Monday, October 5, 2015

A day of cleansing

by Anna Rhein, Zuna Yoga 500 hour YTT graduate

Bali is an island full of beauty, mystery and spirituality. Recently I made a day trip with friends to the holy water temple, Tampak Siring. It was a short 40 minute motorbike ride from Ubud, and even though it started raining heavily we continued on our journey, and I'm thrilled we did. Riding through the rice paddies, entering into little villages along the way, we stopped to wait for our group and stumbled upon a shop that had beautiful pieces of carved wooden art and jewelry. We all found at least one handmade treasure to take home and agreed the trip was already a success, but we had no idea of the beauty that still lay ahead. 

After the brief stop, we were only 10 minutes away from our destination. As we walked through the entrance, we were all given sarongs to wear, and were shown where to enter into the springs. We were greeted by a spiritual guide who began to tell us how the temple was designed to be enjoyed. 

Tampak Siring temple in Bali
First, we were given an offering and told to sit overlooking the springs while he talked us through a meditation. The sound of the water flowing enveloped us all and we were quickly made aware of how special a place this was. One by one we entered the water, which was waist height. Walking up to each spring, we were told to splash the water three times on our face, sip it in three times, and then sit under it, allowing it to run over our heads while chanting OM for as long as we could before moving on to the next spring. 

Walking from spring to spring, I was unaware of anything else around me. The feeling of the water running over my body, blessing and cleansing, was so powerful. After the first set of springs, there were another two by themselves, which I was told release any negative promises or regrets from your life. The final set of springs were said to clean and clear your chakras, allowing for better health. Even though the water was cold, it was so refreshing and made me feel lighter immediately. After the springs, we were given a tour of the temple and allowed to make additional offerings if we wished before we made our exit. It is the most beautiful temple I have ever visited. I tell anyone I can about it, and hope everyone can some day visit this very special place. I can't wait for my next adventure in this Bali wonderland.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The dance between the light and the dark

by Katie-Alan Calhoun, September 2015 200 hour Bali yoga teacher training student

Hanoman Street
I step out of the taxi, cradling all the belongings that I've packed for the next month. As the cab zooms away, it hits me: I have arrived in Ubud. It's late in the evening and Jalan Hanoman is alive and busy. People rushing to grab drinks with friends, mopeds whipping by, loud noises, bright lights and unfamiliar smells. If there is such thing as a culture shock, this is it. What in the world was this little mountain girl thinking? Grabbing my overly packed bags, I made my way through a dark alley to find my hotel. A local gentleman, seeing me somewhat distressed, asked if I needed assistance. "No, I've got it", I replied, as I looked at him, probably looking very much like a deer in the headlights. Did I really "have this," though? 

I finally reach my room and start to unload, literally and figuratively. All of the stress of traveling had finally reached its boiling point. I'm alone in a foreign country, trying to wrap my head around the month ahead of me. It's dark, unfamiliar and I'm completely spooked. As I curl up under my covers, trying to escape reality, I receive a message from a friend back home. Knowing I was in distress, they send a consoling message: "You're going to be okay. Everything may appear scary now, but tomorrow it will all look different in the light."Holding onto these words as if they were my mantra, I somehow manage to sleep through the night.

Bali courtyard
I roll out of bed the next morning, feeling the heavy hand of jet lag. I take a quick look in the mirror and quickly regret it, cringing. Thirty plus hours on a plane is not a good look for me. I slowly make my way around the room, trying to let go of the unease of the previous night. Suddenly, I hear a noise outside my room, and a voice: "Miss?" I open the wooden double doors and am stunned at what I discover. "Wait, where am I?", I think as I scan my surroundings. I'm looking out at a beautiful courtyard. Birds are singing, the sun is shining, and the aroma of flowers and incense fills the air. I'm in such a state of shock that I completely forget about my little visitor. "Miss, would you like tea and breakfast?" he asks. Tea?! Yes! That is exactly what I need.

How could this be? I'm suddenly enjoying my breakfast in a completely different place than I had entered the night before. Fortified with fresh fruit and tea, I muster up the courage to begin exploring. Ubud is awake and ready for the day. This is not the Bali I had encountered the evening before. Walking the streets I'm becoming familiarized with my surroundings. Smiling faces, wonderful food, shopping, culture, and monkeys! This isn't scary, I think to myself, this is amazing! Day one in Ubud and I have already come to the realization that this is exactly where I need to be. My heart is filled with excitement and yoga teacher training hasn't even begun.

Amy Jirsa put it quite beautifully when she said, "Yoga is the dance between the light and the dark within you. The light is what brings you back to the mat and the darkness is what you uncover there. Don't be afraid of this darkness. These are only shadows, and though you'll have to walk down some pretty dark alleys, remember you are grounded in the light, and the light will set you free."

By practicing yoga, we are bringing light to the darkest places within ourselves. Much like my first night in Bali, the dark can be a scary, unforgiving place. It is where your inner demons reside. Your fears, doubts and worst nightmares. But have faith in the light, whether it's  the light inside you or the rising sun of the next day. Our journey in life is all about perspective and how we view our reality. With a little light, our perception can change, just as I began to see my adventure in Ubud very differently.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Your ego is not your amigo, but it's not your enemy either

by Eva Brockschmidt, September 2015 500 hour Bali Yoga Teacher Training student

"Your Ego is Not Your Amigo " - if you're at all familiar with popular yoga culture, chances are you've probably heard this phrase before or even see it splashed across a yoga top somewhere. Personally, I've always found it kind of cheesy. Yet it holds a lot of truth. It also raises some questions, such as what do we really mean by ego? Why does it hurt us, and how can we put it in its proper place?

Ego denotes the idea of a prescribed self-identity – “This is me, I am different.” To some degree, this self-identity or “I-shape” is absolutely necessary. Singularity of body requires singularity of mind, so our ego functions as an identifier which allows us to act in our physical form. Modern psychology even talks about the importance of maintaining a “healthy ego” and suggests that people suffer when their ego is hurt or diminished. 

From a yogic perspective, this suggestion also holds true. Yet instead of ascribing the cause of our pain to some external event, it's believed that the ego itself, this fixed identity that we have given ourselves, is what causes pain.

We have a tendency to take everything that happens personally. It is only when we let go of ego that we realize that in fact, most of life is not personal at all. Whether it's a driver who cuts us off in traffic, a friend who lies to us, or a rude server at a restaurant, these situations are usually a reflection of the other person's internal workings. The driver who is rushing through traffic is probably stressed out. It doesn't matter to him who he cuts off, it just happens to be us. Yet we often take such situations very personally – “how could they do this to me ME?!” In general, frequent use of the "I" and "me" pronouns is a good indication of ego. However, once we start taking situations less personally, we can start to gain control over negative emotions and stop them from running away with us.

Our ego restricts us as we involuntarily filter everything through this fixed identity. Thus it determines not only the way we see ourselves, but also the way we see and perceive others. As a result, we often react in a hostile manner towards things, people and circumstances that do not fit with or challenge our self-prescribed identity. When reality doesn't conform to our views, we begin to struggle and try to rearrange it. In this way, ego clouds our judgment and leads to ignorance (in Yogic philsophy, known as avidya).

Ego is one of the five obstacles which hold us back and prevent us from being truly free. The others are pride, attachment, aversion and fear. However, once we start to overcome the first misperception, whereby we mistake a part of us, our ego, for the whole of our being, we will automatically begin to overcome the other four. They are all offshoots of this original ignorance. 

An intensive yoga teacher training would probably cause many people's egos to crumble. As your practice has progressed, you may have developed this sense of yourself as being “good at yoga.” Maybe you’ve thought of yourself as particularly strong or flexible, now you're suddenly surrounded by people with very strong practices. What's more, you are suddenly asked to undo and relearn everything from the start. Misalignment and other shortcomings are laid bare. If you let ego be in charge, you're likely to react with umbrage and damaged pride. But if you can surrender and remain open to this new information, then it's an incredible learning experience which will leave you completely transformed, not only physically but also mentally. 

Even outside the intense experience of a yoga teacher training, the mat is an ideal place to observe, confront and begin to surrender our fixed self-identity. Ego normally bubbles up pretty quickly during practice, and it can take many different guises: jealous glances to the person next to us, the insistence on always taking the hardest variation of a pose or to do every vinyasa. Sometimes it even feels like the entire practice is driven by the head, pushing and pulling the body to force it into poses it doesn't want to go into. But once we've become aware of ego’s presence, we can surrender it. By bringing our attention back to our body, our breath and this present moment, we can begin to soften into a state of being, rather than thinking. 

We cling to ego because it seems to provide us with the certainty and order that we long for in our lives. Yet the security is a false one. It does not exist. Life itself is inherently uncertain. No one can escape what Pema Chödrön calls “the fundamental ambiguity of being human.” All we can do is learn to live with it. 

This being said, while ego is not our friend, it's certainly not our enemy either. In this world we need a sense of ego, an “I-maker”, in order to be able to differentiate, to know what is us. So it's not about breaking up with our ego completely, which is impossible, but rather about putting it in its proper place, assuring that we are in charge of it rather than the other way around. On the journey of life, we certainly don't want the ego in the driver’s seat, but that doesn't mean that we have to kick it out of the car completely.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Spotlight on Cilla, Zuna Yoga teacher training grad

Priscilla "Cilla" Rybicki Zuna Yoga teacher training graduate, E-RYT 200 / RYT 500, and yoga studio owner

Cilla is a longtime resident of Burlington, Vermont, and a perpetual student of the mind and body. She earned a Bachelor of Arts & Sciences degree in Psychology at the University of Vermont and, after trying yoga, made it an essential part of her life by harnessing it as a tool to alleviate back pain and correct postural misalignment caused by scoliosis. She became a certified yoga teacher in 2009 through Burlington Yoga and in 2014 she traveled to Bali for her 300 hour yoga teacher training with Zuna Yoga. Cilla is also a Certified Massage Therapist. 

It was incredible. The advanced yoga teacher training was exactly what I needed to deepen my own practice and refine my teaching skills. What I learned there, not just about the transformative benefits of regular practice, but also about my own inner strength, empowered me to take the leap and open my own studio, Sukha Yoga. 

Like many students of meditation, she admits to struggling to overcome a constantly "thinking" mind. Her own challenges inspired in her a desire to make the powerful practices of pranayama and meditation more accessible to everyone. 

One of the things I love most about owning the studio is having the freedom to be able to lead donation-based classes for nonprofit organizations and having the space to be able to raise awareness and reach more people. It's been really rewarding to actually make a difference: we've had the honor or working with LoveYourBrain Foundation to help bring yoga to survivors of traumatic brain injury and to raise money for earthquake relief in Nepal.

Always continue to practice and grow. Yoga is a lifelong pursuit, and there is always something to learn and refine. Set a clear intention when you start to teach or open your own studio. Remember the real reason you're teaching (which probably doesn't involve dollar figures) and practice what you preach. Don't let anything hold you back from reaching your goals.

Heading to Vermont? Visit Sukha Yoga's website for information on classes, workshops and special events.