October Focus – Building Partnerships: An Inquiry into Ego

Building Partnerships:
An Inquiry into Ego

 

 

We knew when we opened the studio that we were signing ourselves up to meet a lot of people, and we have to admit, we didn’t give this aspect of the enterprise a ton of thought. We figured we would meet many nice people, many hardworking people, perhaps (just the universe’s way of keeping things interesting…) a rare ornery sort. But on the whole we expected to be interacting with mostly warm, well-meaning fellow humans. The matter took up very little brain space, and we had no way of anticipating the substance, nuance, reality, and boon, of participating in so many relationships over the years.

It’s difficult not to use superlative language when we consider how many people have simply floored us by their level of commitment to service work or by the creativity and accomplishments they’re often keeping secret. Obviously you don’t have to be harboring some surreptitious superpower to be an amazing person, but so many of you are dedicating your lives to life-affirming projects that we want to say a few words about it.

Here’s a quick portrait of the sort of lives converging in the yoga rooms on Broadway and Crown Street:

  • Craftspeople and artists who are seriously — like, intimidatingly — good at what they do: digital designers, muralists, sculptors, clothing-makers, interactive space builders, writers, filmmakers, and photographers — just to get started.
  • Leaders running mission-driven, non-profit organizations dedicated to serving the underserved in the U.S. and in developing countries.
  • Unsung parents and single parents running the show for their children at the same time that they maintain a career and a personal practice.
  • Angel-style selfless servants who perform (often anonymously) time-consuming, labor-intensive acts of succor, requesting exactly nothing in return.
  • Activists and involved citizens expending heroic personal resources to organize and raise awareness in various spheres.
Clearly, we could go on. But our aim is not to celebrate individual accomplishments. We want to point out that each of us has an opportunity to join collaborative arms with the many competent, incredible people in our midst. And doing so has more to do with the yoga practice than meets the eye.
If you are at all interested in inquiring into the workings of ego (in Sanskrit it’s ahamkara, the notorious “I-maker”), there is perhaps no better way than to work closely with another person. Wow oh wow, does such a partnership reflect back in crystal clarity our blind spots. If we are willing to see our defensiveness, our conceit, our excuses, our self-defeating tendencies, our inner bully or inner victim presented before us on a platter to confront — we’ll want to partner up.

 

Working with someone on a project that demands our functioning at full capacity is like being put through emotional maturity boot camp. If you see a chance to do it, seize it! And then do two more things, quickly:
  1. Establish a gratitude practice that speaks louder than any interpersonal griping;
  2. Understand and embrace the precept that most of the disappointments, criticisms, or irritations you have involving the other party are actually an invaluable schooling in your own unexamined (let’s call it…) stuff.

krishnamurti

 

The payoffs: Uniting consciousness with someone else’s to become a more expansive locus of awareness. Removing the layers of personhood that have kept us in separation and delusion, moving closer to citta vrtti nirodhah, a lucid head, open and untied to disturbances. Perceiving how our very energy impacts other beings. Discerning which energies facilitate our joy and growth and which to keep at arm’s length. Knowing when our own energy body needs a little caressing before it’s presented to others. Developing self trust and sturdy confidence as we understand our strengths and gifts. Grounding ourselves in the reality beyond our own container. Recognizing ourselves as a vital piece of the cosmic unity.

 

There is so much inner seeing to be had by, as a friend says, “bouncing our molecules off of other people.” And there is so much light to be spread when brilliant minds with genuine hearts plug into one another.
‘Cause we can work around the clock by ourselves, but when we link our efforts to someone else’s, the results really are greater than the sum of their parts. It’s been a gift to collaborate on partner projects with so many of you, and we are optimistic when we consider the many fruitful shifts that can take place when we are co-creating a future.With love,Leigha & Jacqui

 

Yin Yoga Intensive Training — May 19-21 — with Bobbie Marchand — For Teachers & Students

Yin Yoga Intensive Weekend

With Bobbie Marchand

One Weekend, May 19-21

Friday, 7:00-9:30pm; Saturday & Sunday, 11:30-4:30pm

Held at the Midtown location, 474 Broadway Ave., Kingston

 

Come explore the depths of Yin Yoga and the philosophy behind teaching this practice with Bobbie Marchand of Prema Yoga in Brooklyn, NY. This course will meet the guidelines for a 30-hour Yin Certification for Continuing Education with the Yoga Alliance. The Yin training is open to both teachers who want to add this to their set of teaching skills and to those students who want to deepen their knowledge of the Yin practice.

In this training student will explore:

  • a deeper place of connection and understanding of your own practice (that’s where your teaching voice comes from)
  • Yin Yoga history & philosophy
  • Connective Tissue: the star of the show in this method and how is relates to the physical, mental/emotional and subtle bodies
  • how to set the ‘mood’ of the practice; evoking and maintaining the space of quiet, thoughtful attention
  • Support: the appropriate use of props, touch and language
For those interested in teaching, a separate, final teaching examination will be scheduled.
Outside practice and study time is strongly encouraged.

 

2017 Training Dates & Times:

Weekend 1–May 18-21
Friday, 7-9:30pm; Saturday 11:30-4:30pm, Sunday 11:30-4:30 pm

 

Required Text:

The Complete Guide to Yin Yoga: The Philosophy and Practice of Yin Yoga, Bernie Clark. 2012.

Tuition:

Tuition is $300 or $275 for graduates of The Yoga House’s 200-hour Yoga teacher Training programs. A non-refundable $75 deposit is due by May 5th, 2017, to secure a place in the intensive. The remaining balance is due the first night of the weekend (May 19, 2017). Payment plans available for additional fee. Tuition does not include the required text.

Yin Weekend Intensive




bobbie marchandBobbie Marchand, in pursuing her love of dance, moved from her native Toronto to NY in 2005. Though the transition of dancer to yoga teacher is a common one, it was an illness that tuned her in to the power of a daily, dedicated practice. Bobbie’s Vinyasa classes are creative, challenging and fun. Drawing on her dance background, the sequencing is expressive and fluid while encouraging alignment (and a healthy use of props!). Her yin/stretch/restorative classes are an invitation to pause, yield to the sense of support, turn inward and take the practice to a quiet, nourishing place away from the external stress of our busy lives. Endless gratitude to teachers Diana Lockett, Amanda Harding and Raghunath for their encouragement, support and loving guidance on this incredible journey.

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May Focus: Meditation & The Last Three Limbs of Yoga

May Focus of the Month

Meditation & The Last Three Limbs

meditation focus the yoga house kingston new york yoga hudson valley

The first yogis aimed to solve a problem that still pervades today. It’s called the “monkey mind,” and it refers to the ever-firing, overly anxious human brainscape that has added a layer of frazzle and fret to our already-fraught condition. A complete yoga practice is designed to give us enough clarity to see our experiences for what they are rather than through the carnival mirror-style distortion of emotionally reactive, memory-attached consciousness. If you were to crack open the Yoga Sutras, you would not have to get very far to see how important a meditation practice is as part of the yogi’s journey. Sutra #1 says, essentially, “Following are the teachings of yoga….” Sutra #2 goes on to say, “The purpose of yoga is to still our thoughts. If you master this sutra, you need not read on to the rest.”

Meditation occupies some significant territory on yoga’s eight-limbed ladder, taking up three of the last three rungs on the climb toward enlightenment. The breakdown is fascinating:

Dharana, the 6th limb, has to do with concentration. The suggestion is to fix your mind upon an object until you become so absorbed that there is little room for the mind to do much needless worrying or past/future travel as it is wont to do. A funny fable tells us of an acolyte meditator who once shut his door and fixed his mind upon a bull until he barreled out of the room with horns and hooves himself. The take-home is twofold: Be as focused as this acolyte, but be wary of where you place your attention.

From the recommendation to concentrate upon a single object spring many forms of modern-day meditation: from mantra and japam meditation, or repetition of a significant sound; to guided visualizations; to the use of a talisman; to the use of a drishti, or focal point; to the tuning in to a single sense, such as hearing or touch; to the holding in mind of a spiritual figure. Dharana is an essential practice that prepares the mind for deeper states of contemplation.

Dhyana, yoga’s 7th limb, comes closer to the definition of meditation as we think of it, the suggestion being to sustain concentration for a prolonged period of time, fixing the mind upon a single object while quelling the tendency to name, categorize, judge, or assign value to that which is in focus. To sit in this style of meditation is to see reality with perfect clarity, leading to an awareness unstained by the ego’s preferences or priorities. Eventually, the yogi’s subject becomes the Self that dwells within the self, and he/she abides in sacred, nondual reality.

Eight Limbs of Yoga

When the mind succeeds in accurately reflecting reality, the yogi perceives her true nature in which self and other are unified. To sustain this clarity of consciousness is to live in Samadhi, or liberation, the 8th limb. A meditation practice helps us to collect more and more moments of pure awareness so that we may finally reside around the clock in “bliss that defies description.” Those who have experienced samadhi describe it as a coming home or as an experience of sweetness and peace that cannot be conveyed in words. Paramahansa Yogananda offers as vivid an account of samadhi as is available, describing it over the course of many paragraphs in Autobiography of a Yogi:

Soul and mind instantly lost their physical bondage and streamed out like a fluid light from my every pore…  My sense of identity was no longer narrowly confined to a body but embraced the circumambient atoms…My ordinary frontal vision was now changed to a vast spherical sight, simultaneously all-perceptive… An oceanic joy broke upon calm endless shores of my soul. The entire cosmos, gently luminous, like a city seen afar at night, glimmered within the infinitude of my being….

Brain & Meditation

Excitingly, scientists have discovered that meditation really does help keep ego in check, increase empathy, and provide mental clarity, affirming the claims yogis have been making for millennia. Neuroscientists have identified the portions of the brain responsible for emotional reactivity, autobiographical memory (or ego) creation, self/other distinctions, present-centered attention, and time/space awareness. Interestingly, these locations in the brain become markedly restful during deep states of meditation, and a regular meditation practice increases gray matter in many of these regions, helping us to function optimally even when the meditation session has concluded.

Although we often begin and end class with a brief meditation, we will place special emphasis this May on listening to the silence beneath the sound and to heeding the call of highest consciousness. We look forward to sharing these sweet moments on the mat!

In peace,

 

Leigha & Jacqui

March Focus of the Month – Developing a Home Practice

The Obstacles are Many, But the Path Is Worth Taking!

SONY DSCImagine rolling out your yoga mat in a tidy corner of your home just minutes before the sun peeks over the horizon. Stepping onto the mat, you honor the stiffness of your morning muscles by moving slowly and softly, enjoying a long inhale as you lift your arms above your head. On the exhale, you drape your body over deeply bent knees and then sway to and fro for a few moments before beginning your practice in earnest.

For today’s session, you’re kind to yourself. You stretch more than you strengthen because you sense that is what your body needs. The practice lasts about 30 minutes, and that satisfies you completely. As you roll your mat back up, the other members of your house begin to stir. You’ve logged your alone time, and it was a wonderful way to begin the day. Next up: a warm cup to sip on and breakfast.

If it sounds a little luxurious that’s because it is. It’s not every day that we can claim a quiet, early moment before everyone in the house is abuzz. Sometimes there isn’t even a clear, uncluttered corner to be found. The hurdles to developing a home practice are plentiful. Luckily, though, they’re not impossible to overcome, and—trust us—they’re worth hopping over! This month, we share some of the most common obstacles to developing a home practice and offer advice and tips for overcoming them.

Over the years, you’ve shared with us many reasons why a home practice is just plain tough to commit to. Here are some of the most frequently cited problems and their potential solutions:

 

I can’t wake up that early.

Then don’t! It’s certainly not written in stone that a yoga practice must be done in the A.M. Although it is true that Iyengar and others describe the pre-dawn hours as the ideal time to practice, the fact is, if you’re a night owl aiming to practice as the sun rises, you’re setting yourself up for failure. If you have been up all night caring for or worrying about others, then sleep is your first yoga priority.

Start by squeezing in a practice where you can. It could be a five-minute practice in the afternoon or ten minutes before bed. By beginning with these small, manageable increments, your goal of developing a home practice will be an achievable one.

 

I wouldn’t know how to move. I need the guidance of a teacher.

If you can stretch your body as you’re waking up in bed, you can practice yoga asana. Nevermind the Sanskrit terminology or precision alignment cues. Tap into your body as it is in this moment. Where is it stiff? What could use a little strengthening? Be guided by your internal wisdom, and allow your breath to lead the way.

Many have written on this subject, and among our favorites is Eric Schiffmann who wrote Moving Into Stillness. He reminds us that our breath and intuition are a powerful pair. Inhales generally bring us into expansive stretches, making your spine as long as it can be, for instance, and exhales permit a deepening as in forward fold or in twists. We needn’t know the name of a pose to move our bodies. Think of yoga as your personal dance. One that revitalizes your body and feeds your soul. No one is watching, so no movement is wrong.

Yoga is a process of deep listening. It can be helpful to remember that the yoga poses as we know them were developed quite late along the timeline of yogic history. Get out of your own way to let your best self shine forth. Shed your layers of doubt, and trust the wisdom already inside you. Get breathing. Get moving.

 

But seriously, I don’t know any of the poses.

California yoga teacher Jason Crandell wrote a lovely article not too long ago in Yoga Journal. In addition to offering insights and motivation for beginning a home practice, he offers short sequences that will help you structure a complete-feeling home session.

We’ve also found Ashtanga Yoga: The Practice Manual by David Swenson an invaluable reference for go-to sequencing. We haven’t found a clearer, easier-to-follow instruction manual, and the spiral binding makes it perfect for resting on the ground and viewing as you practice.

 

Yoga with kidI don’t have the time.

Neither do we! No one does. There simply isn’t enough time in the day to get all we want done done. You’ve heard this advice before: It’s a matter of priority. But don’t stop reading there. If family and career and everything else come first, we are doing family and career and everything else a disservice. When you invest time, even little spurts of time, in yourself–your peace of mind, your wellness, your happiness, your health–you have more to give and everyone is better off.

Maybe it’s unrealistic to begin with 90-minute or even 60-minute practice sessions, but two minutes here and ten minutes there are a perfectly good place to begin. When ten minutes becomes habit, you’ll want to bump it up to fifteen and then maybe twenty. Before you know it, you’ll be immersed in yoga for 30 or 40 minutes. Start small. Forgive yourself if it’s not happening the way you imagined. Keep rolling out that mat.

One of our students shared a tip that has worked for her: Keep your mat rolled out! After a while, you won’t be able to ignore its call.

 

I have four little children, two German Shepherds, and too much furniture in the way.

Then yoga is your medicine, and it is especially essential for you! We’re not strangers to these types of “distractions,” ourselves. There are a few things you can do.

Approach #1: Insist on finding time in those late-night or early morning hours when the house is relatively quiet. If this doesn’t work, don’t be discouraged. Read on!

yoga_mind_bodyApproach #2: Re-envision what you think of as a yoga practice. I kid you not when I tell you that half of my yoga is practiced with an eight-year-old clinging to my torso. So what that these sessions aren’t the stuff of Google Images: I’m not wearing white or sitting in front of a waterfall as the heavens bestow a rapturous light upon my countenance. Life is messy and chaotic, and true yoga helps us to find the calm amidst the storm. If I didn’t open up to this re-envisioning, I wouldn’t have known that yoga can make me giggle until I fall over and bring me closer to the ones I love.

Approach #3: Just as you would insist on privacy in the bathroom or in your home office, insist on designating time and space if you’d really like to practice by yourself. Respect your own requirements and enlist everyone else’s respect too. If you’re the parent of a toddler or an infant, see Approach #4.

Approach #4: Nap time is the golden hour if you’re home alone with bebe. Of course, it doesn’t always go as planned, does it? If Approach #2 isn’t cuttin’ it, the best you can do is reach out, reach out, reach out. Develop a support network! Trade babysitting time with other parents who need a moment to themselves. Find a Mama & Me class (like ours at 12:30 every Tuesday), or ask someone to watch the little one while you find your way to the studio. Sometimes your best home practice is found at your home away from home. 😉

 

Your home practice can become your most valuable course in the Self. Since each day is different, you’ll be able to tailor your session so that it suits your mood and energy level today. Some days you’ll invert and contort. Some days you’ll simply sit to clear your mind.  Let us know how your home practice is going, and do share any of the obstacles holding you back if we haven’t addressed them here!

 

Stay in touch and see you at the studio.

 

Leigha & Jacqui

January Focus of the Month – Quelling Thought Waves: Inhabiting the Body

meditation, body, thought, now, present, beQuelling Thought Waves: Inhabiting the Body

Have you ever had a moment when you felt perfectly at peace? when time seemed to stop? when duties, obligations, and worry fell by the wayside leaving you whole and unfettered, happy and free?

For too many of us, these moments happen only rarely, briefly, or never at all.

It’s likely that you can recall moments like this from childhood before you were bound by the weight of to-do lists, dependents, and the constraints of time. In adulthood, we have to work much harder to find the same kind of glimpses into perfect peace.

Thankfully, yoga offers us a handbook for rediscovering (or discovering!) this sense of boundless play. In the first chapter of the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali states that “Yoga is the cessation of fluctuations of the mind,” the idea being that the mind, despite our belief to the contrary, is more likely to cloud our consciousness than it is to clarify and illuminate it.

In Sanskrit, the sutra (#2) reads: Yoga chitta vrtti nirodha.

Chitta is the stuff of the mind; consciousness; or the subconscious. Vrtti means whirpool but can be thought of as disturbances of consciousness; mental content; or thoughts. Vrtti is the turbulent cloud cover that obscures the purity and brilliance of consciousness. Nirodha is annihiliation or ending.

In their commentary on the Sutras, Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood quip that most of us – though we would love to believe that our minds are lucid, organized, and productive – are in reality walking around thinking superfluous, haphazard thoughts like: “‘Ink-bottle… Jimmy’s trying to get my job. Mary says I’m fat. Big toe hurts. Soup good….’”

Spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle also claims that the mind does not serve us in the way we would like to think it does, calling it “the greatest obstacle to enlightenment.” He points out that the mind is more likely than not, in any given moment, to be fretting about the past or anticipating some catastrophic event in the imagined future that will never actually take place. Rare is the person who can still her thought-waves and simply be. He offers advice for connecting with the body in order to silence the chatter of the mind, recommending that we first get in touch with the feeling of being in the body: “Is there life in your hands, arms, legs, and feet…? Can you feel the subtle energy that pervades the entire body and gives vibrant life to every organ and every cell?” Absorption in embodiment, he suggests, is a gateway to the present moment, which is always perfect and just as it should be (even when it isn’t).

emotions

Yoga too prescribes methods for quieting the mind which all involve, eventually, inhabiting the body exactly as it is, in this moment, without judgment or unnecessary discernment.

At its best, asana practice immerses us so fully in the coordination of movement that we forget, if momentarily, whatever troubles, plagues, or excites us. But it isn’t enough. If you’ve ever attempted a balancing sequence after a meal, or when you were under the weather, or really ever at all, you have probably experienced frustration and disappointment while doing yoga. Maybe you registered a dull level of grief or embarrassment when you toppled over or wobbled to and fro. If so, you’re not alone! Nearly everyone experiences these thought waves on the mat. On the other end of the spectrum, you may have felt victory, relief, joy, or pride when you executed a challenging posture without falling out of it. Positive thoughts are just as distracting as negative, says Patanjali, because they feed the egoic mind. The yogis say that we must learn to quell even these pleasurable thought waves if we are to truly master the mind.

So, if asana isn’t enough to bring our thought waves under control, what else can we do? Yoga offers at least three more strategies. One is to focus on the breath as we execute asana. At first, try using a visualization for the purpose of calling all of your attention to the breath. Common visualization are: ocean waves crashing and receding as the breath comes in and out; or a movement of light and energy up and down the body’s central channel as you inhale and exhale. After breathing steadily with the visualization for a time, release the visual and continue the breath, allowing your inhalations and exhalations to sync with the expansion and contraction of your body in a nearly automatic way. It takes much practice to find peace and easy coordination of breath and movement in the practice of yoga, but it comes.

Drishti, asana, Ardha_urdhwa_bhujangasana

Another method of stilling the mind during asana practice (or during vinyasa, which is the harmony of breath and movement), is to make use of drishti points, or focal points. New yoga practitioners are most commonly introduced to the use of drishti in balance poses. We find that by staring at a still point on the floor or on a wall, we can better focus on steadying our posture. Later in the practice, we find drishti points in nearly every pose: at our thumb in Half Moon Pose, for instance; at the navel in Downward Dog; down the nose in Camel; or at the third-eye center in Lotus. The drishtis do not have to be fixed but can shift and alter as the practice evolves. Still, they are always there to offer a point upon which all thought can converge. Eventually, we become charioteers who masterfully reign in our scattered thoughts and stay the course toward full consciousness.

Another method by which we can master the mind is via the senses. You can practice being in your body by sitting or lying still and simply noting the sensory input that arises: a dampness or coolness on your skin; a low buzz in your ear that disappears as you remain still; a certain acidity in your digestive tract; a sweet taste on your tongue; flashes of red and black as you sit with eyes closed. Sure, it takes mental processing to register sensory input, but the trick here is to take note without chasing the associations and judgments that arise. Notice when you start thinking in a way that brings you out of the moment, like: “This smell reminds me of that time when…” (past consciousness); “This acid reflux must be from when I ate such and such…” (past consciousness); “I hate sitting still…” (ego consciousness); “I have this and that to do which are far more important…” (future consciousness; judgment). Bring yourself back to the now as often as you need to. Our synapses won’t ever stop firing, but we can exercise the control we do have by silencing the white noise.

Ultimately, the yoga practice, extending beyond the mat, becomes a meditative immersion. At first, we experience brief, enticing glimpses of consciousness unsullied. With practice and dedication, our experience of embodiment without the jostle and tug of a mental narrative begins to happen more and more frequently. As we continue the climb toward illumination, the sense of struggle dissipates. We find that the mind is a companion and not a rambunctious distraction. The present begins to absorb us. The moment is just as it should be. We are consciousness embodied, and that is the essence of yoga.

Peace!