Archives for posts with tag: spirit

I have been so busy recently due to yoga classes and yoga teacher training program. I have been reading new books for the teacher training program and preparing documents besides ongoing yoga classes I am teaching. Of course, I am not on my own in this program. A friend of mine who is a genuine “yogini” and I have started the program. Despite all her contributions, it is not so easy to get to the classes on time and prepare the training program and go on living your own personal daily life. That is why I had to stop posting blogs, which I did not appreciate.

I welcomed the new year in a seaside town away from the city I am living. This four-day retreat was really excellent for me. I really needed such a retreat, away from the city and I was desperately in need of having some spare time in the rural area. To be alone, to just stare at the sea, to drink something while staring at the sea, to take a stroll and to spend a few days without watching the time or without having a need to hurry. So once I returned home, I sat in front of the computer to write again.

I have experienced a great deal of things since I write the last blog. Not only reading resources on yoga but also reviewing the training programs I had attended before and making a synthesis of all of them made me a progress on this path. I realized that I have been focusing on only physical aspect of yoga in my classes for a long time. However, yoga is something that cannot be thought of without the spirit, soul and the mind. As I started to deepen on the path of yoga, I started to deepen in my own yoga group classes.

In the group classes, I aimed to end the previous year by leaving everything behind, the good and the bad before welcoming the new year. The past was just the past, nothing beneficial for us but taking a lot from us. Making us sorrowful and sad. Ego or the mind liked to feed from the past and pitty for itself. So, as we were leaving behind 2017, we should not bring any burdens from that year to the new year but solve everything and leave everything behind. We should purify ourselves bodily, mentally and spiritually and get cleaned up. In 2018, we should neither focus on the past nor the future as future was one of the best friends of the mind, by which it was feeding up itself. The future was unknown and the fear and worry caused by the unknown. What was need for sorrow or fear or worry? So what should we do? What kind of a path should we draw ourselves in 2018? We should just live the moment, stay in the moment, pay attention to the “right now”, understand what “now” means and experience just the “now.” How was the yoga classes shaped up with this aim? The aim was obvious: “Just to live the moment, to stay in the moment, to pay attention to the right now and understand what now means and experience just the now.” So, what type of a class should we perform to reach this aim? A class which gives priority to the breath and focuses on the coordination and harmony of the breath and the body. Thus, we could enable the unity and harmony of the body and soul. Surely, we should also add the mind to this couple. The mind should watch and follow the body and the breath but at the same time listen to what the instructor was saying instead of doing what it knows would come the next. We should do “vinyasa”s (flow) different from the flows the class was used to and confuse the mind. Thus, the mind would not do what it knows and walk on the path it knows but stay in the moment and do something by being totally aware not automatically. If you ask what was the most important decision we made for the new year… To stay in the moment, to live the moment, and to be totally aware, to work with full unity and harmony of the body, mind and soul even if it was hard in the daily life and even if we cannot do it in our daily lives,

 

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I showed up a bit earlier than the usual time to my private class last week. I had some time on my own before the class began. I chose the music I would play during the class and I wanted to warm my body up. I was feeling a bit tired that day and therefore I wanted to revive myself. Listening to my favorite “mantra”s (the sacred syllables chanted to free the mind), I started “surya namaskara” (sun salutation) flows. I closed my eyes to feel the “mantra” in my mind and spirit more intensively. After all when we close our eyes, the mind stops talking. I hadn’t realized how much I needed to turn inside, silence my mind and revive. That day we would focus on balancing asanas. This was what we had decided long before. When I was practicing “surya namaskara” flows eyes closed, something interesting came into my mind. Could we do practice with eyes closed throughout the entire class? By feeling the mind and spirit more intensively, by listening to the breath and totally turning inside…

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I turned off the lights. During the opening meditation, I told the student that today’s class would be different than the usual balancing flows and we would keep the eyes closed throughout the entire class. Maybe we could not enable coordination at first as the eyes we closed and sometimes we might not find our coordinates correctly on the “mat” but we would get used to finding our coordinates with eyes closed as we progressed on flows.

It is easier to balance when eyes are open. However when eyes are closed, no data is sent to the brain and it is hard for the body to percieve its position and coordinates on the space. Therefore, it is really difficult to find balance when eyes are closed.

We can get information about the place of the body parts with the help of our eyes. This means that it is so easy to know where our arm is, whether we could lift the leg up to 90 degrees or the leg stayed in 45 degrees with open eyes. Our eyes are open, we can see and get information. However, when eyes are closed, it is not that easy to get this information. Therefore, it is more difficult to practice balancing asanas with eyes closed.

We began “surya namaskara” flows with Krishna Das’ “Baba Hanuman” mantra  (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ar7xwyvAvEM). I planned to just practice “surya namaskara A” as the eyes were closed. We began sun salutation series slowly just like the mantra. Keeping the pace of the mantra and feeling each “asana.” As the mantra speeded up, we speeded up the flow. In the third or fourth round, the student started to find her coordination more easily and better. In the first rounds, she was not so much oriented. Her hands were out of the mat or her hands were so close to each other. When we got to the third or the fourth round, she could find her balance and coordination more easily. She started to place her hands and legs to the same places as she did when her eyes were open. At first, the hands and feet were so close to each other but in the following rounds, there was enough distance between the hands and feet. All parts of the body were exactly in the place they should be. The mind had already understood that no data was coming and got used to it. The mind accepted that there were no more new data and therefore the body and mind were acting more comfortably. The student started to see with eyes closed.

Now I could start adding balancing poses in-between “surya namaskara” flows. We should progress slowly. At the end of one sun salutation flow, we stayed long in “tadasana” (mountain pose) with eyes closed. We felt the grounding beneath the soles of the feet. Then we grounded on one of the foot and then put the tips of the toes on the ground. If we managed to do this, we lifted the leg up to 90 degrees with the knee bent. We would begin with right or left leg, whichever we wanted to as one part of the body could be more balanced and strong and the other could be unbalanced and week. Therefore, I advised the student to begin with which part of the body she was feeling more balanced and stronger.

In the next flow, I asked the student to lift one of the legs to 90 degrees and extend it to the front. Then in the next flow, we extended the leg and then bent it in each inhale and exhale. In the next flow, we kept the hands in “anjali mudra” (prayer pose) and tried “vrksasana” (tree pose). Then we tried to lift the arms over the head in “vrksasana.” The other balancing poses we tried with eyes closed were “garudasana” (eagle pose) and “virabhadrasana III” (warrior III).

I decided to cool the body with “surya namaskara” flows. As the pace of the mantra slowed down, the sun salutations with eyes closed also slowed down. We ended the class with “dandasana” (staff pose), “paschimottanasana” (seated forward bend), “jathara parivartanasana” (abdominal twist) and “savasana” (deep relaxation and resting pose). Eyes closed all the time.

When we were cooling the student with “surya namaskara” flows, I also wanted to join the flow. I stayed just opposite the student and started to practice sun salutations with my eyes closed. At that moment, the student said, “are you also practicing?” “Yes, I am also practicing.” Seeing with eyes closed was something like this. Seeing with eyes closed… Realizing the place and coordination of our body, environment and those around us with eyes closed was something like this. Feeling the instincts and intuition, listening to the soul and understanding what the soul is telling us, acting with intiution, and realizing those around us. Maybe this way we could create a difference in the world.

 

“I feel like I am born, I grow, I get old and die on the mat in every yoga class.” This was how one of my students expressed how she was feeling in yoga classes. For a moment, I flashbacked to a few years ago, when I was a student in a yoga teacher training program. Our instructor compared yoga classes to life. To be born, to grow, to get old and die. When my student expressed the same idea, I could not keep myself from thinking if we were living a life on yoga mat. Have you ever felt like you are living parts of your life on a yoga mat throughout a class?

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That day the peak pose was “sirsasana” (headstand). We began the class with meditation, focused on breath, calmed down the inhales and exhales and stretched the spine with “marjaryasana-bitilasana” (cat-cow stretch). On all-fours, we tried to work out the balance by opening right arm and left leg up and then vice-versa. This was how we started to engage core muscles. As “sirsasana” was an inversion, we had to strengthen shoulder girdle and core muscles and prepare the body to this pose.
We then warmed up the bodies with “surya namaskara” (sun salutation) flows. In order to strengthen the shoulder girdle and engage core muscles, we added “phalakasana” (plank), “chaturanga dandasana” (low plank), “vasisthasana” (side plank/sage Vasistha pose) and “ardha salamba sirsasana” (dolphin pose) in-between the sun salutation series. To strengthen the shoulder girdle more and prepare the body to stay in balance, we practiced “eka pada adho mukha svanasana” (one-legged downward facing dog), “eka pada phalakasana” (one-legged plank), “eka pada chaturanga dandasana” (one-legged low plank) and other variations of “phalakasana.”
Then we laid supine to go on strengthening core muscles. We lifted the legs up to 90 degrees and brought one leg to the ground in each exhale and in each exhale we lifted it up to 90 degrees without touching the leg to the ground. When we started to feel the core muscles burning, we kept the legs at 90 degrees and started to swim in the air. We brought both legs closer to the ground without touching them on the ground as if we were still swimming and then lifted them up to 90 degrees as if we were swimming. Two “navasana”s (boat pose) and staying there four five breaths. Then, we tried to bring the body down till shoulder blades as we inhaled and we lifted our body to “navasana” as we exhaled. In “navasana”, we opened the legs to the sides when we inhaled and closed them when we exhaled. Lastly, we got from “navasana” into “halasana” (plow pose) and stood up in “tadasana” (mountain pose).
In the last “surya namaskara”, we stayed in “adho mukha svanasana” (downward facing dog) for five breaths and sat on our knees. Now we could do the peak pose. After trying “sirsasana” variation on elbows, we did the other variation in which we lifted the body on the head and arms. Then we neutralized the body with “balasana” (child pose).
We bent forward the spine more with “janu sirsasana” (head to knee pose) and “paschimottanasana” (seated forward bend). Following “jathara parivartanasana” (abdominal twist), we rested in “savasana” (deep relaxation and resting pose). What I had in mind at that moment was to say, “we inverted the bodies and looked at the world with another perspective. We tried to understand each other and see the world from the eyes of another person.” However, one of the students totally changed the lesson of the class. She reminded me something I learned but I forgot in time: The similarity between yoga and life.
“I feel like I am born, I grow, I get old and die on the mat in every yoga class.” Comparing yoga classes to life. When we were stretching the spine at the beginning of the class and we slowly moved the body before starting the flow, we were “borning.” When we warmed up the bodies with “surya namaskara” series, we were “living our childhood.” When we added some asanas that would prepare us for the peak pose of the day in-between sun salutation series, couldn’t we call them “youth?” Wasn’t the peak pose our middle age when we felt ourselves at the peak of our life and “the most mature”?  Weren’t the asanas we used to neutralize the body after the peak pose the same with the regression in our lives from the middle age to the elderly ages? Could we define the forwardbends and twists we did to calm down the body and the nervous system before we ended the class as the “elderly ages?” And lastly could “savasana”, literally “corpse pose”, be compared to “death” when the spirit left the body? So weren’t we experiencing the birth, childhood, youth, maturity, elderly ages and the death throughout a yoga class? Don’t you think that every yoga class is a life from the beginning to the end?

It was many years ago when a new yoga instructor joined to our gym club. I need to try what yoga is like. Many people around me, particularly my family, thinks yoga is something in which you just sit in a cross-legged position and sing absurd noices like “auuummmm.” But, my instincts tell me to try yoga, and I often listen to my inner voice.

 

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Suddenly, I find myself in a yoga class with the support of my friend. I guess it was a yin yoga class that began with “uttanasana” (standing forward bend). Naturally, I had no idea about terms like “yin yoga”, “ashtanga yoga”, “hatha yoga”, and “vinyasa yoga.” Yoga is just yoga to me. We bend forward and wait statically in that pose. I first look at myself, and I like myself in the pose, my hands are touching on the ground. I find myself fairly flexible, which makes me happy. And then I am staring at the person beside me, i.e. my friend. Her hands are also touching the ground, she is also flexible. Then I look at my left, and the person in front of me, I am looking at every one. Poses change, we are getting into different poses, and I am looking at people. It is easier for me to look people on each of my sides when we are doing a twist. I love twists. I try to see whether people around me are flexible or strong. Can they do the pose well? I am interested in everything expect myself. What is wrong with me?
I have never been an ambitious person during my whole life, neither in secondary or high school nor in university. I was a person who was satisfied with what she I got even in my business life. I worked in the same office for 13 years, but I never thought of getting a better title or moving to another department. Although I was a person with no ambitions, what was that I was feeling in the yoga class? Was it an ambition or a curiosity? Why was I staring at everybody?
This was how my very first yoga class was. I was watching everybody in the class without focusing on myself. Despite everything, I liked yoga. I decided to join yoga classes whenever I was suitable. Our instructor was talking about just the physical benefits of yoga in those firt classes. Naturally, she was also aware that we were joining the yoga class for just physical purposes. We were away from getting to understand yoga philosophy.
Our instructor started to tell us that everyone was just responsible for himself/herself on the yoga mat a few months after the classes began. Yoga was our inner journey, and we should only be interested with ourselves, and we should not try to see what others were doing. And even, we could close our eyes.
What did this mean? Inner journey, closing the eyes. No, no, I could never close my eyes. When I close my eyes, I cannot feel comfortable. Even though, this lit a light in my head. My mind was saying that it was impossible for it to accept such a thing, but at the same time it was wondering what it was like to close the eyes. Therefore, I tried to close my eyes in some sitting yoga poses. But I was still curious.
As long as I continued to join the classes, I started to close my eyes on my own, without the teacher’s instructions. In time,  I noticed that I was not wondering what people were doing. My mat was my place, we were two, me and my mat. I was feeling as if only two of us were existing in the entire studio. An inner journey when eyes closed. To my inner self, not my thoughts. Not just thoughts like what I would do after the class, how angry I got at the office. I was feeling that very moment, and how it was like to do just simple pose. First steps towards my inner self and towards seizing the moment. Like a baby crawling, standing up and then falling down. Achieving the inner journey, and then re-opening the eyes and being interested in the outside world and others. One step forward and one backward…
It was a challenging journey, but I was gradually givin up the outside world. I was enjoying the journey towards my inner self. The most important thing in this journey was to keep my eyes closed. As long as my eyes were closed, I could look into my inner self more easily and I was caring about the outside world lesser and lesser. What my neighbor is doing, whether s/he is flexible or stronger than me… I did  not care. All these were no more important to me. Gradually, I started to be interested in only myself. How was I in the previous class, how am I now? Why am I different? I did the same pose more easily in the previous class, and even I could go to the edge. So why can’t I do it now?
This time, a different journey began in my mind and my inner self. It was a journey in which the only passenger was me. In poses, I realized that my body could give me different responses each day. All these are related with my mind and spirit. I also accepted that.
I first gave up the outside world, then turned my eyes in my inner self, and started to watch my inner self, mind, body and spirit, then I tried to stop my mind.
I tried to learn how to stop my mind talking. I saw that if my body, mind and spirit were not in harmony, I could do nothing. However, if my mind and spirit were in harmony, my body could more easily move and even flow from one pose to another.
At this point, I was enlighted. Acceptance… I saw that if I accept myself, my body, my limits, my life, my environment, and everything and everybody as they are, life will flow. If I accept everything, life will be easier and more peaceful; I will have a better life. Everything will be better if I accept everything as it is and try not to change. The only thing I should do is to let flow like I do on the yoga mat. To let myself be moved by the daily flow of life, to row my boat towards the flow instead of rowing it against the flow…

I was having tea with a friend of mine a few days ago. We were talking about our lives, particularly what we had experienced in recent days. And suddenly, we found ourselves talking about our habits, addictions and our ties.

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Even though we are not aware, our habits, addictions and ties affect our daily lives deeply. Our addictions and ties sometimes keep us from progressing on our roads, they keep us at one constant point, and we cannot proceed or progress.
Our addictions and ties? Is it so difficult to get rid of them? If we take it simply, smoking, coffee, tea and coke (caffein) are all addictions. Try to visualize what happens on the face of a smoker when you tell her/him that s/he has to quit smoking. And just think what they would tell you: “Impossible, I cannot even think of a life without cigarettes”, “cigarettes are my oldest friend”, “now you are suggesting that I drink a cup of coffee without a cigarette. Are you crazy?” These are all sentences you will hear from a smoking addict.
Or let’s handle coffee or tea addicts. “I cannot wake up if I do not drink tea/coffee”, “if I do not drink tea/coffee, I feel myself incomplete.” All these sentences also apply to coke addicts. I know people who cannot live without drinking coke, and I know people who drink coke when they wake up in the morning to slake his/her thirst. You may ask how? Because I was one of them. I was not a smoking but a tea, coffee and coke addict. After yoga came into my life, I did not exert a particular effort to get rid of my addictions. As I lived and experienced yoga, I started to give up my addictions. Now you may ask if I never drink tea, coffee or coke. No, surely, I drink but I reduced the amount. When I do not drink, I do not suffer from a headache, and I am not saying that “I cannot live without coffee, tea or coke.” I have started to lose my addictions, and I only drink for pleasure, not because I am an addict. I am drinking them because I just want to drink something at that moment, not because my body is addicted to them.
When it comes to our ties and attachments… Maybe, it is more difficult to cut our ties. What can our ties be? We can be tied and bound to our job or material things. We may be tied and dependent on our spouses, loved ones, boyfriends or girlfriends, families, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and children. We may be tied and bound to our friends even though they hurt us. We may like to cut our ties with these people since we are hut but we cannot do it.
We should cut all the ties limiting us and hampering our progress, and clean our path. If it is our job that hampers us, we should cut our ties with our job. We should leave aside all our feelings and ties with our job, think calmly and make our decision without feeling any addiction. If it is our friends, spouses, boyfriends, girlfriends, loved ones, families, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and children who hamper us, if our relations with them make us tired, then we should loosen our ties and find a place where we can breathe more freely.
In the eight-branch yoga philosophy of yoga master Patanjali, there is a branch named brahmacharya — moderation. This branch recommends us to refrain from extreme edges, be moderate, and get rid of addictions and ties. During the yoga teacher training program last year, I was moved by many different feelings and thoughts. Some of them were challenging and hard for me, but I easily accepted some of them and applied them in my daily life. Do you wonder why I am writing such a long article about ties and addictions? Because it was the most challenging issue for me during the program. I even tested some special meditation techniques related with ties and addictions. What happened in the end? I saw something that is a challenge for everybody. I saw “how difficult it is to give up and quit.” What did this awakening do to me? I can only say that I was relieved and I started to work on this issue. What happened at the end of the program? I quitted the most important addiction and tie in my life that I never thought I could quit. I gave up my job. I gave up material addictions without thinking how I could continue earning my life after that very moment. I only believed that everything I need would come to me in life as long as I continued doing and being yoga.
What else happened during the training program? I stopped seeing people who made me unhappy and whom I did not want to see any more. What about feelings? I tried not to build emotions. I used to be careful about my sentences not to hurt people, but I started to give this habit up. Naturally, I still pay attention not to hurt people, but I try to clearly say what I feel. I am still working on this issue, it is not that simple to get rid of addictions and cut your ties and attachments so easilly. I still have a long way to go.
Either ties, attachments and addictions, or a free spirit? It is totally your choice and preference…

Music, melodies, and notes… Music is a must in my life. When I am driving, when I am walking alone in nature or along the seaside, when I am sleeping, and naturally when I am doing yoga…
Some instructors do not prefer using music in their yoga classes, while music is a sine qua non for some others. I am a second-type instructor. If music is a part of my daily life, then it must take its place in my yoga classes. You may ask why music should be a part of my classes. Because, music is feeding our spirits. Since we want to relax and feed our spirits with yoga, I think that music should also have a place in our classes.
The other question may be what kind of music? Do we have to use yoga music or eastern melodies in our classes? Or can’t our classes reflect the music choices of the instructor as they also reflect his/her personality and style? Or can’t the instructor use the music and songs s/he likes and listens? In my opinion, music is universal. If we feed our spirits with yoga, then we can use any kind of music in our classes. However, this music should not disturb our students, and should not tire our bodies, mind and spirit.
Then, what kind of music can we use in our yoga classes? Naturally, we can use mantras (yoga poems), Sufi music, reed flute, flute and saxophone melodies, classical music pieces, and even jazz songs can be played in our classes. This is totally related to our style and the type of music we listen to. As long as this music has a calming, integrating and peaceful effect on our students.
Naturally, the theme of the class and the message we want to give are important in our music choice. If we give priority to backbends and aim to increase our enthusiasm in one class, we can use more enthusiastic songs and encourage our students to go beyond their limits. Also, songs, themselves, can give messages to our students. Tina Turner’s “Beyond” and Deva Premal’s “Gayatri Mantra” can be good choices in such a class. (You can click the links below to listen to these two melodies.)
In another class, we may focus on forward bends and to be with ourselves, we can choose songs that can make us calmer and help us listen to our inner voice. Sufi songs, reed flute and flute melodies can be suitable for such a class. If the theme of our class is patience and acceptance, we can use classical music and jazz melodies.
The music we will choose for “savasana” — the deep relaxation and resting pose — at the end of our class is maybe the most important choice of the class as it can affect the theme and intention of the class. Savasana is a pose in which we totally relax, we melt ourselves into our yoga mats, and we surrender ourselves. Therefore, the music we choose should relax us and help us melt on the mat and surrender ourselves. Nature melodies such as water, rain or bird sounds; a calming mantra; and saxophone melodies can be ideal for savasana.
Sometimes we give such classes that we need to choose for savasana a melody appropriate to the theme and intention of the class. When I was an intern in prenatal teacher training program, I wanted to make a difference in the deep relaxation pose. I thought for days. In the end, I found what to do. At the end of the class, when I asked the candidate mothers to relax and feel their babies, I choose a song that was inappropriate for savasana. I picked “Melek” (Angel), a song by famous Turkish pop singer Candan Ercetin, as the savasana melody. I asked the mothers to put their hands on their bellies and dedicate the song to their babies. And I guess the melody was so effective, as I imagined. Mothers were very emotional and even there were tears in some of them’s eyes when they stood up from savasana.
As we have always say, yoga means unity and integrity. And, yoga classes should be a whole, which can be achieved by the theme, intention, asanas and songs of the class. The melodies we choose not only ensure integrity of class but also help us affect the mood and spirit of students. Also, our music preference can be a good way to establish a bridge with our students. After all, music is universal and it has a universal language, and music and yoga are two things that help feed, rest and relax our spirits.