Month: October 2020

surrender/ishvara pranidhana

This past week I lost a dear friend/client to cancer. It had me questioning the purpose of life. What is life? This mystery, this unknown? 

And then I began to think about surrender. How does one surrender to the unknown? The mystery? In my own words, to surrender to the unknown and unknowable can help us move forward and remember that spark that will be “translated through us into action”, as Martha Graham wrote in last weeks blog.  And may those actions we make, create, like ripples in the waters of life, nourishment for all now and for future generations.

In yoga philosophy, the niyama, or observance, of ishvara pranidhana, is translated as ‘The Jewel of surrender’.  In her book on the yamas and niyamas entitled “The yamas & niyamas; exploring yoga’s ethical practice”, Deborah Adele writes, “Ishvara pranadana, the jewel of surrender, presupposes that there is a divine force at work in our lives. Whether we call it God, Grace, Providence, or life, this force is greater than we are and cares deeply about us. Surrender invites us to be active participants in our life, totally present and fluid with each moment, while appreciating the magnitude and mystery of what we are participating in. Ultimately this guideline invites us to surrender our egos, open our hearts and accept the higher purpose of our being.”

In the physical practices this week, and in correlation with this intention, I focused around the heart center, shoulders, as well as a bit of hips, and the second chakra of water and emotions.  Since the passing of my friend, difficult emotions have come up, hence my questioning of the purpose of life.  We embodied all of these ideas and entities by way of the varuna mudra.

Varuna was an elder deity who watched over all things. He was a guardian. He was lord of water and personification of the sky. His mudra is made by connecting your thumb and pinky fingertips to meet in each hand respectively, while the other three fingers are left extended and soft. Place this mudra in your lap now, feel free to create it in your own hands and notice what you notice. Varuna mudra supports us to process difficult emotions with greater ability. It helps us enjoy life more fully even when we are aware of suffering. This mudra balances the water element within us and has a hydrating effect. It is a cooling mudra. It inspires us to go with the flow and find peace in how things are. I’m sure you can see why I chose it in alignment with the intention this week of surrender.

I love how the jewel of surrender invites us to be an active participant in life. Throughout leading classes this week I felt channeled through me the realization that: when we actively leave our heart open to things as they are, to witness life as it unfolds, that is the act of participation!  We are simultaneously surrendering to what is, as we witness it. And, I came to feel and realized that in doing this, we can be simultaneously leaving ourselves open to seeing where life is directing us, where life is moving us. We can therefore, through the jewel of surrender, quite possibly see our purpose in life, or even the purpose of life itself. When we surrender to that divine entity greater than ourselves, which is simultaneously who we are, we can better wade through the waters of life when those waters are choppy and thrashing.  And when those waters are pristine, still and peaceful, then we can enjoy them even more.

Deborah Adele again, “As we grow ourselves into the fullness of what this jewel has to teach us, we begin to understand the magnanimity of what guides, protects, nourishes, and cares for us. We begin to understand that there is something much greater which is “doing” us, and we begin to give all of our actions, as well as the fruits of our actions, into the arms of the divine. surrender is knowing ourselves to be a part of this divine oneness and then giving ourselves over to this greater whole. We find in the process that we do not lose ourselves, but instead become part of the greatness itself.”

It personally took me many years to come to fully understand that surrender does not equate to letting go and giving up. Surrender does not mean stopping life and not taking action. Rather, surrender means stepping into life, and stepping into our own light, and being courageous in those steps.  Being willing to take those steps no matter what the outcome, to live life fully, and to just surrender to where it lands us is what ishvara pranidhana is about. This brings me circling back again to the idea that when we surrender to life’s flow, that we may also simultaneously be available to see where life is taking us, what it is presenting us, and where we might serve others in the best way possible. That creative flow reminds me of spanda, two weeks ago. And perhaps how spanda is kind of like the holy Spirit, moving us towards the light, towards the love, always.

I closed my classes with this haiku that came out of Deborah Adele’s book, but which was written by Catherine Larsen:
“Jump into your life
With your whole heart, trusting that
You will fly to God!”

Some other of my past blogs that I thought of in relation to surrender:

http://shawnashakti.com/allow-patience-and-leafless-trees/

http://shawnashakti.com/trust-i-had-no-idea/

Breathe and believe.

 
Last week on spanda, ‘pulsation’, there was a sentence that really stuck out to me. “When we go deep within ourselves, and we sense this pulsation, spanda, we are sensing our own personal spark of that huge, primordial life force”.-spanda . org.

It reminded me of a quote that I have on my altar. It is a piece written by Martha Graham to Agnes de Mill, two notable, female choreographers of the dance world. 

Martha Graham wrote,

“There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost. The world will not have it.

It is not your business to determine how good it is, nor how valuable it is, nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open.”

In our classes we embodied this by going through each chakra and there correlated bio-energetic activation.  This was intentionally created in order to open all the channels within us, those streams and rivers of life force, nadis.  As we did so, the larger intention to open the one main energy line, sushumna, that runs up and down within us from the pelvic floor to the crown of the head, that lives just in front of the spine.  This sushumna, meaning “gracious one”, is the liberating, upward energy, and manifesting, downward energy, channel that, when completely free and open, connects us and enlightens us into absorption and we can experience Oneness.

We moved to open these channels, to support the Kundalini energy rising up through us to meet the crown of the head, which is that portal, vortex, “chakra” called sahasrara, meaning “thousand fold”, that is the entry point for the universal wisdom to pour into us.  

We used postures such as side planks, warrior twos, extended chest pose, triangles, warrior three, and half moon postures to keep this line, and the spine, lengthened and open.

In some classes, I also used opposite nostril breathing before savasana in order to keep the channel open.

Now, there is a certain sentence that Martha Graham wrote that has never really resonated with me. The sentence in which she states, “You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work”. I ruminated on this and contemplated it again for a while.  What I came to sense and feel within myself, in alignment with this intention of this class which is to keep the channel open, is that there actually IS a belief that what is coming through you is divine and it is that spark that is you! That spark is you, it is of you, and it gets translated through you into action in unique ways because of your unique personalities and traits. The spark itself,  which is in all of us, That is the entity that is our Divinity. However, the spark as it translates through you into action is not yours, it is divine…. and I say this in that humble sense of letting go of ego and that practice of non-attachment. This is why we did humble warrior in the physical practice. I believe what Martha Graham is speaking to in the sentence is that there is a belief in the divine, and that this is the surrender to the divine. So, the Universe implores you to share your spark so that it will not be lost! So that the world will have it! For “it is not your business to determine how good it is, nor how valuable it is, nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep the channel open.”  Read more here on Martha Graham from ‘Brain Pickings’ and watch this incredible video from Helen Keller meeting Martha Graham and her dancers!  I cried! Amazing.

This contemplation reminded me of the words that I ended each practice with that come from Marianne Williamson, as adopted in his inaugural speech by Nelson Mandela:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.

We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?

You are a child of God. You are playing small doesn’t serve the world. there’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.

We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.

It’s not just in some of us, it’s in everyone.

And as we let our own light shine, we consciously give other people permission to do the same.

As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”-1994 Inaugural Speech of Nelson Mandela. 

Breathe and Believe.
 
Spanda

For the past few weeks, I have especially, and particularly been feeling pulls between inner contradictory ways of feeling.  With the loss of all physical studio spaces that I teach at due to the Corona virus, and simultaneous excitement of possibilities for the future, I have felt awkward. Awkward has been the best word I have felt that describes the way that I feel. And then I rediscovered a Sanskrit word that has come across my path in the past and yet this time it held such deeper resonance.  And, I discovered even more deeper meanings to this word this time around. The word is “spanda”.

Spanda is Sanskrit for “pulsation”. It’s root word is ‘spandi’, meaning “to move a little”. Spanda is a vibration of expansion and contraction, and yet it is a movement that cannot be seen by the physical eye.  It is a creative vibration. It moves things. It moves all things! It moves everything from our bodies to our consciousness.  

Spanda is a pulsation that creates relationships as well as being the source of all movement; be it a physical movement, movement of our consciousness, or even movement of our prana. I think of the vayus here, the “winds”, or directions, in which prana, life force, can go. 

It is these relationships within myself, between feelings of grief and excitement, motivation and exhaustion, worry and surrender, joy and sadness, as well as love and fear, that I have been moving with lately.  It is why spanda is really resonating with me. Its movement, remember the root words meaning, “to move a little”.

Susanna Harwood Rubin has a really fun “30 words in 30 days” program that I’m taking, and it is how spanda came back across my path! I love how she prompts us with the questions, “What are two seemingly contradictory energies that you experience within yourself? How do they interact? She goes further by asking “when do you experience these things? Is one always more dominant”? And, “what do you learn about yourself from observing the pulsation and relationship of these energies rising and falling within your life”?

That last question is key to our inner learnings. Spanda invites us into deeper self-study.  When we observe and see these different entities within our self, we have then brought it into our awareness.  When we observe, recognize, and name the entities, and when we feel if one is more dominant than the other, then the practice of discernment moves us towards more authentic actions. It can move us to change our thought patterns, it can move us to change our actions, and it can move us to make changes in our life that support us in becoming our best and authentic self.

For me, I can see that when I observe my fear being the more dominant entity within my thoughts, I do a few things.  I begin by recognizing the fear. I often forget to thank the fear for its reasons of wanting to protect me (because its most often holding me back), and I often jump to telling fear that it has no real foundation, unless its a hot stove, lol!  After acknowledging the fear and making sure that it has no real foundation(here is a good moment to listen to intuition!), then I choose to give more of my attention and energy to the Light.  I can think the opposite, positive, loving thought.  I can choose wonder.  I can choose to make the more loving action.  I can simply be in the consciousness that is most helpful and loving for all. 

In spanda.org, they write that spanda is “The subtle vibration which is the source and foundation of all these”; ‘these’ meaning consciousness, physical movement, contraction/expansion, etc. It also goes on to write that spanda is “consciousness as it orients through thought and intention to organize into authentic action”. Here again, we come to realize that our thoughts and our intentions lead to those authentic actions.  Spanda brings us closer to our True self, and spanda IS the spark of who we are…

“When we sense this pulsation inside us, we are sensing our own personal spark of that huge, primordial life force.” Spanda.org.  “It is the energy behind the breath, the heartbeat, and the movement of our thoughts and feelings. It is also the source of all our inner experiences. When we get deep into ourselves, we realize that this throb, this subtle pulsation, is ‘meditating’ us”. When I read that, my mind exploded!  It reminded me of samadhi, “absorption”, and that spanda and I are moving towards Oneness. And it also made me feel, in a “goose bumpy” kind of way, that as I move and live and breathe and experience, that life itself is moving and breathing and feeling me. As I love, love is loving me.

Abinahavagupta (975-1025 c.e.)wrote, “Spanda is the pulsation of the ecstasy of the divine consciousness.” 

I move it, it moves me. I am that, that am I.  I meditate to meet it, it is meditating me.

In our classes this week we really embodied this essence by moving from one side of the mat to the other. We also really experienced it through breath. During the breathing we came to feel how even our rib cage is an embodiment of spanda. Two different sides of the rib cage, and yet connection through soft tissues in the front at the sternum, and soft tissues in the back that connect each side to the spine. Even in that relationship, there is movement because the rib cage can expand and contract as we breathe in and out. What a beautiful dance within our own bodies. 

At the end of classes, as we came to sit, I would invite the following; and I invite you, dear reader, to try this now: Take a nice, comfortable seated position. Slowly bring your hands in front of your heart, facing each other, but not yet physically touching each other. Slowly, as slow as possible, begin to move your hands towards each other.  Is there a moment you can feel vibration, life force, pulsing between your hands before they actually physically meet? Don’t worry if not, it’s still there. Life force of each hand, pulsing with each other, in creative relationship, spanda!  The creative vibration between the two! Now, allow your hands to physically meet, close your eyes, and take a deep, peaceful breath.

To you, dear reader, and to all my friends, family, and beloveds whom I am not physically with, we are your two hands in front of you. We are representative of that moment where pulsation and relationship is happening even though we might not be physically together.

I truly have come to feel as if spanda is a metaphysical choreographer! 

And that reminded me of a Martha Graham quote which I am going to use in next week’s classes!  To remind us all that our spark, our light within us, is unique and important.  “When we sense this pulsation inside us, we are sensing our own personal spark of that huge, primordial life force”! –spanda.org

And yes, I have already ordered on the book “Yoga Spandakarika: the sacred texts at the origin of tantra.” 

Breathe and Believe.

It often happens that source inspires my intentions for my classes. It also often happens that the intentions that source inspires coincide with the situations of my life.  This past week was no different.  Thank Spirit!  (Those are my feet in the mirror in that picture above.  A last picture of closing up physical space at Mind Body Soul Yoga studio.)

I never would have imagined creating this email.

I never could have imagined losing all of the physical spaces that I teach in due to a virus. The last two literally closed there doors yesterday. 

I never could have imagined that one day I would be sitting at home and contemplating “where will I teach yoga in person next”?

I never could have imagined that one day I would be saying to myself that my retreats are the only places in which I’ll be teaching yoga in person anytime soon. *Sign up for October Retreat HERE!*

I never could have imagined practicing my Thai massage and needing to wear masks. But, it’s possible and not so bad. It’s actually, still wonderful as ever, and the healing power of touch is necessary!

And yet, these are the things that have shaken my world. These are the things that have shaken our world as a collective; places closing, people physical distancing, wearing masks and more. 

Sometimes it’s nature that shakes us; that shakes things up for us to challenge us so we may grow, be our best Self, see the possibilities, transform, transmute, all these incredible things. 

I’m slowly starting to make, feel, and embody this conscious shift of how I am perceiving this moment in my life.  How are you doing, dear reader?

Sometimes it feels as if my heart is in a struggle to get my head on board to see the Light in all of this. Sometimes it’s radically successful, and I get overwhelmed with all the excitement of possibility! And, at other times, there’s a discourse between my heart and my head that reminds me of a proverb I will paraphrase, “worry is like a rocking chair, it gives you something to do, but you’re never going to get anywhere”.

At the beginning of the pandemic, I lost my physical home of Birchwood Center for Yoga and Massage in Nyack, New York.  Then came the Inwood, NY, location of Bread and Yoga, where I taught weekly since the opening of its doors over 11 years ago.  And, most recently, just this past week, the physical space of Mind Body Soul Yoga closed its doors in Washington Heights, NYC. 

My biggest fear is that I will never see my friends and students again in person. I know this fear has no real ground, but I honor this fear and in recognizing it, it inspires me to act in other ways to make connections. Of course, I will continue to live stream classes for bread and yoga and mind body soul yoga, as well as offer workshops thru other studios. And, who knows what will happen down the line. I’m already doing workshops and running other Healing Circle and Satsang online programs that I could never have imagined had it not been for the pandemic! *Stay tuned for all those details!!

But, for now, I am inspired by the Autumn equinox. I don’t feel that at any other time in my life I’ve experienced this season of nature so consciously.

The Autumn equinox brings with it a twofold way of being. It inspires a shedding, and a letting go of what is not working in our lives. And simultaneously, it inspires us to gather in gratitude the seeing of all of who we are and what we have; the harvest, if you will.

It is a time that is often represented in many cultures by the ‘Dark Mother’.  In my classes this past week, we embodied and invoked the energy in essence of  Kali. With the Kali mudra and the Kali mantra , “Om Krim Kalikayei Namaha”, to inspire us to sever ties with what needs to leave from our lives, while embracing what I began to call the “gratitude harvest”. 

Kali is depicted with a blood red tongue and sharp teeth, a necklace made of severed heads and a belt made of human arms. And even though she looks fierce and ferocious, even deadly and evil, what she possesses, we all possess…which is the ability for destruction AND deep love. She is mother to us all; she represents what we all already have within us, those qualities of nurturing and deeply loving ways. And this is how the gentleness that this season and these actions of letting go can be viewed.  Just like the gradual falling of leaves from the trees, this season invites us to be gentle in the letting goes. Instead of being harsh and severing ties suddenly, or cutting and thrashing things out, we can be gentle with ourselves, and to be gentle in offering space and time.

Kala is a root Sanskrit term that is a root word for Kali’s name.  Kala means time. Kali, as well as the cycles of nature, and as well as the cycles of our lives, reminds us that change is unending and continuous.

“May I embrace change with grace, gentleness, and courage.”

Sometimes change happens and it shakes us, and then there are other times when we create the change. As Gandhi said, “be the change you wish to see”.  So, sometimes we can wield our own daggers and cut the ties with things that are holding us back. Be it a relationship, a job, an old belief, an old way of thinking, or even clearing our physical space and donating physical items.  And, when change wields it’s sword at our lives, things naturally will be taken away. But trust that as the clearing happens, space is being made.

There, in that space, is freedom.  

In that space, we can rest. This season of fall invites us not to rush to fill the spaces and to fill our lives with more, but to rather allow for more rest. And to invite us to practice that “gratitude harvest”; to remember all that we have and all of who we are, and to settle in so that we can listen deeply to what might be emerging with us.

Fall is the time of preparation and conservation of energy. When we become still and quiet, we create even more space. And in that space the deep listening can take place. What is really going on within your heart?  What have you really been feeling lately? What do you really want to be doing? 

Is there something you know you need to take out?  Something you need to get rid of? Something you know you must end? What’s the fear?

Is there something you’re excited about? Looking forward to? Something you are ready to take an actionable step towards? If so, what’s stopping you from doing it now? I love how this season invites us for more rest, and in that space we still have the choice.  We can just enjoy the spaciousness, or if we do see something in which we can take action towards, that we can still move forward. And as this season reminds us, this is not a finality of an ending, it’s just some time of transition that will lead to the next cycle of life.

And so, with that, I am transitioning.  I will be continuing online streaming classes and offering all that I have to offer. Some things will look different and feel different, but the constant of what I offer is grounded in my mission and my Light of my service. I’m totally grateful and humbled by what this pandemic has brought me personally. All of the people that it’s brought into my life, the opportunities, the offerings that I’ve been able to make throughout this time of “separation” and being able to stay very much connected.

And to all of you, dear readers, friends, family, students, co-conspirators for the Light, magic makers, healers, mothers, fathers, parents, children, sisters and brothers, and fellow human beings, THANK YOU! 

UBUNTU!: “I am because you are” / “I am a person because of you”.
Thank you.

And Thank you, Betsy and Charlene of Birchwood, Marcela of Bread and Yoga, and Alyssa of Mind Body Soul Yoga. You courageous and loving leaders shaped my life drastically in immensely positive ways, and you all continue to do so. I am indebted to each of you. 

And to all of the fellow teachers at all of these centers, I am indebted to you. You continue to be important parts of my ‘village’.

And to everyone who keeps showing up to my classes time and time again, whether on the weekly basis, or the “whenever you can days”, I am indebted!  Without you there would be no me(ubuntu).  I’m so deeply honored that you choose to practice with me.  

My intention in the immediate future is to keep showing up for you.

We will practice in person again! Believe that! 

With love,
Shawna

Breathe and Believe.