The Still Voice of the Heart

s-lopez-web_7Abandon all of these attitudes

Of wanting to prolong pleasure

And avoid suffering.

Let the heart be itself and feel

Whatever is there.

 -- The opening of verse 103, The Radiance Sutras, Vijnanabhairava

To truly open to love we must open to vulnerability. It takes courage to bare our soul. Whether giving voice to an unmet need or sharing pure joy, speaking our truth makes us vulnerable. The practice of iRest® yoga nidra meditation opens us to the still voice of the heart. What does it take to honestly open oneself to the world, our beloved, or a stranger? Courage and trust help us meet life directly and speak our truth.

Freed from clinging and avoiding,

The heart regains its poise

And revels in creation.

When I sit with someone taking the risk to be vulnerable I feel respect, intimacy, and connection. This is a moment of liberation. Tenderness erupts in my heart if I don’t cling to or avoid what the other is experiencing. Also, fear may arise naturally as I meet the unknown of how the other will meet my response. Yet in these precious moments a window opens in the heart. What was hidden comes to light. We allow intimacy to blossom in our self and others.

Plunging deep into its center,

Discover that the heart is moved

By a pulse that is everywhere.

When we live in a wholehearted way we meet life with authenticity. It is an act of love to share our authentic self from moment to moment. This intimacy may reveal the truth of our Being. Our essential qualities shine through as the heart opens and we live undefended. Listen deeply and let yourself be moved by a pulse that is everywhere. Love opens up into itself revealing the beauty and truth of who we are.

With an open heart, Stephanie Lopez

Stephanie Lopez was a long time yoga teacher and psychotherapist in Columbus, Ohio, but she recently moved to California to serve as the Director of Operations at the Integrative Restoration Institute and to lead iRest trainings internationally. For her full bio, please click here. For information on Stephanie’s upcoming iRest Level 1 training, please click here. You may contact Stephanie directly through the IRI website.

 

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Yogi of the Month: Ann

Meet Ann, this month’s Manduka Yogi of the Month. Ann has been a long time Hatha student of Marcia Miller, practicing at Yoga on High for 15 years.   Ann is a Children’s Librarian, nature lover and this Month’s Yogi of the Month.  Thank you Ann for being an inspiring part of our community!

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For the Love of Sanskrit

Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 6.53.51 AMI was just out of high school when I heard my first Sanskrit word. My best friend was dating a musician and my favorite song on his new solo guitar album had the title ‘Ahimsa’. What a peculiar sounding word. Did he make it up, I asked? “No, it’s a Sanskrit word, from one of the oldest languages in the world.” I paused for a moment, and felt that little tingle of excitement when one discovers something new and mysterious. Fascinated by its antiquity and bearing in the lineage of human communication, I entertained myself with the notion that one day I would learn this sacred language.

Fast forward almost 20 years when I would begin my study of yoga and fall in love with its mother language, which is Sanskrit!

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The Timeless Wisdom of Sanskrit

The lease on the space that would become Yoga on High was signed on October 13, 15 years ago. To mark that occasion, this blog is a reprint from YOHI’s first newsletter and schedule. Those newsletters always contained one through provoking article, this one by Martha Marcom. It’s about the timeless wisdom of Sanskrit, a thread back through YOHI history and a nod to the fact that the studies and practices done at Yoga on High are indeed timeless.

Atha—now is the time for an auspicious beginning.

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Shining Lights in the Night

It was my husband, Kevin, who put me onto it. This morning, as he was busy with his preparations to leave for China, he paused and asked if I wanted to hear about the miracle he witnessed the night before. Of course I said yes and was glad to hear his description of awe in the midst of his anxiety-filled preparations. His telling blessed me too, those few moments of sweet connection before he left to travel half way around the world.

So there I was tonight, going out in the dark to close up the chickens into the safety of their coop. They live in our orchard about 100 yards from the house. As he had done the night before I was wearing a head lamp on my forehead. In its light I could see thousands of tiny, tiny insects flying in the night. Seeing them brought to mind the Jains, a religious sect that takes the tenet of nonviolence so seriously that they wear face masks to keep from breathing in such tiny life forms. Tonight I saw how many life forms there really are in the air in front of our faces.

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Songs of Wholeness in Women’s Prison

Women'sPrisonProgramShall I write about their crimes? Their gross errors in judgment? Poor timing? Bad luck? Shall I tell stories of the children they cannot mother? The families left behind?   Perhaps I should write about their suffering, the trauma, the dysfunction that has, without exception, helped to land them here – sitting in this circle with me – behind bars. As I begin to teach, fluorescent lights hum, and from outside the door, sounds of shuffling feet and voices mix with the loud static discharge of handheld radios and the metallic rattle of keys.   The dissonance of sounds in this place, ubiquitous. Never a moment’s rest.

I sit in this circle every Friday with the women prisoners. In a make-shift classroom that serves as our yoga and mediation studio. Some are here for months, some for years, some for the rest of their lives.

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The Center is the Dancing Ground

Screen Shot 2015-09-28 at 4.43.52 PMDuring my meditation, I was imagining my body as a musical instrument. I was dealing with a host of confusing emotions this morning, and I didn’t want to take them into my day undigested. I lay down to feel it all, even the uncomfortable parts. And even though there was a strong desire to be present to and welcome it all, I could also feel a slight resistance to the painful parts. My chest and upper belly were tight and constricted and kind of gurgly. The sensations were moving around in a way that felt a little scary.

Then the image came of myself as a piano—through which all kinds of music is played without choice—“choiceless awareness” I think Krishnamurti called it. I almost made myself laugh imagining a piano that only wants pleasant music played on it: “No, no, not that wild dark song—I only want cheerful Mozart pieces.” But what piano would want to miss out on the Piano Concerto by Tchaikovsky? Or Rachmaninoff? Read More…

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Yoga at Marion Correctional Center

10703519_622577991196720_1726412143085759240_nThe Yoga on High Foundation yoga classes taught at Marion Correctional Center introduce the benefits of yoga to the prison community, integrating mindfulness and wellness modalities into the experience. The program invites residents to explore yoga as a healing practice, a powerful tool on their journey towards rehabilitation and wholeness.

“Peace is needed in places that are not peaceful.” -Marion inmate

Let’s OM
Here we are, sitting in simple cross-legged pose at Marion Correctional Center—15 male inmates and me. We are chanting Om. Loudly. Quite loudly, in fact.

And in this very moment, I experience my Truth, a deeply felt sense of being in the right place, with my Brothers. The vibration of our chant reverberates throughout the entire prison. Hopefully its energy reaches beyond the walls of our room and into the hearts and souls of Marion’s over 2000 inmates and 200 guards. We are calling in the vibration of Light.

Languaging
I’m very conscious of languaging that honors the inmates’ journey by empowering them and inviting non-judgmental, non-competitive and supportive internal dialog. Offering them choices as to how they practice and modifications to the yoga poses or breathing techniques empowers them, as does asking for feedback. Since there are no hands-on adjustments, purposeful and deliberate verbal cueing matters.

I use language, combined with constant breath cues, that awakens the yogic mind, encourages awareness and focuses attending--words such as ‘notice, feel, breathe into’ or ‘releasing, letting go, softening.’ This settles their nervous system down.

I am also careful to use non-aggressive language since they have all experienced some form of violence in their past. And I avoid any phrases that could be seen as provocative or sexually suggestive. For example, I would say ‘widen your stance’ rather than ‘open you legs wider.’

The tone and cadence of my voice is also key in establishing a safe sanctuary for their practice. Voice carries frequency, and, as a teacher, my desire is to induce a state of meditative alertness, conducive to optimal learning and spiritual exploration.

The Yoga Classes
Classes begin with a grounding breath practice. I often sense everyone shift into deep awareness of their breath. The whole room comes together in Breath.

We begin class with a dharma theme. Then, over the next 2 hours, inmates will practice asana, pranayama and meditation, be offered essential oils, and have time for journaling and discussion. During Savasana, each inmate also receives Reiki.

The objective of these classes is to introduce inmates to yoga and provide them with viable tools to empower and nurture their rehabilitative, healing journey.

One inmate once asked me how to handle negativity, which pervades his life in prison despite attempts to meditate and stay in the Light. Negativity from within as well, in the form of depression, anxiety and lack of self-esteem. This seems to be a recurring theme in prison life. How to cope with the energy of negativity that many experience.

This then becomes the dharma theme for my next class, in which we meditate on compassion and explore the source of negativity in ourselves—often anger and fear. At the end of class, we take a few moments to journal, and then pair up to share ideas on how to manage negativity.

These men are deep in the trenches of their rehabilitation journey, and it’s not an easy one. My hope is that these practices nurture transformation and self-love in a holistic way.

At the end of every class, I am keenly aware that I get to go home to my free world and they don’t. Many will be in prison for decades.

“Yoga is my way to escape and allow my soul to be free!” -Marion inmate

The Men of Marion
The men of Marion that I’ve taught are searching for meaning in their lives, for tools to help them regain self-respect and forgiveness. There is a genuine desire to change. They’re not perfect, they’ve committed crimes and they fall back into old patterns at times.

Many feel disenfranchised, disempowered and often have low self-esteem. Some have been deserted by their families and friends and feel unsupported.

On a somatic level, their muscles are tight and often their breath is shallow. Consequently, the physical stretch provided by the practice is very welcomed, as well as the awareness of breath.

“This class gives me so much appreciation for the Self despite my situation and circumstance. Every breath, and position gives birth to a new beginning in me.” -Marion inmate

Holding Space
From the moment I leave Columbus and make the 1 hour drive out to Marion, I am “holding space” for this group, especially, during moments of silence in class. The room is dense with healing energy. My intention is to hold this energy until the last OM of the class, and offer a safe place for these men to explore their true essence, freely, without guards and the general disruptive noises of a prison. And perhaps this healing energy can be transmitted to their fellow inmates, their communities and their families so that when they re-integrate into society they carry the vibration of deep Self-Love within.

PrintYoga in Marion Prison is supported by the Yoga on High Foundation. For more information on the Foundation and its programs, or to lend your support, click here. Join Michele Vinbury, Karine Wascher, Shayna Gonzales, Adam Wetterhan and others, October 4th at 10:30a for 108 to Rehabilitate, as we lead a practice of 108 sun salutations. All proceeds to support the Yoga on High Foundation’s Prison Programs.

For a full bio on Karine, click here.

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Shitali: Cooling Breath

Many pregnant women feel nauseous at some time during their pregnancy. Shitali (Cooling Breath) can be very helpful in alleviating this miserable symptom. As the name implies, you can also use this breath practice to cool the body, and, for many, it alleviates or eliminates nausea. It may even prove beneficial in labor, as some women will get nauseous or very hot in labor.

JennG_ShitaliCurl the tongue or make an “O” shape with your lips and inhale over the tongue. After inhaling, the mouth and exhale through the nose. You can repeat this as often as you feel the need.

Jenn Gebhart teacher prenatal classes and is one of two co-authors of the Yoga on High Prenatal Teacher Training course. As you can see, the tips and techniques in that teacher training are not all asana-based. For more information on the teacher training, click here. And for a full bio of Jenn, click here.

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Prenatal Yoga

People come to yoga for various reasons. Many come for relief from physical pain, to increase strength, gain better balance, improve their posture and learn how to relax. It’s never very long before they discover that these goals and many others are fulfilled. Women often begin yoga when they are pregnant for these very reasons. The pregnant body is changing rapidly, sometimes what feels like wildly, and finding a way to rest comfortably helps women process and integrate these changes. At Yoga on High, the prenatal yoga curriculum not only includes various breath and asana practices to support the pregnant body, but it focuses specifically on helping women develop and maintain healthy, sustainable posture.

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