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.

Jan 21 2010

With Intensity of Spiritual Practice

Mark Knowles

In the first sūtra in Sadhana Pādaḥ, Maharṣi Patañjali  gives us the 3-step method to realizing the goal of Kriya Yoga-the yoga of purification.

महर्षि पतञ्जलि योग सूत्र ।२।

Maharṣi Patañjali Yoga Sūtra |2|

तपः स्वाध्यायेश्वर प्रणिधानानि क्रिया योगः॥१॥

tapaḥ svādhyāyeśvara praṇidhānāni kriyā yogaḥ ||1||

“With intensity of spiritual practice, sacred study, and devotion; here lies the work to get back to a state of equilibrium, purity, and brightness.”  -Translation by śrī Sharon Gannon

Tapaḥ-This word is often translated as heat.

This sūtra is the first in the Pāda entitled Sadhana (conscious spiritual practice) and follows the first book entitled, Samādhi (where Master Patanjali expounds on the goal of yoga).  It therefore stands to reason that in this context he’s referring to the spiritual practices of Yoga.

He goes on to describe how they should be pursued with intensity.  Think of gold.  The more the gold is heated, the higher the temperature, the more impurities are burned out.  We can usually find the time to sleep a little later, or not twist deeper into ardha matsyendrāsana (seated spinal twist).  This is a mental exercise.  We generally chase after things which bring us pleasure while we shy away from those which may seem challenging.  By coming to class AND staying focused, giving our full attention to the work at hand, we purify the mind.  By accepting things which may cause us discomfort, we may actually be happy to receive this pain knowing the purification it will bring.  This cannot be practiced in the meditation rooms, only in our daily lives.  We should always look for ways to expand our ability to evolve.  We should be wary of becoming stuck in a routine which may lead us to moving on autopilot.  Our asana sequence, for example, may become rote execution, taking the “consciousness” aspect out of it.  We may seek classes which don’t challenge us because we don’t want to feel like we can’t “do” a posture.  We may resist giving a few dollars to someone less fortunate because we’re scared to make eye contact.  We may never try a delicious vegan Biscuits and Gravy (One of my recipes: recipe because we mistakenly think “I could never go Vegan”.

Intensity is relative.  For example, to someone who is proficient at salamba śīrṣāsana (supported headstand), going through the preparations of dolphining, half headstand, balancing with knees into chest, and with knees raised may be very intense, both mentally and physically.  My Teacher śrī David Life suggests that if we are a fiery personality, one who needs movement, then we should take a slow class and vice versa.

What could prevent us from this intensity?  Fear.  A friend of mine has a great definition for this:

F  alse  E  vidence  A  ppearing  R  eal

We think we’re not capable.  That somehow we may be less than Divine.  Maharṣi Patañjali says “I thought you might say that, here’s what you can do…..”

svādyāya – Study of  the Self/spiritual books

Anything that will elevate your mind and remind you of your true Self should be studied, absorbed, and then PRACTICED.  We cannot just become walking libraries.  Remember, we’re in the book called Sadhana-PRACTICE.  We can study Yoga Sūtra, Bhagavad Gītā, Bible, Koran, or any uplifting scripture.  We’ll find that these sources are essentially the same in their guiding words.  They never become old.  A true scriptural source lasts forever, it is timeless because the Self is timeless.  We must be wary of “New and Improved” Yoga, or of others who say “That doesn’t apply anymore.”  We must go to the source of the scripture.  In śrī Swami Satchidananda’s words “If I say every day you must tell 10 lies in the name of Yoga and you can find no scriptural source to back that up, it should be suspect.”

Furthermore, if it is a true scriptural source many other sources of the world must agree.  The commandment “Thou shalt not kill” is a good example of this.  Also of how we can change it to suit us, “Thou shalt not kill HUMANS, animals okay, just not humans, except of course if they kill someone first, and then also maybe if they threaten to kill you, or someone you love, or if they have a country that has more oil than you, or maybe have weapons of mass destruction, and if they happen to be around an area we think is a hideout for bad guys…”  Scriptures and teachers may present information, but is up to us to decide how to practice and apply it.  We should then sit in meditation DAILY to observe the effects of these practices on our minds.  We may find the spiritual path is not an easy one, that the truth may be inconvenient yet we will find an easeful, peacefulness in it.

īśvara praṇidhānāni-offer with devotion to God

Maharṣi Patañjali reminds us, as he has throughout the first book, Devote everything to God.  He uses the term īśvara.  This translates as Supreme Being, God in personal form.  He doesn’t say Jesus, Mohammed, śiva, or Kṛṣṇa.  Yoga has been around for thousands of years.  There are no doctrines in Yoga which conflict with the beliefs of others.  So Maharṣi Patañjali tells us to offer the intensity of our practice towards realizing the Divine within ourselves.  He says offer all your efforts to God, whoever you believe Him/Her to be.  This is necessary because he knows our tendencies to become attached to our actions.  As my Teacher and Co-Founder of the Jivamukti Yoga method David Life says in Jivamukti Yoga Practices for Liberating Body and Soul :We recommend this dedication because asana practice is very powerful.  It can stir up a lot of energy, and the student may wonder, “What do I do with this energy I feel pulsing through my body?”  A teacher who is teaching Yoga only as an exercise- not as a spiritual, psychological, and physical system of purification- responds “I don’t know , do what you want with it,” might as well take the student to the edge of an abyss and say “Go ahead, jump.”

Students who are not taught to dedicate the energy released by an asana practice to God tend to do one of two things.  They may let all that power manifest in their bodies and personalities and become highly charged and very charismatic.  If you look at their faces, however, you may see rage, as well as anger, jealousy , and selfishness.  These are emotions that were stirred up by the practice but were never turned over to God.  Or, the students may fall to pieces, destroyed emotionally and physically by the practice.  These students will probably lose interest in Yoga.  Neither of these outcomes will occur if you apply Maharṣi Patañjali’s sound advice: Give it to God.  Devote all effort to God Realization.

Maharṣi Patañjali’s eight-limbed system is predominantly an effortful path, but the last two limbs-Dhyāna (meditation) and Samādhi (enlightenment)-cannot be attained through effort.  They are the result of Grace.  Yet it is only through intense effort that we can prepare ourselves to receive such grace.

I humbly bow at the lotus feet of my great teachers.

ॐ शान्ति शान्ति शान्तिः

om śānti śānti śāntiḥ

Oct 9 2009

A Blending of Disciplines: Non-Traditional Yoga

Jordan Anderson

The practice of yoga is over 5,000 years old. It was traditionally handed down from teacher directly to student, one on one. In order to practice yoga, a student first had to prove their worth in the eyes of the teacher, by showing up every day before the crack of dawn, performing menial tasks or backbreaking work. Once the teacher decided the student was serious, he would be accepted as a student and taught yoga philosophy, lifestyle, breathing, postures, and meditation techniques. Today anyone can try yoga, no prerequisites required. As a result, yoga draws students from a variety or backgrounds for a variety of reasons, and the teaching has evolved to meet each new student right where they are.

Because yoga has such a rich tradition, there are many physical styles suitable for different students. Iyengar yoga, for example, focuses on very refined alignment and encourages the use of props to make a pose accessible for any body. Ashtanga yoga includes the same postures, but is performed in a flowing manner with a focus on the breath. Interestingly, the founder of Iyengar yoga and the founder of Ashtanga yoga both had the same teacher! They each took what they learned and then adapted it for their own specific needs and the needs of their students.

Today, many yoga teachers are doing the same. In the past decade, some interesting hybrid styles of yoga have emerged. These styles are not intended to replace a more traditional yoga practice, but to open it up in some way. Each emphasizes the lighthearted side of yoga, or Leela (playfulness). Here is a short list of some of my favorites:

Aerial Yoga: Aerial Yoga (a style that I teach) is a blending of traditional yoga postures and low-to-the-ground aerial work. This style is practiced using the support of a soft fabric “trapeze” (similar to the silks used in Cirque du Soleil) that hangs at waist height. Body weight is distributed between the fabric and the floor, and traditional yoga poses are practiced using the aid of gravity’s pull to elongate the spine and create space in the joints of the body. This practice can be deeply restorative as you relax into gravity’s pull, or highly energetic as you learn to use new muscle groups. Unlike an aerial class, it is not about learning tricks but rather about using the fabric and gravity to gain new insight into your body and breath. It is appropriate for all levels of yoga student, including those new to the practice. The philosophy behind it is about learning to let go and trust, reversing the flow of energy in your body by flipping your relationship to gravity, and having fun with what is often a very serious practice. This is a class where laughter and interaction are encouraged.

Acroyoga: Acroyoga is a blending of yoga, acrobatics, and thai massage. It is practiced with one or more partners, and the philosophy behind it is building a sense of community and the practice of “metta” (loving-kindness). Much (but not all) of this practice is meant for intermediate or advanced level yoga students, and many traditional yoga postures are performed with one partner lying face-up on the ground with their legs in the air, and the second partner balancing in a yoga pose on that person’s feet. Much of the practice involves learning to trust your partner and yourself, and practicing ahimsa (non-harming) toward another person as you practice. Mindfulness is key, and learning to give and receive support. This practice can deepen a students awareness about how they approach relationships, with friends, family, and loved ones.

Doga: Doga is yoga that you do with your dog! It can be practiced in a studio setting or outdoors. Typically a group of students come together with their dogs and learn techniques such as dog massage and assisted stretches. It is a style of yoga where you will laugh a lot and definitely have fun. If you have a big dog, you might practice a warrior pose while lifting the front feet off the floor. The same pose would be practiced with a small dog by lifting the dog up over your head. In every class I’ve seen, most dogs were instantly calmed by the chanting of “Om”, and all were incredibly well-behaved. If yoga is all about being present, then practicing with a dog can be a natural extension, since dogs naturally live in the present!

Slackasana: Slackasana (slackline yoga) is a style of yoga developed by rock-climbers. A slackline (a flat material similar to a tightrope) is suspended anywhere from a couple of feet to a couple dozen feet off the ground, and yoga postures are practiced balancing on the line. This style of yoga is very difficult to learn, as simply standing on the slackline takes considerable practice. But for the dedicated it can be a great way to build strength, balance, and most of all, focus. The philosophy is that you must stay present at every moment, because if your focus wanders even for a second you will fall out of the pose. It can be seen as an extreme form of concentration, which in the 8 limbs of yoga, leads to a state of meditation and eventually enlightenment.

At first glance some of these styles may seem far removed from traditional yoga practice. But the foundation of any yoga practice is the yamas and niyamas (moral precepts like non-harming, truthfulness, etc, and personal observances like self-study, devotion, etc), and each of these hybrid practices takes these concepts at the core. Yoga is about union, and while uniting yoga with disciplines like acrobatics or aerials may not resonate with everyone, there can be real value in taking the practice of yoga out of the traditional studio, off of the traditional mat, and giving yourself freedom to explore. Any serious yoga student can benefit by trying something different, and these blends are attracting new students as well, many who become interested in yoga for the first time and then go on to explore a more traditional practice.


Jordan Anderson
Anti-gravity Yoga & Fitness
Classes, Workshops, & Private Instruction