The Urban Yoga Den

…where it's all yoga.

Falling Off The Yoga Wagon July 22, 2011

Why does it take a sick day for me to realize I have totally abandoned my yoga practice?

For the past two days, I’ve been battling a sinus infection.  This morning, after sleeping 11 hours, I woke up, chanted mantras, said prayers, wrote in my journal, practiced breathing exercises and sat to meditate.  All of the fear, anger, distrust and resentment of recent weeks (due to a mugging and other trauma triggers) melted into pure, big-picture, heartfelt acceptance.  Everything made sense.  I felt peaceful and whole.

This collection of rituals is a simple 30-minute Sadhana (routine) that I like to practice every morning.  Today I realized that it’s been months since I’ve committed to these efforts on a daily basis.

In my experience, I can count on a daily reprieve from all kinds of “dis-ease” as long as I maintain my spiritual condition.  For someone like me – a trauma survivor who drowned pain and reality with alcohol for 25 years, and who has been undoing old patterns for the last eight years – that maintenance is essential to my ongoing growth away from my past and toward a healthy future.  Daily Sadhana guarantees that I will be liberated of self-centeredness, grounded in peacefulness and therefore available to serve others.

Yoga is the umbrella for all of my maintenance efforts.  During my yoga teacher training, we studied the six branches of Integral Yoga – Hatha (primarily poses, breathing, cleansing), Raja (philosophy, ethics, mindfulness), Jnana (reflection, self-inquiry, analysis), Karma (selfless service), Japa (mantra repetition) and Bhakti (devotion to and worship of a higher power).  In the Yoga Sutras, we hear, “Yogas Chitta Vritti Nirodhah” – yoga negates disturbances of the mind.  Therefore,  the goal of yoga is to cultivate a peaceful mind.  IY founder Swami Satchidananda believes, “There are many ways to reach the same goal. Whatever you call it, it is called Yoga.”

Indeed, it’s all yoga.

When I say that I have abandoned my yoga practice, I don’t just mean that I haven’t been going to class or practicing poses. I mean that I have not been greeting the day with chants, prayers, reflection, breath work, meditation.  I have not been ending the day by reading positive literature, making a gratitude list, praying for others.  In between rising and bedtime, I have not been serving as I could.  I have not been well enough to show up for others.  And I most certainly have not been surrendering to a higher power.

And so, right here, right now, I take the first step toward a solution and admit – I have fallen off the wagon.

“The origins of this phrase lie in the 1800s, with the temperance movement. During this era, many people felt that alcohol was an extremely harmful substance, and they abstained from alcohol while encouraging others to do the same. The term references the water wagons which were once drawn by horses to water down dirt roads so that they did not become dusty. Members of the temperance movement said that they would sooner drink from a water wagon than touch a drop of alcohol, so when someone failed to keep a temperance pledge, people would say that he or she had fallen from the wagon.”  – http://www.wisegeek.com/

For me, daily Sadhana is the “water wagon” that keeps me from falling back into all sorts of unhealthy habits.  And I intend to jump back on that wagon the moment I press “Publish” on this Post.  Because, with You as my witness, a publicly stated intention will be hard to break.

Wish me luck.  OM Shanti.

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My Heart’s Desire February 10, 2010

“Sunrise in the sky of the heart is the most blessed sight.”  Swami Nityananda

In this second half of our Bi-Monthly Focus of HEART, we’re shifting from an anatomical awareness of the neck, collar-bone, shoulder and rib area (see “Let Your Heart Bloom Open” for fine-tuning tips) to a more psychological or conceptual exploration of the heart chakra.

“Anahata” is our fourth chakra and the first of our “higher” energy centers. Not that the three lower chakras are in any way “bad” – simply, they govern bodily and material issues; Anahata is considered a balancing point between these basic functions and the spirit and intellect of chakras five through seven.  Its color is green; its element is air; its symbol is a 12-petaled lotus; and its qualities include love, passion and devotion.  The heart’s seed mantra is “yaum.”  (Yum!)  “Kalpavriksha” is the divine Wish-Fulfilling Tree that resides in the heart chakra and represents the manifestation of Sankalpa (resolute intentions or deep yearnings).  To “follow our heart” means planting seeds or making decisions while dwelling under Kalpavriksha.

In our February classes, we are focusing on the “heart’s desire.” I’m inviting students to revisit the symbolic bulbs they planted in Autumn 2009 during our Diwali celebration (see “Diwali Intentions”); the seeds they planted for 2010 in our New Year’s Eve workshop; the goals they set in Caroline Weaver’s January workshop; or even their simple, day-to-day intentions.  Throughout our classes, we are using Pranayama, Mantra, Mudra and visualization – for a taste, see the Meditation on the Heart’s Desire, below.

So what is my heart’s desire? Well let’s see…

Yesterday I was reading a blog by former Past Tense Yoga Studio (www.pasttensestudio.com) student Abby, who recently moved to Nicaragua.  Her intention is to spend one year deepening her passion for music, songwriting and guitar through an “Eat, Pray, Love”-style journey.  When she described this plan to her friends, some remarked, “OK – so you’re taking a year off.”

“It’s not a year off,” she protested, “It’s a year ON.”

When I read these words, I felt my heart flutter.  The idea of a year ON vibrated high in my chest – the same place I feel anxiety.  But this wasn’t anxiety, it was excitement.  As if something was saying, “Turn it ON, Holly.”  Not that I’m going to pick up and move anywhere.  I think the fluttering is a reminder of intentions that started brewing during last Autumn’s Jewish High Holy Days and Diwali.  I feel it’s high time to consult the Kalpavriksha and started to follow my heart more proactively.

And there’s nothing like a Mondo Beyondo list to trigger the process.

In her January e-blast, DC studio owner Debra Perlson-Mishalove invited readers to trash traditional New Year’s resolutions in favor of celebrating their most “juicy and outrageous” wishes. The Mondo Beyondo list, she wrote, “is the list where no boundaries are considered – including lack of funds, time or energy.  This is the list that comes from the quiet stirrings in your heart…”  By the way, one dream on Debra’s own list gave birth to her successful Flow Yoga Center!  (www.flowyogacenter.com)

To uncover my Mondo Beyondo yearnings I followed Debra’s suggestions, including: journaling about obstacles, fears, security, purpose; meditating on my deepest desires; rewriting the limiting, negative, false stories I tell myself; and using my yoga practice as a mirror into my life.  Wow.  I’ll spare you the details – just trust that I unearthed some humbling facts about how I get stuck, play it safe and limit myself.

Thankfully, one of Debra’s nudges motivated prompt action.  “How can I make my life more juicy or get out of this rut?”  I resolved to explore my self-imposed boundaries, attend Level 2 yoga classes, take action to get a great job and more.  These explorations sparked my very own Mondo Beyondo list.  Here’s an abbreviated version:

Holly’s Mondo Beyondo List from January 2010

  • I will give birth to a yoga-based nonprofit to decrease violence in families and among youth.
  • I will soon work a full-time job where I am useful and of service; a job which contributes to financial independence.
  • I will hike all over Ireland, breathe that air, jam with those musicians, feel my mother’s origins.
  • I will travel to India, stay in an Ashram and live the essence of yoga.
  • I will erase my current loans and debt within five years.
  • I will rewrite all of my obstacle-laden stories and move on.
  • I will enjoy a true romantic partnership with a man who is… (well…I know what I wish but HP might have something else in mind).  We will find each other soon… (OK…on HP’s time line, of course).  We will love each other through thick and thin.  Period.
  • I will explore my self-imposed boundaries in Level 2 yoga classes.  And like it.
  • I will tour regularly with alt-country, country, folk and singer-songwriter bands as drummer or percussionist.
  • I will be part of my sisters’ and their families’ lives – even if only through meta and prayer.
  • I will teach at Flow Yoga Center.

Your heart’s desire wants to know: when will you start your “year ON” or make your Mondo Beyondo list?

Until next time…OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.

MEDITATION ON THE HEART’S DESIRE
(These instructions are archived on the Tips-n-Tools page.)

  1. Sit in a comfortable position.  Cross-legged, on the heels, or on a chair with feet flat on the floor.
  2. Close the eyes.  Witness the breath, the mind, the body.
  3. Begin to deepen the breath into three parts (Deergha Swaasam).  Inhale into the lower lobes of the lungs (belly area), middle lungs (rib cage) and upper lungs (collar-bone), then exhaling down from the collar-bone, ribs and belly.  Let each inhale be strong and full, and each exhale be long and thoroughly emptying.
  4. Allow the mind to rest on the breath.  Follow the flow of air with the mind, listening to the sound of the breath, or feeling the body move with each inhale/exhale.
  5. Feel the body sink and expand.  Become aware of the lower body’s contact with the ground, its stability, support, balance.  Become aware of the upper body’s length and let the heart center begin to open.
  6. Expand the heart center.  (See “Let Your Heart Bloom Open” for detailed instructions).  Using inhales and exhales to enhance your movement, reach the crown of the head toward the sky, maintain the length in the neck, broaden the collar bone, expand the rib cage, maintain the length along the side body, allow the shoulder blades to release toward each other and down the back.
  7. Bring the hands into Lotus Mudra.  Press the palms together in front of the heart; then, leave only the heel of the palms, the pinkies and the thumbs touching while spreading and opening the fingers and palms.  The hands represent a lotus in full bloom.
  8. Continue the Deergha Swaasam breath.  Imagine the inhale flowing through your lotus and filling the belly, flowing into your cupped palms and filling your ribs, then flowing up to the finger tips and collar-bone.  Imagine the exhale emptying from your finger tips and collar-bone, palms and ribs, then emptying the belly out through the lotus.
  9. As you continue this breathing technique, bring to mind your Heart’s Desire or Sankalpa.  It might be a resolution, an intention, or a wish for yourself or another.
  10. On the inhales, imagine filling your lotus with your Heart’s Desire.
  11. On the exhales, imagine releasing this wish from your lotus, sharing it with the universe.
  12. Continue this visualization for at least three rounds of Deergha Swaasam breathing.
  13. Seal your meditation by chanting the seed mantra for the heart chakra, “Yaum” (sounds like “OM” with an added “Y”).