Monday, October 7, 2019

Restorative Yoga: Luxury or Necessity?

By Karon Shovers, Certified Anusara Teacher, ERYT 500
I often hear that Restorative Yoga is a luxury activity, similar to getting a facial or massage or that it is for people who are not strong and flexible or can’t do a “regular” yoga class. Some students believe that conscious resting will not help them shed unwanted weight. Students who practice Restorative Yoga regularly claim that it is a necessity like brushing their teeth. It can help prevent stiffness, back pain and feeling over-stressed. What is the truth about Restorative yoga?

Restorative yoga compliments and magnifies the benefits of our asana (posture) practice and all types of movement. It helps us unlock the secret to going slow, paying attention and sitting still. When you practice intentional rest, you will discover more energy for your family, work, creativity and more vigorous exercise.
According to Roger Cole, a sleep researcher, “Restorative Yoga allows you to recover fully from all the stresses and strains of life. By relaxing muscles, lowering your heart rate and allowing your nervous system to stop constantly reacting, you are not only more relaxed but more focused and effective.” This, in itself, lends to greater productivity and time management.
A 48-week study was done by the National Institute of Health to prove that Restorative Yoga can help people lose significant weight and subcutaneous fat. Restorative yoga decreases the stress hormone cortisol, which is associated with weight gain, high blood pressure and heart disease.
The fact that restorative yoga helps people lose weight is an added bonus, researches say, because the more aerobic styles of yoga or a gym workout can prove to be challenging or intimidating for someone overweight or injured and restorative yoga is easily accessible to all. Most importantly, Restorative Yoga is conscious relaxation and a valuable tonic to many mental and physical ailments.
Rest is radical magic. Come try out a Restorative class and add this important practice weekly or twice weekly to your schedule.  You won't regret it.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Samudra Shakti

Chaya and I spent much of last week at Samudra Shakti, the first gathering of licensed Anusara teachers in the USA since 2012. There were more than 75 licensed teachers in attendance, from all over the country and a few from Mexico. There were teachers, like Chaya, who have been with the method its beginning, and there were teachers who just became licensed in the last year or 2, and everything in between.  The gathering had the flavor of the true meaning of the word Samudra, which has its roots in the Rgveda, and means “gathering together of waters (oceans)”, or “convergence”, or “a body of water that rivers flow into”.
Chaya and I at the YMCA of the Rockies, where Samudra Shakti was held
Although I tried not to, I went in with lots of expectations, but my aha moment was the simple realization that we can choose to be awakened anytime we attune to the present moment and allow ourselves to fully immerse in it. The philosophy that gives life to Anusara Yoga has been around for 3000 years and is still around because it is beautiful, life-affirming, and helps to create meaning and purpose in a world that becomes more complicated by the day. Much of the retreat for me was just a reminder of that core teaching; that the individual, the universe, and the Absolute are one single continuous reality whose nature is consciousness and bliss. When we open to that reality, we step into the ever-flowing river of our lives with awareness and openness and say yes to every emotion and experience, knowing that any of them can have the capacity for a revelation. When I let go of expectations and just listened, there was so much wisdom to be absorbed.
Anusara has come far from its guru-centric tendencies and has stepped fully and gloriously into its new manifestation as a teacher-led school. 35 teachers, including Chaya, presented classes, workshops, meditations, chants, Q and A sessions, and Open Space forums where ideas could be shared. Each teacher’s voice was powerful and skillful. We talked, we meditated, we sang, we chanted, we hiked, we made s’mores, and we “did yoga” in every sense of the word. Everyone who wanted to have a voice had one, which created a collective, diverse, and yet unified bigger voice. Anusara Yoga has become the sum of its parts and greater, with over 1000 licensed teachers worldwide and growing every day, including 3 teachers who were given their full Certification at the retreat, one of whom was our beloved Adolfo.
Madhuri Martin, one of the event coordinators created this beautiful intention for our gathering and the future of our school: “We are only as awakened as the company we keep. Shiva as a singular totality is entirely concealed in the diversity and plurality of being. As we make the paradigm-shift to an entirely teacher-run and teacher-held global yoga community, we recognize that we are only as realized as we are a connected collective. Samudra Shakti acknowledges that the seat of the teacher must move around the room, must continually shift, to those who take up their own gifts, who show cultivation and whose self-empowerment invites the seat of the community.”
I am so proud to be a member of this organization, and so grateful to those who have kept it going since 2012. I am grateful for the method’s powerful teachings, once-again-strong community, and capacity to transform lives, including my own. I am grateful to all the teachers that made beautiful offerings at our gathering. I am grateful to those, including Chaya and I, working to make Anusara more inclusive and more available to everyone. I am grateful to Chaya for encouraging me to attend and be part of it. And I am most grateful for the affirmation I received by just being there and being a heard voice in the collective.
Estes Park is a bowl-shaped valley surrounded entirely by the Rocky Mountains. It felt to me like many rivers from all over the USA flowed into the chalice of that bowl for 4 days last week and converged in a beautiful ocean of learning, questioning, conversation, and shared love, all while holding ourselves and each other to our highest in speech, practice, and interaction. I am reminded of the words of Rumi:
“You and I have spoken all these words, but for the way we have to go, words are no preparation. I have one small drop of knowing in my soul.
Let it dissolve in your ocean.
A mountain keeps an echo deep inside. That's how I hold your voice.”
To my fellow Anusara teachers and students, thank you for the drops of knowing. I hold all your voices still echoing in my heart. for more information on Anusara Yoga, classes and trainings.
 Chaya leading the Hari Om chant, I'm on backup with John Seelye, Tiffany Wood and Carmel Calcagno, and Jaye Martin brilliant on clarinet

Chaya leading Om Sahana Vavatu

 Jaya Shiva Shambho

Thursday, August 1, 2019

What is a Yoga Immersion?

What is a Yoga Immersion?

My son calls these my grasshopper glasses.  When I first started wearing them it was challenging to have a conversation with someone because they spent the whole time looking at themselves, fixing their hair or smiling at weirdly inappropriate times in the conversation.  Now I am used to it and I kinda like it. Because this is what I strive for as a yoga teacher, to be the one who holds up the mirror so you can see who you really are, beneath skin and muscle and bone. In weekly yoga classes we get a glimpse of what the inner landscape of our beings looks like, but there is only so deep we can go in a 60-90 minute session. The Anusara yoga immersion is the opportunity to widen the view of the magnificent vista of our innermost existence. If weekly classes are sporadic or even regular dates, the Immersion is a committed relationship.

Truth be told, I like teaching my weekly classes, but I love teaching Immersions! Webster’s dictionary defines Immersion as: complete involvement in some activity or interest; or absorption, concentration, engrossment, enthrallment, awareness, consciousness, raptness, contemplation, meditation, rumination. The Anusara Immersion is a systematic, comprehensive approach to engage with all the facets of yoga practice, including a robust syllabus of asana (postures), pranayama (breath work), Tantric philosophy (the philosophical system that Anusara yoga is built upon), anatomy, and meditative practices.  We use a template collaboratively created over many years by many wonderful and wise teachers so that topics and poses covered build on each other and flow in a cohesive and intelligent way, with enough time to integrate the material thoughtfully and mindfully. 

Perhaps the most treasured thing that comes out of these Immersions is the sacred community that develops among the participants. The group becomes a safe and nurturing space to come together with like-minded people and have meaningful dialogue and experience in a way that I think many of us are starved for in our current culture. This doesn’t mean that we all agree on everything, but a mutual respect arises that allows for everyone to integrate the concepts we study together in their own life in the way that makes sense for each individual personally. Many precious and lifelong friendships arise from Immersion groups.  

Yoga scripture teaches us that, yes, we are our hair and our bodies and all that makes us beautiful on the outside, but that we are so much deeper and so much more than any label we put on ourselves, or role that we play in our personal and professional lives. The Anusara Immersion is a chance for a long, delicious pause to look deeper than our skin and our habits, to the ever-present light that is the nature of our existence, as far from us as our daily busy lives can push it away, and yet as close as our own breath.  Or maybe you just want to learn how to do baby grasshopper pose, and that’s okay too.

Immersion I at Shree yoga starts September 22nd. More info here

Early bird discount ends August 7th.

If you’d like to meet Rachel in person and hear more about the program, information sessions will be held:
Wednesday August 7 8:30 – 9:00 am
Sunday, August 18 6:30 -7:00 pm
Wednesday September 11 5:30 – 6:00 pm

Text or call Rachel to RSVP for any session, or with inquiries, questions, concerns, or to enroll today at 914.980.5879. Register now and join the lovely group already taking shape to become engrossed, absorbed, enthralled, and enraptured. Make 2019 your best year ever through the deep and transformational practice of yoga. 

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Retreat: an Act or Process of Moving Back or Withdrawing

When my daughter was a baby, she slept poorly, nursed frequently and cried mightily from repeated ear aches.  I was exhausted.  Beyond exhausted.  I was doing a poor job at everything and felt emotionally thin as a sheet.

I went on a weekend retreat to an ashram, or spiritual community.  I was able to withdraw from my exhaustion and stress.  I chanted.  I meditated. I practiced yoga.  I spent time in nature. I retreated from all that was causing me stress – just for 2 days.  I went through the profound and transformative process of withdrawal into my Self. 

I was refreshed and renewed by the retreat, and able to step back into motherhood with more joy, fortitude and patience.

I offer a similar retreat to you.  Whatever it is that is stressing you or making you feel emotionally thin: a newborn, a job, care taking, teenagers or a loss, or simply the desire to get away from it all, come for the weekend of August 2-4 to Ananda Ashram in Monroe, NY, and join me in the process of moving back into your Self.

Registration is open.  Space is limited and filling fast.  Details are here.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Retreat News with Videos

The weekend of April 5-7 I was privileged to co-lead “Journey to the Heart of Anusara” retreat. 57 students participated at beautiful Kripalu Center for Yoga and Wellness in Stockbridge, MA.  It was a wonderful experience all round.  Here's a short video peek into the retreat:

Retreat is an opportunity to step away from the normal day to day of life and dedicate time and energy to experiencing deeper connection with oneself and with others.  We journeyed to the heart through inspiring stories, deep slow asana, meditation and my favorite, Kirtan, or devotional chanting which is a fast track in.

One of the things that made Journey to the Heart of Anusara Yoga Retreat so special was having four certified Anusara teachers working together: myself, Tiffany Wood, John Seelye, and Jackie Prete. That meant that when one of us was teaching, the other three were assisting. We were able to give participants a lot of personal attention during classes. It was wonderful for me to have the opportunity to focus solely on adjusting, enhancing, and supporting the students without having to teach at the same time. Working as a group of teachers was an inspiring experience for me and I look forward to repeating it.  Join us at Kripalu in 2020!  Dates to be decided.

I left the retreat feeling refreshed and reinvigorated both as a person, a yoga practitioner and as a  yoga teacher and studio owner.  Working as team we share ideas, insights and techniques to enhance ourselves as Aunusara Yoga teachers.

I’m offering a sweet summer weekend retreat at Ananda Ashram in Monroe in August.  Click here for details.  Early bird discount through May 1.

Tiffany, Chaya, John and Jackie
Thank you to Darryl Dobson Photography and Lisa Long for the photos and videos.  Thank you to the Anusara School of Hatha Yoga for providing the framework and support for us to grow and flourish as a community.

Chaya Spencer
Certified Anusara Teacher
Owner Shree Yoga

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Want More Strength? More Flexibility? Check Out Strengthen and Stretch.

By Susan Walsh, ERYT 500, Anusara Inspired

“I love Susan’s Strengthen and Stretch class - it’s a great workout and fun. I highly recommend it.” ~ Bea

I created a new class for Shree a few months ago called Strengthen and Stretch. I wanted to take all of the great aspects from a normal yoga class but add more specific toning, strengthening and stretching aspects.   I added movements to give mobility to the joints and to help strengthen our muscles, heart and mind.  Gentle larger movements are done to lubricate the joints, warm the body up and slightly elevate our heart rate.  We use body weight resistance and resistance bands to strengthen and tone muscles in our legs, hips, chest, arms, shoulders and core (similar to movements done in physical therapy).  There are options to every exercise to accommodate all fitness levels.  The toning is followed by slow deep stretching allowing our bodies and minds to release tension, relax, soften and expand.  

The class is slightly more intense than a yoga class with the added benefits of strengthening and toning being worth the extra exertion.  The mind has a chance to slow down during the stretching portion and the seated meditation and Shavasana feels heavenly after all the hard work.  People leave class feeling awake, energized and fulfilled from our practice ready to approach the rest of the day.  

Strengthen and Stretch takes place Wednesdays 12:15 -1:30 pm weekly.  Suitable for beginners and those wishing to increase muscle strength and flexibility. No reservations needed.

Special offer!  Strengthen and Stretch class on Wednesday, March 27 at 12:15 pm is only $10.

See you there!

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

A Blessing for You

In India, there is no river more sacred than the Ganges.  She gives life to millions and receives their cremated remains at the end.  She is considered not just a river, but literally a Goddess, Ma Ganga, who is prayed to, honored with lights and flowers, and from whom blessings are received.

I asked my husband and daughter during their visit to Varanasi, a city on the banks of the sacred river, to say a prayer of blessing for all the students and friends of Shree Yoga.  At sunrise on January 23rd, a blessing was said for you all.  Candles and flowers are offered and there is a magic in connecting so deeply to nature and the life giving force of our rivers, oceans, mountains and valleys.  Know that you have been blessed.  If you have a moment, sit silently now and open yourself to fully experience the beauty of countless blessings that are pouring out to you all the time.  This is the meaning of “Shree” – a vast abundance of beauty and a perspective on life that looks for the blessings amidst all that is.



1/23/19 Sunrise on the Ganges in Varanasi

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Chapel of the Bones

During my travels earlier in the month, we had an interesting and rather unexpected church visit in the Portuguese city of Evora. We encountered the transience of life up close and personal. “The Chapel of the Bones was built in the 17th century, with the intention of provoking by the image the reflection on the transience of human life. Both the walls and the pillars are covered with a few thousand bones and skulls from the burial spaces connected to the convent.” By the 16th century, there were as many as 43 cemeteries in and around Évora that were taking up valuable land. Not wanting to condemn the souls of the people buried there, the monks decided to build the Chapel and relocate the bones. 5000 corpses were moved. The inscription over the door reads: “Nós ossos que aqui estamos, pelos vossos esperamos,” or: “We bones, are here, waiting for yours.”

It was both beautiful and somehow terrible to behold so many bones artfully decorating every vertical surface.  There was a pillar of sacrums, stacks of femurs, masses of skulls and arches of tibias.  The monks would meditate here on the ephemeral-ness of the body and life finding inspiration to commit fully to their religious practices.  I wished there was somewhere to sit and contemplate because it certainly did stimulate this awareness in me. It also brought home the unity of all bodies and all peoples regardless of color, creed, religion or ethnicity – all the things that seem to divide us and make us feel better than, less than, and certainly different from one another.  Tantric philosophy teaches that we are all made of the One energy and nowhere was this more apparent to me than in the Chapel of Bones.  The Bone Chapel brings perspective, one of the 8 Pillars of Joy.

Here is a poem by Father Antonio da Ascencao, that hangs from one of the pillars:

Where are you going in such a hurry traveler?
Pause… do not advance your travel;
You have no greater concern
Than this one: that on which you focus your sight.

Recall how many have passed from this world,
Reflect on your similar end,
There is good reason to reflect If only all did the same.
Ponder, you so influenced by fate,
Among all the many concerns of the world,

So little do you reflect on death;
If by chance you glance at this place,
Stop… for the sake of your journey,
The more you pause, the further on your journey you will be.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

The Initiation Well

     Last week I visited Quinta da Regaleira in the beautiful town of Sintra outside of Lisbon, Portugal.  This UNESCO palace and extensive grounds was full of mystery, mysticism and intrigue.  What fascinated me most was the Initiation Well. It is a stone tower that descends through nine spirals 27 meters into the earth. 

      It is believed that various rituals and initiation rites took place here for practitioners of Tarot and Free Masonry or even the Knights Templar. The intention, we were told, was for the initiate to move from the known, the light of day, down through nine spirals into the depths of their own selves, darkness and the unknown. We entered through a stone portal and began our descent in silence circling deeper and deeper into the earth. The act of walking the narrowing spiraling inward well brought me into a contemplative quite place in myself.  We arrived at the bottom where the four cardinal points of the compass are inlaid on the floor and gazed up at the small circle of daylight.

      The way in is not the way out.  We headed into the subterranean tunnels.  First we arrived at another well, similar to the first but more crudely built.  You think you can ascend here but the path is blocked. It is a false exit, a trick.  Another tunnel led to a grotto- opening onto a waterfall spilling into a green pond, but this was also not an exit.  We then moved into an unlit tunnel, further into the unknown, true darkness and mystery.  This short tunnel led to the side of the pond and the true exit – a balancing act of crossing the green pond via 15 stepping stones.  

     I made my way across with fingers touching the stone wall on my right only to have the wall end and still 4-5 stones to go.  Fear rose up.  Though I have fairly good balance, I felt trepidation at taking these last few steps with no support.

     I found the whole experience a poignant metaphor for the spiritual journey.  We leave the known and venture into the depths of our own beings to encounter whatever is there; to know it, experience it and embrace it entirely.  There are often false exits and trick stairways until at last, overcoming our fear, we carry all we have understood and become back out into the light of day.  This is why we practice yoga: to know the depths of our own being and all that is in us so that we can live fully and completely; at one with ourselves.

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