The Keys to Spiritual Bartending

by Adriana Shanti

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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

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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!.

Now, The Teachings of Yoga

by Laura Schadler
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It’s hard not to begin with Chapter 1, Sutra 1 when contemplating “The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.” Depending on the rendition, there are approximately 196 sutras (or threads) that make up this classic work of yogic philosophy, and each time I pick up my copy, there is something new to explore. The sutras build upon one another, so in some ways randomly opening to a sutra (while fun!) means missing out on the profound accumulation and unveiling that happens if you read the sutras in order.

The Sanskrit word “atha” translates to “now begins.” So, the first sutra, “Atha yoga anushasanam,” means, “Now begins the teachings of yoga.” I’ve also heard this sutra translated as practice or sharing instead of teachings. I like each of these word choices for slightly different reasons. In recent weeks I’ve been nerding out a bit over comparing and contrasting three different translations that I have, and I like the nuance of revisiting a familiar sutra with a slightly different translation to examine. Regardless of translation, the key word in this first sutra for me is the word NOW.

Yoga (whether the physical postures, meditative practices, daily sadhanas, or off-mat/real world scenarios) is about our relationship with the present moment. Our practice is about what is happening in our awareness and actions right now in this very second. Everything else (in the Sutras and in life) seemingly comes next, but really we are always in this ever-present now. This is where the practice/teaching/sharing continually exists. Now is always happening, always changing, and always the only thing. It’s overwhelming, but also pretty awesome!

I’m drawn to the idea that each time I step on my mat or open my Yoga Sutras, the practice of yoga starts anew. Now, again and again, I begin. There is something urgent about this sutra. We must begin NOW. But there is also something reassuring. No matter what else has happened, no matter what has come before, we can begin again. Now is always here for us to step into and inhabit.

Of course, after this initial declaration of now comes the work of the remaining 195 sutras. My newest translation is quite fat and at first I was anxious to tear through the pages and get to the end. But, I resisted, and instead have been savoring the first five or so, and especially this first one. The sutras are not merely conceptual; each one can and should be threaded into our practice in real ways. One way to work with the first sutra is to lie down on your mat, or take a walk, or find a comfortable place to sit. Next, simply allow yourself to rest in the now without any concern for what will come next, in your practice or in your day. Feel what the present moment really brings with it and move from moment to moment within the body and the breath. I love this practice because there is so much potential in it: for relaxation, for discovery, for self-reflection, for creativity, for healing, for really noticing.

Stephen Cope’s book “The Wisdom of Yoga” is an interesting exploration of the sutras. He shares personal stories and anecdotes from both himself and his students with the sutras as a pervading wisdom that can be applied to each person’s situation (and I love that these ancient aphorisms really can apply to our modern lives). One line from Cope’s book has become a mantra of sorts for me, and I have written it down and taped it above my desk: The self is a process, not an entity. This idea is what inspires me most in my yoga practice: we are all in the midst of a fluid and dynamic process where who we are and what is happening is never fixed. Each breath is new. Now, the practice of yoga.   

Laura believes the transformational power of yoga is accessible to everyone. Catch her Lotus Basics classes on the schedule later this fall!

Keeping the Faith

by Tina Spogli

Vajrapradama

This month marks my one-year anniversary living in San Francisco. As a result, I’ve been self reflecting a ton, thinking about all of the changes I’ve seen in my life over the past year – namely a move across the country coupled with a complete change in my livelihood. We all have these markers in our lives that encourage us to look at our unique path from a bird’s eye view, and hopefully feel content with where we are in this moment.

When we reflect on our life, we’re able to see our experience as a continuous wave. We see the moments when strength prevailed, and we also see the moments when we questioned our path and lost our faith. But the important part is that we stayed on the path. Vajrapradama (Unshakable Trust) mudra has been my reminder to believe in myself, and my own unique journey. Just like the poses in our asana practice, these mudras, or shapes we create with our hands, produce a particular feeling within us. The mudra communicates with us through the universal language of emotion. Mudras are like medicine, and Unshakable Trust mudra can be taken daily like a vitamin, receiving a regular dose of self-confidence and strength.

To form Unshakable Trust mudra, interlace the hands at your heart center, and let your thumbs point up towards the sky. The way the hands are linked gives the feeling of warrior strength and connection with ourselves, each other, and the cosmic self. The cosmic self shines through as our intuition – that voice inside each of us guiding our way. Sometimes we build walls in our hearts and minds that make it difficult to follow the path. As we tear down these walls, we get closer to our truth. This past year has brought many changes, and where I’ve resisted change in the past, I’m now seeing the beauty of how our lives can unfold when we let them.

Trust is a practice. We keep coming back to ourselves, to our faith, and to our light – remembering the immense power within. Trust means letting go, and waking up to our true selves. Paolo Coelho in his book ‘Warrior of the Light’ says:

The moment that he begins to walk along it, the Warrior of the Light recognizes the Path. Each stone, each bend cries welcome to him. He identifies with the mountains and the streams, he sees something of his own soul in the plants and the animals and the birds of the field. Then accepting the help of the Soul of the World, he allows his personal legend to guide him toward the tasks that life has reserved for him. On some nights, he has nowhere to sleep, on others he suffers from insomnia. “That’s just how it is,” thinks the Warrior. “I was the one who chose to walk this path.” In these words lies all his power: he chose the path along which he is walking and so has no complaints.

 

Tina developed a deep love for quieting the body and mind during her time living in one of the loudest cities. Yoga found Tina in 2007 while she was living in New York, and the practice quickly became her sanctuary amidst all of the hustle.

She believes in the transformative process of yoga, with its ability to bring us back into our bodies and breath, and stretch our mental limitations of what we think is possible – both on and off the mat. Her mantra is to come as you are, and observe what unfolds. Tina’s classes are thoughtful and intentional, sharing inspiration from her personal practice and life.

Tina is a 250 RYT, and a graduate from Laughing Lotus in New York and San Francisco. When she is not on the mat, you can find her in nature, exploring
photography, and hanging with her animal friends! She is very grateful to be a
part of the Laughing Lotus community of the east and west, and is thankful for
this space to share her heart and energy with you.

Three Great Mudras for Your Workday

by Josh Ehrenreich

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A nice thing about mudras is they’re inconspicuous, they stay out of the way. You can be in an office meeting, a bus commute, waiting in line—and no one will even know you’re doing yoga with your hands! It’s not exactly the same as busting out a Warrior 1 in airport security.

Personally, I like integrating mudras throughout my day at the office. They encourage me to take an extra breath before jumping into reaction mode. I’ve found the following three mudras are especially well suited to modern life.

Apan Vaya Mudra—We’re distracted by hundreds of different interruptions, digital and physical, throughout our day. The Apan Vayu Mudra encourages one to sink into the bliss of a leisurely pause and find the beauty in stillness. In this incredibly fast moving, instant-information world, this mudra is my go to.

Bend your index finger to touch the base of your thumb and bring the tip of your thumb to touch the middle and ring finger. Rest your hands on your lap. For added affect turn your phone to vibrate and put your computer to sleep. Enjoy a few minutes of nurturing silence.

Kubera Mudra—Oh man, if you have a job that requires planning and goal setting, let me introduce you to your new secret weapon. This mudra creates momentum behind wishes, desires, and goals of all levels Trying to find that random email in your inbox from three weeks ago? Boom, Kubera has your back. Looking to position yourself for a promotion? Kubera is here to help.

Bring the tip of you thumb, index, and middle finger together with intensity. Important to this mudra is the mental attention you give to what you are trying to manifest—to recall a fact, less preparation is required, but for something more signifiant, say a promotion or successful execution of a project, take time to inquire whether this is truly in your, and the world’s, best interest.

Hakini Mudra—Research has shown that super-villains are on to something with all their finger tenting. The Hakini Mudra is recommended in many management courses as a technique to support memory recall and mental concentration. It also promotes balance between the right and left halves of the brain.

I use this in meetings a lot—it’s a wonderful way to focus on the meeting at hand rather than find excuses to distract myself. It also stimulates the lungs, which supports taking an extra breath, instead of jumping in and interrupting someone. Try it for yourself by bringing the corresponding fingertips and thumbs together. You can let it sit in your lap or on the table.

Mudras are incredibly powerful tools at our disposal. Their power is not just in their specific affects but also due to their ability to be executed at anytime. You don’t need to get to a studio or gym to do a mudra, just a hand and a couple of minutes. Try one today in a place you wouldn’t normally bust out into Lotus flow, and enjoy the benefits of a yoga wherever you are.

Josh believes in the importance of moving yoga beyond the studio and into everyday life. His even-tempo flow based classes focus on consistency of effort, breath, and attention. Beyond yoga, Josh spends his free time biking and listening to hip-hop. Catch up with him at the Lotus this August and September Monday and Wednesdays
8:30-9:30pm.

Seals of the Soul

*Repost*

by Valerie Starr

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When I was growing up, I remember my mom taking sign language classes and coming home to show us kids the different signs. “Thank you”, “Please”, “What’s wrong with you” (my favorite) and “I love you” (still used to this day whenever I say goodbye to my mom). This was my first introduction to understanding that our hands can speak, our gestures have meanings, and our body language can say something

In asana practice we use different poses to do the same thing, connect and personify movements, gestures, and intentions with our body. Whether traditional poses brought to us by yogi’s past, or newer poses from the west, when we move our body with this kind of awareness we are creating language with our limbs.

Mudras are sign language (seals) of the soul. They are gestures to take our intentions further with the use of our hands. I have even heard them expressed as icing on the asana cake, something to bring us more fully into the present moment. We can use our hands, which can often times be limp or unexpressive or forgotten about in practice, to drive the pose deeper and bring more awareness. To seal the deal, so to speak.

One mudra that always seems to be speaking to me is the Ksepana Muda, the gesture of pouring out and letting go. As human beings we are constantly changing, shape shifting, and transforming who we are. The idea behind the Ksepana mudra is that we let go of the layers that no longer fit us: the identity, the preconceived ideas of ourselves, and the stuff that just doesn’t have any room in our lives anymore.

I often refer to the body as a storage unit. We accumulate past traumas, dramas, memories, habits, addictions, toxins, movements, and thoughts. It takes a constant clearing out process to help eliminate whatever negative energy we are storing and free that space up for what’s good. The entire practice of yoga is geared toward this action and to free of these things that bind us.

The Ksepana Mudra functions curiously like a hose. The fingers are clasped together, while the index fingers point out towards the ground, and the thumbs cross over each other. You can envision a stream of sludge or sewage pouring out of the index fingers unclogging the muck that has been stored for years, decades, or lifetimes. This mudra is to be held for 7–15 breaths with the concentration on the exhale.

It is no wonder that this mudra also stimulates elimination through the skin (sweat), lungs, and large intestines, releasing stored tensions as well for a physical and emotional clearing. It is all part of the letting go process.

With a baby on the way less then five weeks out, I find this mudra quite appropriate for my life. I am in a constant state of clearing and uncluttering my apartment, my body and mind. There has got to be an emptying out of my life to ensure space for this little one when he arrives. I don’t want my baggage to be stored in his closet so to speak.

An interesting occurrence I have recently been witnessing is my absorption of other people’s energy. This month I attended a large, 3-day music and arts festival here in San Francisco, surrounded by many people in a different situation than I was and found myself needing to have as much space as possible. Not only did I feel crowded but also like a sponge absorbing other’s energy that wasn’t always pure or aware. The Ksepana Mudra can help with draining the unconscious energy we pick up from others that we don’t want to hold onto.

Gertrud Hirschi, author of the book MUDRAS – Yoga in Your Hands, offers an affirmation to go along with the Ksepana mudra. “Spent energy in my body, mind and soul flows away from me, and I thankfully accept all things that refresh me.”

As you hold the mudra and think these positive thoughts you can envision the sludge becoming expulsed with each exhale; becoming more clear, all the while, knowing that this process of pouring out and letting go is a constant and gradual practice.

A Silent Language

by Laura Schadler

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Practicing the Abhaya Hridaya Mudra (Courageous Heart Mudra).

Mudras (or symbolic hand gestures) are a silent language of self-expression. As a fiction writer, I often consider the inadequacy of written language and words (as much as I love them, of course!). Even the most beautifully written phrase can only capture so much of our lived experience. After all, so much seems simply beyond words. It is exactly this energetic and wordless state that mudras give meaning, shape, and definition to. Through symbolism and intention, mudras allow us to connect more fully to our meditation and asana practice. Mudras are powerful on the mat, but equally powerful off of it as well. I oftentimes find myself forming a mudra in my hands when I’m on an airplane, when I need to wake myself up in the morning, or when I need to stay calm in a hectic moment. They serve as a beautiful energetic reminder whenever I need them.

Last year I was recuperating from a surgery, and I grew frustrated at not being able to return to my physical yoga practice as quickly as I wanted. During that time, I embarked on a more concerted study of mudras. I picked a new one each week and spent my time studying it, reading about it, and of course, practicing it. I completed my time with each mudra by gathering images that represented the energies of the particular shape. In lieu of trying to continue using words to describe this brilliant wordlessness, I will share two of my favorites with you below.

The Pran Mudra: Also known as the Life Mudra. In both hands, place the tips of the thumb, ring, and pinky finger together. Extend the pointer and middle finger. This is a good one to practice in seated meditation or in poses like Warrior 1 and Warrior 3 (or really any pose where the arms are extended).  This mudra is about tapping into our life force, igniting energy, clarity, vitality and strength. It can also bring us equilibrium and steadiness, supposedly even balancing out both parts of the brain (which as a very right brained person I am hoping is true!).

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The Shankh Mudra: Encircle the left thumb with the fingers of your right hand. Touch the right thumb to the extended middle finger of your left hand. Hold this shape in front of your heart. Your left thumb represents your higher self, and this mudra gives you a chance to connect with this higher self. Remember that you have everything you need within yourself.  The Shankh Mudra is also about tapping into the energy of the 5th chakra and the power of your voice. This mudra can be practiced with a mantra practice as well: Try chanting OM and then holding this shape for a few moments in the silence that follows.

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I am currently working with the Varuna Mudra, which assists us in breaking through areas where we are blocked. It helps us to let go and embrace change.

These are just three of so many possible mudras that you might practice. Nothing can substitute for just diving in and experiencing them for yourself! I highly recommend Gertrude Hirschi’s book “MUDRAS: Yoga in your Hands” which goes into great detail about many mudras and explains their physical, mental, and spiritual benefits, along with accompanying affirmations and even herbal remedies.

Mudras are rich, creative, and infinite. They can move us beyond words and allow us to explore in the depths beyond our more familiar languages.

Laura grew up in the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia and has lived in San Francisco for the past 14 years. When she isn’t practicing and teaching yoga, she is hard at work on a novel. Yoga info and inspiration can be found at “Yoga with Laura” on Facebook.