Presence

Blog post written by Anjali Davidson

Action only happens in the present, because it is an expression of the body, which can only exist in the here and now. But the mind is like a phantom that lives only in the past and the future. Its only power over you is to draw your attention out of the present.
— Dan Millman

Many of us come to yoga to practice staying present. Teachers help facilitate this by offering continuous reminders to return to the present moment. Where are we returning from, and why do we go there so often? It is so simple to fall into the mental state of dwelling on past actions, analyzing them with ferocity and finding new interpretations of what was said or done. The mind has an equal draw to living in the future, imagining conversations that may happen or how an event has the potential to go wrong. Between the past and the future is the very fleeting present moment. As soon as we identify what is present, it has already become the past, and that is the paradox we must learn to accept. 

To live in a way that is fully grounded in the present moment, we must learn to face discomfort when it arises. It may be tempting to flee from what we don’t necessarily see as a pleasant person, conversation or life experience. However, after practice, you may begin to notice that events no longer fit into tidy categories of “pleasant” and “unpleasant”. Addressing work as it arises become a part of the moment, and with perspective, it is easier to accept challenges as a necessary part of the path that serves you most.

Living with presence means absorbing the world around you with a wide open heart. It means seeing exactly what is in front of you with clarity and non-judgement. To judge means that you are inherently comparing with the past or the future. Presence is fullness – beyond good and bad, beyond right and wrong. Presence is acceptance that all of what we experience simply is. Sometimes, this is beyond comprehension when we have so many expectations and preconceptions that we carry with us at all times. It takes constant, steady practice to overcome this conditioning and simply be with whatever life brings. 
 

Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II)

The battle of the spiritual warrior is one that takes place far beyond the physical realm. The warrior does not have to be an archetype of violence. The warrior does not have to hurt anybody in order to accomplish what she has set out for in this lifetime. The weapon of the spiritual warrior is discernment, or viveka in Sanskrit. The warrior must use this discernment decide what is based in reality and what is an illusion of the ego. Living with presence allows the warrior to see what is truth and what is a creation of the mind and its many desires. The mind wants to thrive, and its fuel is analysis of the past or fantasies of what may come.

Mindfulness practices, such as meditation and yoga, help tame this wild nature of the mind. With enough practice, the warrior learns how to use the mind to cultivate viveka. When we learn to live with full presence, the True Self is revealed to us. Warrior II honors the spiritual warrior who lives within all of us. It is a greatly strengthening pose, with the practitioner firmly grounded on both feet, arms extended in both directions. It opens the hips and shoulders, while strengthening the core, arms and legs. Gazing forward, one can visualize the many illusions of the mind that she must pierce through so she may live with intention and presence. 

Hakini Mudra

This is also known as the Brain Power Mudra, as it greatly enhances the ability of the brain. The Sanksrit word hakini means “power” or “rule”. Due to the positioning of the hands, this mudra helps to balance the left and right sides of the brain. This balancing of the hemispheres of the brain is especially helpful if you have something in mind that you would like to bring more presence and concentration toward. To practice this mudra, bring both hands in front of the third eye and join all of the fingertips very lightly together. The thumbs can point downward, while the rest of the fingers extend upward. You can further enhance presence by incorporating breathing into the practice of this mudra. While inhaling, press the tongue against the roof of the mouth, and then soften the tongue on the exhale. In addition to the balancing effects, Hakini Mudra also helps to improve concentration and memory, and create a sense of calmness, which helps promote clear thinking. Focusing the mind, bring your awareness to the present and allow all of the information that you gather permeate your being. 
 

Emerging

Blog post written by Anjali Davidson

We didn’t come to earth to get anything. We came to awaken our full potential and infuse this dimension with divine light
— Derek Rydall

The sprouting of a seed is a slow and brutal event. The seed splits as new growth pushes through the old husk. The strong, fibrous exterior, which survived the long winter, breaks away to make space for the sprout of what will become a plant, a tree, a new life. What we have planted during the long winter now begins its process of emerging, arising from the destruction of what once was, a never ending process found both outside of ourselves and within. Spring is an exciting time, as new ideas burst forth from fertile ground. Many of us may feel the inner work that we have cultivated throughout the winter blossoming through the exterior that we maintain. As with the image of the seed sprouting, this can be an uncomfortable process of bringing the inner self and outer self into harmony. Observe what arises with compassion, and when judgement arises, see if you can find the voice behind that judgement. If great change is part of this emerging, try to identify and let go of

Camatkarasna (Wild Thing)

Also called “Rock Star”, Camatkarasana literally translates to “Struck with Wonder Pose”. This pose is a deep chest opener and also a very accessible arm balance. As with all backbending poses, Camatkarasna is a chest and heart opener, with a strong emphasis in external rotation of the shoulders when practiced correctly. Chest opening poses are known for alleviating mild depression, energizing the body and welcoming joy into the practitioner’s present experience. Wild Thing also has a strong emphasis on opening through the throat, hip flexors and quadriceps. Due to the arm balancing nature of this pose, there is an additional element of engaging the core and arms. Contraindications to this pose include sensitive wrists, any lower back pain or injury, and any rotator cuff injury. Camatkarasna can be modified on the forearms to alleviate pressure from the wrists. There are a lot of potential areas for injury when practicing Wild Thing, so please attend a yoga class with a certified instructor to learn how to enter and exit this pose safely and correctly. 

Lotus Mudra

The Ancient Egyptians observed that the lotus flower retracts into its murky watery home in the evening, arising in the morning to bloom, fragrant and colorful. They considered this process to be a reflection of the sun, setting into darkness every evening, unfailingly rising each morning. The Lotus Mudra symbolizes light emerging from darkness. Taking this mudra awakens the Anahata (Heart) Chakra, with the message that you can stay connected to your roots while simultaneously reaching for the light, and all of this can best be done with an open heart. You can focus on opening the heart to the joys of life, allowing yourself to feel grounded throughout the practice. The mudra is also known for allowing illusion and tension to fade away. It can also be used to cultivate love and affection, ease loneliness and bring in vital energy. 

Why 108?

As we embark on our annual 108 Sun Salutations for World Peace event, we occasionally get the question from our students, “Why 108 Sun Salutations?” So, why 108 and not a more obvious number, such as 100?

 
The number itself is open to many interpretations. Some fun facts about 108 is that the diameter of the sun is roughly 108 times the diameter of the earth. Another interesting celestial aspect of the number is that the average distance from the Earth to the Moon is about 108 times the moon’s diameter, which means the moon appears the same size as the sun during eclipses. In the vedic tradition, there are 108 Marma points (sacred places) in the human body. 108 is the amount of beads on a mala, which is similar to a rosary and used for prayer. Those who practice Japa Yoga recite their chosen mantra 108 times in meditation. Perhaps my favorite way of looking at the number 108 is breaking down each digit: 1 represents Unity, 0 represents Emptiness/Openness and 8 represents Infinity. 

As a student of yoga, the number is open to your own interpretation. As we practice 108 Sun Salutations on Saturday, March 18th, you can use each movement are your own kind of meditation. Stay present. Breathe. Flow. Take breaks when your body is asking for it. Each time I participate in this practice, I feel as if I am floating with energy at the end. This is why we will have a grounding potluck afterward (we will also be hungry after all the physical effort!) Please feel free to reach out to us if you have any additional thoughts or questions about 108 Sun Salutations, and feel free to check out our event page. 

Metamorphosis

Blog Post written by Anjali Davidson

Sometimes to change a situation you are in requires you to take a giant leap. But, you won’t be able to fly unless you are willing to transform
— Suzy Kassem

Metamorphosis is a complete and profound change in the form, structure or substance of a being. We see metamorphosis take place in the life cycle of butterflies, which start out as caterpillars, consuming resources and amassing abundance until they build and enter a cocoon. When butterflies enter this chrysalis, they are unable to move and dissolve into a liquid material. This process occurs through the mysterious presence of imaginal cells. One of the most interesting aspects to this transformation is that the caterpillar and butterfly share no structural similarities. We can look at this profound miracle of nature and relate it to our own lives. Caterpillars begin their shift from a place of abundance and fullness, which is a difficult place to let go of. As creatures who seek comfort, we want to hold onto this place. But, for various personal reasons, transformation must occur, so we build our cocoons. This is where we have a choice - we can feel stifled in the chrysalis, unable to move, whether it’s forward or back. We can also follow the example of the butterfly and choose to become absolutely liquid, surrendering to whatever forces are present in our lives and allow ourselves to listen to the inner wisdom that can guide us to the path of higher meaning. We will always emerge, but it is our process through metamorphosis that determines how this emergence looks. Will we remain crippled caterpillars, crawling on the ground, or will we soar as butterflies?

Baddha Konasana (Butterfly Pose)

Many of us are familiar with Butterfly Pose from our early childhood physical education classes. The signature shape of the legs brings this pose to a place of deep external hip rotation. This means we usually fall into one of two groups - people who love this pose and those who cannot stand it. Some of this has to do with body mechanics - external rotation can be a huge challenge for us, depending on the shapes of our femurs and hip sockets. Baddha Konasana is an extremely versatile pose. You can practice it sitting upright, leaning forward, or reclined. Even among those options, there are many ways to use props to facilitate deeper opening. The knees should never be forced in this pose, and anyone with a history of knee discomfort or injury should be extremely cautious. When the knees are forced closer to the ground, this actually causes the lower back to tense, which means the hips no longer ease open. Instead, you can push the soles of the feet together in a dynamic movement that encourages the groin to open. Many sources claim that this pose alleviates depression, anxiety and fatigue, so I encourage you to observe any changes in your mental well being as you practice Baddha Konasana this month. 
 

Shuni Mudra

This mudra is known as the seal of patience. When big transformations begin to take place in our lives, the change can bring about feelings of discomfort, as we must learn how to let go of preexisting ideas about who we are and how we show up in life. Shuni Mudra helps us learn how to stay present, which will keep us from looking into the future with fixed expectations. When we learn to stay present with changes, we are more open to the many options that reveal themselves to us, and we can step into growth with a clear mind. Shuni Mudra is said to facilitate discernment, or “viveka”, which is the first of the four qualities necessary for attaining spiritual liberation. We have many opportunities to practice Shuni Mudra, and I recommend trying it when you feel impatience rising in your being. 
 

Resilience

Blog Post written by Anjali Davidson

Life doesn’t get easier or more forgiving, we get stronger and more resilient.
— Steve Maraboli

Resilience is the ability to recover from situations that challenge us. Challenges are a part of life’s changing nature, and no matter how we carry ourselves, we will occasionally run into these trials. We can choose to meet difficulties in a number of ways, but resilience will allow us to emerge from them in a more powerful place. Resilience is not a trait that people either do or do not have. To be human is to be resilient. We cultivate resilience by developing specific behaviors, thoughts and actions that any human being is capable of. This does not mean that the path will be easy. In fact, the path of resilience is often riddled with obstacles and distress. However, we flourish when we choose to learn from those obstacles and not let the distress overcome our innate sense of joy. Meditation and spiritual practices, which we nurture in yoga classes, help improve the ease with which we can cultivate the trust that resilience requires from us. Spirituality relies on a deep trust in a higher meaning, especially as we witness suffering. A regular yoga practice teaches us how to control the body and the mind. We learn to be present with uncomfortable thoughts and physical sensations in the body. We also learn how to rise above them, into a place of the contented witness. These practices can facilitate a more holistic view of the world, the future, and the power we have in creating our own happiness.
 

Dhanurasana (Bow Pose)

Dhanurasana is named Bow Pose because the body looks like an archer’s bow, with the arms mirroring the strings. The reason dhanurasana can be such an intense pose is that it is a back bend that works against gravity. Instead of dropping into the pose, you must lift and engage the entire body to hold yourself upright. All backbends activate the Sympathetic Nervous System, which is known as the Stress Response. While chronic stress is never beneficial, putting the body into a stressful pose and mindfully breathing through it can be a very healthy practice. It teaches us about our physical resilience. All backbends are heart and chest openers, which helps undo the regular forward-reaching shapes we take in our daily lives. Other benefits include a deep stretch to the thighs and psoas, strengthening in the back muscles, and a gentle massage on the internal organs. Remember that you are ultimately in charge of how intense dhanurasana can become, so only go to your own edge in this pose and take breaks whenever you need to.
 

Shivalinga Mudra

Shivalinga Mudra is also called the Mudra of Resilience. The shape the hands create is similar to a mortar and pestle. The left hand is the mortar, with the fingers cupped together in front of the abdomen. The right hand rests in the bowl that the left hand makes, with the right thumb extended toward the sky. After finding this shape, call to mind a situation that tests the strength of your resilience and mentally place it into the left hand. Slowly begin to circle the right hand, “grinding” that thing away. You can even blow away the imaginary dust that is left behind in your left hand bowl. The right hand also represents the masculine and destructive force of Shiva. Destruction is an aspect of change, however unpleasant the word feels to us. In order to enact a conscious change, we can choose to take charge of what we would like to destroy. In addition to cultivating resilience, this mudra helps alleviate depression and increase energy. You can do it as often as you like, though it is recommended to practice Shivalinga Mudra twice a day for four minutes.