The American Yoga Dream

I opened and closed a yoga studio in just under a year and a half.  Let’s just say, it taught me a lot about what I don’t want in yoga nor my life.  There’s a dialogue, you see among spiritual seekers and Yogis in the United States that has been haunting me since I embarked on this “career” as a yoga teacher way back when – and here it is paraphrased:

“I should make a decent, livable salary as a yoga teacher, comparable to what we are paid in corporate America, with benefits and such.”

I call the above the “American Yoga Dream”

I’m just as guilty of having this American Yoga Dream.  Guilty as charged.  Entitled as all Heaven above.  My luxury car should have my license plate in gilded gold blinging “YOGI” everywhere I turn.  Money spills out of every pocket when I walk in to teach a class in my gleaming spandex.  The Gods rain down clouds of heavenly gold and diamonds as billions of yogis stretch in spandex for miles in front of me while chanting OM.

Truthfully over the years, when I am asked about making money through yoga by folks, I’ve always said something like…”You know all spiritual practices – from Yoga to Catholicism to Buddhism to you name it – were pretty much handed to us by poor, wandering mendicant saintly people who took vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. But this won’t stop me from trying to figure out how to monetize spirituality so I can feed my family.”

IMG_6952But I follow this by also saying that my yoga practices have led to positions and jobs that have made me money, with great ease and joy. Yoga as a philosophy, as a science, as a way of being seeps itself into every job, hat, title I’ve ever worn and makes them all ONE.  I continue to and have taken on huge projects with ease and relaxation through the gift of my yoga practices.  Jaya sweet Yoga.  Thank you.  To you, I bow infinitely with great devotion and love.

And maybe the sentiment that all genuine spiritual seekers are just flat-out poor is just as far-fetched as the American Yoga Dream.  There are certainly many yoga masters who don’t preach the gospel of poverty.  Amma Sri Karunamayi, a great Guru and Mother Divine herself, said “Does anyone like poverty?  No, no one likes poverty.”

Yoga is a divine trickster, it’s never very direct.  It gives money in many and infinite indirect ways, not necessarily just by me asking people to strike a pose and breathe.

Anyways, I did realize that something  between taking a vow of poverty and believing that one should make a decent salary from sharing yoga wisdom is missing from the American Yoga Dream.

Sadhana.

That’s it.  Sadhana.  This is what’s needed.  (And a Guru, but hey google is our new Guru, right? Smile.)  As a yoga studio owner and teacher trainer, I was profoundly disappointed to see the lack of discipline and commitment to sadhana from the yoga community in general.  It was  a beautiful and failed experiment to try to bring out sadhana in a more commercial context (one can argue I did not give the experiment enough time to cook, but I really don’t have another 50 years to just hang around waiting for sadhana to catch on like Kim Kardashian’s bling).  I mostly got a lot of folks who wanted a cute arse in spandex (if you are reading this, maybe you want a cute arse in spandex, some money and enlightenment.  I don’t mean to belittle anyone with this statement.  It’s a little funny, ha-ha. And sad at the same time. But you get it, it’s pretty common in our current world).  Not that there’s anything wrong with this intention.  It’s a beautiful intention.  But it’s not really one that I have any compulsion to attend to.  I am not lighting a candle for this intention.  I do not bring my forehead to the ground for this intention.  I do not give a flying fig newton about this intention.

So I closed the yoga studio.  The business model doesn’t work for me.  It seems to work for others, but it doesn’t work for me.  And at the end of the day, it seems that owning a studio means that the business model must work for you and your lifestyle.  But it doesn’t mean that I haven’t stopped trying to figure out how to help the practices of yoga spread far and wide.  I haven’t stopped trying to figure out how to help everyone, their mother and their dog develop a true Sadhana.  It doesn’t mean that I won’t open yet another yoga business.  It doesn’t mean that I won’t keep teaching yoga and training teachers to teach yoga.  I can’t help myself (have you ever read the quite literal meaning of that sentence?  I just did.  I can help myself, thank you very much).  Karma and Dharma all wrapped up in a bow, offered to me with a great glint of mischief in his eye, from my Guru.

But here’s the thing that is most important to me, beyond all outward shows of yoga or teaching or leading kirtans or even spreading the Gospel according to Patanjali: Sadhana.

What is Sadhana?

Sadhana is a deep, devotional committed practice to yoga and our spiritual Masters.  Sadhana is the continuous study and practice of love for all beings.  Sadhana is meditation.  Sadhana is all the practices of yoga united into a daily lifetime of practices.  Sadhana includes seva: selfless service, practice, discipline and love supreme.  Sadhana is the thing that makes our Gurus smile upon us and showers us with bliss and joy.  Without sadhana, yoga is empty.

And this is what I wish to continue to encourage.  And I can encourage it for free and for a small fee here and there and maybe extra large fees here and there too – your choice (because I love asking for and receiving money).  I will probably mostly give the money away to charities to lower my taxes.  Smile.  I am winking at you as I type this.  Start where you are.  If the thought of a cute arse, gets your arse on the mat, then by all means, let that guide you into a yoga class.  It will, hopefully, lead to a true and committed sadhana.

Oh to have no attachment to any outcomes, eh?

– Bhagavad Gita.  Jaya Yoga.

Om shantih om,

Sumukhi

 

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San Francisco Yoga Teacher Training

Join me in a uniquely transformative and powerful experience of Yoga:

Journey of I-AM -Urban Yoga Retreat

Journey of I-AM -Urban Yoga RetreatKnow who you are and Create a Conscious Life of Evolution and Bliss 10-day Urban Yoga Retreat at Brahmananda Ashram  July 15 – 24, price: $1200 , if paid by July 1st, after, $1500  (Non-residential option available at a reduced rate).

This retreat runs in combination and conjunction with the 200 Hour Yoga Teacher Training.

For more information, go to Journey of I AM.

This is a unique “urban retreat” experience of full immersion into Ashram Yoga Life with the option of room and board including organic, Ayurvedic food prepared fresh throughout the experience.

Start your day at 5 am with Pranayama and Meditation and end the  day with Meditation, chanting and dialogue.

Join Sumukhi, Kiranavali, Briksha Mahendra and all YSSF  faculty and staff to nourish your body, mind and soul.

Deepen your practice beyond Asana and learn to integrate power of self- inquiry, breath-work, meditation, yoga nidra, Sanskrit and Vedic Fire Ceremony.

Receive a 100-Hour Certificate of Completion that you may use towards Yoga Teacher Training at the end of the retreat.

E-mail: yogasocietysf@gmail.com

Phone: 415.285.5537

Office Hours: Monday to Friday 11 a.m. – 6 p.m.

3 Yoga Steps for Achieving your Goals

If I ever feel that my goals are unachievable, difficult or just plain impossible, it is because my mind is cluttered and filled with distractions.  I now use the agitated or anxious mind as a trigger to practice more yoga, more sadhana.  The practice of Yoga sadhana is a de-cluttering of the mind.  It is a smoothing out of all wavering and agitation into a state of calm.  When the mind is calm, it manifests razor sharp focus that can be used to accomplish any goal.

“We are kept from our goal, not by obstacles, but by a clear path to a lesser goal.” – Robert Brault, quotes from the Bhagavad Gita

It’s true.  Obstacles are not the issue.  Negative habits, samskaras (described by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali) stop us from achieving our goals.  Samskaras are easy, clear pathways, behaviors, emotions, relationships that we habitually take into limiting viewpoints and bad habits.

Yoga gives many techniques for clearing obstacles in the mind so that you can see the clear path to a higher goal.  Here are 3 steps.  There are many more.  But let’s start with 3.  Patanajali likes the number 5, so we’ll explore 5 steps in other posts.

1.  Clean everyday

A cluttered mind is often reflective of a cluttered environment.  The moment I clear the unnecessary objects from my house, office, car, environment, the lighter and more at ease I feel.  In the past I’ve found organization and cleanliness difficult and arduous.  With years of meditation and yoga, my environments have gotten cleaner.  Paper-work is more streamlined and organized.  I don’t keep old clothes or things in my closets.  I don’t buy too much food that sits around in my pantry or my refrigerator.

The other things I’ve cleaned out from my life are doing things that I don’t enjoy doing just to be polite or to accompany people who can’t go to a function alone.  I’ve also cleared out a lot of toxic and negative people from my life.  A lot of people feel that to be “nice” – one should entertain the garbage in others’ minds.  This is a clear path to a lesser goal of gossip, annoyance, agitation, distress and fear – and blocks one from attaining higher goals of enlightenment, peace and bliss.

2.  Meditate everyday

One hour in the IMG_6974morning and one hour in the evening is the best prescription I know for stopping and simply watching the mind.  This “witnessing” meditation is the hallmark of the philosophy of Yoga as described by Patanjali.  It is taught by modern day Yoga Gurus such as Shiva Rudra Balayogi, Amma Shri Karunamayi Ma and Gurus Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati, Ramamurti S. Mishra M.D., Ramana Maharshi and Ramakrishna.

During this hour, the meditator sits and simply watches the mind.  Yoga breathing techniques such as pranayama, mantra may be used – but even these eventually drop.

What happens is that the mind, when watched, simply clears.  There is a light within the mind that wipes away every thought, dust particle, attachment, desire and need.   This is the essence behind Yoga Illumined Studio’s philosophy – once the light dawns, then things fall into place.  And the path to achieving any of your highest goals of freedom and happiness lights up.  The pathways are clear.  The samskaras (negative habits) no longer have a hold on you.

3.  Watch your ego throughout the day with love

With morning and evening meditation practices as your anchor — you are more able to watch your own behaviors, conversations and relationships throughout the day.  And I must add that this must be done with utmost, unconditional, non-judging love.  Otherwise, it may simply be the ego watching the ego – an incredibly self-defeating and self-confidence annihilating process.  We want to build self-confidence and ease in the world.  You know the ego is no longer at play when judgment drops and love filled with peace is the observer.IMG_6890

Meditation puts the ego in its place – greater soul consciousness and God guide your movements rather than the desire for mere survival.  If you want to know what the ego is, it is the part of you who is most keen on surviving at any cost, the one who is afraid of death, the one who gets lonely and feels isolated.  We need the ego in this world in order to survive, yes, but survival for survival’s sake is still not our highest goals as humans, so we need to put it in its place in order to achieve our greatest potentials of peace and joy.

The most successful people in the world utilize their egos to uphold values that serve humanity’s greatest intentions and needs.  When you look at people who change the course of history, you can see that they simply USED the ego to bring about positive changes in the world.  Who is the one using the Ego?  This is the true Self.  This is the higher Self, the one who acts and lives with unconditional love as its very nature.  It is within all of us.  Differentiating between the Ego and the Soul is the life spiritual work of yoga.  It takes practice and love.

May these three steps help you light the path towards your highest goals and intentions  for presence, peace and happiness in life.  May the Inner Guiding Light always lead the way with love.

Om shantih om,

Sumukhi

 

 

Sukhasana: The Posture of Ease & Sadhana

Yoga Illumined certified teacher Michelle Widmer suggested we add a Pose or Asana of the Month along with a Theme of the Month for www.yogaillumined.com.  And I thought this a brilliant suggestion.  I love tying them to each other.  The pose of the month is Sukhasana – “Sukha” means ease, joy, freedom, sweetness.  Our Theme of the Month is Sadhana.

11249402_954003434651632_7619488509096571796_nThe prefix “Su” in Sanskrit means sweetness, beauty, illumination, joy.  I know this because my Sanskrit name, Sumukhi, starts with “Su” and ends with the word for “face” – “mukhi.”  The “i” at the end makes it feminine, put an “a” at the end, you have the masculine.  That’s how we hear the word “mukha” the most in yoga classes – Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward facing dog) and Urdhva Mukha Svanasana  (upward facing dog).

Sukhasana ties in very well with our Theme of the Month – Sadhana.  Often times we see Eastern meditation and spiritual practices depicted in Sukhasana.  I’ve included a photo taken by Yoga Illumined certified teacher Myra Simmons of our friend Prakash in sukhasana during her YogaHike class.  It is a seated pose, with legs crossed on the ground.  We often sit on the ground in meditation because it confers an energetic seal with Mother Earth, we call her “Pritthivi” in Sanskrit.  The spine sits long and tall, the head sits easily on the top of the neck.  Hands can take on mudras (seals of energy in the hands and feet that set the body in alignment).  And then the “Sadhaka” practices Yoga, the science of mastering the mind.

One thing to note is that traditionally, we do not stretch the soles of our feet out towards a Guru, a teacher, because the feet are warehouses of Shakti or divine energy.  We fold them in sukhasana as a way of sealing the energy of our meditation back into our own systems.  When we simply open our feet out to an enlightened master or teacher, it’s as if we are saying that we will not take in the Shakti they are offering.

On some level – we are simply giving our power away instead of creating the energetic mudra that brings the teachings of the masters into the very cells of our bodies.  So I’ve often prompted folks who are new to the Guru tradition to fold legs back in sukhasana when seated at their feet.  The higher sign of full surrender to the lotus feet of the Guru is dropping your head to their feet – which is a message that says “take this busy monkey mind of mine, and infuse it with the stillness of meditative grace.”

But this is another pose.  One that takes a while to master.  The pose of surrender.  That’s another subject.  For now I leave you with one of the few sutras our great teacher Patanjali gave about the 3rd limb of yoga, asana:

sthira sukham asanam ||46||

स्थिरसुखमासनम् ॥४६॥

sthira-sukham-āsanam ||46||

“Steady – Easy – Seat”

May we all practice yoga with supreme joy, ease and bliss.

Om shantih om,

Sumukhi

 

Saturn Mantra and Yantra

Saturday is the planet Saturn’s day.  Saturn, as we know it from images taken by NASA, is a beautiful gaseous orb with rings around its center or equator.  It’s thought of as a very mysterious planet with all sorts of glorious secrets.

Saturn’s mantra is Om Sham Shanaye Namaha.  You can chant it here:

I like to think of mantras to the planets as ways for us to work in alignment, unIMG_4267ion or yoga with the planets.  Astrology is something quite fun to play with – both Western and Vedic.  I’m always quite aware that with astrology there is an interpreter and mind that looks at the charts for you (unless you know how to read charts yourself) and the more meditative and non-attached the mind, the better the astrology interpretation.  But I am also aware that with deep sadhana, spiritual practice, one may change the arrangement of the planets or better yet, not be affected by them so much.

This Saturn yantra, pictured, painted by Sarah Tomlinson, was gifted to me by Brandi Nicole Wilson – a great friend and yogini – from our Ananda Ashram gala at Jivamukti Yoga Center in 2008.  It’s moved with me a number of times.  Its potency is felt.  It hangs in my house on the Eastern wall.

As yantras are very powerful for energetically aligning a space – Vastu  – having yantras in your home or spiritual spaces can confer beautiful alignment and energy – not just with the natural world around us – but with the greater energy of our planetary system.  In yoga we try not to  only think about our position on the earth, as there is much going on in our solar system that should certainly have an effect on the world as we know it.

One of my yantra teachers from upstate New York is Mavis Gewant.  I’ve only really started a Ganesha yantra in 2008 at Mudita Yoga Center – but I can feel it’s time to continue with this beautiful practice.  So stay tuned for classes from Mavis at Yoga Illumined Studio.

Om shantih om,

Sumukhi

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