What I’m teaching… “I am strong, I am strong enough”

I re-discovered my own personal strength last week on my flight to DR for vacation.  I had to fly alone…YIKES!  I am not a fan of airplanes or heights, so the idea of flying alone brings certain anxiety.  However, I have never backed down from this fear before (i.e. my bicycle ride across the Golden Gate bridge!).  The more thought I give to the experience, the worse off I am (stomach ache, overheating, palpitations, dizziness- oh yes- it has gotten that bad).  It’s like Nike says, “Just Do It”.   It was somewhere between the shuttle to the airport and airport security that the mantra came to me…”I am strong, I am strong enough”.

Mantra, sometimes defined as a word that liberates the one who repeats it, is considered the purest form of speech, and certain mantras can provide an instant connection to higher levels of reality.

Sally Kempton, Yoga Journal

Mantras are typically recited in the the 3 most powerfully vibrational languages- Sanskrit, Arabic, and Hebrew.  However all words create vibrations, shifting the energy around us, and are incredibly powerful tools for cleansing and change.  My mantra carried me through 3 hours of delays, finally boarding the plane, take off, in flight turbulence, and landing (the whole plane erupted into applause upon landing- I found it to be a great way to release nervous energy!).  I also observed that by being alone, I really had no choice but to handle the situation I was in.  With no one to banter with about how nervous I was, all I could do was repeat my mantra, “I am strong, I am strong enough.”

I’ve been teaching this mantra in my yoga classes this week, and I discovered a beautiful mudra or “seal” (hand gestures which are performed to convey a variety of feelings, expressions and meanings) that goes along well with the theme of re-discovering personal strength.

Shivalinga mudra- the mudra of resilience: cup your left hand, with fingers pressed together, in front of your abdomen- palm face up, creating a mortar.  Make a “thumbs up” sign with your right hand, creating the pestle, and place it on top of your left hand.  Bring to mind something that tries your resilience or tests your strength, placing it mentally into your left hand.  Slowly circle your right hand as if grinding the thought in your mortar and pestle.  Then blow away the “dust” left over in your left hand.  This mudra breaks down negativity and increases resilience.

(Note:  This is just one way to perform this mudra)

The definition of re·sil·ience (merriam-webster dictionary):

  • the capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation caused especially by compressive stress
  • an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change

So, when we are stressed or encountering misfortune and change in our lives, our resilience is how well we recover and adjust.  Challenges will surely come and we often don’t know our own strength, until we are tested.  The yoga practice gives us the opportunity to develop resilience and strength, both physically and mentally.  It is a safe and supportive “training ground” where you learn to trust your instincts and have faith in something greater than yourself.   Plus, you get to practice magical mudras and mantras which have incredible power!

Another mudra I love to teach and practice is Ganesha mudra for overcoming obstacles.  I discovered this mudra during my teacher training-  Hold your left hand in front of your chest, palm facing out and bend the fingers.  Place your right hand in front of the left hand, palm facing in and grip the fingers together, locking them.  On the exhale, pull the fingers apart, without actually releasing them.  On inhale, relax.  Repeat for 6 breaths.

Ganesha Mudra

My fear of flying is just a small example of how I perpetually re-learn what I am capable of.  I have many things that make me nervous, anxious, or scared.  Maybe someday my fear will dissolve (I wish!), but until then, I will keep allowing myself to be tested.  It is ALWAYS worth it!  We may be tempted to doubt or question our abilities in life.  We may have fears, weaknesses, and vulnerabilities.  Just know that when tests come, you will likely surprise yourself- handling with grace much more than you thought you could!

“You are strong, you are strong enough”

Airplane ride SOOOOOOOO worth it!!


What I’m reading…

Great vacation read…I finished it in one week while vacationing in the Dominican Republic.

“I have to finish this page before going back into the water!!!”

“What do you want?!? I’m reading here!!!”

I have now read all 3 books in the series (‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and “The Girl who Played with Fire” are the preceding books in case you’ve been living under a rock and are not familiar).  Very easy, quick reads once you get used to the Swedish people, street, and city names.  I chose to completely skip over them and not really try to sound them out or keep track of what was what and where was where.  Worked for me!

The underlying current running through these books is empowerment of and justice for marginalized women.  It is a graphic and possibly horribly exaggerated depiction, but very effective and entertaining along the way.  It’s the type of thing where you may not agree with the heroine’s actions, but you support the outcome and understand where she is coming from and why she does what she does, however crazy it might be.  The heroine represents the warrior in all of us, finding unknown strength in the face of increasing and seemingly impossible adversity.  Somehow she always comes out alive and on top.  (Hmm, do I smell a yoga class theme in there somewhere?)   I love happy endings!

Read this book and be inspired to find your inner Warrior Queen!

From antiquity to modern times, there are many stories of female warriors, of Amazons.  The best known find their way into history books as warrior queens, rulers as well as leaders…

Stieg Larsson “The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest”

Warrior I on Playa Bonita, Dominican Republic

What I’m teaching…satya: finding truth

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras outline 5 Yamas or moral/ethical principles that guide the yogis relationships to others and the outside world.  The second yama is satya or truth.

The path of truth begins within.  Who are you, really?  You gotta know your roots before you can blossom into that beautiful lotus.  

Start by finding truth in the physical body; learning its capabilities and limitations.  Be honest about what you can or cannot do…today, yet.  Each day is different!  Keep in mind, “achieving” postures is not at the heart of the yoga practice.  The tradition teaches that the body opens and deeper postures come only when you “give up” or “let go” of trying to achieve.  Scan the body, noticing where the energy flows fluidly and where there may be blockages.  What parts of the body feel good and are there areas that feel a little tense?  Honor where you are at any given moment, physically.  Being aware of your truth, physically, equals safe yoga practice and being more comfortable in your body off the mat in your daily life.  

Next, move deeper into the mental/emotional body.  What are the thoughts that spin on the “hamster” wheels in your head?  These tracks of thought, often negative or self-defeating, are ruts that are holding us back.  The good news is that the true Self is NOT the body nor the mind, and the beautiful thing about realizing this is that you learn you actually DO have control over those hamsters on the wheel.  You can slow them down or throw them off the track!  Slow the mind down and you instead begin to listen to the loving, peaceful sound of your breath.  Is their truth about your past that you need to acknowledge and stop hiding from?  Yogis live in the present moment, BUT it is hard to know who you are NOW without looking at your past, if only to see how it shaped your beliefs and being today.  Sit with those memories or experiences, and if they are painful, be done with them.  Remember pain will come and go, but suffering is optional.  And are there ways of being (like gossiping or criticizing or complaining) that you discover you repeat, without even realizing it?  Awareness brings action.  You CAN handle the truth!

Once we have uncovered or reexamined our physical and mental truth, we are ready to project truth 24/7 into the world.  No more little white lies, no more fooling yourself, no more dishonesty in who we are.  Patanjali has something very amazing to say about 24/7 truth.  Sutra 2.36Satya pratisthayam kriya phala ashrayatvam = to one established in truthfulness, actions and their results become subservient.  In other words, if you can get to the point where your entire being exudes only honesty and truth, each and every thought in your head and word out of your mouth will come true!!  Powerful stuff.

By the establishment of truthfulness, Yogis get the power to attain for themselves and others the fruits of work without doing the work…things come to them automatically.  All nature loves an honest person…The more we lead a life of honesty, the more we will see results, and that will encourage us to be more honest.

With establishment of honesty, the state of fearlessness comes…when the mind becomes clear and serene, the true Self reflects without disfigurement, and we realize the Truth in its own original nature.

So, first follow truth, and then truth will follow you.

Sutra commentary by Sri Swami Satchidananda

Honesty is a powerful and sometimes challenging practice.  The next time you choose to communicate truthfully with a coworker or family member, know that you are practicing yoga.  We don’t have to be on our mats to be doing yoga. Yoga is everywhere and in every interaction, all the time.

A new level of BLISS in Savasana

I’ve been doing some research into prenatal yoga and specific asana modifications for pregnant women in preparation for possibly covering a few prenatal classes at my yoga studio.  Pregnant women are my bread and butter, so to speak, in my “day job” so it would seem natural that I could teach prenatal yoga- blending my two passions.  But, alas, I felt inadequate- so to the world wide web I turned.  I will be posting a fun prenatal sequence soon, but I thought I’d share my favorite discovery… a propped up version of Savasana (corpse pose), nicknamed “Barco lounger”- so beautifully modeled below by Elli Soleil.  It is, obviously, not just for the pregnant yogini.  You will need some serious “propage”, though, so it may not be easy to take this version in every yoga class.  But, I recommend you try it!  I offered this variation to a private yoga client last night and she immediately said “Ooooh, I like this”.

What you need: 2-4 blocks & 2 bolsters (or 1 bolster and 2 blankets)

Place one yoga block horizontally on the highest setting towards the top of your mat.  Then, lay another block below it on the lowest setting, vertically (in relation to the mat).  Lay a bolster (or 2 folded, stacked blankets) on an incline across both blocks and set another bolster towards the bottom of the mat.  Step in and lay down bringing your hips right up against the inclined bolster and your knees on top of the flat bolster.  If you have the luxury of more blocks, place two under your hands/arms (whichever is more comfortable).

Close your eyes, breathe and enjoy!

Savasana represents surrender of all things that are foreign to our soul.  When we have completed our yoga practice and given it our best, it is time to let go.  The moment has come for yoga nidra, the yogic sleep.  It is not born out of tiredness and is instead a completely open state of mind and heart that invites the grace of unconditional love into our life…Death is the ultimate wake-up call.  When it comes, we have to leave behind all we have accumulated.  We come into this world with empty hands, and we must leave with empty hands.  Being conscious of death in a yogic way does not turn us into curmudgeons, but instead allows us to live every moment in freedom and joy.

Alanna Kaivalya Myths of the Asanas