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What Time Is It? The Vedic Sky: Gwen Burdick

Jyotish picture

Most people today look to the Gregorian calendar or even their smart phone for an awareness of the passage of time. Whether or not skilled in time management, most of us can feel the pressure of the unfolding of time. Sunrises, sunsets and the lunation cycles are the basis of the time we notice, but do we give real consideration to how time is created? The ancient cultures did. They looked to the sky for answers. Jyotish, “the Science of Light” in Sanskrit, is the yogic study of our solar system, time and the spiritual life lessons that unfold as a result. Modern Astronomy, taught in schools everywhere, is an observable science, but the ancient yogis explained the spiritual principles and wisdom that underpin the precision of the Universe in which we live.

The authoritative ancient text on Jyotish is Brihat Parashara Hora Shastra, brought forth by the sage Parashara. More recently Swami Sri Yukteswar stated that “The message boldly blazoned across the heavens at the moment of birth is not meant to emphasize fate, the result of past good and evil, but to arouse man’s will to escape from his universal thralldom.” As the goal of all Vedic sciences is Self-realization, Vedic Astrology, practiced for thousands of years, can provide insight into the soul’s journey and destiny. It can tell us about the absence or presence of certain tendencies. The more we understand about planetary indications in the heavens and the relationship between the Vedic sky and our life on Earth, the more we can perceive consciousness as a unified whole. We can make peace with where we are. We can take responsibility for our lives and make the best of situations.

On April 14, 2015 the sun enters Aries and marks the Vedic New Year. Join us at The Yoga Sanctuary on the new moon in May for an introductory investigation of timeless Jyotish concepts, the Vedic sky we live under right now and the individual birth chart. Click here to learn more about this upcoming workshop.


1391360224Viniyoga™ adapts various methods of yoga practice to the unique condition, needs, and interests of the student, using tools to individualize and actualize the process of self-discovery and personal transformation. Adapted from the teachings of T. Krishnamacharya to his son, T.K.V. Desikachar, Viniyoga was further refined by Gary Kraftsow, founder of the American Viniyoga Institute (AVI).

According to AVI, “Viniyoga is a comprehensive and authentic transmission of the teachings of yoga including asana, pranayama, bandha, sound, chanting, meditation, personal ritual, and study of texts.” Derived from yoga sutra 3.6: tasya bhūmiṣu viniyogaḥ: “The practice [of samyama] is to be accomplished in stages.” Samyama is the combination of the last three limbs of yoga: dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation), and samadhi (liberation, or enlightenment).

Viniyoga utilizes the principles of proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation, which involves the warming up and contracting of a muscle before stretching it as a way to decrease injury. Each posture begins with a gentle moving into and out of the posture so that the body becomes accustomed to the pose in a gradual manner.

Viniyoga is particularly beneficial for people who need a more therapeutic approach to the practice of yoga. Viniyoga can address low back pain or sciatica, hip tightness, or upper back, neck, and shoulder sensitivities. The practice focuses on targeted movements and holding of postures linked with specific breathing patterns to loosen tight muscles that might be inhibiting movement and creating pain.

Staff Spotlight-Melissa Goodwin

Melissa Goodwin

Around the year 1965, a woman named Sue Luby moved to my hometown of Andover, Massachusetts and changed my life. Sue offered yoga classes – we’d never heard of yoga, but for some reason my mother decided we should give it a try. This would have been around the early days of hippies and flower children, but my mom was no hippie. She was a middle-class suburban housewife who had grown up in a strict and regimented boarding school in England. I don’t know what made her want to try this weird new thing called yoga; but she did, and she took me with her. I was 10 years old.


Sue Luby’s classes took place in a local community building that smelled musty and had dusty wood floors. I didn’t like that very much, but when we got down on the floor, Magic Happened. Sue had us doing stretches and twists and assuming all sorts of strange positions, and I LOVED it. I remember distinctly being in plow position with my legs over my head and my toes touching the floor and I glanced over at Mom (please don’t turn your head in plow position J) and saw that she was doing it too. And I thought, “This is very, very cool.”


I realize now how lucky I was to have been exposed to yoga at such a young age. I wasn’t an athletic girl; I couldn’t run fast and I had no upper body strength. But my body liked yoga and my heart liked it too. I can’t say that I practiced all the time from the age of 10 on, but throughout the years I always practiced some of it some of the time. Whenever I felt sore or stiff or tired, I’d always go back to the yoga poses.


It was around 1990 that I found my way back to a consistent, dedicated yoga practice. I can separate the rest of my yoga journey into four significant phases: The Maine Phase, The Scottsdale Phase, the Santa Fe Phase and the Punta Gorda Phase.


In Maine, I was taught by a teacher with an Iyengar background, which means that she focused strongly on proper alignment and holding the positions. It was here that I began to really understand the dynamics of the poses and their benefits.


When we moved to Arizona, I began taking vinyasa or “flow” yoga classes, and this became my practice for the next seven years. Vinyasa yoga was strong and fast and sweaty and fun. I gained strength and learned to challenge myself. When we were about to move to Santa Fe, New Mexico, my Scottsdale teacher asked me if I’d ever considered becoming a yoga teacher, and without thinking, I answered, “Yes.” I actually hadn’t really been considering this consciously, so I think it must have been my heart that answered the question.


I decided to take teacher training as soon as we moved to Santa Fe and by great good fortune, this turned out to be the home of master teacher Tias Little. Not only did he offer teacher training right in Santa Fe, but he owned a yoga studio there as well. Over the next several years I studied with Tias, completed his training program, took many of his workshops and practiced at his studio, YogaSource. (Tias is also Jennifer’s teacher.). Eventually I became a teacher there too.


Santa Fe is rich with yoga – the teachers at YogaSource came from many backgrounds, but most had a strong Iyengar influence and great depth of experience. It felt good to get back to an alignment-based focus and to learn daily from these exceptional teachers. The studio also brought master instructors from all over the world, so I felt like I was in a kind of Yoga Heaven.


It seems strange to realize that it wasn’t until Santa Fe that I began to understand that there is more to yoga than the physical practice. It was there that I first learned about the Eight Limbs, the Yoga Sutras and yoga philosophy. For the first time, I came to see yoga as a system for living that encompasses not just the physical poses, but also how we think about life and how we navigate the world and our relationships with others.


Now, here in Punta Gorda, I find myself again blessed to be part of a beautiful and caring yoga community. During my vinyasa and teacher-training years, I put a lot of attention on learning more challenging poses like handstand, headstand and forearm balances. I thought I’d never be able to do some of them, but with practice I did, and that felt great. But now my practice focuses more on doing simple things well. I like to really “work” the basic poses with a focus on understanding their dynamics and benefits in order to benefit not only my own body, but so that I can help students explore the poses safely and understand better why they are doing what we instruct them to do. I am also moving much more deeply into the spiritual side of yoga– exploring meditation and really trying to embrace the principles of yoga as a complete lifestyle that can bring happiness, peace and balance to my life.


P.S. Sue Luby eventually opened a yoga studio in Andover, MA, and 50 years later, it is still there.

Yogi of the Month-Fred Johnson

Fred Johnson

I was born and raised in the northwest suburbs of Chicago; where I met my childhood sweetheart, Jane, my wife of twenty nine years. We raised three wonderful children, two whom are professional ballet dancers and one is an aspiring artist. At twenty four years old, I experienced the death of my close friend and this sent me down the career path of emergency medical service. I soon became a volunteer firefighter in my home town while pursuing a career as a full time firefighter paramedic. I took a job in a neighboring community in 1988 and over the next twenty five years rose to the rank of battalion chief.

I started my yoga practice because of a promise to Jane, that when I retired from the fire service I would begin yoga. She had for years tried to get me to practice yoga but I was more focused on the strength training and plyometric exercises that I thought I needed for my job performance.

Life has a way of slowing you down even if you are not listening. At forty eight years old, I had my first hip replacement. Sixty three days later I was back on the job fighting fire. My orthopedic surgeon informed me that my other hip would need to be replaced in two to three years. Unfortunately he was correct. At fifty two years old, I had my second hip replacement. At that time I was no longer a line firefighter but a battalion chief. Prior to my second surgery, Jane had planted the seed that I would not return to work but instead retire and join her in sunny Florida. She was right. Unfortunately, my second surgery did not go as well as the first and I continued to have nagging issues with my psoas muscle. I then enrolled in an introduction to yoga class at The Yoga Sanctuary where Jennifer exposed me to the basics of yoga and proper yoga etiquette.

I started practicing regularly two years ago with chair and gentle yoga. Slowly progressing into level 1, level 2 and yin. Yoga has changed my life. By the end of my career, with numerous broken bones, a torn ACL, bulging discs and bi-lateral hip replacement, I could barely dress myself. This was not how I had envisioned going into retirement. My yoga practice has helped me to slow down and truly listen to my body and not just use it as a tool to accomplish a task.

I’ve discovered yoga to be an emotional roller coaster. In a class I go from calm to frustrated, I find myself laughing and the next second I want to cry. It is an exhausting ride for a one hour class. I have come to the understanding that it will be a long slow process to reverse the damage I inflicted onto my body over the past fifty years.

Outside The Yoga Sanctuary, I assist Jane with her art business. We both enjoy fly fishing Charlotte Harbor and golf at Myakka Pines. The running joke with our kids when they found out that I was doing yoga was that I was in class just for the savasana. Well – that is my favorite pose. It gives me time to reflect on the changes that occurred in class and the work that has to be done.

What keeps me coming back is the fact that I see positive change in my body. No matter how small the effect, it is positive.

As I was sitting in my physical therapist’s office one day, I stumbled across a quote by Ashleigh Brilliant, “There is a whole word that I am in control of and it ends at my fingertips.” This struck me as fitting for my current life outlook.