Making the Shift

by Ashley Inguanta

Once a wise friend of mine said, “When you heal yourself, you help heal the world.” Yes, it all starts from within. When we transform individually, so does the world. We are parts of a whole, and that’s beautiful. Everyone has an individual life narrative, a life story, and this narrative can be your best friend or your worst enemy. Sometimes our stories can hold us back, can cause us to be stuck; but other times, our narratives can help us feel empowered. It all depends upon your perspective. The good news? Your heart—that deep place inside of you that longs to be understood and heard and loved—wants you to make that shift towards empowerment and authenticity.

When we study the ancient practice of yoga—union—we do not only study asana, but we study other elements of yoga philosophy: the guṇas, for example. When we lead with the guṇa of sattva, or beingness and wisdom, we learn to spend time with that deep place inside of ourselves. Some people call this place the soul, or puruṣa; others call it “the true self.” By practicing yoga, we learn that accessing this space does not have to be a struggle.

When we write our narratives with sattva, we learn to love our stories, to feel compassion towards our stories. The more we express compassion towards ourselves, the deeper we will heal.

May the concluding lines of Mary Oliver’s poem “The Journey” rest within your heart, inspiring you to dive into a profound writing and yoga practice.

 

But little by little,

as you left their voices behind,

the stars began to burn

through the sheets of clouds,

and there was a new voice

which you slowly

recognized as your own,

that kept you company

as you strode deeper and deeper

into the world,

determined to do

the only thing you could do--

determined to save

the only life you could save.

 

 

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Child Development Through Yoga

Why Yoga for Children?

I began teaching Yoga to kids in the summer of 2009.  Earlier in the year I had a breakthrough moment on my mat.  It was as if everything I had experienced from childhood to that moment came together.  Almost immediately I wished that I could have learned at an earlier point in my life, as a kid even, what Yoga clearly mapped out about the human being. In an instant, I imagined how the years prior to this breakthrough moment could have been easier and more joyful, inspiring me to become a Kid’s Yoga Teacher.

The rich, powerful wisdom of the classic Yogic philosophy can easily be applied to children’s Yoga in a fun way.  We use imaginative games, songs, and stories to get moving and to deeply relax.  This play-based approach incorporates all of the essential parts of Yoga: proper exercise, proper breathing, proper relaxation, proper diet, positive thinking and meditation.  Development of motor skills, increased body awareness, empathy and ability to express feelings, and the peacefulness that comes from the practice of Yoga are all available to children!

 What is Yoga?

The word Yoga means to yoke, or tether together.  Through the practice of Yoga you integrate the physical, mental/emotional, and spiritual elements of your life.  To me, Yoga is like a life map to awareness of the connectedness of those elements in yourself, which in turn fosters the consciousness of the unity of everything in the universe. 

The Eight Limbs of Yoga

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the most well known ancient Yogic text, maps out the 8 Limbed Path of Yoga.  We use the Sutras as a basis for our classes.  It begins by explaining that keeping the mind undisturbed is Yoga. How?
  • The first limb, Yama, teaches five abstentions, or “bad habits” that we as Yogis abstain from: violence, lying, theft, gluttony, and greed.
  • The second limb, Niyama, teaches the five precepts.  These are our natural state when we abstain from bad habits.  They are five good habits: purity, contentment, self-discipline, self-directed learning, and devotion.
  • The third limb, Asana, is how Yoga begins to improve and develop the physical body.  Asana are the poses and they are just 1/8 of Yoga!
  • Once you are in touch with your body and gain awareness of and control over your limbs, the fourth limb, Pranayama, is introduced.  Breathing exercises help with gaining awareness and eventual control of your energy for more vitality.
  • The fifth limb, Pratyahara, is the practice of internal focus.  The purpose is emotional rest.
  • The sixth limb, Dharana, is concentrating the mind on one thing such as an image or word, in order to increase spiritual strength.
  • The seventh limb is Dhyana, or meditation.  Practicing mediation will help prevent disruptive thoughts, which upset concentration.
  • The eighth limb, Samadhi, culminates in true knowledge or enlightenment… an awakening of sorts to your unity with the universe and God.
As you see, the science of Yoga acknowledges and supports development at all levels of the child.  As a child, I had that innate drive to search for the truth of what I’d heard about oneness, which I suppose is what led me to Yoga to begin with.  I have a feeling that potentially all kids have that little spark of desire to find the freedom that comes from realizing your true nature.

During Kid’s Yoga classes we come together in a non-competitive environment and enjoy our time as we build a solid foundation for life.  The classes give the kids the vocabulary to discover and describe new things about themselves.  They feel more calm and able to move gracefully and skillfully along life’s ups and downs.  They are able to practice knowing that they are much more than what they have or don’t have, and that there is always a peaceful place inside themselves where they can retreat when life gets intense.   Yoga teaches how to be well and enjoy the gift of life.  I would love to have the opportunity to share what I’ve learned through Yoga with your child.

Margo Tafuri Champion teaches yoga to children at Orlando area elementary schools, churches and Red Sun Yoga. In addition she teaches many adult classes and workshops.She is currently teaching four classes each week at Red Sun Yoga.



 



 

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Burn Baby Burn


by Allison Andersen, E-RTY 500

Midway through the Niyamas we encounter Tapas. In this context it is not a small portion or appetizer as you may have hoped, but a Sanskrit word with several translations depending on the source you consult.
  • To burn: This is considered the literal translation and refers to burning off impurities during your physical practice at its most basic; and burning off karmic seeds at its most esoteric. Either way the act is a purification. The Bhagavad-Gita refers to it as the purifying flame that is ignited to help burn off what is necessary in body, mind and speech.
  • Discipline: Perhaps the most accessible description, it refers to disciplining the mind, the body and the many aspects of life.
  • Living with zeal and sincerity: This interpretation by Nischala Joy Devi leads us back to discipline in gentler way.
For many, this one seems easy. Just do yoga every day. Come to your mat, move through the postures and check it off your list. But, as you may have guessed, its more than that. Yes, come to your mat, but bring with you clear and constant attention to each movement, each breath and each decision to go deeper or back off.

For others, discipline is something to be fought; structure the ultimate jailer of freedom.

But it is that very structure that provides the ultimate liberation. It sounds counterintuitive, but consider how much time you spend planning, hoping, dreaming, thinking about all you want to do, have or be. You know, procrastinating. Or, if you prefer, wasting time, which is really the opposite of freedom.

Cultivating discipline – and it is an art to be worked – ironically takes, well, discipline. It can begin half-hearted and with baby steps. You can drag your feet and whine, huffing and puffing all the way to your mat. But you’re going. Your practice can begin completely without sincerity or an ounce of earnestness. You are being made to go. It wasn’t your idea, after all.

And then you go the next day and the next. And it’s not so bad. So you keep going. Then oddly enough you begin to look forward to it. And then you skip a day – you deserve it. And then another day. Before you know it your mat is stuffed deep in your psychic closet buried behind all the more important things you have to do first. Like plan stuff.

This is the process. Habits are strong and somehow the habits that benefit us the least often win. Go back to your mat. Create a new habit.

And so you return. It is in the returning that the true practice is established. You have learned something about yourself that warrants a closer look and often that can be found on your mat.

But it is not the physical practice alone that creates the burgeoning sense of peace, nor is it just the postures that require discipline. It is setting it first in the mind, making the decision – maybe even fighting the decision – but doing it anyway. You are creating a new habit of self-care.

And ultimately of liberation.

Helpful Hint: For those who don’t naturally bound out of bed at first light and run to their mat: practice with others, go to a studio and be led by a professional. It’s easy to phone in a home practice, less so in a group whose intention is shared.

“Living life with zeal and sincerity, the purifying flame is ignited, revealing the inner light.” – Nischala Joy Devi


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Yoga Nidra is Magic

 
by Allison Andersen

How else can you explain a process that involves nothing more than lying down, closing your eyes and remaining still for 20-40 minutes and coming out the other side a completely changed person? Someone is talking to you and saying nice things, like relax this part of the body or that part, maybe taking you on a pleasant journey or maybe just giving you that tiny bit of silence you need. Then after it all, when they let you know you can begin to move a little, when it feels like it’s been 5 minutes? You somehow come out of it still, relaxed and energized all at once. There’s a sense of clarity and calmness. There’s no urgency to get back to anything. You feel grounded yet connected to something so much bigger than yourself, you know stuff now. If that’s not magic, I don’t know what is.

I came to Yoga Nidra through the practice of yoga. After taking my first official yoga class at Omega in New York, I was hooked. We stretched and rolled around and did a few postures, but the icing on the cake? Savasana. What was that? And why did lying still for a few minutes then seem so profoundly different than say, a little cat nap on the couch?

Fast forward a few years and I’m in Yoga Teacher Training. The instructor is calling that time spent in savasana, yoga nidra. It has an official name, so naturally it’s important. She didn’t explain much about it, but now that I knew the name I could investigate on my own.

Then a few months after I graduated, as a newly minted teacher, I was talking to a student about my affection for yoga nidra. She said, “There’s a guy in the Ocala National Forest – kind of a big deal – that does Yoga Nidra weekends.” Who? What’s the name of the place? Where in the forest? There’s a whole weekend dedicated to yoga nidra?

All praise to Google search. Yoga Nidra + Ocala National Forest netted me the result I wanted on the first page. There was a 10-day immersion and certification coming up in just about a month. I signed up. Sometimes that happens, it’s as if it can be no other way, you just know it’s the right time to do it.

In those 10 days I spent in the presence of Yogi Amrit Desai at the Amrit Yoga Institute in Salt Springs, Florida I morphed from someone who needed answers to someone who found them all inside once I stopped looking. Crazy, right?

Turns out I was asking all the wrong questions.

Throughout this 10-day transformation we were given no less than two yoga nidras per day. About 30 minutes of guided meditation. There is an energetic elegance that begins to unravel fear and doubt with each nidra. Without even knowing or realizing what is happening, old beliefs and patterns that were unproductive and unnecessary simply went away.

After 10 days in the magical forest I drove myself home – I am still unsure how. I remember chanting with the radio off and scanning the forest for critters. I got home picked up my doggies and took the most productive nap of my lifetime. Later at the studio more than two people told me I looked younger and clearer. I had NO stress. If someone needed something I took care of it while they waited. The old me would have internally seized up as I added it to an ever growing to do list. I was scrubbed clean.

In the years since this thorough washing I have let go of the practice from time to time. Life and all that. But it always comes back, because the slipping away of peace is tangible to me now. I feel all the stuff begin to stick to me again. The to-dos and urgency and old habit patterns sneaking back in. I see it. Then I reconnect to my practice and I feel lighter.

How does this happen? The relaxation is so profound that the body begins to right itself, energetically and often physically coming back into alignment. With stress released, the brain is no longer in fight or flight, tension drops and calmness takes over. There’s so much more. And it’s all fascinating, but the bottom line is, it is a non-doing practice. It couldn’t be more simple to release stress. Never in my life have I accomplished so much by doing nothing.

Yoga Nidra is the magic, but somewhere deep inside of you is the magician.

Allison Andersen is one of three owners of Red Sun Yoga. She has been practicing and teaching yoga for over seven years and credits yoga nidra as a game changer. You can read more of her work at AllisonsWanderland.com and Elephant Journal.
 


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