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Yoga for any Faith


One reason that yoga appeals to so many people is because, in addition to the great physical and mental benefits, its added spiritual/philosophical dimension can be integrated into a wide range of belief systems. When you hear the phrase, “Yoga is for all,” you may think about how the postures can be adapted for different body types, but this phrase also applies to different beliefs. Whether your beliefs entail religion, spirituality, a mindful experience of the present moment, a connection to nature, or no belief whatsoever, yoga can help you connect deeper with your faith.

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, considered the authoritative text on yoga, intentionally omits any reference to religion. The philosophy lays out guidelines for the achievement of enlightenment, which is considered to be a continual experience of the present moment. Yoga sutra 1.2 clearly states the purpose of yoga: Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind.

To achieve this state of ever-presence, the eight limbs of yoga are outlined. The Yamas and Niyamas present personal and societal ethical codes. Asana (postures) and Pranayama (breathing) practice are just as we practice them in class, leading to Pratyahara, or withdrawal of the senses and Dharana (concentration).Prolonged concentration leads to Dhyana (meditation) and Samadhi (enlightenment), the ultimate culmination of the practice.

Samadhi is the revelation that we are all one. Those of certain faiths will understand this as being one with God, one with nature, or simply one with oneself. Each of these beliefs is valid and can be strengthened by the yoga practice. If you’ve come to the practice seeking something greater than yourself, it’s likely that you will find it. If you’ve come to the practice for physical gain, it’s likely that you will also find a deeper meaning when you look. Be open to this experience and what it might show you.


Rangoli with diyas

Rangoli with diyas

Diwali, which means “row of lights” in Sanskrit, is a celebration in India and around the world to honor the inextinguishable Light within all of us.  It occurs in late October or early November every year on the New Moon when the two great luminaries of our solar system are at their weakest influence.  Astrologically, Surya (the Sun) is in its position of debilitation in Libra every year at this time. This means our solar nature—vision, consistent power and clarity—is the most difficult to access individually and collectively on Diwali.  Chandra (the Moon) is also at its weakest as it joins Surya in the sky, for it is completely dark on this day of the lunation cycle.  Consequently, the light of consciousness is most difficult to feel on this day.

This may seem counter-intuitive at first, but although the energies of the Sun and Moon create life on Earth, it is our own Inner Light that ultimately dispels the darkness of doubt, confusion, fear and ignorance and allows us to evolve spiritually. The goal of all sadhana is to gain access to that Light within ourselves.  An important story of the Ramayana correlating to the ceremony of Diwali tells of the happy return of the King (Surya) and Queen (Chandra), after years spent in exile and suffering, along a path and row of lights lit by the villagers. Festivities on this day include sweets and fireworks, as lamps are lit in homes, offices and temples in worship and reverence to the Light that is not subject to time, space and causation. On Diwali we are reminded that Light is always victorious over darkness.

Yogi of the Month—Scott and Jeanie Lee


Scott and Jeanie Lee were high school sweethearts and have been happily married for 29 years. They grew up in Sylvania, Ohio and have lived throughout the United States in Michigan, Texas, Alaska, and Kentucky, and they now travel the eastern coastal states as full-time cruisers on their sailboat. Scott pursued a career in computer programing with his final job as the database administrator at St. Clair Medical Center in Morehead, KY. Jeanie made a career as a trombone performer and teacher, most recently as a professor of music at Morehead State University and trombonist with the West Virginia Symphony.

In 2008 they retired from their jobs, sold their house, and decided to live and travel aboard their 42’ sailboat Joie de Vivre (Joy of Living). Sailboat life certainly required vast changes in their lives by downsizing their belongings and learning how to do without some of the conveniences that we all take for granted (long hot showers and constant Wi-Fi access, for example). But at the same time sailboat life allowed them the freedom to travel and taught them to slow down to appreciate life and each other more. It was well worth the swap!

We started yoga in 2003 in our mid-30’s while living in Kentucky. Our first yoga instructor, Susan Thomas, started the class in the basement of a church as a benefit for the local food pantry. Entry to the class was a food donation. Susan was a fantastic instructor and really gave both of us a sound foundation to start our yoga practice. Scott started the classes first as a way to gain flexibility and upper body strength to improve his cycling. Jeanie soon followed too see what the classes were all about and learned that the flexibility and stress relief were both beneficial to her trombone playing.

Our practice varies a lot depending on how much we are travelling. As soon as we get settled into a new area, we like to find a yoga studio to attend three to four classes per week. Sometimes it is difficult to find the motivation to practice on our own so we are always happy to discover an active yoga community. We’ve practiced yoga in recreation centers, park pavilions, amphitheaters, soccer fields, city waterfronts, on the deck of our boat, and even on beaches in the Bahamas.

Here at The Yoga Sanctuary, we most often attend the Mixed Level and Level II classes. In our travels we’ve been privileged to study under many great teachers. We are very thankful to now include Jennifer in that list!

Before doing yoga, Scott had noticed that his flexibility had deteriorated over the years. After gaining some experience with yoga, the flexibility improved, but he was also very pleasantly surprised to see noticeable improvements in his strength and balance—areas that he had not even been aware were weakening as he grew older. As a trombonist, Jeanie often had back and arm pain from the long hours of practicing and performing. She didn’t specifically try to use yoga to “fix” these problems, but after weeks and months she noticed that yoga poses gradually became less painful as she gained flexibility, and this transferred to her musical activities as well.

Yoga has been beneficial for us in mind, body, and spirit. These words might sound cliché, but there is great truth in them. We both notice a profound negative effect when our yoga practice gets interrupted by our travels and always eagerly return to classes when the opportunity arises again.

For Scott, his newfound increase in flexibility and strength has allowed him to tackle the physical challenges found on a sailboat without as much danger of injuring himself. For Jeanie, the greatest unexpected benefit has been the stress relief that comes from yoga. The calmness that is gained in class carries throughout the day and allows her to face unexpected challenges without the anxiety or stress that might normally accompany them. This might be called a “marriage-saver” benefit.

As life happens, it seem that one or both of us often has some new physical issue to deal with, more often than not it is a pulled muscle or injury doing everyday sailboat activities when we haven’t been practicing yoga regularly. The tough lesson that we keep re-learning is to keep the practice going.

We both enjoy sailing, cycling, hiking, and camping. Just this summer we were introduced to pickleball by some of our sailing friends, and we now have a new favorite pastime to add to the list.

Scott prefers the extended side-angle pose because it offers a challenge, and he seeks constant growth through yoga. Jeanie enjoys the triangle pose. It allows her to feel the stretch and energy moving in all directions through all of her limbs at once and seems to embody all that yoga is about.

We both keep coming back to yoga to maintain our strength and flexibility so that we can continue our current lifestyle. Sailing is often long periods of non-activity interrupted by intense physical activity, and yoga keeps the body in tune for these sudden shifts.

Scott – “Not all who wander are lost.” ―J.R.R. Tolkein

Jeanie – “It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.” ―William Shakespeare


Staff Spotlight— Heleen Schouten

HeleenStaff Spotlight

Growing up in the Netherlands, I was introduced to yoga as a child by my aunt, Frieda Thepass, who lived with us. In 1957 she founded Stichting Yoga Nederland (now known as Yoga & Vedanta ) with a small group of yoga friends. It is still one of the most respected yoga organizations in the Netherlands and Europe.

Looking back, I realized that I have applied many of her yoga teachings to my daily adult life. Not until a few years ago did I recognize what a gift my aunt passed on to me.

In 2013 I joined TYS and it was like coming home. Two years later I began the Teacher Training program at The Yoga Sanctuary to get a deeper understanding of yoga.

I have been teaching most of my life. I was an art teacher in the Netherlands, taught golf in Westchester, NY, finished the Yoga Teacher Training at TYS in April 2015, became a certified Yoga for Golfers instructor in July 2015, and completed the Foundations Course for the Gokhale Method in August 2015.

There is something pure, basic, natural, awesome, humbling, and amazing about teaching yoga. My focus is to integrate yoga with everyday life. I am especially interested in incorporating the poses, breathing, and meditation into standing, walking, sitting, bending, lying down, and foremost into breathing, so that people can live more (mind)fully on and off the mat.

I am inspired by my family, friends, students, and teachers, as well as everyone and everything around me.

There are many favorite poses, but it is breathing that I most enjoy.

I have just finished reading Pure Heart, Enlightened Mind by Maura O’Halloran, and at the moment I am reading again Yoga, the Spirit and Practice of Moving into Stillness by Erich Schiffmann.

Favorite quote: “Wanderer there is no path, paths are made by walking.” —Antonio Machado, Spanish poet