Yoga Mats, Spirituality, and the “Mundane”

yoga-mat-1743203_960_720

By Anya Light

 

Yoga doesn’t have to be complicated. We can practice yoga in a simple, barebones fashion. We can go minimalist: with nothing but the green grass under our feet, the blue sky over our heads, and the inner wisdom of our heart to guide us.

 

Yoga is simple. Nevertheless, it sometimes can be super exciting to discover resources that open up new dimensions to the practice.

 

 

FINDING YOUR SOULMATE YOGA MAT

 

Lately I’ve been thinking about yoga mats. Because my hands and feet sweat super easily, the yoga mat I currently own (which I picked up for a few bucks at a grocery store) is not that wonderful. It’s a piece of crap, actually. I need better traction. It’s frustrating trying to hold downward dog correctly when my hands are slip-sliding all over the place!

 

Recently, the Universe magically brought me into a lovely email exchange with Jericka Lambourne, writer and researcher over at Reviews.com. And I discovered her recent geek-fest with yoga mats.

 

Seriously, someone should give this woman a PhD in Yoga Mats! She spent over fifty hours testing over thirty different mats in various temperatures and conditions, such as carpet and hardwood floor; interviewing yoga teachers and studio owners; and researching the technology and history of various brands.

 

If a yoga mat is on your Christmas list this year, I recommend checking out Jericka’s research. It’s pretty cool.

 

 

THE FALSE DISTINCTION BETWEEN SPIRITUALITY AND THE MUNDANE

 

Why the heck am I talking about yoga mats?

 

Am I getting distracted from more “spiritual” topics?

 

As you know, my friends, spirituality is my life. It’s what I eat, breathe, drink. It’s the reason I was able to heal myself from life-threatening chronic illnesses and dig myself out of the holes of PTSD and suicidal depression. However, I also have learned that some so-called spiritual teachings, spiritual teachers, and spiritual paths don’t always lead to the most fulfilling places. The spiritual landscape is not perfect here on this Earth. After some rather disheartening experiences, I am now quite vigilant about spotting fake gurus, false “feel good” materialistic teachings, and other detours. I’ve been fooled in the past and I don’t want to be fooled again.

 

With that having been said, I do believe there is a lovely balance that can be struck.

 

Too often in our spiritual journey we make the distinction between the mundane and the spiritual. Between the material and the spiritual. Real life versus everything else. Consensus reality versus higher ideals. 3D versus higher consciousness. And yet what does this categorizing really accomplish? Does it truly help us?

 

Sometimes these mental distinctions can actually get in the way of living our lives in the most authentic way possible. Sometimes these categorizations can actually block us from experiencing flow and harmony.

 

I honor and deeply appreciate how external “things” can often aid in the enjoyment of life. A shiny new outfit can bring a burst of confidence during a job interview. A new knife can bring an added sense of ease and harmony to the cooking process. A new pillow made with organic materials can bring higher vibrational dreams. Crystals in the home can serve to protect and rejuvenate empathic people. A quality yoga mat can help us hold certain postures more effectively, more deeply.

 

Is it materialistic to want a new yoga mat? No, not unless such a wanting takes over and becomes a compulsive obsession. Is it materialistic to want money or intimate relationships? No, not unless such preferences take you away from the enjoying the present moment of exactly where and how you are now.

 

 

THE AWESOMENESS OF EVERYDAY LIFE

 

In my view, the objects of “everyday life” can certainly be enjoyed, relished, and savored—with mindfulness.

 

Perhaps this is more of an advanced lesson than some would like. That’s okay. If what feels right to you at this time is shunning the entire monetary system altogether and making a beeline for the nearest commune, monastery or cave, that’s okay. But if you are where I am, maybe the thing for you to do is to strike that oh-so-delicate balance between “the mundane” and “the spiritual.”

 

When we think about the worth or value of an object like a yoga mat, we must remember that objects are not just objects…they are more. Every plant, animal, mineral, person, and supposedly “inanimate” object is made up of chiti (a Sanskrit term meaning consciousness). Everything is alive. Indigenous cultures have known this forever, and if you’ve ever participated in a plant medicine ceremony or a shamanic journey, you’ll have had direct experience with this truth.

 

Every part of the Universe, from the tiniest atom to the brightest star, is a living reflection of the Divine Source. Everything is God.

 

While it is certainly good to avoid being trapped by the shallow mindsets of our overly-materialist mainstream society, it can be just as detrimental to remain ignorant of the power that objects have to affect our consciousness. We are all energy. Each thing has life, a vibrational force that subtly (or greatly) affects us. For example: if we fail to take care of our possessions and allow our home to become dirty, dusty, and cluttered, we will feel this as a certain subtle heaviness in our daily lives, a certain sadness or dullness. If, on the other hand, we take care of our living environment with regular tidiness and cleaning, then there will be more flow, order, and peace in our daily lives.

 

The external is the internal; the internal is the external.

 

All is one.

 

Everything is spiritual.

 

p

Funny Yoga

yoga adriene

Lately I’ve been reflecting on my yoga journey. I’ve come to some cool realizations.

One of the things I’ve realized is this: Yoga is always always awesome, but it can be even more awesome when we have wonderful teachers to guide us.

Today I’d like to tell you about one of my humble yoga guides.

Her name is Adriene.

(Note: In case you were wondering, this is not a paid endorsement; I am simply passing along my enthusiasm.)

 

YOGA WITH ADRIENE

On the spiritual path of yoga, it can be all-too-easy to fall into the trap of Mr. or Ms. Serious Pants. We can forget that the practice is meant to bring ease, joy, and even bliss.

During the past year, I’ve fallen absolutely in love with the Yoga with Adriene on Youtube.

What I love about Adriene is the incredible unique light she shines! She makes puns! She talks about farts! Her dog makes random cameos. Her wacky, oddball, irreverent brand of humor is perfect for me, making me laugh and helping me get out of my head.

When we are laughing, we simply cannot be stressed!

Laughter literally brings us right into the present moment.

I love Adriene. She is the Cosmic Clown in my living room, ready at a moment’s notice, helping me smile and breathe from one asana to the next.

For many years, I have tried many, many yoga teachers on Youtube, but have never found a teacher that really stuck with me. I always found in-person teachers far superior.

But now I am hooked on Adriene. I actually haven’t paid money to attend a yoga class in months.

Adriene’s become my yoga pal. Her adorable, encouraging voice is now permanently stuck in my head. “Find what feels good” is her mantra, and that is so wonderful for me, a person who has only recently learn to love her body after a long battle with trauma and chronic illness. For me, it’s imperative I find what feels good and to make my daily yoga “discipline” full of pleasure and lighthearted joy.

And I love Adriene for more than just her humor. Her routines are always unique, fresh, intuitive, and easy to follow. Furthermore, she is simply a master at perfectly describing body placement with her voice so her viewers can stay present with their bodies and keep their eyes off the screen. It’s wonderful. How online yoga should be.

Hands down, she is the best online teacher I’ve ever found. I would bet that someone with absolutely no yoga experience could watch one of her beginner classes and actually begin a solid home practice. (In fact, I invite my readers to watch one of her videos and tell me what you think in the comments below! I want to hear about your experience with Adriene!)

While my beautiful teacher doesn’t dive too deeply into the more esoteric aspects of yoga, such as Sanskrit, kundalini awakening, chakras, or spiritual enlightenment, what she does bring to the table is exactly what I need on those rather stressful days when I have accidentally become Ms. Serious Pants.

Her vibrant, fun energy is a perfect reminder for someone like me (who tends to take life wayyyyy too seriously) to Lighten Up!

Find what feels good!

Power in the Practice of Yoga

coast-1834827_960_720

I think about how we define yoga.

I think about what it means to say, “I do yoga.”

I think about it because I feel a conviction about re-choosing it before every practice in order to practice purposefully. And, more and more, I feel obligated to find authenticity in my practice and in myself.

 

Defining Yoga

If you open Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, you will find these words in Sutra 1.2: “Yogas Citta Vrtti Nirodhah.” While the Sanskrit may seem complex, it actually helps us to define what yoga is.

There are several ways of translating this phrase, and yoga scholars toil over translating it precisely. Here is one way that I particularly like: “The restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff is Yoga” (Satchidananda, 2007, 3). In other words, through yoga we learn to manage stillness in the mind.

But achieving this stillness is no simple task.

Here in this post, I want to cast a light on yoga that illuminates its connection to power. Power has many meanings, but, simply, it is the ability to manage thought and behavior. Specifically, I want to discuss how, in mastering the fluctuations of the mind, we are facilitating and strengthening a flow of power within us.

To clarify, I am not referring to powerful control over others; rather, I am referring to the mastery of one’s own mind.

Why is it useful to have this discussion of yoga’s relationship to power? It is useful first because power is both elusive and necessary: it is difficult to define, and yet it is a force that we all need in order to move freely and kindly in our worlds. Secondly, it is useful because yoga may not only help us to recognize the presence of power that exists already—for it is often the realization that power is even present at all that is a first step in channeling it—but it may also help us to strengthen it in our lives.

 p

Power imagined

As an idea, power may be known to us by the dream of what we could do with it, or by how we feel “without” it. We may believe that power will help us to rise above or push through the difficulties of anxiety, chronic illness, conflict, unhappiness, or pain. In so doing, we may believe that it will bring us the energy, strength, motivation, or courage to negotiate those difficulties.

On the other hand, and rather than reaching for the dream of power, we may find ourselves feeling a deficit of power: downtrodden, weak, frightened, at the mercy of something else. In all of these aspects, we are right about how we imagine power.  For each of us as individuals, purposeful and nurturing power is both needed and deserved.

 

Power and protection

A few years ago, a friend asked me how I could possibly commit to practicing first thing in the morning every day. She said, “I would much rather just let my day unfold, to see what happens.” To her, I responded: “That is why I practice. I want to prepare myself for what might unfold.”

Before I began my journey with yoga, I had adapted over decades to awakening in fear and compulsion. It was a ritualistic stress inoculation that I developed as a small child in a stormy, inappropriate grown-up environment. My power took the form of a clenched-hearted surveillance: what could possibly happen today that I won’t expect? What mistakes might I make? How might I upset someone else, or become upset because of someone else? Whom might I disappoint? What if I become hungry? Or tired? Or confused? What if my world is unsafe today? My unending anxiety was a power-draining illness. It presented in my little body with physical symptoms, and it stayed up all night in my dreams.

Of course, we can get used to almost anything, and this form of power stayed with me for many years as if it were my own skin. To be sure, it consistently felt much more like prison than power.

 

Power re-imagined

As many do, I stumbled into yoga. And the shift was immediately palpable. Through yoga, I felt a quieting in the mind. Some days subtle, some days profound. Each day a relief. But also a fear: would this relief take away my power as I had known it? Would I become vulnerable without it? Could I even survive?

“The restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff is Yoga.” As Pattabhi Jois said, “Do your practice, and all is coming.” Over years, and with dedication to practice (a daily leap of faith), my power has been transformed. Indeed, it was a kind of power that gave strength to the vigilant fear-noise, the angst-ridden fluctuations of mind that aimed to protect me from what might happen. But the quieting of the mind has freed a dynamic flow of power that is composed of:

~the endurance I have always had and the fortitude I have built,

~the spirit I was born with and the wisdom I have developed, and

~the dream of self-love that has stayed with me and the realization of worth that has emerged over time.

In practice, power feels like breath, balance, courage, calm, strength, love, patience, acceptance. In my life off the mat, power is a graceful presence that weaves together the mind, body, and spirit into something not needful, but rather abundant and authentic.

In as much as it is these things, it is also—always—the relief of that hypervigilance that I remember viscerally. Sometimes it feels like floating in the absence of anxiety. And it takes some time to realize that the floating is not vulnerability, but power.

 

Power manifested in practice

Yoga allows us to sense power in multiple forms. Maybe it manifests itself as the audible, palpable release of breath through discomfort, whether it be in the physical body or deep within the emotional or spiritual realm. Perhaps, while we struggle with feeling overtaken by chronic illness, our practice reveals to us a power to maintain strength or comfort or even resilience in the body.

At other times, power manifests as a kind of will, as in a challenging pose: the body wrestles with fear or memory, but the will convinces the fear to abate. Sometimes, power manifests as a peaceful overthrowing of accumulating anxiety: the storm of anxiety rages, but peace floods in and reigns over it with calm.

Or, the presence of power can be as simple (and as challenging) as finding the strength to pull oneself out of bed, into the uncertainty of the day, and onto the mat. To be sure, many days of early morning Ashtanga practice have begun that way for me: on those days, it is enough just to find the ability to push through the morning melancholy and aching desire to hide from myself, in order to find my feet standing in Samasthitihi. Sometimes, I don’t know quite how I got there at the top of my mat, other than to trust that I must have transitioned from bed to mat by a gentle power that I have cultivated over time.

All the while on this journey, the memories of transformation remain steadfast and continue to accumulate. Perhaps they do for you, too. This presence of power—still fleeting—can itself be a reminder of the difficulties we have experienced, and might still be experiencing. Why didn’t I discover yoga as a child? Where was this power when I needed it? And worst of all: what if this power goes away? Although the anxiety is painful to remember, painful to process, yoga is there for us to take its shape in the body and find the breath.

And as we transform, we can hold our memories with some warmth when we consider the wise words of Richard Freeman, who has said, “Yoga ruins your life.”

It does. It ruins it beautifully.

 

267f26eb5a6b0106f0791a31bbd29b45

 

Rebecca Ingalls, Ph.D., BSN, RN, is a former Associate Professor of English, and is now a registered nurse and a nurse-midwifery student. She is a mother of two, and she has been practicing Ashtanga Yoga for nine years. She lives with her family in Philadelphia.

How I Healed Myself with Kundalini Yoga

dominik-wycislo-122568

Our body communicates with us.

Six years ago, I was suffering from persistent stomach cramps.

I didn’t want to visit the doctor because I didn’t have health insurance and I was afraid of the cost. I wanted to figure things out on my own.

At first, I started drinking more water and I changed my eating habits. (I was physically active already, so I knew it wasn’t that I needed more exercise.) Yet, the cramps continued.

So, I started thinking about yoga, because I knew it was supposed to be good for the body and mind. I got into research mode; in doing so, I discovered Kundalini Yoga and decided to give it a try.

It was through Kundalini Yoga that I learned about energetic explanations for physical issues. Through Kundalini, I learned about chakras and discovered they’re one of the ways our body communicates with us.

Kundalini Yoga is different than other types of yoga because it’s less focused on alignment and more focused on the internal energy, circulation, and glandular secretions. It incorporates meditation, breathwork, and mantra into the sets. The mantras can be used for protection, peace, courage, and more.

Kundalini is a type of energy that’s with us from the time we are born. It’s our life force, known by Reiki practitioners as Ki, and is located at the base of the spine (root chakra).

When this Kundalini energy is dormant, it’s coiled up tight like a spring; as it wakes up and uncoils, our chakras are cleaned and strengthened.

There are seven main chakras located up and down the spine. Chakras are energy centers that regulate specific functions in the body. Once I knew about them and what they do, I was able to figure out the root cause of my cramps.

The root cause was an imbalance in my solar plexus chakra (located in the stomach area). This chakra distributes life force energy throughout the body; it’s our power center. It helps us express will, enthusiasm, and creativity, so we can make and do.

If this center is weak or blocked, there will be unusual tiredness and nervousness, along with stomach and intestinal problems, as well as liver and kidney problems.

My body was indeed trying to tell me something.

My solar plexus was letting me know that things needed to change.   

When I made the decision to use yoga as a way to heal my stomach cramps, I consistently practiced two routines. First, I worked with Kundalini postures and mantras that focused on detoxing and destressing, as well as those that dealt with the solar plexus. Secondly, I read a lot about chakras and their functions, basically making a conscious effort to see them as healthy and balanced.

I continued these practices for several months, practicing at least four times a week, and it worked. My stomach pain was healed.

I’m happy to say the stomach cramps have never returned. My solar plexus is healthy and I plan to keep it that way.

I believe practicing Kundalini Yoga and learning about our chakras is an easy way to bring healing into our lives.

unnamed

 

 

Sarah Atwell lives in Oregon and is currently studying various methods of healing. Connect with her on Facebook.

Ashtanga Yoga: A Practice of Faith

stones-944149_960_720

Awakening is recursive. In Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, the breath leads the body in a sequence of memorized poses (asanas), the yogi comes to the mat daily to practice that sequence, and the teacher offers additional asanas one by one as the student is deemed ready. In this style of yoga, the wisdom in the dynamic, conscious repetition is that it is never truly repetition, but rather an energy of awareness that reverberates in a folding and unfolding. The awakenings that develop repeatedly fall back to sleep, only to be revived when the student returns to the breath and to the spirit of the practice.

The practice

Ashtanga is a 6-day-per-week, early-morning practice. There is no practice on Saturdays, New or Full Moon days, or during Lady’s Holiday (the menstrual cycle). On all other days, there is practice.

Mysore-style Ashtanga—the method that is practiced in Mysore, India, where Shri K. Pattabhi Jois (“Gurujii”) developed the Ashtanga Yoga Institute, and where his grandson Sharath leads the institute now that Gurujii has passed—involves an intimate relationship between student and teacher. Around the world, those who have been trained in Mysore are given permission to cultivate this relationship with students in the shala, the yoga space. Traditionally, the student arrives at the shala each day and begins the series of asanas that they have been practicing. There are 6 series, and everyone begins with Primary series. Asanas are given by the teacher to the student when the teacher deems the student ready. For each student, the practice progresses uniquely: although there are standard sequences, the work of the teacher involves helping each student to find the shape in their body. Fundamental to the practice is the philosophy that all humans can do it, regardless of age, sex, gender, or limitation. Moreover, amid the enculturated pressure to compete or to worry about lack of accomplishment and the constraints of time, there are these traditional words from Gurujii: “Do your practice, and all is coming.”

7th Series

Gurujii used to say that family life is 7th Series. After practicing Ashtanga for many years with beloved teachers, I returned to school full-time to study nursing and nurse-midwifery. In my previous career as a professor, I could connect with my children before leaving for the shala; but my new nursing school schedule meant earlier morning classes, and I could not bring myself to go to the shala in darkness without bonding with my small children at the beginning of the day. The choice was as natural as the commitment to practice itself had become.

And so, my practice is now self-led at home, where I place my mat right in the middle of the morning’s motions—roll it out, chant, begin. From my mat, I watch my little ones eat breakfast and wiggle into their day. In the 90 minutes that it takes to move from first asana to last, I negotiate the breath and body while wiping a nose, relaying a reminder about putting one’s bottom in one’s seat, snuggling, settling a dispute. My partner moves through the space between kitchen and table, in charge of the morning’s routines while I practice, and the breeze of the back-and-forth is ever present.

Ingalls_Kapotasana_37Weeks
Me, in Kapotasana at 37 weeks pregnant

On some days, it feels especially challenging to work around obstacles like sickness, interruption, stiffness, soreness, or stress. But the difficulty works with and through the soul, and I strive to rest in that difficulty. In this contested space, I do the same asanas I have been doing for years, and each asana is a new iteration because change has occurred in each one of us. This practice is “mine”—it happens to my body, my mind, and my soul. But the awakening that emerges—so unlike the one before it—is a synergistic event in which I become more aware of my pain and fear, my purpose in my world, the ever-developing energy of my children, the inspired growth of my partner, expectations, presence, memories, sensory connections, fatigue and renewal, will, and love. Although I have much to gain when I reconnect with a teacher in the shala, my practice in my home amid stormy, delightful family forces is also a powerful teacher.

Mind, breath, body, light

The noise in the mind is as loud and incessant as torrential rainfall. In this yoga, we move with the audible ujjayi breath from asana to asana, choosing to devote our attention to the breath and away from the mind noise. The asanas ask us to develop comfort and calm in the challenge of discomfort—to find opening in the body as we breathe through struggle, fear, and the egoic joy of accomplishment. The practice offers a way through darkness. The series is a dense forest, with gnarly roots, creatures known and unknown, patches of clearing, the sound of adventure, and the ache and vulnerability of getting lost. With its spirit of healing and inquiry, the practice has accompanied me off the mat through childbirth, relationships, parenting, decision-making, anxiety and depression, work. It has light and lightness to offer in exchange for a deep commitment, even when doubt persists. The body opens, the mind’s Watcher witnesses, and awakening occurs.

No two humans in the same asana experience revelation in the same ways—and yet, the connection is there because revelation is happening and we honor the breath that keeps us alive. Not only do we realize that we have strength in the arms, legs, and belly, but we see how that strength—and the calm that accompanies it—radiates through us and into the lives around us. The deep awareness that grows in awakening leans toward peace and humility, and into fierceness of compassion. The asanas become a practice of faith that we vow to continue, and the challenge of maintaining that practice presents resistance that we decide to overcome. When we move through struggle, we see possibility and hope. As we bend, we listen. As we experience lightness, we offer light. Beginning the day in a conscious nexus of mind, soul, and body is not an inoculation for what is to come—it is a heartfelt immersion in being. In our humanness, we connect; in our connection, we transcend our humanness.

267f26eb5a6b0106f0791a31bbd29b45

 

Rebecca Ingalls, Ph.D., BSN, RN, is a former Associate Professor of English, and is now a registered nurse and a nurse-midwifery student. She is a mother of two, and she has been practicing Ashtanga for nine years. She lives with her family in Philadelphia.

Welcome to AWAKENING WITH!

flash-845848_960_720

Dear friends,

Welcome!

The call to begin this blog was like a bolt of lightning.

It was magic.

We are compelled to share what has been gifted from the Universe to our hearts. We must do it. The lightning has struck. It is time.

Our intention for AWAKENING WITH is to share articles about a variety of practices and paths for spiritual awakening, such as Yoga, Meditation, Reiki, Tarot, Tantra, Herbalism, and more.

Through the words that are channeled through us, it is our intention to offer you courage, comfort, insight, joy, and love. Our purpose is to excite you! Our purpose is to inspire you! We want to embrace you and shine a light for your path.

Dear friends, as we walk together on this planet, supported by each other, embraced by each other, we come to realize that Reiki is more than a healing method and Yoga is more than a way to exercise the body. Meditation is more than a way to lower our blood pressure and Tarot is more than a way of predicting the future. These things, rather, are ways of waking up. Of enlightenment.

The spiritual paths we will discuss in this blog are vibrations. They are specific frequencies, into which we have the power to consciously tune. In the beginning, we tune to these frequencies in times of struggle and suffering. At first, they are our safety net: a way to momentarily escape or soften suffering. Eventually, however, these vibrations become who we are. (Not sure how everything has a vibrational frequency? Keep reading AWAKENING WITH…there is more on that to come!)

When a Reiki session becomes as typical as brushing our teeth, when a Tarot reading feels as normal as laying our head down on the pillow at night, when unrolling a Yoga mat feels as simple and sweet as eating a meal, we begin to taste our Buddha nature. We begin to relax into higher vibrations. And the distinction between “practice” and “the rest of life” simply melts away.

As we awaken in consciousness, these expanded, higher vibrational states are recorded daily into every cell of our bodies, effortlessly melting away every fear, pain, and trauma that has been encoded there since childhood.

Ultimately, awakening is not some wacky supernatural thing that happens to some lucky few. Rather, it is a natural, evolutionary process. One that happens to all of us, eventually.

Dear friends, we welcome you to the AWAKENING WITH blog! Thank you for being here.

May we be a blessing unto your heart and a light unto your path.

 

Love,

Anya Light

& the AWAKENING WITH writers


17634834_10208840758911756_17992593316202331_n