yoga blog


blog post written by Eliza Skye

Concentration is the root of all the higher abilities in man.
— Bruce Lee

Dharana is one of Pantanjali’s eight limbs of yoga, and it roughly translates to “concentration”, “single focus” or “holding steady”. Dharana is the first step into deep meditation, and a process that we all must practice consistently in order to find moments of meditative bliss. When one practices dharana, there is a consciousness who is able to watch the thoughts and remain separate from them. Eventually, this will evolve into a higher practice in which consciousness, thoughts and the witness all blend into a stream of singularity. 

Dharana informs our hatha yoga practice in a couple distinct ways. First, we use concentration in the physical act of yoga. Balancing becomes much more accessible when the yoga practitioner is able to focus and hold steady on a single thought. Next time you are wobbling out of a balancing pose, check in with the thoughts. Are they wandering, as they tend to without guidance? See if you can hold steady on one thought, or even the breath, and you will likely find balance to be much more accessible. 

Another way that dharana informs the practice of hatha yoga is that we see a similar evolution of practice cultivating the fruits of what we seek. In hatha yoga, perhaps you are seeking a handstand (one of the most common yoga “dream poses” that I personally hear from my students). Hopefully, your teacher is introducing you to steps along the way toward a handstand. We don’t suddenly emerge into a handstand - it takes steady practice and focus. The same can be said about meditation. Though the Beginner’s Mind is a very real phenomenon, typically one does not simply sit down on a cushion and enter into a state of ananda, or bliss. Often, one must hold steady to an image, a mantra or the sound of the breath and use that as a channel toward the experience of nonduality. 

This concept is on one hand so simple, but when we take into account the intricacies and deeply ingrained patterns of the mind, it becomes rather tough. My guru, Swami Satchidananda, wrote about the realities of dharana (in this example, the point of focus is a rose): 

“As you look at the rose, the mind will try to go somewhere. The minute you begin, the mind will say, ‘Ah, yes, I remember she sent me a rose like that for my last birthday.’… And then, ‘After that we had dinner. Ah, it was the best dinner. Then we went to the movies. What was that movie? King Kong?’ It will all happen within two minutes. Even less than two minutes. So, on what are you meditating now? Not on a rose, but on King Kong.”

Dharana is the act of noticing where the mind went and gently, consistently, bringing it back to the image of the rose, over and over until the mind can learn to settle. Satchidananda can offer advice on this piece as well:

“This very practice itself is called concentration: the mind running, your bringing it back; its running, your bringing it back. You are taming a monkey. Once it’s tamed, it will just listen to you. You will be able to say, ‘Okay, sit there quietly.’ And it will. At that point you are meditating. Until then you are training yourself to meditate. Training your mind to meditate is what is called dharana.”

My hope is that, in introducing dharana to the yoga studio that we can create a community of people who practice this limb of yoga in their own lives. Then, we can share our experiences and advice with others who have the same pursuits. Then we are lifting each other up, helping to unify our experience of seeking the light. 

Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana (Extended Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose)

This standing balance is a combination of many challenging aspects of yoga. In all standing balancing poses, core and leg strength are key for a steady asana. Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana is especially challenging because, in addition to those two elements, open hamstrings are essential. However, even if the hamstrings are not open, there are many ways to modify Extended Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose. The leg in the air, for example, does not have to keep the knee perfectly straight. This pose was chosen to complement the practice of concentration because steady focus is key for this balance. Practicing this pose with present awareness can open you up to the true power of the breath in hatha yoga. Focus on the breath leads to a steadiness that allows you to explore the depth of your own flexibility. In addition to cultivating concentration and leg flexibility, this pose strengthens the core, legs and ankles. All of these benefits can be experienced if you choose to practice this pose with the support of a wall, and you can also alleviate some of the leg work by taking this pose while lying on the back. 


Blog post written by Eliza Skye

To me there is nothing more sacred than love and laughter, and there is nothing more prayerful than playfulness.
— Osho

In Sanskrit, the word “lila” means ‘sport’ or ‘play of God’, and it also refers to the concept that all of existence is a divine play, put on by Brahman (the creator). This very strongly correlates to the Western theological concept of Pandeism, which describes the Universe as God taking a physical form in order to experience the interplay between the elements of the Universe. Many of us adults consider play to be something that we no longer need after childhood, but there are many traditions that see the power in play. The definition of play is “the quality of being light-hearted or full of fun.” In play, the heart carries the light and therefore must let go of darkness. The mind is present. Play is not a sport - there is no competition or goal. It is an act performed in pure joy, which brings about true liberation, for there is no attachment to an outcome, to the past, or to the future. Perhaps, with enough practice, we can shift toward a view that all of the world around us is simply a divine play, with all of us as the actors and the audience. We can choose the next act of our lives, perhaps embracing it with the lighthearted joy of a child at play. 

Bakasana (Crow Pose)

Bakasana, or Crow Pose,  is a playful and accessible arm balance that has very few contraindications. Bakasana was chosen as the pose for the month of June because crows are known for their playful nature. This playfulness suggests to many scientists and researchers that crows have a higher level of intelligence than other common birds. The playfulness itself is an indicator of intelligence. It takes a certain wit to engage in the act of play, for it means that a creature takes delights in an action that beyond survival or base needs. We can learn from the crow as we practice Bakasana. Arm balances are difficult, and there is a certain amount of falling that happens when one takes a balance. If Crow Pose is approached with playfulness, a yoga practitioner can enjoy falling out and perhaps even laugh at themself.  Crow Pose strengthens the shoulders, arms, wrists, abdomen and inner thighs, and even beginning the practice helps to tone those particular areas of the body. There are a few ways to modify this arm balance in order to make it more accessible to practitioners of all types, so we encourage you to come to the studio and talk to your teacher about how to approach this pose. 


Blog post written by Eliza Skye

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. 


Blog post written by Eliza Skye

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. 


Blog Post written by Eliza Skye

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.