I wanted to take a moment and share our Yoga Teacher Training Covid Response Plan.Thankfully, Colorado is reopening its doors and we hope it will not be an issue. While we are doing our best to be preventative, also recognize that there also factors that are beyond our control and may have to adopt an online format. Not my first preference, but possible necessary in full disclosure.

But here is the good news, we have a very robust yoga teacher training covid response plan in place:

  • Our rental space is separate from the rest of the building and is used minimally.
  • Regular cleanings before class.
  • Ample hand sanitizer, tissues, etc.
  • Personal prop kit (including blankets, blocks, a strap and bolster) for your personal use only.
  • Free immune boosting course prior to the start of the training.
  • Two cohorts of just (just nine people) to allow for ample space and maximize the chances of meeting in person. (Currently Colorado has a ten person cap on gatherings).
  • We have waived our payment plan fee to help those who may have been compromised economically by the virus.
  • Outside class sessions. Location TBA (weather permitting).
  • Spiritual practice for protection and healing including mantra and meditation.

After months of respite in the wake of Covid-19 the silence was broken, a cathartic cry for “Justice!” was heard around the world.  The bandaid was ripped off as they say, repealing a painful and bleeding wound that has been conveniently overlooked for centuries. Stephon Clark, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, George Floyd,  are just a few and most recent names of individuals to be unjustly killed in the hands of civil-servants.

Inevitable question arise, particularly as a white male: What’s my role in this? How can I contribute and be an ally? What if I get it wrong and say something stupid?  Each question invariable exposes a painful legacy and reveals even more painful answers followed by more questions. In no way is this convenient. Or comfortable. Or clearly laid out. But it is imperative.

Over the years, I’ve struggled with these questions, felt the collective sorrow, and tried to educate myself through trainings and conversations.  I consciously try to make DYU a welcoming space – failed many times – but hold true to the vision.

Or course yoga has been a major part of that journey – the leading force in many ways.  Yoga is a path of deep peace and healing at every step no matter how troubled the terrain. As our sensitivity increases, we can openly recognize the sorrow and joys of the human condition, including our own. Yoga is the means by which we can elevate our own condition and the collective welfare.

Then the questions start up again. For me, the answer looks like listening and taking action.  Listening means education.  Action looks like using my talents and resources in service of peace and healing (without spiritual bypass).

Specifically that looks like:

  • A video and interview series exploring how yoga practice and teachings can be a force for peace and healing on the individual and collective levels.
  • We will host a workshop/class in support of Satya Yoga Cooperative, a local school dedicated exclusively to providing yoga teacher training to communities of color.  Our goal is to raise 2K, enough to provide tuition for one student to complete their training.  It’s a modest but important beginning.  Further details coming soon.
  • And continue to explore ways that we can make this initiative sustainable.

In the immediate, here is a list of resources to educate ourself on this important and timely issue.  Admittedly, I’ve not cased all of these, but received them reliable sources. And added a few of my own discoveries.

Articles:

Documentaries:

Podcasts & Video To Check Out: 

A few weeks ago, I brainstormed a list of 24 different ways to cue postures; from controlling the tone of one’s voice to the art of remaining silent. As part of this process, I also mapped out common expressions, including the most cliche yoga teaching cue.

I frequently hear it across gyms and studios, and is recognizable. I’m sure there are lots of people that would disagree with me but “if it is in your practice, then _______.” is by far the most cliche yoga teach cue. Perhaps it comes from something the put in the water at the majority of yoga teacher trainings?

Teachers use this instruction to tell students they can do the pose in one of a few ways. Sometimes these “modifications” vary greatly from the standard posture, transitioning from Prasarita-padottanasana (wide foot forward fold) to Sirsanasana (headstand) for example.

Designing a class is little like baking, in which each ingredient lends itself to the other ones. “If it is in your practice” unnecessarily invites a wildcard into the equation, particularly when it becomes a free for all. If the recipe calls for flour and people reach for the salt instead, it becomes problematic.

If the recipe calls for flour and people reach for the salt instead,
it becomes problematic.

Left to fend for themselves, students may look around the room for guidance.  When the class atmosphere is competative, students are tempted to emulate the most advanced varian of the posture, one that is well outside of their sensible range of ability. At this point, the risk of injury goes up and the deeper spirit of yoga is lost.

Finally, this cue removes the onus of teaching from the teacher and onto the student.  In my own classes, I want to impart a tangible skill or experience to the students, rather than leave them to figure out and risk injuring themselves. The teacher has a responsibility to be knowledgeable enough to safely guide students.

Fortunately, we can easily offset the pitfalls of the most cliche yoga teaching cue. We can restore the balance between student and teacher.  The solution is simple, explain “why”.  Rather than giving an open-ended invitation, put some parameters around it. Under what circumstances does a student choose option A over B? And under what circumstances shouldn’t they go with option B?  This is your moment to steer shy of pat expressions, shine as a teacher, and keep your students safe.

Boy pouring water over meditation singing bowl

Finding your groove in meditation can be a bit like searching for a treasure in a darkened room.  The treasure holds the promise of greater inner-freedom however, and you’ll sift through less idyllic objects as you blindly sweep the floor with outstretched hands.

Fortunately, your search for the optimal meditation method can be distilled down to one of three primary categories. These categories range from the most passive to the most elaborate:

  1. Mindfulness.  In simple terms, mindfulness is the act of being fully present to whatever task, experience, or thought you happen to be having. This is one of the most recognized techniques because of its obvious universal application and ‘non-metaphysical’ demure.
  1. Self Reflection. Other techniques ask you to focus on a particular construct such as the fabled utterance “Aham-Brahmasmi” or “I am divinity itself.”  While the mantra itself possesses some potency, the real power of this method comes from the necessary self-reflection and the conviction that life is composed of more than ego-perspective.
  1. Kriya.  Kriya means a ‘method’ or ‘procedure’.  These procedures systematically blend various forms of imagery, colors, sounds, and associations to curate a particularly energetic and psychological reality in the practitioner.

    Unlike the universal approach of mindfulness, kriyas invoke a specific experience to suit the exact needs of the aspirant based on their current life circumstances and how they wish to evolve.  These practices, derived from tantra, are much more dynamic.

    One may presume that kriyas entail an element of “imagination” or “pretending” to tap into an alternate reality.  The more that I’ve studied and practiced yoga, the more I’ve come to see and appreciate it’s metaphysical perspective.

    The Universe has more dimensions than length, height, and width and the vast, vast, vast majority of it exists outside of the limited field of our senses. We only see .03 percent of that available light spectrum that emanates from the sun, as an example.  I’ve come to recognize kriya as a porthole into a pre-existing plane of existence, outside of conditioned existence.

Meditation to Increase Shakti is a simple example of this kind of kriya. It also is the consummate practice for our May Meditation Series. Shakti means power or force, she is the inherent and presiding force of manifestation itself.  Without Shakti, there would be no life.

Kriya then is the systematic method by which one can enter into the awareness of this presiding force. It invokes the living presence and power of Shakti and most sublime attributes.  With continued practice, the meditator gradually assumes these qualities.  

Just as every seed contains a unique kind of plant in it – be it an oak tree or a rose bush – different forms of meditation will breed and awaken a different visceral reality inside of you.  Despite their aura of universal spirituality, different meditations will awaken a unique attribute of your soul and psyche.

When choosing an optimal meditation method, the most important thing is to get started.  Reflect on which of these three is most appeals, seek guidance, and most importantly just get started. Any of these approaches will help you to see yourself more clearly and help you discern its unique value and attributes.

man practices meditation

Asana, pranayama, meditation, and other Tantric-Yoga methods remold your psyche from a limited understanding (avidya) to greater Self-understanding. In short, they maximize joy and minimize suffering.

To become proficient at blending these Tantric-Yoga methods requires ongoing practice, refinement, and moments of inner realization.  It’s an extraordinary journey that gradually begins to touch upon every aspect of one’s life.

Tantra is somewhat unique on the horizon of spiritual methodologies; it prescribes practices to suit the needs of the individual. Each of us is unique (and similar in ways) and our approach to yoga ought to reflect our particular needs.  

Our approach to yoga ought to reflect our unique needs.  

To accommodate the needs of the individual, Tantric-Yoga methods can be very complex and nuanced. It takes time, and some trial and error, to learn how to synergistically blend asana, pranayama, mantra, and meditation techniques.  Of course, an accomplished teacher also helps.  

Done well, the result of these interwoven practices is far greater than the sum of their parts.  Asana and pranayama practice, implemented prior to meditation, will powerfully enhance meditation exponentially. 

They support one another in an interwoven and radiant tapestry. These interconnected practices, done in support of higher realization, is one of the very definitions of “tantra”.  In many ways, the journey through Tantric-Yoga is a journey through the interconnected threads of practice.

While the variety of practices may seem disparate, there is a central thread that underscores them all; that thread is prana.  Prana is the life-force of the creation, the very force of transformation itself; our quest for greater peace and self-actualization hinges on this critical ingredient.

 There is a central thread that underscores them all;
that thread is prana.

All of the techniques interface with prana specifically.  In many ways, prana is the primary teacher that not only leads us to greater levels of self-mastery but also guides us towards the innermost teacher within us all, the Self or the Soul.

Tantric-yoga methods support us to contact this Self and in turn, the Self aids you to learn and apply the forces of asana, pranayama, and meditation optimally.  Over time, one recognizes the pranic-force within these methods and thus the cycle of continued growth carries on. One becomes more adept in their life and access Spirit more readily.

Full confession, I have had seasonal allergies for years; itchy eyes, stuffy nose, and sneezing attacks, the full deal. As a yogi – someone who places a premium on self healing – it was a point of consternation.

Historically, I’d adjusted my yoga asana practice (to include more inversions) to address it, but had minimal results. Natural supplements did not do the trick either.

This season, and last season, I decided to dedicate myself to a path of self healing and implemented simple ayurvedic remedies for allergies. Ayurveda is the ancient healing science of India that grew up side by side with yoga.

Ayurveda is the ancient healing science of India
That grew up side by side with yoga. 

According to ayurveda, allergies (along with many other ailments) stem from accumulated toxic build-up, called ama, as a result of poor digestion. The treatment is quite simple; reduce ama.  This can be done through a deeper cleansing process (called shat karma) or, more immediately, through diet.

Here are the basic guidelines I follow.  I find it easier to negate certain foods and eat what remains, which will inherently be nourishing.  Ayurveda has a lot to say about diet but here are the basics:

  • Typically it helps to have a 4-6 week dietary reboot before the actual allergy season hits.  “Prevention is Supreme” as they say in ayurveda. All the same, these simple changes will make a change, it just may take a little longer to reverse the cycle.
  • Remove sugar, dairy, gluten, caffeine, and alcohol
  • Maybe start by reducing one or two and phase others in once you see the value of the preceding changes
  • Start by removing sugar and dairy (then gluten)
  • Additionally, I find it helpful to brush my teeth immediately after eating to reduce any cravings.  You can also integrate turmeric shoots for their anti-allergy properties and for general anti-inflammatory properties.  The bitter-astringent taste also reduces cravings.
  • Dandelion greens are good anti-allergens as well, which you can probably get from your backyard.

”Prevention is Supreme.”

Changing one’s diet can be a tough pill to swallow but inevitably turns out to be worth the sacrifice.  In this case, the payoff was increased energy, eliminating allergies, and a sense of empowerment – I can heal myself through my own choices and actions.

Of course, a dedicated yoga practice will also help the cause.  Consider taking a class (online).  I happen to be offering a meditation series that you are invited to attend.

Details:

  • Wednesday and Friday, 7:30-8:10am
  • Zoom link provided upon registration
  • = Donation Based =

– REGISTER HERE

Woman practicing a yoga pose

The rhythm of our culture has changed in response to COVID-crisis. For some, the mandated isolation has been the source of angst and others relished the chance to slow down. And we should also recognize the toll on human life across the globe, God rest their souls.

Personally, my response has been to offer a meditation class to the general public as a way of bringing peace and empowerment into people’s homes. As part of that class, we recite the mahamrityunjaya mantra, also known as “the healing mantra”.

For those who may have been attending the class, or those who may have an interest in the larger scope of yoga, I wanted to elaborate on the significance of the mantra.

Mahāmṛtañjaya Mantra
Om tryambakaṁ yajāmahe
sugandhim pūṣtivardhānam
urvārukamiva vandanān
mṛtyor mukśīya māmṛtāt

We worship Thee, oh sweet God of transcendental vision,
Giver of strength, who liberates from death.
May we be free from the bonds of death,
Like a ripe fruit dropping from the tree.
May we never again forget our immortal nature.

For the skeptic, it may seem a stretch that chanting would somehow translate into healing. How then does a mantra correspond to healing? Is it simply based on sentiment or are there other factors involved?

To answer this question, let us view the mantra from its indigenous perspective, which is very distinct from our modern, science-based world view.

Firstly, the healing mantra comes to us from a different time and paradigm quite unlike our own. In days gone past, people lived in the center of the natural world. They were much more attuned to her forces, rhythms, and currents.

Early yogis saw subtle, vibratory patterns woven into the fabric of the creation. These pre-manifest fields of energy are the preliminary force underlying Sanskrit mantras. Mantras are the vocal equivalent of these forces. Of course, they can be chanted silently as well. Through their recitation, our body and psyche align with these greater vibratory patterns. The resonance of the healing mantra is one of healing benediction.

“Its resonance is that of healing benediction.”

Secondly, mantras are embedded in mythology. In the case of the healing mantra, Lord Shiva, “God of transcendental vision”, rescues a teenage boy from a fated death and grants him immortality. The boy’s plight is not unlike our own. All of us are destined to pass, and yet, through the power of yoga, we can discover our immortal essence, the timeless atman or soul.

In India, as with many cultures, the lines between “mythology” and the material world are blurred. Parables, such as the origin of the healing mantra, are imbued with archetypal forces indelibly written in the hearts and minds of a culture. These stories are further brought to life by festivals and sacred places of pilgrimage – a living mythology you might say.

“These stories are further brought to life
By festivals and sacred places of pilgrimage.”

Thirdly, yogic wisdom places a premium on interior life; subjective experiences, particularly more expansive states of mind, have a validity unto themselves. Our felt-motivation behind our actions shape outcomes differently, even if it is the same action. Mom’s casserole, cooked with love, is much more satisfying than the store-bought variety, even if they are made with the exact same ingredients.

Similarly, our felt connection to or faith in the mantra will also shape its effectiveness. Some people readily embrace faith while others remain skeptical, which will result in different outcomes. Regular yoga practice, which may include mantra, increase one’s faith, either in themselves or the greater creation-equation.

In summary, yoga is an ancient system for total wellbeing and integration born out of the revelations of ancient sages who looked deeply into the patterns of nature and directly perceived the voice of mantra. Many of their discoveries and teachings were chronicled in the form of archetypal myths. In part, these myths come to life through faith and reverence. Mantras, such as the healing mantra, help us to attune to forces greater than our finite intellectual understanding.

Hatha Yoga Meditation Class
Taught from the serenity of my ‘yoga basement’ this class will emphasize the direct practice of tantric hatha yoga meditation, more so than theory or explanation.

Forty-minute class format:
– Intro and asana
– Candle lighting and Mahamritunjaya mantra (for personal and collective healing)
– Dedicated pranayama practice
– Guided meditation
– Closing mantra (Shantipath for peace)

Dates and Times and Location:
W/F | April 22nd to May 1st | 7:30am – 8:15am
Zoom link provided upon registration. = No charge =

Hope to see you there.

Yours in Peace,

Signature of the lead teacher for the Denver Yoga Underground.

REGISTER ON UNION

STUDENT TEACHING

As part of the Denver Yoga Underground’s program, trainees practice student teaching outside of the classroom and in the community.  Here is one notable example of how an entry level teacher navigated their first attempt at student teaching. As a prospective teacher, this article will teach you what it’s like to get stated teaching.

Q. What was your general impression of teaching yoga?  Highs and lows?

A. My overall impression of student teaching felt pretty good.  I’m starting to get more comfortable with “putting myself out there”.  I also received some good feedback from my student teaching partner Meghan. She said I conveyed a lot of confidence and a welcoming atmosphere.

Cueing poses still feel awkward, especially with people who are new.  I know what I want in my brain however it’s that does not always translate to my words.  I work to be clear and concise in my instructions and not overwhelm students with ambiguous instructions.

Q. Did you integrate any insights from the previous student teaching assignment?  What were they? 

A. I want to be genuine.  It is easy to get tangled up in the theory or cueing instructions and the class feels ‘stale’. Most recently, I’ve only been looking at a list of the asanas themselves and then describe based on my personal experience rather than the suggested cues in the manual.

Being genuine is necessary to capture the student’s attention and keep them engaged.  I can tell the difference when a teacher comes from their heart vs a route description.

Additionally, I have some structural challenges and study different variations. Everyone has a unique body, I want to be able to make everyone feel accepted and appropriately challenged, regardless of any physical limitations.

Finally, I work to create space or silence in the class. Students see themselves more clearly when there are fewer distractions. This is another reason to practice concise cues.

Visual representation of repetition in meditation

First, a word of thanks to all of those who extended their good wishes, food, and prayers after I broke my leg some three weeks ago.  I’m happy to say that the force of healing is alive within me and I make noticeable progress each day. In part, I attribute this healing to repetition in meditation.

As an offshoot of that healing process, I started to offer a free, online meditation course on Wednesday and Friday mornings, 7:30-8:10am. The class consists of a brief asana practice, opening mantra, followed by pranayama, then meditation proper, and a closing mantra. Admittedly, it starts abruptly to ensure we cover these synergistic practices. We don’t discuss theory so much as, well, just get started.

So, I want to give a little context and share one simple idea underlying our practice.  That is simply this, “repetition in meditation”. Repetition is integral to any discipline; whether it be learning the violin, fostering a loving relationship, or advancing spiritual growth. The journey of 1,000 begins with the first step.  And then the next step. And then the next step…. repetition.

There is a fairly well-known expression within meditation circles:

“Better to dig one deep well than many shallow holes.”

For this reason, the repetition in meditation technique I present remains the same for the remainder of the series. My hope is that we get enough of a footing on the method that it becomes a part of us – to give it a fair chance to positively shape the way we view ourselves and our world.

Adopting a single technique for forty days is a common benchmark to get acquainted with a technique.  After those forty days of repeated practice, you can adequately assess if you wish to continue, or not.  There is an overwhelming chance that you will see the benefit and want to continue, you will have seen the value of repetition in meditation.

At the same time, we live in a culture obsessed with variety, innovation, and distraction (largely for commercial purposes). Methodical repetition is antithetical to the pace of modern life (though that seems to be on hold for the moment). However, to develop mastery, or better yet, to develop mastery of your mind, body, and character it takes more than one try. With persistent effort, you will discover the benefit.  The meditation class is here to support you to develop that skill. Of course, I’d encourage you to practice outside of class as well.

“The beginner has many options, the master very few.”

The beginner has many options, the master very few.  As you develop your meditation practice, I invite you to embrace repetition.  Through repetition in meditation, gradually clear away the dust and grime that obscures the inner-mirror. This inner-mirror aids you to see yourself more clearly, to dismantle fear and anxiety and reflect greater peace and joy back upon you.  But it doesn’t all happen by itself, it requires repetition.

Dates & Times:

  • Present through May 1st, 2020
    (May extend depending on interest)
  • Wednesdays and Fridays, 7:30-8:10am.
  • Online Zoom entry-link provided with registration

= Free of Charge =

ADDITIONAL DETAILS HERE

Join me in a Hatha Meditation Series –
weekly on Wed/Fri thru May 1st

Dear Yoga Community,

Trust this finds you safe and perhaps even able to adapt to current circumstances.  In either case, it’s times like these that force us to reframe our assumptions of “normal” and reconsider where we derive security.

Personally, meditation has always been my go-to safe-space.  I can practice at any time, regardless of outer circumstances, and find refuge. It is a friend in times of plenty and in times of need.

On March 23rd, on the eve of the stay at home order, I slammed into the concrete in a bike crash and broke my left femur bone.  Assessing the damage, getting to the hospital, going into surgery… it all felt so surreal and beyond my control. This is not happening to me?  

Then the emotions came.  At first, I held the warrior’s edge to deal with the pain and work with the medical teams.   Which gave way to grief once the initial trauma subsided and I was alone in my hospital bed at 3am.  Slow warm tears and a sense of loss.

It’s been a journey of reckoning. Throughout that journey, meditation has been my throughline, the port in the storm, my guiding compass and light. Bedridden, through the powers of meditation, I began to put my fragile self back together and ignite the flame of healing.

Adversity brings out many things in people, and in my case, it’s inspired me to share what I know and love best with you.  Meditation.  Current events make this offer even more pertinent. I hope we can all find a way to give our gifts in a time of need.

All are freely welcome.

Hatha Yoga Meditation Class Format:
The 35-minute class will look like this:

  • Introduction
  • Candle lighting and mantra invocation (Mahamritunjaya mantra for personal and collective healing) 
  • Dedicated pranayama practice
  • Guided meditation
  • Closing mantra (Shantipath for peace)

Taught from the serenity of my ‘yoga basement’ this class will emphasize direct practice of tantric hatha yoga meditation, more so than theory or explanation.  I will provide supplemental links and resources so you can continue the practice outside of our sessions. Will you join us?

Dates and Times and Location:
Wednesdays & Fridays | April 8th to May 1st  | 7:30am – 8:05am | = No charge =

Join Zoom Meeting https://zoom.us/j/977832943?pwd=SjVQVWQxcmozOTlIb041M2hHU2VXUT09
Meeting ID: 977 832 943 | Password: 078904

Hope to see you there.

Yours in Peace,

Signature of the lead teacher for the Denver Yoga Underground.