Swan River Focus of the Month

December- The More We Give the More We Grow

written by Brigitte Martin

Dana is a Sanskrit word that means “gift” or “giving away.” In traditions of the East, generosity is the bedrock of the spiritual path and learning to give is a lifelong practice. It is a form of generous giving that expects nothing in return. Sometimes we get so caught up in ourselves we forget to look out for each other.

It is said that the deepest part of us is revealed when we are in service to others. This is where we can touch our lives and really come alive. This is where we use our hearts as a doorway into generosity. To find yourself you have to leave your SELF and offer to others who are in need.
In the world today more than ever we need to come together to heal, to love, to share our hearts. It is the only way truly to live. It is our only way into love. We have a responsibility to try and make the world a better place and to reach out, check in, encourage, uplift, love, support, affirm, connect…sometimes togetherness is the only way through.

Giving (dana) brings happiness at every stage of its expression. Generosity is the capacity we contain to embrace others with compassion and care. It is the most basic human virtue and is vital to how we grow beyond self – transcendence. In the teaching of the Buddha the path of giving is a significant one. It is recognized as being the foundation and seed of spiritual development. It is this seed that gives us purpose.

When we truly see ourselves in others we instinctively want to do everything we can to secure their happiness and well-being, because we know that it is also directly related to our own well-being and happiness. We exist with all of life when we give ourselves to others. The merit, the spiritual benefit to be gained from the practice of giving cannot be measured. It is simply and profoundly priceless.

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Photo by: Elizabeth Dondis Photography (www.elizabethdondis.com)

November- Celebrate Gratitude

written by Amanda Day Vance

Gratitude and compassion equals happiness and compassion.

“If you feel lost, disappointed, hesitant, or weak, return to yourself, to who you are, here and now and when you get there, you will discover yourself, like a lotus flower in full bloom, even in a muddy pond, beautiful and strong.”
― Masaru Emoto, Secret Life of Water

Please, take a moment right now for yourself. A moment of stillness and begin to find your breath. Notice the rise of the in-breath and the fall of the out-breath. Be mindful of the breath, be open to your awareness, breathing in and out without controlling or judging it in any way, just letting it be. Breath in. Breath out. Feel the evenness, the flow and the centeredness of the breath in the body and the mind. Circle your hands above your head, join your palms and bring to heart center. Begin to open the palms, pinky fingers and thumbs still joining, into Lotus Mudra. Begin to invoke the feeling of your deepest gratitude. Your thanks, sincere appreciation, your utmost respect to you, to those in your life, the earth, whatever it may be. Begin to sit in this space well and create openness from within.

Sit and know your sitting. – Joseph Goldstein

Life is inexplicably beautiful but can also feel hopelessly dark.
If you discover your inner lotus flower you will always flow through life radiantly bright.
Don’t give up practicing because it’s all there within you.

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October- Every Moment Is Yoga

written by Nady Persons

At its core, yoga means “to yoke” or to join together and make whole. In the practice of yoga, we’re essentially bringing together so many different parts of us, from the parts we are proud of to the parts we’d rather keep hidden. We are also connecting ourselves both with Mother Earth as well as with the Divine, however you choose to define that.

If this pandemic has collectively taught us anything, it’s that there is a lot of deep, internal work that needs to be done by every single one of us. As cities, states, and entire countries continue the pattern of retreating within and emerging, we are presented with an opportunity that we can either choose to embrace or eschew: we can either show up and do the messy internal excavating necessary to co-create a just, equitable, inclusive world, or we can numb out. Our liberation is intertwined; as long as we continue to create separation, we will never be free. Every moment is yoga.

We have all experienced incalculable losses over the past number of months related to COVID, wildfires, hurricanes, and more. The world that’s emerging looks nothing like the world we were used to pre-March 13th, 2020. Collective grief is palpable in our communities as we process the loss of loved ones and leaders, livelihoods, and a way of life with which we had grown comfortable. The pandemic is also revealing to a wider audience the toxicity inherent in our communities where people are denied basic human rights because of the color of their skin. Where police brutality is unchecked and rampant against Black people. Where large amounts of people are being detained  and separated from their children – and some sterilized – by the US government in mass detention centers. Where people are being denied adequate healthcare.

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September- Seva: Finding a More Meaningful Orientation for Engaging in the World

written by Haiyan Khan

As a yoga practitioner, have you ever wondered what yoga has to say about how to move through life? Or how to engage in life? Or does yoga only talk about asana, meditation or even mindfulness? It turns out yoga does talk about how to move through our lives, and what it has to say is just as radical and controversial as its other teachings.

There is an entire branch of yoga called Karma Yoga, the yoga of action. This branch encourages us to engage in the world and promises that by engaging with the right orientation, we can find spiritual liberation in the process. This orientation is referred to as Seva, or selfless service. In essence it encourages a yogi to move through the world by giving and serving or being present without even the slightest consideration of ever seeking a reward. It is a profound action focused on the whole. Even today this idea is revolutionary!

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August- PAUSE: Abhyasa, Sutras, and Sacred Texts

written by Charlotte Mabry

Whether there is joy in my personal life, or events that cause some form of suffering, my refuge is found in my yoga practice. What is surfacing in our world? On one hand, there is the current mysterious and sometimes fatal disease of the human heart and lung. On the other hand, people are responding to the world of broken hearts of numerous social injustices across our globe. With great passion, dedication, and commitment action is taking place to right this injustice. Still anxiety and feelings concerning the future are uncertain. Overall, there is Dis-Ease: people living without ease. How does one approach processing all of this from the perspective of yoga and its practices?

My teacher, Judith Lasater states that conflict cannot happen without duality. While many are uncomfortable with conflict in ‘normal’ times, in 2020 one might feel bombarded with division. Conflict can also be a sign of growth, an exploration, and a chance to communicate with radical honesty both within oneself and with others.

For me, conflict is a call to practice, abhyasa, confronting my deepest self with radical honesty; yoga. Internal work. In silence, I search for direction from the sutras and sacred texts. Where am I internally? Am I in peaceful balance? Where am I in my personal relationships? How do the greater sociological questions affect my day to day relating to others? How can I make a difference?

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 I Can See Clearly Now: The Hope of Liberation

written by Laura Johanna

I recently co-taught a workshop on suffering. Not surprisingly, a lot of people are interested in the topic. As I was preparing for the event and compiling my notes, I was reminded of how the ancient spiritual teachings that inform our yoga practices don’t beat around the bush when it comes to the challenges of life. The first Noble Truth of Buddhism states, “Life is suffering.” Sage Patanjali gets even grimmer in Yoga Sutra 2.15 with, “A wise, discriminating person sees all worldly experiences as painful.” Ouch!

It’s true that we only need to look at the increasingly polarized world around us or glimpse at the news to see this message corroborated. It can be easy to sink into despair or hopelessness when we see the struggles surrounding us.

But clearly, our suffering isn’t the whole story. We also experience joy, creativity, love, and friendship. We cook delicious foods, learn new things, plant seeds in dirt, express our truths to others, sign petitions, sing songs, show up at marches, move our bodies, have deep conversations, and create art – all of which are inherently hopeful actions.

The ability to retain hope and beauty in the midst of a broken world may seem trite, but it’s actually a powerful piece of our ability to keep going and see clearly.

Right after Patanjali tells us the grim news of Yoga Sutra 2.15, he gives us what I consider the most hopeful of all the Yoga Sutras: Yoga Sutra 2.16, in which he basically says, but it doesn’t have to be that way!

Heyam = endable, to be ended, to be avoided
Dukham = suffering, struggle, pain
Anagatam = that which has not come
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 There is a Light That Never Goes Out

written by TQ Sims

While the world is still processing the effects of a global pandemic and many of us are coming out of self-isolation, many of us feel like we can’t see too far ahead, that we’re maybe a bit lost. June is a very important time for the LGBTQ+ community, and I’d like to tell you a story about why June is so important. It’s a story about a community rising up from the shadows and stepping into the light. First let’s talk about a a force that guides us all towards each other: joy.

Yoga Sutra I.36 states, “Viśokā vā jyotiṣmatī.” The word vā, meaning “or,” appears in the sutra to indicate that this sutra (like all sutras really) is a part of a continuous thread. At this point in the larger body of The Yoga Sutra, a list of techniques are given to return the mind to peace, reducing and eliminating divisiveness, realizing Yoga. This sutra is but one of those techniques. There are many paths to the same realization, offering many paths for the diversity of humankind.

Viśokā is described as “sorrow-less, effulgent light.” We glimpse this Light when our hearts light up or when we witness the light in someone’s eyes. This radiance can be found within when we train ourselves to look towards it. Jyotiṣmatī could be broken down into two words: jyotiṣ (which means light and is related to the English word “joy”) and matī (which means “measure”).

How do we measure out joy? Because of our inherent biases, we might not recognize the Light within others who we label as “different.” It can be challenging to empathize with others, to see others as we see ourselves. There are so many groups who have experienced not being seen and denied a space measured out for joy in our society: women, animals, indigenous cultures, the list goes on!
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Photo by Elizabeth Dondis

 Refuge: Finding hOMe within

written by Amanda Day Vance

Wow, what a wild and crazy historical time of complete changes in our lives. It has been a time of challenges, for some, anxiety and fear, for others, new experiences, and, I believe for all, new feelings.

Recently as I was practicing yoga on my back porch, I noticed the silence of the city and the beautiful songs of the birds, and gazing up through the trees to the blue skies, feeling the spaciousness and openness in my movement, I noticed a sense of peace within my heart, a feeling of calmness. I felt safe, a space of refuge right within my heart. Talking with my son, Vance, I asked him to be still for a moment and take a look around and listen to the silence, maybe feel the stillness in the air, all around in our neighborhood and the city. It was actually so calming and serene. We sat there for a while, just being.

Samsara is a place of suffering, pains, confusion. It is the continuous cycle of life, death, and re-birth envisioned in Hinduism and other Indian religions. Samsara is the endless cycle of life and death from which one seeks liberation, release or freedom. The prominent belief is that samsara is a feature of a life based on illusion or Maya. Illusion enables a person to think they are an autonomous being instead of recognizing the connection between one’s self and the rest of reality. It is during these times of confusion, maybe of fear and suffering, we must begin to use our practices more than ever. Change, or really it is our relationship with change, in many ways can be a part of suffering in our lives, and we have all been going through changes literally every moment right now. Read More>>>>


 Daily Leaps Of Faith. Boundaries and Boundlessness

written by Swan Michelle

Space, or ether, is a container. It is easy to forget it is there, but it has boundaries. Space holds the Universe in place. In a time of responsible and mandatory social distancing, it is important to remember that space is not isolation, nor limitation. It is an activation of listening and an opportunity for greater freedom.

The earth is the largest boundary that we experience, yet it is really mostly made of space, as are humans. This is the space asked of us all at this time. It requires some tactic, daily regulation and interconnected boundary. More than ever, beings are recognizing the importance of being connected to nature, to the outdoors, to their food, health, and concern for others on this earth. We are the trees, the ocean, the fresh air, the animals, the plants, the minerals and all of humanity.

“Let thy medicine be thy food and thy food be thy medicine.” -Socrates

Sickness, a form of separation and the opposite of yoga and a connection to the earth, is a wakeup call. The yogic texts state that if one being is left unconscious, we all are. It couldn’t be more clear now. If one person is sick, we are all sick to some extent, and it affects the collective whole. Within the element of ether or space, all of the elements, and all things reside. The elements are medicines. One person not well means all of us are not well.

The Universe is a unique and supremely intelligent system held in a specific container of unseen boundaries, of which are malleable, mysterious and unknown, since we don’t have access to the whole picture. It can be easy to forget, while consumed by a narrow lens of fear, that we are held in a Universal order we may not always understand.

“Don’t yearn for the past. Don’t anticipate the future. It is important that you not be so overwhelmed.” -Ram Dass.
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March-Flip the Script

written by Keith Porteous

Yoga Sutra 2.33: Vitarkabadhane pratipaksha bhavanam

When disturbed by negative thoughts, opposite [positive] ones should be thought of. This is pratipaksha bhavana. – Barbara Stoler Miller

When our minds are disturbed, can we find space to look at ourselves and our situations anew? One of my favorite aspects of the yoga tradition is that it begins with an acceptance of human nature as we are, not as we should be. Then, the teachings offer practices through many paths to create peace and happiness. The whole path begins with the yamas, or restraints, which are ways we hold ourselves back when we are inclined to be hurtful. The point is not repression; the point is harnessing one’s energy towards positive action. Constructive actions of thought, word and deed will reverberate to create greater peace and happiness, just as a downward spiral in the mind is equally possible. Yoga Sutra 2.33 teaches us that we have the ability to flip the script, or “turn a negative into a positive picture,” as Lauryn Hill said, whenever we feel stuck. This sutra is an ancient reminder that we have options. We may feel stuck in fear, anger, jealousy, or just impatience in traffic, but in truth our minds are very flexible.

For many years, I practiced this Sutra by substituting gratitude when my first reaction was a sense of burden. The quick swap sounded like changing an “I have to” into an “I get to,” such as turning “I have to clean the kitchen” into “I get to clean the kitchen.” This switch reveals the obvious gift of having a kitchen in the first place. This is a helpful switch, and has saved me many times when I have missed the opportunities for gratitude that surround me always. But over the years, I have also noticed that forcing the positive in every situation can be superficial and is not always authentic. If we truly need rest, perhaps the best response is a pause to listen inwards – and then to choose the next most constructive action, which might look like asking for help. Sutra 2.33 is not saying we have to be “shiny, happy, people,” per R.E.M.’s 1991 hit, it is reminding us we have the ability to shift how we are thinking and thereby to shift the environment all around us.

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February-I Am That, and that, and that, and that…

written by Michael Quintana

Pictured in the above photo is a fourteen-year-old me in Badha Padmasana. It’s been twenty years since that picture was taken and in no way am I the same person. First off, I can no longer perform Badha Padmasana! My shoulders are much tighter and more muscle bound then they once were. Second, I don’t have that outfit anymore. Maybe I outgrew it, or perhaps the clothes were no longer fashionable (assuming they ever were!) and I threw them out. Third, our bodies are in a constant process of regenerating, replacing and reforming the structures that make our form. Old, damaged cells are constantly being replaced by newer ones. I am not the same person in that picture. I have grown and changed a lot but in many ways I am still that boy in that picture. The truth is I am a soul, an Atman, temporarily inhabiting this fleshy form. As I might change clothes many times throughout this lifetime, my body may change many times in this lifetime, and my soul has changed through many bodies throughout its existence.

BG 2.22: As a person sheds worn-out garments and wears new ones; likewise, at the time of death, the soul casts off its worn-out body and enters a new one.

In yoga philosophy, the physical world is said to be a manifestation of Prakriti, while consciousness or awareness is considered to be Purusha. We humans are thought to be an element of Purusha immersed in and occupying a form of Prakriti. The Atman, or soul, is Purusha, and the body is Prakriti. The realm of Prakriti in which we reside, the manifested universe, is known as Maya. Maya, often translated as illusion, distracts us from the divine. It acts like a veil or colored lenses, that when covering your eyes colors your perception of the world. The world of Maya is full of enticements that draw our attention and pull our focus. Often we think that maya is the only reality and believe I am that job or I am that car or I am that social media post. When we identify with the aspects of maya we tend to neglect our practices and lose connection with the divine.

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January-That was then, this is now. Honoring the Past, Living in the Present, and Planting Seeds for the Future. A Reflection on Time.

written by Camilah Hicks

Time is relative. We either feel like we never have enough to accomplish all the things that need to be done, feel like we have too much on our hands and are dying of boredom, or that it has gotten away from us. It seems that we’re constantly negotiating with ourselves and others to navigate this most elusive of ideas. Time is an illusory concept upon which we’ve created systems of meaning that we’ve determined to be significant in order to keep things flowing and in motion. Class starts at 6. You can vote at 18. Expiration dates on everything. Physicists have said that time is simply a way for us to distinguish between what was the past and what is now. Time, then, is a social construct with which we are all somehow in cahoots. What then, does “That was then, this is now. Honoring the Past, Living in the Present, and Planting Seeds for the Future” mean?

We have just entered into a new year, a brand-new decade. At the close of the previous year, we are invited to reflect on what was and to dream of all that will be. This year, the hashtag #2020vision trended. Through all of this looking back, and calls to dream of and plan for the future, we are almost never encouraged to be in the NOW, in the present. To be happy, content, and satisfied with what is. What good is #2020vision if we never take the time to fully live and experience what we’ve learned?

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December-It’s In Giving That We Receive

written by Angela Bergeron

I have personally had someone in my life that was near and dear to my heart take absolutely everything I had to give and then some. At first I didn’t see a problem because I always want to see the best in people, so I blinded myself to the fact that I was being used and taken advantage of. Over time, I began to feel drained and empty. How in the world did I allow this to happen? Don’t I love myself enough to not allow this? Didn’t I recognize a pattern? These are just a few of the questions I began asking myself. Of course I love myself, so I refused to let this one relationship define who I am or how I give to others.

This relationship may have drained me for a moment, but it taught me so much in the long run. It taught me what giving is not. Giving shouldn’t drain you or cause you pain. Giving isn’t about deception, unfairness, or shaming. It taught me awareness and that not everyone is going to have the same heart as you, and that is ok. It taught me so many things about myself that I never want to lose. Primarily it reminded me how important it is to take care of myself first, and practice self-love.

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November- Santosha, the Niyama of contentment

written by Laura Johanna & Haiyan Kahn

Santosha is a Sanskrit word derived from two root words: “San/m,” meaning completely, and “Tosha,” meaning contentment. Santosha is the practice of establishing complete contentment in our hearts. In classical yoga, the practice of santosha is taken on as a self purification process, or niyama. It is said that as one comes closer to the state of yoga or harmony, Santosha as a practice falls away, replaced by a clear seeing that things are “as they are,” which reveals a deep sense of already present contentment. In the meantime, working to embody contentment can bring us a sense of inner joy, peacefulness, flexibility, and reduced stress.

At its heart, practicing santosha, the niyama of contentment, allows us to merge with rather than deny the present moment, therefore opening to all the present moment’s teachings and magic.

There are a total of five niyamas, or personal observances, described in the second limb of Pantajali’s 8-limbed path towards yoga. The niyamas are commitments we make internally to cultivate habits and behaviors that promote inner clarity and freedom. They are: saucha, or cleanliness of body, speech, and mind; santosha, or contentment, tapas, or self-discipline, svadyaha, or study of self through wisdom teachings; and ishvara pranidhana, or surrender to the divine as we understand it.

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October- Where Courage Lives Fear Dies

written by Michelle Baker

“Suffering didn’t make me more fearful. It made me more real.” -Walking Each Other Home, Ram Dass

Discomfort, shakiness, uncertainty and not knowing; these are significant mile markers in the terrain of one’s life. Exciting are the vivid celebrations, flavors, revelations and plans that synch seamlessly with the seasons of life. Just as momentous and pivotal are the unexpected, unplanned, non-preferred vistas of devastation when the lights go out, and the sun gives way to the night.

In the predictable and preferred, a manageable edge seems approachable and answerable. Yet, there will be significant mysteries when the darkness of time flood and collapse us and we don’t know the answer. There will be unlit paths, the way un-illuminated, uncertain if you will make it,.

Everything that you have done before has prepared you for this moment. This is where courage lives. You don’t have to know or understand everything. You don’t have to desperately leap at the first answer or reason but, any last shade of insecurity must be confronted and seen for you to live your life fully.

Be sure you are not afraid to live. It is only fear that dies.

“Love is more powerful than death.” -Neem Karoli Baba.

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September- Rest in Silence

written by Keith Porteous

We live in a loud world. In medieval Europe, when there was an emergency, the local cathedral’s bells would ring. Everyone nearby could hear the ringing, get the message, and choose how to respond. In our post-industrial age, we have turned up the volume in ways that merit attention for our mental and physical health. Science has shown that sounds at 85 decibels and above cause damage to the human ear. Every 10 decibels is a doubling of the volume, so 95 decibels is twice as loud as 85, the level when harm begins.

When there is an emergency in our time, an ambulance’s siren sounds at 120 decibels, a level far above the onset of harm, but a level that is needed to get through to us as we drive in our cars while we listen to music or news, participating in the everyday cacophony. What could be the effect of long-term exposure to heightened sound? How do the yoga teachings discuss sound, and what would they prescribe for our day and age? The teachings on nadam, or inner sound, show us that through specific uses of outer sound, we can bring about states of deep calm and Self- knowledge. With anxiety and other mental health issues on the rise, these teachings provide simple medicine each of us can access if we are inclined. This month, you are invited to mindfully select the sounds you allow into your system. Give yourself permission to rest in silence.

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August-Reduce Reactivity, Practice Peace, and Shift from Samskaras to Shantih

written by Monica Edelstein

August in New Orleans can be a challenging time. It’s very hot, we’re in the middle of hurricane season, and the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina is on the horizon. I have two children, and by August, summer camps have ended, and we’re all generally hot, tired, bored, and grumpy. Often my husband and I are worn out by this point having already weathered some storm-related power outages (no AC) and sleepless nights tracking tropical storms. We’ve been on yellow alert for weeks, and we’re pretty drained, but it’s time to get everyone ready to return to school. Already on edge, I get into my overheated car to search for school supplies. It seems inevitable: Someone cuts me off, honks for me to get moving despite a passing train, and the line at the store seems to have completely stalled. My patterns of patience and aggravation awaken and clamor for expression. It’s so easy to react in kind to an angry gesture, and so much harder to react kindly; easier to lose hold of my composure, rather than maintain a sense of peace and equilibrium. Even though I recognize my patterns and tendencies, the same scenario continues to challenge me — I keep reacting in ways I’d rather not. The yoga teachings can help us understand our minds and why we react the way we do. They provide guidance on how to reduce reactivity, practice peace, and shift from samskaras to shantih.

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July-The Power of Words

written by Caroline Hughes

You are the night, the dispeller of the night and the candle lighting the way. You are both timeless and immersed in time. Your path is you, a precious gold and embodiment of teachings.You are also inherently pathless in nature. When our lives go from binary black and white to a non-dual rainbow spectrum of all the radiant colors of possibility like the first film ever presented in color, it is an unforgettable enfolding and unfolding moment from the concealed to the revealed.

The road is the hard-earned brick and mortar of discipline we’ve laid down, growing out of self denial into Self discovery. It is our effort put forth in uncovering our Truth through experience. Magnetized by a home that was forgotten, our path is our coming out, as everything that we need to know is within us.

Your personal practice, or what you think is personal, affects those around you. Timeless teachings are not personalized. What anyone learns are all contributions to everyone’s learning. Listen, pay attention, read the signs and be available for the message. Too full or inert, the inner teacher feels exiled or cast out from Self-directing one’s own bliss.

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June-When in Doubt, Chill out!

written by Nady Persons

Just as the earth experiences its seasons in a cycle from spring to summer to fall to winter, so do we as humans experience seasons of life. In Ayurveda, which is the sister science to yoga (Ayurveda being the science of life whereas yoga is the science of spirituality), there are three distinct seasons to our lives. Each of these seasons has a correlating dosha, or make-up of elemental energies, that governs it.
Childhood: this is the first stage we enter when we appear. This stage is governed by the kapha dosha, which is made up of earth and water and plays a key role in helping us develop and grow. It can be described as heavy, slow, soft, and stable.
Adulthood: this is the second stage we enter, and it’s influenced by the pitta dosha, which is made up of mostly fire and plays a key role in our ability to form our identity and make our mark in the world. It helps us digest our experiences and bring our ideas to fruition. Hallmarks of pitta include light, hot, sharp, and oily.
Elderhood: this is the third stage we enter, and it’s influenced by the vata dosha, which is made up of air and ether. During this stage, we are often drawn to spiritual development and codifying the mark we want to make on the world. Light, cold, dry, and rough are all adjectives that describe this dosha and stage.

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May-The Guru Principle: Somewhere Over the Rainbow

written by Swan Michelle

Provoking the Inner Teacher: Teachings from The Wizard of Oz.

Follow follow follow follow follow the yellow brick road

The Yellow Brick Road

You are the night, the dispeller of the night and the candle lighting the way. You are both timeless and immersed in time. Your path is you, a precious gold and embodiment of teachings.You are also inherently pathless in nature. When our lives go from binary black and white to a non-dual rainbow spectrum of all the radiant colors of possibility like the first film ever presented in color, it is an unforgettable enfolding and unfolding moment from the concealed to the revealed.

The road is the hard-earned brick and mortar of discipline we’ve laid down, growing out of self denial into Self discovery. It is our effort put forth in uncovering our Truth through experience. Magnetized by a home that was forgotten, our path is our coming out, as everything that we need to know is within us.

Your personal practice, or what you think is personal, affects those around you. Timeless teachings are not personalized. What anyone learns are all contributions to everyone’s learning. Listen, pay attention, read the signs and be available for the message. Too full or inert, the inner teacher feels exiled or cast out from Self-directing one’s own bliss.

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April-Water is Life

written by Bradley Spiegel

In order to embrace our innate uniqueness, it helps to ponder life from different perspectives. As a droplet of sweat flowed down my arm in utthita trikonasana (triangle pose), I remembered that water is life. Just as a sponge cannot absorb more water when it is saturated, the human mind cannot absorb divine wisdom and creativity when it is drowning in complaining, comparing or criticizing. Sometimes the waters of the body and mind become polluted, but thankfully, our yoga practice can flush us out. Sweating for me has become a sacred practice where I offer that water back to the Earth to be cleansed. Leonardo DaVinci said that “water is the driving force of all nature,” and scholars say that our bodies are around 70% water. We are literally conscious water flowing about a water planet. How can we coexist and live in harmony with our watery reality? As a graduate student in urban water planning at University of New Orleans, I’ve come to realize that the natural flow of the waters within the body can be a teacher for us living in New Orleans to embrace the water that is life in our unique eco-system.

Just as the human body yearns to be hydrated to optimize functionality of the interconnected systems, the alluvial soil of the Mississippi River deltaic eco-system yearns to be saturated like a sponge. Each inhale bathes the heart allowing it to pump blood out to the periphery through the arteries and back to the heart through the veins upon each exhale. These passageways are the rivers and tributaries of the human body, and the stream of consciousness necessitates hydration because water is life.

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March-Abhyasa: Faith & Perseverance

written by Kelly Haas

“Never, never, never give up.” – Winston Churchill

Through practice, we gain stability of the body and mind and strengthen our will power and determination. Persistent practice helps us to form new habits, new ways of being, and new ways of experiencing ourselves. This is a gift of our yoga practice, and this gift can only be experienced through our bodies. Our bodies are the vessels for our souls.

A tenet of yoga is abhyasa, defined as practice. It’s also defined as steady, unmoving, persistent effort. As Sally Kempton defines it, “The very heart of yoga practice is abyhasa, steady effort in the direction you want to go.”

Where do you want to go, and how do you get there? How does your practice help cultivate your direction and intention? And what blocks your effort and perseverance?

Let’s start with blocks. What are some of the blocks to our perseverance? What derails us?
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February-Maya: Perception is Reality

written by Sara Bonar

The Sanskrit word “maya” is often translated as illusion, but this makes it seem that maya has some sort of false or misleading quality. Rather, maya refers to how our reality is built on perception. Seen from another angle, perception is reality. Maya relates to words like ma, mama, magic, and is an expression of the divine feminine. It relates to Shakti in the sense of being involved in creating the world around us. Our individual perceptions create our illusion of reality, which is very real to us.

Maya is an expression of the wiliness of the feminine, creative spirit. Hendrick Vroom explains, “The term Maya has been translated as ‘illusion,’ but then it does not concern normal illusion. Here ‘illusion’ does not mean that the world is not real and simply a figment of the human imagination. Maya means that the world is not as it seems; the world that one experiences is misleading as far as its true nature is concerned.”

So let’s just say that the world is real and that it exists in its own right with its own boundaries and has its own unquestionable, absolute standards of truth. But at the same time, we can only see the world how we perceive it (maya), and that perception is as much reality to us as the actual world is to itself.

So is the world real or illusion?

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January-Well Rooted in Self: Planting New Seeds

written by Lynn Austin Lalka

When I’m not teaching at Swan River, I sometimes teach yoga to toddlers. Two and three year olds practicing yoga is a pretty beautiful thing to watch—they instinctively move their bodies with the rhythm of their breath and are free of many of the inhibitions and constraints that adults have built up over time.

The kiddos’ favorite pose to do is tree pose. When they practice tree pose, they start the same way a real tree does, as a seed. I always ask them to choose where they’d like to plant their seed, and they survey the ground deciding where they want to root into the earth. They are very intentional about this selection—some choosing their spot based on their proximity to other people, some planting in the same spot they chose during the previous class, some choosing their spot for seemingly no reason at all (although they always have a reason, it just might not be expressed out loud). They crouch low to the ground, curled up into a little ball to take the form of a seed, and root into place.

After each of the seeds has become well rooted into the ground, they begin to grow their trees. Each child moves at their own pace and in their own way. Some are really fast growing trees, sprouting quickly from the earth! Some trees grow reallllly slowly, taking their time to fully emerge. And some have really unique growth patterns—branches growing out, then up, then out again.

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Pictured: The reclining Buddha represents being in the world on the horizontal plane yet not agitated by it. He is completely awake, aware and at ease.

December-Svaha: In Stillness We Meet

written by Michelle Baker

A Vritti Detox for Humans Being At hOMe Within

PYS 1:2 Yogash Chitta Vritti Nirodahah; Yoga (Union to the Self), is the Cessation of the
fluctuations of the mind, or, in Stillness, we meet the Self.

Vritti: Mental Wave, Mind Motion/Whirlpool, Mind Disturbance

“Someone once asked the Buddha skeptically, “What have you gained through meditation?”
The Buddha replied, “Nothing at all, but let me tell you what I lost: sickness, anger, depression, insecurity, the burden of old age, the fear of death. That is the good of meditation, which leads to nirvana.”
Eknath Easwaran, Dhammapada

Svaha, literally translated as “purely spoken”, “letting it go into the fire, of the deity of fire itself),” denotes an ending to any phase or cycle. Svaha places emphasis on provoking or attracting resolve and the merging of elucidated Truth. Svaha is the celebration of dead ends and a mind’s disturbance released. This word is commonly spoken during fire ceremonies, as fire signifies transformation and evolution. It can remind us to let go of anything that is not supporting our inner unity and co-existence towards growth, be it fear, depression, blame, judgement, pain, suffering, fear of old age, sickness, poverty, unworthiness, or loss, just to name a few—and throw them into the fire.

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November-Seva: Compassion in Action

written by Haiyan Khan

Seva is a Sanskrit word meaning selfless service. Seva is an action performed selflessly that doesn’t seek anything in return.

As I’ve reflected about what seva is over the years, I’ve realized how little I know about it. I wondered: what is the essence of seva? I mean, what is its feeling deep in my bones? What is seva asking of us? I wondered if I ever really had the experience of Seva. What would that experience be, anyway?

I recall that at an early age, on weekends my dad would take me to remote villages near our beautiful city of Islamabad in Pakistan. He and his friends would set up makeshift camps and provide healthcare to villagers. My role was to hand out two kinds of pills: the white or the blue. The white was a pain killer and the blue an antibiotic. I would faithfully carry out instructions and hand out the pills as requested. I loved spending the day helping and would always wonder when we were going back. I remember receiving blessings from the villagers. Some would put their hands on their hearts with gratitude, others would touch my head or cheeks and then do some ritual to keep evil at bay. I thought all this was amusing but regardless felt a sense of joy. Much later in life, here in New Orleans, when I started to cook meals for the unhoused, I reconnected with the same sense of joy and received similar blessings. Reflecting back on such experiences, I realize what many mention as the joy of service. How lit up and connected we can feel as when we serve each other.

Seva is compassion in action. Any action can be broken into three parts: 1. The intention with which the action is performed; 2. The action itself; and 3. The fruits that the action may bear. Karma yoga tells us that the results of an action are a combination of the clarity with which the action was intended and the action itself. Furthermore, it clarifies that for the results, intention of the action is of more importance than the action itself. Consider this verse in the Corinthians (13:3), when Saint Paul says: “And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it brings me nothing.”

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October-Fall Into Balance

written by Serra Wobbema

Yoga Sutra 2.46
sthira sukham asanam
“The connection to the earth should be steady and joyful.”

It’s fall, y’all!
I grew up in Colorado, and fall is my favorite time of year up there. Mother Nature paints the mountains in shimmering colors as the leaves on the aspen trees dance their way through vibrant shades of gold to crimson; a magnificent display before effortlessly releasing it all to rest for winter. It is a time when the merciless heat of summer surrenders to a cool, crisp breeze that calms you with its soothing touch. Autumn in Colorado feels relaxed and at ease, and I felt a solid connection to the earth which helped me fall into balance with the natural flow of life.

The changing of the seasons reminds us to accept and welcome the ever-constant transitions in our lives. Life brings a constant ebb and flow of alternating energies for us to experience both sides of our center. We have to get knocked off-kilter in order to fall back into balance and witness the harmony that is found at our core.

I lost my footing in Boulder in 2008 when I was fired from my first massage job. I felt like the rug had been pulled out from under me, and I completely lost all sense of balance. I ended up having to leave my friends and life in Colorado and move to New Orleans to live with my parents. Soon following, I became more aware of how imbalanced my life was on many different levels. I excelled in self-deprecating behavior: spending more money than I was earning, eating more calories than I could burn off, and dealing with a lot of negative self-talk for not being strong enough to fight the temptations. It felt like everything fell out of balance; the relationship with my body, my finances, my friends, my family, and especially to my Self, or my connection to Source.

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September-It’s a Miracle All Around

written by Sarah Quintana

Miracle — a surprising and welcome event that is not explicable, a wonder, marvel; a highly improbable or extraordinary event, development, a heaven sent.

I’ve never seen a man walk on water, but I do believe in miracles. I just got back from San Destin, Florida, where I was visiting the beach with my friend and her three kids— one last dip in the Gulf’s crystal waters before the weather changes. At the beach, I witnessed a myriad of miracles through the eyes of my friend’s 14-month-old daughter.

With a big round mouth, huge eyes and speechless pointing, my friend’s daughter makes this hilarious face that says, Oh, Wow! I saw in this small child a sense of curiosity that I too once knew, but have forgotten. When the pelicans flew overhead, a dragonfly swooped by and the sunset colored the sky, Oh, Wow! The baby’s Oh, Wow! face is not just for obviously beautiful things that adults think are cool (like the sea turtle nest we saw). A spoon is Oh, Wow! This watermelon is, Oh, Wow! Some shoes, a ball, a bottle cap and a scrap of paper are all Oh, Wow! — almost every moment, a miracle all around.

I love to work and usually get really busy this time of year, probably like you, but my life has changed a lot since last December: a break up; a new career and more recently, my dad’s cancer diagnosis and treatment. My priorities have changed too. Instead of speeding up, I’m slowing down. That big project for work no longer seems as important as a visit home, a long walk with a friend or one last weekend at the beach.

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August-Sacred Geometry

written by Jessica Walther

A few weeks ago, I managed to drag myself to a yoga class on one of those days where exhaustion seems insurmountable and you seriously consider staying home and laying on the sofa instead. I had contemplated skipping class because I was so tired and stressed from daily life. Fortunately, I made the choice to get to the studio and onto my mat.

After her dharma talk, Michelle began chanting one of my favorite mantras. Almost immediately, my mood shifted and I felt more energetic. My toes began tapping, my shoulders got lighter, and my heart expanded. As we moved through the various shapes of the asana, my energy levels increased and I began to feel more connected. As we chanted the closing Om, a sense of overwhelming peace was present in my body. Briefly I wondered about this tremendous shift in my being. Then it clicked for me: this practice is the creation of sacred geometry in action. When we tap into sacred geometry with the movements of the body, we literally realign. I am sacred geometry!

When we feel stressed, tired, or ill, we are out of alignment with the natural order of the universe. By attuning our body to universal consciousness through the breath, mantra (sound), and yantra (form) we can realign with our natural state. When I realized this, a new appreciation for sacred geometry arose within myself.

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July-Know Thyself: From Limits to Limitless

written by Rachele Thompson

At this time in our culture and in my psychotherapy practice, I’m witnessing more and more people speak up about boundary violations in relationships, desires for individual identity to be honored and respected, desperate declarations around human rights and needs, and groups reacting to being forgotten, dismissed and not seen. There is so much pain, anger, separateness and hurt. The common theme through all of these is a desire for healthy boundaries.

There are so many facets to boundaries and I have been on my own journey to understand and live from good boundaries for most of my adult life. So, please know, there is much to explore here. I will do my best by mapping out a start for this journey with you.

Boundaries are conscious and unconscious limits involving most of the aspects of being a human.

They define the edges of closeness and distance for varying wants and needs in our relationships. For example, physical needs with others could include safe touch, hugs, a comfortable level of distance or closeness, cuddling, just sitting with someone, and so on. These needs can change from person to person, what is going on in the moment, and in the context of the environment. For example, I welcome a hug and cuddle from my daughter most of the time. I may struggle with hugs and cuddles when I’m exhausted or just “need a moment.” I’m not as comfortable with hugs from people I don’t know well or strangers. I’m particularly cautious in work situations or when there is a significant power differential. It is my responsibility to tune into my internal messages about what feels comfortable or uncomfortable and to communicate directly what I want and need in the relationship. Often times, this is easier said than done.

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June-What Remains is Whole/ AKA How to Be Wild

written by Laura Johanna

The more I study ancient texts related to yoga, the more I seem to encounter one central theme. That theme goes something like this: “Remember that you are whole and complete. Remember that the best wisdom is within. Don’t look outside of yourself for completion and validation, because you’ll never find them there.”

The message is that when we tune into the deepest aspect of ourselves, when we clear away the stories, narratives, pains, attachments, and aversions we have picked up in this lifetime, that what remains is whole. The term in yoga used to describe our true essence is satchitananda, which means truth, consciousness, and bliss.

Perhaps during savasana after a wonderful yoga class I might feel like my true nature is blissful consciousness, but it’s not always so easy for me to remember this.

I often find it helpful to look to the natural world for guidance, as this is what informed many great teachers. When I observe the animals, trees, plants, and weather systems around me, I do see beauty and wholeness in their wildness. I see complete acceptance of birth, destruction, and transformation; I see constant growth and no concept of “should.” I see the beauty and humility in repetition, I see an enormous amount of effort and productivity, and I recognize an inherent interdependence that is reliant on the ability of each of us to play our part.

In my backyard I am fortunate enough to have an enormous Cypress tree. This tree is home to many creatures and visitors. I put sunflower seeds in feeders that hang from some of its lower branches and watch the squirrels and many species of birds who come for food. I see them bicker with each other before establishing boundaries that are acceptable to all so that all can eat. I have also always enjoyed living with animals. I currently live with a cat, who teaches me a great deal about conserving my energy. In my house we often joke about and anthropomorphize her. We’ll say: “Don’t let the cat trick you. She already had her dinner.”

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May-Mind: My Own Business

written by Keith Porteous

My children help me see how challenging it can be just to be a human. Recently, my daughter complained of a headache, but after discussing her pain, she looked at me with wide-open, plaintive eyes and said, “TOO many thoughts in my head!” She even chose a poem for Poetry Day at school called “Rain” by Shel Silverstein, which is about filling one’s brain with rain and hearing water all day long. Another time my son looked at me and whispered, as if sharing a secret just between us, “Mommy – I CAN’T STOP THINKING!” I gave him a hug.

Sometimes one of my children will run up to me and insist that their sibling made them feel angry, sad, or unhappy. These feelings are valid. But when I see their immediate reaction to assign responsibility for their emotions onto another being, it feels like rather than watching a solution, I am only watching pain grow.

There is the initial pain and then there is the subsequent separation from others as an attempt to protect oneself from pain. From the outside, it does not look like a brother could ever make a sister feel in a certain way, and vice versa, right? But how often do I believe that others are wholly responsible for my emotions, that others have the power to make me feel a certain way? Why abdicate the responsibility for my own mind? Why make the state of my mind someone else’s business, rather than my own?

Our relationship with our own mind may be the most important and most challenging one we experience. The ancient yogis described the unawakened mind as being in a constant state of change or whirling. The famous yoga sutra 1.2, yogash citta vritti nirodha, means that when the whirling (vritti) of the mind (citta) ceases (nirodha) then true yoga (union) is realized. The word “vritti” comes from the same Sanskrit root, which gives us the English words whirl, vortex, and even weird. So, the unawakened mind can be a whirling, weird place to be. But that place is not who we truly are.

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April-You Are Never Alone In This World

[h3written by Taylor Tidwell[/h3]

So how can we navigate these turbulent waters? How can we stay uplifted and drink the divine nectar of life from all the beauty around us when there are so many forces pulling us down? We live in a culture that continually promotes independence and self-reliance, but at what cost? How much do we have to rely on just ourselves? How separated and independent must we be? Yes, we need to be strong, and yes, we need to truly dive deep into the workings of our own minds, and yes, we have to try to heal the wounds that we find hidden in the deep recesses of our own hearts, but we can’t swim this sea alone. It’s too big and it’s too strong; it will just toss us back.

We need a boat. And that boat has a name. Its name is Satsang.

This word Satsang comes from two words in the Sanskrit language, Sat and Sangha. Sat means truth and Sangha means association or community. According to the Sanskrit dictionary, Satsang means association with the good. I prefer to think of it as my tribe, a global community of beings trying to do good for themselves, for others, for all beings seen and unseen.

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March-Is that all there is?

written by Michael Quintana

Fire is a powerful force. In its controlled forms it is essential for life, but when out of control its potential for destruction is vast. Smokey the Bear’s famous line, “Only you can prevent forest fires,” provides a consistent reminder of the personal responsibility that is required when interacting with such a powerful element.

A few years ago I was biking home from teaching an evening class. It was April, spring had sprung, and the air was filled with the scents of night blooming flowers. As I neared my house, I caught the smell of a fire, not the comforting smell of wood smoke, but a sharp, acrid, smoky smell like burnt electronics. When I got to my block, there were four fire trucks in the street and I began to rapidly consider if I had left a candle or incense burning. A clothes dryer in the house to the rear of mine had ignited, and while it did not burn the house down, the structure was uninhabitable for months and required a complete renovation. I am still awed by the speed at which the fire got out of control, the damage it caused in such short time, and the amount of energy and manpower required to put it out. After the flames were out I toured the house with the firemen while it was still swelteringly hot inside. Everything was covered in black soot and ash. Nothing was salvageable. Everything was destroyed.

Is that all there is to a fire? Destruction? Ashes? Is that the only way to see it? If you’re the insurance company, yes. If your life savings was invested in your home, probably. Maybe if you’re Peggy Lee you break out the booze and have a ball. It can be hard to see beyond the destruction. It can be hard to believe there is a silver lining. It can be hard to see any useful purpose for all of that destruction. It can be easy to see the ash and think that is all there is.

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February-Prema: Space Love

written by Michelle Baker

What if someone told you that the reason a good relationship ended was because you loved the other person and they loved you?

A teacher once told me something profound about a long and loving relationship that had ended. She stated it ended because of love. I thought this sounded absurd! I was born on Saint Valentine’s Day, the day of love. I love love. No one will tell me not to love!  She stated, “No, I mean love with a lower-case l. If they love you or you love them, eventually they will hate you. Love (lower case l) creates hate. virtue (lower case v) create vice. taking (lower case t) creates poverty. good (lower case g) creates evil, belief (lower case b) creates suspicion.”

Dual love is often a primal by-product of the understandable we have all been in of struggle, survive, belong, or fight. Dual love creates otherness.  Like David Bowie sings in his song “Soul Love:” “All I have is my love of love, but love is not loving.” This love has no life force behind it, and so the seeds die. What is left is resentment and separation. Dual love is not sustainable. It feels empty. This kind of love, the world of 2, or “us versus them,” takes a lot of work and it is often socially programmed into us from birth.  It is not a Soul organically recognizing and honoring another Soul.

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January-We Are the Architects of Time

written by Meghan Hays

Do you always feel like you’re running out of time? Do you wish you could slow down the hands of time? Maybe you can.
In Ayurveda, the sister science of yoga and one of the oldest known forms of medicine on the planet, we talk about time as one of the causes of disease. The primordial, or root, cause of disease is forgetting our own true nature as Spirit, or Divine. Our true nature is timeless; it unites us with each other and with Nature. When we forget this, our ego takes over. Our intellect fails, and we misuse our senses by taking in food and experiences unsupportive to our health. Add to this the ravages of “time” as we know it, and we have a perfect recipe for premature aging.

Ayurveda discusses time in two ways: linear and biological. Linear time exists outside of our Selves; it is something we have created and constructed. Maya is the yogic term related to linear time. In Sanskrit, maya quite literally means “illusion;” it refers to the world we live in and perceive with our senses. The illusory world of maya includes linear time: the measure of eternity (actually im-measurable) in seconds, minutes, hours, and days. While helpful in keeping track of birthdays and appointments, linear time is irrelevant to the aging process.

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December-Kundalini is Life

written by Steph Smith

It is often said that Kundalini is life, and it has revived my life. One Christmas morning I awoke to go see a present built for my brother, but instead I found that my mother had chosen to end her life. No one is prepared to handle a discovery like this, not a person or a family. Most of my life, my mother’s name was barely mentioned, which in some ways was even more confusing than her death. Her decision covered and cloaked me. I became layered with heavy energies of grief, shame, and confusion. I wondered at times if I would ever be able to crawl out from under it. There was nowhere to go to un-spin from it.

Kundalini is a powerful yogic practice that can help liberate you from dense energies by clearing unconscious and subconscious barriers clouding the original Self. Kundalini Yoga has helped me to release a lot of this heavy and oppressive energy. Through Kriyas (targeted actions), meditation, pranayama (breath exercises), mantra (sound), and visualization, the opportunity exists to awaken you to You, the original Self. The original Self contains the pure divine source and energy of life. Just like a 3.5-ounce, 6-centimeter oak seed turns into a 20,000-pound, 80-foot tall oak tree that recreates a new 3-ounce seed with same creative potential, we have that infinite creative potential within all of us. Like the acorn seed buried beneath the ground, we have the ability to break through what is dense and heavy and express this infinite potential within us.

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November-Harvest of the Heart: Bhakti Yoga & the Art of Devotion

written by Bradley Spiegel

One of the greatest tales of India helps me to remain devoted to the divine. The Ramayana, which some say is the “soul of India,” is one of the most romantic, surprising and thrilling adventure tales that speaks to a colorful array of human emotions. One of the main characters in the story is Hanuman, who is half monkey and half god. He represents the struggle humans face on their quest to remember self and god-realization, which according to Ramana Maharshi, “is the greatest gift a human can render the world.” Hanuman teaches us that by remembering god, we remember our true nature to serve love to all beings, and by doing so, our struggle transforms into devotion, which unveils the Harvest of the Heart: Bhakti Yoga.

Ram Dass does a fabulous job articulating Hanuman’s symbolism of Bhakti Yoga and the Art of Devotion. “Hanuman’s eyes filled with tears as he recalled the Lord’s virtues. He ever enjoyed the nectar of the Lord’s story. His only desire was to be allowed to remain as a devotee of Rama. Again and again the Lord tried to raise him up; He, however, was so absorbed in love that he would not rise. When Rama asked him what he wanted, Hanuman answered: Grant me unceasing devotion, which is a source of supreme bliss” (Miracle of Love, Ram Dass).

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October-Shakti and Shiva: Balance between Opposing Forces

written by Tyler St. Jean

I have always walked the shadow edge between worlds of darkness and light. Before I was a yogi, I was a punk. Nowadays, I take the seat of teacher, here in the light-filled Mandir. I guide students to connect to their bodies, their breath and the universe. I encourage them to sweat, chant and wring out the habits and patterns that aren’t serving them. We do this work to make space for new energy, ideas and opportunities to come through our bodies and into manifestation in our lives.

But I came to New Orleans homeless, with nothing but a back pack. It was just another stop on a circuit I was making, hitchhiking and riding trains around the country. I specifically chose that path because I wanted to live with less stuff, to exist outside society, to truly be free. People always imagine that this was a dark and difficult time in my life, but actually, despite the struggle and uncertainty, I experienced much magic, synchronicity, kindness and support from strangers during this time.

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September-The Koshas: A Soul Experience

written by Nancy Maas

Through using the Higher Self Meditation and the practices of Reiki, I have found access to an internal and divine wisdom. I recall when I was trying to decide whether or not to sign up for Swan River Yoga Teacher Training. Though I knew I would take this training someday, I wasn’t sure if the time was right. It was getting time to make a decision.

I sat in stillness, and imagined my life as if I had signed up and begun to partake in the training. I felt this as joy, all the way through each of my internal layers, all the way to my physical body. My body felt light, relaxed, at peace. I then “checked my math” and sat with the idea of not doing the training, waiting until the next time around, and sensed this as a reality fully throughout my being. At that moment my mind became noticeably more dull and let down. My body felt heavy and tired. It was quite obvious at that point what to do.

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August-TAPASYA: Stoke the Fire

written by Laura Johanna

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras 2.1: Tapah svadhyaya Isvara pranidhanani kriya yogah

“A burning desire must fuel your discipline. You must make the effort to continuously study the subject. You must devote all of your efforts to the Supreme Self. These are the actions to be taken to realize yoga.” Translation: Sharon Gannon

“Accepting pain as help for purification, study of the spiritual books, and surrender to the Supreme Being constitute Yoga, Union to the Supreme Being, in practice.” Translation: Sri Swami Satchidananda

I remember one day many years ago when Swan Michelle posed a question to our yoga class. I was sitting perched on my blanket and yoga mat at the Mandir, ready to listen. It was the middle of summer and extremely hot outside. It seemed like a miracle that for once I was not late to class. As part of her dharma talk, Michelle asked us, “Whoever said that life had to be easy? Who said that all struggle was bad?”

I was surprised. Who? Well, me, for starters. I believed that challenges were unpleasant and “bad” and that the goal of my practice was to get me to a point where I was free of struggles, so that I could finally be happy.

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July-Freedom: Our Natural State

written by Mary Glackmeyer

The co-founder of Jivamukti Yoga, Sharon Gannon, says, “Yoga is not something you can DO. Yoga is our natural state. The yoga practices reveal to us where we are resisting our natural state.” Mokṣa, the Sanskrit word for emancipation, liberation, or freedom, is said to be the result, or even the goal, of the yoga practices. When I contemplate mokṣa, I hear Sharon’s words echo in my mind to remind me that freedom already exists within me. This goal of liberation cannot be reached with acquiring more money, bigger and nicer homes, prestige, popularity, certifications, credentials, or anything that lies outside of the yogi. The attainment of freedom does not come with searching and fighting for it, but with the opposite. Freedom comes with letting go, reversing the search to move inwards, and discovering what already lies within. Freedom is our natural state. . . it is our birthright.

As I was preparing to embark on the 2010 Swan School Yoga Teacher Training, I open-heartedly began a meditation practice. I consider myself a good student, so I followed the directions offered by Swan Michelle: start with a shorter meditation time, and practice at least 6 days a week, at the same time of day, in the same spot. I began with 5 minutes. 7 years later, my daily meditation is only 10 minutes. Progress is slow, but steady.

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June-The Myths of Practice

written by Lindsey Crow

I recall a moment in one of the first yoga classes I ever took when the teacher brought us into a horrifying split and said, “Now imagine you’re Hanuman, leaping to Sri Lanka.” All I could do was roll my eyes because I had no clue what she was talking about and my eyes were the only part of my body that I could move during the attempt. It’s not that I was resistant to the mythological and spiritual origins of the practice, it was more like I was feeling clueless and impatient with being new. Nonetheless, I loved the way yoga made me feel so I just kept coming back.

Within two years I was totally hooked. I practiced as much as I could and went to every workshop I could afford. I reveled in the versatility of options and styles, attending everything from Anusara intensives to Yoga and Tarot workshops, kirtans and 5 a.m. Kundalini donation-based classes. Nothing was too practical or too “out there;” I was open to it all.

I decided I wanted to do a teacher training, but felt really timid and insecure about it. I finally got the nerve to speak up to my instructor at the time. He pointed me to Michelle Baker, who had just announced that she would be leading the first yoga teacher training in New Orleans. Michelle seemed lit up and her teaching was rich and layered and I hung on every word. I signed on without hesitation and began a journey which ultimately became the centerpiece of my life (though I had no idea at the time).

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May- The Unstruck Sound:Nada Yoga

written by Rob Dill

The Hatha Yoga Pradipika states “When the mind ceases to be fickle and is united by fixing it in nada, it becomes immobile like a wingless bird.” IV:92

One of the divine teachers upon my path, Avalokitesvara / Chenrezig the bodhisattva of compassion, attained enlightenment through single pointed focus on the subtle inner sound. Standing on the shore staring out upon the sea, Chenrezig focused on the sound of the waves exhaling to shore and inhaling back out to sea. Like an instrument being tuned to a tuning fork, his mind became in tune with his surroundings through deep listening. As distraction dissolved, he grew aware of more subtle sounds within. Through the art of deep listening, an unwavering focus and stability of mind arose.

When we can ‘tune in’ like this, we rest effortlessly in the Here and Now. Sound fades into the background. Our experience seems more like a movie screen on which ideas, emotions, sensations, and sound are projected. In this state of greater, spacious awareness, practice holding fast to this steady point of view: watching, yet not involved in the “movie script”.

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April- The Chakras, A Ladder to Love: Renewal of the Infinite Within

written by Brigitte Martin

I believe every breath is a new beginning and that every moment we have the chance to be reborn. I have found that in the most devastating moments, I have the capability to remember the infinite within me that is never born and never dies.
My ladder to love was a resurrection of sorts. It started with me and it will never end with me. It is my journey to God, to Love. And it started with one of the most profound and painful moments of my life.
Five years ago, during my teacher training at Swan River Yoga, my father passed away. It was sudden, it took my hope away, and it left me feeling breathless and lost.
My first day back to teacher training after his death felt impossible.
My husband drove me to Swan River because I could barely put one foot in front of the other.  He sat with me in the car for what felt like an eternity. He didn’t say a word. He just held my hand.

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March- Spring Into Mindful Living. Nourish Your Ojas!

written by Kelly Haas

““Nothing can dim the light which shines from within.” -Maya Angelou

Ojas literally translates as the juice of life. It is our natural, innermost vital essence which acts as the carrier of our life force. It is our vitality.

According to Ayurveda, the sister science to yoga, healthy people have abundant ojas, our essence that promotes immunity, happiness, physical and spiritual strength, and clarity of perceptions. A person who is healthy is radiant, generous, strong, supple, joyful, compassionate, and balanced. When our ojas is depleted, we are left vulnerable to illness, anxiety, restlessness, confusion, and poor digestion.

In life, health is the greatest wealth. We are of highest service to the world when we are clear and of radiant health. Yet there isn’t one set prescription for this luster.

Our well-being depends on many factors, like our faith, mindful connection, communion with nature, self-care practices and our sense of belonging. Trusting that there is an infinite Consciousness that governs all things, as well as acting as an integral part of the Divine web of life, reminds us to take care of ourselves and others.

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February- The Lila Gras

written by Michelle Baker

“My, what a Divine space suit you have on.” Ram Dass
I remember the first time I met one of my yoga teachers, Ram Dass. He is the author of the iconic coffee table book on yoga, Be Here Now. He walked out of a library in New York and I unconsciously turned towards him. He had a magnetic pull. He was lit up and accepting. I really felt like he was “somebody,” whatever a somebody might be. He seemed to look at me as though he knew who I was, yet I didn’t know him at all, let alone myself. It was an interaction I hadn’t known before, free of judgement or labels. It was a sort of Soul-to-Soul glance that lacked any motive or intention behind it.

I later saw that he was the keynote speaker that night. He gave a talk about reincarnation, a concept new to me. He stated that we all had “divine space suits” on and that we were really Souls in a body, the body being a costume. I had just graduated from college with a Major in Costume Design. I found the concept very relatable and intriguing.
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January- Protection & Direction: The Four Infinite Truths

written by Keith Porteous

In my garden in the early morning, I admire the orange trees. From the roots, the trunk rises and splits into branches, which split into smaller and smaller branches that hang heavy with fruit. The trees were planted by the previous owner of this garden when he was a young man. He planted the trees for his mother; she loved oranges. Both the son and mother have passed away now, but the creative power within the seeds he planted, to express his love for his mother, lives on. As I am pregnant and expecting a third child, I am touched by this connection that bridges time. I know little more of their relationship, other than that she loved to garden and he planted these trees. He could have given her anything—a scarf or a hat, for example—and my family may never have known. Their relationship would not have touched our lives. But because he chose to plant a tree, his gift self-renews in a way that no longer depends on him. The trees nourish me, my family, the friends of my children who joyfully pick oranges on temperate afternoons, the baby I carry, our neighbors and even those we don’t know, like the homeless who accept a bag of oranges or a jar of juice at a red light. Read More>>>>



December – Circle the Sun

written by T.Q. Sims

I enjoy watching the sky slowly changing color as the sun rises and the world is illuminated. I can hear the birds waking up to sing, beginning the day most likely the same way they began the day before. My morning routine is usually much the same as the previous day. I put some water on my face and put in my contact lenses, I take care of the cats and I show them each some love, I practice asana and sun salutations and I sit down to practice pranayama and meditate. The asana sequence I practice in the morning has been the same for years. I’ve been practicing the same sun salutations in the morning for years. Some mornings, I’m teaching or traveling early, but I do my best to make time for the asana and sun salutations. Some mornings, I hold off on the paranayama and meditation until later in the day, but for the most part, my mornings are very repetitive.

Life itself is very repetitive. We are on a giant rock which has been circling the sun for over 4.5 billion years. The teachings of yoga tell us that we’ve lived out many lifetimes ourselves, often repeating much of the past in our current incarnations. Day in and day out, millions of people get up, go to work, come home, go to sleep. Certain details—our bodies, our lives—change, but so much of our lives is repetition. Repetition becomes dulling for many people, but the yoga seeker sees the repetition as a chance to go deeper into what is already known.  Read More>>>>


November -No Separation

written by Tim Vanderkamp

We are here to awaken from the illusion of separateness”
~Thich Nhat Hanh

I sit sometimes and study my harmonium. When I look at the screws, the clasps, the eyelets, the keys, the polished wood, the bellows, and all the other pieces, I cultivate a sense of gratitude because I know there isn’t a single piece of this wonderful device I am capable of making on my own. Someone had the idea to make a screw and then figured out how to make one. Someone else made the piano keys, the shiny knobs, and all the other little tiny components. Another person took each of those individual tiny parts and put them together in a way that allowed beautiful sounds to come from them. And eventually, after all that, and against all odds, that device made its way around the world from India and into my home.

So before I play my harmonium, I study it, and I humbly acknowledge all the people (past and present) who contributed to it being in front of me. It took a tremendous amount of effort by MANY other people for a harmonium to be here. I see, contained in this small device, the story of countless beings, each doing their part to make something amazing happen. Each person played their role with skill and enthusiasm, and because they did, I get to make music.

Studying my harmonium, I also see through the illusion of separateness. There is no separation. Read More>>>>



October – The Spiritual Practice of Disaster: From So Hard to So Ham

written by Jacksun Slaughter

Soham is a Hindu Mantra meaning “I am (s)He/That” in Sanskrit. In Vedic Philosophy it means identifying oneself with the universe or ultimate reality. Soham means that my Individual Self is my Universal Self. Soham is also called the Hamsa mantra, because when sung in repetition it elicits the sound Hamsa. In Sanskrit, the word Hamsa represents a white swan that symbolizes the Individual Self. Paramahamsa, the Universal Self, is reflected as Individual Self, or Hamsa, in all of us; in other words, the God(dess) in all of us.

Drugs plague the community where I choose to reside. At its laziest moments, my mind can ride the pop-psychology-recipe for “right and wrong” and condemn those who fall victim to the drugs-of-no-choice that run the streets of the 7th Ward. It’s the one-size-fits-all narrative that relates drug use to the “weak,” the “criminal,” the “desperate,” the “pathetic”- the other. Like so many folks who don’t reach for drugs as their first means of relief, I sometimes find myself seduced by proliferation of this storyline – or I did until recently, when I hurt my neck.

Without going into the throes of inane-hard-life-misalignment details, I hurt my neck and I don’t exactly know how. As a yoga teacher, gardener, builder, community mama, person who uses their body to make ends meet- this was a disaster. Three weeks into the mostly unbearable pain- and three weeks into various treatments, called-in favors, and secret promises to the Universe-nothing changed except an aggrandized projection of fear and burgeoning hopelessness. Read More>>>>