if you’ve visited our union square location in the last month, you’ve had the pleasure of viewing artist and shala student adam dougherty’s intricate, exuberant, and reverent animal portraits. shortly after the show went up, fellow shala students jonathan and alene herman reached out to adam to commission a piece honoring their beloved cockatiel, rocky. jonathan shares rocky’s story here.
shala teachers share their favorite books, documentaries, and talks on issues of race and ethnicity.
a dharma talk by Braeden Lentz
Our focus for the month of February at The Shala is Virasana. The two Sanskrit components are “vira,” often translated as hero, and “asana,” which yogis know well to mean seat, shape, pose, or the way we arrange our body building up from the ground. The names of poses evoke imagery to consider as we make our shape.
The first things that come to mind when I consider the term “hero” are superhuman qualities. I think of someone who engages in unusually daring but necessary actions. A hero might be a charismatic, especially self sacrificing, or visionary person. There might only be a few in my lifetime.
follow this link to our book club poll. vote for the book you’d most like to see selected as the shala book club’s next read.
How would you describe Iyengar Yoga?
When I started the Iyengar teacher training, I felt like I needed a foundation as a teacher. I had that as a student, because that’s what I was practicing. So many schools of yoga say different things about the different poses. I expected to go into the Iyengar teacher training and they would tell me, this is how you do it. We asked them, In Urdhva Hastasana, should the fingers be spread wide or should they be together? They said, Both. There are times when you spread the fingers wide, there are times when you bring them together. They told us that you are going to have to do both again and again and again and again until you understand what’s happening when you do it this way versus when you do it that way. When you teach class, you’re going to know when to tell the students to spread the fingers wide and when to tell them to bring them together.
What I learned in the teacher training is that it was all about experience. That’s where the props come in. That’s where the different ways to do the poses come in. There’s no one way. When you practice asana, you’re finding yourself. You’re finding yourself in the classic shape, and then you change that up a little bit. It’s finding yourself in this pose but then there’s kind of looking back to, what does that tell you about who you are as a person, or where you are right now in your life, or where you want to be, what this whole thing is to you?
It is structured. It can be strict. I can see how Iyengar Yoga is whole. I don’t know enough about other styles of yoga to see how their method is working to help people that are brand new or open-level or experienced practitioners or teachers or recovering from injury or pregnancy. I really appreciate how Iyengar Yoga strives to make yoga available to everyone.
It’s so interesting how because of the structure, you can find yourself. I am interested in seeing people and finding how yoga can help them wherever they are. In Iyengar yoga, you are taught to see people.
by Alana Kessler
It was 2010. I was in Nicaragua with my friend, Janine, celebrating my 30th birthday. Being a yoga practitioner for over a decade, and relatively new Ashtangi of a little over a year, I was diligent about my early morning practice. The routine was this: We would get coffee delivered to the door, drink it leisurely on the balcony, watch the waves, and then practice.
I remember breaking my drishti and watching Janine with curiosity. While I was jumping back and jumping through, she was holding postures for minutes at a time in what appeared to be mini-naps. I judged it. It was a challenge to wrap my mind around this being a practice that supports the seriousness and attention that I identified my practice with.
Cut to five years later: I found myself in San Francisco eyeball deep in a 10-day Yin Yoga Intensive and Buddhist psychology training with Sarah Powers, and loving every second of it. How did I end up here, you ask? You see, somewhere along the way the yang element of Ashtanga Yoga opened me up to a deeper layer of interest. I began to listen to meditation teachers’ talks while doing my Mysore practice at home. I got quieter. I took notice of when I was pushing too hard. I asked myself if my motivations and actions were aligned with my higher intention. Did I even know what that was?
What happened was magical. I refined my attention to attune to deep physical and emotional injuries and unmet needs that were asking for some tenderness. I knew I needed something complementary to my current practice. Something slower, a practice where I could explore, engage, and enliven both the nature of my physical body but also my heart.
Years of “doing” had left me somewhat spiritually and physically exhausted, and Yin Yoga was the perfect medicine to restore and renew my resources. The long-held postures allowed a certain freedom to ask questions and wait for answers. They provided a composition through which I applied my breath and awareness in a new way and experienced the unfolding and uncovering of deeply held injuries of the body and the spirit. I began to heal them. I found a new world within the stillness that was so energizing it propelled me into new levels of creativity, courage, and compassion. My Ashtanga practice got stronger and softer at the same time, as did my approach to life in general.
So here I am now, eight years later, and I am so grateful for the circumstances that illuminated my path towards this practice. To share it with this community is a privilege, and I am honored by the opportunity.
Dear Shala students,In the month of November we will focus on building a healthy, comfortable Padmasana (Lotus). This sacred seat shows up in asana practice as well as pranayama and meditation.Our complementary philosophical focus is the Buddhist concept of skillful action, or how to apply contemplative work to ethical conduct.Sitting and moving well, developing open communication with our minds, and deliberately reflecting on how we think, feel, relate, act, and react in an increasingly complicated and challenging world—these are practices that reach out in all directions and touch every aspect of our lives.We are grateful to be members of a community that stands up for love, respect, kindness, and nonviolence on and off the mat. Thank you for everything you do to make the Shala and the world a more compassionate place.ox Barbara and Kristin
Padmasana. The word itself is beautiful, especially when you pronounce it as they do in India: with a softness around the ‘d’ so that it sounds like ‘padth’ rather than ‘pad’. Padma is the Sanskrit word for lotus, a flower that grows in the marshes and swamps of India. The Buddha spoke of the lotus as an allegory for enlightenment: “As a lotus flower is born in water, grows in water and rises out of water to stand above it unsoiled, so I, born in the world, raised in the world having overcome the world, live unsoiled by the world.”
The Buddha’s words are poignant not only because of the beauty of the flower itself, but also in the waters from which it rises. The lotus grows out of mud, marsh, and swamp, yet blooms in pristinely creamy pinks and whites. This natural miracle gives rise to teachings such as “no mud, no lotus,” carrying the wisdom that each of us may rise out of adversity with grace, purity, and resiliency.
The lotus is also a sacred symbol for the divine. The Indian god Vishnu was born out of a lotus. The Indian goddess Lakshmi is often shown standing on a lotus, holding a lotus. Padma is another name for the goddess.
These layers of symbolism already existed when the yogis of ancient India were creating, naming, and sitting in padmasana. The Sanskrit word translates literally to lotus pose (Padma= lotus; asana= posture).
Asana, the postures of yoga, form the third limb of Patanjali’s eightfold path (Ashtanga yoga). Very few asana are described in the oldest texts of India, and you will see them carved into temples as the postures taken by the gods and dancers of ancient India. Padmasana is the classical posture, always conveying seated serenity.
The posture, Padmasana, though reminds me not of goddesses or even meditation, but of my father. Named for the Buddha, who is so often portrayed as sitting in lotus pose, my father had learned padmasana when he was young and living in India, and in turn taught me the posture when I was young and living in LA.
By young, I mean I was just learning to walk. I never really crawled as a child, just scampered around in Downward facing dog, not wanting to dirty my knees. I remember clearly the way my father took lotus pose, seated on the living room floor, calling my attention: Megna, can you do this? And it looked so simple, that I was truly surprised that I could not easily pull my ankles up onto the creases of my hips.
Today, padmasana is a very comfortable way for me to sit. It is the classical posture for meditation, and comes up in various forms throughout the Ashtanga vinyasa sequences. Early on in the primary series, Ardhapadmasana (half-lotus pose) is introduced as a standing balance. Working through the seated postures, the yogi learns many ways to sit and fold and twist with the legs in ardhapadmasana (ardha= half). In Second Series Ashtanga, the yogi is asked to balance, inverted, on the forearms and take lotus while upside down.
Padmasana is central to the closing sequences of Ashtanga vinyasa yoga, which are the poses with which every Ashtangi finishes her practice. In salamba sarvangasana (shoulder stand), the yogi takes lotus while looking up at the legs. This posture becomes a bit of a backbend right afterwards, as the yogi holds her toes and arches the spine back, all while in padmasana. And the final three postures of the Ashtanga yoga practice are all variations of padmasana: folding forward, then seated upright for meditation, then lifting upwards in a final position of strength and levity before laying down to rest.
Each and every time we come into padmasana, lotus pose, we channel not only the purity and serenity of the flower rising pristinely above the mud, but also the generations of yogis who sat in this posture to practice peace and meditation.
Megna Paula teaches yoga at the Shala on Tuesdays, Fridays, and Sundays. Come for a class! And find her on Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/megnapaula/) for more insight into the postures and teachings of yoga.
Dear Shala students,
We hope you are having a great summer and that you are able to lighten up your schedule in favor of taking slow walks in the city or elsewhere, and spending more time with family and friends.
This month we’ll focus on handstands and—important for handstands!—abhaya, or freedom from fear, so we hope you’re able to carve out some space and energy for practice, too. Be on the lookout for some upcoming schedule changes, including classes that focus more on strengthening, alignment, meditation, yin, and more.
This past Friday was the full blood moon, lunar eclipse (the longest of the century), and guru purnima, a day that marks the annual thanksgiving for our teachers and gurus. Astrologer Sherene Vismaya filled us in on the significance of this cosmic convergence—see below for more details. In case you missed Sherene’s wonderful summer astrology workshop, she will be back in September to tell us what to expect for autumn.
Enjoy these precious warmer days. Know that if you are ever feeling lonely or alone, you can reach out to us at email@example.com. The world is big, fast, and complicated. Being with and connecting to others is so important. A major aspect of practice is learning how to take care of ourselves so we can take care of others.
All our love,
Kristin + Barbara
Tapas is not just on the mat. It’s how we live our life: An Interview with Genny Kapuler
photo: the all watch
How are you inspired in your practice at this point in your life?
Genny Kapuler: It’s like the siren song. It calls me. It is my inspiration. I get up and practice. On the weekends I just practice in the morning. During the week I don’t have enough time in the morning to also do the inversions, because morning class starts early. The older I get the longer it takes me to do everything. I need more time to practice. During the week I separate the inversions in the afternoon, and the inversions energize me for the evening classes.
What do you think are the most important elements of practice?
GK: Commitment. Over and over, every day, day in and day out. Then it creates a path.
How do you understand yoga as a method for transforming the body and the mind?
GK: It is very mysterious, the way the threading of the mind and the weaving of our own experience into the body creates so much resonance with our world. Even now when we are living in such a difficult time politically and environmentally, I find that yoga supports my trust in life and people. Continue reading
The following is an excerpt from a longer passage from Pema Chodron’s The Places That Scare You. Ashley Dorr shared these words in a recent dharma talk.
“Chitta means ‘mind’ and also ‘heart’ or ‘attitude.’ Bodhi means ‘awake,’ ‘enlightened,’ or ‘completely open.’ Sometimes the completely open heart and mind of bodhichitta is called the soft spot, a place as vulnerable and tender as an open wound. It is equated, in part, with our ability to love…Bodhichitta is also equated, in part, with compassion—our ability to feel the pain that we share with others. Without realizing it we continually shield ourselves from this pain because it scares us. We put up protective walls made of opinions, prejudices, and strategies, barriers that are built on a deep fear of being hurt…But fortunately for us, the soft spot—our innate ability to love and care about things—is like a crack in these walls we erect…With practice we can learn to find this opening. We can learn to seize that vulnerable moment—love, gratitude, loneliness, embarrassment, inadequacy—to awaken bodhichitta.”
a series by Maria Margolies
Autumn is a beautiful time of year, characterized by vibrant colors, blue skies, and crisp air. According to Ayurverda, it’s also Vata season. Other qualities of Vata are windy, erratic, and dry. Although these can be wonderful qualities that shape the landscape dramatically, they can bring challenges and imbalances for our inner and outer bodies. Our skin especially has a tendency to become dry, dull, and crocodile-like. In order to maintain balance and transition into the new season with radiance, it is important to adapt our daily rituals accordingly.
Summer is changing into Fall, and Ayurveda suggests that we should change, too. This 5,000-year-old science of health and healing makes lifestyle and dietary recommendations according to the season. Each season has particular qualities, and the way these qualities are combined and balanced define that season’s dosha. There are three doshas: vata (air, movement), pitta (fire, heat, transformation), and kapha (structure, density, cohesion). It is recommended that we eat foods that have the opposite qualities of the dominant seasonal dosha.
The first few chilly days at the end of summer inspire a renewed look at daily routine . To encourage and promote general well-being, Ayurveda suggests instituting seasonal modifications that both reduce excess dosha from the previous season and balance the incoming season’s predominant qualities. August and September in New York is essentially a pitta/vata-season yielding gradually to vata-predominant fall. While many of the essential routines for summer continue, such as sun protection, midday activity modification, and reduction of pita aggravating foods, knowledge of the effects of pitta overload can help in negotiating the seasonal change. Continue reading
shala teacher jenny campbell reflects on her recent west coast vacation, and provides helpful advice on how to practice self-care on the road.
“[The] law of karma is based on the principle of cause and effect. Causes, by definition, are things which produce effects, and effects, by definition, are things coming from causes. So the principle of cause and effect is not a belief but, for most ancient Indian thinkers, a universal law that appears to govern all things.”
Scholar Edwin Bryant returns to the Shala on Friday, October 20.
An open-level donation class with Ashley + Domenick
to benefit the True Colors Fund
with music by DJ Lenny Stein
followed by dancing, mingling, snacks + drinks!
Join us in practicing proudly, celebrating diversity + building community.
Come prepared to practice + dance. Please bring a beverage of your choosing.
Friday, June 2
$25 suggested donation
Sign up here!