Sunday, August 28, 2011

Finger Lakes Yoga Festival Pics

Last weekend I had the pleasure and honor of being among many wonderful teachers and musicians at the  Second Annual Finger Lakes Yoga Festival, August 18-21st, Spruce Row Campground, Ithaca, NY. I had the opportunity to lead an outdoor class with live music accompaniment by members of my band, ONE LOVE. Later that evening, we led a kirtan under the night sky. 

I was fortunate enough to meet Bonnie Gustin, a delightful woman and talented photographer from Hammondsport, NY. The cool thing about Bonnie is that, after spending 25 years of her life cooped up in a little cubicle writing computer programs, she took a leap of faith, leaving the corporate world behind to follow her artistic passion. She is now doing photography full time and loving it. Bonnie was generous enough to let me use these photos on my blog.  Check out her work at .

Photos from our "River of Grace" outdoor yoga class with live music:

Opening chant:

May the Light of Love glow in me
May the Breath of Spirit blow in me
May the River of Grace flow through me
May God's work unfold through me
OM Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya
Live music for the class by multi-instrumentalist Joe Smellow, and Doug Shire (not pictured)

Rising up in Salutation to the Sun
Melting into the earth in Savasana

Closing Prayer

ONE LOVE leading kirtan in the evening, with our friends Kerry Lynn and Jeff Hellman joining us:

From L: Doug Shire, Jody Kessler, Kerry Lynn, Allie Ann Rutherford, Jeffrey Hellman, Joe Smellow .

A magnificent light show with fire dancers closed out the evening

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

OM Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya

There's a chant that I've been leading in class lately, which is the Sanskrit mantra that is given to all Kripalu teachers: OM Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya.

Translations of this mantra are rich and varied, due to the nature of Sanskrit, which is a vibrational language that has many layers of meaning. Some yogis, when given a mantra by their teacher, are never told the meaning of the words. Rather, they are invited to chant it until they feel its transformational power, and find out experientially what it "means."

Russill Paul, in his book The Yoga of Sound, writes:

When we use Sanskrit mantras, our normal perception of the world dissolves and we awaken to the spiritual fields of energy represented by the sounds. Sanskrit, as a spiritual language, has been accurately and uninterruptedly transmitted for at least four thousand years. The resonance of these sounds uttered by millions of people who have been awakened to spiritual reality assists us in our own use of the language. In other words, we draw from the power of numbers when we use Sanskrit; we connect our soul to numerous yogis and spiritual teachers who have employed this language in their own self-transformation.

Back when the Kripalu Center was an ashram, and the building in Lenox, MA was purchased, the OM Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya mantra was chanted ceaselessly as they were renovating the building. As hundreds of bricks were being set into the interior wall of the main chapel, a repetition of the mantra was chanted for each brick that was laid. Now, when I sit in that magnificent chapel, I can feel the power of OM Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya resonating energetically in that space.

During my teacher training, I received a set of mala beads, given to me in a ceremony by my teachers, who encouraged me to chant the mantra as often as possible. It felt like an intitiation for me, and I recall being brought to tears as I was invited into a lineage of yogis who have chanted this mantra for many centuries.

I am still exploring and opening to its layers of meaning. Sometimes I chant it and feel connected and in Love. Other days I chant it and I feel bored and tired of it, and can't wait to get to the end of the mala. I enjoy singing it and putting it to different melodies, or repeating it silently while doing alternate nostril breathing. Sometimes I love the rhythm of it, while other times it seems achingly long. It's a lot like being in relationship, with its times of sweetness and times of struggle.

Although knowing the meaning of a mantra is not necessary, it can be helpful in deeping into the experience of chanting when we bring intention to the practice.  Here are a just a few interpretations of OM Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya:

I bow to the Lord who lives in the hearts of all

OM and salutations to the Indwelling One, substance of the Divine

O my Lord, the all-pervading Personality of the Godhead, I offer my respectful obeisances unto You.

Salutations to the Indweller who is omnipresent, omnipotent, immortal and divine.

And, Swami Kripalu said it the most simple and succinct way:

Thy will be done.

Swami Kripalu.   

Some beautiful and uplifting musical versions of this mantra can be heard by Krishna Das, Deva Premal, Wah, Robert Gass, and many others. Put it in the iTunes search engine, and you'll find a treasure trove.


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The 5 Prana Vayus

Hello Dear Yogis,

The science and philosophy of yoga offers us many fascinating models with which can we can view the human organism. In past posts I’ve written about the koshas (sheaths, or layers of being) and the chakra system (energy vortexes) that comprise both the physical and subtle bodies. Today I’ll share about the 5 prana vayus, or “winds” that are responsible for the motion of prana, or life energy.

Vayu means “wind, air or unseen forces.” Vayu is also the wind-god, who in the Vedic system is the Master of Life,  and the inspirer of breath and the dynamic energy of prana.
Prana is continually moving through us and the universe in all directions. Yoga practice allows us to tune into and harness this flow so that we can increase our vitality and power. The prana vayus, also simply referred to as the vayus, are 5 vital currents:

Apana Vayu is the downward flow of energy, associated with elimination, the release of bodily fluids, and the exhale of the breath. In the world, we see Apana manifest through the force of gravity, and through the roots of plants. It is associated with the element of earth.

Prana Vayu* is the upward flow of energy, associated with the inhale, the receptive sense organs, and the element of air. We see prana vayu manifest in photosynthesis, as leaves reach up to draw in the light of the sun.

Samana Vayu is the inward flow of energy, which moves in an inward-turning spiral.  It is associated with the digestion and assimilation of nutrients, and the element of fire. Anything that spins toward a center point is a manifestation of samana, also known as centripetal force. The practice of meditation, in which we turn inward toward our center, is one way in which we engage in the flow of samana vayu.

Udana Vayu is outward movement, associated with speech, sound, space/ether, and the limbs of the body.  Udana moves in an outward turning spiral, spinning away from center; it is centrifugal force. When our vital energy manifests through our full self-expression, udana vayu is present.

Vyana Vayu is the energy of expansion, moving simultaneously in all directions. It is all-encompassing. It is the interwoven matrix of life, the web of the connection, what is known in Eastern mythology as “Indra’s net.” The energy of vyana pervades the entire body and is the bridge that leads from the physical to the ethereal realms. It is connected to the element of water.

These five forces are not discrete or firmly delineated; they all interweave and interrelate. Naming them and describing them as separate phenomena simply help us to understand their essence and give us a framework through which we can view the unfolding of all life.

On the mat, we can bring our attention to these five winds of life energy as we move  through our asana flow.  We can connect to apana vayu as we stabilize and ground through the feet or the sitting bones, and harness the force of gravity to keep us strongly rooted and connected to the earth. Prana vayu helps us brighten the pose and create upward lift, length, and extension. Together, apana and prana are two opposing (yet complimentary) forces that make the pose come together. First we stabilize, then we expand.

For example, in warrior 1, we begin by grounding through the 3 points of the feet, engaging strong thighs and drawing the tailbone downward as the front knee bends. We keep engaging this downward-flowing energy while at the same time lengthening upward through the spine, pressing the crown of the head toward the sky. The upward lift of the arms invites prana to flow out through the fingertips. The simultaneous flow of apana and prana creates the pose and makes it come alive.  

Samana in postures invites us to wiggle and move, with sense of inward exploration. Kripalu yoga emphasizes inquiry as we deepen into a pose, turning inward with our awareness.

Once we are stable and aligned in our joints, muscles and bones, we can play with udana, extending outward both physically and energetically.  Udana invites us to come into full expression of the pose, reaching out through limbs and crown, and lengthening  the spine. We can also embody the pose as self-expression, sending our inner radiance out from our center.

When we rest in savasana, we allow space for the life force we’ve generated through asana practice to permeate the whole body, though every cell, organ, muscle and bone. It flows through us in all directions. As we let ourselves dissolve into emptiness, we might be able to glimpse the expansive energy of vyana. We drop into boundarylessness, and at the same time, awareness of connection with All That Is.

May the awareness of these vital currents, or winds of energy, enhance and enrich your practice and your life.

*note: the word prana refers to the life force in general, and in the context of the 5 winds, also means upward flow of energy.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Cherry Tomatoes

Hello Dear Yogis,

It's that delicious time of year again, when the energy from the earth and the sun join together to produce fruits that are literally bursting with life. It's a beautiful metaphor for what the practice of yoga does for us. When we charge ourselves with prana, through movement, breath, mindfulness and prayer, we cultivate a heart that is bursting with life. I offer you this poem that I read in class this week.  May we each enjoy full and juicy living!

Cherry Tomatoes

Suddenly it is August again, so hot,
breathless heat.
I sit on the ground
in the garden of Carmel,
picking ripe cherry tomatoes
and eating them.
They are so ripe that the skin is split,
so warm and sweet
from the attentions of the sun,
the juice bursts in my mouth,
an ecstatic taste,
and I feel that I am in the mouth of summer,
sloshing in the saliva of August.
Hummingbirds halo me there,
in the great green silence,
and my own bursting heart
splits me with life.

"Cherry Tomatoes" by Anne Higgins, from At the Year's Elbow. © Mellen Poetry Press, 2000. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)


Poetry, readings & words of wisdom from modern and ancient sources