Nirodhaḥ Yoga Blog
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.
You cannot swim for new horizons until you have courage to lose sight of the shore.
- William Faulkner
There has always been some debate about the role of a spiritual seeker. Many have misidentified calmness as stillness, apathy, or ineffectiveness.
To one not experienced with meditation, mindfulness, and the spiritual path, it may seem like we spend an awful lot of time sitting with our eyes closed, lying on the floor, and/or considering rather than doing. But we know that behind what seems to be a lack of movement is actually an incredible process of evolution.
I’ve heard this described like the appearance of a top. When the top is spun correctly, it seems motionless, even though it is spinning rapidly. This is the behavior of a spiritual seeker as well. Behind the calm is an active, dynamic change-maker.
This is easily observed in a hatha yoga class. When we hold a pose, from the outside it seems like we are still. But internally, we are making minute adjustments to our skeleton, muscles, connective tissues, breathing, and even our mind, in order to hold the pose with steadiness and ease.
This month is both the celebration of the sun at its peak in the northern hemisphere and International Day of Yoga. These two events go together hand in hand. On the day that the sun is most dynamic, we celebrate the power of yoga to transform.
What better way to invoke the power of dynamism this month than by practicing a sun salutation, or Surya Namaskar? Sun salutations are the basis of many styles of yoga and are endlessly adaptable.
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.
Are you just getting started practicing yoga at home? Not sure how to set your space up or what to prepare before you start? This exhaustive article on Porch.com gives you a full run-down on setting yourself and your environment up for success. The article features sixteen different yoga teachers, including our very own, Erin Haddock. Also, check out our post about creating a personal altar at home.
We loved our old logo, which was created in 2012 when we were still only providing one-to-one sessions with kids. A lot has changed since then! So we figured it was time for a little refresh to align more closely with our yoga studio's look and services.
The timing couldn't feel better. It's the start of spring 2021 and we're ready to open up our studio (with a few classes to start) today.
Check out the new color scheme, as we update our website to match.
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.
I am a part of all I have met.
- Lord Tennyson
Sometimes we think of yoga as a solitary activity. It is a way we can learn to tune in and connect with ourselves. This allows our body, breath, and mind to exist in better partnership.
Many yogic practices work to balance the partnered sympathetic and parasympathetic sides of our autonomic nervous system. In this way, we marry the dynamic and the peaceful.
However, yoga isn't for isolating ourselves from the rest of the world. Yoga is learning to condition ourselves so that we can be more compassionate and effective in whatever our dharma (life’s purpose) calls us to do.
As we learned from this pandemic, for many, yoga is a way to connect both with oneself and with like-minded people. This may be through their teacher or perhaps the community (sangha) they are involved in. A sangha lifts and strengthens all involved.
The trick is learning to live yogically with the needs of your sangha around you (and in a way, we are all part of our local, national, and worldwide sanghas). The Yamas and the Niyamas guide us to balance our own needs with the needs of those around us and the universe as a whole.
So partnership is actually a very important part of yoga. Because what I do has an effect on you and what you do has an effect on me, learning to live together is about as important as it gets! Especially now that we are confronting such divisiveness within our social bonds.
As we know, yoga is more than poses but has much to offer us in terms of how we relate to ourselves and the world around us. Together, we can create a much brighter future. I firmly believe that.
Since we also celebrate partnership through Valentine's Day, February is the perfect month to explore partnership within our yoga practice. Luckily, there are many yoga poses we can explore with a partner, whether that partner is familial, platonic, or romantic.
I invite you to try out this handy-dandy partner yoga sequence with your favorite yoga buddy. If you're looking for more, you and your buddy are welcome to join us on Valentine's Day for a special Partner Yoga class. Members get 50% off!
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.
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.