Keep An Open Mind, by Andy Brastad

Pic of Any BrastadAs Shakespeare‘s HAMLET said:

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

This can be interpreted like this: ‘You have to believe what’s right in front of your eyes, even if you didn’t previously believe it.’ Or more loosely interpreted… keep an open mind regarding things that you may not yet understand.

The body is composed of minerals, cellular liquids, and other compounds that make up the physical body. These constituents make up cells, tissues, organs which in their very basic form are chemical compounds made up of atoms and other sub-atomic particles. We know that atoms can be positively, or negatively charged or have a neutral charge. Groups of atoms then have an electromagnetic charge. Taken altogether, the various electromagnetic fields that exist in the body create an energy field that pulses at a frequency unique to each individual. This energetic field surrounds the body and extends out one to three feet.

The human body also contains energy centers know as chakras or dan-tiens. These energy fields resonate with their own specific frequency. In Qi Gong we concentrate on three of these energy fields to open, balance, and harmonize them with each other and the body as a whole. In doing so we increase our own internal energy (known as Qi) to restore and maintain good health.

Our health, mood, feelings, all affect the strength and vibrational energy field frequency. When a person is healthy/happy, they have an optimistic outlook and they’re content. Their vibrational frequency is high. When a person is pessimistic/sad/worried/depressed, their vibrational frequency is lower. If this condition persists for an extended period of time, the person is prone to disease and poor health. In Qi Gong we work to not only harmonize and balance our Qi energy, but through meditation, we balance our emotions as well.

Even if you don’t practice Qi Gong, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t working within you. Having a positive, optimistic outlook will benefit you greatly and hopefully lead to a long happy life. And that is partly due to the power of Qi Gong.

To learn more about the power of Qi Gong, join Andy on Tuesdays, 5:15-6:15PM

A Downward Dog Lesson: Blue Yoga Mat by Tracy Fitzwater

TracyThe yoga practice I usually attend is the Tuesday/Thursday Basic class. I occasionally enjoy a Yin class, which I like, and I’ve even showed up at Power classes a few times. My comfort zone is in the Basics class, and a recent practice highlights why I stick with this class.

We were moving through our practice, which included a few downward dogs. I’ve written about my relationship with this pose before, but I’ve gotten to the point where I feel fairly confident about it, and don’t feel too anxious when we are moving into it. My arms have quit quivering in downward dog, and while my heels aren’t as close to the mat as I would like them to be, I generally feel good about hanging out for a few rounds of breath. As we were coming out of the pose, Jenny stopped to talk about the nuances of downward dog. She asked for a volunteer to demonstrate how moving up into her hand, which she placed on the small of the back, improved the pose. The volunteer, on the mat next to mine, made the comment that when she moved up into Jenny’s hand, the pressure she had been feeling in her arms was relieved, and her legs took the weight, which made the pose easier to hold. Luckily, Jenny was able to work with each of us individually, so we could see for ourselves what a difference it made in the pose when our core was put to work to bring our hips up, and keep us there.  It was interesting to watch the difference it made when this happened, and to see the height change in the pose. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but it made an impact on my thinking that day.

It seems sometimes that certain poses are to be endured. Once I start wondering when it’s going to be over, I know I’m not breathing smoothly, and I usually start doing a body scan to see where it’s starting to hurt the most. I also realize that once that starts to happen, my form probably stinks, because I’m out of alignment, or just don’t have the strength to get back to the right form. By taking a workshop approach, and taking the time to work individually with us, I have a better understanding of what I need to do for both my own comfort as well as the intended form for downward dog. I like having my instructor break the pose down into components, and talk about how it should look and feel.

Downward dog is staple of a yoga practice. It is a pose that you will end up in several times, with variations thrown in for good measure, three-legged dog, for example. Good form will help prevent injury, but maybe even more than that, will improve confidence. It was a good lesson to learn.

Recap of Indian Yoga Gods & Goddesses Series with Karlyn

Last fall, we explored six iconic Gods and Goddesses from Indian yoga traditions and mythology during the Wednesday evening Power Flow classes. We often hear of, or see images of, Hindu deities in the yoga world. And while we do not need to take them too seriously (like anything in yoga!) or apply them literally, their stories and aspects shed light on yoga’s overarching goals. I hope you enjoyed learning about their stories, trying the poses associated with their energy, and chanting their mantras. We alternated masculine and feminine deities, and on a few occasions, listened to live kirtan music played by Daniel on his harmonium.

Personally, I feel we can learn from these ancient figures by applying lessons and qualities invoked by them to our modern lives, regardless of your personal religious or spiritual beliefs. Here is a brief summary highlighting the main teachings of each God/Goddesses.

SHIVA
Shiva1We began with Shiva, who represents consciousness itself. His name in Sanskrit means liberation, or freedom. Shiva is one of the three gods of the Trimurti, representing destruction, or the end of the cycle (the other two being: Brahma the creator, and Vishnu the sustainer). His destructive energy does not, however, have negative denotation. The shedding of the ego, old habits, attachment or aversion is instead a purification power. In essence, nothing is really destroyed by the illusion of individuality, so this purifying quality works both on the personal and universal levels. Known as the patron of yoga, Shiva is depicted by the art of meditation and we chant, “Om Namah Shivaya” (listen to Krishna Das’s version at www.youtube.com/watch?v=bcdI-c-jAWQ). The statue of “Shiva’s dance” is commonly found in yoga studios, and we explored the symbolism of this dance, or “Ananda (= the bliss of being) tandava (= the dance)”. In the statue, Shiva stands on one leg over the dwarf he eventually came to defeat. The story goes that Shiva would strike this dwarf on the battlefield, and each drop of the dwarf’s blood that landed on the earth produced a clone of the dwarf, resulting in an entire army. This suggests that we can actually make a problem bigger by responding violently to it. Have you ever found yourself forcing a situation, only to wind up with less desirable circumstances? Shiva finally learned how to rise above his circumstances, thus his victory is celebrated by this dance. The ring of fire represents the fact that challenging situations never disappear, but that we learn how overcome them and avoid being burned by them. His hands hold a drum and a flame, balancing creation and destruction (birth and death) in the natural world. And his raised right hand suggests “Fear nothing,” inviting us to find stillness, or steadiness, amidst chaos.

Shiva2In class, we used challenging poses, dancer’s pose and Shiva’s pose to put this to the test ourselves, at least on the mat. We use poses to get into the body, the body to get into the mind, the mind to get into our heart, and our heart to get into the bliss of being. One take home message for today’s living is, “Whatever is in the way, is the way.” Next time you encounter an obstacle, ask yourself what you can learn from it.

LAKSHMI

LakshmiOnto a feminine diety, we then turned to Lakshmi, the goddess of light, beauty and good fortune. The mantra “Om shri, maha Lakshmi Namah” calls, “May I recognize and honor the divine abundance within”. Wife of Vishnu (God of preservation), she is associated with both material and spiritual wealth and prosperity. We offered up our hands in lotus mudra to emulate Lakshmi’s prosperity and generosity, and focused on heart openers and hip openers. In our daily lives, when we perceive or experience lacking of money, health, support, etc., our physical tendency is to contract, tense up, or close off. The heart expansion postures counteract that contraction, and allow for the receptivity of Lakshmi’s abundance and grace!

Stories depict Lakshmi arising from the sea with outstretched hands of ever-flowing gold coins, so we focused on fluid, watery movements engaging our second chakra. They say that all Gods and Goddesses convened to bring forth the nectar of immortality, so they planted a mountain in the ocean and wrapped a large snake around it. From their churning of the mountain, a poison first arose, but then dissolved. Lakshmi was then born, bringing with her all of her gifts of beauty and abundance. Many Hindu women invoke Lakshmi in their households during the month of October, which is dedicated to worshipping her. There are also special offerings to her during the auspicious celebrations of Diwali.

From Laskhmi we can learn to enjoy the gifts of this world, without becoming attached or infatuated by them. Additionally, the wealth is not for one’s own material desires, but to be shared for the benefit of others. She embodies charm and grace, and we are reminded to express gratitude and giving.

HANUMAN

HanumanLord Hanuman, the monkey god, represents courage and devotion. In the Ramayana (one of two Indian epic poems), the story of Hanuman reminds us to keep the faith and to practice selfless service. Like many monkeys of that era, Hanuman possessed super powers. He was the son of Vayu, the God of Wind, but was known to be quite cheeky and mischievous. As a youngster, his rascality got him into trouble, so the Gods punished him by casting a spell over him so that he would forget about his super powers.

It was told that King Rama’s wife Sita was kidnapped on the island of what is today Sri Lanka. The King of the monkeys called together all monkeys to see who could rescue Sita by jumping across southern India to Sri Lanka. The monkeys debated who could make this giant leap, when suddenly one of the monkeys suggested it to Hanuman, saying, “You are the son of Wind, you have done this before and you can do it now.” But Hanuman was unconfident, reluctant and oblivious to his super powers. At that moment, the sky opened up and Vayu Wind caressed Hanuman’s head, inflating Hanuman’s body. Now capable of undertaking the daunting feat, this first jump is called the “leap of faith”, which gave Hanuman more and more trust in his abilities, and developed into a leap of knowing.

Our practice in class worked with shedding layers of doubt that can cloud our own vision and powers, and to see the expansiveness that becomes possible when devotion is in the heart. Our peak pose was full splits pose (Hanumanasana), with variations of side plank (Vasisthasana) and other leg stretches. The stretching of our legs became a symbolic expression of reaching with devotion to our true inner practice, and encouraging each other to let ego go and surrender. You might be surprised by what you’re capable of in those moments of utter courage, and can thank Hanuman for his inspiration.

SARASWATI

SaraswatiOur fourth Hindu god of the series was Saraswati, goddess of wisdom and the arts. Along with Lakshmi (see above) and Parvati, she is part of the female trinity, or Tridevi. Consort to creator Brahma, Saraswati embodies creativity. Saraswati is a multifaceted deity, gifted with knowledge and music, speech, communication. She reminds us that to be a true seeker, we must tune our mind and intellect to achieve equilibrium of being free from both attachment and from aversion. Her name means both “the essence of the self” and “the one with plenty of water”. The river of consciousness that enlivens creation also dispels chaos and confusion, and knowledge helps humankind to find possibilities where he once saw problems. Saraswati is depicted on a lotus seat, rooted in supreme reality. Her white sari gives tribute to her purity and true intentions. Her four arms showcase omnipresence and omnipotence and denote mind, intellect, alertness and ego. Her mala is a symbol of the meditation required to reach samadhi (union with the divine) and a swan is her vehicle to overcome fear and fickleness. The peacock, on the other hand, denotes unpredictability, or the chaos that is bound to arise in our mind, but that we have the ability to overcome with discipline.

The Gayatri mantra is associated with Saraswati; the version I learned chanting to can be found at www.youtube.com/watch?v=P26ZvKY–KY, though Deva Premal has a popular, modern version at www.youtube.com/watch?v=CHpA6qotiwg). Creativity and fluidity were the main aspects of our physical practice inspired by Saraswati.

GANESHA

GaneshaGanesha, is probably one of the most familiar Hindu Gods to Westerners. You might see a framed photo of Ganesha in your favorite Indian restaurant, or a statue of the elephant-headed god. Referred to as the “Gate Keeper”, Ganesha is the son of Shiva who is known for removing obstacles and bringing success, and is often invoked at the beginning of rituals or at the start of a new undertaking. Have you ever wondered why this human, pot-bellied god has the head of an elephant?

While guarding the gate and preventing anyone from passing through, his father Shiva arrived insisting to be let into his house. Somehow Shiva didn’t recognize his son, and lost patience with Ganesha, pulling out his sword and decapitating him in one swing. Shiva’s wife, Parvati, the mother of Ganesha, emerged and was filled with mourning and suffering. The gods granted them the favor of returning Ganesha to life, after seeking out the first animal in the jungle with its head facing north. So after finding an elephant in the jungle, its head became that of Ganesha.

Ganesha places himself in your way to help you overcome your obstacles. Often associated with the first chakra and pelvic floor, we worked poses to help us begin creating deep openings, and therefore deep changes, in our own lives. Ganesha represents the beginning, which is like using poses (asanas) in developing our yoga practice. The physical sequence helps us to focus on breath and still our mind, which eventually allows us to concentrate more and more deeply. As the destroyer of pride and selfishness, he allows us to look beyond the form of our material universe. Ganesha’s vehicle is a mouse, symbolizing the small self, which allows him to slide into small spaces and destroy obstacles of all sizes. Patron of the arts and sciences, Ganesha is also worshipped as the god of education and wisdom. The mantra associated with Ganesha is “Om Gam Ganapataye Namaha” (listen to Deva Premal’s version at www.youtube.com/watch?v=2AK44boAd_I).

KALI

KaliWe finished our series with fierce Kali, the unmistakable goddess of destruction and liberation. A fiery practice emulated Kali’s fiery nature and transformative nature and wove cyclical mudras and variations into the physical sequence. The great recycler, her destructive powers allow for rebirth and revealing of the true self and overcome the idea of “I-am-my-body”. Thus Kali is often associated with nudity (our naked, true Self) and sexuality (rebirth) as she liberates us from the cycle of karma (her sword is used to destroy this “false consciousness”).

Our ego arises out of the identification and attachment to our bodies. The Mahanirvana Tantra explains: “Just as all colors disappear in black, so all names and forms disappear in her”. Her name means “time,” and the representation of past, present and future is depicted by her three eyes.

Stories of Kali recount her defeat of Raktabija, a dark force who the other gods couldn’t beat. Each time a drop of blood from the demons fell to the earth, it reproduced another demon. Shiva was called upon, but he was deeply meditating. So his wife Parvati took Kali’s form and went into battle against Raktabija. She rolled her tongue out onto the battle field like a carpet, in order to catch all enemies’ blood and prevent continual replication, which is why she is depicted with her tongue out. During battle, Kali ended up getting carried away with her killing spree, so Lord Shiva thrust himself under her to startle her back to her senses. This gesture is how we wind up viewing Shiva sprawled out beneath Kali’s feet, symbolic of how his energy is inert without her.

Our practice was inspired with warrior and goddess possess, using powerful breath-of-fire and lion’s breath pranayama. While we might be fearful of this warrior’s exterior and abilities, she is just the right friend to have around to keep us authentic. It was a strong completion to a six-part series, wrapping up before the darkness of winter solstice. Channeling Kali gave me more courage to confront the perceived demons I experience during this season, and stressed the illusory outer nature of this reality. Phew!

 

Breath Before Action – by Ann Carlson

Ann bio picThe past few months I’ve been feeling like a lunatic. One minute I’m pulling my hair out kicking and screaming to the gods “WHYY!?” The next I’ve completely withdrawn and could relate to some form of turtle. Weird examples, but you get the picture. Really confusing, really frustrating, really just pinch me because is this all real? BUT, after a few moments of that I-need-a-drink what-the-hell-is-happening panic settles, I realize as a yogi I have no other choice but to ACCEPT, ADAPT, ACCOMMODATE (words from my teacher Anand).

SO, first thing I do is…you guessed it..BREATHE. And if I could give one tidbit of advice to anyone, it would be to master the simple tool of awareness of breath. Where does the air go in your body when you inhale? Where do you feel it? How deep can you go? What is the feeling upon fully releasing all the air on an exhale? Can you slow it down, the in breath and out breath? Can you take more air in, filling the belly first and then up to the collar bones? Can you let it out slowly, feeling that gentle tug of your low belly in towards your spine as you squeeze every last bit of air out? You only need a minute of this really aware breathing to snap you out of whatever mind-fck you’ve been experiencing; and from there, from that space you can move forward with more intention, clarity, mindfulness and realization that no matter what happens you have control over your reality and therefore your life. I find that whenever I’m in a stressful situation, the key is never to react but to take a moment for yourself; clear some space in your brain by breathing with intention and awareness, and then respond. Less reaction, more response. We need to counter the storm of the world and the storm of our minds with individual acts of loving kindness and thoughtful awareness towards ourselves and our human brothers and sisters; one breath at a time. XO

Follow Ann’s blog here… annspired.weebly.com/blog

Yoga, Read All About It: Blue Yoga Mat, by Tracy Fitzwater

TracyI love to read, there are no two ways about it. Books, cereal boxes, whatever is in front of me, I will read it. I used to read magazines, and never failed to pick up at least one whenever I went to the grocery store. Magazines tend to stack up; if you have subscriptions, you know what I mean. They just keep coming! I won’t tell you how many issues of Threads I have, but I have all issues, except for one or two. I just can’t get rid of them, and scrolling through a CD is just not the same as turning the pages.

Where am I going with this? I have two go-to magazines associated with my yoga practice. One is an old friend, back when yoga was more of an idea, and the other is one I found, and have have recently subscribed to. My column this month is a review.

Yoga Journal – I have a feeling that if you’ve been practicing yoga for any length of time, you’ve read this. The magazine was founded in 1975, not quite as long as yoga has been practiced, but that’s a pretty good run. The covers are always enticing, with articles just begging to be read, and the yogi on the cover is in a pose that, for the most part, looks doable. The articles are good, and very thoughtful. I rarely practice the poses, but I always read through them. The ‘Practice Well’ section includes an Anatomy article, which is helpful in that I can understand what is happening in certain poses, as well as Home Practice and Yogapedia sections. My biggest complaint about Yoga Journal is the number of ads – holy cow, does this magazine pack them in! But, you can find just about anything you want in the world of yoga just by perusing the ads. There are a fair share of blow-ins, the postcard sized opportunities for you to subscribe, but these make pretty decent bookmarks. The subscription rate is $18.00 for nine issues yearly.

Mindful: Taking Time for What Matters is new to me. I found it at PCC Natural Markets. I haven’t seen it locally, but to be honest I haven’t looked too hard. Mindful has been around for four years or so, and is associated with the non-profit of the same name, dedicated to exploring and connecting to people who are interested in mindfulness and meditation. Featured areas are Living, Practices, plus Point of View and Brain Science. Issues also include a survey, with the numbers already filled in, as well as Mindful-Mindless, which is the magazine’s take on “who’s paying attention and who’s not”. The articles are well-written, and thoughtful. The February 2017 issue is all about Kindness, including being kind to ourselves. I like the emphasis on being conscious about life, which can get lost in the day-to-day stuff that goes on. Mindful is published six times per year, with a cost per year of $19.95.

The format of both magazines is similar, one focusing on the physical, and one with more emphasis on the mental and emotional. The recipes in both look delicious, and dare I say it, healthy. Both have websites with good resources. And finally, both of these magazines will help me be a better yogi.

Why Latin Dance Fitness? A Gentle Persuasion from Diane

Photo by Diane Urbani de la Paz A Latin dance fitness enthusiast during Carnival in Trinidad, West Indies
Photo by Diane Urbani de la Paz
A Latin dance fitness enthusiast during Carnival in Trinidad, West Indies

Si, se puede. Yes, we can.

That’s what I say about Latin dance. Whoever you are, you have rhythm — because you have a heart and it has a beat.

As a child, I didn’t dance. I was way too shy and awkward. Decades later, thank goodness I discovered salsa. I watched people doing it at the Juan de Fuca Festival of the Arts in Port Angeles. Then I went to a salsa and yoga retreat in California, and have been love, love, loving it ever since.

For reasons inexplicable, salsa feels so good. I have a pure sensation of freedom and release when I dance to these rhythms. It’s very much like the feeling we feel in a good yoga class — only with conga drums and flutes and bongos pouring out of the stereo.

So, a couple of years ago when I became a yoga teacher, I had this voice in the back of my head: Latin dance. Fitness. So much fun. Share…

Friends, it’s going to happen. You’re invited to the joyous premiere of Latin Dance Fitness for every body, on four Saturdays: Feb. 25 through March 18 at Poser YOGA. This is just in time for Carnival, the pre-Lenten celebration that happens across the Americas. I adore the Carnival parades, where people of every age, shape and shade dance in the sunshine.

In our version of Carnival, we’ll learn a bit about the history of Afro-Cuban music and dance, and we’ll explore — with light hearts always —  the salsa from Cuba, the merengue from Republica Dominicana and the cumbia from Colombia, of course with fun warm-ups and cool-downs. I’ll stir in some Spanish words that are pertinent to the activity.

This class is for women, men, singles, couples, teens, elders — anyone who wants to shake off her or his stresses and enjoy great music. Swaying the hips, rocking to the beat: These things are like magic.

All this said, it was challenging to find the right time for the class. Ultimately I chose 4PM for three reasons: It’s happy hour;  the Port Angeles Farmers Market is all wrapped up, and it’s a way to get relaxed for whatever your Saturday night activities might be.

Please join me, and spread the word to your friends!

Latin Dance Fitness

Beat the Winter Blues at Poser YOGA!

16251335_606726666189889_1266445912_oThis is a chance for a change! Winter in the area can be hard due to short, dark days. Seasonal depression can be a real hurdle. This event is a chance to break the cycle and give you the knowledge to stop it from repeating itself.

A little retail therapy; the chance to learn a little about essential oils that can naturally help with depression anxiety and stress; the chance to produce serotonin and dopamine with movement geared towards helping with the aforementioned ailments.

There will be a little bit for every one!
LuLaRoe pop-up with Courtney Thomas
DōTERRA with Sara Shearer
Kundalini with Karlyn Langjahr
Tap Dance Intro with Jenny Stewart Houston

Refreshments will be served!

(A big thank you to Sara for organizing this event!!)

Yogiversary!: Blue Yoga Mat, by Tracy Fitzwater

TracyIt’s interesting to take note of the events in our lives that we commemorate or celebrate. For example, I have a wedding anniversary in December. We celebrate birthdays, and we remember when people leave us. I commemorate July 1 – my official retirement date. Lots of people keep calendars marked with the dates that mean something to us, and are pretty good about reaching out with cards, calls, or some other way of connecting to our people. I don’t have a firm date for my Yogiversary, though, but I know it’s general date – late December, 2014. I walked into Poser Yoga, and I haven’t looked back!

I’ve been going to yoga for almost two years, and it’s only been in the last few months that I’ve started to think of this as my yoga practice, as opposed to showing up at yoga. I’d like to think I’m getting better, and then I have a practice that makes it clear, at least in my mind, that I’m not getting better. I try not to let those days get me down. I had that happen a couple of weeks ago – one day was frustrating, creaky, and shaky, and two days later, I felt as though I was moving through the flows with very little difficulty. Why is it like this? I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who has these blips, but they are frustrating.

I’ve come a long way in two years, and I have to be able to shake off the frustrating practice and the negative self-talk that can come when I’m rolling up my mat. Isn’t it like that with most things that we celebrate or look at over a long span of time? The trick is to focus on the positives and improvements, and look at the frustrations as ways to improve and move to the positive side. I haven’t always been a glass-half-full person, but I can see that I am more there than I was.

Two years of yoga. It’s almost hard to believe, but I know I am still a beginner in this practice! I have some goals, including putting my feet flat on the mat during downward dog, and doing a complete Wild Thing – both sides, and coming back to downward dog. I know my breathing has improved, and I can rely on myself to be conscious about my breath. Yoga is working for me, and I want to continue to become better at my practice.

So, it’s happy Yogiversary to me. There won’t be a card or a dinner out, or even a card to celebrate my second year of yoga. It’s satisfying to look back and think about a year’s worth of practice, though, and know that yoga has had a very positive impact on my life. And it’s good to know I’ve got more time on my mat in the future.