Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Courageous Hearts



To be courageous is not necessarily to go anywhere or do anything except to make conscious those things we already feel deeply and then to live through the unending vulnerabilities of those consequences.  

~David Whyte, Consolations

One of the vignettes on One World Stay at Home concert last Saturday was of a 66 year old retired doctor who has chosen to leave retirment, put her scrubs back on and return to work at the hospital treating Covid-19 patients.  She felt deeply what was in her heart and has made herself highly vulnerable to the consequences.

Courage is expressed in physical acts like those of all our frontline essential works who put themselves at risk every day.  It is also in the willingness to feel our hearts deeply: pain, fear, grief, love.  To feel and then to act, even if that action is simply getting out of bed and doing another day at home in lock down.

In Sanskrit the word for heart is Hrdaya. While this refers to our beating physical hearts, it also refers to the heart of the world, the essence and core of anything and all things. Yoga teaches us that when we allow ourselves to rest back in our heart and all that we find therein, we ultimately rest back in the heart of all things.  This is yoga off the mat, where we connect to all beings through our vulnerability and willingness to feel.

Allowing ourselves to feel deeply is scary.  I find it terrifying.  That’s why I love this hand gesture: Abhaya Hrdaya Mudra or Courageous Heart Gesture.  A mudra is a seal, a mark or a gesture, a calling forth of what we aspire to.  I don’t know about you, but I need a lot of courage these days. 


Join me at 12:15 pm today for a FREE meditation on cultivating our courageous hearts and learn the mudra with me.  

If you miss the meditation, here’s SiannaSherman demonstrating how to do it.

Love, 
Chaya






Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Vicissitudes and Koshas


By Chaya Spencer

Vicissitude. I had to look this word up! It's a good word for right now. "A change of circumstances or fortune, typically one that is unwelcome or unpleasant." There is such drastic change of circumstance happening at the moment; changes that are external to us and not in our control. And, changes that are internal to us that maybe within our control.  David Whyte writes: 

Conscious or unconscious, we are surrounded not only by the vicissitudes of a difficult world but even more by those of our own making.

One way to think about gaining some control over those of our own making is the map which the philosophical yogic concept of the five Koshas offers.  According to this map, we are composed of five layers, sheaths, or bodies. Like Russian dolls, each metaphorical "body" is contained within the next:

Annamaya kosha—the physical body or food body
Pranamaya kosha—the breath or life force body
Manomaya kosha—the mental and emotional body
Vijanamaya kosha—the wisdom body
Anandamaya kosha—the bliss body



Each of these sheaths is impacted by the vicissitudes of our current situation in different ways.  Our physical bodies might be feeling stress, exhaustion, fight or flight, and so on.  Our energy Pranic body might be feeling short of breath and lacking in vitality. Our mental bodies might be feeling fear, despair, hope, and so on.  We can take heart from understanding that we are not just one of these sheaths that we might be indentifying with at a given time.  We are all of them.  They are all part of us.  And, we are more, for these are all sheaths that cover the essence of the Self, the Atman, the heart of our essential nature.

When we are able to perceive ourselves as more than a single part, and know that we are an unchanging essence that lives at the center of all five, we can craft an identity for ourselves that can enable us to live in the world we find ourselves in without feeling beset.  Rather, we can understand the parts and through them, understand the whole. 

Follow your yoga and meditation practice into the heart and essence of your identity and find an inner steadiness at the center.  You are all of it and all of it is you.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Outrageous Love


By Rachel Dewan

The saddest day of the year in my house is always the last day of summer camp.  My children come home, crying big tears and chest-heaving sobs. And what I always say to them is “I know this feels bad, but it just means that you had so much love all summer.”


Big emotions can be hard to manage and to know what to do with.  Anger is one of the emotions that has been coming up for me during these challenging weeks of quarantine, but reading David Whyte’s unpacking of what anger actually is has been super helpful. He writes:


“ANGER is the deepest form of compassion, the purest form of care, it always illuminates what we belong to, what we wish to protect and what we are willing to hazard ourselves for. What we have named as anger on the surface is the violent outer response to our own inner powerlessness, a powerlessness connected to such a profound sense of rawness and vulnerability that it can find no proper identity or voice, or way of life to hold it. What we call anger is often simply the unwillingness to live the full measure of our fears or of our not knowing.”



He then writes “Our anger breaks to the surface most often through our feeling that there is something profoundly wrong with our powerlessness and vulnerability.” Tantra teaches that there are no “bad” emotions. Emotions just are, and when we learn to recognize them when they arise, and pay attention to what causes them to arise, they simply become another gateway to the Source. Anger is not wrong, nor is fear or vulnerability or sadness even though they may be uncomfortable for a time. If you feel any of these strong emotions it is not a failure, it just means you are human. It’s not that we have strong feelings, but what we do them that defines who we are. And whether the emotion is anger, sadness, fear, hurt, joy, compassion, generosity, at the root of all of it is love.


Yoga gives us the chance to sit and be with the vulnerability and the powerlessness in a safe way. To be with ourselves in our most raw and open state, which we are able to do because we are surrounded by a community that holds the space for us to do that. This remote yet connected way of practicing as we have been online during these weeks of Covid19 gives us an even more unique opportunity - to be in community and yet also alone in the safety of our own homes so we can truly allow ourselves to be vulnerable and befriend our powerlessness.



I see a lot of people preaching “love over fear” right now.  While on a broad level I do believe that, I also think there is great danger in the spiritual bypass. It is important to feel all the feels (but also to let them go when we are able to). Feeling fear doesn’t make you an unsuccessful yogi.  Feeling anger either. And anyone who tells you they aren’t feeling those things right now is likely not being honest with you, or more likely with themselves. I am feeling those things, but also feeling grateful, inspired, supported, and loved at the same time.  One doesn’t eclipse the other, and the most grounded and healthy people I know are the ones who understand this.  

I’d like to replace the “love over fear” refrain with the words of Marc Gafni who says: "In a world of outrageous pain, the only response is outrageous love."

Thursday, March 12, 2020

My Yoga in the Time of Corona



Everywhere I turn there is fear.  Every person, every media channel, every conversation seems infused with alarm.  It is a fearful time.  I’m scared.  I’m afraid for the health of my loved ones, my students, my business.  I’m afraid for our economy, our society, our sense of community if we become isolated. 

I know I have a choice.  I can let the dread overwhelm me and dictate my actions and reactions.  Sometimes it does.  Or, I can use my practices to try and steady myself so I can make the best choices and respond in the best way I can.

What am I doing to help myself?

·    I’m doing yoga at the studio
·        I’m meditating each morning
·        I’m breathing deep
·        I’m taking walks
·        I’m living one day at a time


I’m working to remember what I teach: that I am more than my body, my health and my attachments.   I’m inviting peace into myself so that I can hold space for the Shree community whether we end up practicing at the studio, at home, or through an online forum. 

Let’s use our practices to decrease panic and increase peace together in the Time of Corona. 

With love,
Chaya

p.s. Remember, if you decide to attend public classes at Shree:
  • Wash your hands well  in the restrooms before entering the studio
  • Leave “virus talk” outside so Shree can be a place of ease and peace for all
  • Bring a hand towel and pillow case to cover the bolster and blankets for restorative classes
  • Bring a hand towel to cover blankets, wash cloths to cover blocks, bring your own props
  • Weekend classes are often crowded.  Come to a weeknight class instead.



Sunday, March 1, 2020

My Yoga Story by Doreen Cosenza


Several years ago I hurt my right hip. I had a bad habit of getting out of my car by placing my left foot on the ground and then twisting my right leg and "dragging " it out. Eventually, like all bad habits, it took its toll. The leg became stiff and, instead of exercising, I favored it. It kept deteriorating and arthritis stepped in to hasten the decline.  I began to walk with a limp. I had terrible balance; I couldn't stand on either leg long enough to get a pants leg on. After falling down the stairs because my right leg wouldn't support me, I resigned myself to going up and down on just my left leg. The leg became even weaker and, if I could manage to get up out of a chair, I would have to hobble over to something to lean on and try to straighten it out since it remained bent as if I were still sitting.  

"I imagined my future sitting in a wheelchair. "

What could I do?! I had to fight back! But, how?  I couldn't walk or ride a bike. Forget about going to the gym for more strenuous exercise!
              
In the spring of 2018, on my way to a craft store, I saw a YOGA sign. I didn't know anything about yoga except if I got down on the floor, I was going to have the devil of a time getting back up. I didn't do anything about it but that YOGA sign kept "poking" me. Sometimes life truly does give you a “sign”; you just have to be willing to see it.
              


By the time I decided to come to Shree Yoga in Saddle River, NJ that fall, I had no cartilage in my right hip and I was in pain 24/7. I knew I was facing hip replacement surgery but wasn't brave enough to deal with that yet. I signed up for, not one, but two chair yoga classes a week. Of course, yoga couldn't heal my leg; this isn't a fairy tale. However, it could and did improve my balance, the strength of my leg, my overall muscle tone, flexibility and feeling of well-being. Yes, chair yoga! And when I faced my hip surgery in the summer of 2019, it definitely helped with my recovery and physical therapy.
               
To say that I am grateful to my chair yoga teachers, Susan Walsh and Jan Jeremias, is an understatement.  I cannot thank them enough for their professionalism, encouragement and support.  To date I have had several teachers at Shree Yoga: Rachel, Terry, Emi and Valerie -- they have all been wonderful. These are people that not only want to help you learn yoga to the best of their ability but see you as an individual and honestly care about your welfare.
               
Recently I have moved out of my chair classes and into gentle therapeutic and other more challenging classes. There are things my right leg is never going to do. That's just the nature of things for me.  I still have a balance "issue"; it doesn't come easily for me. There's still plenty of room for improvement, but I try to do my best in my classes and my Shree Yoga teachers are there to help, encourage and support me in my journey.
              



"ShreeYoga Studios has made such a wonderful difference in my Life. It has improved the quality of my life so much for the better; how many things can you say that about?"
             
Thank you for taking the time to read my story. I sincerely hope it makes a difference and helps someone.

Doreen Cosenza

     See Shree’s full schedule of classes.
     Do you have a story you’d like to share?  Email it to Chaya@shreeyoga.com for consideration.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

On the Guru





In 7th grade I had a beloved teacher, Mr. Gittler. He was my social studies teacher and was the first to introduce me to eastern philosophy, which was part of the curriculum at my school, but was also a topic that was dear to his heart so he taught it with joy and excitement.  After studying with him for some time, I came home from school and told my conservative and observant Jewish mother that I thought I was actually a Hindu.  Needless to say, it was not so well received at the time (although to her credit, she came around). Fast forward 10 years and I married a Hindu, but that’s another story for another day. 


The third word of the Anusara invocation is gurave, which comes from the root word guru. Guru is traditionally defined most simply as a teacher, but usually understood as a spiritual guide or mentor. If we break the word down even more we get gu = darkness, and ru = removal; from this we understand that the guru is that which removes the darkness of ignorance and helps to reveal the light of awareness. In Tantric yoga one way we understand this is through the guru tattva (or principle). My teacher Todd Norian teaches that the guru is the wisdom that has flowed through all time and space from the Absolute. The guru is simply the vessel that that wisdom happens to be flowing through in that moment.

In this way, we can understand guru to mean the process by which we are led from darkness to light, ignorance to knowledge, from our limited human awareness to the unlimited awareness of consciousness. So the guru doesn't necessarily have to be a person or a teacher in the form of a human. The guru can be a good friend or family member, a particular situation that caused a shift in your life, a transformative experience, an injury, a heartbreak; really anything the leads to a deeper understanding of the wisdom that already exists inside of you. The late, great Ram Das said “If you know how to listen, everyone is the guru.” I can speak for myself when I say that I often look outside of myself for advice, guidance, and  wisdom. Yet when I think back to my most influential “teachers” they were the ones who guided me to my own inner wisdom, to a latent knowing deep inside that was ready and longing to be awakened and remembered.

What was most profound to me way back in 7th grade was not that I was learning something “new”, although in a way I was. What led me to come home and make my angina-inducing declaration to my mother was that I felt like what I had always known to be true in my own heart had finally been given a vocabulary. It was as if Mr. Gittler gave voice to my innermost thoughts and feelings that I hadn’t previously been able to name or categorize or even fully understand until that moment. It felt like my very existence was being validated. It was the same feeling I had when I met my husband: oh, I know you. You’ve been here in my heart all along.

The two words that precede gurave in the Anusara invocation are namah shivaya. The word namah means adoration, homage, or respect. It is the root of the word namasteThe word shivaya comes from the root shiva, meaning auspiciousness.  It is one of the words for the all-pervasive, eternal light of supreme Consciousness of which all of creation, including all of us, is made from.

So put together namah shivaya gurave says:

I bow to all of creation, all of life, as my teacher. 
I honor the flow of wisdom in the universe and I open to its teachings in any form it comes.
I pay homage to the One source of being which flows through every experience leading me from darkness to light.  

And if the Sanskrit doesn’t do it for you, you can just remember the English acronym: G-U-R-U.
 
 
Off the mat practice: Attempt to view every experience as your teacher: the car cutting you off on the highway, an argument with someone, a beautiful moment in nature or with a friend, an illness, a loss. Ask every emotion that comes with the experience what it has to teach you, why it came to you in that moment.

On the mat: Let your body be your teacher, even when you're in a class. Listen deeply to what it needs and respond in kind. Let every pose be the guru, revealing its blessings and challenges.

Monday, February 17, 2020

What I Long For


By Chaya Spencer

Listening to a podcast interview with the author of TheOverstory, Richard Powers, I am filled with a longing to experience an old growth forest.  I have a longing to feel part of something so majestic, so ancient, so alive and so….BIG.  Powers describes stepping into such a forest in the Smoky Mountains and how it was a transformative experience. He spoke of how it smelled different, sounded different, felt different. Trees there are thousands of years old.  He said, “Did I become smaller and more vulnerable, yes, but I also became larger it a Whitman-esque way. I started to contain multitudes, or they started to contain me.”  In North America, only 2-5% of old growth forest still exist.



I want to experience that I contain multitudes and that they contain me. I long to feel deeply connected and part of the whole.  The first law of thermodynamics, states that energy can neither be created nor destroyedenergy can only be transferred or changed from one form to another. Yoga philosophy teaches that the universe is one energy manifesting as all of creation.  That one energy is represented by the vibration - the sound of OM, or AUM. It has agency - the agency to create, sustain and finally dissolve all the matter back into vibration, back into energy, back into AUM.

When I think and feel that I am a simply one manifestation of a ubiquitous vibration, I begin to recognize that myself: my body, mind and spirit and everything else is sacred.  I want to step into the ancient forest and feel connection, and feel that energy that I am contained in; that huge oneness. 

In the Anusara invocation, which is taken from the Upanishads, the first line is: Om Namah Shivaya Gurave.  Nama/namas/namah is the word for salutation or praise.  It is the sense of bowing to the sacred in everything.  It is the invitation to recognize that we’re all made of the same stuff and that stuff is sacred and special and it is you and it is me.  At the rare times when I remember this, I touch my keyboard, the oak in the yard, my body, the food I eat, the dishes, my family  as  sacred. I Namah, I bow, I salute and honor it all.  Maybe I don’t need to step into the old growth forest after all.  Maybe that for which I long is right here with me.

“Live in each season as it passes; breathe the airdrink the drinktaste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.”
 ~  Thoreau


If you'd like to join us at Shree for our book club, we're currently reading The Overstory for our March 15th meeting at 4:00 pm.  You are most welcome to join us.