Thursday, November 24, 2016

Embracing Vulnerability

By Nikita Kirpalani, 200 hour Bali yoga teacher training graduate

Yoga. I love it. I absolutely adore it. I have always loved trying to keep up with the fast flows, feeling that burn during the long holds in Virabhadrasana 2 and realizing when I have gone deeper into a pose.

In retrospect, I guess it’s not that I have always loved yoga but that I have always loved yoga asanas—the physical, measurable, tangible aspect of yoga over which I seem to have complete control. This has always been my escape. Escape from the stresses, responsibilities, expectations, and trivialities of the outside world. Escape from the vulnerability that presents itself in life from time to time. 

I have always struggled with vulnerability. I don't like needing people. I don't like losing control of my emotions. You can imagine how surprised I was when I realized how key vulnerability was to yoga.

“Breathe. Reserve judgement. Simply observe.” You hear this a lot at Zuna Yoga. Although it sounds simple enough, I had a tough time wrapping my head around this concept. To simply observe, I would have to recognize my shortcomings without being determined to fix them. How would I do that without judgement and frustration? I would need to acknowledge and accept my limitations and maybe even embrace them. I would have to allow myself to be vulnerable. And that was terrifying. 

Most of us, myself included, have been conditioned to view vulnerability as weakness. We approach obstacles, discomfort, and difficulties with a fight-or-flight approach, always ready to charge forward and fight through the friction in order to progress and return to a position of strength. During my time at yoga teacher training, while trying to consciously observe without judgement, I learned that fighting through the friction or hurdles, whether physical or emotional, only slows down the process. We must simply welcome the discomfort to the best of our ability, breathe into it, allow ourselves to feel whatever it brings up, and then let it go. By relinquishing this control over our imperfections, we break down those walls of what we convince ourselves is toughness and strength, thereby allowing for connectivity and growth.

A moment that left a lasting impression and gave me the biggest jolt of clarity occurred in savasana during my teaching session. It was the second last day of our training and our group was the very last one to teach a practice class. After weeks of being pushed to our physical limits and being mentally saturated with whole new ways of thought, that savasana found everybody in a vulnerable place of looking inwards and being truly connected with themselves. In that moment, to be able to observe and feel all that energy and openness in one place was a truly humbling experience. It was strong. It was raw. It was real.

It was in that moment that I realized yoga is not an escape. When you really tune in and flow with connectivity, when you are fully present during every step of your journey as a student or a teacher, it is not an escape at all. It is jumping, heart first, into truth. Into reality. Into yourself. 

It was also in that moment that I knew I wanted to teach.

Today, I taught my first class since finishing yoga teacher training. And although it was a small class of supportive family and friends, I was surprised to find that I was a lot more nervous than I was during the training. Teaching yoga, believe it or not, leaves you vulnerable. Will they like me? Will I be able to deliver ? to help? to connect? At yoga teacher training, we were all in the same boat, experiencing the ins and outs of this journey together, and that provided a sense of calmness and trust. Being back in the context of real life, my yoga teacher journey is more private. I have learned that, just as you must accept imperfection in your own practice, you have to embrace vulnerability in order to find your voice as a teacher. To connect. To admit that you don't know everything and that you are still on your own journey. Embracing this vulnerability as a teacher cultivates trust and creates space for students to be physically and emotionally open in their practice. It allows for growth. It allows for strength. 

Breathe. Reserve judgement. Simply observe. 

Editor's note: Nikita completed our September 2016 200 hour Bali yoga teacher training and wrote three previous posts about her experience. Read them here:

You are Here. Now.
Cup Half Full
The Right Choice

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Sand Rituals

By Megan Armstrong, 500 hour Bali yoga teacher training graduate

Megan Armstrong came to yoga after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. A performance artist, Megan began to incorporate an awareness of her breath into her creative practice as well as her yoga practice. What ensued is her sand rituals, which are as much about meditation as they are about movement. During the months she was creating these moving meditations, Megan chronicled her physical symptoms as well as her mental challenges and published them, along with photographs of her sand rituals, in a book titled Still. Below is her artist's statement along with an excerpt from her book, which we find to be a poignant reminder of what a dedicated practice to being aware of oneself can change everything.

When diagnosed with an illness, the sick individual develops a higher awareness of the body. To keep a consistent healthy lifestyle for the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual body, my art practice has become a healing practice. I create work that reflects the daily practice my body undergoes to stabilize my illness. This practice is inspired by the spiritual philosophies, psychologies, asanas (yogic postures), and pranayama (yogic breathing techniques) in the science of hatha and raja yoga. Through the experiments of art making, research of healing methods, and the practice of yoga meditation, the body of work is not only self-expression, but also self-alteration.

First journal entry in while
I have not done my sand performance meditations in a while, maybe a month or so. I've kept my balance by going to hatha yoga every day but the last two days have been stressful. I've let my thoughts of the future consume me. I'm overwhelmed by what needs to get done. But I am returning, finally, to the sacred place I've created for myself. Om shanti, shanti, shanti.

28 minutes later
Inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale. Sand swirling, it's dry grains running through my hands and below my feet. I feel at home. My mind empty, my lungs refreshed. I found it again, the breath.

162 days later
More open. Drawing inward, no thoughts to compete with, just breath and movement with sand. Only thinking to inhale—pull the grains in, exhale—push the grains out. Breathing to move. Moving to create. Creating to meditate. Meditating to peace. The sun is shining. The body open, the mind quiet.

48 days later
My body is tight, sore, and tired but my mind is calm—although I got pretty frustrated this morning for unnecessary parking tickets. Today will be productive. Focusing on getting back into the body. Sand meditation now and hatha yoga/pranayama later. Things are getting done, stress levels are stabilizing. Low back is sore, I'll be aware of how I move within this space of my body. Focus on the breath, the intense prana instead of the intense movement.

23 minutes later
Inhale—pull in
Exhale—push out
Hold inhale—pull in
Exhale—push out
Hold inhale—pull in
Exhale—push out
Inhale—sitting tall
Exhale—extending arms and torso
Inhale—sturdy arms to move the body
Exhale—pulling sand in
Focus broken

36 days later
I want my mind to stop. Stop the excessive planning, the thinking ahead, the random thoughts that mean nothing but exacerbate so much energy. I want to experience the here and now, the only time that actually exists. I want to take account of everything that is happening in this moment. Not judging what arises because who knows what's good or bad.

19 days later
Time is like a swinging door, always pushing the mind into the future or pulling it back into the past. How can the human mind not suffer when it resides in a dimension that cannot be controlled? To live in the here and now is to live in the only time that truly exists. I move against time to keep up with time, rotating counterclockwise in a pile of sand. By pushing and pulling the timeless material, the body and breath move to keep the mind still. The patterns and forms that appear create a physical record of the conscious inhalation and exhalation. This space holds no judgement for the wandering mind, it is a place of reminder to just be.

Friday, November 11, 2016

The Right Choice

By Nikita Kirpalani, 200 hour Bali yoga teacher training graduate

I've spent most of my life staring at those roads. You know the ones. Those roads that split. Those roads that turn the single path that I am on into two divergent paths. Those roads that demand I make a choice. And I stand there. Staring. Frozen.

Frozen at the option to stay on my current path and see where it leads. Frozen at the option to explore something completely new and unprecedented. Staring. Frozen.

I've always put too much pressure on myself to make the right choice, to know the correct decision, to try to fully envision where each path would take me. Which will make me happier? Which will get me where I want to be faster? Which will cause the least damage? Since one can never truly know these answers, time and again I've found myself stuck at the proverbial fork in the road. Staring. Frozen. 

Until my final week of yoga teacher training and the discussion of chakras and the importance of finding our root in the journey to authenticity. This tied together asana practice, yogic philosophy, pranayama, meditation—everything that we had been working on over the course of the training. It all boiled down to the same thing—the importance of relying on self trust, of grounding body and mind, of creating a strong foundation, and of truly trusting intuition to guide you, whether you’re working toward a stronger asana practice or navigating the journey of life. It was a revelation.

In retrospect, I understand that the difficulty I’d experienced achieving certain poses, such as handstand and bakasana, were based in self doubt or fear, much like my difficulty with making life decisions. After a few minor physical adjustments and a major shift in trust and awareness, the poses became significantly easier. While asanas are hardly the most important part of yoga, it's illuminating—even liberating—to see such parallel changes in body, mind, and life.

It's been a few weeks since I’ve returned from yoga teacher training. Becoming reacquainted with everyday life has been an eye-opening process, to say the least. I have a long way to go in discovering my authentic self, although the substantial shift in my self awareness has already forced me to reevaluate certain aspects of my life, be they related to career or relationships. This clarity has made it more difficult for me to hide in indecisiveness to avoid dealing with change and uncertainty. As Everett pointed out during that last week, courage is authenticity whereas fear limits us to a lesser version of ourselves. What's left is trusting myself, choosing a path, and knowing I already have all the tools I need to make it through my journey. Maybe if I redirect my focus from making the right choice to finding my root and reconnecting with my intuition, I'll actually be able to put one foot in front of the other. Unfrozen. 

Editor's note: Nikita completed our September 200 hour Bali yoga teacher training and wrote two previous posts about her experience. Read them here:

You are Here. Now.
Cup Half Full

Wednesday, November 9, 2016


By Megan Armstrong, 500 hour Bali yoga teacher training graduate

Stillness. So simple. Yet one of the most complex concepts of being human. We are creatures of always doing, whether in action or in thought, rarely finding ourselves at ease in stillness. Exploring and surrendering to the essence of stillness was the biggest challenge I faced during yoga teacher training.

On the mat, as my body moved during the two hours of asana practice each day, I would struggle to find steadiness. My body would tremble as it tried to hold each pose with perfection. I would overanalyze the contraction of each muscle and the skeletal alignment of each bone and in so doing my breath would get lost amid these thoughts. As practice would wind down and the poses would become simpler, I'd reconnect to my breath in preparation of mind and body for meditation.

But it was then that I was challenged even more. Sitting still for an hour, I would attempt to embrace the relaxation of the practice, but my mind found every way to become distracted. My focus would be on my breath for a brief moment but would then be interrupted by the sounds outside the shala, a bug landing on my skin, or sporadic thoughts. These constant distractions would eventually result in frustration and I would lose all focus.

I had imagined that the harder I tried in my yoga practice, the more quickly and more deeply I would come to a place of fulfillment. I soon realized that I was wrong.

Through tremendous amounts of guidance from my teachers, self reflection, and support from my fellow Zuna yogis, I allowed myself to surrender. Within this act of not trying so hard and truly connecting to the power of the breath, stillness became almost effortless.

This steadiness began to spill over into my journey off the mat, slowly weeding out all the distractions I constantly fill my daily life with. I began to fall in love with the simple task of sitting and soaking in the beautiful life that surrounded me in Bali. After several weeks of this mindful lifestyle, the art of stillness became my natural state of being, which took my journey on the mat deeper than I'd ever thought I could go physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

The last day of training, the faint sounds of my alarm began to chirp at 5:32 am. It took my body and mind a moment to adjust from the night's sleep, but the thought of the early morning practice from the day before lifted me out of bed effortlessly. As I sat on the small porch outside my villa, I soaked up the pre-dawn Indonesian landscape, awaiting the sound of the singing bowl to call me down to the shala for practice. For two hours, I was aware of nothing but my breath weaving through the layers of mind and body as I moved through the asana practice. As the practice began to slow, my body became completely still for pranayama and meditation. I attempted to do nothing but watch the tide of breath flow in and out. My mind and body became still as I surrendered. In the final moment of meditation during our training, I experienced a vibration much more powerful than the mind can intellectualize. I felt connected and at one with the aroma of the jungle, the sun that warmed my back, the breeze that caressed my face, and the gentle sounds of breath from my Zuna family that surrounded me. Eventually the sound of Everett’s voice called me back to the external world with the words, "Never lose sight of this radiant self." With tears, I slowly reopened my eyes to witness my surroundings and felt nothing but the pure essence of stillness.