At the end of my 200 hour teacher training, my teacher, Sivakami gave us each an opportunity for a private chat with her as we walked down the picturesque Siesta Key. I was one of the last students to talk with her and by the time it was my turn, my mind buzzed with all sorts of problems I wanted resolved - things I wanted to accomplish, things I wanted to avoid, ways I wanted to become - before I felt I could love myself unconditionally. I tried to consolidate all my angst into a singular, coherent question.
The sun was moving lower, scattering prismed rays across the white sand. I walked next to her now, trying to keep pace with her long legs gliding across the floury surface. We pulled ahead of the group and she wrapped my shoulders in her arm, pulling me close. “So Shanthi, what is your question?” she asked softly, diverting me from fluttering into small talk.
I said, “I’m so hard on myself and I just don't know how to stop.” She looked toward the sunset pensively, ushering me forward in her embrace. After a moment, the answer: “Just let it go! Now, let's talk about when you are coming to India."
I don't remember much more of the conversation, but I do know this bit of it perplexed me for years. That's it? Just let it go?! If I knew how to do that…
I've thought about this moment many times in my jnana yoga or self-study practice. The warmth with which she welcomed my pain, protected me, and released the suffering from that pain has been a model for how to treat myself. How deftly she had deflected my attachment to a painful way of thinking!
Accepting pain when it comes is as actually a part of the niyamas (or observances) in Raja Yoga. As living things, we can't avoid pain or loss, but we can accept the pain we receive as a way letting go of attachment in our experience of love. We also can protect ourselves from further suffering by letting go of negative narratives that surround our ideas of “failure” and “loss”. Narratives that only serve to create more suffering and attachment.
I'm learning that loss is not only part of life, but is also part of all great love. One of my other mentors and I have recently been talking about what it means to lose the beloved. She has suggested that accepting the loss of a loved one - in my mind, supreme non-attachment - is a way of honoring the beloved's path.
There is grace in loss, painful as it may feel to sit with it. By accepting this pain we can transcend it, journeying deep into grief as a hero on a divine quest. A quest to know what it means to live and love and lose. Emerging stronger on the other side.
Valentine’s Day or not, it’s easy to get caught up in attachment when we try to experience love; attachment to the physical presence of someone, or to a certain way of being or experiencing, or even to a specific time and place. I will remind myself that I can't truly experience love if I am holding onto attachments. The only place to experience true love is in the present moment and the present moment is always changing.
January, perennial month of reflection and re-commitment. Also, perennial month of guilt and disappointment. Swami Satchidananda often told his students that if you want to avoid disappointment, “make no appointments.” In other words, have no expectations.
But how are we supposed to have no expectations and yet pursue our goals?
As we dive deeper into the philosophy of the Yoga Sutras and especially, the Bhagavad Gita, we find many messages about selfless service. Selfless service does not mean pushing yourself to the point of burn-out or never making mistakes. Selfless service means “do your best and leave the rest” (another thing Swamiji liked to say.) Selfless service is perfection in action.
What is a perfect act? One that harms no one, benefits someone - by the way, you count as someone - and is done without expectations for the results. Surrendering to the natural flow of life. Sometimes losing, sometimes gaining, but always enjoying the process.
It is so easy to blame ourselves when our intentions (or New Year's resolutions) go awry, but an arrow released from the bow does not always go where expected. By practicing hitting the target again and again, we will eventually become more accurate. Why would we expect ourselves to hit a bullseye with our resolutions right away?
The other side of this: even if "fail" we need to continue to try to hit the bullseye every time, even if it we don't hit it right away (or ever). We can get closer over time and practice our resolutions until they become second nature. We can enjoy becoming, rather than being.
When we blame ourselves for failing once and deciding to never try again, we miss the opportunity to enjoy learning and refining ourselves. A resolution doesn’t have to be a straightjacket, but can be a trellis for our personal development, inching little by little to the light. We have to learn to celebrate life with all its ups and downs.
Released by the archer, the arrow is surrendered to universe. We can choose to regard our actions with this kind of total surrender, or Ishvara Pranidhana. Ishvara Pranidhana is the fifth niyama (observance) in Raja Yoga. Swamiji says if a person can master this niyama, they will not need to practice any of the others.
Clearly, mastering “surrender to life” is a lofty pursuit. We should even regard that goal without expectations. Sometimes we will feel totally surrendered and at other times we will feel attached to people, things, or outcomes.
Perfection in action is to notice when our mind drifts into desires or aversions. Then, pull another arrow out of the quiver and steady our hand to the bow. Once we let go of the arrow, we can let go of the results. We've already done our part.
I wish you a year with many arrows loosed, wherever they may land.
It’s hard to count all the moments I might feel grateful for. Even in the midst of deep turmoil and pain, there are things to appreciate. Of course, our human brains are evolved to avoid threats and guard opportunities. But every spiritual master I have heard or read has said that avoiding losses and preserving boons doesn't give a person true, lasting happiness. That inevitably, life is a dance of gaining and losing, pleasure and pain. True happiness, they say, is to feel content with profit and loss in equal measure. Enjoy when it comes, enjoy when it goes. Karma yoga then, is to act for the benefit of humanity without regard for the reward of your actions.
I have thought about this a lot since opening our studio. There are busy days when it feels like every little thing has a hitch and needs my attention. There are slow days when I feel worried that opening a studio was naïve without an MBA. These thoughts, which Dr. Daniel G. Amen calls “ANTs” or automatic negative thoughts, obscure the reality of the situation I face. When I really sit down to think about it, I see there is a thread of gratitude that runs through all of these challenges. I can choose to direct my thoughts to that thread whenever I wish. That is pratipaksha bhavana, which means to cultivate the opposite (positive thought). It is easy for me to direct my thoughts towards positivity when I think about all the people I know through this studio.
At the risk of sounding like an Academy Award winner on Oscar night, I really feel that the studio would not be possible without everyone involved. It starts with the students. Without students, we are not teachers. I know that all of the teachers at 5KY are incredibly grateful to you for sharing your practice with us. Practicing yoga can be a time of deep intimacy and vulnerability (first of all, with one’s own self). Your trust in us to navigate with you through it is something we do not take lightly.
No less important are the wonderful teachers and workshop leaders who choose to hold space here for that vulnerability. They have many gifts and it touches me to see the flow between them and their students. It inspires me to do my best work and create a space that nurtures personal transformation on every level. I feel a deep commitment to the symbiotic growth between this community, our teachers, and our students.
On a personal but also, practical level is the gratitude I feel for the people behind the scenes. Gratitude for the people who keep things running when I am away from the studio, the people working on our online presence in the wee hours of the night, the people offering support and guidance when I need it, as well as the people inspiring our mission.
And that is the definition of a sangha. It is a collective of like-minded individuals, who remind one another of the mutual goal (no less than self-realization) and support each other in this bold pursuit. Individuals who believe that by benefiting the sangha, we are benefited ourselves many times over. It is a collective of people who are optimistic that humanity can be a force for good. People who know that to create the intimacy and vulnerability we seem to lack today, we must focus on creating it within our own selves first.
There is so much that I have to feel grateful for this year. I thank you for being a part of our sangha. Happy Thanksgiving to you.
Wondering what Yoga for the Special Child Basic 1 is like? Who can take the program? What will participants be prepared for after taking YSC? Check out this video, which runs down the basics.
Yoga for the Special Child Basic 1 starts Sunday! There's still time to register, but we're close to capacity. So better sign up, if you're planning to join us next week.
Also, join us July 19th at 7PM for a Satsang (community gathering) with Sonia Sumar, who created the Yoga for the Special Child method.
Hi, my name is Erin Haddock, I’m with Five Keys Yoga here in Chicago, Illinois. And this summer we’re hosting an unbelievable training with Sonia Sumar, who created the yoga for the special child method and wrote the book “Yoga for the Special Child”. She created this method for her daughter Roberta, who is born with down syndrome and now travels around the world, bringing this program to people who want to learn how to teach kids with special needs yoga.
So I thought I would make this video for our participants who are arriving in about a week as well as people who might still be on the fence about what to expect during the program. So this program runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day, the 15th through the 20th. And at the completion of the program you’ll be given a certificate of completion for I believe is the 48 hours that you attend. After you attend this program, if you wish, you can attend Basic 2. And if you are a yoga teacher or become one, you can use these two trainings to become registered with yoga alliance as a certified children's yoga instructor.
However, the training isn’t open just for yoga teachers. In fact, we have many parents, occupational therapists, physical therapists, speech therapists, special education teachers as well as yoga teachers and people who just want to learn how to teach kids yoga. In fact, that's how I started, I wasn't a therapist, I wasn't a parent or a teacher. I just had this desire to learn how to make yoga accessible for people with special needs.
When I took my first training with Sonia my entire perspective changed, not only about how I practice yoga but about what yoga really means, what it is. It completely changed the way that I look at the world. And I'm so excited for these people who are coming in next week for the first time meeting Sonia and learning about their own bodies and minds.
During the training you will be prepared to evaluate new students as well as specific techniques for working with children who might have limited mobility or limited attention span. And the absolute highlight of the program is the opportunity to see Sonia work with three students as demo students, it's a really special part of the program that all the participants love.
So we’re hosting the training here at Five Keys Yoga. I would love to see you here, either this year or another year, when we host the Yoga for the Special Child program again.
Thank you. Namaste.
Recently, we’ve received a number of questions about where we are rooted and about the guy sitting on our altars, Swami Satchidananda. Although many of our teachers have their own traditions, Swamiji (what a swami is affectionately called) and Sivakami Sonia Sumar, founder of Yoga for the Special Child, are the guides and inspiration for our studio. So in honor of Father’s Day next week, we’re exploring our yogic lineage in more depth.
Who is Swami Satchidananda?
Sat = Truth, Chid = Knowledge, Ananda = Bliss
Swami Satchidananda is the founder of Integral Yoga and credited with being one of the first yoga masters to bring yoga to the west. He was invited to New York in 1966 by artist Peter Max and had a great influence on young Americans of the day. Swamiji gave the official opening remarks at the Woodstock Festival in 1969, with “a message of peace, hope and encouragement."
Integral Yoga brings six branches of yoga together, Hatha, Raja, Jnana, Karma, Bhakti, and Japa Yoga. It is designed to integrate an individual’s mind, body and soul. Swamiji often said “truth is one, paths are many,” meaning that we may all take our own path toward the truth.
Who is Sivakami Sonia Sumar?
If you’ve been taking classes with us for a while, you’ve probably heard us mention her before… Sivakami is the founder of Yoga for the Special Child, the pioneering yoga method for kids with special needs. Sivakami created this method after her younger daughter, Roberta was born with Downs Syndrome.
Her work with Roberta was so impressive, that she was asked to teach other students with special needs at schools and in her yoga center in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. Later, word about her students’ progress spread and she was asked to speak about her work at conferences internationally, where she met Swami Satchidananda, who became her guru.
Now she brings her training programs all over the world (and aren’t we lucky, we’re hosting one this July!), preparing parents, special education teachers, yoga teachers, therapists and healthcare professionals to teach the YSC method. Sivakami is also the author of the book Yoga for the Special Child, which has been published in English, Portuguese and Chinese. Find out more about the upcoming YSC training.
The gentle but effective approaches that YSC utilizes “have been improving the lives of children and adults with special needs for over 40 years,” including Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, Autism, ADD/ADHD, Scleroderma, Microcephaly, and other developmental and learning disabilities.
I hope this post gives you a sense of where we come from and a peak into where we’re going. We believe that a yoga studio has an important job to do – serving its community by providing a friendly and peaceful place to gather with others and experience the essential truth within each of us. We consider our community an extension of our family, so we are honored that you bring your roots to grow here too.
Happy Father’s Day!
With Mother’s Day around the corner, we think it’s time for all of us to be good mothers to ourselves. Yoga, meditation, eating right, getting good sleep; they’re all a part of nurturing our physical body.
But what about when we need some nurturance for our emotions? Bhakti Yoga or the path of devotion is one of the ways we can nurture our emotional side. This devotion might take the form of formal religious devotion, chanting mantras, serving other members of humanity, or just appreciating beauty all around us.
One of the ways to build devotion is to create a personal altar. Altars can ground us in our connection to our guru (teacher), to our sangha (community), to our own higher nature, and further, to all things.
Having an altar to tend is like tending to our own emotional experience. It is a place to come to in times of great joy or sadness, in fear and in calmness, so we can get in touch with the greater purpose of life – which is love. When we connect to love, we more easily weather the changes/challenges that are inherent in living a life.
How should I create an altar? is a question that only the altar creator can answer. It is a personal expression of your love. However, there are a few general principles that a practitioner can follow to feel that their altar is aligning with tradition. But as is expressed in the Bhagavad Gita, chapter 13, sloka 35,
It is better to live your own destiny imperfectly than to live an imitation of somebody else's life with perfection.
So use your heart to guide you toward what inspires you.
First, create a special space that will be used only for your altar.
Place a few pictures of loved ones on your altar.
Candles, flowers, incense and statues of deities are classic additions to altars.
Add things you find beautiful and inspiring. Engage as many senses as possible. On my personal altars, I also have -
An altar is truly a personal expression of the curator of that altar. Like a prism, all love enters as a beam of pure light, but passed through the crystal, devotional practices spread across the spectrum. I truly hope you nurture your emotions through some devotion to love this month. That is what motherhood is all about.
Swami Satchidananda spoke about habit-setting like changing a car's oil. To get the dirty oil out, you simply pour clean oil in and the old oil is purged from the engine. Our habits are like this too: if we focus on adding good habits, we will slough the bad habits off eventually. If we focus on reducing or removing the bad ones, it seems to only exacerbate the issue. Apparently, this is called ironic process theory, as related this month by the brief New York Times article, "Resistance Is Futile. To Change Habits, try Replacement Instead." With the big spring clean upon us, many of us look to "clean" ourselves. Which often takes the form of habit-setting.
Purity is a niyama (observance) in Raja Yoga. Although purity might be taken to mean maintaining personal hygiene rituals, wearing clean clothes and keeping a clean house, it also means creating purity within, physically and mentally. Some people have a negative reaction to the word "purity" because today, it may connote an impossible standard of goodness. What I think Patanjali was suggesting is to have a Replacement attitude instead of a Resistance attitude, as described by the NYT and Swami Satchidananda. We don't have to be completely pure to get benefits from making a choice that leads us to more purity. Even though there is always dirt, shouldn't we sweep our house from time to time?
Yoga and Ayurveda offer several practices that aim to purify us on many levels. Hatha yoga keeps our bodies strong and supple, meditation keeps our mind nimble and focused, and a healthy diet ensures we have good, clean energy to run on. There are other practices, called kriyas, that some yogis use to create a purer internal environment, such as using a neti pot or practicing eye exercises. Fasting is another cleansing practice espoused for centuries by yogis, that is gaining credibility in the scientific world. For a more scientific approach to fasting than I'm going to take here, you can look at this article from CMAJ or an opinion from a neuroscientist on the Johns Hopkins Health Review.
Whether or not you fast, it's still a good idea to take a break from foods that tax the digestive system. This is especially true as we transition from heavier foods that warm us in the winter, to more raw foods (which can also tax the system) in the spring and summer. To make the transition smoother, either from one season to another or as an intermediary before and after fasting, yogis eat kitchari. An Ayurvedic recipe traditionally made of mung beans and white rice, it is very easy to digest, filling, and nutritious. Ayurvedic practitioners use it to purify the blood and cleanse the body. It is also delicious. Very, very delicious. Oh yeah, and super easy and fast to make!
So if you'd like to replace an old eating habit with a new, tasty, purity-enhancing habit, try this recipe for kitchari. Five Keys Yoga tested and approved. Yum!
4 servings, 30 minutes
1 C mung dal
1/2 C white rice
2-3 C water
2 T ghee (clarified butter)
1 T grated, fresh ginger
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp cumin powder
1/2 tsp coriander powder
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
Pinch of hing (asafoetida powder)
Salt to taste
I usually add a few dried, hot chilies (chopped) and any vegetables I have in the fridge, but that is optional.
Cook the Dal and Rice
Temper the Spices
I like to eat kitchari with a big heap of steamed kale. The crunchy texture of the kale goes so well with the creamy kitchari, and the extra fiber completes the meal. I often top with nutritional yeast or Bragg's liquid aminos for flavor and extra vitamins and nutrients. You can also adjust the seasoning to suit your dosha, or Ayurvedic type.
Did you try the recipe? How did it taste?
With spring around the corner, we'll be updating and adding to our class schedule. Let us know when you'd like class!
For the first time ever we are able to offer classes for all our young yogis and yoginis - toddlers through teens! This has been a dream for a long time and we are so excited to offer a full range of classes for kids and young adults. Each class will be led by a certified Yoga for the Special Child practitioner. The 5-week sessions run November 4th - December 10th, with no classes during Thanksgiving weekend. Learn more here.
We are always looking for feedback on best class times and days. If you haven't already (or if things have changed) please fill out this short survey!
With Mother's Day coming up, we are offering a peaceful, 3o-minute relaxation and visualization. Whether you're mom to ten or are just really good at mothering yourself, you deserve a chance to reset your body and mind. Luxuriate in this relaxation, called pratyahara (sensory withdrawal) in the 8 Limbs of Yoga, and then let your spirit be restored with a calming visualization. Visualization is very relaxing and has many positive effects on the body and mind. We'll finish with a few moments of silence to assimilate your work. You will hear a chime at the end, which will signal you to either slowly open your eyes, ready for the day or drift into a restful sleep.
First, prepare yourself to receive the gift you are giving - the gift of your relaxation. Make your surroundings as comfortable as possible. Dim the lights, maybe light some incense or put a few drops of an essential oil in a diffuser, lay under a cozy blanket. Make sure you have enough room to lie down comfortably. When you're ready to start, separate your legs a few feet apart and bring your arms away from your sides slightly. Place your palms face up and close your eyes.
Just some thoughts about yoga as I go...