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Maui Yoga Blog

A Life of Trust and Gratitude

The word for faith used in Yoga is sraddha. It refers to our faith in the practice, a trust in our own life and in the mystery that moves us and connects us. More than ever in times of transition, change and uncertainty, we need to lean into our faith and trust to keep going with our hearts and minds open. The practice of gratitude is a beautiful way to cultivate our faith and stay aligned with the wisdom of yoga.  Gratefulness expands our heart and helps us to see a bigger picture. Gratitude helps us to see with the eyes of love and trust.

Yin yoga sound healing maui
Instructor Danielle Bushell at Yin and Sound Healing yoga class

When we choose to live in gratitude, we are more able to say yes to life and wholeheartedly show up for the moments that we are given. When we befriend the fact that our lives are sacred and temporary, we are better able to remember what matters and to discern where wisdom is directing our attention and choices. Our yoga practice helps us remember and come back to harmony of body, mind and heart again and again. Even when things are uncertain or challenging, it is possible to choose gratefulness to help us see where the wisdom of growth and grace may be. 

Making the intention to live a life of gratefulness and trust is a brave choice, and it a choice that nourishes our heart and soul and keeps our hearts open to aloha and Light. We have been given the amazing wisdom tradition of yoga, a gift that illuminates our lives and helps us to live a life of meaning and gratitude. As we go deeper into our practice and the teachings this year let’s remember how very blessed we are to have and share Yoga! 

Practice

Yoga is a wisdom tradition that has been around for a long time, a philosophy realized and understood only through practice. This is one of the profoundly beautiful things about yoga – it is not only teachings and movements passed down through time, it is brought to life by our direct experience. It is personal and intimate…we breathe life into the teachings of yoga and make it our own with our practice.

There are so many reasons to devote ours selves to the practice of yoga – the resilience that develops over time, the quality of ease and balance in body and mind that comes more and more naturally. We never know what life will bring, or the growth and challenge that we will be called to. But when we practice, we know we are nourishing our strength so we can accept and meet each moment as best we can. 

Francesca in Urdhva Mukha Svanasana

Over many decades, my practice has changed and evolved right along with me. In times of expansion and progress, moments of sadness and loss, passages of forgetting and shadow, yoga has helped me return to my center of gravity. Turning with practice to the sovereign sanctuary within over the years has cultivated a deep steadiness that I give thanks for everyday. 

More than ever, we need our practice to cultivate a rooted, grounded presence that can stay open, fluid and ‘fit’… fit to meet whatever comes next. The more stable we feel, the safer we feel to be open in our heart and mind. Practice develops stability that we can lean into in as we evolve and grow. 

May we be devoted to what nourishes us and brings out the best in us. 

We are so blessed to have the teachings of yoga to illuminate our lives. We hope you will come practice with us soon!

Svadyaya – Know Thyself

Svadyaya, one of the Niyamas, is a beautiful Sanskrit word that means ‘reflecting on our self’, or self-study.  Traditionally, Svadyaya has been the study of sacred texts that gave us insight into our life.  Besides the texts it means even more for our practice on and off the mat. TKV Desikachar described it as ‘anything that helps us understand ourselves’, and is the foundation of a personal practice that truly reflects our deepest needs and aspirations.

Yoga philosophy sessions on the beach and svadyaya – know yourself in every moment

Honest self-inquiry isn’t always easy – it requires a willingness to be compassionate with our self, and look beneath our mind’s rationalizations. Each moment – every practice, every relationship – can be a mirror we look into to see our self, reflecting some truth back to us, giving us feedback about our strengths and the places we need to grow and tend to.  If we are willing to look at our self with the compassionate eyes of love, there is always information there for us that will guide our practice at every level. 

Our svadyaya helps us choose the right tapas, or discipline, based on where we need to develop and the aspirations we have for our growth. When our tapas and sadhana, or practice, is based on our ongoing practice of svadyaya, it supports balance and becomes true self-care. And self-reflection is not a selfish endeavor! As we look within and come to understand ourselves better, we naturally have more compassion and understanding for others.  As we care for ourself in a positive way, we naturally become more available and loving to others. What a blessing! 

Raja Yoga of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras

Raja Yoga refers to the ‘Royal Path’ of the Eight Limbs of Yoga. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is over 2000 years old, and is still one of the most enlightening  and insightful spiritual works of all time, as relevant and inspiring as ever. The word sutra means ‘thread’, and Patanjali weaves together the ‘threads’ of yogic knowledge into a path of our human possibility and potential. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali teach us the path of working with all aspects of our self, and, most importantly, becoming the master of our mind. Hence the term ‘Royal’ – the goal of this path, the practices and the philosophy, is to become the ruler of the vast territory of our mind, and in that way to reduce suffering and live a life of peace and ‘aloha’. 

One of the goals of this holistic and beautiful path is kaivalya, which is described in the 4th chapter of the Yoga sutras as the fruit of living the Raja Yoga, or Eight limbed path. The Sanskrit translation of the word kaivalya is often seen as ‘aloneness’, but a deeper translation refers to the wholeness and freedom of non-duality, of realizing in our being that we are sovereign  in ourselves, free from the conditioning that separates us from our true Self. Kaivlaya is the embodiment of yoga, a state of remembering who we are.

For us modern people, that may seem like a somewhat high aspiration, something not attainable for ordinary yogis. But Patanjali does remind us, in the first chapter of the sutras, 1:21, that for those of us that devote ourselves to regular practice, this goal of freedom is near. It is right here inside us, the gem of our being waiting to be polished by our regular practice, ready to shine as our light and love in the world. 

Yoga Heart

Yoga is a an age old practice of  joining body and mind,  and our attention to this moment.  As my teacher’s teacher, TKS Desikichar said  “Yoga is relationship”.  As we go deeper into the practices of yoga, we can see the quality of those relationships we have with our self, each other, and our world deepens and improves as well.  How is it that yoga does this? The answer is at the heart of the philosophy of yoga.

Yoga teacher training philosophy

Yoga is a lived philosophy, and we must practice it to truly understand it.   The practices help us to gradually shed the conditioned filters that cloud our perception and keep us from remembering our true heart and seeing the world clearly.  As we do our practices, linking our breath to our movement and our attention to our breath, our nervous system calms and our body systems enter a state of coherence, wherein our hearts and minds can align.  It is here in this state that we can see most clearly, and hear the voice of our own inner guidance and wisdom. 

Yoga brings us to the love and the harmony that is our heart’s nature. In our world sometimes we get distracted from that, and it’s easy to forget when we are stressed.  Yoga helps us remember who we are and get better and better at choosing the thoughts, words and actions that are aligned with what is best in us.  Our practice helps us to remember that we are all connected and we can choose each day to truly live from the heart.  Live Aloha!

The Power of Pranayama

Pranayama is the yoga science of extending and building our life force with our breath, and the benefits of regular practice are many.  A conscious breath practice links our mind with our body and directly affects our nervous system, bringing us into the present moment, and calming and relaxing all the systems of our body/mind.

Meditation and pranayama at Baby Beach, Paia

Our nervous system has two poles – the sympathetic nervous system, which signals threat, and the parasympathetic nervous system, which signals safety and allows relaxation. When the flight/fight side is stuck on, which it often is in our over-stimulated world, we feel stressed and anxious. That constant defensive mode is hard on our body, and distracts us from presence and connection with ourselves and each other. The power of the intentional breath practice, or pranayama, can switch on the relaxation and safety side of the nervous system with deep, slow, conscious focused breath. If we do this practice regularly, it can help us to sooth and re-train our nervous system to be more resilient and begin to default to a place of calm and relaxation. That gives us the benefits of more regulation of our emotions and less reactivity, as well as many other health benefits that come from releasing stress.

Pranayama helps us build the capacity to be fully present and clear, and more tuned into our self and our heart. 

Start by weaving a simple pranayama practice into each day, along with your asana practice, to start a meditation practice, or before you sleep and whenever you feel anxious. Begin with a simple deep breath, through your nostrils if you can, relaxing your belly and allowing your diaphragm to expand. Exhale fully and slowly, without forcing or tensing your breath. Find a smooth rhythm and continue for 3-5 minutes or more.  Done regularly, pranayama can make such a helpful and profound difference for you.

May you cultivate and reap the benefits of this powerful Yoga practice! 

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and Asana (Pt. 2)

One learns that one’s body is the bow, the asana is the arrow, and the target is the soul. – BKS Iyengar

Continuing our series on the three definitive sutras by Patanjali on asana, we turn our attention to sutra 2.47. The previous sutra (2.46) mentions that the yoga posture has or is to be sthira, stillness and stability, and sukham referring to ease, comfort, and openness (see Part 1). While there are many modern yoga texts with pictures and descriptions of yoga poses we begin to see that the Yoga Sutras is more about our relationship to reality via the mind on it’s path to realizing the soul. The three sutras on asana address the mind-body-spirit connection.

2.47 prayatna shaithilya ananta samapattibhyam
Perfection in the posture is achieved when the effort to perform it becomes effortless and  attention merges with  the infinite.

By relaxing the effort and fixing the mind on the infinite [ananta], asana is perfected.  Ananta, a word meaning “unending” or “infinite,” describes what is timeless, beyond birth, growth, death, and all modifications—a limitless state of joy and contentment. This sweet, natural state of ours, beyond the things of the senses, is embodied by the vast mythological serpent, Ananta, whose coils support the universe and who serves as Vishnu’s couch.   Vishnu rests on this great serpent couch floating in the cosmic ocean between incarnations as an avatar on earth.

​Think of a hip opener like eka pada raja kapotasana,  one legged royal pigeon pose:

-A considerable effort is made 
-The pose is held and maintained
-We have to consciously move beyond the initial resistance from the muscles
-The resistance or “tightness” is connected to the movements in the mind, the thoughts
-We may experience a flood of mental or emotional activity
-Through our perseverance and awareness, a stillness of mind and a state of balance is attained when we witness ourselves and let go 
-The hip begins to open as relaxation in the mind and body happen simultaneously
-All merges in the seat of the soul.

This feeling of oneness is boundless and universal!  

Discussing asana in the philosophy class, we ask the students to begin observing the state of the mind in a pose.  The deeper we get into the practice, the more aware we become of the ability to bring ourselves to a place beyond thought.  We’ve all heard before “don’t think, just do!”   The pose itself offers us a primordial power when we find ourselves nicely aligned in it.  That energy, or shakti, awakens and begins to move freely within us.  A thought  can return and block this flow so we do our best to stay one-pointed and present.  The more we visit this state of yoga, the more established we become in the practice for life!   

Sādhanā – practice, or spiritual practice, a means to accomplish
Ekāgratā – one-pointedness, undisturbed attentiveness
Shakti – power or empowerment, the primordial cosmic energy that represents the dynamic forces that move through the entire universe

Yoga teacher training

Part 3 of the Yoga Sutras and asana coming up – find out what happens when we perfect the pose…

Chakras

Swirling, expanding and contracting, a column of energetic wheels aligned from the base of our spine to the crown of our head,  the chakras pulse as centers of spiritual power in the human body.

Chakra meditation with Devin Koppel, YTT graduate, Paia, Maui Yoga

Chakra is a Sanskrit word meaning wheel, circle, or disc.  The fine network of energetic lines called nadis that run through our body meet at these 7 colorful centers making up a rainbow spectrum.   The Chakras regulate all functions of our body and energy systems.

How can we become more aware of these mysterious power centers within us? The answer may come with the natural state of being that the yoga practice brings us.

Once the mind reaches a point of stillness, we are able to realize these pulsating, light filled spinning wheels.

Because of the infinite nature of our inner being, it’s said that each chakra contains lokas, or worlds, and are inhabited by devatas, or deities.

Here’s some more insight into each chakra, what they represent & govern.

Lotus Mudra with Devin & Tahnee Shim at Kepaniwai Heritage Gardens, Iao Valley, Maui Yoga. Photo by Ken Fields
anahata chakra

The seventh chakra, sahasrara, floats above the crown of the head. Often referred to as a thousand-petaled lotus, it is said to be the most subtle in the chakra system, and is related to pure consciousness, our connection to Divinity.

ajna chakta third eye

The sixth chakra, ajna, is located at the third eye. It is associated with the color violet or indigo, and with higher knowledge, the subtle aspects of sight, and with intuition. It is associated with the syllable “OM”.

vishuddha throat chakra

The fifth chakra, vishuddha, is located in the throat. It is associated with the color pale blue or turquoise.  Vishuddha means “very pure.”  It is associated with the element “ether,” and is related to your ability to speak truth, express ideas clearly, and be attuned to inner and outer vibrations.  It is associated with the syllable “HAM”.

anahata heart chakra

The fourth chakra, anahata, is located at the heart center. It is associated with the color green, and its name references an “unstruck chord”, or unbeaten. It is represented by a lotus flower with twelve petals. The seed sound is “YAM”.  It is associated with the element air.

manipura chakra solar plexus

The third chakra, manipura, is located in the solar plexus/navel area. It is associated with the color yellow and the syllable “RAM”. It is often translated as “city of jewels.” This chakra is associated with fire and the power of transformation.

svadhishthana sacral chakra

The second chakra, svadhishthana, is located in the sacral area. It is associated with the color vermillion or orange, and the sound “VAM”.  It is connected with the sense of taste, and with reproduction.

muladhara root chakra

The base chakra, muladhara, is also called the root chakra, and is located just above the pelvic floor. It is associated with the sense of smell, and represents earthly grounding  The color is red, and the seed syllable is “LAM”.

When practicing asana, each posture has an affect on the chakras to help bring about balance and the ability to fully use your intuition, imagination, wisdom, knowledge, and inner powers.  One example is sirshasana, or headstand, which stimulates the sahasrara chakra at the crown of your head to enhance clarity of vision, intuition, and your connection to Divinity. 

How can we go about our lives with an awareness of our energetic bodies and their functions?  The yoga practice offers many methods to balance, activate, or visualize the chakras,   One way is by simply chanting the bija mantra, sanskrit for seed, associated with each chakra.  The bija mantras are one-syllable sounds that, when said aloud, activate the energy of the chakras in order to purify & balance the mind & body. Try it!  Repeat the mantra below visualizing each chakra starting with the base or root chakra, the muladhara, working your way up to the crown chakra.  The a is pronounced with an ah sound:

LAM

VAM

RAM

YAM

HAM

OM

a moment of silence…

get a rhythm going & repeat as many times as you like!

Meditation at Baldwin Beach, Maui Yoga

The 7 major chakras also interact with our body through the endocrine system (a seven gland system) which is one of the body’s main control mechanisms. The endocrine system produces the hormones that stimulate or inhibit physiological processes.  How does a change in our consciousness does affect our physical body? 

Crown chakra (Sahasrara, color violet): pineal gland – spirituality and divine awareness.

Third eye chakra(Ajna, color indigo): between eyebrows, pituitary gland, intuition.

Throat chakra(Vishuddhi, color blue): throat area, thyroid, communication and self-expression.

Heart chakra (Anahata, color green): heart area, thymus, compassion, love, and healing.

Solar plexus chakra (Manipura, color yellow): navel area, pancreas, self will, self esteem, courage, and personal power.

Sacral chakra (Svadhisthana, color orange): genital area, ovaries, creativity, emotion and sensuality.

Root chakra (Muladhara, color red): base of the spine, gonads, safety and survival, sense of belonging.

The heart is the hub of all sacred places. Go there, and roam.

– Bhagawan Nityananda