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Journal Post

For thousands and thousands of years the Yoga sages have observed and taught their students that the mind is by nature "outward-turning." That is, it tends to flit about from thought to thought capriciously and from subject to subject like a cork bouncing about in the open sea. The trouble with that is some places the mind bounces into are whirlpools of non-constructive thinking. And as you know, many thought patterns bring with them accompanying emotions -- some of which are disturbing and even debilitating.

Encinitas holds the distinction of being the American birthplace of Ashtanga Yoga. David Williams began teaching here in the early seventies and sponsored Pattabhi Jois and his son Manju to come here for the first time in 1975. Brad Ramsey and Gary Lopedota, two of David's students, opened their own yoga shala, called the Ashtanga Yoga Nilayam, after David moved to Maui.
When I first began teaching yoga in 1981, yoga wasn't exactly entrenched in the mainstream as it is now. I had been meditating for four years and doing asana out of a book daily. There was never a thought about becoming a yoga teacher, as I had four children, ages 7-14, and it was all I could do to stay afloat and meet my commitments as an Air Force wife and mother. My daily meditation practice helped more than anything else to keep me on a fairly even keel during those challenging days.
I write this from the vantage point of 37,000 feet above our earth, looking both up at the bluest of blue skies and down at cloud patterns of marshmallow fluff, and am seized with a sense of gratitude for the supreme beauty of our planet, and all that is in my life since I embarked on a spiritual path over 30 years ago.
Samtosha is the Sanskrit term for contentment - it is one of the guidelines of a Yogi seeking union with God. On a daily basis, there are a million opportunities for me to practice this, (enough to eat, enough sleep, enough this, enough that, enough). But there are some bigger feeling events happening that challenge my ability to find contentment as easily as I do when I stop eating when I am full, (instead of cleaning the plate).
This is a question I have been getting more and more of lately, so I think I will write a bit...
During the dog days of summer we're familiar with the usual methods of cooling off: AC, dips in cool lakes, watermelon, and tall glasses of iced tea or lemonade often do the trick.
Yogis, however, use yet another way; and it's one that we doesn't require paying an electricity bill or going on vacation.
We can cool down through our very own breath. That's right, one particular form of yogic breathing, called sitali (pronounced sheet-ah-lee) in Sanskrit, cools down the body when it's feeling overheated, as well as the mind and heart, when fiery emotions like anger and jealousy arise.
Here's how to do it:
It was a late lunch/early dinner (linner? Or lunner?) with a good friend, and after addressing and quickly solving a number of thorny issues that have troubled humankind for millennia, our attention wandered from swerve of shore to bend of bay and settled on the strange case of the Yoga Sutra. No one knows much of anything concrete about the origins and authorship of this little curiosity of about 1200 words, maybe 100 fewer than the Declaration of Independence. Estimates of its date of composition range anywhere from 200 BCE to 200 CE, its authorship, or more precisely compilation attributed to a semi-mythical figure named Patanjali.
It was my great good fortune last Fall to attend a small yoga conference at beautiful Cavallo Point, just on the Marin side of the Golden Gate. One of the speakers there, Anne O'Brien, a local teacher, gave a fascinating talk about state of yoga teacher training here in the US, presenting in the process some innovative ideas about how such a program should be organized. I naturally began to think about the training program here at PYS, which was just beginning its third cycle in September 2009. Our two previous programs together graduated about 40 students, several of whom are now teaching here in one way or another.
I recently was out on Long Island in New York state to participate in a teacher training. Two of the students in that training are starting a website titled Breath Repeat (www.breatherepeat.com) and asked me to contribute. Here's what I had to say.
Hanging in my office's south-facing window is a prism, a flat plate of glass about four inches in diameter. For half the year, in the spring and summer, the Sun is high in the sky and the angle of its rays too steep to filter through the glass and into my room. Effectively out of sight then, as the old adage has it, it's also usually out of mind, though occasionally, when nudged by a breeze blowing through the open window, it taps against the pane ... clack, clack, clack ... and reminds me it's still hanging around. This morning though when I opened the slatted blinds that cover the window, a hint of rainbow sprawled across my floor, not nearly the full spectrum, just a long uneven smudge of red.
I reviewed my first video for Yoga Journal in 1991, and since then I've reviewed at least a couple in every single issue for the last 18 years. Just this year I reviewed my 300th video (though I've probably watched at least half again as many that didn't pass muster), and by some strange alignment of planets or more likely some cosmic comedy of karmas, it was a presentation by our very own Rod Yee.
We're a little early with our newsletter this month because we have a time-urgent message about our next Advanced Studies program. You might wonder about this: why "study" Yoga, isn't it more about "doing?" Well, that's the active way Yoga is mostly presented in the West, but traditionally study is an important element of the Yoga discipline, going back a good 2500 years. Every school of Yoga has its "doing" element-and it's not always just doing asana-but that doing is always based on some kind of vision or theory about the nature of the world and human consciousness.
My original intention for this month was to write about one of the pioneers of modern yoga, Shri Yogendra. But just this morning I received a newsletter from a yoga school-here unnamed-where I found a short essay, "About Yoga," that begins with: "Yoga is an ancient science practiced for thousands of years." Friends, as Joan Rivers says, can we talk? Let's start with "thousands of years." The Sanskrit word sanatva means "ancientness," it's an idea that's found everywhere in Hinduism.
The last time we checked in we were in India in the last quarter of the 18th century, with the British East India Company (EIC) serving as much of the country's governing body. Unfortunately for India, like most businesses-except Piedmont Yoga of course-the EIC was in business to make money, and when that aim conflicted with good government-surprise!-making money won out. When a severe drought hit India and food shortages threatened, despite plenty of early warnings the EIC sat on its collective hands and did nothing...nothing that is except allow merchants to RAISE the price of foodstuffs, thereby exacerbating an already catastrophic situation. The result was predictable: uncounted millions of Indians died of starvation.
My formal Sanskrit education recently passed the one year mark, so I suppose it's time to share a bit of What I've Learned So Far. First let me say that before starting this weekly class last Fall, I spent 20 frustrating years trying on and (mostly) off to teach myself Sanskrit. I went through maybe three or four "teach-yourself-Sanskrit" primers, which for the most part were about as readable as Finnegans Wake. So if you have an irresistible urge to humble yourself with Sanskrit, take my advice and find a good tutor.
Whenever you practice or read about Yoga, you'll inevitably run across Sanskrit. Sanskrit is the classical language of India, much like Latin is the classical language of medieval Europe. Nowadays Sanskrit is pretty much a dead language, and though it's still one of a dozen or so official languages of India, even in its heyday Sanskrit was spoken only by a relatively small circle of academics and priests.
This weekend some of you may consider practicing 108 Sun Salutations to celebrate the Autumnal Equinox or to support the Global Mala Project, but have you ever stopped to think why it must be repeated 108 times? What's so significant about the number 108? Well...a lot of things!
108 is a sacred number found in many different religions including Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism, to name a few.  The malas we use when reciting mantra contain 108 beads, much like the Catholic rosary.  We practice 108 Sun Salutations at the Spring and Fall equinox to mark the changing of the seasons. The number 108 is all around us, all of the time.
Do you ever find yourself holding on so tightly to a desired outcome that you are a filled with anxiety, tension or blind ambition? Have you ever wanted to do a yoga posture so badly so that you are literally obsessing about it and can talk of almost nothing else? This is perhaps the definition of unhealthy attachment at its core. Yet at the same time the driven mind directed at a task at hand is one of the most powerful tools we have to change our lives. So the question then becomes not how to rid ourselves of our desires or our drive but instead how to train our mind to work towards our desires without the unnecessary tension of attachment.
Now is a time for embracing the Darkness.  In a literal sense, the nights have become longer and colder; in a figurative sense, Hallowmas and the days that follow are the time of year when the veil between our world and the underworld is most transient, and when we are best able to shed light not only on our ancestral spirits, but also on the darkest corners of our own soul.
NAMASTE,
It's such a cliché to remark on the speedy passage of time. Nonetheless, I have to trot out the "how time flies" line to comment on the arrival this year of Unity Woods' 30th anniversary. To tell you the truth, things are tumbling by so fast and there so much going on that I might have missed noticing it altogether had I not been prompted by the ubiquitous accolades to local (and national) media star, Diane Rehm, on her 30th anniversary. That's when I said to myself, "Hey, Unity Woods has been around for 30 years, too."
I recently attended the Anusara Certified Teachers Gathering in Denver, CO. A group of 150 certified teachers came together for 5 days of inspiring practices led by Anusara founder John Friend and transformational presentations by Paul Muller, an internationally recognized scholar in the field of Tantric philosophy. One of the major emphases in Anusara is to take our yoga off the mat and into the world, so that we are living our philosophy that we are all part of One Big Spirit. To that end, John invited the Karma Krew to come to our gathering. Karma Krew is a yoga-inspired non-profit organization created by two like-hearted yoga teachers in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
Most people know yoga as a physical exercise system that increases flexibility and teaches them how to relax. However, yoga is a comprehensive discipline that encompasses principles for living in the world and practices to deepen spiritual life, in addition to achieving physical well-being. Yoga is a nourishing practice on all levels!
It is that time of year again... Time to come back deeply to ourselves. We shed our autumn skin and now is the time to be with what truly is. Winter, the most Yin time of Year, is Dark, Cold, and Emotional. It is also receptive, feminine, and intuitive.Traditionally this is a time for Retreat. Unfortunately, most of us find ourselves torn between gearing up for the holidays and physiologically slowing down. As we move towards the shortest day of the year, we encounter the Water Element of Winter; a time to nourish our deepest essences, gestating for the weeks leading back towards the light; a time of deep contemplation. What will you contemplate this season?
iHanuman is an online community of yoga teachers dedicated to serving the yoga community. iHanuman is the monkey bridge between students, teachers and the ancient wisdom of yoga. We have created an avenue for people to connect with others through new technology and positive social media. Here you will find audio and video of your favorite teachers for free as well as for download. Our focus is yoga including ayurveda, sanskrit, philosophy, meditation, thai yoga, and yoga therapy.
The first attempt at an English translation of Patanjali's Yoga Sutra ("Threads of Yoga") was made by James Robert Ballantyne (1813-1864), a Scottish Orientalist and linguist. From 1846 to 1861 he was the principal of the prestigious Sanskrit College in Benares, established in 1791 by the British East India Company. Ballantyne, an adherent of a movement known as the Scottish Enlightenment (which also claimed as members poet Robert Burns, novelist Walter Scott, philosopher David Hume, and inventor James Watt), was also a prolific translator and writer.
I don't typically write reviews for these letters-in fact I've never written one here before-but I have a new book hot off the press that needs and deserves all the hype it can get. Last Fall I was fortunate enough to be invited to a yoga conference at Cavallo Point, just on the Marin side of the Golden Gate Bridge, a beautiful spot (with a great restaurant) if you're ever looking for a retreat location. The gathering was billed as "An Opportunity to Consider an Authentic Voice for Yoga Today" three days of talks on topics like the relationship between yoga and buddhism, yoga and art, and yoga and tantra ... well, what did you expect yoga people to talk about when they get together?
Like many Sanskrit words in the Yoga lexicon, the word guru has both a literal and symbolic meaning. Literally it means "heavy, weighty; heavy in the stomach (as food), difficult to digest; excessive, difficult, hard; important, serious, momentous; valuable, highly prized; venerable, respectable." The guru is the venerable "weighty one," heavy with wisdom, that's both highly prized but at times difficult to digest, often because teaching seems to contradict everything we hold true, or because we're told things about ourselves we don't especially want to hear.
People who have never practiced yoga before often ask me to teach them a yoga pose. The Iyengar student in me cannot help but start by teaching Tadasana. People are often astounded by how much integrity and poise there is when conscious attention is brought to the simple act standing. They are amazed at how much attention can be brought to the four corners of the feet, the inner line of the legs, the lift of the knee caps and the release of the tailbone. Once we build the foundation. we move to the upper body and take a deep inhale to engage the abdomen, lift the sternum and lift and roll the shoulders back.

Supta Virasana, or Reclining Hero's Pose, is practiced by first situating yourself into Virasana, Hero's Pose. This pose can be very difficult on the knees, so take it easy. If you are unable to sit completely between your heels, as in the picture to the left, then sit on a yoga block or a blanket. You want to be sure that there is NO pain in the inner or outer knees. Take a few breaths here to settle into the pose and add props as needed.
Although some are talking about another 40 inches of snow this month, March is the month of the spring equinox and therefore heralds the beginning of spring. Until then, we are still in the water element and the end of the winter.
We are surprised to find, or not find rather, Vrschikasana, Scorpion Pose, listed among the backbends or the arm balances on the Yoga Journal List of Poses. As we wind down our backbends as we approach the spring equinox, we would be remiss in not including this challenging backbend among our poses.
There is no one pose that is the most feminine pose. Some poses are more feminine than others and some poses make you feel more feminine on different days of your practice. Ardha Chandrasana, Half Moon Pose, always feels very feminine to me. Perhaps it is because when I practice it on a good day, I feel extremely graceful and elegant. And while the name, camel pose, may not sound very feminine, Ustrasana, is very uplifting and powerful.
Defy - To challenge the power of; resist boldy and openly.
For any yogi who has a favorite friend of the canine variety, you cannot help but smile when they practice upward or downward dog. Urdhva Mukha Svanasana, or upward facing dog, is another in our series of backward bending poses which is also clearly an arm and wrist strengthening pose. Poses such as Bhujangasana, Cobra Pose or Setu Bandha Sarvangasana, Bridge Pose, are excellent preparatory poses for Upward Facing Dog pose.
Bhekasana or Frog Pose is another challenging backbend which requires strength not only in the back but also in the arms and flexibility in the shoulders. Bhekasana is best practiced after warming up with standing poses or other preparatory backbends.
dhanurasana (bow posture) Dhanurasana, or Bow Pose, is a fantastic back-bending pose for opening the chest and shoulders and strengthening the back. This pose is challenging as it reminds how important the legs are in back-bending poses. In addition to the strength in the back required for backbends, there is even more strength required in the legs, particularly the quadriceps.
ChaturangaChaturanga Dandasana or the Four-Limbed Staff Pose is also called Plank Position. Chaturanga Dandasana is itself not described as a backbend but is often used to prepare for backbends because it strengthens the spinal muscles. Plank pose is the infamous Yoga Push Up which is one of the sequence of asanas in Surya Namaskar or Sun Salutations.
Butterfly PoseWhen determining which yoga pose to highlight today, I could not help but ask our Co-Founder, Peter Agelasto, what pose is his favorite yoga pose. Why? Because Today is his Birthday. He has given so much time, effort and resources to this project. He is the ultimate Karma Yogi.
Bhujangasana -Cobra Pose Open the heart and stretch the belly with Bhujangasana or Cobra Pose. Back bends stimulate the Kidney Energy and invigorate the heart. Back bends can counteract the effects of depression. During the winter, many people experience Seasonal Affective Disorder, SAD, because of the decrease in light. Back bends, when practiced correctly, elevate our mood. This gentle back bend improves digestion and creates flexibility in the spine.
It is wintertime. One of the best seasons to practice yoga simply because it is an excellent indoor activity. In the chinese tradition, wintertime is a time to focus on balancing the Kidney Energy (Qi). One way to access the Kidney Qi is to practice backbends. And since it is February, it is also nice to focus on poses that open the heart. One of the myriad backbending asanas to choose from is Matsyasana or Lord of the Fishes pose. Yoga Journal has a good description for practicing Matsyasana. Unfortunately, I was unable to find a good video description of this pose, so we will just have to create one...
A Guru is a person whose very presence imparts truth and awakening in the disciple. When I traveled to Mysore for the first time at the age of 22 I asked Sri K. Pattabhi Jois where I could find the illusive state of inner peace that all yoga practice seeks to instill. Known as Guruji to his students, he said "You take it practice many years, then Shantih is coming... no problem" and my heart opened to the grace of his teaching. It is my great fortune to consider this amazing man my teacher and I attribute the depth of my personal practice and teaching to the light that Guruji's fire ignited within me.
Yoga has an almost addictive quality to it. If you start doing yoga, it starts doing you too. The search for knowledge, wisdom and truth morph into numerous shapes and forms along the inner journey. When you enter the world of yoga sometimes you'll even find a whole Indian performance awaiting you: harmonium, chanting, flowers, pujas, small women demonstrating yoga postures, deities blessing you, henna painting and vegetarians--it's a Bollywood show that draws you in.
My thanks to our conference co-coordinators and my dear friends, Patricia Walden and Linda DiCarlo, for their tireless efforts and their deep devotion that made this conference possible. Thanks also to all you workers and volunteers, in front of and behind the scenes for your invaluable and essential assistance. And, of course, thanks to all of you attendees for being here. Without you there wouldn't be any conference.
Fine tune your approach to Corpse Pose through an exploration of varying teaching philosophies.
By Sara Avant Stover
Join Manorama, Director of the School of Sanskrit Studies in New York City, for a very special ten-hour workshop on the Yoga Sutra.
Students will delve into the unique relationship that exists between breath and sound, and between energy and consciousness. Combining academic knowledge and practical experience, this course offers a new lens through which to view the vast and enlightening subject of the Yoga Sutra.

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