Jan 24 2013

Hometown Yoga Heroes: Trace Bonner

Erica Rodefer Winters

When I first moved to Charleston a couple of years ago I was thrilled that my apartment was only a few miles from Holy Cow Yoga Studio (little did I know that a “few miles” could take up to 30 minutes in Charleston traffic). The first yoga class I went to here was led by Trace Bonner. From the first Downward Dog, I knew I’d found a teacher I’d be able to connect with—this lady says what she means and means what she says. She’s direct, relatable, and funny in a way that comes so naturally I don’t think she even thinks about it—it’s just who she is. This is a quality that, for me, is the difference between a good yoga teacher and a great one. So I wanted to talk more to her about her approach to the yoga practice and find out what makes her tick.
Here’s what she had to say:

What’s one thing you wish you had known about yoga when you first started practicing?

That it is not about becoming flexible. I think in the beginning years of taking yoga I strived toward attaining the perfect posture. However, after some time I realized that it was more about being more flexible in my mind. I slowly let go of the rigidity of things in my life being a certain way. I let go of pacifying my ego’s wants and desires without deeper contemplation. And so, I think yoga has the ability to slowly transform one’s mental suffering.

 What’s your favorite pose at the moment? What are you learning from it?

I have always loved Downward Facing Dog. It remains the most evolving posture I do daily. Something about being tipped upside down and feeling the power of my arms and legs working in unison. I consistently find a deep and prayerful space to watch the breath and mind at play while hanging in there viewing the world from a completely different perspective.

What’s the best advice someone ever gave you?

Truth is one, paths are many. This is the famous teaching from my teacher, Swami Satchidananda. When I was younger I grew up believing that there was one way to connect to my highest spiritual self (God).. And yet, during those years I never bought into that way of thinking. It felt so exclusive, and I didn’t feel God could ever be that way. So, when I met my teacher you can imagine my joy of discovering that it was OK to have varying beliefs, and each one held a valid way of experiencing the divinity of God. I felt a wave of relief that we could each find our own path and they were all equally going to get us to the same place. I continue to share that teaching.

To read more visit: http://spoiledyogi.blogspot.com/2013/01/hometown-yoga-heroes-trace-bonner.html


Dec 15 2010

Family Yoga!

Willis Tant

There is a class at Jivamukti Yoga on Sundays at noon that is called Family Yoga.  It is intended to be for all people of all ages and can be shared by any and all family members.  The teachings are simple and useful, there is a sense of fun, and songs that help students easily learn the movements.

It is my favorite class that I have the honor of teaching.  I am often so touched by family togetherness that I am moved to tears.  There have been students who bring in their sisters who visit from out of town, there have been father-son moments, and grandparents and small children who delight us all.  But most regular has been one family, who, come almost every Sunday, because they make it THEIR Family time.  Their time to BE and grow together!  Their time to stretch, and breathe, and SEE each other.  Often they go on a picnic or to the beach or even to the grocery store together afterwards.  But for that one hour, every Sunday, they practice together.   I revel in their beauty every week. 

Last Sunday they were telling me how they invite other families to join them, how they spread the word because they have experienced such value from the practice together.  They inspire me and I am so grateful to their dedication and enthusiasm.  They humble me and are a living example of light.  So may this, my first blog, be a sincere offering to this family who has shown me so much love.  Thank you. 

And thank you for coming to practice yoga together in my presence so many times over.  We invite more Charleston yoga families to join us! And look forward to growing, being, and seeing you more often.


Nov 30 2010

Prayer Pose of Thanks

Rae

“Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving” (Colossians 4:2).

We come to our mat over and over again with expectations, striving for poses, looking for a feeling of peace, swimming around in our thoughts, to find that those natural feelings are part of the practice.  That is why we continue to show up, observe the breath, and offer thanks for the present moment.  For me, my yoga practice is a physical expression of body prayer. Prayer is a practice, but it does not have to be separate from the body. The body, mind, heart, and soul are a unified whole.  When we bring our hands to heart center in prayer (Anjali Mudra) it’s a symbolic hand gesture that reflects reverence and union with the Divine.

With our fast pace culture during the holiday season,  our stress levels are on the rise with an increase of depression, anxiety, missing past loved ones, arguing with loved ones, who is not talking to who….we all can identify with the chaos that happens within our bodies and our surroundings. The paradox is we are celebrating Thankfulness and often times get swept away into the spirit of ungratefulness.

So like brushing your teeth is a daily practice, so can prayer!

Stand in mountain pose (Tadasana) with hands at heart center in prayer

Ground your feet steadfastly into the earth

Watch the breath fill your heart with thankfulness

Breathe in from your toes, shins, thighs, hips, belly, ribs expand, chest lifts, throat, nose, third eye to the crown of the head

Breathe out from the back of your crown, neck, shoulder blades, lower back, backs of thighs, knees, ankles, and heels

Continue to the cycle of the breath ebbing and flowing from the front side of the body and feeling the breath roll off the back of the body.  Whatever is causing stress in your life, allow that to roll off with the breath of Peace. And inhale whatever you are grateful for.

May your holiday season be filled with Love, and as you pass the salt at your Thanksgiving feast, may your conversations with loved ones be seasoned with salt and light.

I seal all my prayers through my Master Guru, Jesus Christ (Yeshua Sat Nam).


Aug 26 2010

Meditation and Your Brain

Rae

I recently read an amazing article in Yoga Journal on “Your Brain on Meditation,” by Kelly McGonigal (www.yogajournal.com/health/2601). She teaches yoga, meditation, and psychology at Stanford University and is the author of Yoga for Pain Relief. It is so inspiring that there is now scientific evidence that your brain on meditation actually changes its structure in different regions of the brain depending on the meditation. For instance, “over the past decade, researchers have found that if you practice focusing attention on your breath or a mantra, the brain will restructure itself to make concentration easier. If you practice calm acceptance during meditation, you will develop a brain that is more resilient to stress. And if you meditate while cultivating feelings of love and compassion, your brain will develop in such a way that you spontaneously feel more connected to others.”

Meditation in the Christian faith is often read and talked about, but not often taught. Meditation is compared to learning a skill like playing an instrument or a sport. In the Message version of Matthew 6, by Eugene Peterson, Jesus say’s “Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace.”

Prayer and meditation are two integral practices that join or unite us to our Creator. Prayer is talking to God and meditation is listening to Him. However, they both are forms of communication and require practice, patience and time. Our brains are so complex, yet we are designed in such a way that when we take the time to meditate a physical manifestation of gray matter in the brain is produced in different regions. According to “Eileen Luders, a re-searcher in the Department of Neurology at the University of California Los Angeles School of Medicine found that increased gray matter typically makes an area of the brain more efficient or powerful at processing information.”

How do we put meditation into practice and deepen our faith? Meditation is an ancient old practice and is used in many religions to connect with God and non-religious meditation techniques link the breath or repeat positive phrases (mantras) to calm the nervous system.  When Jesus visited Martha “her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught. But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, ‘Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.’ But the Lord said to her, ‘My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:38-42). Learning to be still and quiet in our inundated culture and living up to the expectations that we place on ourselves and others requires discipline.  By practicing just 10 to 90 minutes a day you can experience immediate results of calm and peaceful feelings.

This meditation was taught to me at Yogaville, an Ashram in Virginia.

Connect to God in Meditation

  1. Go to a quiet secluded place
  2. Close your eyes
  3. Draw your shoulder blades on the backside of your heart as you melt your shoulders away from your ears
  4. Expand from your heart center and smile with your collar bones
  5. Ground in through your sitting bones by pulling back any access flesh
  6. Inhale and Exhale:”Be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10
  7. Inhale and Exhale: “Be still and know that I am.”
  8. Inhale and Exhale: “Be still and know that.”
  9. Inhale and Exhale: “Be still and know.”
  10. Inhale and Exhale: “Be still.”
  11. Inhale and Exhale: “Be.”

Jul 14 2010

The Heart of Yoga: A Young Yogi’s Perspective

Matthew Foley

As I’ve begun my journey as a new yoga teacher over the past year, I’ve been thinking a great deal about the essence or heart of yoga. What is it exactly about yoga that makes me passionate both as a student and now a teacher?

It’s difficult of course to talk about THE heart of yoga, since yoga means many different things to many different people. One of the most noticeable aspects of the modern-day yoga community here in the States is the incredible diversity of reasons why people come to a yoga class. If you were to conduct a poll of people entering any given yoga studio and ask “Why did you come today?”, I think you would be amazed at the variety of responses.

Some are coming simply for a good workout. Some are coming for a personal oasis during the day – a chance to get away from the job, the to do list, the day-to-day grind. Some are coming to recover from injuries and wounds, both physical and psychological. And some come seeking the more spiritual aspects of the yoga tradition – to discover their true selves and perhaps find a little bliss along the way.

I think it’s quite a positive thing that many people are coming to a yoga practice from so many different perspectives. I think it actually speaks to (if you will excuse the pun) the flexibility of yoga in meeting a wide-range of needs of the modern person. Not bad for a tradition that’s been around for several millennia.

As I go into this question of the heart of a yoga practice, I realize that I can only really speak for myself and from my own experiences along the path. I am also a firm believer in the maxim “One Truth, Many Paths” – that there is a multitude of ways to express the same perennial truth. I realize that my words are, at best , mere fingers pointing at the moon.

Even though I can only speak of the heart of my yoga practice, I still think these thoughts may be helpful to someone at the beginning of their yoga path or someone interested in seeing things from a different perspective.

So, I come to this question: when I am teaching a yoga class to a group of students, what am I really trying to get across, what am I really hoping to share with them?

The heart of what I hope to cultivate in a yoga class – whether as teacher or student – is essentially an inner experience. It isn’t so important to me that I or anyone else perfects any one particular posture. I don’t think there is anything magical about an asana in and of itself – as if doing a perfect Virabhadrasana II is the mysterious ticket to everlasting nirvana. I think some people were born to do the uber-flexible advanced postures of yoga – but many of us aren’t.

I’m also not particularly interested in advancing a particular belief system. I think yoga’s current appeal in the West in terms of spiritual matters is that it offers a way of relating to spirituality – of connecting to the sacred, to the divine, to God – that isn’t about believing one particular way or subscribing to a specific dogma.

I believe yoga’s true gift (though it obviously doesn’t belong exclusively to yoga) is an inner experience of transformed awareness. In other words, yoga provides a radically new way of feeling our connection to the world and a transformed way of experiencing ourselves.

As we relax, expand, and open both the body and mind throughout the course of a yoga class, we clear a space within ourselves that is ordinarily cluttered by all the anxieties, fears, tensions, and doubts of our fast-paced lives. Within this cleared, open space, something else, something deeper, something more profound finally has the chance to speak.

If we are bold enough to listen, we find that it is our true selves – a self not exclusively rooted, however, to the narrow confines of me and mine, my story and my wants. This open, expanded self doesn’t necessarily reject what we feel we need and want in life, but it puts it all in a fresh, expanded perspective. I personally don’t subscribe to the notion that a spiritual practice is meant to help us transcend our earthly existence, as if there is something wrong with being a living, breathing human being on planet earth. In fact, my experience has been that a yoga practice helps us reconnect to the splendor of just being who we are, in a gorgeously interdependent world of plants, animals, sunshine, mountains, and all the wonders of life.

This newfound connection to life, brought about by the transformation of our consciousness, offers not just a solution to our modern sense of alienation and dissatisfaction, but also offers a blueprint for relating in a more ethical and responsible way to our fellow human beings and our ecological environment.

At this point, you may be asking: isn’t this a tall order for an hour-long asana class, often scheduled between one student’s business meeting and another’s commute to pick the kids up from school? Well, in my opinion, the heart of yoga doesn’t reside within the walls of any one yoga studio, nor does it always involve a yoga mat. Yoga is a transformative way of living one’s life, right here and now, whether you are attempting a headstand or folding the laundry, whether in deep meditation or looking into the eyes of your loved one.

I hope these thoughts bring some new inspiration and insight to your practice, whether you are just beginning or have been at it for many, many years. Yoga can mean a lot of things to a lot of different people, so I share this not to convince you of the “right” way to do yoga, but to hopefully inspire you to find the heart of your yoga practice.