Nirodhaḥ Yoga Blog
"There are no shortcuts to any place worth going."
- Beverly Sills
I just finished the first 100 hours of my second 200-Hour Yoga Teacher Training with Yoga for the Special Child. Many of our students at 5KY love to take classes with us after we’ve attended a teacher training with YSC because we come back filled with new inspiration.
This time is no different, especially because I have not taken this program for a long time. I am uncovering forgotten and incomplete ideas that had surfaced when I took my first teacher training.
This is similar to the way we approach the Yoga Sutras. The Sutras are meant to be read again and again because your understanding of them develops more each time. Life brings pleasures and pains and the meaning of the Sutras becomes clearer as you confront these challenges.
And so although I have read the Sutras and studied with my teacher many times, certain things are becoming clearer to me as I go deeper. As my teacher says very often, “there will be no shortcuts on the path of yoga.” We will need determination and perseverance to reach the goal.
One of the concepts we discussed in the TT was pratipaksa bhavana (pronounced prat-ee-pak-sha bha-va-na). Pratipaksa bhavana literally means manifestation of or meditation upon the opposite thought. The Sutra this is introduced in (2.33) says that when we are “disturbed by negative thoughts, opposite [positive] ones should be thought of.”
We have the power to change our own mind and control which thoughts we allow to enter.
This is a very powerful Sutra and concept, as it indicates we have the power to change our own mind and control which thoughts we allow to enter. What is the virtue we need to develop to practice pratipaksa bhavana? Determination.
One of the participants in the teacher training mentioned that this Sutra comes within the group of Sutras discussing the Yamas and Niyamas (the “dos and don’ts” of Raja Yoga). She drew a relationship between pratipaksa bhavana and the first two limbs of Raja Yoga that I had never noticed before.
She suggested that when we fall short of our goals - to live righteously and love unconditionally - it is not helpful to dwell in bad feelings about our misapplication of these principles into our life. Sutra 2.33 is placed within the discussion of the Yamas and Niyamas to remind us of a tool we can cultivate when faced with disappointment in our own behavior.
Say I have violent thoughts or said violent words (lack of ahimsa), lie to someone (lack of satya), take credit for something that isn’t mine (lack of asteya), overeat (lack of brahmacarya), or hang onto a situation that isn’t good for me (lack of aparigraha). In other words, if I fail to practice the Yamas.
Or maybe I have trouble keeping my space clean (lack of saucha), feel discontent about life’s circumstances (lack of santosha), lash out when hurt (lack of tapah), don’t make time for self-improvement (lack of svadhyaya), or can’t let go of control (lack of Ishvara pranidhana). And I fail to practice the Niyamas.
Instead of thinking “wow, I’m a really violent, lying, thieving, gluttonous, greedy person. I can’t believe I’m so impure, malcontent, reactive, lazy, and controlling,” we should think opposite, positive thoughts instead.
Our mind and therefore, our character is made up of these tendencies.
When we dwell in these negative thoughts, we only increase our tendency to express them. Our mind and therefore, our character is made up of these tendencies. So we have the power to change them by our will and determination.
So instead, when we fail to meet our goal, let’s think things like “I am trying. Look! I just noticed that I wasn’t following the Yamas and Niyamas. That is really hard to do. I must be making progress. Next time I will do even better. I am proud that I’m trying to make positive changes in my mind and my life.”
Eventually, you might try challenging yourself to think, “What?! That’s not true. I may have slipped up this time but I’m doing my best. I really am a peaceful, truthful, respectful, moderate, and generous person. I am pure, content, accepting, thoughtful, and surrender myself to my place in the universe. I’m going to keep learning, applying, and refining my understanding of these universal principles to get better and better every day.”
I will offer one more piece of advice from my incredible teacher, Sonia Sumar. She suggested that if we are confronted by a negative thought (and let’s get real, we all have intrusive thoughts sometimes) to “sit it down” in front of you and have a conversation with it.
Question it. “Where do you come from? Why do you always come up in this situation? Why do I feel this way when so-and-so does that? Why have I not resolved these feelings yet?” (Notice that all of these questions are about myself and not "the other.") It’s not psychoanalysis we’re doing. We are letting these thoughts come to the surface to let them go through our yoga and meditation practice.
Once we have an idea of where these thoughts come from, it’s so much easier to figure out what the opposite, positive thought is. Then, we just work on affirming the positive ones and letting go of the negative ones.
That is the real work of determination. It is not stuffing challenging thoughts down or hiding them from ourselves. It is allowing challenges to surface and then having the guts to confront and transform them.
With everything we are facing right now, transforming the challenges in front of us is absolutely essential. This is how our yoga moves off our mat and into the world.
I admit that I am not naturally gifted at patience. When I was a kid, my parents often had to remind me that I didn’t need to finish a big project in one day.
In our slowly reopening world, we are all being challenged to display a little more patience. I know that waiting for the studio to reopen fully has been testing the patience of our students and team alike.
I commend our community for being so careful during the stay at home order and as we progress through the pandemic’s phases. I have heard many heartening stories about how you are taking care of yourselves and others. I am really proud to be a part of such a compassionate and thoughtful group!
While we will gradually open up a bit more this month, 5KY's management team is very conscious of our duty to keep our community safe. We know that some of you will want to return to classes at the studio right away and others will prefer to keep streaming our online classes at home.
We want to honor both choices. We are taking this time to implement new systems to make sure the messy middle of this pandemic is as safe and smooth for you as possible.
Our aim is to open a couple of in-studio classes by mid-July to start. In the meantime, don't forget we are co-hosting a fundraiser with The FIT Institute for My Block, My Hood, My City with a Rooftop Yoga class on July 11th!
I think we are all realizing that (safely) reopening is going to take more time and effort than we initially envisioned early this spring. The phases may not proceed neatly. At times it may even feel like we are moving backward.
Even so, we are making progress little by little. Someday, things will come back to a sense of normalcy. But until then, our patience is being tested.
In this spirit, I’d like to offer some practical tips on developing patience I’ve gathered as I work to reform my own impatience.
Some of the ideas are tools we can use in our yoga and meditation practice. These are things we can work on every time we return to our mat or meditation cushion.
The rest are activities I turn to when strong feelings of impatience rear up every so often. These activities can be done with regularity on any schedule that suits you.
In the end, we should know the nature of impermanence and trust that the discomfort will pass as we continue to work on ourselves. I hope that we will all be able to channel this potent energy into positive changes that last well beyond the current moment.
Five Keys Yoga Studio joins in mourning the horrific and senseless deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and the many other lives of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) lost to systematic racism and police violence. We condemn the loss of these lives and the trauma it inflicts upon innocent families and communities.
We stand with those in our Chicago community and nationwide who battle discrimination every day of their lives. The destruction of property exhibited by bad actors of civil liberty are not reflective of a community of underrepresented individuals trying to make the best life for their families, friends and selves. We believe strongly that diversity is what makes this country and city so very special.
We are one race of people looking for a better life and anyone who believes otherwise is part of the problem. Together, as a unified voice against injustice we have the ability to make real change.
June brings many rays of sunshine - the summer solstice, International Day of Yoga, and Father's Day are all celebrated June 21st this year!
Although Father's Day comes the month after Mother's Day, dads don't come after moms in our hearts. The order of these holidays seems to express the innate humility fathers embody. It is this humility that we celebrate as our theme this month.
Nobody cares whether you can put your legs behind your head in your coffin.
- Rod Stryker
The hallmark of care-taking is a willingness to set aside one's ego and humble oneself to the circumstances. I think of some of the great fathers I know, patiently explaining a complicated concept in a way their five year old can understand, practicing yoga with a child hanging off of them, or offering reassuring guidance in moments of challenge.
These are all expressions of humility. When we step aside to let the one growing and learning accomplish their goals on their own, but remain a constant support in the wings.
Much like we can all practice motherhood with ourselves, so we can father ourselves - remaining consistent and having faith we'll figure it out if we keep going. Creating the power to change without our ego clouding the way.
Yoga and meditation are fantastic training grounds for humility. In fact, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali warn about letting your ego get in the way. Once a person becomes adept at a few yoga poses and sitting still in meditation, the ego may start to feel pretty proud.
While working to continually improve within your practice is a good thing, once the ego is involved, development is halted. The ego tends to hold on to the final product, whereas the heart prioritizes the process.
Once the ego has determined "I've accomplished it," no further progress is possible. But a heart-centered approach is continually evolving, responsive to life as it is right now. Not holding onto a fancy pose you did ten years ago but now hurts.
Our teacher, Sonia Sumar, often tells us we need to "stop fighting with the position." She explains that we must find the zero-point of each position, where we are moving to our limits but completely comfortable and in control. "Only then," she always follows up, "are you practicing yoga."
Yoga asks us to meet our mind and body where it is at this very moment. We have to humble ourselves and listen to the signals our body is telling (or in some cases, screaming) at us. Once we do that, we will progress. No question.
This is the purpose of a lifelong practice like yoga. As we develop, our understanding of these practices deepens beyond the body and even the mind, toward the very essence of ourselves.
In the words of Swami Satchidananda, we become more easeful, peaceful, and useful by developing our practice beyond the level of the ego. Instead, we move our attention to our heart. That is what fatherhood is all about!
Then, our practice - whether within our practice as yogis or as fathers (to ourselves or others) - becomes a service to humanity, a place to find permanent peace and joy, and a practice of surrendering to our place in the universe. And isn't that more worthwhile than putting your legs behind your head?
"What compassion really means is a relationship between equals."
Recently, I was overcome by feelings of grief. We are all processing the last weeks and many of us are working through a realization that the world will never be the same.
In the U.S., we are often encouraged to push away feelings of sadness or discomfort. Whether this is due to discomfort with sitting with our own or another person's emotions, or a fear that another person's pain will cause us pain, pushing feelings away is a surefire way to kindle them further.
Then, we may turn to anger, alcohol, drugs, unhealthy food, or any other maladaptive coping mechanisms we are prone to. We stuff away these feelings in avoidance, never realizing they are only fermenting and growing more explosive each day we avoid them.
Although yoga is often thought of as exercises for the body, yogis practicing at 5KY know that there are many more layers we're accessing through our practices. In yogic philosophy, there are five layers (koshas) that cover and give expression to the true self within each of us.
There is, of course, the bodily layer. That part of us made up from the food we (or our mothers, when we are in utero) eat. The next layer, which is slightly more subtle, is that part of us made up of our breath. Oxygen energizes the physical body and helps us act.
Beyond this layer, is the layer of our instinctual mind. This is distinct from the "wise" part of our mind that is responsible for observing the fluctuations of thought and controlling our responses to stimuli.
So for example, our instinctual mind may smell something really tasty cooking and think, "I'm hungry. I need to have that right away." Our wise mind may tell us "no, I'm in the middle of my work. I just ate two hours ago. I can wait until dinnertime."
Though this wise mind is useful in reigning in instinctual impulses that don't serve us in the long run, sometimes our instinctual mind cries out with such urgency that we must listen. So how do we combine honoring and controlling our emotions, especially in times like this?
The answer is compassion. In Sanskrit, compassion is called Karuna. Karuna is that sweet sadness we feel when we observe another being in distress.
Sometimes we get swept up in this sadness and start to empathize with the pain of the other. Although empathy can create a powerful connection, when we are stuck in the same emotion as the being we empathize with, we are unable to offer real help. Compassion allows us to feel for the being's pain, without creating additional suffering (within ourselves).
One helpful tool from psychology I often employ when feeling overwhelmed by empathy, is discerning between my "circle of control" versus my "circle of influence". Most of us are very concerned about the well-being of our loved ones, our neighbors, our city, and our planet.
But it is not within our influence to correct every mistake we see. When we try to influence things out of our control, we find fear. And fear will always lead to anger and sadness. Fear, anger, and sadness may be emotionally potent but they are also powerless to create feelings joy, love, wonder, or peace.
Furthermore, when we act out of fear, anger, and sadness, we may impose our own will upon another. Not accepting our lack of influence in the situation, we use strategies that work for us and try to control others. When our feeble attempts at controlling something wholly out of our control fail, we only feel more fear. The cycle repeats.
Karuna is the middle path between pushing our emotions away and overly involving ourselves in the feelings of fear, anger, and sadness. We can feel compassion for those suffering at this moment, for the whole planet even.
We can also feel compassion for our own emotions. Then, give ourselves the opportunity to turn toward courage, love, and joy, as an antidote to our suffering. It's a practice and it takes time.
Through this compassionate attention to our own emotions, we will begin to feel the unity behind all diversity. We will stop causing pain to ourselves, others, and to the planet. We will see the solutions to ending suffering for all beings with whom we co-exist. Only then can we say we have true equality: no divisions between individuals, countries, or even, species.
In service of this, I offer you a prayer I use during Metta or Loving-Kindness meditation, which has helped me cultivate feelings of courage, love, and joy in these dark days.
In each part, call to mind someone specific to whom you offer these thoughts. Sit with the prayer for each person and really try to feel what you are thinking.
I send my prayer that you are free from suffering and surrounded by peace, health, and happiness.
Boy, this has been the longest month we've ever had in a week! So much has happened. Like many of you, we are all trying to process this new reality.
One thing that has completely transformed my mood has been the ability to check in with people all over the world. From Chicago to Hong Kong, we are working on preventing the spread of this disease and staying sane at home.
I think it hasn't been easy for any of us. But as the daughter of parents in their 70s, I am humbled by the efforts of my neighbors to keep our precious elders safe. It is also remarkable to see everyday heroes coming through in all capacities.
Nurses, doctors, and first responders working long hours in risky conditions, to protect and heal others. Grocery and drug store workers showing up and risking their health and the health of their family for us, even though they get none of the glory. Teachers learning to teach remotely for the first time, on the fly. Parents, learning how to be a teacher on the fly. Think about all those amazing IT people keeping us connected in our Zoom meetings!
All of us have been asked to be more flexible and wear several different hats. To take care of others and ourselves better. To be compassionate and patient and generous. To learn what we can do without. To discriminate between the real and the unreal, the permanent and the impermanent These are all yogic values.
That is why yoga and mindfulness masters go on pilgrimages - from Buddha to Swami Satchidananda. To get away from worldly desires and connect to the true self within each of us.
At this time especially, I am so blessed to have the support of a guru, or spiritual guide. Guru means remover of the darkness. I think this translation of guru is an important distinction. What does it mean?
It means that whether we realize it or not, there is always light. But our monkey mind clouds our heads with thoughts of darkness: things we desire and don't have, things we don't want and avoid, things we have but are afraid to lose.
The guru is the entity (whether in the flesh, passed on from the flesh, or the guru that resides deep within each of our hearts) that removes those thoughts of darkness and reveals the never-ending source of light within us. Which is peace. I promise you, you have that guru within you.
So although things feel extremely difficult right now, remember that this is all temporary. Eventually, this will pass and we will be left with the lessons we've learned. Pain, surely, but not necessarily suffering.
You have a choice. You can let your monkey mind cloud your thoughts and emotions with darkness. Or you can use this time to listen to the guru inside and take better care of yourself, others, and your surroundings.
We are here to support that. This is what yoga does best! So we are thrilled to offer a HUGE variety of free and donation-based online programs for our community. From an intro to yoga class, to a breathing and meditation practice, to a chair yoga class, to kids' yoga classes, to yoga for reducing eye strain (after all those hours looking at a screen...) Keep your eye out for other, future free offerings.
Meanwhile, our regularly scheduled classes continue streaming online. This has been quite an experiment for us but has also been very successful so far! We'd love to see you at those classes too. This is a hard time for small businesses, but with the support of the community, we can get through it.
Thank you for your support now and always.
Mantra of Peace
What brought you to yoga?
I came to yoga searching for peace of mind. As a former athlete, I was hesitant to begin a yoga practice because I was concerned that it wouldn’t be challenging or fast-paced enough for me. At the same time, I recognized I was at a point in my life where I had too many external factors clouding my ability to listen to my inner voice, and I decided to give it a go. All of my concerns were immediately dispelled. Through the practice of yoga, I was able to move my body in a way that challenged me physically as well as mentally and spiritually. Yoga provided me a safe space to tune inward, to become aware of my movements and more importantly to consider how those movements are informed by my emotional state. By diving into a practice that made everything an invitation, that encouraged mindfulness and breath work, I was able to meet myself more deeply and feel empowered. I also got plenty of sweat and strengthening out of the deal! I am now four years in to a dedicated yoga practice and each session on the mat brings me closer to a calm and balanced state of mind, which reinforces the power of gratitude and keeps me focused on what’s important to me as the unique individual I am.
What is your approach to teaching?
My approach to teaching is to encourage that same feeling of empowerment that means so much to me. My hope is that each of my students will feel comfortable enough in class to do whatever is right for their bodies and leave feeling a little more at ease, both mentally and physically. I also want people to have fun! A yoga practice can feel very serious when you first begin, but with time and patience with yourself, there can be humor and grace in the moments when things don’t go as planned. By keeping things light and pressure-free, I aim to serve my students the way many teachers I have learned from have served me: with humility, kindness and permission to be themselves.
Why do you choose to teach at 5KY?
I consider myself incredibly lucky to have found 5 Keys Yoga. First of all, Erin and Rita are the most compassionate and friendly studio owners you could ever hope to meet. Their mission of service and inclusivity resonates with me greatly, and I feel inspired by their energy to be present every time I walk in to teach a class. They lead by example in the most beautiful way, and it was an easy decision when they offered me the opportunity to teach in their space. And speaking of space, the studio itself is just so lovely. The positive energy of the space is tangible, and I like the intimacy of a smaller studio. And the students make it such a joy. Every person I have had in class has been so warm and open to receiving that it makes the teacher/student relationship feel safe and joyful
What makes your soul sing?
In addition to feeling uplifted by all manner of yoga practices (Hatha, Restorative, Yin, Vinyasa, you name it, I love it!), I feel most at ease when I am in my kitchen baking. I love the challenge of putting together a bunch of ingredients and making something beautiful and delicious - which in fact is very similar to how I try to structure my classes. I love to read and write; I keep a pretty colorful bullet journal and try to make time for creative writing when I can. I am also very close to my family, who mostly live in the Chicagoland area, and of all the many gifts in my life that make my soul sing, spending time with my son is number one on my list.
Neale Baldyga and Scott Bakshis will celebrate the Winter Solstice with us on December 22nd. At 6:30, they will accompany a candlelight yoga class with live music and at 7:45, will lead a sound healing for the community. We are a small space, so make sure to register ahead of time to save your spot!
Why do you love bringing music to others?
Neale: You cannot simulate the live experience because the audience is as important as the performers. Everyone is choosing to ride the wave of frequency and vibration together and that is beautiful. It’s always different and always one of a kind.
Scott: I believe music heals. Songs and melodies can move us deeply and release emotions. Music can take our minds away from worry, allowing them to rest and recharge. Vibrations can massage us both energetically and physically to break up stagnation and to support healing. I love bringing music to others because there is nothing more beautiful, powerful, or transcendent.
What benefits to you think a healer/seeker may receive by attending live music?
Neale: Sooo many! The ability to better understand the world within and the world around. To feel something, really feel. A reminder that every moment is a fresh start.
Scott: I believe healers will receive the same benefits from sounds and songs as any other person. Healers need to heal, too. I believe the quality (not quantity) of healing is directly related to the intentions and vibrations of the music. This is not to say that some music or vibrations are better than others, only to say that the release and healing we experience while participating in a live music event will be of a similar quality to the energy of the music. If your soul requires peace and quiet, you might not choose to go to a rock concert. If you can’t sit still, maybe don’t go to the symphony or an opera. You can listen to what your soul needs and select live music experiences to satiate those needs. As a final thought, all music means something to someone. It is healing for someone. So I encourage everyone to experience a wide range of sounds and learn to enjoy new music by different people. In doing so, we come to understand others at a deep level, and we expand our capacity for empathy. There is no greater tool for a healer.
Where else can we listen to your music?
Neale: I have nothing new in a very long time. That is our plan for 2020. I have some old breathwork mixes and meditation tracks on SoundCloud.
Scott: You can’t!
Want to experience the healing power of live sound yourself?
As it gets darker and cooler, we naturally head inward. Many of us use this inner time to take stock of what we have and let go of what we no longer need to hold.
Maya Angelou wrote, “when we give cheerfully and accept gratefully, everyone is blessed.” Giving within our capacity has a wondrous way of affirming our purpose and our enduring connection to each other.
When we look at charity as a blessing for all involved, it stops being a transaction. I don’t expect anything from the giftee because by giving, I have already received enough.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we were able to view giving like that all the time? Those who didn’t have enough of something would be able to enjoy the use of things that weren’t previously being used. And those who had too many of something would be free from the burden of carrying the surplus.
It’s not just things either. When I feel an abundance of love and joy, it costs me nothing to send that on to another. Not only is it free to give, it multiplies when given and often comes back to me ten-fold.
When I have the resources (either inner or outer) to give, it feels good to send something I’m not using to another. Swami Satchidananda said that a “gift should be given with the whole heart. Don’t even call it helping. Call it service, because you are the one who benefits by it.”
However, at this time of year it’s easy to accidentally give beyond our capacity - filling our calendar with endless commitments and events, overspending, overeating…
Then, we arrive at whatever we’ve over-committed to and feel resentment because we’re overdrawn. We’ve given something that is outside our capacity to give. And as Sonia Sumar often tells her students, “you cannot give what you do not have.”
If you don’t feel peaceful, there’s no way you can create peace. If you don’t love yourself, there’s no way to give love to others. If you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t truly take care of another.
When I feel tapped out, I’m going to try to remember that giving is an act that should benefit all parties. If I try to be of service to another when I don’t actually have anything to give, I’m not doing anyone any favors, least of all myself.
And if I can’t be of service to myself, I certainly can’t be of good service to anyone else.
What brought you to yoga?
What brought me to yoga? I am an actress and instructor for the performing arts for many years. Along this path, learning to use the science of yoga came naturally to me. As an instructor of improvisation and acting, I have bridged the two sciences of the art of performance and yoga into my company, Yes And Yoga.
What is your approach to teaching?
My approach to teaching? Interesting question. My style is very…me which I admit is quirky and tangent but for only educational reasons. I see what is needed at the beginning of class and then go from there. I want my students to find space they didn't know they had and leave my class relaxed but eager to research what was mentioned during the practice.
Why do you choose to teach at 5KY?
I am extremely delighted to teach at 5KY. This is a pure Hatha studio in Chicago. You want to learn yoga?practice here. I consider myself lucky to instruct here.
What makes your soul sing?
What makes my heart sing? Knowing that as I exhale that the Universe is breathing me in and vice versa. The present moment. It all comes back to the breath. Oh, and I still love my teenagers who give me no end of apathy for now. I can find the love in the apathy. Find the love.
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.