What is your inner guru? As you may have guessed, your inner guru is your own wisdom, accessed by turning inwards. The wisdom of the inner guru comes to us in many ways. Perhaps you mention to a friend that you’ve been grappling with a decision and soon after you say this, the answer becomes clear. Maybe you are a creative type and your ideas seem to pop-up out of nowhere. If you are a parent, partner or business owner, perhaps your inner guru shines through most brightly when you suddenly discover new ways to meet the needs of all who depend on you.
The inner guru is evident when you find yourself making decisions with greater and greater ease – and everything works out. Or, things don’t work out but you don’t get very upset about it. As we become wiser with the help of our inner guru, not only do we feel more clear about which direction is the best one for us but we meet the less-than-perfect situations in life with more patience and grace.
Ayurveda grew out of the desire to contact the wisdom of the inner guru. It was developed by people like you and I who wanted answers to the most difficult questions we face in life: who am I? How should I live? How can I find meaning and fulfillment? After thousands of years of inquiry and experimentation, this body of knowledge has been made available to us. Ayurveda offers a host of practices for reconnecting with our inner guru.
The first step in rediscovering the voice within is detoxifying the body — gently and safely. Ayurveda proposes that toxins in our bodies prevent the free and clear flow of biological intelligence. When our body doesn’t function properly we experience indigestion, restlessness, indecision, fatigue, emotional turbulence and other physical and psychological discomforts that prevent clear thinking. So, Ayurveda says that we must, first, optimize digestion, which allows detoxification to happen naturally. We can alter our diet, exercise routine or daily regimen; take herbs, meditate or do yoga. Ayurveda meets you where you’re atand says, “What are you willing to change right now? Let’s make a plan that is realistic for you,”.
Taking an asana vacation was not something I had ever considered before. I love my daily practice and feel that is the best way to start my day. As I planned my adventure through Europe I had every intention of getting on my mat each day. I imagined myself waking up, taking my mat onto the balcony of my hotel and moving my body. Here is what really happened. I woke up exhausted from the day before, slightly upset that I had slept in, missed my asana practice, decided I must be a bad yogi, and then began a day of fabulous sightseeing mixed with a moderate amount of guilt. That was until I began my official asana vacation. After five days of guilt I decided to let go of my rigid plan for myself and to actively live the other parts of my practice instead, the parts that maybe get left as an afterthought to the physical side of practice.
An asana vacation for me is intentional time away from my mat to actively live the other limbs of yoga. This can be fantastic rest for the body, and an asana vacation can also provide some deep insight about how the other limbs of yoga are being integrated into your life.
As I began my asana vacation I noticed was that I was more reactive in my interactions with people. Whereas normally my physical practice offered me some space for contemplation and mindfulness, during this asana vacation it became necessary to intentionally take that time, to breathe a little deeper moment to moment and create that same space through breath. I find asana practice a wonderful tool to keep my anxiety in check, and without that time on my mat I noticed that I was taking moments in my day to breathe deeply and stretch my body when I could feel my anxiety rising.
This asana vacation provided me some deep insight into why I get on my mat each day, and to see if I could find those same benefits though moment to moment mindfulness and knowledge. What I found was that there were moments where I was already living my yoga off the mat, as well as areas to work on. On the whole my asana vacation reenforced my dedication to this incredible practice.
Have you ever taken an intentional or unintentional asana vacation?
Travel Yoga is, in my experience, the least convenient, yet one of the most important types of yoga. Travel yoga is, simply, the yoga we make the time for while travelling. It’s easy when we’re away from home to forget about the daily practices that make our lives richer because there are so many new experiences capturing our attention. But travel yoga is an essential practice to take with us particularly because it is our daily yoga practice that allows us to be truly present with all our new experiences.
While travelling Europe to teach yoga and play music, I quickly realized that I was becoming disconnected from myself. With all the stimulation of new environments and social interaction (as a performer and yoga teacher), I had my attention turned outward for much of every day.
There was the tightness and soreness in my body from a heavy backpack and guitar, long bus, plane and train rides and sleeping in different beds every night. Then there was the constant, subtle feeling of upheaval, having to navigate new cities (and their subway systems, train networks and airports) and speaking different languages! As such, it was very easy (and sometimes necessary) to forget myself for a little while when travelling. But this is why travel yoga is an essential practice.
Thanks to travel yoga I recovered a feeling of comfort in my body, clarity in my mind and connection to my heart. And it is these qualities that allow us to truly appreciate the myriad opportunities that travel affords.
Spending time with family can offer us a ripe opportunity to practice yoga off the mat. I recently spent a weekend with some of my family members and I was fascinated by the patterns and dynamics of relationship that unfolded.
My go-to role in the family is the middle path – I try not to choose sides or ruffle any feathers. I try to go along with the flow and avoid any family drama. I’ve noticed a shift in my role within my family during the recent past. It’s as if all my years of practicing yoga are finally seeping in on a deeper layer.
I’m more aware of Ahimsa and Satya as complementary practices when communicating with my family. I do my best to speak my truth without hurting anyone’s feelings. I do my best to practice being kind when my visceral response is so much more reactive! I remember Ahimsa to myself when I get caught up in unfolding drama and do my best to keep an open heart to all family members; remembering that we are all fallible humans who carry our own stories of fear, pain and suffering.
I practice Santosha, the Niyama of contentment and appreciate the familial time together with all of its laughable pitfalls. I have deep gratitude for the presence of my ageing parents who seem to get feistier in their late 80’s. I acknowledge my yoga practice for bringing me to a place where I can witness the dynamics of my parents relationship to each other and to their children, from a curious view point. I can stand back and see where so many of my own patterns evolved from. As a middle child, now in my 50’s,
I am much better at finding the balance of giving and receiving (the practice of Asteya) without feeling drained or unappreciated. I expect that spending time with them will always bring up stuff for me to chew on. How about you?
Finding Balance in Life both on and off the mat can be a challenge.
You signed up, you began your yoga teacher training, you made it through, and now you are a brand new yoga teacher; ready to go out and take the yoga world by storm!
When I first came out of my program I was so excited to dig in and start teaching. I developed sequences, networked with other teachers, came up with workshop and programming ideas, and it was all so fun and exciting. Then, I started my first full time job as a psychologist and all of a sudden, my schedule was starting to become unmanageable.
I recently moved to a small community, and once word got out that I was a yoga teacher, offers and opportunities came flying in. “Can you teach at my studio?” “Can you develop a yoga at work program”, “Can you do yoga for this and for that”. While I wanted to say yes to everything (and at the beginning I did), I soon realized that I was not able to meet everyone’s expectations. People even started to get mad at me for turning them down.
At one point I was working 40 hours a week, teaching 2 online college courses, and teaching 4 yoga classes a week (most of them for free), and was not able to have the time to go to classes myself. I found myself feeling resentful and annoyed when people would ask me if I could teach a class for them.
For me, this was a moment where I felt compelled to remember Satya. I had to say no, I had to work on finding balance. I had to be honest with myself about my limits, and I needed to be accepting of that. For some of us, yoga is our full time job. For others, it is a passion that we can work into our free time on the side. It is important not to overbook ourselves as then we will not be a benefit to our students, and we will not be following our ethical guidelines.
I love teaching yoga, but I’ve realized that I need to take a step back and focus on my personal practice right now. I’ve gone down to teaching 2 karma classes a week, and the new free time has helped me rediscover why I wanted to teach in the first place.
Ujjayi breathing has quickly become my favourite breaths to teach and to practice. For me, it is the best way to focus my monkey mind. The gentle ocean-like sound and natural lengthening of the breath help me relax in no time.
I love teaching ujjayi breathing to students because it is fairly straight forward and most people catch on quite quickly. I also teach ujjayi breathing a lot in class for the same reasons I practice it myself.
This type of breath works at any time during a yoga class. During opening meditation ujjayi breathing is wonderful because it slows the breath and focuses the mind so easily. It’s great to practice during a vinyasa class because the sound of the breath makes it easier to focus on and students don’t lose their breath during fast movements. Sometimes I will pause in Tadasana or Balasana in the middle of class to give students time to reconnect with their breath, focus their mind, and ground their self.
How to practice Ujjayi breathing:
Sit in a comfortable position with a tall spine and shoulders relaxed
Place your palm a couple inches infront of your mouth
Breath in and out through an open mouth
Now, gently constrict the back of your through like you would if you were whispering or fogging up a mirror
After a few breaths find the same constriction in your throat but inhale through your nose, mouth closed, and exhale through your mouth
After a few breaths like this place your hand down and find the same constriction breathing in and out through your nose
Now you’re practicing ujjayi breathing!
Continue to breath this way, in and out through your nose, for as long as you like.
You can view a video demonstration of ujjayi breathing here.
Ujjayi breathing requires a gentle constriction of your through and because the space for your breath to move through becomes smaller your breath natural lengthens. This is also what causes the gentle ocean like sound which is the reason for the nickname ‘Ocean Breath’. These two aspects are what help focus your mind. Ujjayi breath also helps to heat your body so it’s great to practice in the early morning, evening and on cooler days.
How often do you practice ujjayi breathing, on and off the mat?
Humour might not be the first thing you think of in a yoga practice but it’s an important discovery on the path to enlightenment. Enlightenment has a few different definitions so let me break it down.
One explanation from Mirriam-Webster states that enlightenment is having knowledge or understanding. The question is, how do we create knowledge and understanding from humour and what are we trying to know or understand? To shed some light on this I have a story from an experience in France while I was at yoga teacher training.
On a break from teaching I was exploring the grounds at the center and ended up at a gate next to a farm. There was a man on the other side trying to get through and I was worried that I’d be trespassing if I passed the gate. I tried to ask if I could go that direction but he didn’t understand me so we laughed about how bad my French was. Seeing the humour in this awkward situation was easy but the message to me was clear. Even though communicating seemed challenging we used humour to find a common connection. The knowledge or understanding we’re looking to seek on the path to enlightenment doesn’t have to be anything complicated. It’s an appreciation for connection: with ourselves, with others, and with everything. The humour in my encounter reminded me of the very essence of connection in such a simple way. Even with a language barrier we still looked to connect in a meaningful way and share the humour of the situation. I could’ve chosen to get frustrated or give up but instead found joy in trying to create a conversation.
Another definition for enlightenment is from Buddhism: a final spiritual state marked by the absence of desire or suffering. I believe that humour has the ability to diffuse suffering. Even in dire situations humour can be a beautiful reminder of the simple pleasures in life.
Choosing to keep a light attitude can have a big effect by naturally creating moments of enlightenment. Even on the mat we can see all of the times we might fall on our face or look silly but it’s how we approach those situations that count.
That pesky ego gets in the way of happiness, peace, joy, and love and we must takes steps each day on and off our mats to slay it. Dr. Wayne W. Dyer was the first person who introduced me to the idea of ego consciousness and the importance of taking steps to slay the temporary thoughts and emotions that our ego brings to our psyche.
“Work every day to tame ego’s demands. Ultimately make it your goal to unashamedly slay your ego while you’re still in your body – it’s doomed to destruction at the moment you die and reenter the realm of reality from which you came anyways. Keep in mind that you’re not being cruel by destroying your ego, since it’s a false self to begin with.” ~ Dr. Wayne W. Dyer
Check out my personal and practical list of steps I have taken to slay my ego:
1) In moments of temporary struggle let go of everything except your breath. Slay whatever comes up in your mind, body, and heart by acknowledging it and letting go. “Concentrate on following your breath. As for everything else, let it go.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh
2) Don’t worry about the importance of winning, rather enjoy the ride and the small steps towards your visions and goals. Slay the need to win and continue to simply connect to your spirit and source knowing that the universe has got your back.
3) Slay the idea that ‘more is better’. If you continue to grip on to the idea that you need more your ego will never be satisfied. When you hop off the hamster wheel of needing more you open yourself up to the present moment and that is where the universe grants you the abundance that is available.
4) When the ego gets loud and obnoxious simply repeat a mantra of gratitude, gratitude for what you have and what you do not have yet. Slay the ego with gratitude, as you are not your ego.
5) Continue to have faith that you truly are bigger and brighter then your ego. Spending time in nature reminds one of the interconnectedness of everything and that we are not separate from the universe. Letting go of the attachment to self-importance will set you free.
Yoga Activism and How It Can Manifest In Your Classes
Yoga Activism is a term used a lot these days and it is the combination of yoga with social change or social service organizations. The term ‘activism’ itself is usually defined as ‘campaigning for political or social change.’ If you are a Yoga teacher you might be interested in Yoga activism because you might have personally experienced inequality or abuse at some point in your life and/or when you read the news you end up feeling sad or angry about crazy politicians, inequality and terrorism in the world. It is that sadness or anger that makes you realize the need – or motivates you – to take action and want to make a change through Yoga Activism.
When I became interested in Yoga activism the first thing that came to mind was how I could use my own yoga classes to make people aware of a social cause, and to this day I am still struggling trying to figure out how Yoga activism can be possible. If you are in the same boat you might think that the fastest route to begin making this change is in your yoga classes because that is where you can talk and teach your students about being part of the change. However, personally, when I teach a yoga class I want to provide a class where people can decompress from a day of work and from their To-Do-lists and not a class where I remind them about how the world needs to be a better place and it needs their help.Yoga activism during a yoga class means a reminder of a political or social cause and this might leave students more stressed than when they came in.
Perhaps, the term “Yoga Activism” does not really exist because if you teach yoga you automatically provide a space for personal change which eventually leads to social change in a more indirect manner. This less direct Yoga activism process happens because you begin connecting to your inner self, you increase your awareness and wisdom which leads to positive changes in your life. Everyone around you will feed off this energy, therefore changing their lives and spreading love and positivism which creates positive change in communities and then societies.
How else do you think you could incorporate Yoga activism in your classes?
If I ever need a reminder about the effects music can have upon a living being, I just look to my dog Diego. Whenever classical music is played he instantly relaxes and goes to sleep (his personal favourite is Suor Angelica by Puccini, I’m not kidding!).
My whole life is filled with music, therefore I love being able to offer music as an integral part of classes I teach. I treat music like I would any other part of the class: I plan, research, reflect and then weave it into my class so that it seamlessly enhances students’ experience.
Music is extremely powerful. Simply by listening to it the levels of the hormone Cortisol are significantly lowered in the body, helping reduce chronic stress. In addition, listening releases the feel good chemical, Dopamine, enhancing feelings of well-being, and it can help with spatial ability. All of these are areas we are aiming to target in a yoga class through asana, meditation and pranayama: lower stress, increased feelings of well-being, and learning to use the body mindfully.
Music and yoga can greatly benefit one another. Much of this depends on the type of sounds played. Songs with loud volume, fast beats, and dramatic content can actually increase cortisol and trigger the fight or flight response! This is why choosing songs carefully for a class is so crucial.
Here are few ideas to consider when planning your playlists. Firstly, make note of the ‘arc of the class’, where the energy peaks and where calm moments occur and plan the songs accordingly. Not only does this help the energy levels of the students but it can also give you an idea of your class plan if you happen to forget and can keep you on time without having to glance at a clock!
Secondly, the use of songs with lyrics can be great; using songs with lyrics congruent with the message of the the class is something to consider. The subconscious mind hears things our conscious mind might not notice so lyrics may be integrated by a student even without their actively hearing them. And finally, explore many genres! Thoughtful musical choices can come from many different styles and have the potential to introduce students to a new realm of relaxing music.