The Urban Yoga Den

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Yoga Focus: Taking Stock November 9, 2015

8 November, 2015

This week marks the Indian holiday of Diwali, which is generally known as the Indian Festival Of Lights. Yet, it signifies so much more. Most markedly, the 5-day festival celebrates the triumph of Light over Darkness by recalling the many battles won by virtuous warriors over evil demons. On a social level, it represents a time of families gathering to share sweets and sweetness, couples honoring their partnerships and siblings acknowledging their love. On a practical level, the holiday signifies a fiscal new year, when businesses start a new financial calendar, take inventory and take stock.

For me, the arrival of Diwali marks a period of taking stock in all areas of life, and, of beginning to shape intentions for the next calendar year.

Annually, from late July (my birthday) through the early Autumn (Equinox, Jewish New Year and my sobriety anniversary), I spend time reflecting on the prior year. That reverse reflection shifts into all-wheel-drive when Diwali arrives. There is something about the shift in weather that energizes me inwardly. My dreams start to spark up, my passions start to speak up. I begin taking stock of what I presently “have,” why I presently live and how I presently love. And so on. As I inventory my life, I start to look forward with deep intention. By late December (Winter Solstice and traditional New Year), I am feeling a positive pull toward productivity and manifestation.

So while most yoga studios, yoga teachers and people in general are jumping on the Gratitude bandwagon for November, I am pausing to inventory my life – so I can jump on the approaching Sankalpa train with as much discernment, clarity and resolve as possible.

***

I quit teaching yoga last week.

There were so many reasons why; and it was a long time comin’. Still, my decision was rash and reactive – a result of not being honest with myself and not holding myself to truths untold. I might blog about the decision eventually. But, for now, I’m consumed with planning my New Year’s Eve Sankalpa Vinyasa workshop.

Wait – didn’t I just say that I quit teaching yoga?

The response to my Facebook announcement was full of solidarity from friends, yoga teachers, students and studio owners who are all struggling with, questioning or strategizing against yoga’s shift away from its mindful roots. And among the post’s comments was one question: “What about New Year’s Eve?” I’ve taught my “Let Your Intentions Flow” workshop for five years in DC. Teaching that late-night session of sacred inner work not only facilitates students’ New Year “resolutions,” it fuels me with purpose. So…when my teacher, who also owns a studio, mentioned that I could hold the workshop there, I said “Yes.”

This in itself marks a huge period of Autumn-supported reflection and inventory – I may change what I offer and how I offer it. As this change brews, I’m excited to look into some dark corners and see what I might illuminate going forward.

***

Which brings me back to Diwali. Yoga has always given me permission to be authentic, my whole self. It has encouraged me to look squarely at my past, my present and my potential. It has kept me safe through dark times. It has made me curious about that darkness. And it has consistently guided me toward the light of truth.

For this week’s Diwali observance, I’m re-reading and re-posting 2012 and 2009 blogs about the holiday – my perspectives and experiences have not changed. The ideas and practices are tried and true. I hope you enjoy them.

Happy Diwali! OM Shanti.

***

November 15, 2012 – Diwali Class Featured in Huffington Post!

Photo: Rita Maximilian

Photo: Rita Maximilian

I am honored (floored, really) to be featured in this Huffington Post blog (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dawn-cherie-araujo/diwali-columbia-heights_b_2131582.html) – “Diwali Yoga in Columbia Heights,” by religion journalist Dawn Cherie Araujo – about our special yoga class last night.

As my friend Sachin notes in the article, the practice was mind-blowing.  I will not take credit for that outcome, however – it’s the result of the yoga itself, and a roomful of very strong intentions.  Heartfelt thanks to our students, from our wonderful little 8-year-old guest to the rest of the yoga veterans in the class.

Yoga is such a gift.  Love love love…  OM Shanti.

*  *  *

November 13, 2012 – Diwali’s Balance of Darkness with Light

“What is important for a movie?  Both – light to make it; darkness to show it.  The minute you learn to respect and see both sides of the coin as equally good, you can enjoy both.  It is only a matter of understanding and acceptance.  Let us have that light of understanding.  Accept things as they are.  Then, life is worth living.  The world becomes a heaven on earth for you.”
– Swami Satchidananda

In less than one hour, I’ll teach my annual Diwali-themed yoga class.  This Indian holiday is commonly known as the “Festival of Lights,” signifying the triumph of light over darkness.  Ancient history tells of a number of battles across the nation ending, with great victories over evil forces.  To welcome home the heroic warriors on the dark eve of a New Moon, villagers lit their paths with glowing oil lamps.

Hence the ongoing tradition of celebrating this particular New Moon with lamps, fireworks and other uplifting festivities.

For me, Diwali reminds me of the necessity of both darkness and light.

I used to be very, very scared of the “dark.”  The moment a hint of sadness or lowness or depression showed up, I was in action – figuratively lighting my oil lamps to brighten things up.  These days, I have found a strength in welcoming times of darkness, struggle, challenge.  Not that I like to dwell there for long – I can appreciate a rough patch and at the same time know that I must do some reflection and practice to shed light on its lesson.

So there is a balance.  Darkness and light must exist.

As for battles – I will admit that sometime my greatest battle is with myself.  Although I have come to be at peace during most of my dark times, there are still situations where my fears can get the best of me.  They can lead me into poor choices, rash decisions, intense self-protection.  But less and less.  Thankfully.

So today, my greatest victory is not when I “win a battle,” but when I surrender my fears and allow the battle to dissolve.

What are your battles?  Which have you “won?”  Celebrate them tonight!  And which have you surrendered from?  Celebrate them, too.  Recognize your victories.  If you are currently in a dark time, have hope for the triumph of light.

‘Tis the season of shortening days.  Autumn calls us to enjoy the comfort of candles, fires, warmth.  To cultivate our own light.  This very natural, womb-like, growing darkness can be an invitation to experience a balance of darkness with light, of light with darkness.  Enjoy.

Happy Diwali.

OM Shanti.

*  *  *

October 20, 2009 – Where the Wild Things Are

“You need good light to make a movie, is it not so?  And then you need good darkness in which to show it.  Isn’t that funny?”  – Swami Satchidananda, founder of Integral Yoga

I have a confession:  I’m scared of the dark.

Well, not “the dark,” as in a dark room, or a dark forest or dark places like that.  I’m afraid of the dark-ness within me.  That’s right, folks.  This Diwali-celebrating, Jewish-new-year-observing, eight-limbs-of-yoga-loving gal gets sucked into the tunnels of doubt, despair and even depression at times.

Another confession: I think sometimes I try too hard to “dissolve” that darkness.

Heaven forbid I head back to that bottom mentioned in my 9/24 “Welcome to the Urban Yoga Den” entry.  Even now, nearly 20 years later, when darkness taps at my door, I feel terrified.  My solution?  Do something.  Quick.  Light candles, exhale and let go, practice more rituals.  Do, do, do.

Y’know all this new moon/Autumn/Diwali activity that I’ve been writing about and practicing lately?  Is it healthy and positive, or is it my way of escaping the discomfort of life’s dark moments?  The fact is – life hurts sometimes.  The question is – should I run away by engaging in non-stop activity; or should I take a deep breath, stick around and see what happens?

I saw Where the Wild Things Are last night.  When I first saw the trailer back in July, I sobbed.  That kid’s pain leaped off the screen and into my chest.  And when he leaped into his fantasy world…wow…without getting into the details of my childhood, let’s just say I related big-time.  And that was only the trailer!

In the original Where the Wild Things Are storybook, it take Max 12 pages to travel from his bedroom forest to the wild things’ island.  His journey in that little sailboat lasts “through night and day and in and out of weeks and almost over a year.”  All of that time and effort to leave the past, the pain, the ickiness behind!  And in the end, where does he end up?  Where the wild things are – an island of monsters.

Seems familiar to me.  Hmmm.

How gratifying to finally see the film after so much anticipation.  Spike Jonze hit the nail on the head.  I’m getting choked up simply recalling how vividly he portrays a child’s reactions to confusion, betrayal, neglect and alienation.  How a child creates a fantasy world in order to cope.  How that child learns that, even in his imaginary kingdom, there is confusion, betrayal, neglect and alienation.

I’m that child.  I mean right now.  I’m that kid.  It’s taken a while, but I’m learning that even with the warm glow of Diwali’s lights, even with the sacred space of yoga, even with the refuge of doing, doing, doing – life happens.

Monsters will always show up – on far-off islands, at home, in loved ones and within my own self.  Where humans are involved, there will be pain.  There will also be joy.  Where reality exists, there will be darkness.  And there will also be light.

So there’s nothing to be scared of after all.

“What is important for a movie?  Both – light to make it; darkness to show it.  The minute you learn to respect and see both sides of the coin as equally good, you can enjoy both.  It is only a matter of understanding and acceptance.  Let us have that light of understanding.  Accept things as they are.  Then, life is worth living.  The world becomes a heaven on earth for you.”  – Swami Satchidananda

*  *  *

October 15, 2009 – Diwali Intentions

Sometimes I feel very emotional after teaching a particularly energized Integral Yoga class.  Tonight was one of those times.

For the months of September and October, our classes have focused on Pranayama (see Tips-n-Tools for more on our bi-monthly focus), or breathing practices.  Complemented by this week’s waning moon and the coming of Fall, our exhales have come to mean more than a mere letting go of air.  Indeed, they’ve become symbols of transformation.

So at tonight’s IY class at Past Tense Studio, under a rainy sky and just four days before the new moon, we imagined our battles, troubles and trials in the palms of our hands.  Holding our palms together at heart-center, we honored this darkness, and perhaps grew to understand it.

Next, after inhaling our fingertips toward the sky, we exhaled and allowed our arms to open wide, releasing our darkness.  With each exhale we began to dissolve what no longer serves.

The intention in the room felt so deeply human, even vulnerable.  How could one not be moved?

Today marks the opening of the Indian holy days called Diwali – from the crescent to the new moon, as that pie-in-the-sky whittles away to nothing, Hindus, Sikhs and others celebrate the proverbial triumph of good over evil within individuals.  During this Festival of Lights, as the night sky darkens to moonless, the golden glow of oil lamps fills streets and homes.

Indian folkloric tales share the journeys of historical characters returning from exile, imprisonment and battles to be welcomed by candlelit temples and rows of oil lamps.

And here in the Mid-Atlantic, as the moon disappears and the change of seasons falls upon us, we exhale in yoga class and let go, let go, let go – making room for more light within.

In Autumn, nature begins its own process of letting go.  Green grass turns dry brown, leaves turn brilliant colors then drop to the ground, blue skies surrender to misty grey and the sun sinks lower each day.  Things appear to be dying in the fall.  At the same time, gardeners plant bulbs that nestle in the ground to be nurtured by fall’s fertilizers.

‘Tis the season to say goodbye to the old, to let it die off and sink away.  So plant your bulbs and let them rest while you live each changing moment of autumn.  Light a candle, wish your darkness farewell, then let yourself glow.

I am setting a Diwali intention.  Between today and the new moon of Sunday, October 18th, as that sliver of a moon disappears, I invite you to join me in envisioning your darkness between the palms of your hands – embrace it, honor it, understand it.  Lift your fingertips to the sky, and exhale to let go, let go, let go.

May the light of truth overcome all the darkness.  OM Shanti.

(P.S.  Gratitude to Liz Workman of Nashville’s Belmont Lotus, and many others who believe that our obstacles can be teachers, for the inspiration.)

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Firm and Pleasant November 12, 2009

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings.  Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees.  The winds will blow their own freshness into you…while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.”  – John Muir

This morning a group of students and staff from Past Tense Studio (see “Services” page) went for a Yoga and Meditation Hike in Rock Creek Park.  We first walked chattily to our starting point – a bridge crossing a particularly rocky and rumbling section of the creek – then settled into our practice.

It’s not hard to do Asana in plain sight of the public eye when surrounded by the Autumn beauty of Rock Creek – a true refuge where one can completely forget the rush and trash of city life.  We opened our journey in a strong and engaged Tadaasana (see instructions below), breathing the deep three-part Deergha Swaasam breath (see “Tips-n-Tools,” Sept/Oct focus), and inviting the mind to soften into the neutral space of the present moment.

Flowing through our Sun Salutations without yoga mats, in jeans instead of yoga pants and with sneakers instead of bare feet, I felt a surprising authenticity.  Simple connections – face raised toward the warm fall sunlight, ears filled with the sound of rushing water, bare hands pressed into the cool concrete bridge – forged a humble oneness of human and nature.

For our hike, we explored our senses, one-by-one (one of my favorite styles of meditation, as many know!).  After exploring sound (crunching leaves underfoot and weepy children passing by), smell (wet earth as well as runners’ cologne), taste (indeed, I could taste fresh air) and touch/feeling (limbs swinging freely, bodies heating on the uphill climb), we paused at a peak of the trail to transition to the sense of seeing.

Taking advantage of the elevation and view, we practiced Netra Vyayamam (see instructions below), circling our open eyes around the periphery of the sockets, taking in the closest details and stretching our gaze to far off vistas.  As we walked back to the bridge, we gradually activated and enlivened each sense, reaching our starting point in full sensory awareness.  To close, we stood again in a firm Mountain Pose, and allowed the senses to soften back to neutral, releasing all effort, resting in the here and now.

Sounds like a lot of work for a walk in the woods, eh?

This balance of effort and ease is the essence of yogic living.  In the Yama and Niyama – yoga’s first two limbs – it is the skilled practice of ethical living while exercising compassion and love for our humanness.  In Pranayama, it is the healthful benefits of deliberate breathing; in Yoga Nidra, it is a conscious restfulness; in Dharana, it is concentration toward the meditative state of Dhyana.

And in Asana, it is the engaging of structure to find stillness in a pose.

In the text “Raja-Yoga,” Swami Vivekananda translates Sutra 2:46 as, “Posture is that which is firm and pleasant.”  For the months of November and December, our yoga classes, meditations and field trips (see “Services” page to join us!) will explore this fusion of effort and ease…a fusion that inevitably leads to deep, profound rest…a rest that we all need during the holiday craze.  Visiting, shopping, eating.  Family time, financial stress, physical imbalance.

Read below for tips to reach restfulness.  Try (just try) to let go of pushing, straining and reaching.  Engage as much as possible, breath the deep three-part breath, fine-tune, then surrender into stillness.

Let’s take refuge in yoga.

shavasana-3

Savaasana is the ultimate resting pose!

BI-MONTHLY FOCUS: November/December – Rest

“When you have succeeded in controlling the body and keeping it firm, your practice will be steady…  This is the only real rest you can give to the body.”  – Swami Vivekananda, “Raja-Yoga,” Sutra 2:46

Here are two exercises for practicing the balance of effort and ease, leading to rest.  Enjoy!

TADAASANA – MOUNTAIN POSE

Tadaasana is a standing pose and a foundational posture for other Asana or yoga movements.  One can apply Tadaasana’s principles of alignment to any pose.

  • To engage Tadaasana, stand tall with the arms by the sides.  Scan the body from the soles of the feet to the crown of the head.
  • Stand with the feet parallel and a little bit apart (aligned with hip bones).
  • If the knees are locked, unlock them; allow them to relax.
  • Tighten the quadriceps – the long muscle in the front of the thighs.  The knee-caps will raise, safely straightening the legs.
  • Bring the awareness to the hips, pelvis and “sit bones” (aka ischium – the two bones at the base of the buttocks).
  • Imagine the sit bones reaching down the backs of the legs toward the heels; allow the hips and pelvis to float above the legs.
  • Feel the grounded sensation in the lower half of your Mountain Pose.
  • Bring the awareness to the spine.
  • Inhale a deep three-part breath from the tailbone, through the backs of the ribs, up to the shoulder blades.
  • Exhale, release the shoulder blades toward each other and down the back.
  • Inhale, breathe into the front, sides and backs of the ribs, filling the lungs like a barrel.
  • Exhale, open and extend through the sides of the ribs.
  • On the next inhale, reach the crown of the head to the sky.
  • Exhale, close the eyes, breathe, find stillness.
  • Rest.

NETRA VYAYAMAM – EYE MOVEMENTS

Netra Vyayamam tone the optic nerve and stretch the eye muscles.  The exercises can be practiced to rest the eyes from staring at computer screens, studying, driving and so on.  When practiced outdoors, they allow the depth of focus to stretch.  Try the palming described at the very end to relieve eye strain anytime.

  • Sit (or stand in Tadaasana) with the spine long and the crown of the head reaching toward the sky.
  • Close the eyes and breathe deeply in three parts.
  • Gently open the eyes and bring the gaze to the top of the vision.
  • Begin circling the clockwise, exploring the edge of the eye socket, stretching without straining.
  • Inhale as the eyes circle from bottom to top; exhale from top to bottom.
  • After three slow, fluid repetitions, return to the top of the vision.
  • Close the eyes, center them and relax.
  • Repeat circling counter-clockwise.
  • If outdoors, explore the range of vision, from the closest objects to the farthest vistas.
  • After completing three repetitions in each direction, keep the eyes closed, and rub the palms together at the heart center.
  • Generate heat in the palms from the friction.
  • Cup the palms over the eyes and allow them to drink in the darkness and warmth.
  • Rest.
  • As the heat begins to dissipate, gently sweep the fingertips across the eyelids.
  • Gradually open the eyes.
  • Rest some more.

Please visit the “Tips-n-Tools” page for an archive of these instructions.

 

Diwali Intentions October 15, 2009

Filed under: Autumn,Diwali,India,Integral Yoga,Moon,Pranayama,Yoga — Holly Meyers @ 3:27 am
Tags: , , ,

Sometimes I feel very emotional after teaching a particularly energized Integral Yoga class.  Tonight was one of those times.

For the months of September and October, our classes have focused on Pranayama (see Tips-n-Tools for more on our bi-monthly focus), or breathing practices.  Complemented by this week’s waning moon and the coming of Fall, our exhales have come to mean more than a mere letting go of air.  Indeed, they’ve become symbols of transformation.

So at tonight’s IY class at Past Tense Studio, under a rainy sky and just four days before the new moon, we imagined our battles, troubles and trials in the palms of our hands.  Holding our palms together at heart-center, we honored this darkness, and perhaps grew to understand it.

Next, after inhaling our fingertips toward the sky, we exhaled and allowed our arms to open wide, releasing our darkness.  With each exhale we began to dissolve what no longer serves.

The intention in the room felt so deeply human, even vulnerable.  How could one not be moved?

Today marks the opening of the Indian holy days called Diwali – from the crescent to the new moon, as that pie-in-the-sky whittles away to nothing, Hindus, Sikhs and others celebrate the proverbial triumph of good over evil within individuals.  During this Festival of Lights, as the night sky darkens to moonless, the golden glow of oil lamps fills streets and homes.

Indian folkloric tales share the journeys of historical characters returning from exile, imprisonment and battles to be welcomed by candlelit temples and rows of oil lamps.

And here in the Mid-Atlantic, as the moon disappears and the change of seasons falls upon us, we exhale in yoga class and let go, let go, let go – making room for more light within.

In Autumn, nature begins its own process of letting go.  Green grass turns dry brown, leaves turn brilliant colors then drop to the ground, blue skies surrender to misty grey and the sun sinks lower each day.  Things appear to be dying in the fall.  At the same time, gardeners plant bulbs that nestle in the ground to be nurtured by fall’s fertilizers.

‘Tis the season to say goodbye to the old, to let it die off and sink away.  So plant your bulbs and let them rest while you live each changing moment of autumn.  Light a candle, wish your darkness farewell, then let yourself glow.

I am setting a Diwali intention.  Between today and the new moon of Sunday, October 18th, as that sliver of a moon disappears, I invite you to join me in envisioning your darkness between the palms of your hands – embrace it, honor it, understand it.  Lift your fingertips to the sky, and exhale to let go, let go, let go.

May the light of truth overcome all the darkness.  OM Shanti.

(P.S.  Gratitude to Liz Workman of Nashville’s Belmont Lotus, and many others who believe that our obstacles can be teachers, for the inspiration.)