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Guest Blog for Quiet Mind Yoga – 2012 Intention: There is No “On” or “Off” the Mat February 2, 2012

Guest Blog for Quiet Mind Yoga (Reprinted by permission)

2012 Intention: There is No “On” or “Off” the Mat

Life’s ironies are entertaining, no?

At the beginning of each class, I invite students to set an intention for their practice. “This ‘Sankalpa’ is a positive reflection, affirmation or dedication that brings purpose to your time on the mat,” I say. At the end of each class, I encourage students to live their Sankalpa in everyday life. “Make a gentle intention to carry this purpose off your mat and into the rest of your day.”

As a DC-area Community Builder for nonprofit Off the Mat, Into the World, I use “yoga off the mat” terminology frequently. To be frank, however, I am not comfortable with the idea of dividing my yoga practice into two separate entities – “On” or “Off” the mat.

To me, yoga is life, and life is yoga.

It wasn’t always this way. In the early 90s, my messy life was emotionally painful. Yoga was something I did to feel better. I didn’t think about how the practice might affect me after class – much less how it might affect the world around me. My 1st style was Kundalini (funny thing – there are no mats in Kundalini yoga!). Although I may not have realized it then, our closing song planted a seed about yoga’s potential beyond the room where I was practicing: “May the long-time sun shine upon you, all love surround you, and the pure light within you guide your way on.”

Around 1999, I started practicing Hatha yoga and the teacher’s closing dedication said, “May our bodies and minds be healthy, may our thoughts be filled with love. May our practice be free of obstacles, and may we carry its benefits into the world.” This same teacher talked about yoga’s Eight Limbs, which I understood as a process of growth from intention, through action, and to manifestation. That seed planted in the early 90s? It started to sprout conscientiousness about my responsibility to somehow share the gifts that I had so generously received from this healing practice.

In November 2008, I completed my Yoga Teacher Training at an Ashram, where for four weeks we were immersed in yoga – everything we did with our bodies, hearts and minds came from ancient origins. The trainers’ primary advice as we ran off into the wild blue yonder of teaching yoga? “Be a yogi.” And the seed grew into a tree whose cycle of life would organically nurture its own needs and nourish the earth from which it came.

At my very 1st teacher meeting at my very 1st yoga studio job, we were asked to introduce ourselves, describe our yoga style, and then say what we do “off the mat.” In other words – what do we do in our non-yoga life? I was stumped. Because it’s all yoga – whether I’m practicing flexibility in a studio or with co-workers…whether I’m practicing balance in a pose or in planning my commitments…whether I’m practicing compassion for my own pain or for unhappy people around my neighborhood…or whether I’m practicing presence in my breathing or with a loved one.

So my 2012 yoga intention is to nourish the roots that stem from my early days of practice, and re-commit to living yoga day-in and day-out. No mat required.

 

Bi-Monthly Focus: July/August – Why Yoga? August 10, 2010

Filed under: Chakra,Health,Kundalini Yoga,Wellness,Yoga — Holly Meyers @ 3:03 am
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In the Spring of 1993 I attended my first yoga class. I was living in New Orleans and hitting an emotional bottom.  Nothing in life made sense anymore.  Someone suggested yoga.

I arrived at a candlelit basement and felt a little scared.  It was dark and I didn’t know anyone.  But I surrendered to the experience, which I can barely recall.  What do I remember?  Crying. Whatever that lady told us to do, it struck an emotional chord and I melted into a puddle on her basement floor.  I knew something inside of me was shifting.  After class, I left with my head down, spoke to no one, and never returned.

Later that same month, some musician friends from DC came through town to play a concert.  That evening, I spent most of my time chatting with the bass player about – of all things – yoga.  I told him about my first experience and he related to the emotional release.  Knowing I would be moving back to DC soon, he suggested I attend the Kundalini Yoga studio near Dupont Circle.  He sensed that I was craving change (he was right), and knew that this practice would bring it.

Boy did it!

The psychological transformation from working with the Chakras was immense. Chakras are, simply, energy centers along the spine.  One of my fave resources for basic Chakra info is Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chakra).  For in-depth details about each energy center’s qualities, imbalances, potential and healing, Anodea Judith’s “Eastern Body, Western Mind” is beyond compare (http://www.amazon.com/Eastern-Body-Western-Mind-Psychology/dp/1587612259).  In short, there are seven primary centers, which start near the tailbone, rise through the heart, and extend to the crown of the head.  Kundalini is energy that rests in the root chakra (tailbone).  The intention of the related yoga practice is to encourage the Kundalini upward along the spine, thus distributing and balancing the energy among all of the Chakras.

Hence the rapid transformation.  Suffice it to say – with the lifestyle I was living in New Orleans, my lower Chakras and their related elements (i.e. digestion, sexuality, creativity, security, relationships, identity) were out of wack. When I returned to DC and started the Kundalini practice, my emotions continued to churn – lots more crying – awakening a more realistic attitude and outlook toward life.  I cultivated a regular yoga practice at the Ashram and started hanging out with fellow students.  Our teacher would go eat huge bowls of spaghetti with us after class.  He was a humble man who used to say, “I’m just a recovering junkie passing on what was taught to me.”  By 1995 I was experiencing fewer depressive phases; I was exploring a healthier lifestyle all around; and, I started teaching beginners – passing on what was so generously shared with me.

This was the beginning of my yoga journey.

For our July and August class focus, we are pondering the question, “Why Yoga?” What brings us to the mat on any given day, after a hiatus, or at all?  My reason #1 for “Why Yoga?” – I needed to feel better, I needed to change, and I needed support. Practicing yoga in community was the answer.

Today it is exactly the same.  With the life troubles described in my previous “Life on Life’s Terms” post, I still need yoga as a refuge at times.  Last week I attended Caroline Millet’s class at Past Tense – it was challenging and nurturing…and exactly what I needed.  A little push with a lot of care.  While we were in Downward Facing Dog, Caroline invited us to “find something new in the pose.”  Hilariously, the words “I love you, yoga!” popped into my mind!

I am so grateful for yoga.  It saved my life in 1993 and continues to enliven my existence today. Even through the toughest of times – even when I forget that solutions exist – I can teach or take a class and feel completely different afterward.  What a gift.

Reason #2 for “Why Yoga?”  Physical healing from major injuries. More next time…

Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.  Peace.

 

A Note About Student Feedback May 24, 2010

Filed under: Spirituality,Yoga — Holly Meyers @ 10:17 pm
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Dear Students,

As a yoga instructor, I have been honored to receive comments from students who experienced something positive during our practice together.  Interestingly – the feedback increased over recent weeks, while I was deciding whether to apply myself 100% to my dream of teaching yoga and promoting yoga/arts activities.  Hearing from students reinforced my final decision to take the plunge.

So thank you for your kind and useful feedback!

I love sharing yoga and deeply appreciate hearing about students’ transformations.  It is life-affirming for me; and I feel grateful for their well-being.  Still, I can’t take the credit.  All credit is due to the student who shows up and gives themselves to the spirit of yoga.

If you feel a change, it’s because YOU are open to change!

YOU are the one who is willing to come to class despite grumpiness; YOU are courageous enough to try a new healing art; YOU are curious about unusual yoga music; YOU make the decision to use a yoga tool during your day.

As a “yoga teacher,” I’m just passing on what others before me shared in their classes.  Seriously – every pose, every suggestion, every idea that I share with you has been spoken or cued millions of times by thousands of teachers.  My job is to teach the basics while students tap into their own inner wisdom.

I remember my first yoga experiences.  My teachers humbly and generously offered their instructions.  I always felt that, although a person was at the front of the room giving directions, there was something beyond human conspiring to trigger something very intense.  My first regular practice was Kundalini yoga and it reached the most broken parts of my body, mind and soul.  My hips screamed, my thoughts raced, my heart healed.  I cried a lot.  Change came quickly, and I wasn’t always ready for it.  But I kept coming back.

As do you.

So take some time to thank yourself for walking down the street, placing your mat, OM-ing in and working out.  Indeed, it is YOUR presence, YOUR efforts, YOUR devotion that opens the body, mind and/or soul to some little spark of spirit that enters your being and creates a transformational moment.

OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.

 

Chakra Chant March 21, 2010

As part of our Bi-Monthly Focus of TRANSITION & BALANCE, we’ve been closing classes with a chakra balancing meditation I learned from Corrine Champigny who teaches the blissful Svaroopa Yoga sessions at Nashville’s Yoga Source studio.  http://www.yogasource.info/index.php

We have seven energy centers, aka chakras, along our spine, from the tail bone to the crown of the head.  Each has its own function, significance, symbolism.  Typically, we burn up a lot of energy exercising the basic functions near the lower three chakras (eating, digesting, eliminating, being sexual, reproducing, and so on) while our higher chakras (from the devotional heart center to the pure consciousness of the crown) are a bit underutilized.

Similar to the practice of Kundalini yoga, this meditation intends to raise the energy from the base of the spine and evenly distribute it along all seven energy centers.

To practice this chant, we sit in a meditative pose and – starting with the root chakra and continuing through the crown – we focus our awareness on each energy center while chanting its corresponding seed mantra.  Each seed mantra sounds like “OM” (the crown chakra mantra), with an additional sound at the beginning of the syllable.  Complete instructions are below and posted on the Tips-n-Tools page.

To flesh out the very brief descriptions of and associations for each chakra below, I really like Wikipedia’s Chakra entries.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chakras

As with all of the Tips-n-Tools I share in this blog, I only intend to share the practices and resources that have helped me in one way or another – practices that teachers have generously passed on.  I hope you find something useful!

OM Shanti.

CHAKRA CHANT

  1. Settle – Sit in a comfortable seated pose, lower body grounded, spine long, heart open.
  2. Breathe – Inhale into the belly, fill the ribs, and then breathe up to the collar-bone.  Exhale and release from the collar bone, ribs and belly.  Continue this deep three-part breathing throught the nostrils until the mind and body relax.
  3. 1st Chakra – Bring the awareness to the base of the spine, the point of rootedness and the area of elimination.  The seed mantra for this chakra is “L-OM.”  Inhale deeply then chant one long “LOM.”
  4. 2nd Chakra – Shift the awareness to the base of the spine, toward the front of the body, near the reproductive organs.  The seed mantra for this chakra is “V-OM.”  Inhale deeply then chant one long “VOM.”
  5. 3rd Chakra – Move the awareness to the belly, the area of digestion.  The seed mantra here is “R-OM.”  Inhale deeply then chant one long “ROM.”
  6. 4th Chakra – Raise the awareness to the heart center, our area of love and devotion.  The seed mantra is “Y-OM.”  Inhale deeply then chant one long “YOM.”
  7. 5th Chakra – Lift the awarness to the base of the throat, our center of communication.  The seed mantra is “H-OM.”  Inhale deeply then chant one long “HOM.”
  8. 6th Chakra – Focus the awareness on the “Third Eye,” the area between the brows, our center of intuition.  The seed mantra is “SH-OM.”  Inhale deeply then chant one long “SHOM.”
  9. 7th Chakra – Rest the awareness on the crown of the head, our center of pure consciousness.  The seed mantra is “OM.”  Inhale deeply then chant one long “OM.”
  10. Sit silently for a little while and enjoy the raising vibrations.