Santosha: A Shared Search for Contentment

I thought, as I had always been told, that success would bring happiness. I thought money and power were the benchmarks of success. Of course, I thought wrong…

Contentment doesn’t come easy. Or, at least not without practice.

As we collectively process the loss of Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain and countless others who threw it all away while seemingly having it all, I’m grateful for honest conversation with friends and clients around what it means to be happy. What is it we’re all aiming for if traveling the world, having more money then we can spend, and living a glamorous lifestyle is not enough?

In yoga, the word “santosha” is one of the Niyamas, the second of eight limbs of Yoga. Santosha means contentment. To me, contentment represents the ultimate end goal: Happiness.

My journey toward contentment

I’ve always known exactly what I wanted. The perfect internship, university, boyfriend and new city served as guideposts on my journey through life. My direction was solidified by my pursuit of the American Dream: success, money, power. And, I almost always got what I wanted. 

That is, until I didn’t. Until I finally “had it all” and realized I had nothing. In fact, I was far from it.

In Yoga, this is the moment of “removing the veil [of ignorance].” Like Pandora’s box, once you peak inside, there’s no going back. In this way, you may have heard people say – myself among them – that yoga “changed my life forever.” But how? And in what way?

When I moved from Boston to Los Angeles in 2013, I was an idealist 23-year-old, newly appointed as Chief of Staff to a Senior Vice President of a major insurance company. I was sure I could handle it. I was smart and confident with a New England work ethic. I settled into my Santa Monica apartment and made friends with ease. I was set. I was on my way.

I thought, as I had always been told, that success would bring happiness. I thought money and power were the benchmarks of success. Of course, I thought wrong.

When I found my dream job to be less-than-fulfilling, the same idealism that led me to leave a great job and friends in Boston once again took over. Gratefully, my parents were in full support. My Mom and I nodded in emotional and spiritual agreement: I had to follow my intuition. Where would I land if I let my heart lead the way? I wasn’t sure. But, feeling let down by my former pursuit for success, I knew this is where I was headed.

I thought, as I had always been told, that success would bring happiness. I thought money and power were the benchmarks of success. Of course, I thought wrong.

After six years of daily yoga practice, I was passionately attuned to the mental and physical benefits of yoga study and practice. I wanted to learn and embody more. This was my heart’s true desire. Peace. Self-love. Contentment.

Yoga changed my life by allowing me to be in control of the trajectory and well-being of my body and mind: mitigating anxiety, managing depression, eliminating food and diet obsession, ultimately caring for myself in body, mind and spirit.

Today, I spend my time creating, managing and instructing teacher trainings, yoga classes and community events to spread the word about yoga as a valuable practice both on and off the mat. This includes working with private clients to develop a daily practice to suit their individual needs, as well as working with Veterans, recovering addicts, social workers, nurses, and others.

At times I still struggle to stay above the current. Sometimes, life seems to win as I flounder with chronic fatigue, chronic pain, restlessness, anxiety, depression and stress. The difference now, is I have tools to re-engage and reset. Through Yoga, I’ve unlocked the code of how to stay above water.

Here’s what I learned:

Contentment is more complex than sitting on the couch on a Sunday, grateful for no place to be. (Although these moments are precious too!) Contentment means seeing the good in the bad. Seeing the truth in the chaos, and the light in the dark. Contentment is knowing impermanence as the only consistent theme of life and embracing each moment as if it were the only one. This is a practice. We are lucky in life if we experience moments of Santosha.

Nothing outside ourselves can give us contentment; not money, power or fame. Only we can find contentment through a commitment to being open, to seeing opportunity and to Loving ourselves and others unconditionally.

As we collectively process unfathomable loss and confusion, I feel inclined to share the wisdom I’ve gleaned from five years of yoga study. Here it is:

1) Go easy on yourself and on others. Rather than getting frustrated, take a breath and have a conversation. 90% of the time you’ll be surprised with the outcome, if you can keep your cool. Difference disappears when one person has the courage to find commonality. The rest of the time, you’ll rest easy knowing you tried your best by keeping an open mind and heart. This is truly peace of mind.

2) Love unconditionally. Not just your family and friends, but also yourself. Don’t only give love to those who are like minded but also to those who you struggle to understand. Imagine you met someone at your favorite store or place of work, your instinct might be to connect. That’s the basis of humanity, to save ourselves but also to keep one another alive. The world and all that’s difficult depends on our individual ability to be the bigger person. This means to Love freely. If that feels uncomfortable, sit with why that might be. We’ll all be better off if we can learn to Love indiscriminately. And yes, that means even yourself on your roughest day. Let that shit go.

Nothing outside ourselves can give us contentment; not money, power or fame. Only we can find contentment through a commitment to being open, to seeing opportunity and to Loving ourselves and others unconditionally.

Santosha may be closer than we think. A professor in Yoga once described the practice of Santosha as simply making the time to “sit outside and watch the wind blow through the trees.” Dismiss it as fluff and nonsense if you like, but when was the last time you did this? If you can’t remember, humor me and try. Then notice afterwards, how do you feel? (Curious about the physiological response of this practice and why it works? Message me or check out my short book on the Science and Practice of Mindfulness.)

The answers to life’s biggest problems are simple, if we take the time to listen. We are all connected. Solace comes from one another, from Nature, and from ourselves. If only we are quiet enough to hear. And, if we allow Love to win.

No matter your path, happiness is possible. Rich or poor. Homeless or privileged. Be with it. This moment is beautiful. Don’t miss it.

Seeing the opportunity in challenge, the light in the dark…This is the practice of contentment.

xx

In Yoga,

Amy

Now Accepting Remote Clients!

In yoga black and white

Now Accepting Remote Clients!

Enjoy private customized yoga practice at home, on your own schedule.


Check out “First Dibs” deal below!
First 3 New Clients for A Year in Yoga private instruction save $1,000!

Give the Gift of Wellness for Mother’s Day!

Schedule private session here or e-mail: info@ayearinyoga.com

“First Dibs” A Year in Yoga Deposit

$250 deposit, refundable within 10 days minus 25% processing and administrative fee. Client will be contacted for confirmation and payment plan information within 3-4 days of initial deposit. A Year in Yoga Includes: 6 week Foundations Video Series Download (2 hours each) Bi Weekly On-site, Phone or Video Check-In’s Custom Practice or “Sadhana” Custom regular practice designed to meet your specific needs Journal Entries to monitor and measure progress Video Feedback (up to 12 videos) adjust and modify your practice as things arise in your life First 3 Clients (First Dibs): $1,999 / year Then: $2,999 6 months In Yoga: $1,499 / 6 months *Flexible payment plans available

$250.00

 

individual options 2018 1individual options 2018 2
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Get Away Weekend, In Mindfulness

Mindful Moments Retreat June 2018

Continue reading “Now Accepting Remote Clients!”

Guest Post: Meditation and the joy in every moment

Ben began his practice in 2003, Since studying at his local physiotherapy clinic, Ben has expanded his scope to include yoga acupressure, acupuncture, naturopathic medicine and applied kinesiology.

Meditation and the joy in every moment
By: Ben Rogers, Edited by: Amy Osborne

Meditation has been described as “no mind” or “not thinking.” It is a stilling of the mind for a sustained period of time.

Mastering meditation can sometimes feel like coming home. You feel as if you have simple rediscovered something that has always been there. The door into tranquility that you know has already been within you is now opened.

For example, if you work in an office, are a musician, painter or another creative field, you likely know that in the midst of creation you are not thinking – but the work is simply flowing through you. Allowing this to happen is quite a challenge, which is why meditating and sitting down before work can be very helpful.

Your mind does not like to be switched off, it will constantly interrupt your meditation, demanding your attention.

Somewhere within each of our minds there is a sanctuary away from the noise and disruption of our own busy thought process. Meditation is about calming that chatter of your mind and rediscovering the calm and still space within yourself.



Breathing and meditation

Don’t forget to breath, that sounds very obvious, but it is a natural instinct for some people to hold their breath when concentrating. Don’t gasp for air, as you get into your meditation your breathing should become more gentle and rhythmic.

Posture for meditations

First imagine the top of your head is being pulled towards the top of the ceiling by an invisible string, so it feels as if your head is floating above your spine. Your chin is slightly lifted, perpendicular with the floor, to open and expand the heart and throat centers.

Relax your shoulders, drawing them back and down, and gently ease your chest (heart center) forward.

Focus and meditations

When you are ready, close your eyes and focus on your breathing, as it comes in and out through each nostril; this is one possible point of focus. This is where your attention can stay. Take several deep breaths and allow your diaphragm to lift, expanding the belly with each full inhalation. Three count inhalation, three count exhalation.

General tips for meditation

  • Don’t think about the past or future – you are participating in the present moment
  • Don’t strain, just breath
  • Don’t have expectations – It may be amazing or just difficult the first, third, and thirty-fifth time you meditate. The practice is simply being with any experience that might arise.
  • Don’t be disappointed – the benefits of meditation come with regular practice and persistence

Exercises for joy on the go

Whether you walking across your living room or across town, consciously slow your footsteps and pay attention to each sensation in your heel, the ball of your foot and then your toes when they make contact with the ground. (Walking Meditation) Notice how this simple practice relaxes your stride and your breath as your attention settles into the fullness of your present moment awareness as you go along with your day.

Observe your thoughts as you walk. What are you thinking about? Can you see a tree, person or car go past without internally labeling it? Practice moving though your surroundings without attaching thoughts, stories or judgments on what you see.

Exercise your heart (cardiac/circulatory system) whether it is bicycle riding, skating or dancing. Find an aerobic activity that brings you pleasure and you can joyfully commit to for half an hour or more during the day.


Wouldn’t it be nice if we could skip past the pain and fast forward to the bliss? The truth is to experience true contentment, we must be willing to feel all of our emotions, from despair to sadness. Our willingness to accept the moment, acknowledge the emotion and be willing to let that go is to find true peace.

Meditation is a tool that teaches us to meet ourselves (and others) where we are, and to be with whatever thoughts and feelings arise without attachment or judgement.

While the practice of meditation is profound, it is also quite simple to learn. There are many types of meditation, from walking meditation, contemplative writing, chanting or focusing on objects. But all forms of meditation begin with getting still and quite inside.

 

Join Amy for Meditation 101 at North Port Yoga to learn six methods of meditation to kick start your personal practice. amy@northportyoga.org / www.northportyoga.org

 

Married to Yoga.

Wow, what a wild ride.

There are moments I have an awareness of how much changed I’ve endured, how much I’ve shifted in the past 6 months…year……okay, 5 years.

In the past five years, I am plus one Master’s degree, plus one yoga studio and subsequently down one “wedding fund” (and boyfriend, for that matter). I made the decision to use my wedding fund to live my dream, henceforth I am: Married to Yoga.

From Boston to Los Angeles to SW Florida, from government affairs to yoga studies, from over-time perfectionist to master delegator, relationship lover to solo adventurer. I think mostly I’ve realized the importance of realizing that nothing is perfect. Nothing can be forced. Very little is actually known. I now fully know that what we allow ourselves to feel and think is how we see the world. That the world is not what we thought it was, or is. And that, in fact, the rest of the world is just like us. We are one.

It’s difficult to settle into my new home and as a studio owner in North Port, FL, as daily glimpses of my past lives (past jobs, places, people) remind me of how much there still is to learn, to know and explore. So many things that I thought were, are not. And as many things I thought would never, are fully – resonant. You never know how your reality will unfold when you stop trying to control its direction. But, you can know that no matter where it takes you, when you release control, it will be the most right thing that you have ever done.

There’s definitely a reality that we aren’t aware of, that can begin to answer all the questions we have about life, what happens next, and why bad things happen to good people. This has been my journey, to explore to “why” of life. There is a rhythm, though perhaps not a reason, to the fragility of life that doesn’t accurately represent reality: that all is one, everything is universal and all that are born must perish, and will be born again. There are cycles and formulas to life that we can only gather by tuning in to our own patterns.

I’ve been put in a vulnerable position lately to share my story, when in reality, I’m still awaiting the happy ending – or any resolution at all. I don’t feel I have the clarity to retell a narrative I can barely understand for myself. The story of my own life’s progression. So, recently, I started writing, not just about how I feel but why I feel. What I feel. What are the patterns to my own natural rhythm? Rather than allow my emotions to rule me, or to feel bad that I feel bad, and certainly rather than allowing my worries to manifest into a million different reasons or worries “why”; I’m going back to basics. At the first impulse of emotion or reaction, I want to know what that worry is about. That’s all. I’ll write it down and then I’ll let it go. Not to be obsessively dissected or philosophized. Just to be simply acknowledged and maybe even understood. (Or maybe, not yet.)  I’m going to try this method of observation and note taking in hopes of uncovering “why” I am. “How” I work, and how I can do better for myself and others.

After five years, I’m getting to know myself again. Having peeled back the layers of my identity over years of self-study, of yoga. It’s scary but so necessary to know who’s there at my very core. The me I’m finding is so real, and more importantly, is someone I can proudly be with for the rest of my life…As long as I (the seen and the Seer) shall live. So my journey seems to be opening to an entirely new chapter, where I can’t deny what is and am forced to flourish therein, the present moment. Married to yoga.

Sending love and good vibes always in the hope of inspiring or at least walking with you on your own journey of unfolding; however that might be.

Om Shanti, xo

Amy

 

On being REAL

This week, my work is in the height of its expansion – breaking through a concrete wall on the South side of the building to create new work stations for employees working on a highly confidential project. As a result, there is no parking, no air conditioning, increased noise level, and low morale.

Is there ever a better time to practice yoga?

Yet, a lot of people seem surprised when I share that my own practice nowdays doesn’t always contain asana postures. In fact, finding myself in an unfortunate conglomerate of transitional life circumstances, asana is the last thing my body or mind feels fit to undertake. And that’s okay. Here lies my yoga: non-judgement during my own process of flux, transition, and hardship, and instead a self-awareness of what I do need. Be it rest, time with friends, or a glass of wine – it is all okay. Part of yoga, as we know, is being compassionate and empathetic toward your neighbor, particularly during times of hardship. This same rule applies to yourself. Forgiveness and understanding can reduce and virtually eradicate stress.

Today I was three hours late to work. I overslept my alarm, tried to anticipate but miscalculated my boss’ needs, and had to bring my pup to doggy care to allow myself the time to make up the additional hours at the end of the day. At one time in my life (not too long ago), I would have experienced physical pain in my chest, a headache, nausea, and perhaps even hyperventilated over my inability to meet my employers’ expectations. My identity was absorbed in others’ view of me, particularly that of my employer. But not anymore.

For better or worse, I’ve undergone a transformative process through yoga by erasing and re-scripting my personal narrative to one of understanding, of self-care, and of compassion. There’s still work to be done to adopt unconditional self-love (I too have my days…), and carry this understanding into all aspects of my life. But I will say, I no longer have anxiety attacks and it’s not the meds (because I’ve tried those too). Rather, it was my willingness time and time again to stop and say: What will really happen if I do this? What is the worst case scenario? And I was surprised to see time and time again, that the thing I feared the most was others’ opinions of me. Yet, they had no idea who I really was or where this decision was coming from. Trusting myself to make the best decisions for me and remaining open-minded to criticism, communicative with all parties, and transparent about my intent – I’ve found that the worst case scenario rarely comes true. And, if it does, I know in my heart that I did the best I could, and we can’t please everyone in this life.

Nina Simone  (featured above) says in a song, something like, “If we spend our lives trying to please everyone, we’ll die still trying.” Putting ourselves first in daily decision making is something I feel strongly about. Because only you know where you’re at, and only you have to live with the consequences. Go easy, be compassionate with yourself, and you’ll find the same compassion and caring – with practice – translates into everything you do.

I also feel the need to say: Please feel for your friends and for yourself when you confront one of those rare, but severely disruptive challenges in your/their life. “Coming out of numbness,” as I’ve previously referred to it, is a slow process of untangling the psyche from self-absorption. During trauma our psychology is innately bound by the need to survive the casualty at hand (at least this is how our body and nervous system registers drastic change); and thereby we are likely to find ourselves at a loss for the usual social aptitude or casual lightness that she/he may have previously enjoyed.

When trauma or crisis occurs, we go into survival mode. Parts of our brain that are unnecessary for our survival shut down and those that are most pertinent go into hyper-productivity mode. Meeting my own needs and those of others I directly care for (children, pets, elders) is my top priority. Recognizing social signals and norms to protect the feelings of others, emotional intelligence in an external sense, aside from recognizing signs of danger through hyper-vigilance are not necessary for survival. This is when you might notice a friend has “changed” or gone off their rocker. Nurturing, love, patience and forgiveness heals all. Judgement, condemnation, or agitation causes separation and hurt. There is a method to the madness, and time does heal all. But it’s not always so clear when you’re the one stuck in a fog.

Forgive, forgive, forgive and your life will be so much richer. Forgive yourself, forgive others, and strive to understand your enemy. Then, and only then, are you on a path of yoga.

Easier said than done, but it starts with your relationship with you. I’m still working on mine. Knowing my boundaries and recognizing my flaws without internalizing them to a point of pain or self-destruction. Acknowledgement without internalization. Awareness without judgement. We’re here to learn and grow. Don’t stand in the way of your own process.

This is a valid reflection of my own process over the past several months and as I continue to re-find myself as an individual, a woman, a professional, a yogi, a friend, a sister, a daughter. There is room for growth in every role we play, but ultimately we should strive to be the same throughout. To have the same light shine and to let our flaws show true so we may learn from them, grow from them, and leave them behind – as a snake sheds its skin. I look forward to the day when I can finally show my true colors again. Until then, I am an eager slave to my own process, to an understanding of my and others evolution as painful and unpredictable; however, impermanent.

This too shall pass. Stay with it, stay with yourself, stay with me.

So much love,

Amy

 

Challenging Concepts of the "Western Yogi" Part III: Safe Spaces in Yoga

Part III: Safe Spaces in Yoga
By: Vivi Vallin, M.A.

I am currently in a yoga teacher training at a studio in East Los Angeles called People’s Yoga. They are the first yoga studio in this particular area of Los Angeles and are going to be celebrating their two-year anniversary in the coming weeks. People’s Yoga prides itself in making yoga accessible to the community of East Los Angeles. Classes are affordable, some are bilingual or in Spanish, there are classes for families to practice together, many of the instructors are people of color and the studio is accessible via public transportation. This year they offered their first 200-hour yoga teacher training. The others in my cohort are also people of color. All different backgrounds and ages but sharing the experience of what it is like to be a person of color who has been drawn to yoga on their own healing journey. As we learn about yoga together, we also share our experiences of feeling excluded, navigating being undocumented, being a queer person of color, how yoga is viewed by our families, and how we view injustices every day. We have a space in yoga to integrate our cultural and ethnic identities and experiences from that identity. This process is powerful.

On a personal level, I believe practicing yoga brings you closer and closer to your authentic self. Although yoga did not originate in Mexico, practicing yoga as a Mexican-American has brought me closer to my own culture’s healing practices, my roots, my history, and my family. I think this is because of yoga’s ability to cultivate self-awareness and self-love. In yoga, we embrace all parts of ourselves. From this space, I can see that a yoga practice brings individuals closer to who they really are. Each of us is unique. Our stories and experiences are unique. If we allow space to share and unite these stories, the experience of each of us will be richer and more full.

Black, white or brown (or however you identify) – we can all be united in our experiences of trauma, pain, sadness, joy, happiness, and gratitude. These are universal human emotions that link us together. We can heal together.  As we move toward this ideal, we still need to acknowledge that there is a need for safe spaces to heal for marginalized groups. It may look like a yoga studio that opens in East Los Angeles. It may look like a workshop about traditional Mexican healing practices. Each community should have the right to access safe spaces to provide wellness and healing, individually and together. Each community should have the right to choose the practices that will help them heal. Healing movements and leaders historically emerge from within their own community. In this case, as fellow brothers and sisters in color and among all throughout Los Angeles, our shared role is to respect and support this work for authentic and accurate cultural representation in any way we can.

BLACK YOGA TEACHERES ALLIANCE

When I heard about the Black Yoga Teachers Alliance (BYTA) I was excited and wanted to learn more about their work. The group was founded in 2008 and first began as a social media group. The goal was to create a safe space for teachers, students, practitioners, healers and enthusiasts to discuss yoga, share resources and create community. They wanted to create a place to explore the many paths and types of yoga, while also incorporating the authentic spirituality that black yoga teachers bring to the practice of yoga.

The BYTA provides their collective community with resources about teacher trainings, educational programs about yoga, scholarship opportunities and yoga publications. It also launched its first national initiative named Yoga as a Peace Practice: Redefining black lives and restoring peace and pride in our homes and communities. The initiative includes offering curriculum to yoga teachers so that they can take action by offering yoga, meditation practices and yoga based on lifestyle philosophies among those who are victims of violence (BYTA.com).

Since 2008, the group expanded and will be holding its first major retreat and conference in August 2016. The speakers being highlighted are black yoga instructors who have been leaders in this movement for a long time. The BYTA wants to celebrate and highlight these leaders that do not often get the recognition and space to share their wisdom and experience. The conference information describes that there will be an emphasis on the experience of being black in yoga and in this nation, as well as spaces to share and heal in community.

The Black Yoga Teacher Alliance currently has a Kickstarter Fundraiser organized by Jacoby Ballard of Third Root Community Center. The fundraiser aims to raise enough money to support 10 scholarships to black yogis who otherwise would not be able to attend the conference. A second goal of the campaign is to have 1000 white yogis donate to support the campaign. This would be a sign of support and send a powerful message that these types of safe spaces and events are important.

I donated to the BYTA scholarship fund because I support their efforts to create safe space for and to celebrate black yogis. They are not only sharing yoga but also leading the way with national initiatives that use the practice of yoga to engage with major issues such as violence and victims of violence, especially in black communities. I encourage those of you who are part of a yoga community to also support by donating to the scholarship fund, finding out more about the BYTA and/or attending the conference to learn more about their work first hand. Their efforts and contributions to the broader yoga community are valuable and are contributing to breaking stereotypes of exclusivity in mainstream yoga.

 

BYA logo

 

See what the Black Yoga Teachers Alliance is up to, get involved or donate here.
Photo Cred: BYTA.com

Challenging Concepts of the “Western Yogi” Part III: Safe Spaces in Yoga

Part III: Safe Spaces in Yoga
By: Vivi Vallin, M.A.

I am currently in a yoga teacher training at a studio in East Los Angeles called People’s Yoga. They are the first yoga studio in this particular area of Los Angeles and are going to be celebrating their two-year anniversary in the coming weeks. People’s Yoga prides itself in making yoga accessible to the community of East Los Angeles. Classes are affordable, some are bilingual or in Spanish, there are classes for families to practice together, many of the instructors are people of color and the studio is accessible via public transportation. This year they offered their first 200-hour yoga teacher training. The others in my cohort are also people of color. All different backgrounds and ages but sharing the experience of what it is like to be a person of color who has been drawn to yoga on their own healing journey. As we learn about yoga together, we also share our experiences of feeling excluded, navigating being undocumented, being a queer person of color, how yoga is viewed by our families, and how we view injustices every day. We have a space in yoga to integrate our cultural and ethnic identities and experiences from that identity. This process is powerful.

On a personal level, I believe practicing yoga brings you closer and closer to your authentic self. Although yoga did not originate in Mexico, practicing yoga as a Mexican-American has brought me closer to my own culture’s healing practices, my roots, my history, and my family. I think this is because of yoga’s ability to cultivate self-awareness and self-love. In yoga, we embrace all parts of ourselves. From this space, I can see that a yoga practice brings individuals closer to who they really are. Each of us is unique. Our stories and experiences are unique. If we allow space to share and unite these stories, the experience of each of us will be richer and more full.

Black, white or brown (or however you identify) – we can all be united in our experiences of trauma, pain, sadness, joy, happiness, and gratitude. These are universal human emotions that link us together. We can heal together.  As we move toward this ideal, we still need to acknowledge that there is a need for safe spaces to heal for marginalized groups. It may look like a yoga studio that opens in East Los Angeles. It may look like a workshop about traditional Mexican healing practices. Each community should have the right to access safe spaces to provide wellness and healing, individually and together. Each community should have the right to choose the practices that will help them heal. Healing movements and leaders historically emerge from within their own community. In this case, as fellow brothers and sisters in color and among all throughout Los Angeles, our shared role is to respect and support this work for authentic and accurate cultural representation in any way we can.

BLACK YOGA TEACHERES ALLIANCE

When I heard about the Black Yoga Teachers Alliance (BYTA) I was excited and wanted to learn more about their work. The group was founded in 2008 and first began as a social media group. The goal was to create a safe space for teachers, students, practitioners, healers and enthusiasts to discuss yoga, share resources and create community. They wanted to create a place to explore the many paths and types of yoga, while also incorporating the authentic spirituality that black yoga teachers bring to the practice of yoga.

The BYTA provides their collective community with resources about teacher trainings, educational programs about yoga, scholarship opportunities and yoga publications. It also launched its first national initiative named Yoga as a Peace Practice: Redefining black lives and restoring peace and pride in our homes and communities. The initiative includes offering curriculum to yoga teachers so that they can take action by offering yoga, meditation practices and yoga based on lifestyle philosophies among those who are victims of violence (BYTA.com).

Since 2008, the group expanded and will be holding its first major retreat and conference in August 2016. The speakers being highlighted are black yoga instructors who have been leaders in this movement for a long time. The BYTA wants to celebrate and highlight these leaders that do not often get the recognition and space to share their wisdom and experience. The conference information describes that there will be an emphasis on the experience of being black in yoga and in this nation, as well as spaces to share and heal in community.

The Black Yoga Teacher Alliance currently has a Kickstarter Fundraiser organized by Jacoby Ballard of Third Root Community Center. The fundraiser aims to raise enough money to support 10 scholarships to black yogis who otherwise would not be able to attend the conference. A second goal of the campaign is to have 1000 white yogis donate to support the campaign. This would be a sign of support and send a powerful message that these types of safe spaces and events are important.

I donated to the BYTA scholarship fund because I support their efforts to create safe space for and to celebrate black yogis. They are not only sharing yoga but also leading the way with national initiatives that use the practice of yoga to engage with major issues such as violence and victims of violence, especially in black communities. I encourage those of you who are part of a yoga community to also support by donating to the scholarship fund, finding out more about the BYTA and/or attending the conference to learn more about their work first hand. Their efforts and contributions to the broader yoga community are valuable and are contributing to breaking stereotypes of exclusivity in mainstream yoga.

 

BYA logo

 

See what the Black Yoga Teachers Alliance is up to, get involved or donate here.
Photo Cred: BYTA.com

Seeking Surrender – Guest Writer: Shelby Sih

We all have a story to share and lessons learned. This is the story of Shelby Sih, a rising senior studying Communications, Political Science and and Global Social Entrepreneurship at Northeastern University. In her spare time, Shelby is an evolving yogi and yoga instructor in Boston, serves as Editor-in-Chief for Woof Magazine, and as the Mission and Mentor Development Coordinator for Strong Women and Strong Girls at NU.

By finding parts of ourselves in others, we can begin to know how small our world really is. I enjoy learning from and seeking inspiration from Shelby, and hope you will enjoy her story as well.

————————-

“True surrender requires an opening of the heart to the unknown.” – Gurmukh Khalsa

Surrender to the present moment. Surrender to what is. Surrender. These are phrases I have heard countless times throughout my yoga studies and practice. Yet I always had a hard time embracing this part of the practice. I struggled with the feeling that surrendering was somehow conducive to giving up or giving in. What about fighting for what we want and being in control of our lives? How would surrendering to the present moment get me out of a tough situation or keep me striving forward in my life? I had glimpses of what I thought it might mean and knew the theory, but was hesitant to fully embrace this practice in reality – until surrendering, unknowingly at first, became a vital part of my practice.

In the last six months, my life has thrust me between two extremes: I went from spending my summer at a yoga retreat center in Spain to my busiest college semester yet. As I danced between these polarities, I found myself struggling to keep up with the pace of my life, feeling that my heart was often a few steps behind my body. Even though I was physically present, and my mind was telling me I was excited to embrace these new environments, emotionally I hadn’t caught up yet, creating a dissonance I couldn’t quite understand at first of wishing for what I had just left behind.

During the summer, I spent over a month in the mountains of Andalucía, Spain working at an international yoga retreat center. My days in Spain consisted of taking or teaching yoga classes and meditating in the morning, gratifying chores such as washing dishes, gardening or mopping, reading and writing in free time, and evenings spent watching the most beautiful sunsets and clear night sky with the other volunteers.

After the initial travel stress and transitional period subsided, I was still left with an uncomfortable feeling. I knew that something more was at play. As I sat with the feeling, I came to realize that this long-desired free time was in fact unsettling to me. That I didn’t know how to slow down or be still. Despite years of practicing yoga and meditation, wishing for time off, complaining about being so busy and actively choosing to spend my summer in a place so conducive to peace, I still couldn’t allow myself to relax into this state of being. I was trained to be in a state of doing.

Initially, all I wanted was to hide from the discomfort I was feeling. On top of that, the dissonance of feeling some kind of disconnect in an environment deemed “perfect” – and not actually understanding why – only made my discomfort worse. I found myself trying to deny the feelings I held or wondering why I felt anything other than happy in this yogic paradise. The more I rejected my inner experience and found myself wishing away what was happening presently for me, the more I struggled to find any connection with or understanding of myself, which was a main reason I had come in the first place.

Given the fact that I was in an environment designed for introspection and solitude, this was not a feeling I could hide from. Unlike many other times when the simplest and easiest solution was to throw myself into work to distract myself from what’s going on, this time I had nowhere to run. My work left me alone with my thoughts, my daily yoga and meditation practice made me sit with my emotions and my personal time reminded me that I should be rejoicing in this long-awaited time-off instead of running from it. All I could do then was lean into it.

So I did. I began to meet my inner struggle with curiosity and open arms. I welcomed it in. I embraced it.

Once I stopped resisting my emotions, I began to see why I was feeling unsettled, and that this discomfort held a purpose, a message of sorts.

As I shifted my approach – instead of denying how I felt, welcoming it; instead of labeling my emotions as “negative” and trying to get rid of them, labeling them as “interesting” and wanting to know more about them. I felt myself begin to accept all that was happening for me. Although I wanted answers and to understand why, I also knew that sitting around and hypothesizing about why things were the way they were wouldn’t yield actual results. All I could do was continue to be present within each moment. I began to let go of the ever-strong grasp of control that I hold around my life. I gave in to all the emotions and experiences that arose with faith that they were there for a reason. I embraced the moments of pure joy and the moments of anguish or frustration. I stopped trying to formulate answers or make excuses and instead let myself be with what was. The less I fought the discomfort, the easier it got, until it almost entirely subsided. Unknowingly at first, I was learning to surrender.

And (somewhat surprisingly) my world around me did not fall apart because of it; in fact, it began to feel more fulfilling. The dissonance I had about feeling bad subsided so that I could then sit with the discomfort itself without all the labels and assumptions I had previously attached to it. As the discomfort became more of a teacher than an enemy, the control it had around me (and that I tried to have around it) subsided so that I could learn from it without being attached to it. Without the need to control – to qualify and quantify and objectify and categorize everything – I began to meet each emotion and each moment that arose with curiosity and equanimity instead of judgment.

Hindsight has allowed me to see that I was beginning to surrender, and that I was relinquishing some of my control in exchange for more openness and faith to the beauty of life in all its facets.

All too soon, my time in Spain came to a close. I was thrown back into my regular, overloaded schedule as a college student, making free time virtually nonexistent. Once again, I felt myself resisting my current situation. Only this time, ironically, I longed for the days when my biggest responsibility was making sure the dishes were washed and I could decide in the present moment what I wanted to do. Instead, now I barely had time to even cook for myself, let alone live without my agenda dictating my every step. At least this time I knew what was causing the discontent.

But this was the life I (mostly willingly) chose. Despite the stress and exhaustion, I ultimately knew there wasn’t anything I would happily or willingly give up. Which meant I needed to change my internal environment since the external one felt like complete chaos.

If practicing to surrender to my situation in the mountains of Southern Spain was a step into the unknown – a bit unsettling at first but an important switch to a more fulfilling time – trying to surrender amidst the chaos of Boston was like clinging to a life vest in tumultuous waters: a survival tactic and true test of all that I had been working towards. But maybe this was the point of going away in the first place: to be able to come back to “real life” and dive headfirst into the waters, knowing I now had the tools to stay afloat.

As I slowly changed the narrative from which I viewed my situation – embracing the chaos, finding purpose in the responsibilities, remaining present with the priorities in the moment instead of all that was ahead of me – I was able to exist amidst the whirlwind of activity with a level of unattachment that made me no less involved or passionate, but instead kept me at a level of peace within. That’s not to say that I wasn’t stressed out most days or feeling completely overwhelmed by all that I had going on, but instead it meant that I was able to stay afloat (even when it felt nearly impossible to do so) without drowning in my external circumstances.

It has taken daily reminders (some in the form of self-made notifications on my phone to stop and breathe, or my morning meditation to set my intentions for the day) to keep me coming back to this practice of letting go, even if just a tiny amount more. Without this intent of surrendering to my situation, I would have continued wishing for some ideal version of my life and applying unneeded, unrealistic pressure on myself (i.e. wanting to recreate the peaceful bliss I felt in Spain, thinking I need to do at least an hour of asana a day, etc.). Even though these thoughts and self-induced pressure didn’t disappear, I was at least more aware of them, which made them feel a little less threatening. While I still experienced moments of panic and moments of wishing things were different, I also had more faith in my ability to handle what came my way and more acceptance that this was the way things were supposed to be in this moment – and that was okay.

Like any aspect of yoga, learning to surrender is a practice, and one that takes time, patience and nurturing. It’s also an important reminder to me that I’m only grazing the very surface of yoga and still have much work to do.

Now trying to surrender is part of my daily practice; a reminder to myself that each moment holds a purpose that may remain concealed from me at first, and that wishing moments away or holding onto some ideal of control only strengthens resistance to the present. Surrendering does not mean becoming complacent with life; instead it means welcoming all of life’s moments in order to connect to a higher state of living; one that doesn’t depend on an outer environment or external circumstance, but rather to an inner strength and openness that is ready to embrace the life that I’m leading right now.

Om Shanti (Peace) xx

 

// Photo Cred: Shelby Sih @ Om Dome in Suryalila, Spain (Summer 2015)

 

Living Yoga: A Tribute to India

Preparing myself for India, I anticipated change. Particularly, I imagined a life-changing, entirely radical moment of clarity. One that snaps you back down to Earth exactly where you need to be at that very moment. A transformational moment. Samyag drsti.*

But, of course, what we get is rarely what we want, and what we want is rarely what we really need. For me, India was an amazing experience. I learned so much about the world, Jainism and Indian culture, and even more about myself – my strengths and limitations. I learned that compassion can and should be inclusive toward all living things, even and especially Nature. I learned that I do well with heat and humidity, but am considerably bad at managing bugs and dirty streets (not entirely new knowledge). I learned a lot about my privilege as a caucasian American, not from a workshop or a round table discussion, but first-hand gazing out the car window into the desperate, withered faces of starving women and children in the streets. I learned that in the midst of chaos and hell (whatever that may be for you), it is still possible to smile, to shed light, to lend kindness, and to have faith. I learned that despite my studies and efforts in yoga and meditation, I still struggle to maintain peace in the chaos. In fact, I still have a long way to go.

India was stealthy in her approach, overwhelming my senses with new sights, scents, and sounds while my mind was consumed by an intensive course itinerary of lectures, temple visits and reading, reading, reading (six books in three weeks warrants the repetition). We spent our first two weeks at an ashram in New Delhi where we were greeted with warm smiles, tea & biscuits, and an impressive schedule of lectures and puja ceremonies for our full immersion in Jainist tradition. In contrast, our third week was marked by long, bumpy bus rides, too much Limica soda (for my unending “Delhi belly”) and countless hours gazing out at the expanse of Indian countryside in sleepless, silent reflection. There was so much to process, to take in, to debrief that I allowed my mind to wander. I found, and often still find, that my mind is consumed by incessant questions into the “why” for all of this – past, present and future: How did I get here? What are my goals? How can people live in these dire conditions and still embody such contentment and happiness? What can I learn from them? Is yoga the answer? What can I do to help? Am I doing enough? What is that man smiling about? Does he have a family he loves? Does he bear the responsibility to support them? What does he do? Where are they? I hope they’re smiling, too…**

I came back from India with many more questions than answers. Yet I’ve noticed (and am grateful) that, over the past year and particularly since my return, I’ve become more mindful and free to ask questions, to consider difference, and to explore new places with equanimity. The more open I allow my mind to become, questioning the basic ideas and norms I have always taken for granted, the more questions and freedom arise. So a year after I began this endeavor to chronicle my year in yoga, I feel in many ways that I know much less now than when I started. However discouraging it may sometimes feel, any Indian guru will tell you: Admitting you know nothing is the first step to true wisdom.

What I found in India was not samyag drsti, but instead was as much an experience of internalization, as it was an outward excursion. It was a passive process; my mind like a camera capturing each moment as it came with mindful awareness, acknowledging each moment’s value and relentless brevity. Practicing yoga for me in India wasn’t predominantly physical asana, but was a conscious effort in self-compassion and non-judgment as I sought balance between pushing beyond my limits and caring for myself. As I like to see it, India was the perfect culmination to a long and taxing process of change, accompanied and instigated by a newly emerging, intensive year in yoga studies. Learning, living and practicing yoga from and among dedicated yogis has undoubtedly changed me for the better by opening my eyes to all I still have left to learn: about myself, my connection to others, to the Earth and to the world around me.

In 21st Century Yoga: Culture, Politics & Practice (a recommended, easy read!), Chelsea Roff shares a short essay on her nearly lethal battle with anorexia and her experience with yoga. She says with beautiful concision:

“For so long, I’d come to my mat to run away from myself. Now I came to connect. I had to reconnect in order to thrive.”

For over six years, while indulging in and learning from yoga communities across two cities and three continents, yoga is my constant. Its purpose and form in my life is ever evolving, and yet it remains unconditional and devotedly focused on revealing my best self to the world, even and especially when I’ve given up on myself.

Sometimes my mat is my hideaway, and other times it’s my own slice of heaven, a sun-soaked temple on my bedroom floor. At times it’s a complicated relationship (when I find myself avoiding my mat, afraid of what I might face there), but it is always consistent, welcoming and one of deep, penetrating compassion. From this place, I’ve grown and continue on knowing that whatever I face in the future I can withstand with contentment and kindness in my heart. India reminded me of this fact, and of the importance of remaining humble and eternally eager to learn. To care for ourselves, others and the world around us, to live each day and each moment purposefully in seeking love and connection, this is living in yoga.

May you find a few moments of solitude today and everyday.

In love,

Amy

——-

*Translated literally from Sanskrit as “right insight.”
**Unfortunately, with a busy schedule in India I fell away from my regular meditation practice. ‘Sitting,’ though, is just the practice of observing your own incessant (and often disjoint) thoughts as they arise non-judgmentally and, over a period of time and daily practice, learning that you can control and quiet your own mind (and thereby reduce anxiety, stress, and signs of depression at their onset). I wonder how my trip to India might have been different if I had prioritized my practice…I won’t waste any valuable time or brain space mulling that over (it’s in the past!), but I know that I’m a brighter, better person when I sit for 10 min a day. (It has to be consistent/daily for your brain to catch on – Check out more on neuroplasticity here.) The free app Headspace is a great resource.

To India…

On Monday, I’m off to India (for the month of July!).

I’m sorry it’s been a while – too long – since I’ve written. If you can believe it, I’ve had more stories and ideas to share than ever; but somehow I’ve lacked the right words, and the clarity. Not much has changed since then, except now I’m off to India! Despite the obvious excitement of my impending adventure, I’m not sure I’ve ever felt so raw, so humbled, or so small – even defeated – before in my life. Of course, I know every experience serves you. In some way, I even wonder if there’s no such thing as wasted time, or bad decisions; but just time, and decisions. And, as we accumulate experiences, we grow and form as a result of these experiences and our own personal reactions out in the big, big world. Well, either way, my world is about the get a lot bigger.

But for now I’m here, currently in Weymouth, Massachusetts with my best girl friends from college – laughing, drinking wine, and catching up on old and new times. On Monday I will board a plane and soon find myself in the over-crowded, noisy, chaotic streets of New Delhi, sharing the road with sweaty cows, mopeds and taxi cabs. Wednesday morning, my first in India, I’ll join classmates on the rooftop of our temporary home, a Jainist monastery, for pre-dawn asana, hopefully as we allow the thick grey smog to kiss our skin with warm embrace. Because, we’re in India. And as for all of India’s other crazy, challenging, unpredictable surprises, oh I know you’re coming. And I’m ready for you.

Too many guilty-pleasure readings of “Eat, Pray, Love” have taught me:

India doesn’t give you what you want, it gives you what you need.

This was my source of reflection this morning when I was finally able to find the time (and energy) to practice for the first time in weeks. [It’s amazing how tight your hips become after two months of travel and no asana.
Remember to keep your Pigeon Pose on hand! (Also note to self)]

From my practice this morning, with a bit of irony and a lot of surrender: 

To India, I go with little time to think – post-finals and a busy wedding season – I’m jumping in with both feet.

To India, because there’s no real choice, but most of all because there could be no other answer.

To India: please treat me well and share all of your richness. I am open, and ready as ever to receive all I have to learn.

I plan to dive into India as a course of study in Jainism (a sect of Buddhism known for its commitment to ahimsa, or universal non-violence), but also as a self-retreat. I surrender to indulge in asana, meditation and mantra; immerse myself in lecture and reading; and lose myself in ancient temples, Puja ceremonies, and the loving company of my cohort. I hope my trip will also include luscious afternoon sessions of day dreaming, journal writing and blog posting, but I’ll make no promises. Ultimately, India gives us what we need anyway. So, who am I to get in the way?

Friends and family on the East Coast: Thank you all so much for the unconditional welcome and warmth over the past few months. On my journey through graduate school – as well as through much, much more – our time together has meant the world. You all serve as a reminder of my roots, but also of who and what I aspire to become. I have so much gratitude for having so many smart, courageous, thoughtful and humble people in my life. Thanks for all you do, and you have my permission to show yourself a little love in my absence. (Had my first massage yesterday – Thanks Jill! – and I’m not looking back!) I’ll be sending more love your way!

To all: There will always be more to come, as long as you’ll have me. In the meantime, make a few moments to get your yoga on! (Or guided meditation, mantra, surf, or creative outlet of your choice) 😉

Bon Voyage,

Amy