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Find Focus: In and On Your Head By Danielle Figgie

October 22, 2014

Danielle in headstand I’ve been seeing a lot of blog posts lately about the woes of Vata season. Vata is the Ayurvedic season that corresponds to our Autumn. This season is ruled by air and ether, and a lot of us struggle with staying focused. If we’re not careful our minds can get swept away with the strong winds of the season. This is known as Citta Vrtti.

Patanjali refers to “citta vrtti” in yoga sutra 1:2 when describing the meaning of yoga. Yogas citta vrtti nirodhah. Yoga is the cessation of the whirlings of the mind. All that we do on and off our mats in the name of Yoga is in pursuit of this sutra. And during Vata season, our work is really cut out for us.

Because all of the elements of nature are within us, our bodies react to the seasons just as nature does. When the wind blows the leaves off of the trees during this time of year, so do our thoughts get blown around in our heads. This can leave us feeling frazzled or even frustrated that we can’t follow one thought process to its blessed end.

If you can relate to any of this, don’t worry – you’re in good company! Luckily, there are many ways to find balance in our bodies and minds during this turbulent time; simple pranayama (breathing) practices, grounding asanas, and mantra, to name a few.

Another approach is to practice inversions. Yes, inversions! It seems counterintuitive to combat Vata imbalance by flipping yourself upside down, but hear me out. Practicing inversions is an effective way to focus on one thing and one thing only: being upside down. Think about it: it’s quite difficult to have that hypothetical conversation with your boss while you’re in handstand. Forearm stand is not exactly the ideal place to decide on a working title for you next novel. And, I haven’t met anyone who successfully planned his or her next vacation in headstand. These inversions are designed to keep your focus on right now. Because right now is all there is. Right now is glorious!

Additionally, sirsana (headstand) actually stimulates our seventh chakra, the sahasrara chakra at the crown of our head. When we connect this energy center, associated with enlightenment, transformation and bliss, to the stability of the very earth beneath us, we immediately calm the mind and keep the strong winds at bay.

Don’t believe me? Try it! Next time you feel your mind moving in 108 different directions, come to child’s pose, and then, roll up to the crown of your head. Breathe slowly and deeply a handful of times, then proceed into headstand, or roll back to child’s pose when you need to.

Set up the shapes intelligently, from the ground up, so that you feel connected as you rise beyond your citta vrttis. No matter what season it is, no matter how loud the citta vrttis are, we can use these ancient practices to find balance in our lives right now. And for that, we are truly blessed.

Find focus upside down! Danielle shows you how as she hosts our Monthly FLY workshop on October 26th (register here). You can always chill out and fly with Danielle every week for Lotus Hour MWF at 9:30am and Sundays 1pm (see class schedule).

Look, and Then You Will Know How to Live By Justin Ritchie

October 15, 2014

Justin Ritchie All of life works the same way. You have to live it.

Back in the 70’s, a group of neuroscientists wanted to study the effects of meditation on the brain. So, they set out into the Himalayas to find a particular monastery where many of the monks had logged more than 100,000 hours of meditation. After two months arduous journey, they reached their destination. Following the formalities, the scientists told the monks why they were there. The monks laughed. A little taken aback, the scientists asked the monks what they found so humorous.

The head monk said, “You want to study the effects of meditation on the brain?”

The lead scientist excitedly answered, “Yes!”

“Then why didn’t you stay home and meditate?” replied the monk.

The scientist said, “But… you don’t understand…”

With a smile, the monk said, “No, you don’t understand.”

To truly understand the benefits of meditation on any kind of useful, personal level, one would have to meditate. As American philosopher Timothy Levitch said, “Life understood is a life lived.”

As far back as I can remember, I’ve always been skeptical. My parents taught me, in a variety of different ways, to question authority and make my own choices. It’s a lesson that’s always served me well but isn’t exactly prevalent in our society. Most organized religions teach that the key to divinity or salvation lies in external authority. The American public school system drills in obedience to authority and a conforming to norms. Advertising is a deluge of, “Trust me, THIS is what you really need!”

By the time we reach adulthood, we are conditioned to take other people’s word for things. But while experts and empirical analysis and teachers of every sort can point us in the right direction, it is we and we alone who make our choices in life and decide what is right in a moment or for the future. Those choices are served best by our own experiential awareness. We give ourselves the ability to move from, “I think this is the right path” to “I know this is the right path.”

Action creates knowledge – not the other way around.

I find myself learning the most from yoga classes in which the teacher encourages us how to look, rather than what to see – ones that are threaded with words like feel, sense, observe, listen, awareness. The only way to discover an ability or awareness that you never thought possible is to let go of attachment to what you already know is possible. As an energy worker, I can now cure almost all headaches with very little touch in less than 15 minutes. I definitely didn’t think that was possible before. But I didn’t learn its possibility because someone told me. It’s an ability I developed over years of playing with energy and exploring what it can do – what it feels like… how it affects others. When teaching students how to wield energy, a vast majority of my time is spent teaching how to observe energetically rather than having them memorize diagrams of energy lines.

Yoga’s sister science, Ayurveda, is based on this same observational wisdom. We look at our defining traits physically, mentally, and emotionally. Based on those observations, we make fitting changes to our yoga practice, diet, and surroundings. Then we see what difference those changes make and recalibrate again. Because of this, Ayurveda has helped me tremendously in getting the most out of my life. It’s helped me to balance out the things that are challenging and enhance strengths.

So, what do you observe about yourself and your life? Not what do you think. Not what do you assume. Not what others tell you. What can you sense, feel, and thereby truly know? And, what would life be like if you made this observational awareness an ongoing practice?

Are you waiting until you understand life before you try and live it, or, are you living life and understanding more along the way?

Love and Namaste,
Justin

Share your magic! Justin hosts Practical Magic, a workshop on the subtle energies of the body and how it can help you shine your light in everyday life on October 18th (register here). Every week, join Justin in class to greet the day during Sun Celebrations MWF mornings and on Tuesday nights for Basic Flow at our new time, 7:15pm (see schedule).

Three Chakras That Will Ground You In Fall By Jamie Lyn Skolnick

October 8, 2014

Jamie I was really thrilled to buy my first pair of leg warmers this season at the local American Apparel. Just having them on reminds me of my legs and warmth! Ayurveda calls Autumn “Vata” season, described as cold, dry and irregular. The overall prescription to a healthy balance is daily routine, warmth, serenity, and nourishment – all of which can come from your lower chakras!

Chakras are reservoirs of consciousness or psychic wheels of energy. There are seven main chakras that run along the spine: root chakra, sacral chakra, navel chakra, heart chakra, throat chakra, brow chakra, and crown chakra. There are chakras in your hands and feet which are very sensitive and powerful, among hundreds of chakras all over your body. Let’s explore!

The Root Chakra: What You Need
We can nourish our root chakra, Muladhara, which lives at the base of the spine, by a regular, daily routine for eating, sleeping, and working. Eating regular, healthy whole meals (earth energy) can ground all the “Vata” in the air. Praying and giving thanks for each meal sends healthy LOVE messages to our bodies, which is foundation for a healthy SELF. I find that getting to bed no later than 10:30pm works best for me during Fall, so I can wake up fresh to start the next day. I love waking up early and receiving the magic of “The Ambrosial” hours right before dawn. They are perfect moments for yoga and daily meditation practice, including deep reflection (stillness). The root chakra is about having structure (its symbol is the shape of a square), and you can create that through discipline in your daily regimen. Smell some earthy grounding aromatherapy such as cedar wood or patchouli to make you feel secure and content!

The Sacral Chakra: What You Give Yourself
The second chakra, known as the “abode of self” or the sacral chakra, Svadhisthana, is located two inches below your naval. Water rules this placement, so watery remedies are a delicious way to juice up the dryness of “Vata” season. Self-massage with warm sesame oil for 10-20 min is a wonderful way to worship you, plus get the creative juices flowing. It’s also a great stress reliever, since Autumn’s changes can be a little daunting at times. Sweet, soothing music, smells, candles, scenes, and harmonizing company can all delight your SENSES. This chakra is ruled by the moon and our feminine nature, so it’s important to be receptive and listen to your body’s messages. Be very good to yourself and save up for luxuries every week or two, such as getting a new blouse or taking the day off to go to the museum. These extras are necessary to enjoy life.

The Core Chakra: What You Do
Your core is the light or FIRE of your life. It’s called your Manipura chakra, the city of gems, which is two inches above your navel. Your third chakra provides the warmth that’s needed during Fall. It’s a great time to be in your body, go running, do sit-ups, and be spontaneous and playful. The shape is a downward pointed triangle, which means focused fire. It brings the power of being proactive to finish up that project you have been working on, and it also brings a sense of responsibility and effectiveness. I am finally finishing up my case studies for my aromatherapy training this past spring, and this makes me feel really confident!

What do you need to complete? I just started going to spin class at my health club. It feels awesome to challenge my body. Go watch a funny movie, do something adventurous, and be playful with your friends! Set your boundaries. “I can, I will, I won’t.”

As one of my chakra teachers Guru Rattan says, “All chakras, all seasons.” So, make sure you honor the upper chakras as well. Make sure you LOVE (heart chakra, Anahata), EXPRESS (throat chakra, Visshudha), OBSERVE (brow chakra, Ajna) and AWAKEN (crown chakra, Sahasrara). Together, they connect you to your beautiful life this Fall Season.

Big Namaste,
Jamie Lyn Skolnick

Learn how to balance your energies with a poignant and deep look at the chakras with Jamie on Saturday, October 11th during a special workshop: Awaken Your Chakra Power (register here). Plus, we’ve expanded our Restorative offerings! Melt into bliss with Jamie on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday evenings (see schedule).

Self Care is Not Selfish By Ali Cramer

October 1, 2014

Ali teaching ayurveda “Self care is not selfish” – a thought passed along to me by Dana Flynn. I think it’s advice we can all take to heart. As we move into October, it seems the holidays are already upon us: Halloween, Thanksgiving, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Christmas…the mass market team behind American consumerism goes into frenzy mode.

It’s so difficult (even for us in the Spiritual Family) not to get swept along by the tide of the sights, sounds, crowds and (eek!) the carols. I must have the best Shiva/Ganesh/Kali costume!…the most unusual yet delicious homemade vegan gluten free local organic baked goods to bring to the Yogi Thanksgiving… I want to remember to follow the intentions of each day of Kwanzaa, light a candle for each night of Hanukkah, decorate the potted pine bush for Christmas, make or buy the perfect present for each of my loved Ones, get to all the Holiday parties I can, and Om Namah Shivaya, here comes New Year’s Eve! AHHHHHH!!!!

So, we do our best, because we are grateful Yogis and Yoginis. We do our best, because we appreciate the light of Togetherness as we move into the time of Mama Nature’s big nap, with its long dark nights and plunging temperatures, and because we want everyone to know how much we love them, treasure them, and value their support throughout the year. The intention is honorable, the results can be rewarding, AND we might just wake up on January 1st (or way before that) exhausted, overwhelmed, depleted and sick.

Because, at this time of year, as we are remembering to take care of everyone and everything, it’s very easy to forget to take care of One Big Thing. OURSELVES. Remember You? Remember poor little hard working stressed out You?

When was the last time you took a Restorative class? Sat by the river, all bundled up for a twenty-minute meditation? Got a massage? Took a lovely bath filled with milk and rose petals? Soaked your hair in coconut oil, made YOURSELF a beautiful pot of butternut squash soup or kichari, or heck, turned off the phone and took a nap?! No one can do it for us. It is our responsibility to find the time – to make our dinacharya (daily routines) a priority and to put the figurative oxygen mask on ourselves first – or sooner or later, we will be useless to the people we want to help!

October is Ayurveda Month at Laughing Lotus, and Ayurveda gives us tons of tips and tools for this time of year, with its Vata energy in full swing. Eat grounding food, stay out of drafts, drink lots of warm beverages, eat digestive spices like cumin, cardamom, clove, cinnamon, ginger. Know the right routines for your day, but also for the season (ritucharya) and your Life! Eat, drink, sleep, breathe, move and LIVE in a way that brings health and harmony with the world around us. Put the to-do list on hold. Take that “vacation time” you have coming at work.

My own self-care routines are constantly evolving. It’s been a long process, and I still make mistakes all the time! I’m getting better about sleep, doing less, BEING more, softening…slowly. The Lotus Family helps me out with this one for sure! We remind each other; that’s why the Community is so important. When we are armed with the knowledge, given the permission by the ancients, somehow it becomes more in the forefront of our minds to actually LIVE IT and help each other with it. Put your rupees where your rasas are! (Not sure what that means? Make time for an Ayurveda workshop – for you!)

Yes, self-care routines require a little more time and a little more effort. The rewards are worth it. With a few small adjustments, we can move into the end of the year feeling calm, grounded, nurtured and healthy. That certainly beats feeling burned out, anxious, frantic and achy.

So, sometimes we will have to say “No” to others’ demands. Sometimes, we will even have to say “No” to ourselves. As in “No, you will not stay up all night researching and baking the perfect recipe for the Yogi banquet. You will go to Babycakes or Lifetyme and buy something yummy to bring and call it a day, and then go to bed at 9:30 (okay, 10 the latest).” or “No, you will not be able to be at Krishna’s party on the Lower East Side on Wednesday night after you’ve taught four yoga classes and you live in Inwood, no matter how cute Krishna is.” Or “No, you will not take that second Vinyasa class or go to Soul Cycle after yoga. You will rest, journal, meditate or have a quiet cup of chai while listening to Yo Yo Ma.” Now, isn’t that better? Treat yourself as tenderly as you would a newborn. After all, this Body Temple has been given to us on loan. So it’s up to us to take really good care of it.

Your Lotus Lovers, Dana T. Flynn and I, understand. That’s why, waayyyy back in July, after a particularly intoxicating night of Shakti at Amma’s yearly New York Satsang, we planned out “India Night” for Friday, October 3rd. It will be a little preview of our upcoming “Source of Shakti” Retreat, which will be the trip of a lifetime to Kerala, the birthplace of Ayurveda. Talk about your self care! Our retreat includes time at an Ayurvedic spa, a trip to a spice plantation, plenty of time for yoga, meditation and rest, and did I mention three whole days soaking in the love of Amma at her very own Ashram?

No more excuses. The information has been passed along. Now is the time to take action. Or sometimes: To take action to STOP taking action. As the great Yogi Bhajan said so beautifully, “Be a Human Being. Not a Human Doing.”

Happy Ayurveda Month!
Namaste, Ali

Want to know more? Ayurveda Ali is your tour guide: India Night on October 3rd (register here); the 50-hour Ayurveda advanced training kicks off October 20th (find out more here); and, November 15th, make time for you on a Saturday afternoon in the Shakti Salon, learning and experiencing Ayurvedic concoctions for nourishment and beauty, inside and out (register here).

Chanting the Sutras By Lauren Magarelli

September 24, 2014

Lauren and Gavin I have a secret. Sharing it with you probably makes it less of a secret, but this is a Good one. In truth, you already know it. There is an essence that resides in you, like it resides in me. It is the secret of the Yoga Sutras. 196 Mantras make up the Sutras, and each has a hidden vibration that can bring us clarity to the mind.

Sutra III.24 says ‘Maitryadishu balani,’ which means: Through kindness, strength comes. When I first read this, I took it to mean that I had to be kind to others. I thought this would be easy, because it’s natural for me to put my son, husband, family and friends first. But, I couldn’t let this mantra go as quickly as I thought. Sutra means “thread,” and as I wove this sutra into my practice, as I sang it out through my voice, as I moved on my mat, the meaning changed. I thought: The sutra does tell me to be kind to others, but more importantly, start with kindness towards myself.

Bhakti yoga is yoga of kindness, a way to go deep within yourself to find love and more self- acceptance. Using mantras can reveal this secret, and while everyone has their own path to discovery, each mantra holds an essential truth.

While Gavin and I were at the beach this summer we ran into the water and sang the sutras. When we would run into a wave we would say balani, strength, and when we stepped back we would say maitri adishu, friendly kindness.

Lauren and the Be Bhakti Band lead the jam to celebrate 15 years of Loving You, Loving Life at our big birthday Kirtan October 10th. Also, raise your vibration in the 50-hour Bhakti advanced teacher training starting October 13th (learn more here) and during her November 8th workshop, Awakening the Goddess Within (register here). You can always jam with Lauren in class on Tuesdays and Saturdays (see class schedule here).

The Wisdom of Our Bodies By Anastasia Nevin

September 17, 2014

Anastasia on a beach
Close your eyes and let a big exhale come out your mouth. As you take a moment to go inside, reflect on a soul moment – a moment in your recent life that has somehow touched you… a moment in which you felt a deep connection to something greater than yourself… a moment when you tasted life’s sacredness.

For me, these moments often come in the most mysterious and unexpected ways: a gypsy melody that transports me to my childhood, tears from laughing so hard with a dear friend. These fleeting experiences invite me to come back to my Self, to God, to the Divine part of me that is separate from my Ego-mind.

On my own healing journey, and in my current work as a nutritionist and yoga teacher with people who struggle with eating and body image issues, I have learned that true healing happens when we strengthen and lean into what truly nourishes us – our “Soul” self rather than our Ego-self. When we start to trust who we really are and what we came to earth to do, plus challenge our attachment to a certain identity, weight, body, job, or relationship, then real transformation begins.

In the yoga sutras, we are introduced to this same concept of Purusha and Prakriti in Sutra 2.17: Drastr Drsyayoh Samyogo Heya Hetuh.

This sutra explains that the cause of avoidable pain is the over-identification of the Seer (Purusha) and seen (Prakriti, or Nature). In yogic terms, when we confuse and attach our Soul self to things that are by nature constantly changing, we suffer. Within the context of struggles with food, this attachment is often linked to over-identifying with weight, body, and appearance.

Yoga teaches us to listen to the wisdom of our body. When we close our eyes, connect to breath, and go inside, we can receive insight into living in our body in the present moment. Through awareness, we can tap into how hungry or how full we feel, rather than letting our mind dictate those cues. We can learn to decipher between physical hunger and emotional hunger, asking ourselves what we are truly hungry for. On the yoga mat, we practice finding space and breath in edgy, difficult shapes so that we can find that same ability to tolerate discomfort in our body without running to our closest habit.

We often hear that the “body is a temple for our spirit,” but the truth is we need our bodies to show up to live fully and beautifully on earth. Let’s nourish and care for our bodies in order to live with more peace and soulfulness.

Starting October 5th, Anastasia hosts a three-part workshop series on self-image, nutrition and self-love through a yogic lens (register here). Also, practice with Anastasia on Monday evenings for Basic Flow at a new time, 7:15pm, Wednesday evenings for a brand new Lounging Lotus at 8:30pm, and Saturday morning during Sun Celebrations (see class schedule here).

Discipline of Happiness By Nicola Yvette Hughes

September 10, 2014

Fish Pose This year, this year, has put me through it. Add the ‘SH’ to the beginning of it and you know what I mean. But listen, nothing will cause more attachment to the pain than reciting it, so I will spare you and myself the details; SWAHA and move-on. In life we are presented with many options. May I suggest we choose the path that aligns us with the discipline of yoga? It is always the right one.

The first stepping-stone of our path will be mapped by our guide, Patanjali. In his Yoga Sutras we learn about ‘classical’ yoga and the roots for this exposition. Does this sound familiar: “Life doesn’t come with instructions!”? But, it kind of does; the sutras might be the guidebook your parents never read. Ok, it doesn’t tell you how to apply for a loan or turn your electricity on, but it does tell you how to become the sacred being you already are – how to turn on your light, sans ConEd!

Atha yoganusasanam; NOW begins yoga! Let’s explore together. We are pilgrims on this journey to the light. Let’s get on our mats and turn-it-out. We are here in this temple, our center, for this work. Learning to follow this path together. And no joke, any attachment you may have had to the “it” isn’t real. This is all so temporary, so enjoy. Come play, come dance, come love one and all.

P.S. Dance like someone is watching, because someone is, and that someone needs your light. For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light.

Namaste, lovers of light.

Explore your practice and get deeper with Nicola Tuesday and Thursday mornings for Lotus Hour at 9:30am (see class schedule here)

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