Yoga

Here, find insights, teachings, and explorations into all things yoga.

Posted on June 12th, 2012 by in Words from the Wise, Yoga

Finding an Inner Home

I was born in Iran. The political landscape there was not something I agreed with or felt I could change. I came to the United States to go to school. I’ve met many nice people here, but after 9/11, for some people, anyone of Middle Eastern origin represented the face of the enemy. I had many unpleasant experiences. Without knowing my beliefs, people would hate me just from looking at my face or seeing my last name.

At Kripalu, I heard comments from the teachers like, “Thank yourself for being here.” There was the utmost care and compassion for yourself. That’s what I needed to heal myself, the utmost compassion. Also, having compassion for the people who hated me for things I had no responsibility for. I learned to take the seat of the observer, instead of taking the seat of the judge and saying this is right or wrong.

Before Kripalu, any kind of yoga I tried had been bittersweet. There were so many things I couldn’t do. I thought, maybe my body is not made for it. When I came to Kripalu I could see that it’s about doing what’s good for your body. I learned there is no perfect Downward Dog. I began seeing yoga as a way to grow, and it’s okay if I never have a perfect pose.

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Posted on May 23rd, 2012 by in Yoga

A Religious Experience

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.

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Posted on May 21st, 2012 by in Words from the Wise, Yoga

Turning Point: Vandita Kate Marchesiello

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?

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Posted on May 12th, 2012 by in Yoga

What is Ujjayi Breath?

Senior Kripalu Yoga teacher Jovinna Chan, E-RYT 500, teaches us how to practice ujjayi breath.

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Posted on April 26th, 2012 by in Yoga

Elena Brower on How to Keep Your Yoga Practice Fresh

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.

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Posted on April 23rd, 2012 by in Yoga

Yoga Nidra: Power Yoga of the Mind

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:

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Posted on April 21st, 2012 by in Yoga

Get Grounded with Mountain Pose

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.

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Posted on April 9th, 2012 by in Yoga

The Science of Yoga: The Risks and the Rewards, By William J. Broad

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.

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Posted on April 4th, 2012 by in Yoga

The Yoga of Burlesque

Image courtesy of Kate Drew Miller.

When I moved to the Berkshires from Brooklyn, I knew that a number of things were in store for me: my new job; plenty of opportunities for yoga; friendships honed from previous visits to Kripalu; and learning to drive. What I did not anticipate was becoming a performer in a burlesque troupe.

Actually, I take that back. People love to manifest things around the halls of Kripalu. They hope for relationships, emotional breakthroughs, job growth. The idea is that if you yearn for something in your life, set an intention to make it happen, and verbalize it, then the universe will provide. Me? I found myself telling folks left and right that one of the things I wanted to create was a co-ed burlesque troupe called Big-Girl Panties.

According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, burlesque is “a theatrical entertainment of a broadly humorous, often earthy character consisting of short turns, comic skits, and sometimes striptease acts”—and it usually does not involve dudes. That’s why the idea of a co-ed troupe was so innovative! I’ve always been theatrically inclined, but this would’ve been something on a whole new level, especially considering that I was starting a whole new life, and ready to explore new ventures. Sure, all my talk of Big-Girl Panties was a good-natured joke, but one that, deep in my heart, I thought might actually happen.

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Posted on March 28th, 2012 by in Yoga

Grounded Presence

Need a boost in your yoga practice? In her R&R retreat workshop Grounded Presence, senior Kripalu Yoga teacher Evelyn Gonzalez explores enlivening ways to bring more grounding, energy, and spaciousness each time you step onto the yoga mat. Through the natural forces of opposition, Evelyn explains, you can find your center in each pose.

Plant metaphors are a powerful way to let this concept blossom in your body. One of the keys to tapping into a sense of grounded presence in your practice is to become aware of what roots down and what branches out when you settle into a yoga posture—all the while connecting to the breath. Evelyn recommends lengthening the bones to find more space across the body, while simultaneously allowing the muscles to contract, “hugging” them into the bones for stability.

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