• Intersectionality & Yoga

    Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu. May all beings be happy and free and may the thoughts, words, and action of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and freedom for all. – Be here and Love.

    It is time to live in the reality that Yoga and Intersectionality are intertwined. Find the spiritual
    crossroads of the life you so desire on our mats, and apply them in your everyday lives
    Ferociously!

    Yoga in itself is a life built on intersections. We know this, we live our lives moving through the
    paces; we struggle and grow through the day to day to find meaningful purpose. We do this
    daily work to combine our physical bodies, spiritual bodies, and mental bodies. We know there
    are crossroads between our celestial and metaphysical channels. And the goal is to find the
    bridges between the things that make you, you, and connect that to the energetic points that
    surround us.

    Intersectionality is the crossroads between Gender Identity, Socioeconomic Status, Race,
    Sexual Orientation, Religious Beliefs, Lived Experiences (including trauma), Political
    Orientation. Yoga is the crossroads between physical, mental, and spiritual practices including
    but not limited to breath control, meditation, and bodily postures.

    Once we know one, we know the other. The work on the mat teaches us our ability to navigate.
    To understand one side of the spectrum, whilst being engaged in another. It is important for you
    to realize that you are already familiar with this work. You now must adjust the tools in your
    beautifully built tool box-sphere to be applied to the dismantling of white supremacy. Your anti
    racism work is an everyday practice. Schedule time in your day to build the foundations of this
    work! It must first start at home, it must start with you!

    Take into account the culture of yoga is not just the individual, but the community. We ascend
    ourselves into the astral plane, leaving the constructs of the breathing body, to traverse to an
    energetic plane to connect ourselves to the universe.

    Adjust your thinking. The time of who is worthy of the gifts of enlightenment, has passed. To
    ascend you must be as connected with yourself as you are with everyone else. If there is
    suffering in the world, a part of you is also suffering. You can not be connected to your practice
    as you continue to ignore the micro and macro pains and sufferings of all.

    White culture thrives on who is deserving. The feeling that ‘I am the one that is deserving of this
    space’ is your racist systematic programmed mind. There is no ‘I am worthy if someone else is
    unworthy’. This is the place to start your work. The answer is that we are ALL deserving.
    Recognizing this hostility is so familiar that it may have become second nature -so innate that
    you don’t see it for what it is. Know when you come from this space you are already lesser than,
    and the journey will be unnecessarily longer. Then ask yourself why you are ok with that? I
    encourage you to observe yourself.

    By 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. She holds a Masters Degree from the Royal Scottish Conservatoire. Follow her on Instagram

  • How Injury Brought Me Closer to the Purpose of Yoga

    I attribute yoga taking over my life to the moment I started practicing Ashtanga yoga mysore style at Miami Life Center. It affected everything, not just the 90 minutes in class. I fell hard (still falling) for this practice and mysore style was a gateway to a whole new world. That is, until about 4 months into my new found high. I fell off my bike. Nothing too serious, but enough for me to determine I couldn’t practice yoga until I was fully healed. I fell on my right arm and hurt my elbow so it was difficult to put weight on it, like in downward facing dog. I thought if I can’t downward dog I have no business walking into a mysore room.

    I took about 3 months off, more than I probably needed to. Losing the momentum of practicing 3 times a week made it really hard for me to get back to the mat. I’ve come across students with similar experiences. Getting back on the mat after stepping away for the first time is sometimes harder than coming to the mat in the first place. You would think the opposite, especially after experiencing the life shifting results from a regular practice, that you’d come running back.

    If you want to know the benefits of practicing yoga, stop practicing. I’m pretty sure I got that one from David Swenson. But its so true! It points to the slow subtle shifts that yoga creates on a deep level, which then slowly work their way to the surface. You won’t notice how much has changed from one day to the next, but if all of a sudden you stop practicing and those yoga benefits stop making an appearance in your life, the sharp contrast in how you feel and show up in the world will tell you. Yoga works in quiet sometimes mysterious ways.

    When I was off the mat those months, I felt the tamas, apathy and heaviness coming back into my body and mind. I was more emotional, getting lost in sadness and doubt (my go to’s). The crazy part was that before yoga I never thought of these things as the lack of yoga, but as my nature, a part of who I was and never considered living without them. It was a big shift for me. I now saw those physical, mental and emotional states as changeable by a yoga practice.

    My practice had become a space for me to tune in, which I soon realized allowed me to show up as a better and more present person for the rest of my day. I didn’t realize at the time that I didn’t need to do a downward facing dog in order to have that. But the mysore room and the teacher provided me with a clearly defined space and time to tune in. And most importantly a method and path to support me through that process. I didn’t know how to move through this process alone, much less that I was so eagerly searching for a path most of my life. When I found this path, I sank into it without fully realizing that I had finally found what I was searching for. Having a teacher, a class holding me accountable, expecting me to show up for that space was really important for me at the beginning. Which makes this less about blaming myself for stepping away when I was hurt, and more about understanding and compassion for my journey as a beginner.

    When I got back into the mysore room 3 months after I fell off my bike, I felt like I had taken 2 steps back. Starting up again took so much effort, so much tapas and fire to burn through the stagnation that had taken over. It was an important part of my journey, going through that physical, mental and emotional effort and discomfort. Once I got through it, the daily ritual of this practice and tuning in was further ingrained in me. Since then I’ve had unbroken regular practice, nowadays 6 days a week for asana.

    Fast forward 4 years and I run into a shoulder injury. There was pain when I lifted my arms over my head. I couldn’t do the first movement in Ashtanga yoga! Which of course brought on all the reactions – sadness, frustration, doubt whether I would even practice yoga again. But this time I knew better. I wasn’t going to stop coming to the mat. My practice needed to drastically change from intermediate and part of third series, to heavily modified standing postures. I went from practicing asana for 90 minutes to 20. At this point I realized those 90 minutes were really useful as it took me some time of being on the mat to drop down to the undercurrent. So I looked for other tools to keep me on the mat each day a bit longer than 20 minutes.

    I found pranayama (the practice of controlling the breath) through one of my teachers, Mark Linksman. It become my main practice while my shoulder was healing. It was such a beautiful time for me as a yoga practitioner. I continued healing the body through minimal movement, not allowing stagnation to take over and I opened up to a new pathway into the practice of yoga, into focusing inwards. Pranayama is incorporated in the Ashtanga system, but to practice it on its own gave me a closer look into the self-transformational power of the breath. I explored more precise ways of working with it that could be translated to deepen an asana practice.

    It’s so interesting to notice how as I spend more time on the mat, my ideas about what I think is right or wrong changes. The context of my practice changes because my perspective gets a bit broader. It’s as if I can look in from a further stance and get a more complete view of Ashtanga Yoga, or yoga in general for that matter. I imagine it’ll be like this for the long haul of this path – I’ll keep taking another step back, and keep seeing pieces I was blind to before because they weren’t yet in my view.

    This time, as soon as my shoulder healed I was there, present and ready to slowly move back into a longer asana practice. This time without the heaviness I had the first time coming back from an injury. I had maintained a practice so I never really left. Creating a practice with a different form allowed me to better understand through firsthand experience the purpose of yoga, regardless of the tools used. It wasn’t to perfectly execute a shape with our bodies but to create a space to observe ourselves, to sit in awareness. Lucky for us we’ve been given more than one way of doing this, teachings that have been passed down through many generations, through lineage.

    I was also given an opportunity to witness the healing potential of the primary series of Ashtanga yoga. Moving slowly through heavily modified standing postures and then into primary series little by little facilitated my healing process, coupled with some physical therapy exercises. I wasn’t doing the traditional full expression of primary series, but to me is was complete and perfect. I had the opportunity to revisit the foundations and refine basic technique. It’s since then become a big focus in my practice – continuously going back to the basics. While I was healing it helped me establish movement patterns that more efficiently built strength and flexibility while doing a very beginner practice. Mentally, I learned to tap into a beginner’s mind, looking at something for the hundredth time with a unbiased perspective. As I moved back into a more advanced practice, my body felt good and strong because of the time I spent more intimately understanding basic movements.

    I often see students get caught up in the external conditions set for the sequence, holding on to them as truth, thinking if it weren’t followed perfectly it meant they weren’t practicing Ashtanga yoga. The context of Ashtanga yoga is much broader than the postures – another lesson I picked up from these experiences with injury. The postures are there as tools for a more holistic and spiritual purpose. They bring us into our bodies, something tangible to feel what’s present. They give us a single point to focus on, and they give us a mirror to observe ourselves by. And yes the conditions set to execute an asana are important, such as place your hand here, breath in here, but they can be accommodated to work with a student’s situation, like a physical limitation for example, and still maintain the intention of yoga.

    We can expand the context of yoga by modifying a posture, incorporating seated breathing or seated meditation, staying in one posture for 10 minutes, the list goes on. There are different doorways into yoga and therefore the pathways along the way may look different, in the same way that my personal journey through this practice will look different than yours.

    I had two different experiences with injury and came out with my own lessons and conclusions, which I get to share with you here. Not to tell you what to do but to let you know that there are different paths within this path and it’s important to find your own way. I’ve used the experiences and knowledge of others to help inform what and how I choose to explore. To then evaluate and integrate the lessons learned from my own personal experience. The result is as many expressions of yoga as there are humans, and that’s a beautiful thing.

    By Monica Arellano

    Practice LIVE on Omstars with Monica Arellano

    Monica Arellano is a Level 2 Authorized teacher in the Ashtanga Yoga Method; a formal blessing received by her teacher R. Sharath Jois in Mysore, India. She first connected to the practice of yoga in 2010, looking for a more peaceful way of being. When she found her way to Miami Life Center in 2014 she began a regular Ashtanga Yoga practice and soon after completed a 2 year apprenticeship program under Tim Feldmann. Today she continues to practice, teach and travel regularly to Mysore, India to learn yoga directly from the source. Monica’s teachings are informed by the knowledge carried on from her teachers and the first-hand experience from her daily asana and meditation practice. Her classes emphasize the breath, alignment, and methods of concentration; in hopes of exploring the deeper experience of asana and the resulting expression in each student’s unique and mind. In this space, she believes we can deconstruct unhealthy patterns, facilitate healing on many levels, and find our way back to the most honest version of ourselves.

    This blog was originally posted on monicarellano.com

  • Simple Ways to Teach Ashtanga Yoga with a Trauma-Informed Lens

    There are many reasons you may choose to teach Ashtanga from a trauma-informed lens. The stories of sexual assault regarding the father of Ashtanga Yoga, Pattabhi Jois, has left many in the Ashtanga community confused, angry, sad, and questioning the safety of continuing to practice within the Ashtanga community. While some are still asking for the lineage to be reshaped by the Jois family, the process of healing has largely been in the hands of individual teachers, students and communities.   

    For all those who have experienced the power of Ashtanga to help with addiction and trauma, bring health to the body, release suffering and awaken the spirit,  Ashtanga is worth saving.  Ashtanga can be reconnected to the roots of yoga where non-harming is the key component of an 8 limbed system that leads to freedom.  Trauma-informed teaching can help the community heal and prevent some of the problematic behaviors that create environments where abhorrent behaviors thrive. Diversity and inclusivity is another reason to teach Ashtanga from a trauma-informed lens. The yoga community has been grappling with how to diversify practice spaces as they have realized that most yoga classes are filled with skinny, White, affluent women. 

    Often when people of color are asked about why they don’t attend class, the answer is, “I don’t feel comfortable.” Some of this discomfort can be linked to trauma. From a young age, many Black people were taught that, if they are to survive, they have to act differently around White people. Even now, when unarmed Black people like Breonna Taylor and Jacob Blake are murdered by cops, many White people ask, “What did they do wrong?”   However, when Dylann Roof, a White armed male, kills 9 Black people worshiping at church, the cops bring him in alive and take him to Burger King. People want to know about his troubled past because surely he has a good reason for killing innocent people. As a Black woman,  this society taught me that I had to constantly fight to show that I am one of the “good” Black people who can comply and fit into a society that centered White as inherently good and Black as inherently bad.

    This dynamic doesn’t just stop when a Black person steps into a yoga class. A class full of White people tends to inherently be White centered. The languaging, the music, the jokes, the locations, the pose choices, the culture of the studio will continue to center White people.  For a POC, this can be triggering and continue the trauma that they deal with on a day to day basis. A trauma-informed framework, along with diversifying the space, being anti-racist, and taking a deep look at systemic oppression and its effects on POC, may help. The last reason, I will mention in this post, is that, as teachers, we are not involved in a student’s day to day life. We may or may not be aware of traumatizing events from the past or even from that morning. Operating from a trauma-informed framework acknowledges the shared human experience of pain and suffering. The Yoga Sutras of Pantanjali says “suffering, that has not yet come, should be avoided.” The journey to healing belongs to the student. However, as the teacher, you can help mitigate, at least in our yoga space,  the suffering that has not yet come. 

    A trauma-informed framework acknowledges that harm has been done and that the community and/or student is actively embarking on the process of recovery.  The teacher, through a relationship with their students and the community, learns the signs that a student may have been triggered or that community harm has happened and they respond immediately.  The teacher actively works against re-traumatizing the student or the community. 

    Before we continue, let us define trauma. Trauma is a disturbing event that is so overwhelming that the person cannot cope with or integrate the feelings and emotions from the experience. It is important to understand that something can be fine for you but completely traumatic for someone else.  It is also important to understand that trauma is not limited to “big” experiences like war, sexual assault, or childhood abuse. It can happen in day to day interactions such as someone constantly hearing comments about their weight, a gay man being sneered at when he walks down the street, a Black person experiencing systemic racism, and off-color remarks about a woman’s body at the office water cooler.  It is not about how you would have felt in that situation, it is about how that person felt and how it affected them.

    When someone tells you something traumatized them, it is not your job as the teacher to judge them. It is your job to help create an environment that is not re-traumatizing and allows them to comfortably practice yoga.  Lastly, have compassion for yourself. You will get it wrong sometimes. Acknowledge it, make amends, and come up with new and creative ways to work with students in the future. The list below is not exhaustive and only a starting point for creating a trauma-informed Ashtanga space for your students. 

    Establish clear and transparent practices, policies, boundaries and procedures

    When students know what to expect and what is expected from them and the reasoning behind the process, policies, and procedures, they feel safer.  Policies and procedures around reporting abuse, injury, racism, sexism, ageism, etc lets students know that you take these issues seriously which makes them feel safer and gives them a clear way of reporting violations and communicating when they feel harm has been done. This also prevents the culture of silence that happens when students, who are not the victim, protect the perpetrator and invalidate the victims. They are more likely to speak up, help, and support the members of the community that have been harmed. Gone are the days of Gurus playing mind games with students. Practices like withholding poses to “teach a lesson”  or leaving students guessing about why you did or didn’t give them a certain series is re-traumatizing.  

    Give the student a voice through the offering of choice

    Traumatic events usually involve a loss of agency.  The teacher can be a part of the process of helping a student find their voice and rediscovering trust in themselves and the world. The practice must be put in the hands of the student. This does not mean that the student does whatever they want with disregard for their own safety and the efficacy of the method.  Practice becomes a collaborative process where the student can slowly move towards elements that are effective at a speed and pace they are comfortable with. For example, for some students, closing their eyes makes them feel unsafe. It takes away their agency to see what is going on around them and to act accordingly. Instead of insisting that the student closes their eyes the first class, the teacher can, over time,  help the student feel comfortable and invite them to close their eyes as they feel safe.

    Another example would be a pose that a student is visibly uncomfortable with. Say you ask a student, in a Mysore one-on-one setting, to do chaturanga and you can see their eyes start to dart around the room looking for an exit, their breath speeds up, they start wiping their sweaty palms on their shirt, and their speech patterns change. These are all signs that the student is being triggered. From a trauma-informed lens, the teacher may pause instruction and have an open, clear, and transparent conversation on what is coming up for the student and how they can help. They then give the student the choice of doing chaturanga or other options that will help them build the strength for chaturanga. As trust is built, the student may choose to give chaturanga a try.  In a guided class, the teacher can give some other options and discuss it with the student later.  

    Another way to give choice is to announce, at the beginning of class, that students should feel free to make the adjustments they need. Talking with students before giving them the next pose or the next Ashtanga sequence, getting them involved in the process, and asking before adjusting or touching a student also gives them agency.

    Avoid loud noises, a loud voice or tempo changes

    The melodic, even tempo of a guided Ashtanga class is perfect for calming the nervous system. Avoid yelling at students from across the room.

    Power with not power over

    There is no teacher without a student and there is no student without a teacher. The teacher/student relationship is a shared nurturing experience. Yes, the teacher has more knowledge and experience with the subject but they are initiating the student into that same lineage of wisdom with the intent of giving them the same amount of power and agency. For example, if you stop at a gas station and ask the attendant for directions, you stop, listen and learn, not because they are better than you, but because they have the information you need. On a soul level, you are equals. The same is true for yoga. The student respects the process of transmission and that the teacher knows more than them on this one subject, but on a soul level, you are equals. 

    The same is true with student-to-student relationships.  Teachers should avoid creating hierarchies within the classroom.  This one is tricky and requires some vigilance. It can show up as teachers spending more time with  “advanced students”, lots of fanfare when students accomplish something that a teacher considers “advanced” or using “advanced” students as models for what the poses should look like. It can also happen in reverse, spending lots of time with students because the teacher views them as less advanced and needing more help. Instead, a teacher might consider identifying the unique places where each and every student needs help and being attentive to the students when they arrive at that point in the practice. The students understand that the teacher is looking out for every student and helping them where they need it. It is clear and transparent. Also, helping a student in the same spot every day creates a consistency that trust can be built on. 

    Another way to share power is through the placement of the teacher in the room. If the teacher is on a stage or standing over a student giving an assist or instruction, there is this sense of power over.  Even if a teacher is using the stage to be able to see everyone in the room, they should have times in the class where the students are invited to share space at the same level as the teacher. This could be walking up and down aisles or spending time with students at eye level before and after class.  If a teacher is having a conversation with a student in a floor pose, if possible, they should come to the floor or squat down and get close to the same level as the student. 

    Stay in your lane

    Unless you are a mental health professional, it is not your place to diagnose or provide treatment for trauma.  This seems intuitive but it can be tricky. Trying to treat trauma can show up in saying things like, “let it go”, “we are all one” “suck it up” and “do it anyway”. As teachers, our job is to help create an environment conducive to the process of yoga and healing. It is the students’ job to heal as they get ready and in a way that is right for them.  Be okay with the fact that some students are outside of your wheelhouse and you may not be the teacher for them.

    Help Shanna Small raise money to help those in recovery from addiction, trauma, and systemic oppression. Please donate or purchase a t-shirt from her non-profit, Yoga For Recovery Foundation.

    By Shanna Small

    Join LIVE classes with Shanna Small on Omstars 

    Shanna Small is a writer and Yoga teacher who speaks to the intersectionality of Yoga and social justice.  She has practiced Ashtanga Yoga and studied the Yoga Sutras since 2001. She has studied in Mysore with Sharath Jois.  Shanna’s finds joy in making the Ashtanga practice accessible for all.  She studied with Amber Karnes and Dianne Bondy and is Yoga For All certified. She is a regular contributor for Yoga International, Omstars and the Ashtanga Dispatch.    She teaches diversity and inclusivity as well as accessibility trainings and workshops. She is a founding member of Yoga For Recovery Foundation, a non-profit that helps those recovering from addiction, trauma and systemic oppression.  For information on workshops, please e-mail shanna@ashtangayogaproject.com.  Photo Credit: Wanda Koch Photography

  • 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.

    Read More Yoga Stories by Ankur Tunaak

  • 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

  • Why Yoga is not a safe space for all – Part 1

      What we believe to be Yoga, the community, the collective voice, the healing, the vibrations, has always been a place of exclusion, and though it has presented as a safe space for some, this has not been the case for all.

    Like all people in society, we must open our minds to change. The foundation of Western Yoga
    currently set in place is not one made of solid ground, but one that is made from the ideologies
    of white supremacy. You may be reading this thinking, how can I be a white supremacist. Western
    Yoga in the same vein of white feminism, your feminism, or your ‘Yoga’ is only programmed to
    go so far.

    You have been conditioned to care, but not for everyone or the collective well being.
    When white people fight for equality or to make safe spaces, they only do so for white bodies.
    Most often forgetting that intersectionality is a necessary component of safety for all. Race,
    sexual orientation, socioeconomic background, disability, and nationality must be addressed in
    the quest to find a thriving inclusive community. Because the oppression of non-white people,
    has been the bases of growth for most white led companies, and the sole construct of the
    society we live in today, we must all do are bit to dismantle and eradicate the white supremacist
    that live in our minds.

    The understanding of your limited view is the first step to reaching the awaking that we all so
    crave. Self-realization. We most all work to dismantling the patriarchy, for cis men this will come in
    the form of renouncing your privilege, recognizing your misogyny, the need to categorization
    and who is deserving of what. Actively holding yourself accountable for these changes. For cis
    women this will work in pushing the patriarchy out of certain aspects of your life, how you
    perceive your sexuality, humanity, and purpose on this earth, and the support of cis white
    ideologies.

    For white LGBTQIA this comes in the form of recognizing how your whiteness allows
    you privilege that is not the same for your BIPOC brothers and sisters, and even though you
    struggle with identity and placement, there are certain factors that will never arise for you
    because the world has been imperialized by white bodies. For the rest of us, it is dismantling the
    inner workings of our patriarchal adjacent minds to fit into spaces that were not made for us,
    and have been complacent in the working of white supremacy. We must take up the spaces we
    desire, to build a world made without the taint of white colonialism. Stand proud and true in
    thyself because YOU ARE WORTHY. This is the part of the renouncement work we all must
    do.

    Let go of the old, broken, and corrupt, and use this space created by yourself to actualize your
    highest potential. We know that when the community is working in tandem our frequencies are
    heightened. The subtleties that are left alone until they become big open raging wounds are
    looked upon more frequently, and with a greater understanding. The concept of self love
    spreads from just the singular body into the communal one.

    Have we not already seen the effect of such in the world of buddhism and the benefits of
    chanting. We must radicalize ourselves, to save our world. Now, don’t get scared by the word
    radical. It is so easy to think of it as one that is aggressive and fearful, because that is the
    conditioning that has been put into place. Love is a radical idea. True love is the definition of
    radical. The concept, the ideology is as safe as they come. The yoga in your mind must be able to see the worth of all sentient beings to see the worth of
    one. The one is you, the all is everybody else.

    By 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. She holds a Masters Degree from the Royal Scottish Conservatoire. Follow her @yemiesonuga.

  • One Arrow, A Thousand Arrows

    As it was explained to me by my teacher, Yogarupa Rod Stryker – the first arrow is the cause of pain. Thousands of arrows are the thousands of stories/worries that spring from the one arrow which turn the pain into suffering.

    Worrying is deeply exhausting. Truly. And worrying is a kind of suffering. Something happens: a mistake, a breakup, an eviction, a death, an accident, or any of the other millions of things that can go wrong on the daily. Let’s say you make a mistake and you leave the house with the oven on. You get three blocks down the road before realizing it. The doggies, or kids, or cats, or guinea pigs are in the house. You run back to turn the damn thing off.

    Pain is the realization you left the oven on. Suffering- the three block walk with all of the ‘what if’ scenarios playing out in your mind; the dramatic reenactment -pointing out that the house could have burned down with the doggies, or the kids, or cats, or guinea pigs not just to your mom, but your partner and your brother; the echoes and echoes of retelling it to yourself the rest of the day and playing out all the gnarly possibilities.

    This teaching has been with me all through this quarantine and pandemic. Worry has been a topic in all my conversations lately. Even with those of us who have not been affected as terribly as others by all of it. Is there something to be done about worrying? 

    There is. It relates to the energetic quality of letting go or release- Apana. But letting go is a frustrating concept, an annoyingly nebulous thing. What does it mean to let go? How do I let go?

    In order to better understand Apana, we must look at its energetic counterpart Prana -our life force, our intake. We must examine where it is going, along with our ability or lack thereof to direct it- dharana. Because Prana will take you where you want to go and also where you don’t want to go. What I mean by that is that it is a forward moving energy, whether you acknowledge it consciously or leave it in the unconscious space. It will get us stuck in the mire just as easily as it will help us fulfill our Dharma, our life’s work. It’s all a matter of direction. If we are moving through the world unconsciously, it is easy to make the one arrow into a thousand. The more we learn about energy, however, we learn that we can refocus it and bring it to where we need it or want it- presence. So you left the oven on, realized it and turned it off. That can be it. End of story. One arrow.

    Practice with Miles LIVE on Omstars

    The more stimulus we take in, the more Prana we exhaust because once we see something, we can’t unsee it. Which means that the only way for that thing to move through our systems is to process it. If it stays in our system unprocessed, it gets stuck in there somewhere. Think of it as gaining energetic weight. If stimulus is food, we need to digest it and secrete it. So think of all the information we are ingesting everyday, constantly, through our senses. Not just in the cities we live in, but news, television, social media, music, images, gossip, conversations…

    Imagine how much more energy we would have if we took better care of what we fed our senses. It can be nourishment, after all. What we are putting in our line of vision, what we are touching, tasting, hearing. Which would in turn affect what and how we are saying things, to ourselves and others. And most importantly, it would help us wrangle and work with our worry as we’d be able to distinguish one arrow from the thousand arrows. What would life be like if we didn’t worry so much?!?!

    Balance is born in and of the natural world. Where samsaras, cycles, play out with ease- unfettered. Yoga, holds this wisdom of the natural world handed down directly from nature through time and space. It is in this way also linked to all the teachings of all of the ancient cultures, which is why many mendicants and sadhus surrender their quotidian city lives for caves.

    Now, I’m not saying leave everything behind and move to the woods though it may also be a good time to do so. As things shift daily through this time, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and overstimulated. If that’s the case with you, take a moment to close your eyes and sit or do something sweet that pulls you out of the fray. Go for a walk, or practice yoga nidra. Find some stillness. We are in a marathon, take a pause to go within. Whatever you are planting during this time will then have more room to blossom. Strip away the unnecessary part of the chaos so that your Prana can remain as buoyant as possible and have a clear charge- allowing you to be steady throughout the insanity.

    “I love listening. It is one of the only spaces where you can be still and be moved at the same time.”
    ~Nayyirah Waheed 

    By Miles Borrero

    Miles Borrero is a NYC-based yoga teacher who has led sought-after retreats and trainings around the world since 2007. A tireless explorer, Miles has done a deep dive into many lineages: Bhakti, Forrest, Parayoga, Om Yoga, Iyengar, Ashtanga. Over the years, these influences have converged to create a unique hybrid style of teaching that is dynamic, creative, and soulful. The athletic physicality that first drew him to the mat has since inspired deeper inquiries in anatomy, as well as cranio-sacral therapy and osteopathy – techniques that delve into the equally magnificent subtle body. As a teacher, Miles is wonderfully skillful and intuitive. He understands technique from the depth of his own practice and is able to articulate it simply and clearly, making it readily accessible to his students. His subtle and powerful insights stay with you past the duration of his classes. And his chants will crack your heart wide open. His love of people is infectious and has translated into building a thriving community and creating inclusive spaces for all. As an anti-racist Latinx and LGBTQ+ trans activist, his hope is to leave the world a bit better than he found it. Check out Miles’ website at http://www.milesyoga.com/. 

  • Yoga Obstacles: Setbacks and Plateaus

    Yoga is the effort full path, which entails a road with inescapable obstacles, plateaus, and setbacks. When we are facing a challenge, it is easy to disregard the valuable opportunity we are also presented for gaining new inner knowledge. As we begin to take the necessary steps to overcome our discomfort, more often than not, we’ll gain insightful information and inner strength, as we work our way through on overcoming our road blocks.

    Yoga Sutra 1.14 sa tu dirghakala nairantarya satkarasevito drdhabhumih

    When dealing with an injury, a disrupting life event, or anything else that impedes us from taking daily practice, there’s a sense of defeat that can bring down our spirit a little bit, or a lot. It is important to understand the power of taking mouse bites. Applying effort consistently and steadily is all it takes. It is not about applying full on effort only when you’re feeling 100 when climbing peaks and valleys to then give up all effort when you hit the proverbial wall. Effort also comes into play when we are halted on our journey. It’s the key to overcome that sense of defeat. Compassion towards oneself, as well as time and patience, are necessary and valuable elements to continue on the path. Steady effort, however small, is key. Just like a mouse can break through a wall by taking small little bites at a time, that which hinders progress can be an opportunity for insight, strength, and empowerment.

    Setbacks are great opportunities. 

    Setbacks are great opportunities to observe and study not only the makings of our mind, inner strength, and will power, but also the reasons why we take on a spiritual practice in the first place. Oftentimes, when we deal with injuries in our physical yoga practice, and our ego gets knocked down a pec or two, we realize that inner peace, joy, contentment can still be achieved through the other limbs of yoga; such as: pranayama-breathing techniques, concentration, meditation, etc. We also realize the more subtle aspects of our physical practice and how restorative it is meant to be and feel when we are forced to decelerate and deepen our awareness. When our ego gets poked and deflated, it is easy to loose faith. However, this is the time we have been training for to step forward and handle the way we decide to deal with the new limiting situation.

    The lessons learned will be that much deeper and stronger.

    There is beauty in the humbling power of a setback. We are given the priceless opportunity to become stronger, as we learn and re-learn what we have been doing up until that point. More often than not, we gain a double punch of extra power. We are bound to comeback stronger when we learn to overcome our seemingly insurmountable walls. Fear not your setbacks, for the bigger they are, the stronger the comeback will be. The lessons learned will be that much deeper and stronger. Obstacles and setbacks present themselves in our path, and we are somehow forced to deal with them, unless you simply let it all go, quick, and abandon the practice all together. But, for those of us who have experienced the deep transformational power of a firmly established yoga practice, it is easier to naturally stay the course, despite any down feelings we might be experiencing. It’s, however, a different story when we experience a plateau.

    It helps to know that this too is part of the yoga journey.

    A plateau during our practice can bring a sense of apathy and sadness, a debilitating confusion of sorts, for there is nothing wrong with our practice, we know-feel-and understand we are not better without it. We believe how incredibly powerful it is for our well being to maintain it, but somehow we experience this phase, period, in which it all feels stagnant, nothing is evolving, there are no big shift and changes, no apparent progress. Firstly, it helps to know that this too is part of the yoga journey. Know and understand that we all go through this, and like anything else, it will also pass. With that said, what can you do in the meantime? Stay the course! That, in and of itself, will eventually reap its rewards, and you will look back with a wiser understanding of why the plateau presented itself on the first place. But what about now? When you are experiencing a plateau, and you feel a sense of exhaustion brought about by a seemingly chain of monotonous repetitions. You will not come out of it unless you challenge yourself a little.

    Pick and choose something in your practice that you know could benefit from that deeper focus. 

    The couple of times I have personally experienced a plateau, I have asked myself; “Why am I even feeling like I am plateauing when I know for a fact that there are a lot of loose ends in my practice that need some tightening up?” There are many aspects of my practice that need working, polishing, and being more firmly established. Going through the motions, day in and day out, will eventually land you in that dreadful place. When we create awareness, an honest inner understanding that we could deepen our practice through focus and attention, then the game changes altogether. Pick and choose something in your practice that you know could benefit from that deeper focus, say for example: jump backs and jump throughs, anyone? That’s exactly what I chose when I entered into my first plateau. Attentively working on my inner and outer strength, sharpened my focus when I tried to lift myself off the mat each and every time. It helped me gain back my attention and doubly increase it by journeying inward within the inner layers of my own mental and physical awareness, concentration, and inner strength.

    Maintain a deep inner focus by solely vowing to maintain a steady gaze towards the focal point. 

    My whole practice actually benefited because of it. I was back again in mind-training mode. Remember, this is a mind training practice, it is not about the ultimate expression of a perfect pose, or the floating effect of weightless jump back. You can very well decide on bringing full attention to the quality of your breath from the beginning to the end of the practice noticing with laser like focus each time you loose and apply immediate effort to regain it back by breathing deeply. Or, opt for committing to maintain a deep inner focus by solely vowing to maintain a steady gaze towards the focal point of attention that the asana calls for and not derail your gaze at all. Can you do that throughout the practice? From beginning to need? Not look at the phone, the door, the clock, the phone? Full on inward attention? That’s a tough one, which means it’s a powerful one. A strong mental challenge is what has personally helped me. Choosing an element in my practice that I perhaps even dread and applying all my effort into it has been incredibly liberating and worth it.

    Enter your challenge with indestructible will power, and awaken your inner Spartan.

    Taking in fully the challenges people, practice, and events life brings you, is the ultimate training ground. Getting in the arena getting your ass kicked is the prerequisite for victory over your difficulties. Enter your challenge with indestructible will power, and awaken your inner Spartan. Gladiators are not extinct in antiquity, they are dormant within. It’s not people and animals waiting in the arena, but the obstacles and the challenges that need facing intelligently. Awaken your primal hero, that archetype available to all of us, and slay the dragon! Be your own hero!

    By Patricia Amado 

     

    Practice with Patricia Amado on Omstars

    Patricia Amado embarked on her yoga journey in 2010 leading her to find the Ashtanga Yoga system in 2011, a practice she has remained devoted ever since. In 2013, she completed Miami Life Center’s very first training under the guidance of Kino MacGregor initiating her passionate path of teaching and sharing the Ashtanga Yoga method. She traveled to Mysore, India in 2015, 2016, and 2019 to study with R. Sharath Jois. Most recently, she completed a two year apprenticeship program at MLC under the guidance of her mentor and MLC Director Tim Feldman.  She is also a student of Yoga philosophy and Sanskrit recitation of the old scriptures with Professor Rao, Dr. M.A. Jayashree and Professor Sri. M.A. Narasimhan.  Patricia aims for her students to experience the stress-relieving and transformative benefits that a committed Ashtanga Yoga practice can bring into their life. She is dedicated to teaching in the authentic tradition of Sri. K. Pattabhi Jois.

  • Yoga Mythology Series: Krishna’s Flute

    It was almost time for the dusk to set in, the sun had turned orange and the entire village was soaked in a calm that comes after a hard day’s work. Birds flew past the clouds returning home, and farmers ambled back with the bovine. At the edge of the forest sat Devkinandana Krishna the God of compassion under a mango tree playing his flute with a calf sitting at his feet.

    The enchanting music could be heard deep into the forest of Vrindavan where each being was immersed in the divine melody. A group of gopis (cowherd boys) and gopikas (cowherds girls) returning from the forest were drawn to the music knowing well it could be no one else but their beloved Krishna playing his flute waiting for his cowherd to return.

    And like any other day the group of boys and girls, hearing the music could sense a deep emotion of love and belonging. They followed the music and saw their Krishna playing the flute surrounded by the cows. Vishakha, the cowherd girl walked up to Krishna’s feet and kept staring at him while he played his flute with his eyes closed resting his back against the tree. She gently touched Krishna’s arm

    “Oh Krishna who do you play this flute for, for whom is this beautiful music for, please tell us?” She asked him as other gopis and gopikas kept looking at him with devotion and love without blinking an eye. Devkinandan gently opened his yes, the most beautiful eyes, eyes that could make you fall in love with.

    “Vishakha, I play it for you”, he replied with a gentle smile and started playing the flute again. Overwhelmed hearing this from dear Krishna, she closed her eyes and started swaying to the music. Vishakha opened her eyes again to get a glimpse of her Krishna; he was standing next to her now playing the flute for her. She kept dancing to the melody.

    While swaying to the magic of the music she saw Krishna standing next to the Sridhama the young cowherd boy too, as he danced looking at Krishna next to him. Anuradha too had Krishna next to her playing the flute for her as she danced. Krishna was there next to Amsu the most mischievous boy in the group as he was raptured in the divine tune. Lalita and Tungvidya and all other cowherd boys and girls had Krishna standing beside them playing flute as they all danced with their eyes closed in devotion. Vishakha saw Krishna standing next to all her friends, playing his flute for each of them so that they could dance to the melody.

    “Krishna you said you are playing the flute for me, then why are you next to all other gopi and gopikas while they dance to your music”, Vishakha asked Krishna with drop of tear in her eye.

    “My Vishakha, I am here for you because of your unconditional love for me, I am with you because you are immersed in the faith you have in me as you dance with your eyes closed. How can I not be with Tungvidya, Amsu and other boys and girls when they devote themselves to my music with their eyes closed in love? All of you have opened up your heart to me being in the moment of spontaneity with no other intention,” Krishna had a smile on his face as he spoke to Vishakha.

    Free of all doubts, you all present me with your truest emotion of love with innocence; I have to be beside all of you to reciprocate this love and devotion. I am with all of you, because you are thinking of me without pretense and without an iota of doubt that it is my music that you hear and that I play it for you. You are free from fear and true to yourself and for what you feel or me, I have to be close to you”.

    Hearing this Vishakha let go all of her jealousy and desire to have Krishna all to herself, she felt the love of her dear Krishna which was as much hers as for all other gopi and gopikas who were devoting themselves to the divine music of Gopala.

    “Oh Krishna please tell me how can I always have you close to me in every moment…please tell me,” requested Vishakha.

    Krishna looked at Vishakha in her eyes as he spoke, “Keep me in your thoughts and think of me in all your actions, show unrestrained love and equanimity and I shall be close to you always.”

    “Is it that easy to have your presence beside us?” Vishakha asked again.

    Krishna smiled and replied, “Yes it is, do what you have at hand with utmost concentration, simple dignity and a feeling of affection while relieving yourself of all other thoughts, you will find peace and satisfaction within yourself, and that’s who I am. I am you in your most peaceful state.”

    It was almost dark and the cows were heading home, Gopala put his flute on his lips again and started walking behind the cowherd playing for tired souls of Vrindavan and slowly disappeared in the mist as Vishakha stood still with a warm feeling in her heart and a sense of fondness.

    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 Mythology Stories by Ankur Tunaak

  • How to Reduce Stress with Awareness

    Stress, panic, anxiety and emotional breakdowns. Ever since we have been quarantined, many near and dear ones are complaining about all these emotions hitting them hard. Here’s my take and personal experience on dealing with such breakdowns.

    Make it a vehicle to meditate upon.

    Consider being totally aware of when this comes to you. Don’t try to get rid of it or avoid it at any cost. Instead be desperate to get hit by them. Make it a vehicle to meditate upon. Remember everything that troubles you is in fact a method a tool that can take you inward.

    Watch who it is that actually suffers.

    With full awareness every day, try to introspect the panic, the fear, or whatever that troubles you, as if you want to have a deep dive into it while you watch who is it that actually suffers. What part of your identity suffers it? I want you to feel what happens in you when this emotion takes over you. What body part feels it first then how does it move along. Consciously watching and analyzing every single intricate details taking place within you.

    Look at the panic or stress as the object.

    Look at the panic or stress as the object, while the one who feels it as the subject. And as we contemplate on it, gradually we no more identify with both the objectivity and subjectivity, developing a sense of rootedness with the observer behind them both.

    Where ever you take the candle the darkness instantly disappears.

    It’s simple, just like trying to find darkness with the help of a candle. Where ever you take the candle, the darkness instantly disappears. Your awareness and will to search and analyse your fears without the intention of getting rid of them is the candle. Carry your flame with you. As the last words of Gautama Buddha says: “Appo Deepo Bhava,” “Be a light onto yourself” अप्प दीपो भव ||

    Namastey.

    By Rajat Thakur

    Practice Hatha Yoga with Rajat on Omstars

    Rajat Thakur is a Mountain Guide, Climber, Skier and an authorised Yoga teacher from the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Foundation. He comes from a small town ‘Manali’ in the Indian Himalayas and never leaves a chance to express his devotion & love for the Mountains. Rajat has been traveling around India to places like Rishikesh, Kerala, Mysore, Himachal Pradesh, learning from Swamis and Gurus different ancient forms of Yoga methods. Before taking up Yoga as his life long journey, he use to give Asana and Pranayama lessons to people who had a hard time acclimatizing to the high altitude on expeditions he lead. Even though the classes were never part of the itinerary, Rajat began to find immense joy in helping others. This joy and sense of personal satisfaction led him to integrate Yoga more deeply and he currently disseminates the profound knowledge of Yoga in his Home town (Manali). He believes that it must be our commitment to everyday invest some time on our personal practice, our well being, self love & self care. Because once we give it to ourself we can give it to the world and through this act of giving one can open doors to self realization.

    Photo is done by luke cg aka Gitesh Gupta