With a Mane Like Medusa

by Robin Wilner


With my curly dark brown hair askew in the mornings, my big brother once proclaimed, “You look like Medusa!” As avid lovers of Greek mythology and the ‘80s film Clash of the Titans, I knew he wasn’t stroking my ego. Medusa was a cruel and ugly monster, with greenish skin, bloodshot eyes and a ferocious stare that turned all who looked upon her into stone. She also had a den of venomous snakes in place of hair. Thanks, big Bro.

But what most may not know is the story of who she was prior to this curse. The only mortal of three sisters, Medusa was once a beautiful, fair-skinned priestess to the Goddess Athena, with wavy golden locks and kind, loving eyes. She’d taken a vow of lifetime celibacy, but like many young adults, soon found herself infatuated with a lover (Poseidon), and chose to marry him rather than honor her promise. As punishment, Athena transformed Medusa into a repulsive creature, which caused the world to detest and reject her until she was forced to flee from her home to live out her cursed existence in solitude. She was eventually hunted and beheaded by the great warrior, Perseus.

Sure, my brother was making fun in the way that ignorant youngsters often do. My messy, seemingly unattractive hair reminded him of the evil snake monsteress. This myth has an interesting twist, however, when looked upon through a more mature lens. We often forget that a promise is not to be broken, and that there are consequences for being dishonorable. There are also times when we exhibit ugliness (in the non-physical sense) and feel no repercussions; and yet, society tends to perceive physical beauty as acceptable and unattractiveness as dangerous or threatening – symbolic by how Medusa was first shunned by the world and her cursed gaze would turn onlookers to stone if they looked straight into her eyes. We often don’t want others to see us angry, frustrated, sad or hurt; we’d rather they turn away or only engage with the façade of happiness and contentment that we create instead. And Medusa’s struggle was to maintain her authentic sense of identity despite her outward appearance, which she eventually succumbed to in the ultimate form of suffering.

Myths are often stories that reveal our humanity, that help us to see our habitually destructive patterns. We’re encouraged to generate more tapas – the fire we burn throughout the Yoga practice that helps to free us from these damaging behaviors. Each sacred tale bathed in tradition goes even a step further, helping to make sense of the human experience by answering timeless questions that may eventually lead us towards a richer life: Who am I? What is my purpose? How do I want to be in the world? When connected through the common human experience, regardless of ethical or cultural differences, we can even appreciate the humanity in all beings.

While I may not have realized this initially as a youngster, Medusa was as multi-layered as any other mortal. She made poor decisions without weighing the consequences, attached her sense of Self to outward appearance and the external world, and was doomed to suffer for the rest of her shortened life. Truthfully, we all start out just like Medusa, but then the practice of Yoga takes effect in such profound ways. With time, we come to realize that a pure state of Joy is only attainable when we look deeply within ourselves. The internal world must be in harmony in order to find true peace, and no amount of external pleasure or acceptance will satisfy our desire for internal tranquility. It’s completely up to us to seek the truth of our Divine nature in order to lessen the suffering.

Formerly a Broadway dancer/singer/actress in NYC, Robin mixes her love of movement, chanting, energetic healing and yoga philosophy into all her teachings. She believes that human potential is infinite and that the path to joy starts with mindfulness and self-transformation. Known for her inspiring sequences, sense of humor, and juicy hands-on assists, Robin aims to guide students through a rich and heartfelt experience that maximizes their potential. She is also a Holistic Nutritionist. www.nutritiousyogini.com

Classes: Mondays 9am & 12pm, Wednesdays 9am, Fridays 12pm & 5:30pm or Sundays at 10am.

The Cycles of Creativity

by Valerie Starr

valerieThe story of creation(s) in Hindu Mythology starts as so many other stories of creation do, and because these stories have mostly been carried through word of mouth, there are many interpretations. This story, in particular, starts in the complete dark and mysterious nothingness. No space, no earth, no heaven, no hell, no place in between only darkness….darkness beyond darkness.

 In this darkness, a wave washed up onto the shore of nothingness carrying a large snake. The snake was coiled up with Lord Vishnu sleeping and dreaming so soundly. Out of the depths of darkness a vibration started to take shape and got louder and louder, rumbling into what eventually formed the sound of OM. As Vishnu awoke from dreaming, he noticed a lotus flower springing from his navel. The flower started to blossom open, and Lord Brahma emerged out of the petals of the lotus. Brahma then began to create the world….Only to have Shiva destroy it. These three gods, known as the Trimurti (meaning having three forms), are essential for the process of creation. This cycle happens over and over again. Creation – Balance – Destruction.
This cycle is generally how the creative process starts for most of us…in darkness. When we close our eyes, something begins to stir, a wave of inspiration might wash up into our minds, we bring whatever that is inside of us outside (if we are lucky and determined), and then it gets washed away making space for the next idea or inspiration.
I find that my most creative time of day is early. Before the sun rises in darkness, before everyone else in my household is awake. There is a soft vibration and fresh mystery to the day and what it will hold. The first thing I do when I wake up is turn on the teakettle and go to my mat, every single day. This is my space and time to create; teaching is my biggest form of creativity right now. There is something so palpable about moving and breathing in darkness; there are no distractions for the mind to get wrapped up in, and so I am moving with absolute clarity of mind. My body is in a state that knows where it needs to move. The tensions that are built up are very present and speaking to me…. this is where I want to go. Sometimes in my dreams I will be teaching or practicing a class. If that happens, I bring my dream onto the mat because somewhere in my deep subconscious this movement needs to be had and experienced from out of the dream world and into the material world. I find many parallels to my process of creation and the Hindu myth of creation.
I have been drawing up a lot of inspiration from Elizabeth Gilbert in her newest book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. She has a keen way of describing how ideas have the ability to find us if we are willing and open to them. If not, they go back into the ether to land into the minds of someone else that is open. 
“I believe that our planet is inhabited not only by animals and plants and bacteria and viruses, but also by ideas. Ideas are a disembodied, energetic life-form. They are completely separate from us, but capable of interacting with us—albeit strangely. Ideas have no material body, but they do have consciousness, and they most certainly have will. Ideas are driven by a single impulse: to be made manifest. And the only way an idea can be made manifest in our world is through collaboration with a human partner. It is only through a human’s efforts that an idea can be escorted out of the ether and into the realm of the actual.” 

So I ask, what do you want to bring forth from inside and out into the world? What is holding you back or what do you need to release in order to move forward? And how can you sustain it? 

The Mythology and Yoga of Harry Potter

by Erica Martin


“We’ve all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That’s who we really are.”

– Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

I remember the moment when I found the yoga in Harry Potter. As an adult, I decided to reread the series of books that I had read on loop as a child. I thumbed through the familiar, dog-eared and chocolate stained pages, and a great sense of remembering washed over me – a remembering much deeper than the narrative itself.

Ultimately, Harry’s story is the story of all of us, realizing on one hand our latent magical abilities, and on the other the darkness that resides within. In the end, Harry is called upon to recognize this duality and release his attachment to this great struggle in order to move past it. If that’s not yoga, I don’t know what is! In this practice we are constantly dancing between opposites; lightness and darkness, sukha and dukkha, adho mukha and urdhva mukha. Our great teachings hold that we observe these binaries, yet find a seat in between them, neither running away from one nor towards the other. We bow to the light within each of us, but also recognize the darkness, and our ability to chose between the two.

This is not a theme exclusive to Harry Potter and the yogic tradition, but one we see playing out over and over again through mythological stories across cultures and religious traditions. From the great Hindu tradition the beautiful goddess, Lakshmi, when examined closely, turns into the great and fearsome destroyer, Kali. In turn, one who is willing to embrace Kali’s darkness, and look at her in the face lovingly, will have her transform into Lakshmi. In essence, they are two sides of the same coin, and the devotee who recognizes them both receives their full delight and love. (It is important to note that the intersection of myth and religion is a complicated one! All religious traditions have mythological stories that are sacred and communicate profound truths. I share this example here in acknowledgement of the divinity of both Kali and Lakshmi and their importance in a religion and culture that is not my own).

This is the great power of myth – to take a truly universal human experience and try to make sense of it through fantastical yet utterly human stories. The great mythologist, Joseph Campbell, notes that one of the most important functions of mythology is, “to foster the centering and unfolding of the individual in integrity in accord with himself (the microcosm), his culture (the mesocosm), the universe (the macrocosm), and that awesome ultimate mystery which is both beyond and within himself and all things.”

This is the stuff of great storytelling. From Harry Potter to Voldemort, from Lakshmi to Kali, the great dance between lightness and darkness is happening within us all.

Erica teaches at 7:00 AM on Tuesday mornings and 8:15 PM on Thursday and Friday nights. When she is not at the Lotus she can be found cuddling her puppy or sharing yoga practices with Bay Area educators through her non-profit Breathe For Change.

The Goddesses in the Basement

by Laura S

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Taking my mask off in the final scene of “A Slightly Altered Version of The Divine Comedy.”

Growing up, the basement was filled with both mythological and worldly characters, stored side by side on the shelves. Papier mâché Kali rested beside the Statue of Liberty. A “wild woman” with hair of raffia, a giant golden sun, a bear made from thrift store fur coats, Persephone, Ganesh, Zeus, demons, politicians, skeletons, acrobats, and countless other deities, animals, and archetypes all crowded in. There was never enough room for all the masks my mom made. They were donned by her theatre troupe, 1000 Faces, to perform plays over the past twenty years. Whether Halloween, the spring equinox, a presidential election, or high school graduation, I grew up with the idea that gods and goddesses marked the moments of our life with storytelling, ritual, and meaning.

My mom’s masks always scared my friends who slept on the pull-out couch in the basement. One morning a college friend emerged after a restless night’s sleep. “All those faces,” he said to us, a bit sheepish, but kind of freaked out. We teased him, but I understood. There was something about going to sleep in that room. Your eyes adjusted to the dark, and you’d see someone looking back at you. It was the same unsettled feeling as when an unfamiliar part of yourself stirs and wants to make itself known. Every mythological character, in their own way, is a mirror of some part of us.

In “Close to the Bone” Jean Shinoda Bolen uses myth as a tool to help us face serious illness, trauma, or difficulty in our lives. Through stories of the goddesses Inanna, Ereshkigal, and Psyche (among others), we are guided through the a journey into the underworld, or into the darkness of our own lives. Bolen says, “Myths and symbols are the language of the soul.” She asserts that our negative side will destroy the positive side unless we can admit to having both. Myths will help us do this. In a goddess like Ereshkigal, who lives in the underworld, we can see pain and darkness play themselves out, and thereby understand our own pain with more acceptance and clarity. So often in our contemporary Western society, it is difficult to find a place for the experience of raw emotion, fear, or illness. Ereshkigal is, “angry, and she could strike someone dead–characteristics that [many of us] repress and keep hidden.” The darkness is there; we can move into and through it, the myths remind us.

In “Close to the Bone” Bolen examines Psyche’s descent into the underworld with a particular focus that gives us permission to truly care for ourselves. Psyche is armed with cakes and coins in order to pay Cerberus, the hound and Charon, the ferryman. She has two of each because she needs to get both in and out. At various points in her journey, people ask for things from her, and she must say no. She cannot drop the cakes and the coins or she will never escape.

When I first read this, I thought, “Hmmm, how terrible! What is the moral of this story? That you shouldn’t help other people?” Yet, as I read on, Bolan describes the strength, wisdom, and clarity we need when facing a serious challenge in our life. She writes: “What do you want? What could help heal you? Can you ask for it? Insist upon it? Can you say no to what or who depletes you and bring what you need into your life? Might your actual life, and certainly the quality of it, depend upon choosing to do what nourishes your soul with your time and energy?”

As I read those questions, the image of Psyche with the coins and cake clicked for me into a much different analysis than I’d initially made. It wasn’t an image of selfishness at all, but an image of profound self-awareness, bravery, and resilience. In the context of illness, which Bolen was describing, you must more seriously choose what nourishes you. During a recent illness, I held on to this image of Psyche as a powerful reminder that not only was I allowed to focus on healing, but my well-being depended upon it. I’m fairly certain I was only able to consider this idea anew because I pictured Psyche doing it first, and not myself.

Joy Williams, one of my favorite fiction writers, recently published “99 Stories of God,” a collection of stories that explore our relationship to the sacred, and how it is often hidden from us in contemporary life. With a seriously dark sense of humor, Williams tells a series of 99 very short tales. In some, the sacred makes an overt appearance. In others, people look for, but ultimately miss, the presence of the sacred. In the rest, it seems there is no appearance of the sacred at all (yet I suspect there is). In story 49 Williams writes, “We can never speak about God rationally as we speak about ordinary things, but that does not mean we should stop thinking about God. We must push our minds to the limits of what we could know, descending ever deeper into the darkness of unknowing.” It is all of our myths and stories that allow us to do just that.

Join Laura for Lotus Basics on Tuesday and Thursday at 10:45am and Friday at 9am. Connect on Facebook or Instagram!

Īśvara-Praṇidhāna: The Ceaseless Practice of Surrender

by Minerva Arias



Īśvara-Praṇidhāna was my word for sutra day during Love School–aka–my 200-hour yoga teacher training at Laughing Lotus. The last of the Yamas and Niyamas (the ten living principles of yoga), it means an ultimate surrendering to the divine. According to the yoga sutras of Patanjali it is the highest practice.

Key word: Practice. When I began exploring what Īśvara-Praṇidhāna meant, it made total sense that it was the concept I was to explain to the group. I have always had a need for control in my life, blame it on the various societal factors of being raised as a (insert multiple identity labels here). When I thought I had everything in control, it all came falling apart, and I felt at a complete loss and standstill. I could not understand what had happened, and I had no other option but to say “OK universe, you win, you take the wheel because I cannot drive anymore, YOU tell me what I should be doing.” And, with that, the pieces began to fall back into the place, the way they should, which is not how I planned! I welcomed and ushered it all in, my newfound blessings and healing, which lead me to my yoga teacher training and receiving Īśvara-Praṇidhāna as my sutra day word.

Īśvara-Praṇidhāna means understanding that I am you, that you are me, that we are all a piece of the Divine. It means understanding, committing and surrendering to the fact that we are guided by this powerful energy. It means accepting that we may not always get what we want, but we always get what we need. That we are exactly where we are suppose to be and that if we continue to trust in this Divine energy, in this Divine plan, our dharma, that we will continue to be provided for, taken care of and guided.

In rereading the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, I came across this line that has become my favorite line of the moment: “Let us all dedicate our lives for the sake of the entire humanity. With every minute, every breath, every atom of our bodies we should repeat this mantra: “dedication, dedication, giving, giving, loving, loving.” Īśvara-Praṇidhāna also means THIS! It means with every minute, every breath, every atom of our beings we must stay dedicated, giving and loving.

Dedicated to our practice! There are NINE practices that come before Īśvara-Praṇidhāna:Ahimsa (non-harming), Satya (truth), Asteya (non-stealing), Brahmacharya (not squandering energy), Aparigraha (non-grasping), Saucha (cleaniness), Santosha(contentment), Tapas (austerity), Svadhyaya (study). It’s called practice for a reason; we have to show up every day, in some way, in every breath.

Īśvara-Praṇidhāna: it means that we constantly surrender. It means that just because we’ve let go once, or in one situation/moment, does not mean that we go back to trying to be in control of it all again. It means that we constantly come back to being dedicated, giving, loving, connected with the divinity within us that connects us with everyone and everything else.

Minerva, a devoted yoga mat souljah, loves to lead folx back into their bodies, with their breath, to unity with their Gift Of Divinity. She’s all about getting back to our roots – learn more at RootsHealing.org & join her in March for a beautiful trip to Cuba!

With the magic of music, asana, pranayama, meditation, Minerva’s classes are soulful, playful & makes you sweat. Join her every Tuesday at noon for Soul Sweat, Tuesdays & Thursdays at 5:30pm for Happy Hour Flow and Saturdays at 11:45am for a sweet Lotus Basic. .

The Keys to Spiritual Bartending

by Adriana Shanti


As it states in the preface, The Yoga Sutras are, “a living scripture to illumine our spiritual path.” They are threads of wisdom to weave throughout your daily life. There is so much valuable information in the Sutras, and I highly recommend taking one Slokah at a time and letting it resonate inside you. My favorite Slokah is Book 1:33 because it applies to everyone everyday. In fact, Patanjali advises that we commit at least this one Sutra to memory.

Book 1 Slokah 33:
By cultivating attitudes of friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and disregard toward the wicked, the mind-stuff retains its undisturbed calmness.

Patanjali says that there are only four kinds of locks in this world. Suka, duhkha, punya and apunya–happy people, unhappy people, the virtuous and the wicked. The keys to these locks are friendliness, compassion, delight and disregard.

This month marks four wonderful years of working as a receptionist for the front desk at Laughing Lotus. I like to think of myself as a “Spiritual Bartender” more than a receptionist. I greet everyone with a cheerful smile and quickly surmise what key will work to “open” them up.

Patanjali says that the key to opening up the happy is to use the “friendliness” key. Unfortunately, even four thousand years ago, there were people who were not happy at seeing others happy. I greet the happy with excitement! I take great joy in looking at all vacation pictures, and I ask leading questions to find out what made their time away so special. I love hearing about anything and everything that makes you happy. Did you finally clean out that hall closet that has been haunting you forever? GREAT! Please do share! Let’s do a big ol’ high five! I want to be that person you look forward to sharing your life with, my happiness is increased when I know that you are happy. Its a wonderful win-win situation.

Compassion is the key to the unhappy. Patanjali says to be merciful always. “By doing that, you will retain the peace and poise of your mind. Remember, our goal is to keep the serenity of our minds.” If you can lend a helping hand, do it. For the unhappy, I offer empathy and compassion. I want to be that sympathetic ear that you can confide in and know that it will go no further than our conversation. I take great pride in holding a safe place to confide your troubles. I hold everyone’s secrets and pain with honor; I don’t take that privilege lightly.

For the virtuous, feel delighted! I bask in the virtuous! Virtuous people are filled with wisdom and advice. Instead of feeling envy over their accomplishments, appreciate the virtuous qualities and try to cultivate them in yourself. I have learned so much about life and yoga just sitting around in the lobby of Laughing Lotus and chatting over tea…virtuous people are everywhere, you just have to take the time to listen.

Sometimes the world just gets to be too much and we find ourselves in a “bad way.” We shut down and no amount of kindheartedness can soften our thoughts. When you find someone in a “wicked” way, it is best to treat them with indifference. Don’t let them penetrate your happiness and dim your inner light. I always greet people who appear to be having a bad day with a smile and space. Tomorrow is another day, hopefully whatever woes there are today will be gone tomorrow.

Pantajali says these four keys…Friendliness, Compassion, Delight and Indifference should always be with us. “If you use the right key with the right person you will retain your peace. Nothing in the world can upset you then. Remember, our goal is to keep a serene mind.”

Adriana teaches Wednesday and Friday Sunrise Flow at 7am and Thursday Soul Sweat at 12pm. Find more information at http://www.spottedelephantyoga.com!

Yoga is the Uniting of Consciousness in the Heart

by Alex Crow


Have you ever felt as if you were at a loss for words? As if you simply could not place the perfect word for how you felt? It has been said that truth cannot be spoken, it can only be felt. The simplest truths are not so simple to explain, let alone teach. I have come to many truths within the exploration of my own body-mind, and in my attempts to offer them to my students, I often get tripped up, blocked by the limitation of the English language. Perhaps this is why movement speaks to me so purely, it is not restricted by words, syllables, grammar, logic. I can feel the way that life IS by listening to the rhythms of my bones, the speech of my sensations, the pathways of my breath. In a way, I am able to learn the truths of the universe by listening to the intuitive intelligence of my very body. Perhaps it was the recognition of these internal truths that brought the ancient sage, Patanjali, to write the now famous text, and what some call “the bible of Yoga”, The Yoga Sutras.

The Yoga Sutras are an ancient transcript of yogic wisdom written in Sanskrit, a now dead language that stays alive through the practice of Yoga. For westerners to understand this ancient text, we were forced to translate it into English, and in doing so, I believe some of the truth was lost in translation. Much of the translations of the Sutras available to us have left me feeling confused, unclear, and lost in a sea of esoteric jargon. However, if what they say is true, that the truth cannot be found in the words themselves, then it is our responsibility to take these practices into our bodies, and so translate accordingly.

Luckily for me, Nischala Joy Devi’s translation of the Yoga Sutras offered a me new way to engage with the Sutras, which is based in the method of feeling, as opposed to thinking my way to the truth behind these ancient threads of wisdom. She offers a feminine approach, one centered in the heart. This is a fitting translation for our current age as we are beginning to challenge patriarchal systems and re-establish our priorities to include the feminine side of ourselves, the side that honors the wisdom of the body and the truth of our hearts.

Sutra 1.2-1.4 explains the reason for why we practice yoga and what yoga in essence is:

1.2: yogas citta vrtti nirodhah
1.3: tada drastuh svarupe vasthanam
1.4: vrtti sarupyam itaratra

In most translations of these sutras, which understandably (due to the time that they were written in) were written by men, it is explained that:

1.2: yoga is the restraint of the movement or modifications of the mind
1.3: when stillness of mind is accomplished, then the Seer (Self) abides in His own nature
1.4: At other times the Self appears to assume the forms of the mind movements

The idea of trying to control or restrain my thoughts felt not only impossible, but a bit harsh and outdated. I asked myself, what was I to gain from putting more limitations on myself when in truth I was searching for freedom from the many years of mental and physical discipline that led to much of my neurosis? I lovingly recognize the value of discipline, but I struggled with the idea that I had to find a way to stop the movement of my thoughts in order to find my true Self. This is a perfect example of how the truth can get lost in translation! It wasn’t until I read Joy Devi’s translation that I recognized a different way of realizing the same truth. She writes:

1.2: yoga is the uniting of consciousness in the heart
1.3: united in the heart, consciousness is steadied, then we abide in our true nature-joy
1.4: at other times, we identify with the rays of consciousness, which fluctuate and encourage our perceived suffering

This translation brings such relief into my practice of yoga. I feel a natural alignment with the suggestion to join my focus and awareness into the soul’s space in the heart. When I actually do the practice of bringing my mind to the meeting place of the heart, the energetic center of my body-mind-spirit, I am in union (in yoga) with my truth, which is unwavering and still (naturally the mind quiets as it harmonizes with the heart), which fills me with the feeling of JOY! This is freedom! At other times, when I feel the echoes of pain and suffering, I now recognize that I am out of alignment with my true nature, and so I practice yoga (uniting consciousness in the heart) to bring myself back to home, to the truth of who I am, to the truth that abides in the heart.

Once again, it is seen that the truth cannot be understood by intellect alone, it must be felt! The resonance of Joy Devi’s unique translation rang true for me, and perhaps that is the most potent truth of all…no one can bring you to your truth but you. Yoga feels right to me. It is like a homecoming every time. And although the practice of yoga is a path that we must tread alone, we can recognize the spirit within one another, walking hand in hand as we all travel together towards the truth that resides in our own hearts.

Namaste, and so much love.

Alex Crow is a Yoga Therapist and Certified Reiki Master currently spreading her wings in the Bay Area yoga and dance communities. Laughing Lotus Yoga Center has been her yoga home for 4 years, and you can catch her for either Lotus Yin on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and/or Lotus Fly on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays every week!.