Monday, March 25, 2013

What Sivananda (with Prahlad) can teach us about Yoga

Sunday was the final day of the Yoga Conference, and since I missed the Sivananda class with Prahlad I decided to get on the GoTrain to Toronto. When I arrived I found out the class was a 6 hour intensive Advanced Hatha Yoga Workshop and without hesitation I signed up.  While I have read some books recommended by the Sivananda Center, seen the sequence, and met many Sivananda devotees, I did not take a class yet.  I tend to gravitate to the Vinyasa & Ashtanga styles of Yoga because of the fluid movement, but I knew the history behind Sivananda and wanted to experience it. I had some time to spend before class, so I went to the exhibition space to browse and met some lovely Sivananda Yogis from my Hometown.

I arrived in the class and lay my mat down.  The class was small with an intimate group of maybe 12 people.  First thing we do is relax also known as Savasana.  What a brilliant way to begin class.  While I have done this with my students, and even had other teachers do this, the concept behind this for the Sivananda program is to ensure the body is relaxed before approaching every asana class.  We follow with Om, and some mantra chanting led by Prahlada.

"Put your heart, mind, and soul into even your smallest acts.  This is the secret of success." ~ Swami Sivananda

Second thing we do is Pranayama.  Pranayama practice is something beautiful and many people have witnessed the benefits of this practice.  The regulation of breath allows for oxygentated blood to flow through the nadi lines and awaken the body, heal diseases and bring a sense of peace.  With Sivananada Kapalabhatti is followed by Alternate Nostril.  The Altnernate Nostril is to alleviate any blockages that may be impeding the flow of prana and balance both hemisphere's of the brain.  I Love Pranayama! However, Prahlad was wise to point out that too much pranayama can lead to an overly sensitive personality, especially for those who live in metropolitan areas.
"Purity, patience, and perseverance are the three essentials to success and, above all, love." ~ Swami Sivananda

We progress into Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutations).  This is done to warm up the body, to prepare for asana.  The thing I love is the Sequence is the traditional sequence as taught in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, which is said to be the oldest text on the Hatha Yoga Practice.  Many people in the west recreate the Sun Salutation, and sometimes I feel like it is best to stick with the traditional way.  From there we do Leg Raises which inevitably helps to strengthen the core.

Finally, we progress to the Asana practice.  The sequence is the 12 basic asanas beginning with Headstand.  After each section of asana we do a Savasana.  Those that know me are aware that due to a few car accidents, Headstand is a pose that brings physical discomfort for me.....well not today.  Prahlad invited us to place equal energy on our forearms, and from their we would lift into SCORPION!!!  I loved it!  The BEST thing about the way Prahlad taught was instilling confidence in students.  Like me, many people had reservations or fears, and unless we face the fear we will always be frozen in time.  Since the class was aimed for advanced practitioners we were partnered up and taught how to safely assist and adjust.  After scorpion we progressed into some Handstand practice, which turned into Handstand into wheel, into a backflip....WHAT FUN!  Finally, we soon we were practicing falling, to get rid of any remaining fears.  My partner who was new to the practice, was doing brilliant but had fear.  Prahlad encouraged me to remind her of Hanuman, the great monkey deity who can do amazing things but only after he is told to.

The sequence follows with Shoulder stand, Plow and Fish Pose.  This is a rejuvenation pose that also helps to restore and heal the thyroid.  From there plow, bridge, fish pose, seated forward bend, backbends (cobra, locust, bow), seated spinal twist, standing forward bend, standing balance poses, triangle pose.  We repeated and held poses for maybe 90 seconds or more, and did some variations.  When we were in bow pose he encouraged us to touch our head to our buttocks, and made a joke about how some women can reach their buttocks to their head with ease, where everyone laughed.

"Whenever we attain a higher vision, the lower vision disappears of itself." ~ Swami Sivananda

Prahald is a brilliant teachers originally from Hydrabad, India.  He has taught with Sivananda over 25 years and truly makes students feel comfortable and relaxed when approaching the asana practice. He encouraged students to be open to mastering the basic asana.  He explained concepts with relation to the Hatha Yoga Pradipika and also included some philosophy and anatomy.  I always encourage students to be open to yoga, be receptive to the practice more than the teacher (unless it is your Guru), but always be safe in your practice, meaning never overdo.  The one thing I loved about this class was the safety that it provided.  When Yoga asana is practiced in a safe way, we do not have injuries, instead we restore from them.  Most Sivananda Ashrams do not list the name of the teacher to encourage students to just show up for the practice.

While I have been considering exploring the Sivananda practice more, I am very grateful to have had this beautiful experience.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Toronto Yoga Conference & Show

Since I am still working through some jet lagg, I had totally forgotten about the Yoga Show in Toronto.  Luckily a fellow Teacher had reminded me about it and I decided to stop by and check it out.  After spending years out of Southern Ontario, I am always amazed to see how Yoga has grown here in Canada.  With so many schools, teachers, students, people are truly being receptive to the practice.

The Metro Toronto Convention Center was host to the Toronto Yoga Conference.  A 3 day event with over 76 classes available with some of the most recognized Yoga Teachers in North America, and 200 exhibitors.  Cyndi Lee, Rod Stryker, Seane Corne, Gurunam, Leslie Kaminoff, Prahlada, Sadie Nardini, and my favorite Sri Dharma Mittra were just some of the amazing teachers giving workshop classes. 
After being out of NYC, and so many months away from one of my favorite teachers Sri Dharma  Mittra, I decided my mind-body-spirit needed his class.  Classes were held in various rooms in the convention center.  After class I ran into a fellow Yoga Teacher from my hometown who told me she only ventured to Dharma's class because of the recommendation I gave the last time (2years ago) when we met, and as expected she was so grateful to have experienced the class.  While the workshop style class was 2 hrs, it combined pranayama, yogic diet, and asana work.  The wisdom, the wit, and the essence of Sri Dharma Mittra combine to make the perfect inspiration for every yoga aspirant.   Another class I meant to check out was from Sivananda Teacher, Prahlada about Meditation and Mantra.

After class I decided to check out the Massive Exhibit, met some awesome Yoga Teachers, Musicians, and Health Foodies.  The place was buzzing with good vibes, yoga teachers, yoga enthusiasts, yoga clothes, crystals, yummy food, healthy vegan food, and even a lovely woman who would walk around with a cart of fresh cut coconut water (straight from the coconut).  All in all this 3 day weekend was beautiful.  So happy to have met some radiant people, participated in class, and shared in the energy.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Jimmy Kimmel-LuLu Lemon Yoga Pants Crisis Video

Recently on Jimmy Kimmel Live, Jimmy Kimmel announced how LuLu Lemon, the widely embraced apparel for many yogis, especially white upper middle class white ladies (as he said), recalled their yoga pants, which resulted in a dip in their stocks.  He maintained that this was a crisis.  The pants were apparently transparent and therefore had to be recalled.  Jimmy Kimmel made a super funny comedy sketch/public service announcement and told audiences that this is a crisis we should take seriously. 

While some may argue that $120 is far too much to spend on yoga pants and monopolizes yoga in a way that this far opposite from the non-attachment mindset that yoga aims to provide, many people embrace the pants as the standard uniform for their practice.  Cardboard, Bubble Wrap and Yogurt are not the best alternatives for yoga pants.

The video concludes with

"With your donation of just $120, you can put one woman in one pair of yoga pants"

YOGA's Yama and Niyama top 10 Tips in Kerala

While many people travel to India (including myself) to study Yoga, to teach Yoga, and to experience the purity of the birth place of yoga, sometimes the ashram is not the only place for enlightenment.  That being said, India the ultimate place for purification, and in my case the birthplace for my parents.  It is my favorite place to teach Yoga, practice yoga, and study.  You have the magical landscapes, and the traditional teaching of Ashtanga, Iyengar, Hatha Yoga, and many other incredible Guru's, Babas, and Ayurveda Teachers.

Prior to booking this trip, I had spent 5 months caring for my beloved Aunty who passed in January.  Many Yogis would consider this an act of Seva (selfless service), for me it was an honor and my duty.  I cancelled some amazing teaching opportunities in Malta, Switzerland and India to stay bedside with her.  Though every morning I maintained my morning yoga (while she would sleep), I quickly learned what the nurses were warning me about....the burnout.

She passed away in January, and I decided to accompany my dad on an emergency trip to India.  We were visiting my Uncle who was also in poor health condition, but I knew it was also necessary for me to get away.

While I was invited to teach yoga in 2 places in Kerala, I chose to truly take time for me and heal my mind-body-spirit.  In the West, yogis get caught up in routines and almost attached to them.  I wanted the most minimalist detox experience possible.

We left Toronto Airport after a beautiful snow storm, only to arrive in Kerala where the weather was comparable to most Bikram studios and was perfect for my morning & afternoon Yoga practice.

The top 10 Yama & Niyama, Minimalist guide to Yoga in India:

  1. AHIMSA - Non Harming to all living things - Visiting a beautiful Elephant Sanctuary where these brilliant animals are trained with kindness & compassion and eventually go on to be working animals in the local Temples.
  2. SATYA - Truthfulness - Being True to myself.  It would have been easy for me to teach yoga, or post daily updates online of my experience, but instead I chose to enjoy time with family and heal any grief or residual stress that may have unconsciously found its way into my being.
  3. ASTEYA - Non Stealing - Often I tell my Yoga Teacher Trainees that as teachers we must respect people's time, privacy, and never misuse the precious classroom moments for our own glory etc.  On this trip I practiced Asteya by realizing I was there on a family trip, so instead of visiting an ashram, I consciously chose to practice every morning at 4 am in solitude so that I can have the remaining time to spend with my loved ones.
  4.  BRAMACHARYA - preserving our sexual energy and redirecting it into our spiritual path - Most girls who take a vacation with their dad are guaranteed to be free from any opportunities or thoughts of romance.
  5.  APARIGRAHA - Non Hoarding - I went to India with a suitcase full of chocolate to give to my relatives and friends, so I did not bother to pack too many personal items.  While there are so many amazing shops, malls and bazaars to buy things in Kerala, including the grand opening of the largest mall in all of India (LULU MALL) right in Kerala - I chose to keep purchases to necessities only.        
  6. SAUCHA - Purity & Cleanliness - After my morning meditation, yoga, I would follow with lime/lemon water (picked straight from the tree) to alkalize my body.  I maintained my regular vegetarian diet, and kept my body clean.
  7.  SANTOSHA - Contentment - While I faced many challenges during the time I cared for my aunty, I focused on contentment.  I reflected on blessings, and gave thanks for the challenges, challenging people, and lessons as they made me a stronger person. This contentment led me to the deeper awareness that all experiences are from ourselves and primarily our reaction.  Soon I was so overwhelmed with the contentment in the beauty of Kerala's tropical landscape, sounds of birds, and the lively orchestra of beeping horns, saree clad pedestrians, and all other things that were a celebration of LIVING IN THE MOMENT, Being right here, right NOW.
  8. TAPAS - Disciplined use of energy - Tapas is bringing heat to the body to burn through all urges and purify.  With daily morning yoga without any fan or air conditioner, in the extreme heat of Kerala I was feeling purified.
  9. SVADHYAYA - Self Study - Daily journaling, drawing, reading, meditating, chanting, singing, and walks all led to a self realization experience.  I made a conscious choice to stay off Facebook, my blog, twitter, and even refrained from email.  While I use Facebook to share/read inspirational quotes, stories of other fellow yogis, or share aspects of my self-discovery, but I chose to be as pure as possible and unplugged from the system. 
  10. ISVARAPRANIDHANA - Celebration of the spiritual - Laying all your actions at the feet of divine.  With daily yoga, daily prayer, and time with loved ones we all can learn to celebrate the Divine.

Like always seeing my family in India is always a beautiful experience.  I am happy to be back.  For those who are interested to study Yoga, Ayurveda or Reiki with me there will be some workshops coming up in Ontario, New York, and a 200 hr Yoga Teacher Training I will offer this July in Ireland, and one in November in India.  Thank you to all those who emailed me after noticing my disappearance on social media.  We all face challenges perhaps in job, family, health, and for those who have the tendency to be care-givers, it is important to take care of our self as well.

Stay Blessed ~ Om Shanti