A Prayer for Those Who Dance With Death: The Vulture, the Goddess, and Me

“Awareness of death is the very bedrock of the path. Until you have developed this awareness, all other practices are useless.”
– His Holiness the Dali Lama

While we may not want to admit it, death is part of every yoga practice. In fact, traditional yoga seeks to honor the process of one’s death as a part of one’s spiritual life. Many yoga classes are designed to energetically mimic the cycle of life: birth, action, death, and even re-birth during a single session. The cycle of the class is a mirror of repetitive traits and mistakes known as samaras, or energetic wheels we may become trapped in through this and other lifetimes. Yet, the topic of death is something I routinely avoided with my students and in my own practice with myself. When talking about death and yoga, how can we become more connected and less afraid?

As a yogini, when I lie down in savasana and when I direct my students to do so, I have a choice. I can avoid the topic of death or address it. Savasana itself is a practice and is quite literally, corpse pose. Although often seen as the portion of class where we take it nap, it is also the rehearsal of the ultimate freedom from our corporal existence. While in savasana, we are engaged in the surrender and acceptance of who we have been and what we can no longer control. On the surface, one might merely let go of the physical effort of the yoga class; savasana contains the possibility of training the mind to let go of life its self. In every class these moments are an opportunity to avoid or embrace death – and a mirror of how we individually deal with other uncomfortable truths.

Symbology & Reality

My personal passive/aggressive-interest/avoidance dance with death came to an end about a year ago, when I moved to Central America. That’s when I became in contact with death daily, in the form of vultures. Parked on the street corners, in the garbage bins, and on the beaches, vultures are about as common in Costa Rica as pigeons in New York City. To me, and to many others, they are literally death personified. These scavengers are often viewed as ugly, evil, and undesirable. They perform the work of an unpaid undertaker for those who have no one to take care of their final rights, disposing of and devouring bodies in decay. Like most, I was originally put off and frightened by them. Their naked heads lurking atop trash heaps, and beady eyes peaking over animal carcasses intimidated me. All l I could see was death and decay. Over time, I began to realize that my recoiling at the presence of vultures was merely a manifestation of my own fear of confronting death. What was the difference between my recoiling at vultures and my denial of natural life cycles. Or my unwillingness to accept what I fear and don’t fully understand? The answer was: not much. Vultures, I realized, just like death aren’t going anywhere, even if I (we) look the other way. So I decided to stop avoiding death and vultures…and look into mythology and tradition.

The Goddess

How could yoga help me move beyond fear and avoidance with death? I first looked to the ancient text of the Bhagavad Gita, which offered a beautiful story of bravery and devotion. The protagonist Arjuna heads into battle facing certain death with only courage and faith in the Lord on his side. He learns that attainment of freedom from the bondage of life is possible by doing one’s duty. While both epic and beautiful, his story did not help move me from fear to acceptance of death. Maybe I wasn’t as strong or brave as Arjuna? Or maybe, I what I needed was a different kind of inspiration. I found the inspiration I was searching for in stories about the goddess. The goddess, in all her forms provided just the metaphor I needed to get more comfortable with the topic of death on a personal level.

Each goddess we study in the yogic tradition, both Hindi and Vedic, brings with her certain qualities we may hope to evoke in our practice and embody in our daily lives. Durga showcases our inner strength, Lakshmi our ability to cultivate abundance, Parvati our vast internal well of love. Who better to teach us about death and transformation than Kali? Kali is our wild side. She represents our uncensored self. She is confident and limitless. Kali is a symbol of the death of our ego. Subsequently, she is often depicted with Shiva on the cremation grounds. In one interpretation of Kail she is portrayed as the embodiment of time (Kaal is the word for time in Sanskrit.) In this version, her body is the color black representing an all-consuming presence: one of which all things are born and into which they will all dissolve. However, she also possesses a soft side, which seeks to nurture us by liberating the soul. She dances to relieve our souls of our temporary bodies.

While the mortal nature of our bodies and the liberation from them might still sound a bit disturbing, it is in this dance and celebration that I found peace. Death is the great equalizer. Death allows our mortality to be a gift. Contemplation of death and mortality is the beginning of truly loving our lives. So when we honor the strength, abundance and self-love that different goddesses embody, we are honoring these same aspects of ourselves. Similarly, when we contemplate the destruction and transformation Kali can represent, we are allowing conversation about and the contemplation of death to rise to surface. The conversation allows us to be more present in each moment. This contemplation contains within it celebration of the limited time we have, and an understanding of how deeply we can love our experience.

To the Dancers

So the prayer is this: I pray when we step on our mat to practice that we embrace the natural cycles of both life and death. I pray we can find courage in acceptance and not fear. I pray this acceptance leads us to a deeper appreciation of it all; the horrors, the beauties, and the deep love that always surrounds us on this wild ride we call life.

 

Meghan’s passions are education and service. She currently lives with her husband in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica where they both teach yoga and work with Ninas Para el Exito; a rural girls empowerment program in the jungle.

You Are The Writer Of Your Own Life Travels through Ireland, the UK, India, Australia, and New Zealand

It has been such an incredibly beautiful journey with many lessons and blessings along the path.

 

This journey began back in Ireland after returning home for nearly 2 years, my soul was longing for something else, somewhere else and I wasn’t too sure what. I just knew I needed to go. It was almost like a ticking in my heart saying now is the time. The only thing I could do was listen to that calling and follow my heart; “It’s time to spread your wings and fly Clare.”

 

On one of our random sunny days in Ireland, I headed for Kilkenny Castle and went straight to the gardens to connect with Mother Earth, I got my laptop out and started to apply for yoga jobs on Yoga Trade around the world. Seeing which places I felt energetically drawn to at the time. Boom! Done, dusted, Sorted. I left it in the hands of the universe and waited knowing in my heart I would be leaving very soon. My family and friends thought it couldn’t be possible to move somewhere in 3 weeks without a job and somewhere to live. I trusted though…my soul knew.

 

A few days later I received a phone call from the UK. I moved there 3 weeks later! Aww Wee!

 

Scotland was so beautiful, almost like taking a step back in time, I knew I had been there before, there was a strange familiarity about the place perhaps in a past life. I was exactly where I needed to be. I spent a few weeks working, connecting with people and spending time with the elementals in parks and beaches. My heart still felt saddened though, something was missing… Yoga in some parts of the western world was becoming more money based instead of love based. Humanity is becoming addicted to technology, asana, and the outside world. We are creating insecurity and losing our self worth instead of being present with each other, finding the magic within coming from a place of love, healing, connection and safety. When we come from a place of love the abundance will flow.

 

One day I was having a conversation with a friend and I just said I don’t think this is for me, I blurted out…“MY SOUL IS BROKEN.”

 

Wow… who said that and where did it come from? (These were powerful words and I didn’t know to what extent at the time)! I surprised myself with the words that came out of my own mouth. It was a relief though and I felt this beautiful sense of peace wash over me. I felt happy and light again. That was my catalyst for CHANGE.

 

“When she transformed into a butterfly, the caterpillars spoke not of her beauty, but of her weirdness. They wanted her to change back into what she always had been. But she had wings.”

 

I welcomed transformation into my life. Once I acknowledged how I felt and accepted it, a whole new world started to open up. My energetic vibration lifted higher and therefore I created new energy pathways to be revealed to me.

 

I was asked to facilitate a workshop with another teacher, “Awaken Your Inner Goddess” two days later in the most amazing studio in Edinburgh. My heart jumped with joy and that little voice inside roared YES, I WOULD LOVE TO! Again I was wondered who said that. I didn’t even have time to think about it in my head, did I know enough, what would I teach? It meant I was moving into the unknown, taking it one step at a time, allowing my heart to lead the way. Change can both be little scary, very exciting and totally worth it. I was a self employed yoga teacher teaching my truth and everyone’s truth is different and I totally respect that. I connected with the most amazing and loving souls, learning and growing from each other with plenty of fun and giggles along the way, I was finding my love for yoga again.

 

I was ready to move into my new home. My heart started to do that thing again though, you know the ticking thing before I left Ireland. I went and sat near the biggest tree in the meadows that day and began meditating hoping to pick up some inner wisdom and clarity from the tree. I did get the odd intrigued look from a few people…either they wanted to join in on my peaceful looking meditation or else just thought I was totally nuts.

 

I closed my eyes and tuned in, there was something else coming, there was something more I had to learn and it wasn’t here, this was just the start of the story. I was feeling a bit panicked as I was meant to be moving into my new home and decisions needed to be made soon.

 

It was full moon that night so I went out to the park and did my full moon ritual, writing down what I wanted to let go of and burning the paper as a way of releasing it to the ethers.

 

I sat on a bench and my conversation with Mother Moon that evening went something like.. .”I really like it here but why do I have this feeling. If I’m not meant to be here, something better happen will soon and when I say soon I mean before tomorrow night because if I move into my new place, then I’m not leaving for the next 6 months.” Feeling I needed to be firm so she knew my seriousness and of course having so much love and gratitude in my heart at the same time. (I really didn’t think much could happen in one day though, come on, I was really testing the universe here.)

 

In bed that night I awoke in the middle of the night, I leaned over and picked up my phone to check the time. I had an email on the screen. “Possible New Opportunities” it read. I opened it, it was an email from INDIA asking if I would be interested in a Yoga Therapist position in an Ayurveda Hospital in Kerala. What the….! The excitement! I emailed back straight away. I must have applied for this job online before I got here…although I really don’t remember applying for it. We organised a Skype call for an interview the following evening, it just felt right in my heart. They emailed back a day later to say they would love to offer me the position if I was still interested. That inner voice popped out again, YES PLEASE! I could see this was becoming a bit of a pattern and I had no control over it, my heart and the universe were leading me and there was nothing I could do only surrender and trust.

 

They could see the bigger picture.

 

It was time to say see you later to everyone in Scotland for the time being. I’m forever grateful to my yoga family there that showed me the light again, reminding me of that beautiful, powerful and wise divine goddess energy always present within me, guiding me on my path.

 

I accepted the job, packed up my car and left the next day to head back to The Emerald Isle to apply for my visa. India here I come.

 

My conscious self was still a little in disbelief, I was offered a job to go teach yoga in the Motherland. This is a yogi’s dream come true. Wow! Did I really manifest this and was it really happening? Such Magic! The gratitude in my heart, I felt just completely at peace, loved, safe, protected and guided.

 

I often think if I didn’t honor my heart that time and continued on with my broken soul, my disheartened spirit, if I resisted change and didn’t take the chance where would I be now….? This was such a valuable lesson going forward for me to always be true to myself and speak my truth with a courageous heart.

 

I try to apply this in all areas of my life now, it’s not always easy as I am only human after all. As much as I can, I live in the heart, I express how I really feel with kind and honest words, look for the blessings in every lesson experienced here, to be my true authentic self no matter what and remembering to always have fun along the way.

 

If I’m not honoring all those things, I’m hiding the true me and well then, what’s the point? I’m living a life that doesn’t truly make me happy, I’m not accepting or loving myself and may miss out in the opportunities and possibilities that are for my Soul Purpose and healing which is leading me to our over all goal in this life, that one thing we are all looking for and need in this world…. LOVE. When we raise our vibration to love, we send out an energetic field that affects those around us that we care about, healing one heart at a time. And with that Heart energy, it has a positive Ripple Effect healing humanity. We really do have the power to change OUR world. You are the writer of your own life!

 

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

 

 

The Butterfly Yogini

Clare Fitzgerald

Founder and Director at Solas – Heart And Soul Of Who We Are

Instagram: Butterfly_yogini

Love. Inspire. Grow. Heal. Transformation.

How Yoga Travel Humbles The Control Freak

By the grace of the universe I found yoga at fourteen years old, and since then I have held on to it for dear life to remind myself to loosen my grip a little bit, to breathe, to recognize that I am being held, to trust in the beat of my own heart, to trust in the beat of, well, everything.

We won’t dive too deeply into where these control patterns stem from (some Buddhists such as Pema Chodron believe it all comes back to our fear of – and lack of control over – death), but those of us who have experienced them know how easy it can be to trick ourselves into believing we have quit controlling for good. Who, us? We don’t control our environment! We let things happen and let people be free, autonomous individuals! We let the Universe flow! Until something happens that makes us feel less-than the grand image of ourselves we’ve created. Then the clawing, the biting, the manipulating, the screaming, the full-on emotional breakdown ensues and we quickly point our well-meaning fingers to how that situation or that person was just not working for us fairly. You get the picture.

Then back to our mats. Back to our breath. Back to letting go of that “I”-ness. But in the comfort of our daily lives, even this can be a facade. It’s easy to be a zen master when we know what to expect. Same classes each week, same group of smiling yogis, same bed to come back to at night. Nothing to shake us up or knock us off our “path.”

This is when we need to travel most. When I first joined Yoga Trade, I no doubt brought my control issues right along for the ride. I tried only to “choose” the opportunities that seemed the best and most outstanding. I wanted to cross countries off my list. I wanted to be around people that I thought would be a good fit for who I imagined myself to be.

It turned out it wasn’t working (surprise). The harder I tried to manifest my ideal situation, the less I felt like I was getting what I was looking for. So I packed up my things & decided to trek Europe with three friends instead. I was free to make my own choices – this situation was full of less surprises. How sad that we think this is what we want, when in fact we are simply stifling the magic from flowing in.

About one week – just one – into this no-destination backpacking affair, my counterparts and I decided our goals were wildly different – none of us were willing to relinquish that control of our Selves (surprise again) – and we amicably went separate ways. How could I have gone into travel thinking I knew what I was getting into, and ending up here so quickly? The lesson is – as anyone who’s traveled has learned – we always do. I spent a hot second in Barcelona feeling victimized by the Universe (“Why isn’t this trip going as I planned?!”) and going back and forth over whether to just call it quits and buy a ticket home. Whatever choice I made felt like a massive weight on my shoulders that would profoundly impact my worthiness as a human. The struggle to make the “right” (read: “perfect”) decision was real.

Welcome divine intervention. I received an email from a Yoga Trade member in Italy that had previously turned me down, but whose lead yoga teacher had gotten sick & couldn’t host the week-long retreat she was scheduled to lead and that began in less than 48 hours. So I hopped on the first train from Barcelona to Rome and made the trek to the profoundly quiet and peaceful mountain city apartment that would be my home for the next three weeks as I led some of the most brilliant and incredible yogis I’ve ever had the privilege to teach, not one, but three, consecutive yoga retreats.

The universe really drove it home for me (in case I hadn’t gotten it already) when the day after my arrival in Italy (which happened also to be my birthday) a fabulous Italian dinner that had been put on by my colleagues at the retreat was interrupted by shouts & music from outside. Rushing from our table, we found every inhabitant of the tiny town dancing in the streets during what must have been one of the few big celebrations of the year. At midnight that night on my birthday, these warm and welcoming residents of Casperia lit hundreds of heart-shaped lanterns and released them into the sky, where they floated out over the hills of vineyards and sunflower farms, competing with the stars, and appearing to laugh at me, at all of us, as if to say, “How could you – any of you – be anywhere but here?”

I learned much more about myself leading those retreats than I could have wandering the streets of Europe alone. Like most of us do, I quickly realized our path is an endless organic unfolding of free will – balanced quite evenly by natural intervention. Fate, serendipity, whatever you choose to call it, there is no doubt it should make us feel relieved, excited even, that we are absolutely not in full control. We can find joy in the fact that the Universe has plans for each of us that are so much grander, and more beautiful, and more perfectly designed to bring us to our greatest good, than any we could ever create on our own.

Travel with an open heart, an open mind, and a sense of abandon. Abandon what you know, what you want, what you think things should be. Because the truth is, things will always be exactly as they should.

 

 

 

Samantha Migliozzi is an E-RYT 200-hour that has been teaching for over seven years locally in New England and abroad. She has been a dedicated Yoga Trade user since its outset and has visited 15 countries in the past three years.

https://www.samanthanaturalhealth.com/

IG: @samimigliozzi

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

The Personal Journey That Led To Open a Yoga Therapy School

From a very young age, I questioned the meaning of life. I wondered how I should live, and how other people were living around the world. I wanted to know more about different realities and ways of thinking so I could make my mind up about how I wanted to live my own life. I simply wasn’t ready to live life the way I saw it in Canada, the only home I’d ever known.

 

We all have different stories, different questions. For me, it wasn’t that my life wasn’t good, but that the North American lifestyle didn’t make much sense to me. All around me, I saw people working themselves into the ground at jobs they didn’t even like. All for a huge house, a beautiful car, a lot of clothes, and two weeks of vacation per year. Some people are satisfied living that life, but I knew it wasn’t for me. I wanted to live a simple life, without having to fight for status and wealth. I needed to find something to dedicate myself to—a livelihood that would give me purpose and meaning in the world we live in. This is why after completing a course of study in physical rehabilitation, I decided to travel.

 

Working in the physiotherapy ward of Ziguinchor Regional Hospital in Senegal, I experienced culture shock for the first time. There, I saw people sharing everything, though they had nothing. People welcomed me as if I were their sister. I saw entire villages—not just parents—taking care of children. I met people who smiled even when they didn’t know how they would find a way to eat the next day. I saw people praying to a God I couldn’t see, people who had faith in life though it offered them few opportunities. I understood that there was so much more to life than focusing on material wealth. I could decide to live a life of abundance without having to sacrifice all my time to a meaningless job, instead dedicating that time to taking care of myself, others, and my environment. I understood just how lucky I was to have so many choices.

 

I continued my journey, alternating between working in physiotherapy clinics in Montreal and leaving for months at a time to travel through Asia, Oceania, and Central America. I was on a spiritual quest. Meditation was already part of my life, after I’d had a rough time coming to terms with my own family history. I wanted to go deeper within myself to find inner peace. I needed the tools necessary to deal with uncontrollable external factors.

 

That’s when yoga came into my life. At first, I didn’t even know that yoga was a way of living. I always thought it was like Pilates, just exercises in front of a mirror. I wasn’t interested in that. However, during my year of traveling, I ended up in Nepal and in India, where I hoped to participate in a meditation retreat. As I researched meditation centers, I found out I had the wrong idea about yoga, and I realized that it could actually bring together my knowledge of the human body and my desire to find peace of mind. Suddenly, I was excited to learn more.

 

In India, I went to a Yoga Teacher Training Course in Goa and a Vipassana retreat in Kolhapur, where I was taught about breath and consciousness. I learned how to move with awareness, how to maintain a clear state of mind, how to look inwards, how to let go, how to accept. When I returned home, I felt rich with all the knowledge I’d gained. I saw how my approach with my physiotherapy patients changed, and I began to learn all I could about yoga therapy, reiki, and conscious communication.

 

I felt I’d finally found a path that made sense for me, a path through which I could evolve in a personal, professional, and spiritual way. Three years after my first visit to Asia, I returned to India, where I met a beautiful woman named Rita. Rita’s life in India was miles away from my own, but somehow, our paths were meant to cross. We had the same desire to share our knowledge and experiences with like-minded people. We shared the belief in yoga therapy – a tool for preventing imbalances and restoring well-being. In founding Yoga Chikitsa in Nicaragua, we decided to make our shared vision a reality.

 

Today, I continue to remind myself that in life, change is the only constant. Things are forever evolving and transforming, which is why this school will be a reflection of the many beautiful souls that have passed through its doors, and all of the learning and life-changing experiences that have happened under its roof.

 

 

 

Josy is a Certified Physical Rehabilitation Therapist, Yoga teacher, Alternative Medicine Practitioner, Therapeutic and Energetic Masseuse, and she also practices Vipassana Meditation. She is also the Co-Founder of Yoga Chikitsa Nicaragua.

 

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.

Leprosy & Lessons in Love: Meditation In Action

With fear on my mind and love in my heart, I choose to follow people who live to benefit more then just themselves.

I was born and raised in Toronto, Canada, in total health and abundance but I became aware of the unsatisfactory nature of a life without service to others.

Nathan & Zohar, run meditation in action projects around the world known as Sangha Seva Retreats.

They first came to Anandwan in 2004 as volunteers and have been facilitating groups of people to experience and contribute to the community every year since.

Anandwan (‘Forest of Joy or Bliss’) is a leprosy rehabilitation center in Mararashtra, India. Baba Amte, a saintly man, founded Anandwan in 1951 with the mission of providing a life for people with Leprosy that went beyond offering medical support but a way for each individual to be wholly integrated in society.

All Photography by Shilpa Shah

Leprosy is the oldest known disease and is extremely misunderstood and stigmatized all over the world but particularly in India – as being grotesque, highly contagious and even a personal curse of God or Karma.

Historically, India has had the highest population of the disease with many afflicted people being rejected and disregarded from society – left to fend on their own support, in times of dire need of the support of others.

Baba Amte fiercely started this project with 6 patients living on donated government land- without even a water source. With the power of love in his heart, within only 2 years the land completely transformed into a self-sufficient community – apart from sugar, salt, and oil.

Therefore, you can imagine the jobs that were manifested – from making on-site homemade mattresses, bed sheets, pillows, fabrics, housing and furniture, homemade specialized wheelchairs, custom-made shoes for all these differently shaped mended bodies and feet, bio-waste methane system turning cow and food waste into gas to cook with, growing food and cooking for all these many mouths – all day, every day!

The community has grown to host approximately 3,000 individuals with a range of differences in the body and mind (children, elderly, with physical and mental disabilities) that may have not had a safe place in the world without Anandwan.

Anyone can live here with the guidelines of not taking any intoxicants, non-violence, and being willing to work, if able. Baba said “give people a chance – not charity,” which from my observation seems to be clearly successful.

As a part of the meditation-in-action mission, 17 international volunteers, joined together for 3 weeks to practice meditation while consciously living and working in various workshops throughout the Anandwan community.

I choose to work in the elderly home in the mornings and alternating between the hearing and the visually impaired school in the afternoon.

Besides working with other people, I had to deal with my own suppressed internalized fear I was unknowingly hosting around touching elderly people’s bodies. It really had nothing to do with Leprosy as in retrospect I remembered that I also felt this sense of rejection at my grandma’s retirement home in Toronto. The look of fragility and potential weaknesses somehow gave me the impression of it not feeling safe to touch the bodies of these human beings. Maybe some unconscious fear of “catching” whatever they have even if it was just my own projection of their pain and suffering. As it turns out, odds are as a human being, if I’m super lucky, I will indeed catch the state of old age regardless of physical contact will people or not.

Baba was known to say that the real leprosy to fear is this leprosy of the mind.

The illusive walls between where the being behind ‘their’ skin and mine – began to fade away. I realized that my intention was to share moments of connection, not “fix” anyone or anything.

Through breaking down my own barriers of fear I shared in the most precious exchanges of love during this project.

They, like you and me and all other beings- simply want to experience happiness- feel love, less suffering, less pain. Something we can all naturally offer to each other – but as I can see it must start with the fragile being behind our own skin.

The human beings living at Anandwan showed me strength and joy through the endurance of suffering and pain. Maybe it really is the challenges that strengthen the spirit. All I know is the light and love radiating from these people felt so bright that I couldn’t even see the different abilities, shapes of bodies or sense capabilities in all their various forms.

We all have opportunities to dive into these unfamiliar environments and into the power of love that exists beyond the discernment of our mind that constantly creates distinctions between good, bad, less or more, like or dislike, into this golden thread that ties us all together – the aliveness that exists in meeting each moment with full awareness- of life, exactly as it is.

“Namaste” – the people of Anandwan say here with their hands at their heart and I couldn’t imagine a greeting that was more appropriate. I see you – as a pure divine living, breathing, feeling being – as significant a life as the one I consider “my own.”

May we all find ways of stepping outside our own fears and into the transformation power of love – for ourselves and for each other.

 

 

 

Sacha Bryce, BSc, RYT, is a Holistic Yoga Therapist based in Toronto, Canada. She has travelled the globe studying, teaching and living Integral Yoga. Her mission is to share the power of the practice to liberate herself and others from suffering.

IG: @sachabryceyoga

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.