The other day I taught Mindfulness and Yoga to the kiddies.
This is especially fun and challenging because the kiddies are 4 years old.
I know, right?!
I walk into the classroom and the students are already sitting in a circle on the rug. We have been doing this for a while so they know when I come they should have their Mindful Bodies on. Which means sitting in Easy Pose or criss-cross applesauce as it is sometimes called.
And so they wait on the rug. I come in with my big teacher bag of stuff and I find my spot on the rug. I ask them, “Are you ready?”
“Yes!” they say.
“You are in Easy Pose so I can tell you are ready.” I say.
They all smile.
“A” asks, “Where’s the chime?”
“It is coming.” I say.
The chime is how we begin class. The chime lives in a little brown box inside my teacher bag. The way it works is when I arrive in the circle I ring the chime. We all close our eyes and put our hands in the air. We keep our hands up and listen as long as we can. When the sound is gone, we put our hands down.
So, I ring the chime. When I peek out at them I can see “G” listening very hard, squinching her eyes shut, trying to hear the last bits of the chime sound fading away.
Soon, all the hands are down. “It is time for our breathing.” I say. “Put your hands on your belly!”
17 pairs of little hands go on their bellies. We breathe in and our bellies get bigger. We breathe out and our bellies get smaller. We breathe like this for five big breaths before we move on to our Feather Breath.
“Now it is time for our Feather Breath!” “G” gets her hands ready to float to the sky on the IN breath. Slowly the little hands go up in the air, and very slowly like a feather they float to the ground on the OUT breath. “Good job!” I say. We make eye contact and she smiles.
We move on to our Yoga. Today we are using ABC Yoga Cards. We are practicing our CAT pose. We add our COW pose, including mooing and meowing because after all, we are 4 years old. When we get to LION, the whole room roars.
Now it is almost time to end our Mindful Circle. I feel a little sad because I am receiving so much from the kiddies. Time goes fast when you are with the 4 year olds. Even though it is half and hour, it feels like 10 minutes. I take out RAINBOW FISH book and read them a story. When I finish I take out my chime so we can close just like we started.
When they see the chime come out, all the hands go up.
“Bring your hands to your heart.” I say.
Together we say, “In yoga we say, Namaste!”
As I am gathering my items to get on my way, “G” comes over and hugs my leg. I bend down to give her a hug back. “I like yoga.” “G” says, looking up at me.
“Me too “G”.” I say.
The third of Patanjali's Niyamas is ‘Tapas’, translating to ‘austerity’ or ‘discipline’. The word Tapas is derived from the root Sanskrit verb ‘tap’ which means ‘to burn’.
The New Year is a milestone, a time to reflect, a time of renewal. As we reflect upon the year gone by we can notice without judgment what situations, people and circumstances have not served us. We may notice how we have consciously or subconsciously invited these things into our lives.
We can just notice. Observing what situations have not served us. Observing how we may have been drawn to, or drawn into people, places and things. With loving kindness, we can ask ourselves: What is it that wants my attention? What do I want to move toward? What am I passionate about? What am I willing to let go of? To throw into the fire?
It is from this place we begin to develop clarity. We can ask for guidance. For strength and courage to cultivate our good and true path. To let go of fear and to meet the obstacles as part of the path, embracing the whole thing.
Tapas calls us to a passionate discipline, which is both an invitation and willingness to let go. In Tapas, we find another expression of effort and ease, with a kind hand, with a gentle voice, but with a powerful burning zeal in our practice. Removing the obscurations, that we might find true union with the universe.
May you be happy.
May you be healthy.
May you be safe.
May you be strong.
Tapas is calling you to your true self. All you have to do is accept.
Yoga and Recovery
Now Yoga. Sutra 1:1
The word Yoga is commonly translated as Union. Yoga as a system of Self-Realization is unites the layers of our being so that our true, eternal Self can shine forth. We unite body, mind, and spirit through the breath.
Addicts are often described as having fractured personalities (Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, acting in ways that are as mysterious to us as they are to those around us, etc).
Yoga aids in Re-integrating our Fractured Personalites.
We have instincts that we can feel in our body when we are in the present moment. Through events that are beyond our control or active addiction we lose our connection to our gut feeling.
We can recall a time when our body told us not to do something and we didn’t (or couldn’t ) listen. We gradually learn to ignore the messages of our body because active addiction corrodes our inherent desire for centered and connected living. I learned to ignore basic messages of hunger, thirst, fatigue, physical safety. I lost touch with my desire for love, life, and Joy.
By the time I experienced the miracle of utter desperation and got clean, I didn’t know anything my body needed. I don’t know if I’m tired, hungry, thirsty, or have awareness of any basic physical needs because I was so used to just following whatever my dis-eased mind told me to do.
Without a way to connect to the container that my spirit is housed in, it was impossible for me to to get in touch with the truth of who I am or how I want to live. That information, the truth of what we are is above the instincts of the gut, it’s in the heart center. I couldn’t follow my gut instincts to the wisdom of the heart.
This practice of breathing and moving brings me into the present moment to become reacquainted to the sensation of the body re-aligning the instinct of the gut, the wisdom of the heart and the intellect of the mind. The still, small voice of conscience that Mahatma Ghandi refers to, is heard when the gut and the intellect align to allow the light of the heart to shine through.
I have a little secret for you––your baby cannot do yoga. Although he was in child’s pose (balasana) while in your womb, Downward-Facing Dog (adho mukha svanasana) requires core strength he doesn’t have and even Mountain Pose (tadasana) has to wait until he is on his feet. His savasana might be developing and you may enjoy watching the incredibly natural way he moves his body. But actual yoga…he can start when he is 2 or 3.
So, what do we do in Baby & Me Yoga? Well, this class is for you, the Mom (other parents and caregivers absolutely welcome––but the class centers around the needs of gestational parents). There are so many changes happening in the body after giving birth to a tiny human being which can be addressed perfectly through yoga. Your emotional well-being is even more important. Becoming a parent is inherently stressful, even for the most experienced among us. Self-care tends to fall by the wayside when baby enters your life.
Are there any benefits for your baby? Sure! Your baby will experience enhanced digestion, better sleep and super-cute smiles. Bringing baby out of the home for a calm, yet engaging activity is good for him. Hopefully, yoga will become a lifelong pursuit for him.
Meeting other like-minded parents is perhaps the best part of Baby & Me Yoga. The class format is relaxed, allowing for questions and discussion of relevant parenting topics. I am still friends with women I practiced Baby & Me Yoga with when my older son was tiny. This “village” is essential to your parenting journey––and why shouldn’t it center around yoga?
Come grab your mat and a receiving blanket (for baby to lie on)…and join us!
Rachel Cama Nemer, C-IAYT, has been teaching Baby & Me Yoga since her son Cole, now 3.5 years old, was only 6 weeks. She continued to teach the class for years after he “aged out” (read: made trouble) in the class. She is happy to be teaching with a baby again––her son Dennis is now 3.5 months. Beside being a mother, she is a Certified Yoga Therapist with training from the Himalayan Institute and the YogaLife Institute as well as seven years of full time yoga teaching experience.
Planking can be fun! Off you go!
1. Hands on the mat, shoulder-distance apart. Shoulders over wrists, align the wrist creases parallel to the front of the mat. Fingers spread.
2. Breathe. It is easy to forget! Just breathe.
3. Engage the arms. Press the mat away from you and draw the tricep muscles in towards each other.
4.Remain spacious through the shoulders and neck. Draw the shoulder blades down the back.
5. Engage the belly. Draw the navel in and up towards the spine. Let your hips be as high as your shoulders.
5. Long Legs. Create a long line of energy through thighs and out feet. Press the tops of the thighs up and as you do this, stretch heels back. Drop your knees to the ground to modify this pose.
6. Shine crown energy. Crown of the head forward while the tail and heels lengthen back.
Plank is strengthening. With regular practice, you will find yourself growing stronger, both on and off the mat! Have fun!
- by Maria Berardo
Why is it that we cringe whenever we hear the word, “change”? We seem to automatically assume that its effects will be unfavorable, before even hearing what the change actually is!
As a Health Coach, I meet all types of people who can name one or more things they would like to see different, or improved for themselves, but something triggers immediate fear and hesitation when it comes to those ideas being a reality. Most often, it can be enough to have them talk themselves right out of it. What runs through their minds at this point? Is it, “Am I Ready”? “What could go wrong”? “What if I fail”? Yes, these are all valid questions, but then to combat that negativity, I would refer someone in that situation back to how disappointed they indicated they are with their current state, and why something new would not be worth considering. He or she would not have paid the idea of change much mind if they were pleased with the status quo.
We are creatures of habit, so yes; making a change of any size requires stepping out of one’s comfort zone, which, for some, is challenge enough. It is all a matter of training your mind to think positively. I agree that that is easier said than done, but definitely worth a shot. Try adopting a “Seize the Day” mentality, as time seems to be changing just fine. No one deserves to be haunted by regret, either. Remember the phrase, “You’ll never know ‘til you try”? It still holds true.
Here is another way of looking at it. Despite any efforts you can make to ease your mind by thinking positive and not jumping to conclusions, a change put in place by another person or party can cause more apprehension. We cannot control what other people do, so to see some anxiety presenting itself under those circumstances should not be surprising. On the flip side, if a specific change in question is a case where you are the subject, versus the object, there should be little or no fear- you are the one initiating the idea- you’re in charge! Think about it. If you say, “I am going to exercise 3 days a week”, “I am going to get new window treatments”, or “I am going to cut the lawn myself from now on”, that puts the choice of the new direction in your hands. With that being said, the fact that you are in full control of the decision to make a change in your health or lifestyle should provide a reasonable amount of comfort, and propel you toward your goal.
Besides any uneasiness that a change could bring about, something else that usually accompanies it, adding to the emotional stir, is frustration. In recent years, especially, society has jacked up the standards exponentially for any type of wait time. The same holds true for the decrease in tolerance levels for results. It all plays a huge part in the majority currently expecting instantaneous, immediate, or overnight. Not all goals were meant to be reached in the blink of an eye, but with the latest conveniences we have become accustomed to, we can often forget that. Companies have come a long way in their delivery when it comes to meeting customers’ needs. I can’t say I am not a huge fan of today’s luxuries that are offered to save me time, such as Fast Passes, Self-checkouts, Curbside Pickup, Next-day delivery, and even the option to do things online, rather than the old “Snail Mail” route; but please realize that if you desire fast outcomes, your body is not the place to set those expectations. Could you imagine what kind of improvements you would make if a physical therapist gave you a total of one overnight session after a serious car accident? Or if a person addicted to drugs completed a 12-Step Program via a drive-thru? Obviously, there is a time and a place for these benefits, so remember that when dealing with something as precious as your health. Speed will most likely replace quality. That is one risk you don’t want to take.
Additionally, frustration can lead us to blame ourselves if we don’t see immediate results. Remember, we’re looking to alter the existing regime, so a period of transition needs to happen first. A pilot takes off and lands gradually. There are reasons for establishing a certain pace. Don’t be too hard on yourself!
Once an individual has surpassed his or her fear and frustration, change can be embraced. When the mind is uncluttered, the path is clearly paved to get started. A journal is an excellent way to get motivated and learn to keep consistent. Daily entries will keep you on track, around the same time of day, if possible. Document any fears, frustrations, what you would like to see in the end, and what pleasure could come of that. Look for inspirational quotes, or reminders of what will keep you going on days you might entertain the thought of quitting. Stick with people who are going to be encouraging, and serve as your cheerleaders. Try to avoid anyone who would be a source of negativity. Finding someone to hold you accountable for accomplishing your set plans is a great idea, just make sure that they are a good fit for this position. He or she should be nonjudgmental, even keel, and dedicated to following through.
My final recommendation is to keep an open mind. As I mentioned previously, things around you are going to continue to change. Create your own change for yourself, before something else does it for you. It is hard enough to step out of your comfort zone and take that leap of faith, so why take it on with added pressure? Give the new way a chance, regardless of some sacrifices it may take, and you could be pleasantly surprised!
Maria Berardo is a Certified Health Coach and student at Darvanayoga. She uses holistic techniques to help her clients improve their wellness at the plate and beyond.
For a few years now I've the good fortune of serving as a teacher and some other things at a Buddhist Center here in Philly, and with that has come the opportunity for personal writing on lots of Buddhist-y sorts of subjects. So I thought that this and other writing I've done would help when it came time to write in this particular space, which is part of that physical - Darvanayoga Studio Space - that's such a part of my life now. Do I go confessional with a personal tale and a moral at the end? Or get all teach-y and expound upon the precious dharma so near and dear to my Philly heart?
Pema Chödrön says, just Start Where You Are. But what if you don't even know where you are? Or which "you" it is that's even starting? Well, then that's where you start. Not knowing. Pick a card. Or don't pick a card. But be there. If you're at the bottom, be at the bottom. So I wrote.
Three half-finished blog entries, one empty ice cream container (Haagen Dazs, Mint Chip) and two bite size chocolate wrappers (Dove) later, I end the carnage. Still nothing.
I come up for air. Now what?? I asked my insightful daughter. Psych major that she is, she looks at me and acknowledges my predicament with genuine caring and interest.
And returns to the iPhone. "Right answer," I think.
I walk and and shake it off. After all those false starts - but starts that I guess need to be made to get to the next stop, a decision occurs.
That's all. Just, kindness.
Be kind. So this is a blog on kindness. It may even be a meditation.
One of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso's most frequently quoted sayings is this one -
My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.
When I look back on over the past weeks, even the past several months (to the extent I can remember anything from that long ago), I cannot think of a time when I wish I'd been less kind towards someone. Or that I regret the kindness I showed or received. But I can easily think of times where now I see, I could have been more kind. And that might have been better.
Not even major things, because our minds and lives are formed each day by a million small events and interactions, changing us forever. This moment, then that, then the next. And endless stream of opportunities to become better people. Just a tiny bit at a time.
So be kind, I remind myself.
Kindness opens the heart.
It reconnects us with the memory of our shared human-ness where before we saw differences. So that we can become more compassionate, and connect with the wish that others not suffer in their lives either.
Because they are more like us than they are different.
So we can be kind.
Sometimes kindness flows naturally and it is easy. Other times and toward other people however, we can only cultivate it by practice sustained over months, or even many years. So it takes practice.
Try counting the number of even the tiniest acts of kindness you see around you in a day; a gesture, a nod, a willingness to even recognize or acknowledge another person, a held door; and your life will be changed forever. So many all the time!
Spirituality is the practice of making the previously invisible, visible. Learning to see the kindnesses of this world is one of these practices. Once we see them, as with anything else, we can find them everywhere. The heart can open, everything changes.
And what we learn to see, we can become; we have already, on some level, become.
Kindness changes the air in a room, then travels to the next room. Because every action, every word, every thought we have, forms an infinite causal chain of actions, words and thoughts. However unseen. So our kindness is without end.
And if we believe there's something to that karma idea, then we also are the beneficiaries of our own acts of kindness; our own kind thoughts.
Either way, kindness is its own reward.
So we can practice kindness.
Being kind transforms how we feel about ourselves and others, even if that wasn't our intention. Even if we feel incomplete in the effort. It has.
It creates the space for peacefulness, the momentary experience of "enough" -ness.
So we can exercise kindness.
It also can be subtle. Not just expressed by actions or words, but in our relationship to our interior thoughts and feelings, as well. It is not just the positive expression of holding doors and offering compliments (though those are wonderful); it can be being generous toward our own self-critical thoughts and emotions. Giving ourselves the space to simply hold them in our awareness, without engaging, without trying to change anything. Exercising patience; forbearance, allowance.
Regarding ourselves as if we were our own child.
Arising from our caring for our own well being.
These are profound acts of kindness.
Failing and getting back up. Again, and again. Forgiving ourselves. Forgiving others. Remembering that we are all struggling with our limited minds, despite the exterior polish, whatever it may look like in this life. That is a kind of kindness, also.
Kindness can be refraining from saying, or writing or doing something, even though we might enhance our position with others if we said or did it; refraining because our words or actions might cause harm to someone else, or even create the conditions for division, or false impressions in the mind of even one other person. Refraining from harsh speech then, or gossip, out of our sense of caring for for others as we do ourselves, can be a profound form of kindness. And even more so as no one will ever know what we didn't say, or didn't do.
Kindness shows us that we are more complete than we thought we were. Regardless whether anyone else can see it. Kindness is doing it anyway.
Adopting an attitude of kindness takes repetition. When we do not practice it, it's easy to forget how wonderful it is to be kind. And how different it is when we are not. So we need to apply ourselves and stay with it, and keep forgiving and forgiving.
Kindness creates space to breathe. It is a yoga, a meditation, the living activity of prayer, a practice.
It reminds us that even when we don't feel very kind, we can be kind to ourselves, and even just, try not do too much harm, and then forgive ourselves when we do.
Refraining from doing harm is a profound expression of kindness.
Sometimes kindness means allowing others to make choices that we ourselves would not make for them. It is not always rewarded, or recognized. And accepting that, and the consequences of it, that we will be there throughout because we love them, is an act of kindness from a very deep place.
Kindness in body, speech and mind. The gentle activity of human regard that recognizes some part of ourselves in each other and transcends our sense-borne illusion of separateness. The chain lightning that can light up the sky for even just a moment. Warms our heart. And moves the world just a little bit.
And not a bad religion, either.
Tony Boris is a teacher and former president of the Chenrezig Tibetan Buddhist Center of Philadelphia, and a co-director at Darvanayoga. This blog piece was first published on the website of our sister organization, the Shantideva Center for Mindfulness and Peace, which he oversees.
Today I taught a yoga class.
It was a class with a focus on Manipura, the third Chakra, the seat of the self.
A place where we radiate our power.
A place of our strongest strengths. Of our will.
As I am thinking about Manipura in class, I am struck by how many of us struggle to find our strengths, to really fly into our power. To own it. Not as something willful, but as our gifts. As part of our offerings to this world.
And so my little dharma talk asks: Who are you? What are the things you love to do, you do well? It doesn’t have to be your job, but in someway it is YOUR WORK.
Your work is needed. Necessary in this world. Sometimes our strongest strength is not trumpeted, or seen. Maybe we are good listeners. Coordinators and supporters. Maybe we bring a smile to people’s faces.
Important, silent work.
Sometimes we are talked out of our good and true paths, or we talk OURSELVES out of our work:
It is not important.
It is too hard.
The world doesn’t need this.
I am not good enough.
I am not enough.
And so I write here, today, to pass on the message of Manipura. Sing your song. Do your work. Harness your power and share your gifts. You are enough. As is.
The world needs what you have.
The world is waiting for your offering.
It is enough.
If you are not sure what those things are, try this exercise: Ask a trusted friend or relative to tell you three things they really like about you. See if in those things you can find your strength, see if Manipura speaks to you <3
This past weekend we all watched the horrific events in Charlottesville, Virginia, fuel distress upon the nation's already fatigued nerve channels, and further raise the levels of our national anxiety. In these troubled times, like so many people, I wonder how I can help - what can I do? How can I be of the most help to the world, to those I love, to myself?
Times of discord and suffering often reveal opportunities to further our spiritual practice, to become better people, to join with others to effect positive change. They can leave us feeling destabilized and disconnected , too. But sometimes this also can be part of our overall preparation. So if this happens too, we can just notice it without judgment, and then, when we're ready, release that, and return to our breath, to our practice, and continue on.
Meeting the world where we encounter the world.
In times such as these, but really always, our capacity to see where we are in our in our hearts and minds depends upon the quality of our awareness. That is, we can only do our personal growth work in relation to what we are able to really hear, see, feel or perceive. Perhaps we just hear the noisy wheels of our minds, or the clattering echo chamber world around us. If that's the case, whatever changes we do make, or insights we have, will simply be at the surface, like ripples in shallow water. The changes will not last very long before some other breeze of our mind, or emotion, ruffles it again and blows it the other way, or maybe it just evaporates.
Deepening our awareness means quieting our mind, so that we can hear, and access, subtler levels of ourselves, and of phenomena around us. When we are able to listen, and hear, and access, on this quieter level, our perceptions and insights go deeper, and are less affected by the fluctuations of the day, or of our thoughts or emotions. (Staying with the water analogy, the water becomes more still, and more clear, and we can begin to actually see what else is in the water too, without these waves of disturbances.)
Sure it can be difficult to recognize this - our minds produce so much constant noise and activity- thoughts and projections and emotions - a non-stop Quentin Tarantino movie! Like listening to the sounds in a room, we may not even recognize just how much noise there is in our minds, or how many different places that noise is coming from - until we are able to sit with it and, listen for a while.
The Buddha's first teaching is often misinterpreted as "Life is suffering." A more accurate interpretation of the Pali word, "dukkha," would be "There is suffering," or actually to be more accurate, "There is dissatisfaction or unease." And to heal it, we need to be able to accurately see and hear it, first.
Mistaking Experience for Awareness.
At this time, it's also worthwhile to point out the hazard of mistaking experience for awareness. Most of us are pretty good at generating octane-fueled thoughts and emotions. Like drinking a Starbucks Double Shot Red Eye or doing an intense physical workout, in order to get through the less desirable noises and feelings of our minds, we create our own mental and emotional intoxication. And because we can feel the emotions or rapid fire thoughts that we generate - we can sometimes mistake this "feeling" for awareness.
It is an awareness on one level, but it's come about not by quieting our minds, but by ramping up the volume of our thoughts and emotions (and our bodies) so that we can't help but experience them and drown out the other, unwanted stuff - so this is a little different.
So learning to connect to our awareness - to even become aware that there is such a "thing" as awareness - is necessary if we are to learn how to hear and listen to ourselves, and to the people around us, and how to heal, how to develop, how to be of service.
Indeed it is this quality that allows us to know where we are at any moment, in relation to ourselves and the world around us, so that we can know just what to do next to make it a better one.
The Practice of Mindfulness
So if awareness is the quality, what is the practice? Well, Mindfulness is the practice. Mindfulness may be popular now, but it's no fad! The 8th century Buddhist master Shantideva wrote extensively on the benefits of mindfulness practices in his most famous text, the Bodhisattvacharyāvatāra, A Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life. Connecting, listening to your breath, to your body, to the ever changing sounds or light in a room, even contemplating a raisin!, these are all common, and yet so beautiful, mindfulness practices that help us to develop this precious gem of awareness.
The Ever-Present Gem
To see and hear things as they truly are, without judgment; this is the ever present jewel of awareness.
Without judgment or labeling. From this can arise deep compassion for all other living beings, profound love and joy, and true wisdom.
The remarkable thing is, we can access it at any time, in the flash of a moment, and it is always new. While developing our ability to return to this place takes repetition, neuroscience explains that after a few weeks, our brains actually change and create new connections from this repetition. The practice becomes us; we become the practice.
It is as our own true nature. It never leaves us. Because it is always new, we cannot grasp it. Though it holds profound insight, it is free from judgment. While we can apprehend it, it has no form. Because it has no form, it is indestructible. It can be accessed at any moment, or at every moment, or forgotten and neglected for eons. It is always fresh, and profound, and always insightful, loving, compassionate and deeply wise, and yet beyond these labels at the same time.
Offering Peace to Others
And because it is inexhaustible, it can be shared and offered as a gift not only to ourselves, but to others also and without limit, with love and compassion in these challenging times and all times. So we can see, this is not an abstract point. This is a real way to help heal ourselves and the world, and all those in need of healing and peace. A way to offer insight, and understanding.
May you and all those you love, and all beings have happiness and the causes of happiness and free from suffering now and always.
Endnote: Now that the cat's out of the bag, perhaps next time we'll take a look at some of the ways we cultivate this precious gem through our mindfulness practices.
Tony Boris is one of the directors of Darvanayoga, and Director of our sister center, The Shantideva Center for Mindfulness and Peace, where this blog was initially published.
A well-known pose, but not necessarily accessible to everyone. We sometimes see students with tight shoulders/chest struggling to find the inverted “V” shape of downward dog.
1. To make Down Dog more accessible, create space in the chest and shoulders by plugging the arm bones into the shoulder sockets. Shoulder blades draw down the back and inner “eyes” of the elbows (elbow creases) rotate towards the sky. This helps the triceps wrap around the bone while elbows hug toward one another to help straighten the arms.
2. For tight hamstrings take the feet wider than hip distance and add a bend to the knees. As you bend your knees, try re-straightening the legs again to firm the thighs and shift the weight back into the heels, still keeping a gentle bend to the knees.
3. Be sure to press your knuckle mounds (the place where your fingers turn into your palms) down and out, to take pressure off of the wrists.
You can also use a block under each hand to help you grow longer and draw the weight down, making the pose more available.
Next week’s tip: Finding your way into Side Plank!
where we are
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