Archive for Yoga philosophy

June Telephone & Zoom Yoga & Qigong/Tai Chi Easy™ Classes; Spiritual Thoughts on These Turbulent, Historical Times

 I hope this email finds you safe and well. We are in the midst of much planetary upheaval, with multiple "once in a lifetime" type of events happening concurrently and with much intensity. It can all feel overwhelming, scary, depressing, anger-inducing, to name a few emotions. However, the message is clear: society must change for the better if we are all to survive and thrive on our one Earth home.

 The start of this new decade has been beyond turbulent. Going into 2020 we understood that this was the last decade to confront and curtail climate change to prevent its most devastating, runaway effects. Yet massive forest fires (some due to manmade illegal deforestation) raged across the globe in places such as California, Australia, the Amazon rainforests, and Indonesia. Then the global pandemic followed, likely stemming from a Chinese "wet market" at which wild and often poached animals are sold for food and medicine, either illegally or with insufficient governmental regulations. These markets have long been criticized for animal welfare and potential human health issues. However, consumer demand continues to create a reduction of biodiversity and wilderness areas throughout the planet as humans have encroached further into the forests. If the health effects of the pandemic were not worrisome enough, with over 400,000 worldwide deaths and 7 million cases as of today, the mandated social distancing/shutdown rules have led to economic turmoil and massive unemployment levels - numbers we have not seen since the Great Depression. As businesses began to prepare for a slow reopening, traumatic videos of unarmed black men being killed by current and former white police officers went viral, and were the final straw for our nation that was originally built on a racist legacy of white European domination over and the murder of Native Americans and African slaves. So entrenched was slavery, that only after a brutal Civil War, and approximately 100 years after our Declaration of Independence had declared that "all men are created equal" with rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, was slavery abolished. Yet, we know racism (and sexism) and white supremacy movements have remained very much a fixture of life in the United States (and elsewhere) to the present day. This past week has seen marches for racial justice in numbers not seen since the 1960s, and due to social media connectivity, international marches in solidarity never experienced before. The status quo is being challenged in all respects, and revealing the many ways in which our "normal, business as usual" is harmful and unjust.   

 Tragically, "I can't breathe" is the mantra of 2020 so far - chokeholds, neck restraints, pepper spray and tear gas choke our populace; the respiratory-borne coronavirus attacks our lungs; mandatory mask wearing inhibits our breath; lockdowns and quarantines have kept us inside apartments with reduced access to fresh air; fires and smog have polluted our air and exacerbated asthma, which in turn make us more vulnerable to Covid-19; anxiety, fear and panic constrict our muscles of respiration; and worry makes us hold our breath. As practitioners of yoga and qigong, we know breath is prana, qi, life force energy. Breath is all. We all deserve to breathe.

 How can we utilize our spiritual practices to help us individually during these challenging times, and improve our society as a whole? I certainly don't have all, or many, of the answers to such a complicated, layered crises, but I always hope to be of some service to others (which I find also uplifts myself). As a yoga teacher, we talk about breathing throughout the class. Physically in yoga class, we learn how to deepen and manipulate the breath through different yoga poses, breathing exercises and deep relaxation, keeping the lung tissue healthy and the accessory breathing muscles toned. Slowing and deepening the breath in a mindful practice relaxes our nervous system, releases healing hormones in the body, and helps to focus the mind away from repetitive worrisome thoughts. We coordinate breathing with our movements in an individualized practice even in a group class. Using visualizations, we send the energies of our breath to areas of our bodies, such as muscles, organs, glands and blood cells. With intention, we breathe in the positive and exhale out the negative. Physiologically, we inhale oxygen and exhale carbon, in a reciprocal relationship with our environment - the trees which convert carbon into oxygen. 

 In our spiritual studies, we learn that all is one, that we are energetically connected to one another and to all parts of the web of life, and that our actions create karma (consequences). We learn that our true, deeper selves are not our bodies, emotions or thoughts but rather we are immortal energies or souls in temporary muscular-skeletal vessels learning life lessons on this Earth plane. We are not defined by our skin colors or genders. Our lessons are both individual and collective, interwoven as we all progress towards higher ideals through lifetimes. In yoga practice, to assist us with our spiritual lessons, the Yoga Sutras (one of the most ancient yoga treatises) espouse numerous moral and ethical principles for living a peaceful life and creating a peaceful society, such as ahimsa (non-violence in action, speech, and thought), satya (truthfulness; seeking truth; honesty; non-lying), and asteya (non-stealing; generosity; charity; non-greed). These principles are applied to oneself and to our relationships to one another and the Earth. As we navigate our way through the myriad of crises we are currently experiencing, I hope that the physical, spiritual and ethical teachings of yoga and other spiritual practices can bring us some comfort at this complicated time, and help to advance us to a kind, healthy, equitable, and just future. 

I was very inspired and wanted to share with you this beautiful video of some “Moments of Kindness and Solidarity During George Floyd Protests”:
https://youtu.be/dTypsyd3rvs


Although my in-person classes at Dorot for Seniors, Integral Yoga Institute, and the Children’s Dance Program at Steps on Broadway have been cancelled until further notice, my Dorot University of Walls telephone series continues through the end of August. I have years of experience teaching seated qigong and Chair Yoga over the phone, combined with meditation and visualizations, and I find this medium works very well – especially if you already have experience with those modalities. My in-person Chair Yoga, Qigong and Tai Chi Easy™ fusion classes for Integral Yoga and the Dorot Center for Seniors are now Zoom classes. See below for more details on these classes and descriptions, as there are differences between the two online classes. Please email me any questions you may have about my teaching schedule, and I would also love to hear from you with the sincere hope that you and your loved ones are safe and well.

                Photo by Melissa Elstein

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