Nirodhaḥ Yoga Blog
Empathy nurtures wisdom.
- Suzy Kassem
You may have read on our blog before that we select our themes for each month well in advance and yet somehow, the themes seem to so neatly align with what actually materializes. So when we selected our themes for May of 2022, which revolve around prenatal yoga and nurturance, I had no idea I would be celebrating my very first Mother’s Day as a mother to a newborn son this month as well.
As I write this, snow is falling outside fast and spring feels a long way away. At the moment, I am pregnant - in my third trimester to be precise - but the end of this pregnancy seems far away as well.
I am being guided, and always have been, by the Divine Mother within me. She shows me how to prepare myself and my surroundings for the profound shift that is about to take place.
All pregnancies are different and I have been extremely fortunate to (so far) have had a very easy pregnancy. Much of this is the luck of the draw. But fortune always favors the prepared and I cannot dismiss the effect yoga has had on my body and mind in preparation for this shift into motherhood.
What I have heard and observed is that parenthood is about creating best laid plans and simultaneously, the ability to adapt to the unexpected. This is essentially what yoga embodies and teaches.
Yoga has taught me how to be in tune with my body, how to advocate for what it needs, and how to adapt circumstances to create ease and stability in my bones and muscles.
Yoga has taught me the correct way to breathe. Practicing yoga has integrated this way of breathing into my entire being. It has prepared me to retain the fullness of my breath during moments of fear, anger, and sadness and let go of as much as possible, in preparation for the next breath . . . the next moment . . . the next chapter.
Yoga has taught me that I am not my mind; that I observe my mind only. It has taught me that all phenomena I experience are a way of transcending the limitations of this flesh-and-bones body, into the experience of the Divine Mother, which is truth, knowledge, and bliss.
Perhaps home is not a place but simply an irrevocable condition.
- James Baldwin
A beautiful thing has arisen since covid-19 has changed the world. Many of us are evaluating how to simplify our lives. Increasing simplicity is one of the gifts of yoga.
Although many of our students crave the setting, structure, and community that a yoga studio provides, some of our students are embracing the ability to practice yoga with their favorite teachers from home. In fact, we’ve welcomed students “at the studio,” who are streaming yoga classes online from their homes on multiple continents, in multiple states, in the suburbs of Chicago, as well as right down the street.
Streaming yoga classes online has allowed us to open ourselves to a new mode of accessibility. After all, accessibility is the cornerstone of our studio.
Although we've had our challenges, I think we’ve excelled at providing the same sense of community and welcoming that we pride ourselves in providing at our classes in person, to those of our students joining us for yoga online. That is the benefit of a small studio: personal attention. We get to know our students, their goals, and their yoga practices in the intimate class sizes we provide.
However, without some forethought, I think taking yoga classes at home can cause students to miss out on some of the benefits a yoga studio provides. So if you’re interested in taking online yoga classes at home or just want a peaceful retreat, here are some tips for creating the ideal environment for your at home yoga studio.
And now ask in your heart, “How shall we distinguish that which is good in pleasure from that which is not good?”
Go to your fields and your gardens, and you shall learn that it is the pleasure of the bee to gather honey of the flower,
But it is also the pleasure of the flower to yield its honey to the bee.
For to the bee a flower is the fountain of life,
And to the flower a bee is a messenger of love,
And to both, bee and flower, the giving and the receiving of pleasure is a need and an ecstasy.
- Khalil Gibron
When we dive deep, our yoga practice teaches us how to be of service. Swami Satchidananda taught us that service-surrender (or non-attachment to the result of your service) is the way to live a peaceful, easeful, and useful life.
Act in a way that benefits someone, harms no one, and is performed without attachment to the result.
A tall order, for sure, but that is what yogic philosophy regards as a perfect act. So we are always returning to this idea when providing classes or finding ways to welcome you to the studio, even if that visit is virtual.
How can we be of service to you? This includes how all of our teachers serve our students and also how Rita and I serve our teachers.
What can we provide that will allow you to connect more deeply with your practice of yoga? Not just poses, but your outlook on the world and yourself as well.
In the last year or so, I have been exploring yogic philosophy on this blog as a way to make connections for myself about how my yoga sadhana (daily routine) and the way I conduct the rest of my life interact.
I have tried to be open about how my own life has been transformed through my sadhana. In being vulnerable, I hope to give courage to anyone who might be struggling with the vulnerabilities that we are learning to face this year (and realistically, all the time).
I am not attached to this goal because just by writing, I have helped give courage to myself. The act of writing is done for its own sake.
Rita and I have been brainstorming in the background for several months now, trying to figure out ways to serve you even better next year. This has been greatly helped by the addition of our fantastic social media manager, Lauren, who has lots of fun tricks up her sleeves.
And of course, our teachers just continue to take our ideas and run with them! It's so fantastic to see their perspectives, toolkits, and styles getting richer and more specific, as we all work on this common goal of serving our lovely students.
Next year, I plan to re-calibrate the focus of this blog onto the practice of yoga, rather than the philosophy. After all, as our beloved teacher, Sonia Sumar says, "too much theory intoxicates."
In yoga, we have to practice to learn. With our whole heart, consistently, and for a long time, if we want to be firmly grounded in it (Yoga Sutras, I.14). Luckily, to those of us who are eager, the attainment of yoga comes faster (Yoga Sutras, I.21).
So as we commit to new visions for 2021, let's hold our yoga sadhana as one of our highest priorities, whether that looks like classes in the studio, outdoors, live-streamed, pre-recorded, or self-led.
But if you are looking for extra special ways to commit to your practice, do we have some goodies for you! Rita will lead a special Chakra themed Restorative Yoga class in honor of the Winter Solstice. I am leading a pajama party yoga class on the morning of Christmas Eve, and we'll team up with Kim to provide our third annual Reflect & Restore Workshop on New Year’s Eve, which is the perfect time to release the last year, create a vision for the next, and be guided toward bliss by the restorative yoga poses and heavenly essential oils. I will also teach a four-week Yoga for Beginners class on Saturdays in January, just in case you know anyone with yoga resolutions.
Whatever your plans this holiday season, we hope that they are filled with the ease and flow of giving and receiving freely. And may your yoga practice become even more firmly grounded in 2021.
"For me, every hour is grace. And I feel gratitude in my heart each time I can meet someone and look at his or her smile."
- Elie Weisel
I am writing this in early October but by the time this is published, election day will have come and gone. We may or may not have election results yet. And I’m anticipating that whatever the outcome, this week will be tense and fractious.
How lovely that we have a holiday that reminds us to be thankful later this month. Gratitude is about living in grace. If you navigate over to our About Us page, you’ll see this quote by Swami Satchidananda guides our every decision at 5KY.
The goal of yoga and the birthright of every individual is a body of optimum health and strength, senses under total control, a mind well-disciplined, clear and calm, an intellect as sharp as a razor, a will as strong and pliable as steel, a heart full of unconditional love and compassion, an ego as pure as crystal, and a life filled with Supreme Peace and Joy.
That is grace. Stepping into our natural birthright of calm, strong, and balanced body, mind, and emotions. It isn’t something that we need to do, per se. It is what we are.
Swamiji liked to joke (though there’s always an element of truth in his humor) that his religion wasn’t Hinduism but un-doism. Yoga can help us peel away the layers of our past experience that get in the way of this birthright.
Maybe this sounds really difficult. The idea of having a will that’s as strong and pliable as steel or an ego as pure as crystal can feel very intimidating.
The good news is, yoga teaches that this is our natural state. It’s only the other things that unbalance our equilibrium.
Especially as a "down-to-earth" Midwesterner, it sometimes feels uncomfortable to admit to aiming for a goal so lofty. Like, who do I think I am to believe I have a pure ego?
But this is what I absolutely love about yoga. We don’t have to be or feel a certain way to get in touch with this birthright.
Yes, many of us will never attain enlightenment (at least in this lifetime) and no one is perfect, even those that are enlightened. We are all human. We all make mistakes. But that doesn’t mean we can’t get the benefits of grace in the here and now.
In fact, the very first Sutra in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is translated to “Now the exposition of Yoga is being made.” It indicates that at every moment, we have a choice of whether to practice Yoga. To live our union with ourselves and with all other things.
Because here and now is where we practice. Not in the past and not in the future. Now. At any moment in time, we have the choice to be filled with supreme peace and joy. Nothing external can stop this opportunity, though external things can distract us from it.
As we wrap up this difficult year and hope for a bright 2021, let’s not forget to feel grateful for the beautiful things we have in our lives right now. Let’s live in grace together.
In honor of giving thanks, I would like to leave you with a meal prayer we use in Yoga for the Special Child and Integral Yoga. An audio recording of the meal prayer is also below.
Wishing you a month filled with grace and gratitude!
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...
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Five Keys is fantastic! The studio is lovely and soothing, and the teachers are very caring and attentive.
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