Scott Nanamura: Diamond Heart Yoga

I first met Scott Nanamura in 2006 in South Lake Tahoe, California when I started going to his yoga classes at what at that time was ‘Mountain Yoga’. His intelligently sequenced classes both physically and mentally challenged me (in a good way) and were filled with intriguing philosophical insights. He captured my attention as a teacher. His teachings have definitely been pivotal for me on the path of yoga. In 2015, my beloved friends and Yoga Trade partners Pat and Christie visited Tahoe during a road trip. It was then they mentioned that they wanted to host a Yoga Teacher Training at the sustainable living center in Costa Rica they manage, and were looking for a teacher that would be a good fit. It just so happened that Scott was staying in his RV / mobile acupuncture office in the driveway at the house I was living in at the time! It was that summer that Pat & Christie met Scott and a synergistic relationship began. The following year Scott traveled to Central America to facilitate his first international Teacher Training and has been on a roll ever since! If you are looking to practice with a wise, grounded, focused, extremely knowledgeable yoga teacher with a background in Traditional Chinese Medicine, check out Scott and his offerings around the world! Here, we catch up with him to learn more of his story. Thank you for sharing the teachings and your light Scott! 

Can you tell us a little bit about your yoga background?

I actually took my first yoga class 44 years ago, in a small college town in a college course. I didn’t stick with it at the time, but it planted a seed of curiosity. A year and a half later when I moved to Lake Tahoe, I met a yoga teacher and started studying with him, his name was Doug Swenson. At the time, he had written one of the earlier books in English on yoga, and he was a very well know Ashtanga Yoga Teacher.

My yoga path continued and it waxed and waned for many years taking classes from many teachers, many different styles, until I took a class with some friends of mine, and they taught a style called Tibetan Heart Yoga. THY (Tibetan Heart Yoga) very strongly brought back the component of the wisdom teachings and subtle body teachings with the asana practice. All of the previous classes I had taken hadn’t done that. It was all a separate component. The Tibetan Heart Yoga really connected with my heart in a deep way and it spurred me onto really wanting to study its system and style much deeper. For the next 5 years I dove into more of the TBY system, studied Master Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and deepened my knowledge of Hatha Yoga at the same time.

What allowed you to take the leap of faith and start an international yoga teacher school?

I had been teaching yoga for 10 years and I also had a private acupuncture practice. All the while teaching Tai Chi and buddhist philosophy at a local college, and I wanted to combine all these methodologies ,so I could teach these all in one place at one time. This is when I had the thought of combining modalities into a Teacher Training. I gravitated towards the teachings of Buddhism and used it in the yogic philosophy, because of the way Buddhism explains the ideas and concepts, it made it easier to understand the yoga teachings. I also had a lot of teachers come up to me in the past asking for week retreats, intensives & workshops to go deeper into the subjects that were lacking in their trainings, which is what inspired me to start Diamond Heart Yoga.

In a sometimes saturated yoga world, what makes your trainings stand out from the rest?

In these trainings and retreats I draw from a deep experience of extensive training from a masters degree in TCM, Traditional Tibetan Buddhism and Yoga philosophy. With my many years of training in TCM, Tai Chi and yoga, comes a rich background in Anatomy and Functional Anatomy. Over the years of taking classes, teaching classes & leading teacher trainings all over the world, I’ve noticed that the Anatomy, Functional Anatomy & philosophy is a missing component in many trainings, and these components are key to further a teacher’s knowledge to be able to inspire their students to have a richer & transformative experience in class.

What have you learned from your travels over the last few years?

I think everyone should travel in their lifetime, it allows you to see how other people live around the world. When you live in an industrialized country, it’s easy to forget how grateful to be for everything you have. Many of the people around the world don’t have those things. So everywhere I travel, it allows me to be grateful for everything we have and to stop complaining about the little things.

What are some of the challenges you face as a yoga teacher trainer?

I think one of the biggest challenges is having students coming into the trainings with a full cup. These are the ones that learn the least and come in with the biggest egos. I guide them to become good students again by emptying their cup and becoming a sponge as they learn away of thinking that comes from a completely different culture that’s been passed down from teacher to student for thousands of years.

Where does the name ‘Diamond Heart’ come from?

The Diamond in your heart center represents wisdom, combined with the idea of the lotus that represents compassion. Wisdom and compassion are like 2 wings of a bird. They go hand in hand together, which understands the ultimate truth to purify any negative energy that may arise. Allowing us to create the kind of world we want to see in the future, by dedicating our lives to serving others.

What upcoming trainings are you most excited about?

We are very excited to reconnect with the Balinese culture and lifestyle in July & August, but all the other venues we have chosen are also magical locations around the world. After Bali, we have Morocco, Spain, Sri Lanka and then back to Bali to end 2019. On the calendar for 2020, we have Costa Rica, Mexico, Nicaragua and more to announce. Every location has its own kind of magic and we are excited for each and every one, but in the end, the students are the ones that make the trainings!

How do you see modern day yoga evolving over the next 10 years?

I would like to see more of the lifestyle and philosophy components return to the forefront in the studios & trainings. As a teacher trainer that travels the world doing trainings, I have seen the monetization of this ancient practice morph into the business of making money as a yoga teacher. Over the next 10 years I see this process growing, where the business of yoga will grow just as any other business, It has become a form of commerce. For some people, yoga studios have become something sacred to them, and it has become their church and as more people learn about the philosophy, more people will turn to this ancient form of wisdom.

Who have been some of your greatest teachers?

Some of my greatest teachers are Geshe Michael Roach, Lama Christie McNally, Lama Sumati Marut, Lama David Fishman, Lama Brandy Davis, Doug Swenson and all of my students including my son Aki’o.

Do you have a favorite mantra to live by?

I have a few…
Om Thank You Ah Hung
Om It’s like this now Ah Hung

Anything else you’d like to share?

Using the wisdom from Master Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, we can start to identify our limited belief system and move towards a more conscious belief system that opens your heart to connect with others, leading a more selfless altruistic lifestyle, creating the ultimate happiness that everyone yearns for deep inside their heart.

 

 

Scott Nanamura: My background includes a Masters Degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine which includes, Acupuncture, Herbology, Nutrition, Exercise Therapy (Tai Chi Chuan and Qi Gong), and Remedial Therapy (massage, Tui Na). I have additionally completed Tibetan Buddhism courses, been practicing yoga for 40 years and teaching for 15. I have worked to cultivate the unique ability to bring ancient teachings into a modern setting, to touch the human heart. I work to inspire students to practice with awareness and intention on the mat, and to use the teachings off the mat in everyday life situations. My goal when teaching is to converge compassion and wisdom, art and yoga.

Connect:

diamondheart.yoga

FB: @diamondheartyoga

IG: @diamondheartyoga

 

Postcards From the Mat: Real Deal on Home Yoga Practice

Practicing yoga alone is an amazing adventure. There are aspects of home yoga practice which are so delightful. A controlled environment that you can choose yourself, whatever temperature, music, incense, lighting, tempo, sequence, pace, theme and style your little heart desires. And then there are some aspects of practicing solo that are arduous, roadblocks, speed bumps, detours and distractions on your path to Bliss. They too are a part of practice and prove to be fascinating obstacles and edges to work with as well.

Before I begin my yoga practice, I take inventory and scan myself internally. I feel two tensions: one is the tension of procrastination tugging, a Tamasic state of inertia begging to stay inert, “let’s just check the phone one more time” or “how about another tea first?” The other tension is one of distracted excitement, a bubbling up of energy that has yet to be directed. It rattles and bangs against my nerves feeling trapped by lack of expression and erratically pulsing with pure Rajasic restlessness. And let’s be honest, perhaps there’s a little too much morning green tea or coffee percolating through my human form? There are stories of thoughts forming and whirling, I observe myself engaging in a dramatic mental dilemma as to whether or not I’ll be able to overcome my laziness and/or find the ability to center, focus and calm down. This is all in my mind.

Neither of these two energies feels like a friend, an ally, a tool, or a supportive sense of assistance in my effort to get on the mat and do my thing. It feels like a struggle, and even a fight to get to the mat. If I examine this more closely, I recognize the underlying element of fear. Fear comes up, the fear that initiates the biochemical fight or flight response in my glands, blood, bones, heart, nervous system. All of this resistance starts just because I began thinking about getting on the yoga mat. Just the idea of a little discipline, effort, delving into my yoga practice is met with so much resistance. The hilarious cosmic joke is that I absolutely love, adore, and cannot imagine living without yoga! I am not sure any of this makes sense, and that is okay because yoga has taught me to live with paradoxes.

I make the tea. I drink the tea. I wash dishes. I wash my face. I apply coconut oil to my skin to wake it up and give warmth with gentle massage to my arms, chest, face and if there’s plenty of time to my spine, legs and feet as well. Maybe I turn on music. Maybe I film my yoga session just so I can replay it later and re-witness/remember the practice from an outside perspective. Chant a few prayers, and/or take a moment to dedicate the merits of my practice somehow, maybe just a couple conscious, sacred breaths to begin.

And it is time. I sit on the mat. I breathe. I arrive. I center. I notice. Wow. Okay, here we go, one breath at a time. Within minutes I become absorbed with sensations of stretching, “Ah yes, this is right. This feels so good. I love yoga.” Next come the runaway thought trains. I observe the process of my mind getting on runaway thought trains, followed by getting caught on tracks to the past and/or future. “Oh no, where did you go? This is hopeless. I can’t. Just go get a latte.” Finally, a deeper layer of tension disperses and the ease of a tender, forgiving, spacious, loving awareness is available in the present moment. You are here. Good job coming back, to be here – now. Why not stay? Here, in the now?

It is so lovely in the present, back to breath, back to arriving, and actually, directly experiencing feeling more centered. Now I’m watching thoughts go by like leaves in a stream. I am in the flow. I am the flow. The sensations of stretching in the body are feeling easier, sweeter, hypnotic and expansive as I continue to meld mind, body and breath. It’s not that I won’t go through more rounds of distracting thoughts, but I won’t grasp or push at them (so much). Their power to hook me will fade, meanwhile every other sense in my being becomes more awakened, enlivened and charged with prana. A state of equanimity is being cultivated with the practice of acceptance. This creates the right environment for body, mind and soul to combine forces as yoga instruments where incredible, mystical union can, and does occur.

Now I am dropping deep into savasana. It feels like a return home. It is the place I can clearly remember the beauty and special gift of this precious life, the blessings of this incarnation. I realize to have a life is such a privilege and an honor. I have been on a yoga adventure and now I remember what it is like to have calmness pervade the space between my cells. Stillness. My mind is clear, my body’s energy has been tempered, balanced with both stimulation and relaxation and it’s time to watch myself resting and not doing. Aaaaaahhhhh. Ommmmmmm.

Waking up from savasana, is always like, “Dang, it worked again!” I feel the genuine and authentic gratitude and joy for yoga, for my life, for everything, for every little thing. It’s a magical feeling. It is always there, but it gets covered up, blurred and even lost in the shuffle of all the other things in life that are also real and true, and the amount of information/stimulation that our senses are subject to on a daily basis. This state of harmony and knowing contentment is Sattvic. There are no tricks, nor lasting shortcuts to this state. Yoga practice takes you there as a simple result of practice. It is clarity, and a state of non-attachment that allows us to be with things as they are, without attraction or repulsion, and including the paradoxes. We feel connected, and a part of rather than the pain of separation. Even the ability to accept that the harmonious Sattvic state will not last permanently is a deeper layer of non-attachment. That way we do not cause suffering by clinging to the sweet feeling. Impermanence also applies to the Tamasic and Rajasic states, in fact all three of the Gunas are constantly, dynamically in play with one another from the gross to the subtle. Our goal as yogis is to be able to simply observe the Gunas, acting on the Gunas.

If the Gunas are unknown or new to you, or you have never quite understood their meaning, it is highly recommended to spend a little time researching and delving into the study of the Gunas. Two great resources for insights and wisdom are:

-Richard Freeman’s book, The Mirror of Yoga: Awakening the Intelligence of Body and Mind

https://www.richardfreemanyoga.com/books

-Stephen Mitchell’s translation of the Bhagavad Gita

https://stephenmitchellbooks.com/translations-adaptations/bhagavad-gita/

And in the spirit of staying true to your yoga practice, whether you practice by yourself, or with others, I will happily share the best advice for yoga success that Richard Freeman would give us students at the end of just about every class or offering. He would say, with a big smile, “Practice every day. Practice all day.”

Good Luck Yogis and Yoginis and Practice On!


 

Aimee Joy Nitzberg has been an avid lover of yoga since her first classes back in Boulder, CO in 2000. She knew she had a problem when she was skipping out of work to go to yoga class. She decided to plunge in, quit her job and set off on an incredible adventure which has included daily practice and working full-time in the yoga field for almost 20 years.  This opened up great opportunities to study with extraordinary, masterful teachers and to travel around the world.  She loves sharing yoga as a way of serving and honoring the grace of all the gifts that she has received, and as one of her favorite ways to connect and share with others. Currently, she resides in South Lake Tahoe with her mountain man and spends as much time outdoors as possible with their yogi doggie.

Learn to Handstand. Learn to Love.

I am currently midway through the final week of the online course 6 Weeks to Handstand with Kyle Weiger. During the past few weeks I have felt new areas of my body ‘wake up’ and strengthen. I am slowly but surely seeing progress in my handstand form and shape. But the biggest take-away thus far is that although these drills and exercises are making me physically stronger, this course is really about learning to love. We all have the ability to change our ‘state’ anytime and we can begin to see results in any area of our lives in as little as 6 weeks. This series is about much more than nailing a handstand, it is about diving deep into; curiosity, doing the work, dedication, self-care, integrity, and keeping the flame alive! These are great teachings that can be applied to all areas of life. I reached out to Kyle to learn more about his story, and he was kind enough to share some wonderful insights. Big thanks Kyle for the inspiration. May we all keep loving the journey!

Tell us a little bit about your yoga background?

I got into yoga after literally 6 years of a friend nagging me because he said I spent too much time in the gym and I needed to work on my flexibility too. Little did I know that his persistence would change the entire trajectory of my life. Well played, Sir.

Can you share with us about your initial curiosities with handstand and your handstand journey thus far?

It definitely started with yoga. I had an obsession for learning all the arm balances and Handstand was one that I played with often. However, it wasn’t until I got into Gymnastics training, and Circus after that, where I realized just how differently each modality approaches the pose.

Gymnastics was the first time the idea of “the line” was drilled into me, and watching and training with Circus hand balancers was where I first realized it’s so much more than just a single pose. Handstanding is its own art form, and my current journey has me exploring it from this angle.

Do you see your approach to learning to handstand as a metaphor and a way to approach life in general?

Oooh! My favorite question!! Yes yes yes! This is one the BIGGEST things I talk about in my workshops.

SPOILER ALERT: BEING ABLE TO DO A HANDSTAND DOES NOT MAKE YOU A BETTER PERSON…

Rather, I use it as a teaching tool to reflect on how I handle tough situations. When things get challenging, do you get frustrated and quit? Or do you learn to laugh at yourself, be willing to put in the work, and approach things with a light-hearted attitude.

Check out a video I did on this very topic: 

What is your favorite verbal cue to say to someone learning to handstand?

“GET TALLER”…..It’s the simplest cue, but it will immediately fix a lot of inflection points in the body. When you get taller, you press through the heel of your hand which will activate your traps and straighten out through the shoulder.

Meditation and journaling is a huge part of your practice. Tell us more…

Journaling is a daily activity for me, particularly the act of gratitude journaling. I like to give my attention and focus to all the things I am grateful for in this life. Whether it’s a deep conversation I recently had with my BFF, or if my Handstand felt significantly strong during a certain day, or if I pull my winter jacket out of the closet and find a $5 bill in it. I seriously write so much in there, so i go through journals like crazy.

As far as meditation, some yoga practitioners may disagree with me when I say that Handstand can be meditative. It requires your attention to direct to a single point of focus, a single task, and you have to be fully present or else you come out of balance.

Thus, seated meditations using visualization exercises are huge for me! So when I get upside down I can re-access that state of presence and purpose.

You are an entrepreneur and and have created a successful online business. Can you share some of your daily practices for finding the balance between wellness, community, work, and play?

This is also one of my favorite things to talk about. I’m actually in the midst of writing a course just for yoga professionals on how to do exactly what I did by using bare-bones resources.

At first, it wasn’t balanced…at all. It was a huge grind 12 months ago to get the product up. With launching a business, there’s no way around it but through it. That’s just how these things go.

Then over time, I found myself working on my website less and traveling to do workshops more.

I think it’s a lofty goal to have every individual day be perfectly balanced. Rather, I look at it in phases or waves. When I first launched 6 Weeks To Handstand with a $200 marketing budget and no clue if it was going to sell, it was a very stress-heavy & work-heavy phase of my life. Now I’m in more of a play-more-laugh-more kind of phase.

Those two balance each other out in the big picture, so I’m ok with sprints or bursts of hard work to have access to more abundance later.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

I’m moving more and more into the role of business consulting in the fitness industry. My business background is in Sales & Marketing, Paid Ad Campaigns, and Email Funnels. I want to share what I know with other people in our space. And of course I’ll never stop teaching Handstand!!!

Who or what are some of your biggest inspirations?

My biggest inspirations are my friends: I have a few pretty special people in my life that I draw inspiration from every single day: Clayton, Del, Katy, Ali, Madison, Bobby…you know who you are:)

As far as Handstanding, there are sooooo many talented people out there, but the coaches I’ve learned the most from are Miguel Santana, Yuri Marmerstein, Andrey Moraru, and Janchivdorj Sainbayar.

Anything else you’d like to share…

“Whatever you are, be a good one.” – Abe Lincoln

 

 

Kyle Weiger is on a mission to show you that you are far stronger than you think you are. And not just in a rainbows-and-unicorns-motivational-speaker kind of stronger….more like a belief-shattering breakthrough “Holy Sh*t! I can’t believe I just did that!” kind of stronger. Kyle teaches Handstand course workshops around the world at Yoga Studios, Festivals, CrossFits, and Fitness Facilities alike. Regardless of the setting, his methodology and approach to learning Handstand just flat out works for students of all shapes and sizes.

kyleweiger.com

Connect on IG:  @kyleweiger

 

Finding Salvation in the Storm

The following is the story of my journey from a life plagued by burnout, addiction, depression and anxiety into a life of self-healing and finding salvation through yoga and a plant based diet.

I moved to Oakland to attend a graduate school program that would prepare me to be a public school teacher in urban communities. I was very intentional about the route I took into teaching. I choose a program that would provide me with a year of supervised student teaching and one that explicitly included courses on the profession of teaching and how issues of race and inequality impacted teaching and learning. I was a bright eyed young teacher and believed that with the proper training I would be prepared to work in some of the harshest conditions in the country. I wanted to teach because I wanted to create a narrative in my classroom that countered the narrative the larger society had about the students I worked with. I believed deeply in the importance of the work I was doing and I was committed to doing all I could to best serve my students. All the training in the world never be enough to prepare me for the conditions I would encounter as a teacher. Because I was young and didn’t yet know myself, I did not have the tools to deal with the emotional stress and trauma of the job.

In some respects, I had a lot of success as a teacher. I took on extra roles outside the classroom. I was creative with my curriculum, and I had strong relationships with my students. I was often described as passionate, dedicated and caring. Early in my career I had a colleague pull me aside to tell me that I needed to protect my passion because it would lead to my burn out. I remember feeling resentment at that statement as I felt like my passion set me apart from other more experienced teachers who appeared to me as more withdrawn from their work and therefore not as effective.

In my first year teaching one of my advisees was shot and killed. My room became the place where students came to mourn. I was tasked with holding space for her friends who were grieving her loss. The classroom does not exist in isolation from the community it serves. I became immersed in the constant trauma, violence and loss experienced by the students who graced my classroom. I continued to take on extra roles outside the classroom and seek ways to ease the pain of my students, all the while ignoring my own. I felt like the harder I worked the more I could do to help my students. I could not have been more wrong.

Numbing my emotions with work, alcohol and unhealthy relationships became my way of coping. I also developed an Adderall addiction, as I was fueled by the idea that the more productive I was the more valuable I was as a teacher. I was taking high doses of Adderall every day and using alcohol and marijuana to fall asleep at night. I was completely neglecting my physical, emotional and spiritual needs all under the façade that my work was more important than me.

I was on a one-way track to a breakdown, which thankfully came. I landed in a psychologist’s office reading me the results of my psychological evaluation. I was suffering from severe burnout, depression and anxiety as well as a substance abuse issue. The psychologist was ready to prescribe psych meds on the spot. At this point I had moved home and began practicing yoga twice a day. I had also begun to change my diet, and stopped taking Adderall all together. After my experience with Adderall the last thing I wanted was more pills. I told the doctor that I wanted to see if I could use yoga and diet to manage my mental and emotional health.

Two years later I am free of all substances and am more happy and connected to my passions and purpose than ever. I have been able to create a life for myself where my health and happiness are at the forefront. I traveled to Costa Rica to become a certified yoga instructor and currently teach regular yoga classes at a local studio here in Baltimore, Maryland. I am currently enrolled in a holistic health-coaching program at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and am excited about expanding my capacity to support other peoples wellness journey through coaching. I have also been trained to teach yoga to people in recovery through Y12SR’s training. I have established a strong support group of people supporting me on this new journey. I am proud to say I am currently managing my addiction, depression and anxiety with yoga and a holistic lifestyle.

There was a moment of darkness when I could not imagine how I would ever move forward. My entire identity was wrapped up in my teaching career and my students. I had completely run myself into the ground. But I am here to tell you that there is another way to live, and that sometimes our biggest obstacles are actually here to direct us towards a life beyond our wildest imagination. You can find salvation in the storm. Yoga, a plant based diet and holistic self-care practices have saved me from a life of addiction, burn out, depression and anxiety. I am proud of my transformation.

At the end of each yoga class I teach, after savasana, I invite students to roll onto one side into a fetal position. I remind students that fetal position is a posture that symbolizes renewal and rebirth and is a reminder to us that every day, every practice, every breath is a chance to begin again. What will you do with yours?

 

Maya Semans is a former inner city high school English teacher turned yoga instructor and holistic health coach on a mission to share the power of yoga and wellness with women and communities impacted by burn out, addiction, and trauma. Located in Baltimore, Maryland.

Connect with Maya on IG: @ana_may_a

 

Maya participated in our Mentorship Program with Mary Tilson. Receive a consultation with Mary when you sign up for the Yoga Trade PLUS membership.

LEARN MORE:

Yoga Trade PLUS

Power of Community: Shakti Fest 2018

In the middle of the Californian desert, I found myself at a heart-centered celebration:  Shakti Fest.

For three days, men and women from all corners of the world gathered to sing sacred music, grow their yoga practice, and honor the divine feminine in us all. My most significant take-away was the power of community for spiritual growth and support. Take a look at our video as we catch up with Shakti Fest’s executive director, Sridhar, and yoga teachers, Kia Miller and Govind Das to discuss the alchemy of gathering in community.

Video Music:  Jai Ma (Down to the Sea Mix) by Govind Das & Radha

Filmmaker:  Audrey Billups

Yoga Retreats: An Escape From Reality or Deeper Engagement?

The first yoga retreat I attended was intended to be a mere pit-stop on a lone trip around South East Asia. I was not-so-fresh out of university and in need of some serious TLC. My shoulders were permanently up to my ears, jaw always tightly clenched and the worries of the world sat in my stomach like lead stewing in acid. I arrived with tonsillitis, my pasty white skin contrasting sharply with the ruby red rash all over my body. In short, I was a mess.

I’d barely practised yoga before, but decided on a whim to try a retreat as a kick-start to a trip I’d imagined would be full of cocktails on beaches and partying with strangers. My focus was the location; little beach huts on a gorgeous Thai island, idyllic gardens stretching into sand and sea. On day one, I reluctantly dragged myself from the beach for the first yoga class, relatively disinterested and quietly cursing over the time I was losing to bask in the sunshine. It therefore came as a total surprise that whilst lying in Savasana at the end, I couldn’t stop tears from rolling down my cheeks. One by one at first, slowly but surely erupting into quiet sobs that came from depths I didn’t know existed.

After the class, I shyly loitered around the teacher, waiting to ask what had just happened to me. I felt uncomfortable and vulnerable and had no idea where this explosion of emotion had come from. Was I somehow doing yoga wrong? Only an hour before, I’d been lounging on the beach without a care in the world…or so I thought. I was told it was normal, common even, for deep emotional trauma to be released during yoga. This certainly had never happened to me at the gym, and I couldn’t help but wonder why this class was any different.

Curious, I persisted. I observed as layers of tension melted away day by day. I watched as my body and mind somehow became stilled by my previously shallow and laboured breath. What fascinated me the most was how deep the transformation seemed to be going in such a short space of time. I arrived feeling depleted and lost, but left only days later totally full; full of joy and calm and hope and excitement and energy, sensations I hadn’t felt for a long time. The experience ended up colouring my entire trip, moulding my decisions and steering me towards more fulfilling choices than I perhaps previously had in mind. Decision number one? Book another yoga retreat.

When I arrived at the next retreat centre in Cambodia only weeks later, I connected instantly. The place gave me tingles. The community at Hariharalaya practice and teach integral yoga, living yoga both on and off the mat – a concept although new to me at the time, resonated like nothing before. I was hungry to learn, eager to go deeper into this practice that had rapidly become so important to me. I could write essay after essay on what arose for me during that week, but suffice to say that my time at Hariharalaya was significant, eye-opening and life-changing. I left there a different person, evolved in some way I wasn’t quite sure of. How was this possible in only one week?

Despite travelling hundreds of kilometres to Indonesia after I left Hariharalaya, I knew I had to go back. Within weeks, I turned around and turned up again, excited for what I thought was to be round two of a personal transformation. But this time, something quite different occurred to me. I had been so focused on the power of yoga, I hadn’t noticed the power of a retreat. Of the particular format which, over mere days can prompt radical transformation; physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

It was only by going to this same place a second time that I realised this. The first time I had been lost in my own metamorphosis – which by the way, is by no means a onetime thing! This second time, I couldn’t help but observe others. I watched as people, just like me, arrived frazzled and fatigued, tight and tense. Not in all cases, of course, but for the large part, it transpired that people had come as a means of release and relaxation, escape from their daily lives. As time passed, those who had made nervous small talk on the first day slowly crept out of themselves, sharing with sincerity and support. Others became more introverted, tucking themselves away and tapping into creative outlets. Some delved deep into yoga, others delved deep into novels. But each and every person radiated a satisfaction and content which grew exponentially as each day passed. Day by day, I watched as this new family opened up, blossoming in the light of the space that was held for them.

This, to me, is the root of what a retreat does: it holds space for transformation. It guides, teaches and nurtures, coaxing innate qualities to burst forward. Yoga is the tool, the practice around which all of this comes together. For many, there is neither time nor motivation to practice yoga every day, allowing the huge benefits of doing so to be revealed only during a retreat. Although tasty food and exotic locations often provide the temptation to book, it is this space that people come for, often unknowingly. It seems these days that we don’t allow ourselves enough time and space to explore creativity and spirituality, to play, to connect with nature and ourselves. It is this which I find so inspiring about retreats; that a formula so simple can provoke such a profound response.

The word retreat comes from the Latin retrahere, meaning ‘pull back.’ People’s perceptions of a retreat are no doubt shaped by the spectrum of its synonyms, from sanctuary and seclusion to withdrawal, isolation and hiding. The Merriam Webster dictionary defines a retreat as a “process of withdrawing, especially from what is difficult, dangerous, or disagreeable.” In many ways, this is what I was doing when I booked my first retreat. I mindlessly entered my card details as procrastination from the endless difficulties of university work, daydreaming of myself on a beach in Thailand. The sad fact is that many of us feel the need to withdraw or pull back from fast-paced, high-pressure lifestyles in order to be able to process what is going on around us.

Whilst this may be the reason that some of us choose to go on a yoga retreat, it is certainly not its purpose. Whether we realise it or not, by consciously setting time aside to step out of usual routines and their accompanying anxieties, we are prompted to journey inward. Retreats offer us an environment in which we are able to listen to ourselves without distraction, to realise, reassess and refocus. This might expose depths of ourselves which have been overlooked. Suppressed energies can surface, and as such, going on retreat is not always easy. It is not an escape from reality, but a deeper engagement with it.

In taking the time to stop, listen and reflect, new perspectives naturally arise. As Marcel Proust once wrote, “the voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” This to me beautifully captures the longer-term benefits of going on retreat. Even though we must return to that from which we have withdrawn, we do so with new eyes. We go back to our roles, relationships and responsibilities with a fresh perspective. In this sense, the process of withdrawal on retreat is tactical; sometimes it is important to withdraw in order to advance.

 

 

 

Rachel Bilski is the co-founder of Shanti Niwas, a yoga collaborative currently holding yoga retreats and classes in Portugal. You can follow her musings on yoga, travel and life on the Shanti Niwas blog: www.shantiniwas.com/snblog

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.