Imagine arriving to your yoga class. You enter through the studio door and you are immediately greeted with aromas of rose petals and calming floral scents. The lights are dim and in the center of the floor are a few candles surrounding a beautiful golden statue of a wisdom goddess. Yoga mats are already prepared in an inward facing circle around the statues and candles. You look around the circle and find yourself making eye contact with many beautiful hearted women. As class begins, the first thing you are lead to do is tap into exactly how you are feeling today. You are welcome and accepted just as you are, in however you are feeling. You are reminded that you are a reflection of the Divine goddess in all of her archetypes, all of her rawness, that no emotion or human experience is turned away. You are reminded of the power and light within you as a human being that can literally birth creation.
- Our bodies have different needs: Our bodies are shaped to give birth and sustain life. We observe our bodies changing through all kinds of shapes through adolescence, puberty, adulthood, pre and post natal. We are beautiful, powerful, shape shifters. Not every pose is created equal depending where we are on this cycle. Women’s yoga gives attention to these specific needs by assisting in the most appropriate needs for your cycle.
- Women’s yoga gives us the opportunity to truly love this changing process and to fully be aware of the changes that are occurring: It is here that we learn to appreciate the strength of our body with loving acceptance and gratitude. Often we see magazines and celebrities depicting how we should be built. In women’s yoga we know this is not accurate. We know that every body is beautiful and unique. We learn to walk confidently in our Divine given beauty.
- Women’s yoga will change how you see other women: This is not a class to rush into and out of for your quick lunch break workout. It is here that we are building a strong and nurturing community. We truly ‘see’ one another and hold space for each other to breakdown, to celebrate, to laugh, to cry, to howl, and to hold one another through moments of joy and moments of pain. We begin to see one another as the Goddess Herself. You begin to fall in love and appreciation with all women because you know one another’s resilience.
- You are the Goddess: You begin to open up and release any stagnant energy that has been holding you back from your full potential. You begin to feel the light and warmth that is your true essence. You become connected with your own inner force that awakens consciousness. With this, you are confident that you are supported from within, and even from the Universe itself.
We are at a pivotal point in society where women are beginning to show up as themselves, completely. Not as reflections of what others want us to be, but in the softness, the gracefulness, the heartbroken, and fierceness that lives within the feminine spirit. We are showing up unapologetically as ourselves in our womanly fullness. Women’s yoga is an empowering tool that keeps us grounded through times of transitions.
*Photo by Vaschelle André
The Sacral Chakra, Swadhistana, is our feminine powerhouse.
This area is the emotional watery flow, ruled by the moon, our fertility, our grace, our sexual identity- it is the sweet center, seat of pleasure. The sacral chakra is symbolized as a lotus with six orange petals that surround a white circle which represents water. Within that circle is a light blue crescent moon that governs the ebb and flow of our emotional tides.
The sacral chakra is located between your navel and pelvic floor. A balanced swadhistana is characterized in physical grace, friendliness, open and trusting, respect for others, and in touch with the flow of feelings and emotions. An out of balance swadhistana shows up as shame, guilt, literal unbalance in movement, envy, and sexual manipulation. There are several ways to keep the sacral chakra balanced- one easy way…. Drink water!
This center is our feminine source and it runs on water. Drink plenty of water and herbal teas. Find ways to spend time near the water; streams, oceans,
lakes, and rivers. If do not have access to this, or even if you do, take a bath. Water is life. Even a visualization of water is better than nothing.
Below are two poses that help balance the sacral chakra. While doing these poses imagine a bowl of beautiful, pure, water flowing through.
- Side Stretch: This massages the organs that surround the sacral chakra. Begin seated and sit with your legs wide, knees pointed towards the ceiling. Flex your feet and point your toes upward. Raise your arms shoulder height. Inhale and stretch toward one side. Breathe into the stretch- feel it in your legs and your side body. As you breathe imagine a stream of water flowing through the tightness. When ready, switch sides.
- Standing to forward bend to Half: This is the beginning of a sun salutation and a good way to get the breathe and water flowing through your body. Begin standing, inhale and as you exhale bend forward with knees slightly bent. Inhale halfway keeping your back straight. Do this by bring your hands towards your knees. Exhale and bend forward, inhale into standing. Do this at whatever pace feels appropriate to you. Do a few repetitions. Imagine the water stirring and flowing. Create a graceful dance out of these movements, keeping each movement as intentional and graceful as possible.
Take a moment to touch in with your body. Close your eyes and pause wherever you are, whether you are seat, standing, or laying on your back. Begin focusing on the area of your tailbone and pelvic floor. Breathe into this area imagining a red glow. With your exhales begin exhaling the word LAM outloud or silently. Begin visioning that your lower half of your body is rooted like a tree, it is stable, unwavering, and safe. If you are standing, imagine your feet are the root systems, your toes are wide and strong.
The root chakra, muladhara, is the base of the kundalini energy, as well as, survival, groundedness, safety, sense of smell, and crucial to our awakening. If the root chakra is not properly balanced and stable, then it is impossible for us to fully develop our spirituality. It is strongly linked to the crown chakra and governs the hormones and the health of the other chakras. If the root chakra is not balanced, then your crown chakra is likely unbalanced as well.
The root chakra is symbolized by a lotus flower with four red petals and often associated with the earth. Harmful thought patterns that come from a closed root chakra often show up as addiction, overly worried about money, depression, or lower back pain. A balanced root chakra will create a feeling of security, stability, and confidence. Below are two poses that help ground and balance your root chakra:
Mountain Pose (Tadasana): There is much more to this pose than standing still. Stand with your feet hip width apart, toes pointing straight, and arms by your side. Relax your shoulders and pull them down your back. Do this by rolling your shoulders up towards your ears, then rolling them down your back. Pull your navel up and towards your spine, hugging in your midline. Lift your ribs and soften the heart space space. Breathe deeply here. This is a good place to use the meditation above.
Chair Pose (Utkasana): From Tadasana, bring your toes to touch. Inhale, and as you exhale, allow your knees to bend as if you are about to sit back into a chair. Keep your navel pulled up and in towards your spine. On an inhale, raise your arms above your head, imagine you are holding an object above your head in between you hands. Squeeze arms in so that you don’t drop the object. Keep palms facing one another and arms shoulder width apart. Be aware that you aren’t lifting your shoulders up towards your ears. Curl in your tailbone slightly so that you are elongating your spine. Imagine yourself rooted, strong, and stable.
Come to me in all your humanness, in all your feminine fierceness and your tenderness.
Come to me in your teary, grief filled eyes.
Come to me in your heartache.
Come to me in your bliss, in your joy, in your love giving, and love receiving.
Come to me in your radiant openness.
Come to me when your heart pleads for no more pain.
My hands are open to receive you just as you are. All you have to do is call for me.
My arms are open to embrace you, to pull you close into my protective warmth. All you have to do is call for me.
My heart is open to extend my love 1000x fold to you. All you have to do is call for me.
Remember that in your confusion, your clarity, your love, your pain, your vulnerability and in your rawness, you are never alone. Everything you need, you have. Your body knows this. There is a universe of wisdom held within you.
You are heart expansiveness, you are all encompassing love.
Remember, I am here with you. Because, I am not separate from you. All you have to do is call for me.
We are what we say, what we think, what we listen to…
Our brain literally responds exactly in what we think, what we put our attention on, even in what we imagine! These reactions are based on neuroplasticity. Neurons are reactive. They do exactly what they are told to do and then they build off of one another and become thicker, creating pathways in our brain, also known as deep habitual patterns. As these pathways become more and more ingrained, we begin to react and live according to it.
Why does this matter? What does it have to do with yoga?
If you are constantly telling yourself something negative, then you become that negative aspect. You are literally training to brain to BE that. If you are living in a state of fear and anger, then you become contracted, irritable, and anxious. The more you repeat this pattern the stronger it becomes. Think of your brain as the Grand Canyon. That river of negativity keep flowing, wearing down the ridges, creating deeper canyons that cannot be reversed! It’s okay to be angry, sad, or in pain, of course. However, there’s a difference between feeling an emotion versus actually living as that emotion.
You can create new neuro-pathway canyons though by switching your perspective.
Choose to see the beauty, the peace, the light, the love...especially NOW. Always now.
This is where affirmations come into play. Affirmations work because they create new positive pathways. It all begins with “I AM.”
I am light.
I am love.
I am radiant warmth.
I am free.
I am peace
Add any positive word to your own “I AM”. Now, what does that word mean to you? Imagine you are living that word. What does it feel like? How does your body react? Sit with this word and feel it. Allow your body and brain to respond to it. Imagine you are walking through your day as this word. Really envision it, really feel into it. This imagination process works because the brain does not know the difference between your everyday waking state versus your imagination. Envisioning creates the change too. Now that you taught your body how to feel your word, you have the beginning of living that word. Take it out with you. Go for a walk and feel it again. Introduce your brain to this word. Try it out with a yoga pose. Begin your flow and settle into warrior two. Begin your affirmation. Keep repeating it until you feel it. How does your pose change? What is different?
The deeper the pathway you create, the easier it is to access it when you need it, and eventually you just simply live it.
A Meditation on Living Your Authentic Path
A key concept in the Bhagavad Gita is the teaching of fulfilling one’s dharma. Dharma is a sanskrit term that means we are each born with unique duty or service for the world to fulfill in our lifetime. Dharma is what we were put on this earth to do, and in doing so, we renounce the fruits of our labor. Our dharma is pure service to this world, our community, and nature. This is yoga!
Dharma is showing up fully, faithfully, courageously, and without attachment to the other side. It is living in full surrender and trust that our path will be illuminated as we begin to walk it with confidence. It is through our dharma that we can leave the world better off than it would be without us.
Think of dharma this way- the present moment is going to happen regardless if you are there or not. The wind will blow, the leaves will rustle, the deer will graze, people will interact, cars will drive by, and so on. The moment that you enter does not belong to you, rather, you're the blessed observer. Ask yourself this “How can I leave this moment better off than it would be without me?”
Take a deep look at what you are putting your attention into in each moment. Is it something that contributes, something that simply passes, or is it something does it do harm? Begin to notice how to move through the moment. Turn your attention to the question “How can I better serve this moment?” The way in which you choose to show up and serve each day is connected to your authentic dharma.
We all have gifts to share with the world. It comes in the form of healers, teachers, mamas, caregivers, activists, travellers...the list goes on. Your passion is your gift! Whatever ignites you, ignites the world into action!
What is it that you truly feel is your path?
Now, put all your energy into envisioning yourself living your dharmic path. What are you doing? Where do you see yourself? Who are you serving? What does it feel like in your body to live in the way you are called to do? Feel it with every cell of your body. Keep this vision alive everyday. Keep the feeling of living your path active inside of you. The stronger you become in your vision, the easier it is to take the courageous steps to embodying your vision.
"Grace happens when we act with others on behalf of the world." Joanna Macy
Envision tossing a rock into a lake and notice the ripples move across the body of water. The ripples continue across until they hit the shore, affecting the shore line by moving about some pebbles which cause more gentle ripples. That one actions creates a whole network of other actions. This is always in motion, even in stillness there is movement and play of cause and effect.
This applies to us as well. The way we think, act, and BE in the world affects everything around us. Our way of being is our vibration. If we are feeling full of love and bliss, then we radiate that outward. It affects everything as the vibrations spread and bounce off objects or interact with the communities vibration as a whole. If we are feeling angry or in disharmony, that too, radiates outwards. If we have subtle body vision we would see each person radiating their own vibrational field and notice how we bounce off each other throughout the day. We would see our bubbles either engage and connect, or bounce away in disconnection and misunderstanding based on our emotions. That’s where the change comes from-the awareness.
We cannot hide from our emotions, they need to be felt and moved through. But, we can be aware in how we move throughout our day and where others are coming from in their own emotions so that we can interact in compassion.
Imagine this scenario…
We are in the grocery store cruising the isles. Another customer runs into you and gives you an intense glare of annoyance. Ouch. Rather than meeting that customer with the same intensity, make the choice to soften and see them in their struggle. Let them go on their way and look at them with radiate compassion. That’s a ripple effect. It’s a vibration of peace that dances with a vibration of unrest on the subtlest of levels, rather than two vibrates of unrest wrestling together in tension.
A meditation to try: Tonglen
Tonglen comes from the Buddhist tradition. It’s a beautiful practice in ultimate compassion.
- Find a comfortable seat to start. Ground in the space.
- Begin a mindful breath, exhaling and inhaling evenly.
- Breathe in the pain and suffering around you.
- Breathe out your love for the world. With intention feel your love expand in all directions. Imagine that nothing can block your ability to give love. You have it to give! It’s endless.
- Continue to do this for multiple rounds.
Now, try this when you approach a situation that puts you on your edge. You can direct it specifically to the situation and you don’t have to be seated. For example, when the customer bumps into you at the store and glares, breath in the pain they are experiencing and breathe out compassion to them. It can be one mindful breath or several. Apply it in your life wherever the need arises. Changing the way you relate to the world, changes the world, one small subte step at a time.
What ignites your passions? What challenges you? What frustrates you and what creates desire within you? Whether is fiery love or fiery anger, it’s all tapas. We have an inner fire, or agni, that ignites our digestive process, our confidence, our willingness to transform, and our will to move forward in life with vitality. It’s how you chose to direct your tapas, inner fire, that will either create negative habits or burn off negative karma. Karma in this context includes any pattern that adds toxins to our body physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
Tapas is the commitment to burn away impurities with right doing and intentions. Tapas brings the niyamas of svadhyana (Self contemplation) and ishvaraprandhana (surrender) together in practice. By intensely looking at how we live (svadhyana) and then surrendering into the greater process of the whole (ishvaraprandhana) we can commit to making changes that burn off hindering karmic patterns.
One way to burn off karmic toxins is through pranayama practices. There are many techniques that can aid in igniting our inner fire. The Fire Breath is an accessible and useful practice to incorporate into a yoga practice.
1. Begin sitting cross legged and upright on the ground or a cushion.
2. Imagine a white light beginning from the earth up through your spine that reaches towards the clouds. Feel yourself grounded and safe.
3. Begin with a deep inhale through the nose and forcefully exhale through the nose. As you exhale push your navel back towards your spine. Allow yourself to naturally inhale and repeat the process. Allow the navel to pump in and out while rapidly breathing.
4.Start slow until you get the hang of it. Begin with short repetitions of 15 breaths. Eventually, move towards thirty breaths, pause, and begin again.
This process releases toxins from the lungs, mucus lining, generates new cells, stimulates the solar plexus, increases oxygen flow, and synchronizes the entire system under one rhythm. Fully surrender into this practice by allowing your breath to move emotional blockages as well. You may experience tears, anger, or the need to yell. Allow it all without judgement. Witness whatever comes up, see it for what it is, and then let it go!
Cry into the earth.
Yell from your deepest core.
Surrender to the breath.
Let it go.
Forgive and move forward with love.
Commit to the practice and this inner fire is yours to empower for the greatest good.
We are the ultimate creators of our overall experience.
When we exist in the one current moment, there is no other distraction of past story line or future anxieties.
In sanskrit, Samtosha is contentment with all that happens in life, trusting that all is okay and exactly where it needs to be. Samtosha is finding equilibrium rather than allowing ourselves to be pushed and pulled around by external forces. Samtosha is the ability to take a deep breath when things get messy and say “Whew, I trust that I’ll be fine.”
It is easy to spend most of our life attempting to control unpredictable outcomes so that we feel secure and safe. However, life is just that, it’s unpredictable. Anything can happen! Anything can throw off our future goals, plans, and expectations.
We are not in control of the moment, of other people, or outside circumstance. We can make the choice to see the moment as a gift without placing any judgement on it. Something falls apart so something else can come together. We learn that in contentment we can release all preconceived notions and allow the process to unfold organically. That organic process will guide us exactly where we need to be. This comes back to the practice of Ishvara Pranidhana, surrendering to the Divine plan. The only happiness comes from within regardless of external changes.
When things change, remember samtosha. When something doesn’t go as planned, stop, breath, surrender, trust that you’ll be taken care of, and find harmony in the experience.
That is yoga.
Abhyanga, ayurvedic massage, relaxes muscles, removes toxins from the body, and helps the body prepare for restfulness and deep meditation. This practice helps move stagnant energy and lymph through and out the body, increases circulation, softens the skin, and gives nourishment. In addition, this is a beautiful practice in self love. Using one’s own hands intentionally and mindfully over the body can raise self appreciation, boost confidence, and help self security. Consistent abhyanga builds knowledge to body changes. You’ll be more aware of how your body moves with your moon cycles, or notice differences depending on stress levels. Knowing how your body reacts to outside and internal influences is empowering!
You will need some kind of carrier oil based on your dosha. Don’t know your dosha? Take the quiz here. Sesame oil is a good neutral choice. A glass mason jar or the like to transfer the oil into if it’s in a plastic container. You’ll be heating the oil and it’s best to not heat oil in a plastic container. Optional: essential oil blends; lavender, rose, etc. Also, it is recommended that you do not perform abhyanga when you are on your moon cycle.
- Heat hot water in a bowl or mug. For safety measure, do not allow the water to heat up enough to boil. While that is heating, transfer your choice of oil to a glass jar. Optional, you may add a few drops of essential oil. Once the water is heated, place to jar in the water so that the oil can heat up slightly. Test it as you go making sure it’s not hot enough that it will burn your skin.
- Wrap your body in a towel and find a comfortable, quiet place in solitude to apply the oil.
- Begin with massaging the oil into your hair and scalp. Take your time throughout the entirety of this practice.
- Work your way down focusing on your face and ears. Give attention to every inch. Spend more time in the areas the particularly feel the best.
- Continue to move down to the chest and breast. For the breast, move from the armpits first. This is where the lymph moves into the breast area. Use whatever pressure feels good. Create small and large circles.
- Work your way from the chest, down to the arms and fingertips.
- Work oil clockwise around the abdomen. Clockwise only, as this is the directions our intestinal tract digests.
- Apply oil to the back and sacrum, down the hips and glutes.
- Work your way from your hips, down your legs, to your feet.
- Pay special attention to your feet and spend time here. Hot oil foot massages help stimulate deep sleep.
Once the massage is complete, sit still for a few minutes giving gratitude to your body. Move slowly to the bath tub and take a hot bath or shower. This opens the pores and allow the oil to soak in on a cellular level. This practice is best done in the evening. However, it can be done in the morning too, if you know you have a slow, relaxing day ahead of you.
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