Archive for March, 2011

A last reminder that Ravi Ravindra will be in Bellingham this weekend.

Ravi will give a public talk on the theme of “Spiritual Practice in Daily Life: Daily Life as Spiritual Practice as Seen Through the Lenses of the Great Spiritual Traditions.” The talk is  at 7:15 pm at 8 Petals Yoga. Tickets are $10 in advance and $15 at the door.

This talk kicks off a weekend retreat led by Ravi on the same topic. For more information about Ravi, the talk and the retreat, see this earlier blog post.

For more about Ravi please see

For those who might like to read Ravi’s work before he arrives, Village Books carries two of his books:



The Wisdom of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras







The Spiritual Roots of Yoga


In many forms of yoga, teachers give instruction in beginning breathing technique simultaneously with instruction in beginning asana practice or the practice of poses. In Iyengar yoga, pranayama or breath control is more often taught and practiced after a student of yoga has gained a familiarity and some proficiency with practicing asanas.

So in Elizabeth’s classes, we often begin our practice of pranayama in the last class of the quarter. You may remember learning the practice of Ujjayi breathing, a sounded breathing technique sometimes begun after settling into savasana. You may have also tried the likewise sounded but louder Bhramari or bumblebee breathing technique.

Different people can experience the pranayama practices differently – sometimes as quieting or energizing or sometimes as agitating. If the practice is indeed agitating or creates any kind of strain, we should return to savasana, and seek advice from a teacher. Pranayama must not ultimately dreate disturbance. But despite the differences in any individual’s experience at any given moment, pranayama is also undertaken, in the Iyengar tradition, for very specific purposes.

In an interesting article published in the Yoga Journal, an Iyengar yoga teacher explores Mr. Iyengar’s view of pranayama and breathing in general:

[Mr.] Iyengar tells us to think of the contact of the breath against the inner lung as the connection between universal soul and individual self…The length of the retention [of the breath] varies. It should last just until the content (prana) begins to move away from the container (the lung)…Developing the ability to feel something as subtle as when the universal soul and the individual self begin to separate in the course of a breath takes regular practice and is what pranayama is all about.

But as the article explains, it is not a simple matter of making the breath do what we want to achieve this kind of awareness. Mr. Iyengar, in his characteristically poetic way says that the breath must “be enticed or cajoled, like catching a horse in a field, not by chasing after it, but by standing still with an apple in one’s hand. Nothing can be forced; receptivity is everything.”

To read more of this interesting article go here.

To see a really cool YouTube video of Mr. Iyengar demonstrating pranayama practice, go here.

Part Two on Disaster in Japan

I wanted to add another note after my posting on Japan yesterday. Having done more reading and reflecting, it seems that it is most helpful to let the aid organizations decide how to spend donations rather than earmarking for a particular cause; and as we know, when there is a “prompt” to reach out to a particular people in a specific tragedy, there have been others unfolding all the while with their own sense of urgency. Thus, I will be donating in general to the charitable organizations I choose personally, and with my pledge of donating 5% of my yoga teaching income for the quarter. I will not earmark in particular for Japan. As I send off donations, my prayers will be sent for those suffering in Japan and elsewhere at this time. I include a passage from the Doctors Without Borders website here: Japan: A Note On Funding and Donations

MARCH 14, 2011

Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has sent medical teams to support the government-led earthquake and tsunami response in Japan. Our teams are running mobile clinics and conducting needs assessments, which will determine the full scope of MSF’s response.

At this point, we are drawing on unrestricted donations given to MSF to fund our efforts, and we are not accepting donations specifically earmarked for recovery efforts in Japan. We greatly appreciate your generosity and encourage your support of our work. We will continue to post updates on our homepage, Facebook, and Twitter as new information becomes available.

The ability of MSF teams to provide rapid and targeted medical care to those most in need in more than 60 countries around the world – whether in the media spotlight or not – depends on the generous general contributions of our donors worldwide. For this reason, MSF does not issue appeals for support for specific emergencies and this is why we do not include an area to specify a donation purpose on our on-line donation form. MSF would not have been able to act so swiftly in response to the emergency in Haiti, as an example, if not for the ongoing general support from our donors. So we always ask our supporters to consider making an unrestricted contribution.

Thoughts and Prayers For Japan

Buddhist prayer flags atop the Thorong La, Nepal

Looking at the NYTimes and other sources to try and understand the magnitude of the tragedy unfolding in Japan, and thus for humanity at large, words elude me; but in my body and heart I feel deep sorrow and am called to contemplate the preciousness of life, and the need to reach out to those in the greatest need at this moment. I will be donating 5% of my earnings for the next quarter of yoga to emergency relief efforts in Japan. I have been exploring the website Charity Navigator, and invite you to do the same, if you choose to donate on the material plane. Doctors Without Borders seems always a good choice, and Direct Relief International and Convoy of Hope are also seemingly fine organizations with solid reputations. I know also that our thoughts and prayers make a difference…

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Aligning With Justice Without Condemnation

Sutra I-33   A clear and tranquil mind results from cultivating friendliness towards those who are happy, compassion towards those who suffer, joy towards the virtuous, and impartiality twoards wrong-doers.

Is it possible to align ourselves with what we find to be true and good without “condemnation”? Does condemnation have its place? To condemn, according to the dictionary I consulted, is “to declare to be reprehensible, wrong or evil, usually after weighing evidence and without reservation.” I know there are situations in close proximity, and afar, actions by individuals and collectives, and by formal governing bodies which I would easily judge and perhaps in my mind “condemn.” Does this Sutra tell me to follow an alternate course of action? I know it does not CONDEMN me for my impulse to judge!

When we judge, and we condemn we create separation, and ultimately yoga is a practice of union, of love, of communion. And yet we live in a world where at least for most of us, there is much to speak out against, and attempt to rectify, each of us having our small say, our one drop impact in the giant ocean of the world.

I myself will continue to make my attempts to align with what I perceive as justice and compassion, while trying to hold a larger view of imagining that Marshall Rosenberg is right in suggesting that any behavior we find reprehensible in another,  somehow tragically expresses an unmet need. I will hold the possibility of there being a larger picture, and elements of mystery beyond my individual understanding. While attempting to align myself with love, justice and kindness I will continue to wrestle with what is asked for in this Sutra as I try to comprehend impartiality as a way of nonjudging that still allows for me to stand up for what calls to me as fair and “right” on the world stage, whether it is in my small, immediate world, or in another country.

And I know my yoga practice helps me to maintain faith and peace within as I observe the world inside and around me.

Complete Spring Quarter Class Dates Posted!

The Spring Quarter is nearly here. The quarter begins the week of March 21 and runs through the week of June 6th. It is a 10 week session.

Note: There are no classes the week of May 9th.

To download a pdf of the flyer above with dates, times and locations of all classes, click here.

To see all dates in calendar format, go to Elizabeth’s complete class calendar here.

(For those who have been trying to use the class calendar and class listings here – they are all now correct and matching. Apologies for the earlier discrepancies!)

Yoga Stories: A Paraplegic Yoga Teacher

Some of you may remember Elizabeth mentioning a book she was reading called Waking: A Memoir of Trauma and Transcendance by Matthew Sanford. Sanford is an Iyengar yoga teacher who has been paraplegic since age 13. The Body's Grace, Matthew Sanford's StoryHe says, ‘It took a devastating car accident, paralysis from the chest down and dependence on a wheelchair before I truly realized the importance of waking both my mind and my body.”

For those interested in seeing a video about Matthew Sanford’s story go here.

To get the book at the Bellingham Public Library go here.

To read his personal website, which is very interesting, go here.

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Sutra I-33 contains four directions for achieving tranquility of mind, through our ways of being in relationship with other people. In this Sutra, which has the same content as the Buddhist teachings called the Brahmaviharas, or the Four Immeasurables, we are called to be happy as we witness happiness, or even joy, in another individual. As we know, this can present us with challenging moments.

At least most of us would hope we could meet the good fortune of those in our midst with joy that would NATURALLY emerge, especially as we witness the good things happening in the lives of those with whom we feel closest. But this teaching is present in the Yoga Sutras because joy upon hearing of someone else’s happiness is not always what simply arises for us. We may surprisingly, somewhere in ourselves, register a lack within, or in our current situation that causes us to feel envy or jealousy when good fortune appears for another.

It is essential that we not turn on ourselves in these moments, but instead notice uncomfortable feelings and let them guide us towards greater self understanding through compassionate curiosity about a particular response.

I believe that The Sutras invite this psychological and emotional exploration geared towards one dimension of self study, but there is simultaneously a sense of letting our practice itself carry us closer and closer towards a spontaneous ease and joy in relation to the happiness of another person. When we have ease and acceptance in who we are and how our lives unfold, when we are content and recognize in ourselves interconnection and peace, we will be more able to be present for others compassionately in their pain, and in meeting them in their joy and abundance.

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Yoga at Every Age

It isn’t so surprising to see Mr. Iyengar himself, no matter his age, enjoying beautiful yoga positions as he is in the picture above. But can other people without as much and as deep an experience with yoga training also continue to practice as they get much older? (Has anyone wondered this when looking at the startling postcard above the sink at 8 Petals in which an elderly lady is showing some stunning yogic flexibility at the busstop?) Can people still practice yoga into their 80s in a way that allows them to experience its many benefits? Into their 90s?

Apparently even people who have never done yoga before, people in nursing homes whose age and health drastically restricts their ability to move are enjoying some of the greatest benefits of yoga according to a recent posting at the New Old Age blog at the One instructor explained, “I work on breath awareness and gentle movement. In a way, their physical limitation allows them to be closer to the root of the yoga experience, which is breathing and awareness.”

To read this interesting article, go here.

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