Yoga Therapy for Trauma

Trauma happens to all of us. It happened to my hip recently when I fell down a few stairs and my body bruised. It happened a few months ago when I received death threats for bringing a yoga class for people of color to Rainier Beach Yoga. Read this article I wrote about it here.

Trauma can be big or small. It can happen to the body or the mind. It can last for a relatively short period of time or for years, but it happens to us all.

Navigating the last few months has been a dive into the inner workings of trauma, and it has included anger, fear, isolation, hypervigilance, paranoia and exhaustion. In the body it included pain in my left shoulder, neck and jaw tension and feeling physically overwhelmed.

As with anything I met this trauma with my yoga and meditation practice. The practice of mindfulness helped me get outside of circular thinking that can keep me trapped. When I was aware I was stuck in thinking that was exacerbating fear I would look around me and see what else was happening. I enjoyed looking at trees and nature as an anchor for myself when I felt I was leaving the moment through thinking about the trauma that was over or the “what if…” questions about the future.

During the acute phase of the trauma I was not practicing the physical poses of yoga, the asanas, but I did receive physical touch through cranial sacral therapy, massage and somatics bodywork. This safe and compassionate touch helped me reground into my body and allowed my body to release some of what it was holding onto. Baths and naps were also important parts of my physical self-care.

Mentally, I relied on guided yoga nidra meditations that focused on calming the nervous system because when I came to my cushion on my own my mind would start spinning. When I listened to a meditation I was able to have more focus, and this was another anchor for me to rely on.

On Friday, March 11 I am looking forward to offering the next monthly 2-hour workshop on yoga therapy for a particular challenge. This month’s focus will be trauma.

If you feel overwhelmed by the effects of trauma, are having a hard time quieting the body or mind or want support with the fear, anger and isolation that can come with healing from trauma go here to learn more and register for the Friday, March 11 workshop (or look ahead at other topics we will cover in the next few months). If the workshop does not work for you or you want support for your individual and unique experience contact me for a complimentary 20-minute phone consultation to see if yoga therapy may be a good fit for you.

With love and compassion,
Laura

Yoga Therapy for Grief

Dear yoga community,

Grief is commonly thought of when we lose someone to death, but death is just one way we can experience it.

Grief can come in any form of loss. We can grieve the loss of a relationship, the loss of an identity, the loss of a home or loss of a dream. Any change can bring loss and grief with it.

I remember when I was training for a marathon several years ago, and I became very attached to the identity of “runner.” I did not realize how attached I became to that identity until I injured my Achilles tendons. When my physical therapist told me I should not run, I fell into despair. At least temporarily my identity of runner and my dream of completing a marathon shifted. I felt depressed, sad and angry. I judged myself for training too much. I judged my body for not being strong enough. I continued to train, but I walked instead of ran. When I saw another person running I felt jealousy.

I had to grieve the experience I thought I was going to have, and that allowed me to create space to have the marathon experience that I was going to have. That year it meant that I was not going to finish a marathon.

Yoga was one of the things that helped me through this. With grief, I believe one of the hardest things to do and one of the most powerful things to do is allow it to be there and unfold in whatever way it needs to happen. When I walked past a runner I allowed myself to feel the sensations of jealousy. Under the jealousy was anger. Under the anger was sadness.

I also know through my yoga and meditation practice that no sensation or feeling will last forever. As I was feeling my grief I was also aware that this was an impermanent state of being, just like the injury to my Achilles. And yet some grief can last for the rest of our lives. The marathon example I shared is one of the smaller griefs I experienced in my life so far. The death of my grandmother happened 24 years ago, and there are still moments of loss I feel, and I believe there always will be. There are times that I am sad that she could not be present for an experience (like crossing the finish line of the marathon a year later), but even that grief has shifted immensely in 24 years. I will always miss my grandmother, and my grief now feels more like a tenderness than a piercing heartache.

bell hooks says, “Accepting death with love means we embrace the reality of the unexpected, of experiences over which we have no control. Love empowers us to surrender.”

My yoga practice teaches me over and over to surrender, and love, compassion and empathy are the tools of yoga that give me the courage and strength to allow myself to surrender.

On February 19 I am looking forward to offering the next monthly 2-hour workshop on yoga therapy for a particular challenge. This month’s focus will be grief.

If you feel the heaviness of grief in your chest and the weight of it is pulling you down consider coming to this workshop utilizing the tools of yoga to work with the body, mind and heart experience of grief. Go here to learn more and register for the Friday, February 19 workshop (or look ahead at other topics we will cover in the next few months). If the workshop does not work for you or you want support for your individual and unique experience contact me for a complimentary 20-minute phone consultation to see if yoga therapy may be a good fit for you.

With love and compassion,
Laura

Yoga Therapy for Depression

Dear yoga community,

I have experienced depression on and off since I was a teenager, and these last few months pulled me back into the darkness of depression, hopelessness, apathy and lethargy again.

I have been teaching on yoga and depression for several years now, and I remember telling students yoga has not made the experience of depression go away. Yoga has changed my relationship to depression though, and I am reminded of my words as I navigate this struggle again.

This time as I met the depression, which is very different than my old pattern of fighting it, I allowed myself to do less. I let myself sleep more and do less cooking. I took more naps and more baths. My yoga practice was more savasana (corpse pose) than any other asana. My meditation was about getting to know the sensations of depression instead of being caught up in the thoughts (i.e. when is this going to stop? Am I ever going to feel like myself again? I have to do more.). The sensations were heavy, foggy and curled up in a tight ball. I cried more and asked for support more.

As I emerge from this dark place, I am again reminded of the power of my practice. Yoga and meditation did not make the depression go away, but it did help me navigate it with kindness, acceptance and awareness. My practice helped me ride the wave until the wave changed. The wave is changing now. I am not sleeping as much. I am motivated to do things I love (i.e. movement, writing newsletters, creating workshops, playing with my dog, etc.), and the sensations in my body feel lighter, more expansive and energized.

As the lightness returns to my body and mind I am moved to share with others the power of yoga and meditation for depression and other challenges we face as human beings. I am looking forward to offering monthly 2-hour workshops on yoga therapy for a particular challenge. This month’s focus will be depression.

If you feel the darkness of depression is taking ahold in your life this might be the perfect way to spend a Friday evening.Go here to learn more and register for the Friday, January 22 workshop (or look ahead at other topics we will cover in the next few months). If the workshop does not work for you or you want support for your individual and unique experience contact me for a complimentary 20-minute phone consultation to see if yoga therapy may be a good fit for you.

I bow to the light and darkness that resides in all of us,
Laura

Sutra 1.30: Obstacles to the Spiritual Path

I am going to be honest. I have been writing every day, but when I think about sending it out it feels too vulnerable. So instead of continuing to put off sending you this message I am going to come from my heart.

I have a lot of say, but I have not found the right words to say it yet. Or I have not found the courage to make those words public yet as I continue to process and integrate in a more private way.

I am looking forward to some time in the Grand Canyon later this month, to eating my mom’s food and resting and spending time with friends and family. Please note we will be closed from December 18-January 4.

I am also excited for what is coming in 2016! Stay tuned for workshops on social justice, monthly discussions on the intersection between yoga and social and racial justice and a new series class at Rainier Beach Yoga!

I look forward to seeing you on or off the mat.

Love,
Laura

Sutra 1.26: Who is a guru?

Who or what is a teacher? Who or what is a guru?

We continue our exploration of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, and now we come to the word, guru. Sutra 1.26 says: He [or she] is the one who has been the preceptor of all previous teachers for he [or she] is not limited by time (translation by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait). The Sutras are referring to Isvara again as the ultimate teacher (to learn more about Isvara go to this post). Isvara can be translated as God, divinity, the universe or something larger than ourselves.

The Sutras use the word guru to describe teacher, but the literal translation of guru is “remover of darkness.” What if we looked at all of our teachers as those people or beings in our lives that remove darkness?

I have been graced with amazing teachers in my life from my second grade teacher to my Grandmother to chickens to nature. Insomnia and burnout led me to a yoga mat, and in many ways I see that experience of darkness pushing me towards finding lightness. From there I met some of my beloved yoga and meditation teachers, and yet, this Sutra is saying that the ultimate teacher, remover of darkness, is something more than these impermanent beings.

If I can keep returning to the idea that a teacher is really someone or something that removes darkness that changes my interpretation of a teacher. I have been to yoga classes that I have felt shamed in (this added darkness). I have been to yoga classes where my darkness was exposed to me (i.e. you can do more than you think you can. You are stronger than you think. Although this was not comfortable it did help remove darkness). I have been to therapists who mostly asked me what I felt (this neither removed darkness nor shined light). I have been to therapists who helped me celebrate my strengths in order to use those to meet my challenges (this decreased my darkness). I have been on backpacking trips where my connection to nature is so profound that I felt only light.

If  our teacher or guru is ultimately Isvara is there a reason to have a teacher in the flesh at all? I was recently sitting with Sharon Salzberg who shared that a teacher can help us see the things that we are blind to (i.e. remove the darkness). Will we get there on our own with enough work? Probably, but it may take much longer she said.

The role of teacher can be complicated because the people we learn from are limited and have their own darkness. They are also Divine. Both of these things are true. There is a balance of surrendering to a teacher and discerning what makes sense for you. The Buddha asked the people he taught to not believe and follow him blindly. He asked them to use their wisdom to decide if the teachings were true for them.

Our wisdom and intuition can be an access point to our own divinity (because if our teachers are both dark and divine so are we). I recently had a conversation with a group of students about the inherent hierarchy within a student/teacher relationship (and therapist/client relationship), and how this hierarchy can be used to help remove darkness, cause abuse or can heal. In my 12 years of practice I know of several yoga teachers who have used their role as teacher to hurt and abuse people. There have been many more that have used their power to remove darkness, help others find their own inherent divinity and grace.

How do we know who our teacher is? Here are some things to consider:
1. Does this person remove or add darkness?
2. Do you feel safe with this person?
3. Does this person point out your blind spots in a kind way that is also nudging you to grow?
4. Do you feel empowered with this person?
5. Is this person bringing you closer to your own intuition?

ultimately, I see my role as teacher/therapist in challenging students/clients to become their own teachers. I do not believe I hold all the answers or the power, and I do believe that our partnership on this journey (whether in yoga class or yoga therapy) is about finding Isvara inside of ourselves and to listen to that divine voice. Sometimes that voice is hidden in darkness though, so we need someone to hold our hand as we move towards uncovering our light.

Sutra 1.24: Obstacles to Happiness

Happiness. According to the dictionary happy is defined as, “feeling or showing pleasure or contentment,” and “fortunate and convenient.” We all want that. In fact, every single person who comes in for yoga therapy is, when we boil it all down, searching for happiness.

As we continue our exploration of the Yoga Sutras (go here for previous entries) we come to Sutra 1.24 (klesakarmavipakasayairaparamrstah purusavisesaisvarah). According to Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, “Isvara is a unique being untouched by afflictions, karmas, the results of karmas, and the repository of karmas.” Last month we focused on Isvara. We could spend a lot of time on this one sutra, but for this month we will focus on the “afflictions.”

These afflictions are sometimes referred to as “obstacles to happiness.” Lucky for us, there are only 5. If we can get through these 5 we will be eternally happy.

I have gone through a 10 month intensive on these afflictions. Last year someone (not a client or anyone who has worked directly with me, but most likely another professional) lodged a complaint against me to the Department of Health. The complaint was that Thai Yoga (the type of assisted yoga that I do) was outside the scope of my practice as a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. The end of the story is a happy one (the Department of Health agreed with me that Thai Yoga is within my scope of practice), but the process was painful and full of “obstacles to happiness.”

The first obstacle to happiness: ignorance (avidya) is the root of all the others. According to the Sutras, this ignorance is thinking that we are only this body and mind that we live in. It is true that we do live in this body and mind, but we are more than that. In some translations of the Sutras, there is a focus on the idea that we are not our bodies, and our goal is to leave the body in order to be who we really our: our Spirit or soul or divinity (there are a lot of words we can use to describe this). I personally like seeing both of these parts of ourselves as real and the work is about integrating them. It is not about picking one over the other because we are both human and divine. The hard part is we can touch, feel and manipulate the body (Prakriti in the Sutras) and our soul, spirit, divinity (Purusha in the Sutras) is way more subtle, difficult to feel and sometimes we forget it is even there. When we forget about our divinity, this is a form of ignorance. When we forget that there is something larger involved in our lives this is a form of ignorance. When I received the letter from the Dept. of Health I contracted into ignorance. I have many wonderful friends, colleagues and mentors who continued to remind me that this was a part of my spiritual path for some reason. There were moments I could hold that idea, but for the most part I felt attacked, angry, scared, lonely and that this a permanent place of stuck-ness. I tried to hold the body and mind experiences while also holding the idea that this was not a permanent state. Now that I am through the other side of this experience I am able to see some of the sacred-ness of it, and I am confident more will be revealed. Through this experience I have more fully integrated the different parts of what I call “me” and through that integration I feel more connected to my divinity.

Remembering our sacredness can be a doorway to less suffering. An experiment: the next time you are out and about (walking, driving or taking the bus) contemplate each person, animal, insect and plant as a divine being living in a changing, impermanent body. Let me know what you find.

The second and third afflictions are 2 sides of the same coin: attachment (raga) and aversion (dvesha). I do not believe that we ever stop having attachment and aversion, but I do think that becoming aware of them helps loosen their grip. I experienced a lot of these throughout the process. Fear that I would lose my livelihood (aversion). Anger at the person who lodged the complaint (aversion). Gripping to my livelihood and the way I do it (attachment). Isolation and shame (aversion). Connection from reaching out for support in my community (attachment). Relief when the Department of Health said I could continue my practice (attachment). We virtually go through our lives driven by attachment and aversion. We can experience very small (aversion to the pain of a hangnail) and also quite large attachments and aversions (attachment to our children). At some point through this process I realized I was using my lovingkindness meditation practice to get rid of these attachments and aversions. I have stopped practicing this type of meditation to practice mindfulness meditation for the time being. This helped me get in touch with these so they were not running through me unconsciously. If our goal is not necessarily to eliminate them how do we work with these?

An experiment: Bring to mind a craving or repulsion and notice where you feel it in your body. Label the experience as attachment or aversion (labeling can give our experience space to move) and watch the sensations move through you like a wave. The sensations will most likely pass eventually, and when we can watch them from a bit of a distance we can also step out of the suffering that can come with attachment and aversion.

The fourth affliction is asmita or “I am-ness.” This is commonly talked about as our ego. We all have identities of who we are (i.e. I am a yoga therapist. I am a rule follower. I am a good person. I am a person who uses touch in her practice.). How do these identities cause us suffering? I am extremely attached to all of these identities, and they were being threatened. For two months my lawyer advised me to not practice touch at all while we were in negotiations with the Department of Health (in yoga classes, with clients, on retreat, etc.). I found this out the day before I opened Rainier Beach Yoga. All of a sudden some of the identities that I held so strongly I could not utilize. I also remember thinking of myself as a “bad person” for getting a complaint in the first place. In previous years at ethics trainings I remember hearing about therapists who did “bad things” and were involved with complaints. Now I was in that category of people who did something “wrong” and “broke the rules.” This put me in opposition of the identities I held to be true about myself, which was also painful. Throughout this process I realized that the identity of Thai Yoga practitioner was one that I was not as attached to as I once was. After not practicing Thai Yoga for 2 months I realized that this was something that I once adored, and now was more on the periphery of my excitement. This was a wonderful learning to become more conscious of.

Next experiment: Write down 5 identities you have. Now imagine if you did not have them anymore. What do you notice? Again, I do not believe we should not have identities. I sometimes make the joke that if we didn’t have an ego going to a cocktail party would be virtually impossible.
“Hi, who are you?”
“I am………nothing? everything? unidentified?”
We probably would not make too many friends! Like with the other afflictions, how can we be aware of the identities we have in our lives and at the same time be aware of how they may change throughout our lifetime? How can we hold our identities knowing that we will die and lose them all?

This bring us to our final obstacle: fear of death (abinivesha), which I also think of more globally as fear of change. In essence, every change that happens can be seen as a death. The death of summer will come in the Fall. The death of your favorite pants comes with a large stain you cannot remove. And yes, eventually each one of us will die too. For two months I experienced a drastic change in my practice and teaching. I was completely hands off. When this complaint first came to light last year my lawyer asked me what my biggest fear was. I said that I would have to close my practice and start waitressing again. In essence, some of me would die. There was so much grief in thinking about this as a possibility. He assured me that this would not be the case, but that was hard to believe in the midst of it. In the end, my practice did not have to die (for which I am eternally grateful), and I have also realized that that I can grow and change. With that in mind I have decided to let the Thai Yoga part of my practice shift. I am still committed to working with current clients indefinitely, but I will not be taking on new clients. If you have outstanding gift certificates I am more than happy to honor them. Thai Yoga will still be a part of my teaching as well as some of my yoga therapy sessions. At this point I want to integrate Thai Yoga even more into the yoga that I am doing rather than have it be a separate offering. This “death” also comes with grief and change and an uncertainty of what the future will look like.

An experiment: The next time you meet a “death” (which can be the end of anything: a meal, a relationship, a TV show) notice how you meet that death. I believe it is normal and healthy to be afraid of death. In fact, our fear of death can be a motivator for going to the doctor, flossing our teeth or eating healthy. But can we live while also acknowledging that we are going to die? According to Patanjali this is the hardest obstacle to overcome, but in my opinion if we break it down into smaller chunks we can accept the inevitable changes that come into our life with more ease. Did you know that accepting the end of Lost could prepare you for death?

I would love to hear if you tried any of the experiments, and I look forward to seeing you on the mat.

My birthday request

I have decided to take a break from the Sutras for July to celebrate my birthday (I am a Leo after all). Last year my dear friend, V, wrote a list of things to do to celebrate her. I did this last year and had such a blast I’m doing it again. If you do any of them let me know! I would love to hear.

1. Write down 3 things you love about yourself.
2. Tell someone else those 3 things.
3. Write a love letter to someone.
4. Ask someone for forgiveness.
5. Go swimming in the lake.
6. Go screen-free for 24 hours.
7. Do a lovingkindness practice. Here is one if you would like some guidance (it is only 10 minutes).
8. Buy yourself an ice cream cone and enjoy every moment of it.
9. Give $1 to a homeless person.
10. Write down 10 things you are grateful for.
11. Tell someone (a safe person) something vulnerable.
12. Cook a meal for someone else.
13. Come to class next week at Rainier Beach Yoga to do 36 sun salutations (Tuesday evening and Thursday morning only).
14. Do your own home practice.
15. Turn up your favorite song really loud and dance.
16. Listen to this podcast about spirituality and racism.
17. Read this letter and sign if it resonates with you.
18. Check out this workshop for white folks standing up for racial justice.
19. Read the book There is Nothing Wrong with You by Cheri Huber.
20. Read Lovingkindness by Sharon Salzberg.
21. Give someone a hug.
22. Take a social media fast (1 day, 1 week or 1 month). Tell me what you noticed.
23. Lie in the sunshine and do nothing.
24. Support a farmer’s market.
25. Give someone a high five.
26. Pet a dog or a cat or another furry being.
27. Donate to a cause you believe in. Here are a few that I love: Facing Homelessness, Missing Pet Partnership and The Doney Clinic.
28. Go to a yoga teacher you have never studied with. Tell me what you learned.
29. If you see a dog wandering the streets take a picture and post it to your neighborhood facebook page.
30. Sign up for the next 6-week series on Lovingkindness starting Thursday, July 30 from 5-6pm.
31. Say no to something that you do not want to do.
32. The next time you go out to eat tip the server more than you usually would.
33. Buy flowers for your home.
34. Paint your toenails. Better yet, go get a pedicure.
35. Go fruit picking.
36. Buy flowers for someone else.

Sutra 1.23: Surrender as a path to enlightenment

Since Satmato Yoga Therapy’s new home has been open for over a month I have spent my mornings walking around Seward Park with my dog. There are so many lotus flowers blooming right now, which inspired the picture of padma mudra (the seal of the lotus) above.

We continue our exploration of the Yoga Sutras (if you missed some of them feel free to catch up here) with Sutra 1.23: isvarapranidhanadva. “From trustful surrender to Isvara, samadhi also comes,” Pandit Rajmani Tigunait translates in his inspiring and illuminating translation of the Sutras, The Secret of the Yoga Sutra.

Last month I shared what samadhi is and some of the ingredients to moving towards this absorption, enlightenment or bliss. After sharing the 5 ingredients Patanjali adds another way to get there: surrender to Isvara. The next question is who or what is Isvara?

Isvara is translated as: God, the Lord or Divinity. I like to think of Isvara is something greater than myself. Some of us call that God. Others of us call it the Universe or Mount Rainier or our connection to animals or nature. The Yoga Sutras is not a religious text, but more of an opportunity to create your own path with some guidance from those who have walked before us. One of the many things I love about the Sutras is that it offers us many different ways to get where we are going and surrendering to something greater than you is one of those ways.

How do we surrender to something larger, and why would we even want to? Surrender is a trigger word for a lot of us assuming it means we are giving up, losing control or being defeated. A few years back I taught a series to veterans who were experiencing PTSD and we talked a lot about surrender. We talked about surrender as a way of choosing to stop the battle rather being defeated or overpowered by something. Other people choose different words instead of surrender: faith, letting go into, trust or softening are other words.

Let’s bring it down to something smaller. I have recently been experiencing some challenges in my personal life. When they first arose I did feel defeated and overpowered, and this did not feel like an act of surrender. It felt like a deflation. After feeling defeated I went into battle mode. I fought these challenges and my feelings about them, and this felt like a war within myself. I still vacillate between feeling defeated and feeling like I am going to conquer these challenges, but now I am also experiencing something new: moments of ease and faith. I do not know what the outcomes of these challenges will bring, but I do have faith that I will make it through and that they will be a part of my continued learning process as a human and a yogini. This does not take away the anger, sadness, frustration or uncertainty of it all, but having a sense that there is something larger at play that I do not understand nor can I see from the other side yet feels like an act of surrender.

Finally, I have an experiment for you to try. Bring to mind something that is mildly challenging in your life (i.e. an irritating co-worker, a difficult situation with a friend or relative or even the person who cut you off in traffic). Allow yourself to feel completely defeated and you have no control or action in the situation. What do you notice in your body? Mind? Heart? Now imagine fighting this difficulty with everything in you and asserting control over the situation. What do you notice in your body now? Mind? Heart? Now, hold this situation with an open palm, curious about it, looking at it as a part of your path that you may not know why it is here. Hold this challenge with a sense of trust that you may not understand it, but that you can surrender to what will unfold (including allowing all the emotions that come with this difficulty). What do you notice in your body now? Mind? Heart? Let me know what you discovered. I would love to hear!

If you are curious about diving into surrendering to something larger even more check out Stephanie Sisson and my yoga and meditation retreat this fall where connecting to Divinity through nature will be our focus. I look forward to seeing you on the mat.

Love,
Laura

Sutra 1.20: 5 Qualities to lead us to Samadhi

At times our practice becomes difficult (both on and off the mat). The transition to Rainier Beach Yoga has been amazing, and I have felt so much love and support from the community. Transitions, even when they are good, can be challenging and push us to change old held patterns. As I currently work on creating new patterns in myself and my practice I turn to the Yoga Sutras for guidance and support.

Sutra 1.20 includes 5 qualities that lead us to samadhi. Samadhi is a word that can be translated to completely still, pristine state of mind, absorption or enlightenment. It is the last limb of the 8 limbs of yoga. Pandit Rajmani Tigunait translates these 5 qualities that lead to samadhi as faith, vigor, retentive power, stillness of mind and intuitive wisdom.

Faith (sraddha) was a big focus of the retreat I led last weekend on Whidbey Island. It is the ability to trust even when you can not see the outcome. A sentence that was repeated many times throughout the weekend was, “It is all ok in the end, and if it isn’t ok it isn’t the end.” This is a profoundly difficult way to approach life when we want certainty, stability and a steady ground beneath us. Faith can hold us when life is uncertain or feels groundless in knowing that this will change. There are many things we can have faith in: yoga, religion, our best friend, our breath, impermanence, etc. What do you have faith in? If we go to therapy, practice yoga or meditate just once our life will most likely not be significantly changed, but if we commit to the process and have faith in it we can hold the possibility of healing (or whatever the “goal” is) even when we can not see that healing yet.

Vigor (virya) is also sometimes translated as strength, and it takes effort to get to our practice, to meditate, to make it to therapy, to journal, draw or do whatever we do that feeds us, nourishes us and makes us feel whole. Frankly, it takes vigor to get out of bed each morning! It is hard work to take care of ourselves and it gets easier and easier with practice (like everything!). Sometimes when I do not want to do the dishes (which is most days) I think of this as a spiritual practice of vigor. I am practicing strengthening my mental muscles when I can meet the work that is in front of me with committment and attention, even if I meet it without a lot of joy. I can tell you from personal experience I am much more joyful in my kitchen when it is clean though. Sometimes doing the work it takes to get to the other side is way more challenging that washing a few dishes though.

Retentive power (smrti) is a natural progression of vigor, and can also be thought of as memory. We all probably have retentive power of brushing our teeth. When we were little ones brushing our teeth probably took a lot of effort and work. Now we are easily committed to the practice of cleaning our teeth. This comes from years and years of committed strength. I once had a meditation teacher compare brushing our teeth to meditation. She said we clean our teeth every morning and night, but we don’t necessarily clean our mind. We can get into the practice of “cleaning our minds” through much effort and strength, which eventually turns into an easier part of our everyday existence like keeping our mouth clean.

Stillness of mind (samadhi) is also translated as contemplation. There are many ways to look at samadhi, and in this sutra samadhi is both the means and the end. We practice stilling the mind in order to still the mind. In meditation we pick our contemplation focus: breath, mantra, lovingkindness, etc. and we allow the mind to rest on that contemplation. In yoga therapy we choose our goals: being kinder to ourselves, allowing ourselves to get comfortable with all our emotions, stopping the war within ourselves and then we put those goals into real time practice. Here is where our faith and our strength begin to show the fruits of our efforts. We have a moment of stillness, or a moment when instead of beating ourselves up we meet our challenge with compassion. These moments happen in seconds at first, and the more we practice these seconds become minutes, then hours, then days.

Intuitive wisdom (prajna) is also translated as discernment. Yesterday in class at Rainier Beach Yogawe were talking about the difference between pain and sensation and when we should back off a pose or when we should challenge ourselves. Of course as the teacher I do not know the answer for anyone in the room other than myself, but I am committed to helping others discover thier own discernment. When our minds are a bit stiller we have an easier time accessing that intuition. How do we still the minds in order to find our own inner wisdom? Faith, strength, remembering and contemplation!

Do you want to learn more about the Yoga Sutras? Read the last few newsletter’s sutra-focused essayshere.

I look forward to seeing you on the mat.

Love,
Laura

Sutra 1.12 Practice and Non-attachment

I wanted to share a couple of exciting new things coming up before diving into a Sutra:

1. Rainier Beach Yoga will be starting its own newsletter. Sign up here to stay up to date on all things Rainier Beach Yoga, including getting a buy one get one free class!

2. Our first classes will be Tuesday, May 12 and ALL classes that week will be FREE! Make sure to sign up early to save your spot as we are limiting classes to 10 students only.

3. I am excited to bring on 2 work/study positions! One is for an assistant to me and the other is for a cleaner/general tidier of Rainier Beach Yoga. Look at the bottom of this email for more details.

Now, the beloved Sutras. In January I started writing one essay/month on one of the Sutras. So far we have learned about the auspicious beginnings of yoga, what yoga is and what happens when we do yoga. After Patanjali entices us with the outcome of the practice (residing in our true nature) he spends the majority of the text teaching us how to do that.

Sutra 1.12: abhyasavairagyabhyam tannirodhah. “That can be controlled through practice and non-attachment,” Pandit Rajmani Tigunait translates.

“That” is the tendencies of the mind, the ways the mind is pulled this way and that, the way the mind can run the show (many times without us even knowing it!). I always think it is important to give a shout out to the mind here. A lot of traditions give the mind a bad rap, and we have to remember all the amazing things the mind does for us. Through yoga we are not attempting to get rid of or punish the mind. We are trying to train the mind, in the way we might train a puppy or a child. Without discipline our minds can feel out of control, and yoga can be one way to help give the mind some guidance and structure.

Sutra 1.2 states that Yoga is the mastery over the roaming tendencies of the mind. Now Patanjali gives us some insight into how to achieve this: practice and non-attachment.

Abhyasa is practice: the effort we put in. The part of us that wakes up early to meditate, that pauses before we say hurtful words, that helps us stop before doing something that will take us away from our essential nature and helps us move towards something that will connect us to our true nature (learn more about true nature here).

We recently had a wonderful dedication celebration at Rainier Beach Yoga. Our practice to get the space ready included determining how many people were coming and how to prepare the space with the most ease and peace for everyone involved. My practice involved getting help, procuring a tent in case of rain, finding tables for the food. Party planning.

At some point we had over 80 RSVPs, and panic started to arise. We did not have room for 80 people in our little studio. What do we do if there was a thunderstorm (which the weather person said there may be)? What if we did not have enough raffle items? What if I forgot something? What if…? What if…? What if…?

When we overdo abhyasa (practice) it can lead to anxiety, panic and fear. There is a sweet balance of practice and non-attachment.

Non-attachment (vairagya) is just as necessary as practice. Non-attachment helps us be kind to ourselves when we do not make it to our practice, helps us let go of what is not serving us, lets us put our best effort in without being anxious about the results of that effort.

Non-attachment can also be overdone, which can lead to apathy, depression or lethargy. It can come with a sense of nothing matters or why bother.

When I noticed I was getting anxious about the celebration I was able to observe that emotion. I do believe that by being mindful of what is happening in the mind and body we are both practicing and non-attaching in that moment. The practice of watching something move through us without trying to make it go faster or make it go away is a huge practice in non-attachment. I also think that non-attachment comes with a sense of faith.

After the celebration was over and done (which was wonderful, fit most everyone and there were no thunderstorms) I said to my friend, “why do I forget to trust?” I seem to need to learn this lesson over and over. Maybe we all do.

I did all the party planning I could to make the event go as smoothly as possible. If in that moment I could trust I had done all that I could I would have found the balance of practice and non-attachment. Yet sometimes we learn our lessons after the fact, and I have learned this lesson before. I am sure I will learn it again too.

So how do we put these two together in balance? Pandit Rajmani Tigunait offers pairing the breath with the mind. It is a practice of focusing the mind, and it is also an opportunity to lesson attachment to other places the mind wants to go. I am letting go of thinking about the “what if…?” stories in order to think of the breath.

I also appreciate mindfulness moments of pausing. I was at lunch with my friends and family and I told them I was feeling anxious. I got up, went to the restroom and took a few moments to simply be. We can do this anywhere. Try it out now. What do you notice about the mind? The breath? The body? Take about 5-10 breaths to just be with this experience without trying to push anything away or pull anything closer. See what you notice. And when practice or non-attachment feel out of balance do this again and see what you discover. Let me know!

I look forward to seeing you on or off the mat.

Love,
Laura