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.
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.
I'm going to be honest, I'm not a natural at self-care. Oh sure, I'm pretty good about meditating, doing yoga regularly, and eating relatively healthfully; but all of those things I can easily justify as "business-care". I can't be a good teacher if I don't maintain my own practice. It's only recently that I've noticed how essential self-care is within my practice, as both a person and a business-owner.
As you'd probably expect, I'm a pretty bendy person. This has always been the case. But this flexibility comes with a dark side, as I easily injure my ligaments and tendons, and have a recurring thing where my knee cap pops over to one side. Once, a doctor even cautioned me to wear orthotics to prevent the collapse of the arches of
I found an old article in Yoga Chicago about Sonia Sumar, who trained Jennie and I in the Yoga for the Special Child (YSC) method. Sonia is the "guru" of teaching yoga to children with special needs. She developed YSC after her daughter was born with Down Syndrome in 1972.
This article shows her working in her center in Evanston - where she taught for many years - though she now lives in Florida. At Five Keys Yoga, we aim to continue her legacy in Chicagoland by providing the Yoga for the Special Child method and classes that welcome adults with special needs. We are honored to serve the special needs population in Chicago.
Are you interested in Yoga for the Special Child? Check out information about our kids classes here.
This uplifting article on Quartz reports on a successful program to teach yoga to ex-militants and victims of the war in Colombia. Understandably, many of these Colombians are experiencing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It is especially exciting to see that the organization running this program, Dunna: Alternativas Creativas Para la Paz (Creative Alternatives for Peace) collected data on the participants' experience. I am looking forward to seeing where Dunna's research goes.
This is what yoga is all about! Teaching students to be aware of the universe of sensation within us and to dis-identify with the pain that eventually comes when our inner world confronts the outer world. This is especially important for people who have experienced violent infringements on their inner world. Yoga also offers a safe space for those who have committed these infringements to practice acceptance and responsibility. Moving through the body and breath to confront violence and trauma is proving to be a powerful practice. Imagine if we were to offer yoga to anyone recovering from the trauma of violence. I, for one, believe the world would be a more peaceful place.
Can you see this kind of program expanding stateside?
An interview with Sonia Sumar was published in Illumine Chicagoland last year. Sonia describes how her interest in yoga began, her relationship with her daughter, who was born with Downs Syndrome, and how Sonia developed Yoga for the Special Child.
This inspiring woman ignited my passion for yoga and kindled my interest in breaking down barriers of access to yoga. Sonia teaches that anyone can benefit from a yogic lifestyle. Yoga isn't about contorting your body into esoteric positions. The goal of yoga is "striving to live harmoniously as members of one universal family."
If you'd like to be inspired by Sonia, you're in luck! She is coming to Chicago in late April. Visit Yoga for the Special Child for information about this incredible training.
Just some thoughts about yoga as I go...