down, legs extended with the tops of the feet connected softly with the mat.  Connect with your breath.  The breath draws into the space around the heart and energizes the spine, extending from this mid point to the crown of the head and down to the tail bone. Feel your points of contact….. pelvic bone, top of the feet, forehead.
  • Lift the shoulders off the ground and soften the shoulder blades
  • Inhale, ground through the pelvis, quads and tops of feet and lift the upper body and head off the ground a few inches, remember to keep the neck in line with the spine.  Do not press through your hands, they are not levers of this pose, they are the stabilizers, if required.  Activate the back and abdominal muscles. Sue the strength of these muscles in combination with the breath to lengthen through the entire length of the spine.  On the exhalation lower down.  Do this 5 times, each time lengthen the inhalation and raise the upper body a little more and lengthen the exhalation as you come down slowly and smoothly.
  • Move to the legs.  With head to floor, shoulders active and shoulder blades sliding down your spine, hands palm down, legs active, pelvis grounded, on the inhalation lift the left leg and lower on exhalation.  Repeat for the right leg.  Lift both legs on inhalation and lower on exhalation.
  •  Now-get ready.  On the inhalation energize and raise your torso and your legs simultaneously.  Stay grounded in the pelvis.  Activate the energy throughout the entire body.  Exhale and slowly lower.  Repeat 5 times.  Stay within your comfortable range of motion.

Cautions:  Back and Neck problems.

Modifications:  Raise only an inch of the ground if that is where you are.  Only perform posture on upper and lower bodies separately.  Visualize doing the pose if raising an inch of the ground is too much.  Pay careful attention to sensations in the spine.  Again, stay within you realm of comfort.

Benefits:  Creates “elasticity in the spine.”  Strengthens the major muscle groups in the back and legs.  Massages the abdomen benefiting digestion.


Forms of Mantra Practice

By Bill Francis Barry

The growth of interest in yoga and Kirtan has contributed to an increased interest in mantra. Mantra repetition, which is also known as japa, can be performed in different ways.  What are the different forms of mantra repetition, and the relative benefits of those forms?

Five Forms of Mantra Practice

1.) Vocal (also called vaikhari japa) is the audible chanting of mantra.

2.) Whispering  (upamshu japa) involves softly chanting, where the lips & tongue are moving but no one nearby can hear.

3.) Silent (manasika japa) is the fully internal, mental repetition of the mantra, with absolutely no movement of lips or tongue.  Lips, tongue and mouth remain totally relaxed and motionless.

4.) Silent coordinated with breath. This is variation on manasika japa where the silent mantra repetition is coordinated with the breath (but lips, tongue and mouth remain totally motionless).

5.) Written (Likhita japa) is the practice of focused written repetition of mantra.

While each of these forms of japa are powerful and beneficial, many people find vocal mantra chanting to be easier. However, master yogis such as Swami Vivekananda & Swami Sivananda taught that manasika (silent) mantra practice provides extraordinarily unique benefits relative to other forms of mantra practice.

Before we continue, some readers may just want to know: What is the best form of mantra practice?The very best form of mantra practice is that form which you will practice daily, as taught by your teacher.  The great wisdom of this point, which I learned from my teacher Namadeva Acharya (Thomas Ashley-Farrand), is that different people gain great benefits from different methods of mantra practice.  The ‘right’ practice for one person, can be different for another.

Now, it is important to understand that vocal, whispering and silent japa involve different ranges of vibration, scope of influence, and therefore benefits. Vocal chanting, as a physical vibration, has its primary effect on our physical body and a less direct (though still beneficial) effect on our chakras, nadis (energy meridians) and our mind. Silent japa, being non-physical, works differently within our subtle body where our chakras and nadis are located. So, depending on our intention for mantra practice, there can be advantages of one form over another.  For example if one’s intention involves healing or physical manifestation, vocal chanting is of great value.

The “Highest” Form of Mantra Practice

Relative to vocal or whispering mantra practice, silent mantra chanting produces the “highest” benefits according to respected master yogis such as Swami Vivekananda, Swami Sivananda, Ramana Maharshi, and Sadguru Sant Keshavadas.  This same teaching is found in scriptures such as the Vishnu Purana, the Shiva Purana and the Agni Purana.   The great Swami Sivananda, in his book “Japa Yoga” explains this teaching of manasika (silent) mantra practice producing the greatest benefits and he also describes the differences of whispering japa as distinct from vocal and silent. Two other explanations of this highest form of mantra practice are provided by Swami Vivekananda in the book “Raja Yoga in Brief”[iv] and by Sadguru Sant Keshavadas in his book “Sadguru Dattatreya”.

Swami Sivananda, Japa Yoga, A Comprehensive treatise on Mantra-Sastra , 14th edition, 2010, page 95

Sadguru Sant Keshavadas, “Sadguru Dattatreya” 1988, page 123

This involves the teachings of the Pancha Koshas, the 5 vital sheaths(covers) surrounding the atman (& the Hrit Padma).  The Subtle Body, is said to include three sheaths: the pranamaya kosha(pranic body); the manomaya kosha(mind sheath) and the vijanamaya kosha(the intellect sheath). The chakras and nadis are located within the Subtle Body. The source of much of this teaching is in the Upanishads as explained by advanced yogis.

See also, Swami Vivekananda, The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, 9 volumes., Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 1–8, 1989; 9, 1997, 1.190.

With reference to the three gunas[i], Sadguru Sant Keshavadas explains that loud vocal chanting works to remove a person’s tamasic negative qualities and whispering japa works to purify rajasic influences. He also stated that when a person’s mind is more tranquil or dominated by sattvic qualities their experience with manasika (silent) mantra practice is easier.

It is important to note that this teaching of the “highest” form of mantra practice, is referring to mantra practice that involves seated, eyes-closed, silent repetition of mantra, with no movement of the tongue or lips.  This is not mantra practice based upon mood making or performances with musical instruments. Silent manasika mantra meditation involves experiencing the more subtle (which means more powerful) vibrations created internally by the mantras. During silent mantra practice, the internalization of our focus is consistent with the yogic teachings of Pratyahara (shifting the awareness from the external to an internal focus).  With sustained daily practice, this eventually leads the silent mantra chanter to the vast treasures of inner peace, attunements resulting in increased energies followed by greater clarity of mental and spiritual consciousness.

Silent Japa, coordinated with breath.  I’ll preface this section by stating that pranayama practices should be done according to the instructions of a qualified yoga teacher.  Having said that, some teachers, including my paramguru Sant Keshavadas, taught that the silent count of the length of each breath’s inhalation or exhalation could be accomplished using a mantra instead of a numeric count.  For example, one would select a mantra which, when chanted silently one or several times, would represent the length of the inhalation, and then use the same number of repetitions to represent the period of exhalation. If the practice involved a ratio where the exhalation was twice as long as the inhalation, the number of silent mantra repetitions would be doubled, for each exhalation. Acknowledging that this approach would not be compatible with the pranayama teachings of some traditions, it is included here for your consideration.

Likhita (Written) Japa, is the meditativepractice of the written repetition of mantras.  This can be practiced as a discipline of a certain number of repetitions per day, or it can be done with a goal of filling a notebook or number of pages with the chosen mantra.  This form of mantra practice was highly recommended by the respected Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh and Sadguru Sant Keshavadas.

As I offer this article in the spirit of encouraging awareness of the benefits of each form of mantra practice, I recall the teachings of  Tibetan Buddhist scholar, Lama Angarika Govinda, who emphasized that the full potency of mantra’s spiritual sound vibrations includes more than just the physical sounds, when he wrote, “The power and effect of a mantra depend on the spiritual attitude, the knowledge and the responsiveness of the individual. The shabda or sound of the mantra is not a physical sound (though it may be accompanied by one) but a spiritual one. It cannot be heard by the ears but only by the heart…”.

Bill Francis Barry leads mantra workshops, pujas, and private consultations. To learn more about booking him or where his next workshops are, visit his website below.

Bill Francis Barry ~

The Three Gunas aka Three Qualities of Nature.

Everything in our universe is made up of a mix of the Three Gunas.

  • Tamas: the negative quality, influences towards darkness or evil: untruth, inertia, ignorance.
  • Rajas:   the activating quality: creates constant activity and motion between Tamas & Sattva
  • Sattva: the positive quality, influences towards good: truth, purity, spirituality

When Sattva-guna is predominant in a man, his mind elevates to the realm of super-consciousness and he gains purity in heart, thought and deed.  Sattva-guna in its highest state can by itself release one from the fetters of all the three gunas and make the yogi go beyond the thralldom of the relative world.” Sadguru Sant Keshavadas

Sadguru Sant Keshavadas, “Sadguru Dattatreya”, 1988, page 122

The teaching that the silent repetition of mantra, involving no movement of lips or tongue, is many times more spiritually powerful than all other forms of chanting Sanskrit mantra calls into question some respected Sanskrit teachers who state that proper chanting of Sanskrit mantras requires five precise tongue positions (associated with certain Sanskrit phonemes) in order to maximize the spiritual energies invoked.   Although I have asked proponents Sanskrit’s five tongue positions about why many esteemed yogis and scriptures disagree with them, I have not yet gotten a response.

Lama Angarika Govinda,  “Foundations of Tibetan Mysticism.”, 1956, page 27


Swami Sivananda, Japa Yoga, A Comprehensive treatise on Mantra-Sastra , 14th edition, 2010, page 95

Sadguru Sant Keshavadas, “Sadguru Dattatreya” 1988, page 123

This involves the teachings of the Pancha Koshas, the 5 vital sheaths(covers) surrounding the atman (& the Hrit Padma).  The Subtle Body, is said to include three sheaths: the pranamaya kosha(pranic body); the manomaya kosha(mind sheath) and the vijanamaya kosha(the intellect sheath). The chakras and nadis are located within the Subtle Body. The source of much of this teaching is in the Upanishads as explained by advanced yogis.

See also, Swami Vivekananda, The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, 9 volumes., Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 1–8, 1989; 9, 1997, 1.190.

The Three Gunas aka Three Qualities of Nature.

Everything in our universe is made up of a mix of the Three Gunas.

  • Tamas: the negative quality, influences towards darkness or evil: untruth, inertia, ignorance.
  • Rajas:   the activating quality: creates constant activity and motion between Tamas & Sattva
  • Sattva: the positive quality, influences towards good: truth, purity, spirituality

When Sattva-guna is predominant in a man, his mind elevates to the realm of super-consciousness and he gains purity in heart, thought and deed.  Sattva-guna in its highest state can by itself release one from the fetters of all the three gunas and make the yogi go beyond the thralldom of the relative world.” Sadguru Sant Keshavadas

Sadguru Sant Keshavadas, “Sadguru Dattatreya”, 1988, page 122

The teaching that the silent repetition of mantra, involving no movement of lips or tongue, is many times more spiritually powerful than all other forms of chanting Sanskrit mantra calls into question some respected Sanskrit teachers who state that proper chanting of Sanskrit mantras requires five precise tongue positions (associated with certain Sanskrit phonemes) in order to maximize the spiritual energies invoked.   Although I have asked proponents Sanskrit’s five tongue positions about why many esteemed yogis and scriptures disagree with them, I have not yet gotten a response.

Lama Angarika Govinda,  “Foundations of Tibetan Mysticism.”, 1956, page 27