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The Benefits of Abhyasa

Published on November 15, 2013 by in Yoga

Toe BendingThe theme for the last quarter of the year at the The Atma Center, where I study, practice and teach yoga, is abhyasa.  Abhyasa is the transliterated sanskrit word that means “a spiritual practice that is maintain regularly over a long period of time.”  As a yoga practitioner I have often struggled with sustaining a long term practice. There have been periods of time where I have practiced six days per week for an hour or more and others where I have done close to nothing.

It seems as if even my best attempts to practice daily are eventually thwarted by too much work, too little sleep, jet lag, etc.  Just as I have re-committed to my personal practice and have gotten into a rhythm of practicing daily, there seems to be something that usurps my “yoga time” and I am thrown off once again.  However, being a competitive athlete by nature, this “falling off the proverbial wagon” doesn’t stop me for long and I am once again “up and at ’em” at 4:30am!  Well, until I’m not.

So it has been a few months since I have once again committed to a regular morning practice but I have decided to try something new and it is actually working!  Instead of placing the pressure on myself to get up daily at 4:30am, although I have twice this week (self pat on back), I am  instead vowing to do something -asana (postures), pranayama (breathing practices), meditation, or some combination every day.  Could be 5 minutes or a 1.5 hour yoga practice, but it has to be something.  If at the end of the day I find myself in my bed having reflected upon my day, and there isn’t some kind of yoga in it, well, then out of my bed I go.  There is really no excuse because the benefits are so enumerable that deciding NOT to practice in some way is a strong statement of not caring about me.

It is very easy to let life get in the way of anything worthwhile such as relationships, exercise, academic achievement, etc.  But the benefits  far outweigh the effort and the amount of time it takes to do whatever it is that feeds the soul.   So after 14 years of practice and study, having experienced the benefits of yoga and seen the long term positive changes in myself and friends that have practiced yoga along side me, I must and will keep moving forward.

I often relay a story to my students that my teacher Swami Atmarupa Saraswati has told because it is a perfect abhyasa story.  She tells of a student that came to her and explained that she really wanted to do yoga but just couldn’t find the time in her busy life.  Swami Atmarupa, having practiced and taught yoga for a combined 30 years, knew exactly what to tell her yoga student.  She told her that instead of trying to fit in 30 minutes, or an hour and 30 minutes of practice  everyday that she should just commit to to  “toe bending.”  “Just toe bending?”  her student said.  “Yes, just toe bending.” said Swami Atmarupa.  The student walked away in disbelief wondering how toe bending could be considered a yoga practice but trusted her teacher and figured she’d give it a try.  A few weeks  passed before Swami Atmarupa saw her student again and when she did she was eager to see how her student’s practice was going.  The student, with a huge smile on her face, ran up to her and told her something very interesting happened since she started practicing “toe bending” on a regular basis.   The student said, “Well, I  did as you said and found some time every day to just do toe bending.  But  the funny thing was, just as I was finished with a round of toe bending, I usually kept going to ankle bending, knee bending, shoulder rotations,  cat/cow, tree pose, etc.  Somedays I would even do a breathing or meditation practice as well!  I rarely stopped just at toe bending and I can’t believe how great I feel for practicing yoga daily.”

The moral of this story is to start small and be consistent.  When it comes to yoga, abhyasa is key to long term physical, mental and emotional growth.

So don’t be discouraged if you have failed to maintain a regular yoga practice.

It can really be as easy as bending your toes.

 

 

 

 
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Navratri-Festival of 9 Divine Nights

Published on October 8, 2013 by in Religion, Yoga
Goddess Durga

Goddess Durga

Navaratri, or “Nine Nights” is celebrated in many different parts of India at the beginning of autumn as this is thought to be a very auspicious time because of climatic and solar influences.  It is the celebration of Durga or the female energy (Shakti) in all of us. Each night is devoted to worship of  Durga, the goddess of power and energy and “overcoming obstacles”, and her incarnations Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity and wealth and Saraswati, the namesake of our yoga lineage, worshipped to gain spiritual knowledge that can eventually set us free from our earth bound ways.

During the nine days of Navratri, for many Hindus, feasting and fasting take precedence over all normal daily activities.  In the evenings there are many celebrations filled with religious dances in order to worship Goddess Durga. Durga incarnated as the “united power of all divine beings”, who, according to the story, offered her their very best physical attributes and weapons (which are depicted in each of her many hands)to kill the demon “Mahishasur”.

Durga is depicted as having eight or ten hands. These are believed to represent the eight quadrants or ten directions in Hinduism. This suggests that she protects the devotees from all directions.  She is often depicted to be riding a lion or tiger which represents power, will and determination, which makes sense as it is ultimately up to the individual (without weapons) to defeat any obstacle that may be encountered.

My yoga studio is celebrating this festival and so far I have attended the first 3 nights, which were dedicated to “Durga”  specifically in order to destroy our impurities, evils and weakness, the next three nights will be for Lakshmi who has the power of giving unlimited wealth and finally, the last three nights are for the goddess of wisdom, Saraswati.

The evenings are 1 hour long and are filled with chanting of various mantras.  The evening starts with chanting the 32 names of Durga 9 times.  32 Names of Durga  (Click here for the meaning) The chanting  24 repetitions of the Durga Gayatri Mantra Durga Gayatri Mantra.

Om Kathyayanaya Vidmahe
Kanya Kumari cha Dheemahe
Thanno Durge Prachodayath

Om, Let me meditate on the goddess who is daughter of Kathyayana,
Oh, maiden Goddess, give me higher intellect,
And let Goddess Durga illuminate my mind.

For the next three nights, I am told that we will chant the Lakshmi Gayatri  followed by the Saraswati Gayatri the last three nights.

Goddess Lakshmi

Goddess Lakshmi

Following the Gayatri mantra there are two additional mantras with musical accompaniment that are used during Navaratri.  The night has concluded with some call and response chanting, or Kirtan.

The first two nights I took my daughter Jade with me to the evening of chanting.  Although she was not necessarily thrilled to be there at first, she kindly surrendered and settled into her mat and spent the time coloring some beautiful pictures of mandalas.   By the second night, however, she was chanting along with us while she colored! It was quite amazing to hear how quickly she picked up the mantras, especially the pronunciation which can be quite tricky!

Both of us reported to have slept very soundly and both had very vivid and colorful dreams after each night of chanting which we found to be quite interesting.   Mantra can have a very profound effect on the body and the mind regardless if you understand the words or not.   The sound vibrations from the words are known to have an effect on the cellular level and many people will report a change in how they feel physically, an positive alternation of mood, etc. after chanting or even just listing to the chanting of mantra.

Moving from celebrating the Ganesh Festival in Mumbai, India last month to Navratri in Cleveland, OH, I feel quite blessed for the experiences and more connected to India and to the roots of yoga then ever before!

Goddess Saraswati

Goddess Saraswati

 
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“Calling Ganesha”: The Much-Loved Remover of Obstacles.

Published on September 3, 2013 by in Skating, Travel, Yoga

 

Tomorrow I will be heading to Mumbai, India to conduct skating programs for the Inline Certification Program.   This will be my second trip to India with the first to the Bihar School of Yoga in Munger in 2011.  It is amazing to me that in a span of two years my two passions;  studying yoga and teaching skating, would bring me to India twice.  Not many people have the opportunity to go to India at all-but twice in two years?!

Not only is it incredible to have another chance to travel to India in such a short span of time, it is a VERY auspicious time to be in Mumbai in particular.  From 9 September-19 September the Mumbai Ganesh festival will take place.   It is one of the biggest celebrations in the city celebrating the Birth (rebirth) of Lord Ganesh-the remover of obstacles.   It is believed that Lord Ganesh bestows his presence on earth for all his devotees during this festival.  According to one article I read  “It’s a giant street party with a special spiritual meaning!”

Ganesh Mantra 
“Aum Gam Ganapataye Namah”  
Prostrations/Salutations to the Lord of the World

 

The Ganesh mantra is believed to remove all evil and obstacles that prevent you from reaching your goals.  Through the years there have been quite a few obstacles in the way of the certification program- in India and elsewhere in the world so count me in as one of Ganesh’s devotees now and forever more!

Thank you again to Certified Instructors Ajay, Dhiraj, Jatin, and Pankaj for bringing the program to India for the first time.  Your tireless efforts are very much appreciated.   Thank you also instructor candidates for taking on the challenge and seeing the benefit of bringing safe and effective inline skating instruction to the children of India!  And lastly, thank you in advance to Lord Ganesh for blessings and removing any obstacles that may come my way.

 

 

 

 
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