Saturday, January 31, 2015

Creating Healthy Habits with Yoga: Self-Accountability

sankalpa
By: Virginia Iversen M.Ed  

With the turn of the New Year, many of us may have made resolutions to increase our health and well-being, physically, emotionally or financially. Often, New Year's resolutions have to do with increasing physical health, losing weight or starting a regular exercise program. Many people also set goals to pursue certain life dreams that they may have put on the back burner over the years. In order to truly pursue your goals, you may have to confront the obstacles that have prevented you from successfully pursuing those resolutions in the past. 

A "sankalpa" is a Sanskrit word, which means, “ divine intention.” In the process of making a sankalpa, it is important to clarify the goals that you are pursuing, in order to make sure that the goals you have made will uplift both yourself and those around you. If you are a Yoga teacher, you may have made a divinely-inspired resolution to engage more fully in your own your own Yoga practice and to improve your teaching skills, so that you truly offer your service to the world as a Yoga teacher. One of the most profound gifts of a regular Yoga practice is the opportunity to witness the consequences of your decisions on the Yoga mat "in real time." 

As your own Yoga practice deepens, you will become acutely aware of the fluctuations of your own mind and the effects of your decisions as you move through each posture. For instance, if you choose to overextend yourself in Triangle Pose, you'll be very aware when you approach your edge in the posture, and when you are moving beyond the ability of your body. If you ignore the signals of your own body in Triangle Pose and push past your edge, you will create discomfort in your body and mind. Learning how to consciously make decisions to practice Yoga in such a way that enhances your own physical and emotional well being, will help you to guide your Yoga students through their own internal conscious decision making process. 



As your Yoga students become consciously aware of the consequences of their actions, they will be more able to choose to practice Yoga in such a way that increases their own well-being. This conscious decision making process can be simplified into three steps. The first step is to bring your decisions into conscious awareness, by witnessing the thoughts in your own mind and how you choose to act on those thoughts. As you begin to bring unconscious thought patterns, beliefs and actions into the light, you will be able to consciously choose thoughts and actions that will create happiness for you in the long run.

The second step in this conscious decision making process is to ask yourself what the consequences will be of the decision that you are currently making, and if the decision that you are making will generate happiness for yourself and for those around you in the long run? When we become aware of the consequences of our decisions, we are afforded the opportunity to make decisions that will truly enhance our well-being, so that we can create the life that we truly desire. The third step in this conscious decision making process, is to allow the signals of your body to guide you. As you move in and out of Yoga postures, tune into your body and become aware of the visceral experience of each movement. 

For instance, do you feel lighter, more peaceful and expanded after practicing a certain Yoga posture? Or do you feel uncomfortable and a bit anxious? If the latter is the case, you may be moving too deeply into a posture or ignoring what your body truly needs today. By making a more compassionate, aware and sensitive decision in how you practice the next Yoga posture, you will be honing the skills of conscious decision making, which will allow you to pass the same skills on to your students. In this way, both you and your Yoga students can make more conscious decisions, which will ultimately support the fruition of your highest goals.


Virginia Iversen, M.Ed, has been practicing and studying the art of Yoga for over twenty years. She lives in Woodstock, New York, where she works as a writer and an academic support specialist. She is currently accepting Yoga and health-related writing orders and may be contacted at: enchantress108@gmail.com

Monday, January 19, 2015

New Year's Resolutions, Transformation and Yoga: Exploring Satya

satya
By: Virginia Iversen, M.Ed 

Many of us have recently made New Year's resolutions, in the hope that we will be able to transform our lives in the year to come. Frequently these New Year's resolutions are physical in nature, particularly if you are a Yoga student or are studyingto be a Yoga teacher. Other spiritual seekers may have made New Year's resolutions that are more central to their internal emotional and psychological landscape. In either case, the strongest foundation from which to create and make New Year's resolutions is to be clearly grounded in the truth of what you really need. 

Many of us make New Year's resolutions with only an ambiguous sense of what our real needs are physically, emotional and financially. Before formally resolving to take certain steps in the year to come, clarifying what you really need and want in all areas of your life is critical to the transformative practice of Yoga. "Satya" is a Sanskrit word that is literally translated to mean the truth of reality. Satya also refers to the accordance of one's speech, thought and action. All too often, many of us are discordant in our inner thoughts, speech and action. This discordance can create a pervasive underlying feeling of anxiety and frustration. 

In order to move away from a space of anxious survival into a space of expansive well-being and thriving, it is important to clarify what you truly need at every level of your heart, mind and spirit, before implementing your New Year's resolutions. One of the best ways I have found of getting in touch with the truth of my own heart is through the practice of backbends. Back bending Yoga asanas are very powerful tools for releasing the constriction around the heart and throat chakras. When this constriction is released, the underlying truth of your own being is more readily accessible to you. 

* Camel Pose or Ustrasana 

Camel Pose is a very powerful back bending Yoga posture. This posture is generally accessible to most Yoga students who have some experience. The posture can also be modified to accommodate beginning Yoga students or Yoga students who are particularly tight throughout the front of the body. This pose is usually practiced after a full series of Sun Salutations, standing asanas and balancing postures. It is frequently practiced just prior to seated postures, inversions and finishing poses during a Yoga class.  

When you are ready to practice Camel Pose, come to a kneeling position on your Yoga mat. If your knees are sensitive, place a folded blanket underneath you for padding. Keep your knees hip distance apart and the top of your toes flat on your Yoga mat or curled under with the weight of your body resting on your toes, if you have enough flexibility today. To warm up, place your hands on your sacrum with your fingers pointed towards the ceiling. With an inhale; gently lean backwards against your hands as you expand your heart area with your breath. With your next exhale, move slightly back towards an upright position. Continue this process for several breaths. 

If your neck is healthy, you may wish to drop your head back, in order to open up your throat area more fully. If you have any neck or upper back issues, please continue to gaze at a point just in front of your Yoga mat, while keeping your head upright.  If you would like to enter more deeply into Camel Pose, place your hands on the back of your heels with your fingers pointing down towards the Yoga mat. With each inhale; expand your chest more fully with your breath. With each exhale; gently release the intensity of the posture by moving a few inches back towards an upright position. Continue this wave-like motion with your breath for a total of five breaths, and then release the posture and move into Extended Child's Pose, before proceeding with the rest of your Yoga practice. 

If you were working on refining some New Year's resolutions that you have recently made, you may wish to pause for a few moments after you practice Camel Pose, in order to enter some reflections in your journal that arise from the center of your being when you ask yourself the question, "What is it that I really need and want in the year to come?" The answer to this question will help you to become clearer about your own internal truth, or Satya, which will help to guide you in refining your New Year's resolutions. In this way, the resolutions you make and keep during the year to come will truly reflect the light and the love in your own heart.

Virginia Iversen, M.Ed, has been practicing and studying the art of Yoga for over twenty years. She lives in Woodstock, New York, where she works as a writer and an academic support specialist. She is currently accepting Yoga and health-related writing assignments and may be contacted at:enchantress108@gmail.com.



Thursday, January 15, 2015

New Year's Resolutions, Transformation and Yoga: Dharma

about new year's resolutions
By: Virginia Iversen M.Ed 

As many of us begin to settle back into our regular routine after a busy holiday season, we may be confronted with the reality of implementing the New Year's resolutions that we made a few weeks ago into the fabric of our lives. It is not uncommon for many Yogis and Yoginis to make New Year's resolutions that are quite far-reaching and beautiful, but difficult to obtain. For example, you may have made a resolution for the year to come to practice Yoga everyday for one hour and to meditate each morning before work for an hour. However, you may be encountering difficulty as you try to implement these resolutions into your own life on a daily basis.

Many Yoga students and teachers are very committed to incorporating the diverse practices of Yoga into their daily lives. However, many Yoga practitioners also have other obligations, such as professional and family responsibilities. At times, these other obligations may make it difficult to spend enough time "on the mat." If this is the case for you, one way to prioritize your time is to clarify the truth of what you really need in your own life. For some Yoga practitioners, having the time to spend a full hour or more each day on their Yoga mat is critical to their well-being. For others, spending 15 minutes a day in quiet contemplation and doing 30 minutes or less of moderate Yoga poses provide enough rejuvenation for them on most days. 

Ultimately you must be the one to decide what nourishes you the most deeply in your own life. According to a number of ancient Yogic texts, integrating the awareness and practice of Satya into your daily life is one of the keys to cultivating happiness and peace in your own being. The Sanskrit term "Satya” is translated to mean absolute truth or the reality of ultimate truth. In practice, by implementing both an awareness and honoring of your own internal sense of truth, you will align your thoughts, words, and actions in a seamless and coherent way into your own life. 

The Vedic concept of Dharma is closely related to that of Satya in the Yogic scriptures. In the Taittiriya Upanishad, a spiritual seeker is advised to conduct him or herself according to the Dharma and to only speak the truth. In this context, Dharma refers to an underlying sense of morality and ethical behavior, according to the laws of one's land. In the Mundaka Upanishad, it is said that truth alone is triumphant, not unreality. In other words, by aligning one's thoughts, speech and action in an honest way, according to one's own internal sense of truth and duty in the world, much confusion, frustration and anxiety will be alleviated in your life. 

If you are a Yoga student and you were just becoming acquainted with the concepts of Satya and Dharma, remember to be gentle with yourself, as you contemplate your progress in implementing these concepts into your own life. If you find that you not speaking your own truth in a variety of situations, this is a good place to start to become aware of that discordance; for example, if you feel uncomfortable speaking your truth to friends, family or work associates, you may wish to begin to uncover your own true feeling by writing your thoughts in a private journal. Once you begin to identify what your own internal truth really is, it will be much easier to align your thoughts, speech and actions.  

If you are a Yoga teacher, you are probably already familiar with the concepts of Satya and Dharma in your own Yoga practice. However, there are layers and layers of incorrect and unreal thought patterns and perceptions that must be peeled away before you can truly embody the light of the self. These incorrect or unreal thought patterns and perceptions are called "samskaras” in the Yogic scriptures. Samskaras are deeply rooted ways of perceiving ourselves and the world around us. By taking the support of a regular practice of Yoga poses, pranayama exercises, meditation techniques, and the study and recitation of sacred texts, you will deeply enter into the process of excavating your own inner gold, which resides in the core of your own being.


Virginia Iversen, M.Ed, has been practicing and studying the art of Yoga for over twenty years. She lives in Woodstock, New York, where she works as a writer and an academic support specialist. She is currently accepting Yoga and health-related writing assignments and may be contacted at: enchantress108@gmail.com.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Excavating your Dharma in the New Year

yogic philosophy
By: Virginia Iversen, M.Ed

The term "Dharma” is found in many of the eastern religions, including Hinduism and Buddhism. According to Hinduism, the various rights, laws, codes of conduct, familiar duties, and ways of behaving ethically in the world are all part of the energetic fabric that sustains and maintains the universe itself. The term "Dharma" is also often applied to the teachings of Buddhism. To live a dharmic life in this context refers to living life according to the Buddhist teachings of compassionate, ethical behavior. In many indigenous tribes around the world, the rituals, prayers and tribal responsibilities not only maintain the integrity of the community-at-large, but also help to sustain and maintain the functioning of the universe itself. 

At this point, you may be wondering what Dharma has to do with practicing Yoga? The concept of Dharma is woven throughout many of the classical Hindu texts, including texts specifically relating to Yoga practice, such as Patanjali's Yoga Sutras. The reason for this is that the goal of a sustained and committed practice of Yoga is intended to bring the Yoga practitioner into a state of oneness with the divine energy that underlies all of existence. This oneness with the divine energy is known as enlightenment. In order to be transformed through the practice of Yoga and approach a lighter state of peace and happiness, if not enlightenment itself, shedding old ways of being that maintain a sense of disharmony with one's own internal truth is imperative. 

When old ways of being in the world that do not support an ethical or dharmic way of living are released, a state of peace and happiness is much more accessible to a Yoga student or teacher. If you are in the process of trying to determine what your Dharma is in the world, identifying your own personal strengths, weaknesses and aptitudes is critical to the process of building a dharmic life. In addition, if you are considering a career change, in order to more closely align your own internal truth with the way that you earn a living in the world, clarifying your financial needs and goals is important. 



This can be quite tricky, of course - Especially if you have a family to support or have substantial financial obligations. Many spiritual seekers find it difficult to truly align their own internal sense of Dharma with their individual aptitudes and skills, while fully meeting their financial obligations. Working as a Yoga teacher can pose such a challenge. If you are considering studying to become a certified Yoga teacher, honestly appraising your own personal skills, interests and financial needs is an important first step to determining the feasibility of offering your service to the world by teaching Yoga classes.

If you do find that your heart and soul truly wants to serve the world by teaching Yoga to a variety of students, you may need to begin to streamline your monthly living expenses, so that you have the financial room to begin a new career. If you are unable to pursue a new full-time career at this time, you may wish to study to be a Yoga teacher through an online teacher-training program. In this way, you can master the skills to become a certified Yoga teacher at your own pace and in the comfort of your own home. 

Of course, there are literally thousands of ways to earn a dharmic living in the world. Ultimately, the very way that you hold yourself and interact with other people is the essence of moving in a dharmic way through the world. If you interact with other people in a compassionate, loving and patient way throughout the day, you are upholding the essential qualities of living a life of integrity, truth and ethical behavior, even if you are not financially able to earn a full-time living teaching Yoga at this time. The love, compassion and generosity that you show to others are the very essence of honoring the Yogic principal of Dharma on a daily basis.


Virginia Iversen, M.Ed, has been practicing and studying the art of Yoga for over twenty years. She lives in Woodstock, New York, where she works as a writer and an academic support specialist. She is currently accepting Yoga and health-related writing assignments and may be contacted at: enchantress108@gmail.com.