Sunday, August 6, 2017
Admit it. You've shopped for a beautiful mat in your favorite color, maybe with a design that appealed to you. You might just throw on a pair of loose pants and T-shirt -- I do some days -- but you might also try on a number of yoga pants in all the cool colors, maybe also with a little secret pocket in the waistband. (What are those for anyway? What can possibly fit in there??? Certainly not my giant iPhone 6s!) There are zillions of yoga top options -- racer back spandex, soft flowing shirts with "om" symbols emblazoned on the front, the ubiquitous lotus flower -- all in a plethora of colors.
And I'm sure you've noticed some people wear beaded bracelets, many with a colorful tassel. You might even notice sometimes a beaded necklace with a similar feathery tassel at the bottom. Now we are in mala territory.
A mala is a string of beads used for meditation. The long "necklace" malas have 108 beads -- the auspicious number of repetitions of a mantra. While reciting the mantra, the practitioner touches one bead for every repetition until completing a cycle of 108. Many malas are shorter, with a fewer number of beads for shorter mantra meditation. Bracelets also fall into this category. Repetitions should always be to a count of 7, 21, 28, or 108.
Doing mala mantra meditation is called doing "Japa". From Wikipedia: "Japa" is a Sanskrit word for the meditative repetition of a mantra or a divine name. It is a practice found in Buddhism, Hinduism, Janism, and Sikhism. The mantra or name may be spoken softly, enough for the practitioner to hear it, or it may be spoken within the reciter's mind."
Some might even carry their mala in a "japa bag" which they wear around their necks sort of like a small purse. I've seen folks sitting quietly, hand inside their japa bag, doing japa meditation on the bus, or at a meal, or listening to music, even in conversation. Many find it calming.
I have a number of malas -- both the long "necklace" variety and the short bracelets. I love wearing them as decorative jewelry honoring my spiritual traditions. But I also use them, the long ones especially, for mantra meditation. I was given a mantra by my meditation teacher years ago. When my mind is especially playing "monkey" with me, repeating the mantra while also working my mala helps focus both mind and body with a place to rest in the meditation.
At the Yoga Circle Studio store there are lovely malas for sale, made by a local artisan and YCS student. Check them out. These, or any number of many other varieties, might appeal to you as a way to enhance your practice. Plus, they are beautiful!
More mala info: https://www.gaia.com/article/how-use-mala-beads-yoga-and-meditation
Saturday, July 22, 2017
We may all have those "yoga goals", but we are also human and not always floating around in a state of bliss. Life is challenging; people are difficult; best intentions are sometimes met with rejection. It's enough to make you take to the mat and "gnash your terrible teeth and roar your terrible roar", isn't it?
But is that giving in to letting anger and frustration win? Don't we want to be able to "let it go"? Well, yes and no.
Sometimes anger and action are justified. Sometimes anger is empowering and galvanizing. Look at the important social movements and the struggles for justice all around us, past and present. These likely came from a place of frustration and anger at the status quo. While anger can manifest in a destructive manner, it can also focus the mind, creating a force for barrier-breaking. We must learn to channel and tame anger. There might be benefit in working with anger in yoga.
Just going around being mad at the world, resenting that our hard work seems to be for naught, is likely to eat away at us. Finding peace with the effort to effect change even when the outcome is uncertain (and perhaps not what we wanted), is the way of the yogic path.
We can embody anger in a positive, life-affirming way. We can show that releasing anger frees us to embrace that energy in another form.
This article suggests that good releases for anger are: http://spiritualityhealth.com/blog/jc-peters/yoga-releasing-anger
Power yoga -- give that fire in your belly the heat, strength, and deep breath it needs to burn!
Abdominal work -- the Scissors Kick or the Woodchopper should bring a strong core to the job. Vocalize a strong HA! on the down chop!
I'd also suggest Lion's Breath as a great release of tension and emotion. Sticking out that tongue, pouncing with claws extended, and a deep vocal outbreath will put your energy right where it needs to be.
I'm not big on denying, burying, or om'ing away any emotion, especially those we've decided to label "bad" or "negative". Emotion is just emotion. Our task to is identify its source, find what it wants to teach us, and channel it for the greater good. With anger, that means not letting it have its way with us, paralyzing us in rage and dismay. It means finding expression for its release so we can use the energy it gifted us to be focused and pure in intention.
Besides, anger means we care deeply about something or we wouldn't be mad. That thing you care about is calling to you. Answer with a strong heart, a laser beam of intention, and a determination toward good. Then...breathe and growl!
Photo Credit: pixabay.com
Monday, July 10, 2017
But....as yogis we celebrate the calm, peaceful, compassionate beings our practice calls us to be and we hope to embody those qualities in the world at large. Doesn't it make sense, then, that those characteristics are those that we would hope our politicians also bring to the job?
I wrote a previous post about a trip to Washington DC where I saw a "Yoga for Lawyers" book in the Supreme Court Visitors Gift Shop. I've never seen one, though, entitled, "Yoga for Presidents" or "Yoga for Congress People". Maybe those would be useful in these contentious times! What would be the result of starting each new day in the White House or in the Halls of Congress with a bit of meditation and asana? Interesting to contemplate, right?
Really, it would be pretty great if any politician also embraced the principles of Yoga in their service to their constituents, wouldn't it?
WAIT! There is one! Yoga Circle's owner and lead teacher, Karen Guzak, does exactly that! We are so fortunate to have this model for compassionate, intentional, leadership in our midst. As you may know, Karen has been a Snohomish Council member and Snohomish Mayor and is currently running again for Mayor under the new system of strong mayor for the city. No, I'm not writing this as a campaign endorsement; I don't even live in Snohomish. But I do wish that politicians everywhere, in every municipality, state, and the entire nation would take a lesson from her devotion to both service and spirit.
Last fall Karen spoke at Snohomish County Arts Council forum called "Spark". Here is a link to her excellent five minute presentation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oOabG9P9br0. Karen talks about her life as an artist, a yogi, and a politician. In politics she sees the "yoga of connection"; of pulling people together to make common vision, to create a more peaceful place. She also sees politics as an opportunity for spiritual growth. She asks, "How can I be more patient, more tolerant, to work for the greater good?"
Aren't these the questions we bring to the mat every day? Aren't these the questions we bring to our lives no matter our profession or avocation?
One cannot avoid watching as conflicts, disconnections, and partisanship divide our nation at this time. There are arguments over policies and budgets. It has been said that a budget is a statement of values. I find that to be instructive analogy when evaluating a politician's proposed budget or the one I create for myself. We put our money in places that have meaning for us. Do we also put our energy there? Our intellect? Our spirit?
Karen shows us that the art of politics is indeed a spiritual practice and we are called to serve, either by running for office, supporting those who do and whose values statements we support, or even by opposing those who introduce policies which would do us harm with a values statement that lacks compassion -- the bedrock of Yogic philosophy.
Yoga and Politics: An unlikely pairing and yet, when you think about it -- perfectly aligned for good.
"Politics and spirituality are the two sides of the same coin. Politics is the driving force visible to the outside; spirituality is the internal force driving the consciousness to open up to the world and conjoin it. Politics bared of spiritual awareness always leads to violence and the abuse of power. Spirituality without political engagement resembles an escape from the world." Gundula Schatz, Waldzeil Institute, caring for the conscious progress of humanity.
Wednesday, June 28, 2017
For example, the Yama (or "restraint") which begin the Sutras has as one of its number, Brahmacharya. While the literal interpretation from the Sanskrit means "walk with God", it has also been translated as "chastity", and "continence". This Yama came to be associated with sexuality and to practice Brahmacharaya, meant to practice celibacy. According to the source I am using for this discussion, the must loved and much read book at Yoga Circle Studio -- Meditations from the Mat -- the word is more accurately a call to temperance or moderation. Moderation in ALL things -- sex, yes, but also food, drink, money, possessions, work -- anything that taken to excess causes us harm.
So, if even those things that seem "good" can be overdone, I thought of Brahmacharya as I watched my husband dismantle a dangerously ready-to-topple old outdoor fireplace on our property. He'd decided to take it apart boulder by boulder and move them to the front of the house to repurpose as a rock wall around a new patio space. This meant moving an estimated 5000 pounds of old rock, then preparing the space with 5000 pounds of fine gravel and carrying another 2750 pounds of flagstone -- all of it up the long front staircase to the worksite.
As I write, he is leveling the flagstone and filling the cracks with sand. He's been at this job for 2-1/2 weeks. I'm watching my 67 year old Super Man in amazement, and also noting that with age comes wisdom. He used to tackle projects like this with a single-minded fervor and a blinders-on goal directness that would have guaranteed he'd be done with it in short order and ready to move on to the next project. But now I note the back brace he wears, the slow, steady steps, the deliberate consideration of how many rocks to carry at a time and the many breaks for hydration and rest. He also has taken days off for time with grandkids, a long weekend trip with the family, time with friends, and more relaxing gardening chores. He works about 6 hours a day, not the 10-12 he would have put in on things like this in the past.
I watch him practicing Brahmacharaya. Moderation. I am reminded that the lessons of Yoga go far beyond the studio and way off the mat. In all we do, the ancient wisdom of self-care is there for us to utilize in order to live a life of meaning, health, and spirit.
Looking forward to a tall glass of sun tea on that new patio, giving thanks for the many acts of slow and steady, one rock at a time, moderately paced labor that my husband employed to create a beautiful respite space for us. Come on by...I'll pour a glass for you too, as we all practice Brahmacarya in our busy lives.