Archive for February, 2011

Spring Quarter Begins March 21st!

The winter quarter is soon coming to a close. Time to get those last make-up classes in.

This week we have regular classes with active asanas. The following week, the week of March 7th, is the last week of the winter quarter featuring restoratives.

The following week of March 14th there are no classes.

Spring Quarter begins the next week, the week of March 21st.

All details of the end of winter quarter and the first week of spring quarter are up on the calendar with the exact details of the rest of spring quarter to be posted there soon.

For a full list of recent Schedule Update postings go here.


Meditation and the Brain

18x24   Vintage Anatomy. Brains poster. Human Body. Zombies. Horror. Science.

When we practice yoga – which is a form of meditation – we sometimes feel a change in our state of mind, sometimes during, sometimes after our practice. Some people feel an increased sense of well being or of spaciousness or perhaps a decrease in feelings of stress.

Because so many people report these kinds of benefits, scientists have begun to study the brain to see what exactly is happening in there when we stretch back into a downward dog or a settle into a seated meditation.

One group of researchers looked specifically for evidence of concrete changes in the brain as a result of mindfulness meditation, in which subjects were told to pay attention to the breath and if their attention wandered, to continue to bring their attention back to the breath, just as we do in savasana. In that study, scientists found that people who did mindfulness meditation for 30 minutes a day for 8 weeks, had increased density in their brains in regions associated with empathy, stress, sense of self and memory.

To learn more read this New York Times wellness column.

For more on the possible direct physical benefits of meditation and yoga, go here and here to read New York Times articles about the effects of meditation on heart attacks and here to read about the use of yoga for dealing with a hangover.

(photo credit:×24-vintage-anatomy-brains-poster)

MeditationLast week, I focused on the Sutra that calls us to avoid future suffering, and there were numerous reflections from students about compassion’s place within the Yoga Sutras.

The Sutras are a meditation manual of sorts, and there are not many sutras referring to compassion, though there are a few that are certainly pertinent. Sutra II-33 addresses our yoga practice within the context of relationships, and in part speaks of offering compassion towards the suffering, so that we may achieve inner tranquility.

While each of us may indeed either perceive ourselves as presently compassionate, or at least aspiring towards that state, when we look more deeply into the practice of being compassionate many hardships can prevent us from finding our way to its true expression. Compassion in its very etymology suggests that we identify with the one who suffers, and are aware of our own likeness to that person; compassion becomes an embodied, intuitive arriving in full presence with the one who suffers. This may be really different than what we have done in the name of compassion, in giving recommendations, offering advice, and staying separate on some level from the one who is right before us in pain. Active ways of showing compassion can of course be most needed and welcome, but there is also a quality of presence that can be the most powerful expression of compassion.

I listened to a Zen teacher, Harada Roshi in teachings he offered over last week-end at One Drop Monastery on Whidbey Island. His teachings, focusing on compassion, suggested that the open hearted presence that allows us to find true and deep compassion emerge from practice. In yoga, the direction of practice is towards an experience of communion where we know our inviolable and true connection with all of the life around us. The more I know this in my body and being, the more I can offer the one who suffers not ONLY my concrete acts of help in the forms of recommendations, advice, food preparation and so forth, but also my true deep presence.

(Photo credit:

Will it snow or won’t it?

As always, if the weather seems to suggest a possible cancellation of a class, please listen to my voicemail message to verify. That phone number is 360-303-3892.

(photo credit:

Yoga Sutras Where: Yoga Sutra NYC studio Why: I love how the yoga sutras have created this fresh & contemporary piece of art.

One of the great charms of Patanjali’s yoga sutras is their ability to seem at once entirely obvious and completely opaque.

This week’s theme is a perfect illustration. It is found in the second book of the yoga sutras, which consists of some of the more practical advice to be found in these writings. This aphorism, heyam dukham anagatam, as translated by Ravi Ravindra,  tells us: “Future suffering is to be avoided.”

What could be a simpler or more agreeable task than avoiding future suffering? Who wouldn’t want to?

Yet if this is to be a piece of useful advice, one might easily ask – how in the world do we do that? If life is suffering, as Zen Buddhists would have it, is it even possible? We all know there is no avoiding change, illness, pain and death. So what exactly is Patanjali telling us?

Perhaps heyam dukham anagatam means more specifically, that some kinds of suffering (and as some translations suggest) can and should be avoided.

How many of us, consistently, knowing, repeatedly take actions or invite thoughts or emotions that we know will cause us future suffering? Future suffering that could be avoided if we were, perhaps, more aware and more awake in our lives.

On the simplest, most mundane level, we do this frequently enough. We eat that delicious food that we know will make us feel poorly later. We insist on holding that yoga pose for as long as everyone else in class, maybe even longer, even though we know it will hurt our backs later. We buy that irresistible item even though we know we will suffer when the credit card statement comes next month. Perhaps Patanjali is telling us – when you hear that tiny little voice in your head that says whoa, are you sure you want to do this? – that you, at the very least, stop and carefully consider.

But is Patanjali just giving us advice about diet and finances? How do we understand heyam dukham anagatam on a larger scale in the bigger picture context as well? Do we view our world, our fellow human beings, ourselves in a way that, in itself, will cause future suffering? And if we do, how do we change?

Have you found a way to enact the yoga sutra heyam dukham anagatam in your own yoga practice, in your life?
(photo credit:

Rebecca Lerner Workshop, June 3-5, 2011

We’re lucky this June to have Rebecca Lerner, a senior Iyengar teacher, coming to Bellingham to teach a workshop at 8 Petals Yoga. Some of you may be familiar with her husband, Dean Lerner, also a senior Iyengar yoga teacher.

Rebecca Lerner is co-director/owner of the Center for Well-Being in Lemont, Pennsylvania and an Intermediate Senior I Certified Iyengar Yoga Instructor. Rebecca makes frequent trips to India to study with the Iyengars. A devoted practitioner since the late ’70s, Rebecca is an IYNAUS assessor and Chair of the Ethics Committee and Certification Liason. She conducts workshops nationally as well as teacher training programs. Rebecca is known for her ability to guide the students deeply into the poses in a fresh, insightful and meaningful way. She has a gentle yet dynamic teaching style that brings each student a heightened yogic experience. Share and enjoy the enthusiasm, inspiration and expertise.

For more information and registration forms go here.

Learn more about Rebecca and the Center for Well Being here.

Theme of the Week: Inner Peace

At the end of the every class, we lay ourselves down for savasana, just as Mr. Iyengar is doing above. We concentrate on our breathing and we prepare the ground of our minds for the possibility of inner quiet, inner peace.

And yet how often during savasana – and even while doing other more active asanas – do we find ourselves caught up in the hope and fear-filled currents of the thought stream? How often are we pining for the past or fretting over the future, or even without a single thought to prompt us, awash in the full flush of a strong emotion – an upwelling of sadness or pride or fear or joy?

And how often do we then try to escape our feelings and even chastise ourselves? After all, aren’t we doing something wrong? Why are we ruminating over that insult we received last night or that compliment that came our way this morning, when we are supposed to be cultivating inner peace?

Or could it be that it is our attempt to escape from just such emotions that is the biggest obstacle to inner peace? Could banishing feelings cause the greatest suffering of all?

Consider what Pema Chodron has to say in her book “When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times”:

We might feel that somehow we should try to eradicate these feelings of pleasure and pain, loss and gain, praise and blame, fame and disgrace. A more practical approach would be to get to know them, see how they hook us, see how they color our perception of reality, see how they aren’t all that solid.

Perhaps inner peace is so vast and so compassionately all encompassing it can even make room for the ugliest, loftiest, pettiest, bitterest and sweetest of emotions.

We are now halfway through the quarter. Feel free to bring any questions to class this week that you are having about your asana practice, yoga philosophy or your journey to inner peace!

Theme of the Week: Aum

Janet Abel a   Hampton Roads, Virginia based Yoga Alliance registered instructor, La   Yoga Loca, because life gets crazyEach week of class marks the exploration of a new theme from yoga philosophy or practice  during a short talk before active asanas. This week’s theme is the giant subject of a tiny word: the mantra aum (or om).

What is Aum? We chant it at the beginning of each class and at the end of the invocation to Patanjali. It can be found in the 8 Petals studio, painted in gold, above Ganesh, the elephant. But what does Aum mean?

Aum can be defined many ways, including god or divinity, oneness, Earth, Creation, the heart of existence, essential reality or the spoken essence of the universe.

Whatever a person’s belief system, they can potentially benefit from the chanting of om, through the “relaxation response.” The relaxation response is the term describing the way the body naturally relaxes when exhalation is elongated, as during the chanting of Aum.

What is your experience? Do you feel any difference after chanting?

For those wanting to explore this vast subject further, here are two possible books to begin with:

“The Yoga of Sound: Healing & Enlightenment through the Sacred Practice of Mantra” by Russill Paul


“Aum: The Infinite Energy” by Vinod Verma