Saturday, June 25, 2011

Rising Lakshmi

This week our theme in the studio is the element of water. Water is a means for humans to experience buoyancy. We crave buoyancy, lightness and spaciousness and in that buoyancy is the possibility of profound healing.
The archetypal deity Lakshmi rises out of a churning ocean perched on a lotus flower. She is the embodiment of the physical and emotional lightness that Yogis crave. Lakshmi is primordial abundance, spiritual radiance and divine light.
Once upon a time......the sage Durvasa gave a gift to Indra, the supervisor of sorts of all the gods and goddesses. Indra does not recognize the importance of the gift and discards it. (The gift was a garland with an intoxicating fragrance, but that part of the story is not relevant today.) Durvasa becomes enraged that Indra tosses his heartfelt gift aside and curses Indra and all of the gods and goddesses to lose their power. The powerful curse works and all the gods and goddesses indeed lose all their power.
The deities go to Brahma first with their problem and are sent to Vishnu for assistance. Vishnu says this is what you need to do......gather all of your friends, all the gods and goddesses, and all of your enemies, the asuras (demons), gather sacred herbs from the 4 directions and churn the ocean. The churning brings up good things and bad things from the ocean floor. One of the not so good things is a poison, hala hala. Lord Shiva lends a hand to take this poison out of the ocean and into his mouth. He holds the poison in his throat, that place between heart and mind, and it is so toxic that it turns his throat blue. One of Shiva's names is the Blue Throated One. Shiva holds the poison in his throat and it explodes into divine sound vibration and mantra is created. One of the good things that the churning brings up is the archetypal force Lakshmi, an abundant, ascending energy that rises from the waters of the ocean on a lotus. She is surrounded by honey bees who swirl around her. Ultimately, the churning brings up the nectar of immortality from the ocean and power of the gods and goddesses is restored.
These stories are both old and new. They happened a long time ago and they are happening all the time inside of us. The old stories of the Yogic texts are road maps toward joy, peace and power.
This story tells of how the gods and goddesses reclaim their power and the story for us is a recipe for human empowerment. Vishnu advises the deities to gather all their friends and enemies- we are to embrace all parts of ourself- those parts we like and those parts that we are not proud of for whatever reason. Vishnu says to collect herbs from the 4 directions- we access insight from the East, we experience transformation from the South, we cultivate healing from the West and we receive ancestral wisdom from the North. The churning of the Ocean is the purification of the Yogic techniques. Our Yogic practice is the churning that brings up both the good and the bad- we begin to see our gifts and our shortcomings with improved clarity. The churning also brings up the gift of lift, lightness and buoyancy. And ultimately the churning brings up the nectar of immortality and the Yogi is no longer bound by the limitations of time and space, perfect empowerment is realized. Lakshmi is surrounded by honey bees- their buzzing reminds us of the lofty power of divine sound, mantra. The story tells us that Indra throws away a gift without realizing its value- sometimes we receive "gifts", like illness or adversity, that only later we might come to see the value in.
This week, we explore a Rising Lakshmi sequence of poses. The sacred geometrical shapes cultivate lift, lightness and buoyancy, the essence of water element. Physical lightness creates emotional lightness. Lakshmi is She with Lotus Hands and Feet, we are reminded that lift comes from rooting down and hands and feet are often our roots in asana. Water has a relationship with the second energy center, or chakra, in the hips. Our rising Lakshmi sequence explores spaciousness and lift in the hips.

Om Shreem MahaLakshmiyei Namaha!
I embrace Abundance, Radiance, Ascension and Light!

Friday, June 3, 2011

What is the difference between retreat and vacation?

In a word, intention.

When we travel on vacation, we have intentions like seeing family, sightseeing, eating at amazing restaurants and/or rest and relaxation. The intention for a retreat is PRACTICE.

The practice of concentration on a single subject (or the use of one technique) is the best way to prevent the obstacles and their accompaniments.

Yoga Sutras 1.32

Then Patanjali goes on to speak of the many ways and techniques to practice concentration and therefore quiet the mind....

Or by concentrating on subtle sense perceptions can cause steadiness of mind.

Yoga Sutras 1.35

Over the holiday weekend, a group of Yogis from Bliss travelled to Satchidananda Ashram in Yogaville (really!), Virginia. We were there to learn and practice concentrating on subtle sense perceptions with world famous kirtan wallah Krishna Das. The practice of kirtan might seem like playing music and singing along but it is one of the ways Yogis can cultivate a quiet mind by focusing on divine sound vibration. Over the weekend, we were scheduled to practice kirtan 14 hours with KD. Even with time for question and answer and potty breaks, that is an impressive duration for sustained practice time.

I say that Yogaville is beautiful but not because it is the most beautiful place I have ever seen, but because the experience is beautiful and the environment facilitates a beautiful experience. Ashrams or Yoga retreat centers traditionally are spartan, not too fancy but clean and spacious nestled in a natural setting (no tvs or phones in rooms). The scriptures talk specifically about being close to nature when doing serious practice. The food is amazing, not because it is the best food I have ever had, but because it is delicious in a way that does not over indulge the senses and it sets the foundation for the state of meditation to happen. I have worked in the kitchen as a volunteer and prayers are said all day long to bless the food and much of the food comes from their very own organic garden. The food is satvic- pure, light and simple.

Making time for extra practice has its rewards. Almost always, the body and mind feel rejuvenated and a new insight comes.