The Wisdom of the Dancer

What a stressful year this has been! When life gets challenging I try to look to the teachings of yoga for wisdom. Lately, I have been reflecting on Shiva Nataraja, The Cosmic Dancer.  This icon is a symbol of our yoga practice and has a lot to offer us in terms of how to engage in the world.

Nataraja represents Shiva dancing the universe into existence. And the Nataraja represents you, dancing your life into existence. Within the dance, the cosmic dancer performs five acts, called Pancha Kritya.  The first three of these acts are creation, maintenance, and dissolution.

Let’s start with the easy one first. I often say that your day-to-day yoga mostly consists of maintenance – going to work, cooking, eating, chores, relationship, all the things that sustain the status quo in your life. We call this being a householder.
 
And at the same time, there is always creation. Beautiful things are being born, more sustainable ways of living are being created, and new ideas and ways of working and living are being discussed and implemented. You may even be beginning new chapters in your life.
 
But what I have been contemplating lately, and the topic I want to discuss today is dissolution. There happens to be a lot of dissolution in the world right now. From the destruction of mass shootings and natural disasters to the surfacing of the depth and breadth of sexual harassment in our society, to what feels like the dismantling of our government and democracy, we are all living with extreme toxic stress. Dissolution is emotionally taxing, exhausting, and scary.
 
But I must share with you something that I firmly believe. From dissolution arises the opportunity to reimagine, rebuild, and recreate. There is no doubt the old paradigm is dying and while the uncertainty is scary, stressful, and threatening, it is up to us to look at different ways of living and being in the world. As they say, “The phoenix rises from the ashes.” Dissolution is the opportunity to get creative, rethink how we are living, and rise up to become better and more refined.
 
At every level – from our personal lives to our local communities, state and federal government, and globally, we have a chance to change the world. And that happens because each one of us is engaging, doing our yoga, and participating in the dance.
 
We can already see this happening. People are waking up, speaking up, and changing their ways. Here some recent events that are worth celebrating:
• Tesla restored power to a children’s hospital in San Juan, Puerto Rico with 700 solar batteries. This could be a model to show it can work on a large scale.
• A 22-year old invented a way to clean the trash from the ocean. His project has raised 31 million dollars and is set to begin next year.
• Citizens are taking an interest in government, participating, and even running for office. A record number of women are running for positions from the local to the national level.
 
The fourth and fifth acts of the dance are concealment and revelation. We have no idea how much more dissolution there is to go. My guess is that it will get worse before it gets better. We have no idea what will happen and how we will get through it, past it, and what it will look like on the other side. The uncertainty is scary but this is the nature of concealment and so to it the nature of life.
 
Revelation takes faith, a deep trust in the power of life, and in the victory of what is good, right, and just. And it takes your participation. You are being invited to the dance, invited to engage. And not only is that is all you can do, it is what you have to do. Your yoga is to participate in the dance. It is to pause, listen, reflect, feel, and pay attention. To trust in the revelatory power of life to continue to show you want the next step is. And that is all you have to know, the next step.
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Achieve Your Goals with Yoga

What are you working on, or towards in your life? What are your goals and dreams?

In our society, to achieve what you want in life it often means you move and strive in one direction. Unfortunately, if you approach your yoga this way you end up getting stuck, or even worse, injured. If you come to my class you’ll often hear me say, “yoga is two directions.”
 
My definition of yoga is; “the harmonious integration of two opposite actions or energies.” In the physical practice, this means to first connect to what is steady and stable. Once you are established in your own center and connected to the earth via the foundation of the pose, you move toward your edge of the shape. Then the pose becomes your pose, a pose you own, not a shape you saw on social media or what the person on the mat next to you is doing.
 
Practicing in this way you embody the bigger purpose of yoga; to establish your awareness in the steady, unchanging nature of your Self.
 
Like the poses of yoga, life will push and pull you in many directions. You will get thrown off your center. You will have highs and lows. In the words of my wise teacher, Dr. Douglas Brooks, “life is never not the thing that is happening to you now.”That thing going on, that challenge, that triumph, that drama, that IS your life.
The yoga then becomes how you engage with it, how you respond, and how you rebound from the highs and lows. It is remembering that there is a part of you that is steady and unchanging, even amongst all the chaos.

So back to your goals. Here is how you apply the wisdom of yoga to the things you want to achieve in your personal and professional life:

• Make sure you are authentic in both your relationships and your endeavors.
• Get clear that you are working toward the things that you value, believe in, and are passionate about.
• Establish yourself in the skills and virtues that will help you achieve your dreams and move forward from there. 

Progress on the Path

A question often asked by yoga students and non-yogis alike is, “What makes yoga different than other forms of movement and exercise?”
 
In its original context, yoga is a practice of spiritual development. Intrinsic to the practices and techniques of yoga are an element of self-inquiry. This inquiry brings discovery and realization. At their very core, these practices hold an intention of becoming your best self; more aware, more discerning, and less prone to dis-ease, just to name a few.
 
The ‘apex pose’ of your yoga is how you posture yourself in life. My most influential teachers have encouraged me to measure my progress on the path by asking myself these questions. Am I a nicer person? Am I better in my relationships? Am I more connected to the world around me? In other words, progress is not about the poses you can do on the sticky mat, it’s about how you show up in the world.
 
When I come to the mat I am not just moving, stretching, and strengthening my physical body, I am working through my stuff. And I always know that when I get a bit grumpy, impatient, or lack my usual joy, I am simply not getting enough time on the mat.
 
Does your yoga practice help you become stronger, more aware, and more compassionate an individual? If so, what are you doing with that outside of the yoga studio?
 
When you are stronger, you can stand up for those more vulnerable. When you are more aware, you make better choices for yourself, for those around you, and for the planet and its future. When you are more compassionate, you are kinder to others. You can be richer with generosity and give your time, resources, and services to those in need.
 
This week I invite you to take some time for self-reflection. How do you mark your progress on the path?

Your Spine & Backbends

A healthy spine is the key to a vibrant life. Yogis, Osteopaths, Chiropractors, and many doctors agree that you are as young as your spine is flexible. Unfortunately, back pain has become an epidemic in our culture. This is mainly due to poor posture, weak back musculature, and limited movement in the spine.

The spine has a few critical functions. First, it is your central column of support. It stabilizes your body and holds you up against gravity. Building strength in the muscles that sleeve your spine is important to support good posture, keep you powerful during life’s activities, and prevent injury.

Your spine also houses your spinal cord. Think of it this way – your brain is not just in your head. You have so much brain that it flows all the way down your spine. Nerve endings exit from every one of your spinal bones called vertebras. This system, called your central nervous system, is the highway that carries information to every cell, muscle fiber, and organ in your body. A fluid spine is key for a clear road of communication throughout your body – an open pathway for oxygen and nutrients to flow.

But these days, many people’s spines are rigid, posture is rounded forward, and core is weak. I have good news for you – backbends are one of the antidotes! When you have back pain, it seems counterintuitive to do a backbend. But in reality, it is backbends that will help you strengthen your back muscles, improve the mobility of the bones of your spine, and promote the health of the discs that lie between each spinal vertebra. It is the opposite of the way you spend most of your day. Of course, like anything else, backbends need to be done correctly to be beneficial.

Let’s take a look at your spine. You may notice that you have the most mobility in your lower back (lumbar spine) and your neck (cervical spine). Interestingly enough these are the places you may commonly experience pain. Pain is often a symptom of lack of stability.

Your lumbar spine is meant to be stable and 
carry the load of your body as you move through the world. In general we move too much in the lower back simply because we have more access to it. It doesn’t have all those ribs attached to it! The lumbar spine relies on support from deeper postural core muscles like transverse abdominis and multifidus to create stability. These crucial postural muscles tend to be weak.

Your middle back, called the thoracic spine, is meant to move in many directions: forward, backwards, laterally, and it rotates. Unfortunately it is often locked down and doesn’t move enough. A rounded upper back and forward head position is common because life happens in front of you: sitting in front of a computer, behind the wheel, cooking, caring for children, you name it, most things in life are a culprit.

BENEFITS OF BACKBENDS:

  • Improves posture
  • Strengthens back muscles
  • Opens chest and shoulders
  • Stretches respiratory diaphragm
  • Helps you breathe better
  • Stimulates digestion
  • Counters depression
  • Clears mind and opens heart
  • Boosts energy
  • Alleviates fear
  • Aids in overcoming emotional challenges

Please consider joining me for my next workshop, Build A Healthy and Strong Backbend.

Backbends are empowering! All backbends are rooted in Bhujangasana, Cobra Pose. Learning to skillfully perform a deeper cobra, with strength and support first, is the key to bending evenly and feeling better in your backbends. This is where the fancier poses begin.

If you are intimidated by backbends, this will be a great opportunity for you to focus on your spine and improve your posture. It’s more about YOU and less about any of the poses! If you already backbend with ease, this workshop will help you refine your backbends. You will learn to stabilize your spine where you move too much, and mobilize the places where you don’t move enough.

For everyone, this will help you create a sustainable practice to last throughout your lifetime. And who knows, once you learn the basics, you may just get into that advanced backbend you have been struggling with. 

 

 

 

 

 

Four Keys to Well-Being

In teaching yoga my goal is to help you to to be your best self. That means educating you about your body, helping you to listen more deeply, and empowering you to make choices for your body and your life that are healing and promote well-being.

This is achieved through some basic physical things that all my classes, workshops, and other programming are planned around. Here are four things that I have come to believe are the most important to your health and what I hope you gain from your regular yoga practice:

1. Better, more effective breathing.
Breath is life. Many of us live with dis-functional breathing patterns because of tight muscles, poor posture, and stress. Releasing the muscles of respiration and creating better breathing habits are crucial to the body’s overall health.

2. The ability to shift from states of stress to states of relaxation.
There is no doubt that life is busy. But how effective is your ability to turn off the switch? Being able to down regulate your nervous system to a rest and recovery state is a key to quality sleep and improved health. It also reduces anxiety, improves concentration, slows the aging process, and much more.

3. Improved posture
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Your posture follows you into everything you do. Most people don’t pay much attention to how they are standing, sitting, waiting in line, sleeping etc. But your form impacts how you breathe and is a baseline for all of your movement. ​ Bringing mindfulness to your posture and learning to hold yourself in a more beneficial position affects all aspects of your life.

4. More efficient movement patterns.
Conscious movement is the fastest way to get out of pain. Restricted range of motion (ROM) is usually caused by weakness, instability, and tight muscles. Learning to move with good biomechanics results in less pain, more range of motion, and improved performance in everything you do such as carrying your child, playing a sport or an instrument, or practicing yoga.

How would you rate your ability in each of these four areas?  Join me for any of my offerings to expand these capacities and live more vibrantly.

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Slower Is Stronger

I was ecstatic last week when the blog post, “The Slow Yoga Revolution” went viral in the yoga community. Ecstatic because it made a point I’ve felt for a long time.

Modern life has an unsustainable fast pace. Busy schedules, the constant pinging of email and social media, commuting, and other demands all put immense stress on the body. This stress provokes a fight or flight response, as if you are always running away from the tiger that is chasing you.

So it has always baffled me why one would want to rush through their yoga practice. Fast-paced yoga, with the music blaring and the heat on has become the norm in Western yoga culture. And while this type of practice might have benefits, I believe yoga should be a counterbalance to the fast-paced, outwardly focused life we live.

Yoga can offer you a much-needed reprieve from a hectic lifestyle and help your nervous system rest and recover. Practice is an opportunity to bring your body, mind, and spirit into greater harmony.

Whether you are working on strength or flexibility, there are many benefits to moving slow. To increase the length of a muscle you must maintain a stretch, even if it is slightly uncomfortable, for 30-60 seconds. For better results, contract the muscle while stretching it. And increase the contraction at the end range. That will make a lasting change.

Also, since yoga is an integrated practice, strength is important too. Engagement of the muscles protects the joints and the ligaments from over stretching. Sometimes lack of flexibility is caused by a lack of strength somewhere else. For example, tight hamstrings may be a result of core instability. When you practice slower there is time to nuance the alignment, notice your weak spots, and become aware of the places you bypass. Slow yoga is more vigorous, will give you access to your deep power, and create a more sustainable practice.

A disciplined and focused practice is something ‘you do with yourself not to yourself’ as the author of the blog wisely noted. A slower yoga practice will:
1. Teach you how your body works, because lets face it, we don’t come with an owner’s manual.
2. Help you sit with discomfort, because the truth is sometimes life is uncomfortable.
3. Refine the way you work to open and strengthen your body because that is what it takes to live in balance.
When I practice, my goal is to become my best self. Each day I seek to become better at being me!

I consider myself an educator. Each time you come to my class my intention is to educate and inspire you. To offer you the tools you need to empower you to transform your life. It is my hope that you walk away with a gem you can take into everything else you do.

Chataranga-crop

Be A Force Of Light

One morning last week I found myself in the in the East Bay without my reusable coffee cup. Reluctantly ordered anyway, you have to know I rarely do that. Maybe it was no accident at all because now I have this story to share with you!

The girl behind the counter took a moment and wrote something on my cup with a black Sharpie marker.  She explained that she tries to write or draw something inspirational on everyone’s cup to help start off their day with a smile!

It wasn’t until I left the cafe that I read the words on the cup… It read, “Light the world up with your nice smile.” 

As you might imagine it did make me smile. And I reminded me that you don’t have to do something monumental to be a force of light in the world. It’s the small gestures everyday make that a difference.

Go ahead, go out and light up someone else’s day, be a force of light in the world.

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Guru Purnima

Today’s full moon is the brightest of the year and has been celebrated in India for centuries as the auspicious moon in honor of the teacher.

The word “guru” means “the weighty one” or “the bearer of light.” In the yoga tradition it is a principle (tattva), rather than a person, that describes the supreme intelligence of life. The Guru Tattva (Principle) is anything that brings the light into our lives, that reveals the shadow, that pushes against us for our awakening.

Today I honor all of the life experiences that have crossed my path and guided me toward my truth. Those experiences and persons who have helped me, inspired me, and showed me kindness as well as the ones who have challenged me, hurt me, and pushed against me. I honor the bumps in the road, the missed turns, and the backtracking, the discomfort and dissatisfaction for it has all helped me to grow and shift and keeps me seeking a brighter light. I honor the guru as the path of life itself.

This time is potent for practice and reflection. I offer blessings of gratitude for where I have come and prayers of hope to continue to see myself with more and more clarity and to offer more and more love. I commit myself to my practice and to serving the light through teaching.

May your shadows be illuminated. May there be light where there has been darkness. May all beings be free. May there be peace.

Tasmai Sri Gurave Namah (To that principle of supreme intelligence I bow)

My Manifesto

Here is my declaration for the Manifesto Movement of May

With my feet firmly on the ground, I root down into the earth and stand for living in integrity and aligning with my most authentic truth.

With my heart wide open, I stretch up to the sky and open to and trust in the force of life that guides and supports me.

I bow forward and humbly recognize the potential that lies in vulnerability, uncertainty, and change.

I bend backwards and affirm the strength of my spirit and the courage of my heart to rise and soar to new heights.

I turn to the right where I am met with like hearts and am comforted in the power that lies within friends and community.

I turn to the left and find compassion and tolerance for those I do not yet know and whose points of view I do not agree with.

I come back to center and embrace this life.  I choose to live fully, to stand in my light, and to offer myself as a guide for others.

Stacey Rosenberg, May 8, 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Become part of the movement. Declare what is true for you and post it on Manifesto Movement’s Facebook Page

Standing Together In Our Own Freedom

The letters from students continue to pour in. For most of them, John Friend has only barely touched their lives through the lineage of their local teachers.  What the students care most about is that their teachers keep offering the high quality classes they are used to, the preservation of their local communities, and to continue to use the method to create a better quality of life.

About a month ago it was Chinese New Year and I spoke about the water dragon in my classes.  For some time now, I have also believed that one of things that would happen in 2012 is that old structures of society would begin to break down because they could not be carried forward in this “new world” we are creating.  Wouldn’t you know it? The first thing on water dragon’s agenda was Anusara® Inc.  Like a tsunami, the intensity of the dragon, combined with water, leveled our hierarchical system. Now we all stand together in the horizontal model that the Rajanka tradition, the philosophy that speaks to my heart, states.  A collective of voices and talents.

Back in September I was doing my Brand Thyself session with Jess and working on a new bio. She kept saying,  “speak from your own experience, you don’t need to validate or justify it with your teachers anymore.”  She reminded me that after being a student of yoga for more than 15 years, and teaching for over 10, that I have my own credibility as a student and a teacher on the path. This wisdom has really helped me the last few months and I think it will help us all right now.

Now is the time for each of us to step deeper inside ourselves and stand upon our own experiences.  It does not mean we have to separate ourselves from Anusara, many of the teachers who resigned stated that they will continue to teach the method. But I do believe it is an opportunity to look at the places where we are not speaking from our own experience and truth or simply taking our teacher’s word for it.  It’s time for radical authenticity.  To be guided from within, to speak and act from your heart, and to live the yoga.  We can stand together in our individual freedom.

Each of us can examine our lives, whether you teach yoga or not, and move toward deeper intimacy.  Each time I speak my truth, even if it leaves me feeling vulnerable, I am living from my heart.  This is what the new era will require. Right now we are just in basic training.

There is a saying in China, you can never see the head and the tail of a water dragon at the same time.  We have no idea where this is going, we just have to stay open and present, continue to practice, and flow with it.