Sacred Sound: Mantras & Chants

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Many years ago when I started a yoga practice, I had no idea what it would reveal to me. I was just hoping for a little extra strength and flexibility, and I did what I could to avoid all the spiritual trappings of the practice. But, somehow, as it does, the yoga did its job. Over the years it brought me through physical, psychological, and emotional revelations that I can’t imagine would have taken place otherwise.

One of the most powerful insights has come through the use of sound and mantra as a basis for the practice. I was born with a hearing impairment that gave me a unique relationship to sound. As a child, I would feel sound, vibration, tone, and intonation in order to more fully access my world. This was second nature to me, but through my studies of yoga (and physics!), I suddenly found a reason behind my special relationship to sound. Just as important, through yoga’s rich mythology, I also gained context and meaning to better understand how the inner and outer practices of yoga work. It is from this perspective that I have always practiced and taught, fueled by the belief that sound has the power to harmonize us and myth brings forth what is alive within us. It is in this spirit that I always end my lectures and workshops with these words: Don’t miss the vibrations.

Mantras and Chants

A mantra, as it relates to the yogic and Vedic traditions of India, is a Sanskrit phrase that encapsulates some higher idea or ideal within the cadence, vibration, and essence of its sound. A mantra can be as simple as a single sound — such as chanting the well-known sound — or as complicated as chanting a poem that tells a grand story or gives instruction. Whatever mantra is chanted, no matter how long or short, the purpose is the same: it is meant to act like a skeleton key to help you bypass the mundane matters and mental chatter of the day-to-day mind in order to reach a transcendent state of awareness and self-realization that is, quite frankly, indescribable. Every yogic practice provides the means for us to do this — such as äsana (postures), meditation, and präëäyäma (breath work) — but mantra practice and näda yoga are uniquely simple and universal. If you can form a thought, you can do a mantra practice. The simple act of thinking a mantra is a start to a genuine practice. The silent repetition of the sound while driving, for example, can be a starting point. Eventually, our practice might grow to include chanting while meditating, attending lively mantra-based musical performances (kirtan, or kértana), or perhaps even chanting a longer mantra 108 times aloud to celebrate the New Year. As I’ve said, there is no wrong way to use a mantra.

In the United States, mantra has gained popularity largely through the musical kirtan (kértana) tradition. Popular kirtan musicians such as Krishna Das, Deva Premal, and Dave Stringer have brought these Eastern chants to life by giving them some good old American rock-and-roll flair. While the kirtan tradition in India began around the ninth century, its look and feel hasn’t changed much even as it has evolved to incorporate Western musical proclivities. It has always had (and still has) a fairly simplistic call-and-response-type format, where the leader will chant a phrase that is repeated by the audience. This typically becomes more lively and fast as the chant continues. In India, various instruments are used — typically the harmonium (similar to an accordion in a box), the tabla (classical Indian drum set), and the cartals (tiny cymbals). Those instruments are still present in many kirtan settings today, yet the music is often Westernized through the incorporation of all sorts of instruments, like the guitar, bass, and even a proper Western drum kit (like how Chris Grosso and I perform!). What is wonderful about many of these yogic and Vedic traditions is that they are quite malleable. So long as the intention is still sealed within the practice, the practice — even if it is modernized and Westernized — does not lose its efficacy.

So while some choose to chant mantras in a kirtan setting, others have long used mantra in spiritual practice in accordance with daily rituals, meditation, or as a way to bind fellow students of a tradition. Many use a mantra during their morning worship practice to invoke an intention or particular deity. Many practitioners also stay focused in their meditation practice by silently or quietly chanting a mantra. And some traditions claim certain mantras as part of their tradition — almost like a secret handshake. In many Eastern spiritual traditions, it is common at the beginning and end of a spiritual practice to chant a mantra or . Mantras are also commonly used as prayers for peace, health, or well-being. Mantras can be used to focus the mind and empower whatever spiritual practice we embark on. Mantra is fuel for the inner spiritual fire.

I encourage you to simply begin a mantra practice in whatever way that feels right, using my book Sacred Sound. and/or the mantra library on my website (www.bit.ly/mantralibrary), as a guide . Start simple, such as with om, and incorporate other, longer, or more complex mantras as they resonate with you. Some mantras may appeal to you because of their sound, while others may become attractive as you understand their context, underlying mythology, and intention. Over time, as you use each mantra in your life and practice, it will become like a friend whom you come to know more and more deeply. The mantra may start out as a little gem that lightens your day, but after years of saying it, it may also become a bright light that guides you through the darkest of times. Through practice, we make these mantras our own so they help us on our spiritual journey.

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AlannaKaivalya2_cEditor’s note: This is a guest post by Alanna Kaivalya, author of some of my favorite yoga books, including her recently released Sacred Sound. She is the yoga world’s expert on Hindu mythology and mysticism. Her podcasts have been heard by more than one million people worldwide, and her Kaivalya Yoga Method melds mythology, philosophy, and yoga. Visit her online at http://www.alannak.com.

 Adapted from the book Sacred Sound © 2014 by Alanna Kaivalya. Printed with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA. www.newworldlibrary.com.

Is Your Head on Straight?

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Freeze! Don’t move and notice your posture.

Chances are–­­if you’re reading this on a computer, tablet or smart phone–­­your head and shoulders are hunched forward and your spine is rounded. Your neck, jaw and dominant arm may also be tense.

This common habit, known as “forward head posture,” can lead to a wide array of ailments–­­from headaches, neck and back pain, to problems with respiration, circulation and digestion. Even dedicated yoga practitioners, who have wonderful alignment on the mat, often fall into this slump when they’re out in the world—sitting at a desk, the dinner table or behind the wheel of a car.

That’s why I like to teach “Yoga Sparks” – quick, simple micro­practices designed to help people integrate powerful yogic teachings into daily life. In my work as a yoga therapist and in my own practice — over more than 30 years — I’ve found that interweaving brief practices into the day can be transformative, turning ordinary activities into sacred rituals and bringing awareness to the precious gifts of body and breath.

The most basic Yoga Spark is a quick “Freeze” practice, geared to becoming aware of your posture and shining a light on unhealthy habits. Consider setting a timer to ring every hour—then when it sounds, stop and notice your posture: In particular, observe the shape of your spine—does it have its natural “S” curve or is it hunched forward? Where is your head in relation to your shoulders? What’s happening in your jaw, face, shoulders, hands and feet? Are they tense or relaxed?

If your head isn’t on straight, be kind to your spine (and the rest of your body) by paying attention to these posture pointers:

  • Balance your head over your shoulder girdle, so that–­­if someone were looking at you from the side–­­the hole in your ear would line up directly over your shoulder.
  • Extend the top of your head up, as if you were trying to touch it to the ceiling. Be sure to keep your chin parallel to the floor as you do this­­–don’t tilt it up or tuck it in.
  • Imagine there’s a headlight shining out from the center of your chest. Make sure it shines forward, not down in your lap when you’re sitting or toward the floor when you’re standing.
  • Relax your shoulders, so they release down away from your ears.
  • Sit on your “sit bones”– those two knobs at the base of your pelvis — not on your sacrum.

Good posture has the added bonus of creating an “instant weight loss” effect. Slouching causes the belly to protrude, so when you learn how to stand and sit properly, it often looks as if you’ve suddenly lost five pounds.

In addition, good posture can give you an emotional lift, since the way you hold your body affects the way you feel, and vice versa. People who carry themselves with good alignment seem confident and graceful, while those whose posture reflects a physical slump often appear to be in a mental slump as well.

YogaSparksCFb-249x350This quick “Freeze!” practice is adapted from my book, Yoga Sparks: 108 Easy Practices for Stress Relief in a Minute or Less (New Harbinger, 2013). There are Sparks that focus on each of the four main aspects of yoga practice: breathing, postures, meditation, and principles. Some primarily impact muscles and bones, others address behaviors and breathing, and still others center on thoughts and attitudes.

It’s important to recognize that yoga isn’t just something you do while you’re on the mat, then leave behind. As a practice of awareness that connects you with your innermost self, yoga can be done at any time, in any place. If you have a minute, you can practice Yoga Sparks and gain significant and lasting benefits. No matter your age or fitness level, if you can breathe, you can do Yoga Sparks.

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Carol Krucoff HeadshotEditor’s note: This is a guest post by renowned yoga teacher and author, Carol Krucoff, E-RYT.  Carol is a Yoga Therapist at Duke Integrative Medicine in Durham, North Carolina, and an award-winning journalist. A frequent contributor to Yoga Journal, she is the author of several books including Yoga Sparks:  108 Easy Practices for Stress Relief in a Minute or Less and Healing Yoga for Neck and Shoulder Pain.  Creator of the audio home practice CD, Healing Moves Yoga, and co-creator of the DVD Relax into Yoga, she is co-director of the Therapeutic Yoga for Seniors teacher training, which helps yoga instructors safely and effectively adapt the practice to older bodies, minds and spirits.  For more information, please visit www.healingmoves.com.

Image credit: Camillia Lee Yoga

What I Learned About Life from a Prenatal Yoga Book…

tumblr_mcmejpBZwu1qceubuo1_500I completed my 200-hour teaching certification just over two years ago this past January. As in most general 200 Registered Yoga Teacher trainings, we spent a very brief section of our time learning how to teach to pregnant women. Perhaps because I am not a mother, and have never been pregnant, I didn’t retain much of the information that I learned during that module of training.

So, when I was inevitably faced with pregnant mamas in my general Hatha Flow classes I was terrified, honestly. Not OF the mamas themselves, of course – they are all radiant beings of strength and courage to me – but of teaching yoga to them. It’s scary enough to lead a room of 30 yogis up and down and on to their heads without anyone getting hurt. Adding in the women who need to take special care of themselves and their bodies during their sacred time of pregnancy comes with it’s own set of rules and regulations.

I am absolutely in awe and amazement at the power of the female body to grow a whole other soul inside of it – I mean whoa, right?? It is because of this that I decided it was time to take matters in to my own hands. So, I called upon the best person that I knew for the job – my friend and fellow Austin yoga teacher, Liz V. Liz is not only a mother herself, but also teaches some amazing prenatal and restorative yoga classes at SAY OM Yoga in Austin, TX. I knew I would be in good hands.

But besides going over the basic logistics, do’s and don’ts and sequencing strategies of teaching to the pregnant woman, she lent me a book called Bountiful, Beautiful, Blissful by LA teacher Gurmukh, to help me better understand where my pregnant mama yogis were coming from when they entered my general, all levels Hatha Flow class. Reading this book gave me a lot of insight into what the pregnancy and birthing experience can be like. But even more, it gave me so much insight about Yoga and the empowerment that it can bring to us, no matter who we are or where we are on our path.

1. Love is Power

Gurmukh begins her book with the Law of Love from Yogi Bhajan, Master of Kundalini Yoga:

Love gives you power to merge,
from finite to infinity.
Love gives you power to trust,
from nothing to everything.

Love gives you power, the powerful prayer
between you and your creator.
Love gives you vastness,
As vast as there can be.

Love gives you the hold, the experience,
and the touch with your own infinity,
As beautiful, bountiful, and blissful
As there can be.

In our society we are often made to believe that love equals weakness. However, yoga has taught me that the opposite of love isn’t hate, but fear – fear of vulnerability, loss of control, and not getting what we think we want or need. But opening yourself up to love is more freeing and courageous than shutting out emotion for the sake of money and the possibility of power. Being honest with yourself and others is about as daring and powerful as it gets.

2. Yoga is self-acceptance

“Yoga is a practice of self-acceptance rather than an exercise program for self-improvement.” – Gurmukh

It stresses me out to see books about yoga in the self-improvement section at the bookstore. Yoga brings us to a state of receptivity where we can begin to learn about ourselves as we are connected to others and the Infinite. When we come to this understanding, this learning process will no doubt lead to lasting changes.

However, yoga doesn’t preach paying lots and lots of money to join an exclusive club where there are rules and regulations about everything from how we act to how we dress, despite what our current culture seems to make of it (but that’s a different story). When we come into unity with the Infinite, the same Light that resides in every living being and makes up the entire Universe, we no doubt begin to change the way we see the world around us and everyone in it, including ourselves. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali doesn’t just give us a list of do’s and don’ts, but rather the promise of what we have to look forward to when we realize the Unity and wholeness of our being.

3. Life is suffering

As beings of Light here on earth to live out the flawed experience of the human existence, there will no doubt be suffering. Some of us are all too familiar with this idea. But like the laboring mama ready to hold her newborn in her arms, Kahlil Gibran says “Work is love made visible.” Nothing worth having ever comes easily to us. Sometimes this work involves pain.

“How we think about pain actually influences how we feel it. If you say to yourself, ‘This is horrible, I can’t stand it,’ there’s a good chance that whatever you’re going through is going to feel a whole lot worse than if you believed the feeling wasn’t so dire. If our previous conditioning is to associate pain with danger, then we are more susceptible to suggestions that our pain is dangerous and requires external relief in the form of drugs…

How our culture at large views pain also influences our perception of it. If we get messages that all pain is to be avoided, well guess what? These cultural attitudes are translated into personal fears, doubts, and our ability to manage pain – manage our lives, for that matter. Our pharmaceutical companies are built around this idea.”
~Gurmukh

Just like in love, it can be difficult to open ourselves up to the possibility of pain and disappointment – but at what cost? Are you willing to numb everything to not feel pain? Do you know what else you’re missing out on? Life is suffering, according to the Buddha, but on the other side of that work and pain and suffering is great joy, excitement and surprise. Don’t let the suffering get you down. Be empowered by your own strength and ability to rise above all odds into the place of pure Light, joy, and gratitude.

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Editor’s note: This is a guest post from DCOY contributor Sean Devenport. She is currently completing her 500-hour RYT.

540217_698781320137845_1802831051_nA quiet and curious observer by nature, Sean was drawn to human psychology as an undergraduate at Ripon College. Determined to learn just what it is that makes people “tick”, she travelled the globe studying some of the ways we, as humans, can be – spending a semester on the golden beaches of Australia, and another in the Blue Mountains of Jamaica, Sean returned home to discover the key ingredient  to understanding others was first to understand the Self. Since 2009, Sean has been a dedicated practitioner of yoga and life, dabbling in every style from Bikram to Kripalu. As a former dancer and dance enthusiast to this day, the fluidity and dance-like quality of Vinyasa was what really spoke to her soul. After studying under Gioconda Parker in 2011, Sean began teaching her own personal style of Hatha Flow, a melding of Vinyasa, the dedication to precision and alignment of Anusara, and Iyengar, and the core teachings of Hatha Yoga. Sean was highly influenced by William J Broad’s 2011 best seller The Science of Yoga, and strives to offer a safe and judgement-free environment for practitioners of every level to seek higher understanding of themSelves. Sean encourages students to pour the compassion and love that they cultivate for themselves on their mats, in to their every day interactions with others. Under the guidance of Gioconda and Christina Sell, Sean is currently pursuing her 500-hour teaching certification, The Alchemy of Flow and Form, at the San Marcos School of Yoga. Connect with Sean on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

Yoga Myths: Don’t Let These 3 Common Misconceptions Keep You Off the Mat

webeka_pada_rajakoptasana_iiIt’s fair to say that yoga has been around for a while and has come a long way since its hippie days of the 60s and 70s. I remember taking my first class when I was twelve years old, I went with my grandma and fell asleep. I thought yoga was for older ladies in leotards and didn’t take another class until after college. I had no idea the practice could be so dynamic and physical. Luckily yoga has gained a lot more attention and most people have a good idea of what yoga is all about as well as its benefits — still, there are a few common misconceptions worth addressing. So here we go: Debunking the top three yoga myths and reasons for not practicing.

YOGA MYTH #1: All Yoga is Created Equal

At first glance it may seem like yoga is yoga is yoga, but take a second look and you’ll discover that there are many different ways of practicing yoga being offered in the States. According to the American Yoga Association, there are more than 100 styles of yoga. And while yoga is for everyone, not every style of yoga is. Meaning, the yoga offered at your gym might not be the best yoga for you.

PickYourYoga_cvr.inddThat’s why I wrote my book Pick Your Yoga Practice, to help newbies and experienced practitioners alike understand the sometimes subtle differences between styles of yoga. In the book you’ll find seven popular yoga styles discussed in-depth, including teaching methodology, elements of practice, philosophical and spiritual underpinnings, class structure, physical exertion, and personal attention, as well as ten more styles in the “Best of the Rest” chapter.

You should also be aware that not all yoga teachers are created equal either. Yoga’s popularity grew at such an exponential rate here in the U.S. that yoga’s professional standards and governing bodies are just now catching up. Some current teachers completed their training over a weekend while others have spent years studying to become a yoga teacher. Different styles of yoga have different requirements, expectations and standards for certifying yoga teachers. Spend a short amount of time checking out the teacher’s bio and trainings before jumping into class, and always do what feels best for your body.

YOGA MYTH #2: Yoga is for the Flexy-Bendy Type

Whenever I tell someone that I teach yoga, they either tell me they practice yoga and love it or share with the me the reasons they don’t practice yoga: the most often being “I’m not flexible.”

While I understand that from the looks of it yoga is only for those blessed with the ability to fold themselves in half, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Yoga is meant to help you become more comfortable, gain strength, and increase range of motion in the body you have. The benefits are the same regardless of how far you can bend. Besides, you aren’t strong before you started strength training and you don’t have endurance before you start cardio workouts—does that mean you aren’t going to lift weights or go for a run… ever? Don’t be silly. When I started practicing yoga I couldn’t even touch my toes.

Everyone has to start somewhere, and if you’re uncomfortable with your inflexibility or at all intimidated by the class environment, you may want to think about taking a more compassionate style of yoga, like Kripalu yoga, or a beginners class where you’ll learn the how to use props to modify the poses to compensate for tight hips, shoulders, and hamstrings. Many styles preference function over form, meaning that the shape of the yoga postures are modified to meet the needs of the individual. A skilled teacher will be able to show you, with the use of props, how to adjust yourself to make the poses more comfortable for your body.

I’ll also have you know that it is better to come to yoga with less flexibility and gain it gradually than to start practicing as a wet noodle. It’s the flexible people who are more likely to injure themselves. Yoga requires equal flexibility and strength, and the hope is that you’ll balance the two. Flexibility without the strength to match is much more hazardous than strength without being flexible.

YOGA MYTH #3: Yoga is for the Spiritual

Not true. Yoga is for anyone. The great thing about the practice is that you can take it as far as you want to go. You may just like the physical exercise combined with the breathing and leave it at that. You may become a monk. Point being, yoga doesn’t care. The more people stretching, breathing, and moving their spine the better! All are welcome.

You can continue with the same lifestyle you have now and practice yoga. However, don’t be surprised if you start to preference healthy lifestyle choices over unhealthy ones. Yoga has a way of working itself into your life off the mat. Yoga puts you more in touch with your body—the way you feel. By practicing yoga, you will start to notice what makes you feel your best and when you’re not feeling quite your best. Without forcing yourself, you simply start making decisions that help you feel good all the way around.

The fantastic part about having so many styles of yoga available to us is that you have some choice as far as personal preference. If you want a more overtly spiritual yoga practice then you can choose a style that incorporates more chanting and meditation, if you’re looking for a straightforward yet mindful workout then take a class focused on producing sweat. There is of course a lot of crossover, and each style has much more to offer than what initially meets the eye, but with this many variations on the market you’re sure to find the right combination for you. 

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[webMeaganheadshotEditor’s note: This is a guest post by Meagan McCrary. Meagan is a Los Angeles based yoga teacher and the author of Pick Your Yoga Practice. She teaches for Equinox Sports Clubs, works one-on-one with some of the entertainment industry’s leading professionals, and holds workshops and retreats nationally and internationally.  Visit her online at http://www.meaganmccrary.com.]   

The above post is based on the book Pick Your Yoga Practice © 2013 by Meagan McCrary. Printed with permission of New World Library www.newworldlibrary.com.  If you’d like to hear more from Meagan about the inspiration for her new book, check out the interview below.

Santa’s Christmas Yoga Routine

A fun little Christmas e-book for kids and those still young at heart… I posted this a few years ago, but it’s still enjoyable to look at this time of year.

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A Different Remembrance Day

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This is my baby boy Harrison…he’s 3 months old this week…and he loves his tongue…

[Editor’s note: When I read this guest post by Matthew Remski, it brought to mind some of the feelings I have about parenting and being a father.  We also just had our third child, Harrison, a few months ago. It’s a full-time job just staring at his cuteness!  This post spoke to me about being a better parent everyday and I think it will speak to some of you.  Please check out and support Matthew and Michael Stone’s indiegogo crowdfunding campaign to publish their book, Family Wakes Us Up. ~Brian] 

FWUU - Facebook Cover Image

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On Remembrance Day, I didn’t wear a red poppy. Nor was I inclined to wear a white poppy. I am neither hawk nor dove, but a pragmatist at heart. But deeper than this I share with many others a sick discomfort at the emotion of the day. It’s not just because it presents an impossible tangle of trauma and politics. Or because we’re asked to digest the absurdity of Vimy Ridge together with the heroism of D-Day and the hubris of Vietnam. It’s not because I know my grandfather became a violent alcoholic in part because he survived the slaughter at Dieppe. It’s not because I can feel his fear and rage in my own heart.

I have misgivings about the emotions of the day because their performance reveals both the scarcity of other emotions and opportunities to share them. Specifically: those emotions that might arise from different forms of male intimacy. It feels as if only horror and loss and pride make emotional transparency permissible amongst men. (The demographics of veterans and casualties are becoming less gender-specific, but it is still mostly men.) Deeper than this is the strange resonance between celebrating the absence of men and the everyday fact that living men are so often absent to each other.

It’s appropriate that these rituals around the world take place at cenotaphs – literally, “empty graves” – symbolizing resting places for those who are vanished. I remember being ten and seeing a sepia photograph of the English poet Wilfred Owen, who was killed at twenty-five one week before the Armistice of 1918. His death and absence seemed to canonize him. I developed a strange wish to be like the vanished: exquisite in noble silence, remembered, but not present. Weep, you may weep, for you may touch them not, Owen wrote, shivering in a trench in France.

The dead soldier, the missing soldier: you can’t touch them. The dead man, the absent man. The dead father, the absent father: you can’t touch them. How often do men stand in elevators together, staring straight ahead, ascending the silent towers? How often do men fail to meet each other’s eyes, and quickly change of any conversation that approaches the heart?

I have a sense that the austere moods in the shadow of the cenotaph – this deference we pay to absence – distracted myself and other boys being socialized into this construction of manhood from nurturing other modes of bonding. Modes based on the presence, or simply: what we feel through our immediate relationships every day. Simpler sorrows and joys, unorchestrated by the transfer of wealth, unordained by the state. Things that are readily given, can be touched every day, and by touching, make you weep.

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From admiring Wilfred Owen at ten years old, I’ll fast-forward thirty years. My partner Alix and I find out that she’s pregnant. Overjoyed, we tell our parents. Alix’s father grabs me by the lapels and says, shaking and through tears, “Now you’ll know what all of the words are about, all of this mythology and literature. All of these rituals. You’ll understand what everybody’s fighting and feeling about.”

Fighting and feeling. I was familiar with the first. But what of feeling? Where would I find my band of brothers in this? With whom would I share this heart bursting with love and expectation? This excitement and anxiety? The premonition that I was becoming more whole, and that I wasn’t ready for it?

I went looking for support and fellowship amongst fathers. Surely there must be fatherhood preparation groups, I thought. But I didn’t find anything in this modern and liberal metropolis. I made a point of taking out all of my friends who were fathers for lunch and asking them “What’s the most important thing you can tell me about being a father?” Many were embarrassed by the question, as though they couldn’t imagine having anything of value to say. I pressed them anyway. I dragged out their stories and drank them in. I said: You’ve learned so much. Do you see how much you’ve learned? We really have to share this. Isn’t this the most important thing?

Meanwhile, Alix had pre-natal yoga, and a network of contacts through the midwifery clinic. We hired a doula, and this extended her web of connections through a whole underground city of expectant mothers. I remember walking with her down a busy city street and passing other expectant couples. Her eyes would meet with the eyes of the other women, and they’d share a moment of recognition. But I never met the eyes of my counterparts, except briefly, which provoked a shrugging, bewildered acknowledgement that we were standing outside something we didn’t know how to enter.

When men stand around the cenotaph – the empty grave – they know how to dress the part, to straighten their medals. They know how to cry, and we expect them to. But when in their ragged circle they stand around the fullness of their partners about to give birth, men become largely invisible to the culture and to themselves. In their emotional invisibility, they are assigned or fall into the thinnest of stereotypes. The bumbling father who screws up the laundry. The distant father, on his smartphone at the playground.

Why are we not socialized to share the wonder of life – the newness of our changing identities? As if it were the natural thing to do. Where is the emotional transparency of everyday things?

Over two millennia ago, the Buddha confronted a patriarchal, economically stratified and belligerent culture that was also fixated upon absences: invisible things like honour and the gods, which the priestly bureaucracies encouraged people to remember with grandiose rituals. The dominant culture encouraged remembrance –smriti in Sanskrit – of mythology, forefathers, glorious victories in war, and the divine nature of the social order and gender roles. One of the main things one was meant to remember was one’s place.

Like many other things the Buddha turned that upside down, using the word smriti in a very novel way. In essence, he said: Go ahead and remember the myths and the gods and your social customs and your gender roles and all manner of things you make up or can’t see. But more importantly, remember that you are alive here and now. That you are breathing. That there is sun and earth and grass. That you can love and be loved every day. That underneath every ambition there is a forgotten peace. Underneath every anger there is hurt that can be soothed. That your first duty is to nurture life. Viewing the eons of war, the Buddha suggested a different kind of Remembrance Day, not ordained by class, restricted to a date, defined by a ritual, or confined to a temple or an empty grave. Instead of two minutes of silent meditation upon absence, he encouraged an ongoing mindfulness of how we are present to the world and each other, lest we forget.

In the end I didn’t find an expectant fathers group. But I did become aware of how many people beyond my heteronormative bubble are pushing back against the gendered constructs that divvy up the labour of feeling.  And then I made a friend whose partner was also pregnant. So we started writing letters to each other, every morning. We’re collecting them into a book. For me, a different remembrance day began without flags or wreaths or homilies, or the ringing of guns. It began by writing Dear Michael, I have something to share with you.

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[Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Matthew Resmki.  Matthew is an Ayurvedic practitioner and yoga philosopher. His latest book, Threads of Yoga: a remix of Patanjali’s sutras with commentary and reverie has redefined the practice of yoga philosophy. Family Wakes Us Up, a book about the spirituality of family life, co-written with Buddhist teacher and activist Michael Stone, will be published in June of 2014. He lives in Toronto with his partner and child. He blogs at http://matthewremski.com/.]

To Obtain the Benefits of Yoga Requires More than Just Putting on the Garb of a Yogi

Sri K. Pattabhi Jois Yoga teaching New Yorker photoI’m re-reading Yoga Mala by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois and rediscovered this gem on p. 5, which I love because it motivates and reminds us that true understanding of yoga only comes through diligent practice:

“We now have to ask whether it is possible to realize the true nature of yoga simply by understanding its meaning as a word. By the mere study of texts on yoga, by the mere grasp of yoga’s meaning as a word, by a mere discussion of the pros and cons of this intellectual grasp, one cannot have a thorough knowledge of yoga. For, just as a good knowledge of culinary science does not satisfy hunger, neither will the benefits of yoga be realized fully by a mere understanding of the science of its practice. Thus, the scriptures only show us the right path. It is left to us to understand them and to put them into practice. By the strength gained through this practice, we can come to know the method for bringing the mind and sense organs under control. Thus can we achieve yoga. For it is only through the control of the mind and sense organs that we come to know our true nature, and not through intellectual knowledge, or by putting on the garb of a yogi.”

One Can Never Get Bored With Yoga…

One can never get bored with yoga. It is so versatile, so complete. It deals with how to help your body, how to help your mind find happiness and transform itself, to know and understand what “is” and so to know what should be called the Self. The whole philosophy and practice of yoga is developed for the good of each and every individual–so that he or she can find the Self individually, and thereby divine the undercurrent of happiness in all life.

~ Srivatsa Ramaswami in The Complete Book of Vinyasa Yoga

Photo credit: TeenyTinyOm 

DCOY Giveaway: Core of the Yoga Sutras by B.K.S. Iyengar

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After an illustrious lifetime of expounding yogic wisdom to the eager masses, it only seems fitting that B.K.S. Iyengar, the undisputed heavyweight champion of the modern-day yoga bible, turns his gaze toward yoga’s foundational philosophical text, the Yoga Sutras.  In Core of the Yoga Sutras, Mr. Iyengar provides unique commentary on Patanjali’s 196 aphorisms that only someone with his experience and authority can bring to the work.

B.K.S. Iyengar′s insight on the sutras show us how we can transform ourselves through the practice of yoga, gradually developing the mind, body and emotions, so we can become spiritually evolved…or something like that ;)  All jest aside, this is a wonderful introduction to the spiritual philosophy that is the foundation of yoga practice.

This week we’re excited to be giving away a copy of Core of the Yoga Sutras, courtesy of Harper Collins! 

To Enter: Each of us comes to yoga for a variety of reasons–for me, my back always hurt and I was tired of taking pills and yoga seemed like it would help.  At the end of the day, a lot of us practice yoga because it helps us with some aspect of our life.  So, to enter, just answer the following question: “Yoga helps __________.”  No right or wrong answers, and we’ll pick a winner at random sometime this week.  Good luck!

Thanks for reading and have a fantastic week!

[Valentine’s Day Update: Thank you to everyone who entered our giveaway this week! Obviously “yoga helps” in so many ways–the comments were a joy to read. Congrats to Alex as the lucky winner of a copy of Core of the Yoga Sutras!!]

Yoga Book Giveaway: Two Signed Copies of Hell-Bent!

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UPDATE 19 Jan 13:  Thanks to everyone who shared so many wonderful yoga quotes!  Each inspired in their own way, but we ultimately loved the following two quotes from our contest winners Gillian and Dave–congratulations to both of them!  As some of the quotes in the comments attest, they will undoubtedly find some gems in their signed copies of Hell-Bent.

From Gillian, a quote out of The Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Practice by TKV Desikachar:

“When we are attentive to our actions we are not prisoners to our habits.”

And from Dave, a quote from Yoga Mind, Body & Spirit by Donna Farhi:

“Yoga is a technology for arriving in this present moment.  It is a means of waking up from our spiritual amnesia, so that we can remember all that we already know.”

Thanks again and have a great weekend!

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Like many yogis, I read/browse a crap-ton of yoga books every year because it’s just one of those things I love to do.  It makes me happy, inspires me, and (I like to think) helps make me a well-rounded yogi.  If you follow Daily Cup of Yoga on Twitter you’ll know I recently declared Hell-Bent: Obsession, Pain, and the Search for Something Like Transcendence in Competitive Yoga by Benjamin Lorr as my favorite yoga memoir of 2012.

Some yoga books are great to read before bed if you have a tough time falling asleep…Hell-Bent falls on the opposite end of the spectrum–you’ll stay up all night indulging in the deep dark secrets of what it’s like to be a Bikram yoga addict.  I doubt you’ll be able to put it down either.

I’m excited to say that now’s your chance to win your very own SIGNED COPY of Hell-Bent!

Here’s how to win:

  1. Grab a favorite yoga-related book you read within the last year, and
  2. Leave a comment on this post with an inspiring quote from the book.
  3. That’s it!…but I’d sure be happy if you also “liked” and/or “followed” Daily Cup of Yoga on Facebook/Twitter and/or shared this post so we can all enjoy a humongous banquet of yogic inspiration.
  4. There’s no scientific process to winning other than I’ll pick my two favorite quotes and those two lucky yogis will be announced the winner next Friday (18 Jan 13).

As always, thanks for reading, good luck, and Namaste!
~Brian

Bikram yoga competition

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