Disclaimer - they selected the accompanying photo! Link to the article below.
I was inspired to write this article after a visit to the Vedic Cultural Center near Portland, Oregon. It was accepted by personalgrowth.com
Disclaimer - they selected the accompanying photo! Link to the article below.
मैत्री करुणा मुदितोपेक्षाणांसुखदुःख पुण्यापुण्यविषयाणां भावनातः चित्तप्रसादनम्
maitrī karuṇā mudito-pekṣāṇāṁ-sukha-duḥkha puṇya-apuṇya-viṣayāṇāṁ bhāvanātaḥ citta-prasādanam
To preserve the innate serenity of the mind, a yogi should
be happy for those who are happy
be compassionate toward those who are unhappy
be delighted for those who are virtuous, and
be indifferent toward the wicked
(translation by Sharon Gannon, Jivamukti Yoga)
The study of this sutra on a bright, sunny February morning in India was one of the (many) highlights of Jivamukti Yoga Teacher Training. After meditation every morning, our teachers Jules Febre and Lady Ruth introduced a short text from scripture, be it Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, the Bhagavad Gita or another source. We took the time to translate, break down, ruminate over and chant the texts.
As explained by our teachers, this particular sutra explains how we can preserve our serenity of mind. These are the four 'keys' presented by Patanjali. Within these four keys there is always a way of responding to a situation that is both responsible and appropriate.
The last part - 'be indifferent toward the wicked' - was one that Jules ji and Lady Ruth took time to explain in depth. Too often, it's easy to define people by their deeds, or label people in certain ways due to their actions. They cautioned us against this, and urged us to resist responding to bad deeds with bad deeds. This would in fact keep those cycles, that energy, continuing. As explained further by Shyam Ranganathan, "Patanjali does think that the proper attitude towards evil is not wrath or anger, but equanimity." He also notes that in Patanjali's view, no person is truly evil, and "showing compassion to those who are unyogic in their lifestyle and behavior is an opportunity for us to practice yoga."
Being happy for those who are happy and delighted for those who are virtuous is not as easy as it seems, is it? Oftentimes, another person's happiness or success can cloud our own mood, as jealousy, ever so slight or not, seeps into our thoughts. "Wow, she got that promotion already? But she's 5 years younger than me!" "He's obviously doing well only because his parents helped him get to where he is today." How do such thoughts help us, or others? They don't, really.
"не так важно, что происходит вокруг,
важно как мы реагируем на это."
As I was mulling over this sutra I took a break for a moment (admittedly, to check Instagram). And what popped up on my feed from one of my devotee friends in Kazakhstan? The quote above from HH Radhanath Swami. The timing couldn't have been more perfect, given that I'd just been studying the yoga sutras and Bhagavad Gita at the Ecovillage run by Swami ji. The quote translates as such:
It's not so important what is happening around us -
What's important is how we react to it.
And there you have it. We can't always control what comes our way in life, but we can chose how we react to it. This is what's crucial to our own state of mind, for our own wellbeing. And of course, our own wellbeing has a ripple effect on the happiness of those around us. Patanjali's four timeless keys presented in this sutra serve as guidelines. I plan to remind myself of these keys as often as possible, building this sutra into my morning routine. I hope for the humility to apply it with grace to situations that are uncomfortable and difficult, and with ease to those situations that call for happiness and joy.
May this sutra serve as a tool in daily life for you as well!
Om Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya...I chanted this opening prayer in a cross-legged position on my yoga mat, inches away from six other souls. We had all braved a snowy November morning in Almaty to attend a master class at 9:00 a.m. with Mukhiyatbek Kadirov (Madhukanta Das).
Madhukanta teaches at several yoga studios in town, but offers a master class once a month on Saturdays at FitNation on 'New Square.' I've attended several, and each one usually draws his regular students. This one was no exception - he referred to everyone by name and had an amiable tone with us all. Students ranged in age from late 30s to probably mid 60's.
The theme of this class was twists, with the class named in honor of the sage Matsyendra. As we worked our way progressively through sitting and standing twisting poses, Madhukanta outlined some of the benefits of the day's chosen asanas. Twisting postures increase flexibility in the spine, can assist with back problems, help with digestion, and massage the abdominal organs to help relieve constipation. The list of benefits goes on, and he encouraged us to review them again after class.
Madhukanta took his time helping each of us with physical assists, as we held the poses for longer than usual. 'Use you uddiyana bandha,' he encouraged me. It'd been awhile since I thought of the breath and bandhas, and was able to get further into several poses than I have in awhile. Two poses in particular stuck out - one was revolved side angle pose (parivrtta parsvakonasana), and the other revolved triangle (parivrtta trikonasana). I usually have difficulty with both of these poses, and find it particularly hard to relax or find ease while practicing them. With the help of the breath, and Madhukanta's fantastic assists, I was able to hold these poses for longer than usual and have confidence that I was in my own proper alignment for them.
It's an in inspiration for me to watch a yoga master in action, teaching what he or she loves, practices and transmits so well. I've known Madhukanta for five years, and have been a regular at his yoga classes for most of that time. There was a period for two years where I attended his 7:00 a.m. class faithfully every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Though I'd have to set the alarm for 5:45, and sometimes race through the snow to make it on time, it was well worth the effort. I'm pretty sure it was those classes that allowed me to keep my sanity and good nature at work!
Two hours flew by like 20 minutes. I looked out the window before pulling a blanket over my body to rest in savasana. Snow was coming down hard - a long winter in store. I closed my eyes, my body relaxed and mind calm. Thank you Madhukanta!
Jivamukti Yoga's co-founder Sharon Gannon greeted San Francisco with grace, humor and wisdom this past weekend for a series of classes, talks, and the West Coast release of her new cookbook, 'Simple Recipes for Joy.' It quickly became evident during her master class at Yoga Tree Portrero on Saturday that we were about to take part in a very special day.
Gannon began her class by greeting each and every individual; a ritual that took several minutes and created a feeling of connection and purpose in the room. She started with a story, and then launched into asana practice with the Jivamukti 'Magic 10,' a series of 10 asanas that can be done in 10 minutes. She deftly weaved philosophy and life lessons into her instruction. For handstand, we each selected a partner and watched as they kicked up (or not) into the pose against a wall. We were told not to judge the individuals, not to see faults or strengths, but to just view our partner as a 'holy being.' Gannon's firm conviction that all beings are holy beings came through as a recurring theme of the class.
Gannon's precise instruction and uplifting music soundtrack, combined with a vigorous sequence and hands-on assists, worked together to create a delightful atmosphere. More than once I heard my neighbor singing along to one of the mantras playing in the background. Several whoops of delight filled the room as we tried a new sequence or finished one side of a practice. As we worked our way through poses, Gannon explained that different asanas can have direct effects on our relationships with different people, and that asanas are even connected to our past and our future. She noted that a physical asana practice can be one yogic path to enlightenment, if we practice with such an intention.
Intention was a major theme of the class. Gannon assured us that our intentions can wield enormous power. If our intentions are good ones, and we follow through with conviction, then the universe (and angels above, if we elect to summon them!) will align to provide what we want. The conscious choices we make and the beings we spend time shape our lives. The best thing we can do is chose to lead a life that is of benefit to others, and to the planet. Gannon noted that there is always choice - whether to be a victim or to make the most of a situation, we can choose our attitude and act accordingly.
'Pincha mayurasana - we're there!' said Gannon, halfway into class. This arm-balancing pose is a particularly difficult one for me, and though I can kick and stay up in it sometimes, my balance wasn't there on Saturday. After several attempts, I rested in child's pose. Reading my thoughts, Gannon commented that it's important not to judge yourself after that pose, and not to think harsh thoughts if you don't get up into a pose on a particular day. 'Just let it go and move on,' she said.
I have been to hundreds yoga classes over the years in the US, Kazakhstan, Japan and India. Sharon Gannon's master class was probably the most comprehensive dose of "pick-me-up life encouragement" I've ever received in a yoga class, not to mention a terrific physical workout that included several poses I'd never tried before.
When discussing how we can work together to make the world a better place, Gannon noted that we are at a critical juncture in human history. Our actions will affect the future of the planet, and all of its living beings. Animals are still used for food, for entertainment and for clothing, and a vegan lifestyle is one of the simplest ways to have a positive effect on our own bodies, on our communities, and on the planet. She spoke with compassion and conviction, noting that as yogis our intentions and actions can help to save the planet. I sat feeling empowered and inspired; instead of the usual comments and raised eyebrows I occasionally get for being vegetarian, here was a teacher celebrating my diet! She also noted that the SAD (Standard American Diet) diet, based mainly on meat and dairy products, is the very culprit of so many modern day diseases, including diabetes, cancer, and obesity.
After the yoga class, we were treated to a sample of dishes from the 'Simple Recipes for Joy' cookbook. As Gannon noted, most of the books' 200+ recipes are designed for the busy person, and can be prepared within an hour. Every bite- sized morsel was delicious, but I particularly enjoyed the dal and tofu skewers.
Gannon stayed on after class, graciously signing her book and taking the time for photos with each of us. She seemed to know at least half of the 100+ audience members personally, many of them her students and teachers of the Jivamukti method. As I exited the studio and walked with my sister toward her car, we chatted about our impressions of the day. We were very grateful to Sharon Gannon, and for what we felt was the main "takeaway" of the day: one of the simplest recipes for happiness and joy is to live a life that helps uplift and benefit other beings. Hari Om!
This weekend was full of yoga- related activities in Almaty. Yoga is offered throughout the summer at several of the parks in town on both Saturday and Sunday mornings - what a wonderful contribution by Almaty's yoga studios to urban health!
Instead of yoga in the park on Saturday, I decided to go to Gayatri yoga and attend a master class offered by Elena. I have gone to her classes on and off over the past year and we have both studied under Daulet and Muhiyatbek. Lena's amazing - she offers very physically and mentally demanding yoga classes with lots of encouragement and plenty of hands-on adjustments. I thought a master class with her would be a great way to start the weekend.
The class lasted for three full hours! We started with a discussion on unity in the mind and body, and whether or not the mind truly manages the body. Not always, as much as we think it might. The theme of the class was balance and unity, and this is what we were going to explore throughout.
Lena, as she often does, reminded us to focus on the present. She asked me at one moment while doing yogic breathing what I was thinking about. I mentioned I was thinking about a project for work. 'You can leave that for work time,' she said with a smile.
Our class flowed from discussion to yoga asana practice. The practice included several asanas that I've never done before, all with the goal of preparing our bodies and minds for balancing postures. After two quite intense hours, we built up to bakasana and several other balancing poses. By that point, I was happy I'd made it through the class holding poses for longer than usual, and was quite ready for savasana. But before final relaxation, we did a chakra-focused meditation for 15 minutes.
In yoga, the breath connects the mind and body. Coming back to your breath reminds you to stay focused in the present. We try to make yoga a graceful moving meditation. It sometimes works, quite often doesn't...and I'm constantly humbled by the amount of progress I still have to go in practicing. However, spending three hours at a master class on a Saturday experiencing the full spectrum of a yoga practice - discussion, asana, meditation, chanting, pranayama - was a great way to be in the here and now and experience the mind and body connection for even a few fleeting moments. Thank you Lena and thank you Gayatri!
At the end of a 48 hour trip to Astana, I was walking down Prospekt Respubliki near the Ramstore and 'yoga room lite' caught my eye. I walked in and asked if they had any classes on a Thursday evening. Luckily, the very friendly woman at the counter said there was an ashtanga vinyassa class starting in an hour! I quickly went to my hotel, grabbed some shorts and a tshirt, and returned.
The class had three students set in a comfortable clean studio room. The instructor started class with the traditional invocation chant to Patanjali, and then led us through 3 Surya Namaskar A's, 3 Surya Namaskar B's. And onward through a traditional, challenging, ashtanga 90 minute class. Other than my foot slipping a bit on the mat during the urdhva dhanurasana due to perspiration, it was relatively smooth sailing after a LONG break from such a class. Savasana was long, peaceful, and blissful, and we ended class with a meditation wishing happiness and health to our friends and families. Wonderful instructor, great class, perfect way to end the trip to Astana. Highly recommend the studio and its variety of classes! http://yogaroom.kz
Yoga’s popularity has taken off in Almaty, Kazakhstan's former capital and the cultural and business hub of Central Asia. Studios here rival those of New York or San Francisco in design, variety of classes offered, and even price. Local teachers have traveled far and wide to India, Russia, Thailand, Western Europe and even North America, returning with certificates including Kundalini, Ashtanga, Iyengar, Sivananda and Vinyassa Flow styes of yoga. With its beautiful and diverse outdoor settings, yogis frequently grab their mats and head to the mountains or steppe to practice as well! While most classes in Kazakhstan are taught in Russian, several locations accommodate expatriates as well, with teachers mixing English into their instruction. Some of the studios in the center of the city that we've visited include:
1. Gayatry Yoga Centers (http://yoga-center.kz) Come ready to chant, smile, stretch and sweat. Both downtown locations are exceptional, with the 7th-floor studio on Furmanova featuring stunning sunset views of the city and steppe beyond. The Shevchenko studio has plenty of parking to make a 6:30 p.m. class after work, and two beautiful studios. If you get there early, lounge on a sofa in the comfy reception area and pick up one of the latest yoga journals. A seasoned team of yoga instructors lead classes in a variety of styles of yoga. The center also regularly offers weekend seminars, retreats, and even vegetarian cooking classes.
2. Golden Bridge Yoga (www.goldenbridge.kz) Golden Bridge, located in the futuristic looking NurlyTau office complex, holds its own to any studio in the world in terms of décor and ambiance. A large sitting area featuring ornate teak wood chairs, tables, and plenty of throw pillows is the perfect place to relax after class and enjoy a tea or sweets from the club’s vegetarian café. Two yoga studios, showers, a massage and changing rooms, and sweeping city views make this one of the must-sees for yoga enthusiasts visiting or living in Kazakhstan. Pricing is on the higher side, but you pay for the atmosphere and expertise. While kundalini is the signature style at Golden Bridge, the club also offers hatha, Iyengar, yoga for pregnancy, and women’s yoga. Public transport is tricky, so best to go by taxi or walk there. You can’t miss the building.
3. YogaDom (http://www.yogadom.kz): Popular among Almaty’s eco-conscious crowd, YogaDom has classes and levels for everyone: from therapeutic somatic classes to intensive advanced level asana courses, the studio also offers workshops including Thai massage and acroyoga. The top-floor apartment complex location on right off of centrally located ‘Old Square’ and class schedule ranging from early morning to late evening make the center a convenient choice to accommodate a wide range of schedules. Visitors are welcome to hang out before or after class in the carpeted lounge area right beyond the reception desk.
4. Sunrise Yoga Center (http://sunrise.com.kz): With two spotless yoga halls, a beauty salon and massage services, and a window opening to a view of nearby rose gardens, the studio lives up to its reputation for top-notch instruction and services. Instructors have 10+ years of experience teaching with an emphasis on alignment-based Iyengar and therapeutic styles of yoga; several can use English in their lessons. The studio’s convenient downtown location offers an extensive array of classes including hatha, Iyengar, prenatal, and yoga for kids.
Almaty is situated at the base of the spectacular Tien-Shan mountain range, and provides a perfect setting to go to the mountains and practice yoga any time from spring to fall. The steppe that goes for hundred of kilometers up throughout the country is sprinkled with lakes , valleys and canyons, also providing stunningly rich settings for taking a day-long or overnight yoga retreat.