by Catherine Ghosh
In yoga, one of the most important relationships we have is our relationship with our selves. This is directly connected to our relationship with divinity, as, at our core, yoga texts tell us that we are all made of the same divine substance. For this reason, our voice, and how we express it, plays a very important role in our yoga practice.
Sometimes people find it difficult to express their voices in a free, uninhibited manner that reflects their most authentic self. Then, when they feel they have, their voices may unfortunately land on unreceptive ears, leaving them feeling alone and disconnected. If people go unheard for long enough, it may injure their self-esteem and confidence.
Paul Tillich once said that the first duty of love is to listen. If we can’t even listen to each other, how will be able to truly hear sacred sounds? In yoga, sravanam, or hearing, is one of the main processes that quiets our minds and opens up our hearts to giving and receiving love. However, it’s not just a directive that applies to listening to ancient mantras, but also, to each other.
Over the centuries, it has been the voices of women, even within the yoga tradition, that have been left most unheard. Over ten years ago I began research intent on finding yoga texts written by women. The scarcity of them was disheartening to me: I came across many writings by men, but not by women. In certain instances, Indic studies scholars even expressed suspicion that men in the yoga tradition had published the realizations of women as their own. The voices of the yoginis had been eclipsed. It’s interesting to note that the female voices that did survive did so in the form of poetry.
Poetry seems to be the language of the soul. Its permissive perimeters make it the perfect vehicle through which to express spiritual experiences and journeys of the heart. It can describe places that exist outside our realm of knowledge and introduce us to new ways of perceiving reality and ourselves. Poetry acts as a doorway to the sacred, opening new ways of communicating with each other that are full of meaning and depth. For, much like music, poetry uses rhythm (among other means) to connect us with our spiritual core, and awaken our spirit.
After making these observations, and in an effort to add more female voices to the literary trail of spiritual practitioners, I began a virtual community called “Journey of the Heart” dedicated to listening to, and honoring the spiritual insights in the voices of women. Although the women who participated in the project belonged to various traditions, together they formed a kind of yogic sanga, or spiritual community in which their hearts and souls felt genuinely nourished. And the way in which they communicated with each other was through poetry.
As the community grew I received hundreds of heartfelt poems from all over the world that communicated dimensions and aspects of the sacred. The poems also created a dialogue with each other, that the women felt safe and comfortable participating in. The space we created together was a judgment-free zone in which insecurities were shed and voices were honored. Setting all pretenses aside, we spontaneously became each other’s friends, sisters, guides and inspirations. Something truly magical began to happen! The women participating began to feel more connected to their sacred core through the writing and sharing of their poems. This is the yoga of poetry.
Two years later the participants in the project asked me to gather their poems into a book. And so in August of 2014, we published “Journey of the Heart: An Anthology of Spiritual Poetry by Women”. To me, the book is evidence that yoga is being practiced all around the world, in all kinds of ways, as human hearts open themselves up to everything that touches them in life, as holding the potential to connect us with the sacred, if only we let it. For something as simple as the writing and sharing of a heartfelt poem can open our hearts, making them more receptive to sacred life all around us, and within us. Making us more open to yoga.
Whether it’s as a means to express your yoga journey, or whether it’s as the inspiration you receive from reading the poems of others, poetry is a wonderful tool to deepen our absorption in yoga. I invite you all to incorporate poetry in your yoga practice, and find your own heart in the pages of our new book, as we explore the themes of muses, nature, light, darkness, transformation, relationships, sisterhood and divinity: some of the main arenas sensitive souls frequent as they tether their lives to the sacred.
Catherine Ghosh is an artist, writer, mother of two sons and editor of Journey of the Heart: An Anthology of Spiritual Poetry by Women (Balboa Press, 2014). As a practitioner of bhakti yoga since 1986, she is co-founder of The Secret Yoga Institute with author and teacher Graham M. Schweig, Ph.D., her life partner. Catherine has been a contributing editor for Integral Yoga Magazine, and is a regular columnist for Mantra, Yoga + Health Magazine. She is passionate about inspiring women to share their spiritual insights and honor their valuable voices. You may connect with her on FaceBook, or email her at email@example.com A lover of nature, she divides her time between her two homes in Northern Florida and Southern Virginia. Check out Catherine’s book here: http://womensspiritualpoetry.weebly.com/the-book.html
By Jennifer Carter Avgerinos
When I first came to yoga, it was as a means of escape. Escape from the pressures of my life, escape from my mental chatter, and escape from sitting at a computer or in meetings all day. It wasn’t a means of spiritual practice at the time; it just helped me balance out my life in the corporate world. The classes that I encountered or perhaps were drawn to early on were more ambient and womb-like. I wanted to zone out for an hour while listening to the latest Buddha Bar soundtrack in a candle-lit room. I was drawn to the classes that were for the otherwise unathletic.
Later, as I gained flexibility and strength, I became more adventurous. I wanted to learn more about the history and philosophy of yoga. I just knew that what I was experiencing in a one hour class once or twice a week was just the tip of the ice berg and I wanted to be in on the rest of the secret. At the time, I actually had no inclination to ever teach, but I went on to get my 200 hour training and have taken several other trainings since then. These experiences have been some of the best in my life so far.
As time has passed, I have noticed that the class offerings have become more ridiculous – hot yoga, horseback yoga, paddle board yoga, naked yoga. I’m not judging, I’m just saying.. I strive to ride the waves of external circumstance instead of fighting them. I dropped into a class once while visiting my family out of state and was told by the instructor that my palms should always be touching in hands to sky pose or it wasn’t being done correctly. Really, who says? Isn’t the point of all this just to find a little mental peace and perhaps a little personal freedom? When someone says such a way of yoga is the right way, or (even worse) the only way, that’s a big giant red flag that you should not be practicing with that teacher. Your yoga should be—must be—the yoga that’s right for you, and sometimes, the best way to find out what that is is to just try out everything.
Brace yourself for the real shocker: the teachers teaching your classes are quirky, deeply flawed, and maybe even a little crazy. That’s why so many of us got into yoga in the first place – because life seemed impossible without it. I popped into a yoga class at my gym just last week and the teacher set up her mat at the side of the room instead of the front of the room and proceeded to spray water on a yoga mat sized towel covering her yoga mat. I’m not quite sure what that was all about, and for some reason she chooses not to play music in her classes but the experience was delightful despite the lack of ambiance.
My personal path has been, and continues to be, organic, messy, uncertain… and outstanding. One of the biggest factors was listening to my heart, even when that voice was small. There’s such an inner knowing that we all have, even when we can’t quite articulate the idea, we can feel it. My advice is something called kaizen – a Japanese word that has come to represent the process of making continuous, tiny changes to move forward. This philosophy has benefited me greatly both in the corporate world and in my yoga practice.
While it is true that the original yogis did not practice with such things as yoga mats or yoga blocks, we modern yogis love to buy yoga gear and we’ll take all the help we can get. Why struggle when you can be supported. Am I right? Personally, I keep a couple of yoga blocks under my desk to place my feet on and help bring my knees into alignment with my hips. I have found over the years that using a yoga block or two will help students feel more comfortable with trying new poses and they have also helped me to go deeper into my own practice at times. Occasionally, it is nice to make the practice of yoga more restorative or supported and a yoga block can offer great assistance. Easily available, lightweight and affordable, a yoga block can be a great tool for any practice. The following photos demonstrate some of my favorite things to do with a yoga block or two..
1. Standing Posture Improver - In my new book The Yoga of Cleaning: An Essential Guide, I talk about spiritualizing your cleaning routine and creating sacred space in the context of yoga and its sister philosophies - Ayurveda and Vastu. What better way to connect your yoga practice with mundane household chores than working on your posture while washing dishes, folding laundry or dusting. Try using a yoga block in Tadasana or Standing Mountain Pose.
Instructions: Place a yoga block between your legs and grip it with your thighs. This action will tilt the pelvis down and lengthen and realign the spine.
Creating an altar is a great way to intentionally create sacred space in your home. Altars are intended to act as a catalyst for shifting thoughts and energy from a lower vibration reality to the higher vibrations of the spiritual realm. There is no specific blueprint for constructing an altar. I have several altars in my home and one on my desk at work to help balance out unseen electromagnetic energy created by computers, cell phones and wireless frequencies that can affect your physiology.
The image of the altar above resides in my bedroom, right next to my bed. I sit up in bed and meditate every morning and the items that I have selected for my altar space help me feel more present to all that is divine. The scarf is a souvenir from a spiritual sabbatical and it reminds me of a special time in my life. The statue of the Hindu Goddess Lakshmi reminds me to be abundant and prosperous in all that I do as her name literally means “goal”. Her lotus seat reminds me that I should enjoy living in this world but not become obsessed with it. Her four hands represent the four ends of human life: dharma (righteousness), karma (genuine desires), artha (wealth), and moksha (emotional freedom). She also reminds me to be beautiful, generous and graceful in thought, word and deed.
You can create your own special altar in your home by following these steps:
1. Select a place for your altar. Select a space that you will see regularly to remind you of all the things that you love and honor.
2. Select items to place on you altar. Select items from nature, sacred images, books, statues, candles, bells, pictures of love ones or anything that resonates with you. Change it up when you feel that you have achieved a goal or when inspiration sparks.
3. Dedicate your altar to a goal or intention and meditate or pray near it whenever you can. This will elevate the energy of items that you have assembled and the entire space in general.
It has been said that when we create an altar we recollect the scattered pieces of ourselves. No matter what you choose to place on your altar, make it your own.
Do you have a Wish Board in your home or office? These are also often referred to as Vision Boards. Oprah calls this a "Life Map." My board contains pictures of people, places and ideas that I love. These images carry the energy of ideas or concepts that I wish to manifest into my life and into the world. I look at them every day when sitting at my desk. I look at them all day long and I let the energy of their presence surround me.
The drawing on the right was given to me by a 5yr. old yoga student. I didn't even tell her it was my birthday, she just knew. That's why I cherish it so much. It was like the universe wished me a happy birthday through that beautiful child. That, and the fact that I look so skinny.. Plus, I love pink and green. The universe always gets it right..
Cut out pictures of things that you love and display them in your space and see what happens. Over time, I have had to update my Wish Board with new images and ideas as old ones come into manifestation.. It's very cool.
How to Create Your Wish Board:
Gather magazines, catalogs, images of icons, spiritual guides or anything that inspires you or makes you happy. This can also include words, phrases and quotes that inspire your life.
Cut out and place all of your words and images on a large board in an way that feels right to you.
Review your Board every day and feel the feelings of having everything in your life that you have visioned on your board. Start to make room in your life for these new creations to appear.
Ruling on Encinitas Yoga Trial Is In: Yoga Not Religious, OK for Public Schools
Posted by YD × July 1, 2013 at 1:12 pm
Hear ye! Hear ye! Big news out of California.
The ruling on the yoga trial in Encinitas has been announced. Judge John Meyer ruled that the yoga classes are not religious and can continue in the school district. It’s a win for yoga! And for kids.*
The lawsuit, filed by conservative parents concerned about the “inherent” religiousness of yoga classes offered in the Encinitas school district, and the consequent trial was the first of its kind, bringing the debate on yoga and religion to the San Diego Superior courtroom. The ruling essentially declares yoga OK for public school children and could set a precedent for future cases as yoga continues to grow and expand to kids big and small.
The yoga program is being funded by a $533,000 grant from the K.P. Jois Foundation and is based in Ashtanga (naturally). The non-profit is conducting a three-year study on the effects of yoga on school kids.
Antibacterial / Antifungal
Spray Cleaning Instructions:
1. Spray your yoga mat cleaner liberally over the surface of your mat. If your mat seems especially dirty, let the cleanser sit and soak in a bit before cleaning it off.
2. Wipe the yoga mat with a microfiber cloth. Now repeat on the other side.
3. Allow your mat to air dry, which should take only about 5 to 10 minutes. If it takes longer than this, try rubbing your mat down more with a dry microfiber cloth to remove the excess water and speed up the drying time.
The rabbit, or the Sasangasana, is an inverted yoga pose that provides excellent traction on your back, shoulders and upper extremities. As you turn your body in an inward position, your back will have a good stretch followed by elongation of your spine. With the spine properly lengthened, the circulation of your blood will improve, allowing your nervous system to receive its proper nutrition.The placement of your upper torso helps relieve pressure from your back and shoulders all the way up to your neck and head. It also balances your hormones, stimulates your thyroid gland and improves your immune capacity. For people suffering from sinusitis, colds or congestion, tonsillitis, laryngitis, upper airway allergies and glandular problems, this position is the best way to find relief.
1. Begin in a child's yoga position--kneel down and then lower your buttocks to sit on your lower leg and feet. With your arms on the sides, lower your torso on your thighs, as you bring your head down on the floor. From this position, you can start the rabbit pose.
2. Press your forehead slightly on your knees. Then, extend your arms backward and hold on to the base of your feet. Give your heels a firm hold and then take a deep breath.
3. Exhale as you gradually lift or elevate your hips. Keep your forehead as close as possible to your knees and the topmost part of your skull (crown of the head) near the floor or mat.
4. Contract your abdominal muscles as you hold the pose for 5 to 8 seconds, then relax.
NYU Steinhardt Research: Yoga Boosts Socialization, Mind-Body Connection, and Focus Among Autistic Students
October 10, 2012
Step one: Mats out. Step two: breathe deep. Step three: assume poses. Step four: tense and relax muscles. Step five: sing.
According to a study by NYU Steinhardt researcher, Kristie Koenig, these five steps, 17 minutes a day, five days a week, for 16 weeks, resulted in a significant decrease in aggressive behavior, social withdrawal, and hyperactivity for Autistic students attending District 75’s P.S. 176X in the Bronx. The school serves the largest population of students on the Autism Spectrum in the nation.
“We found that teachers’ ratings of students who participated in the daily yoga routine showed improved behavior compared with teachers’ ratings of students who did not,” said Koenig, assistant professor of occupational therapy. “Our aim in this research was to examine the effectiveness of an occupational therapy yoga intervention. Our research indicates that a manualized systemic yoga program, implemented on a daily basis, can be brought to public school classrooms as an option for improving classroom behavior.”
“Get Ready to Learn,” (GRTL) the intervention program used in the study, was designed by occupational therapist and yoga instructor Anne Buckley-Reen in 2008, in collaboration with Barbara Joseph, District 75 deputy superintendent. District 75 is the nation’s largest special education district in an urban public school system. GRTL uses yoga postures, breathing, and relaxation techniques to help energize, organize and calm ASD students. It helps prepare students mentally and physically for the day’s lessons.
“GRTL gets children out of the stressed state and prepares their brains and bodies to learn,” Reen explained. “Children with Autism often exhibit characteristics of ‘fight-or-flight’ response. They are in a constant state of stress and struggle with staying calm, trying to concentrate, communicating clearly, or even controlling their movements. Many students with ASD and other challenges have missed critical developmental stages which impact body awareness and perception of self. How can we expect these students to connect to others, if they are not connected to themselves? GRTL provides opportunities to make and strengthen these mind-body connections.”
With GRTL training supported by both the district and participating school, teachers led the daily routine that includes eight minutes of varied postures, three minutes of weight-bearing poses, three minutes of deep breathing to help reduce stress, three minutes of muscle tension and release, and concludes with a circle of song.
“This circle of song creates a vibrating of the lungs which helps students to find their voice and contribute to classroom harmony,” said Reen. “We sing the name of the students in back and forth exchanges. This encourages engagement from all students, even those with limited speech.”
GRTL is currently being implemented in more than 500 classrooms in District 75 across the city of New York with students ages five through 21 with significant disabilities. It is also in typical classrooms in Arizona, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and Vermont.
“This research points to new ways that can help students self-regulate their behavior for longer periods of time. This type of daily programming provides them with a foundation for function so they can focus and attend for longer periods of time. This is one way they are able to learn effectively,” said Joseph. “Programs like this can enhance communication and socialization skills. Parents have seen changes in their children at home. They tell us they have seen improvement in their children’s speech, communication, and behavior.”
The study, conducted by Koenig, Reen, and NYU Steinhardt doctoral student Satvika Garg, is titled “Efficacy of the Get Ready to Learn Yoga Program Among Children with ASD: A Pretest-Posttest Control Group Design.” It was recently published in the September/October 2012 issue of The American Journal of Occupational Therapy.
To learn more about the NYU Steinhardt Department of Occupational Therapy, visit: http://steinhardt.nyu.edu/ot/
About the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development
Located in the heart of Greenwich Village, NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development prepares students for careers in the arts, education, health, media, and psychology. Since its founding in 1890, the Steinhardt School's mission has been to explore the human experience through public service, global collaboration, research, scholarship, and practice. To learn more about NYU Steinhardt, visit: http://steinhardt.nyu.edu
"Awakening to who we really are is at the heart of yoga. . . .Yoga offers a path to this underlying field of being, which is the source of creativity, fulfillment, and abundance.” ~David Simon
September is National Yoga Month, and we are focusing on using yoga as our vehicle to journey within and expand ourselves with new experiences. Cultivating a daily yoga practice allows us to explore our inner world every time we step on the mat, creating a deeper connection with our bodies as well as with our mind and spirit. Yoga puts us in touch with our essential nature. As the spiritual Law of Pure Potentiality states, our true self is pure awareness and unbounded potential.
By cultivating body-centered restful awareness during yoga class, we are able to access this field of pure potentiality. By being mindful of our breath with each movement, we turn our attention to the stillness and silence within . . . opening to expanded layers of our deepest self.
The Law of Pure Potentiality resonates with the seventh chakra, located at the crown of our head. Learn more about chakras here. One of the ways to enliven the seventh chakra is by practicing headstands. Doing a headstand activates our potential to grow into something new or to explore something fresh.
Watch the following video for inspiration.
*Not all exercise is suitable for everyone and this or any exercise program may result in injury. Consult your physician before beginning a new exercise program. The Chopra Center for Wellbeing disclaims any liability and assumes no responsibility for injuries suffered while practicing the techniques in the above video.
“When you discover your essential nature and know who you really are, in that knowing itself is the ability to fulfill any dreams you have, because you are the eternal possibility, the immeasurable potential of all that was, is, and will be.” ~Deepak Chopra
More ways to experience the Law of Pure Potentiality in your yoga practice:
• Accept and embrace your body as it is now, while at the same time expanding the limits of what your body can do and where it can take you.
• Experience the peace of pure awareness by cultivating a state of mindful witnessing. Tune into the present moment and notice how your body responds as you practice familiar poses and try new ones.
• Relinquishing the need to judge your ability. Self-acceptance is the source and goal of yoga.
• Tap into the field of pure potentiality by remembering that you are a wave of individuality arising from the unbounded ocean. When you look within, the memory of wholeness is rekindled and you know that you are unbounded, infinite, and eternal.