8 Tips for the Traveling Yogi: Keeping Up Your Yoga Practice

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By Katie Papo (Ambika)

Just because you’re breaking free from your regular routine doesn’t mean you need to leave your yoga at home. Try these tips the next time you travel.

1. Create an intention. Remember why you practice yoga. To cultivate good health? A balanced mind? Compassion toward others? You’re a yogi, so you already know the power of thought—remind yourself of your intention and align it with your goal.

2. Bring a yoga mat. A tangible reminder to keep up your practice. If you put forth the effort to carry it, you may as well use it!

3. Set your alarm clock. Swami Sivananda taught that Brahmamurti, the early hours of the morning, is the best time for your spiritual practice. Explore this secret part of the day that your friends don’t know about, when all (including your monkey mind) is calm and quiet.

4. Activate Ahimsa. Ahimsa, or nonviolence, is one of the highest yogic observances and can be practiced anywhere. Cultivate ahimsa in your speech by speaking kindly to others. Enjoy a vegetarian diet so as not to cause harm to animals. Carry your own travel water bottle to use less plastic. Be a peace warrior in all your actions.

5. Public transportation meditation. Trains, planes, and buses are perfect places to meditate while you travel. Even if you have a new book you’re excited to read, devote the first 10 minutes of your trip to silent meditation. The people around you will just think you’re napping (with excellent posture, of course!)

6. Set your mantra in motion. Especially for solo travelers, it’s important to be aware of your surroundings, so music with headphones isn’t always the safest idea. But that doesn’t mean you can’t practice your kirtan while you’re strolling down the city streets. Jai Ganesha, anyone?

7. Bring a travel altar. Whether it’s a deity image representing strength, or a tiny elephant statue to remove your obstacles, this fun-size yogic reminder is light for your suitcase and will light up the room. You can also bring seashells you’ve collected (from your favorite Paradise Island Sivananda Bahamas beach, perhaps?), or even a photo of your puppy, reminding you of unconditional love!

8. Prioritize your postures. Let’s face it — sometimes there’s just not enough time in the day, and you’d rather leave the 4am wake-up to the Rishis. If you only have a few free minutes, practice postures (asanas) that have the most benefits. Try this trio: Sirsasana (headstand), Sarvangasana (shoulderstand), and Paschimottanasana (seated forward bend). In Swami Sivananda’s book Yoga Asanas, he writes, “These three Asanas alone can keep you in perfect health.”

 

Community Voices: Yoga and Religion

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Has yoga changed your relationship with your religion? In what ways?

I went to Catholic school when I was young. I went to church camp and sang in the church choir. But at some point all of this drifted away. I stopped going to church. I never thought much about it but it was like the end of a relationship. It was over and I just moved on and never looked back. Like I broke up with Jesus. Then years later I started practicing yoga.

As my yoga practice deepened and I began to nurture and rekindle my relationship with God, this time in different forms than before, I began to also notice Jesus everywhere. On the altars at the Sivananda centers and ashrams and in the literature that Swami Sivananda wrote. One Christmas season when I went to take my yoga class there was a book by Swami Sivananda on the shelf at the yoga center, “The Life and Teachings of Lord Jesus.” It caught my interest. I was surprised that Swami Sivananda would write a whole book about Jesus. It didn’t make any sense to me. I bought the book. I read it. And I began to reconnect with Jesus in a deeper, more meaningful, and powerful way. In a personal way. Wow! Jesus was a great yogi!

I am so grateful for my yoga practice for many reasons. One of these reasons is the rekindling of this special friendship that I had turned away from for so many years. Yoga brought this very special teacher and example back into my life. —community member
The yoga practice has deepened my relationship with Judaism, because in every yogic teaching I find similarities to the Jewish teachings I was raised with. Teachings of the oneness of the Divine remind me of the Shema, the Jewish prayer that also tells us to realize God’s oneness. I also like that the yoga has expanded my perspective, so that I now see kernels of wisdom in all the spiritual traditions.  —community member

 

I was raised without a religion and my family looked down on people who believed in God. I was proselytizing for atheism at 12 years old, my Jewish and Catholic classmates gathered round as I stood on my chair announcing to them (and in my mind proving to them) that God did not exist. It’s been many years since then, the last 21 of which I’ve been on a yogic path … at first I found it easier to just sort of witness and celebrate the Hindu deities — they seemed fun and colorful and … distant. A big awakening came for me when I encountered the “Divine Feminine” — the awareness that “God” was also feminine, that I, as a woman, was also somehow divine. Gradually I’ve gotten more comfortable with the word God, which for me describes a feeling of aliveness inside that’s connected with an everything beyond what I can conceive. I still don’t have a religion, but now I have a deep respect for people who do, especially when it’s an inclusive and loving one. —community member

 

Thanks to the Sivananda karma yogi program I attended three years ago in the darkest moment of my life, I was able to recognize that a spiritual path is open to all … as a Christian I noticed that Sivananda is a beacon of light and an aide to finding out how to be a better Christian.

The spiritual path is available to any and all and Sivananda has a powerful history encouraging yogis to find their open road to the Divine. —community member

 

The Positive Power of Chant with Jim Gelcer (Siva)

 

Jim Gelcer

Jim Gelcer

Please share what you do in 10-15 words: Kirtan wallah, recording and touring artist, composer, producer, and Bhakti yogi.

Why do you do what you do? It is my path and I’m doing what I love.

What are you currently fascinated by in your work? The positive power of chant and its ability to heal and transform.

How did you come to your path? Any aha moments or key teachers? A gentle nudge from someone at the perfect moment. I am always learning, and everyone is my teacher.

What book(s) are you currently reading? Reading and re-reading the Bhagavad Gita, Bliss Divine, and The Radiance Sutras.

What surprises you about teaching here? How at home I feel.

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Jim Gelcer (Siva) is a Sivananda Yoga teacher and a kirtan leader. He infuses new life and spirit into the ancient heartfelt chants that influence today’s kirtan movement. With a voice filled with depth and emotion, and impeccable musicianship, he tastefully blends flavors of modern and ancient melodies and the celebratory essence of kirtan.

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Join Jim Gelcer at the Yoga Retreat

November 12 – 15, 2014
Building Bhakti: Chanting from the Heart

 

Exploring Alignment in Yoga with Steven Weiss

Steven Weiss

Steven Weiss

Please share what you do in 10-15 words: I explore and teach the relationship between structural alignment and healthy function of the body.

Why do you do what you do? I have been a long time yoga practitioner and doctor of chiropractic. Both Iields overlap wonderfully in understanding the therapeutic value of alignment. Yoga has the potential to help many people through the principles and I am committed to bringing that awareness out to as many people as I can.

What are you currently fascinated by in your work? My interest is in developing and reIining the principles of yoga alignment into a universal, easily applied system that can be used by every student in every style of practice.

How did you come to your path? Any aha moments or key teachers? As a chiropractor for over 30 years, I have directly seen and worked with on a daily basis, the powerful effect of alignment. Through my personal yoga practice of over 30 years, I have experienced yoga asana as one of the most effective ways to create alignment in the body. BKS Iyengar and those who have developed his work have been my key teachers.

What book(s) are you currently reading? “The Yoga Body” by Mark Singleton and Twinkie, Deconstructed by Steve Ettlinger.

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Steven Weiss, MS, DC, RYT, has more than 32 years experience as a holistic chiropractor and nutritionist and is the author of the popular book The Injury-Free Yoga Practice. Dr. Weiss teaches for yoga teacher trainings around the United States and Asia and spent 17 years as resident faculty at the Omega Institute for Holistic Studies in Rhinebeck, New York. Dr. Weiss is also a chiropractic college post-graduate instructor and member of the International Association of Yoga Therapists and is located in Sarasota, Florida.

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Join Steven Weiss at the Yoga Retreat

November 12 – 20, 2014
Principles of Asana Alignment

 

Creating Health and Healing with Grace Van Berkum

Grace Van Berkum

Grace Van Berkum

Please share what you do in 10-15 words: I teach people about the healing powers of plant-based foods, yoga, meditation, connecting to nature, and learning to open your mind and heart.

Why do you do what you do? The world needs to realize and understand where our foods are coming from and how what we eat is affecting our own health, and the health of our planet. When we are more conscious of how we eat and what we eat, and we approach eating with mindful intention, we begin to free up energy in the body to dedicate to our life’s purpose.

What are you currently fascinated by in your work? I watched my dad beat his cancer when the doctors told him he had less than 10 months to live. He completely changed his diet and transformed his personality. He opted out of surgery and chemotherapy and became dedicated to his own healing. He amazed the doctors, and he amazed me, his daughter, who was studying to become a nutritionist during that time. This has inspired me to teach all that I do. Food can heal us or food can make us sick. Balanced, anti-inflammatory nutrition combined with a positive, peaceful, loving outlook is the key to a vibrant, energetic, spiritual life.

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Community Voices: Spiritual Names

If you have received a spiritual name, what has been the effect for you? How do you feel about your name? Do you use it in daily life?

I was given a spiritual name after completing the TTC in 2008. I feel a bit shy about using it. I have been teaching yoga classes in my small, rather conservative community and do not use my spiritual name, although I am beginning to also sign my name using it in communications/reminders of classes with my students. —Vani Devi

There have been many instances when using my spiritual name outside of the ashram, where the faces looked at me questioningly upon hearing it. However, there have been just as many instances where it was received without any puzzling look whatsoever. It’s really 50-50 between the two reactions to my spiritual name. Some are confused because they’ve never heard a name like that before and others know instinctively that it is a name of a spiritual nature. Those are the ones who usually smile, knowingly, about its origin. —Sundari

When I received my spiritual name, I was a bit overwhelmed. It felt like a big responsibility. Since then, I have realized that for me it is an invitation to honor the diety whose name I now share. I like that. I like my spiritual name and I like using it at the ashram as it makes me feel part of the community and something larger than myself. —anonymous

While I was not interested in receiving a spiritual name at first, when I heard my name for the first time, I fell in love with it. My name means “mother,” which for me was the perfect name. I have worked with children for more than a decade, and I am always my highest and best self when I am with them. The name really does something to the subconscious upon hearing it. Sanskrit is a vibrational language; even when you just hear the sounds without knowing what they mean, you are affected on some level. When I hear my spiritual name I am reminded of my essence, my purpose in the world, and when I am at my best. I become inspired to serve the world, even in just a small way, with devotion, grace, and joy. —Ambika

Chanting Ahimsa

by Nicole Vahlkamp (Nirmala), karma yogi

It is 6 o’clock in the morning and 200 people are sitting cross-legged on a large wooden platform surrounded by palm trees made slightly iridescent by the contrast between the slowly rising sun and the shadows of the dissolving darkness. At the Sivananda Ashram Yoga Retreat in the Bahamas, Maya Tiwari, a renowned Ayurvedic teacher, is leading satsangthe gathering of students to study and meditate on yogic teachings of truth.

Tiwari is teaching the group about ahimsa—what Swami Sivananda defined as non-violence in thought, word, and deed. Together, everyone repeats an ahimsa chant: I take the vow of ahimsa. I make inner harmony my first priority. I take the vow of ahimsa in my thoughts, speech, and actions.

The group is tentative at first, perhaps still too sleepy to chant with spirit, but Maya is encouraging. “Say it like you mean it,” she urges, “Chant like Mike Jagger!,” she insists, and soft laughter rustles throughout the crowd. Her jesting works. The group ahimsa chant gradually grows louder, shifting the energy to one of both subtle strength and peace.

My thoughts wander and I suddenly realize that, beyond my own vegetarian diet, I never think much about ahimsa even though I know it is one of the most important components of yoga. This chant adds another layer to my understanding, because the vow has a very clear instruction: Make inner harmony the first priority. 

Tiwari speaks as the group continues to chant, telling us that ahimsa begins within the self, inner harmony is a prerequisite for greater non-injury, and ahimsa mantras can help us in our inner journeys towards love and kindness.

Of course, I know this to be true from personal experience. When I think of times when my words have been harsh— when I lose my patience with a colleague at work, scold my sister for leaving dirty dishes in the sink, or speak abruptly to someone I hardly even know—my upset is rarely elicited by the other person. Instead, something else is making me angry, which I unfortunately take out on those around me.

Swami Sivananda understood the negative power of anger and its ultimate contribution to violence. In his writings on ahimsa he taught, “All sinful and wrong actions are committed by you when you are under the sway of anger. Anger can be easily subdued by practicing non-violence. If anger is under your control you cannot do evil actions and you will enjoy supreme peace.”

When we are angry, we can only spread anger; to spread peace, we must be internally peaceful.

But how do we cultivate such inward peace, kindness, and compassion?

Ahimsa mantras can guide us.

Whenever something disturbs us, we can use mantra to clear the mind, sweep away the negative thoughts, and re-focus our energy on peace and love. In this way, we train the mind to calm itself when agitated, subdue anger, and avoid inflicting both internal and external harm.

Imagine if your co-worker upsets you, but instead of immediately lashing out, you repeated a mantra five times before responding? Or if the next time you started to be hard on yourself, even in small ways by saying, “I should have gotten more work done today; I shouldn’t have eaten that; I don’t look good in this outfit,” you instead began to repeat silently, “I make inner harmony my first priority.”

I imagine all my interactions would be much different if I practiced this mantra daily.

As the sun rises, the group’s chanting grows stronger, and so does my own voice. Eventually, my mind is focused only on repeating this vow, and I feel greater affirmation, self-confidence, compassion, and calm.

I can literally feel the power of the mantra in my body, and I understand Swami Sivananda and Maya Tiwari’s teaching of truth: serenity within the self is the only path to true ahimsa. 

 

Exploring Consciousness with Peter Russell

 

Peter Russell

Please share what you do in 10-15 words: I seek to distill the essence of the world’s spiritual wisdom and present it in terms relevant to today.

Why do you do what you do? I believe humanity is in a deep spiritual crisis and needs to find ways out of the materialist mind.

What are you currently fascinated by in your work? The arising of ego from pure awareness.

How did you come to your path? Any aha moments or key teachers? It’s been a gradual evolution. My first teacher was Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

What book(s) are you currently reading? The Life of the Cosmos” by Lee Smolin.

What surprises you about presenting here? There was so much happening in a relatively small space, in such a gentle way.

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Peter Russell is recognized as one of the leading thinkers on consciousness and contemporary spirituality. He has been a keynote speaker at many international conferences and his multi-image shows and videos, “The Global Brain” and “The White Hole in Time” have won praise and prizes from around the world. He is the author of 10 books, including “The Global Brain”, “Waking up in Time”, and “From Science to God”.

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Join Peter Russell at the Yoga Retreat

May 2 – 4, 2014
A Science of Being: Exploring the Mysteries of Consciousness

 

 

Do not be overwhelmed by the Vedas

Q: The Vedas, with their divisions and sections, seem confusing and overwhelming. How can we explain the Vedas in simple terms to our students, to support the premise that the Vedas are the truth?

Answer: The Vedas are neither confusing nor overwhelming. In fact, before it was divided into four parts, there was only one Veda, and that Veda is the divine knowledge. It is the knowledge of Iswara. It is the knowledge of the Supreme Being, which is infinite. It is the infinite knowledge of the only one that is omniscient, which is Iswara, or the Ultimate Reality. The Veda is the knowledge of God, or the knowledge of Ultimate Reality, or the knowledge of the Self. This is what the Veda is.

This knowledge, it is said, is supra-human. It did not originate in a human mind, which cannot generate this type of knowledge. It comes from the mind of God, and when we say the mind of God, we mean it comes from Ultimate Reality. It is a revealed knowledge. The rishis, in their deep, deep, deep samadhi discovered the ultimate truths about reality, and these divinely inspired sages revealed what they discovered to humanity. These revelations, put together, are called the revealed Veda – the revealed knowledge of the Supreme Being, or of Ultimate Reality, or reality as it truly is. This is the knowledge of the Veda, which was never invented by human beings. The rishis received it from the creator, from Brahma, and the creator himself received the Veda from the highest aspect of the creator, which we call Iswara. This is how it is.

There is a law of gravity, for example, and whether you believe in it or not, it will affect you. This law of gravity existed prior to Newton. Newton did not invent the law of gravity; it did not come from his mind. The law of gravity simply is a universal law and it is there whether you know about it or not, whether you believe in it or not, but at a certain point in history someone discovered it.
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Watch: An Investment Banker-Turned Yogi Brings Healing to War Vets

—video interview and blog post by Sura (suracenter.com)

Molly Birkholm was an investment banker in New York City when she nearly died in a serious taxi cab accident. After an SUV struck them sideways while running a red light, Molly experienced near-death injuries, enduring a fractured skull and a severe spinal injury. After witnessing her cab driver become decapitated, Molly suffered from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). Recurring nightmares and an extreme fear of driving in cars led her to yoga and a specific meditation practice called yoga nidra. Yoga nidra, translated as the “yoga of sleep,” was instrumental in helping Molly recover from PTSD. Molly’s journey of healing eventually led her to leave her job on Wall Street and travel through Asia, where she lived in ashram in India and became certified as a Sivananda Yoga teacher.

Upon her return one year later, Molly had no idea what she would do next. After marrying her husband and moving to Florida, she was invited to volunteer a few hours a week teaching wheelchair yoga to vets at the Miami Veteran’s Administration. What happened next was what Molly describes as, “unbelievable and completely unexpected.” War veterans experienced overwhelmingly positive results. Both Molly and the staff saw veterans experiencing alleviation from their PTSD, insomnia, chronic pain, anxiety, and depression. Her classes soon expanded to the 3-month Residential PTSD & Substance Abuse treatment programs, outpatient PTSD treatment programs and even the acute mental-health ward. The program went so well that in 2008, the Department of Defense Center of Excellence rewarded the program with a $262,000 grant to conduct clinical research measuring the effects of iRest yoga nidra on veterans with PTSD.

Clinical research is validating that yoga and meditation are effective in helping soldiers and vets heal from PTSD. In a study conducted by the Department of Defense at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, researchers found that a secular form of yoga nidra called iRest, which has been widely adopted by the military, helped to alleviate symptoms associated with PTSD, reduce combat stress and trauma. Participants reported feeling less anxiety and increased feelings of safety. Another research study measuring the “Effects of Sensory-Enhanced Yoga on Symptoms of Combat Stress in Deployed Military Personnel” found that the individuals participating in the yoga program showed significantly greater improvement in 16 of 18 mental health and quality of life factors over the individuals who were not practicing yoga.

As Molly’s programs at the Miami VA grew, she co-founded Warriors At Ease, a non-profit organization that has now trained and ‘deployed’ over 500 yoga and meditation teachers into military communities.

Molly Asebey-Birkholm (Madhavi) is an advanced Sivananda yoga teacher (RYT 500) and a certified Integrative Restoration (iRest) Instructor. She is the co-founder and director of the Yoga Center of Key Biscayne, in Florida, an affiliated Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Center.

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