Welcome to the Kripalu Yoga Posture Clinic, week two! Here, Devarshi Steven Hartman, Dean of the Kripalu School of Yoga, and Jovinna Chan, Assistant Dean, share sound tips to help your yoga practice soar. These clips can be enjoyed independently or as a series for a complete practice, once they’re all published. Come back every [...]
Here, find insights, teachings, and explorations into all things yoga.
Welcome to Kripalu Yoga Posture Clinic, week one! Here, Devarshi Steven Hartman, Dean of the Kripalu School of Yoga, and Jovinna Chan, Assistant Dean, share sound tips to help your yoga practice soar. These clips can be enjoyed independently or as a series for a complete practice, once they’re all published. Come back every Wednesday [...]
In yoga, one writer reconnects with the notion of faith.
Like most kids in my middle-class New England town, I was raised Catholic, though in my case it was something of a default option. My parents had both been brought up in religious households but, by the time I came along, they were largely non-practicing. My mother’s strict Irish-Catholic family—so devout (or stubborn) that they refused to acknowledge her secular college education—turned her away from the church, and my father, a journalist, had been trained to follow facts, not faith. While they wanted the decision of religion to be mine, they also sought to provide me with a base from which to explore, a base that would include Baptism, Confirmation, and 10 years of weekly after-school Catholic-education classes.
But while I made all the milestones, I neither connected with nor opposed their meanings. My given religion was never something to think about; it just was. Later, as a teenager, church on Sunday remained important to me mainly because to my parents it was not. (What a rebel, right?) But it wasn’t as if my friends were so pious: The annual Christmas-eve midnight mass was as much about socializing as it was about celebrating the birth of Jesus.
Throughout, no one I knew questioned what we’d been taught. We took the word of our teachers, and our priests, on “faith.” In those early years, “faith” meant believing that if you were a good person, good would surround you; that if you treated others well, you would be treated well in return; that if you followed the Catholic doctrine, you would be rewarded with peace while you lived and after you died. Faith, for the most part, did not include questioning authority. And, for a long time, I didn’t.
Vandita Kate Marchesiello, E-RYT 500, is a senior teacher and faculty member at Kripalu Center and the recording artist on two CDs, Transform, Relax, and Rejuvenate and Yoga with Vandita. Director of Kripalu Professional Associations and Kripalu’s Teaching for Diversity program, Vandita has balanced family, self-care, and a career in yoga and health for more than 30 years.
Q Describe what you do in 15 words or less.
A Practice love, patience, and kindness toward myself and others, at home, work, and play.
Q Tell us about a turning point in your life.
A When I was in my early twenties, I was headed down a path that could have been destructive to my health and happiness. A friend turned me on to yoga, and I fell in love with the physical, mental, and spiritual practices. Now, nearly 40 years later, I am still practicing and teaching, from my own experience, the depth and breath of yoga that can lead to a whole and healthy life.
Q What do you love about teaching?
How can we keep our yoga practice fresh during seasonal transitions?
Elena Brower, yogini extraordinaire, gives us some tips.
One of yoga’s keenest gifts, Elena notes, is that it makes us aware of life’s transitions, and how we approach our practice on the mat can guide us in how we welcome life off the mat as we open up to spring. Even when the impulse of awakening strikes, starting our practice slowly helps us find our way into greater freedom and deeper intuition as spring begins its journey toward full bloom. Backbends, with their emphasis on heart-opening, seem intuitive this time of year and, as the season starts, we can mirror nature’s journey by gently encouraging our own physical flourishing. With that in mind, she recommends opening the heart with baby backbends, such as Small Cobra. Going within and noticing the delicate balance between growth and surrender allows the process of springtime to unfurl at its natural pace.
Elena also notes that it’s important to keep the fragility of the blossoming process in mind, and to approach our yoga practice with attention to small details. “We can practice our yoga with a delicate level of care, connecting energetically to the universal pulsation, or spanda.”
Of course, nothing says “spring awakening” quite like reveling in nature, and bringing our practice outdoors can help create new perspectives. The season’s vibrant imagery—the colorful flora, bright sunshine, and hints of lush green landscapes—can act as a powerful complement to how we attune to the energy of renewal in our yoga practice.
Susan Abbattista, Guest Blogger
One of my favorite vinyasa yoga teachers once said, “If dropping into stillness is the hardest thing for you to do, then that is what you need the most.” And so, sometime around the first frost, I came to Kripalu to try a meditative practice called yoga nidra. Translated as “yogic sleep” or “divine sleep,” this type of yoga focuses on systematic relaxation of the body while the mind enters a state of deep, meditative awareness—like dreaming while fully awake. The technique was developed by Swami Satyananda in the 1960s to make advanced, centuries-old practices of tantric meditation more accessible to everyone.
I’d never done this type of yoga before and didn’t quite know what to expect. One thing I did know: Underneath my blanket, I was an exhausted mess. Summer had passed in a hazy blur of work and play—and, admittedly, too many margaritas. Now here it was, the onset of fall, the hardest seasonal transition for me. I felt myself floating and drifting, a balloon accidentally released from the fist of a child. I needed to reel myself back in.
Over the course of five days, some unspoken guidelines (or pointers) emerged from the darkness:
How we stand, literally—with our feet on the ground—can have a huge impact on how we feel. When we align ourselves and ground in Mountain pose, we access the qualities of stability, balance, and strength. Reconnecting to these qualities can help us as we move through our day, meeting challenges and entering new situations. Try Mountain pose any time you need to ground yourself to find inner strength and peace.
To explore this foundational pose, stand with your feet parallel and three to five inches apart, weight evenly balanced, arms at your sides. Spread out the toes and press evenly down through the four corners of each foot. As the feet firm into the floor, the kneecaps will lift and the thighs will gently engage. Lengthen the tailbone toward the heels and lift the pubic bone toward the navel. Firm the shoulder blades onto the back and slide them down toward the waist. Gently lift the sternum and reach the fingertips toward the floor. Keeping the chin parallel to the floor, lengthen up through the crown of the head, while softening the tongue and the throat. Develop steady, smooth breaths.
Here at Kripalu, we embrace an approach to yoga and healthy living that can permeate every aspect of what we do. This approach is called BRFWA: breathe, relax, feel, watch, allow. In this video, Kripalu faculty member Ken Nelson shares his wisdom on this technology for calm.
An excerpt from The Science of Yoga: The Risks and the Rewards
Drawing from both scientific research and esoteric wisdom, William J. Broad’s The Science of Yoga: The Risks and the Rewards explores yoga’s capacity to lift moods, inspire creativity, and otherwise induce “uncommon states.” An excerpt published in the New York Times Magazine in January examining yoga’s potential for catalyzing injury ignited lively discussions online and in yoga studios around the country. This excerpt focuses on Sat Bir Khalsa, PhD, a Harvard scientist who has worked with Kripalu’s Institute for Extraordinary Living on research projects tracking the effects of yoga on performers, high school students, and war veterans.
In 2005, Sat Bir Khalsa and Stephen Cope from Kripalu recruited 10 volunteers from Tanglewood’s prestigious Fellows program. The five men and five women were aged 21 to 30, the average just over 25. They included singers, as well as those who played the violin and viola, horn and cello. For two months, the 10 volunteers underwent Kripalu training. The options included morning and afternoon sessions seven days a week, a weekly evening session and early-morning meditation session, and vegetarian meals at Kripalu. The investigation also included 10 fellows recruited as controls who had no yoga training.
The results, though not earthshaking, were encouraging, as Khalsa and Cope reported in their 2006 paper.