Friday, March 19, 2010

A lesson from the story of Nataraja...offer something authentic

I have been learning about the story of the Nataraja, and listening to the lecture Douglas Brooks has on CD and re-reading The Yoga Sutras. I love how every time I return to this wonderful story a different part of the myth sticks out and teaches me a different lesson. Today this is what I was reminded of:

Shiva comes in three forms, a riddler, a gambler, and a dancer. The story of the Nataraja is the story of Shiva as the dancer. In this story Shiva dances the cosmic dance the ananda tandava (the blissful dance). At the beginning of the story a serpent is laying with Lord Vishnu, and Vishnu starts to weigh more and wiggles around. The serpent was startled and asked Vishnu why he was wiggling. Vishnu smiled and said “I am witnessing Lord Nataraja dancing the Ananda Tandava or Ecstatic Cosmic Dance in Tillai Vanam on Earth. This is making Me expand in bliss. That is why you feel that My weight has suddenly increased. Why don’t you too watch this glorious vision and enjoy the bliss?” After hearing this the serpent decided he must too experience this blissful dance. However in order to experience the dance you must have 5 senses and be human. Through performing anjali mudra the serpent turns into Patanjali, a sage who is half man and half snake. Patanjali then went to the pine wood forest where Vishnu said Shiva danced the ananda tandava.

Patanjali searched for a very long time, looking all over the forest trying to find Shiva. One day Patanjali came upon a Shiva lingam. A Shiva lingam is a holy symbol for Lord Shiva that is considered sacred and worshipped. This lingam that Patanjali came across in the Pine forest was especially worshiped, adorned with ashes, incents and flowers. Patanjali noticed particularly beautiful orchid flowers, he had never seen such beautiful flowers and he decided that he wanted to offer these same beautiful flowers to Shiva because he thought they were so magnificent. He wandered the forest looking everywhere for these wonderful flower, but he couldn’t find them anywhere. Instead of getting frustrated, Patanjali realized that the flowers were someone else’s authentic offering and that he needed to find something authentic to himself to offer to Shiva. Since Patanjali is half snake he borrowed deep into the forest floor and found seeds, a very rare sacred seed, and he offered these lovely seeds to Shiva.

We later learn that the sage who offered the orchids for Shiva was the Vyaghrapada, the tiger-pawed saint. Since he had tiger paws he can climb to the top of the Tillai trees that make up the pine forest and at the top of these trees is where the rare orchids grow. So both the Vyaghrapada and Patanjali made an authentic offering to the Shiva linga. When the two sages meet at worship at the linga in the pine forest with their offerings, the linga exploded into the form of Nataraja, the dancing Lord Shiva.

I think this is a important part of the story to remember and practice in our yoga asanas, and how we live our life. When we practice yoga asana it is easy to want to look like our neighbor, the teacher, a person from a magazine… But this isn’t necessarily authentic to you. Every yoga pose we do is an offering, it is an opportunity to express a heartfelt quality of the heart and shine this beauty outward. When we try to make the same offering as someone else we go against ahimsa (non-harming) and staya (truthfulness) even if we can push into a pose that looks more like someone else’s offering, it’s not authentic and is not a pretty offering. It is so much more beautiful to respect where we are in yoga asana with a compassionate nonjudgmental heart. While here we can cultivate an attitude of santosha (contentment) knowing that where we are in the pose when practicing authentically is so, so wonderful and so, so magnificent, just like the Vyagarapada and Patanjalis offering! And since yoga asana is such a great way to practice for life, we can also practice this off our matt. Maybe we want to look like someone else, or draw like someone else, or sing like someone else….These are all offerings, but when we want to offer what someone else is offering it diminishes our own shine, and we all have something so beautiful to offer, that no one else can offer, becuse its ours!

So smile and shine and know that you are beautiful, magnificent, radiant, and lovely, and no matter what others offer, you also have something to offer that is so special and so unique to you. Be proud and shine it out!

(I am thankful to my wonderful Sources: Douglas Brooks, The Yoga Sutras,, Zhenja La Rosa blog)

Monday, March 15, 2010

The variety of weather is so divine.

Lately in SLC, UT we have been experiencing a variety of weather rain, sun, wind, sun, snow, slush. sun... And this variety of weather has reminded me of the tantric philosophy that underlies Anusara yoga, (my last blog entry talked more about the tantric non-dual philosophy). This non-dual philosophy believes that there is one divine auspicious essence and through creative expression this one energy creates the vast variety we see in the world. Like shinning a light on a crystal which shines out many different lights of many different colors, however they are all an expression of the one original light. We can see this variety everywhere in the world for example the way people look, flowers look, and the variety in weather just to name a few. This gives us an opportunity to choose how we will perceive the variety. Will we choose to resist it, judge it and label it “good” or “bad”? Or will we choose to see that variety as a beautiful expression of the divine that this one lovely energy brings about the diversity we experience in life.

Focusing on diversity and variety with in a yoga asana class is fabulous. Because with in a class there are a variety of elements, the poses scheuences is unpredictable, there are poses that require a variety of strength, flexibility, and balance, our ability differs from pose to pose, and our mental qualities change throughout class. This variety that presents itself in an asana class gives us an opportunity to choose how we will respond. Will we get frustrated, and judge ourselves, get frustrated, label the pose “good” or “bad”, label ourselves “good” or “bad”, or label our emotions “good” or “bad”.

Instead can we smile, can we choose to create a compassionate space where our experience exists and in this space our ability can change yet we still enjoy this variety because we know it is an expression of the divine. We can even do more than just enjoy this creative expression of the divine, we can marvel in it, we can allow it to intrigue us and interest us. So not only can we enjoy the variety but we by allowing our self to be fascinated with the oneness of life and the creative expression through diversity, this fascination connects us to the present moment.

This was my class theme the other day and the universal alignment principles (UAP) we focused on were muscular energy and organic energy.

Muscular energy: we choose to embrace the oneness, to accept the diversity we see and experience in the world as the divine’s artistic expression. We hug this blissful essence into or focal point ( or midline) hugging the muscles to the bones, and we fill our self with this supreme essence. In muscular energy we allow grace to flow into us.

Organic energy: from hugging in our muscles and drawing in this blissful energy of the universe, through muscular energy we find the active resistance we need to expand back out. So from this drawing in we then shine back out from the focal point, we add our own beauty back out into the world. In organic energy we then shine grace back out.

Yoga Sutras compared to Anusara invocation. Classical yoga compared to Tantric philosophy

I want to preface this by saying that I am in no way an expert on this, AT ALL. I am merely a student, fascinated with what I am learning, and I am sharing it with you because you might enjoy these gems of knowledge, it is fun sharing, it helps me remember, and it helps me connect to the knowledge on a deeper level….

Over the past 5 years I focused mainly on prana vinyasa, and Iyengar yoga. I have read, studied and contemplated The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (a classical yoga text) many times. Recently I have been drawn to Anusara yoga, founded by John Friend. I have been studying the universal principles of alignment and the tantric philosophy that underlies Anusara. One of the many things I love about Anusara is the beautiful Invocation that we chant at the beginning of class. As I have been diving into the complex and wonderful meaning of the invocation, I was reminded of the thirty-sixth sutra from Patanjalis first book, “visoka va jyotismati” (Yoga Sutras of Patanjali 1:36). This got me thinking about how this sutra and the Anusara invocation relate, especially the last verse in the invocation, “Niralambaya Tejase”.

So how does Classical Yoga and Tantric Yoga relate? Both of these lines have similar translations, let us looks at them one at a time:

“Visoka va jyotismati” Means there is a blissful luminous, sorrow less, effulgent light within that is ever present. (Translation is a combination from Sri Swami Satchidananda, B.K.S Iyengar and my interpretation).

“Niralambaya Tejase” Means there is a inner luminosity, a blissful radiance of the heart, that does not depend on any circumstance to exist, it just is, it always is. (Translation is a combination from John Friend, Christiana Sell, and my interpretation).

I love how both classical and tantric philosophies agree on this beautiful belief, that we have this inherent shining goodness within us, that this inner essence of bliss that is always present. This inner radiance never leaves us and is present no matter what external situation or emotions we may be experiencing. However, these philosophies disagree about how we go about experiencing this inner divine luminosity. The root reason for their disagreement is that classical yoga believes in dualism and Tantric believes in non-dualism.

(As I summarize these two vast philosophies, I may repeat myself quite a bit but it is only to reiterate what they believe. The beliefs are quite simple but in order to understand them you have to approach them from many different angles and to hear them again and again. If you have additional knowledge or you would like to add or make a correction, make please comment. I would love and enjoy your feedback).

Let us examine Patanjali’s classical yoga first:

Patanjali’s Yoga, Classical Yoga is dualistic and makes a sharp distinction between purusha (Self or Spirit) and prakriti (non-self or matter). Classical Yoga holds that these two radically distinct realities exist: there is one thing, Purusha the Self, and separate from that self, on the other hand there is Prakriti, the non-self. Patanjali believes there is no connection, linkage or interaction between purusha and prakriti, they are separate (dual). Although purusha and prakriti are not connected, they do depend on each other. Without purusha there could be no prakriti. Classical yoga believes the humans suffer because we are ignorant to dualism, to the fact that there is both purusha and prakriti, and instead of realizing this dualism we falsely identify purusha (self) with prakriti (non-self, matter, materialism). Classical yoga says in order to reach liberation (mukti) we must distinguish between the two, we must believe in dualism, we need to release that there is a self, and at the same time there is a non-self.

To summarize (and repeat) classical yoga believe there is duality, two-ness. That there is an inside and a outside, a prakriti and a purusha. Access to the heart is through stepping over a barrier of the body, over a barrier of the mind, and over a barrier of the experiential self. To get to the heart, is to step over the body and mind. This is what classical yoga believes! The body is at best a tool and at worse an obstacle. Patanjali (classical yoga) invites you into two-ness and says that dualism is the answer. The answer, is not mistaking prakriti for purusha, it’s not mistaking the outside for the inside, and it’s not mistaking the material for the spiritual. Sutra 1:36 “visoka va jyotismati” means that in order to experience this inner essence of goodness we must overcome this “otherness” that we need to realize the self is separate from the non-self and matter.

Let us look at Tantric philosophy, the philosophy of non-dualism.

Tantra is non-dual. It does not believe in two, it believes in one. It believes there is this one divine, blissful auspicious energy. The way this divine energy creatively expresses itself is how we get such a variety of different forms. It is like one light shining on a crystal which results in many different lights and a variety of colors; however they are all part of the one light. Tanta teaches us that we don’t need to abstain, achieve, or acquire enlightenment; instead we need to participate in a process of our own recognition. Of recognizing that all there is, is grace and we are an expression of grace. And this grace, this divine consciousness expresses itself through a twisted ecstatic dance that brings beauty into the world. It invites us to realize that there is nothing but this divine dance, and we don’t need to overcome it, we just need to experience the dance for the sake of the dance. Not only do we need to experience the dance but we need to dance with it, to step into the flow of grace. We don’t dance to achieve, concur or prove anything we do it for the sheer delight of it. This is a wonderful teaching we learn from Krishna in The Bhagavad Gita, that when we act for the simple sake or doing it, without worrying about this or that, when you offer your beauty as its own art, this is how to offer something that is meaningful. This dance of consciousness is gift of grace. As Douglas Brooks says “Life is a gift yoga is a blessing. Make yourself a great offering.”

I love that tantra doesn’t say we need to overcome something to get to something. Instead it says there is this one divine creative energy and it is merely expressing itself through the variety of forms we experience. And as humans we have a conscious choice and can resist and label it separating it into two “good” and “bad”. Or we can become part of the dance, we can embrace the differences in life as a blissful expression of the divine, and through embracing this we can then make our self an expression of divine bliss as well. We can willingly become part of the dance and offer our heart to this.

In summary, the tantric view doesn’t see diversity as something you need to overcome. Instead the tantric view embraces diversity because it reflects the divine oneness of the universe. Referring to the Anusara invocation, the tantric view believes there is this blissful radiance, of the divine! That we are part of this one blissful radiance! That everything is a manifestation of this one blissful radiance!

Sources on classical yoga: Raghavan Iyer, Douglas Brooks
Sources on tantra: Douglas Brooks, John Friend, Christina Sells, John Friend

Sunday, March 7, 2010

I got it is

I recently got interviewed by a student who is enrolling in a teacher training program and she needed to interview a teacher she admires. I felt so honored that she choose me. The questions she asked where wonderful and really allowed me to think about myself as a teacher and a student and the transformation that yoga has brought me over the past five years and continues to bring me. I thought I would share it with you, and I encourage you to contemplate on some of these questions as well.

What first got you interested in yoga? I used to be a competitive snowboarder and I broke my back (a fracture 3) and tore my MCL. I also wanted to get more in touch with something more. I didn’t know what it was but I thought yoga could help me. I was pretty sad, pretty disconnected to my body, and had family problems. I thought yoga couldn’t hurt ill give it a try.

How long did you practice before you began teacher training? I didn’t practice for very long before hearing about the teacher training at Flow. I had been using a Crunch yoga VHS for a few months before I discovered Flow yoga. It’s actually funny I was with my boyfriend (my new husband) and he found a flyer for flow and gave it. I practiced with some DVDs for a year, not regularly at all, just every once and a while, and probably at the studio for 6 months, practicing multiple time a week when I signed up for the teacher training program. I felt such a powerful pull toward yoga once I started at the studio. Not so much with the DVD. Since my first studio class with Lala Powers, I felt such a deep connection, that the practice was helping me connect to something bigger. Here I am 5 years later and I still experience the same awakening and connection to something bigger, it’s lovely.

Where did you do your teacher training? I did my first teacher training at Flow yoga (there first teacher training) in 2006 that was also co taught by Jonathon Fields and Lauren Hanna (co founders of Sonic Yoga NYC) and Jennifer Ellen Mueller. It was such a wonderful immersion into the study of yoga. I have since taken more teacher training courses. I took a course from SLCC which I did not find helpful. I took a module of Shiva Rea’s Prana Vinyasa teacher training called Fluid Power in 2008 which was great and has given me more fluidity in my teaching, and taught me how to be creative and dynamic in my sequence, like using mandalas. I took a yearlong teacher training from Nathan Hayes at his studio Living Spirit Yoga in Washington State. I think I got the most out of this teacher training. Since I had been focusing, practicing, teaching, and studying yoga for awhile. It was over a year, and demanded a 6x a week yoga and mediation practice. This teacher training was much more about developing us as yoga students. It taught me to articulate what we have learned in our own practice. This teacher training has been huge for me. I learned so much from Nathan, he was a great mentor, he helped me connect to myself, to learn from myself and then offer my own experience to teach it to others. I am now studying Anusara yoga. I am doing the upcoming immersion and teacher training through Kula. I am very excited about the teachings of Anusara yoga. I feel like over the past year and a half I have been coming up with my own style where I emphasis alignment and really work on keeping a heart theme throughout class. When I learned about Anusara yoga, this practice was what I was naturally migrating toward in my personal practice. But is even GREATER!! It teaches alignment and non- dual tantric philosophy. 

What would you say is your biggest influence on planning a class? When I plan a class my theme and intention are most important to me. My theme and intention are always heart orientated. I want my students to leave the class smiling, feeling better about themselves and having deepened their connection to their heart. I then work on teaching a few alignment principles and integrating those principles through all the poses throughout the class. I work on connecting the alignment action to the heart oriented theme. You can move your body into weird shapes but without a theme, without connecting to the bigger picture, without having a intention, I don’t consider it yoga.

Is there any specific text you find yourself drawn to in the process of planning your classes? I love reading about philosophy, Indian myths, poetry and human anatomy. I think continuing to learn about these things help your become a better students and a better teacher. I regularly refer to, Moving into Stillness by Erich Shiffman. I love his philosophy of yoga and his wording. He really focuses on connecting to the present moment. I also refer to the, Anusara teacher training manual, by John Friend. It is really good at explaining the principles of alignment, and so much more. I also find the Yoga Sutras, The Bhagavad Gita, very inspirational. Over the years I have been teaching, I have created 3 huge binders from teacher trainings, workshops, journaling along with a notebook of my favorite quotes, and two art notebooks that hold my outlines of my past classes and themes. One thing I learned from Nathan was “always come with a plan (when teaching a class)…but plan on ditching the plan”. I refer to these regularly as well.

What do you think sets your classes apart for the students? I want to help plant a seed in the students heart and help them to awaken, help them to have an opening, help them to have a revolution, help them to feel good about who they are and where they are at in their life. I encourage people to have fun, to smile, to love where they are in their own journey no matter how it compares to others. I encourage people to let go of judgments and connect to where they are in the present moment. I share my love and enthusiasm for yoga as well as provide well cued alignment instructions, so they stay safe and honor their own bodies and limitations. I want to teach students that what they do on their mat will and can translate into their life outside the mat. I want students to know if they are having a problem in life, by coming to yoga, connecting to their body and the present moment they can cultivate qualities and teach themselves how to deal with their problems off the mat. My husband calls my classes spiritual. I hope others feel the way he does, and enjoy what I offer.

What is your favorite part about teaching? Are there any dislikes? Being able to teach is so wonderful. Yoga has transformed my life in every way and has improved it for the better. I love being able to help people find that same transformation in their own life. I love being able to help people in their journey to figure out the truth about who they are and help them connect to something bigger. Everyone has different transformations, I have recently experienced some big ones, with people crying and wanting to share with me their stories and how yoga has changed their life. As a teacher people come to you for help. To improve flexibility, to lose weight, to heal a injury, and it is so great to help and even if they come to you for one of these things you still have an opportunity to plant other seeds. My dislikes are that I get stressed and nervous before class that people won’t like what I have to offer. But I am getting better at just being myself and teaching what I believe in. The great thing about yoga is there are so many styles if they don’t like me, they will find someone they do connect to. As long as I am true to me self while I am teaching and genuinely want to help people through yoga, that all I ask for. Another great thing about teaching is that it helps me be a better student. I learn so much through teaching, I learn so much from my beautiful students.

What advice would you give someone on the journey to become a yoga instructor? What do you feel is the most important part of being/becoming a yoga instructor? (I combined this question because my answers are similar) I think the most important part of being or becoming a yoga instructor is being a good student. In every great teacher there is a great student. I think it is important to first be a student. Be the best student you can be, learn as a student, and practice as a student. Then with compassion and humbleness share what you have learned firsthand in your own practice, with your students. Advice I would give would be: Be yourself, be proud of who you are, and trust that you have something valid and important to share. It is easy to get intimidated, second guess yourself and want to teach like other teachers. I know I went through a stage where in my teaching I tried to teach like a teacher I admired. Now I realize I admired those teachers because they taught from their heart. You need to go into your heart and teach from that.  I think the more a teacher is a student, the more they commit to their own reason for practice, the more it connects them to their heart, it then it becomes easier to teach from the heart. It then becomes easier to share your enthusiasm and love for yoga with your students.

Sit bones and tail bone can move independent of each other!!

In Utthita Trikonasana (triangle pose) and in Utthita Parsvakonasana (side angle pose) I sometimes feel a pinch in my side waist to which I am leaning. Even when I keep my side body long, lengthening the space between the top of my hip (iliac crest) and my low ribs, I still experience a discomfit and a feeling of collapse.

The other day I was taking a class from certified Anusara yoga instructor Wayne Belles at Kula Yoga Studio in SLC, UT. During class Wayne offered a pearl of wisdom for poses like Utthita Trikonasana and Utthita Parsvakonasana that I want to share with you. He pointed out that after you create internal rotation of the thighs, not only do you scoop your tailbone but you also scoop your front sit bone. Scooping the front sit bone helps the external rotation of the femur bone and pulls the outside of the front knee away from midline allowing you to go a little deeper in the pose.

I never knew you could move your sits bones independent of your tail bone. I thought it was one whole unit. But you can! When I did this…First scooping my tail bone and then scooping my front sit bone it helped me find externally rotation in my front femur bone while providing more space I need in my side body allowing the discomfort I sometimes experience to vanished…POOF!

**Step by step guide to Utthita Parsvakonasana applying the five universal principles of alignment, with the inclusion of moving sit bones and tailbones separately:

1.Starting in adho mukha svanasana (downward facing dog). Step your Right foot between your hands right knee over the right ankle and ground you left heel so the back outer edge of the foot is parallel to the back of your mat. (If your hips are tighter, turn your left foot into a 45 degree angle, this will give you more freedom in the hips, having the foot parallel will give you more power in your pose).

2.Take your right forearm to the top of your right thigh and your left hand to your left hip.

3.First principle: pause, soften and open to grace, open to your potential in this pose and in this moment.

4.Second principle: Muscular Energy, isometrically draw the feet toward each other hugging the muscles to the bone and drawing into midline, feel a slight lift in the hips.

5.Third principle: internally Spiral the hips back and apart sticking out the booty and broadening the sit bones apart allowing pelvic floor and lower back to expand.

6.Fourth principle: the outward spiral moves this expanded energy back into the center of the body. Here is where the tail bone and sits bones come in:
a.Scoop the tail bone, while keeping the back thigh bone drawn back.
b.Scoop the right sit bone and feel the right thigh bone externally rotating taking the outside of the right knee more toward the right.
c.Bend your knee deeper. And experience the new space in the side body.

7.Fifth principle: Organic Energy. From the alignment and drawing the energy into the focal point in the pelvis, extend energy back out. Energy extends from the pelvis down the legs into the earth. Then the energy travels from the pelvis up the torso and out the arms, like a shooting star! Stretch the left arm over the head while keeping integrating of the shoulders. Full stretch. Experience yourself as pure radiance.

Even though scooping the front sit bones seems minor, to me it opened up my pose tremendously! Thanks Wayne.

Happy day to you. Now go move your booty, tailbone and sit bones independently of each other!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

courageous flow workshop summary

I just got home from teaching a Courageous Yoga Workshop! At Lifted Life Yoga Center in Alpine, Utah.

Courage comes from the French word that translates to mean: live in your heart. This reminds me of the last line of the Anusara Invocation: Niralambaya Tejase. 'Tejase' means illumination, and radiance. Tejase doesn’t necessarily mean light but is the essence of the light. This shininess prevents us from being in darkness. 'Niralambaya' means not based on any external circumstance. It just is, it always is. So together Niralambaya Tejase means this inner radiance, this inner illumination of the heart is always present, no matter what is happening around us! I love this line; it is so reassuring isn’t that!? And it is just like courage, when you have courage, when you are in your heart, you are bright and in the inner radiance.

When we are courageous, when we live in our heart, it is like we are living from this place of inner brightness. However there are some qualities that we cultivate in our life that shield and block out this inner light. The illumination doesn’t go away; remember Niralambaya means it is always present. These qualities just make it harder for us to connect to. It like a light switch with a dimming feature, if you dim the light all the way the light is still on its just not as bright. These qualities that can dim our inner light include fear, tension, stress, negativity, anger, and judgment.(Everyone has specific qualities for themselves, these are ones I work with). As we surrender these qualities our inner radiance becomes more apparent, to both ourselves and others.

We can then start to cultivate qualities that will enhance our inner illumination, inner brilliance. Some of these qualities include strength, openness, joy, love, compassion, patience, confidence, and trust.(Again everyone has their own specific qualities that they resonate with, these are ones I like to work with). These qualities allow our inner light to be more shinny, more radiant, and more beautiful.
So this was the theme of the workshop. We paused and contemplate what qualities we need to surrender and cultivate in our life to help us live more in the heart, in our radiance. I love working with this theme in a asana class, because the poses offer a great template for life outside of the mat. For example we held some lunges for awhile at the end of class, everyone was tired and it was hard, it was a challenge. What a great opportunity to surrender fear, tension, anger and work at cultivating openness, energy and joy within the challenge.

It was fun fun fun, light hearted and full of smiles! Thank your beautiful students.

xox Kim

Intention and Testimonials

Testimonials & My Intention

My Intention It is my intention as a yoga teacher to help you bring more health and vibrancy to your body, ease and alertness to your mind...