Transitions between seasons are a beautiful time to pause and reflect on what you have been creating with your daily thoughts, words, actions and focusing energy on. These mindful moments of self-reflection amid change can empower your awareness to let go of what may no longer align with your life’s purpose or serve useful in our world, as they may have in the past. Thus, you create space for or renew what you now choose to manifest and share with the world. This balance of surrender and non-attachment to goal (or, Vairagyabhyam in Sanskrit) and focused action with steady practice (or, Abhyasa in Sanskrit) are the two main qualities described in Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (Chapter 1, v. 12) for entering the state of yoga, that is, ultimate union with inner and universal consciousness.
At Fall Equinox, we prepare to transition from the leisurely pace of hot summer and its light seasonal cuisine of watermelons, asparagus and kiwi to cool autumn with its busier schedule paralleled by wind and some rain. In fall, nature offers her blessings of heavier produce—pumpkin, apples, brussel sprouts-- to sustain our increased activity and keep warm and nourished. In adapting to the new season, it’s important to nourish your entire being—body, mind and spirit. Here are some ways to use yoga to prepare for your transition into fall:
7-Minute Re-balancing Breath Work
To watch the guided meditation, click here.
Yoga Postures for Creativity & Welcoming Change
Opening the hips through both fluid breath-led movement and sustained postures aid in the clearing of the creativity energy center, called Sacral Chakra or Svadhisthana in Sanskrit. A balanced sacral chakra aligns with your ability to be open to change, take healthy risks with childlike curiosity, express yourself uniquely and embrace your sexuality. Thus, at a time of environmental seasonal change, embodying the natural element of water, as hip-openers promote, can well-equip you with resilience and joy.
10-Minute Yoga Sequence for Opening the Hips
To watch the guided yoga practice, click here.
Guided Meditation on Letting Go to Create
Stay tuned on our social media (Instagram or Facebook) this week for a guided meditation on letting go to create. Either before or after, enrich your meditative state with a nature walk, soaking in with all your senses the natural beauty of the fall season as it comes.
Connect with Community
Besides your personal preparations, gathering with a community of like-minded people also seeking personal growth and positive change offers a supportive and inspiring atmosphere for welcoming the new season. Consider joining a community event, such as Flow into Fall: Flow + Soul Movement + Restorative Yoga with Live Music gathering for increasing vibrations of peace as you enter autumn.
With these many suggestions, choose the practice that best resonates with you, if not all. However you welcome fall, allow your practice to guide you into clarity and grace flowing with life as it unfolds breath by breath, a means of predisposing your inner conditions to fully experience the present moment.
Backbends offer a physical opening of the chest, fronts of the shoulders and front of the torso, down to the hip flexors and quadriceps. Energetically speaking, they open the heart energy center, which encompasses our openness to connect with the world around us with love, as The (Deepak) Chopra Center article elaborates here.
Discover more about backbends and heart-openers in Eckhart Yoga's article, “All About Backbends.”
In exploring heart wisdom, experiencing life openheartedly is being open to the full range of our human condition, both joys and sorrows. Rather than the common tendency to avoid unpleasant feelings, allowing ourselves to completely be present with all that is empowers our capacity for compassion and two important virtues of yoga--equanimity, which is a mindset of non-attachment, and santosha, or Sanskrit for a pervading sense of contentment. A wonderful read exploring this concept further is Seeking the Heart of Wisdom: The Path of Insight Meditation by Joseph Goldstein and Jack Cornfield. (For more practice in living with an open heart, take a peek at Freedom to Flow, our upcoming yoga retreat in Costa Rica.)
Diving into yoga philosophy, here's a yoga sutra that complements the study of expanding your experience of the world, beyond the mind's eye, as extracted from Yoga International:
Yoga Sutra 1.3 - Tada drashtuh svarupe'vasthanam means:
Once the mind is crystal-clear, we begin to perceive the objects of the world the way they are; our perception is no longer distorted. We come to see that material objects are neither good nor bad, neither pleasant nor unpleasant, but neutral. It is our attitude toward them that makes them appear either positive or negative. Once this realization dawns, the mind finds no reason to be agitated. The charms and temptations of the world no longer affect it. Even while it is active in the world, the mind remains still.
In yoga that stillness is known as samadhi—a state in which the mind is free from all disturbances. Yoga likens this state to a perfectly clear crystal that poses no obstruction to light. In this state, truth is known in its fullness. That is called enlightenment or self-realization.
In the Yoga Sutras of Pantajali, Sutra 1.2 defines yoga as “the calming of the fluctuations of the mind.” So, how do we practice this in a Vinyasa Flow class? There are many answers to this question, but let’s explore the union of breath and body while in continuous movement, as is the characteristic of Vinyasa Flow.
Through a consciously balanced steady breath, particularly with the soft whispering sound of Ujayi Pranayama, or victorious breath, you can steady the mind’s focus on the sound and its soothing vibration and tune into an inner calm or sensation of stillness while moving the body from pose to pose. Specifically, during the physically warming Surya Namaskars, or Sun Salutations, the repetitive motions linked to sustained rhythmic breath create a feeling of peacefulness and ease, even while exerting effort in some potentially challenging movements and postures.
This practice of cultivating tranquility from the inside out, through balancing effort and ease, or sthira and sukha in Sanskrit, is an empowering practice that can be transferred to daily life within stress-inducing situations, like driving in traffic or conversing in an escalating argument. As yoga is always a practice, progress may vary with what you’re currently working with—physically or psychologically—in creating this state of equanimity through conscious breath and conscious balance of exertion. However, as with any new skill, diligent consistent practice opens the gateway for mastery.
Practice Sun Salutations A, B and C on our video tutorial here.
Take a look at Sun Salutation A (photo from Mark Stephen’s book, Yoga Sequencing), which are often repeated in various versions in a flow class:
Born and raised in Armenia, Anait came to to the USA with her family when she was 18. She loves helping people, especially the disadvantaged, so she chose the perfect profession to be able to do this. As a special education teacher, Anait loves working with students with special needs and their families.
Anait started her yoga journey at the East Valley YMCA about 12 years ago and have had several teachers since then. Seeking a workout to improve her posture, she walked into her first yoga class with her daughter. Little did she know it was going to become a lifelong activity to enjoy in many different ways. With encouragement from teachers and other yogis, she persisted in her yoga practice overcoming challenges on the journey.
Anait joined the Root 2 Rise Yoga community about 7 years ago when Michelle started teaching at the East Valley YMCA, and has been attending Michelle's Saturday classes regularly since then. She's also attended several retreats, hike + yoga, yoga + meditation + potluck at Michelle's mom's backyard (the original location for Root 2 Rise Yoga's early years of yoga tastings), Sunday yoga at the park and "am always looking forward to what's next," she says, "Every event with Root 2 Rise Yoga has been memorable because it's all about being yourself, sharing who you are and learning from each other."
Anait reflects on insights gained from her 12-year practice:
Yoga has helped me gain confidence and strength in my personal and professional life and in my relationship with my family. As we smile and find joy through even difficult poses and flows, I remind myself to do the same every day of my life. I always remember: smile, and breath, you are not going to be here forever. Yoga has made me stronger physically and emotionally. It has helped me understand myself, my habits--good or bad, and how to overcome them. As yoga poses are always work in progress, so are we as individuals. We continue to grow and hopefully become better in every aspect of our lives.
I am thankful and grateful to have met Michelle. I am always inspired by her energy, courage, love and compassion. As we all know, life happens. There have been periods in my life when I couldn't attend classes but continued my practice on my own and returned as soon as I could. I encourage everyone to not give up, continue taking classes and attending different events. The benefits are incredible for both mind and body. My hope is to join Costa Rica retreat with Root 2 Rise soon.
What is yoga to you? What images, preconceptions or experiences come to mind? Worldwide we can find diverse portrayals of yoga in social media, magazines, clothing stores, television and more. Facebook showcases trends, like Beer Yoga, Goat Yoga, Nude Yoga and the list goes on. Amid all the colorful interpretations, tracing its earlier roots can offer a grounding understanding of such a life-transformative practice.
Yoga is union, in its literal definition. One of the earliest teachers to bring yoga to the West from India in 1920, Paramahansa Yogananda, explains:
(Yoga is) ’union’ of the individual consciousness or soul with the Universal Consciousness or Spirit. Though many people think of yoga only as physical exercises – the asanas or postures that have gained widespread popularity in recent decades – these are actually only the most superficial aspect of this profound science of unfolding the infinite potentials of the human mind and soul. (Self-Realization Fellowship)
Of the various paths of yoga that lead towards this concept of union, Hatha Yoga uses physical postures to purify the body, build awareness and control over its internal states and prepare it for meditation. Out of Hatha Yoga, numerous styles emerged, such as the alignment-based Iyengar, breath-led movement-centered Vinyasa Flow or the deep stretch and relaxation-oriented Restorative and Yin Yoga, which comprise the hybrid approach I teach and practice.
As a lover of physical movement and its gateway to personal insight, I entered the path of yoga seeking its physical benefits, but through years of consistent practice, the psychological and spiritual gains unfolded. In urban Los Angeles, California culture, with its many external stimuli, physical yoga practice offers an accessible doorway for self-discovery and true self-empowerment that ripples positivity in the world. Through breath awareness and mindfulness, we can use the postures and movements as various looking glasses or contexts through which we see our habits of thinking, doing, speaking (both to ourselves and others) or moving about in this world. Arising insights can help us peel the layers of engrained belief systems, cultural norms and societal roles that often blind us into a mechanical state of doing, and instead live consciously with intention. This is the transference of yoga from physical poses to a practice of being, or rather a lifestyle.
*For CSUN (University) Students, here are 7 Common Postures in a Vinyasa Yoga Class that we’ll break down this first week of fall semester. You may find it useful to preview and review them in Yoga Journal’s yoga pose database of photos and descriptions:
Downward Facing Dog/Adho Mukha Svanasana
Plank Pose/ Kumbhakasana
4-Limbed Staff Pose/Chaturanga Dandasana
Upward Facing Dog/Urdhva Mukha Svanasana
*Additional Resource: Read Yoga Journal’s Yoga 101: A Beginner’s Guide to Practice, Meditation & the Sutras
Many of us are familiar with some benefits of meditation. Psychology Today highlights a few: relieves stress, boosts immune system function, improves ability to focus, helps regulate emotions, improves emotional intelligence and develops mindfulness, and thus peace, in daily life. For those immersed in the busy-ness of American culture, meditation can seem like a daunting task, especially when perceived as sitting still in complete silence. After sitting behind the desk for hours at the office or driving in long commutes, sitting still and quietly may feel slightly unattainable to the chattering mind. How about finding stillness within movement?
There are various ways of tapping into inner calm through motion; Yoga, Tai Chi, Qi Gong, Aikido, dance and Freeform Movement Meditation™ are just a few. Just as meditation begins with breath awareness, movement meditation is moving to the rhythm of your breath. Freeform Movement Meditation™ is spontaneous movement to conscious breath.
Experts in the field of meditation, psychology and mindfulness have written about movement as a means of meditating:
Similarly, Freeform Movement Meditation™ uses all the senses to be present and open to flow physically and dynamically with whatever emotions, sensations or thoughts arise in the moment.
Author of The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle, defines meditation as the synchronization of the body and mind:
When the body and mind are in sync, we are naturally relaxed, alert, open, and aware, and we experience ourselves and the world in a direct, unmediated way, without conceptual filters. It is this direct experience of the fullness, vitality, and splendor of life that is the gift of meditation.
Furthermore, Eastern Philosopher Alan Watts explained the parallel between dance and meditation:
When we dance, the journey itself is the point, as when we play music, the playing itself is the point. Meditation is the discovery that the point of life is always arrived at in the immediate moment.
A Loving Dialogue with Your Body…
Beyond practicing being present, moving meditation directs positive awareness to the body parts in motion, like a loving dialogue with your body. Motivational Author of You Can Heal Your Life, Louise Hay, teaches about the connection between mental patterns and physical dis-ease and promotes specific positive affirmations to help heal certain ailments. Stagnant energy or emotional stress can manifest in the body through pain or stiffness. Freeform Movement Meditation is a means of kindly listening to all of the body, including parts that may feel discomfort, and rather than neglecting, rejecting or avoiding them, we validate the sensations and become curious about their possible revelations of underlying emotional or mental roots or habits of the physical body.
Mindfulness Author Pema Chodron encourages us to lean closer with nonjudgmental openness to what scares us from within, reasoning that “this moving away from comfort and security, this stepping out into what is unknown, uncharted, and shaky—that’s called liberation.”
On freedom and insight through movement, Gabrielle Roth, creator of 5-Rhythms, shared the value of spontaneous freestyle dance:
(It) reveals ways to creatively express aggressiveness and vulnerability, emotions and anxieties, edges and ecstasies (and) initiates us back into the wisdom of our bodies unleashing movement’s dynamic healing power.
Why I Practice Freeform Movement Meditation™
In my personal experience, I have spent many years in dance companies rehearsing and performing choreography created by a director. Although I was often inspired by the dances, my spirit longed to express itself through un-dictated movement outside of the patterns and aesthetic rules engrained in my body through arduous repetition. So, I began to include freeform movement as part of my morning meditation ritual. Over time, it became a sacred prayer of gratitude to honor my body and bow to the Universe that flows through me—and through every being. It became a medium of liberation from my self-judgmental mind that enabled me to free myself from the need to judge others. It became a vessel through which I allowed creativity to flow, brainstorming solutions to daily life challenges by practicing adaptability and referencing intuition, or a deeper knowing, beyond thinking words, as I set my intention for the day. I manifested joy, serenity, courage, confidence and other empowering qualities through the movements I played with. My body, mind and spirit felt freedom through movement.
As the motions subside during my practice, I sit in stillness, equipped with tangible manifestations of how I choose to step into my day ahead and face whatever would present itself along my path. Visionary pioneer of women’s health, Dr. Christiane Northrup, advocates for daily practices of sharpening your intuition as a tool for overall wellness.
A State of Awakened Being
If you’re curious about how Freeform Movement Meditation™ could affect your well being, give it a try with an open mind. Be prepared to let go of daily patterns of moving or gripping to explore something new and unpredictable by letting your mind step aside and your intuitive body to express itself as your breath leads. For starters, it’s helpful to have a safe space and an encouraging compassionate facilitator to guide you through.
Life is a daily experiment, and there are no prescriptions for how to handle what lies ahead. However, we can empower ourselves by learning to trust our deeper knowing and living mindfully by transferring our practices of meditation, and nonattachment to the ever-fluctuating mind, into a state of awakened being.
Born and raised in Brescia, a city near Milano, Italy, Marialuisa Horrell’s love for worldwide travels landed her in Los Angeles, California. Here, she enjoys family time, making jewelry and cooking and eating good healthy food. She works at the business office of an LA-based private school and thanks her yoga practice for the physical relief she receives after hours sitting at work.
She has been practicing yoga on and off for a long time but has sustained a regular practice for the past five years. She loves the intensity of some poses and the calming meditative aspect of others. Drawn to Michelle Chua's “calm yet fun energy,” Marialuisa enjoys being a part of the Root 2 Rise Yoga community because of how it integrates yoga with other wellness-enriching activities, such as painting meditation, movement meditation, practicing yoga in nature and hiking. In 2014 she attended Root 2 Rise Yoga’s Costa Rica Yoga Retreat and loved practicing yoga by the ocean. “Being a part of this community lets me try new things that I (otherwise) wouldn’t do just by myself. And it helps me to be more physically active.”
Her favorite yoga pose is Sukhasana, or Easy Pose, because it feels peaceful and promotes meditation.
Born in Akron, Ohio, to a family of five boys, Frank was the youngest and always competitive with his brothers and active in the swim team from an early age through high school. He lives by the philosophy that you always need to stay active, both mind and body. Being active means many things to see, do and learn, especially in Los Angeles. He has stayed active with commercial acting, improv work, earning a Private Pilot license, and is now exploring music and learning to play the guitar. Here's a taste of his yoga journey in a recent interview:
1. How and when did you find Yoga?
A friend of mine from the improv class invited me to attend back in the mid-90s. It was a Power Yoga class off Tujunga. It was challenging and maybe not the right start for a beginner, but I made it work.
2. How has yoga (physical, philosophy, meditation) affected you?In my improv class, we used to do a breathing exercise to help us relax. This is where Yoga breathing makes you relax, so you can do your best work. I had a friend who was a Yoga teacher who was always calm, even when things went bad. I learned from him the purpose of Breathing and Meditation. I think of him sometimes and how I can better myself with my practice.
3. Please share any important insights from your yoga practice that might benefit others.
I learned from improv and yoga that things change constantly in life. It’s OK. Knowing it will work out and at least you will be “OK” is a benefit. Take a few deep breaths and move on.
Like standing in line when you’re in a rush and the person has more than 15 items in the express lane: Take a deep breath and do a mountain pose. I find that is helpful and maybe the other person is having a difficult day. We all get them, but we can still survive.
I want to thank Michelle. She is really something special, and puts a lot of work into the programs. Michelle has helped me grow in both mind and in body.
4. What is your favorite pose and why?
Peaceful Warrior, to me it means peace with my movement and a calm to my poses.
Spreading the yogic philosophy of oneness and collective consciousness, Frank is preparing for an inspiring musical project this month:
On May 20, Frank will be on the White House lawn singing with a 1,000-person choir to a song entitled, “We Are One,” by David Longoria. The song was written to help bring our nation together and was inspired by the 30-year anniversary of the world-renowned song, “We are the World." The date is the 19th-annual White House Day of Prayer for our Nation. "We will lift our hearts and voices in unity to honor our nation. I’m happy to be involved in this project and for what the song represents, standing up for each other and lifting each other up," says Frank. The song is available for listening on Facebook, by searching: We Are One.
"Yoga and Music go together, like when you're meditating being inspired by a drum beat. This song lifts my heart and I hope it does the same thing to you," shares Frank.
“Eres muy contenta (You are very content/happy),” was among the first words I received from a smiling stranger on the streets of Habana, Cuba. The moment I set down my little duffle bag in my six-bunkbed hostel room on Sunday evening, I decided to take a short walk around our busy neighborhood in Habana Viejo. I only had a week, so I better soak it all in.
My next few hours in this town of colorful colonial buildings was spent practicing my Costa Rican-flavored modest Spanish with the friendly Cuban gentleman who showed me his part of town, away from the pricier tourist-luring restaurants. There, he surprised me with ordering me a vegan dinner, which consisted of arroz negro, or white rice colored with black beans, garnished with raw cabbage and tomato salad beside a bed of pickles. After I filled my hungry belly, we hopped from one live-music venue to another, where I danced feverishly infatuated with the musicians’ simple yet passionate love for their art. I met other Cubanos and travellers on the dance floor, where we simply connected through the joy in the air. Darkness fell after a few more hours of dancing on the rooftop of Hotel Inglaterra, overlooking Parque Central and El Capitol. My new amigo walked me home with plans to meet again.
The next days were spent with early morning Spanish lessons with our young and professional teacher, Laritza, whom my classmates and I convinced to let us apply our new conversational skills at El Museo de Chocolate, on my last day of class. (I don’t believe she had any regrets about that.) Afternoons were spent in private salsa classes, with my last class being Afro-Cubano, upon my request. That was my favorite, as I’m so drawn to the soul of traditional African culture.
Outside of our daily curriculum, I took walks around town, meeting many more Cubanos, most of whom kindly and honestly wanted to learn about my culture and share their own. I attribute much of my meeting new friends to getting lost in the streets with no particular agenda. There was the multi-lingual archaeologist, who gave me a tour of the historic pharmacies, still being used now with modern medicine. There was Ivan, who was fascinated with chinos (his four-year-old daughter being a quarter Chinese on her mother’s side). Ivan brought me to La Casa Africa, which housed the museum and store displaying Africa’s influence on Cuban culture, and where I finally had sugarcane juice with limon. Que rico!
Outiside of Central Habana, I took an afternoon trip to the nearest beach, Mar Azul, or more specifically Villa El Coco, after salsa class with a friend, Benedicta, my classmate from Norway at the hostel. We spent three hours of sun-soaking overlooking a bright blue monochrome ocean and spent $10 on 30-minute massages, which were very percussive and invigorating, just like the music.
With another new friend from Norway, Henrietta, I took a fourish-hour bus trip to Vinales, the countryside and home of many tobacco plantations. For two days and one night, we stayed in a Casa Particular with a local family, enjoying delicious home-cooked meals, a 3-hour horseback ride to tobacco and coffee plantations surrounded by farm animals, an early morning hike to see the sunrise atop a mountain in the national park and dancing in la calle principal at the usually peaceful town’s annual carnival, which happened to take place during our visit. Again, dancing drew me to new friends, one amigo with a huge smile that threw me in the air saying with pure bliss, “A librar la energia!” (Free the energy!)
My intention for this weeklong trip was to expand my mind and heart and learn to truly be love. I’m so grateful for this travel opportunity, which I wasn’t even sure was possible until only a few days before leaving Los Angeles. Open to the flow of unconditional love as is the Universe and our essential state of being, I feel blessed to have been able to connect with so many kind beings and to see how we are all alike in so many more ways than we sometimes choose to acknowledge.
While my yoga practice remained consistent in my morning ritual and short sporadic asana (physical posture) sequences, my most rewarding practice of yoga was through connection outside of me, which only opened my greater “eyes” and heart to the depths of me, and ultimately, in the beautiful souls I met.
To see a photo album of this trip, visit me on Facebook here.
Read a little bit about Nishith, who's been part of our yoga community for over 5 years.
1) Tell us about yourself.
I am a nature loving cyclist. I work downtown and commute the 8 miles each way on bike daily. As a LA City landscape architect, I value the day to day interplay between nature and the built environment. One of the joys in my life comes from living in the great City of Los Angeles and next to Griffith Park, its most precious jewel. I believe that it's the little patches of green that make life manageable given the hectic workload and the bureaucratic system in which we all revolve.
2) When and how did your yoga practice begin?
As a child, I spent every other summer in India with my grandparents. Every morning, my grandfather would practice and I would watch. He would always end with a shoulder stand and that was probably my first position. Over the years, I tried yoga off and on. Cycling everyday and sitting at a desk at work puts a lot of stress on my lower back and neck/shoulders. Yoga became a way to relieve that tension. I am now a regular in Michelle's class at the gym where I work.
3) How has yoga benefited you?
My regular class is midday and it is a great way to break the monotony of sitting at my desk. At the beginning of every class, we breathe and find perspective and balance that mindfully refreshes us and leads us through the rest of the day that is in addition to the physical benefits of opening up our hearts, hips and chests, and stretching our backs, shoulders and necks. I think that the fact that I look forward to each class means that I have benefited from yoga in a number of ways that I can't even name!
4) Describe an important insight you've learned through your yoga practice.
One thing I realized, is that my first impression of yoga was that it would really help me physically. After practicing with Michelle for the last few years, I have come to understand that breathing and setting an intention at the beginning of class can really bring a positive perspective and equilibrium to the ups and downs of everyday life. So the surprising lesson of yoga was that with the focus it requires comes a calmness that lasts.
5) What message would you like to share with our yoga community to help inspire them on their yoga journey?
I think that a regular yoga practice can be one those little green patches that makes life manageable.
An avid environmentalist and cyclist, Nishith will be riding 300 miles of rugged California coastline on a fixed gear bike in June to fundraise for and support Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition (LACBC) whose work focuses on active transportation, pedestrian safety, sustainability and bicycle infrastructure and policy. Please join us in supporting Nishith and Climate Ride California's efforts. Read more about the cause here.
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