Maui Yoga Blog

Abhyasa and Vairagya: Effort and Release

In the first chapter of the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali describes two aspects of personal practice that will help us progress on our path of yoga – important qualities to understand for our practice on and off the mat.

The first is abhyasa, which is often described as sustained, consistent commitment to practice over time.  It is the effort it takes to repeatedly come back to the present moment, again and again. Distractions of all kinds abound in our world, so of course our attention is pulled away from the moment all the time. In yoga, it is the effort and subtle discipline to gently bring the mind back to present that matters. Here and now, this breath, this moment, is where it is all going on… where the truth of right action and calm may be found.  When we come back to now, it is then possible to relax our tension and breath into whatever is going on in body, mind and heart and attend to it with love.

Practicing arm balancing poses with Nadia Toraman

Vairagya is the aspect of practice, the complement to abhyasa,  and literally means ‘not getting stirred up’.  Sometimes it is translated as detachment or letting go. The essence of it is the practice of not reacting to your perceptions, letting things arise in our mind and experience without a knee-jerk reaction based on our conditioning from the past. Vairagya is allowing life to unfold fresh and new in each moment without telling the same stories about it again and again.

In the asana practice, think of a pose you have put forth considerable effort to get into over time. Suddenly you’re in the pose and the effort is balanced with a sense of letting go, release, surrender, or even floating. This is the essence of the practice, achieving a perfect balance of abhyasa and vairagya.

When we commit to this aspect of practice, confusion and judgment fall away, revealing the sweet equanimity that is the fruit of practice. This makes room for the love and light that is you to shine through!

Why do a 300 Hour Teacher Training?

As yoga educators and practitioners, we know our practice is as dynamic and changing as we are. Everyday we learn something new and encounter challenges in our life and in our practice and everyday we have an opportunity to apply the wisdom of yoga to help us grow and evolve.  

Our yoga path is a life path, and along the way we count on the support and experience of teachers and mentors that we trust to guide us and help illuminate and encourage our unique voice and creative gifts.  The best teacher is a good student, and your commitment to staying open to learning and growing insures that your practice and teaching stay fresh and inspiring. 

In our 300 Hour Training, we build on the foundational skills and knowledge of the 200 Hour Training, deepening and expanding  personal practice, teaching skills and philosophical understanding. 

The balance of personal mentoring attention and class and lecture time offers the opportunity to explore the particular areas of your interest. Subjects covered include development of skills in working one on one with students in your teaching practice, as well as a deep exploration of  yoga psychology and philosophy through Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.  

The fascinating and important contemporary research in neuroscience is fast becoming the language of body-mind practices and spirituality. In our class work we include these modern insights and science-based understandings to shed light on how yoga works in the body and mind. This knowledge makes yoga education accessible and relevant to so many people in our world ! There has never been more opportunity for yoga professionals to thrive and expand their work. Join us for our 300 Hour Training and expand the possibilities of service and fulfillment in your personal and professional life. 

Why take a yoga teacher training?

Some things that may cross your mind when asked about a teacher training:

I never plan to teach…

Don’t you have to be flexible to do yoga…

Yoga is only for spiritual people…

Nine months ago if I had been asked if I would take a teacher training I would have said all of those and then some! As cliched as it may sound, I didn’t find teacher training, teacher training found me.

After going through my own personal and spiritual awakening, I came to the conclusion that there had to be more to life than working for a corporation helping build someone else’s dream. During my awakening process (that is still, and will always be taking place) I made the transition from an extremely unhealthy and disheartening lifestyle, to one of vitality, wellbeing, and an overall zest for life. I was able to make this transition by beginning to look inward, and no longer relying on external factors to find peace.

During the transition I lost 70 plus pounds in 7 months, regained control of my life, and restored my inner hope. I was able to all of this through nutrition, daily exercise, and you guessed it…YOGA! Yoga absolutely transformed my life. Through yoga, I have been able to remember who I truly am, connect with my higher self, and fulfill my divine purpose in life.

In February of 2019, after making it an affirmation to lead a life of selfless service, I made plans to leave my job and move to beautiful mother Maui for the next phase of this awe inspiring life. On March, 19th, 2019, I hopped on a one way flight to Maui to begin my endeavor of becoming a yoga instructor.

Upon my arrival to Maui, I knew that I would be taking a yoga teacher training, I just did not know where. My second week on island I took a class at Maui Yoga Shala, and instantly resonated with the space. Immediately after class I signed up for the April 2019 Hawaii yoga teacher training.

During the 3 weeks of teacher training, I endured some of the rawest and most challenging emotions that that I have ever encountered. With the support of the Shala’s staff and teachers, as well as my fellow classmates I was able to overcome and conquer some heavy roadblocks and obstacles. Jai Ganesha!.

The teacher training program at Maui Yoga Shala is a full immersion program, that truly prepares and enables you for the next step as a yoga instructor. I truly enjoyed the morning philosophy, mantra, and chanting sessions with Chelsea & Shakta. I also enjoyed experiencing the variety of teaching styles from the array of instructors that the Shala has to offer.

Jennifer provided the perfect amount of tender, loving, support throughout the entire 3 weeks, while we dove into anatomy and pranayama breathing techniques. Nadia took us deep through our asana practice and the study of anatomy, really preparing us for sequencing and guiding classes.

On April, 27th, 2019, my classmates and I completed our 3 weeks of intensive training, and I could not have been more proud. I was given the great opportunity to begin guiding my own classes at the Shala right away, and am beyond grateful for that opportunity.

Looking back, I am very fortunate to have been able to share this experience with my classmates, and the staff & teachers at the Shala. Even if you never plan on teaching or guiding classes, yoga teacher training is a powerful, and life changing experience.

Aparigraha – The 5th Yama

We have been exploring the yamas, number 1 of the 8 limbs of Yoga. The yamas are the universal ethics; the foundations for a yogic lifestyle. Observance of the yamas progressively eliminates the temptations and   distractions that create suffering in our lives, and take energy away from our focus, growth and progress on our path. It takes practice  to understand and observe the yamas, but it is so worth it…the benefits of a kind, focused and clear mind are limitless for all areas of our lives.

The last of the yamas is aparigraha, and the translation from Sanskrit means without greed. On the surface, that seems clear – only taking or keeping what you need, not overindulging or hoarding. When we consume responsibly, we support a sustainable life, not only for ourselves, but for our community and planet. Being mindful about re-using and re-cycling matters more than ever…even small positive habits contribute to the health of our communities. 

mangos, farm stand, fruits, flowers
Mango abundance at the Maui Yoga Shala farm stand!

Aparigraha also points to a deeper letting go and non-attachment beyond just material things. We often cling to beliefs and judgments about our selves and our world that limit and create suffering – for ourselves as well as others. Sometimes we stubbornly hold onto habits of behavior and thinking that no longer serve us. Our yoga practice can help us develop the awareness to see our tendencies which hold on out of fear of some kind.  As we practice, we build the courage and the openness to let go…and trust that we will always have what we need.  Aparigraha encourages us to hold our life lightly, with an open hand, heart, and mind. 

Bramacharya – The 4th Yama

Bramacharya translated means ‘directing our energy to the Divine, to the Sacred’. For many dedicated Yogis, that is interpreted as a call to celibacy, so that all sexual energies may be directed toward awakening and spiritual evolution.  A broader understanding of Bramacharya can also be a wise use of all of our energies; making choices that support our highest good and the health of our spirit, mind and body. 

Our energy is powerful and influential, and as we learn to take responsibility for it and master it through the practices of yoga, we can direct it toward our good and the good of others. When we use our energy and our body in unconscious or careless ways, we often suffer the consequences and can hurt others in some way. Yoga practice empowers us to be present and attentive, awake in this moment in a way that supports our freedom to make wise choices. When we are, we can make appropriate choices to direct our words, actions and thoughts to serve what is highest in us, and in doing so be a positive example and influence on others. 

morning chants devotional kirtan Devi Ma
Morning chants and devotional songs

Our energy is a gift and our sexuality is sacred, and when we express it with others in the spirit of sacredness the best in us shines. All of our choices about how we treat our own body, the bodies of others, and the body of the Earth, in fact, really do matter. When we choose to elevate our energies to love and respect in spirit, mind and body, we uplift our hearts and the hearts of others. Remembering the sacred in all you do, say and think….that is Bramacharya.  

Asteya, the third Yama

Asteya means non-stealing. We know it to mean not to take what isn’t ours. If there is ever a questions of this, we have to stop and consider the action we’re about to take. But the subtle applications of asteya show up in all areas of our life, on and off the mat. The less obvious aspects of non-stealing are challenging, and often we have to learn how to see these patterns in order to change them.  Usually, stealing in any form emerges from fear.  Whether it’s a fear of not having enough or the fear of not being enough, the roots of fear need to be found before we understand and live asteya.

One of the many outward expressions of fear is jealousy.  When we’re jealous, we feel resentful of others who have what we think we want.  Envy is wishing we could possess the qualities, experiences, or items that another has.  Jealousy and envy often lead us to take what isn’t freely ours.  It is mentioned in some of the old texts that you will make major advances if you stay true to your practice but jealousy and envy will deter you from moving forward. Another consequence of a craving for what another has can be injury to ourself. For example, challenging poses require the proper foundations of work to accomplish. If we try to push ourselves to make them happen without taking the proper steps we can cause harm to our own bodies.

In our day-to-day lives, non-stealing means that we do not take from others on small or big levels and to respect the planet itself by giving back.  When we pass on the teachings of our lineage, we should honor and acknowledge our teachers.  If we use an idea of a co-worker’s, we need to give them credit.  When we take of the fruits of the earth at every meal, a moment of recognition and gratitude is in order.   The Yoga Sutra of Pantanjali teaches us that “to one established in asteya, all wealth comes.” Most of us have abundance in our lives and don’t recognize it – perhaps in material possessions, but additionally in health, love, beauty, clean air and water, fresh food to eat. 

Asteya is learning to appreciate the natural abundance all around us.

Warrior 2 Virabhadrasana II yoga teacher trainingf
New teachers Brittany Young and Stephanie Ujiiye in Warrior 2  (Sanskrit: वीरभद्रासन, Vīrabhadrāsana). Practice the yamas on and off the mat!

Generosity is the heart of asteya. When we feel grateful and fulfilled with what we have and who we are, we find that we have a lot to offer others. Gratitude allows aloha and love to flow from us naturally. Becoming generous and thoughtful beings is at the core of the practice of non-stealing. When we practice asteya, we cultivate a trust and a peaceful mind… and there is no greater wealth than a peaceful mind

Dancers Pose

Exploring the deeper meanings of the names, themes, and principles we find in yoga is part of the fun of being on the yoga path.  Regarding the Sankrit names for poses you might have asked “Why is that pose named that or who is it named after?”  You’ll find that besides being named after body parts and their actions or directions, animals, birds, qualities, nature, and other objects, some of the asanas are named after gods and sages.  One such pose is Natarajasana, or Lord of the Dance Pose, commonly called Dancers Pose with a variation called King Dancer Pose.

Natarajasana Maui Yoga Shala
Susie Miller in Dancers Pose

Who is Nataraja?  None other than Shiva himself as the cosmic dancer.  The name comes from the Sanskrit words नट nata meaning “dancer”, राज raja meaning “king”, and आसन asana meaning “posture” or “seat”.   A famous depiction of Shiva as the cosmic dancer can be seen in bronze statues now found around the globe.   He is a figure dancing in a circle of fire representing a cosmos of mass, time, and space, whose endless cycle of annihilation and regeneration moves in tune to the beat of Shiva’s drum and the rhythm of his steps.

As we become increasingly aware of our movements and breath in the practice we began to cultivate an ease which helps us fully express and embody the awesome qualities of the pose.  The grace that is experienced in that pose begins to translate into our lives.  We achieve strength, openness, and an elegance of form and action built upon the strength and powerful energy required to balance on one leg while in a deep backbend.  In this pose we we are fully engaged yet at peace – a principle to cultivate in any asana.   With practice and dedication  Natarajasana offers the opportunity to transmute the divine into a physical embodiment of beauty.

King Dancer Pose Maui Yoga Shala
King Dancer Pose

Mudra and mantra:  add these to your practice!

Mudra: Abhaya Mudrā  is the hand gesture of fearlessness.  It represents protection, peace, benevolence and the dispelling of fear.  The right hand is held upright, and the palm is facing outwards, similar to taking an oath or vow. One of Nataraja’s four hands is in this mudra.  It assures us to be not afraid, to be courageous on the path as we are bestowed with the blessings of peace and protection. 

Mantra: Om Namah Shivaya is one of the most beloved Hindu mantras and widely used amongst yogis and at spiritual programs.  It is a salutation to Shiva, one of the three primary deities of Hinduism, and literally translates to “I bow to Shiva.”    A powerful healing mantra which automatically brings us to awareness of the present moment, it is chanted in order to help realize the soul and possesses the qualities of prayer, meditation, divine love, grace, truth and blissfulness.  It can also be used as a greeting for the recognition of the higher Self in the other and yourself.

The Second Yama – Satya

The Yamas are practices that build our character, and progressively eliminate distractions and ‘static’ from our mind and heart. Satya naturally flows from the first Yama, Ahimsa. Satya means truth and sincerity and springs from our decision to do no harm, to cultivate peace and live in aloha. Furthermore, satya is being in alignment with the universal truth.

shoulder openers in yoga teacher training hawaii
Chelsea Bobowicz instructing a morning teacher training practice

The practice of telling the truth has many levels… speaking of what we do not know, seeing only our side of things and weaving a fantasies of how we think things should be are all subtle ways we compromise or avoid the truth. Satya starts with being honest with our self, being willing to tell our self the truth and be open to seeing the truth. This is no small endeavor ! To admit that we do not know, to admit to truth that is difficult to accept are challenging practices!  It takes compassion, humility and fierce commitment to the our personal growth. Many times we are less than honest because we fear losing something, so it does take courage to tell the truth, and patience to learn to communicate skillfully. And it is so worth it!

Speaking the truth is not always appropriate as it may harm someone unnecessarily – there is a time and place for all truth to be revealed. Living authentically isn’t always easy, but when we accept and tell the truth our hearts can rest in simplicity and we can move forward with clarity. Self-knowledge starts with sincerity, and that tender place of truth is the foundation of our beloved yoga practice.