• The Womxn Vote

    When we think about women in politics, or women’s involvement in social or political movements, it’s usually boiled down to a pretty rigid take on white, cis feminism. These views rarely take into account the voices of more marginalized populations, and minimize the impact of more mainstream and palatable feminism which is in-turn the white feminism we’re used to seeing when it comes to elections and legislative decisions. We now know that feminism without intersectionality is white supremacy.

    We created The Womxn Vote after witnessing the lack of outreach to Black Trans Womxn. Not only are politicians, representatives and legislation not taking into account the needs and rights of trans individuals, but there is an egregious lack of representation, and understanding for individuals who have any involvement or experience in these communities. The Womxn Vote has grown to reflect the needs of all womxn. To educate womxn, and their allies, on voting issues and candidates that promote intersectional equity and justice.

    When we think about the issues affecting womxn, we think about the needs of all. Asian, Black, Indigenous, Latinx, White, Non-Binary, Cis, what and/or whomever you choose to identify as or with. We are ready for a system of government in which representatives know that they indeed do work for the people.

    We recognize the need and want for change, but also the resistance to acknowledge what that truly means. We know that in life it is easy to see and not do. But we are here to encourage you to make the change for not only yourself but for all versions of yourself that live in this world. We ask that as women you take up the mantle to express yourself fully and objectively. Now is the time to ask the hard questions. When we think about the 2016 election and see that 53% of white women voted against the interest of ALL Womxn, it becomes clear that they instead chose to turn a blind eye to mothers, daughters, BIPOC women, survivors of sexual assault, queer individuals, and those living in poverty or as an immigrant. We must look with an honest lens and understand that either they are gravely misinformed of the issues, or simply do not care. What we have found in regards to white women is that if the issues don’t reach into their homes and lives, they remain unaffected, and complacent. We see this currently with the protests that fill our news feeds and we have seen it historically from women’s suffrage to slavery.

    As womxn and allies, we are tasked to look at all the parts of us and see how they connect to those who we may have felt “other than”. It is not a task of simply helping people, but seeing ourselves in others, seeing the issues that affect trans, non-binary, and non-white individuals as issues that affect us ALL. We must come to the understanding that we are not changing the course of history for someone else, but for ourselves.

    Modern feminism starting from the fight for the right to vote, it grossly misrepresents and sometimes completely erases the the contributions of Black, Indigenous, Non-White, and Non-Cis womxn. Even some of the milestones and organizations heralded for women’s progress are steeped in prejudice against underrepresented and marginalized womxn, and almost never address the layer of non-binary or trans womxn. We ask you to go further than whether someone is Republican, Democrat, Independent, etc. Dig deeper into what their records are when it comes to the issues of ALL womxn, their families, and their allies.

    Our hope is to cultivate a collective at The Womxn Vote of voters dedicated to fighting for a more intersectional, equitable and just world for all. Through this collective, we invite you to be passionately and unapologetically womxn. To educate yourself, your community, family, allies, on voting issues with the goal of becoming the most informed and powerful voting collective yet – for the 2020 election and beyond. Empowering individuals who are informed, engaged, and prepared to bring change in their communities that benefit all womxn.

    When it comes to this education, it is imperative to focus on anti-racist and anti-sexist policies and highlight politicians that support womxn and their allies. And while we step into our power as womxn together, we acknowledge the need for men to join the fold and let their voices be heard, because as we know womxn’s issues ARE men’s issues. We see the importance of calling in those who may not understand the full spectrum of intersectionality in feminism and politics, by calling attention to the issues and individuals who may be missing the mark. It’s all part of the education, and we’re standing on the precipice of change, ready for you to join us.

    While some have arrived at the realization that we need to dismantle systems of oppression in all areas, the need is for all people to arrive and not only accept this work on an individual level, but also the legislative level. This is how we make true and lasting change for our society. We are dedicated to using our voices and our votes to make the world a more fair and equitable place for all. One of the most impactful ways to do this is to ensure issues affecting the most marginalized are amplified and those communities are supported by all of our efforts. Mobilizing womxn and their allies around their vote is the most powerful thing we can do and we are here to do it. In this age of constant news and and information overload, our work is to pull up, educate ourselves and others creating considerable change in how we advocate for legislation that protects and liberates all.

    Join us at www.thewomxnvote.com. Help spread the word to your loved ones. Amplify the collective’s voice. We are fighting for an intersectional President and a Senate that works in the interests of all people. This will not be the last part of our work, but rather the beginning of a complete and total awakening to the issues on both sides of the aisle, and a dismantling of systems in place that hide the patriarchal and white supremacist undertones beneath the veil of whitewashed feminist politics. www.thewomxnvote.com @thewomxnvote

    The Womxn Vote is excited to share this much-needed work with other communities. We know now, more than ever, is the time to combine wellness with activism. They both need each other.This workshop is 2 hours and includes 45 minutes of guided yoga, 45 minutes of content on intersectionality and identity and then 30 minutes of sharing and Q+A. 

    By Stephanie Wallace & Yemie Sonuga

    Yemie Sonuga has spent the last half decade expressing her love through yoga. She is a 200-hour RYT yoga teacher, and a forever student. Yemie teachings are based in Vinyasa, Meditation, Dharma Yoga, and Visualization. Her approach to teaching is one of encouragement. Empowering you to believe in yourself, allowing the dismantling of fear, and the re-imagination of your true self. She has taught yoga across Canada and the US. Yemie offers a weekly Zoom class, as well as group Visualization sessions. Yemie is one of the founders of The Womxn Vote. She holds a Masters Degree from the Royal Scottish Conservatoire. Her offerings can be found here, follow her @yemiesonuga.

    Stephanie Wallace is a yoga and meditation teacher, healer and activist based in Brooklyn, NY. She holds a 500 hour certification with the Yoga Alliance, is a reiki practitioner and guides lunar-based ritual practice, helping to lead individuals back to themselves through intention, introspection and intuition. For the past six years, Stephanie has taught yoga + meditation in studios, schools and nonprofit organizations, bringing an element of understanding and compassion for individuals from, and throughout, all walks of life. As a trauma-informed teacher, she infuses this approach into all aspects of guidance in order to create truly safe spaces for individuals to experience their practice. Stephanie is proud to be one of the founders of The Womxn Vote. You can find Stephanie on Instagram at @stephiejane and @littlemoonmystic, and learn more about her offerings at littlemoonmystic.com.

    The Womxn Vote is a collective of womxn voters who are dedicated to fighting for a more intersectional, equitable and just world for all. We focus on educating womxn on voting issues with the goal of becoming the most informed and powerful voting collective yet. Our voter education focuses on anti-racist and anti-sexist policies and politicians that support womxn and their allies. Learn more at Www.thewomxnvote.com @thewomxnvote on IG and here.

  • Om Tattoos & Cultural Appropriation (4 min read)

    You’ve most definitely seen the famous Sanskrit symbol for “Om” used in various places, such as jewelry, clothes, and even jokes about it on television, social media and in films.

    When I ask a group of 20 preschoolers if they’ve done yoga half of them arch their backs rigid, cross their legs, squeeze their hands shut tight and say “ommmmmmmm” in a funny voice.

    When 2 and 3 year olds telegraph yoga this way, it is safe to say this sacred sound has pervaded our entire culture.  Since the presence of the Om symbol is seen virtually everywhere, what we get is degrading of its meaning. The symbol and all it stands for has lost its touch, its sacred meaning. Many people simply don’t understand its originally intended use and instead rep it as a cool lower back tattoo for the wrong purposes and places. If we want to use this symbol, we must understand and respect its true origin and meaning. So let’s dive into what it’s really about…

    The Om symbol represents what is necessary in Vedic thought; it is one of the most sacred mantras in the Dharma. It means unity with the highest, a combination of spirituality and physicality. It appears at the beginning and as well as at the end of multiple Sanskrit prayers. This deep and powerful symbol refers to life and the whole universe.

    “The syllable Aum, which is the imperishable Brahman, is the universe. Whatsoever has existed, whatsoever exists, and whatsoever shall exist hereafter, is Aum. And whatsoever transcends past, present, and future, that also is Aum.” ~ The Upanishads: Breath of the Eternal by Swami Prabhavananda and Frederick Manchester

    Cultural appropriation is a long-standing problem that waters down the depth of meaning to which we often turn a blind eye. By definition, it is known that cultural appropriation is taking a fragment of a culture of which we are not a part and using it for our own purposes or benefits, without honoring the culture that brought that noun/thing/meaning to life. If you’re a bit confused on the difference between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation, learn the differences here.

    Om is so much more than just a symbol.

    “Om is pure unitary consciousness, wherein awareness of the world and of multiplicity is completely obliterated. It is ineffable peace. It is the supreme good. It is One without a second. It is the Self. Know it alone! This Self, beyond all words, is the syllable Aum.” ~ The Upanishads: Breath of the Eternal by Swami Prabhavanand
    Unfortunately, the appropriation of a foreign culture is often done among privileged people. If you’re thinking about getting yourself a tattoo with the Om symbol, think why do you want to use such a powerful, sacred sign? How do you connect to this symbol and what does it mean to you? If you want to connect to yoga, and are a die-hard yogi, might there be better ways to appreciate the yoga culture.

    Get creative! Perhaps you can tattoo something personally inspiring to you. You can tattoo animals, poetry, the rising sun, but perhaps rethink about such a meaningful spiritual and religious symbol. Imagine a person out there with a cross tattoo, who doesn’t believe in Christianity but wants to embody the teachings of Jesus? A bit strange of a choice to label yourself with that religious symbol.

    Also in the Hindu faith it is often considered problematic and disrespectful to place sacred symbols on parts of the body such as the feet or near private parts.

    It helps to be fully aware of the power and cultural relevance of this symbol, and embedded in the culture to be able to tattoo such patterns. But ultimately it’s up to you… and I want you to THINK about why you are getting one, and how you will react when people ask you if you are Hindu; because spoiler alert, they will!

    The existence of the Om symbol does not date back to a couple of hundred years ago, but rather several thousand years. This is cultivated in a given culture, worshipped and understood by its people.

    Western culture often underestimates the history and power of such significant things. So much in the West is commercialized. Therefore, it is no wonder that Vedic practitioners and many Indic religions are outraged at our use of a sacred symbol to advertise a better yoga studio, a beer or a new sweatshirt design. We should respect such a distant and sacred culture, and stop spreading a fallacy of said culture, in a misunderstood and mindless manner.

    If you TRULY feel attached to the Om symbol, and want to rep it as a tattoo, please know its true meaning and feel attached to what it represents. And definitely choose a place on your body that respects the symbol’s religious integrity. Remember what Om (A-U-M) means:

    “Ahhh” expresses the creation of the universe and everything that is physically connected to it, and unites you with your ego. This syllable allows for an experience of the total existence of the world.

    ”Ohhhh” is a syllable that expresses the energy of the whole universe and your mind model. This sound unites you with your inner understanding that there is something beyond your physical body. It makes you feel light, good and balanced.

    “Mmm” embodies the energy of the whole world, the thoughts and beliefs that created you. This portion of the sound connects you to the universe, cultivating a feeling of connection between everything and everyone around you, equally.

    Given the exact meaning of the mantra pronounced, think about how you want to worship this symbol and how it will make you feel by having it marked on your body permanently. Will your beliefs change in 40 years?? Comment your thoughts below if you have an Om tattoo!

    For more on this guest author, visit https://www.susannabarkataki.com/ to read other blog posts on cultural appropriation of yoga.

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    By Susanna Barkataki

    Deepen and Honor your Yoga Practice Here

    An Indian yoga practitioner in the Shankaracharya tradition, Susanna Barkataki supports practitioners to lead with equity, diversity and yogic values while growing thriving practices and businesses with confidence. She is founder of Ignite Yoga and Wellness Institute and runs 200/500 Yoga Teacher Training programs. She is an E-RYT 500, Certified Yoga Therapist with International Association of Yoga Therapists (C-IAYT). Author of the forthcoming book Embrace Yoga’s Roots: Courageous Ways to Deepen Your Yoga Practice. With an Honors degree in Philosophy from UC Berkeley and a Masters in Education from Cambridge College, Barkataki is a diversity, accessibility, inclusivity, and equity (DAIE) yoga unity educator who created the ground-breaking Honor {Don’t Appropriate} Yoga Summit with over 10,000 participants. Learn more and get your free Chapter from her book on indigenous roots of trauma informed yoga at embraceyogasrootsbook.com/  Complimentary masterclass to embrace yoga’s roots without appropriation: www.namastemasterclass.com

  • Suryanamskar (Sun Salutation) – Reverence for the teacher

    Suryanamaskar also know as Sun Salutation is a dynamic sequence of poses which is done as a ritual before starting the asana practice. The practice of these sequential poses is a form of dynamic meditation, which also helps in strengthening the limbs and increases the awareness of the body.

    Suryanamskar is a way to pay respect to the Sun God ‘Surya’, which sustains and preserves life. The Sun God is depicted riding a chariot with seven horses, which represents seven days of the week. The twelve wheels of his chariot are a representation of the twelve months in a year. ‘Surya’ with his bow drives away the darkness and gives light of life and knowledge. The Sun God was the teacher of great Sage Yagnavalkya and granted him Vedic wisdom.

    Lord Hanumana was the mighty general of Lord Rama’s army and led him to victory in his war against King Ravana. He was born with extraordinary strength and powers.

    Since childhood he was spellbound by the radiating energy and light of the sun and almost consumed the sun thinking it was golden glowing fruit, when his mother stopped him. When Lord Hanumana grew up he was curious to learn everything about the world and gain knowledge about all that existed. Lord Hanumana kept searching for a teacher who could help him learn and satiate his quest for knowledge and wisdom. Much dejected he went to his mother and asked for her guidance. His Mother ‘Anjana’ asked him to reach out to the Sun God and seek wisdom from him, because the sun sees everything that happens in the world and that ‘Surya’ would be able to share everything he had observed.

    Following his mother’s advice Lord Hanumana went to Sun God and put forth his request to learn everything Sun had observed. But ‘Surya’ declined Lord Hanuman’s request stating that he was too busy as he was always moving and he if stopped to take out time to teach, the world would fall out of balance.  Hanumana was so eager to learn that he convinced ‘Surya’ that he would not be required to stop to teach. Hanumana told him that we would travel with him and the Sun God could continue teaching him as he moved. Hanumana decided to ride alongside the Sun God’s chariot everyday so that the Sun God could teach him as he travelled. ‘Surya’ reminded Hanumana that the heat and glare will be unbearable if he stayed close to him, but Hanumana was determined to learn from his teacher was willing to make the sacrifices for gaining knowledge and wisdom from the Sun. Sun God was overwhelmed with Hanuman’s devotion and started teaching him. Both spent years together and ‘Surya’ would teach Hanumana each day as the travelled together. And then came a time when Hanumana had gained immense wisdom from his teacher and was ready to leave and take on his duties.

    Before leaving his teacher Hanumana requested Surya if he could do anything for his teacher in return of the knowledge that was given to him. Surya asked Hanumana to use all his wisdom, knowledge and strength for the benefit of the world and that would be his ‘Guru Dakshina’ (a fee or a gift that a student gives his teacher out of love and respect for making the student wiser).

    Hanumana felt so indebted to ‘Surya’ his teacher for all the teaching that he performed an elaborate ‘Namaskar’ (a gesture of respect made by bringing the palms together before the chest and bowing) as mark of immense respect for his teacher. This elaborate sequential namaskar came to be known as Suryanamaskar (Sun Salutation) as it was performed by Lord Hanumana to pay respect to his teacher the Sun God.

    The Suryanamaskar reminds us to stay humble each day, because there is always something to learn towards becoming better. Lord Hanumana was born with supernatural strength and powers beyond the ordinary yet he chose to learn from Surya and took up all the challenges that came along the way because he was keen to learn. True learning happens when the ego is set aside and one submits oneself to one’s teacher with faith and devotion.

    By Ankur Tunaak

    Ankur Tunaak has been an Ashtanga yoga practitioner for over a decade, studied with Shree M. Vishwanath who was one of the first students and nephew of Shree Pathabhi Jois. Also, an alumnus of Bihar School Of Yoga, one of four premier Yogic Studies Institutions in India. Ankur is a storyteller and photographer, currently teaching yoga in New Delhi, India. Portrait photography by Ankur Tunaak.

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  • What is Vedanta?

    Author Neema Majmudar explains how Vedanta addresses the fundamental questions of existence and purpose.

    What is it that I am really seeking through my various pursuits in life? What do I seek when I pursue money, pleasures, fame, name, power or heaven? Do I seek all these for the sake of themselves? If it were just for themselves, I would be satisfied when I fulfilled any given desire. However, I am only momentarily satisfied when I fulfill them. Soon I find myself with another set of desires. This way, the desires I entertain may change in nature and in time. But one thing remains constant, in spite of all accomplishments I may have, me the unsatisfied and inadequate person, the person who would like to become somebody different from what I am at present. Why? Because I am conscious of myself and as a result of my relating with the world, I have a judgment about myself. My conclusion about myself is that I am limited, mortal, subject to sorrow.

    I cannot accept myself as I am and therefore make attempts throughout my life to be acceptable to myself by pursuing different things. However, if I am an individual confined to this limited body, with limited powers to change situations, things and people in this vast universe, it seems impossible that I will one day become totally acceptable to myself and find a lasting fulfillment that does not depend upon any situation or any given place or time.

    This preliminary inquiry into the nature of my pursuits leads me to the fact that there is no connection between what I want and what I do: I want to be free from being a wanting, limited, insignificant person. And my different pursuits in life only have the capacity to give me temporary relief, in the form of momentary satisfaction and joy.

    At this point, some will say, this is the reality of existence. Life is meaningless, you are a limited entity confronted with the immense forces of the world and you have to accept this fact of existence. You can give a meaning to it by your actions: just be an ethical person and try to excel in what you do, whether you are in business, arts, science or working in a company, contribute to society as much as you can, but do not expect anything more than this from life. And, do not forget to enjoy the small and big pleasures of life. But, how can I accept this kind of reality and dismiss this intense aspiration for freedom from fear and sorrow, this fundamental search for everlasting fulfillment that seems to be at the core of my being?

    Others will say, there is a heaven where you will enjoy eternally some special pleasures, provided that you behave well and follow the commandments of our scripture. But how can limited prayers and good actions that I do in this life produce an eternal stay in heaven? Since any limited action cannot produce a limitless result, eternal stay in heaven cannot be acceptable to my reason.

    Then the only possibility is that maybe the conclusion I have about myself is wrong. This is precisely what Vedanta says. It says that you are already what you are looking for, the limitless, the whole, you are already free from this sense of limitation, insecurity and lack. Logically, this seems to be the only solution: because if I am really a limited individual, no matter what I do, no action will ever produce the limitless I am seeking.

    But if I am making a mistake about myself, and taking myself to be limited while I am in reality limitless, there is a solution. It is in the form of knowledge of my true nature. This seems to be the only way out.

    It is interesting that most religions, philosophies, psychologies, etc., do not attempt to question this fundamental and universal conclusion that everyone has, “I am a limited individual.” Often they confirm the conclusion about the limited nature of “I” and start their system of beliefs, school of thought or therapy with this in-built assumption. Keeping this paradigm, whatever solution they envisage, it can never solve the problem of being a limited individual.

    Since Vedanta addresses the most fundamental problem that is universally faced by everyone, any discerning person will examine what Vedanta has to say about one’s true nature.

    This article first appeared in Discover Vedanta and is written by its authors Neema Majmudar and Surya Tahora

    This article was contributed to Omstars by Mysore-based, Indian online Yoga Magazine @sanatana.yoga

    By Neema Majmudar

    Illustration: Sambaran Das
    Published by Indian online magazine SanātanaYoga

  • What Is Mantra & How Do We Use It Respectfully?

    As you begin your yoga practice, you are probably searching through a lot of information. Some of this information you may come across is most likely unfamiliar territory. After all, there is a lot that goes into REAL yoga. From its history, to its poses, to avoiding the cultural appropriation, and to the language used in the practice. Here we will dive into Mantras specifically, learning what they are and how to incorporate them into the practice, as well as our everyday lives.

    So, what is a mantra?

    When dipping your toes into something new, especially new cultural things, it is essential to know the technicalities of elements. It is important, in order to be able to practice these things respectfully and accurately, to gain a holistic and full scope of appreciation for what we are doing. Mantras in yoga are a culmination of words in Sanskrit said repetitively, that are believed to work into one’s unconscious mind and clear the inner self. Mantras may:

    • Increase self awareness
    • Help calm overriding emotions
    • Align your focus
    • Help with anxiety

    Let’s focus on anxiety for a second, because mantras can help immensely when you’re in the midst of an anxiety attack. Because mantras allow you to help calm emotions, this may be a tool you can incorporate if you should ever have an anxiety attack. Simply repeat your mantra, focus on it and allow yourself to calm down through the process. Now that we know what Mantras are here are a couple examples of mantras in Sanskrit:

    • Om
    • Om śāntiḥ śāntiḥ śāntiḥ
    • Sat Nam
    • Neti-Neti

    For a full explanation of what these mantras mean, and the correct pronunciation be sure to check out this website. In addition, this spotify playlist has a few really good ones with which you can get started!

    What are disrespectful ways in the practice?

    On another note, you may be wondering why we talk about engaging in respect while learning the practice of yoga. This is because within yoga there has been a history in the US of westernizing and appropriating the practice culturally. It is great to appreciate the culture from which the practice comes, but, in order to do so, we need to make sure we are being respectful to the traditions and the accuracy of yoga. 

    Disrespecting the practice may come in many forms, one of the more common ones is playing pop music during class. Yoga is certainly meant to be a peaceful practice. When teachers strive to make their class palatable to Western tastes, it’s outright disrespectful. The usage of pop music does not encourage peaceful practice the way it is meant to. Nor should yoga be about breaking a sweat, or limiting seated meditation time.

    Now back to mantras specifically; if someone is singing sacred, Vedic mantras and hymns because they are practicing the spiritual tradition (regardless of their race), then they are NOT doing anything inappropriate. If that person is singing mantras at a music festival while high just to be ‘exotic’ and cool, without any understanding of what they are actually saying or how to pronounce them properly, that IS disrespectful and inappropriate.

    How can we fix this?

    Easy! With Mantras! We now have the knowledge of what they are and what they are meant to do, as well as some examples. Instead of playing pop music, make a conscious effort to walk into class with a mantra in mind. Or, if you are an instructor, encourage your students to relax and set up a mantra that will be ready for them to practice during the class. There is nothing wrong in engaging in activities of other cultures, however a problem is created when we do not do so respectfully. This is done by dishonoring the origin, butchering sacred texts, focusing only on the physical aspect of yoga, or treating it like a commodity if you own your studio.

    Practice mantras, and enjoy the process

    All this to say, mantras are at the core of yoga and have some great benefits that come along with them. Hopefully from this article you learned something new, and have a brand new perspective on appreciation for an element of the yoga practice.  From here we hope you learn some mantras that work for you and incorporate them in your daily yoga practice and everyday life. Especially now that there has been a foundation on what mantras are and some examples, we may go forth and practice them! May the peace of the mantras be with you! For more information, articles and tips on how to NOT culturally appropriate the sacred healing practice of yoga, please visit our guest author’s website: https://www.susannabarkataki.com/

    By Susanna Barkataki

    Deepen and Honor your Yoga Practice Here

    An Indian yoga practitioner in the Shankaracharya tradition, Susanna Barkataki supports practitioners to lead with equity, diversity and yogic values while growing thriving practices and businesses with confidence. She is founder of Ignite Yoga and Wellness Institute and runs 200/500 Yoga Teacher Training programs. She is an E-RYT 500, Certified Yoga Therapist with International Association of Yoga Therapists (C-IAYT). Author of the forthcoming book Embrace Yoga’s Roots: Courageous Ways to Deepen Your Yoga Practice. With an Honors degree in Philosophy from UC Berkeley and a Masters in Education from Cambridge College, Barkataki is a diversity, accessibility, inclusivity, and equity (DAIE) yoga unity educator who created the ground-breaking Honor {Don’t Appropriate} Yoga Summit with over 10,000 participants. Learn more and get your free Chapter from her book on indigenous roots of trauma informed yoga at embraceyogasrootsbook.com/  Complimentary masterclass to embrace yoga’s roots without appropriation: www.namastemasterclass.com

  • Bakasana (Crane Pose) – Living with Equanimity

    Bakasana or the crane pose calms the nervous system while one attempts to stay in the posture with hands placed on the floor and the knees placed in the armpits with gaze fixed at the tip of the nose. The composure of a crane that is focused on fishing for food in water is what helped Yudhishthira the Pandava King to save the lives of his four brothers.

    The Mahabharata one of the Sanskrit epics narrates the story of Pandava brothers who were exiled to forest for twelve years. The banished King Yudhishthira, eldest of the five brothers led his brothers to the forest. After having walked several miles the brothers were thirty and tired. Yudhishthira sent one of his brothers to look for a lake and fetch water for everyone. Hours passed by but the brother did not return.  He sent his other two brothers to search for the missing brother, but they did not return too, Yudhishthira was worried and set out to look for the missing brothers with his last remaining brother. After a while the brother asked Yudhishthira to wait under the shade of the tree again since he had spotted a lake nearby and was sure that the other three brothers would be at the lake. The last of the remaining brothers too went towards the lake. Yudhishthira waited and waited under the tree but the brother did not come back. Now Yudhishthira was very anxious as all his four brothers were missing.

    He set out again looking for the lake hoping to find his brothers, after sometime he reached the lake which lot of cranes in it fishing for food. And was shocked to see his four brothers lying unconscious near the lake. Yudhishthira rushed to get some water from the lake to sprinkle on them, as he was about to touch the water ‘Yaksha’, the water spirit appeared in front of him in a form of a crane and warned him not to the touch the water of his much-loved lake without permission and having answered all his questions correctly, or else he too would be poisoned to death just like his four brothers who did not pay heed to Yaksha’s conditions.

    At that moment Yudhishthira kept his nerves together knowing that he had to remain calm because only ‘Yaksha’ the powerful water spirit could bring his brothers back to life. With his hands folded in reverence for the water spirit he agreed to answer all of Yaksha’s questions.

    Yaksha asked his first question, “What is faster than the Wind?”

    “Mind is faster than wind,” replied Yudhishthira.

    “What is true cleansing?” questioned Yaksha again.

    “Cleansing of the mind is true cleansing,” replied Yudhishthira.

    “What is true religion?” asked Yasksha.

    “Charity is true religion,” came the answer from Yudhishthira.

    “Where do religion, success, heaven and happiness resides?” Yaksha asked.

    “Religion resides in awareness, success resides in charity, heaven resides in truth and happiness resides in self-restraint,” Yudhishthira replied with his hands folded.

    “Who is truly happy?” asked Yaksha

    “One who has no debt is truly happy,” said Yudhishthira.

    “What makes one loveable and wealthy?” The water spirit asked the Pandava King Yudhishthira.

    “Pride when renounced makes one loveable and desire for more, when renounced makes one wealthy,” replied Yudhishthira.

    “What is correct path of life?,” asked Yaksha again.

    “The true path is the path of Dharma (righteousness) where one makes constant efforts to know oneself, living in gratitude and associating with learned teachers,” was Yudhishthira’s reply.

    Yaksha was pleased with Yudhishthira’s answers and granted him the permission to use water from the lake and also revived the four brothers.

    This conversation between King Yudhishthira and Yaksha in form of questions and answers shows us a way to lead a yogic life which emphasizes moderation in everything we do, maintaining a sense of balance in all aspects of life. All our thoughts and actions are to be guided by self-restraint and gratitude for harmonious living.

    King Yudhishthira in spite of seeing his four brothers poisoned to death by Yaksha did not lose his calm and attended to the situation by keeping his emotions in control. The bakasana is not only symbolic for a life of equanimity and balance, but also helps achieving metal steadfastness and focus like that of a crane in water.

    By Ankur Tunaak

    Ankur Tunaak has been an Ashtanga yoga practitioner for over a decade, studied with Shree M. Vishwanath who was one of the first students and nephew of Shree Pathabhi Jois. Also, an alumnus of Bihar School Of Yoga, one of four premier Yogic Studies Institutions in India. Ankur is a storyteller and photographer, currently teaching yoga in New Delhi, India. Portrait photography by Ankur Tunaak.

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  • What is Mudra and How to Do It Respectfully?

    Before diving into mudras, we should ask ourselves how we acknowledge yoga a universal practice while honoring its roots.  It is essential to jump in with this as mudras are at the core of many practices such as yoga. Yoga stems from South Asian and Indian cultures.  That is the very tip of what any aspiring yogi from Western culture should know. It has been transported to our Western culture and has been popularized here.

    So what is a Mudra?

    Mudras are a posture that includes a ritual gesture, and are symbolic in nature. They have been used within meditation in yoga for thousands of years to heighten the experience that is meditation. Mudras may come in many forms. Some are gross, meaning done with the physical body. Some are subtle, meaning done with the mind, and some are transcendent, alluding to when the practitioner merges with the mudra itself and there is no separation between the symbol, the doer, and the meaning.

    A quite common mudra is a hand posture where the thumb and index fingers touch at the tip, creating a circle, and the rest of the fingers lie straight. This is Gyan Mudra, or wisdom mudra, a gesture to help instill a sense of peaceful, calming, wisdom as well as spiritual enlightenment. 

    Another famous mudra is Anjali Mudra, often called Namaste mudra, or  the prayer’s pose which is held with both palms touching one another at one’s heart center. In Sanskrit, Anjali is translated to “offering.” It signifies something along the lines of, “I bow to the divinity within you from the divinity within me.” It can also be used as a sacred “hello” or “thank you” — spoken to recognize the divinity of everyone. For a further informative video on what Anjali Mudra means and looks like, click here.

    Mudras are so important to Indian culture that when you enter the New Delhi Airport (International Terminal), you see GIANT mudras on the wall to welcome foreigners to India and its culture! However, in addition to the most common forms seen in media, yoga classes, or at temples, there are also rather unknown mudras that involve the head, body, heart as well as perineal area.

    Another mudra we love to use in our daily lives is the Jupiter Mudra, where you point your two index fingers together, harnessing the power of Jupiter. The purpose is to activate good luck in your aims and projects. Interlocking the fingers together can help you focus your energy before taking an exam, before an important interview, or to break through difficult barriers in your communication. Here you will find a resource that can give insight into the different mudra positions possible, and how to best achieve them.

    What would be disrespectful when using Mudras?

    If you were to walk into a yoga studio in New York City or Los Angeles, the most common demographic you would find is white, upper class women waltzing in with their $100 lululemon leggings on and Gaia tank tops. While what they wear itself is not disrespectful, it is important to avoid disrespecting mudras and their use in yoga practice. Why we mention the demographic of these big city studios, is because often you will find that yoga is moreso appropriated than appreciated.

    Many of the individuals in these studios find yoga as a fun and calming workout, instead of for what it was originally culturally intended. If you were to walk in and ask one of the students from these studios about the history and origins of yoga, and specifically about mudras, we guarantee most surveyed will not be able to tell you much, if anything at all.

    In order to not just throw up the funky, cool hand signs your teachers are doing and not knowing anything about these positions or their use, do your research! I mean you wouldn’t toss gang signs with your hands without knowing who or what they represented first, would you?

    How can I avoid being disrespectful?

    If you are someone who walks into big city studios with your expensive lululemon leggings, don’t think this is all a jab at you. It is simply to avoid the appropriation of yoga. In order to respectfully practice yoga, and more importantly mudras, it is essential to be a forever student. Always do your research, learn more about the culture from which the practice comes, and learn the proper ways to use and do mudra postures.

    A final thought

    Western yogis aren’t necessarily ruining practice in yoga per se, but we are at fault for not informing ourselves and being respectful towards the origins of yoga. However, now, with some basic knowledge on mudras, for example, one can jumpstart their own research into a lot of different avenues within yoga; therefore cultivating more knowledge and, thus, respecting the sacred healing practice. We hope you found this helpful as a basic guide into mudras if you have been curious about them, and how they could be beneficial in your own meditation!

    By Susanna Barkataki

    Deepen and Honor your Yoga Practice Here

    For more information and tips like this to incorporate into your own yoga practice, practice meditation and asana with Susanna on Yogagirl.com, visit our guest author’s blog: www.susannabarkataki.com or follow her on Instagram for daily tips @susannabarkataki 

    An Indian yoga practitioner in the Shankaracharya tradition, Susanna Barkataki supports practitioners to lead with equity, diversity and yogic values while growing thriving practices and businesses with confidence. She is founder of Ignite Yoga and Wellness Institute and runs 200/500 Yoga Teacher Training programs. She is an E-RYT 500, Certified Yoga Therapist with International Association of Yoga Therapists (C-IAYT). Author of the forthcoming book Embrace Yoga’s Roots: Courageous Ways to Deepen Your Yoga Practice. With an Honors degree in Philosophy from UC Berkeley and a Masters in Education from Cambridge College, Barkataki is a diversity, accessibility, inclusivity, and equity (DAIE) yoga unity educator who created the ground-breaking Honor {Don’t Appropriate} Yoga Summit with over 10,000 participants. Learn more and get your free Chapter from her book on indigenous roots of trauma informed yoga at embraceyogasrootsbook.com/  Complimentary masterclass to embrace yoga’s roots without appropriation: www.namastemasterclass.com

  • Yoga Stories Series: Bharadvajasana

    Knowledge is never knowledge until shared. The posture of Bharadvajasana with a spinal twist looking over the shoulders is symbolic of the effort we all can make look beyond ourselves, just as the spine is twisted sideways which is different for its usual action of flexion and extension.

    Bharadvajasana a very effective asana has great benefits for dorsal and lumber region and makes the spine supple. This asana has its origin in the lifetimes of Sage Bharadvaja who was one of maharishis (great sages), known for his vast knowledge of the Vedas. Rishi Bharadvaja dedicated his whole life in learning and understanding the Vedas; the most ancient revered spiritual texts. He toiled hard to learn the Vedas and remained steadfast in writing them down and memorizing the knowledge. His only life purpose was to understand and memorize the texts and devoted his entire lifetime to the purpose.

    Sage Bharadvaja after having exhausted his entire life in the study of Vedas was reborn again. In his second life, the maharishi realized his purpose once more, which was to gain a deeper understanding of the Vedic knowledge and thus began the study of the text again with equal dedication as in his first lifetime. He immersed himself completely in his studies living a solitary life learning as much as he could in his lifespan. He dedicated his second life to Vedas as well.

    The third rebirth brought him a reputation of being the most learned sage with extraordinary knowledge of the Vedas, but that changed nothing for Rishi Bharadvaja, he continued with his studies living alone in his pursuit to understand and realize the supreme power. And then came a time when his physical body became old and sick and he could not study anymore.

    The wise sage knew it was time for him to leave the physical world, he closed his eyes meditating upon the Supreme Being waiting for death to come and take him away. At his moment Lord Shiva appeared before him. Rishi Bharadvja was happy to see Shiva. Lord Shiva came close to him and kept a handful of mud next to the Rishi.

    “O wise sage this is what you have learnt in your three lifetimes in comparison to the mountain that you see outside your window”, Shiva said with a smile pointing at the handful of mud and the mountain outside sage Bharadvaja’s hut.  Bharadvaja was saddened hearing this from Lord Shiva.

    “O lord I spent every iota of my existence in studying the Vedas so that I could be close to you, is it still not sufficient? What more could I do?” the dying age asked Shiva dejectedly.

    Lord Shiva came close the Rishi and said “you spent three lifetimes studying the sacred text in solitude and never shared what you learnt with others, the knowledge you gained is meant for the benefit of mankind, it was your duty to share what you received as scared knowledge”. “If you want this handful of mud to weigh as much as that mountain you see outside, go and share what you have learnt with the entire world.” “You were endowed with the intellect to study the Vedas thus it becomes your responsibility to use it for the benefit of others”. Rishi Bharadvaja was granted another life and he spent that entire life teaching the Vedas and spreading the message of Vedas.

    Each one of has a life purpose irrespective of whether we realize it or not. And pursuing that purpose brings us a sense of fulfillment and when we are at that stage, it is important to share our experiences with as many people as we can. All of us have the ability to lead someone to the path of self-realization and joy. The posture of Bharadvajasana with a spinal twist looking over the shoulders is symbolic of the effort we all can make look beyond ourselves, just as the spine is twisted sideways which is different for its usual action of flexion and extension.

    By Ankur Tunaak

    Ankur Tunaak has been an Ashtanga yoga practitioner for over a decade, studied with Shree M. Vishwanath who was one of the first students and nephew of Shree Pathabhi Jois. Also, an alumnus of Bihar School Of Yoga, one of four premier Yogic Studies Institutions in India. Ankur is a storyteller and photographer, currently teaching yoga in New Delhi, India. Portrait photography by Ankur Tunaak.

    Read More Yoga Stories by Ankur Tunaak

  • Truth Beyond Assumptions: Check Your Gendered Language, Reduce Harm

    If you’re cisgender, meaning you identify with the gender you were assigned at birth, you may not yet have considered the way your gender impacts your body image.

    Maybe you have–as a society, we’ve certainly begun to reckon with the impact that popular representations of men and women have on our ideas about our own bodies. Perhaps you’ve recognized that the lack of body diversity represented in media has made you self-conscious or critical of your weight or that it’s formed the basis of how you present yourself, from the way you dress to the haircut you choose. When it’s constantly reinforced that the ideal female form is slim, waifish, and demure, and that the ideal male form is muscled, tall, and hyper-masculine, it’s not unlikely that you’ve set goals for your appearance that align with the stereotypes that shroud your gender–acceptance is a basic human need. It’s possible you’ve found yourself falling short of the normalized ideal and that it has been a source of strife in your life.

    When you’re transgender or non-binary, meaning you identify with a gender other than that which you were assigned at birth, expressing your gender comfortably can be extra challenging. External pressure to conform with the stereotypes and norms associated with your gender assigned at birth can feel extra heavy when they’re not only unrealistic for many cisgender folks, but also completely out of alignment with your self-understanding. And indeed, research shows that trans folks are particularly vulnerable to struggles with body image–”gender dysphoria,” the psychological distress of feeling like your body doesn’t match your gender, is a common (though not universal) experience for trans folks and is still used as a diagnostic reference and criteria in the DSM, and studies indicate that rates of disordered eating are likely higher among trans individuals.

    I was assigned female at birth and raised as a girl, though I’ve come to understand myself as agender, a non-binary identity that denotes a lack of identification with any particular gender. I now understand that gender is not a binary, nor even one consistent spectrum, but rather a number of intersecting spectrums with infinite possible combinations. There is no universal experience of gender. After years of work to dismantle my learned self-hate around my fatness, I generally feel pretty neutral about my body. I appreciate it for what it is: the vehicle through which I get to experience this life. In this neutrality, there’s nothing about myself that I desire to change.

    But frequently when I meet new people, they look at my body and make the assumption that I’m a woman. It hurts every time. Whenever a teacher walks into our yoga class and addresses the group as “ladies,” or a classmate refers to me as “she,” I feel an immediate physical tightness and emotional distress. I experience second-hand harm even as a bystander to another person’s misgendering.  This happens everywhere, but it hits me particularly hard in yoga spaces. I see yoga as a spiritual practice that’s oriented towards non-harm and a search for truth beyond our assumptions, but this is not what I experience when I’m misgendered in yoga spaces. That sharp dichotomy between the perception of yoga spaces as welcoming and sheltered from harm and my lived experience trying to exist within them makes the sting of misgendering feel like a particularly potent betrayal of the supposedly shared ethic.

    And here’s the thing–not only does misgendering make me feel deeply unseen, something I’m hoping to escape when I come into a yoga space, it actually triggers harmful thoughts about my body. When someone looks at me and then addresses me as “ma’am” or “she,” when I feel so deeply unseen, I start to hate those parts of my body–my breasts, my wide hips, my short stature–that I know the other person is drawing on as the basis of their assumptions. This particular form of negative self-talk is particularly hard for me to combat, because I feel like my only two options are to accept the body I have and live with perpetual misgendering or to express myself inauthentically, making changes to my body that I don’t want and shouldn’t have to make. Neither option feels good or just.

    You can never tell someone’s gender by looking at them. There are plenty of trans and non-binary people who, like me, are still searching for a presentation of gender that is both authentic and publicly legible, or who are still “in the closet” for reasons all their own. There are people who don’t feel a need to change their gender expression to match external, constructed expectations of gender readability, but still deserve to have their gender and pronouns respected as much as anyone else.

    Respecting trans people and making sure you’re gendering people correctly is part of a larger practice of non-harm. I recognize that deconstructing our gendered assumptions is an uphill battle and have empathy for everyone who has been conditioned to make these assumptions–fighting our conditioning, regardless of context, is a tough task. It’s set up to be–that’s exactly how systemic oppression perpetuates, by making it difficult to change the status quo and move towards equity.

    If this is a concept you’re just starting to explore, maybe take this moment to ask yourself how many times a day you look at someone and assume their gender. Or, you could think about all the times your gender is assumed by someone else–how often does your yoga teacher greet the class with gendered language, a restaurant worker call you “ma’am” or “sir,” a public speaker address the crowd as “ladies and gentlemen,” an author write the phrase “he or she?” You may just be noticing how frequently you encounter this, but for me and many other trans and non-binary folks, it feels omnipresent.

    I’m calling on my fellow yoga practitioners to be our allies in reducing this ongoing harm. Both inside and outside of yoga spaces, practice avoiding assumptions and use gender-neutral language with people you don’t know, help normalize the practice of asking every new person you meet what their pronouns are by doing it consistently, add your own pronouns to your email signature, your Twitter bio, and your next conference nametag. Extend your ahimsa practice to trans folks. Just as you can never know who you might be hurting when you assume gender, you never know who you’re helping to exist in their body when you don’t.

    By Melanie Williams

    Melanie Williams is an East-Coast-based, fat, queer, non-binary yoga teacher and self-love advocate, called to create profoundly accessible spaces for self-inquiry and the inward journey by integrating mindfulness and adaptive movement practices with the spirit of social justice. They believe that the goal of yoga, as of life, is collective liberation and in turn challenge contemporary yogis to dismantle the systems and beliefs that hold us all back. In addition to teaching group and private yoga classes, Melanie offers workshops that explore queer identity and body image, leads adaptive yoga teacher trainings, helps coordinate trainings internationally for Accessible Yoga, champions diversity and inclusion in the yoga industry as a member of the Yoga & Body Image Coalition leadership team, and serves leading industry groups as an expert advisor on diversity and accessibility.

    NOTE: This post is part of a collaborative media series organized and curated by Omstars and the Yoga & Body Image Coalition intended as a deep dive into yoga & body image.

  • In Support of POC and Marginalized Folks in the Yoga Community

    To understand why I feel strongly about providing resources to POC and marginalized populations who want to practice Yoga, I need to tell a little bit of my story.

    From a very young age, I learned that being Black was not desirable or of importance to the larger world. My mother would go to multiple stores in search of Black dolls. They were often sold out because it wasn’t as important to manufacturers and stores to carry as wide of a selection of Black dolls as it was White ones. One Christmas, in order for me to have a Black doll, She had a woman hand-make one. When I opened my gift, I cried. Why couldn’t I have the popular dolls that the White girls received instead of a knock off?

    White girls were the stars of the shows I watched and the Black girl was the sassy sidekick. One of my favorite Saturday morning shows was Saved By the Bell, a story of a group of high school kids in California. Even though the Black character, Lisa Turtle, was pretty and stylish, she rarely had a love interest. Though she definitely had episodes where she was featured, she was not centered. For a Black person to be featured, the show pretty much had to be about Black people. Shows like A Different World, the Cosby Show, and reruns of Good Times and Sanford and Son were a part of the hand full of shows that centered Black people living day to day life. Other then the sassy sidekick funny homeboy/girl who supported the White character or was killed first in horror movies, Black people on TV were largely entertainers, i.e.basketball players, singers, dancers etc, or criminals.

    When I started school, I noticed that the closer you were to White, the more attention you received from teachers. When your skin was lighter and your hair straighter, you were called beautiful. The girls with kinky hair and dark skin were told that they had “pretty faces” or the boys talked about their “nice bodies”. We were never called beautiful. By the time I saw Grace Jones, an avant-garde Black supermodel on TV, I was so confused and I didn’t understand why she was in the James Bond Series which was known for its half-naked “beautiful” White “Bond” girls. Were they making fun of her? Did James Bond really like her or was she a joke?

    One year, I was having trouble with math. The immediate assumption was that it was because I must have come from a bad home and not that I had a horrible teacher who tripped over herself to help White students but berated and yelled at the Black ones. And don’t let me get started on education. Except for Black History month or brief mentions of slavery, Black people didn’t exist. We definitely were not kings and queens from advanced societies that predate White culture. The mini-series, Roots, was the first movie I ever watched that hinted at Black people having an existence before slavery. These are just a few stories and hopefully enough to see where I am going.

    As a Black child, I was surrounded by beautiful Black people from my family, my church and my community. They were not all football players or singers and they were definitely not criminals. In my life, stunning and amazing Black people were everywhere, yet, we were erased from every other aspect of culture that extended outside of my own neighborhood. The message I received as a child was that Blackness was not important to the rest of the world. It was only important to our own community. Outside of my community, no one wanted to see color or talk about it.

    To keep everyone else comfortable, I had to become complicit in my own erasure. Because when White people were uncomfortable, bad things happened. Sassiness is cool when you play the sidekick in a cop show but might get you killed when stopped by a cop in real life. They needed to be comfortable with my hair, my dress, my walk and the way I talked or teachers would not like me, I would not get a job, or people may feel that I am a threat. If I wanted to be considered attractive, I had to downplay my African features and alter anything that could be molded into something that resembled White standards of beauty. I needed to smile all the time to get the position of sassy sidekick, which from what the media taught me, was the quickest way to a good life. A supporting roll in a White centered world was a blessing and something to strive for.

    Can you even begin to understand how hard it is to thrive in a world that is hell-bent on erasing your culture from existence? The pain of it? The daily struggle to keep living and breathing in a culture that only seems to mention your people when you can entertain them in some sort of way or a crime has been committed?

    You would think that this narrative would stop when I started practicing Yoga. Yoga is about love, liberation and oneness, right? Well, it didn’t. The same dynamic is in play. People in the Yoga world are constantly talking about how to make “people” comfortable enough to try Yoga. Have you ever stopped to think about what “people” they are referring too? I will give you a hint, it is not POC. Making a Yoga class more “comfortable”, “accessible” and less “intimidating” are often just code words for erasure. Think about it. What often gets taken out? Chanting, Sanskirt, mentions of South Asian deities and concepts. What gets added in? “Popular” music or music that is popular among mainstream Whites. If a studio does play chants, they are usually performed by White people like Krishna Das or Dave Stringer. Information is conveyed in ways that White people vibe with. Stories from the Gita are replaced with Brene Brown quotes. Om symbols are replaced with pictures of skinny White people in Lululemon.

    Even though I have done a lot of work unpacking the trauma of being raised a Black child in a society that doesn’t really value her existence, when I teach in a predominately White studio, I have to use the same survival mechanisms I use anywhere else. I thought I didn’t because this is Yoga and we are all “woke” and love each other right? Wrong. A White Yoga studio owner told me to smile. They wagged their head and used their “sassy black woman voice’ when they quoted me. I got feedback from students that they thought I didn’t like them because I wasn’t smiling at them. People didn’t understand why I didn’t like the popular Yoga clothing brands that did not fit my curvy body and insisted that I was just wearing them wrong. I made playlists I hated because they did not reflect me or my culture but that my White students loved. I would greet people on their way to class who looked at me like “why was I talking to them” who would be shocked when I walked into class and said I was teaching it. I have been in countless meetings and wrote countless blogs where I have said things that were ignored but were listened to when a White person said it. Like my childhood examples, for the sake of brevity, I am going to stop here but do know that I can keep going. If you are thinking about commenting on this article and gaslighting me, it won’t work. I know what I experienced and am still experiencing.

    When I speak on these things, people often ask, “what are you doing about it?” I think to myself, “You mean besides continuing to live on this earth, teach and practice Yoga while experiencing microaggressions and race-based trauma on a daily basis from the community I love and wish would just love me back?” Sometimes I have to laugh to keep from crying. After one of these conversations, I was like, “you know what, I will start an organization to help.” I didn’t start it to let those who perpetrate the erasure of POC off the hook. I started it as a way to be of service to those who experience what I experience. To make it a little bit easier for them to move in the Yoga world if they so desire. I started the organization to help end the idea that comfortable Yoga is White, binary, and heteronormative.

    When I started talking about wanting to start an organization that gave scholarships to marginalized groups who wanted to practice Yoga and educated people on inclusion and honoring the roots of Yoga, a White colleague in the Yoga world immediately wanted to be an ally. In the end, four women who have a passion for offering Yoga to folks and their families struggling from various traumas such as addiction and abuse, came together to form Yoga For Recovery Foundation Inc. The trauma that POC and other marginalized populations endure by systemic erasure from practices and societies that they helped create, is where I chose to put my focus.

    By Shanna Small

    Read More Insightful Articles by Shanna Small

    Shanna Small is the author of, The Ashtanga Yoga Project, a website that teaches how to live the wisdom of Yoga in modern times. Shanna began her Yoga journey in 2000 and her teaching journey in 2005. She has studied the Yoga Sutras, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, chanting and Ashtanga at KPJAYI in India with Sharath Jois and Lakshmish. She received her Yoga Alliance registration for Vinyasa Yoga in 2005 and served 4 years as the director of Ashtanga Yoga School Charlotte. She has written for Yoga International, OmStars and Ashtanga Dispatch Magazine. Photo Credit: Wanda Koch Photography