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).
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).
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)
Don’t laugh, but the other week when my friend wore Star Wars yoga leggings, I got quite excited and philosophical. Okay, chuckle, but hear me out. There are not many things in my childhood that I remember with more thrill than seeing Star Wars (IV: A New Hope) in 1977 at the movie theater in California, so Star Wars anything puts me in a certain frame of mind.
My parents rarely took us to the movies, because it was too expensive, but this time, they even let us sneak soda into the theater. It was a special night. I remember opening my contraband Coke can, having one sip only, and that was all. From the opening crawl, “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away,” to the closing scene in which Princess Leia put the medals on Luke and Han Solo, I was mesmerized by this whole new world, practically unable to breathe, let alone drink my soda.
I delighted in the idea that Luke Skywalker, a boy from nowhere (the desert planet Tattooine, fyi, if you’re not total dork like me), could have passion and a good heart – and that practice could help him become the most amazing version of himself to save the universe from evil (at least for the moment).
That was just the beginning for Luke. The Force has many layers, and in Star Wars IV: A New Hope, he had just begun his training. (I mean… it took three whole movies for Luke to become some semblance of a Jedi.) Early in A New Hope, we see what it is like to be one with The Force, when we are introduced to Obi Wan Kenobi, a master Jedi, who knew and did things with great focus, physical grace, emotional ease and mental clarity. In the sequel The Empire Strikes Back, we meet Obi Wan’s teacher, the serene Yoda, who impresses upon Luke that commitment and patience is critical to becoming a Jedi. It becomes clear that The Force is a deeply steeped tradition passed down from teachers to students willing to absorb the teachings for the greater good.
Throughout his Jedi journey, Luke is challenged physically, emotionally and most of all spiritually. He must not rely on others to tell him what to do, but make his own choices by discerning emotions from reality as he continually develops his own wisdom within. All along, the threat of allowing his mind to fall prey to the Dark Side (tested by the powerful Darth Vader) is omnipresent.
And so it is for yogis too. Our journey toward the highest versions of ourselves faces constant challenge, recalibration and practice. It is a path laid out in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.
Yoga sutra II.17 reads: drastr-drsyayoh sanyogo heya-hetuh. Essentially, we’re called upon to pause, and allow the vibrations of the mind to stop hijacking our minds. It is only then we can witness without bias and see clearly.
Yoga sutra III.24 reads: balesu hasti-baladini. With the practice of faith, strength, memory, meditation and wisdom, we will be as strong as an elephant, able to endure and persevere.
Yoga sutra IV.27 reads: tac-chidresu pratyayantarani sanskarebhyah.
Throughout this journey, we will be challenged with moments of weakness. Our minds may cloud with distractions, we will suffer when our thoughts periodically fall to the dark side, and sometimes we will grip onto what we can actually see and confirm versus what we can’t see, but we are asked to trust.
Our personal yoga practices will last a lifetime. Each time we come to our mats, we learn a brand new lesson, which we can take off the mat and into our own worlds, wherever they may be – and they could be far, far away.
Becoming our highest selves takes time. We will be transported and transformed through these practices learned from the yogis and yoga teachers who have come before us. As you travel through time and space in your life, May the Force Be With You. It is… always… just the beginning.
Yoga Sutra I.I – Atha yoganusasanam. And now, yoga.
Start from the beginning with Christine in our three-part Absolute Beginners series in September (register here). Also, join her Sunday, September 28th for Prop Shop! – a workshop on the art of using props to support and empower our practices (register here). Every week, you can hang out with Christine on Thursday nights and Sunday mornings for Basic Flow 1 (see class schedule).
I am not a mudra expert. First, and lastly, I had to ask, “what do mudras mean to me?” The first sincere answer that came to me was simple: mudras are hand and finger gestures.
As a child, I learned early on that there were endless ways to express myself using mere hand gestures, both good and bad. I learned that waving my little hand was a friendly way to say hello. Waving it frantically to my friends across the street got their attention. I learned that hands together, while bowing my head, showed gratitude, while pointing was rude. The back wave of my hand was a gesture of dismissal, or a great way to get stung by that relentless bee (j/k).
Hands, as an extension of our bodies, equals a language that is universal and passed on from generation to generation. My life journey has been very “hands on,” with enriching to religious experiences with hands.
I grew up Catholic. It is customary in the Catholic faith that before one takes a seat in church he or she acknowledge the Holy Trinity through the expression of the “The Father, Son and the Holy Spirit” hand symbol over the body. Since I didn’t quite understand it, I would often ignore it, which did not bode well with Granny, who would deliver a lovingly quick slap on my hand until I got it right.
When I got a little older and my connection to the Catholic faith began to wane, my cousins took me to a Baptist Church, which came with a different set of ritual and symbolism. I saw Christians use their hands as a sign of intercession for healing. There was praising coupled with the waving of hands and the stomping of feet, hollering and endless clapping, and, afterward, bottomless buffets of home cooking (which is what everyone looked forward to)!
I’ve opened my heart to many spiritual practices over the years. From Reiki to Kundalini, where I was introduced to prayers and hand gestures in a way I had never been before. It was exciting and incited my Yoga practice.
When I look back on my spiritual education and ask what mudras mean to me, the answer is simple: connection. When I need to access connectivity with mudras, I am reminded of my personal power and all the energy that lies at the depth of how my being connects with others.
While symbolic in their reference to ancient cultures and rituals, they are certainly not dismissive of modern, everyday, spiritual and energetic truths – quite the opposite, in fact! I find meaning and connection, through my hand gestures, to the world around me even, and especially, when my body or voice cannot find the right language.
Mudras are another way I am reminded of the magic that comes together when we focus, meditate, dream, pray and manifest. It is divinity in our hands.
August is mudras month at Laughing Lotus, so come deepen your relationship with these spiritual hand shapes in all our Laughing Lotus classes, including Tuesdays and Thursdays at 8:30pm with Essence (see class schedule here)
Last weekend I was Long Island-bound on the LIRR with a friend – not to the Hamptons as many were, but to a yoga workshop nowhere near any fancy beach. On our journey it was a river rush of catching up, checking in and giving or getting advice.
At some point we decided to check in with our hands and noticed that we had our “summertime nails,” both freshly manicured in pastel shades – so silly and sweet. We took this photo of our light pink and blue nails. The beauty of this picture, for some reason, made my heart expand. Why, I wondered, did this photo release such a feeling in me? One immediate realization is that it looks like Vajrapradama Mudra, the gesture of unshakable trust.
When one practices this Vajrapradama mudra (palms towards the heart, interlaced fingers with a little tug), it can help to establish faith and trust in oneself and build confidence in ourselves. According to Gertrude Hirschi, in her book Mudras: Yoga in Your Hands, it can also help to forge a trust in the divine… in what the Universe has to offer.
This picture brought me to the breathtaking view of my relationships and how TRUST is such a fundamental aspect of what makes a bond. What are the most important qualities to have in your relationships? This is a question Alison Cramer and I asked in a workshop we just taught for one of our 50-hour trainings at LL. For both Ali and me, trust is in the top three. Without the foundation of TRUST in any relationship, the road will be rocky, indeed.
Over the years, my practices of dance and yoga have asked me strengthen this aspect of trust within myself repeatedly. Trust my body to stand on my hands? Trust myself to hold someone up in a fast moving dance piece? Trust myself to assist someone in a handstand? Trust my heart to fall in love again when every fiber of my being is screaming run for the hills? I find that over years many of us become protective of our hearts, our accomplishments and our material things, possibly because we have trusted and been hurt. Or, we were trusted and hurt another.
There is something so incredibly powerful in becoming trustworthy, to be the support for someone else. Such power may also lie in being vulnerable and allowing someone else to carry the weight… to ask for help. We see this so much through partner work in yoga and dance (what a prep for real life)! In trust, we become fearless and begin to move away from what is only comfortable and familiar and start to really LIVE and CONNECT. Through the process of learning to trust again, in ourselves and in our relationships, we begin to take flight into a realm of possibilities we couldn’t even imagine were previously available.
That pastel nails day rolled right into a week of FLY, a 50-hour program that I direct at Lotus. There was an incredible amount of LOVE and TRUST infused into each day, and for this I am grateful. The time for growth is always now!
I look forward to continuing the process with the Lotus Temple Dancer 50 hour training the last week of August. Move, Support, Trust, Feel, DANCE!
Sheri is the Director of the Lotus Temple Dancers and leads the first LTD 50-hour advanced training (register here). As always, you can catch Sheri throughout the week in class (see class schedule here).
I’ll be the first to admit that I was a little taken back during my first yoga class when asked to take my hands into prayer. Having no understanding of mudras or how they can be used, I immediately withdrew. Why are we praying and to whom? My observation was a closed one. Instead of trying to understand, I reverted back to judgment and old habits – judging the process before letting it in.
Over time, I wrestled with this common theme of judgment and old habits before peeling back the layers in my practice. Today, I find new ways to relate the ancient mudras to my practice. While they have meaning behind them, they also possess a strong set of qualities that can be used for daily rituals (dinacharya) to promote a variety of benefits.
Anchoring is a technique used for a variety of social and business situations. It is simply the process of associating an internal response or experience with some external cue or internal trigger so that the “response” may be quickly reassessed.
Let’s use hands to prayer – Anjali mudra – as an example. Knowing that Anjali mudra stands for devotion, honor and the like (internal response/experience), you bring these thoughts to the mind when the mudra (external cue/response) is performed. Repetition will enforce and make the anchor heavier and easier to access.
Techniques like this are being used on us all day in the marketing and sales world around us. Who knows, maybe they were derived from some “ancient” practice somewhere.
I love teaching people about the hands and how to properly distribute weight when using them in yoga. It is unlikely that you have had training how to do this unless you have been an acrobat, gymnast, a circus performer or something similar, so this can be a huge hurdle for many people. It’s almost like learning to walk again. The mudras provide an active awareness in the hands that teaches us to use the muscles more independently and with intention. These various shapes work the hands in ways that may be unfamiliar in our daily lives, creating muscle confusion (adaptation), which leads to strengthening.
How do the mudras balance us out? On a mental and spiritual level they leave us open to giving, receiving and healing. I feel this helps us connect the pranamaya kosha (spiritual body) to the annamaya kosha (physical body) acting as a doorway or “anchor.”
On a physical level, it helps create various movements in the hands to learn awareness and isolation of the muscles. As technology increases, the labor most of us perform with our hands each day has likely decreased. The mudras can bring that balance back, especially when performed during Kundalini!
Using these concepts together creates an amazing connection between the mind and physical body, with a concentration on the hands. A targeted meditation of purpose and strength brings together a true balance of awareness and understanding. Bearing weight and balancing on the hands can be intimidating in a yoga practice. Creating a greater awareness and understanding slowly wears away at that intimidation.
Get on your hands and throw your feet up in the air! Join Jeffrey to anchor, strengthen balance and discover the formula for a freestanding handstand in a special workshop: #Hashtag Handstands, Sunday, August 24th (register here). You can also FLY more with Jeffrey during NITE FLIGHT, our summer evening FLY classes at 9pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays (sign up for class here).