Month: March 2021

Kali

This past week, in the New York City part of the globe, was the spring equinox on March 20th. This is the festival of Ostara, the beginning of longer daylight time and the awakening of the earth with blossoms!

This is why we evoked the Kali essence within ourselves. Kali, pictured above, is known as the preserver of Earth and the embodiment of Mother Earth. She is considered mother of the world and the ‘treasure-house of compassion’.  She is considered the primordial mass from which all of life arose; we are all born from mother, from the womb of matter, though we are eternal.

All of these sound very beautiful and very wonderful, but Kali is often misunderstood simply because of the way she looks.  She’s often depicted having black or blue skin, her blood red tongue sticking out, her necklace made of skulls, and her skirt made of arm bones. She wields a sword and carries a severed head. The sword and the severed head are in her two left hands and in her two right hands she holds abhaya mudra for fearlessness and the varada mudra for blessings.  But when you come to understand what all of these representations symbolize, we come to understand her deep and infinite love and protection that she offers all of us.

She wears no finite or real clothing. She only adorns the skull necklace and the skirt of arms because she is infinite and pure, she needs no clothing because she is infinite in form. Her skin color of dark black or deep blue symbolizes how she is limitless, all pervading, and eternal.  I often envision the night sky when I hear this. Her very name, Kali, often is said to mean “she who is beyond time”.  Her name is also translated as “She who is black”.  

Her blood red tongue sticking out is her thirst to destroy all evil and evil doers in the world. In some Bengali traditions the blood red tongue is also symbolic of modesty. 

The sword that she wields is to destroy the ego and is also known as symbolic of higher knowledge. She supports us in severing our attachment with our ego and personality in order to fully understand and liberate, moksha/liberation, ourselves from the binds of illusion, or maya. 

The severed head supports very much the same, a detachment from ego.  

The skull necklace is meant for us to understand that we must ‘cut out the skeletons in our closet,’ meaning release secrets, stop hiding, understand who we truly are in our infinite form.  Then we must speak of Truth, live from a place of Light, honor, doing good, being kind, and Loving one’s Self as well as others and the planet. 

Kali helps us to more fully understand the natural cycles of birth, death, and rebirth. We can understand this at that finite and infinite level of birth, death, and rebirth. And we can also embody it down to the most simplest of forms of experiencing our breath. The four cycles of the breath of the exhale, the transition from exhale to inhale, the inhale, and the transition from the inhale to the exhale. And then it all starts again. We can also experience these cycles in our part of the globe through the cycles of the seasons. We can also experience many other forms of cycles even within one lifetime, call them the ‘seasons of Your Life’.  However, Kali helps us to understand that what some cycles of death and ending may appear as a loss, it is really the beginning of a positive new phase.

Kali is often shown stepping her right foot in front of the left.  This is a symbol that she is on the right spiritual path. Her mission is divine. Her mission is to protect, preserve, and to help pour the love of the universe into our hearts. This is why in our classes we embodied the Kali mudra, also sometimes called Ksepana mudra, which means “to pour out”. 

Kali Mudra Meditation: Clasp your hands together and interlace all of your fingers, then point only your index fingers forward, check down to make sure that the left thumb is on top of the right, and now you have Kali mudra.  Place the mudra in front of your solar plexus and allow your elbows to drop and your shoulders to sink down. Create a little lift through the front of your chest at your heart, sit quietly and feel. Notice what you notice. Notice what you feel coming from the energy of this gesture, mudra, of your hands as it’s energy runs up through your arms into your heart and gets pumped out into the rest of your body. For a couple of breaths, allow yourself to receive. Receive the love of the universe, the love of the divine mother, Kali, And the love of Mother Earth. After some time, focus on pouring out your love, and this universal love, from your heart towards yourself.  After some time, imagine this love pouring out from your heart through your index fingers and sending it to whomever or wherever you wish. And finally, after some time, imagine this love pouring out from yourself to the world at large, to all the plants and waters and air and elements, and to all of its creatures.

During parts of our physical practices in yoga this week, I invited people to imagine their own physical body as the body of our Earth. To embody another Earth. And to imagine what all of those elements and capabilities, powers, and supports felt like.  Mother Earth has destructive powers, this is why Kali is often called the “Dark Mother”.  She has destructive powers which are meant to eradicate evils of the world, to use her destruction for the betterment of all beings, and to end suffering.

A client of mine recently told me this quote that she had to received as a young girl from inside a fortune cookie: “the root of all unhappiness lies in comparison”.  I’ve also been taking a liking to this quote that comes from an unknown author: “The difference between a flower and a weed is a judgment”.  And I’ve been tying all this in with a quote that comes from a shirt that I bought at Target many years ago: “a flower does not think of competing to the flower next to it, it just blossoms”.  perhaps what we need to cut out the most in our lives, what we need to sever, what we need to get rid of, what we need to let go of, what we need to re-evaluate and change is a judgment towards our self, or others, and to stop comparing ourselves to some made up illusion of what we think we should be, or the comparison of ourselves to another. I always come back to the quote from Donna Markova: “My path is not greater than or less than yours, it’s just the only one I know how to make authentically”.  Or as some other people say it, ‘you do you’!  Be yourself, be kind to others, and share your light to this world because we need you!

Now, as much as I love that quote about the flower in the weed and the difference being just a judgment, I also felt these words in this passage come through me this past week:
“Till the soil, pull the weeds, plant the seeds. Nourish life and love and watch what grows!”
Sometimes we must pull the weeds in order to clear space for what is meant to come alive and to blossom. Be that a flower, or be that something from deep within our hearts and our higher knowing. Liken this to spring cleaning if you will, or equate it to that old belief you know is not serving you anymore that you know you must cut out. And allow Kali to remind you that as one thing goes inevitably another thing enters. Or as my dear friend and creator of “The Empowered Publicity Podcast”, Amanda Berlin,  stated recently, “a void cannot exist”.  In the context of the things that we’re speaking to here, I found these words very potent and wise. As they say, ‘when one ending happens, another cycle is beginning’. Or as some say, ‘when one door closes, another one opens’.

Use the Kali mudra to help clear blockages, especially along your central channel line that we call the shushumna nadi, “gracious one”.  This will help support to create that clear path for freedom and liberation, and knowing one’s True Self. Use the Kali mudra to encourage positivity in your body as well as to create positive thoughts. To reduce distractions and to shear away negative thoughts. Use Kali mudra to reduce tension and to help build your life force and strength.

Before I close this very long blog, thank you for reading it all.  I felt two pieces of wisdom come forth in this week:

1.)  Sometimes I might not be leaving a scenario or a situation in my life because I was disrespected, but I might be leaving because I know I’m not best used there.  My path, my ‘right foot stepping in front of the left’ like Kali, and my resonance when I listen to my heart and not my head, is the place where I have the deepest resonance and the most power/impact/love to offer at my best. This might be when I recognize that I know I need to leave a certain situation, relationship, job, situation, or moment in my life so that I can stay true to my path. This is not always easy, nor will it always feel good. But, I can more easily feel the love pour in and pour out!
2.)  I would sometimes close the practices with this little meditation:
I call it the “Heart Seed Meditation”:  “Find a comfortable seated or lying position. Take some time to become quiet and slow your breath and still your body.  Once you feel a little bit more grounded and a little bit more relaxed, begin to guide your awareness towards your heart space. Your physical heart that is the ‘treasure-house of compassion’ and the home and temple of your spiritual heart.  Invite a little part of your heart to open so that love may pour in.  Look into this opening in your heart and gaze down, because you will find their lives a seed there. This seed of unconditional love was planted long before you were born in this physical form, and it is the essence that will be there long after you leave your physical form. That seed is you. It is love. It is your Essence. It is the essence, and the seed and energy of who you are that you leave behind whenever you interact with someone, or the planet. I invite you then to ask, how will you live? How will you love?  From this seed of love that is you, let it blossom.  Nourish it, love yourself, feed it, water it, hold it in the sunlight, and let it grow. Let the blossom become fruit. And allow the fruits of your essence to be those ripple effects out to others, all beings, and the world.  Let the fruits that you leave behind, be what will inevitably go on to be the planted seeds for the next generation. Be the good ancestor now.”

All my love and light,
Shawna
Breathe and Believe.
P.S. That’s me, below, in Virabhadrasana 1 with Kali mudra, and right foot in front, with the flower quote shirt on! I found it! LOL!

Shakti

Make a peace sign in your hands!  Now, place your index and middle fingers down over your thumb, and lift your ring and pinky fingers up; bring these two hands to meet and you now have Shakti mudra! Shakti Mudra.  This was our “Mudra Dance” that opened most of our practices this past week.  Breathe in Peace, and breathe out Love.  Hold the shakti mudra at your heart center and physically snuggle it into your chest. Sit quietly, breathe, and feel the energy.

Rumi: “Weeping, then laughing.  The power of love came to me, and I became fierce like a lion, then tender like the evening star.”

It was one year ago that everything shut down in New York City. I remember the date was actually March 14th to be exact. I had not read my emails and had boarded the A Subway train South to go teach a class in the afternoon. When I arrived at the studio, I was met by the beautiful Adina, only to hear the words that I would be teaching to an empty room and a screen. Sadly, that beloved studio, Mind Body Soul Yoga studio, has now completely closed. Our community stays strong.

It’s been a year, needless to say, of great transformation and change.  I thank Goddess that I was teaching the heart chakra the week that things closed down. I know it helped me, and others, through that immediate shock.

Sometimes I perceive this pandemic as shedding a Light on many things that needed to change. Both within myself, our country of the United States, the Yogic world, and the world at large.   And then other times, I deeply wish it had never happened. The loss is unbearable.

Energy that creates change, even when the change feels hard and difficult, is the energy of Shakti.  Shakti is “energy”. This energy is in us, and it’s all around us. Shakti is the personification of energy and power for good within us, around us, in the world, and beyond(Universe).  Personification is used in stories to make complex ideas more easier to understand.  Shakti has many various forms, and many different names.   However, Shakti is depicted as the Divine Feminine. She is the Divine Mother. This Shakti energy is a power of love. It’s the power of the heart, and it nurtures and supports. Even when the energy and the power pushes us, or challenges us in ways that we don’t like and that we are uncomfortable with, this change is inevitably always for our own betterment and the world. There is always a deep lesson that Shakti is showing us.

“What will you do if you discover you have real power? If all power is transitory and ephemeral, what effects do you want to leave behind, both within and without?  While we are each individuals, we are also one. That which binds us together is love. It seems to me the important question becomes: How can you achieve a state of Love other than by Loving?”-Thomas Ashley-Farrand, ‘Shakti mantras’.  I feel what Thomas is getting at here is, how will you Love?  What energetic essence of yourself do you want to leave in the world when you leave your body?  What essence of energy do you want to touch others with, thru words, actions, thoughts?  How can you be giving your energy more lovingly to yourself and others?

“Shakti leads to the Divine Beloved within, where all questions are answered, all tears are dried, were all Love resides, all Knowledge is contained.”-Thomas Ashley-Farrand

I invite you, dear reader, to remember that you are this love. Repeat within yourself now, “I am Love”. “Aham Prema.”  (Listen to the gorgeous singers below!)

Allow yourself to enter into the present moment. “I live in the present, I can only touch you now.”-Dr. Edith Eger.  How powerful the doctors words, it feels as if Shakti is speaking to us through her, and Shakti is, because we are all Shakti.

Much love,
Shawna 
Breathe and Believe.

March is women’s history month.  In the first week of March, I wanted to highlight a Goddess.  As I was still feeling the deep underlying threads of the past couple of weeks around this idea of “what are different aspects to keep in mind when you’re on a journey”, I knew I needed to take a look at discernment. Also because I’ve been needing to take a serious look at a decision that I need to make within my own life. So, it was very perfect to remember that the goddess Saraswati is the goddess of discernment, wisdom, and knowledge.

 
Before I go on to share about Saraswati, remember that she is the representation of That which lives in you. She symbolizes and embodies everything that is already within you. So, as I’m speaking about Saraswati, notice if anything resonates for you. That resonance is one key ingredient to be able to discern with both your head and your heart what Universe is telling you or showing you.
 
Now, I invite you to imagine a woman dressed in all white carrying sacred text, meditation mala beads, and a stringed instrument very much like the lute. Her companion, and sometimes vehicle, is the swan whose beak can ‘separate the milk of wisdom from the water of material existence’. This is Saraswati. Her gift is discernment that ‘lets us find divinity in the world and to awaken our own inner clarity and intuition’! She is knowledge itself. She is the power of divine speech, music, song, and creative inspiration. She is the mother of the Vedas and the essence of the Gayatri mantra. She reminds us that it’s important to stay mindful of the endless amounts of information that can come to us from our outer worlds. And, she invites us to stay mindful of our own uncontrollable thoughts; how they can cause us to be out of the flow of balance in our lives if we allow them. For balance read my blog here.  But, that ‘flow’ is one translation of her name, “the flowing one”!  
 
Saraswati’s name also means “one who bestows the essence of self”.  How beautiful in remembering the chant that we used in classes with Saraswati:
“Om shri Saraswati namaha”
“May I recognize the wisdom within me”.
Repeat this mantra while holding  the Suchi hastra mudra, or hand gesture, that embodies the essence of One in your hands; and it actually looks like the “we’re number one” hand gesture you would find at any athletic event! This mudra evokes the Supreme Soul; all are One, your True One Self.
 
To be able to discern is to be able to listen and cultivate trust of one’s own intuition, no matter how that intuition comes to us, and it can come in many various ways! Intuition can come to us from the inside out and it can also come as insights and signs from the outside to us.
 
In her book, “Radical Intuition,” Kim Chestney writes, “Discernment is the touch point where intuition and intelligence work together.  Our inner wisdom is defined by our ability to give insightful thoughts, feelings, and experiences a meaningful place in the evolutionary process.”
 
When we hear Saraswati’s name, “one who bestows the essence of self”, and we remember that we are the One, we are the Divine, then we can begin to better trust our deeper knowings. We can trust and recognize when something resonates deeply within our heart and our soul. That’s the very definition of discernment, to perceive or recognize. Other synonyms are insightful, knowledgeable, perceptive, knowing, astute. And it’s very key to remember that discerning happens both in the head and the heart. I also believe that discernment can happen within our physical body. When we have that felt sense and we get that gut instinct, that can be one way in which we discern how to make our next move, or discern what to do in that moment. This discernment might lead to better decision making in life. To be able to judge ‘beyond just a perception’, but to actually recognize a resonance within our self, a “knowing”.
 
This all requires awareness. Awareness was also something we talked about in the week prior to this; inside the intention of balance, read here.  But, remember how Saraswati invites us to stay mindful of the information we take in from the outside world, as well as our own thoughts within our head, that can become too much. All of this noise within us, or around us, can prevent us from being able to hear, feel, or witness those moments in which we could have been feeling the resonance. But, perhaps we can’t feel the resonance because of too many ping pong balls bouncing around in our brains!
 
Discernment requires of us time. It’s no wonder in Kim Chestney’s book that she writes, “Our minds decide based on information presented from the outside world; our intuition discerns based on information presented from the inside world. … The act of stepping back, of waiting a few minutes, hours – or even just seconds, in some cases – gives you the pause you need to “get into the gap” where your intuition can communicate with you.” That correlates so much with one of my coined phrases in my classes, the “sacred pause”. The ‘sacred pause’ is a moment in which you’re invited to just feel what you feel, and notice what you notice. In that moment of noticing, that ‘gap moment’, or call it a ‘bridge'(thanks Patrick Heffernan!) between that crazy moment where you couldn’t hear or see the insights, but in getting quiet, even for a breath, you were able to hear or feel that intuitive and wise knowing. It’s wise because you are wise. Remember Saraswati is knowledge itself and That is you. You are She and She is You.
 
Whenever your thoughts are too much, or whenever you just feel too overwhelmed or overburdened, call upon a Saraswati principle to create a positive affirmation. Or, use her mantra, “May I recognize the wisdom within me”.  She is the goddess of song, no wonder she’s carrying japa mala beads for us to sing the mantras and to be able to evoke our innate inner wisdom!
 
Call upon your inner Saraswati when you are uncertain and bewildered or feeling stuck. If you’re feeling heavy with the weight of the world call upon Saraswati within you. Whenever you want to lighten your burdens, make a decision, or spark your creativity call upon your inner knowing. When you wish to speak your Truth with clarity and sing the song of your story to the world, sing it proud thru Saraswati! When you want to connect to your own intuition and inner wisdom, or when you want to gain peace, ease, clarity, and grace call upon the essence of Saraswati within yourself.
 
With love,
Shawna
Breathe and Believe.
 

The above pictures look pretty extreme to me, but, at face value, which would you rather be feeling?  

 

Balance as a noun is defined as ‘an even distribution of weight enabling someone or something to remain upright and study’. I’m wondering dear reader, are you evenly distributing your love, time, energy, and efforts in your life in order to remain “upright and study”?  

 
Jana Kingsford states, “Balance is not something you find, it’s something you create”.  It was some time ago, perhaps a few years ago, where I began to change my own inner definition of balance. Balance to me became a designed creation in life of choosing where I put my thoughts, my heart, my efforts, my focus, and my body.
 
Where we place our gaze, or vision, or focus in life is very much attributed in yoga to the word ‘drishti’.  Drishti means ‘gaze’ or ‘view’.  It often gets most attributed to where your eyes are physically focusing in a physical yogic practice, but the term holds much more depth of meaning. It also means how we see the world as we navigate it, and of course how we see and view our self.
 
As the past couple of weeks intentions have had a deep undercurrent connection of being on a journey, creating balance in the journey is a very necessary aspect to keeping the flow and allowing oneself to be able to better navigate whatever life brings us, as well as how we want to be creating our life. There is a saying in yoga that goes like this, “Ya drishti sa drishti”.  This translates as, “as your vision, so is your universe”.   Another translation I’ve seen is, “the world as you see it”.  
 
This made me think back to remembering when people were saying that 2020 was going to bring clear vision, and it was met partly as a joke because of 20/20 vision but it was also holding deeper meaning for many others.  I’m wondering right now, dear reader, what is your vision? What is your vision for yourself? What is the vision for your life? What is the vision for the work you wish to do in the world? And, how do you view things on a day-to-day basis? Is there somewhere in your life where you need to refocus? Perhaps the first step is to just take time and take that “sacred pause”, as I call it, where you become aware of what you’ve been focusing on lately and seeing if it’s an alignment with where you want to be giving your focus and attention and love…
 
Koi Fresco said, “Balance is a key to everything. What we do, think, say, eat, feel, they all require awareness and through this awareness we can grow”.  Another author who is anonymous once wrote, “The key to keeping your balance is knowing when you’ve lost it”.  I believe it takes a willingness to create the time to have the awareness to know when we’ve lost our balance. And, I’m starting to believe that the more aware we become, the more we can perceive a loss of balance before it would happen. One way to do this is through the practice of discernment. But that’s for the next blog, lol. Click here for that blog! 
 
Rumi said, “Life is a balance of holding on and letting go”.  I always hear this time and time again, especially in the wellness world;  that question of what do you need to let go in order to grow? What is it that you need to release in order to flourish? What is it that you wish to free yourself from in order to create peace and freedom? What are you holding on to that’s no longer serving you? But there’s also the flip side of that coin. What do you know you must hold on to in order to keep the balance? What is it you now that you need to hold deep within your heart at all times in order to create balance? What is it that you need to hold on to in your mind in the way that you view yourself and the world in order to create peace? What are some of the practices you need to either let go of or hold on to in order to create a better balance for yourself and all beings?
 
In our practices during this week of ‘balance’ intention, we used opposite nostril breathing to create balance to the energetic channels within our subtle body.   And, of course, we practiced standing balance postures! I invite you to stand for a moment and just lift one leg up. What do you notice? Are there subtle movements in the ankle you’re standing on? That’s your wise body helping you keep balance. Have you been listening to your body lately? When you lift the leg up, where did your eyes focus? Were you keeping a steady gaze? How did you position yourself in order to create balance?…
 
And there’s the verb definition for balance, ‘to keep or put something in a study position so that it doesn’t fall’. How do you position yourself in life so that you won’t fall? What positions do you put yourself in in order to stay steady? Do you have self-care practices that help keep your peace of mind? Do you put your body in physical yogic positions in order to support your physical health? How do you position your thoughts in order to support your emotional and mental well-being? In the weeks that followed this one we explored mantra as one way to keep the mental, emotional, and spiritual focus aligned in a way that is meant to position ourselves in alignment with the love of the universe.  Read that blog here. **And, join me at 7:30pm THIS SUNDAY for an Instagram Live inside the Bread and Yoga co-op instagram page for a mantra chanting experience to support discernment, creativity, peace, and recognizing your own innate inner wisdom!**
 
I hope all of these questions and more have begun to stir an inquiry into your own life around what balance means for you. I hope that these questions and these words have supported you to graciously and compassionately take a look at different aspects of your life and to feel into if they are in a good balance or if there needs to be some sort of refocus or redistribution. This could be taking a look at balance in a relationship you’re in, balance in how you are giving energy to work, home life, family, self, and even relationship with the divine.
 
I will close this blog with the same quote that I closed all the classes with.  It comes from L. R. Knost:
 
“Life is amazing. And then it’s awful. And then it’s amazing again. And in between the amazing and the awful it’s ordinary and mundane and routine. Breathe in the amazing, hold on through the awful, and relax and exhale during the ordinary. That’s just living heartbreaking, soul-healing, amazing, awful, ordinary life. And it’s breathtakingly beautiful.”
 
Much love,
Shawna
Breathe and Believe