Archive for the ‘Philosophy of Yoga’ Category

The Yoga of listening with compassion

Posted on: August 29th, 2017
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There are benefits to listening with compassion.  What happens as the news about the clashes between groups with different ideologies reach us? Those clashes lead to the death of protesters and first responders.  Many suffered multiple injuries.

I felt emotionally, spiritually and mentally affected by these events.  These injuries lead to intricate, delicate feelings and sometimes judgments begging for compassion. They wanted out, to be allowed, accepted.  They begged for my compassion.

Most people do not listen

with the intent to understand.  

Most people listen

with the intent to reply.

–Stephen R. Covey


Listening to understand

A group of people, hosted by IACT, met recently to discuss compassion. These meetings are an exercise in listening.  Listening, while learning not to be in a hurry to respond.  Many would agree that listening with a group that is willing to follow basic rules of courtesy offers a less challenging experience.

Like minded people easily show courtesy. Even so challenges may pop up.  You may hear comments that evoke a twinge, a pang, a sweetness, a strong opinion, an agreement, a disagreement.  We learn to deal with our own reactions.

One problem I experience is when a speaker tries to insist that you agree with what they are saying before continuing.  What’s your pet peeve?

The hope is that the practice will help you notice your reactions to the speaker with compassion. There are no guarantees.  It is a practice.





Yoga, compassioNATE listening

Yoga is another practice in listening.  That is, if you show compassion for yourself and want to prevent injuries.. During almost every yoga class, the teacher may ask

“What moves does your body want you to make?

“How are you feeling today?

“Is you energy high or low?”

“Are there any requests?

These are all ways of listening and addressing the needs of the body with the body. It’s a practice.


Compassion for self

What’s most important to remember about compassion is that it starts with our own selves.  During a discussion you may experience ease or unease.  Depending on how you feel and think about what you’ve heard coming our of your mouth or from the other person’s mouth.

Can you feel compassion for yourself when you feel uneasy?  Do you feel that you are loosing something because of the uneasiness?



No act of kindness is ever wasted. – aesop

It’s feels good to accept that there is a range to compassionate acts.  You may not be willing to participate in a compassionate act that makes you feel as if you are suffering.  You may only be willing to perform a small act of compassion.  Why not make it ok to start with something small.

A nod, a smile, acknowledgment of another through eye contact, give a dime or a quarter, a hug, a pat. Perhaps a friendly gaze.

If you’re up to it, compassion may involve a significant act.  One person spoke about allowing a homeless person to live in the yard in a tent

Keeping a focus on compassion during these difficult times will not only benefit you but may benefit those with whom you interact.  It’s o.k. to take small steps.  If the practice doesn’t benefit you in the way that you would hope or if you feel that you are not making progress fast enough, have even more compassion for yourself.

I find myself listening with compassion as I hear words that bring a feeling of unease in the media.  I hope that you will too.  It’s a practice. There are no guarantees.

Setting Intentions Any Day of the Year

Posted on: December 29th, 2016
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“New year, new you.”

I can’t stand this phrase. Sure, it sounds catchy, but what’s wrong with the old me? What’s wrong with who I am now? To me, “new year, new you” sounds as if we need to dismiss our entire being. How is that healthy? Why should we wait for a holiday when it comes to setting intentions?

New Year Resolutions List for Setting Intentions


Does your list of New Year’s resolutions look like the picture above? That may not be a bad thing.

Goals are personal. According to Forbes Magazine, less than 10% of New Year’s resolutions are achieved. Setting intentions can be a fun tradition, but they mainly fail due to a heightened level of pressure and impulsive decisions. How do we change that number? Setting intentions can be done any day of the year. Maybe that’s why every year I hear more people say, “My New Year’s resolution is to not make resolutions.” 

(It’s still considered healthy to use a calendar to measure your progress, whatever keeps you motivated.)


Sometimes stuff comes up, and life feels interrupted. Sometimes becomes all the time. We get thrown off track, and that intention of where we were headed suddenly feels out of reach. Then what? It’s always something.

We need to learn to face ourselves with a level of love and respect at all times. Learn to love unconditionally (ourselves and others), and find respect for the journey of personal growth. Many elements of personal growth are not something we can set a timeline for.

When you are ready to make a change you will. Image of pink glowing clouds and dark clouds in sky.

Sunset, Austin, Texas

Sometimes we want a change for others more than they want it for themselves. To ensure our intentions are healthy and effective, asking questions can help us decide where to start.

Questions to ask yourself when SETTING INTENTIONS

So whether or not you are making resolutions, I hope you have a healthy and prosperous 2017. When the time is right for you, the list below may be used as a tool to pin point your intentions and goals. Maybe this is cheesy, but the good ‘ol’  5 W’s come into play here.

*Note: This is in no way a complete list.  Add your own questions to help set yourself or someone else up for success!


  • Who are you setting this intention for?
  • Who does it affect?
  • Who do you want to help?
  • Who do you want to be like?
  • Who do you want to spend more time with?
  • Who do you want to hear?
  • Who do you want to be heard by?
  • Who has inspired you in your lifetime?
  • Who has supported you in your life?
  • Who do you want to share your life with?


  • What are your most basic needs that you struggle to meet?
  • What are your wildest dreams?
  • What are your goals?
  • What is the first goal that will bring you closer to another goal?
  • What are your motives?
  • What is the deepest root of your intention?
  • What has worked for you in the past?
  • What did you learn about yourself when something worked out in the past?
  • What works for you now?
  • What didn’t work for you in the past?
  • What did you learn about yourself when something didn’t work out in the past?
  • What doesn’t work for you?
  • What patterns do you see in your life?
  • What is limiting you?
  • What do you want to learn about yourself?
  • What do you want to experience?
  • What is something you have never done before?
  • What are you afraid of?
  • What inspires you?
  • What feels missing in your life?


  • Where is the space you feel most comfortable?
  • Where do you feel least comfortable?
  • Where are you most productive?
  • Where do you see yourself in the future?
  • Where do find your inspiration?
  • Where do you make compromises?
  • Where do you feel stuck?
  • Where were you during your happiest memories?


  • When will you begin?
  • When does your dream feel like it has come to a stop?
  • When are you making it happen?
  • When do you feel distracted?
  • When do you feel focused?


  • Why is this intention or goal important to you?
  • Why is this intention or goal important to others?
  • Why not?


  • How will you practice your intentions?
  • How will you make progress toward your goal?



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!


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.

< Sohan-and-Siri-Deva.jpg>

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.

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

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

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:
Sadhana Mantras:

Japji App for study:
Live stream daily sadhana from Millis, MA Ashram:

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.

This facebook group is announcements about all Kundalini yoga sadhanas in Austin

More about Sohan and Siri Deva here:


Why I Practice Yoga

Posted on: April 6th, 2015
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I’ve been hesitant to write about my yoga journey or anything about yoga, really. The reason being that despite the fact that I practice yoga on a physical, spiritual, and mental level, and that I’m technically certified to teach yoga, I am still so very new to this lifestyle. I don’t want to come into this practice thinking I will ever be a master in this lifetime. I don’t want to regurgitate information I’ve read in yoga books and call it my own. But I have decided that I want to share what I’m experiencing on a personal level with those who are interested in listening.


He who binds to himself a joy

Doth the winged life destroy;

But he who kisses the joy as it flies

Lives in Eternity’s sunrise.

~ William Blake


I talk about it A LOT. The memory of the lull of the waves tugs on my heartstrings. I hold onto to every letter, photograph, and grain of sand I still find clinging to my hair and my clothing. This place is beautiful. Giant banyan trees create a world within itself from their tangled web of roots that weave through the branches above and back down to the earth below. It’s an endless cycle much like an infinity sign where no start or end is present. Cars come to a standstill on one-lane highways because of the wildlife. Turtle traffic is a real thing here.

My attachment to this place has caused unnecessary pain once I am no longer in this paradise. But my resistance to let go has also brought me to a practice that helps undue all the attachment that has been done.

For me, this practice is yoga, and in yoga we learn to let go. “It will pass,” whether it’s “good” or “bad.” My attachment and resistance to let go of this sacred place is what brought me to my yoga practice and practicing Aparigraha. This practice is one of Patanjali’s five Yamas, or the moral and ethical guidelines for yogis. I was immediately drawn to this specific yama because I often struggle with attachment. Aparigraha is “letting go of everything that we do not need, possessing only as much as necessary. The yogis tell us that worldly objects cannot be possessed at all, as they are all subject to change and will be ultimately destroyed. When we become greedy and covetous we lose the ability to see our one eternal possession, the Atman, our true Self. And when we cling to what we have, we lose the ability to be open to receive what we need.”* Which is exactly why I must practice yoga. Because I am human and often lose the ability to be open to what I really need.

My attachments can be an impediment to my personal growth. My practice keeps me present so that when I acquiesce to memories past, I can remember that nothing is permanent and I can at least feel blessed and grateful for the experiences that do come and go.

I also practice for my health. Part of being open to receiving what I need is being mindful of my body. When I practice yoga consistently, I am forced to eat better and become conscious of what I’m doing to my body. I more quickly notice the unhealthy choices I’m making when I constantly show up on my mat because my body becomes inoperative when I do not treat it well.

I practice for my stress and anxiety. It’s part of the letting go practice and also helps keep me present. Sometimes I don’t want to be present. Sometimes it hurts too much, but I know at some point I have to be, to be sane and to heal my past traumas.

I practice to be still. This also sometimes comes with a struggle. I’m always go go go and distracted by this and that, but sometimes all my mind wants is to just be, just as I am, in the present moment, and to just stop thinking even if only for a few seconds.

I practice for my fear. We often can’t win against ourselves. I’m afraid to be happy because what if it doesn’t last? So then I’m sad. But now I’m afraid to be sad because what if it means something is wrong with me or that it’ll last forever? My yoga practice reminds me that I will feel every emotion and they will come and go over and over again, and again, that nothing is permanent so why get caught up in every detail of our lives?

And lastly, I practice because I’m better able to handle life off of my mat. Sri Aurobindo states, “All life is yoga.” I find this to be so true in my daily interactions. Without yoga I might have snapped at the person that irritated me or impulsively bought shoes I didn’t need. I feel like I’m better fit for this world because of my practice. I become enough, just as I am.

Sometimes I end the day lying on my back on my surfboard in the sacred place I mentioned above. The sway of the waves rocks me into a sedated state. Except that I’m not on my surfboard, I’m on my yoga mat, and the waves are really my breath in my meditative Savasana. On a good day, these two experiences are indistinguishable. On a not so great day, I’m very aware of the fact that I’m on my mat. I’m wresting with my brain to stay present and clear but my thoughts keep pulling me back to all the things I “have” to get done and the frustration sets in that I’m not in paradise, physically or mentally. But these days provide good learning opportunities. It’s not about the outside but the inside and I can create my own paradise no matter where I am. Getting there is what takes heart and soulful work and this is why I can tell this journey will truly take a lifetime.




The Benefits Of Restorative Yoga

Posted on: March 5th, 2015
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How Yoga Works:
The Benefits of a Restorative Yoga Practice

Restorative Yoga

How I Came to Yoga

Like many modern yogis, I came to yoga with a tenacious desire to move my body in cool ways. I wanted to sweat. I wanted twist and turn. I wanted to flow and jump and go upside down and fly and play and all of those words that get thrown around in the modern yoga class. But I also came to yoga with this inherent idea that I wanted to change in some way.

Many of us come to yoga because we think of yoga and we think: relaxing, peaceful, calm. Seared in our minds is the idea of the yogi walking around in harem pants and mala beads burning sage to waft away the bad energies. This yogi we imagine is so foreign and so inaccessible to us and yet we see something in them that we want. It’s likely that air of calm.

I saw these things: the twisty, turny, bendy, upside-downy yogi and the calm, regal, peaceful yogi and I thought, “Well then, that’s how you do it.” So I went to my power vinyasa classes and I sweated and panted and huffed and puffed. I worked so hard to get my chaturanga down and to float my thighs off the ground in upward dog. Eventually I practiced so much that I was able to do these things effortlessly and I felt weightless in my practice.

Okay. I got the movements down, but where was the peace?  I would finish my practice and feel so good, like I was a wet cloth that had just been wrung out. But I couldn’t say it felt any different than when I would go for a run. It certainly calmed me down but I didn’t receive the illusive instant-peace and yogi attitude. I knew there had to be more. This type of yoga helped me get into my body but I wanted to get out of my mind. I still wanted to change.

In my studies through yoga therapy I’ve now made sense of my early experiences with yoga. I understand how I was finally able to achieve the benefits of yoga.


The Benefits of Yoga

Studies have shown that the benefits of yoga include increased flexibility, decreased levels of anxiety and depression, lower resting heart rate, lower blood pressure, and lower levels of cortisol (the infamous stress hormone.) Yoga can even help reduce the effects of traumatic experiences like PTSD. Whether it’s helping a heart patient recover through the Cornish method which incorporates yogic practices such as posture, breathing exercises and meditation or whether it’s helping a person with severe anxiety to see a reduction in the amount of panic attacks, we hear of the benefits of yoga all the time.

But here’s the catch: you do not get all of the benefits of yoga if your heart rate increases. “What?!”  Yeah. That was me when I learned this. But it makes sense. Here’s why.


How Yoga Works

Yoga helps lower your blood pressure and release cortisol by accessing your parasympathetic nervous system. As humans our nervous system operates in two, very simple modes: sympathetic and parasympathetic responses.

Sympathetic responses are in charge of our “fight-or-flight” mechanism and they prepare the body for stressful and emergency situations. It increases our heart rate and muscular strength, dilates our pupils and even makes our hair stand on end. More simply it’s that “I need to be at work in 5 minutes and I’m stuck in traffic,” feeling. Or the “I’m alone at home and I’m pretty sure I heard a noise,” feeling.

Our parasympathetic responses are in charge of our body in more ordinary situations like watching TV or taking a shower. It conserves and restores. It slows down the heart rate and decreases blood pressure and is in charge of functions like digestion. This is that “Ahh, I’m on the beach with no worry in the world,” feeling.

Think of how many times you have the “stuck in traffic feeling,” in a day. Now think about how many times you have the “ahh, no worries,” feeling in a day. It’s likely that you more often than not feel stuck in traffic significantly more than you feel like your hanging out on the beach.

One could even argue that in today’s world we are in fight-or-flight mode all the time. (Though we are not actually- we’re still digesting and sleeping- it can certainly feel like it.) The constant level of stress, noise, and information being thrown at us render many of us with hypersensitive nervous systems: any little thing will cause us stress. In other words we have constant sources of negative stress being fed to us at our jobs, in our homes and on our screens and very little moments where we can truly access our conserve-and-restore processes governed by the parasympathic nervous system.

This how yoga works: It’s able to give us lowered heart rate and blood pressure and the overall feeling of “ ahh,” by accessing our parasympathic responses.


How a Restorative Practice Helps Achieve the Benefits of Yoga

A yoga practice where you are breathing heavily and increasing your heart rate and blood pressure can be a very good thing for those of us who need aerobic activity. But we also must remember that we will not get the full benefits of yoga if our breathing is unsteady or if we’re adding more negative stress to our bodies. (Though I will not doubt that the experienced sages of yoga probably could float through chataranga up to handstand while maintaining a steady heart rate but that, my friends, is not me… or many of us for that matter.)

This is why restorative yoga can be such a gem. Many of us already go to the gym, run around and get our heart rates up all day. Very rarely do we allot one hour of our day to gentle movements, slow, relaxed breathing and deep relaxation. Many times we’re so caught up in doing something productive: “I have to lose weight, read that article, watch that show.” We’re always taking in. The restorative yoga class exists to allow us to not take in but rather let out. To find those positions that truly make our body feel good and cared for and to coax ourselves away from running in fight-or-flight mode. In a restorative class we tell our bodies and our minds, “It’s okay, you can relax. I’m giving you the space to just be.”

The even greater thing about all of this is that studies also show that you can receive the benefits of yoga by practicing posture, breathing, and meditation for one hour once a week. Seriously. Once a week. Of course, the more that we give ourselves this time in a week, the better we will get at being able to access this relaxation.

Just know that we don’t have to give up our vigorous vinyasa practice or our intense cardio sessions. We certainly don’t have to start wearing linen harm pants and quit our jobs to move to ashrams. We simply have to give ourselves the space to access the parts of our mind and body that truly want us to have peace. Because in the same way that activity propels us forward, so does rest. It’s science.


I invite you to join me on Monday mornings at 7:30am for a Restorative Flow class in which we practice slow, restorative postures, breathing exercises and deep relaxation techniques. Sanctuary Yoga also offers restorative classes in the evenings on Tuesdays at 8:00pm & 9:15pm and Mondays and Wednesdays at 9:15pm.

About Jessica Marquez:

I live to nurture, I live to teach, I live to create and I live to heal. Born and raised on the border of Texas and Mexico, I have lived in Barcelona to study art, San Francisco, and New York City where I studied Sustainable Architecture. After a couple of years of battling debilitating anxiety and the high stress that comes with living in this body on this earth, I left my prospective career, at first, with much resistance. I used yoga to help heal myself. Through teaching yoga I have found immense peace and fulfillment. As I lead others in yoga, I always come from a place of the true intention of yoga: to eliminate suffering. Whether the suffering be in our bodies or our mind, I use the postures of yoga, breathing exercises and methods for deep relaxation to help coax the mind-body out of any pain or discomfort.

Live Creatively, Listen Carefully and Speak Your Truth Clearly: Healing the 5th Chakra

Posted on: January 23rd, 2015
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Vissudha can be translated as “purification” and lords over the neck, shoulders, throat and voice.  This is the chakra of communication, creativity and refinement of purpose and thoughts. To be balanced in this chakra is to have a clear and resonant voice, the ability to listen well and live a life of creativity. To live creatively does not necessarily mean to be involved in a visual or otherwise technical art form as profession or in your leisure time, but rather to live creatively is to understand that you make each moment as you live it. It is an understanding of karma in your life but also of dharma, or the underlying truth of your being as having a purpose. Dharma is like the warp and weft of our life fabric; it connects us all through our highest purpose, our dharmas all interconnect and create a strong backing against which reality and the actions of our fellow beings are played out via cause and effect (karma). In the end, when all the drama and secondary emotions like anger, jealousy, greed and resentment are stripped away everyone’s dharma is Truth, peace and love. The manifestation of this truth is your choice.

Perhaps most damaging to this chakra are lies and the secrets we hold of pain and suffering.  This damage may be blatant and look like a childhood spent in an alcoholic home or it may be tied more to expectations and subtle but pervasive criticism. Truth may not have been safe to share in a home full of secrets. This chakra asks us to examine how it feels to “swallow your truth” or to be the victim of a “razor tongue”. How can we understand purification if we are coming from a muddy story of mixed messages and fear?

Imbalances in this chakra may look like compensation. Talking too much, speaking out of turn, interrupting, having a voice that is too loud or dominating, gossiping, and the inability to be an active listener are all indicate a hyperactive or excessive 5th chakra. As this is the purification center of the chakra system, imbalance could also manifest as toxicity of the body. Skin issues, a strongly coated tongue, swollen lymph nodes around the throat and skull and halitosis may also be present.

Issues of the 5th chakra may also present in an avoidant/deficient fashion. Having too soft a voice to be understood, fear of speaking, inability to speak about feelings or express yourself in words, poor auditory recognition, poor rhythm or being tone deaf are all manifestations of an imbalance. There may have been a time in your life when being heard was not safe, and to blend in and fade away was the best defense against danger. It then becomes the work of the 5th chakra to heal that perception so that you may fully step into your truth and the power to speak it.

While in your asana practice bring awareness to your jaw and neck. See if you can consciously relax the tension of your jaw and soften your shoulders away from your ears.  Seated neck rolls, supported shoulder stand, plow pose, standing forward folds and self-massage of your occipital ridge on the edge of a block or large book are all helpful to add to your asana practice.

To heal and clean this chakra we must make sound. General toning, singing, om-ing, storytelling and learning compassionate communication skills are all beneficial for both avoidant and excessive manifestations of imbalance.

The four steps or components of Compassionate Communication or Non Violent Communication (NVC) as developed by Marshall Rosenberg are:


These are concrete actions we have observed in a specific time and context. Try to keep your evaluation of these observations out of this as it will come across as scolding or judgmental.

Ex: “I notice that when I came home your dishes were dirty in the sink.”


How do you feel in relation to what you observe? You are responsible for your feelings, so own them. Do not place that responsibility on the other party or defer and say it does not matter.

Ex: “I feel angry/upset when I left the sink and dishes clean and come home to find them dirty.”


General and universal needs and values that create the afore mentioned feelings.

Ex: “I have a need to have clean dishes because I am eating at home.”


Action that would enhance your wellbeing, with the understanding that the answer may be “no” in which case you would empathize with the other person and further investigate what is keeping them from saying yes.

Ex: “I request that if you dirty dishes that you clean them promptly or let me know that they need to soak.”

The seed sound of the 5th chakra is Ham with a long “a” as in father. Lay comfortably on the earth supported by a bolster and let your hands rest comfortably on your chest, your belly or the earth. Take a full inhale and chant Ham repeatedly to yourself for as long as your exhale lasts. If you are trying to develop your sense of timing you could also chant to the beat of a metronome.

To clear out tension or too much verve in chakra 5 you can tone “Eeee” as in Deep. Either laying or sitting on the earth experiment with different tones and pitches as you take your full exhale to chant “Eeee”. Be loud, be soft, or be somewhere in the middle but as you tone see what comes up for you; do you not want to be heard? What would happen if you were?

Gandhi said that the ways of truth and love have always won. Be compassionate and kind as you boldly speak your truth. Shine on.

For more information about Ben & Hilly, visit their website and to read more of their blogs visit


Where do you begin with yoga?

Posted on: October 31st, 2013
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Where do you begin with yoga? What is the foundation? Whether you’re a total beginner or an experienced teacher there’s always more to learn and explore; the philosophy, the postures, breathing, meditation, finding your self (!). The beautiful thing is there is no right or wrong way. There is no destination and there is nowhere to arrive. On the path of yoga, students and teachers walk side by side.

Jeremy Devens leads Sanctuary Yoga’s Beginner Series starting next week!
Sign up here.

“If we are facing in the right direction, all we have to do is keep on walking.” ~ Buddhist Proverb

This is both a gift and a challenge. You can do anything you want! So where do you begin? It can be as simple as this: You keep walking in a direction and you’ll receive feedback, with that feedback you can adjust course and continue walking in a more intentional direction; You do a yoga posture, receive feedback and adjust. You make major life decisions, receive feedback and adjust. Your path will be unique to you. Fortunately, yoga as a path is so well traveled, you can be sure you’re walking on solid ground. You probably even have some definite next steps: go to a class, talk to a teacher, practice at home. As you continue to walk, the horizon appears clearer. You take a step, receive feedback and adjust.

”Be at least as interested in what goes on inside you as what happens outside. If you get the inside right, the outside will fall into place.” ~ Eckhart Tolle

As the feedback comes in, it can get messy. Emotions come up. Friends give advice. Media distracts you. You keep walking and things keep changing. The feedback can feel overwhelming. That horizon never gets closer! Eventually you might even feel like you’ve lost direction and want to give up. This is normal. So, maybe you adjust and see a different perspective. Maybe this is yoga. Instead of filling your mind with images of happiness out on the horizon, you look within. Instead of dwelling on what you don’t want, you can direct your mind to what you do want. Maybe that’s a great place to begin.

“The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new horizons but in having new eyes.” ~ Marcel Proust

Yoga Beginner's Series

Jeremy Devens leads Sanctuary Yoga’s Beginner Series starting next week!
Sign up here.

The Present

Posted on: September 12th, 2013
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The Present

I’ve heard for years about the importance of consciously staying in the present, and I understood why, but I’ve struggled at times with putting it into practice. The other day something really clicked for me, though: if I remain in the present moment and appreciate every aspect of what it is, it will potentially change the future, therefore rendering thinking about my imagined future a waste of time and energy. I’ve begun to think of life as one giant meditation…observing as the mind wanders and bringing it back into focus, back to what’s happening now.

In the past, we may not have felt as if we had a choice in letting someone disturb our peace, but part of becoming present is owning the power we have in this moment. In this moment, we can choose not to allow the past to determine our happiness and self worth. If we can make that choice in each present moment, that’s the most we can do. All we can do is be here now. (Speaking of which, I highly recommend that you read “Be Here Now” by Ram Dass if you haven’t yet!)

Accepting the past exactly as it is gives us freedom. It is a huge weight lifted. We are letting go of trying change what has already happened, whether we are doing it intentionally or subconsciously. We suffered, we learned, we changed. This also helps us recognize that we do not have to attempt to change what has already happened by recreating events and relationships that we have already experienced. Acceptance can help us become aware of the patterns we have gotten caught in as a means to stay connected to the past in some way. I honor every experience in my life up until now for all that I have learned, but it does not have to determine the conditions of my current life.

So, if we previously let someone or something from our past contribute negatively to our lives, why would we give them the honor of being a part of our present? After all, right here, right now is all we truly have.

~ Isabelle Barron


The Hero’s Journey

Posted on: June 13th, 2013
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So, I’ve been watching a lot of superhero movies lately and thinking this has something to do with yoga. Here’s what I’ve come to…

One of the most recognizable structures in movies, particularly with superheroes, is Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero’s Journey.”

Campbell’s life work could be summarized with three words: “Follow your bliss,” and it revealed that from Buddha to Jesus to Star Wars to Batman to cultures completely untouched from one another, the enduring myths we tell are strikingly similar. The Hero’s Journey, it seems, is the human journey, and i’m starting to see it might also be the yogic journey.

  • The call to adventure is your calling to yoga. The pain or curiosity or purpose that drew you to the practice.
  • The supernatural aid is the practice itself, the asanas and meditations passed down from generations of yogis that have cited countless seemingly magical benefits of regular practice. Pattabhi Jois would say “do your daily yoga and all is coming.”
  • Your helper in the beginning is the yoga instructor, who may even become a mentor over time.
  • The challenges and temptations come in the form of worrying about the past or future, comparing, competing, being distracted by the senses or otherwise losing your focus and presence throughout the practice.
  • Your second helper as you go deeper into practice is your breath. Moving from gross to subtle, from external to internal. You become your teacher.
  • Revelations may or may not happen, some classes are more intense than others, but if you are fully engaged in the experience you are sure to leave class a changed person.
  • The death and rebirth may happen when your mind becomes completely silent. and you remember that you are not your thoughts, that you are a spiritual being having a human experience.
  • The true gift of practice begins once you’ve rolled up your mat and returned to ‘the real world’. Who will you be, how will you engage from this new perspective. What have you brought back to your life from your adventure on the yoga mat?

This is the story of our lives. Each time we practice yoga and experience this process we become stronger and resilient both on and off the mat. The natural cycles of death and rebirth no longer bind us, and we learn to trust our callings, to follow our bliss and be willing to surrender to something greater than ourselves. Joseph Campbell would say that a fulfilling life is one Hero’s Journey after another. Hollywood might say it’s one superhero blockbuster after another.

My conclusion is that these stories we pay millions of dollars to create and enjoy exist for more than entertainment, and they fulfill a deeply human need. Hearing, seeing, experiencing fantastic stories about following your bliss and surviving all the ups and downs of life serves as a reminder of our own Hero’s Journeys. We keep telling the stories of Jesus, Buddha, princes and princesses because they are our stories. Should you ever forget, these stories remind you and inspire you. My experience is that yoga can take it a step further and gives you a direct experience of this process.

Yoga can remind you that you are the hero of life you are living, and your unique skills and talents are your superpowers. The traumas you’ve overcome, the successes you’ve enjoyed are all part of being human. Your Hero’s Journey is happening now and you need look no further than your relationships, your family, your career, your finances, your yoga practice and ask yourself…

Are you following your bliss?

Furthermore, we have not even to risk the journey alone; for the heroes of all time have gone before us; the labyrinth is thoroughly known; we have only to follow the thread of the hero-path. And where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god; where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves; where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the center of our own existence; where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world.