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?
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.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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!
Next up in our series of Shala gatherings: a screening of Awake: A Dream from Standing Rock, brought to you by Shala teacher Alystyre Julian. In belated observance of Earth Day, we look forward to snacking on popcorn, viewing this brand new documentary from director Josh Fox, and engaging in a consciousness-raising conversation about the intersections of social justice, environmental justice, and climate change.
The Shala Union Square
$20 suggested donation (all donations go to benefit the Pipeline Fighters Fund)
Book 1: Sadhana Pada, Verse 33
1.33 Maitri Karuna Muditopeksanam Sukha Duhka Punyapunya Visayanam Bhavantas Citta Prasadanam.
“By cultivating attitudes of friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and disregard toward the wicked, the mind stuff retains its undisturbed calmness.” — Sri Swami Satchidananda
This is a pivotal verse in Book One of Master Patanjali’s sutras. He devotes the first verses to describing how the mind tricks us into a state of constant craving and aversion, like a 24/7 ping-pong between what you like and what you don’t like. In fact, we define ourselves by what we like and what we don’t like. Master Patanjali suggests this is our great mistake, that we are missing something finer, deeper, more pure. We are beyond our likes and dislikes, but it is extremely hard to change this habit of mind.
Swami Satchidananda suggests that if you are to learn one verse, verse 1.33 is the one to know. We understand restlessness, we understand dislike. What we don’t realize is if we give into these states we just experience more unease in the mind.
In verse I.33, Patanjali provides us with the four antidotes to feelings of judgement toward others. They are maîtri (love), karuna (compassion), mudita (joy), and upeksanam (equanimity). In Buddhism, these attitudes as The Four Immeasurables or Four Infinite Thoughts. They are referred to as infinite because ultimately the wish for our own happiness has to include the wish for everyone’s happiness.
Master Patanjali then presents the four ways in which the mind gets stuck in judgement. Known as the Four Locks, they are sukha (happy), dukha (unhappy), punya (virtuous), and apunya (wicked).
If we are to have a clear and undisturbed mind, we must apply these four “keys” to the four “locks.” It is a practice, a daily checking in with how you are feeling and a practice of shifting that feeling if necessary. We shouldn’t be thrown off balance by how we feel. Instead, check in with how the mind feels when you center your mind on “infinite love,” “infinite compassion,” “infinite joy,” or “infinite equanimity.” There is a opening, an expansiveness. You step out of the reactive mind and drop into a calm, expansive mind.
We are in challenging times. Can we go through the ups and downs of life with more peace? A yogi uses the template of life to constantly apply these practices. When one notices agitation, take pause. Allow the sense of the immeasurableness of love, compassion, joy, or equanimity to enter into your feeling body.
The focus in chapter two is meditation, or steadiness of mind. In order to have steadiness of mind we need to enhance lucidity. In order to cultivate lucidity we have to interrupt the habits of mislabeling our reality and experience. Change the habit and steady the mind. Practice ensures that at all times, no matter the circumstances, we have the four keys in our pocket.
Wednesday, March 8, marks the International Women’s Strike, which coincides with a Day Without A Woman. These events emphasize the intersectionality of race, gender, and class, and the complex ways in which inequality and injustice are woven through our social, cultural, political, and economic structures and systems.
thank you to all who came out for the first in a series of community nights dedicated to building camaraderie and connection! sula and the noise put on an amazing show, and nathan from grownyc schooled us in urban gardening, city farmer’s markets, and progressive waste management. thanks to your generosity, we raised $600 in donations for grownyc.
our next community night is scheduled for Friday, March 3, in Union Square.
in the meantime, here are some solid resources for continued social action and engagement:
by Jenny Campbell
If you have been practicing yoga for a while, there is a good chance you have heard the yoga cue to “breathe into your heart.” The verbal assist is meant to energize the inner body of the chest, as well as open the physiological body by making more space in the sternum, widening the collar bones, creating a sense of lightness, promoting good posture, and a developing a feeling of freedom in the upper body. While this verbal cue might sound abstract, it is actually an anatomically sound instruction. When we breathe in, the diaphragm (the dome-shaped muscle primarily responsible for the act of respiration) contracts downward, creating more space for air entering the body. When we exhale, the diaphragm relaxes upwards, assisting our bodies in the release of air. This not only allows for our full, deep yoga breathing, but the pumping action of the diaphragm also massages the heart. Therefore, we can literally breathe into our hearts!
Between the winter cold and daily stress, we could all use some self-care techniques in our back pocket. Practice this exercise anytime you need to connect with your breath and de-stress. This pranayama can be practiced in any pose with a long spine and a free abdomen, such as an upright seated position, savasana, or supta baddha konasana.
3-Part Breath (Dirga Swasam Pranayama)
Find your seated or supine pose and bring your attention to your breath. Allow the breath to be continuous as you initiate your inhale from the low belly, lift the breath into the rib cage/diaphragm, and then the chest. Once you reach the top of your inhale and your chest, take a long, continuous exhale, following the same path in reverse. If helpful, you can use your hands to guide your breath as you move up and down the torso.
Inhale: one long breath into the low belly, rib cage, chest
Exhale: one long breath out through the chest, rib cage, low belly
Repeat 5-10 rounds. You may slowly start to lengthen the breath as you feel ready.
- Teaches one to breath fully and deeply
- Can calm and ground the mind
- Can help to decrease stress and anxiety
- Can help one to focus on the present moment
*Proceed with caution with this and all breathing exercises, especially if you have a respiratory condition. As with all pranayama, stop if you feel light headed.