January 19th, 2011
By Eka Ekong
I remember my first time on a yoga mat. At the suggestion of my then-boss, a devout Ashtangi, I took my first yoga class. It was a new, strange, yet exciting experience. I liken it to Bambi trying to stand up on roller-skates, a mixture of fumbles and limbs, gasps and frustration. Although trying, it felt as if I was engaged physically and on a higher plane of being. I also intuitively felt, at a soul level, that this practice was very special. In many ways, and for the first time in a long time, I felt I like I had come home.
I practiced, practiced and practiced. The more often I practiced yoga, the more I came into a deeper understanding of myself. People, experiences, desires that were once appealing to me, seemed to fall away. Being on my mat I felt a wave of sacredness, and as if I was being held by the hand of the Divine. It wasn’t a church in the traditional sense, but I was in the temple of my own inner light and wisdom. I felt at ease in my own skin. Through the window of my physical asana practice, I walked through the door of my own heart.
Often I am asked, why do you practice yoga? I share that yoga saved my life, and helps me to remember I Am That(So Hum). Yoga teaches me to honor the Spirit within myself, and within all things- That we are all connected, not just in those moments of happiness and love, but even in those moments when we seem separated, whether by distance or conflict, misunderstandings or circumstances.
Whether on my mat or teaching, my intention is embody this sacred heart and possibility of yoga; to honor this tradition that has been passed down through the centuries; to share that yoga is not a fad, or something that needs to be constantly re-invented; It is a tried and true methodology that if practiced with vigor, persistence, love and openness, can and will help us gracefully navigate the course of our existence.
Last year, my dear friend and relative who introduced me to my then-boss, passed away. I often think of how blessed I am to have met her (she was a vibrant, loving spirit who facilitated the meeting that would lead me to my mat), and the many other beloved souls who guide, inspire, and encourage me daily in my practice.
Each time I bring my palms together in Anjali mudra, I honor my beloved, departed friend, my teachers, my ancestors, my students, loved ones, and this tradition. I am continually challenged, humbled, and awed by the richness of this practice, for through its’ grace, I was led back to my Self.
January 18th, 2011
Here's to a 2011 full of brilliant possibilities. New ways to practice and new places to see our practice reflected.
In the spirit of the early days of a new year, we asked our community to share their intentions for 2011 throughout the month. Anything is possible. We can be anyone we want.
How do you #Practice Reverence?
Check out some of these inspiring replies:
Other highlights from the week include:
January 12th, 2011
On January 12, 2010, a 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck the country of Haiti, devastating the capital and largest city, Port-au-Prince. A study by the Inter-American Development Bank as reported by the New York Times, estimated that the total cost of the disaster was between $7.2 billion to $13.2 billion, based on a death toll from 200,000 to 250,000. While public response was strong in 2010, there is much to do and Haiti needs us now more than ever. More than a million displaced people still live under tents/tarpaulins, reconstruction has been slow to start, and an outbreak of cholera and political unrest has made conditions worse and recovery difficult.
Off the Mat, Into the World believes in the power of the yoga community to come together to make a difference. Therefore, OTM is initiating the 2nd “Yogis for Haiti” day on this anniversary to demonstrate our solidarity and collective support for relief efforts in Haiti. Last year, the yoga community came together raising over $18,000 for organizations on the ground serving Haiti. This year, we’re uniting again on January 12th, 2011 to show our support and make a difference by taking our yoga off the mat and into the world.
To support this initiative, and in solidarity for these efforts, Manduka is offering 10% OFF ALL PURCHASES MADE ON JANUARY 12, 2011.
The coupon code is: Y4HAITI10 (This offer expires at midnight, January 12, 2011).
January 4th, 2011
Some things are just meant to be. Picture a pastoral, semi-rural, sailing community on the Chesapeake Bay landscaped by horses, corn and old tobacco barns with lots of warm, genuine people all around, yet no yoga studio anywhere in sight. Enter a fellow of modest means with an ardent desire to share his practice.
The resultant: Renaissance Yoga.
Established in 2005, with just a single yoga class a week, Renaissance Yoga of Galesville, Maryland has flourished into a dynamic, mobile yoga abode featuring 15 - 20 classes a week in an array of community halls and centers that dot the local landscape - not to mention corporate classes, sports team trainings at high schools and universities, and a host of other special offerings and events.
Satyam, the founding director and lead instructor of Renaissance Yoga, began his journeying into yoga in 1991 through a meditation-based practice with an emphasis on yoga lifestyle. By '93 he yearned to take it deeper.
That fall, he and his brother departed Forestville, CA & put foot to pedal on a 6-month bicycle tour from NW China over the Himalayas via the silk road / Karakoram Highway - the highest public roadway in the world (15,397 ft) - into Pakistan and across the entire Indian subcontinent. Far more than just a bike tour, it became an immersion and exploration into the culture of yoga.
Over the next ten years, Satyam spent months upon months living in ashrams (yoga houses) in India - most of the time in remote villages without any amenities, i.e. bathing outside by a well and living in a mud hut with an earthen floor, where he studied one-on-one with a yogacharya.
Renaissance Yoga aims to provide anyone and everyone their own personal gateway into this ancient practice that is a perfect complement to the demands of modern-day living. All the wonderful people who come to class, spread the word, and inspire the next great program.
Life is an experiential, sometimes thorny, yet joyous journey – and they are all part & parcel of a singular universal family. To all those aspirants & practitioners venturing about, via road or web, when in town, please know you are most welcome, www.renyoga.com.
January 4th, 2011
In the spirit of preparing for the New Year, I have been spending more time in my practice dedicated to self-study (svadyaya). I have heard this process of deepening self-awareness described as a process of making the invisible visible. In other words: “What are my patterns (samskaras)? Which ones are serving me? Which ones do I need to change?” Essentially, I am getting ready to make my New Year’s resolution, or in yoga-speak, I’m looking for my sankalpa for the new year.
I have often been amazed at how the yoga practice has helped me on my life path, and on how many levels my practice has given me insight into my samskaras.
On a purely physical level, those new to the practice come face to face with that which was hidden fairly quickly. The posture (asana) practice has a knack for making us aware of our strengths and weaknesses quite quickly. I often see students who find a strength in their practice and want to work on their strengths every time they practice. Many students also prefer to avoid or neglect working on some of their weaknesses. We also tend to, while avoiding weaknesses, sacrifice proper alignment in order to get “deeper” into a pose. We tend to exploit openings and focus on destinations, usually to the detriment of the quality of our breath and other parts of body that often could use more attention. But many of us, over time, also realize that the recognition of these weaknesses, our acceptance of them, and our willingness to work with them, are at the very heart of a yoga practice that is beginning to gain depth. “Sthiram sukham asanam.”
These physical samskaras are easier to identify and address. Where yoga has a largely hidden value is in addressing the more subtle subconscious patterns. Yoga also helps to make the invisible subconscious patters visible and then provides us with the tools, similar to the asana practice, to reshape and re-pattern these, as well.
As a mindfulness practice, the yoga practice helps us observe our mind’s patterns. First, we begin to recognize our narratives on the mat. Then as our practice expands into our lives, our narratives out in the world become more apparent. At least this has been my experience. Some patterns I had, I had become resigned to. I didn’t know how to address them. I simply thought that that was the way I was. It wasn’t until I was presented with the tools to work with my patterns that I realized that I could change long standing behaviors. My first teacher, Yogi Vishvketu taught me that to change a behavior, we need to foster an opposing behavior. In other words, to get out of your rut, create new ones, more positive ones. If you find yourself in conflict with others put yourself in service to people. If you are stuck in your head, move through your heart. Karma Yoga.
As for changing the way I think, changing behaviors will help shift thought. But to eliminate the kernel of the initial thought, the source of the behavior, yoga offers an even more subtle tool. My guru, Rod Stryker, has taught me that mantra is the means by which we can shift on a deeper, more subtle level, the very seeds of our thoughts. Plant positive seeds so that they may take root and alter the landscape of your mind. There are many kinds of mantras. Some, japa-mantras, are given to us by our teachers, these remain secret and have a particular purpose in our practice. Others are mantras we can choose to help us affect change in areas of our lives where we need a shift.
You see, we all have many mantras already. Many of us say: “I can’t”, “I won’t”, “I hate” or something that puts us into a negative or defeated mindset. Others among us fall into habitual patterns like the need to feel wanted, special or even the need to be against. These are attitudes which keep us invested in or attached to the ego and often focused on difference rather than union.
Whatever your own mantras are, we lay the groundwork for our thoughts and behaviors through these kernels or seeds that grow and infect our days and our lives. Adopting a new positive mantra to help you shift a behavior can serve a purpose in shifting your attitude towards those around you, which can in turn affect those around them. Mantra can help you be the change you wish to see in the world.
The mantra I have decided to begin my day with and share with my classes to spread more happiness and peace for the new year is: “LOKAH(HA) SAMASTA(HA) SUKHINO BHAVANTU” – “May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words and actions, of my own life, in some way, contribute to their happiness and freedom.”
My experience with mantra is that, fundamentally, most of them point to the same truth: Through love and understanding for ourselves and others, we come to the realization that we are all divine. Yoga.
Here’s to a successful new year sankalpa!
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