Svadhyaya

Internal inquiry is at the heart of a yoga philosophy. Yoga, especially those teachings derived from the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, centers on the idea of svadhyaya. 

Svadhyaya means self-study. The philosophical basis for yoga is self-reflection and self-responsibility, meaning that the yogi centers reflection as they sort through the troubles in their life. Yoga philosophy is based on the idea that as we see more clearly, and understand ourselves more thoroughly, we are better equipped to avoid troubles in the future, ease our troubles in the present, and make peace with our troubles in the past. 

I’m currently dealing with annoying neck & shoulder pain. It’s a chronic issue that comes and goes and my usual methods of coping (acupuncture, therapeutic massage, yoga, etc.) are not offering much relief. My tendency is to panic and assume the worst…..the pain will never end, I’m going to feel this way forever. Things get very dark, very quick. It’s not a good place to be.

Some yoga studios advertise “good vibes only.” However, in yoga philosophy, pain is an assumed component of your experience, which makes sense, we all experience pain in some form or fashion. Instead of centering this pain as the focal point of our thinking, yoga encourages us to focus on our reaction and our relationship to our own suffering. From that study of self, we can create practical support and solutions for ourselves.

I’m curious, when you experience pain, whether physical, emotional or spiritual, what do you do to help yourself? 

I continue to develop my toolbox of self-compassion as I relate to my physical pain. Stillness and silence provide me opportunities to consider how I want to relate to my pain. Messages of love and compassion counter the doom and gloom my mind wants to jump to. A hot bath and self-massage may not be the magic cure I wish they were, but they do provide soothing comfort. Intuitively I’m learning when I should move and when I should rest. Our bodies are complex and mysterious. Let’s take the time to listen as they speak to us.  

Do you have a practice, a pose, or a meditation that you rely on when you’re not well? Let me know!

Bodily Autonomy

I’ve been in a state of disbelief about the removal of protection for reproductive rights. I suspect many of you feel the same, though if you land on the other side of this issue, I’m not interested in persuading or changing your mind. My focus remains on yoga. 

In the midst of my rage and sadness, I’ve begun to consider bodily autonomy. I believe bodily autonomy and sovereignty is an essential piece of yoga philosophy.

Our yoga practice is never just asana (poses). Maybe as part of your practice this week you can find some time to reflect and ask yourself, in what ways have you benefited from bodily autonomy. In what ways have you been restrained from exercising this autonomy? In what ways do you trust yourself, in what ways do you lack trust in yourself?

I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the fair amount of body privilege I possess: I’m healthy and able-bodied. I’m of average attractiveness, I fit into the assumptions about the typical, modern yoga student (petite, white, fairly flexible, not yet on the other side of the hill, age-wise). This privilege has provided me with plenty of access to teaching and doing yoga.

But, I’ve been shamed and pressured about my practice, about my short-comings in asana. I’ve been twisted deeper into poses that I wanted to avoid. I’ve been told to do, and not do, asana based on my menstrual cycle. I’ve been literally pushed too deep into Warrior II, resulting in a flare up from a past injury.

These little incidents are trivial compared to being denied access to reproductive autonomy. But, my role is that of a yoga teacher, so from your practice, I suggest time to reflect on how self-trust, bodily autonomy, psychological sovereignty and body privilege have impacted your yoga.

The invitation is extended to use whatever comes to the surface for you to inform and enlighten your practice & how you engage the world around you.
 
Namaste,
Heather
 


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Summer Solstice

The Summer Solstice is almost upon us, bringing with it the reminder to celebrate the nourishing light of the sun, as well as the light within each of us. As the sun reaches its highest point in the sky, it gives us the longest day of the year. This marks the second phase of the Earth’s journey around the sun, which began with the Spring Equinox. The invitation of summer is to nourish the seeds planted in the first phase.


Several years ago I visited Stonehenge in England. When the Sun’s light first breaks through the darkness on the day of the Summer Solstice, it hits this ancient monument directly in the center, lighting up each pillar like a magical horseshoe. During the Winter Solstice, the sun sets directly between the largest stones of this mysterious piece of history. It is just one example of the importance civilizations throughout history have placed on the phases of the Sun. It causes me to wonder about the significance of these annual phases, that people would dedicate their whole lives to building something to honor them.

The cycle of the Sun represents the cycle of our lives and reflects the natural flow of energy moving inward and outward. There are times to grow, times to pause, times to shed and times to learn. While the Spring Equinox begins this journey and represents new beginnings, the Summer Solstice represents the next phase of this divine rhythm. The Summer Solstice reminds us to turn inward and find the nourishment needed to grow and evolve. It is a time to pause and wait for the energy planted in the Spring to reach full bloom. If the Spring represents action, the Summer represents patience. We must develop confidence and trust in ourselves that what we set in motion previously is true, even if we go through some difficult times. We have planted the seed, we just need to nurture it and find purpose within its process.

The Summer Solstice represents the transition from action to nourishment, which is exactly what the Sun gives us during the long nights of summer, both to our actual crops but also to the journey we continually travel from darkness to light. Summer reminds us that there is hope all around and that the light within us can spread and inspire others. We have the capacity to nurture others, just as the Sun nurtures us. Summer becomes a time to work on ourselves and our ability to be the light and find meaning in our journey, even when it seems uncertain. This is the rhythm of nature; new beginnings transition into a period of uncertainty. During this time, it is easy to fall prey to anxiety and worry. Seasonal shifts can cause old energies to surface and darkness can easily take over our mind. Summer is the time to cultivate faith in our life, squash the darkness with light, and trust that just like the Sun, we will rise each day no matter what life brings us.

Through honoring this day of light, we just might set in motion a period of awakening which lasts all summer until the Fall Equinox. Here are some ways to align with the Summer Solstice and harness its power to build the light within you.

  1. Set Summer Intentions

The Summer solstice is an energetically charged day and an important one to set intentions. Direct your intentions on the themes of this phase, which are patience, nourishment and trust. Create powerful “I am” statements that reflect these qualities and the development of them. Include “reception” statements that open you up to receiving what this season of life has to offer. Examples: “I am open to receiving nourishment and growth” or “I am able to receive the energy needed to develop trust in my life.” Set your intentions and continually remind yourself of them all summer long. 

2. Honor the Four Directions

The four directions; east, south, west and north, represent the seasons and their corresponding Equinoxes and Solstices.

Consider using four candles each positioned at the four directions. Light each candle as you face that direction while closing your eyes and meditating on that direction’s prompt. Allow information to flood in, continue through all directions, and then journal about what each one brought to you.

  • East is represented by Spring and new beginnings. Reflect on what you’ve started the past 3 months and what new opportunities have come your way.
  • South is the direction of Summer, rest, finding your purpose and direction. Reflect on the bigger meaning of your life and where you should focus your energy and refine your attention.
  • West is the direction of Fall, where the Sun sets, representing a time to go within, detox and shed. Ask for wisdom of knowing when to let go, when to release and when to hold on.
  • North represents Winter, wisdom and protection. Ask what wisdom is needed for your journey. Reflect on your past and the road you have traveled thus far.

3. Make a Prayer Stick or Prayer Tree

Write or draw specific prayers for those who need healing on it. Make a prayer for the return to peace where there is no peace, for vibrancy and good health in areas of the world where there is now poverty and scarcity.

Practice these rituals on the Summer Solstice and feel yourself nourishing the light within you. Carry this feeling throughout the summer, as you align with the journey of the Earth and the Sun. However you choose to celebrate this day, be sure to spend some time feeling the Sun’s rays on your face and standing fully in the light as you learn to recognize and stand fully in the divine light within.

TIME FOR SOMETHING NEW

I woke this morning to rain, a rare and wonderful novelty for March in Southern California. The air was fresh and crisp. I could hear the birds chirping. I could feel a sense of gratitude flood my heart at the possibility of growth, newness, cleansing! Today is the Spring Equinox, a reminder to those of us in the northern hemisphere that we are coming out of darkness and into light. 

For many, this winter has been especially challenging. We are still living with the harsh realities of a global pandemic. Many of us continue to watch in horror the atrocities unfolding in Ukraine. Climate disasters and gun violence make daily headlines. The coming of spring, the long warm days, the new beginnings and new opportunities are almost here and we welcome them. 
Nature is a wonderful guide through all seasons of life. Essentially, we recognize that nature is reflected within us and we are reflected in nature. I think it’s why we are naturally so excited about spring. We can feel the warmth of the sun, see the budding trees, notice the tulips and daffodils pushing their way through still somewhat chilly ground. The Earth is literally alive with new energy and so are we. Spring invites us to gently awake from our winter hibernation. Look around at the vibrant, optimistic colors that promise the coming of warmth and consider shedding what is no longer needed as you venture back out into the world. Spring is a time for dusting ourselves off and stepping into the new, whatever that may be. 
So what does that look like in practice? Here are a few ideas to consider:

  • Commit to compassion. Spring does not bring an end to violence, disease or destruction. But we can individually and collectively plant seeds of compassion by committing to non-violence, non-judgment, forgiveness & mindfulness.
  • Practice a cleansing breath technique before a yoga practice or meditation, such as Kapalabhati Pranayama, to invigorate the body, mind and the senses. Note: Do NOT practice during pregnancy.
  • Plant some actual seeds. The plants/shoots/blooms will serve as visual reminders of your spring intentions. Don’t let space be a deterrent, many things can grow indoors and in small pots. You could choose from:

Beautiful flowers
Cooking herbs
Edible vegetables
A tree you’ll nurture over the years

  • Go for a walking meditation. Walk SLOWLY. Leave your phone at home. Get quiet. Breathe in the spring air, feel the sensation of the wind on your face, notice what’s in bloom. End with a seated meditation, perhaps outside in nature.
  • Create some space for the new, by carving out time for some good ‘ol Spring cleaning. Get rid of anything that does not serve a purpose or bring you joy. Open your windows and let a fresh breeze blow through your house. 
  • Join me for yoga during the month of April as we learn more & practice these seeds of compassion on our mats. Sign up here.

DARKNESS & LIGHT

It happens every year, the days get shorter and darkness is drawn out. As we approach the Winter Solstice this year (coming up Dec. 21) let’s consider the lessons it may teach us. Historically this time of the year has been celebrated with an understanding of the necessity of rest and descent.  It calls us to go within our homes, within ourselves. Nature is always a great teacher, the trees have been laid bare, the animal kingdom is hibernating. What might happen, as this year comes to a close, if we stop and really take in all that we have been through, all that has come and gone this past year? Can we acknowledge if our bodies are tired, our minds overwhelmed?

The distractions this time of year, are plentiful: overworking, overspending, shopping, alcohol, parties & lights, comfort food and consumerism. Don’t let cultural pressure and expectations dictate what you do or don’t do these next few weeks.

I think sometimes winter has a reputation for being hard. Depending on where you live, the weather can be bitter (I see you Freeport, IL). And depending on your situation this season can be lonely and isolating. But in reality, winter is so kind. She lovingly points us inward, in a quiet soft way. She invites us to stillness and peace, to embrace the darkness and to reflect on the light within.

“Winter takes away the distractions, the buzz, and presents us with the perfect time to rest and withdraw into a womb like love, bringing fire and light to our hearth,” Bridget Anna McNeil

In the midst of this annual, earthly darkness, it’s remarkable to consider the emphasis many faith traditions place on light during this time. Hindus across the world recently celebrated Diwali, a five-day festival emphasizing the victory of light over darkness.  Hanukkah means “dedication” but is often referred to as the Festival of Lights, remembering and celebrating the miracle of only having a days supply of oil but the menorah remaining lit for 8 days. Christians are in the season of Advent, a season of hopeful anticipation for the arrival of Jesus, the Light of the World. Kwanzaa is not a religious holiday, but a cultural one with an inherent spiritual quality,” Karenga writes. “Thus, Africans of all faiths can and do celebrate Kwanzaa, i.e. Muslims, Christians, Black Hebrews, Jews, Buddhists, Baha’i and Hindus, as well as those who follow the ancient traditions of Maat, Yoruba, Ashanti, Dogon, etc.” Those who celebrate Kwanzaa light a kinara with 7 candles: three are red, representing the struggle; three are green, representing the land and hope for the future; and one is Black, representing people of African descent. It may indeed be dark but we are not without light.

In some yogic traditions and Ayurveda you’ll find the terms brhmana and langhana. Simply put, brhmana means “vast expanse” and langhana means contraction or reduction. Consider your breath… the inhalation of air is brhmana, while the exhale is langhana. Winter feels like langhana to me. This brings me back to all those hibernating animals…tucked away in dens, withdrawn from activity. It feels like the right time to acknowledge the influence, power and necessity of contraction, reduction and withdrawal.

Artwork by Jessica Boehman

As we approach the longest, darkest night of the year I invite you to set aside some time, even just a few moments, to light a candle and reflect on the divine light that exists throughout all of creation, including the divinity within you.

If you’re local and looking for a unique Winter Solstice experience, consider visiting San Diego’s “mini Stonehenge” off Highway 75 in Coronado. Learn more here.

And if in your “wintering” you have time and space to practice with me, I’d love to see you in-person or on Zoom. Check out the schedule.