Archive for Ahimsa – non-violence

February 2019 Classes

On this balmy Superbowl Sunday, it feels like Spring may be right around the corner, and I certainly hope so!  This week’s Arctic Blast left my body feeling stiff and tense, as I found myself bracing against the chilly winds on my daily walking commutes. During the Winter months, it is even more important to take time for stretching and relaxation, as our muscles reflexively contract in the cold and it is mentally exhausting dealing with such inhospitable conditions.  This month, I am teaching numerous styles of movement modalities all of which will assist with such gentle stretching with a meditative focus.  See the side bar for the February dates and below for descriptions of Adult Beginner Ballet; Chair Yoga & Tai Chi Easy™; Gentle Hatha Yoga; and a special Gentle Yoga & Qigong for Heart Opening on Valentine’s Day.  Hope to see you in class!  As always, email me any questions you may have about these classes.  

Hudson River Sunset 2/3/19 by Melissa Elstein

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CLASS DESCRIPTIONS:

Special Valentine’s Day Class:

On this 2019 Valentine’s Day, you are invited to a special Heart-focused Yoga & Qigong class 5:15 – 6:45 pm at Integral Yoga Institute. Qigong and yoga are heart opening practices, opening to our own hearts as well as to others. Yoga and Qigong cultivate acceptance and non-harming (Ahimsa) towards oneself and others. In this special class, welcome to everybody (all genders, singles/ couples), we will collectively and individually create more openness of body and spirit as we practice asana and energy work with a gentle heart-centered intention. 
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Chair Yoga. Qigong & Tai Chi Walking:

This fusion class combines gentle movement, energy work, and self-care techniques. Our practice will include all of the above, as we warm up, strengthen and stretch the body with Chair Yoga exercises, standing balancing poses (optional use of the chair for support), Tai Chi Easy™ weight shifting and walking for balance and coordination, and Qigong energy cultivation.  Class ends with an extended yoga nidra deep relaxation and guided meditation to refresh the body and spirit. This class, formerly called “Chair Chi & Prana“, is accessible to all ages and levels.  Please wear or bring traction socks (like pilates or Barre socks).  

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ADULT BEGINNER BALLET LEVEL 1:

This class is open to all, whether you have ballet experience and want to review the basics or you are a brand-new beginner.  Non-dancers will not be intimidated as the instructions are clear and the class moves at a slow pace. You will begin standing at a portable barre placed in front of the mirror. Most exercises are done with both hands on the barre and proceed slowly and methodically, and the second time you will practice away from the barre so you develop balance and strength. In Ballet Level 1, students learn the basics of correct dance posture, positioning, and balancing on one leg. Your muscles will develop properly so you gain strength and control of your movements. The centerwork includes stretching on the floor, as well as basic dance movements which travel across the floor.  Ballet helps with increasing coordination, balance and memory, and movements are coordinated with beautiful classical music.

Melissa Elstein at the barre.

photo by Stephen Von Der Launitz

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Gentle Hatha Yoga:

Restore your balance in this gentle Hatha yoga class that focuses on proper alignment and inner awareness during each yoga posture, deepening the meditative aspect of the yoga practice. This class is designed as a moving meditation that helps us slow down our thoughts so we can connect to our true essence – our higher self.  We begin with the Integral Yoga chants and eye exercises, before exploring the yoga asanas allowing for modifications for each practitioner if appropriate.  Class includes a guided yoga nidra (deep relaxation technique) and savasana (relaxation pose) leaving us feeling refreshed and rejuvenated.  We conclude with breathing exercises (pranayama) and meditation, as well as the Integral Yoga peace chants – creating a well-rounded and thorough yoga practice suitable for all levels, from beginners to advanced practitioners.

April Yoga Schedule; Spiritual Aspects of Easter and Passover; Earth Day and Climate Marches in April; Dorot Chair Yoga Article

Happy April! This month brings us the Spring holidays of Easter and Passover, and for those of you who celebrate these holidays for religious and/or traditional reasons, I hope you enjoy wonderful celebrations. I grew up in a non-religious family, but with parents from different religious backgrounds so my memories of both Easter and Passover basically revolve around chocolate Easter egg hunts and searching for the matzah! Holidays were about gathering for that once a year traditional food at large family dinners with my two sides of the family. Passover and Easter tend to coincide each Spring, and according to Rabbi Ismar Schorsch, “in both festivals, nature and history converge with a resounding message of hope …. [and} the renewal of nature that comes with spring…”.  www.myjewishlearning.com. In the Christian holiday of Easter, the “resurrection of Jesus is the ultimate affirmation of life ….” and in Passover, the Jews celebrate their freedom from slavery. So freedom is a mutual theme.  Other mutual themes are the celebration of life transitions and the aspiration to see ourselves into the shoes of another; wishing that all those on Earth also achieve freedom.  See http://www.brebeuf.org  (Max Palkowitz).  

To many of us, we may not be in physical bondage (although unfortunately modern slavery exists and is far too prevalent).  Yet, we may be struggling with the mental bondage of our anxious thoughts, our worries, regrets of the past, and fears for the future. We may wish to have hope, but find that the negative thoughts outweigh the positive ones. In these modern stressful times, that is understandable. Yet, each generation has had their own stressors. The ancient yogis created a practice that is still relevant today as a way to counter that mental bondage, and that is pratipaksha bhavana – “When disturbed by negative thoughts, opposite positive ones should be thought of.”  Yoga Sutra 2.33 (Translation and version by Swami Satchidananda, Integral Yoga Publications).  An example of that is when hateful thoughts surface, to switch one’s thinking to loving thoughts.  Because this can be easier said than done, one recommendation to assist with focusing on the positive is to meditate on an inspiring object, such as a flower, artwork, or a photo of a loved one. Energy goes where our attention goes. It takes practice and will to use this practical tool for freedom from negative thinking, but practice is part of the process, so we must be patient with ourselves and have faith. Yoga Sutra 1.14. Spring, with its emergence of colorful flowers bringing life up to the surface after the dormant Winter, is a wonderful time to connect with the energies and thoughts of hope and faith.        
 
Due to the holidays, the Dorot Center where I teach Chair Yoga most Monday mornings, will have a more limited class schedule as they use the large movement room for organizing holiday food deliveries to the home-bound elderly (one of many wonderful services this upper west side non-profit offers to seniors). So please see my schedule for the April changes. Recently, in Dorot’s “Generations” Magazine, my class and some of my students were featured. I think you will enjoy the article, and hopefully will be inspired by my students as much as I am!  Click here to read the article:   http://www.dorotusa.org/site/DocServer/F_Generations_WINTER_2017.pdf  

April also brings us Earth Day on April 22!  This year there are going to be large-scale events here in NYC as well as in DC (and just like the recent Women’s March, simultaneously across the planet). One week later on April 29, the historic 2014 Peoples Climate March will be resurrected in DC as the “March for Climate, Jobs, & Justice”.  It promises to be a very exciting time as people join in solidarity demanding protections for nature, for our planet’s natural resources, and for those most negatively affected by climate-change.  The technology now supports our people’s movement that seeks clean energy jobs, “green” infrastructure, and a just transition away from the polluting and toxic fossil fuel and chemical economy. Now more than ever, we need to join en masse to advocate for protecting our environment for our generation as well as all future generations.  The Peoples Climate Movement march will also have sister marches in other cities, but the main march will be in Washington, DC to counter the Trump agenda of rolling back climate protections, removing anti-pollution regulations, while catering to fossil fuel corporations, the chemical industry, and climate-change deniers.  For more information on the march, check out http://newyork.peoplesclimate.org  and sign up for email updates!  
To sign up for bus transportation to DC from NYC see http://bit.ly/MarchBuses 

    

In 2014, we gathered as yogis and spiritual seekers at the NYC climate march, and the yogic principles of ahimsa (non-harming) to the Earth are even more important now under this new government administration. In keeping with our Spring theme of hope, faith, and freedom, I urge you to march being guided by those emotions and themes, and you will be uplifted by the positivity of your message. It is much more inspiring to march for something, than to be marching against someone.  So we emphasize that this is a march for protecting the climate, creating jobs in the clean energy sector, and bringing justice to those marginalized and disenfranchised in our current societal structure.  Joining with others seeking a just and positive future for all and not just the privileged few, reminds us that we are all interconnected. Spiritual practitioners know that we are all one, connected to one another as well as to the earth and environment.  If you would like to join our “Yoga & Spirituality Group” of the Peoples Climate Movement, please “like” https://www.facebook.com/YogaAndSpiritualityHub/ .

For information on the Earth Day rally in NYC, Saturday, April 22 noon at 111 Worth Street & Centre Street, 
see https://www.facebook.com/events/1365742080184720/   
The Rally will be followed by the March for Science:
https://www.facebook.com/events/607464402792513/


Protect Mother Earth!

Happy 2016, and Setting Daily Intentions Rather Than New Year’s Resolutions

Wishing everyone a peaceful, happy and healthy New Year!

I am away this last week in December 2015, and will be taking a writing course New Year’s weekend at Kripalu Yoga Center in the Berkshires. Hopefully, I will learn how to deal most effectively with writer’s block and procrastination – traits I have been experiencing since college and law school! Can anyone else relate to these issues?

In part, I believe that for me, both writer’s block and procrastination stem from old, deep-rooted patterns of perfectionistic goals – ideals which of course, run counter to all that is taught in yoga; i.e., that the journey is more important than the result; that yoga is an exploration of the self, and not a perfect pose (“asana”); that we value the means, over the ends; and as the Bhagavad Gita teaches, it is the integrity of the process that is most important, and thus to let go of attachments to the outcome.

If you, like me, were raised in a traditional Western upbringing, these concepts are antithetical to messages we received at both home and school. Westerners tend to be very results and achievement oriented. I came from that type of background, coupled with the perfectionistic standards of a professional ballet training from a young age.

When I first read the Gita (Eknath Easwaran’s edition) in my first ever yoga teacher training, it was life-changing. I was amazed at how the concepts written about thousands of years ago, still directly applied to our lives in the the 21st Century. I still have to remind myself that staying in the present moment and enjoying the process, as well as valuing the process, is paramount.

Results cannot be controlled, as they are often beyond our mortal individual powers. But we can have control over the integrity of the process, and then let go of attachments to outcomes. Speaking and acting from a center of truth (“satya”) in seeking an environment that is just, peaceful, and non-violent (“ahimsa”) for all is a yogic ideal; we don’t know if that ideal will ever manifest in our lifetimes, yet that unknown does not negate the importance of those sattvic actions and state of being.

Many people create New Year’s resolutions, but often finding they are unable to fulfill those resolutions, become disappointed with themselves. Resolutions tend to be overly ambitious and focused on an unrealistic result, rather than small, step-by-step intermediary goals.

Before teaching the asana portion of all my yoga classes, I like to offer students and myself the opportunity to set an intention for the yoga practice, the day, or further out in time. In this type of practice, we are basically setting mini-resolutions throughout the year that are practical, timely, and manageable. Maybe they are attainable, maybe they are not. The important thing is setting that intention, breathing into it, and then letting go of the attachment to the result.

If we do this type of practice throughout the year, I believe it obviates the need or desire to set unattainable New Year’s resolutions, such as “I will never procrastinate with my writing ever again.” Once a year resolutions that set us up for failure and disappointment may not serve a useful purpose; instead having an intentional daily or weekly practice throughout the year helps us focus on the process over results.

With that in mind, wishing you all the very best for 2016! May we continue to teach one another life’s myriad lessons and support one another in the process!

Nutcracker Ballet Arts

Why this yogi is marching in the People’s Climate March

Hi everyone,

I have created a Yoga and Spirituality Hub on the People’s Climate March website for
Yogis and spiritual seekers – let’s join together to create the high vibration “Yoga & Spirituality Contingent” at the planet’s first ever People’s Climate March this September 21 in NYC!   www.peoplesclimate.org/yogaandspirituality

One of the main tenets of yoga is ahimsa – the practice of non-violence and non-harming.  For thousands of years, yogis and spiritual seekers have studied and followed this ethical principle.   As present-day yoga and spiritual practitioners, we continue to study and shape our lives based on ahimsa. Because we understand that the material and spiritual worlds, mind and matter, are connected, we seek non-violence not only in our actions, but also in our words and thoughts. We seek to live in harmonious alignment with one another and Nature.

As such, we cannot ignore the great harms being inflicted upon the Earth and our fellow sentient beings (whether they are personally known to us or not) as a result of man-made climate change. Such harms include the loss of human, animal, and marine lives, as well as damage to property, due to extreme weather patterns, super storms, drought, floods, fires, receding glaciers, and the rising levels and acidification of the oceans.

Climate change is linked to the Industrial Age – present day increase of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, which is linked to industrialization and the burning of fossil fuels. Many extreme methods are currently being used to extract such fossil fuels from the Earth. Such extreme energy extraction practices include explosive mountain-top removal for coal; “fracking” for methane gas by exploding chemicals, sand and our precious fresh-water into shale rock; and tar sands oil mining.  Drilling by-products, such as toxic frack waste water, are injected deep into the earth through injection drilling wells – linked to toxic water contamination and earthquakes.  These methods are acts of violence against the Earth, and clearly not in harmony with the natural world.

Yoga means “union” and “to join” in Sanskrit. Yogis recognize the underlying unity of life on Earth.  When leaking gas and oil wells pollute groundwater, contaminate farms, and poison animals, we are all harmed.  When an oil rig explodes in the Gulf of Mexico, an oil tanker sinks in Alaska, or a gas well leaks methane and chemicals into a Pennsylvania farmer’s water well, we are all negatively affected – no matter how far we may be living from those communities’ devastation. This is because we see one’s Self in all beings, and we feel compassion for the suffering of others.

And so, at this pivotal time in history, we are called to protect Mother Earth through our karma yoga or seva– compassionate, selfless service to others and the common good.  By volunteering and joining the People’s Climate March, we are joining a movement and a cause greater than ourselves.  With consciousness and compassion for all, we seek to spread the principles of non-violence to the planet.  We seek a sustainable and safe energy policy from our governments, the United Nations, and countries all over the world.  And we seek a life-sustaining society for ourselves and for future generations.

Our current way of life and corporate-influenced government energy policies are no longer life-sustaining. The rapid clear cutting of our forests, and the slashing and burning of our planet’s rainforests are resulting in the rapid loss of our Earth’s “lungs” and the mass extinction of species.  Our planet’s pollinators – bees, Monarch butterflies, birds and bats are currently being threatened and dying off.  Water sources are polluted by man-made toxins and chemicals – many a by-product of the fossil-fuel industry’s extraction practices. There is rapid depletion of our natural resources, leading to population displacement, starvation, and wars. Agricultural areas are reduced. Plastic debris (made from oil and gas) pollutes our oceans. Island nations are at risk due to rising sea levels. Carcinogens, such as benzene, and other volatile organic compounds pollute the air near fracking sites, causing major health issues and emotional trauma.

Because we understand the interconnectedness of life, we cannot accept this devastation to our planet as the status quo. We know this is the time of a global shift in consciousness: the understanding that all is one, and everything is connected. We see that science is beginning to support spirituality in that regard, and vice versa.

So on this historic day, we come from spiritual centers, sanghas, and yoga studios all over the world in defense of Mother Earth and all her inhabitants.  We yogis and spiritual seekers will gather mindfully and peacefully in New York City, focusing our energies together in seeking an enlightened future!

This is the spiritual revolution of our generation. The evolutionary shift has begun. Let’s join together September 21, 2014, and take our spiritual practice off the yoga mats and meditation cushions and bring it to the People’s Climate March!

May the light of all truth overcome all darkness; may the Universe be filled with peace, joy, love, and light – Jai!

Melissa “Mati” Elstein
Good Energy Movement and Wellness
www.goodenergymovementandwellness.com
NYC
Aug. 19, 2014