Sunday, February 27, 2022

Stepping out of Your Comfort Zone

by Rachel Dewan

Well it's been a minute. I had so much to say about this topic that I decided it needed to exist in the blogosphere. Let's unpack what it means to step out of your comfort zone. The details are different for everyone, but I think it basically means to not always default to what’s “easy”. So what’s wrong with being comfortable? Really nothing. And let's start this whole conversation by saying that if life, as it is wont to do, is pushing you into places of great discomfort, you don’t need to do anything else, you just need to hold on tight to your faith and go along for the ride. What I'm talking about here are the ways we become stagnant. Since the universe itself is in a constant state of process, if we are not participating with it in the ways that we are able to, one day we wake up and realize we’re stuck. And to get out of that stuck place takes SO much more effort in the long run.


Consider this a hint if you're coming to my class this week...

The universe has given us endless ways to know it and experience it and explore its beauty. But it requires our participation. Stepping out of your CZ means stepping into the unknown. Whether that’s rock climbing a new route, or hiking a new mountain, or a going to a new place to vacation, or going on a silent retreat, or joining a new book club, it requires us to be vulnerable, and that is usually not a comfortable place. It takes faith. Not blind faith where we go in with eyes closed just praying for the best, but the kind where we follow our hearts and take our heads along for the ride


The Sanskrit word for faith is shraddha, and one generally accepted translation of that word is "where you place your heart". In other words, know what you want. And if something that you want is outside of your CZ, know what you are willing to risk to have it. Know your capacities and your limitations and act accordingly. But that is a razors edge, and there’s no promise that it won’t hurt. Faith is knowing that it won’t hurt so much that you can’t come back from it. It’s being able to stay connected to what keeps you steady through it all.


Recently I watched the rock climber Adam Ondra sending Silence, the “world’s hardest route”. It literally created a new grade of climb that didn't exist before. It took him hundreds of times and years to do it. Falling off again and again. If he read all those falls as “failure” there is no way he ever would have done it. Stepping out of our CZ is accepting small “failures” to figure out how to do it better next time. Failure is a word we use to give ourselves an out. "Oh, I tried that thing and because it didn’t go exactly as I wanted it to, it didn’t feel as easy as it “should have”, I can’t do that thing." And the reality is that maybe you can’t do that thing today, but that doesn’t mean you’ll never be able to do it. So what are the steps to take so you can do it in a year? Or 2 years? Tiny victories feed shraddha. Change your expectation of what progress is. In yoga, for example, if you can’t do the pose, examine where your inconsistencies are, your tight places, your self-limiting thoughts and decide what tiny victory you can focus on to keep moving you forward. Because that’s just it. Life will move you forward whether you participate or not. So might as well decide what direction you want to go in. 



     If you need some inspiration, watch Adam climb this route the whole way through for the first time.


Stepping out of our CZ tests our faith: can I really do this?  Am I meant to do it? Really that’s up to you. Sometimes the answer is not ever, sometimes it’s just not right now. We are limited beings in some ways and we are unlimited beings in other ways. We need to be realistic about the ways we are limited, whether in body or spirit, and face them. But we get to decide if we want to be connected to the places where we are limited or the places where we aren’t. It means redefining “failure”. It means falling off a route 100 times before making the next move. Falling out of an arm balance 1000 times before being able to hold it for a second. Getting a therapist so you can work through your social anxiety so you can join the book club. It’s not easy or comfortable, and like my kids love to say, “it’s not fair!”. To which I respond, "who ever told you it was going to be fair??" It’s not. But we can either sit by and let life happen to us (ie. stay in stagnant in the CZ) or we can participate fully in every way we can (step into your light, celebrate tiny victories, hold steady through the challenges life throws at us which we have no control over).


In terms of our yoga asana practice, we know that the body will always want to go in the path of least resistance. Our bodies will always choose to do what feels good, and unless we are being very conscious in our practice we will go along with that. Again, nothing innately wrong with doing that, and sometimes that is just the thing to do - pain is a message that we need to pay attention to something. However, if we always do what we’ve always done, we always get what we’ve always gotten. Patterns of misalignment which lead to imbalance and often pain will keep repeating themselves until we create a new pattern. It's usually not easy and not comfortable.  But we are healthier, happier, stronger, and more resilient in the long run. It works the same with our thoughts, our emotions, our hearts. And that's what makes it all yoga - being conscious. 
It's fun and interesting out here outside the CZ. It's never boring, always exciting. Join me. 

Outside your CZ practices, on the mat:
This week in my classes we will work on caturanga, building strength in our upper body to lean out into arm balances with faith. Here's some other things to work on in your own practice:
Notice when you sit out a pose because it's hard. Instead of sitting it out, try a modified version.
If you've been doing a modified version of a pose for a long time for a specific reason, ask yourself if that reason is still valid.  You know what to do if it's not.
Breathe. a lot. If you're scared, breathe deeper. 
Pay attention to your habits. Do you come in to the studio and do the same warm-ups every time? Do you strategically stop for a sip of water when a hard pose is called? Are your habits keeping you stagnant?
Get really curious. If you can't do a pose, ask yourself, or your teacher, why? 
Celebrate tiny victories in whatever way they come
Outside your CZ practices, off the mat:
Take yourself on a weekly date doing something that scares you. Start small.  Bring a friend for support. But do it!
Create a mantra or affirmation that reminds you that stepping outside of your CZ will help you grow as a human. "I can do hard things" works for me.
Get clear with yourself about what risks you are willing to take, and which ones you are not, to have something you want that feels out of your reach.
Add your own in the comments!
For the Anusara junkies:

OTG: Soften what the word failure means to you. Focus on tiny victories.

What keeps you steady in times of discomfort? Keep that in the forefront of your awareness

Let each breath guide you to a place inside of inner reliance, where you feel secure and connected to a universe that wants for you what you want for yourself

Get comfortable with “I don’t know” and “All I need to do is participate”

Stop trying to control your world and participate fully in your life without knowing what the outcome will be


ME: pull to the midline and pull into what keeps you steady

Pull up and into your faith/what keeps you steady/your heart

Muscles are malleable, changeable, bones are not.  We pull SMB (skin to muscle to bone) to connect to all that is already steady inside our bodies

Activate muscles, participate in the pose fully, in your life fully

Draw SMB, connecting to a place of wisdom inside so you make smart choices about how to safely step outside your CZ


OE: expand fully into the pose and expand your CZ

Stretch yourself fully into the pose and the breath and into active participation with your life just as it is

Expand from midline outwards, expanding your faith in yourself and your practice

Shine with the quiet radiance of the faithful

Smile and enjoy the pose, even if it’s not easy or comfortable

Celebrate whatever form of the pose you can do. Celebrate tiny victories that will strengthen you and move you in the direction you want to be headed.


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.


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,

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 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.

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