Off the Mat – Activated after Bhakti Fest

It was one of my very first yoga classes that my teacher spoke about practicing yoga “off the mat.” I initially came to yoga to get in shape, lose some weight, and start a new exercise routine, with no intentions to get in touch with myself or find any sort of spirituality in the process. I remember thinking to myself, “ of course you can practice yoga off the mat, you just do the poses on the ground anywhere else!” Easy peasy.

It wasn’t until that moment in savasana that my mind got quiet, I felt my body, and my breath became my own sacred white noise, that I realized that yoga is far more than a twisted posture in a peaceful room. Class after class I would reach that feeling I couldn’t describe and still barely can, that feeling of connection to myself and everything else around me. It started to come to me in different postures, and then in meditation, and then I started to feel it after class, when I’d stumble onto the bustling streets of NYC and still feel that sensation of deeper connection. The people or situations that once agitated me no longer carried so much weight. And there it was: I was practicing yoga off the mat.

This photo and cover photo by: Monique Feil

Thousands of downward dogs later and now I understand why practicing yoga off the mat is not only important, but necessary. My understanding for what yoga actually is has been completely transformed— I now know that yoga is a way of a life, a way of a service, and truly a way of activating our own lives to reach outside of ourselves and into the world. After attending Bhakti Fest in September, my beliefs were absolutely validated and certainly expanded, as this festival lives and breathes yoga off the mat.

As the mantras were being chanted and the mala-wearing yogis were saluting the sun as it spread its rays through the Joshua Trees, there was devastation happening around the world. Hurricanes destroyed the eastern side of our beautiful country and wildfires scorched the old growth forests of the West, while ice caps were simultaneously melting at rapid speed in the arctic. This, amongst the heavy political strife in ours and so many other countries around the world, pushed me to wonder how chanting and deep breathing in a Southern California desert could possibly contribute to this polarized world we are living in in a positive way. While I felt a shift inside myself, how could that reach outside of myself?

Photo by: Monique Feil

So many teachers, musicians and artists at Bhakti Fest were tuned into this same question, and addressed it quite directly. From MC Yogi’s lyrical genius, singing “love is righteous, and it might just save the whole world from this global crisis,” to Michael Brian Baker’s plea to protect our planet and its people by supporting Chase Iron Eyes to shut down the Dakota Access pipeline and drop all charges against water protectors. This festival is not just about feeling good, but also about being real with our own innate power and using it for good.

After taking a class with Sianna Sherman, focused on creating change off the mat and in the world, we spoke more in depth about how yoga can inspire compassionate activism. Sianna teaches Rasa Yoga, “an alchemical fusion of mantra, mudra, asana, Bhakti, tantra, soul alchemy and earth ceremony.” One of its goals she said is “to remember that we are a collective tribe and also earth guardians, and we are here to protect and serve the earth and each other.” She spoke about using yoga as a pathway to better understand our own shadows and the power of turning towards, rather than away, from our own pain and anger. These practices teach us how to work with our own emotions and stay centered so that when it’s time to be a voice of change and to be of true service to the world, we are not pulled out of ourselves, but rather grounded and activated from within. “If we use our power and really consciously work with our own emotional fluency and literacy, and emotional intelligence, then we can change all the energy inside, including all the anger and rage—so we can truly create positive change,” said Sherman. What we’ve seen happen far too often is that “rather than using our power consciously, we end up polarizing and dehumanizing the other point of view and righteously standing only in our own narrow perspective” she said.

Sherman’s sweetie and beautiful musician, Masood Ali Khan, also had a strong take on the matter of change-making. He shared about how the sustainability of our world “is coming closer and closer to its death if we don’t make a move. This is a call for us to rise up.” He went on to say that in order to create change we need to move as a family and a community, so we can expand fast. “We need to make changes now, because it’s going to be too late if we wait. And you know the way that the planet is going— a week, two weeks could be too late, who knows what the next storm might bring,” said Khan.

Photo by:  Simone Levine

Bhakti Fest was really a place to gather people together to open their hearts and minds in order to activate change off of the mat. And while we came together to chant the mantras and pray, a very important medicine for the self, according to Breathwork facilitator and founder of the The Breath Center, Michael Brian Baker, “it is not enough to actually create change in our world as we need it now.” He went on to say, “we’ve reached this critical mass where things are shaking and going on, and if you look at it from a spiritual standpoint, the right brain would tell you that spirit incarnated into this physical form in order to take action, because spirit without a container can not create change on a material plane.” The call is loud and clear: it’s time to take action now!

As I left Bhakti Fest on a high of feeling the good vibes and inner transformation, I knew there was much more for me to do. I signed some petitions for the Dakota Access Pipeline, and am honing in on what lights me up so I can practice my yoga off the mat from my own center, a center that is truly ignited.

Learn more and connect with Bhakti Fest:

bhaktifest.com

 

 

 

 

Simone is an experiential educator who’s passion for international travel, growth, and transformation take form through photography, practicing and teaching yoga, and communing with nature.

IG :  @momomagical

Devoted to Bhakti

I’ve been carrying an energy with me for the last four months that I can’t, and don’t want to shake. My breath feels more fluid, my mind more clear, my heart more open. This all began at Shakti Fest this past May, and integrating the lessons and practices has certainly not been a walk in the park. Rather, I’ve been on a dedicated journey that takes patience, practice, and work to fully live into — a journey that I feel grateful and honored to participate in.

Lucky for me, and thousands of other devotees, another opportunity to sink deeper into these practices is right around the corner. This year’s Bhakti Fest West, the sister festival to Shakti Fest, is happening in just 2 weeks in Joshua Tree, CA (Sept 6-11, 2017)!

Bhakti means devotion, and at Bhakti Fest that’s just the tip of the iceberg of what will unfold, and has been unfolding for the past 9 years. Bhakti Fest gathers a community of mindful folks from all over the world to practice the art of yoga, meditation, music, breath work, sound healing, and much more. One of the only fully vegetarian festivals, that is also drug and alcohol free and family friendly — this is a safe place to enliven your senses in pure form.

Bringing some of the best spiritual teachers of our time to one sacred place, including Seane Corn, Mark Whitwell, Kia Miller, and Michael Brian Baker, as well as internationally renowned musicians Krishna Das, Jai Uttal, MC YOGI, and Donna De Lory is just part of why this festival feels like a total dream.

Yet what seems to be the most impressive part of this festival is that it’s actually a non-profit. While we are celebrating, Bhakti Fest will be donating a percentage of its revenue to charities including Food for Life Vrindavan, Love Serve Remember Foundation, Ramana’s Garden, and the Seva Foundation.

It’s an “everybody wins” event that I’m personally stoked to experience as a teacher, practitioner, and lifelong student.

Participate in the SEVA program by working in exchange for a ticket (A Yoga Trade opportunity)! A fantastic way to make meaningful connections and enjoy the festival by sharing your trade: bhaktifest.com/participate/

Transform, deepen, and come play with us!

Tickets for Bhakti Fest West 2017 are available at:  https://tickets.brightstarevents.com/event/bhakti-fest-west-2017.

 

 

 

Simone is an experiential educator who’s passion for international travel, growth, and transformation take form through photography, practicing and teaching yoga, and communing with nature.

IG : @momomagical 

Wild & Free: Meet Movement Enthusiast Rod Cooper

Need a little inspiration to set your life in motion? Meet Rod Cooper, Founder of The Movement Collective in Newcastle, Australia. At a first glance of Rod’s inspiring practice, many assume he has a long history of gymnastics or martial arts. But as we learned after chatting with him, it wasn’t too long ago that Rod was a beginner himself. Read the interview below to hear Rod’s inspiring philosophy on overcoming fears and limitations of the body, and how small feats in your practice pave the way for real life transformation.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your journey to becoming a movement teacher and studio owner?

 

I’ve been practicing Movement for around 4-5 years with no previous experience in gymnastics or yoga.

 

Since discovering the Ido Portal Method and the movement world I have shifted my mindset from just fitness to a more creative and artist approach to my life and practice. I have been obsessed with discovering what my body is capable of, not just what it looks like.

 

I know how much the movement practice has changed my life and wanted to share this with everyone I possibly could. That’s where the idea for the Movement Collective came from. I wanted to create a space in my home town Newcastle, Australia where people are given the tools and environment to not only improve the physical body but completely change their perspective on what we should be practicing and what we are capable of as humans.

 

Why do you feel movement is important? How do you differentiate movement from yoga or other forms of exercise?

 

For me, Movement incorporates everything that we can possibly practice taking inspiration from gymnastics to yoga, martial arts, circus arts, dance. Not only that, even some things as subtle as breath work and spinal waves, or joint articulation are a part of the practice. It’s important for our development to always be learning new skills, increasing, strength, mobility and body awareness. We don’t see it as exercise or punishment for our body, it’s an endless journey continuously improving in all areas.

 

We’re blown away by your photos and videos on Instagram (peep Rod’s incredible moves if you haven’t already!) What would you say to a complete beginner to get motivated?

 

I started out watching plenty of YouTube clips to get motivated, there are endless videos and images on social media to show you where you can get to and also some awesome tutorials to help you along the way. Take a movement class if there is a gym close by or check out yoga, gymnastics or martial arts studios in your area. We are also developing some online content so stay tuned for that.

At Yoga Trade, we value truly living yoga. In the case of movement, how does your physical practice translate to your life beyond the mat or studio?

 

For me Movement is my life, I crave my own personal practice every day and always look forward to getting everyone together in the class environment we have created at The Movement Collective.

 

It’s not an accident I do what I love and love my job, I have designed my life exactly the way I want to live. That always includes movement whether that be teaching, personal practice or in a group of like-minded people.

 

What have been your greatest lessons in creating your business and dream life?

 

Trust your heart/gut, I have done this from the start and everything always works out. If you work as hard as I do to achieve the life or goal you want, absolutely nothing can stop you from achieving it.

 

Find what you love and do that.

 

What’s one fun fact our readers may not know about you from following you online?

 

Before starting the Movement Collective I was a professional beer brewer, I still like a good craft beer from time to time. No back flips under the influence though…..that’s never a good idea. 🙂

 

Your upcoming retreat with Sjana Elise at Nihiwatu looks incredible! Can you tell us a bit more about what we can expect?

 

I really want to share as much as possible with the people attending the retreat while still keeping it fun and relaxed. Expect handstands, animal movements, spinal health exercises, acrobatics and the rest is a secret. I can’t wait to get back to Nihiwatu.

 

You can find out more about the retreat at:  www.nihi.com/retreats

 

To visit Rod at his home studio visit: The Movement Collective

 

 

 

 

 

Mary Tilson is an international yoga teacher, retreat leader, and passionate world traveler. After completing over 1,000+ training hours in both Eastern and Western approaches to yoga, she is acknowledged for making her teaching accessible to all levels.

Wild & Free: Meet Australian Yogi Sjana Elise

“I’m so humbled to have had things work out the way they have, and I am extraordinarily blessed to make a life out of something I love.“ –Sjana

I had the opportunity to connect with Sjana Elise earlier this year when she came out to visit Nihi Sumba Island, a remote luxury island retreat located east of Bali in Indonesia.

Sjana has acquired over 1.3 million followers on Instagram over the last few years by simply sharing what she loves – yoga! Yet despite her quick rise to social media fame, she remains the same sweet, bubbly personality you find on her daily Instagram posts and stories, which are filled with inspiration to get outside, move your body and live joyfully.

After overcoming her own struggles with depression in her teen years, Sjana has become an advocate for developing healthy habits to maintain balance of mind, body and spirit. She offers classes live at her home studio in Australia, you can also now practice with her using her newly launched SWEAT App, and she’s running her first Wild & Free Retreat this October with Movement Teacher Rod Cooper at Nihi Sumba Island!

Read on for some personal insight into Sjana’s journey including fun facts you might not know about her and what exciting news she has coming up next:

Can you share more about your journey with yoga and how you went from zero to 1.3 million followers on Instagram?

To be honest, it all happened rather organically. I never set out with an intention to do, be or achieve anything in particular, it just happened as a positive consequence of doing what I loved and following my passion.

After going through a rough time with depression and anxiety around the age of 15-16, I ended up leaving school early, taking up yoga as a means of recovery, gaining early acceptance into university and studying a Bachelor of Arts. After about two years of studying a bunch of random topics, I settled on photo journalism and ended up moving interstate to complete that course. I continued to take images, and also began taking self-timered images of the yoga poses I was learning (usually on the beach at sunrise or sunset). I was working full time as a waitress also, and idling through the days fairly smoothly. However, life has a funny way of working its magic. And before I knew it, I was being asked to travel around the world and take images to promote a certain brand, company, resort, airline, trip, country or tourism board. As the true power of social media became more and more evident, I became busier and busier, and soon found myself in my current position. Throughout my battles with depression and remaining focused throughout all the unforgivable travel hours (although the opportunities are incredibly amazing, as any avid traveler will tell you, it can also be exhausting at times!) yoga has been the one thing that never fails to ground me.

How do you use your influence in a positive way?

I understand that any social media presence effectively has power. And with that power comes a great responsibility to my followers.

I try my best to live as an example. I know that a lot of young women and influential girls follow me, and I hold it as my purpose (and passion) to be a positive role model and show them just how powerful, strong, capable, unique and BEAUTIFUL they are.

This is everything from remaining honest and transparent, living in a way that reflects my values and respects the values of others, removing judgement and criticism in any/all areas of my life, sharing inspiration I find, involving myself in projects that will ultimately help to positively affect the lives of others, being kind and mostly just being genuine, raw and relatable.

I want girls to know that I am just like them; and that if they want a friend or “sister” figure — then I am here for them.

What have been the greatest lessons learned while developing such a strong voice in the IG yoga community?

I would probably have to say understanding the power of social media itself. It has the ability to be a truly remarkable tool for growth, change and transformation through mass media and marketing. But it also has the ability to be a huge burden and a way for people (young women especially) to become overwhelmed by what they are seeing, and consciously or subconsciously compare their own lives to everyone else’s highlights.

I think my journey with social media and Instagram in particular has been the awakening of an awareness about finding balance and using social media platforms in a healthy and safe way.

Social media is only part of our stories…it’s what we choose to show.

(Yes, I too used to have an unhealthy relationship with social media and allowed myself to negatively judge and compare my own life. EVEN when others were doing that same thing to me.)

What is your best advice for aspiring yoga teachers looking to grow their presence online in a mindful and authentic way?

Just BE YOU! Honesty and transparency is not only respected, but more often than not it is seen as strength not weakness. Being flawed is something that actually adds to our overall charm. Don’t be afraid to speak and live your truth online as well as on your mats.

Where do you find the most inspiration to share with your network?

Inspiration is all around us! And it is entirely unpredictable. I never know where or when it will hit me; I could be having a friendly conversation with a stranger and find something they say to be endlessly fascinating, I could be in savasana deep into my practice and be awakened by an epiphany or I could be strolling along the beach and a familiar scent could work its way through my nostrils and pull at some heartstrings…that’s the best part of inspiration. The fact that you never know where you’ll find it!

Can you tell us about your new role as a SWEAT trainer?

As a SWEAT trainer my role is to provide health, fitness and yoga programs and content to the biggest female fitness community in the world. And my program is now available for women to use globally.

I consider my role as a SWEAT trainer to include being a “sister” for anyone who is seeking encouragement, support, motivation or even just a friendly hug. I want women all over the world to know that my program and I are here for them.

What is your favorite quote or words you live by?

“Everything happens for a reason.”

Never fails to ground and humble me.

Fun fact your followers might not know about you?

I used to be an American Style Cheerleader. I actually competed at the World Championships one year. (I was a base, not a flyer though. Which means I did the catching, not the flips in the air!)

We know you have an AMAZING retreat coming up! Can you tell us a bit more about that and what we can expect?

I do I do! I am so excited because this will be my first time officially hosting a retreat! AND I am actually going to be co-hosting with the extraordinary Rod Cooper (@rodjcooper) to make it a yoga and movement retreat. It’ll be five days at the luxury Nihiwatu Resort on Sumba Island in Indonesia. We’ll have daily yoga on one of the most amazing yoga pavilions you will ever see. Daily movement and locomotion classes, world class surfing, hikes, waterfalls, organic chocolate-making classes, snorkeling and the awesomeness of staying in your own private villa. It’s going to be so much fun and no doubt transformational for anyone who joins us.

I can’t wait to share the experience with you!

 

You can find out more at www.nihi.com/retreats

 

 

 

 

Mary is an international yoga teacher, retreat leader, and passionate world traveler. After completing over 1,000+ training hours in both Eastern and Western approaches to yoga, she is acknowledged for making her teaching accessible to all levels.

Exams to Evaluate Your Yoga Level: A Paradox?

I’m approaching the end of my 3 year Iyengar Yoga Teacher Training, and lately I’m struggling with this paradox of having an exam in yoga. To strive and train for an exam, is to me, so in contradiction with the ‘yoga philosophy’.

Six years ago I started practicing yoga to heal myself from an serious back-injury after doing so many back-bends as a contortionist in a circus. Today, practicing yoga asanas makes me feel good, it makes me feel alive and I feel much more aware and clear-minded.

Every morning, when I step on my yoga mat, I like to do some wake-up stretches and unwinding of my body. I’m feeling the state of my body this morning, and I’m just flowing and slow dancing to wake my body up and get the sleepy stiffness away. This kind off moving wouldn’t look like yoga, but it feels good. I move in an intuitive way.

Next, I’ll start with one of the 6 sequences I’m repeating every week, always in the same order. Because it’s Iyengar and this is supposed to be the most logic and best order for the body’s balance. Those have been elaborated by one of the most senior students of B.K.S. Iyengar.

Usually at this point my mind starts working, instead of “citta vrtti nirodaha” (YS 1.2) which is often translated simply as, ‘Yoga is the ability to calm/direct/restrain the fluctuations of the consciousness/mind’. Mostly I’m criticizing myself, because through the Iyengar Yoga method I’ve gained so much knowledge about how each pose is supposed to be, all the details I should be aware of. So instead of being right here on my mat, at ease with myself, offering myself the best I’ve have to give for today, I’m doing all the opposite.

Because of that exam. Because of the pressure. Because of the expectations.

 

Here is the paradox: Yoga is about the path, not about any goal. A perfectly executed advanced pose is not going to bring me enlightenment. NEVER! But, that exam is waiting for me. Therefore, I have to raise my practice to a certain yoga level, because I really want to pass that exam. But the yoga I loved so much, is gone, because of this exam.

 

Yoga is about the path, not about a goal.

This exam is a part of my path. So what can I get out of this struggle. Instead of going in a downward negative spiral, every struggle can be an opportunity to grow.

 

What causes trouble in this situation, is the mind, the mind and it’s thoughts. So the question then becomes – HOW do we calm or restrain the mind to achieve this desired state of yoga? Well the simple answer is: do your yoga practice. Simple. Just keep doing a regular and sustained yoga practice and all will come – as the late Sri. K. Patthabhi Jois would say. But we are creatures of wanting to know everything and sometimes the simple answer just doesn’t cut it!

 

Patanjali actually describes the five fluctuations (functions or states) of the mind (or five vrittis) to help us better understand the workings of the mind. He says these five vrittis can be painful or non-painful. They are:

1. Valid Cognition (Pramana) 

(Knowledge should be acquired through direct experience for accepting any knowledge as correct.)

2. Misconception (Viparyaya) 

(Learning to dissolve our personal subjective frame of the way we see things, so we can start seeing things for what they truly are.)

3. Imagination (Vikalpa)

(Imagination, doubts, indecsion, daydreaming…. these are all our own creations, but our mind might start believing them for being true. We create an imagined world for ourselves based on our way of thinking. This ‘power of positive thinking’ may appear new age, however the yoga sutras has been teaching for thousands of years the importance of controlling the mind! Through this control, we can liberate ourselves from suffering.)

4. Sleep (Nidra)
(When the mind is not in one of the first three vrittis, it might be in the nidra state: the mind is directed inward, operating at a very subtle level. B.K.S Iyengar says that “sleep is the non-deliberate absence of thought-waves or knowledge”. )

5. Memory (Smriti)
(The Yoga Sutra 1.11 is translated as “Memory is the mental retention of a conscious experience” or “memory is a recollection of experienced objects”. All conscious experiences leave an impression on the individual and are stored as memory. It is not possible to tell if a memory is true, false, incomplete or imaginary. Think about a different people who will recall the same event, they all might remember it differently. Memory can influence your present situation more than you might realize, by holding onto certain impressions (conditionings), it’s very likely we can’t experience the now AS IT IS…without bias, judgement or criticism.)

So, how can this knowledge serve us in calming the fluctuations of the mind?

 

By being able to become an observer, stepping out of yourself and observing and recognizing these different functions of the mind, without being attached, upset or frustrated, slowly you will learn how the mind works. Once you are able to observe without reaction, you will be able to differentiate the mind and all of its fluctuations from your true nature. You aren’t the mind and it’s thoughts, emotions, imaginations, memories and fluctuations. No, behind the fluctuations of the mind, you might catch a glimpse of your true self. The true self which is only emptiness, and at the same time contains everything. You might discover there is no separation between ‘Me’ & ‘You’.

 

So the most simple answer to calming the mind and finding peace with life’s paradoxes is to do your practice. Do your practice, and stay the observer – On your yoga-mat, off the yoga-mat, all day, all night. Yoga is all the time, meditation is all the time. Through a regular and sustained practice, life will unfold the way it is meant to.

 

 

 

 

 

Yara will be a certified Iyengar Yoga instructor from October 2017 on. She is a certified Myofascial Energetic Release (M.E.R.) Therapist. She is Dutch, currently living in France. As a former circus-artist she loves to play, move and travel around the world.

From Perfectionist To Perfect

“Yoga is about progress, not perfection”.

I see this phrase – and others that say essentially the same thing – a lot on social media, and at first glance, I like it. I like it a lot. Finally, someone is telling me that I don’t have to be perfect! I can screw up, and no one will mind! I can fall out of Headstand rather than elegantly lowering myself back down into Child’s pose, and it’s ok. I can wobble in Tree pose, and fart in Happy Baby, and puff rather than glide my way through Surya Namaskar (and, by the way, I don’t even have to use Sanskrit names that I can’t pronounce, let alone remember), and it’s all fine. And as a relatively new yoga teacher, the initial idea of progress not perfection is doubly appealing. It means that next time I lose track of which leg goes forward first, I shouldn’t worry about it. If I forget where we are in that sequence I so carefully prepared, and a class of 40-odd students are sweating in Downward Dog while they wait for me to tell them what to do next, it’s ok. I can laugh it off. I can demonstrate firsthand to my students that even yoga teachers don’t get it right all the time. Everyone messes up occasionally, and it’s all ok.

It felt great, until I realised something…that implicit in that phrase, there was an assumption that it wouldn’t always be this way. I would progress. I would get better. Not only that, but that I would want desperately to get better, and that I would work hard to do so. I would put in the hours on my mat until I became more flexible, stronger, and able to come down out of headstand like the textbooks say you should. I wouldn’t fart in Happy Baby, and my Sun Salutations (or Surya Namaskar, now) would be effortless. And I definitely, definitely wouldn’t forget what comes next in the sequence I teach.

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I realised that, in today’s western (yoga) world, being imperfect is acceptable up to a point. After that – if your progress isn’t fast enough or good enough – yoga becomes just one more thing that you can’t do. Time to give up and try something else that you might have better luck with.

Yet this is almost the exact opposite of what yoga teaches us (or is supposed to teach us), and that is that everything is already perfect. Not perfect for now, or good enough for now, but perfect in the present moment.

We are all already under so much pressure in our lives to be perfect….or at least, if we can’t be perfect, to at least want to be. We are always striving to be better in some way. To have more money, to have a better house, to get a better job that’s higher up the ladder, to be better parents, better siblings, better children, better teachers. To be better people. And in a way, that’s natural and good. Ambition is what gets us out of bed in the mornings. The desire to grow is what keeps us learning and exploring. The desire to nail that headstand is, perhaps, what keeps us coming back to our mats, at least to start with. Without progress in some form or another, millions more of us would still be dying of the flu, and I wouldn’t be typing this now.

But our desire for progress has become all-consuming, and the word “progress” itself cannot be criticized. If something is labelled as “progressive”, then the overriding feeling is that it must be good whether we like it or not. Sometimes, it feels like the worst thing we can do is to “not progress”. We must always be moving on to the next even better thing, and we become very attached to doing so. Then if, for some reason, that progress doesn’t happen, we suffer. We suffer even if it does happen, because it’s never long before a new desire for something even bigger and better and “more progressive” kicks in, and the whole cycle starts over again. We very rarely stop and take a moment to appreciate what we already have, and to appreciate where we already are….and even rarer is the feeling of being satisfied with that.

If we let it, yoga gives us that feeling. It doesn’t mean that we don’t want to improve our asanas, or that we don’t want to grow and learn in our practice. But those precious hours on the mat are our time – perhaps the only time some of us get – to be ourselves, warts and all. Yoga gives us the space and time to be who we are, not who we pretend to be. It gives us the opportunity to discover who that person is. It isn’t the time to push, or to berate ourselves for, yet again, not being good enough or not making fast enough progress. Maybe we will eventually be able to do headstand without crashing down out of it….in fact, if we keep practicing, the likelihood is that we will. Yoga, though, can also show us that it is futile to become attached that hope. Instead of constantly chasing after a new goal, yoga shows us that we have a choice, and we could choose to believe that wherever we are in our practice is perfect. It’s where we are now, in the present moment – and being aware of the present moment and acknowledging it, candidly and truthfully and authentically, is part of what yoga is really about.

Progress? Or perfection? I’m going with perfection…..just not the type of perfection we are so used to thinking about and aiming for. Not a perfectionist style of perfection, but a perfect-in-the-present-moment type of perfection. It’s hard. I haven’t managed it yet, and I don’t know if I ever will. I suspect there will always be a part of me that worries about making mistakes as a teacher, that pushes to be better, stronger, more flexible, and that berates the other part of me for not doing well enough. But I am starting to accept that all I can do is show up, in the moment, as I am. Perfect.

Or, at least, good enough.

 

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Ali is a certified yoga teacher, crystal healer, writer, editor and dreamer at http://kriyashakti.net. When not on the yoga mat, she can usually be found reading, drinking tea, or on a beach (ideally all three). She is currently based in the U.K.

Presence & Prosperity Lessons from Shakti Fest 2017

Basking in the sunshine, camping under the stars, and moving my body with amazing yoga teachers is what I came to Shakti Fest for – what I left with was a new clarity on how to approach living yoga beyond a mat, retreat, spiritual text, or paycheck.

I’ve been practicing yoga for twelve years, teaching for seven, and grappling with the money question for lifetimes beyond this current reality. How do I teach yoga, be of service to the world, and also make enough money to pay my rent? I find myself oscillating around this frequently, which takes me out of my practice and keeps me stuck in my monkey mind (or maybe it’s my money mind?).

After spending a weekend immersed at Shakti Fest – studying, chanting, dancing, and practicing with some of the most inspiring yoga teachers, workshop facilitators, and kirtan artists, I believe I’m closer to the answer than ever before: living yoga is living service – meaning serve first, live yoga off the mat, and prosperity will come. Also, as advised to me by Shakti Fest’s executive producer, and world renowned yoga teachers Shiva Rea and Kia Miller: “Don’t quit your day job!”

In Sanskrit, yoga, which derives from the word yuj, means “to unite” or “to join.” The Sanskrit word, seva (“selfless service”), derives from two words: saha, meaning “with that,” and eva, meaning “too;” combined seva means “together with” or “unity.”

Just serve, and then you will make money? Some might call that naive…but some of the great teachers have lived by and are still living by this concept and it works.

“I say teach yoga, but teach it with a passion,” said Shakti Fest’s Executive Producer, Sridhar Steven Silberfein, when asked about how to make teaching yoga sustainable. “Teach it with a love that you want to help change people and turn people on to a better way of life. Not ‘what am I gonna get from it’– we’ve got to stop that concept. Everything will come to you at the right time, it’s just our anxieties and desires built up from our ego mind that want everything right now.”

Silberfein started Shakti and Bhakti Fest, the largest yoga and kirtan festivals in the USA, as well as several other businesses that combine business and yoga (a health food store, natural skin care line, and a recording label to name a few).

“Basically we wake up in the morning, we produce, direct, edit, and write our own story and we star in it. That’s all we do everyday – just think about ourselves. Hardly any time is spent thinking about another person or a group of people. So by coming here we are building spiritual community, a safe haven.”

Shakti Fest is a place where people can come back to themselves, center in, and as they reconnect with themselves, they connect with others, and unite with their community with more integrity. In addition to Shakti Fest being an incredible venue for yogic practices and sacred community, it also lives service through its seva program – where people can volunteer in exchange for festival tickets and camping. Shakti Fest also donates all of the proceeds (after paying for expenses) to orphanages in India to support young girls who are living in poverty. Silberfein is dedicated to living a simple life so we can give back and practice seva as much as possible.

“Service to me is an attitude of being” said Kia Miller, internationally renowned Kundalini and Hatha Yoga teacher. “When I’m fully present to the moment I’m able to serve the moment from my full being. When I’m living my life from that place then I’m naturally by extension being of service.”

She also recognizes the difficulty in combining business and yoga. “You don’t want to put all the pressure on making your rent by teaching yoga. It’s helpful that you have something else that’s paying your rent and your food bills for a little while. When you are really in alignment and you’re serving and you’re giving to people I find that there is just a natural prosperity that follows that.”

Miller believes that acting out of service is not separate from any other way of being.

“Everything you’re doing is coming from a connected place of service as opposed to separating it out and living your life here and being a certain way, and then serving over there, and then feeling bad about yourself or beating yourself up because you’re not serving in the way people perceive people should serve.”

Her message is loud and clear: stop trying so hard and instead just be present in the moment, present for yourself, and ultimately present for your community. The more we live from a place of connectivity and unity, the more we are truly practicing yoga at its core meaning.

A lot easier said than done, right?! Miller suggests the simple act of doing a daily yoga practice to ground into this concept. She says “Just keep practicing. If your well runs dry, then try something new. There are so many different approaches to yoga and I think it’s important that we keep open to everything and not become too narrow. We want to be narrow enough that we can dig a deep well but we don’t want to lose the ability to be receptive to all.”

Since I’ve been home, I’ve been integrating concepts I learned at Shakti Fest into my daily practice and I’ve noticed a big shift. I feel more aligned to myself and therefore more capable of connecting with others out of integrity. As for paying the rent, I’ve let go of the concept of trying so hard to make yoga my profession, but rather my living. I now know that the more I live yoga, and live seva, the money will come. I’m also working on getting a day job…

The annual Shakti Fest and Bhakti Fest happen every May and September in Joshua Tree, California to bring song, dance, yoga, chanting, meditation, workshops, and delicious vegetarian and vegan food together.

For more information or to buy tickets for Bhakti Fest this September, please visit their website:

http://bhaktifest.com/
Bhakti Fest – September 7-11, 2017
Shakti Fest – May 10-14. 2018

Simone is an experiential educator who’s passion for international travel, growth, and transformation take form through photography, practicing and teaching yoga, and communing with nature.  

@momomagical

Discovering the Self Through the Breath in Mysore

I was in Mysore, India, for a month studying with Saraswathi Jois, Guriji’s daughter. I found myself full of emotions, thoughts, feelings. Mainly, my heart was full of gratitude. Below are some of the reflections I wrote down while I was there.

First of all, the breath.

The breath is a powerful and inspiring tool for grounding, discovering the self, exploration, and trust. In our daily life, we rarely pay attention to our breath. Yet, it is there, happening as an unconscious miracle, every day.

In our yoga practice, the breath is also there, just happening. It persists with unrelenting tirelessness. The practice gives us a chance to become familiar with it, to look closely at our inhalation and exhalation, to listen to the sound of our own personal breath.

Through the practice, we learn that a long deep breath gives us more stability, sense of grounding and introspection. A shallow breath may, instead, be the expression of an unfocused mind, a sense of impatience, or of a physical/mental tension.

During the practice, with every single inhalation and exhalation, we are given a possibility for self-exploration. Why is my breath shallow today? What are the thoughts coming up in my mind? What are the physical and mental tensions I am carrying with me on the yoga mat? What prevents me from being totally focused and grounded in my yoga practice today?

By simply asking these questions and observing the feelings (and answers!) that might arise – without bringing in any form of judgement or any intellectual reasonings – we undertake a journey of self-discovery, through the breath.

The mind is there, ready for judging whatever arises. Our inner “enemies” (competition, anger, fear, and so on) are also there, ready to take control. Yet, our challenge is to maintain an observer’s disposition, acknowledging with gratitude and acceptance whatever arises.

If tension or discomfort arises, we can consciously decide to change our breath and make it deeper, longer and steadier, contracting the glottis to produce a gentle sound of ocean. Through the breath, we instill in ourselves a sense of grounding and focusing.

We learn that the breath is there to help us be present. We experience that, in the moment we intentionally decide to breathe deeply and steadily, this will change our practice and our focus.

The presence of the breath as a tool for self-exploration is available in each posture. Every inhalation gives us a possibility to go inwards, to notice our personal “reaction” to the posture. How is our body in that asana? How is our mind? Any specific emotions arising? Any tension? Every inhalation gives us also a new chance for further lengthening, opening, twisting, folding, so we can reach – even with just one more inch – a totally new different space of self-exploration.

And then, the beautiful miracle of the exhalation comes, reminding us to let go of whatever we encountered, to simply acknowledge, with a sense of acceptance and gratitude, whatever was there in our path, present in that specific moment. What is coming up to the surface is most probably what we have to work on. Observing, acknowledging and accepting it, is the very first step for “progressing” in our spiritual path towards the discovery of the Self.

Finally, the breath leads each single movement throughout our yoga practice. When the inhalation begins, we open, we lengthen, we rise, at the pace of our breath, with a sense of being fully present in the moment. At the exhalation, we fold, we twist, we release. How reassuring and calming it is to wait until the very end of the inhalation/exhalation before changing posture, with no rush, no impatience. How beautiful it is to embrace the magic of the moment in between the inhalation and the exhalation and vice versa. A moment of quietness, when we are completely confident that the next inhalation/exhalation is there, about to happen. With no rush, we follow the dance of the breath with trust and patience.

 

Valeria is a freelance consultant in gender and international development, a yoga teacher and practitioner. She has travelled to and lived in several countries. She strongly believes in the power of yoga to empower communities and to inspire social change.

A Guide to Balancing Hormones

Without women and their infamous hormones, we would live on a planet empty of humans. Our hormones are a critical part of human existence, yet we really don’t hear much about them. I am nearly 35 years old, somewhere between my first period and my last. The past two years, I have taken a deeper look into hormones, menstruation, and menopause and what that means to me.

I recently attended a “Women’s Hormone Balancing” workshop led by experienced yoga therapist Tina Nance. Lets just say it was a life-changer. Tina opened the workshop by explaining that, ”Women are not meant to suffer every month. Our menstrual cycle is an organic & potent stress sensitive feedback system. When our hormones are understood & consciously nurtured, it fosters a natural, highly charged state of heightened intuition, insight, psychic skill & creativity.” Throughout the next few hours I learned that hormones are a blessing, not a curse. There are things we can do to minimize our pain & suffering. With a little awareness we can actually use this “time of the month” (menstruation) or even “time of our lives” (menopause) as an opportunity for transformation.

Here are 5 tips that every woman should be aware of, especially if you think your hormones might be a little out of balance:

1. Know The Triggers

If PMS is a monthly ordeal for you, chances are there is a hormonal imbalance. When our hormones are out of balance, our periods become difficult. This is your bodies way of communicating to you. So listen.

The 5 main triggers that affect our hormones are:

1) Stress: By limiting stress, you can eliminate or at least minimize the difficulties & discomfort that accompany your menstrual cycle. The most widespread and common trigger we see in our everyday lives is without a doubt stress. The remedy is to relax more (i.e bubble baths, naps, meditation, and time for yourself).

2) Excess sugar: Experiment with sugar and your period. Generally you will find that more sugar typically leads to more cramps, headaches, fatigue and frustration. Sugar has an inflammatory reaction in our bodies and the blood sugar rollercoaster tends to makes us more tired. Trade in glutenous cakes for a delicious banana, maca root, peanut butter smoothie.

3) Toxicity: Make a whole-hearted effort to limit toxins from your diet and lifestyle as these too can amplifies hormonal imbalances. Pay special attention to Xenoestroegens, Heavy Metals, Chemicals, Pesticides & Preservatives.

4) Over masculinization of a feminine body: By over doing & under being, we put additional stress on our hormones. By balance the yang (more active) activities with a yin-based (relaxed and passive) activity such as yin, restorative and yoga nidra we are finding a healthy balance that allows the muscles and the mind to relax, refresh and restore our hormones to a more balanced state.

5) Sexual & emotional trauma stored in the pelvic bowl: Unfortunately there are no quick fixes here. The body is a highly intelligent bio feedback system that constantly communicates to us. Mindfulness is the art of listening to these messages being sent by the body. From what we learn through mindfulness, we respond. Using meditation, counseling, relaxation, letting go, or/and any method of emotional healing we are responding, transforming, and growing into stronger and healthier women.

We must embrace the discomfort in the body, and learn from it. It is virtually impossible to eliminate all these triggers in our lives, but a little effort goes a long way. Take long bubble baths, work less, refrain from sugary sweets and replace as many stressors with relaxants as you possibly can.

2. Be Aware of Your Body’s Natural Cycle

Ever noticed that your period tends to fall on the full or new moon? A woman’s natural cycle is often times in sync with the moon’s movements. In todays modern world of hormone-altering birth controls and high stress jobs, many females’ cycles no longer naturally align with specific phases of the moon. Yet we all still have our own individual cycle occurring in our own time.

We must get in touch with our own personal cycle. For a few months, record how you feel on a daily basis. You will become aware you own natural patterns and phases. Make a chart tracking your energy levels, food cravings, tiredness, confidence, sleep patterns, and feelings during yoga practice. Month to month, moon to moon, and season to season, there are times when we are more inclined to rest, reflect, be creative, and be grumpy. There are moments of heightened clarity, increased energy and productivity. You can actually make your life a lot easier by figuring this out and flowing with it.

Here are the 4 phases of a menstrual cycle:

New moon: When a woman’s cycle is in sync with the moon, the new moon is the time for menstruation. This is a time for going inward, slowing down, letting go, retreating and relaxing. During this time, anxieties, memories, and experiences may rise up.

Waxing Moon: A time of new beginnings and growth. As our energy increases, new ideas are being planted and new processes are coming into play. This is a time when we are motivated to work harder and faster with a heightened creativity.

Full moon: Ovulation comes with a feeling of coming down, analyzing, and emotionally feeling full of pride or failure. During this time we tend to be hard on ourselves, lacking compassion for ourselves and those around us. We feel the need to make drastic changes. It is a time for transformation.

Waning Moon: A time for making reality out of the visions and impulses that came during the full moon. A time for distillation and clarity.

The purpose of recording your own patterns is to discover, honor & harmonize your own body’s rhythm without expecting to be one way all the time. Therefore, if we come across as 4 different women each month, in essence we are!

3. Yoga for Your Hormones

Yoga is a tool used to strengthen our body/mind connection. As far as yoga asana goes, when menstruating, it is a great to come to the yoga mat. If it feels appropriate to practice, then do. By practicing slowly and gently in a yin or restorative style, we nurture the body with relaxing, calming, and healing poses.

By concentrating our breath and awareness on relaxing certain parts of the body, we minimize pain, stress and irritation that might accompany hormonal imbalances. A yoga sequence used to support your hormones should focus on the kidneys, adrenals, liver, ovaries, hypothalamus, pituitary and pineal glands.

Here are 5 therapeutic asanas that can be practiced throughout your menstrual cycle and the part of your body to focus your awareness on:

1. Cat & Cow pose (Adrenals and Thyroid) While practice cat and cow, bring your attention to your adrenal glands located just above the kidneys. Your kidneys are located on the lower part of the back just below your ribs. Adrenals are the endocrine glands responsible for producing your hormones. In addition to stimulating your adrenals in this pose with the arching of your back, you are compressing and extending your neck stimulating the thyroid gland and the four parathyroid glands, all of which secrete hormones into the body.

2. Paschimotanasana/ Forward Bending Pose (Kidneys and Nervous System) Practice this pose in a restorative way. Use three bolsters between your legs and your upper body. Relax your arms and allow the head to stay long and open while rotating it to the right, resting it gently on the bolsters. Focus your breath to your kidneys, as they are elongated while in this pose. Inhale into that openness and feel the fresh prana, blood and energy refreshing your kidneys. Practicing this pose in a restorative way with bolsters has a calming effect on the nervous system.

3. Prasarita Padottanasa/ Wide Legged Forward Bend (Liver & the Hypothalamus, Pituitary, and Pineal Glands) Place a block on the floor and press the crown of your head into the block, stimulating three glands in the brain, the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and pineal glands. The idea here is to keep the pelvis facing upright, while at the same time allowing fresh blood to flow to the glands in the head by lowering the head towards the floor.

4. Restorative Butterfly (Ovaries) Bring the soles of your feet together. You can use a strap to really enhance this. Placing the middle of the strap on your sacrum, bringing the sides of the strap around on top of your legs and then under tthe pinkie side of your foot. Tighten the strap. Then lay back on on a bolster or two. This will open your entire reproductive area and chest. The ovaries are responsible for producing estrogen and estrogen levels rise through the early part of the menstrual cycle. This pose balances estrogen produced in the ovaries giving relief from cramps at the same time. Breathe into the lower belly, the pelvis area and more specifically the ovaries where you feel the stretch.

5. Childs Pose (Adrenals and Nervous System) Bring your focus to the adrenal glands. In child’s pose your adrenal glands (which are located in the lower back just below your ribs) are stretched open. Breath into this area and make a deep effort to relax on the exhale. This is one of the best poses to relax the nervous system.

4. Supplemental Support

Sometimes we still need a little extra support. Luckily, there are some wonderful natural nutritional supplements that can help. In all the major medical sciences of the world, there are supplements renowned for female related issues. In Ayurveda, Shatavari is commonly recommended as a reproductive tonic. In western herbalism, Vitex Agnu Castus is used as a tonic herb for both the male and female reproductive systems. In Traditional Chinese Medicine a supplement called Don Quai, otherwise known as female ginseng is prescribed for menstruation difficulties. Don Quai balances estrogen levels and is an antispasmodic used for cramping. Sepia is a homeopathic remedy used for all sorts of menstruation irregularities. And don’t underestimate the power of a little Magnesium (especially the ones with a little 5 HTP) to help with inflammation and mood swings.

Here are a few suggestions of foods known to benefit hormonal imbalances. Broccoli is known to break up excess estrogen. Milk thistle, globe artichokes, shizandra and dandelion root support liver performance, helping your body to detoxify. Make sure you are getting plenty of Omegas by eating flaxseed, olive oil, coconut oil, avocados, nuts and seeds. Finally, sprinkle some maca root in your smoothies for a little extra hormone balancing help.

5. Gab with Your Girls

Lets be honest, women like to talk. We talk about everything. Well, everything besides balancing hormones.

Until now! When we stop and think how many days of the month, year, and our entire lives are spent menstruating, we realize that we should be talking about this subject a lot more. By the number of women that attend Tina’s workshops every month, it is obvious that women of all ages and backgrounds are eager to find out more. Her passion to educate women on their hormones has fired my passion to spread what I have learned from her.

By initiating “women’s talks” in your local community as well as online blog and publications, women are learning about more sustainable and healthier alternatives to tampons, such as the“diva cup” or “moon cups.” Discussions on other women’s experiences using less known forms of birth control such as hormone- free copper IUDs. With a wide field of subjects that only affect women, such as endometriosis and menopause, we should be support system for each other and talk about what works for each other. Supporting each other makes us more empowered, more educated, and better prepared for things that can afflict us in the future.

 

 

 

Kori Hahn is a Yoga Alliance Certified yoga instructor and Government of India certified Ayurvedic massage therapist. Her two greatest loves are travel and yoga. She guides surf and yoga trips around the world with Santosha Society.

Before and After Rishikesh, India

One year ago I decided to leave my country to explore the world doing Yoga. Ive been practicing asana since I was 15, but had never thought I’d ever study to become a yoga teacher. When I started the trip I didn’t know exactly what countries I wanted to visit or how this was going to play out, I just had some clues, ideas, a mental map of what I wanted to do. A MUST was going to India to do a Yoga TTC.

In my mind, I had planned to do this in December 2016, but in the middle of the trip I was in Hawaii and I decided I wanted to leave to India right at that moment (September 2016). It was something I can’t explain as a mental process, it was just a call from destiny that I had to take. One month later I was arriving in New Delhi, the capital of India. I cannot lie, at the beginning it was a real shock for me…everything. The noise, the heat, so many people, everything so crowded, the food, I was not the kind of girl that immediately falls in love with India, it was something that came with the process; in the end, I liked it that way because slowly but surely, you fall in love with things much deeper than when it’s just a crush.

Finally I was there, living one of the most intense experiences of my life. Everyday we woke up at 5:30 am and started practicing Hatha Yoga, then Pranayama; after 3 hours being up, we finally had breakfast, and then the day went on, class after class. At 8:30 pm more less, we were done, but it was really intense each day, not only because of the obvious things, but also because you are living your own process, and at the same time 15 more people like you are living their own process too; that deep journey inside yourself, a lot of intense, hard stuff comes out. In the third week, the magic happened and I was feeling much better; my ashtanga practice was improving a lot and I felt I was unstoppable; I felt I never wanted to stop practicing. Every time I went to a cafe with my friend, I could hear everybody talking about the same, even though they studied in different schools; everyone had the same issues and concerns, and I, who felt my feelings were so special, was actually feeling much the same as everybody else! ( hehe)

 

Anyway, I don´t want to talk so deeply about the TTC exactly but about what happened inside after living that experience in that part of the world with those teachers. Rishikes, India is a small city 230 kms away from New Delhi; it is a sacred city, the world capital of Yoga and it is one of the most special places I’ve been to; surrounded by the Himalayas, separated by Maa Ganga, and full of Yoga schools, Babas, Gurujis and all of us; westerners trying to learn from the source and the root. This place is pure magic, they don´t sell alcohol, or meat, and everything closes at around 9-10 pm.

Those days in that place, after that experience I wrote: How can you be the same after your eyes have seen the most beautiful and the ugliest both outside and inside yourself… I still don’t know if I’ve found my destiny but it feels like something very profound. I’m not the same person that arrived back a month ago; something has changed; priorities are not the same. I truly feel lighter inside, and I’ve finally understood what really matters in life for me. I don’t want to argue anymore with people just to be right. I want to be more patient everyday. Sitting at the banks of Mother Ganga taught me so much about letting things and people go, about having complete certainty in the process and timing of things. This doesn’t mean I never feel things anymore or that I’m a Hipster-Hippie, it means I feel things deeply in my heart but everyday the distance between my feelings, the reaction and the letting go of the control is shorter, and that is priceless. It is not all about India, but Rishikesh helped a lot. ( I think Alanis Morrissette also felt that way when singing “Thank you India”)

In my opinion, it is really important to find a School – an Ashram to study and stay where you feel like you’re at home for that month or 2 months that you´ll be living there. To this end, I can totally recommend the place where I studied: Anadi Yoga Centre, not only because of the incredible Indian Teachers with a lot of teaching experience, but they are also very concerned about sharing the Yoga knowledge in a very professional and passionate way, instilling in you the wish to do and give your best everyday, and always very open to addressing all your doubts and concerns. ( Trust me, there are many, many schools that are just businesses )

My connection with this place is so deep that I decided to go back to study more, and to live there so I could experience it in a different way this time. Totally worth it. Rishikesh, India is a place that I can also call Home, because there I feel nearer to myself, to the true being that I am.

Namaste

 

 

 

Fiorella is a Chilean Wanderlust Yogini & Travel Blogger. Her personal seal is to share about everything that has made her a happier and healthier person. Her beliefs: Kabbalah, Her Life Philosophy: Yoga. // www.fioreyogini.com @fioreyogini