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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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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Nothing

While celibacy seemed extreme for the previous Yama,  our very last one, Aparigraha, may just seem impossible. Simply put, do not be attached to anything.

In its simplest form, it asks us to not be greedy. This sutra is sometimes translated as non-hoarding or non-greed, but perhaps its most common translation is non-attachment. In a more profound sense, it’s instructing us to let go of our attachment to everything. And be okay with it.

Your stuff, your pets, your children, your thoughts, your beliefs, even your body.

Let’s unpack these.
  • STUFF: Not being greedy with things seems quite doable and even noble. Take only what you need. Right Now. Not for someday. How many ‘things’ do you have that you just might need someday? At its core, Aparigraha is asking you to consider that those things you’re holding onto may be able to serve someone else right now. Do you really plan to wear your high school jeans again or take up origami?
  • PETS: Aren’t pets the best teachers for letting go? Their lifespans are so much shorter than ours and nearly everyone has experienced the heart-wrenching loss of a beloved pet. They teach us unconditional love and trust, making our bond with them even stronger and causing their loss to feel even more profound. Yet, we have to let go.
  • PEOPLE: This one feels ridiculous. Don’t get attached to my children? My parents? My spouse? Perhaps this is best viewed through the lens of allowing rather than letting go. We bring into our lives those who have the most to teach us about ourselves, which presents us with challenges almost daily. Allowing the other person to be who they are, quirks and all, is a form of non-attachment. We are not seeking to change them, or control them. We love them deeply, and we allow them to be who they are, thereby allowing them to grow into who they are meant to be.
  • THOUGHTS AND BELIEFS: We understand more and more how much our thoughts create our reality. Perhaps this would be the best place to begin practicing non-attachment. Not letting go of thoughts, necessarily, but watching them with curiosity and a little space. Wondering where that thought or belief came from. Considering the beliefs of others. And, perhaps the best work we can do here, is letting go of expectations. Yogi Amrit Desai is known to say, “The only problem we have is wanting things to be different than the way they are.” Plan, set goals, work toward those goals, but let go of the outcome. Allowing it to evolve organically will likely bring more rewards than forcing it to be what you imagined.
  • BODY: How does one not attach to their physical form, yet remain alive? This aspect of Aparigraha is the depth of non-attachment. Trust the process of birth, life, death, rebirth. The body already dies on a regular basis, organs replace themselves over time, wounds heal, the breath is life and death itself. Loving the body without attachment allows you, the passenger, to make sound decisions about its health and well-being. The body will decay and die. This is not news. You are consciousness and that can never be destroyed. Your energy is eternal. Know, on a soul level, that you are consciousness itself so YOU can never be destroyed. Bruce Lipton, Ph.D., a cell biologist has a really beautiful analogy for consciousness and death in his book, The Biology of Belief. He compares the human body to a television set. And you to a program on television. When the TV ‘dies,’ the program does not.


Practicing Aparigraha is a life-long endeavor, much like yoga itself. Step by step, we can begin by letting go of some physical stuff, purging, donating objects that would better serve someone else. Then, we can let go of our attachments to certain ideas or beliefs, allowing for the ideas and opinions of others. Maybe we let go of expectation and anticipation, greatly reducing our personal stress. Then the bigger stuff won’t seem so overwhelming. Practicing non-attachment is truly liberating. When we let go of attachments, we lay ourselves wide open to receive the abundance that is always available to us.

 

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Your Baby is Ugly

“Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?” - Sufi saying Satya invites us to walk the slippery slope between cold, hard facts and a softer, gentler version of the truth, but it is always asking us not to lie. Instead it is asking us to live with integrity. Is what we are saying, and how we are saying it, in alignment with our higher consciousness? Read More

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Yoga Is For Everybody

Every day the phone rings at a yoga studio with someone stating, “My doctor recommended I try yoga.” Others will declare “I’m old, I’m overweight, I have arthritis, I have fibromyalgia, I can’t balance, I’m not flexible.” Many of these excuses wrapped in inquiry are from those afraid to try yoga. They’ve seen the cover of a yoga magazine or book in which the yoga practitioner is contorted, beautiful, 23, thin and smiling like this is how she wakes up. Yes, that yoga is available. No, that’s not all there is. Read More

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One Sturdy Tree

The practice of yoga is an eight-limbed approach with roots dating back nearly 5,000 years. It is a complete holistic set of guidelines for living a joyful, healthy life. And you thought it was just about bending and twisting. An oral tradition beginning in India, yoga was finally codified in Read More

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First, Do No Harm

You may recognize this to be the first line of the Hippocratic Oath. While the sentiment is in the actual oath, this line is not. BUT it is absolutely the first vow of yoga: Ahimsa. It seems like a no brainer. None of us sets out to do harm – at least, we don’t think we do. It’s completely obvious that we should not kill each other or smack people because we don’t like what they have to say. But this Yama goes farther and deeper than that. This is about equanimity. The good news is this; it is always there within you, always has been, always will be. We, as humans, have piled a lot of beliefs, ego and righteousness on top of our compassionate kindness. Read More

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