I have always believed that universal consciousness responds when we invite it into our lives and desired things seem to occur by accident. It’s what we often call serendipity.
Like most of us, I struggle with the problem of juggling all my commitments: those of family; of properly managing two yoga studios; of teaching and seeing private clients; of maintaining my own training and practice; and of answering the present call to forward the Northeast TRE community.
One recent serendipitous moment has helped me in that struggle, removing the task of managing the Somerville studio while ensuring that the studio will continue to strongly serve our community.
A few weeks ago, Karen Monetti who with her husband owns Bodhi by Anthony Monetti, the fitness and lifestyle center across from Yoga Loka at the corner of North Doughty and Main in Somerville, approached me to say she was interested in the studio. The serendipity was so powerful I nearly looked up into the heavens (in the middle of Starbucks) and laughed.
After Karen shared her and Anthony’s vision it was clear we were in sync, and we quickly worked out the details — Bodhi will be taking over the studio at 19 N. Doughty on December 15. I was always struck with the name and logo of the company on Karen and Anthony's studio’s window. After all, bodhi is the Sanskrit word for enlightenment — it is said that the Buddha realized the true nature of all things after sitting for seven days in stillness under the bodhi tree, and shared this wisdom that continues to lead many to awakening.
Now that I know them, I understand how this name applies perfectly to the Monetti's business model. Karen and Anthony are already a force in the Somerville community. They have a ton of energy and they are committed to sharing with clients and practitioners the best ways to motivate, to inspire, and to transform —not just the physical body, but nutrition, mind and attitude as well.
As you can tell, I am very excited about this transition. I truly believe that the studio will benefit Bodhi’s current clientele, Somerville, and you — members of the Yoga Loka family. For example, Karen and Anthony will add many more classes to the schedule and most current classes will stay (stay tuned for their schedule). Your current class cards will be honored here until they expire. (And we’ll continue to honor your class cards at Yoga Loka Frenchtown, too.)
I am always deeply humbled when students come to yoga class. To do so requires effort, money, surrender, patience and trust. Thank you all for being willing to have patience, surrender and attend classes with me.
If you have questions please don't hesitate to email me.
Over the summer I read a book called “The Night Circus”. It was required summer reading for my daughter, and I often like to read what she is reading. This book blew me away, and I want to share a quote with you that came towards the end:
“Magic” the man in the grey suit repeats, turning the word into a laugh “ This is not magic. This is the way the world is, only very few people take the time to stop and note it. Look around you” he says , waving a hand at the surrounding tables “not a one of them even has an inkling of the things that are possible in this world, and what’s worse it that none of them would listen if you attempted to enlighten them. They want to believe that magic is nothing but clever deception, because to think it real would keep them up at night, afraid of their own existence”
I will give a little bit of context (without ruining the story, I hope!). The book is about 2 magicians who were identified as having the potential for being magic at a very young age. Their mentors devised training programs for them that were very rigorous and completely consuming. They didn't just practice smoke and mirror magic, they were magic, and their task as youngsters was to harness their powers. The strain that these magicians were under to perform their amazing feats was illustrated throughout the story. Unlike Genie in the 1970’s series, it wasn't just a nod of the head that made these magic things happen. It was a result of many years of practice, incredible focus and a good dose of will power and inner strength. But as a result of their training, they were able to use their magic for the creation of great beauty and joy, initially for others, but eventually for themselves as well. It worked because they were so highly trained.
I thought of how this quote, and really the whole book, tied into my yoga practice. I have a nice-size internal list of what I would like from my yoga practice. Often I get frustrated that I am not seeing what I want come to fruition. What I know should come from a dedicated practice doesn’t always seem to be happening. Why is it not happening is a question I don’t usually ask myself for the simple reason that I already know the answer: I don’t practice enough. I know I fall short in time and dedication required to do the work that I know will fulfill my list. Just like if I wanted to be able to bench press 300 pounds, I need to get on the bench and work. If I don’t, it is never going to happen. It is true that the characters in the book were more or less forced into the time set aside for practices by their mentors. But shouldn't my desire for results I wish to see be my mentor? Fortunately the universe has once again conspired to me move toward this goal. This fall I began two trainings. One is an advanced training with my long-time teacher/mentor Parvathi, and the other is to become a TRE trainer (Trauma Reducing Exercises).
These trainings are avenues toward what I consider to be magic. That is, they will lead me closer to having “an inkling of the things that are possible in this world”. I consider it equally good fortune and misfortune to have already had glimpses into what the human mind and body are capable of. The good fortune is knowing the great potential for humans to go beyond the limited mind, and that it is possible to overcome our suffering. The misfortune is understanding it is at my fingertips and all I need to do is continue to extend my reach, but then finding I succumb to distractions, the lure of attachments, of cravings, and the biggest demon of all — comfort.
I am grateful that I have been invited into these structures that support my practice. I know it will be difficult. This level of practice will require time I do not have, and a focus I am not sure I can maintain. They will be revealing and challenging in ways that will not always be comfortable. Both will take several years to complete. (The universe thought it would be a good idea to have them run concurrently — what am I to do in the face of the universe’s ironic humor?). Often I think it would be easier to be sequestered in a room, like our young magicians were, without choice, without distractions. But the roll of the karmic dice puts me here — mother of two high schoolers, directors of two yoga studios, and student in two trainings. Distractions, obligations, and comfort — this is after all the tantric path — life is our training. I share all of this with you for a couple of reasons. One is very self serving, and that is if I forget something you told me, or to return your email
or phone call, please just kindly remind me, and forgive my lapse. I can say that my eyesight has been slowly improving with my practices, but not my memory. (That is on my wish list you can be sure!) The second is that perhaps my words may inspire you to follow the practices, whatever they are, that you know will lead you towards having an “inkling of the things that are possible in this world”.
Here is more from the book:
“But some people can be enlightened” Widget says.
“Indeed,[says the man in the grey suit] such things can be taught. It is easier with minds that are younger then these. There are tricks of course. None of this rabbit in hats nonsense, but ways of making the universe more accessible. Very very few people take the time to learn them nowadays…”
If you have had experiences with some kind of practice, ritual or discipline, or trust and have faith in someone who has told you these things work, do them. Why would you not? Because of lack of time, focus, money?
That is just self deception. The world needs real magic these days, does it not? Sometimes just immersing oneself in the discipline is the magic itself.
When I tell people I am a yoga teacher they like to share their yoga experience with me. Once a woman who had a pretty severe scoliosis told me she had been going to yoga for a while at her doctor’s suggestion to help stabilize her spine. I asked how it was going and she told me, “Great! I think it’s working because I am always in pain when I leave.” Conversations like that make me cringe. I have them a lot. Yoga is not supposed to cause pain. One of the primary tenants of Yoga is “do no harm”.
Sometimes a yoga teacher doesn’t know how to get a student out of pain. I was working with one of my teacher trainees at a corporate event and after watching her interact with some students, I told her I would prefer she ask the participants what they are feeling rather than tell them, which is what she was doing. Her response was very honest. She said she doesn't ask because she is afraid she won’t know what to tell them when they give her an answer. This revealed the focus for rest of this persons training. An experienced and well-trained teacher will continually ask students if they are comfortable.
Following the “do no harm” tenant of yoga is chiefly the responsibility of the teacher. Teachers should know what body parts are typically stressed by each pose they ask a student to undertake (for example, pigeon pose might compromise someone’s knees). The teacher should alert students of that possible outcome and if a student admits that a vulnerable place in their body is being compromised by a pose, the teacher should know an alternative to offer. A good teacher will also remind the class now and then to scan their bodies and make sure they are doing okay.
But “do no harm” is also the responsibility of the student. Students need to stay attentive to their bodies while they practice to make sure they do no harm to themselves. You should be willing to move out of a pose that hurts. Admittedly, it is sometimes hard to distinguish between the effort of contraction, and pain. But if we keep looking for that difference, and are able to feel it, we will learn what is good for our bodies and what is not.
Students should trust their instructor enough to say “I don’t understand what you want me to do,” or “I am not sure what I am doing,” or “OUCH. This hurts.” It doesn't mean you are doing something wrong, it just means you don’t know or are not sure. When you admit you don’t know something, then learning really begins. And isn't that one of the reasons you are going to class, to learn more about yoga and your body?
Yoga should not cause pain. You may be stiff from moving something you have never moved before, but that should feel very different from pain. You can work hard and sweat. You can exert a lot of effort trying to get into the pose, but you should not be in pain. Especially in the joints. In particular, you should not feel pain in your knees or the sacroiliac joints.
You might be attracted to yoga to help with physical pain (joints, muscles, ligaments, tendons, etc.) or emotional/mental pain (What so and so said really hurt my feelings; I wasn’t invited to the party and I feel hurt; I didn’t get the job I wanted, etc.) Sometimes we can feel directly injured and hurt on an energetic level (like an x-ray or negative environment - a place you are not comfortable for no apparent reason). Yoga can help with this as well. It is important to consider that yogis recognize that pain on the physical and mental level can arise from disturbances in our body’s primal energy, which yogis call prana.
When our energy is depleted or disturbed we can become tired, stressed, and sometimes end up in chronic pain. Many times this is a pain that the doctors cannot explain. When I have a client who tells me their doctors have done many tests, and taken x-rays, and scans and can’t find a reason, I consider their prana. I test it out by theory by giving them prana balancing practices to do. If they then feel better and the pain goes away, we have confirmation.
So what does prana have to do with working in pain? If you put yourself in pain in a yoga pose, or go to a class where you don’t trust the teacher, or feel uncomfortable for reasons you can't put your finger on, you are disturbing your primal energy, your prana. And because physical ailments can actually arise from disturbed prana, how is the class helping you?
My Yoga Therapy mentor, Mukunda Stiles, said we should test our teachers for a year. If after a year you do not see the results you want from your yoga practice, find another teacher. If you begin yoga seeking freedom from pain, becoming pain free could be one of the criteria. But only one: Do not only ask yourself if you are becoming pain free, but how about becoming drama free and stress free? Are you sleeping better and feeling overall more joyful and excited about life?
These days there are many yoga studios to choose among. Finding the teacher who is best able to serve your physical practice as well as your spiritual and energetic practices should be an essential part of your yoga journey.
I just returned from a weekend with Dr. David Berceli, founder of TRE. He was teaching an introduction course for potential trainers and I had the privilege of assisting. I had taken this module of training many years ago, and I was not at all surprised at the amount of new information Dr. Berceli presented. He is forever inquiring about the tremor mechanism, not just about how people respond and benefit from TRE and the scientific correlations, but also about connectivity and wisdom, and how to best to serve humanity.
We watched new powerpoint presentations (he loves the power point!) and new videos made by people who have benefited from TRE and want to spread the word. We also got to watch Dr. Berceli in action- his skill in guiding people deeper into themselves is only a part of what one learns when observing. The more profound part is witnessing his presence to the client, the compassion that oozes from his every pore, and his joy in assisting people to unfreeze and move back to life.
The neurological aspects of these presentations I will admit often go over my head. But some of the new concepts stuck, (just please don't yet ask me to explain! Wait until I come back from the advanced training in July). What David is learning, and the neuroscientists are confirming, is that the TRE mechanism is working to balance and strengthen the executive functioning in our brains. It is strengthening our vagus nerve and enhancing our response to input and stimuli. What does all that mean? It means tremoring can make changes our nervous system that will benefit our ways of behaving, decision making, interacting with society and interacting with our selves.
Of course there was review of the old stuff this weekend too. As David's passion is working with Veterans, we got to hear from many, both in person and by video, about how TRE has made life livable again. The anger, rage, fear, sleeplessness and other symptoms of PTSD that followed many of these men and woman back from combat are being reversed with a steady practice.
So bring what you have and see how it works for you. Whether you just want to operate your vehicle with more ease, efficiency and peace, or you have some mild to serious stress, tension or trauma, TRE can be what you have been looking for. Group sessions are coming to your location (check the workshop section for dates) and if privates seem more suitable for your situation, as they are for many, lets make an appointment.
TRE and Parkinsons
TRE and Essential tremors
TRE with Columbian Army Veterans
TRE and Fibromyalgia
TRE and Anxiety
It seems all my studies for the last 4-5 years have helped me see that pulsation is central to life. For expansion to occur, there must be a contraction, a drawing in, a resting, a concentration of energy. Ultimately, inevitably, what follows is expansion.
My latest training in Crania-Fascial Therapy (CFT) provides a good example. (That outcomes in this therapeutic modality are measurable is a plus because it also makes the scientific mind happy). In CRT the therapist gently palpates muscles and applies light pressure to expose relationships among muscular and fascial structures. When palpated, constricted places tend to initially tighten further, revealing those relationships to the therapist. The practitioner’s role is to then give additional permission for the body to complete that contraction.
What follows is a release, an expansion accompanied by a full, satisfied inhale and experienced in the body as a deep stillness. Importantly, we are able to sense the expansion and contraction of the brain before and after treatment as the body itself rests in its newly expanded form, quiet, satisfied.
This experience of expansion often comes as a surprise, because we rarely recognize the degree to which our muscle systems tighten and fascia becomes constricted in response to stress and trauma. Nor do we see that places we thought were the most restricted can be eased by expansion elsewhere. What the client does realize is how good it is to open up and settle into a recovered state of fullness.
When the opportunity to relocate the studio appeared (yes, rather quickly), I was not surprised to observe that Yoga Loka is itself going through the same process of contraction and expansion. The studio has been at the same location for 13 years. And while it has served us well, and stability can be good, stagnation – constriction – can also occur. As with constriction of fascia, stagnation can also occur without it being recognized.
I like to believe that things happen for a reason and that opportunity shows itself when the time is right. When I met Jonathan Perlstein, the new landlord, and he became excited about creating a new space for us, that was one good sign. When the current landlord was unwilling to make our new rear entrance safe, and students arriving for class were having more and more trouble finding legal parking, I figured this was the universe saying something.
So, we will be contracting into a smaller space for six months to a year, followed by an expansion in the permanent location, when we will be able to take a deep exhale and rest.
Of course, contraction itself yields benefits. When we contract a muscle it gets stronger. When we rest into ourselves, we get to better know ourselves. With this move I already see our community getting stronger, pulling together even to help with the move. We get to know ourselves more with any move, which is one of the reasons we do asana! We come to more clearly see our preferences, our likes and dislikes, as we inhabit any new space.
I am so appreciative of the community that has grown up around Yoga Loka. And I am so pleased we are taking the next step in our journey together. Thank you.
This week we start some therapeutic classes. You may wonder if that is the same as a gentle class. And what about restorative. Are these the same class but just different names?
Gentle and Restorative classes are in fact therapeutic, but the approach differs.
Gentle classes are just what they sound like- gentle and slow movements. Along with the encouragement to not use force, students are also directed to focus on the breath, offered pauses in between poses to do a self check and to see how they are feeling, and enjoy a long relaxation. Restorative Yoga uses props to support the body in relaxing and passive poses. These poses are held for longer, often with closed eyes. Participants are encouraged to drop their body weight into the props and ground, relax their minds, and practice just being. Both of these approaches help to restore prana (or energy) and restore vitality, and reset the nervous system. These classes help to increase range of motion through relaxing the body, so it works well for people who feel they carry a lot of tension which is a big factor in restricted motion. Many people will find relaxing into the environment created in these classes a natural progression and appreciate being given the steps, and permission, to just let go.
Therapeutic and Structural Yoga Therapy classes are more active. In these classes participants are encouraged to notice the difference in strength and flexibility from side to side, or front to back. Then movements are practiced that help to even out the asymmetry or lack of movement. This class tends to focus more on strengthening movements, being very specific to areas in the body that require increased range of motion. Students are encouraged to keep noticing what is happening in their body, what they are feeling, and what muscles are working. Regular students become quite versed in anatomy, more so than many yoga teachers! The classes tend to be smaller in size, and as a result students can request what they want to work on in that class. (For example we worked a lot on neck and shoulders this past Sunday in Frenchtown. It was an almost unanimous request, and that included my vote too.) The therapeutic classes tend to increase range of motion by strengthening and stretching agonist and antagonist pairs of muscles. Prana is also deeply affected in a positive way. People who have analytical minds may find the concentration in these types of classes relaxing as their minds are not left to wander, but instead have a specific focus.
These classes do not use rigorous flowing standing sequences as part of the class structure. This “vinyasa” (meaning to place specifically, or moving from one place to another) methodology is found in our basic, moderate and spicy flow classes.
What about the term Hatha yoga? People often tell me that took “Hatha” yoga back when they started practicing and want to find a level similar to that. Hatha is a sanskrit word that can mean “force”. Broken down, Ha refers to the sun and Tha (pronounced with out the “h”) refers to the moon. So in Hatha Yoga, we are combining opposing forces to bring about awakening. In looking at the total picture of yoga practices, Hatha refers to the type of yoga that involves asana, or poses. It is the practice that involved moving the body, as opposed to Raja Yoga that focuses on meditation, Bhakti Yoga that uses devotional practices, or Karma Yoga that uses service as the main path to liberation. Simply put, Hatha yoga is the type of yoga that involves movement of the body. It is not really a word that should be used to describe a class level, although it seems that many have used the term “hatha” to indicate a gentle class. I have also heard hatha yoga classes to be extremely rigorous, so you may want to check out the individual yoga centers interpretation of the word before choosing the class you will attend.
Take a look below to see the gentle, restorative, and therapeutic classes we are offering right now at both locations. Some of our classes are very targeted and require pre-registration. If you have any questions about them, or any of our other class offerings please shoot me an email.
My teacher, Parvathi Nanda Nath Saraswati, will be coming to Yoga Loka Frenchtown November 7th. Besides the fact that she rarely gives public teachings, and the fact that she is a wonderful, funny, insightful, generous and very wise teacher, you should come meet her.
If you are a student at Yoga Loka and the teachings resonate with you and touch you in some way, even if you don’t come often, you are a student of Parvathi’s.
I met Parvathi about 18 years ago when she was running the yoga program at the Center Club. then in Buckingham and Newtown, PA, and later expanding to Lambertville NJ. I had moved to the area a year or so before and was desperately seeking yoga that was similar to where I began my practice in NYC. A woman who I hired to work for me told me about yoga at the gym.
I knew I was home the first class I attended. That was it- I became a groupie. I didn't have any children at that time and so went to as many classes as I could. You might say I stalked Parvathi, but I don't think it counts as stalking really as she invited me in. I became part of her first teacher training. She told us she was going to have a 6 person max group and we ended up with 16-18 participants. I was already teaching for her by then, she had asked me to teach classes about 6 months earlier. How could I say no? I mean, I tried, but she didn't accept that answer.
After our teacher training was done I gave birth to my first child. My devotion to the practices did not waiver, although the time I had to devote to classes did. Then child #2. I continued to teach when I could and took whatever workshops were available. My husband was very cooperative, and even the babies allowed me a small amount of time to practice and study.
Parvathi has supported me through two babies, a couple of residence changes, one divorce, two yoga studios, and a slew of practices and awakenings. She allowed me to make many mistakes, watching lovingly the whole time. She has watched me struggle to recognize what I needed to recognize, gave me every permission to follow my unique path, and patiently watched and guided me with kindness and delight. I have had the pleasure of watching her children grow into beautiful and accomplished adults, and her own life situations change shape and structure, as well her method of teaching, practicing and guiding.
When I first met her at the gym, I thought to myself “I could teach her some mantras to open class with” because it was obvious to me she didn't know any. What wasn't obvious was that she knew the group was not quite ready for chanting. I still laugh to myself when I remember that, especially when I hear her chant entire texts at a rapid fire pace by memory, and when she displays her intimate and vast knowledge of sanskrit and philosophy. She has an exquisite way of revealing what is needed at exactly the right time. She does not give what cannot be digested, however she is totally generous and open with the tools she has for awakening.
I could not begin to describe, or understand, how my life shifted when I met Parvathi and took up the path she laid before me. Part of that path was to show the paths for others. I can still remember where I was standing when she told me I was going to sub her Saturday morning class years ago (and how far down my jaw dropped). I remember what music I played (Dead can Dance!) and even what lotion I used to give people final relaxation massages (not worth revealing). Parvathi's lineage continues in many places around the world as she reaches a wide, and now somewhat select, audience. There is no real ending to this writing, as the ending to the story has not been revealed. I just wanted to give some history, so thanks for reading.
This month we are going to be looking at prana and bandhas.
Prana is a word often used in yoga classes, but I find that it is not completely understood. The vernacular leads one to believe that prana is the breath, but this is not true. Prana comes in on the breath and it is one of the many ways we can enhance prana. But it would be limiting to believe that was the only way we can experience prana. We can enhance and stimulate the prana in our body through all of the senses and our thoughts and actions. We can also deplete prana in the same way.
Prana and the mind are closely linked. Where the mind goes, prana goes. So when you have a problem in your head and you keep thinking about it and thinking about it, the problem appears to get bigger. It may also be solved by your considerations. When you focus on your body during asana, on the contraction of your quadriceps in warrior one for example, it will get stronger and more vibrant than if you are thinking of something else.
There are 5 major movements of prana in our body. When we understand these movements and understand what they give us we can enhance our experience of the world. I kind of want to equate knowing the pranic movements to apps on your smart phone. We have some apps that we kind of know how to use, and then there are the others that the phone might have come with, or your friends have, but you are not sure how they work or how it relates to your life. If we took the time to learn their function we may find that they make things easier and more efficient. Like prana, they exist, but we aren't sure how to navigate, or what the functionality is.
The primary prana is adhya prana and that is the energy that takes things in.
Next is apana prana, and that is the prana that grounds and helps with downward elimination
Samana prana is the prana of digestion. It has a circulating sensation, usually in the belly, and is often accompanied by heat. Udana prana is the upward moving prana and has an elevating effect. It makes us feel light and helps to clarify the information coming in from the senses. It also eliminates upwardly.
Vyana prana is the last and maybe most subtle. It gives us the feeling of expansion outside of our physical body. So when you "sense" someone is near, or feel their "energy" or you give energy to someone, this is vyana prana. It is also experienced when we feel expansive.
This month as we practice asana we will try to find these 5 pranas, and see how what we do with our body and minds shifts our prana. It will!! It always does!! We just don't always notice.
Bandhas are sometimes translated as "locks". We put physical blocks in our bodies to help move, organize or contain our prana. The lowest lock is called mulabandha and is experienced when we contract the perineum. Udyana bandha comes from a lift of the lower abdominals, and sometimes can be more rigorous with a drawing in of the abdominals up into the rib cage. Jalandara bandha is chin lock, a lowering of the chin towards the chest and a constricting of the throat.
The differences in how we engage the bandhas can be based on our intentions. When we are not sure of them we can activate them on a very physical level to see how it affects our physical body and how to articulate them. When we get more adept, they become subtle so we can feel how they can move the prana in the body. As always, the more subtle the experience, the more power and stability it contains.
We will practice these also in class and see how subtle we can get. And then the fun part is always to see how we can use these tools off the mat.
See you in class!
For February we will indulge in two subtle heart openers- one is Lojong, where the effort is on remaining concentrated and aware of the many Tibetan Buddhist slogans that bring us closer to experiencing enlightened compassion. The other, the physical pose, is Gomokasana arms. This pose is when we take one arm up in the air, bend the elbow and reach our fingers down between our shoulder blades. The other arm reaches down and then after the elbow bends we take that hand up between the shoulder blades too. The hands will reach towards the back door of the heart, and in some cases, in some bodies, will join there.
This pose is based on the strength required to move the elbows closer to the body- the top arm towards the head, the bottom arm towards the side seam. We often think it is our lack of flexibility that prevents the full expression of this pose. Range of motion depends so much on strength, beautifully demonstrated in this pose. Range of motion is also dependent on proper positioning. If we are not positioned correctly (in this pose the position being elbows close in to the body) no matter how flexible our shoulders are, our hands wont join. The forearms are just not long enough to span the space of our back. Much like Lojong, if our point of view is positioned on the sense of "I", and not closer in to the core of our being, compassion remains outside of our grasp. Our hearts will not join with the other. Lojong encourages us to shift our prospective to the Boddhichitta, which requires a certain type of strength and flexibility. Once in that arena our view is much different, and more lies within our reach.
The slogans as outlined by Pema Chodron are listed below. Take a look. See what is within your reach right now, and then what you are able to reach for at the end of the month.