Sara Ivanhoe - yoganation - color outside the lines

yoganation blog

  • My Brother Hosts His Holiness the Dalai Lama

    Three years ago my brother became the Asst. Dean of Religious Life at Princeton University. Early this spring, he extended an invitation to His Holiness the Dalai Lama to speak at Princeton and it was accepted.


     My brother's interest in Buddhism can be traced to our childhood.  My mother was preparing a roasted chicken for Sabbath dinner, when my 7 year-old brother approached asking where was the chicken's head.  My mother replied that the chicken no longer had a head, because it had been killed so that we could eat it for dinner.

    "Did it want to die?" My brother asked.
    "I don't think so," my mother replied, not justifying the action.
    "Where's its Mom?" my brother continued.
    "I think its Mom is probably somebody's dinner as well."

    Matt appearing on the cover of the "Princetonian," would be called by the Hindus, a "Lila."  He is probably the only person that DIDN'T want a picture of himself to be displayed.  To further the point, he didn't even send me this picture, I had to find it myself.  Although the Buddhists don't necessarily say there is a God, this funny twist of events makes me say to myself "There is a God."

    Although we have all heard  the DL's message many times, it can't hurt to hear it once more.  We must seek to understand each other and have compassion.  So happy we could start the week off like this together...

    Namaste' and 3 Jewels...



  • 5 Tips for Moving Toward Stillness

    The following excerpts from a recent interview with Levitating Monkey demonstrate how yoga and yoga principles can lead one to more stillness, peace, self-acceptance and love.

    1. Even if you can't fix life's challenges, you can fix your relationship to them

    LM: What is the greatest challenge you have overcome because of yoga?

    SI: I can’t say “over-come” because it is an evolving process. But I began meditation practices due to early onset insomnia which is pretty rare to have as a child. (Mine started in infancy.) Yoga has not “cured” my insomnia, but it has helped me navigate the ups and downs with greater ease. From what I can see, challenges are often not completely overcome. We would like them to be, but often they sustain and we can’t “fix” them. I think it is important to know that. What we can fix, is our relationship to them.


    2. Focus on the flow of breath and use the asana practice to move toward meditation

    LM: For those who are not familiar with your style of yoga teaching, in what ways is it different than other types of practice?

    SI: I believe everyone’s style of yoga is unique, as is every practitioner doing each style. However, if I were to describe the practice I lead, I would say thatI focus more on the flow of the breath and using the asana practice as a tool to direct one towards meditation.Instead of working on more or better or different yoga postures, I like to use the postures to lead the students towards a more internal experience and ultimately towards stillness rather than more movement.

    3. LOVE is a practice

    LM: Can you talk to us about Bhakti and your contribution to the film “Women of Bhakti?”

    SI: Bhakti is the practice of unconditional love. While Bhakti may take the form of mantra recitation, deity worship or ecstatic movement, it does not need to contain any of those things. It is simply LOVE- as a practice. The idea is that whatever we practice, that is what we are getting good at.If we practice criticizing ourselves, we will get good at that!The more we accept ourselves as we are in this moment, we spread the idea of self-acceptance to others. The more we accept ourselves as we are, the more we accept others as they are, it is the source of peace on the planet.

    4. Don't take yourself too seriously

    LM: What are some of the biggest challenges you notice with students new to yoga and how do you help them overcome these concerns?

    SI: The biggest challenge for beginners and long-time students is the same. We take ourselves too seriously!Yoga is meant to remind us that we are “not our bodies”, that we have a body, we need to take care of the body, we can achieve liberation in this body- but that it does not define us, that we will drop it someday.Most of us that pick up the physical practice of yoga, work on perfecting the body, perfecting a pose. I believe this is headed in the wrong direction. It is important to practice and honor the body, but not to be attached to its ever-changing whims.

    5. Practice accepting yourself as you are this moment

    LM: What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?

    SI: The best advice that was ever given to me was from my friend Krishna Das, the famous Kirtan Wallah. I had been asking him for life advice, and to give me a practice. I wanted some mantra, some tapas I could work on to “be more spiritual.” He told me that the practice I really needed to be doing was the practice of accepting myself as I was in this moment.

    That instead of working on how to “fix” myself, I should work on being ok with the imperfect self that existed now. It was such a mind- bender. I had thought I was supposed to be working on letting go of anger, forgiveness, detachment from material objects, or the more popular “manifest more material objects” that seems to be swimming around in “conscious” circles today. Instead, he showed me that if I could love the self that was angry, if I could be okay with the self that held a grudge- the unconditional love of that self, would be the magic that melted it all. I have not become good at this! But whenever I have a glimpse of it, I find that it puts the people around me at ease…

    The full interview can be found at


  • I bow to the Jewel in the Lotus: Om Mani Padme Hum

    The Lotus Flower grows in still water.

    It is said that the mind, like the Lotus, will only come to full bloom within stillness.  In our desire to be good students, many of us increase the challenge and pace of our asana practice.  While movement is a quintessential way of releasing tension, historically the yoga tradition is a path towards meditation.  When we “get better” at yoga, we are meant to move less, not more.  As beginners, we are like the puppy; playful and bouncy.  A puppy has energy to spare- therefore there is no need for efficiency.  Most of us yogis are already spread pretty thin.  We need to conserve our energy, and place it where and when we want to.   The wise dog only makes necessary movements.  Learning how to become still on command, is a way of preserving our vital life force- and it takes practice.

    It is said that the ultimate meditation position is Padmasana (Full Lotus) as its symmetry creates a balanced foundation.  As further inspiration, the bloom itself, thermo-regulates- meaning that no matter the outer climate- it retains its inner balance.  Yogasana is a practice of feeling our “one-ness” with whatever pose we invoke.  If the lotus flower literally sustains its temperature no matter the outer landscape, practicing lotus give us the opportunity to learn this important lesson.

    Stillness and equanimity are fundamental components of a yoga practice.  One doesn’t need to have flexible hips or bend their knees into submission.  A simple seated posture will capture the spirit, as the legs can still represent petals.  The importance is not the shape our bodies take- but the energy with which we embody all shapes.  As the lotus takes time to grow, our appreciation of its gifts takes time as well.  While stillness may not seem outwardly impressive, it is a flower that blossoms within.

    - See more articles of Sara's -


    There is no power like the power of sound. No other sense takes hold of your being and won’t let go- like hearing. All you have to do is hear three notes of “your song” from high school. You know the one: you were sooo in love- your heart was broken – you played this song over and over again- because you felt that the singer was singing to YOU! Somehow that singer knew what was in your heart and hearing that song made you feel understood. You felt that the singer knew the true you- the you that no one else “got”. It gave you the feeling of being ”seen”, and for that, you listened to it over and over until you knew every word- every beat, every note.

    Such is the power of MANTRA.

    The yogic system acknowledges this “feeling” as truth. And for this, an insightful explanation is advanced. In short, all elements (earth, water, fire and air) are all perceived by different senses in the body. Earth is perceived by smell, water by taste, fire by sight and air by touch. The ancient yogis believed that there is a fifth element, called “akasha,” which we can loosely translate as “space”. Not space in the sense of a vacuum, but rather as the openness wherein all things have their play. And, within this philosophical analysis, space is said to be most fundamentally revealed through our sense of hearing. Stay with us here …

    We have all heard it said that people who have lost their sense of sight have an accentuated sense of hearing. Quite remarkably, it is said that a blind person can tell you how big a room is- just by listening to the surrounding sounds. The way they are able to do it is by virtue of the fact that sound bounces off of the boundaries of the “space”. The time that it takes for the sound to “bounce” off of an object or a wall is an indicator of the space.

    Another example may be experienced by walking into a dark cave.We have all played the “echo game.” You shout out “helloooooooo” and wait for your voice to answer back “hellooooooo.” The amount of time it takes for the echo to return is determined by the dimensions of the physical space. Even in the darkest place, we get a sense of spaciousness through the pervasive magic of sound.

    Sound is real. Even though we can’t see it, we can feel it- a shrill sound can even shatter a window! Anything that powerful can have a profound effect upon a human being. The yogis knew this to be true and found ways to harness or “yoke” that power.

    The entire Sanskrit language may be thought of as a profoundly “Vibrational Language.” That means that even if you don’t know what a particular mantra means in the sense of a word-for-word translation, you may still experience the transformational benefit of the sound vibration. It doesn’t need to make sense- you just feel it. It is not totally unlike your favorite song- very often there are lyrics that don’t really make any sense, but you sing along loudly anyway!

    Mantra has this magic. Somehow, some way, it brings about a feeling of peace. Not everyone experiences this at first, but, over time, most people who chant a mantra will experience some sort of “quieting of mind” or “expansion of consciousness”- or sometimes even an ecstatic emotional release! This release might make no sense, just as, when you sing along to that rock song, you might burst into laughter or tears of joy.

    The Sanskrit word “mantra” has two parts. The first part is the verbal root “man”, which means to think, believe, imagine, or suppose. It also means to set the heart or mind upon something. In fact, this Sanskrit root word is cognate to our English words “mind” and “mental”. It is the mind that creates our illusion of separation, the mind that creates our suffering- and it is thus the mind that needs protection! It is the mind that is lost and “scatter-brained”. But it is also the mind that can set one free.

    The second part of the word, “tra,” has two possible denotations. Drawing on a more common usage, the suffix “tra” may refer to an instrument, a tool, or a device. By this reading, then, the word ”mantra” may be understood as a “mental tool” or “device of the mind”- thus designating an instrument that the mind utilizes to see things clearly or to generate or invoke a specific state of consciousness.

    But there is also a less commonly known, alternate meaning for the suffix “tra”. The Monier-Williams dictionary, the definitive Sanskrit English lexicon, cites the ancient grammarian Panini as noting that the ending “tra” may designate the verbal root “trai”, which means “to save,” “to protect”, “to carry over” – or, my favorite: “to ferry over”. (I can’t help it. This one just evokes childhood images of reading ”Siddhartha” and waxing philosophically about ”The Ferryman”.) In fact, it is from the root “trai” that we get the name Tara- designating both the Hindu Goddess of Protection and the Buddhist Bodhisattva of Compassion.

    Through this alternate reading, the word “mantra” would then take on the meaning of that which “saves the mind”, “ferries the mind over”, or ”protects the mind”. “Very well, then”. you might rightfully ask, “what is mantra protecting the mind from?”

    Mantra protects the mind from ordinary appearances.

    In this inaugural issue of Mantra magazine, we dedicate ourselves and ask for blessings to be “ferried over” -

    From untruth to the truth,
    From darkness to seeing the light,
    From death to immortality,
    (that we may connect with that part of ourselves that is eternal).

    There is a Sanskrit mantra from which this blessing is derived. As we take our first steps on this new journey of discovery, let’s say it together …

    Asatoma Sat Gamaya
    Tamaso MaJyotir Gamaya
    Mriryor Ma Amritam Gamaya

    Om, Shanti, Shanti, Shanti …

  • Snack Chart: Countdown to Yoga Class

    It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been doing yoga.
    Once in a while, you’ll pull a rookie move and forget to eat at the sacred two hour threshold before yoga class. Oh no!

    Let’s be honest—you can’t not eat. If it has been several hours, you’re already hungry or feeling like your blood sugar is low, you may consider just trying to “brave it” until you’ve made it through class and eat after.

    Doing this usually yields an unsatisfactory practice:
    >>You don’t have your usual strength to do the full practice you hold yourself to.

    >>You end up spending the entire practice “food fantasizing”—thinking about what you’ll eat the secondyou leave class.

    >>The worst option—you end up not going at all, using the excuse that you hadn’t eaten and you’d have no endurance.

    So you have to eat something, but you know that you can’t eat a full meal—it won’t digest quickly enough and you’ll be feeling nauseous after your first downward dog. I’ve been practicing yoga for 28 years—teaching for 18—and believe me, I have tried everything.

    Using myself as a guinea pig, I’ve put together a few suggestions for what you can put in your body and what results these options will give you. I hope you find these helpful, but this is an evolving list! Please comment and let me know which of these worked, which didn’t, your favorites etc.—my fave is the dark chocolate KIND bar.

    As teachers, we want you to come and practice, whatever helps get you there—that’s all that matters.

    Say a little prayer of gratitude before you take a bite, and I’ll see you on the mat.

  • Wide Awake

    Yoga to Promote Sound Sleep

    When asked of the Buddha “Are you a man, or a God?” the Buddha replied…

    “I AM AWAKE.”

    I’ll start with the bad news—in some cases, chronic insomnia has no real cure. While there are many types of insomnia and many reasons for sleeplessness and sleep difficulties, for some of us, no matter the herbal treatments we seek, there may still be no end to the challenge.

    It is important to know that if you have tried Western medicine, holistic medicine, meditation and more, and have still not “solved” your sleep issues – this does not make you a bad yogi. For some, trouble sleeping may be a “one day at a time” issue, and an opportunity to learn how to live fully with the challenge.

    Yoga is not necessarily a cure for insomnia, but it can have some very soothing effects.  If you are struggling to sleep because your mind is agitated, these yoga practices can often slow the system down enough for you to fall asleep.  For those whose insomnia is unrelated to stress, these rejuvenative postures can relax the body and allow for regeneration, as a nourishing practice is essential. Dive in as if you were wrapping yourself up in a new set of sheets.

    Rather than seeing our failure to sleep as a problem, it can be an opportunity to investigate our relationship to the night.  There is an ecosystem of nocturnal animals with wisdom to share.

    In Buddhism, the ultimate act is to “wake up” to the truth.  If sleep evades you, possibly it can be a gift, giving us a nudge to ask “what does it mean to be awake?”

    Legs up the Wall- Viparita Karani

    The Bat

    Bats are one of the most complex creatures. They are flying rodents, they hunt at night to avoid competition, and they emit noise designed specifically to produce an echo to reveal their prey. As the moon is reflected light, the bat lives by reflected sound. We can learn from the bat to utilize the art of reflection to reveal our path, point out what will nourish us, and show us what we need to see.


    Find a clear wall space or a closed door. Sit sideways against the wall and roll onto your side with knees bent in a fetal position with your hips close and your head away from the wall. Shimmy closer, keeping the hips 6-12 inches away from the wall and then allow the legs to rest, soles of the feet facing the ceiling, relaxed and supported.

    It is said that for maximum benefit, lifting the arms up and away from the wall will increase blood flow to the head; however, you may find that it is just more comfortable to place the palms of the hands onto the belly and allow the elbows to relax to the floor. Feel free to let the legs relax and flop open, or strap the legs just above the knee to keep them together.

    Rest here for a minimum of two to three minutes up to 10, 15 or even 20 minutes.  Rise slowly from the pose. Release the legs by allowing the knees to bend into the chest. Roll to one side and allow the blood pressure to adjust, slowly climb yourself into a seated position. Pause for a few moments to ensure the effect the pose.

    Adho Mukha Savasana

    Downward Facing Savasana: Gravitational Surrender

    For those with trouble sleeping, savasana can actually stimulate anxiety, since spending time on the back without sleep or rest can create an association between the position and the trauma of sleepless nights and worry. Since our physical position is connected to our brain patterns, shifting the body, even just slightly, can generate a dramatically different effect on the thought train.

    Additionally, lying on one’s back can sometimes create feelings of vulnerability and lack of protection. On the other hand, this position of downward facing savasana turns the direction of energy flow into the earth. The natural downward flow of energy, or gravity, is called apana vayu by the yogis. As yogis, all we need to do is to ride the wave of the downward flow. Students who express irritation at traditional savasana often find lying on their bellies soothing.


    Lie face down on your belly on a padded surface. The arms can rest at the sides with the palms facing up or stacked to create a pillow. You may keep your neck straight by placing your forehead down or you may turn your head to the side and rest on your cheek. When choosing this option, be sure to time yourself and switch sides to create balance on the neck. When the legs are relaxed, the feet generally “flop” open with the heels dropping out gently to the sides.  Allow this to happen for maximum relaxation.

    Follow the breathing tips and remain in adho mukha savasana for 3-20 minutes. Press yourself back into child’s pose for three to five breaths and then press up to sitting.

    Chandra Bhedhana

    Moon Breath

    In the yogic system, the right side of the body is symbolized by the Sun, “ha” and the left by the Moon, “tha.” Together, they create Hatha, a balance of sun and moon energies. Most yoga teachers lead practices that begin with the right side of the body, or the Sun side.  Whatever “side” we do first, we do best, as by the time we get to side two, the body is fatigued. Thus, the sun side of the body is often receiving our full attention, while the Moon may be slightly short changed. It is no surprise then, that we often are left energized, but not necessarily relaxed.

    Chandra Bhedhana is a circular breathing technique which nourishes the Moon channel and softens the Sun; to do so, we inhale through the left nostril and exhale through the right.

    When practicing, reflect on the power of the Moon, the energy of our internal world. To this day, most religions and cultures operate on a Moon calendar. The Moon, although quiet in countenance, is a powerful force on the water element; it affects the ebb and flow of the ocean and the tides. As our bodies are mainly composed of water, it is no wonder that the moon has such a powerful effect on us. Honoring the moon is a practice of humility and an opportunity to ask for guidance.


    Find a comfortable seated position. (You may sit on a chair or rest your back against a wall.) The priority is to sustain an extended, long spine as the tendency is to lose the erect posture due to fatigue.

    Locate the middle and index finger of the right hand (even if you are left handed.)  Make a peace sign with the right hand and then place the tips of those two fingers into the notch where the forehead and nose meet.  To balance the effort of the arms, you can use the left palm to support the right elbow.

    Sitting tall, slightly drop the chin. Exhale through both nostrils, then with the right thumb, close off the right nostril and inhale through the left. Pause. Then, use the ring finger to close the left nostril and exhale out the right.

    This is a circular breath, so you are always going inhaling through the left nostril and exhaling through the right.  Try to balance the length of the inhalation and of the exhalation, then lengthening the breath once the pace is comfortable.  Becoming curious about the path the breath travels helps us stay present and become more personally aware.

    Practice a minimum of three rounds to feel the effects; continue up to five minutes. Complete with a few rounds of softly coaxing the air to travel through both nostrils with ujjayi breathing.

    Supported Child’s Pose


    Thanatosis, or “playing dead,” is a famous defense mechanism of the possum to ward off unwanted attention of a predator or potential mate. So much so that it has even become known as “playing possum.” One of the few nonviolent acts of defense, “playing dead” can be a powerful tool in navigating adversity.  We all struggle with challenges in the urban jungle regarding career and relationships. Often, instead of reacting violently, this strategy can be successful in making a problem simply go away. And whether or not we are facing adversity, coming into relaxed stillness can be beneficial to our nervous systems: By playing dead for a few minutes, we can awaken and be reborn feeling fresh and rejuvenated.


    Lay out a yoga mat or find a soft surface, then place a blanket over the entirety of the surface to create padding. Find a yoga bolster or stack several folded blankets to make a rectangular supported lift at least six inches high, but no more than a foot or foot-and-a-half off the floor.

    Sit in a kneeling position, bringing the big toes together and the knees as wide apart as comfortable. Roll up a hand towel and place it lengthwise under your ankles for support.

    Place the short end of the bolster so the length of the bolster stretches away from you; rest your torso on it. You can either have the bolster close enough into you so that your head floats off the top of the bolster and slightly hangs forward symmetrically, or you can allow the bolster to support your head as well and turn your head to one side. When choosing this option, be sure to time yourself and switch sides of the head. The hands can rest on the bolster to create a pillow, or bring the arms down by the sides, whichever is most relaxing. Follow the tips to work with the breath and remain here for 2-20 minutes.

    Seated Twist

    (With breath retention on the exhalation)

    The Owl

    The owl is possibly the most famous of all night creatures. Its signature move is extreme flexibility of the neck, turning the head signifies the enhanced perspective, or “seeing things from all sides.” The owl also perceives even small amounts of light within the darkness, allowing it to past the obvious to give the owl its reputation of being wise.

    Practicing breath retention on the exhalation allows the body to slow down and feel the power of emptiness. Conversely, holding the inhale is invigorating and helps us to feel full. When practicing on one’s own, breath retention should be simple, without effort. For a full investigation of pranayama techniques, please practice under the guidance of a teacher.


    Sit comfortably on a cushion, blanket, or bolster, with your left leg bent, left heel pointing towards the outside of the right hip, knee pointing straight ahead. The right leg goes over the left with the right knee pointing directly towards the ceiling, right foot on the floor just to the left of the bent left knee.

    Place your right fingertips down four to six inches away from the outside of the right hip to create length in the spine.  Place your left hand onto the right knee and guide it towards you or bring the outside of the left arm outside the right thigh.

    Begin with a nice deep inhale to sit up tall and then gently twist to the right on the exhale. Look over the right shoulder as far as is comfortable for you.  Continue to lengthen the spine as you inhale and twist further on the exhalation.

    Softly holding the exhalation soothes the nervous system while holding the inhalation wakes us up. At the end of each exhalation, pause for a few moments (try counting to a slow five) to feel empty, without straining. When you inhale, make sure NOT to gasp or gulp air in.

    Hold the twist for at least one full minute then release and switch sides by switching the crossing of the legs. This is a long hold for a twist, so please be gentle in the transition.


    Reclined Buddha, or Vishnu in Yoga Nidra

    Anantasana, one of my top five yoga poses, is often considered to be the deity Vishnu resting on his serpent in the act of Yoga Nidra (a state beyond sleep). As Yoga Nidra is one of my main yoga practices, I love this interpretation of the pose.

    It is also called The Reclined Buddha.  The Buddha in this reclined position has many meanings:  One is to show the Buddha in his final moment of enlightenment before his death. The other interpretation is the Buddhist notion that even when sleeping, mindfulness is practiced; this is a reminder that sleep is not a moment to check out.

    It can be agreed that whatever the ascribed archetypal origin, Anantasana is a posture of enjoying the relaxed moment.

    While practicing Anantasana, find the places in the body that are afraid to relax. Allow the head to become heavy in the hand, allow the belly to spill forward in an unattractive manner.  Ask yourself,“Where else might I let go?”  “If I were to really let go, how would I feel?” And if you’re courageous… “Who is the ‘I’ that is letting go?”


    Lie on your right side with your knees bent into your chest and your head resting on a flat right arm.  Your left hand drapes over your hip with the elbow heavy.  Enjoy stage one for a few long breaths.  Then, bend the bottom right arm until the elbow is pointed out to the side and the head rests in the right hand.  There should be no effort in the neck, the head should relax fully. (This is my favorite stage; you can stay here for minutes if you like!)  Lastly, and only if you want to add more, take the middle and index fingers of the left hand and take hold of the left big toe.  Slowly and gently begin to straighten the left leg bringing the left foot towards the ceiling.  Stretch to your comfortable level of flexibility.  Relax here for 30 seconds up to several minutes.  Be sure to practice for the same amount of time on side two.

    Breath Suggestions for All Poses

    Begin breathing in through the nose and then slow down the exhalation through the mouth allowing it to be slower and longer than you may think you can do, until you are fully empty. Beginning this way will kick start the relaxation process signaling your body that it is time to slow down.  Then watch the breath slow itself down on its own.

    After a minute or so, the breath will find its own equilibrium.  Yes, you may practice ujjayi breath for these poses, but with only a soft soothing sound, a meditative breath for these restorative poses.

    Rather than altering the breath, simply observe the path the breath travels.   Notice if the breath pattern is smooth, if the inhalations and exhalations feel balanced. Observing the breath is a form of mindfulness, which is a great technique for steadying the thoughts.

    When we are sleeping we are not altering the breath, and these poses are meant to lull us into sleep, so once the tension has been cleared from the breath, allow it to settle and mimic sleep- your body will get the hint.

    Nidra Vicchara

    Vicchara is the practice of inquiry, the Sanskrit word nidra means sleep.  The act of asking a question brings us into the present moment. Ask yourself some questions to begin the practice of inquiry. When engaged in this practice, I recommend a journal dedicated to sleep and rejuvenation. When practicing vicchara, don’t be seduced by the desire to jump to an answer. Once we “know” something, we file it away and are no longer open to new wisdom.  Keep asking!  Here are some to get you started…

    •How or when did you first experience trouble sleeping?

    •How has your trouble with sleep affected your relationship to others?

    •How has it affected your ability to achieve your goals?

    •What steps are within your control that you can take to heal your relationship to sleep?

    •How can your increased wakeful hours be best utilized?

    •Why do you think that sleep has manifested itself this way to you specifically?

    •How might you see this “problem” as a gift?  This “liability” as an asset?

    •Most importantly, what does being “awake” mean to you?

  • Pranafest Ashland 2012!

    A festival set at the amidst the nutritious air of Ashland, Oregon and the healing waters of Jackson Wellsprings, can be called  PRANAFEST.  Just the environmental components alone would leave a yogi feeling nourished and revitalized- refueled with Prana.

    For its inaugural year, Pranafest put together an ambitious and diverse line up.  Top yoga teachers Micheline Berry and Govindas and Rhadha provided a solid foundation, while breath and healing workshops rounded out the offerings.

    Friday night, kirtan favorite, Wah! offered a new format, the healing concert.  While many of us have spent years dancing to high energy “Hanuman” and “Jai ma!” tracks, Wah! is bringing to the center stage one of her true talents.  Born of the original “Savasana” and Savasana 2” releases, the healing concert is meant to be a guided relaxation that uses mantra to soothe and “heal” the body.  Wah provided a lullaby to ground all the festival attendees, a much needed, balancing touch.

    Saturday afternoon, I spent soaking up the hot springs and teaching a Yoga Nidra class including some yin postures, pranayama and a long Yoga Nidra session. We focused on Samadhi, dissolving the body into the infinite, allowing our individual form to be absorbed by the absolute form.  The Ashland yogis needed no convincing of the benefits of letting go, they relaxed easily and rode the wave of prana...

    I spent Saturday night exploring the town of Ashland with Donna Delory.  After a farm to table meal at Larx Hotel and a quick stop to drink from the fresh Lithium fountains in the town square, we headed back to the festival just in time to catch the end of “The Breath of Life.”  Wow!  Deepak Ramapriyan and his gang just took off like a rocket. They played in the little “casbah” type space that rocked an intimate but “old school” setting right next to the hot springs and cafe.

    Donna and I headed over to the main stage for Jai Uttal playing his Queen of Hearts tracks.  The juxtaposition of Kirtan and Reggae is so ecstatic, it just intoxicating.  Jai is the ultimate headliner- radiant and joyful.  What a treat to see him so devoted to his yoga teacher wife, Nubia Teixteira, giving us all an example of what divine partnership is all about- SITARAM!!!!

    Sunday morning I caught the end of my friends Govindas and Radha’s class.  As usual- it was slamming!  These two have such a smooth flow of highs and lows, movement and stillness infused with Bhakti every step of the way.  Again, an inspiring example of divine partnership- RADHEGOVINDA!

    My Bhakti Vinyasa class can only be described by the All Star musicians that led the way.  Deepak Ramapriyan on violin, Ben Leinbach on drums, Prajna Vieira, a local sitar, harmonium and tabla player (if you folks read this post, please comment and chime in with your names!)- all topped by Donna Delory jumping in for an ecsatic explotion.  The intention was to have a sweet savasana song, but none of us could contain ourselves.  We danced, we chanted, we hugged, we laughed, we cried and oh, right- we did some yoga.

    After class I had to dash off to the airport, but I had just enough time to get a sneak peak at Pragna and Ben doing their solo set on the Casbah stage, playing some songs from their new release Amrita.  And it was.  Simply sweet- nectar of sound.

    A huge nod to promoters Paul Andrews and Janet Marley for putting it together and staying happy and playful.  All in all everyone gets a full thumbs up.  Pranafest is on its way!


  • Happy Birth-PLACE to me!

    I just got back from the inaugural Bhakti Fest Midwest in Madison, Wisconsin.  Those mid westerners know how to party!  Classes were packed and the Yoga Nidra workshop was once again oversold out.  Thanks also to the gang at Inner Fire Yoga for welcoming me into your studio on Monday for a Post-Bhakti Fest immersion. 

    The highlight for me, however was the fact that- turns out-  I was born in Madison.  My family moved when I was 3, but I was born at the university hospital and spent my earliest years at 6001 Piping Rock Road.  I took a few minutes to swing by my birth home and low and behold- living in the house currently is a beautiful couple- and the woman, Brenna, is a yoga instructor! What are the odds?  An undeniable connection through time. 

    My only memory of Madison is of a tiny hill (that felt huge at 3 years old) that my family used to sled down during the winters.  I drove around until I found the same hill, behind Falk Elementary School.  Madison is a beautiful, soulful place and I am excited to go back for Bhakti Fest Midwest again next year!

    Next up is Wanderlust, and a trip down the Rogue River in Oregon.  Hope to catch you soon...


  • Hey-Gaze (The Yoga of Seeing)

    From intentblog

    “I love airports,” I found myself saying as I picked a friend up the other night. “People are going places.”

    I realize this is an unusual experience.  Nothing seems to challenge our yogic sense of peace more than being delayed at the airport.  Traffic, shopping, family karmas and overbooked flights can send even the most centered practitioner into a scattered frenzy.

    You will be surprised to hear what has helped me the most in times of agitation. It is not the breath, although please do keep breathing at all times! It’s dristi, the gaze of the eyes. The word dristi comes from the Sanskrit root drstr meaning ‘to see,’ ‘to gaze,’ ‘to focus on,’ or  better yet, ‘to direct.’

    Yoga teaches us that wherever the eyes go, our energy goes.  Many of the asana practices that we learn in the West teach us to look up. Gazing upward has its benefits, including increased energy and an added challenge to balancing. But there are drawbacks as well – the most obvious being that it strains a lot of necks! Looking up also has the potential to agitate an already over-stimulated nervous system. The other issue: keeping our eyes still is much more difficult when they are focused upward. Therefore our eyes dart all over the room, looking somewhere, anywhere for some help.

    If our eyes are ‘all over the place,’ so are our bodies. We end up scattered. When we focus our eyes, our bodies focus and, thankfully, our energy gets focused as well.

    How many times have I forced myself to look up in half moon pose only to strain my neck, stop breathing and fall over? One day I realized that I was doing this out of habit – something someone told me to do, something I read in a book (which was written within the last hundred years). None of the ancient scriptures dictate looking up; it is not pre-requisite to enlightenment.

    When I need to get grounded, I look at the ground.  When I’m in a challenging asana and really want to focus, I look down.  When I need that same level of absolute concentration, I look down. And when do I need that level of focus more than when my flight is delayed?

    Try this as an experiment: Next time you are waiting for a flight, do the usual thing and people watch. Inevitably there will be someone madly tapping away on their laptop, someone will be talking just a little too loudly on their cell phone while someone else is stuffing a French fry in their mouth. As your eyes dart around and you try to keep track of everyone, create stories in your mind of what their lives must be like. Try to make sense of their existence for them. Pause. Watch your energy leaving you and going to them; watch it dwindle away.  Where your eyes go, your energy flows.

    Pause again and look down. Know that the world is swirling around you, but you don’t have to look at it. You don’t have to comment or help it along. You’re just you. Just as you would in a crowded yoga class, balancing in tree pose, look down, and bring your attention and energy back to you where it belongs.  Try this in the shopping mall, at your family dinner, but mostly at the airport.

    I promise you, you’ll still get there at the same time, and you just might arrive at your destination a little less frazzled and a little more rested. You may even feel so energized that you find yourself saying, as I did to my friend that day, “I love airports!” 

  • This Year...

    It seems that everyone I talk to is in the throws of making long lists of New Year's Resolutions. It is important to pause at key moments in our lives so we can get clear on where we want to go. However, most of the time we end up setting goals that are not within our power to keep. This sets into action what the Buddhists would call the "attachment/aversion" cycle. We become proud of ourselves when we achieve the goal, or conversely we get angry at ourselves when we don't.

    The problem is, we are setting the wrong goals! When it comes to a yoga practice, creating physical asana goals can be dangerous on the psyche. For instance, if I say to myself something like "this year I will balance in a handstand in the middle of the room", I am setting myself up for the attachment/aversion cycle. If I fail in my goal, I can loose confidence and get down on myself. If I achieve my goal, I might start thinking that I'm cool. This is a false confidence, as the moment I loose my ability to perform the pose, I am right back where I started.

    Instead, this year try tricking yourself. Set goals that you can keep. Goals that you and you only will know if you achieved. Goals that bring you back to your own true nature. For instance, try something like "I will breathe fully in every pose I'm in." Or, "I will relax wherever possible, even in the challenging postures." Better yet, "I will listen to what my body wants me to do, rather than me telling it what to do."

    These are goals that we have a shot at keeping. When it comes to yoga and life, let's let go of the list. None of us knows what is around the corner. At the end of the day, we have very little control over what actually occurs. What we can do, is choose how we react to life when it comes. For 2011, set a resolution of what kind of yogi you will BE. "No matter what gets done or doesn't get done - who will I BE in this year to come?"

    However it unfolds, I wish you peace, passion and abundance. Happy New Year!


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