Choose Your Path

From East to West, the word “yoga” has many different meanings, connotations, and symbols. The yoga practice you’ll find in places like India is a distant world compared to the yoga you’ll find in studios across Europe and America. Some studios seem to miss the whole point of yoga. Editor and Chicago yoga activist Carol Horton and co-editor and author Roseanne Harvey stitched together a collection of essays about yoga called 21st Century Yoga. Julian Walker, yoga enthusiast, massage therapist and avid blogger wrote Chapter 1 in 21st Century Yoga. The first chapter opens up to the “ultimate purpose” of yoga, which is to unify oneself with “the Divine” or with whichever collective consciousness one believes in (pg 7).

I have been practicing yoga for a few years. My favorite studio, located on the edge of Lincoln Park and Bucktown, Yogaview, strives to be a center for the surrounding communities as well as communities from far away. The neighborhood is one of the nicest in Chicago – lawn space and newly remodeled apartments can be seen on every block. Yogaview itself is also newly expanded with a third large studio to keep up with the popularity of yoga in this community. While yoga classes can be quite expensive, it seems as though studio fits in well with its surrounding neighborhood. Yogaview offers monthly workshops from Moving Meditations to Gong Baths, Ashtanga Workshops to Michigan Retreats and virtually everything in between. There is something that will suit a myriad of people’s needs.

The “goal” of yoga, as I discussed earlier, is to move the body into different forms to unify the mind, ultimately ceasing the suffering caused by life (pg 7). Through asana shapes and direct focus, one may be able to still the mind’s continuous thoughts. At Yogaview, I took Stephanie’s class and appreciated her direct cues and up-beat music. Before the class, I felt tired and weak. During the class, I felt aware of my body and my breath. Stephanie has a calming voice and relaxing presence. Afterward, I felt rejuvenated, alive, and stretched out. A critique of Yogaview’s classes would be that sometimes in the advanced classes, a teacher may tell the students to practice a difficult posture or transition if they already have learned it. It may be an arm balance or an inversion, but a yogi would have to learn it on his own before coming to class. Yogaview expects you to do your homework. Although you may practice the asanas in class, one may have to have a self-practice (physically and mentally) to gain true insight from taking a yoga class.

Yoga in the 21st century in Western society is popular for many reasons. The culture is booming, and it seems as though everyone wants to take a yoga class, buy a pair of lululemon leggings, or become a yoga instructor. Although I found the first chapter of 21st Century Yoga to have a condescending attitude toward American yoga culture, I do believe the author has some great arguments. There is a dichotomy of beliefs in American Yoga culture. Some studios simply teach asana poses and base their practices solely for athletic purposes. Other studios teach a “yoga that is … ‘deeper,’” tying in 20th Century Indian philosophy and ancient meditation (pg 10). A conscious yogi must search for a while before finding a studio, which stems from a holistic view. The class that I took at Yogaview was mostly focused on the physical asana practice, but the tone of voice and direct cues alerted me, drawing me into the present moment. There is room to understand focus, stillness of the mind, presence of the breath, and a sense of oneness if the yogi is consciously aware.

Julian Walker believes in a “humanistic spirituality” emerging from ancient philosophers such as Socrates and Aristotle (pg 20). These ancient thought-processes along with ideas such as the Yoga Sutras, “a manual for concentrated meditation and self-restraint” shape the spiritual side of the yoga we practice today (pg 25). While some yogic theories claim to achieve pure enlightenment, or samadhi, through meditation and other practices, in today’s yogic world there is an underlying belief that we are at our core human beings, discovering our collective consciousness.

The state of Chicago Yoga ties in some Indian philosophy and grounded meditation, but through my experiences at Yogaview, asana classes mainly focuses on the Self. The teachers at Yogaview want a student to attempt new poses in class, leave feeling good about his self and his current life, as well as become an overall healthier being. Yogaview gives the foundation for someone to either build or neglect his or her “spiritual life.” For some people in the city, yoga is their lifestyle, and they incorporate its teachings to many areas of their lives. For others, a sense of oneness comes from the “tribal/communal space” that one feels by practicing yoga in a community of people who won’t be quick to judge (pg 9). Yogaview especially attracts people from different areas of the country. Since Chicago is known as a hub for people of different backgrounds and hometowns, this comes as no surprise. Even so, as yoga continues to become more popular, the diversity and definition of the world of yoga will change.

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Breath Meditation

Allow your eyes to comfortably close and feel the floor beneath you supporting you. Place your hands on your knees with your palms facing up. Feel the sky above radiating in all directions. Feel the gentle touch of the air on the surface of your body. Begin to connect with your breath here. Feel the soft inhale and the smooth, long exhale. See here if you can make your exhales just a little bit longer. Draw your awareness to your third eye, the space in between both eye brows. Soften the muscles of your face and brow, but keep a strong connection to your third eye, here. Feel a sense of connection from the ground below all the way up through your seat, up your spine, through the crown of your head. Sense a peaceful energy coming up through you and releasing through the top of your head.

 

Now allow a sense of grounded to travel down the crown of your head, through your center, to your seat, beneath you, all the way down to the earth below, and beyond.  Feel present and grounded in the here and now. As you inhale, bring in peace, love, truth, and joy. As you exhale, let everything go, relax, and release. Everything is unfolding as it should. Know that you are safe in this space and you are exactly who you were meant to be.

 

Come back to your breath. Feel your inhales coming through your nostrils, down to your lungs, and filling every vein and cell of your body with the in-breath. Feel the inhales drawing from your center. As you exhale, feel totally and completely relaxed. Relax the crown of your head down. Release any tension you’re still holding onto in your face, jaw, eyes, and ears. Start to relax your neck. Drop your shoulders back in space. Let your chest expand and release with each breathe, naturally. Let your belly rise and fall on its own. Breathe into any areas of tension you are still holding in your hips. Let the floor support you as you sit. Relax your upper arms, your forearms, your palms. Let your fingers gently curl inward toward your hands. Relax each finger. Now, begin to relax your thigh muscles. Breathe into the spaces in your legs, your knees, your ankles, your feet. Let them open and expand with your breath. With each inhalation and exhalation, become more and more relaxed, and at peace with yourself.

 

As you breathe, let everything in your mind slowly wash away. Become new again. As your eyes rest back in your head, start to slow everything down. Let a new wave come and crash on your mind’s shore. Let it wash away any worries, tension, fears or anxieties that you may still be holding on to. Scan your body with your mind’s eye and discover any areas of tension that you still have. Breathe into them, and release. Let a second wave come and wash new thoughts away. Still, as thoughts come, slowly let them wash away into the ocean of our never-ending minds, here. Know that these thoughts can come and go, but you will always remain. Find your center. Connect with your breath. We will stay here for the next few minutes breathing together.

 

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Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu

*~May All Beings Everywhere Be Happy & Free Without Suffering~*

I have begun my yoga teaching practice! I know teach at a brand new studio in Lakeview, Chicago, IL. What a gift it is to be able to practice yoga, but to teach yoga is an even greater gift. Of course I mess up my words, my lefts and rights, and little things during classes, but as I watch the faces of the young yogis dive deep into relaxation, I cannot help but smile that I helped someone achieve such a great joy as a yoga practice. Teaching yoga can be very nerve-wracking!! But with the help of music and my own breathe, I find it to be calming, relaxing, and amazing. 

 

Although my life is not perfect as of now, I am truly grateful for what life has given me. I am constantly flooded with opportunities to grow, shape and change myself. I must be doing something right…(: I want everyone to take a moment now to honor themselves and to dedicate some energy and time to thinking of things you are grateful for. We are alive on a beautiful planet, and that in itself is a wondrous mystery and gift. 

 

As humans, we always try to figure out the meaning of life, the point of our existence, and so on. To me, everything does have a meaning and a purpose, but the meaning of life is truly about staying alive, loving others, and simply being with who you are at any given moment. It’s okay to change…everything eventually does. To be present in the most fruitful way is a very natural process. Yoga is the process of becoming more YOU, more normal, more human. It is not to become better at all of the yoga postures, or to become an expert on breathing. The goal of yoga is more simple than that. It is to love other people, love yourself, and understand the world around you in an unexplainable way. 

 

To feel yourself right now, right in this present moment is to feel the energy of your body and mind radiating off of your physical self. It is unexplainable but if you truly focus simply on this moment right here, you can feel what it feels like to be alive. & what a gift. 

 

NAMASTE

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What To Write; What To Feel

I don’t know what I am going to write, but I guess sentence by sentence my thoughts will become this blog post. I don’t really know how to feel. When customers at work ask me how my day is going, I say fine. But I really don’t mean fine, I mean I think there is a hole in my heart and I am drowning. Then, why can I still find humor in things? Is it because I am making fun of everything, or is my life just as meaningless as I believe it to be. I’m at the weirdest point in my life right now and I feel very scared and alone. I stopped crying because I think I used up all of my tears already. I still feel that at any moment I could break down and cry if someone said the wrong (or right) thing. I feel lost, I feel as though I do too much for no reason, and I feel that I am working my ass off for no reason at all. Summers are supposed to be carefree, relaxing and fun, but this summer has brought dread, despair, and depression.

Everyone expects me to always be happy, positive, alive, stress-free and funny, but I have “real people” feelings too. I don’t want to go into detail of why I am so sad, because it is very personal. I do want to say that although the process of yoga is always with me, and I am positive 99% of the time, there are times in my life where I just can’t see the bright side (yet). I don’t want the universe to be angry with me because I am sulking in my feelings, but honestly it is just how I feel and I can’t change that. I guess what I’m trying to say is that everything isn’t always perfect, life IS SUFFERING, and sometimes it’s OKAY to be simply in a state of sadness. I know I will get through this, but for now, I feel so real and so connected with just myself that I validate my time to be sad. I’m sorry universe if this is some lesson you are trying to teach me, about how strong I am, or something I’m supposed to learn about myself, or whatever. I will learn my lesson, I promise. I know you teach tough lessons, and I’m willing to follow. But for now, please just let me sulk and be sad and have an empty feeling inside of my stomach and my heart because I want to know that this pain is real, that what I seek I truly desire, that what I desire I truly am. 

I know people have lied or extended the truth in the past when speaking of their depression & anxiety, but I have really suffered from this in the past. I feel that it must be a part of you, must be in your DNA, because although the yogic lifestyle really does help me get through each day, when traumatic events happen, I feel connected with that dark space that I once lived in. I’m not depressed now, and I rarely have panic attacks anymore, but I feel that emptiness. I remember what it was like to take a breathe and not breathe in air. That darkness, that shadow, will always live somewhere inside of me. Perhaps the universe is trying to make me stronger. Maybe it’s letting me know that I am a unique being who can survive by pulling herself up with her own ten fingers. Maybe it’s saying, yes, you can have what you want, but let me show you something about yourself first. I’d like to think that. I’d like to think this is all just a test, and in the fall time, the leaves will settle, and everything will fall back into place. The universe wants me to be strong on my own so that I can take care of anything using my own two lungs. 

Life is a challenge, but I accepted it when I chose to be the fastest sperm. When I chose to push out of the womb. I chose to stay alive, I chose happiness over sadness. I chose to treat my body right. I chose to live on my own. I chose this life. I sometimes think that the universe has a plan for us, that we go through each event and situation to cultivate more goodness. I guess that the hardest times have always yielded the greatest benefits. Maybe we both need to cultivate energy, goodness and more love so that we can survive for the long run. Whatever the plan is, I’m in and I’m here to stay. Image

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Acceptance.

Life does not always let us choose the paths we want to go. Of course, we always can choose which house to live in, which job to keep working, which to quit, etc. But life hands us events that we have no control over. Instead of resisting the way things are, we need to accept the process. We must accept what life gives us, in order to be rewarded in the end. By opening new doors of perception, we see that there is goodness in every life lesson. Although there are things we may hate and situations we feel are useless, there is goodness in all of those. If we breathe, are open, and let life run through us every day no matter what, we will eventually receive the greatest gifts, and everything that we have wanted will come to us in time. The universe wants us to be patient, kind, and passive with the events it gives us. Therefore, we need to be gentle and listen to the subtleties that it brings us. Find joy in everything, not just the sunny days. We will eventually get everything that we need, want, desire, and love. We cannot have it all at once. The universe tests us, and if we comply with IT’s path, not our own personal path, but the path laid out for us, we will be rewarded with love, truth and peace. Be patient, for all is coming. 

 

-namaste

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Inverting Your Outlook

Today in my yoga teacher training, we worked on inversions. As a start, my teacher told us that as human beings, it is natural to be upside down. While it may seem strange at first, at points when I am in headstand or handstand and have found my true point of balance, I do find a sense of peace and belonging. In the American culture, we always desire a point of standing on both feet looking out. We always want to know what is going on. We think that if we do this, diet that way, or believe a certain way, that we will find a point where we have lost all of our problems and are stress-free. This point does not come naturally, if ever at all. It is so unnatural for everything in our lives to be so perfect. Rather, we must find a point of peace and balance in the chaos that ensues. This, my friends, is quite natural. To find peace in the midst of the tornadoes that are our lives.

In my life experience, I’ve never had a time where I had no problems. When I solve a problem, a new one comes up. Even when it is the weekend and I have a day off, I still have a lingering issue. This is totally natural and totally okay. Things in our lives come and go and we need not to desire a point in our lives where nothing will come up. This being said, I have had totally perfect days, moments, hours or weeks where everything seems to be perfect, even if I do have problems with my life or myself. I remember specifically last summer when I went to visit my boyfriend. He picked me up at the perfect time from the airport, the day was beautiful and sunny and we spent it outside. This is the type of peace that we need to cultivate in ourselves daily. Even if everything is not perfect, even if every single thing is going wrong, still, we must be able to find peace within ourselves.

It sounds so simple to read on a screen, but in reality, like inversions, it takes years of practice. Start slow. First, see if you can notice your breath. See how many times a day you can notice that you are alive, breathing, and well. This also will come in handy when life throws you something you were not ready for. Pause, breathe, and go back to the situation. Second, open up. In class, if we are to do an inversion, we first must open our shoulders, hips, legs, etc. In the case of our ever changing lives, open your heart! Be open to each and every situation, no matter which direction it might take you. The universe has a silly way of figuring everything out in a unique and specific way. Trust the universe, and everything else will follow. Open yourself to new situations, and you will find that you are blessed. Third, root down. When you find yourself up in the air and so overwhelmed and stress, come back to your breathe, open your heart, and root yourself back down. Find what makes you feel comfortable, your family, friends, husband, wife, girlfriend, boyfriend, a calming book, a yoga class, whatever makes you happy. Root yourself in these things and find that no matter how bad it gets, you always have something to bring you back to you

Naturally, we aren’t meant to stay on our feet all of the time. We are meant to live upside down, find new perspectives, laugh a little, fall over and get back up. We are meant to be in an inverted position and be able to find peace. In the middle of the worst situation, there still is a light inside all of us that we connect to. The outside world should have no impact on how we feel, act and be. We should always try to find stillness and calmness within ourselves even when the world feels as though it is falling apart. 

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about all of the hatred, anger, rudeness and ignorance that I witness in the world. It really upsets me, and at times it really gets to me. I feel as though I am working so hard for a greater good that no one else wants to contribute to. This attitude I sometimes fall into is just a trap caused by our basic working minds. We want to be recognized for our achievements, but in order to work for a greater good, we must not desire any outcome. This is the toughest part for me, as I continue to grow emotionally, mentally and spiritually, and to watch as people are stuck in their own rooted ways of thinking. I too have to let go of all my expectations and learn to be in peace in the midst of the hatred that the world will sometimes offer. 

 

Namaste ~

 

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Consciousness Rises from Unconsciousness

We all know what it’s like to see unconsciousness firsthand. We notice a taxi driver almost hit a pedestrian clearly walking in the sidewalk. We see an innocent cashier being bullied by an angry customer. We witness people yelling and honking at others from their cars. We watch as an angry person talks to his self about other people, jealousy, hatred. We hear girls gossip. We see men bulk up their arm muscles, neglecting all other parts of their body. Unconsciousness is everywhere. Sometimes it is easier to notice this in others than in ourselves. But we experience unconsciousness too. We, too let things get the best of us. We forget our lunches on our table before heading to work; we are pissed off at someone later to realize that they had good intentions. We are all unconscious at times. Humans make mistakes, because this is our nature. 

To me, this is okay. Unconsciousness is the first step to consciousness. In yoga, the sanskrit term avidya, means ignorance. From the root of this ignorance, the eight limbs of yoga arise. These limbs include ethical codes on how we treat the world and ourselves, practice, breathing, the withdrawal of the senses, concentration, meditation, and ultimately full absorption into what is. In order to get to even the first limb of yoga — treating our world with respect — we first must be ignorant, like an infant as it comes into the world for the first time. We are a blank slate and ready to learn. From this ignorance, we grow. There could be no such thing as a conscious mind without an unconscious one. We all are born unconscious. To become awakened, we must first open our eyes.

The second step to consciousness is our awareness of our unconsciousness. While some people will stay blind their entire lives — blind to others, how they treat the world and themselves, etc., we don’t have to. Take our ego, our sense of “self,” the story we create of our lives out of the equation, and you will begin to awaken your conscious mind. Notice others around you. When you hear someone on the phone who is having a terrible day, an unconscious mind would not hear or notice anything. An aware mind would notice the hurt. A conscious mind would remind the fellow human being to have a great day. Little things like this can spread the awareness that we are not alone. Instead, we are all one world, one breathe, one freedom. In our core, we are all the same. 

When we have fully accepted that the story of our lives isn’t really what makes us ourselves, our true being starts to shine through. We understand that others matter much more than our personal desires. We begin to act selflessly and learn to love with an open heart. Through all of this, we begin to open, stretch, breathe, and let go. Like a Phoenix rising from it’s ashes, we too learn to become aware of our ignorance, and to shape this into consciousness. Without darkness there would be no light, and without an unconscious mind we would never learn to consciously think and act in our world.

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