Monday, January 26, 2015

Small changes can make a big difference

by Anna Rhein

After a long plane ride back to NYC from Bali last week, and being under the weather to boot, I was feeling really unmotivated.  It also didn't help that I left sunshine and 80 degree weather for clouds and 35 degree days. 

Today though, I finally mustered the energy to get bundled up and head out to a yoga class in the neighborhood. I haven't been a student in a class in a few months. Usually, I do my own home practice. However, after a few days, weeks or months off, sometimes I need someone telling me what to do for that extra little kick in the pants. 

Turns out it was just what the doctor ordered. The class was completely different than one I would teach or practice on my own, yet it felt amazing! I walked out with a huge smile on my face and a feeling of gratitude for the teacher that led me through the class. Goes to show that sometimes making the little changes or letting someone else do the leading is the key to starting that fire again. We all have our ways of doing things, patterns and habits that keep us motivated. And that's great, although sometimes we need to let go of that control and see what else is out there. Changing it up can spark so many wonderful new ideas, thoughts and perspectives that get trapped in the body and mind. 

I'm now feeling inspired (even though still freezing) to take as many classes as I can while I'm here for the next two weeks. I hope to inspire some of you to make a change, small or big, and see how it feels. Try something different!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Forget resolutions - remember your yamas

The beginning of a New Year is a great time to reflect on what you've learned and accomplished in the previous 12 months, as well as how you want to move forward. Forget New Year's resolutions -- research shows that only 8% of us actually stick to them successfully. Instead, as you take the next steps on your path of personal development -- whether that means a post-holiday cleanse, a new diet, or a commitment to a regular practice -- remember the bigger picture. Learning how to shape your attitudes, thoughts and actions is key to steering yourself skillfully toward your goals.

In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali outlines the eight limbs of yoga as a path to good living and happiness. Particularly relevant as you move into the New Year are the first and second limbs: the Yamas, focusing on personal morals and restraint, and the Niyamas  -- personal observances. The Yamas and Niyamas are yoga's ten ethical guidelines and are foundational to all classical yogic thought. They are intended as a road map, indicating where you are on your journey and how to spot the next milestone. The Yamas and Niyamas provide a framework to take ownership of your life and direct it towards true fulfillment. 

The Yamas include:

  • Ahimsa ~ Non-violence
  • Satya ~ Truthfulness
  • Asteya ~ Non-stealing
  • Brahmacharya ~ Non-sensuality
  • Aparigraha ~ Non-possessiveness

The Niyamas include:

  • Saucha ~ Purity
  • Santosha ~ Contentment
  • Tapas ~ Self-discipline
  • Svadhyaya ~ Self-study
  • Ishvara Pranidhana ~ Surrender

Let's take a closer look: 

Sutra 2.31 Ahimsa satya asteya brahmacharya aparigraha yama

"Non-injury or non-harming (ahimsa), truthfulness (satya), abstention from stealing 

(asteya), walking in awareness of the highest reality (brahmacharya), and non-possessiveness or non-grasping with the senses (aparigraha) are the five yamas, or codes of self-regulation or restraint, and are the first of the eight steps of Yoga."

Yamas, the restraints, consist of five principles: non-violence, non-lying, non-stealing, non-sensuality and non-possessiveness. They center on how you relate to to the external world, and in particular, other people. Practicing them helps you become healthy, civilized members of your family and community. They cut down on distractions and reduce the problems you create for yourself by eliminating violence, duplicity, animosity and greed from your life. Consequently, you are not a threat to others, nor are others a threat to you. There is no reason to be fearful, and peace begins to grow.


Sutra 2.32 Shaucha santosha tapah svadhyaya ishvarapranidhana niyamah


"Cleanliness and purity of body and mind (shaucha), an attitude of contentment 

(santosha), ascesis or training of the senses (tapas), self-study and reflection on sacred words (svadhyaya), and an attitude of letting go into one’s source (ishvarapranidhana) are the observances or practices of self-training (niyamas), and are the second rung on the ladder of Yoga."

Niyamas, the observances, also consist of five principles: purity, contentment, self discipline, self study and surrender to God. These five principles open new channels for physical, mental and spiritual nourishment. By purifying your thoughts, speech and action, you prepare yourself to greet the Divine who resides within you. Contentment gives you the freedom from anxiety, which can be an enormous drain on your energy. Self-discipline frees you from laziness, giving you the opportunity to unfold our dormant potential. Self-study allows you to identify your strengths and weaknesses. Self-study also includes study of the scriptures and the repetition of the mantras, observances which deepen your understanding of spirituality and improve your focus. These, in turn, motivate you to look for a higher purpose in life. Self study frees you from attachment to your earlier, immature concepts of spirituality, enabling you to embrace an ever expanding and ever more accurate reality. Surrender to the Divine, the last of the observances, helps you access cosmic forces of energy and aspiration beyond your personal limitations and work with the creative forces of the entire universe. It diminishes ego, and helps you to acknowledge and deepen our connection with the Divine. 


In summary, these ten restraints and observances help you become simple, gentle, humble, disciplined, and kind -- characteristics that are prerequisites for self-transformation. And by embracing them, you are preparing a solid foundation for whatever practices you undertake. Since we generally have not mastered these characteristics and therefore can't practice them perfectly, you can instead incorporate the Yamas and the Niyamas into your philosophy of life and practice them to the best of our ability. Most importantly, they come automatically through the practice of asana, pranayama, and meditation.


These ancient writings, believed to have been created as early as 400 BCE, are still very relevant to our modern lives. They are a practical guide to cultivating confidence, compassion, self-care and happiness. As you move into the New Year and choose your own next steps, remember to make yours a healing journey that is filled with wisdom from the Yamas and Niyamas. 


With gratitude to Swami Jnaeshvara for his excellent compilation of the Yoga Sutras at www.swamij.com 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Abundance and non-attachment

Namaste, yogis! The holidays are a wonderful opportunity to appreciate our communities of family and friends, and truly experience gratitude and love for all our blessings. It's easy to be dismayed by the materialism of our modern world, where spiritual traditions have been largely replaced by commercialism. All too often, people tend to get wrapped up in their "stuff": what they have, what they're buying next, what they want but can't afford, what they're giving and receiving. For those engaged in conscious living, there's more to look forward to and appreciate beyond all the stuff. 

In the Tibetan language, the word attachment is translated as "do chag," meaning "sticky desire." It's human nature to become overly attached to the things that bring us pleasure, and to feel the pain of separation when we lose them. We also tend to form attachments to our dislikes, injuries and fears, allowing these aversions to throw us off balance.

The Yoga Sutras discuss non-attachment (vairagya) as an important step on a spiritual path. Embodying vairagya means being aware that your relationship to something - an object, person, or habit - causes you pain or suffering, and being able to surrender it completely. The practice of yoga leads to recognition of the things that bind us. What am I attached to? Why am I attached to it? How does it serve me? The first step is to acknowledge that it binds us and understand why. And then, continued practice in meditation helps dissolve those attachments.

As you engage in the traditions of your own family and culture this year, be mindful attachments, aversions and desires. A few suggestions for stress-free celebration:
  • Focus on experiences and connections, which bring lasting joy.
  • Avoid the accumulation of more stuff, which ultimately only leads to clutter and dissatisfaction. 
  • Lend a helping hand to someone in need: a neighbor, a family member, your local food bank. Share your abundance with others.
  • Show compassion to family and friends, to their quirks and eccentricities and button pushing. Don't make a habit of getting irritated or feeding negativity.  
  • Let go of grudges and grievances - these are another type of attachment that only hurt you.
  • Indulge your desires - whatever form of merriment you choose - in moderation. This prevents your indulgences from infringing on your overall quality of life.
  • Carve out a few minutes each day to sit in stillness and silence. Regular meditation will keep you centered and calm.
From our family to yours, wishing you all much lightness, abundance, peace and joy for the New Year!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Living a life you are proud of

by Anna Rhein, Zuna Yoga 500 hour YTT graduate

Recently I exchanged emails with a good friend. We were chatting about our current life situations. She is NYC in her final year of grad school and was expressing how much this last year has already taken out of her, and how all the hard work is about to pay off. One more semester and she will be done with this chapter, moving into another as an Occupational Therapist.  It has been very inspiring to watch her as a student over the last five years, gradually developing into a woman with such passion for what she is doing in life.  

I let her know that I intended to stay in Bali now that my 300 hour yoga teacher training was over, to explore the possibilities of what life had to offer on this side of the world. I too had been living in NYC. However, unlike her, I was in a job that I had little passion for, just going through the motions to pay the bills. I admitted that living in another country was something I never would have imagined for myself, but that a lot of my old ways of thinking had changed during my teacher trainings. My experience helped me see that I had been holding onto past behavior and relationships that no longer served me. It provided me the physical commitment to my body that I love, and also the space and stillness that I needed to hear this inner voice clearly. The entire experience, from the asana practice, the intense meditation to the time alone in a different country had opened my eyes to so much: new friends, new ideas, and a confidence that I was lacking to create this new life.  

Self-discovery during yoga teacher training
She was very excited for me and said, “I had a feeling you would find your groove over there this time. We will miss you, but I am happy you are living a life you are proud of.”  Those few words really hit that place in me, you know that place that makes you instantly tear up, right in the center of the soul.  Not only did the words hit home, but also hearing them come from a person I had been admiring for all her hard work was also very emotional.  I thought -  wow, I am in the midst of living a life I am proud of and others can see it too, how lucky am I! So here I am beginning a new chapter in Bali, making new friends, learning Indonesian, living steps from the sea, using the yoga tools I’ve learned in the last few months to steer my vessel and hopefully inspire others to live a life they are proud of.