Posts by Yogi Heather Holland

The Secret is in The Tree (Pose)

Posted on: December 22nd, 2016
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Finding Balance:

Sometimes my tree pose isn’t as still or graceful as I’d imagined it would be. I often look like a Charlie Brown Christmas tree. And, that’s ok.

Linus reviving a tree, in A Charlie Brown Christmas

Ah, holiday season. It’s that time of year filled with excitement and celebration, the extreme sports of dodging shopping mobs and family conflict, widely considered as the most stressful time of the year. However you celebrate, or perceive this time of year, how do you find your balance? I’m going to let you in on a few little secrets. *BONUS: These secrets can be used any time of year.

secret#1: Make time for YOURSELF

You may be laughing at this, but it is possible! If you can’t take care of yourself you can’t take care of anyone else. Even a short amount of time dedicated to yourself can help alleviate stress. It may feel like there is no time to squeeze in another activity, but small changes can make a big difference. A small act of self love like a walk outside, or a quiet cup of tea or coffee before your day can help you focus (as opposed to non-stop rushing, ordering on the go, haphazardly spilling your drink, and enjoying maybe some of it).

The way for me to find balance has been quite literal, by taking time out for myself through yoga practice. Sometimes this means practicing a few yoga moves at home. Even during stressful times, somehow it isn’t always easy for me to show up to the mat.

secret#2: SLOW DOWN

Funny how to gain momentum, we have to slow down. When I have taken a break from my practice for too long, I can take extra care to re-establish my form in fundamental asanas (poses). One pose I will talk about specifically in this post is, surprise, tree pose! This fundamental asana is extra special to me for a few reasons.

secret#3: Trick yourself

Ok, trick, motivate, center, call it what you want, but the key here is to identify subtle cues to set your self up for success. What instantly makes you feel better? What do you avoid? Viewing what we avoid  with a sense of pleasure or reward can help to rewire our thinking,  to help build positive patterns in our life.

Sometimes when I come to a yoga session I don’t want to be inside or on a mat at all. I don’t always want to be guided. I just want to see the tree. Not the giant glowing tree in Zilker Park (which has its own charm and sea of admiring heads for that matter).  Not just any tree. The tree. If you have been to Sanctuary Yoga before, then you know the one.

Deck View of the giant oak tree at Sanctuary Yoga

Deck view of the The Tree. 

Tucked away between city blocks with glowing neon signs, billboards, and ever shifting construction sites, you will find the tree. The tree is infamous to locals, but curiously remains a best kept secret.

There is no mistaking the towering oak, propped up with a pole to prevent crushing the bright blue house as you approach the Sanctuary. Finding a place that makes me happy simply to visit is my trick. Ok, so maybe I’m going out on a limb to call this place a best kept secret. It just feels magical to retreat into such a tranquil atmosphere in a hustling bustling urban environment.

secret#4: LISTEN

Beloved yoga teachers I adore you. My practice would not be the same without you. Another way for me to balance my practice is to allow myself to learn from multiple sources.

I listen to my body first. I listen to nature for cues, sometimes simply just to listen. Sometimes it isn’t natural, but we must remember to listen to those who have taken a similar path ahead of us. While we all have our own private path, we share the journey.

Lastly, if all else fails to get you in the flow, a good playlist never hurts. You can reset your mood, unwind,  do most activities, (such as yoga) to any music that you love. It doesn’t have to sound like you’re at a spa! Here is one of my favorite songs to jam out to, to do Vinyasa Yoga to, anywhere, anytime. The energy of this song always puts me in a good mood. Sometimes to get away from it all I just go for a walk or run with some headphones.

“Dead leaves and the dirty ground, when I know you’re not around…”  -The White Stripes

beautiful fall leaves on the ground

Change is our one constant. While listening to music on a walk, I arranged these leaves hoping to brighten someone else’s. Are these leaves any less beautiful when carried away by the breeze?

These lyrics remind me that standing on your own can be empowering yet lonely. As our seasons shift our impermanence is hard not to notice. This is another reason I love that tree so much. And yes, I have hugged a tree before. It was glorious. So for me, to see a giant twisted oak tree that has survived in one of the nation’s fastest growing cities gives an extraordinary sense of comfort. Seasons will pass, but with balance we can stay grounded.

Secret#5: PRACTICE

We learn by repetition. Drop by the Sanctuary Yoga studio to get your flow on, or practice at home with the tutorial below!

HOW TO DO TREE POSE

tree pose selfie at dawn

Tree Pose shadow selfie at dawn, because, why not?

Tree pose, also known as Vrksasana, is a fundamental Hatha Yoga Asana that will help you find your balance by standing on one foot, establish strength and balance throughout the body, helps you find your center, and will leave you feeling grounded.

Step 1:

Begin standing on both feet, with your arms at your sides. Bring your ankles and toes in to touch.

STEP 2:

Imagine a straight line running through your body, from the inner arches of your feet, through the crown of your head. This is your stream of energy, to help you find alignment.

STEP 3:

Bring the palms of your hands together at the center of your chest, your heart center. Your fingers should be pointing to the sky, and not interlocked.

STEP 4:

Shift your weight onto your left foot. Bend your right knee and guide it upward into your chest. Keep the spine long.Reach down to clasp your right ankle with your hands.

STEP 5:

Place the sole of the right foot to the inner left thigh or calf. Be careful not to place your foot on your knee to prevent injury.

STEP 6:

Tilt your hips toward the floor to stand taller,  forward, or back, or to the side to help your alignment. This will vary by your personal needs.

STEP 7:

Set your gaze on something in front of you in the space that is not moving. This will help you maintain your balance.

STEP 8:

Press your right foot even deeper into your left thigh, and your left thigh tighter toward your right foot. Imagine you are squeezing something between them , or that you are standing on a rock, holding an important piece of paper between your foot and thigh, over a stream of water.

STEP 9:

Square both hips forward, to the front of the space. Keep your right knee from moving further outward to the right. Here, you may play want to challenge yourself by releasing your arms while holding the pose. Release your arms however you feel comfortable. Release one arm for “cactus arms”, both for a full tree.

Step 10:

Repeat on the other side. Remember to breathe.

If you begin to fall, it’s ok! Take a deep breath, re-establish your roots, and firmly plant your feet. Find your alignment, your center. Go through the steps again. Each side may have significantly different qualities or sensations. Hey, maybe some of you are more the Christmas Cactus type.

Cactus in bloom, with a bright yellow flower. A very unique Austin version of tree pose.

Cactus in bloom. A very unique Austin variation of Tree Pose.

 

 

 

Awaken with Kundalini Yoga

Posted on: October 6th, 2016
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A man was alone on an island. Day and night he practiced Kundalini yoga with meditation, and chanted mantras to connect to the universe. One day a boat arrived at the island shore. A man got out of the boat and said to him, “You aren’t saying the words right”, then sailed away. The man on the island was alone again. He did not understand what had just happened, or what he was doing wrong. So he floated out to sea, until he reached the boat, and called out, “What’s the right way?” -original source unknown

A variation of this story was a teacher’s answer to my concerns during a Kundalini Sunrise class at Sanctuary Yoga. A true gift to the community, this free class is taught on early Wednesday mornings by couple Sohan and Siri Deva.

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Kundalini yoga teachers Sohan Kaur and Siri Deva Singh, dressed in graceful white clothing. Teachers are asked to wear white while teaching, which is said to help hold space during classroom sessions. A head covering is worn to enhance focus while teaching. Wearing white is optional for students.

In what first appears to be for an exclusive religious group, Kundalini yoga is for everyone. Brought to the United States from India in 1968 by Yogi Bhajan, Kundalini is a comprehensive and spiritual form of yoga, described as the releasing of coiled energy at the base of the spine up through the seven chakras. The transfer of the stored energy raises awareness toward self realization. Through a combination of focused exercises, (kriyas), postures (asanas), breath work (pranayama), and chanting (mantras), it isn’t your typical yoga workout session in a trendy studio or gym.

At the start of the session, the couple sung gently in turn while Siri Deva played acoustic guitar. I listened to the words, fearful to mispronounce them. They shared that pronunciation was not what mattered, but intention. It is recommended to listen first.

My intention is to learn and deepen my practice (my life) so as to welcome and generate positive abundance infinitely. This isn’t about wanting things that are frivolous or just for myself.

Throughout this post, there are many educational links provided for you to explore. Here is a link from my first session with video of the exercises lead by guest teacher Cynthia.

https://www.periscope.tv/MyLivingLight/1mrGmWaWylwxy?t=890

The kriyas were then followed by a meditation with recording by artist Dev Suroop Kaur.

  http://devsuroopkaur.com/store/meditation/

Embracing connection of community and awareness, I wanted to know more about this practice from a personalized view. Graciously, Sohan agreed to answer my questions in the following interview. May this serve as a stepping stone in your own practice, whichever way that may be.

How did you two first meet?

 We met at the largest Kundalini Yoga event that happens every year near Espanola, New Mexico, the 3HO Summer Solstice Sadhana Celebration. It’s a festival that includes daily morning sadhana, communal healthy meals, daily yoga workshops and camp community service and more. We were on a service exchange team together working to welcome and check-in new arrivals. It was fun to work with the team we were with and we spent a lot of time together. We also took some yoga classes together and did some partner yoga. This was while he was living in Oregon and I was living in Florida.

On a side note, there is also a 3HO winter solstice sadhana celebration just before Christmas every year in Lake Wales, FL. It’s a cozy 700 people, where as the summer is about 2000 people or more. We met at the summer festival in 2013 and were married at the winter festival in 2014, a year and a half later.

When did you first begin your Kundalini practice?

Mine began in 2008 when I was in a car accident. It caused some shoulder and neck pain that the chiropractor and massage therapists just couldn’t seem to fix. So my mom introduced me to some hatha yoga videos. It gave me a nice body focused introduction to yoga. Then my mother (who was already a yoga teacher at that time) mentioned something about ashrams she was looking at in her Sivananda yoga tradition. I had to google to see what that was all about. It turned out that there was a Kundalini Yoga ashram about 5 minutes from my apartment in Orlando. (The Baba Siri Chand Ashram in Altamonte Springs, FL, I designed their website later). We went together to check out the classes that March and then it took me a little while to go back, but I did and just kept going. The community is awesome and so are the teachers there.

What is most challenging about your practice?

In the beginning it was choosing one meditation or yoga kriya and sticking with it rather that trying to do 5 at a time and over loading my system trying to do everything. Right now I am working on focusing on a style of meditation called Japa. It is the continuous repetition of a mantra all day, everyday. Sometimes it’s done with a mala, but you can also do it without. It’s a practice that takes time and mindfulness to develop. The reward is that your entire being vibrates the mantra continuously and imbues your whole vibration with this energy that can help you when you need it.

What keeps you practicing?

It’s just something I do everyday, like brushing my teeth or taking a shower. While that makes it sound mundane, it actually describes how essential the practice is to my life. I can feel the difference if I don’t practice everyday and so there is no question or decision. It’s like having dirty teeth all day, only it’s a dirty mind and energy field. Some folks in the community call it mental floss or a mind shower.

There’s also the impetus to bring the community together more and more. Kundalini yoga is a special practice and it is all thanks to the community. We share a special spice tea called yogi tea after most classes and have time to chat with everyone. The community gets together for special sadhanas to celebrate and potlucks to hang-out or to do clothing swaps and different things. It’s a lot of fun to spend time with folks who are on a spiritual path and have the continued support of others who live a like minded life. Make no mistake, Kundalini yoga is a lifestyle well beyond the practice of meditation and yoga. It supports your healthy life if you choose to.

Do you have a favorite mantra you would like to share?

If it only were that simple. Currently I am working with the mantra Ang Sang Wahe Guru. It means that the Divine Essence of All is vibrating in every limb and cell of my being.

The information below is from http://www.spiritvoyage.com/mantra/Ang-Sang-Wahe-Guru/MAN-000024.aspx

Translation: The dynamic, loving energy of the Infinite Source of All is dancing within my every cell, and is present in my every limb. My individual consciousness merges with the Universal consciousness.

More Information: Ang is ‘a part’. Sang is ‘in every,’ or ‘with every’. Wahe is ‘the indescribable living ecstasy of Infinite Being’. Guru is ‘the knowledge that transforms your mind, emotion and essence.’ The whole phrase means, “The Infinite Being, God, is with me, and vibrates in every molecule and cell of my being.”

This mantra expresses a universal truth. Repeating it creates a thought, which gradually guides the psyche to adjust itself. It re-connects every fragmented projection of the psyche, each separated part of the body, and synchronizes the finite sense of self to the Infinite Oneness. This act of rejoining the separated parts is the quintessential act of healing. Under attack, under war, under the pressures of fear, this meditation keeps us together, conscious, and ready to act. It brings the inner peacefulness that comes only from the touch and scope of spirit.- Gurucharan Singh, Director of Kundalini Research Institute

Anything else you would like to share:

Anyone is welcome to the morning practice. You can do as much or as little as you want or can and visualize the rest. Part of the benefit of sadhana is that you get there and the group energy helps you along even when the practice isn’t perfect. That’s why it’s practice! Any donations to the Amala foundation on our behalf are wonderful because we are so grateful that Sanctuary Yoga lets us use the space to offer this free class to the whole Austin community.

These are links I share with everyone about the morning practices and Kundalini Yoga.

More Information on Kundalini Morning Sadhana: morningsadhana.org
Sadhana Mantras:

Japji App for study: https://www.sikhdharma.org/japji-app/
JapjiPDFs: http://www.goldenbridgeyoga.com/pdf/japjitransliteration.pdf
http://kundaliniyogaleuven.be/Japji-Sahib.pdf
Live stream daily sadhana from Millis, MA Ashram: http://livestream.com/sikhdharma/millissadhana

We have a ton of videos on Youtube that are full meditations and kundalini yoga kriyas for people to practice with. There is one that is the heart beat meditation for beginners, but the magnetic field and heart center kriya is probably the most popular. That, or the new lungs and circulation.

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCccOqLd3ddOqmmd7qyHNyDQ

http://facebook.com/livinglightguidance

http://www.twitter.com/mylivinglight

This facebook group is announcements about all Kundalini yoga sadhanas in Austin https://www.facebook.com/groups/265109813626515/

More about Sohan and Siri Deva here:

http://www.shinerightnow.com/who-we-are/