Thursday, 29 December 2011

A Million Grains of Rice

Cranberry Pistachio Kheer (Rice Pudding)
One day I'm going to write a book called "Conspiracy of Angels", and you're in it!


In the latest chapter, the Angels conspire to feed the world!

Here are several ways you can get involved:

1.  Make some yummy Cranberry Pistachio Kheer to share with your friends and family.

2.  Do yoga at Yoga for Today in Sherwood Park during Yoga for Food Week, January 2-8, 2012.  Bring non-perishable Food Bank donations in exchange for yoga classes throughout the week. 

You are warmly invited to bring a donation and join me for Intermediate Hatha Yoga on Sunday, January 8 from 9:00-10:30 am!

3.  Get educated!  Check out this article by the United Nations World Food Program:  11 Myths About Global Hunger.  You can feed your mind and hungry people around the world at the same time.

Join the Kali's Kitchen group on FreeRice.com. 

Let's see how quickly we can donate A MILLION GRAINS OF RICE!

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Friday, 16 December 2011

Leela Leela...

The Leela of Self-Knowledge

Heartfelt thanks and congratulations to the dedicated Yogis and Yoginis at Yoga for Today in Sherwood Park who are the very first graduates of  Meditation and Yoga Philosophy, Level One

Jai to You!

It was such a joy and an honor to "play" teacher for you as you learned to read and write in Sanskrit, memorize the first nine Yoga Sutras, and explore the various paths of Yoga!

And it was sooooooo much fun playing Leela, The Game of Knowledge with you on Wednesday night as we celebrated our last class of the year together! 

For those of you who don't know, Leela is a board-game created by the ancient Yogis to teach and illustrate the evolution of the soul as it migrates through the planes of existence and Samsara

As children, without knowing its origins, many of us played a modern variation of this game known as Snakes and Ladders.

Snakes and Ladders.jpg
Snakes and Ladders, India, 19th Century
The version we played together in class was illustrated and translated by Harish Johari and Pieter Weltevrede in the ancient style, with arrows that shoot you up through the planes of existence and snakes that swallow you and take you down!

It was such a blast playing, reflecting, and "reaching enlightenment" with you! 

I look forward to seeing you again in January as we continue with Meditation and Yoga Philosophy, Level Two on Wednesday nights and repeat Level One on Tuesday mornings.

Last year, a friend who is a big fan of Bluegrass introduced me to the music of Jody Stecher and brought the song below to my attention. 

I instantly recognized the ancient Yogic philosophy in the words and have been listening to it and singing it ever since.

Hmmm... must be time to figure out a version on the Shruti Box, huh!  ;-) 

In the meantime... 

Enjoy!




Leela Leela
by Jody Stecher:

Leela Leela, this world is just a game,
Winners lose and losers win the game is still the same.
Leela, Leela, this life is just a play,
Those who say don’t know and those who know don’t say.

The eyes of the baby behold everything from under,
The eyes of the young man behold his lady’s face with wonder.
The eyes of the old man look upon the flowing river,
What of those whose eyes are one? They leave this wheel forever.

Leela Leela, this world is just a game,
Winners lose and losers win the game is still the same.
Leela, Leela, this life is just a play,
Those who say don’t know and those who know don’t say.

And where is the man who in his heart can really feel it?
Can he feel it in himself and then can he reveal it?
Then let him sit and sing and sail a flowing river,
Snakes and arrows cannot go where sound remains forever.

Oh, Leela Leela, this world is just a game,
God will not forget the one who sings His name.
Leela, Leela, this life is just a play,
Those who say don’t know and those who know don’t say.

How can a man accept life who has not accepted dying?
How can one achieve his purpose without ever trying?
How can a man have courage who cannot as well be tender?
He who wins the game is he who’s learning to surrender.

Oh, Leela Leela, this world is just a game,
Winners lose and losers win the game is still the same.
Leela, Leela, this life is just a play,
Those who say don’t know and those who know don’t say.

And where is the man who in his heart can really feel it?
Can he feel it in himself and then can he reveal it?
Then let him sit and sing and let his heart grow gladder,
Chant to God until the masquerade no longer matters.

Oh, Leela Leela, this world is just a game,
God will not forget the one who sings His name
Leela, Leela, this life is just a play,
Those who say don’t know and those who know don’t say.

Leela Leela, this world is just a game,
Winners lose and losers win the game is still the same.
Leela Leela, this world is just a game,
God will not forget the one who sings His name.


Monday, 12 December 2011

Shine, Yogis and Yoginis Shine!

Shiva, The Great Yogi
Warm greetings and salutations to the Hatha Yoga Teacher Trainees at Yoga for Today!  

Thank you all for your time and enthusiastic participation in this weekend's Yoga Philosophy classes.

Here is the link to my previous blog post on the Mahamrityunjaya mantra - The Mantra for "Great Liberation" otherwise known as the Om Trayambakam.

And the quote I mentioned from Marianne Williamson:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

----from A Return to Love, by Marianne Williamson.
Thank you to those of you who submitted your Yamas and Niyamas assignment yesterday.  I look forward to reading them.  They will be available for you to pick up from the front desk by Wednesday night/Thursday morning.

And Congratulations!  In addition to fulfilling the philosophy requirement for your Hatha Yoga Teacher Training Program, you've completed 15 hours of study toward my FREE Apprenticeship Program certificate!  I look forward to your application!  Jai!

Namaste!

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Sweet Honey Chai...



I just had my first cup of Chai sweetened with raw, organic, Alberta "Peace Country" honey in a very long time and it was sooooo soooo yummy and sweet!

So I thought I'd share a few traditional Indian chai making videos with you, and some of the nutritional benefits of honey:





"In Hinduism, honey (Madhu) is one of the five elixirs of immortality (Panchamrita). In temples, honey is poured over the deities in a ritual called Madhu abhisheka. The Vedas and other ancient literature mention the use of honey as a great medicinal and health food.

In Buddhism, honey plays an important role in the festival of Madhu Purnima, celebrated in India and Bangladesh. The day commemorates Buddha's making peace among his disciples by retreating into the wilderness. The legend has it that while he was there, a monkey brought him honey to eat. On Madhu Purnima, Buddhists remember this act by giving honey to monks. The monkey's gift is frequently depicted in Buddhist art.

Historically, honey has been used by humans to treat a variety of ailments through topical application, but only recently have the antiseptic and antibacterial properties of honey been chemically explained.
In Ayurveda, a 4000-year-old medicine originating from India, honey is considered to positively affect all three primitive material imbalances of the body. "Vaatalam guru sheetam cha raktapittakaphapaham| Sandhatru cchedanam ruksham kashayam madhuram madhu|| "It has sweetness with added astringent as end taste. It is heavy, dry and cold. Its effect on doshas (imbalances) is that it aggravates vata (air / moving forces), scrapes kapha (mucus / holding forces) and normalizes pitta (catabolic fire) and rakta (blood). It promotes the healing process." "
Thank you to Wikipedia for the information above.

If you want to know even more about the benefits of honey, click here.

Can you say "Samskaras"?


Wow - This little Tabla player must have some serious music samskaras from a past life! 

This performance (at the age of 7) is so charming I had to share.  And as if his talent weren't enough, that bright smile and curly Keshava hair are irresistably Krishna-sweet!  He's like a young Zakir Hussain!



Did you know we have a tabla student of Zakir's right here in Edmonton? 

Meet, Ojas Joshi:



Ooh, ok now I really wanna see this movie:


Kya baat hai!!!  Wonderful! 

Sunday, 27 November 2011

How Yoga Really Works

The Three Main Nadis and Seven Major Chakras
A Great Big Thank You to everyone at Yoga for Today who gathered for the first Yoga Teachers' Professional Development Weekend

It was such a joy to study with you again, I'm already looking forward to the next time!  Thank you all for your kindness and your ongoing enthusiasm!

Here is the free pamphlet I mentioned by Geshe Michael Roach.  It is a condensed version of two of his books, The Diamond Cutter and Karmic Management

Fearless Success in Work and Life by Geshe Michael Roach 

You can learn more about the Tong-len asana series we practiced on Saturday (Tibetan Heart Yoga, Series One) in The Tibetan Book of Yoga or you can register for my new Saturday morning Tibetan Heart Yoga class starting in January at Yoga for Today.

As you may already have guessed, at the very very top of my recommended reading list for yoga teachers is How Yoga Works.  It is a beautiful story by Geshe Michael and Lama Christie McNally that presents the philosophy of yoga and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali in a way that is authentic, engaging and easy to relate to. 

For information about Geshe Michael Roach and a few of the organizations he has founded so far, check out the links on my Guru Parampara page.



And hey - congratulations!  You just earned five more hours toward an attendance certificate in Hatha or Raja Yoga in my Yoga Apprenticeship Program

It's easy to sign up and it's free!  I hope to hear from you soon!

Jai!

Friday, 25 November 2011

Happiness and the Hanuman Chalisa

Hanuman by Betsy Schott

The crazy winds today have me thinking of Hanuman, Son of the Wind God and Perfection of the "Monkey Mind".

And also of a wise "peace" of advice from my friend Marci: 

She says that when you feel blown around by life, when the mind is as turbulent as the wind, there are two sure ways to get happy

  1. Hang out with uplifting people. 
  2. Listen to the Hanuman Chalisa
There are lots of gorgeous versions of the Hanuman Chalisa out there, but this peaceful and mesmerizing tune by Krishna Das is the one stuck in my head today. 



And if you like that, 
here are a few more...


This one is just so cheerful you can't help but feel uplifted...


Another from Krishna Das that's great for chanting along with:


And another from Krishna Das with Roshi Bernie Glassman:


Have fun finding more, and let me know your favorites!

Sri Hanuman Ki - Jai!

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Yoga for Today, Teacher Training Assignment

Practicing the
Yamas and Niyamas

It was great seeing you all this morning at Yoga for Today. 

Thank you for your warm enthusiasm on this snowy day!

Here's your assignment.  Please come to our next meeting with a copy of your summary to discuss.

And for those of you who asked, here is a link to my Navaratri post which gives a little more information about the marigolds.

From the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, please choose one of the Yamas:
  1. Ahimsa (अहिंसा): non-violence.
  2. Satya (सत्य): truth in word and thought, absence of falsehood or giving someone the wrong impression.
  3. Asteya (अस्तेय): non-stealing.
  4. Brahmacharya (ब्रह्मचर्य): celibacy in case of unmarried people and faithfulness in action, words and thoughts in the case of married people.
  5. Aparigraha (अपरिग्रह): absence of avarice, not coveting or hoarding.
OR one of the Niyamas:
  1. Shaucha: cleanliness of body and mind; purity.
  2. Santosha: satisfaction with what one has; contentment.
  3. Tapas: austerity.
  4. Svādhyāya: study of the Vedic scriptures and the Self, which leads to introspection on a greater awakening to the soul and God within.
  5. Ishvarapranidhana: surrender to, or worship of Ishwara (God).
Spend 24 hours consciously practicing your chosen Yama or Niyama or some aspect of it. 
For example:
  • Practice ahimsa by not eating meat for the day. 
  • Practice santosha by not complaining about work, your husband, or the weather.
  • Practice satya by not exaggerating. ("I'm starving!"  or "I hit a million red lights on the way here!")
  • Practice asteya by not making personal calls, surfing the net or texting on business time.
  • Practice tapas by going on a one day "media fast", turning off the tv, radio, and internet gossip.
  • Practice saucha and aparigraha at the same time by finally cleaning out the basement or the back closet and donating the clothes you're not wearing to someone else who can!
Get it?  It's challenging, but really fun!

If you find it helpful, jot notes down during the day about how it's going.  Maybe make a note every few hours about whether or not you were able to keep your committment to yourself during that time. 

Don't get discouraged - keep going! 

At the end of the 24 hours write approximately 1/2 to 1 page summary of the experience. 

Please bring a copy to class with you and be prepared for a group discussion. 

Your best bet is to choose one and begin right now! 

Otherwise, the tendency is to "forget" indefinitely, or to make some small transgression of your committment and give up or start over with the illusion that getting it "right" and doing it "perfectly" is what will make your experiment and your Yoga "successful".

Please recall that this is a practice and each "mistake" helps us to grow in awareness.  In that sense, there is no such thing as a mistake.  Each lapse in awareness allows us to see ourselves more clearly.

Be warned:  Sometimes in the process of cleaning the mind we "kick up some dirt", but it's well worth the effort!
Have fun! 

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Monday, 14 November 2011

Yoga Within, Teacher Training Assignment

Practicing the
Yamas and Niyamas
It was wonderful to see you all on Saturday and voyage through the chakras together!

If you would like the words for the "Sun Salutation Prayer" my Mom and I wrote and shared, you can click here.

And you can find Mahatma Gandhi's "Namaste" by clicking here.

In our short time together, we explored the chakras in terms of location, associated elements, emotions, senses, bija mantras, and the colors of the rainbow. 

For the traditional colors and other details of each chakra, visit the Sanatan Society website.

You can also check out a great index of articles on prana, the nadis, and awakening kundalini on swamij.com.

When we meet again on November 25th we will complete our study of the Bhagavad Gita and Patanjali's Yoga Sutras and discuss the Yamas and Niyamas homework assignment. 

Here is your assignment again:

From the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, please choose one of the Yamas:
  1. Ahimsa (अहिंसा): non-violence.
  2. Satya (सत्य): truth in word and thought, absence of falsehood or giving someone the wrong impression.
  3. Asteya (अस्तेय): non-stealing.
  4. Brahmacharya (ब्रह्मचर्य): celibacy in case of unmarried people and faithfulness in action, words and thoughts in the case of married people.
  5. Aparigraha (अपरिग्रह): absence of avarice, not coveting or hoarding.
OR one of the Niyamas:
  1. Shaucha: cleanliness of body and mind; purity.
  2. Santosha: satisfaction with what one has; contentment.
  3. Tapas: austerity.
  4. Svādhyāya: study of the Vedic scriptures and the Self, which leads to introspection on a greater awakening to the soul and God within.
  5. Ishvarapranidhana: surrender to, or worship of Ishwara (God).
Spend 24 hours consciously practicing your chosen Yama or Niyama or some aspect of it. 

For example:
  • Practice ahimsa by not eating meat for the day. 
  • Practice santosha by not complaining about work, your husband, or the weather.
  • Practice satya by not exaggerating. ("I'm starving!"  or "I hit a million red lights on the way here!")
  • Practice asteya by not making personal calls, surfing the net or texting on business time.
  • Practice tapas by going on a one day "media fast", turning off the tv, radio, and internet gossip.
  • Practice saucha and aparigraha at the same time by finally cleaning out the basement or the back closet and donating the clothes you're not wearing to someone else who can!
Get it?  It's challenging, but really fun!

If you find it helpful, jot notes down during the day about how it's going.  Maybe make a note every few hours about whether or not you were able to keep your committment to yourself during that time. 

Don't get discouraged - keep going! 

At the end of the 24 hours write approximately 1/2 to 1 page summary of the experience.  Please bring a copy to class with you and be prepared for a group discussion. 

Your best bet is to choose one and begin right now! 

Otherwise, the tendency is to "forget" indefinitely, or to make some small transgression of your committment and give up or start over with the illusion that getting it "right" and doing it "perfectly" is what will make your experiment and your Yoga "successful".

Please recall that this is a practice and each "mistake" helps us to grow in awareness.  In that sense, there is no such thing as a mistake.  Each lapse in awareness allows us to see ourselves more clearly.

Be warned:  Sometimes in the process of cleaning the mind we "kick up some dirt", but it's so worth the effort!

Have fun! 

Thursday, 10 November 2011

11.11.11.11.11


Hey - Did you know that this is the first time in something like 800 years that
if you add your birth year plus your age it will equal 111?  Cool!

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Check out my New Blog!

Guess what? 

I've started a second blog called Alberta Kirtan Community to share news about Kirtan events close to home!

If you are interested in attending these events or have one of your own to promote, please visit the blog and tell others about it! 


The more listings and visitors we can bring together, the more we can help our Bhakti Yoga/Kirtan community to grow and grow and GROW!

Over the years I've met many famous kirtan wallahs like Bhagavan Das, Jai Uttal and Daniel Paul, Snatam Kaur, Narayan Jyoti, and Geshe Michael Roach who would happily come to perform if only we had an established community to support them. 

My dream is to be part of such a receptive community - but not depend exclusively on visitors from far away for our events! 

I believe our hearts and practices are ripe to create a Sangha around the joyful and devotional practices of Bhakti Yoga including Kirtan, Yoga Sutra Chanting, Bhagavad Gita Chanting, festival celebrations and more!

Let's support the Kirtan musicians we do have close to home and create a network for sharing information about upcoming events. 

And then the best part - let's get together and SING OUR HEARTS OUT!!!

Ooooommmm.....

New Session of Yoga and Meditation Starts Today!



It's time to start a new Yoga and Meditation Session at Yoga Within

Please join me for a moving meditation journey through the Chakras featuring a special asana series from Geshe Michael Roach known as The Yoga of Lady Niguma and a sampling of seated meditations including:

  • Gentle Gazing Meditation, Tratak
  • Meditation and the Voice, Chanting the Bija Mantras
  • Meditation on the Breath
  • Meditation and Visualization
  • Mudras for Meditation
  • and more!
See you there!  Namaste!

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Chant for Enlightenment

Om
Asatoma sat gamaya
Tamaso ma jyotir gamaya
Mryityor ma amritam gamaya

Om
From the unreal (untruth) to the real (truth)
from darkness (tamas) to light (sattva)
from suffering to the nectar of immortality.

 - Brihadaranyaka Upanishad


This is the verse I often close my yoga classes with.  I chant it the way I learned from my Sivananda teachers, but here are a few of others for you to listen to.

First, a beautiful and meditative Ravi Shankar version from "Chants of India".



Now, some of you may recognize the next one from the final credits of "The Matrix".

WARNING - this video contains scenes from the movie which are violent and gross!

Please feel free to scroll to something more sattvic while you listen.


And finally, the sweet and lovely Deva Premal. 

(Did I ever tell you that I met Deva?  In 2009, at the Omega Ecstatic Chant weekend.  I thanked her for Dakshina which I and many of my students at the time were listening to over and over and over again!  She hugged me for a long time and Om'ed in my ear... ahhh... I pass that big hug and her beautiful smile on to you now!)


Let us reach enlightenment together!  Jai!

The Teacher Student Chant

Om
Sahanavavatu sahanau bhunaktu
Sahaviryam karavavahai
Tejasvinavadhitamastu
Ma vidvishavahayai
Om Shanti Shanti Shanti

Let the Studies that we undertake be effulgent;
Let there be no Animosity amongst us;
OM. Peace, Peace, Peace.

(Recited before the commencement of education)  From the Yajurveda Taittiriya Upanishad 2.2.2

Many of you are familiar with this short chant from the Upanishads from the opening of the classes I teach. 

I learned it during my Sivananda Yoga Teacher Training in 1997 and loved it so much that I have chanted it out loud or in my heart before every Yoga class I've taken or taught since.

It reminds me that we are all, always, and in all ways both teacher and student in every situation. 

It reminds me to honor both roles and the divine Leela or play we partake in when we assume either role.

And it reminds me that on those rare and precious occasions when we have the karma to participate in formal sacred teachings, we must make a conscious decision to embody Namaste - to suspend criticism and judgement and choose to see the divinity in eachother rather than the differences.

Although the tune below is not the one I typically use, it is definitely one of my very favorites. 

It comes from the cd "Chants of India" on George Harrison's Angel Records Label and features the great Ravi Shankar on sitar. 

It is so beautiful I had to share it here. 

Thank you for chanting it with me.  May we enjoy learning Yoga together for as long as it takes...


Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Japa Yoga - Mantras for Peace

I am absolutely thrilled to be starting the second session of Meditation and Yoga Philosophy, Level One at Yoga for Today tonight! 

Those of you who attended the fall session will recall that Taruna (Tina) kindly brought us a handout on Japa Yoga from her priest to go with our new malas and mala bags from the Temple

Rather than make a hundred paper photocopies, I figured it was "greener" to share the handout here.

Heartfelt thanks again to our friend Taruna-ji, and to the Temple Priest for sharing! 

And thank you to all of you for attending!  It was a wonderful and once-in-a-lifetime kind of session that I feel truly blessed to have been a part of.  

I look forward to seeing you (and some new faces) again tonight, let the Japa continue!

... AND on to Yoga Sutra 1.5!  Hooray!

To all of the Yogis and Yoginis, past, present and future - JAI!  VICTORY!

Page 1 of 5


Page 2 of 5

Page 3 of 5

Page 4 of 5


Page 5 of 5

Monday, 31 October 2011

Celebrate the Age of Aquarius with Sacred Sound


“We are entering the Age of Aquarius on November 11, 2011.
It will be a new time. The entire psyche is changing.
You must purify the mind, body and soul to be real, innocent, and sattvic (pure).
Elevate yourself to be angelic.
This age which you will serve is an age of awareness and experience.”

-Yogi Bhajan

"Kirtan is an excellent method of soothing the nerves
and directing the emotions to a positive goal. 
In the Kali Yuga, Kirtan alone is the best Yoga. 
Music is the Yoga of sound.   
Kirtan melts the heart, fills the mind with purity and generates harmony and Divine Love. 
When done with devotion and awareness of the meaning, its benefits are immeasurable."

- Swami Sivananda

Surya Namaskar - A Prayer to the Light


In yoga, one of the most challenging and active practices is a series of flowing movements known collectively as The Sun Salutation or Surya Namaskar.

Although many schools of yoga focus on this series as a central practice, others consider it a warm-up to the asanas, a way to heat and stretch the body to improve flexibility and lessen the chance of injury.

What many modern yoga students in the west do not realize is that it is actually an ancient and timeless prayer to Surya, the Sun. 

  
photo from iloveindia.com

It is traditionally performed at sunrise with awareness and devotion, honoring various aspects of the Sun's divinity and our own radiance. 

Many yogis begin each day facing east, repeating this series of asanas 3, 9, 12, 54, or even 108 times!

Special mantras accompany each posture.  Chanting them sharpens the intellect and helps us to grow in reverence for the brillance of nature - both external and internal.

According to the International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centre Kirtan book, here are the mantras and translations which accompany each posture.  In the diagram below, position one is depicted just above the posture at the far left, with hands together in Namaste.

Sun salutation

Position 1:  Om Mitraya Namaha, Prostrations to Him who is affectionate to all.
Position 2:  Om Ravaye Namaha, Prostrations to Him who is the cause of change.
Position 3:  Om Suryaya Namaha, Prostrations to Him who induces activity.
Position 4:  Om Bhanave Namaha, Prostrations to Him who diffuses light.
Position 5:  Om Khagaya Namaha, Prostrations to Him who moves in the sky.
Position 6:  Om Pushne Namaha, Prostrations to Him who nourishes all.
Position 7:  Om Hiranyagarbhaya Namaha, Prostrations to Him who contains all wealth.
Position 8:  Om Marichaye Namaha, Prostrations to Him who possesses rays.
Position 9:  Om Adityaya Namaha , Prostrations to Him who is the Son of Aditi.
Position 10:  Om Savitre Namaha, Prostration to Him who is fit to be worshipped.
Position 11:  Om Arkaya Namaha, Prostrations to Him who is the reproducer of everything.
Position 12:  Om Bhaskaraya Namaha, Prostrations to Him who is the cause of luster.

If you'd like to hear these mantras pronounced, you can check out this kind-of-scratchy but cool, old-school recording at Geet Ganga by clicking here.


Last summer, at a particularly challenging point in our lives, my Mom and I composed the following prayer together to encourage ourselves and our yoga practice. 

It is a liberal translation of the original Surya Namaskar mantras written in affirmation style.  For us, it personalizes and embodies the feeling-vibration of each mantra and its accompanying position. 

Just like the Sanskrit version, we chant each line mentally (or out loud with the drone of the Shruti Box) as we move through the asanas.

It is very close to our hearts, so truthfully, it is with some hesitancy that I post it. 

I generally prefer to keep it to myself, or include it only orally as part of live teachings to promote a more traditional and intimate understanding of the Philosophy of Yoga.  But so many of you in Yoga teacher training programs in the last year have requested it, that I offer it to you with thanks and love, here in writing now. 

I hope that by doing so, you will be encouraged to salute and radiate your own highest Self regardless of what's happening (or not happening) in your life today. 


A Prayer to the Light

I am a friend to all.
I open myself to change.
I bow to the Light.
My inner Light shines.
I move through life with Grace.
I am helpful to all.
I am generous, warm, and open-hearted.
I am strong.
I am part of Divine Creation.
I like who I am.
I am growing.
I radiate Peace.

- Colleen and Tara Woltjen, August, 2010

The following mantra may be chanted at the end of Surya Namaskar practice to reiterate the benefits:
ādityasya namaskāran ye kurvanti dine dine
āyuḥ prajñā balam vīryam tejasteśān ca jāyate

आदित्यस्य नमस्कारन् ये कुर्वन्ति दिने दिने
आयुः प्रज्ञा बलम् वीर्यम् तेजस्तेशान् च जायते

By performing Sun Salutation day by day,
your age, consciousness, strength, essence of humanity
and glow will never fade away.

Om Hraum Mitraya Namaha - May the light of friendship shine, drawing noble companionship!  

Greeting the Mirror - Namaste!

Yogini Shyama with her hands and heart in Namaste.


In Yoga we often greet one another with a special hand gesture known as Anjali Mudra, accompanied by the beautiful Sanskrit word Namaste

It is a common greeting in India, the birthplace of yoga, and among yogis worldwide.  It is a humble yet noble and peaceful gesture which acknowledges our seeing one another, and our joy at that meeting. 

Most commonly in the west, Namaste is translated as, "The Divine in me sees the Divine in you."  or "The Light in me sees the Light in you". 

But I like to think of it more simply as, "I see me in you and you in me." 

For me, this translation emphasizes the mirror-like reflection of the Self in each being we encounter and emphasizes our divinity, unity and similarities over our differences. 

In other words, it reminds me that regardless of appearances and circumstances, we have more in common than not.  We are part of the same whole, and we share the same goals of happiness and freedom.


Alberta Singer/Songwriter/Yogi Brian McLeod

My favorite translation of this greeting came from an old Ayurvedic doctor I met at the Sivananda Ashram in Grass Valley, California


He told me that in Namaste, we bring the strength in the right side of the body (ha/pingala nadi/masculine/wisdom/active energy) together with the love that comes from the heart (left/tha/ida nadi/feminine/compassion/passive energy) in service to our fellow beings.

Later I found this definition by Mahatma Gandhi which unfortunately, I've long since lost the source of, but share with reverence to this day because it captures the deeper meaning of the greeting so beautifully in such a simple and heart-felt way.





Namaste

I offer you peace.
I offer you love.
I offer you friendship.
I see your beauty.
I hear your need.
I feel your feelings.
My wisdom flows from the highest source.
I salute that source in you.
Let us work together in unity and love.

-Mahatma Gandhi

If you would like to read more about the origin and importance of Namaste, click here for a wonderful article titled, Namaste - The Significance of a Yogic Greeting, on the Exotic India homepage.

Thank you to all of the enthusiastic yoga teachers in training at Yoga for Today! It was lovely to share this with you on Saturday as we closed our session on the chakras, the subtle body and the psychology of yoga

I look forward to seeing you again in November when we study the Yoga Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita

I trust that our reunion will be enriched by our understanding, and our greetings all the sweeter because of it!


Namaste!

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Students at Yoga for Today Chant the Yoga Sutras!


Painting of Saraswati at the Sivananda Ashram in the Bahamas by Uma (Diane Woodward)

Lately Wednesdays have become my favorite day of the week.  I wake up looking forward to gathering in Satsang with the eager students of the first-ever Meditation and Yoga Philosophy class at Yoga for Today!

We've been exploring the deeper dimensions of Yoga through meditation, songs, stories, chanting in Sanskrit and writing in Devanagari, "vehicle of the Gods", the beautiful written script of Sanskrit, the ancient and sacred language of Yoga. 

Sanskrit Alphabet chart borrowed from IndiaDivine.org


In just three classes they have already learned how to draw the beautiful and auspicious symbol of Om and learned about it's components and the states of consciousness.


We also practiced writing the words Yoga and Guru in Devanagari. 

AND they have even been learning the first four Yoga Sutras of Patanjali by heart:
Atha yoganushasanam. 1.1
Yogas chitta vritti nirodhah. 1.2
Tada drashtuh swaroope vasthanam. 1.3
Vritti sarupyam itaratra. 1.4
You should hear it!

It's so exciting to see them with their notebooks and pens, on the edge of their seats, ready with questions and open to the less frequently discussed aspects of this practice.

Today we continue to celebrate Navaratri and the days dedicated to Saraswati, the Goddess of languages, arts, music and learning.

During this evening's class we will be chanting Om Aim Saraswatyai Namaha and writing Devi, praising the Goddess of Wisdom by her own means.

For the next couple of weeks we will continue practicing likhita japa (the devotional writing of mantras) and chanting the first four Yoga Sutras in anticipation of our last class. 

On that evening, a FREE PERFORMANCE AND REFRESHMENTS will be offered to our friends and families from 8-8:30! 

You are invited to join us to celebrate the timeless teachings of Yoga and these diligent and joyful Yogis and Yoginis of Today!

Om Aim Saraswatyai Namaha!

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Roots of Abundance

Some of you may recognize this painting of Lakshmi

If you've ever visited the Sivananda Ashram in the Bahamas, you've seen her smiling face above the benches at the Boutique as painted by Yogini Betsy Schott.

Lakshmi is the Goddess of beauty, wealth, grace, blessings and abundance in material and spiritual matters. 


The fourth, fifth and sixth days of Navaratri, are dedicated to her.

We've all spent our fair share of time cleaning, decorating and organizing to keep our homes, well... homey. 

We know that if we want our homes to feel truly fresh, gracious and welcoming we can't just sweep things under the rug, light an aromatherapy candle and hope noone will notice. 

We need to apply a little "elbow grease". 

An effective, "clean sweep" requires a simple three step strategy:

Step 1: Throw out the trash.  Move everything.  Sweep and scrub.  Give away the things you're not using and someone else can.
Step 2:  Display items which are both beautiful and useful (or at least one of the two!). 
Step 3:  Arrange them creatively to reflect You.  Be sure that there is a place for everything so everything can be put in its place.
Navaratri is a little like that. 

First we focus on Durga who clears away negativity and stagnation.  This makes space for Lakshmi who radiates and attracts blessings and abundance.  Finally we focus on the attributes of Saraswati to guide us in sharing and using our material and spiritual riches wisely.

I always find it feels like things are hitting the fan those first three days - we kick up alot of dust when we start clearing stuff out! 

But then we can see what we've got, so during the second set of three days, no matter what I think I'm lacking, I find myself saying "Thank You" alot! 

And that's where I was yesterday when I wrote this. 

Cooking Roasted Carrots and Beets and saying thank you to the friends who grew and gave them! 

Writing this post and feeling grateful for the miracle of technology keeping us connected.   

Reading The Yoga of Snakes and Arrows by Harish Johari and thanking the Guru for coming to me in so many wonderful ways!
The yogis say the root of abundance is generosity.  Give a little, get a little.  Give a lot, get a lot.
And they also say that the Siddhi, or superpower of giving is that everything you need will come to you! 

Today we begin the three days of Navaratri dedicated to Saraswati. 

She is the patron of actors, artists, musicians, spiritual aspirants and creative folks of all descriptions.
 

I don't know exactly what these three days will bring, but usually it is some wisdom... a creative solution, an inspiring song or poem, a language lesson, a spiritual teacher... who knows?

I'll just keep chanting and stay open.  Radiate abundance and gratitude, and it will surely be reflected back! 


Jai Ma!

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Happy Navaratri!


Today is the first day of the annual Hindu nine-night festival of the Divine Mother! 

Each fall for the past ten-ish years, my Mom and I have celebrated this festival together. 

Our first introduction to Navaratri was in Val Morin at the Sivananda Ashram.  We arrived just as the leaves were turning from lush green to a spectacular rainbow of gold, orange and red, clueless but eager.  We left the morning of the year's first snowfall with more than we could ever have expected!

Tantric priests performed Pujas, offerings of rice and flowers, japa, Devi Bhajans, and readings from the Devi Mahatmya

 photo borrowed from Wikipedia

Written by Rishi Markandeya around 1500 years ago, this Great Glory of the Goddess tells the story of how the Divine Mother (known by many names including Kali, Chandika, Devi, Shakti, and loads more) kicked some serious demon butt and saved the Devas!  They had to put all their powers together to create her and then had to spend aLOT of time writing and singing songs about how awesome She is to thank her!

We were told that if you practice all nine days (plus a tenth for blessing books and tools of your work or spiritual path) with sincerity and devotion, all your prayers, spoken and unspoken will be answered.

The End.

Or not...You know how it goes - every year I come up with new prayers, and so every year it's like starting from scratch...

On our own, we don't practice as formally as we did at the ashram.  Our pujas are held each day whenever our schedule allows, and we act as our own pujaris.  Our altars are dynamic and personal. 

Our flowers are simply whatever we grew ourselves or nature provided us.  Mostly we're just grateful for whatever the frost hasn't taken! 

This year we've been blessed with a bumper crop of marigolds that we have been re-seeding ever since that first Navaratri when part of our karma yoga was deadheading the flowerbeds in Swami Vishnudevananda's Samadhi Estates

This humble little flower, sacred in India for it's fiery color, represents "Plasticity" according to Sri Aurobindo's disciple, The Mother who considered that the highest attribute of a yogi.

Styling our own ritual has become a part of the devotional practice.  We honor our own craftiness, courage, creativity and abundance.  We trust that our "mistakes" will be overlooked. 

We embrace unconventional thanks and praises too, like Rob Brezny's heartfelt and hilarious poem/prayer:  A Prayer for Us.

And we eat fruits and Indian milk sweets and just in general - whatever we please - as in, whatever we think would please the Goddess in us!

I encourage you to craft your own ritual to the Divine Mother for the next couple of weeks. 

Make a little altar somewhere where you can sit for a few minutes each day and offer your longing, your dreams and your gratitude to the Divine Mother.  See Her in your Self.

I will post more in the next nine days as we celebrate the three main personalities of ShaktiDurga, Lakshmi, and SaraswatiShakti means power.  Empower your yoga practice by checking out the tools and rituals of the ancient yogis for yourself, embracing those that feel right to you now. 

I'd love to know how and where you're celebrating so please leave your comments and feedback!

Jai Ma!