Sunday, August 7, 2016

The Fullness Of Your Breath

By Megan Armstrong, 500 hour Bali yoga teacher training graduate

Go to the mat and find the fullness of your breath.

This is what I know to be yoga, no matter the emotions I am feeling, the thoughts I am having, or the physical challenges I am enduring. Go to the mat and find the fullness of your breath.

During my 200 and 300 hour yoga teacher trainings with Zuna Yoga, the most powerful tool I have learned is the beauty of the breath on the mat and how it shines into life off the mat. As the currents of life fluctuate, the grounding effects of the breath, in and outside of the practice, remain the same.

I begin with eyes closed, drawing the awareness of my mind to the natural rhythm of the breath, absorbing the essence of its ebb and flow. Observing the mind and body moment by moment,  I gently guide the organic movement of the breath into a deeper space. Blossoming at the base of the spine, the inhale draws up the front of the body and inflates in the heart. On the exhale the breath slowly dispels through the entire body as I draw the navel to the spine. Through the entire journey of my yoga practice, this powerful Agni Raj breath quiets the distractions of the mind, fuels the body even as I tremble with the challenge, and finally guides my entire being into the complete, effortless stillness of savasana. Within this stillness, all layers of my mind, body, and spirit absorb the beauty of the breath and the energy created. Gently rising from savasana, I experience a humble sense of gratitude for both the practice and the greater place within the deepest parts of myself. Stepping off the mat and into a world full of chaos and noise, I am still. This is what I know to be yoga.

Monday, August 1, 2016

5 Questions That Will Bring You Back To Yourself And The Moment

By Jenny Ní Ruiséil, 200 hour Bali yoga teacher training student
The time will come when,
With elation, 
You will greet yourself arriving
At your own door, in your own mirror,
And each will smile at the other’s welcome,
And say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was yourself.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
To itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
For another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
The photographs, the desperate notes,
Peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
—Love after Love, Derek Walcott
“Come to greet yourself,” it is sometimes said at the beginning of yoga, meditation, or mindfulness practice. Say hello. Consider yourself with the curiosity, politeness and kindness you would a new acquaintance. Who are you? What do you like to read? What traits do you most respect in others? Do you possess these traits? By greeting ourselves at any given moment, our mind and body are brought back to the forefront of our consciousness. Our awareness is directed back to the reality of the present moment instead of being allowed to swirl somewhere in between the regrets of yesterday and the uncertainty of tomorrow. We start anew. As you ask yourself these and other questions, including those that follow, remember to maintain an open mind and be honest with yourself.
1. How are you today?

This should rarely be as simple as a one-word answer such as “good” or “okay.” Elaborate. Really dig deep into your emotional and spiritual state at the given moment. If you’re anxious about a particular thing today, respect that confusion during your yoga practice. Practice heart-opening postures to open up to the struggle instead of pushing it away. Make space for your emotion. The struggle may not have been there yesterday, but today is today.
2. What is it that you’re currently struggling with/worried about/working on?

Again, honesty is key. Be open and nonjudgmental with yourself, just as you would with a friend in need who’s confided in you. Perceived frivolity should not be an issue. You wouldn’t belittle another’s struggles, so why do it to yourself? After you identify your concern, sit with it. Be with yourself and your struggle, whether it’s an ill-fitting pair of new shoes or pending medical test results. Emotions are there to be felt. If no attention is paid to them, they amass into a more difficult mountain of worry. This build-up of tension and stress often manifests physically, hindering everyday life and yoga practice in the form of tight muscles, clenched jaws, furrowed brows and shallow breathing. Being able to sit with ourselves in comfort as opposed to surrendering our energy and emotions to our perceived troubles is an excellent approach to calming anxiety. By breathing through each issue or difficult emotion, as you would breathe through a challenging yoga pose, a slow and gradual acceptance can be found. You may even achieve the mental clarity necessary to find a solution.
3. Is the situation within or beyond your control?

So often we concern ourselves with issues that are ultimately outside of our control. Being able to recognise our influence (or lack thereof) over certain aspects of life is crucial in accepting circumstances as they are and being able to appreciate the present moment for what it is. Defining the reality of our relationship with the worries we possess can be liberating as long as you understand that succumbing to our powerlessness in relation to certain situations is essential in overcoming anxiety and worries. When we accept our lack of control, we can hone our ability to discern those thoughts relevant to the task at hand and selectively delegate energy only to them. This is how we fulfill our potential to its capacity rather than squander energy on what is not even within our control..
4. Are there any immediate solutions available to you?

Still struggling with whether the situation is within your control? One way of determining this is by looking at your options. If there are immediate solutions to the situation, what are they? If they require work or effort on your part, are you willing to undertake them? If there is no immediate solution, chances are your worry concerns something that has either already happened or not yet come to pass. This means there’s not a lot that can be done right now to solve it, signifying that what’s troubling you is beyond your control. The related thoughts, worries, or preoccupations are not serving you in the slightest. In fact, they’re hindering your current life by obscuring your ability to exist right now and to be part of the environment around you. Yoga teaches us to observe these thoughts and let them pass. In this situation, the best thing to do is to let it go.
5. What are you grateful for in this moment?

What do you appreciate right now? Contemplate this at any moment during the day—as you sit, stand or walk. Assess your situation, your emotional state, your physical comfort or discomfort. Observe what is. Not what was yesterday. Not what may come to pass later. Greet yourself now and give thanks to the fact that you are where you are and who you are. Walcott’s poem above is a testament to the importance of being able to sit comfortably with oneself as opposed to losing our emotions and getting caught up in worry. To nourish our our spiritual self, we must practice a mindful acceptance of what is. As in yoga, each breath is a new movement, and each movement brings a new moment. So take a deep breath and start anew.

Friday, July 15, 2016

The 5 Niyamas of Yoga

By Kelly Smith, 300 hour Bali yoga teacher training student  

According to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, written nearly 2,000 years ago, the second limb of yoga is the Niyamas. The Niyamas are daily observances that guide us to show  full and gratifying life. These observances, which include purity, contentment, self-discipline, self-study, and surrender, show us how to be fully present to life in each moment. The practice of the Niyamas is like our yoga practice—we show up every day and do our best. 

Saucha, purity, invites us to keep our bodies, minds, and thoughts clean. In yoga we use cleansing not just for the physical body but for our thoughts so that we can cultivate mindfulness. Cleansing removes residue that has built up in our lives. Perhaps you need to cleanse emotional residue by letting go of grudges or past experiences. Or maybe you would benefit from giving up mental residue by living in the moment rather than the past or future. Saucha challenges us to look at all aspects of our life where we might be carrying unnecessary burdens or building up residue and to allow ourselves to be clean and pure. 

Santosha, contentment, challenges us to be happy and content with what we have. We live in a world that is constantly telling us what we don’t have, what we should have and how we will be happier based on material things. Santosha tells us to stop looking to the outside world and instead be content with what we already have in our possession. When you look inward, you see that you already have everything that you need. To practice contentment is to practice gratitude for each and every moment, quality, and experience you have every day. 

Tapas literally means heat but also means self-discipline. The Niyama of Tapas teaches us to slowly burn away our less desirable traits such as laziness, selfishness and ego to make room for growth. When we practice Tapas we are practicing the art of self-discipline by doing things like our daily yoga practice, eating nourishing foods, and practicing compassion. When we do these things we slowly dissipate what we don’t need to better enable us to live our passion and continue our journey of growth. 

Svadhyaya, self-study, teaches us to become an observer of our bodies and minds. When I think of Svadhyaya, I think of those Russian Matryoshka—you know, those nesting dolls that consist of a series of dolls in graduated sizes hidden within one another. When you start to remove the outer layers, eventually you reach the core, which is the original doll. We need to unpack the larger copies of ourselves until we reach our core, which is our divine essence. We practice self-study through our yoga practice and our meditation practice and being mindful throughout the day as we interact with others and ourself. Do not be afraid of what you might find or see when you practice self-study and do not shut out the unpleasant parts of yourself. Just observe them. 

Ishvara Pranidhana, or surrender, is more than the practice of savanasa at the end of yoga class. To surrender is to accept the creative force behind our life, our universal consciousness, at work. Through this Niyama we are taught to meet life with courage and to accept each moment with an open heart. Surrender teaches us that there is purpose in everything and to let go of attachments. We cannot control the moment and when we acknowledge this and  let go of control we can move through life lightly. 

Thursday, July 7, 2016

The 5 Yamas of Yoga

By Kelly Smith, 300 hour Bali yoga teacher training student  

Nearly 2,000 years ago, Patanjali gave the world the Yoga Sutras. Also known as the eightfold path, the Sutras comprise eight limbs that collectively explain how to create a life of spiritual fulfillment. The first limb constitutes the Yamas, which are essentially a set of ethical standards. The Yamas are less commandments than they are reminders of the fundamental goodness of the human spirit and comprise traits that tend to come naturally to us with a dedicated practice of asana, pranayama, and meditation. The Yamas comprise Ahimsa (nonviolence), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (nonstealing), Bramacharya (nonexcess), and Apariagraha (nonpossesiveness). Though ancient, these principles still help us navigate contemporary life, almost like a moral GPS.

Ahimsa, or nonviolence, is the first Yama. It refers to embracing a peaceful manner with all living beings and forms the foundation of the Yamas as well as our entire yoga practice. As yogis, we tend to gravitate toward peaceful behavior. However, nonviolence doesn't apply exclusively to how we treat others. It also applies to how we treat ourselves. Too often we are our own worst critics, engage in negative self-talk and fail to treat ourselves with the same compassion and understanding we show to other living beings.  Ahimsa challenges us to extend that same love to ourselves.

Satya is truthfulness. This Yama goes beyond not telling lies to being honest in all aspects of life, including our thoughts and actions and not just our words. Satya is a powerful and sometimes scary act. Truth demands integrity, realness, and courage. Without truth, we will never live a real and fulfilling life. But being truly honest can be challenging. Satya asks us to look at why the truth can be so frightening. What is so scary that we decide to lie instead? Remember to not just to be honest with others, but to be honest with yourself. Do not be afraid or feel guilty about your truth. If we can find the courage to live and speak our truth then we can truly grow. Speak your mind but ground your truth in nonviolence. 

Asteya, or nonstealing, asks us to look at where in our lives we might be taking what is not rightfully ours. We can steal in many ways that aren't limited to taking an object that doesn't belong to us. Are we stealing from others by trying to be superior? Are we stealing from the earth by being wasteful? Perhaps we are stealing from ourselves because we aren’t living our lives fully? Asteya challenges us to look at all the ways we detract from our life by failing to lift others up or by selling ourselves short. When we stop these actions, we find fulfillment.

Bramacharya teaches us how to say enough is enough. This Yama is commonly translated as sexual restraint but also means restraint from any sort of unnecessary consumption in a world of excess. Bramacharya encourages us to gently reject the desire for overindulgence and to be satisfied with what we truly require in the moment. In order to achieve this, we need to become quiet, turn our gaze inward, examine our needs and find a place of just enough.  Any unspent energy can then be directed toward spiritual fulfillment. Achieving balance by taking only what we need, nothing more or less, will bring a life of clarity.

Aparigraha, or nonpossessiveness, teaches us how to let go. We live in a world that is rooted in material things. This Yama challenges us to let go of possessions and notions of “yours” and “mine" and travel through this world lightly. Aparigraha extends not only to mental and emotional attachments to objects but to loved ones, habits, and ideas. Feelings of vulnerability can surface when we let go of possessiveness, but this final Yama reminds us to live in the moment and teaches us the art of surrender in all aspects of life.