(please someone tell me)
What Is It?
What is Meditation?
Some Great QUEST-ions…
What is Meditation?
What is the Connection Between Yoga & Meditation?
How Do I Sit for Meditation? What Are Some Asanas (Postures) for Sitting?
Where and when should I meditate?
How do I make my mind stop (darnit)?
Why do I sometimes have great meditations,
and other days horrible?
My Personal Journey with Meditation
I loved meditation from the start. I found it so challenging, yet also so rewarding. When I found out that I didn’t need to fight with my mind to make it stop, and that was actually probably making it worse, meditation became so much less of a wrestling match. Because what I noticed early on was that with everything I was doing – meeting master teachers, kundalini and mantra initiations, intense Hatha Yoga, cleansing, chanting, etc. – it was bringing a lot of stuff up. So when I sat for meditation, I got to see all these apparently ugly, unconscious things about myself (most of which I was projecting outside of me onto the world), and it wasn’t pretty! It was painful to see, actually, and yet it actually inspired me on my path, because I really didn’t want to be THAT kind of a person.
It was actually years later when I had an experience of finally being able to disassociate from my mind so that I began to see that the “mind has a mind of its own” and that really whatever it’s doing is not what we truly are. It’s really all just mental garbage – clouds that obscure the sun (Self) that is always shining.
That wasn’t the end, though! No, the process keeps being refined, going to subtler and subtler levels, peeling back smaller and smaller layers of the proverbial onion, as I head toward Union (Yoga).
What IS Meditation anyway?
Oh, just the most important thing you’ll ever do,
You know, nothing much.
Actually meditation IS nothing, and it is much.
Much to do about nothing! & Nothing much doing!
Just like Ze Great Yoga Quest!
(maniacal laughter, lmao)
Seriously, I do want to share this with you here, because truly this might just be one of the most profound and helpful things you ever learn and practice.
The practice of meditation (and yoga, because meditation is yoga) really all boils down to this:
Siddown & Shuddup!
( : more general hilarity all around : )
Well, that’s part of it, but actually you don’t have to sit down to meditate, you can take it with you. Yes, wherever you go. So what it really comes to down to is…
What does this mean?
Just what it sounds like: You witness.
No, not like a witness in a court, witnessing like you’re observing something happening.
And what are you observing?
And what is yourself?
Your thoughts, emotions, bodily sensations, attitudes, beliefs, patterns, tendencies, habits, internal judgments, negativity, memories, attractions, aversions, hopes, fears, resistances, avoidances, and so on and on…
But really this is who we mistakenly BELIEVE ourselves to be, these things are not who we truly are. Indeed, to be in the “witness state” (sakshi bhava in Sanskrit) is really to be established in the Self (with a capital “S” not little “s”), for to be in this state is to identify with what we essentially are, which is beyond all of these mental modifications. So our practice is to just NOTICE/OBSERVE/WITNESS all of these things – to note when we’re judging, or feeling angry, or getting stuck in the past, etc. – and then to gently but firmly bring ourselves back to the Center, back to NOW, back to the One who sees all and allows all with loving awareness, with radical compassion and radical forgiveness. As we do this, we begin to dis-identify with all of the false identities that the ego-mind has constructed to avoid the fact that one day it will have to go, it will have to die. We can’t take it with us!
Ok, let’s stop a moment here…Does this all make sense so far, or does it feel too abstract and esoteric?
If it does, maybe an example will help. Here it goes, kinda like “Ground Hog Day”…
Someone does something to you to upset you… You fly into a rage and begin to curse this person out, feeling like you want to punch them out, or maybe even kill them. You might even find yourself acting upon these impulses. These feelings linger on long after this experience, and you feel it really impossible to forgive this person. You might never be able to forgive them in this lifetime…
Now, most of us would actually never do this — an extreme example, right? Right…? You would never do that would you? Would You? Ok, well let’s just say you wouldn’t. Yet you might resonate with one of the following scenarios, which show how as you practice witnessing, your experience will become subtler and subtler. Let’s read on…
Someone does something that upsets you… You begin to have very negative feelings about this person. You WANT to hurt them, yet you do not. You might say something negative to this person, yet you refrain from doing much other than saying something to chasten them or correct them so that they feel bad about what they did. The negative feelings that you have linger on for a good while after, yet eventually you let it go and release it, finding space for forgiveness.
Someone does something that upsets you…You immediately notice that feelings of anger are welling up in you, perhaps at the pit of your stomach. Your body is heating up, you’re breathing faster, adrenaline is being released as the body goes into “fight-or-flight” mode. You notice these things, and then you do things to calm yourself down so that you don’t act upon these feelings. Perhaps you take some deep breaths. Perhaps you remember that you have also made mistakes, maybe even the same mistake at some time in the past. Perhaps you remember that this person is just acting out of their own pain, and they are really deep down calling out for love. Certainly they are doing the best they know how. It is not too long that you are able to let go of this. Perhaps you have some lingering feelings of resentment, but they are released not long after.
Someone does something that IN THE PAST might have upset you…You do notice feelings and thoughts coming up for you, yet you can immediately release those and forgive this person for what they did, reminding yourself that you are both one in essence, and that being one, you are as much responsible for what is manifesting in that moment as they are. You understand, correctly, that the Witness that sees all without judgment is the same is them as it is in you. And so you take the deeper lesson of this interaction, whatever it is, and you lovingly let the rest go with forgiveness.
No one does anything to upset you…Because you now understand that THERE IS NOBODY OUT THERE & YOU CANNOT BE UPSET, there is no space for it. You do not even attract “others” (apparent people or events) into your energy field that might cause upset. If anything like this does arise, it completely rolls off of you like water off a duck’s back. A person who is attempting to cause upset is immediately made aware of their folly, and this becomes a teaching for them, perhaps a life lesson. It is rather more often than not the case that others are attracted to be around you because they feel such love emanating from you, and your love inspires them to be more loving, too. And to you, anyway, it is all One Love, there is no Other. [See also the section on “A Course in Miracles & Yoga” below.]
I hope all of this helped to understand this concept better. It’s really such a simple practice, this witnessing, and the great thing about it is – you CAN take it with you! Wherever you go. It’s a 24/7/365 moment-to-moment inside job. So easy, yes, yet for most, “nailing it” seems to take many lifetimes. It’s like that Youtube video “Sickest Buddhist” (have you seen it?)…”It was a 45 minute meditation, I nailed it in 10!” You know, these things take time. Why? For many reasons, want to hear a few? K…
~ We cannot even understand the teaching
~We’re not ready to give up certain things yet (such as our mental projections, blame, and victimhood).
~We’re so outwardly focused on making something happen on the outside, we have a hard time making time to look within
~ We don’t believe in this teaching because this material world seems so real and there’s a kind of security in it, too. Anything but going within and looking at my stuff!!! (Avoidance)
~ We’re afraid of losing ourselves in the process – the ego doesn’t want to die!
This last one is the kicker, really. Because when we speak of the Witness (or, The Watcher, Oberver, All-Seeing Eye/I, etc.), we’re talking about the Cosmic Mind, or Big Mind (or “The Mind of God,” “Christ Mind,” or whatever works for you). Obviously, the ego feels itself to be separate from everything, especially Big Mind, so the last thing is want to hear is that the party’s over and it’s going to have to return to Source (i.e., the Witness). The show must go on! Come on, play on! Let me just play just a little bit longer! Yet what the ego doesn’t realize is that its death and our return to Source is so much better than anything it could ever offer us. It has a big stake in the Illusion of Separation that we are experiencing. It doesn’t want to go quite yet!
And so this process of witnessing is one of slowly, slowly returning to identification with who we really are, not what we’ve been led to think we are by falsely identifying with the world of name and form (namarupa, in Sanskrit), which is not truly real.
Let’s look at this now in the context of the Paths of Yoga (remember them?), especially Jnana Yoga, Raja Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, and Karma Yoga.
So what I just introduced is what would be considered a “Jnana Yoga” meditation. Ramana Maharishi called this form of meditation atma vichara (self-inquiry) based on the ultimate quest-ion, “Who Am I?” It’s based in Advaita Vedanta, which is the philosophy of nondualism (advaita literally means “not two”), and the process is perhaps best approached via negating (Via Negativa, in Latin) what we are clearly not – not my name, not my social identity, my job/career, car (I know that’s a tough one, guys), even my body, mind… This process is referred to in yoga as “neti neti,” meaning “not this, not that.” Doing this process on a moment-to-moment basis can be very liberating. And it’s all based in this simple practice that I have called “witnessing.”
[Note: One nice relatively recent book on this subject is Michael Singer’s The Untethered Soul. Of course, the yoga scriptures also work, too, yet sometimes it’s more helpful to read something more contemporary, and by a Westerner (if you’re from the West).]
Great Quote: “Fire the Judge & Hire the Witness.”
RAJA YOGA MEDITATION
We have already spoken about Raja Yoga meditation. This form of meditation follows the 8-fold path (Ashtanga Yoga)
BHAKTI YOGA MEDITATION
Meditation in the tradition of Bhakti Yoga is said to be the easiest and quickest way in the age in which we live. Not all of us can walk the path of radical negation of Jnana Yoga, or the path of concentrated focus on one thing as is required in Raja Yoga, yet most of us have had the experience of falling in love, of crying our eyes/heart out, of dissolving in bliss (maybe even in yoga class), etc., which is the domain of Bhakti Yoga. When these things happen, the boundaries of the ego crumble – many veils of illusion fall away – and we find ourselves facing a more authentic self, perhaps our most authentic Self. This itself is a meditation. On the Raja Yoga path, we strive for “one-pointedness” (ekagrata) to enter into meditation, yet when we are in love, there is no need for striving or practice, it just is happening. Do what we might, we can’t stop thinking about our beloved. This is true meditation, though some might also call it obsession!
Yet this is not possible for all of us all the time. In which case, there are some things that we can do or practice that might help to bring us into this beautiful state of being in a process of gradual awakening. So here are some Bhakti Yoga meditation practices…
When Neem Karoli Baba’s young western students asked him how they should meditate, all he said was.
“Meditate like Jesus – he lost himself in Love,”
as tears rolled down his face.
Connected with this, my teacher, Sri Karunamayi, often said to us, her devotees:
“Children, pray to God with tears.”
This was Karunamayi’s way of getting us into meditation, which for her is the most important spiritual practice.
Other paths might be to listen to evocative, heart-opening music (see the section on Kirtan), or watching a heart-warming film (One that really brought me into the Bhakti heartspace recently was “Dolphin Tale.”) Or perhaps better yet, connecting with your partner in a deeper way than normal, maybe deliberately going into your pain together as a way of accessing these deeper layers of our being, to get down to the “heart of the matter.”
One other practice I’ll mention is Ram Dass’ personal mantra, which is simply to remind himself
“I Am Loving Awareness.”
Or more simply even:
“I Am Love.”
(aham prema, in Sanskrit)
So once again, there are many ways to get there…
”Paths are Many, Truth is One.”
INNERCISE: What is your own relationship to Bhakti Yoga? What heart-opening experiences have you had that have changed the way you look upon your life? Did you spend some time to contemplate/meditate/integrate these experiences? If so, what did these experiences mean to you?
“I’ll Stop the World And Melt With You.”
KARMA YOGA MEDITATION
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
~ Mahatma Gandhi
Karma Yoga. Doing without doing. Meditation in Action. Karma Yoga is how we act in the world without attachment. To be “in the world but not of it.” To do this consistently generally takes practice! Mantras and other mental reminders can certainly help.
One nice mantra for the Karma Yogi is “I Am Not the Doer.” That is, the ego is not the doer, yet thinks it is. This is what is sometimes called non-action, or non-doing, or non-effort. Another mantra for the Karma Yogi is the prayer, “Thy Will, not My Will.” This puts Source-consciousness in control, not the ego-mind.
Gandhi’s quote recommends finding ourselves (again, the True Self) by losing ourselves in seva, selfless service to others. Once again, this means service without attachment to the fruits of our actions, as the Bhagavad Gita teaches (Gandhi’s favorite scripture, apparently, though he read it metaphorically). We also might recall The Golden Rule and the biblical dictum to “love thy neighbor as thyself.” Mostly we read this that we should love others as we love ourself, but really the deeper teaching, going back to Advaita Vedanta (the teaching of Oneness, Nondualism), is that if all is truly One at the end of the day, then our neighbor is our Self! To continually remind ourselves of this is meditation, is yoga, and is a great practice! (And while you’re at it, don’t forget to laugh!)
SOME GREAT QUOTES ON MEDITATION
Understanding without practice
is better than practice without understanding.
Understanding with practice
is better than understanding without practice.
Residing in your true nature
is better than understanding or practice.”
~ The Upanishads
Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habits. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; for it becomes your destiny.
~ Upanishads (this is called “mindfulness”)
A student went to his meditation teacher and said, “My meditation is horrible! I feel so distracted, or my legs ache, or I’m constantly falling asleep. It’s just horrible!” “It will pass,” the teacher said matter-of-factly. A week later, the student came back to his teacher. “My meditation is wonderful! I feel so aware, so peaceful, so alive! It’s just wonderful!” “It will pass,” the teacher replied matter-of-factly. ~ Unknown
BASIC GUIDELINES FOR SITTING MEDITATION
[Note: There are many types and methods of sitting meditation – Vipassana, Zen, Raja Yoga, Nada Yoga, Visualization, etc. These are just some general guidelines for guiding any meditation in a class setting.]
~ Sit or Kneel on the floor, or if this is difficult, use a cushion or block to prop you up so the sacrum is above the knees. It is not generally recommended to lie down to meditate, though of course, this can be done if necessary. [For a great meditation tool designed by my friend and colleague, Eric Eccles, click HERE ]
~ Sit comfortably in a meditation asana, which include Padmasana (Lotus), Ardha Padmasana (Half Lotus), Siddhasana (Adept’s Pose), Sukhasana (Easy Pose), Gomukhasana (Cow Face), and Vajrasana (Thunderbolt/Diamond, Kneeling). Most students will generally choose Sukhasana, easy cross-legged position (aka, “Indian-style”).
~ Remember “Sthira Sukham Asanam” from the Yoga Sutras which means that your posture will be both steady/stable/straight and light/easy/comfortable. So…
feel the connection to the earth through the sit bones. This is “sthira,” your firm, foundation. As you ground in with the sit bones, simultaneously feel a lengthening in the spine, as you perhaps sit just a bit straighter, keeping a nice alignment of the head, neck, and spine. This lengthening, and the feeling of floating upwards along with the relaxation of your body is “sukha,” the ease, grace, and lightness that you feel.
~ Relax Your Body. Sometimes it is helpful to systematically relax each body part by bringing awareness to each and giving it the suggestion to relax.
~ Attune Yourself to What You Are Feeling in this Present Moment. What thoughts, emotions, or other feelings are present right now?
~ Notice the breath, flowing in and flowing out. To stay a bit more present with this, you might notice the coolness of the air as it comes in through the nostrils, and the warmth of the air as it flows out.
~ Sit Still. Paradoxically, the only way to be still is to be still! So don’t necessarily indulge in fidgeting. The more you can still your body, the more your mind will begin to calm down. And vice versa – the more your mind grown calm, your body will follow suit. Funny how that works, but that’s why we call it the body-mind connection!
~ Take Some Time to Integrate the experience when you are done. My favorite way is to lie still in Shavasana for a few minutes afterwards, taking it all in. This also feels so good after sitting! At this time, it might also be helpful to tune into a personal intention (or intentions) that you have, perhaps making affirmations out of them in the form of “I Am” statements.
General Guidelines for Personal Practice
When to Meditate:
Anytime is good! Except while operating heavy machinery! Early morning before sunrise is a great time, or at least right when you wake up (and after heeding the call of nature : ). Also, at dusk and prior to bedtime. Yet again, anytime is good. Best to do a little preparation before you start, such as basic pranayama like Nadi Shodhana (Alternate Nostril Breathing). Generally not a good idea to sit for meditation when you are emotionally disturbed as it might just make you much crazier. Do deep breathing instead, or some kind of physical activity, or even better: Change your thinking about it, forgive, and/or do something practical to resolve the situation.
How to Meditate:
There is no how to meditate. This must always be your personal preference. A good way to start is just to sit, as in the Zen tradition of “Just Sitting,” and observing the body, breath, mind, and interaction between the three. Generally the mind takes 5-15 minutes just to calm down, so don’t fight it thinking you can’t meditate for beans – you’re in good company!
MEDITATION IN PICTURES
This means that we need both! Many yoga classes and teachers today are failing to emphasize that yoga practice is one of the greatest preparations for meditation, and that meditation and yoga are not separate practices! We have tended to become fixated on the body. Ironically, if we are fixated on perfecting our bodies and our asanas, meditation is one of the greatest tools for this!
How Much Should You Meditate Each Day?
AND…There are no “shoulds” : )
Quality not Quantity!
Content over Form!
The Spirit of the Law over The Letter of the Law!
Nowhere to Go, Nothing to Do, No One to Be…
I Sit Corrected
(ultimately, I feel, this is the simple truth, yet really fully KNOWING this is by no means easy!)
More Great Meditation Quotes
~ “A mind free from all disturbances is Yoga.”
~ “Meditation – It’s Not What You Think!” ~
~ “Don’t just do something, sit there!”~
~ “Doing nothing is really doing something.” ~
~“Go within, or do without.” ~
~ “When we pray we talk to God;
when we meditate, God talks to us.” ~
~ “Hatha Yoga without Meditation is Blind;
Meditation without Hatha Yoga is Lame.”~
~“Be Still & Know…I AM”~ (Psalms)
~“Meditation takes you off the roller coaster of life…Elation and dejection will no longer be a part of your reality/vocabulary.”~
QUEST-Essential Lessons of this Session
~ Meditation is the practice/state to which all other spiritual practices point, as they are all intended to bring us to a state of still, silent, nonjudgmental witnessing to discover or realize the “True Self.”
~ There are many different paths and styles of meditation available, and there truly is something for everyone.
~ The Yoga Tradition acknowledges 4 main Paths through which meditation can happen: Raja, Karma, Jnana, Bhakti. Which one we choose will depend largely upon our individual temperament, as well as conditioning.
~ Meditation is actually really simple: Get comfortable (seated or lying down), relax the body, sit quietly and become aware of body and breath, nonjudgmentally observe the mind without getting caught up in the thoughts, and utilize your chosen method of meditation (mantra, breath, visualization, etc.). Finally, integrate at the end.
1) True or False: There is really only one way to truly meditate.
2) How does meditation in Bhakti Yoga differ from Jnana Yoga, and would you say that they truly are different?
3) What does “paths are many, truth is one” mean?
4) Do you believe that ultimately all is truly one & that the notion of a separate self is an illusion from which we will eventually wake up? Or is the “real world” very “real” even in an ultimate sense?
5) What is the “Witness” and what is “witnessing” as discussed above and do you feel this will be a useful practice to you?
6) Is it possible to meditate all of the time? Howso?
7) What do you make of the statements:
“Stillness…the cure for every illness”?
“Meditation…the best medication”?
Do you have a sense that this is at all true?
8) What do most people not tend to think meditation is not very important…Is it? It is, isn’t it? Isn’t it? How important?
SOURCES & RESOURCES TO FURTHER YOUR QUEST
The Untethered Soul, Michael Singer.
A New Earth, Eckhart Tolle.
The Teachings of Ramana Maharishi, Arthur Osbourne.
Autobiography of a Yogi, Paramahamsa Yogananda.
I Am That: Talks with Sri Nisargadatta, Maharaj Nisargadatta.
The Diamond in Your Pocket, Gangaji.
The Gospel of Selfless Action, Gandhi.
Mindfulness Yoga, Feuerstein & Boccio.
“The Science of Meditation,” Time Magazine, 2003
“Stages of Meditation,” Ken Wilber Interview
“Yoga and Meditation (Dhyana),” Georg Feuerstein
“Vedantic Meditation,” David Frawley
Adyashanti (True Meditation)
“Simply do this: Be still, and lay aside all thoughts of what you are and what God is; all concepts you have learned about the world; all images you hold about yourself. Empty your mind of everything it thinks is either true or false, or good or bad, of every thought it judges worthy, and all the ideas of which it is ashamed. Hold onto nothing. Do not bring with you one thought the past has taught, nor one belief you ever learned before from anything. Forget this world, forget this course, and come with wholly empty hands unto your God.”
~ A Course in Miracles, Lesson #189
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BALI SPIRIT YOGA FEST
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On the eve of the Venus Transit on June 5th, 2012, I first connected with my beloved. Neither of us even realized at that moment that the symbolism of the Venus Transit is that of the union of the Divine Feminine and Divine Masculine, it just felt right. That night we sat and sang songs together, first and perhaps most prominent of which was Jason Mraz’s song “I Won’t Give Up On Us,” a song with various layers of meaning, as the song’s video shows (and with layers of meaning for us, as the song plays on the theme of the “night sky.”)
I didn’t know much about Jason Mraz at that point, yet I later discovered that he does yoga, kirtan, and has even written a song that was inspired by kirtan (“Everything is Sound”), off of his new album “Love is a Four-Letter Word.” I also recently learned that he split with his girlfriend, but they are still good friends, which of course is also interesting given the song…and yet the reality of relationships in this modern world is that they seem to be very fluid, and maybe that’s due to immaturity, and maybe that’s a good thing, who can truly say? In India, most marriages are arranged (based heavily on Jyotisha — Astrology), and the divorce rate is something like 10%. Perhaps that’s a more enlightened way of looking at love? Could it be that romantic love is an illusion that needs to be shattered, and just maybe there is Deep Wisdom that lies in wait beyond that illusion…?
In other words, maybe love really is a four-letter word?
As I was writing this and without knowing what I was writing about, my partner came over and spontaneously kissed me and gave me a back rub. Ahhhh…Well, I guess if pressed to the wall, I would like to go on believing in the illusion just a little longer. Enjoy the music…
IF YOU RESONATED WITH THIS POST, PLEASE TAKE A MOMENT TO CHECK OUT WHAT WE OFFER, INCLUDING THE FOLLOWING UPCOMING YOGA TEACHER TRAINING…
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~ MAHALO NUI LOA ~ NAMASTE’ ~ 3~’ ALOHA SHEvAYA ~
In August of 2011, my friend Ali and I shot a little video at a beautiful retreat space in Nosara, Costa Rica called the Costa Rica Yoga Spa. I had no idea that in the course of just over one year it would have received nearly 40,000 views on Youtube — 4 times more than my most popular yoga video has in 3 years! I immediately wondered why, and then I found out that Dr. Oz had promoted it on his show. To give us a little credit, though, it was also a very well-received video. So far it’s received 177 likes, and only 4 dislikes! And here are just some of the encouraging comments that have been made:
~ “Well finally someone is doing the 5 Rites properly – slowly as they should be – thank you – I got my original video here in Australia – taught by two ladies at Byron Bay in 1992 & from what I instinctually feel, the exercises need to be done very slowly. The 4th & 5th postures were done more slowly – which I prefer. However, now with your link I can forward to friends – more true to the way. Excellent thank you.”
~ Sweet video!!! great breakdown of the sequences, keep up the great work.
~ “The best video on the Tibetan 5 Rites I’ve seen so far. So beautifully & clearly demonstrated :)”
~ “Best video of these.”
A woman from Lebanon of all places even wrote to me wanting to become a yoga teacher after having practiced the 5 Tibetans from the video for a month!
So anyway, I wanted to share this with those who might want to learn these exercises, but also for all of the yoga teachers out there, especially those who have completed my own Yoga Teacher Training program. Here’s the video:
And now, watch Dr. Oz Demonstrating the Five Tibetan Rites
Who Says Yoga Has To Be Boring?
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The 5 Tibetans (or 5 Tibetan Rites) are a simple, structured way of squeezing more yoga into your busy schedule. We’ll be practicing these regularly on Maui, and you might just feel inspired to pass them on to your students. Here’s a video that Ali Gardella and I did of them when we were at the Costa Rica Yoga Spa in Nosara, Costa Rica last summer.
1) * Establish a Daily Practice. *
Rather than rigidly forcing yourself to carve out a huge block of time for practice, follow the principle, “A little bit each day goes a long way.” Yes, in general, it’s better to stay consistent with your yoga practice, even if that just means less each day, than to do it for awhile, stop, then come back, or use the “weekend warrior” approach. In the Yoga Sutras, we find: 1.14 When that practice is done for a long time, without a break, and with sincere devotion, then the practice becomes a firmly rooted, stable and solid foundation. (sah tu dirgha kala nairantaira satkara asevitah dridha bhumih). Remember also that yoga “practice” does not just mean what you do on the mat, but everything we do in life. Each moment we can be practicing mindfulness, conscious awareness of how the mind works, the attachments we have, and the choices we make. ***
2) * Keep going to class! *
Continue to attend as many different yoga classes as you can, exploring the wide variety of styles and teachers available. You might especially want to try a style of yoga that you have been a bit afraid of trying, for whatever reason. If you are not able to attend classes, there are many helpful videos available online. Websites you might want to explore for this: Myyoga.com. Myfreeyoga.com . DoYogaWithMe.com. Youtube. YogaJournal.com. And create your own videos! (see below)
3) * Keep Teaching! *
After your Yoga Teacher Training program, you might not feel ready quite yet to jump right in and start teaching people you’ve never met. So instead, I recommend teaching at least 2 classes per week to family and friends (more would be better, again, for consistency’s sake). Or even practice teaching in front of a mirror, or to your pet goldfish, but keep practicing! Also, study teachers who particularly inspire you, but always be yourself when you teach.
4) * Seek out other ways of staying motivated, inspired, and educated about yoga. *
For instance, there are Continuing Education opportunities for Yoga beyond just yoga classes, which include workshops, retreats, conferences, festivals, and other gatherings. You might even consider another Teacher Training in a style of yoga that you want to explore more deeply. Find someone in your area who is specificially offering Continuing Ed. for yoga. Perhaps befriend another local Yoga teacher and continue your learning together, or inspire your partner to explore yoga together with you.
5) * Study Yourself *
At least once a month, consider doing a video and/or photo shoot of yourself doing yoga and/or teaching yoga (a video shoot would be better, of course, because you can observe more). Self-study (or in Sanskrit, Swadhyaya, one of the 5 Niyamas of the Yoga Sutras), also involves being understanding your character better, and your place in the world. To learn more about yourself, you might delve more deeply into your astrology, take a personality test like the Enneagram, do “Shadow” work (ways in which we unconsciously sabotage ourselves), share satsang (open, honest communication) with a close friend, or read an insightful book. As for the latter, the various yoga scriptures are a good place to start, and these books include The Vedas, The Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Yoga Sutras; or read many of the fine books on yoga that have been published in the last century, such as “Autobiography of a Yogi” (Yogananda), “Light on Yoga” (Iyengar), “Yoga and Health” (Yesudian and Haich), “The Mirror of Yoga” (Richard Freeman), “Be Love Now” (Ram Dass), “Yoga Beyond Belief” (Ganga White), among many others. [Note: I will be posting a bibliography with a number of recommended titles in the near future.]
6) * Register with Yoga Alliance. *
I didn’t put this and the next recommendation (#7) sooner because these won’t be that essential for everyone to do, especially if you will not be teaching yoga at a yoga studio or fitness center. I have discussed this and #7 below in a previous blog post, which you can read HERE. .
You might also want to consider looking into other possibilities for registration. For example, there is an organization called “The International Yoga Federation” (http://www.internationalyogafederation.net/), that offers an international registration which is less expensive than Yoga Alliance. A friend recently told me about a group called Yoganomics (Yoganomics.net) which describes itself as “Indie Yoga” and questions the authority of Yoga Alliance. I don’t have much of a take on all of this as yet as I have not fully explored the issues. I am just presenting this to you as options to consider and to investigate further yourself.
7) * Consider getting yoga insurance. *
Yoga insurance can be a useful thing to have “just in case,” yet I also feel the best insurance is to practice “ahimsa” (non-harming) in everything we do as much as possible. As we become more loving beings (or rather, tap more into the love within ourselves), then we will not have to be fearful of others harming us. This idea is found in the Yoga Sutras (2.35): “As a Yogi becomes firmly grounded in non-injury (ahimsa), other people who come near will naturally lose any feelings of hostility.”
(ahimsa pratishthayam tat vaira-tyagah)
8) * Develop a personal yoga business plan for yourself. *
Yogi Berra once famously said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you might not get there.” So plan things out, and the create concrete, doable action steps. As far as your plan goes, base it on your personal vision for your life, based on your greatest passions, inspirations, & dreams. And dream BIG, knowing that anything & everything is possible with time, patience, perseverance, & practice. As far as your actions steps go, you might want to create a website (WordPress is a great way to do it because it is cheap, user-friendly, and has great Search Engine Optimization), make business cards (Vistaprint is also cheap and effective), write a professional bio, make a portfolio of professional profile pictures, create an email clientele database & start a newsletter (I love Mailchimp), and/or even write your own complete business plan using an online website such as Biztree, Bplan, or Liveplan. There are also organizations out there these days geared specifically toward the financial stability of yoga professionals, such as Zen Business Bootcamp (Zenbusinessbootcamp.com). The truth is that being a new yoga teacher in today’s economy can be a challenge, yet life is abundant and there is no reason why you cannot reach financial independence through your teaching. All it takes is to live your passion, planning, and take those consistent action steps toward fulfilling your dreams, remembering that: “No one plans to fail. We fall to plan.”
9) * Network *
Network with other local yoga teachers, businesses, and also online. Attend local yoga and yoga-related events in your area such as kirtans, yoga studio parties and grand openings, movie nights, spiritual gatherings, etc. Or, host your own event! As far as online networking goes, Facebook is one of the best ways these days to network and market your yoga, especially by creating events and inviting friends to them. Beyond Facebook, there are a number of alternative social networking communities out there, too, such as Evolver (Evolver.net). You might also want to be listed on one or more of the many yoga listing sites out there, such as the Yoga Network (yoganetwork.org), Yoga Finder (yogafinder.com), and Yoga Directory (yogadirectory.com). Finally, consider reading the following Yoga Journal article on the subject of networking for yoga teachers.
10) * Practice random acts of (yoga) kindness. *
Finally, in all the business and “busy-ness” we are doing, let us not forget the deeper message and true Spirit of yoga, which is to find a place of contentment, freedom, pure love, compassion, and stillness. We are here not to be dependent or make others dependent on us, but to give them the tools so that they can free themselves and become more and more independent. This independence will come from releasing our attachments to things, one big one being our attachment to money and the monetary system as it is. So remind yourself of this by giving the great gift of yoga for free, whether it’s by offering a free class each week, teaching a friend or stranger yoga, raising awareness about yoga, or even just giving someone on the street a hug or making them smile. I recently attended a class where the teacher encouraged us all to make 10 people smile that day. I thought that was nice : )
* This piece is dedicated to all of our recent graduates in Maui, Florida, & Costa Rica. *
“There are two lasting bequests we can give our children:
One is roots, the other is wings.”
~ Hodding Carter
There’s a new a new yoga craze sweeping the nation: Acro-Yoga (which we call “Flying Yoga” — see below). Actually, this style of yoga has officially been around for 6 years already, since 2006 (click HERE for more), but it’s only in the last few years or so that it’s really taken off. Before that, it was known in yoga circles, but no one had yet made it into its own unique, identifiable, trademarked brand of yoga. In reality, it’s probably a pretty ancient practice, maybe as old as the circus (not to mention something that mommies and daddies do with their kids all the time!) In the world of yoga, it’s at least as old as the 1930s when the “godfather” of modern yoga, TVK Krishnamacharya, taught it to his students, who did public, circus-like yoga demonstrations to advertise the power of yoga to the world. Here’s a link to a Youtube video showing the master and his students practicing this form of yoga:
So why did it take so long for this type of yoga to catch on, one might wonder? It’s so fun, everyone seems to love it. Well, I would suggest it’s at least partly because there has been some lightening up and loosening of boundaries in the yoga world, and this is probably a good thing. It also seems that when something gets trademarked, branded, and made into a system, there’s much more of a chance of it really becoming an identifiable entity in its own right, a household term.
Before I go on, let me just say a little something about the name for this kind of yoga, and why I do not use the term “Acro-Yoga.”
Personally, I prefer the designation “Flying Yoga” not only because I have never officially been trained in “Acro,” but because it sounds too much like we’re doing circus tricks. This isn’t any put down of the founders of Acro, Jason Nemer and Jenny Klein. No, they are well grounded in the yoga tradition, and they also acknowledge that when we are doing any kind of yoga, it’s really the inner work being done — the qualities of courage, trust, perserverance, patience, listening, etc. — that are really the most important, not necessarily what we can do. On the other hand, when we see a pose artfully done, or a move gracefully executed, we generally give props because we know what it must have taken to get there (however many incarnations — in this lifetime, or ones before!)
I prefer the term “Flying Yoga” because we do really fly high when we do this kind of yoga, it’s so much fun, and even blissful (more below on this). On the other hand, perhaps the designation “Roots & Wings” would be even better, to highlight the fact that in order for one person to fly (the “Flyer”), the person who is assisting (the “Base”) must be really very well grounded to make it all possible! As it is with every “flight” we take in life — we won’t be airborne for long if we don’t have a stable foundation to support it!
My Flying Yoga Story
Although I have been practicing yoga for the past 19 years, admittedly it is really only in the last 5 that I have gotten into Flying Yoga. Early on, I found a great partner in crime, my friend Ali Gardella (who also assists with our Yoga Teacher Trainings). People see us now and are fairly amazed at what we can do, but little do they know that Ali had to take many a one for the team to get to where we are now. Yes, she ate sand numerous times on the beach here in Naples as we were learning how to do our flying stunts. Ali, a grandmother of 2 has been a super flying trooper, always ready to try new things and No one would ever suspect that she is a grandmother!
Ali also knows how fun it is! And yoga of all things should have at least a little fun to balance out the discipline!
So anyway, you can thank Ali when I take you without a hitch from “Folded Leaf” into the “Bat Pose,” or have you stand and balance on my hands, etc.
More recently, I have begun “flying” with another truly amazing yogini, Meenakshi Angel Honig, who has been practicing and teaching yoga for the past 4 decades, currently residing at the Spirit of Aloha on Maui. Angel is an internationally acclaimed yoga teacher with so much wisdom to share! It is a great honor for me to work together with her and we are really so blessed to have her joining us on the teaching staff of our yoga program at the Spirit of Aloha.
I would also like to highlight one intriguing element in our working together: The fact that Angel actually experiences Kundalini Shakti through practicing Flying Yoga, which is why she calls it “The Yoga of Bliss.” She feels it has to do with the energy being released by pressure of the Base’s feet against the sacrum. [This makes perfect sense to me. Yesterday at Earth Day I spoke with a woman who believes her recent spontaneous kundalini awakening was directly related to her hooping practice, specifically by the pressure of the hoop against her sacrum.]
Angel and I have already choreographed 2 Flying Yoga “peaces” (as Angel calls them), and I have posted the Youtube videos of these below. The first is a piece set to Josh Groban’s version of “You Raise Me Up,” which Angel chose as a perfect soundtrack for Flying Yoga. I think you’ll agree it’s not bad at all for our first month working together, and somewhat sporadically at that:
The second “peace” Angel and I co-created is a Flying Yoga tribute to Whitney Houston, using her incredibly beautiful song from The Bodyguard, “I Will Always Love You.”
And here are two other “peaces” that Angel and I have created more recently for your viewing pleasure:
I feel really good about the work that Angel and I have done together, mainly because for me it fulfills something that I have for a long time now wanted to do with my asana practice, which is to turn it into a work of art, expressing, as Rodney Yee has put it, the “Poetry of the Body.” And that is is just its outward expression, of course. Asana’s inward expression is greater awareness and self-knowledge, health, bliss, peace, freedom, and love of life. May it be so for us all!
For a nice piece on Jason & Jenny and Acro Yoga, click HERE: