Thursday, April 30, 2009

NEW! Gentle Class on Wednesday Nights

Beginning last night, my Wednesday Night class is now a Gentle Class, ideal for beginners, people with special conditions or injuries, and those who want to focus on restorative and deeply rejuvenating yoga.  

In this class we will do a very gentle sequence focusing on foundational elements of yoga -- stability through the legs and feet, passive or gentle stretches, basic asanas, supported poses and using the wall to modify poses with a regular return to the breath as the fundamental gateway to a yogic state of steady balance and clarity.

We will be spending up to half the class in restorative poses (passive supported supine asanas), yoga nidra (yogic sleep which is deeply healing to the psyche), savasana, and meditation (supported at the wall if necessary).  The theme of this Gentle class will continue with the chakras and gunas and thematically parallel my All Levels classes.

So often people avoid something new or a public class if they are dealing with a lot of stress, intense emotions, anxiety, depression, a chronic injury, grief, sleep interruptions, mood swings, or a host of other fairly common symptoms of American life.  This class is a safe, peaceful, informative and experiential opportunity to learn techniques to shift into awareness of your true nature -- your complete, stable, joyful and courageous Self.

Please join me -- this class is more about being than doing -- it is a gift from the wisdom of the sages and an antidote to modern life.


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Ayurveda Class Series Underway on Monday Nights

For the next 3 weeks on Monday nights, join me at Radha Crawley and Aaron Schwaller's Ayurvedic Seminar that is in the very familiar Room 105 Tapestry Yoga Classroom Space from 7-9 pm.  These two have a great deal of study with some serious vedic masters and are captivating several of us with the brilliance of this sister-science which is closely related to the Tantric Yoga that I teach.  I promise you, if you want to take the science of yoga more into your daily life, you will pick up many essential treasures from these two super-enthusiastic and talented guides.

Here is there link advertising the class and I'm sure there will be more great info posted as well:

Monday, April 27, 2009

4th Chakra and Rajasic Sattwa

This Week (5): The Fourth Chakra, The Anahata Chakra. The Heart Chakra
Location: Heart - 1 finger width to the right of the spine
Basic Right: The Right to Love and Be Loved
Bija Mantra: Yam
Celestial Body: Venus
Color: Green
Developmentally: 3 to 6 Years
Element: Air
Goals: Balance in relationships and with self, compassion, self-acceptance
Guna: Rajas
Major Psychological Life Area: Love
Malfunction: Deficient: Isolation, low self-esteem, collapsed chest, shallow breathing, melancholy.  Excessive: Codependent, care-taking, clinging behaviors
Plane: Peace, joy, compassion, and understanding
Sense: Touch
Yoga Path:  Bhakti Yoga (devotional yoga)
Yantra: Blood-red petals, a blue 6-pointed star

The last definition of Tantra that Mani Finger (my teacher's first guru) gave to my teacher, Yogarupa Rod Stryker was this:
Tantra:  The satisfaction of touch.  To have your heart touched, to feel awe and wonder of having your heart touched.  To live with wonder; to have the heart touched with the sacred; the living wonder.

Monday, April 20, 2009

3rd Chakra and Rajasic Sattwa

This Week (4): The Third Chakra, The Manipura Chakra. The Navel Chakra, Power Center
Location: Solar Plexus
Basic Right: The Right to Act
Bija Mantra: Ram
Celestial Body: Mars, Sun
Color: Yellow
Developmentally: 18 months to 3 years
Element: Fire
Goals: Vitality, strength of will, purpose
Guna: Rajas
Major Psychological Life Area: Power
Malfunction: Ulcers, timidity, domination, fatigue, digestive troubles
Plane: Attachment, pain, psychic center
Sense: Sight
Secondary Chakra: The Hands
Yantra: Dark purple petals and a red triangle

The U.S.A. is a 3rd chakra country -- it is obsessed with power, very identified with ourselves and locked into our identity.  3rd chakra is about ambition.  This fire component is what moves us forward.  Life in the USA is Rajas Dominant -- we are the hardest working, least vacationing people in the world and we have all the stuff to prove it.  Ultimately, all of this takes us out of balance and our quality of life is declining, our lives feel empty (many people are on anti-depressants) dominated by unhealthy, hyperactive, blind ambition.

The dominant guna for 3rd and 4th chakras is rajas and our goal in the next two weeks of class is to create Rajasic Sattwa within the body -- pure rajas creates imbalance, but rajas with a sattwic component is balanced, enlivened and serves the goal of yoga - to serve Consciousness.

The Asanas we do for Rajas are:
Backbends (especially those done on the stomach like salambasana and dhanurasana); arm balances, standings and twists (3rd chakra especially and balance the practice with samana --equalizing energy).

In pranayama (breath), we emphasize the inhalation to build energy --to build the energy of change and enthusiasm -- even holding after inhalation if we can do it with steadiness.  The awareness naturally goes outward on holdings, but with mindful awareness directed inward, a rajasic sattwic state is realized.  We will continue to work with breath ratios -- counting our breath-lengths and demanding awareness in shaping the breath to keep the awareness inside.

The major bandha is uddiyanda banda by exhaling completely and drawing the internal organs in and up to the back body.  This stimulates the 3rd chakra.
In meditation the emphasis is on light or space.  If awareness is unable to stay inside at the end of the practice then the sequencing was too rajasic, too activating.  You should be able to settle into the light of your own heart and hear Nada -- the unstruck sound of the soul.  The goal in savasana is to have a thread to inner connection and the ability to attune to inner vibration and energy.  

The key to steeping this activating practice in Sattwa is Bhavana (devotional energy).  The goal is to cultivate a connection to the soul, to inner knowledge and keeping the mind internally clear and balanced.  

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Para Yoga Invocation

There is a powerful mantra that has been given to Para Yoga by Yogarupa Rod Stryker's Guru, Pandit Rajmani Tigunait.  Panditji, as he's affectionately called, is a rare master of yoga on many levels -- most importantly as a practitioner and student of Sri Swami Rama, as well as an academic with Ph.D.'s from the University of Allahabad in Sanskrit Studies and a second from the University of Pennsylvania in Eastern Philosophy where he did his thesis on Sri Vidya -- a very ancient and profound tantric lineage -- the keys to which Panditji holds through a lifetime of devotion to practice.

Recitation of mantra is a powerful way into the practice of yoga and a mantra which has been "un-locked" by a teacher is an extraordinary way to vibrationally attune to source.  It is dramatically more powerful to get a mantra from a qualified teacher than it is to simply read about it in a book and start chanting it.  The Para Yoga Invocation for Parashakti is a profound gift from Panditji to his beloved student, Yogarupa, and all students of Para Yoga.

This invocation should be chanted 3 times at the opening or closing of any tantric practice.  It is an excellent mantra to learn and chant out loud or silently to yourself at the beginning or end of your day.  Just beginning a meditation practice and chanting this 3 times before watching the breath for 2 minutes is an excellent beginning home practice.

Each class at the end of Savasana, I chant this mantra to honor the wisdom and lineage of the himalayan masters.  It deeply penetrates the 5 layers of Consciousness and permeates your being.  I will begin to teach this mantra to my students as I am guided, but here are the words:

The Parayoga Invocation for Parashakti
Ganesha graha nakshatra
Yogini rashi rupinim
Devim Mantra Mayim Naumi
Matrika Pitta Rupinim

For now, know that this mantra imparts a tremendous connection to the divine mother, the divine feminine energy that pervades the universe and honors the power and light of the stars as the same light that shines in us as us.  

Panditji completed the chanting of this mantra 3 times with Om, Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.  Peace, Peace, Peace.

Hari om. Om tat sat.

Monday, April 13, 2009

2nd Chakra and Tamasic Sattwa

This Week (3): The Second Chakra, The Swadisthana Chakra. The Creativity Chakra, Sexuality and Emotions Center
Location: Tailbone, reproductive organs, lower abdomen
Basic Right: The Right to Feel
Bija Mantra: VAM
Celestial Body: Moon
Color: Orange
Developmentally: 6 to 24 Months
Element: Water (that flows)
Goals: Fluidity, Pleasure, Relaxation
Guna: Tamas
Major Psychological Life Area: Sex
Malfunction: Stiffness, sexual problems, isolation, emotional instability or numbness
Plane: Sexuality, likes, desires, and enjoyment
Secondary Chakra: The Hands
Yantra: Orange petal with a silver crescent moon

Classically, 2nd chakra is all about getting energy moving-- the fluid motion of water; the passionate energy of sensuality; the dynamic freedom of the hips and low back through the movement of dance; the feeling of feelings; and the general upward movement of energy from the stability of the 1st chakra making its way up through the chakras to the crown.

Energetically, however, our goal at second chakra is to continue to cultivate tamasic sattwa -- stability and clarity -- so our focus will specifically be on bringing steadiness to the emotional body through skillfully shaping prana; cultivating a connection to the inner witness observer; and sequencing of the asanas.  In tantra, stability in the physical body at 1st chakra and steadiness at the 2nd chakra in the emotional body together create a foundation for greater freedom as awareness expands.  Feel the feelings, but don't be a slave to them.

The key piece to steadiness in the 2nd chakra is the ability to let go -- eliminate, non-attachment, the ability to move on -- to FORGIVE.  It is key to stop churning emotions, stop creating melodramas, and to stop patterns of behavior that mix up your life and take it off-course and keep it drifting.

While 1st chakra is about the individual, 2nd chakra is about duality -- our relationship to others, about polarity (sun/moon; light/dark; male/female).  

Hatha yoga asanas we'll focus on this week are chakra vakasana (the cat/cow pose on all 4's we frequently begin with which get the femurs back in the hips so we can open the pelvis); forward bends are very key to second chakra (janu sirsasana, paschimottanasana, malasana, upavista konasana); standing poses (parsvottanasana, prasarita padottanasana, utkatasana, and uttanasana (with one and two legs)); backbends (bhujangasana and ustrasana); and extensions (chataranga dandasana).  There's a lot of sanskrit here, but we'll use the english names in class, too.  Again, like with 1st chakra, there are no inversions here (other than possibly headstand). 

We'll continue to cultivate a relationship to the practices from last week:  1:2 breath with smooth circular breathing); hold on exhalation; kriya -- action or movement to move energy consciously and accelerate transformation -- (moving energy down the spine on inhale and to the earth on the exhale); mulabanda on exhale, and establish ourselves in helpful rhythms to create a sustained connections to the steady, restful energy of tamasic sattwa.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Free Private Lessons

Announcing Tuesday Morning Private Lesson Time FREE to all students signed up for this session.  For the next 6 weeks, I have a private sessions available each Tuesday from 10:15-11:45.  This is an opportunity to get one on one coaching with your yoga practice, ask deeper questions about your personal practice, break through to the next level with a pose (practice handstand in the middle of the room), request a personal meditation practice, create a home practice sequence, review concepts you want to understand more deeply, or just have a metaphysical discussion.  

It is an excellent opportunity for me to listen closely to the unique experience and questions you have regarding your yoga practice and to refine the art of vinyasa krama which means personalizing yoga practices.  I have the morning free til 12:30 and Carol Anne Kemen is donating the studio time to us after class, so we should do this!

Think about when you would like to come and email me at to pick a time (any Tuesday through 5/23 at 10:15). 


Monday, April 6, 2009

1st Chakra and Tamas

Throughout this session, I am using Anodea Judith & Selene Vega's wonderful book, "The Sevenfold Journey" as a reference for this chakra information.  The Guna info is 100% Rod Stryker.

This Week (2):  The First Chakra, The Muladhara Chakra. The Root Chakra, Survival Center
Location: Base of the Spine; Specifically the perineum (for men) and the cervix (for women)
Basic Right:  The Right to Have
Bija Mantra: LAM
Celestial Body: Saturn
Color: Red
Developmentally: 2nd Trimester to 9 Months
Element:  Earth (heavy, solid, dense)
Goals: Stability, grounding, prosperity, right livelihood, physical health
Guna: Tamas
Major Psychological Life Area: Survival
Malfunction: Obesity, hemorrhoids, constipation, sciatica, eating disorders, knee troubles, bone disorders, frequent illness, frequent, fears, inability to focus, spaciness and restlessness.
Plane:  judgement, delusion, dislikes and materialism.
Secondary Chakra: The Feet
Yantra: Fiery Red Petals.  A yellow square with a red triangle and a coiled serpent within.

This week I'll be sequencing the classes to cultivate a connection to a guna combo called tamasic sattwa (stable clarity) because this is the energy we want to have moving through us to be lined up with the best of the first chakra.   Out of balance, first chakra carries the energy of tamas -- dark, inert, stagnant.  But in balance, the first chakra is dominated by tamasic sattwa.  This combination has a particular quality -- it makes us more steady and established in rhythms and perspectives that are helpful to us; improves our endurance and groundedness; and even increases our ability to eliminate -- to forgive and let go so we can move on. 

Key pieces to this are Forward Bends, Balancing Poses, Standing Poses (for strength and stability), twists; longer holds; and restorative poses.  Poses to avoid for this are inversions.  Last week, we focused on breathing that had a 1:1 inhale:exhale ratio (with circular breathing) so that we would cultivate the steady clarity of sattwa. This week we want to go deeper into tamasic sattwa -- so we'll shift it to a 1:2 ratio (In 4 counts; Out 8 counts), possibly even holding after exhale.

To contain this energy at the root chakra, you can do mulubandha (lift the pelvic floor by gently drawing the tailbone in and up) on the exhale only. 

And for meditation we'll meditate below the heart, on the breath with a dharana -- one pointedness -- a visualization perhaps that grounds the experience (as opposed to meditating on space which is the 7th chakra).  We'll be doing a very ancient meditation to close class this week and next week that focuses the energy around stability and connectedness to earth.  

A practice very strong in tamasic sattwa has profound effects -- one student of Rod's slept through the night for the first time in 23 years after doing a 2 hour practice focused on cultivating this. 

Be aware of what comes up for you in your dreams this week after class and what else plays out in your day after 90 minutes of awareness and energy cultivation around this first chakra.  This one is a challenge -- it is the seat of most of our "stuff" -- our insecurities and worries in a time that is full of uncertainty according to the newspapers.  Remember, we can count on change -- our job is to be steady in the face of change; see the most choices and have the most freedom in choosing with awareness.  

Thanks for reading and for coming to class this session.  All three classes are running and a great group of people are signed up.  Awesome!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Gunas-- Governors' of Emotion

The Gunas are a powerful piece of the Tantric Yoga worldview to master and stay connected at all times to source.  Since I just got back from a fabulous Rod Stryker yoga weekend (and road trip with Anne O'Connor for her 41st birthday) where the theme of the weekend's 5 classes was the Gunas, it seems like an obvious thing to weave into the current session.

The Gunas (tamas, rajas and sattwa) are 3 inherent energies that influence everything that comes into being.  Before conception, the 3 gunas are balanced in us as Parusha (our infinite nature; our Soul) until they encounter Prakriti -- the energy that brings things into nature -- and the great, noble idea which is the seed of each of us gets kicked from the soul realm of perfection into the manifest realm of change (and suffering) as a unique ideal that is now part of the changing world (Prakriti).  When that happens, we necessarily drop out of balance, one guna actually predominates and we begin a continuous cycle of changing guna domination.  Whichever guna is dominating in a given moment governs our emotional experience and reaction to the world.  

First let's look more closely at what these terms (tamas, rajas and sattwa) mean and how exactly they show up in our world.  

We all come into embodiment with a level of Tamas which literally means dark, stagnant, inertia.  It also refers to ignorance, misapprehension of who we are, of suffering and not remembering our connection to source.  The very fact that we're embodied means there's a veil on our true nature (parusha) and an inability to see the patterns of behavior and thinking that keep parusha covered.   However underlying this is a deep desire to do better, be better and feel less ignorant -- an inherent sense that there is something beyond ourselves.  This sense is fueled by the second guna, rajas.

Rajas is related to the sanskrit word Rejatas (which means light; light of the heavenly bodies, of the the stars; light to aspire) and is the seed of our desire to embody this light.  Rajas also means activity and enlivenment and fuels this desire to bring light into our darkness.  Yoga practices connect us to this light by shining light into our darkness.

As we connect more to light we come to a third inherent quality, Sattwa, which means purity, ease, consciousness, freedom.  Sattwa is related to the sanskrit word Sat (Being, existence - soul is being).  When Sattwa energy is dominant we don't reject darkness, we understand it and gain access to higher understanding and perception.

In a nutshell, we come to yoga with Tamas (a little stuck in body and mind), add a little Rajas --activity, light and awareness and this leads us after some practice to Sattwa -- to more freedom, the ability to act more and more consciously and to remain steady in the face of change.

All three gunas are in everything in this earth realm (prakriti) and one of them is always dominant.  Every action has a dominant guna -- for instance:
What kind of movie to choose?  A scary movie is more Tamas; an adventure story has more Rajas and an inspiring movie based on the best of human nature has more Sattwa.  

The more we take in and surround ourselves with a specific guna, the more dominant that guna becomes in our life through the company that we keep, what we eat, what we watch and listen to, the work we do, how much time we spend in nature -- everything influences which guna is dominant and whatever guna is dominant directly influences our response.

Everyday, at some point, I experience dominance of Tamas, Rajas and Sattwa.  It's a rare day that is dominated by Tamas at this point, but in my twenties when I had a severe case of clinical depression, I was definitely mired in Tamas and it was a good thing I got help when I did through therapy and a 6-year Wellbutrin prescription.  It was two years of yoga practice that increased my rajas (my connection to light) enough that I could wean off the anti-depressant.  Now, another 5 years later (and a heck of a trip to India) I sometimes need sunglasses the world inside and outside feels so bright.  

Plenty of people spend most of their time in one guna -- Tamas depressed couch potatoes; Rajas Type A Personalities; or Sattwa enlightened ones -- The Dalai Lama, Jesus, Budda, Rumi.   
For most of us, the goal is to minimize tamas, have a sane amount of rajas and be in sattwa for all the important parts of your day, as much as possible.  This is the practice.  Practice, practice, practice.  And the questions to ask to see if you are doing the right practice: "Am I more joyful and do I have less fear?" 

Swami Rama, my great-grand guru said this (and I really pay attention to this for Sattwa), "You are the company that you keep -- so keep good company."  

To the company that we keep, I salute you!


A brief overview of the Chakras

This Spring session focuses on the Chakra System and how it relates to the Gunas.  You've probably all heard of the Chakras, but what in the world is a Guna?  

Chakras are centers of consciousness -- 7 are widely accepted as the main ones and they run up the spine and past the top of the head and they represent 7 states of consciousness.

The Gunas are three qualities of prakriti (nature which always changes): 1) tamas (darkness), 2)rajas (light) and 3) sattwa (clarity).  The gunas govern our emotions and relate to the chakra system.  

For now, let's go over the chakra system in general.  There are (conveniently) 7 weeks of class ahead of this session and each week we'll focus on a chakra.  The 7 chakras are Muladhara (Root); Swadhishthana (Abdomen); Manipura (Navel); Anahata (Heart); Vissudhi (Throat); Ajna (Eyebrow Center) and Sahasrara (Crown of the Head).  Chakras are spinning vortexes of energy vertically stacked within the center of the body and receive, integrate and transmit energy from consciousness to the physical body.  

Each chakra specializes in managing the energy of a specific area of human experience (survival, sex, power, love, communication, imagination and spirituality) and there are layers of other correlations to each chakra in the realms of gemology, color, elements, herbs, planets, secondary chakras and foods, to name a few.  There is also a correlation with the 3 Gunas -- Tamas is dominant in chakras 1 & 2; Rajas in 3 & 4 and Sattwa in 5 & 6.  The 7th chakra is beyond Prakriti and the changing world and is the realm of Parusha, the Soul, which is universal, infinite and beyond space and time.   

There is a tremendous body of knowledge around chakras, but we are interested in them as a framework for experiencing life with greater clarity and awareness.  By acknowledging each aspect of ourselves; activating and clearing our energy centers with techniques from the yogic tradition and visualizing the energy centers dynamically interconnected, we take a step toward connecting from this physical world (of change, aches and pains, ups & downs; Prakriti) to the realm of Parusha and connection to infinite source and joy.  This connection is at the philosophical heart of yoga -- the whole goal is to unite with the divine -- to remember our true nature and merge in oneness with source.

Just a few major ideas and philosophical tenets to digest in here, aren't there?  A good start, I hope.   Send any questions or comments my way.  Yoga is a spiritual practice.  It is not a religion, but should support you in any religious beliefs you have.  The key word is practice -- on the mat we practice observing, moving and mastering energy and that begins to shift our experience of life right away and informs our view of the world.

Hari Om.  Om tat sat.