yogaspirit blog

Ahimsa - the Energy of Respect for Life

Sunday, January 29, 2012

This month's blog was written by yogaspirit alum, Deborah Swann of CT.

Yoga Sutra 11.35 Ahimsa pratisthayam Tatsannidhau Vairatyagah

When one is standing firmly established in Nonviolence, one's aggressive nature is relinquished and others abandon hostility in one's presence.

As I celebrated Martin Luther King Jr's life and legacy on January 16, I reflected on the meaning of Ahimsa. I would like to share some thoughts with you on my journey to understand Ahimsa, as well as guiding others to an understanding of this all important Yama.

When I was first introduced to Ahimsa, I was struck by the fact that the author did not use the word 'Love.' It probably had something to do with my Catholic upbringing and the comfort I receive from Jesus' teaching and healing ministry of love. So without much questioning on my part, I took Ahimsa to be a loving kindness practice regardless of the words used. It was comfortable for me to do so. However, as I have progressed in experience and reflected on it, I realized that my understanding was not correct. Not only did I learn that I had an inclination to see the positive and minimize the negative, but I learned that the negative exists to teach me to overcome suffering.

The practice of Ahimsa is not a compassion practice. To ask someone to have loving feelings toward another who they hold with hatred or rage, is a big leap and not very realistic nor practical. But yoga offers a practical guide to the working mind. The answer is simply in the teaching; this practice is the discipline of ceasing harmful thoughts, actions and words and standing steady in the position of non-harming. We stop the negative; release our resistance and become neutral in attitude. We change the direction of mind. As we do so, we create space to see the situation clearly: judgment has ceased and we can listen, open to understanding, then accept or forgive. Moreover, in the action of stopping harm, we create an energy that is respectful for all life and existence. It is my belief that this is one of the strongest energies in the universe - it is palpable and it is that which I believe Patanjali is referring to when he describes the energy that others feel in the presence of a truly nonviolent person and it is the energy which causes them to abandon hostility.

It is not to be forgotten that as the direction of mind shifts, we also create space to see ourselves and our suffering that ignited the harmful attitude. Ahimsa practice requires us to recognize our harmful and violent feelings. In that awareness, three things happen: 1. We learn to see ourselves clearly - mindfully seeing our negative thoughts, our hostility; 2. There is an opportunity to learn what mental state gives rise to these thoughts/violence (fear, anger, greed, doubt, weakness, delusion, etc); 3. With this understanding, there is an opportunity to transform these feelings either through discriminative work looking at the cause, digesting and healing OR through the simple technique of cultivating opposite habits. We learn to bear our pain and face our fears with insight rather than habits of harmfulness.

Wake Up Your Child's Ability to Self-Reflect

Monday, November 28, 2011

My adult daughter told me today that she is grateful to have acquired the ability to self-regulate and reflect on her own actions before making important choices in her life. She says that, although she found it annoying to be parented by a mom who constantly gave responses that let her to inner inquiry, looking inside and learning to be accountable for her actions and reactions has given her inner strength and a greater security to trust in herself.

My wish for all parents and children is to share the teachings that help to strengthen children's ability to self-reflect. This is not something that you can always teach overnight, so the first thing you need is patience, restraint and the ability to expand time. That means you know how to stretch time and care for things carefully over the long term. Over the "long term" is a key point and I have found with parenting that depending on the child, this may mean a cycle of six months at a time, five years at a time or a decade at a time. I find myself saying at times, "Okay, I'm going to work on this over the next five years with my son as I know it is a challenge for him. I'm going to get him through this because it's a growth spurt for him." I sometimes look ahead in my mind's eye, knowing that if I curb habits and tendencies now, it will be beneficial later on when he is in his teens.

I'd like to just take a moment to talk about the SOFTER™ behavior game that I use at home with my two 6-year-old boys. SOFTER™ stands for Stop, Observe, Feel, Think, Evaluate, Respond and is a point reward behavior game that I developed (send me an email if you would like to purchase the game for yourself) and have been using for the past few years in my own home.

I have seen them change many poor behaviors and focus on better behaviors such as learning how to talk things out, do good deeds, etc. In fact, they've been able to master many challenges and leadership behaviors and keep evolving. Just recently, we were going through their behaviors in our home game and they recognized certain consistent behaviors that are no longer challenging. They said to me, "We need a new challenge." One of the boys mentioned the fact that they were afraid to go upstairs without the lights on. When I said, "Oh, there's no need to be afraid. Just go upstairs and put on the lights; everything will be fine," they each said, "I think we need a new challenge chip for bravery."

They both agreed that this was a perfect change that we could make to the game. And so we have modified our challenge chart and bravery is now on the list. It is wonderful for them to have self-regulation at such a young age whereby they can spot within themselves an unwanted behavior and then inform me, as a parent, to change it! They want to be empowered with self-regulation and a reward incentive to be able to challenge themselves. It's wonderful as we have established a whole lifelong dialogue where we can make change happen over a long cycle of time together.

The boys look forward to every Wednesday night when we give out rewards for their positive behaviors. Because we give the points on a weekly basis for being consistent, they can't manipulate by saying, "Oh, I did this, so give me a point" or "If I do this, will you give me a point?" No, they have opportunities throughout the week to display certain behaviors, and I will remind them to stay consistent. My favorite is, "Boys, this is a Listening and Doing opportunity!" I hardly ever have to raise my voice. Actually, on those reward Wednesday nights at the dinner table, they assess themselves. They are able to say, based on reminders or acknowledgments during the week, whether or not they get a point reward because they are able to reflect upon their own actions.

Here is the secret to everything - the ability to give your child the gift for them to be self-reflective of their own behavior and actions, and then the ability to strengthen and guide them to modify them on their own - wow! This will make your job as a parent so much easier because their level of resistance has already been modified and you are working with them now from a cooperative place of firmness without any aggressive undertones. Along with gaining the ability to be patient as you hold their hands through all the ups and downs over a long cycle of time, you pass along a great gift of self-knowledge.

Expanding and redirecting roots with change ~ Sat Yuga commences

Sunday, May 01, 2011
Welcome eternal Spring along with the refreshing new changes you bring!

As of this May, programs and classes here at our Hamilton, MA location have been relocated to various studios and locations throughout New England. This decision after contemplating how best to maintain personal balance while continuing to grow and expand the ripple effect started over a decade ago.

Advancements in technology and communications have made it possible for me to work with students and spiritual seekers in many of the 50 states, in addition to those who meet with me locally and in person. As I to reach out to everyone through these ways, I will continue to teach classes and other events, as well as help other studios host teacher training programs of their own.

I look forward to the many wonderful things on the horizon for yogaspirit® and myself. 11/11/2011 marks a big change for all of us as we begin the Sat Yuga. It will be an exciting new beginning for all.


The Wishing Well

Wednesday, February 02, 2011
Within your heart there is a secret place that holds your wish for personal happiness. Your wish drops into a sacred and magical spot the way a coin is tossed into a wishing well.

At Kripalu, I recently presented yogaspirit®'s Sacred Yogic Spaces: Beauty, Bliss & Bhakti. Together, the students and I cultivated the quality of devotion (bhakti) through the music of the Sacred Angels to purify mind, awaken perception and enliven our spiritual awareness. We explored the big difference between "sense gratification" and "wish fulfillment" and recognized how divine wishes are in your highest good and hold benefits for yourself, others and the world at large. Directed and guided by divine intentions (sankalpa), our meditation of the weekend helped us to understand true self and to affirm our willingness to keep an open and courageous heart, filled with compassion and the capacity to love and accept life unconditionally.

Through yogaspirit®'s Hatha Tantra, we practiced heart opening asana sequences. We explored Kundalini shakti awakening in our healing circle and Anahata Kriya practice. The analogy of nature, similar to the legacy of the Maple Tree, was used to help us understand the "wishing tree Kalpa Taru." Tree sap stored in its root during dormancy awakens in the warmth and light of the springtime much like Kundalini shakti arises as greater enlightenment shines in the upper chakras. Root sap rises up as a nutrient to heal the tree and produce buds. The maple tree flower is not colorful or even visible to the naked eye as the tree's green flowers are found on the ends of its branches much like the way our positive thoughts are like invisible buds that hold potential in blossoming in our minds. Through the active element of vibration, buzzing bees and wind pollinate the green nectar in the maple flowers and little "helicopters" are the seed pods; the tree's offspring holding fruitful promise of the tree's wish for continued life to be fulfilled.

Within the potential of all seeds (and positive thoughts) lies magic. Awareness helps them grow and blossom with beauty and bliss. Thoughts become words and then become energy manifested into action. The positive collection of thoughts (Chintamani) creates the flowering potential of your wishes to actually come true. Negative thoughts are like weeds that can destroy the divine wish. Finally, we cultivate patience and non-attachment, realizing that all things take time. This is Mother Nature's wisdom and the secret mystery of the cycle of life and fulfillment of our heart's deepest wish for connection and happiness.

Happy New Year ~ 2011

Saturday, January 01, 2011
Many blessings in the new 2011 year ahead. This year, the pivotal redirection that is part of the Kali/Sat Maha Yoga shift will provide harmonious living for many. With the power and spirit of Ganesha and Lakshmi to remove your obstacles, may you be healthy and prosperous in every way possible.

May any conflicts in your important relationships be blessed so that emotional scars can be healed and mutual wisdom gained through understanding. May the Goddesses, Saraswati and Durga bless you and bring you the important breakthroughs you need to find enlightenment, realization, love and peace.

In this new year ahead, yogaspirit® will be redirecting the focus of the local studio to become more of an educational and healing facility. We will continue to offer classes and programs that allow students to go deeper into the teachings of yoga while we begin to expand with programs designed for anyone wishing to bring healing yogic methods into everyday family life.

Stay tuned and wishing you all the best in the New Year,

Tough to Swallow

Wednesday, November 17, 2010
It is possible for the mind to stay non-reactive while the cells of the body remain completely neutral, even in times of trauma. When this happens, there is a tremendous release of life energy along with the ability to harness the will force behind it.

This is what I recently learned from swallowing a jagged thumb nail size piece of chicken bone in my soup and getting it lodged in my esophagus. The most basic wisdom, "don't chew and talk at the same time" is the newest example we are reminded of at the dinner table. While asking my young son to sit in his chair and eat dinner, I wasn't taking the time to mindfully bite and thoroughly chew enough times to catch the bone as it rolled off my tongue and down my throat. Luckily for me, it didn't get lodged in my trachea and didn't damage my voice box.

In the moment it got stuck, I dismissed the wave of faintness that came over me and decided that fainting was not a good option. Instead, I got up and got the car keys and asked to be driven to the emergency room. Matthew and my son took me to the hospital. Once there, the crew quickly hooked me up to an IV and started to explain that the normal protocol is to reduce anxiety with medication through the IV. This was not necessary for me because my pulses and oxygen levels remained normal. The doctor thought that perhaps it felt like a bone was stuck due to a scratch. I whispered the words, "take an x-ray," which then revealed the big bone hidden from view, too deep and requiring scope surgery to remove.

I sat in meditation for two hours practicing pranayama until the surgeon came. Nurses were curious as to how I was able to remain still and unmoving without "getting a sore back from sitting up straight." Little did they know that sitting for one - even three - hours at a time was something I had done many times before. With each painful swallow, I patiently relaxed into the sensations. Finally, after one and a half hours, I was told I would be prepped for the surgery and that they were going to give me morphine before getting the general anesthesia. I was asked if I wanted the morphine early to help with the pain. I decided to consent to a half dose.

The immediate feeling of warm oil pouring over my brain and traveling down my spine to the tip of my coccyx was alerting to my senses at first, but once it stopped, I recognized the familiar feeling similar to that of the Ayurvedic Oil Treatment: Shirodhara. The feeling was STABLE and STEADY! I loved it and proclaimed, "I know this is being grounded and calm." Now I recognized the medicine and healing opportunity for my cells. I then went into meditation again with the profound intention that I wanted to "cut and paste" fear-based reactions to trauma with this new stable reaction instead. This kriya and tapas shifted my entire perception of what was happening to me as a victim in the situation to who I truly was participating in the event.

The rest was amazing as I managed all the details, from coordinating my stomach getting pumped to being engaged in all the other items I needed to go through in the procedure to finally surrendering peacefully to the anesthesia.

The true gift of this entire event was in the eight hours post operation. As I came in and out of consciousness with the awareness that I was purging memory after memory of trauma that I have known and experienced throughout lifetimes, I was aware that samskaras were being cleansed. Some I remember from this life and others were just observing the fleeting visions passing by in my mind.

I would not wish this blessing on anyone the way I received it but this new cellular "chill and calm" is an inner peaceful intelligence that I am grateful for and hope to better share through my healing work with others.

Cracking Your Shell

Monday, October 04, 2010
As yogis, we acknowledge that we exist as a mind-body system powered by the spirit. Much like an egg that has a protective shell, deep within is a whole and complete golden yoke. This yoke within, at the center of our being, is much like the koshas of the body. The outer shell protects the vulnerable, translucent, formless aspects of our being (our thoughts, feelings, and perceptions). Living within the whole and complete yoke, lies the full potential for manifesting the unborn destiny.

So what came first - the chicken or the egg? What came first - our consciousness that created the experience of our life or our life which is creating and shaping our consciousness? As we learned at the Body of Sound & Consciousness weekend (September 10-12, 2010), it's really, most likely, that both scenarios are true. Within the formless part of our evolution is the frequency which organizes and manifests our experiences and from which future circumstances will be attracted to.

As we learned during that weekend, it is possible to shift certain vibrational patterns that resonate with more refined, skillful, mature vibrations. Eventually, similar to the egg, our shells may get cracked open and this allows us to release a powerful energy that no longer needs that protective covering because the consciousness residing deep within the Atman at our core of our being is whole and complete. Now, the enveloping shell is resilient through the protection of love and truth which has fortified and made it translucent in authentic encasing to reveal the real self.

During the Body of Sound & Consciousness weekend, participants gathered together in spirit of delving deep within to connect to sacred white light with crystal clarity allowing forgiveness, patience, and surrender to the highest good of all operating in their lives and were able to transcend limiting beliefs and unhealthful patters, habits and tendencies that will allow for greater unfolding. Two of our special participants graduated this weekend after several years on the path at yogaspirit®. To our surprise, during the weekend, their shells cracked and their release of Kundalini shaktipat, activating the heart chakra and expanding their awareness, was supported and witnessed by all.

Some participants were there for personal growth and transformation and others were there seeking certification. Everyone got to participate in yogaspirit®'s Mind-Body Subtle Healing Therapies™ where we worked in partnership learning these new yogic therapy skills.

Deep New England Roots

Thursday, August 12, 2010

I find there is no place quite like New England to dig down deep and draw forth traditional values, timeless yogic philosophy in order to have a vibrant and secure connection to Self. I am grateful for the blessings that continue to flow into my life and I am honored to have been included to join the country's esteemed group of master teachers at this years recent Boston Yoga Journal Conference and at New England's very own revered Kripalu Center.

Having spent three wonderful days at Kripalu teaching Laying Down Your Roots as part of a new Sacred Yogic Spaces teaching series, followed by the very next week teaching Sacred Root at the conference and launching this new website the very same day, I really feel grounded in my purpose, practice and presence. Practicing "steady calmness" in difficult situations proves to also be essential in times when excitement is very high! The theme of both of the recent workshops was learning about being grounded. My favorite quote was "be like a strand of healthy hair and don't snap under pressure. Expand into your potential".

I look forward to connecting with you in the virtual classroom and to plant seed of inspiration that allows us to grow and blossom together.

Finding Heaven on Earth

Saturday, May 01, 2010

The most amazing turquoise color water, white coral sand, sunny days and cool breeze; beauty in every glimpse is how I would describe the natural world at Beaches Resort. Then I would say, beautiful accommodations, dining five start on the sandy beach at my favorite lunch place called Barefoot, watching my 5 year old boys swim in the Italian and French Village pools along with the Pirate Ship Water Park, Lazy river, getting hugs from Elmo and other Sesame Street characters while resting on the beach and enjoying luxury spa treatments will make any householder tantric yogi feel that they have found Heaven on Earth.

To make it ever better I was at work.......this was all part of my experience at a recent Best Friends Forever BFF Getaway Retreat! As a sponsor for the event I got to teach Yoga twice a day and take my family as my own personal BFF's! Vinyasa yoga on the dock at sunrise and Form based yoga at the spa later in the day along with Meditation and Journaling activities made the teachings of yoga accessible to many who have not tried it, already practice regularly or wanted to get back into it.

I love teaching for this particular program as wonderful women, mothers/daughters and best friends from all around the world gather to make special memories and lasting new friendships. I like it the best because everyone knows someone else very intimately; it is very easy to find that close and personal sacred space right away.

Meditation is one of the most popular classes as not everyone practices yoga or likes to exercise, but everyone wants to know how to have a better and more stress free life. Skin treatment demos, catamaran, snorkeling, beach bonfires, dining and dancing are some of the other fun events planned at this getaway!

The temptations of an all inclusive vacation such as open bar all day and night, great food, ice cream, desserts, chocolate, lattes to your hearts desire...are tempting for many but not for the tantric yogi who knows moderation and delights in all the many blessings life has to offer.

Some of the best transformational healing work I get to do in the world happens in the heart of the Caribbean!