Acceptance

There is no denying the transformational power of yoga practice. People often start yoga looking to change their lives or change something about themselves. They come to yoga looking to lose weight, get stronger, improve balance, or feel better about their bodies. Some begin yoga looking to reduce stress, get more relaxed, or quiet their minds.

It isn’t often that someone starts out with yoga looking to stay exactly the same as they are.

But as much as yoga is about change and transformation, yoga is also about cultivating acceptance, or santosha.

Santosha is a combination word in Sanskrit, derived from Saṃ and Tosha. Sam means “completely”, “altogether” or “entirely”, and Tosha, “contentment”, “satisfaction”, “acceptance”, “being comfortable”. Combined, the word Santosha means “completely content with, or satisfied with, accepting and comfortable”.
Accepting reality and seeing things as they really are does not mean stopping or giving up. Rather, it means accepting how we actually are and how we feel each day in a gentle and loving manner and moving forward from there. Sounds great, but how can we begin to cultivate this?
A  great place to begin is to cultivate acceptance each time you step onto the mat. For example, one day you might come to your mat feeling great. Your practice feels amazing, you are able to keep your attention on the breath and flow seamlessly through your practice. Another day you might have a completely different experience. You may be working with an injury or other physical limitation that prevents you from doing the classic expression of a posture. You might be grouchy or tired or sore. Maybe you have a lot going on in your mind or something stressful is happening in your life. When we practice acceptance, we acknowledge the body that we stepped onto the mat with today and how we are feeling. And then we proceed with the practice.
Sometimes, students start yoga and are frustrated that their bodies aren’t able to do things they think they should. At Yoga in ME, many of our students are ages 50+. The majority of the participants in our Free Yoga for Veterans class are Vietnam or Korean War veterans. Many of these individuals have been athletes or very physically active in the past and are frustrated that their bodies won’t do just as they could 5 or 10 or 40 years ago
Our bodies are not the same as they were 20 years ago any more than they are the same that they were yesterday or last week. The body, the breath, and the mind change all the time. These changes are normal and expected!
Practicing santosha does not mean giving up on the practice or the possibility of transformation. And it doesn’t mean getting nothing out of the physical postures. It means accepting that the practice is different each time.  Whether you have some limitations, or are in a bad mood,  you keep practicing. Accepting that each time finding that place between “nothing” and “hurting” is going to be a little different.

If you are continuously running negative stories through your mind, it might not seem possible to bring acceptance and contentment into all aspects of you life.

But practicing acceptance each time you are on your mat, can help develop the skills you need to bring this quality of contentment into the rest of your life. With time and practice, you will begin to distinguish between the stories you tell and the reality in front of you. Once you can do this,  you can begin to create distance between your story and who you truly are. 

And, as you begin to discern the difference between your story and what is actually going on in front of you, you will make the space to live in the moment, to accept what comes, and to create a brand new story about yourself—one that reflects your highest self, rather than a habitual or outdated yarn.

That is when santosha becomes possible.

8 Reasons Why our Teacher Training is Ranked in the top 5% Nationally

This fall, we are honored to be offering – for the 3rd time – The Hard & The Soft Yoga Institute’s 200 Hour Yoga Teacher Training. We feel beyond grateful to have this highly ranked extraordinary program right here in our small town in southern Maine.

You might not realize it, but besides being a wonderful teacher and inspirational human being, our director, Beryl Bender Birch, is an international yoga super star. She is one of the first people to popularize yoga in the United States.

But that, in itself, would not be enough to rank The Hard & The Soft as a Yoga Alliance® 5-star Rated Accredited Training School.

Here are eight reasons this yoga teacher training course,  when compared to hundreds of other programs, is consistently rated in the top 5%.

 

  1. The students. Our programs attract top quality students and genuine, bright, compassionate human beings from all over the world. We consistently hear from our trainees and graduates that “this is the best group of people I have ever been a part of – I look forward to the training weekends because it feels like I am coming home.”
  2. The Sangha (community). Students meet and are supported by like-minded practitioners and forge lifetime friendships.
  3. The faculty. Unlike many other programs, our teachers have all been practicing and teaching for many years. Most are Certified Yoga Therapists (IAYT) and nationally renowned specialists in a wide variety of fields and yoga applications. Students would need to combine several different professional trainings in order to duplicate the comprehensive quality of our single program.
  4. The practice. There are many ways to teach yoga and many ways to practice. Every weekend includes study and practice in asana, pranayama, and meditation, in order to help students find and define their unique path. The foundation and primary focus of our asana study for the 200 hour training is a brilliant vinyasa sequence of postures called Present Power. It can be as challenging or as accommodating as desired. Every student is certified to teach this power vinyasa system, plus more moderate styles of the practice that are capable of being amended for all limitation and disability, as well as beginning forms of pranayama and meditation.
  5. The depth of training. Because all our faculty have actually been studying yoga and practicing all its aspects – asana, pranayama, meditation, service – for so many years, we can offer insight into the deeper dimensions of yoga that, frequently, the staff of other trainings does not have the experience to provide.
  6. The emphasis on service. Through our affiliation with The Give Back Yoga Foundation, we prepare our graduates for a career in yoga service and help them to take their practice out into the world and be the change they want to create.
  7. The Individualized Yoga Plan (IYP).  Every student develops an Individualized Yoga Plan with help from faculty and the director of the studio where they are training. This provides students with a way to identify their dharma and pursue a path into the specialized field of their choice.
  8. The Director.  American yoga pioneer Beryl Bender Birch, is the founder/director of The Hard & The Soft Yoga Institute and co-founder of the Give Back Yoga Foundation. As a best-selling author, (Power Yoga, Beyond Power Yoga, Yoga for Warriors) and teacher, Beryl has been teaching yoga and meditation internationally for over 40 years and is a longtime faculty member at Kripalu and Omega Institute. She graduated from Syracuse University with a degree in English and Philosophy, and began the study of meditation in 1971 with her teacher, Jain monk Munishree Chitrabhanu. She traveled to India in 1974 to further her studies and started practice of the ashtanga vinyasa asana system with her teacher, Norman Allen, in 1979. She continued to study with Sri K. Pattabhi Jois from 1987 through 1993. Her book Power Yoga (1995), an accessible form of the ashtanga asana practice, sold nearly 300,000 copies and was primarily responsible for introducing yoga to the athletic community. She, more than most, walks her talk…and is one of the brightest, most down to earth, knowledgeable, accessible, funny, and joyful people you will ever meet. One of her gifts is making authentic and therapeutic forms of asana accessible to all. Everyone on faculty has trained with her for decades and is at least a 1000-hour graduate of her school, The Hard & The Soft Yoga Institute. Beryl’s vision trickles down from the top and infuses the program, the faculty, the community, and the students.
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What is Boomer Yoga?

Boomer Yoga is one of our most popular classes at Yoga in ME. It’s no secret that this is one of my favorite classes to teach. The group of yogis who attend this class are enthusiastic, welcoming, and committed to this practice. It is so much fun to be in the room with them! I feel that they have taught me as much or more than I have taught them.

When students first come to our studio, they often wonder what exactly this class is. It is not, as many people assume when they first hear about it “easy” or “just for old people”. True, most of the students who attend this class are in their 50’s, 60’s, 70’s and beyond. But this is by no means an “easy” practice.

Our Boomer Yoga class is thus named because it follows a sequence that is based on Beryl Bender Birch’s book: Boomer Yoga. It is meant to be a dynamic and athletic practice. This sequence allows us to offer many options in order to be accessible to all students, regardless of age or ability. We encourage students to do as much or as little as they choose to do. The only thing they have to do is: breathe.

We do our best to offer options in every posture. As we go through the sequence, we encourage students to try different things and learn what feels right in their body. As students become more familiar with this practice, they start to learn their preferred variation for each posture.

Students in this class embrace the opportunity to develop a vigorous movement practice that is appropriate for their bodies. We also delve into some of the deeper aspects of yoga practice.

A large part of this class focuses on learning to pay attention and be present in THIS moment. We work in the right here and right now. We do this through the use of the “3 tools” of yoga.  If you’ve been in one of my classes you have probably heard me mention these 1 or 1 million times. The three tools are the breath, a steady, focused gaze, and the bandhas (a light engagement of the pelvic floor and lower abdomen). We talk about these tools frequently and use them to help towards our ultimate goal: attempting to still the fluctuations the mind (aka yoga!).

Notice how we say “attempting”, not actually doing it. We constantly remind our students that this is a practice, not a perfect!

A large part of why and how this class works is this element of teaching our students to pay attention and listen to their bodies. Our job is to create a safe space for students to find a practice that is somewhere between “it’s doing nothing” and hurting themselves. We often say: “if you are breathing, you are doing it right!” and we mean it!

Are you a student in our Boomer Yoga class? Comment below with your favorite thing about this class!

Friendly Beasts – What A Children’s Christmas Pageant Can Teach Us As Yogis

This past Sunday, my children performed in the Christmas pageant at church. I am not generally an extremely religious person. However, watching my girls in the Christmas pageant turned out to be a very moving experience. I was left more than a little teary-eyed. There’s something about the earnestness with which the children performed the story and sang the songs that embodied the essence of purity and good.

The religious nature of the story aside, the songs and scenes that they performed all covered meaningful topics. Things like: kindness, love, and inclusion. Things that are so desperately needed in these current times. Watching this, I felt hope.

I left the pageant, remembering the carol sung by the animals in the stable after Jesus’s birth: “Friendly Beasts”. Each group of animals: the donkey, cow, sheep, and doves sang about what they gave to baby Jesus when he was born. Their manger, straw, wool, carrying Mary, and even singing him to sleep. In his presence, even the animals were moved to stand beside this baby and emulate his “kind and good” nature.

This song, sung by innocent children, reminded me that we need to be an example. If we are kind and good, those in our presence will be touched by this and perhaps they will be moved to be kind and good as well.

At this time of year, when over-consumption, selfishness, and self-centered behavior are rampant, it is important to remember that our actions do matter. Whatever your beliefs, the Christmas story is a good reminder that how we treat others matters. Watching my children sing about giving selflessly, reminded me that I need to be their example of this behavior. In fact, all of us Yogis need to be an example of this behavior.

There is no guarantee that our children will see positive examples of being “kind and good” in the media or in their everyday lives. We hope that they will, but there is no guarantee. We are responsible to live our lives, as yogis and humans, in a way that includes being kind and good. If we live our lives in a way that we hope our children and those that we meet will be touched by, and even emulate, we are truly living our yoga.

In the comments: please tell us one way you are spreading kindness this holiday season! We hope that you will join us!

 

Disclaimer: Yoga in ME does not ascribe to or endorse any one religious tradition. Rather, we are inclusive and welcoming of all beliefs.

Power Outage? A Great Opportunity To Practice Yoga!

Yoga in ME is currently experiencing a power outage. At the time this post was written there were 484,000 customers without power in Maine. For some of us, it sounds like it might be a while before it comes back. This is a little bit daunting. But, bear with me on this one, this power outage is also a great opportunity to practice yoga.

How, you might ask? I can’t do fully bound lotus without heat! Well, you don’t have to! At Yoga in ME, we think it’s very important to remember that the practice of yoga is not just doing the asanas (or postures). According to the yoga sutras, Yoga is: the attempt to still the fluctuations of the mind.

In other words, all you have to do to be practicing yoga is put effort towards being present in the moment.

That’s right, folks. As long as you are present with what you are doing in the moment, you are doing yoga. This applies no matter whether what you are doing is a yoga posture, meditation, or something more everyday and mundane like folding laundry or preparing a meal.

For some of us, a power outage is our worst nightmare.  Basic things that we have come to rely on like heat, running water (if you have a well) and refrigeration no longer function. This can be very stressful and even dangerous in some circumstances. But a power outage is also a great opportunity to slow down. We are forced to unplug, and be present with what we are doing.

So how exactly does this work?

Well, when the power is out, it simply isn’t possible to be reading an article on your phone while watching something on TV and also playing solitaire on your tablet. In other words, we are forced to do fewer (and often quieter) things at a time. Instead of engaging in multiple activities at once, we might spend our time doing something like reading a book or playing a board game with the family. We are less stimulated and more able to be present with the people around us. THIS is yoga!

Not only are we forced to unplug and do fewer things at once, we are also forced to do many everyday things “the old fashioned way.”. Read, slower and more mindfully. Doing the dishes becomes a much more mindful task when you have to heat water on the camp stove. Washing and rinsing in basins rather than doing everything in the quick instant hot water of the sink!

Are you practicing yoga during the power outage? Tell us how in the comments!

Live Your Yoga: Staying Calm In Turbulent Times

Bring Your Yoga to Life: Live Your Yoga!

The practice of yoga is a wonderful thing for many reasons. Yoga offers it’s practitioners physical, mental and cognitive benefits. Your yoga mat becomes your sanctuary. A safe haven for your mind, body and spirit to be freely expressed and explored. Yet, for many, their yogic practices and all the life tools yoga provides, gets rolled up into their mat and stored away until they create time to practice once again. However, this does not have to be the case! Instead, we invite you to live your yoga. Bringing it off the mat, and into your every day life!

The beauty of yoga is that can be performed anywhere, at any time, in any circumstance. All of the centering exercises, breathing techniques, meditation methods that you look forward to while on your mat DO NOT have to stay on the mat. This is especially important during times of extreme stress and tension. The past few weeks have been filled with destruction and violence. These are the times when it is most important for us to take a moment to stop and breathe.

Cultivate Calm and Presence

Unfortunately, the times that need your yoga practice the most, you may not have access to your ‘safety mat’. Times challenge your ego, your sense of Self, your faith, anything that may bring you unease. The good news is: you don’t need a yoga mat to do yoga and create peace! Channel your inner yogi and live your yoga at that moment in which you may be feeling those anxieties. It can be as simple as checking in with yourself by conducting a total body scan becoming aware of areas that hold tension, or performing the three-part breathing technique, anything that brings you into the present and clears the mind. Once you have cultivated a sense of internal calm, you will be able to more effectively react to what is causing such turmoil at that specific time.

Love and Kindness Meditation

During times of stress, struggle or anger, it is best to bring awareness to those emotions and  observe them as they are. Here is a meditation practice that may assist in the coping of a unpleasant feeling or situation you find yourself experiencing. Try this meditation in the morning soon after you wake to bring clarity to your day, or practice it at night to bring peace and serenity to your evening.  

 

  • Begin with yourself. Calm the mind/heart and find the center of your being. Generate warm, gentle, loving feelings for yourself:

May I be safe from harm.
May I be happy just as I am.
May I be peaceful with whatever is happening.
May I be healthy and strong.
May I care for myself in this ever-changing world graciously, joyously.

 

  • From yourself, move out spaciously into your immediate surroundings. Include every living being within this circle:
    May all beings in the air, on land, and in the water be safe, happy, healthy, and free from suffering.
  • Stay within your reach. As you feel your immediate surround fill with the power of loving kindness, move on, expanding the surround in concentric circles until you envelop the entire planet.
  • Expand your loving kindness until you are able to visualize Earth, spinning within the vast, mysterious universe. If you like, continue expanding the sense of your loving kindness, filling the endless emptiness of the universe:
    May all living beings everywhere, on all planes of existence, known and unknown, be happy, be peaceful, be free from suffering.  

In these times of environmental unrest, political unease and global instability, and senseless violence, it is easy to fall into the mindset of fear and anxiety, or guilt in the sense you are not doing enough.

Remember, yoga starts with you, and what you receive in yoga you project to those around you. If you can live your yoga, and be the peaceful beacon for those who surround you, you may begin to see subtle changes for the better.

Live. Your. Yoga.

 

-Dannika

Who Do You Want to Be When You’re Not a Judge?

Who Do You Want to Be When You’re Not a Judge?

From time to time we post an essays written by the students in our 200 Hour Teacher Training Program as part of their homework. This is one student’s essay.

I was recently listening to a podcast and this is the question that took root in my thoughts long after it had ended.  Funny, but I didn’t think of myself as judgmental.  I made observations.  I’d think, “She shouldn’t have done that.” Observation, right?   I’d think, “He’s squandering his money.”  Observation, right?  I’d think, “She’s so needy.  Well, she is!”  Observation, right? Then, why did the question attached itself to me unless I needed to make a shift in my thinking.  I genuinely did not want to be the judge!

So, I asked myself, “Who do I want to be?”  It’s a bit of a daunting question.  But three attributes came to mind without hesitation – I wanted to be kind; I wanted to be compassionate; and I wanted to be grateful.  So, where to begin?  The niyamas say, “pay attention…watch yourself…become self-aware.”  Svadhyaya (or self-study) creates the space that allows you to observe your own behavior and initiate appropriate changes. Isvara Pranidhana says it will provide what I need when I need it.  Armed with a team like this, how could I miss?

“Success is measured not by eliminating all random thoughts but by quickly noticing the random thoughts and returning to a quiet mind. “

I started by trying to monitor my thoughts – I was on the lookout for judgments.  When I recognized one, I acknowledged it and then reminded myself of who I wanted to be – kindness, compassion and gratitude.  This exercise paralleled my experiences with meditation.  A quiet mind is interrupted by random thoughts.  The meditator acknowledges the thought, thanks it for coming, and sends it on its way.  Success is measured not by eliminating all random thoughts but by quickly noticing the random thoughts and returning to a quiet mind.  Similarly, I acknowledged the judgment, appreciated that I recognized it and reminded myself that I was choosing kindness, compassion and gratitude.

How’s it going, you ask?  Am I ready to retire my flowing robes and gavel? Not yet.  I’d say I am a work in progress. The baby steps I have made were predicated upon a desire to find the balance between vigilantly being on the lookout for judgments (hard) and not beating myself up when they do occur (soft).  Over time I expect the judgments to diminish and kindness, compassion, and gratitude to expand because where the mind goes, prana goes!

 

Who do you want to be when you’re not a judge?

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Sthira and Sukha

From time to time we post an essays written by the students in our 200 Hour Teacher Training Program as part of their homework. This is one student’s essay.

 

Yoga Sutra of Patanjali: 2.46 …”posture (asana) [should be] stable (sthira) and comfortable (sukha).” … Resolutely abiding in a good space – balance.

 

I am maintaining a committed yoga practice for almost a year now. After taking Yoga 101, I signed up for unlimited monthly practice, realizing that a fully present, committed yoga practice may very well bring me to a place where I would begin to feel balanced, content, and a member of a community of like minded individuals.

Translation of Sthira and Sukha, in the vernacular, essentially means hard and
soft. Up to now in taking a serious look at my life I see there is much hard and
perhaps little soft. Retreating into a cave is a familiar action that I take. It is one I learned in childhood, quite well, as a protection mechanism, creating a
withdrawal mechanism into detachment. Thus, on the outside I often appear
aloof and serious, certainly not revealing the soft, vulnerable, empathic,
compassionate heart that lies within.

 

“Yoga is not about retreating to a cave, it is more about finding our seat in the world.” Rima Rabbath

 

My yoga practice exposes my vulnerability, putting me closer to trusting those in my yogic circle and affirming that I am on the right path. The hard shell exists for a reason. However, those reasons are beginning to melt away. Asana brings me both challenge, a sense of accomplishment, and peace. I set my concentration on performing postures I find more difficult knowing that as I pass through the trial I come to a reward of relaxation and peace of body and mind. Yes, there are days of practice where I feel resistance in my body and obstruction in my psyche.

This generally happens when I experience upsets or challenges in my life with
family or other entities. Yoga and meditation are bringing me incrementally closer to being comfortable with these temporary disruptions and closer to embracing acceptance of what is as opposed to my struggling against my insistence that situations, people, and things be the way I envision. My perspective is changing – softening. My position though firm is now situated in the knowing I am stepping closer toward confidence of nature vs. staying stuck in the atmosphere of insecurity, doubt, and fear.

Sthira and Sukha of life teach that we need a balance of the hard and soft in our lives. The soft tempers and soothes the hardness of life’s difficulties and
challenges, especially if the outcomes we seek are not those realized. The hard and soft teaches us that when the outcome is not that which we envision, it is so often much more rich than we imagined, much more fulfilling and rewarding, if only we take off our prejudices and blinders to seeing what is rather than trying to see what is not.

Yamas and Niyamas integrating into Modern Life

From time to time we post an essays written by the students in our 200 Hour Teacher Training Program as part of their homework. This is one student’s essay.

Yamas – Restraints

Y: yes to difficult emotions, sensations, and resistance – that generates from
whatever happens in my direct experience.

A: awareness of my present moment and accepting what is as it comes my way.

M: morning meditation on a daily basis for acknowledgement, allowance, and
acceptance of what life holds for me.

A: asana – exploring into my further owning and acceptance of the postures and embracing their expansiveness as well as accepting my body’s limitations in practice.

S: silence as a gift for my body, mind, and spirit – enabling me to listen more
carefully and understand my pathway.

&

Niyamas – Observances

N: no control is letting go, letting be, accepting what is and being present to what is now.

I: introspection and listening to what is within me and how I relate it to what
surrounds me – externally.

Y: yoga sutras are integrated into my daily life as best that I am able given what the Universe provides me.
A: attention to the present moment to by choosing to let go of the past and not worry about the future.

M: mindful breath develops stability and deep rest for my body, mind, and spirit.

A: appreciation and gratitude for all that I have in my life – continuing to
appreciate all and keep myself opening to receiving.

S: smiles and laughter to relax the body, open the mind, and lighten the spirit.

 

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Recovery and the Yamas and Niyamas

From time to time we will be posting the monthly essays written by the students in our 200 Hour Teacher Training Program. This is one student’s essay from Month Four of this 8 month program.


Growing up in an alcoholic/dysfunctional home is a gift that lasts a lifetime. A child in this type of home is always on full alert. For me life was like playing a series of games: charades, hide and seek, risk and monopoly all played with changing rules greed, cheating and lying. Children who grow up in these homes experience PTSD. One expert describes the symptoms as worse than others because the “enemy” is someone you love and have to live with and rely for nurturing and development. I swore I would not be like my parents and have spent over a decade in therapy and 12 step programs. Yoga has helped tremendously to connect the dots of my recovery and solidify the need to observe the yamas and niyamas in order to heal.

Growing up with all the opposite of the yamas caused me to develop character defenses. I was taught to lie to cover up for what was going on in the house, stolen items were constantly being brought in from job sites, and getting ahead of others regardless of their feelings was our way of life. We were a team, we had a code, we had each other’s backs. We learned to stuff our feelings down and we usually did with food while Dad drank, and we walked on eggshells and hoped it was not an angry and violent night. It has taken many years to relearn and begin to heal the wounds from childhood.

I began observing the yamas and niyamas without knowing. I sought self-help through books and workshops, studied the Bible and loved to exercise and burn off my pent up emotions. When I began yoga, I felt like I came home. What I did not realize is that I did, I came home to a divine presence inside myself. My recent practice and study has helped me understand that my internal desires have always been to live the yamas. In working to rid myself of the character defects I developed I have been working toward a nonviolent, truthful and compassionate life. Understanding them on a new level gives me more peace with my decision. I still struggle with my past and find pain in watching my family continue these traits but I am learning to just breath and get back on the mat.

 

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