Nirodhaḥ Yoga Blog
Yoga is the path, and the chakras are the map.
- Anodea Judith
One of the best aspects of yogic philosophy for me is the integration of the head and the heart. Having spent so much of my early life “trapped in my head,” delving deeper into yoga both challenged me to get out of my head and into my body (or heart) and liberated me from experiencing the world in only one dimension.
By that I mean yoga is a pathway toward more heartfelt living but is grounded in real, physical experience. As westerners, we sometimes forget how much knowledge the western medical world has only learned relatively recently, has been passed down in eastern medicine for centuries.
It is always a big treat to talk shop with other eastern medicine practitioners, such as Chinese medicine, shiatsu, etc., because so many of the concepts overlap with the traditional Indian view of medicine and the body. I am always flabbergasted by how similar the energy channels in Chinese medicine are to their Ayurvedic representation.
Now, in western medicine, we are learning that there are subtle channels of communication in a living body that have been unobservable in cadavers. Only recently has western medicine started to realize the wisdom that comes from eastern traditions.
It is this way with the Chakras too. It would be understandable if a person thought that the Chakras were woo-woo. It’s true that some unscrupulous people pretend that simply placing the correct rock over the area of a chakra will act as a panacea. These people do eastern medicine a disservice by simplifying what should be the personal study of a lifetime to something you can pay someone else to unblock in a few hours.
So let’s demystify the Chakras a little bit this month. Because the Chakras are not mystical. Although they are a part of the subtle body, they correspond to physical locations in the body and are eminently practical.
Chakras have been described traditionally as wheels of energy in the body (chakra means wheel). They are associated with areas of the body where many nerves converge, which is called a nerve plexus. In this way, they are places where the body and the nervous system are in close contact.
If some trauma, such as a physical injury happens to the site of a nerve plexus (or to a nerve, which affects a nerve plexus), this may have an effect on the nervous system. Similarly, if a person’s nervous system experiences a trauma, this may affect specific nerves and/or nerve plexuses.
One example that is commonly used within yoga is the effect of stress on the vagus nerve. When well-balanced, the vagus nerve will downshift the nervous system when the body is under stress. If the vagus nerve is overstimulated we may faint. If it is understimulated, we may crack under pressure. The vagus nerve in turn regulates the functioning of many internal organs and their physiology, such as heart rate, digestion, and respiration.
Similarly, the nerve plexuses of the body that are related to various Chakras regulate a symphony of experience from the physical to the downright emotional. The four primary nerve plexuses in the body (sacral, lumbar, brachial, and cervical), along with the coccygeal plexus, the heart, and the brain, are all represented within the Chakra system.
This system goes beyond the physical explanation of these sites - that specific plexuses innervate specific areas of the body - and into the emotional. Again, combining the head and the heart. This idea may be where some think the Chakras devolve into woo-woo, because more subtle aspects of ourselves are at this point, unprovable.
But isn’t it true that we talk about feeling ungrounded when describing issues related to the coccygeal plexus? That sexual urges come from our loins? When we feel powerless, doesn’t it often feel like a punch in the gut? Or when we are in love, we feel our heart flutter? When we don’t know what to say, doesn’t our voice catch in our throat? And when we feel confused, our head feels cluttered?
So while I can’t say that practicing Ustrasana (camel pose) will resolve any and all issues related to our throat and heart chakras, doesn’t it make sense that if tight, opening this area may improve not only the physical manifestations of such a block but the emotional ones as well?
If that sounds like a reasonable hypothesis, I invite you to try a little experiment in your body. Laura is leading a seven week series on the Chakras starting January 23rd. We’d love to welcome you to one or all seven of these classes in order to explore the effect of yoga on these seats of innervation and inspiration, the Chakras.
Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
We’ve been preparing to switch from the scheduling software we’ve been using since opening to a new one, called Ribbon. Switching to Ribbon is going to allow us to make things even more user friendly for our students, as well as create new, exciting features.
Starting with this one! We now have a brand new On-Demand Yoga Class page. Use your existing unlimited pass to watch as many on-demand classes as you want on "Yogaflix" or rent them separately.
(Do you have a pass or credits on your account? You should have already received an email about signing into your new account on Ribbon. Please let us know if you did not receive one.)
We’ve been working on these changes for over a month to ensure that the transition is as smooth as possible. Even so, a big change like this may temporarily create some turbulence.
Honestly, at the beginning of the process, I felt quite overwhelmed. There were so many things to do: set up classes and passes, upload our on-demand videos, update the plugins on our website, and transfer our students’ accounts.
It was good to be reminded of this month’s theme, which is flow. As easy as the living can be in the summer, sometimes we pack our days with so many plans and goals and activities. It’s helpful to remember to flow peacefully throughout, like the ripples on our beautiful lake.
How you do the little things is how you do everything.
- Sharon Pearson
In the YSC Part 2 training last month, Renata (Sonia Sumar’s daughter) was breaking down the pose Yoga Nidrasana to our class one morning.
This pose requires a fine balance of flexibility and strength: open hips and shoulders, flexible spine, and a strong core. She was asking us to slow down and do the pose step-by-step.
THE YAMAS AND NIYAMAS
These great vows are universal, not limited by class, place, time or circumstance.
- Patanjali, Yoga Sutras 2.31
Many people (yours truly included) begin yoga by taking a yoga class with lots and lots of asanas, aka yoga poses. We can become fascinated by our bodies’ abilities and overcome some physical limitations through regular, focused practice. However, if we are too attracted to the physical aspects of yoga, we will completely block further development on the more subtle aspects of ourselves.
This is why the Yoga Sutras list two limbs of Raja Yoga (or Ashtanga Yoga) before the third limb, asana. The Yamas and Niyamas are like the dos and don’ts of yoga. They guide us to practice yoga ethically, so that we don’t create additional problems for ourselves or others. They are the foundation of yoga practice, which is why they are listed first.
Truth is one; paths are many.
- Sri Swami Satchidananda
What kind of yoga do you practice? For those who don’t practice yoga or dabble in it only once in a while, this is a logical question.
Outwardly, it seems like there are different types of yoga. Hatha, vinyasa, and ashtanga are some of the different types of yoga, right? (What’s the difference?)
If you’re just getting started in exploring yoga, congratulations and welcome! You might want to look at this infographic to get a sense of what kind of practices are included in the Integral Yoga tradition, which is the tradition Rita (my co-director) and I follow.
When I talk with committed students of yoga (and wow, have we been having some interesting discussions in our Yoga Sutras study group this past month!), there’s often a sense of understanding between us. “You know what yoga really is. You feel it.”
Because yoga is not entirely logical. Yes, you can apply logic to yoga to deduce how yoga consistently produces its effects when practiced for a long time, with one’s whole heart, and without break.
But that is only one side of yoga - the “science side” if you will - the what and how. There is also the art of yoga and that you can only feel. The art of yoga answers why we practice yoga.
You are the sky. Everything else - it's just the weather.
- Pema Chödrön
A lot has been written about the many benefits of yoga, from the body to the mind. However, we sometimes miss the true goal of yoga, which is its ultimate benefit.
Certainly, a flexible, strong, and balanced body is a perk in itself. This year has really opened our eyes to the preciousness of a full, clear, deep breath. And I think we can all get on board with the idea of calming our minds.
You may even be aware of the benefit others get from your yoga practice. But to know the ultimate benefit of yoga, we need to understand the translation of the word “Yoga,” which means to yoke or unite.
A SIMPLE YOGA SEQUENCE FOR BEGINNERS
The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be kindled.
For January, we focus on the Beginner’s Mind. January is a month when many of us elevate our choices and commit to new ways of being. This is the month when we see New Year’s resolution setters and many beginning yoga students.
We love welcoming some of the newest yogins (yoga practitioners) to the art and science of yoga. Talk to any of our teachers or students and you’ll find we are all eager to share our experience of our developing yoga practice, which I think starts with the community you are in (in Sanskrit, this is called Sangha).
I just love how our regular students embrace new students. This is the kind of studio where you are not anonymous. It takes courage to be seen. But the relationships that have developed within the four walls of 1818 W. Belmont (and even in an online or hybrid format, everyone is still saying hello to one another, sharing their pets, etc.) show how impactful a smile or an encouraging word can be, especially in our darkest hours.
That is what yoga is. Yes, you’re probably going to feel amazing after your first (or millionth) yoga class. Yes, your mind is likely going to feel calmer and your emotions and energy levels more balanced. But this is all in service of turning the positive state of being developed through yoga into blessings for the entire world.
Yoga develops union, not simply between mind-breath-body but between ourselves and the rest of the universe. It helps us feel at home in our bodies and on this planet. Then we become empowered to welcome others into this state of being “at home”.
As much as we love welcoming new yoga practitioners at 5KY, I think it may be a bit of a selfish act, to be honest. Because meeting new students helps remind us of what yoga is like at the very beginning. The transcendence of that first breakthrough.
I remember being very resistant to the idea of practicing yoga before I tried it. I thought it was a bit twee. After an old injury worsened in my foot, I decided I would have to swap the dance classes I was taking in my theater program to a gentler yoga practice.
My first teacher was an alumna of the school, whose physical condition and control over her body amazed and inspired me as a performer. So I set about the practice and discovered that not only did I feel stronger and more capable, I also felt a sense of relaxation and well-being I had only ever felt after exhausting running sessions that were roughing up my foot.
When I left college, I was sold on yoga but still very skeptical about the spiritual aspects of it. I didn’t want to be indoctrinated or chanting for things I didn’t know what they meant. Nevertheless, I was very committed to practicing yoga (though I now understand the only part of yoga I was practicing at the time were asana or yoga poses) a few times a week.
This is the way many of us enter yoga. Fighting and struggling with the physical condition of our bodies (at least, I did). It is natural to start there because the body is the only part of ourselves that is physically tangible. We may feel it is the only thing we actually have control over.
Then I met my spiritual teacher or Guru, Sivakami Sonia Sumar. After surgery on my foot, the financial bottom dropping out in 2008, and a traumatic experience post-college, I was very closed off and defensive. It was like my head was separated from my body, even after practicing yoga consistently with a variety of teachers for two years.
On the very last day of the program I was attending with Sivakami, she asked us to talk about something which we wanted to work on letting go of. Not really knowing why I began to cry after my turn.
For many years when I was a bit younger, I had prided myself on not crying easily. But now, the tears wouldn’t stop. They flooded my eyes through the entire hour and a half long yoga practice, including the 15-minute deep relaxation at the end.
I was terribly embarrassed to have lost control over my emotions during class. So I skipped our first of only two meals at the ashram where I was staying and slept deeply. When I woke up, I felt like I had all this weight lifted off my shoulders.
That afternoon, we were given a puja (which is an act of worship) by a swami from India, all standing around a small Ganesh statue in a grove of palm trees. I thought that this could be my opportunity to start anew. My heart had finally opened.
It was at this point that I decided to have faith in Sivakami and therefore, the methodology of yoga as a complete practice, not just yoga poses. I mean, if she could break down years of walls I’d build up in six days with that stuff, what could she do in six years? What about 60?
This was when I could officially call myself a beginner at yoga because I was finally practicing all the components of yoga with my whole heart. Over my 10+ years studying with Sivakami and at the Integral Yoga Institute to become a Yoga Therapist, my scientific and personal understanding deepened about why these practices (physical, mental, and spiritual) are so beneficial.
This is why the fit of the teacher with the student is paramount. Your teacher is there to inspire you to open your heart and go further into your practice. Otherwise, we’re just spinning our wheels.
Some people are extraordinary and able to do all this without a teacher. They have connected to the Guru within (Guru literally means remover of the darkness: Gu - darkness, Ru - remover) without the help of a Guru in the form of a person.
I think most of us would benefit from a connection to a person who has already walked the path and can give us directions. For some, they can read books and get inspired by the words of Gurus from the past and feel that spark of inspiration. I think I needed a Brazilian woman who could give me a big, Brazilian hug.
So whenever someone tells me they’re a beginning yoga student, I instantly think of this entire story and how I feel now and how yoga has helped me become stronger and more balanced. I think all longtime yogins have a story about their journey practicing yoga.
Your story about why you, as a beginner, are practicing yoga reminds us to approach our own practice with the mind of a beginner. Because the mind of the beginner has no preconceptions and is absorbing so much information, it has to remain in the moment.
For this reason, beginners inspire experienced practitioners as well. We are so excited for you to start your own journey!
But you may be wondering, how do I get started with yoga? After all, there are so many options: different yoga studios, different yoga teachers, different yoga apps.
So I would love to give any beginning yoga students out there a short introduction to a complete hatha yoga practice according to the lineage I am in, which descends from Integral Yoga and the Sivananda tradition of hatha yoga.
This year, we’ll be posting helpful resources on our blog each month, from practice guides on sun salutations, breath work, and meditation, to explanations of why yoga specific practices are beneficial to us.
If you’re looking for more personalized attention from a live instructor, I am also hosting a Yoga for Beginners four-week workshop. I’d love to see you there!
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!
“All is connected… no one thing can change by itself.”
- Paul Hawken
Is there anything harder than change? Even positive changes can create inner resistance.
Think about any time you've tried to make changes to improve your health. Or made a big move to another city or home. Or changed jobs or even your career. All are changes we may deeply desire and yet each comes with inherent challenges.
On a personal level, my yoga practice has led me to and through many challenging changes. I suspect many of us have had to confront and change various uncomfortable thoughts and behaviors that were brought to light through our practice of this great art and science.
Although yoga is a practice that leads us to develop greater joy, that doesn't mean these changes are always smooth sailing. Some of the most uncomfortable moments I've encountered through my practice have led me to the most meaningful insights.
In fact, the first time I connected with my practice on an emotional level, I wept through an entire class. After class, I felt like a new person.
There are times, laying in savasana that I have felt a deep sense of discomfort. With time and lots of practice, this feeling rarely surfaces in me anymore.
And I have had personal patterns pointed out to me by my teacher that truly stung. But her loving refinement is what has helped me start to dis-identify with the quagmire of attraction and aversion that is the mind.
Three years ago, we opened 5KY's physical location after three years of being a mobile-based business, and prior to that, four years of private practice working within clinics. Before 1818 Belmont, my focus was centered on opening a yoga studio, hoping this would stabilize my business. Only after the studio opened did I fully realize how many changes we would have to navigate before any kind of stability could be achieved.
I won't lie, there have been times the uncertainty of all this change has left me wondering if I should continue. I'm so glad I did. Witnessing the blooming of the studio and all the relationships contained within over the last three years has been joyous. That is not even mentioning the joy I feel in being a part of this community during the current moment of turmoil and chaos.
We are all living through a time of tremendous and tumultuous change. Whatever you were doing last year, I think I can safely bet that you did not envision this year being so vastly different from 2019.
We're simultaneously hoping for stability after all the continual change and so eager for things to change back to what they were or some semblance thereof.
Luckily, periods of change - whether personal or worldwide - can usher in greater security and stability. We just need to learn how to harness the power of change for good. How to sail through change effortlessly?
Breathe Through Fear
The most immediate remedy we have available in times of distress is our breath. Whether we are conscious of it or not, our breath is always changing. It is an easy metaphor for our experience of external changes.
The breath comes and goes. We cannot breathe in without breathing out first, and we cannot breathe out without an in-breath preceding.
One of my very favorite passages in the Bhagavad Gita concerns Karma Yoga, which is the yoga of action and renunciation. Krishna tells Arjuna, “some offer the out breath as sacrifice to the in breath, and the in breath to the out breath.” (4.29) Swami Satchidananda clarifies in his commentary on this passage, “Your breathing itself becomes a sacrifice. It’s happening anyway; just become conscious of it, that’s all.” (The Living Gita, p.62)
In the same way, in order to make space for the new, we may have to sacrifice certain things. Even if we know it’s time to let them go, the change leads to the unknown and may feel scary.
Breathing well directly calms the nervous system, preparing us to meet this change. It also reminds us that giving and receiving in equal measure is the law of nature.
Attend to the Present Moment
Another deceptively powerful tool we have in our arsenal is mindfulness. If we could just stop and observe for a few moments, we may be able to make skillful choices even in the midst of change or difficulties.
One technique that I like to use is from the mindfulness meditation teacher Tara Brach. She suggests the acronym RAIN when tending a disturbed mind. Recognize, allow, investigate, and nurture.
"Recognize what is happening." This is as simple as naming it: “I’m worried,” “I feel nervous,” etc.
"Allow the experience to be there, just as it is." It may feel uncomfortable at first, particularly if we’ve been resisting the feeling that is disturbing us. But when we give permission for the feeling to exist, some of the power is taken away, and we might be able to lessen its grip.
"Investigate with interest and care." Compassionately delving into our thoughts and feelings to get to the root of them is the way we can make changes to our emotional reactions. We can ask why do we feel that way? In what circumstances? What events in our past have shaped our reaction here?
"Nurture with self-compassion." We need to offer ourselves the same care that a parent would give a child that was upset by change. As we release the fear bit by bit, we make space for courage.
Trust Yourself and if You Can’t Do That, Trust the Process
Trust is a major part of a yogin’s Sadhana (daily practice). Why else would we get up at the crack of dawn to meditate or stop at the studio after a long day at work for a hatha yoga class or dedicate ourselves to the study of the Bhagavad Gita, Yoga Sutras, or any other texts of wisdom?
We trust that this process will refine us. After a while of practicing consistently, we can feel the changes in our bodies. This gives us the courage to continue going deeper, revealing new challenges and changes over time.
Admittedly, at times it can be challenging to trust ourselves. To me, this is particularly evident at times of great upheaval and re-ordering in my life.
So in that case, I trust in the process and method of Yoga. When I trust in Yoga, I don’t have to rely on only my own experience. I can see that anyone practicing consistently and dedicatedly will receive the benefits of that practice. It’s simply cause and effect.
I observe these changes for good happening in the people I practice with. And I know that I can trust in the process, which is inevitably fluid.
I am going to challenge myself to accept the fluidity of our present moment and welcome these changes, whatever they may be. This could be a moment of progress, where we create a better world. Because things can't get better unless they change.
The only thing harder than living through change is waiting for change to come. So let's embrace this moment and use it for the greater good.
Swami Sachidananda. The Living Gita: The Complete Bhagavad Gita. Buckingham, VA: Integral Yoga Publications, 1988.
Just some thoughts about yoga as I go...
FIVE KEYS YOGA
WHAT OUR CLIENTS SAY
Five Keys is fantastic! The studio is lovely and soothing, and the teachers are very caring and attentive.
I've ... probably been to 25 different yoga studios. This is one of the most welcoming, calming spaces with very talented instructors.
I love this yoga studio. It's a great balance of a good workout and relaxation and feels like a real community.
An ideal studio for someone new to yoga.