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Seeking a Yogic Life in the Modern World – revisited

by LauraLynn Jansen

Fog lifts off the Up Northlake revealing my aunt Janice sitting cross-legged at the end of the dock. Her long blonde hair lies on her relaxed shoulders, as her head rests perfectly on top of her completely upright trunk.  I register not a single movement of her body, as I creep quietly cross the dew-draped grass. Each soggy step toward her my gaze fixates to see if she moves. I followed her here after footsteps passed my head nestled into a black and white art deco sleeping bag. All the kids sleep on the lake house’s living room floor. While the adults claim the two small bedrooms and pull out couch bed. Awoken by the quiet creep I become curious of where she was going, when the sun has barely light the sky. I arise from my resting place, once she has stepped outside. My yellow cotton summer pajamas, with little white flowers, hold in my body warmth as I head out into northern Wisconsin summer morning. As I wipe the morning crusties from my eyes I span the surrounding woods for her, eventually they land one her silhouette down by the water. What is she doing perched on the lake dock so early in the morning before anyone is awake?

I walk close enough to observe without being heard. She just keeps sitting there, no movement, so I creep closer in case I am missing something.  Still no movement, I wait. Occasionally my gaze shifts from her to the sky as it lightens with the day’s start. A noise from the woods quickly draws my head to see if a deer of a bear is rustling about before redirecting my gaze again on my aunt. Finally she stirs and stands after taking a deep bow. I turn and run back up the hill to the house, throw open the screen door, slip into the door in hopes of not waking anyone else, and slide back into my sleeping bag pretending to be asleep when she returns.

This image of her peacefulness still remains in my mind’s eye. I remember thinking about her often as a child and wondering about her quiet rituals. I always admired her peaceful nature and knew one day I wanted to possess what she had.

********

Somewhere around two decades later, I sit on a well-worn mattress upon a wooden bed frame. The smell of dried clay permeates the room where my friend’s father, a sculptor, has spent many hours shaping images out of earthen materials. This room is my temporary sanctuary. It is where I allow many hours of lip silence to pass as I explore thought wormholes and mind trappings, a.k.a. I am learning to “meditate.”

I find inner passages where I begin to learn about myself. I am beyond any frontier previously known to me within these moments of deeply focused concentration.

I discover how my being goes from silence to cacophony within the flash of a moment.

I learn I am way more than the shell of my body…

and for this I am deeply relieved.

I use concentration practices, also known as pratyhara, to get me through the painful hours of having a needle pumping toxic chemicals into my body.  These hours of medical treatment aim to rid my cells of a disease that has overtaken the upper part of my physical body. Later when I am alone in the potter studio, post chemo infusion, I use the quiet alone moments to explore the deeper inner passage I am discovering. I visit this place and uncover ways to remain calm amidst the fact I feel absolutely horrible and may be dying. I am learning yogic practices of the mind and soul.

I am unknowingly finding my way onto a path that will serve the rest of my life.

********

Fast forward almost another decade, I am sitting on a gym floor waiting for my first asāna class at San Francisco State University to begin. This is my fifth and final college, for the completion of my undergraduate degree. I’ve finally decided (after changing somewhere near nine times) on a major in Women’s Studies with an emphasis in health. A gentle-man with long, gray hair enters the large space where we all sit in one corner on top of blankets (yoga mats were just coming onto the scene and still quite expensive).

My first official asāna practice led by Mr. Lar Caughlan, in the early 90s, became the next layer of my pursuit of the path of Yoga. Once my class with Lar ended I sought out asāna classes across the city of San Francisco dappling into – Ashtanga, pure Iyengar, Integral Yoga styles plus a few others. I was beginning to embrace and learn yet another branch of the yogic tree.

********

Fast forward to 1999, the sun has yet to rise and I sit with other students, from all over the world, in new white outfits. A banana leaf is cupped in my hands holding a traditional offering of fruit, symbolic items of devotion and a small monetary donation. I am partaking in a day long ritual where I am being initiated into a mantra from the Sivananda lineage. Around us the surrounding jungle of Southern India is awakening – birds calling to each other, lions stir across the lake, and the large green leaves in the trees above us rustle slightly. I am living on an ashram; a spur of the moment decision amongst the loose plans of travel through Nepal and India. (Intrigued? Obtain more info. about this decision in my memoir.) Today I will receive a mantra to be used the rest of my life as a prayer for my cultivation within and as a blessing to the world without me. This day takes me further into the discovery of all Yoga truly is. At the end of this month of deep study I will be a certified Yoga teacher. At this moment I believe this is exploration is just about personal growth and nothing more. I have no idea if I will ever teach.

********

I do teach. I’m actually offered an opportunity to do so the moment I return to the states. My first experience melds all my worlds as I offer what I know of this thing called Yogato individuals surviving and actively being treated for cancers of all types.

The next decade and a half is filled with multiple teaching venues and a wide range of students from those facing threatening illnesses to youth living in uncertain situations to military members.

I still have so many questions when I hear of new forms of “yoga” emerging.

I feel/hear inquiries within myself still emerging to understand what Yoga is.

I waiver between my confidence in knowing Yoga and then thinking I know nothing.

There is a continual cultivation of my own teaching style, while I discover other forms of Yogasāna. I add to my repertoire of comprehension and skill through the study and practice of Anusara, Yin, and Restorative asāna styles, along with classes on aerial hammocks, in and on the water (aqua and stand up paddleboard). I teach across the country and even venture into opening a studio where I teach amongst the multiple elements of earth, air and water.

This year I came back to India, this time to the north. A deepening of Yoga’s vastness continues through the ancient practices known as nāda Yoga (sound and vibration based practice). This trip is amidst my third year of deep focus into Sanskrit, mantra and other sound-based practices. Post this second two hundred training and after thirty years post encountering the practices of this vast world called Yoga… finally I beginning to feel like I am getting a grip on what it means to live these ancient ways in this modern life. I finally feel comfortable, saying out loud, I am a Yoga teacher.

NOTE: This post is an adaptation and update to a prior post done on this blog many years back

 

Is Yoga Real?

By Joe Charsagua

As we near the completion of the first twenty years of the 21stcentury, the adoption of the practice of yoga increased dramatically since its first appearances in the mid-twentieth century in the Western world. In many places and cities, it is common to jokingly describe the prevalence of yoga studios to be as common as Starbucks coffee stores. Yoga is inculcated increasingly into the common vernacular of society reflecting an increased acceptance of yoga in daily life. Additionally, medical professionals now advise their patients to practice yoga as part of holistic measures to treat intractable chronic pain issues. In our commercialized society, many name-brand stores and locations offer items for yoga practice such as mats, blocks, and yoga pants as part of their merchandise. With the increased adoption and presence of yoga in society, we should ask if yoga is real?

To answer the question, we can ask what we can discern of the practice of yoga over time. When we compare the modern-day perceptions of yoga with how it was practiced in its early days (classical yoga), a stark contrast exists between the two. First, classical yoga was only practiced by men. Today, women more than men are commonly identified with the practice of yoga. Classical yoga was practiced as a means to deepen a sense of spirituality and to enhance a journey toward a spiritual ideal. Nowadays, most yoga practitioners seek the physical aspects of yoga with a paramount focus on the poses. In classical yoga, the poses were referred to by their original names in Sanskrit, whereas today many yoga teachers announce poses using the modern translation in English (or their common language), sometimes along with the Sanskrit name. Yoga was practiced mostly in India for many years prior to its global expansion in the Twentieth Century, particularly in the Western world. Finally, whereas classical yoga was practiced in whatever physical location available to them, the yoga mat today is the where we go to practice yoga. A consequence of the ubiquitous nature of the yoga mat is the spawning of a commercial market of yoga accessories that includes a variety of mat types, yoga props, and most especially, yoga attire. So, recognizing the new aspects of yoga today, is yoga still real?

It is the yoga mat that is a commonality among yoga practitioners. The “experience of yoga” on the “common” yoga mat naturally leads to a common shared experience between yoga practitioners, particularly among those who practice different styles of yoga. In our society, we constantly compare our yoga belongings and our yoga experience. For example, when we talk about our mat, we often ask what color do you have? What types of designs do you have? Who made it? Is it a sticky mat? Do you like your mat? A nice conversation can ensue from just these few questions. Similarly, the same questioning happens with other yoga accessories and yoga clothing such as yoga pants. Such conversations describe the totality of our yoga experiences on our mats with each other and contributes to our understanding of what is real.

But is there more to yoga than what we experience on our mats, that makes it real? Why, yes, of course. There is yoga that is off the mat! As we practice our yoga on the mat, we can take the micro-experiences we have on the mat and recall them when we are engaged in the parts of our lives that that forms our reality not on the mat such as at work, at home, or in our community. These micro-experiences include the encouraging feelings of strength we get when we are able to master a pose that has challenged us or the feeling of rejuvenation while in Savasana after completing the more arduous parts of the class. They, and others, are a resource we can tap into to help us endure or overcome situations that challenge our sense of security and being. Yoga provides us the opportunities to learn about ourselves and to help ourselves become a better person in spite of the challenges of life. We do this when we take our yoga off the mat. Every Day. Every Moment.

 

So, is yoga real? The answer to this question varies. We have perceptions formed by our experiences and beliefs. As we live through our life, our understanding of what is real will continue to change as we gain new experiences. As yogis, we have been blessed with a time-lasting discipline that allows us to gain new experiences through the practice of yoga. When we come to our mat and practice, in every moment of that practice the experience is real. Why? Because all that matters as we practice is what we are experiencing when it is “now.” Similarly, if we can relive those experiences on the mat in the parts of our lives that are off the mat, then we can bring that sense of “real” to those new moments of “now.” So, it is simple. Be present, experience the “now” not only the mat, but off the mat. Then, we can say true reality is both on and off the mat, regardless of origin or style. And so, when we next come back to our mat, and we will find yoga is real.

Bhakti: Yogic Devotion

by LauraLynn Jansen

 

Both my granny Grace and the grand-Jansens were devoted to their faith. Their devotion was demonstrated by saying prayers before meals, a cross or two hanging on the walls of their home, speaking about their faith in God to others unabashedly, and by going to church each Sunday.

I recall feeling a devotional connection, as a child, though my devoutness seemed much stronger during the quiet times alone in my room, with childhood dogs, or lying underneath the giant pines in the backyard. I created personal rituals, to honor my personal connection to this unseeable energy the priest called God. One in particular involved taking my grandpa Ben’s (died when I was 6 weeks old) wood cross. The face portion of slid off the back side of the cross and fit into a cutout on the inside (of the bottom portion). An oblong hole, on the inside of the back piece was cut out for storage. I placed the small, white candles stored in the oblong hole into additional circular holes carved into the inside of the back piece, as well. I believe I would honor the setup by mumbling a prayer and dabbing a bit of holy water on my forehead. The bottle was replenished with each time I would go to church.

Various regiments of certain organized religions such as Catholicism (which I grew up practicing) often made me pause and question their intention. Was it truly a portrayal of a grander love? A devotional practice with restrictions never quite fit for me, so ultimately I declined to be confirmed as a Catholic, to my grand Jansen’s dismay. Since that time I’ve delved into many different religious-based offerings form those of Judaism to Buddhism (my aunt has been a Buddhist since the 70s). None of them quite fit the feeling of God/the Divine I experienced on my own. The capacity to connect with the Divine source was put into hyper-important mode as I faced a terminal illness at the end of my teenage years.

When you are told you may die, your whole world shifts. The details of that journey are another story and detailed in my memoir, Inspired to Live: The Story of an Unlikely Rebel. Attentiveness to personal faith and devotional connections cracked wide open at this point in my life. It is when Yoga(the meditative and mindful aspects) entered my life.

“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back its old dimensions.”

Living life through a Yogic philosophical lens allows this Divine connection to remain alive for me pretty much every day. As most of you know I spent two months this spring in India. For the last three years svādhyāya(self study) has been deepening my experience and understanding of the marga ( Yogic path) of bhakti.

image of Bhakti Sanskrit necklace

 

Devotion is the literal translation of bhakti. This most recent trip to India culminated a formal  training in the elements of bhakti – mantra, Sanskrit, instrumentation, non-violent communication, and other subtle practices. Upon arriving home and taking time to reflect I feel fully reunited with the excitement and wonder of my childhood ponderings on the Divine. I am grateful deeply grateful for this devotional portion of Yoga, and all the others. I appreciate how they all continue to be a force enticing me to keep exploring, experiencing, and enlivening my connection with the Divine Spirit amongst and within us all.

Namaste, LL

Would you like to know a bit more about bhakti from different perspectives? Take a gander here.

Bhakti Yoga: Keep Practicing Until Your Knee-jerk Reaction is Love

by Anandra George

Sustained, embodied LOVE.

The great masters have always said that there is nothing wrong with the world. The only problem is with our perception. When we are pure, we see everything and everyone as pure.

That state is not far-fetched, it’s tantalizingly close!

I could beat around the bush, but in truth, the methods of sound-based yoga as we teach them in the  Heart of Sound training bring us swiftly to the empowerment of that choice. And that is the real reason we developed the training. We want you to live in love.

With consistent practice, we discover with delight that the underlying mind-state becomes harmonized and even our knee-jerk reactions to crazy-bad situations are suffused with love!

You may be thinking, “I’ve been chanting for 20 years, why am I not ‘there’ already?”

If you’re already on the sound path, you probably know that there are some common obstacles to full integration:
1. Dull, rote chanting without full feeling.
2. Regular discrepancies between thoughts and words and actions.
3. Mechanical hindrances to experiencing the full resonance, such as postural tension.
4. Mushy pronunciation that misses the special nerve centers that Sanskrit was designed to activate. (It’s impossible to fully feel the full potential of the bliss of chanting if you’re not hitting the right spot. You can imagine it and aspire to it, but when the mechanics are just right, the full sensory bliss experience takes care of itself.)
5. More “doing” than deep listening and presence.
6. And if you think about it, you can probably name many more obstacles!

When we pay close attention to these and other subtle (and not-so-subtle) obstacles, we can refine our practice and our natural essence shines through more easily. Then, we can truly be of service to our communities! We can shine like a person in love (with love itself, not just a temporary person/place/thing)!

With LOVE,
Anandra

Let It Go

:the yoga lesson of Disney’s “Frozen”

 

by Stephanie Keiko Kong

 

If you know the song, you’re singing it in your head right now.

 

There’s a lesson for yoga practice in there. Yeah. I didn’t know either. The lesson is this: If you look perfect in practice, yer doin’ it wrong.

 

I was actually sick of “the Frozen song” until a new favorite yoga teacher used it to teach this badass lesson.

 

Let that image shit go.

 

I was traveling through San Francisco one autumn, desperately seeking yoga. I was sore and lethargic from sitting on airplanes and eating irregularly and not moving my body.

 

The only class I could fit in was an advanced level hot vinyasa flow. Right away, I was like “ugh, not my style.” I mean, I love practicing challenging poses at home, but this would be in public. In a heated room. With a teacher I didn’t know. At a strange studio. In a city far from home.

 

I felt really, really self-conscious.

 

I worried that I’d fall on my face and embarrass myself, so I kinda wanted to hide. I worried that the teacher wouldn’t immediately recognize that I’m a teacher, so I kinda wanted to stand out.

 

But I was desperate for a class.

 

“I can handle this,” I told myself. “I’m good at yoga!”

 

Ego can be a bitch.

 

I walked up ten minutes before class, and there was a line of people waiting to check in. When I got into the huge room, the only spots left were near the very back or way up front. I took a spot in front, hoping that this clearly very popular teacher was one of those ignore-the-front-row types.

 

He bounced in radiating “lessss goooo!” energy. He bopped over to the sound system plugin. There was no pretense, no yoga voice, nothing but genuine enthusiasm. What happened next endeared Buddy Macuha to me forever.

 

The music started, “Snow glows white on the mountain tonight, not a footprint to be seen…”

 

I thought, “No. This is a joke. He’s going to turn this crap off any second now.”

 

He didn’t.

 

Buddy said, “I love this song. It’s teaching me. Listen!” And he mimed belting the chorus into a microphone as Idina Menzel’s voice filled the room, “Let it go. Let it go. Can’t hold it back anymore.”

 

Buddy presented the theme of the practice this way. He encouraged us to let go, to push a little past where we felt comfortable and just practice. To try something that’s “too hard.”

 

“We’re an advanced class here,” Buddy explained, “You know how to keep yourself physically safe. Just don’t play it safe.”

 

If we felt like transitioning through a handstand, great. If we fell on our faces, great.

 

“Is there a pose you’re afraid of? Let’s do it! Time to let go of that fear,” he said.

 

The word fear landed like a brick in my stomach — I was afraid. My throat got heavy as my eyes started to burn with tears. My mind tightened. Maybe I shouldn’t be here. Maybe I have no business coming to an advanced class. Maybe I’m not good at yoga. Maybe I’m not a good yoga teacher. Maybe I’m a fraud.

 

I pictured myself standing, rolling up my mat and suffering the awkwardness of leaving class before it even started. “Better than staying and crying, for God’s sake,” I thought. I was already way out of my comfort zone, and Buddy (and the Frozen song) were telling me to go further.

 

I took a deep breath, ready to get up… and that’s when Buddy stood right next to me.

 

Shit.

 

In a panic, I did the only other thing I could think of: I stayed. At least until he walked away.

 

“Take a deep breath,” he said, still right beside me. “And let.. it.. go.”

 

And I did.

 

Watery-eyed, I sang the opening AUṀ with abandon, letting my ragged voice ring out. Buddy smiled at me. I shakily smiled back.

 

We were up and moving within seconds, no time to hesitate. Buddy called out the poses in majorette cadence, snapping his fingers in a Z formation.

 

“Down Dog!” Snap snap.

“Chaturanga!” Snap snap.

“Up Dog!” Snap snap.

 

I smiled bigger in the privacy of Down Dog. “This guy is out there!” I thought. “There’s no way I could be the weirdest person in the room even if I tried.”

 

My mind-shackles loosened. I tried poses that made me nervous. I fell over and wanted to melt into the floor with embarrassment. I got up. I fell over again. I laughed. I left my self-consciousness in a sweaty puddle under my feet. I nailed some poses I didn’t think possible, trembling with effort and triumph. And I had an amazing, no-holds-barred, utterly joyous practice.

 

These lyrics from the second verse still ring in my memory:

It’s funny how some distance makes everything seem small 

And the fears that once controlled me can’t get to me at all

 

What are you afraid of?

 

Falling over?

Embarrassing yourself?

Not knowing everything there is to know about yoga?

Getting called a fraud?

Being laughed at?

 

In the words of Disney’s Frozen, and the amazing Buddy Macuha: “Let it go.”

 

Push yourself. Find your edge by actually visiting it. Peek over the edge, even. Scary things are not so scary when you look at them in the light of your own strength.

 

 

The Love Inside

by LauraLynn Jansen

 

I firmly feel, and believe, there is a true and sustainable love living inside each of us. Feels, to me, like the same love encouraging the birds to sing each morning. This omnipresent love pulls the tides and moves the moon. It offers us our every breath. I imagine it like an internal flame, a bit like a flickering firefly, sometimes shining brightly, and sometimes-quite dim, and in some rather sadder times it is invisible.

Currently, I feel this inner flame in me burning at a high intensity. A different type of engagement in my daily Yoga practice, known as Bhakti Yoga is stoking the fire. I attribute it to the profound resonance coming from a more precise and detailed mantra recitation. Though my first introduction to Sanskrit mantras was over twenty years ago, I’ve never known the details of this Yogic practice. Now an informed tongue knows where to place itself in the mouth, sounds elongate at certain moments, intonation occurs, and a deeper understanding (through the mind and the body) is being obtained. These words written in this ancient language of Sanskrit lend to a new experience of words of invocation and reverence. Alongside these chants is time dedicated to sargam (a traditional Hindustani music) practice and āsana, which I use to take out the cricks in the body before sitting to engage everything else. Pretty much every day I begin with these practices and collectively call all of them my Yoga practice. They stoke the inner flame of light, no matter how dim I felt it the night before or upon awakening.

 

I’ve been cultivating this new sensation and understanding for almost three years now. It carries through the day, assisting my ability to keep my mind toward the warmer and more positive aspects of life in the modern world. Its’ beauty endlessly astonishes me. Often I sit in awe of how it manifests. I end each practice with a mantra historically known to invoke a deep sentiment for every person and being toward a place of peace. Often I visualize folks in my life who I know struggle to keep their inner flame lit. During this season of romantic love I pray these folks find a love of Self (versus love outside of self). A love so deep it lifts up the flame from within them.

 

If you are someone who craves to a dip into (or dip deeper into) the Self-love flame here is an open offering. The teacher, from whom I am learning about these ancient practices, and several other students (who study with her) compiled this offering to increase your understanding of this mantra and mantra practices. They give it freely. May it assist you in deepening your understanding and experience of the love living inside us all.

 

Namaste

Resolve to Evolve

by LauraLynn Jansen

 

Resolving to evolve is to consciously seek change for oneself. Outside influences play no role in a true inner revolution. It is a change motivated by an inner honing in on what no longer serves us, and aims us toward moving beyond habit into intention.

Yoga traditions associate the patterns we create with the Sanskrit word samskara. Breaking down the word we learn – sam means joined together or complete & kara, refers to action or cause. Engrained in each of us are patterns/samskaras, both of a positive and not so positive nature. Some of these patterns we cherish and would never give up; while others can be negative and underlie low self-esteem and self-destructive relationships. The negative samskaras are what hinder our positive evolution. When we repeat samskaras it reinforces them, creating a groove that is difficult to resist. The deeper they become the pull on our lives becomes harder to sustain.

Many, many years ago I started on a path. I didn’t know I even needed to be on it. I had no clue what it was named or where it would lead me; or if I would even keep a commitment to what I was discovering. I was completely unconscious to what lay beneath the surface of my skin. The patterns I had created in my life were pushing on me hard.

Now, almost 30 years later, words of gratitude can’t even touch how happy I am to have decided to dive deeply into this path, the path of living Yoga. Over the years my commitment to it, though wavering in depth at times, continues to join me with the deepest aspects of mySelf. I now realize that each decade of study guides me into a new aspect of this ancient tradition. It drives me to face samskara tracks I continuously lay within myself. Each confrontation leads to an evolution. And each evolution leads me to a deeper aspect of comprehending Self.

The first decade of discernment, ages 20-30, concentrated on the mind’s power. I was stuck in a deep samskara, a belief that I could only do one thing in my life, be pretty. Prior to this time I truly believed the only way I could make it in the world was by being attractive. So much so I packed all I owned and moved myself, at the age of 19, from central Wisconsin to Los Angeles to chase my one and only career option (or so I thought) to be a model. Within a year, cancer hit me full force. It forced me confront the  engrained beauty belief driving my every thought. It took the hair off my head and left permanent bald patches. It pushed my pain threshold on a regular basis and left scars all over my body as proof. While going through a year of treatments many hours were spent in silent contemplation and reading texts of mystics in a wide-range of philosophical and religious traditions alongside relentless puking. All of their words and promptings lead me to the stillest parts of Self. Taking action was truly my only choice. It literally felt like a do it or die situation. These inner churnings turned the total notion of what life is meant to be in a completely different direction. This go-round I truly realized I possessed far more than just an outer beauty. Deep samskara cracked wide open.

The second decade focused on the body with the mind playing second string. I immersed myself into the study of Yogāsana (the postures). A new layer of mistrust (of Self) kept me questioning my physical ability again and again. Lungs weakened and constrained by the scars of radiation prematurely halted my breath every time I attempted something requiring vigorous deep breath. I engaged in every pranayama practice appearing to be a possible break through in this physical limitation. Year after year I ventured to my favorite place, Lake Tahoe. Each time I paused, while kayaking the beautiful lake water, to gaze up at the tremendous mountains surrounding us. I felt deeply dwarfed by their massiveness. There is no way I will ever be able to hike to those elevations, no way. Impossible. My breath will never allow it. This samskara had me on lock me down, convinced I would never be able to trek into the wilderness of these majestic mountains. Then one day someone very dear to me said let’s try a short hike up the path along Echo Lake. I looked at her in total shock. Did she not know my limitations? I was wrong. It was slow, however step-by-step the elevation rose bit-by-bit. There is a moment forever in my heart. I stepped out of the forest and into an alpine meadow. The sight of the vibrant green grass peppered with the brilliant colors of poppies, lupine, daisies and a whole slue of wildflowers freshly bursting after the spring’s snowmelt. A tear of joy rolled off my cheek hitting the dirt next to my boot and then another and another. Another false self-story (a.k.a. samskara) now destroyed. [FYI: I later climbed the tallest freestanding mountain in the world, Mt. Kiliminjaro.]

Now I enter my fifties with a deep awareness of the next samskara I am chasing down. It is an elusive and tricky one. I’ve seen it for some time playing on the fringes of my consciousness. Though it keeps trying to disguise itself, I am confident I will find a way to loosen its’ grip on me. Facing it fully is/will be a venture of the greatest courage ever, for me. My game plan? To love the heck out of it.

Persistence and Energy on the Yogic Path

By Douglas S. Files, M.D.

A well-known myth states that British Prime Minister Winston Churchill once spoke at his old school, Harrow. The story goes that his entire speech consisted of him telling the young audience to, “Never give up…never, never, never, never.” In reality the speech was much longer, but the legend has passed down to the present day because of the strength of its point: persistence is critical to success.

For three years I have served as president of the board of directors of the yoga non-profit theYoke. When I began I was seeking charitable work as a way to contribute and keep busy. My friend LauraLynn Jansen mentioned forming a Yoga-based non-profit organization. Its’ mission to unite and serve yoga folk intrigued me. I also relished the challenge of establishing a new charity. Despite my lack of Yoga expertise, I was familiar with administrative tasks from running a small business. In addition, my passion for education was piqued by one aspect of the organization’s mission to assist in educating the general public about the full spectrum of Yoga via a blog, podcasts, courses and so much more. Naturally I offered to help.

Recently our founder and executive director, LauraLynn Jansen, asked me how I have changed since becoming affiliated with a Yoga non-profit. For one thing, the experience has taught me more about the full range of Yoga; how it involves far more than asana. I deeply enjoy our explorations in the Yoga Folk Book Club. Learning about the philosophical underpinnings of Yoga, for example the jnana Yoga path (union through true knowledge).

has made me think differently about my life. One book mentioned that we may make up to 10,000 value judgments a day. This lesson came into focus for me as part of our readings on dukkhas. The Sanskrit roots of dus refers to bad and kha originally meant hole. According to Yogapedia this refers to the hole for an axle. “ A poor-fitting axle would lead to discomfort; hence, suffering and dukkha.” Modern translations simply give it as suffering. The impact of this understanding has brought me to spend more time focusing on the value of each moment. I concentrate more on the flow and just moving through a difficult situation versus labeling it good or bad. As a teacher of doctors, receiving criticism and being able to move through moments without self-critiquing sharpens my focus. This assists me in passing through my day smoothly versus getting stuck on petty moments or wallowing in one comment or situation. This awareness impacts my overall life and lets me approach moments from a more meta-level. I carry the benefits of this with me and it is also a form of Yoga.

__________________________

“The spark of life is not gain. Nor is it luxury. The spark of life is movement. Color. Love. And furthermore…if you really want to enjoy life, you must work quietly and humbly to realize your delusions of grandeur.”
Mark Helprin, A Soldier of the Great War

An Attitude of Gratitude

by LauraLynn Jansen

 

Every year around this time I automatically pause for reflection. It isn’t prompted by a holiday or even the change of season. This time of year holds a deeply personal marker in time for me. It is the anniversary of an event that changed the total trajectory of my life, and for this I am forever grateful.

It shifted my worldview 180 degrees toward a way of life I knew nothing of, the many depths of Yoga as a way of life, and wasn’t even remotely heading towards. Recognizing and remembering the path from then to the present always conjures up gratitude, and a bit of awe.

This pause for reflection was heightened this year when I heard a friend, who struggled for many years and at one point thought she had even beat the disease, has ultimately succumbed to the cancer. This news impacts me on a multitude of levels from a feeling of sadness to being pissed off. A little survivor’s guilt tries to creep in as well. [In case you are unfamiliar with survivor’s guilt, it is a feeling of guilt for still being alive or well. It can surface within a survivor of a disease or a tragedy. Often this happens upon hearing or recounting the story of someone who has gone through a similar situation and is still deeply struggling, or has died.]

All of these emotions can create an intensely slippery surface where I can easily slide from one edge of the emotional range to the other. Daily practices along the whole spectrum of Yoga (āsana to dharana to prāṇāyāma to nādā) always assist me in keeping grounded in the here and now. These ancient practices consistently guide me to the heart, where I can focus with the best of intentions. Still, pulling in a deep sense of gratitude for what is real and true right now in this moment without any outside influence is an edgy gratitude practice for me.

 

THE PRACTICE:

Think of someone you know who struggles with something (exercise, eating well, mental well-being, etc.). Really challenge yourself by picking something that comes fairly easy to you. Acknowledging this awareness of them and you is an opening to observe gratitude (for this aspect of your life). If you feel yourself pulled to some other aspect in this observation – a feeling of pity for them, a sense of being better than the other person, or some other ego based response – see if you can find your way back to the part of you humming with gratitude. Try to vibrate there whenever your awareness allows.

 

Developing an attitude of gratitude is about awareness… being aware of how we respond to a moment in time. Being able to recognize how fortunate we are now. How past experiences helped us be who we are now. How we are fortunate to have a direction forward into the future. How wonderful it is to have a heart that recognizes gratitude.

May the force of gratitude always be with you.

 

Namaste

Building the Yoga Soul of Community

This month Kirsten Holmson, of Community Soul Yoga (in Wausau WI), shares her journey in creating community in a place where the word “Yoga” raised many questions of uncertainty back in the day.

 

LL: Thank you for taking time to share with us your journey in creating Yoga space and awareness in a place newer to it. Would you describe your journey of opening Community Soul Yoga?

 

KH: I saw a need for greater access to yoga in our area and more visibility. When I came to town, in 2010, there were many teachers teaching yoga—but they were hard to find. No one was really “advertising”, there were no established studios, and the yoga that I found (at the YMCA) felt very much like a gym environment.

 

There wasn’t a yoga community like what I had found while living in the Chicago suburbs. One of my main objectives in teaching was to bring yoga to more people and to help people understand that there are many different styles of yoga. I began teaching at the YMCA; it wasn’t a good fit. So, when I left I had to figure out how I was going to expose more people to yoga, gain teaching experience, and start building relationships within this community. It is hard to be the outsider and “break in” to a smaller community where so many folks have grown up here (and have stayed here). I began teaching at the Unitarian Universalist Church twice a week. I offered my classes free of charge in return for use of the space. In less than 6 months I was filling classes. At that time it seemed appropriate to continue offering yoga to this community, but to find a way to get paid as well so that I could further my studies and provide an additional income stream for our family.

 

It felt a bit risky stepping out into the world of studio ownership. I wasn’t sure how I would be received. I opened the studio as a bare bones neighborhood studio where I was the only teacher in May of 2011. I vowed that I wouldn’t take out any loans and that the studio would grow as the community grew. I also let it be known that my family always came first. My children were at the studio often during those early days as they were too young to stay home alone. I was the only teacher for almost the first two years. I taught a lot, had plenty of classes with low to no attendance, and continued to work on building relationships—that was key.

 

LL: Such courage! You are truly a pioneer sharing this ancient practice (in its full scope) in this town in the middle of Wisconsin. As someone who grew up in Wausau I totally understand the risk you took. I, personally, was deeply grateful when I saw Community Soul’s existence on one of my yearly visit to see my mother. How have you kept the doors open and thrived as a studio?

 

KH: I think I’ve been able to keep the doors open because I listen to the needs of our community, our students, and our teachers. We are a studio committed to community and service, and people often comment that the studio is their “sanctuary” and a place of belonging. I’ve made some changes to the schedule based on feedback, I’ve given teachers room and time to grow their classes and find their unique voice (they are all independent contractors).

 

I’ve kept overhead very low, the studio is very basic and doesn’t have the “bells and whistles” of some, and I don’t offer retail—we simply teach yoga. I supplement revenue streams with workshops and events, and perhaps most importantly, I run the studio as a business. That’s where I see some of the smaller/local studios running into trouble. The approach is more of owning the studio as a “hobby” or an idea that “it can’t be all that hard to run a yoga studio”. When I teach, I give 100% to my students. I am there to serve them. When I am working on the business, I am working (budget, marketing, networking, etc.).

LL: Makes sense, I can feel how your heart (and a bit of soul I’m sure) is dedicated to the time with the students. So there other bit of soul and brain power are for business stuff. Could you share some business practices that have been key to your survival?

 

KH:  I spend a fair amount of time building relationships with teachers, students, and other business owners in town. I regularly assess what’s working at the studio and constantly ask students and teachers for feedback. I stay up-to-date on what’s happening in our area  and nationwide in regards to yoga, and look outside of our industry for information to. I studied the areas of business that I’m not as familiar with and ask a lot of questions.

 

 

LL: On a more philosophical note – how you have developed the soul of the community at the studio? How has it evolved?

 

KH: I think the soul of the community has grown out of genuine love and care for one another. There is an understanding that we’re all in this together, and that it takes all of us to keep the studio thriving. There is a culture of service that underlies much of what we do and I think that folks are grateful to be a part of something “bigger”. We have created a space of belonging and attract students from all walks of life. There isn’t an emphasis on current yoga “trends.” This community is a space where folks can simply be themselves. No one is more important that then next. We don’t emphasize separateness, which I see happening more and more in the yoga world (“our tribe”, “our people”, etc.) or emphasis on things like yoga challenges or the latest yoga styles.

 

LL: It feels like you really have stuck to the roots of Yoga. I imagine this approach translates to the folks in your community in the simplest and most forthright way. Just lovely. Makes me smile to think of Yoga’s intent in its purest form in a town I grew up and struggled so much. It is a comfort to know you have created a haven there for others. Thank you for being one of the first to light the path there.

 

You can find Kirsten on Instagram -or- Kirsten’s website

Her studio is at : communitysoulyoga.com