Overcome Bullying with Yoga

I was bullied. I was threatened, shamed, and physically abused through bullying. Now, 33 years old, the pain and disquiet of being bullied lingers. Being bullied can make you feel that someone is watching and waiting to poke a big hole in your balloon, hoping to deflate you.

Inflated/Deflated Project

Inflated/Deflated Project

Enter yoga.

Yoga means union. Yoga is a community. Yoga makes a person feel like it is ok to be different; it’s ok to just be you. We find an acceptance in all the yoga-speak about being non-attached, forgiveness, offering love, compassion, and self-care. Yoga class is the place one can go to make mistakes, to fall down and get back up, to practice overcoming obstacles and find inner potential.

We strengthen our bodies so that we strengthen our spirit. We practice strength so that we can share that strength with others who might not be as strong, so we can support and lift up the other folks who are having a hard time.

Bullying is something that makes a person feel alone. Yoga is a practice to unite and overcome isolation. You become strong enough to forgive and shift perspective, which opens up a new space within you, a space you can fill with your potential to create, to share, and to love.

The magic of the practice is in the journey. As you work your body, you find you have a new script, your own personal inner life coach that tells you that you are capable, that you are strong, that you are beautiful – just the way you are.

I did not have a context for inner strength until I found the practice of yoga. Bullying is not personal, it is one person transferring their negative shit onto your negative shit and making a giant shit pile. It stinks, but manure makes great fertilizer. Keep practicing your potential and see what can bloom for you.

Out of the Muck Grows The Flower

Out of the Muck Grows The Flower

 

Have you ever been bullied? Feel free to share your story with me in the comments, or direct message me on Facebook at Kirsten Hedden Yoga. I know you can feel alone – sometimes it helps to reach out to someone that cares – I’m here to listen.

4 Practices to Try Right Now:

Protect Your Inner Child

Protect and Strengthen – A Downward Dog over Child’s Pose

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To Peel or Not to Peel? (Hint: You Need to Peel)

Quick Experiment: Point to yourself.

DO NOT SCROLL DOWN YET

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Where did you point?

I’m going to guess that you pointed at your chest, more specifically, the heart center. Why didn’t you point to your brain?

You pointed to your heart because you are a being created in love, driven by heart, and haunted by a mind of incessant thinking. You are not your thoughts; you are not your brain. Who is the one watching you think? Who is the thinker and who is the witness?

Study of the Koshas in Yoga philosophy can give us a description of what we are doing through practice and where we are headed if we stick with it. Without actually practicing, it means squat. 99% practice.

I drew this in teacher training. My meditation man is winking at you.

I drew this in teacher training. My meditation man is winking at you.

 

This photo is a little misleading (I’m not the best artist) – we aren’t really sitting under a rainbow of layers, all the koshas (energetic layers) weave into one another like a great tapestry. However, breaking them out in this way gives you an idea of how we practice through the layers.

Annamaya Kosha

  • Physical Layer – Earthy, Matter
  • Literally translates to “Food Body.”
  • Penetrate and purify this layer or aspect of ourselves with physical practice like yoga poses, exercises, clean eating, relaxation, and sleep.

Pranamaya Kosha

  •  Energetic Layer – Water, Fluidity
  • Prana means “life force,” so this layer is all about what moves in your body: blood, air, luymph, elimination systems.
  • Work with this layer through pranayama (breath control)

Manomaya Kosha

  • Mental Layer – Thinking Mind
  • Mind is manipulated by our thoughts which turn to words and then actions. We become an accumulation of everything that has come previously through our system and then react according to memory and habit.
  • Purify this layer with meditation especially on aspects such as compassion, selfless service, and forgiveness.
  • This layer causes us deep stress, anxiety. It is difficult to penetrate this layer without the foundations of asana and pranayama.

Vijnanamaya Kosha

  • Intellect and Discernment, Insight and Wisdom
  • This is deeper than just the conscious mind, this is latent, intuitive knowledge
  • This is not what you read in books or others ideas, it is what you experience and know through direct perception.
  • The difference between thinking and knowing is wisdom, vijnana.
  • Deep self-study and reflection on ancient scriptures and philosophy help tap into this layer.

Anandamaya Kosha

  • Bliss – Joy
  • There is a difference between pleasure and joy, pleasure arises from passing experiences and material objects, joy is a state of being, in which you can be joyful when something is difficult and not necessarily experience pleasure.
  • This is the heart center – the very place you pointed when I asked you to point to yourself.
  • All the yoga practices bring us to this place over time and consistent practice. It’s where we discover our personal truth and where we can hear our purpose most clearly.
Maybe this is a more accurate Kosha diagram - peeling back the layers until you get to your heart center - like an onion, you'll probably cry as you peel.

Maybe this is a more accurate Kosha diagram – peeling back the layers until you get to your heart center – like an onion, you’ll probably cry as you peel.

 

Yoga is a never ending journey. Just when you think you’ve mastered something physically, you can come back and add on another layer of work in order to peel back another layer of illusion. Eventually you have revealed your true self. When you wonder just who you are, point to yourself to remember.

 

Happy Birthday Baby Belly.

5 Years Ago my body was injured – slashed through with a surgical knife.  Abdominal walls severed in two by a bulging baby boy in a torso too short to properly accommodate him.  These battle scars the belly carries are from war zones called C-Section and Diastisis Recti.  I have the unfortunate appearance of someone still pregnant (which sometimes people ask!) and as a yoga teacher, it is highly unlikely that I will ever be mistaken for having “nice abs.” And to have people judge me for it still hurts.  diastasis-recti

It’s all well-meaning what people say after such a battle of pregnancy and labor and hospital stays.  Be thankful – that’s proof you had a baby.  Well thanks – my son is actually proof that I had a baby.  I can be thankful for him without loving scars and muscle weakness.

They placate a new mother with platitudes like, “thank goodness for modern medicine,” and “your child’s smile is all you need.”  But they don’t know – they don’t live in this body, they don’t have  to look at themselves naked with these sobering reminders of what, quite frankly, is a traumatic experience, albeit one with a beautiful ending.  They don’t understand the toll it takes on a wife and a marriage when you don’t love your body.  Even when your husband says you are beautiful.

I didn’t even accept that I had a certain trauma.  I covered and hid my feelings because, really, I am grateful and I wasn’t one of the moms forced to a C-Section.  I wasn’t put on the clock.   After 54 hours of trying natural labor (24 hours), of trying an epidural and medications, sifting, showers, puking, crying, I decided to agree and tell the doctor I’d had enough. Then in a mere 20 minutes, there he was.  The light of my world, the soul of my soul, my whole new purpose for even being alive.

I can even remember the very exact moment before  we went to surgery.  I asked my wonderful midwife, who I will love until my dying day and beyond, what would have happened to us in the days of old (seriously, laboring mothers say weird things!) and she very honestly told me that I would have died.  Logically, I totally know that I did every single thing possible to have that natural experience.  But somehow I had failed and here is this damn belly with a C-Section Shelf staring at me in the mirror reminding me that I couldn’t open enough to allow my son to live.  What on earth is wrong with me? I mean, I did YOGA, I did BREATHING, I did ORGANIC, I had a DOULA!

Like most things in my life, I pushed it away.  I focused on this happiness of new life, I made every effort to positive spin my C-Section story, how I had the freedom of choice and didn’t have that trauma that other moms have, THEY needed the group support, THEY deserved the kind words, I didn’t even deserve to be comforted because after all – it wasn’t that bad, other people have it worse.  I live in the now, not the past…..right?

 

But I closed down completely on a physical level.  That emotion lived in my very hormones, my body knew there was a trauma.  My desire knew there was a trauma.  My fertility knew there was a trauma.  My core strength knew and you can’t deny a weakness in an asana.  No epic arm balance or handstand selfies for me (yet!).

 

And still I clung to the denial of a happy emotion of acceptance and non-attachment.  After all, I’m a yogi.  I’m supposed to practice letting go, letting be, and becoming free.  But what I’m not supposed to do is LIE.  Satya, the second of the Yamas, the ethical guidelines.  That includes lying to yourself and denial is a bit of a self-lie.

So here it is, 5 years post partum.  I just celebrated the 5 glorious years of my own motherhood and my son’s beautiful life. Time to forgive my body.  I’ve been working up to this for a while and this post, is a catharsis, I can’t possibly be the only woman with a story like this and just maybe this reaches a woman with this issue and she knows that she is not alone.

So here it is.

Body, I’m sorry I blamed you for not being enough.

Body, I’m sorry that I didn’t recognize that you were hurting.

Body, I’m sorry that I ignored your messages and didn’t listen to your pain.

Body, I’m sorry that I made you carry this burden of emotion for so long.

Body, I forgive you for not opening up.

Body, Thank you for carrying my son.

Body, Thank you for birthing this new understanding 5 years later.

Body, Do you think maybe you can forgive me too and we can try again?

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I have my yoga practice to thank for this realization.  Something happens when you sink into your practice, all that time on the mat evolves into something.  It’s a spark of awareness, you begin to reveal your truth.  Yogis say it’s like shining up a cloudy glass so that you remove the residue of experience from the window of your soul.  After all, I’m a yogi. I’m supposed to practice letting go, letting be, and becoming free – but you don’t have to practice that at all, as you practice on the mat with asana and pranayams, this becomes a spontaneous arising of a feeling of liberation or Moksha.

Resources for Diastisis Recti

Checking for Diastisis Recti:

Yoga for Diastisis Recti:

**I have done this video, I like this teacher, I think she is accessible to every mom.  I only wish I had found this earlier.  No one told me I had a diastisis recti until about 3 years out – so I did further damage, but I have hope and I’ve been planking and working achieving results.**

The State of the Yoga…….Ummm…..Yoga Means Union

Kids like clapping.  Or he could be a child politician, I mean really, most politicians are childish, right?

Kids like clapping. Or he could be a child politician, I mean really, most politicians are childish, right?

This is President Obama’s State of the Union, if it only applied to the Yoga World.  Finally, a time to merge my love of political satire with my passion for yoga practice! Enjoy.  (**Note – Obviously, some parts have been omitted – this thing is LONG!). Inspired by my son’s riot of clapping while watching the State of the Union (he’s four, so he probably just likes clapping).

As YOGIS, we don’t mind paying our fair share of studio fees, as long as everybody else does, too. But for far too long, celebrity yogis have rigged the  pay structure. They’ve riddled it with giveaways the superrich don’t need, denying a break to the desperately poor yoga teachers who do. (I’m looking at you @aloyoga and @kinoyoga).

This year, we have an opportunity to change that. Let’s close loopholes so we stop rewarding the 1% YOGIS. Let’s use those giveaways to outfit our more humble brethren who can’t affort $80 yoga pants and luxury retreats. Let’s simplify the system . And let’s close the loopholes that lead to inequality by allowing the top one percent to accumulate thousands of followers while our less flexible yogis receive minimal notice of their meditation efforts. It’s ok, we aren’t an ego based practiceWe could use that attention to help more families pay for kid yoga classes and maybe help the homeless. We need a new ethical code that truly helps working YOGIS trying to get a leg up in the new economy, and we can achieve that together.

Of course, nothing helps YOGIS make ends meet like higher wages. Really. It’s 2015. It’s time. We still need to make sure employees get the overtime they’ve earned (who among us hasn’t poured out hours of effort for that 2 hour workshop?). And to everyone in this SATSANG who still refuses to raise the minimum wage, I say this: If you truly believe you could work full-time and support a family on less than $15,000 a year, go try it. If not, please stop complaining about the cost of your yoga class – those trainings are expensive!

But tonight, we turn the page.  We can and should offer our military heros access to yoga classes.  We have proven time and again that the method works to help our heros live with their trauma and start anew.

YOGIS, for all that we’ve endured; for all the grit and hard work required to get that 500 hour yoga TT; for all the tasks that lie ahead, know this:

It’s TIME for a CHANGE ‘Merica! Yoga On (also you can actually buy this clock – LOL!)

The shadow of crisis has passed, and the State of the YOGA is strong. We carry a light in our hearts and a will to change the world into a more peaceful, more sustainable, more accepting place to thrive.

It’s now up to us to choose who we want to be over the next fifteen years, and for decades to come.  Are we a group of ego driven yoga butts or are we a tribe of united yogis working towards a better Earth?  A better NOW?  A more accessible YOGA dream for EVERYONE – black, white, brown, abled, disabled, sick, tired, YOGA FOR ALL.

Will we accept an economy where only a few of us do spectacularly well? Or will we commit ourselves to an economy that generates rising incomes and chances for everyone who makes the effort? (No change here – YAY OBAMA)

Will we allow ourselves to be sorted into factions and turned against one another – or will we recapture the sense of common purpose that has always propelled YOGA forward?  It doesn’t matter if you teach hot, gentle, restorative, alignment – we are one YOGA – there is a practice for everyone.  You get a class and you get a class and you get a class (wait, how did Oprah get in this speech?)

At every step, we were told our goals were misguided or too ambitious; that we would never make it in the real economy or were just living in a fantasy. Instead, we’ve seen the fastest economic growth in yoga in the last 20 years, our they say 20% of Americans do yoga – that’s not misguided, that’s progress!

So the verdict is clear. YOGA works. Expanding opportunity works. And these policies will continue to work, as long as EGOS don’t get in the way. We can’t slow down businesses or put our PRACTICEat risk with shoddy teachers and manipulative marketing.

In fact, at every moment of YOGIC change throughout our history, this PRACTICE has taken bold action to adapt to new circumstances, and to make sure everyone gets a fair shot. Using props like blocks, bolsters, straps, walls, or even each other as partners.

These ideas won’t make everybody rich, or relieve every hardship. That’s not the job of YOGA. To give working teachers a fair shot, we’ll still need more employers to see beyond next quarter’s earnings and recognize that investing in their TEACHERS is in their studio’s long-term interest.

skeleton-posture

Aligned Bones are Happy Bones which = DANCING Bones!

21st century YOGA will rely on science, technology, ANATOMY, research and development. I want the country that eliminated polio and mapped the human genome to lead a new era of YOGA – one that delivers the right THERAPY at the right time. In some STUDENTS, this approach has reversed DIS-eases, once thought unstoppable.

Of course, if there’s one thing this new century has taught us, it’s that we cannot separate our work at home from challenges beyond our shores.

My first duty as a YOGI is to DO NO HARM (Ahimsa). In doing so, the question is not whether YOGA helps in the world, but how. When we make rash decisions, reacting to the headlines instead of using our heads; when the first response to a challenge is to SIT AND BE SILENT – then we can avoid getting drawn into unnecessary conflicts, and MEDITATE UPON a broader strategy we need for a safer, more prosperous world. THAT IS HOW YOGA CHANGES THE WORLD.

That’s how YOGIS lead – not with bluster, but with persistent, steady resolve.

2014 was the planet’s warmest year on record. Now, one year doesn’t make a trend, but this does – 14 of the 15 warmest years on record have all fallen in the first 15 years of this century.

I’ve heard some folks try to dodge the evidence by saying they’re not scientists; that we don’t have enough information to act. Well, I’m not a scientist, either. But you know what – I know a lot of really good scientists at NASA, and NOAA, and at our major universities. The best scientists in the world are all telling us that our activities are changing the climate, and if we do not act forcefully, we’ll continue to see rising oceans, longer, hotter heat waves, dangerous droughts and floods, and massive disruptions that can trigger greater migration, conflict, and hunger around the globe. The Pentagon says that climate change poses immediate risks to our national security. We should act like it. (Well this just applies to our yogic ways right – we have a duty to be stewards of the environment from the #1 ethic of NON-HARMING, Ahimsa).

There’s one last pillar to our leadership – and that’s the example of our values. THE YAMAS AND NIYAMAS.

  • As YOGIS, we respect human dignity, even when we’re threatened
  • As YOGIS, we respect human dignity, even when we’re threatened
  • As YOGIS, we cherish our civil liberties – MOKSHA

Looking to the future instead of the past. Making sure we match our POTENTIAL with PRACTICE, and use SIDDIS wisely. Building YOGA ALLIANCES to meet new challenges and opportunities. Leading – always – with the example of our values. That’s what makes us exceptional. That’s what keeps us strong. And that’s why we must keep striving to hold ourselves to the highest of standards – our own.

I know how tempting such cynicism may be. But I still think the cynics are wrong.
I still believe that we are one people. I still believe that together, we can do great things, even when the odds are long.  (Good one POTUS!)

So I know the good, and optimistic, and big-hearted generosity of the YOGA people who, every day, live the idea that we are our brother’s keeper, and our sister’s keeper. And I know they expect those of us who TEACH to set a better example.

A better YOGA is one where we appeal to each other’s basic decency instead of our basest fears.

wpid-peace-fingers

Fight With Peace and For Peace – The Yogi Way

A better YOGA is one where we debate without demonizing each other; where we talk issues, and values, and principles, and facts, rather than “gotcha” moments, or trivial gaffes, or fake controversies that have nothing to do with people’s daily PRACTICE ON THE MAT OR OFF.

A better YOGA is one where we spend less time drowning in money for ads that pull us into THE GLITZ AND GLAMOUR of EGO, and spend more time lifting young people up, with a sense of purpose and possibility, and asking them to join in the great mission of SHARING YOGA.

If we’re going to have arguments, let’s have arguments – but let’s make them debates worthy of this body and worthy of this PRACTICE.

I want our actions to tell every child, in every neighborhood: your life matters, and we are as committed to improving your life chances as we are for our own kids. (It’s all about 7 generations hence, that’s what Native Americans taught!).

My fellow YOGIS, we too are a strong, tight-knit family. We, too, have made it through some hard times. Fifteen years into this new century, we have picked ourselves up, dusted ourselves off, and PRACTICED OUR PROGRESS. We’ve laid a new foundation IN OUR FEET. A brighter future is ours to write. Let’s begin this new chapter – together – and let’s start the work right now.

Thank you, God bless you, and God bless this YOGA PRACTICE we love.

Also – I’m not campaigning for YOGA – YOGA WON, FOREVER 5,000 YEARS.

But seriously – I love a great motivational speech.  I know people roll their eyes at politics, argue over who is right and when, but waht happened to a country in which we respected the office, we listened to the IDEAS and the CHARACTER behind the President, rather than the partisan politics.  I do know one thing – we should all be able to rally around the values of family, fellowship, and freedom without tearing down our leader.  President Obama was right – he’s done campaigning and he won – TWICE.  So let’s ride out this presidency with calm, cool, collected activism, because anyone can complain, it takes real American or Yoga spirit to actually get out there and make a change.

Thank you and Namaste to anyone reading this.  I appreciate your time and your eyes. I give humble thanks to my teachers, who have taught me more than just poses, but to try to use my voice for a purpose, and thus, here on my blog, I practice lifting my voice – and for those that hear it, I am grateful for a space to share it.

A Bag Full of Pennies Bought a Lifetime of Shoulder Pain

There she stood at the teacher’s desk, must have been in 4th or 5th grade.  She held a plastic sandwich baggie full of pennies. She couldn’t even afford a Ziploc. The teacher made her count them out loud, in front of the whole class.

One, Two, Three……One Hundred and Nine, One Hundred and Ten. Lunch money.

They all laughed.  They all pointed.

The teacher announced loudly that the next day the girl needed to bring a dollar bill.

An awkward child figure, with big curly hair and a big nose with second hand clothing, hung her head and silent tears rolled down as she shamefully walked back to her desk without a friend in the world, knowing without a doubt that at 10 years old, she was poor, she was different, and no one really cared. Her shoulders hunched a little more that day as she learned to close off her heart and protect herself.

This is one of my earliest memories of trauma and I found it in a yoga class. It has sat inside my body, inside my muscles, creating an unknown tension for many years.  The memory of it just sort of popped up one day, in an intense shoulder opening.  Like an unwelcome visitor in the body, knocking on my mind to say, “you need to deal with me.” And just like that, the shoulders relaxed a little more and that bit of tension was forever gone.

Many people walking around in your life have untold stories of trauma. It isn’t just one story, it isn’t just trauma from abuse or war, any experience that leaves you feeling shamed, unloved, unwanted, abandoned can give you a traumatic shock in your body system. We get very good at hiding our stories from others, we get very good at getting small and unnoticed, and we call that “fitting in.” Except even if you never talk about it, never remember it consciously, your body knows and you can’t lie or hide from it forever.

Maybe your trauma lives in your shoulders and neck as a sort of tension you can’t seem to let go, no matter how calm and soothing or sweaty and hot the yoga class. Maybe it’s digestive issues that no medical doctor can seem to explain or they tell you “it’s all in your head.” Perhaps it is an intense desire to eat your emotions.  This is the power of yoga practice, the awareness it brings to your body and mind so that you can be open and available for true deep healing.

This is also why some people don’t like yoga – it makes you face things that perhaps you aren’t sure you want to dig back out, so you think, I’ll just outrun it – maybe with a marathon. Except that as you age and you stop being able to run, the body catches up and it still holds the tension of those traumatic lessons you chose not to deal with in your earlier years.

The point is, everyone has a story to unravel and a yoga mat is usually a safe space to reread and release your story so you can feel less trapped by your body. The next time you are in a yoga class and you feel the urge to leave a pose you don’t like, try staying and see what comes up. Keep a journal so you keep aware of how you feel and what you might purge. Be OK with shedding some tears and having catharsis.

Not every pose is beautiful and not every yoga class is joyful – you need to know that it’s OK to release and feel angry or sad, don’t suppress those emotions any further, they are physical expressions of fear from your life lived and all the accumulated experiences, but to heal you have to wade through them. You need to know where they live in your body. To know they exist so you can let them go. The final limb of yoga is joy – not the first. It takes a lot of hard work; trust the process, it’s time tested for at least 3,000 years.

Yoga is NOT entertainment, there is no doubt that you can have a rockin’ good time in a great yoga class with high volume music and that’s OK too, not every yoga session needs to be a huge release of some trauma. But if you want the real meat, the real healing, you have to do the real work and it’s not balancing on your head – it’s going into the deep unknown, exploring the abyss and that can be scary.

Find yourself a teacher that has been there and come back, not necessarily enlightened – for the ones that claim enlightenment are usually false gurus. Find the ones that don’t judge you, that allow for quiet, that make you feel safe. As Pattabi Jois said, “Practice and all is coming.”

I give thanks to my own teachers, to my own students, and those that have walked the path of life with me.  I am the person I am because of life’s traumas and my work in overcoming obstacles.  Thank you, dear reader, for spending a little time in my world.  You are loved.

Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm – Feel the Vibrations

Vinyasa MeansThere is a certain power in the chanting of Sanskrit. This is not the incantation of spells or any magic – it is simply the use of our human ability to create unique sounds by movement of our mouth, tongue, and throat in a special way (which is a VINYASA!). On the physical level, one can easily feel the vibrations of resonance through the body simply by putting the lips together and humming (do it now – no one is watching you).

This technique is called Bhramari Pranayama and is a valid practice all on its own. If you are in need of anger management, feeling frustrated, or suffering anxiety – this is a good and simple technique you can do anytime, anywhere with no contraindications.

Why even bother making sound at all?

How does a good beat and good hook catch you? It resonates in your body and you feel something, a connection, an emotion – sound is one method of taking us out of the swirling mind and into a clear, present moment.

Why the need for a Sanskrit chant or mantra when there is plenty of music to be found?

One reason would be that we have no associations with the Sanskrit language. None of our memories or human conditioning have happened in Sanskrit, we have no preconceived notion of what it means when we hear it. Sanskrit is a perfect blank slate for most people – we can learn it from our teachers and then it becomes associated with practice and a great tool for meditation. The meaning we infuse is one of practice, peace, and presence.

Sanskrit is also a vibratory language, it is closely aligned with primordial sounds and each letter produces a specific resonance within the body meant to vibrate in specific areas or energy lines (nadis).  One could think of it as the Paleo diet of language.

This is also why it is important to learn the names of our asana and to hear it said in class, the names of the asanas carry the same energetic qualities as the poses themselves – layering on the proper name is important. Consider for a moment how you feel when not called your proper name – yoga tradition is similarly to be respected.

 

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Pranava of Om

You don’t have to believe me, experience it. Try an Om, the most well-known of the mantras. It is pronounced A-U-M; the aaaaaaaaaaa resonates in the belly, the uuuuuuuuuuu vibrates into the chest, and the mmmmmmmmmm is felt in the head. Although there are many meanings attributed to Aum or Om, it’s ok to enjoy it as a feel good vibe and respect the simplicity.

Breath Mantra – So Hum

Another easy mantra with no religious connection would be So Hum. This is simply the sound of your breathing. Take a moment to listen to your breath.

On the inhale – can you hear the whisper of breath saying So? Can you hear Hum on the exhale? What is the purpose of chanting the breath? To further connect to your true self and to disconnect from your ceaseless and noisy mind. So Hum is an excellent way to develop a meditation practice.

This is How We Do It

In learning to chant or use vibration, it is taught that you say the chants out loud – this occupies the senses of hearing, feeling, and even tasting as the tongue is involved.   We close our eyes and restrict the sense of sight.  All brings us closer to the yogic state of sense withdrawl (Pratyahara) Knowing our brains to be poor multi-taskers, chanting aloud gives more opportunity to quite the mind. You will notice it is near impossible to chant and think at the same time.

The next stage would be whispering the chant very softly. You will notice that if you are not yet well-trained in meditation, it is easy for the brain to get louder than the whisper, hence why it is the second stage.

The final stage is silent repetition in the mind only and this is the most difficult. It can be easy to go on auto pilot and sink back to thinking mind. If this happens to you, go back to repetition out loud to reconnect with the meditation. The purpose is quieting the mind to reduce distracted thought and allow creative, expansive, clear thinking to arise so that we might know our own gifts and share them.

Mala Beads

Frequently you see the use of mala beads – this helps to count the repetition and becomes a sort of time-keeper for your practice. In general, there are 108 beads and you repeat your mantra 108 times. Look for me to post more on the significance of 108 and mala beads in the future. But for now, the use of the beads is another good way to occupy your mind from thinking and anxiety, the mala is a great meditation companion.  Lotus Seed Mala Beads

Personally, I enjoy using mantra and sound in my asana practice. It is an enhancement to your routine and produces a palpable energetic effect as it naturally regulates your breathing. Many traditions of yoga utilize a mantra during asana as a way to time the breath and track the sequence.

Practice

Now to bring it back to the simple breath chant – So Hum. Try this right now – using a mala or a timer (try 3-5 minutes), sit on the floor or your mat, cross legs or lotus, and focus on your breathing. Add the So and Hum out loud as you breathe. How do you feel? Share your experience in the comments.

Gratitude

With respect and recognition, I salute my teachers that have helped me on this path.  For this love of mantra, I want to recognize teacher, Dr. Indu Arora, who illuminated aspects of this practice so I could understand and hope to share.  Namaste to you readers, thank you for spending this precious time with these words that flow through me to you, for you.

 

Pick and Choose – Daily Sadhana (Healthy Rituals) in the New Year

Here it is, the last day of 2014.  I started my last morning of this year by doing what I hope to do eveyday in the year to come.  I practiced living a better life in order to contribute to making a better world.  The key word there is practice.

Start your morning off right - everyday in 2015, wake up, pay attention to your practice, and have a fabulous day.

In yoga, a word we use to define a daily practice or ritual is SADHANA.

“What is sadhana? It’s a committed prayer (of living life). Sadhana is self-enrichment. Sadhana is a personal process in which you bring out your best.” ~Yogi Bhajan~

This is the day we are meant to set resolutions and then joke about throwing them out by February.  Let’s not do that this year.  This year, let’s simply make an intention or a Sankalpa to be a little better than last year.  This mindset will feed everything else and permeate your year.  It certainly doesn’t mean throwing out goals, but it does mean using your practice to lift up everything else.  This is your year to grow, thrive, and achieve.  Practice your potential everyday and you will see results.  Start with a morning sadhana to make every day of your life a little better than last year.

Recommended Practices for Daily Sadhana

Choose 1-3 things to do daily in 2015. No need to overwhelm yourself, when we practice our potential, it can be nice to go slow so that the changes stick and we don’t overwhelm ourselves or stress about these incremental changes. You are welcome to do it all if you can, but pick out a couple practices that you will promise yourself not to skip – be realistic with your choices so that you will be able to complete your commitment. Write down your choices and stick it on your mirror in the bathroom.

  • Establish a sacred space in your home. Some call this an altar, but that word can conjure up false images in the mind. It is simply a dedicated space that is beautiful to you, with reminders of your faith and what inspires you like a piece of art, flowers, or photo of your teacher. If you like to be in the space, you are more likely to stick with the practice.
  • Rise a bit earlier than normal – start with 10-15 minutes. Ideally, in yoga, the most sacred time for practice is between 4 am and 6 am.
  • Tongue scrape. Get a tongue scrapper and clean your mouth.  The tongue gets loaded with various toxins through sleep, it is elimination in the body, if you swallow it, you have to purge it again. One of my teachers, Dr. Indu Arora – an ayurvedic expert, states that the toxins on the tongue post sleep were unable to be processed by the liver. Regardless, your mouth will be happier and you will have uncovered your taste buds, so food will be extra yummy. Then brush as usual.
  • Oil pulling. Many people have been writing about oil pulling, do a quick Google. You can use the oil appropriate for your dosha. I personally use Sunflower oil or coconut oil. This practice has been found to reduce plague and tartar as well as whiten your teeth.
  • Drink a full glass of water 8-16 oz.  Use glass or copper, no plastic please. For extra credit, add in a slice of lime or lemon and make sure your water is lukewarm, this jumpstarts your digestion and wakes up your metabolism.
  • Oil your body and self-massage. Anoint yourself with oils for both the physical benefits of moisturizing the skin along with the feel-good element of a morning massage. Wait about five minutes and then shower. If you are short on time, be sure to rub your ears, face, and chest – waking up your senses and touching your heart center for a more alive beginning of your day.
  • Pranayama. This is the breath practice of yoga, there are several options – have your teacher show you a few.  A simple practice is nadi shodhana, the alternate nostril breath. Try 9 rounds. Watch the video for guidance.

  • Yoga Asana. Move your As-ana. This doesn’t need to be fancy or a 90 minute commitment, although if you can – all the better. If you have time constraints or children, squeezing in 3-5 sun salutations is helpful and a committed practice – it counts. Simple and steady is better than doing nothing.

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    Basic Sun Salutation. Visit your local teacher for specific instructions or message me personally at my page – Kirsten Hedden Yoga on Facebook.

  • Meditate. No epic practice required. Your meditation can be breath focus or simply sitting for a few quiet moments in your favorite space. 3-5 minutes is ok, don’t feel like you need to be still and silent for 30 minutes – do what you can.  Personally, I chant mantra to help me focus and reduce anxious thinking.
  • Eat breakfast! Try a light serving of fruit with a sprinkle of cinnamon and a handful of nuts. Off you go with a sweet taste in your mouth and powered by protein. In Ayurveda, one should not mix dairy and fruit – so if you are a smoothie person, keep it dairy free.

I love thinking of waking in the morning to perform a committed prayer of living my life – for me, this mindset and all encompassing aspect of yoga is what makes it work in my life more than mere exercise or gymnastics. Yoga is the art of living connected.  Let your life be more artistic this year.

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Sadhana is whatever you do consistently to clear your own consciousness so you can relate to the infinity within you. Before you face the world each day, do yourself a favor and tune up your nervous system and attune yourself to your highest inner self. To cover all your bases, it will include exercise, meditation, and prayer. ~3HO~

The Dark Night of the Soul and Your Yoga Practice

**Please Note** This post contains a swear word.  If this would offend you, please don’t read further.

There comes a point in your yoga practice when you have to stare at yourself and you might not like it.  This is a dark little secret in yoga that some don’t care to discuss, with all the love and light and joy memes.  Nowhere in the Yoga Sutras does it say that all of your life will be blissfully happy – that’s something the marketing gurus selling you a yoga butt invented.

It is OK if you feel rotten, depressed, angry, bored, indifferent, or some sense of negativity in your yoga at times.  Read that again – IT IS OK to be upset.  Yoga opens up things within us and what needs to be taught is that it is NORMAL to not be cloying sweet and happy all your yoga life – you have to process the negative to become more positive.

You have to get deep in that muck and then like the lotus, you will emerge happier, healthier, and open to life – but first comes the mud and sometimes it smells rotten.  No Mud No Lotus

 

This point in your life practice is lovingly referred to as, “The Dark Night of the Soul.”  Basically, you have to get real about your problems.  You have to face the reality of all the actions you’ve taken up to this point of practice, you get to take a very real look at your Karma and sometimes that is ugly, especially if you are a human that has made mistakes (all of us!).

 

You may go through a depression or an increase in anxiety – don’t worry about it (haha and roll eyes).  This is actually a sign that you are clearing up.  You can’t clean what you can’t see.  Yoga shines the light in our darkest places; that can be very uncomfortable.  Those memories you worked so hard to suppress, they bubble right up to the surface and you have to deal with that shit.  And that’s why people sometimes quit on their yoga.  This part can be more painful than falling on your head in crow pose.

In the Dark Night of the Sould, Brightly Flows the River of God

It is at this point in your practice when you need to find yourself a highly experienced yoga teacher that is living this path, that has pushed past this very issue in their own psyche and body. This is not the time to focus on a yoga butt, but the time to enter into the deeper practices of Sense-Withdrawl (Pratyahara), One-pointed focus (Dharana), and Meditation (Dhyana). 

A good teacher can lead you through this valley of dark and shadows in a safe way and illuminate the more important teachings of yoga for you.  Seek out a teacher with years of experience and who still has a teacher of their own.  Be picky, don’t get distracted by shiny pants and tiny tops with great abs – remember that The Buddha had a belly and was never depicted with his foot behind his head – but rather in meditation and mudra.  Sometimes your best teacher may not be a yoga-lebrity, especially when you enter the dark stages of your practice.  10843791_345959338923369_1679910113_n

When people complain that they aren’t flexible enough or strong enough for yoga asana, consider that this is just a mental blockage – you do the asana to build the body strength and flexibility so that the mind becomes more pliable as well. Once you clear up the self-judgement, you start becoming a more compassionate, less judgemental person – that’s how you share your practice to make the world better.

It is true that the world has dark places – you cannot ignore the reality of death and destruction that permeate our planet, nor should you.  But you can remember that out of darkness comes the light and they both exist together.  G.O.D. – Generator, Organizer, Destroyer – rinse and repeat. 

Ask yourself:

Have you been the person that says, “I can’t meditate, I can’t be still, I can’t get quiet.” – yeah, me too.  That shit is hard.  You have to literally stare yourself in the soul and get open to what comes up.  But stay a while longer, Practice and All Is Coming.

The Dark Night of The Soul by St. John of the Cross

Upon a darkened night
The flame of love was burning in my breast
And by a lantern bright
I fled my house while all in quiet rest

Shrouded by the night
And by the secret stair I quickly fled
The veil concealed my eyes
While all within lay quiet as the dead.

(Chorus)

O, night thou was my guide!
O, night more loving than the rising sun!
O, night that joined the Lover to the beloved one!
Transforming each of them into the other.

Upon that misty night
In secrecy beyond such mortal sight
Without a guide or light
Than that which burned as deeply in my heart.

That fire ’twas led me on
And shone more bright than of the midday sun
To where He waited still
It was a place where no one else could come.

(Chorus)

Within my pounding heart
Which kept itself entirely for Him
He fell into His sleep
beneath the cedars all my love I gave.

From o’er the fortress walls
The wind would brush His hair against His brow
And with its smoother hand
caressed my every sense it would allow.

(Chorus)

I lost my self to Him
And laid my face upon my Lover’s breast
And care and grief grew dim
As in the morning’s mist became the light.
There they dimmed amongst the lilies fair.

Yoga is in Religion. Religion is not in Yoga.

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Once upon a time we were told there are two things one never talks about for polite conversation: RELIGION and Politics.  This practice leads one to wonder, if we can’t discuss it, how can we understand it?  If we can’t understand it, how can we change it?  If we can’t change it, how can it evolve?  Enter Yoga.

Yoga is in Religion. Religion is not in Yoga. ~SwamiJ~

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As part of our 500-hour teacher training at Prairie Yoga, the group went on a field trip to the Sri Venkateswara Swami (Balaji) Temple in Aurora, Illinois.  Why did we do this?  The tour guide explained it this way:

“I’m not here to convert you to Hinduism, I am here to educate you on what we practice.  Comparative study of religion only helps one to better understand their own faith and own self.  Religion is a tool towards God-realization, different people need different tools and so thank GOD that we have so many paths of understanding.”  ~Sadasivan N~

This man offered up a message I wish we could all hear.  We don’t have to be RIGHT – what would happen if we all just existed together in a kind of harmonious agreement to respect individuality and mind our own business?  After all, the mentality of “I Am Right,” is so arrogant, if God exists, what must God think?  The guide also mentioned this:

“I’ve never been dead, I’ve never met God, so I cannot tell you what you should or should not believe.  The person who tries to tell you what you should believe is probably selling you something.”

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Some people feel deeply uncomfortable with the spiritual aspects of yoga and that’s OK – no yoga teacher should be asking or instructing people to change their faith – that is not the yoga teaching as laid out in the Yoga Sutras.  In fact, yoga isn’t even about your teacher – it’s about what they may inspire within you to explore within yourself.  YOU are your own best teacher.  No sales pitch needed for that.

I can recall a moment from a teacher training with Shiva Rea in which she said this:

“The Yoga Teacher is like a river guide; pointing out what is nice to see, but the one being guided has the ability to look in another direction.”

Some may disagree and that’s OK too.  Personal truth, personal experience, personal belief systems are PERSONAL – yoga offers contemplations to study your own self, your own beliefs so that you becomes more clear about your personal understanding of life.

As I continue to educate myself on Yoga, study my own life and my own beliefs, the resonance of my teachers is clearly influencing my teaching, but I add my own flavor because it is just my own perspective developed through practice and that is all we can share.   No dogma allowed.

As you seek to study yoga, the depth of which you practice may change over time – there is no doubt that once we access that connection through the physical practice of Asana, we open a door and light comes in.  That is what is scary to people, the fear that you may begin to doubt your own faith is real.  But through doubt comes more study – through more study comes more understanding, with more understanding comes more compassion, with compassion we have less judgement, etc… and what you may experience is that through practice, your faith is strengthened or changed, but then again, no journey ever leaves you exactly the same.  As Mahatma Ghandi reflects:

“There is an indefinable mysterious power that pervades everything. It transcends the senses whilst everything around me is ever changing, there is a living power that is changeless, that holds all together, that creates, dissolves, and recreates.”

 

Anjali Mudra – Reflect to Receive

“Each of us shares a unity with Spirit and all life,
and simultaneously each of us is an individual with free will.
There is a duality to us as separate and as part of the whole.”
~Jonathan Lockwood Huie~

Mudras as an overlooked aspect in modern yoga, especially in the West.  They are not frivolous hand gestures or esoteric spiritual wish sign language.  They are literal energetic connections between two points creating a circuit of energy.  You don’t have to “believe,” in them – they are scientific, in the same way that you don’t “believe” in plugging in a light bulb, you know the plug goes into the socket and links the energy to create a circuit.

One aspect of my personal yoga practice as well as my teaching, is utilizing mudras.  Just as I began with Sutra 1.1, I begin with the most basic of the mudras – Anjali Mudra.  You have probably even done this mudra, but given it little thought.  A simple joining of the hands together in what looks like a prayer – see below.

There are probably thousands of blogs and articles out there on this mudra, so I will share what was given to me as a personal teaching.  Consider that the hands, held in this manner, look similar to a candle flame.  In yoga philosophy and in many religions we are taught that there is a spark, a light, a oneness with Spirit/God/Creation inside us, we are a reflection of God’s image.  To me, this is the light.  When I hold my hands at my heart center, it is a prayer or an affirmation that I recognize a unifying spirit in all things.

In general, we open/close a class with Namaste.  This Sanskrit word has many meanings, my personal favorite is:

The light in me sees and reflects the light in you.

There it is again – CANDLE FLAME!

And if you aren’t into God or Spirituality – think of it as a very basic anatomical reminder – lift your sternum.  Stand taller, chest up, shoulders back.

Until next time, Namaste – lead with love, follow your passion, let your heart come before your head.

The light in me, reflects the light in you.

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