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Guru Purnima: Teacher Appreciation Day – by Gwen Burdick

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“Everything in the world has come out of one Divine Being, the sacred fire.  The sages are the direct manifestation of that fire.  No one understands them.  No one talks to them.  No one walks with them.  They live in their own world and yet, driven by intense compassion, they descend and walk among human beings.  They are kind and ever-engaged in guiding those who are in search of the Divine Experience.  When you have a real desire to see them, they come to you in the flesh.  Don’t waste your time running here and there: they are always with you; they are your real companions.” – Swami Rama as quoted by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait in At the Eleventh Hour

Guru Purnima, the highest holiday in the Vedic tradition, is celebrated yearly on the first full moon after the summer solstice in the month of Ashad, usually our July, and corresponds to the beginning of the rainy season.  The Sanskrit word Guru means remover of darkness and Purnima is the full moon day of the lunation cycle.  On this day scholars, academics and students from a variety of spiritual lineages gather in fellowship, known as satsang, to honor and express gratitude for the wisdom teachings and past and present teachers that have inspired, guided, and protected everyone.  All forms of worship are said to be a thousand times more powerful on Guru Purnima.

Yoga and its sister Vedic sciences have been taught to sincere seekers by authentic teachers for thousands of years, one-on-one, in an unbroken fashion as an oral tradition. Saints and sages have lived throughout history, coming to teach the same message to diverse people, speaking diverse languages, and teaching in diverse ways. Considered by many to be the most necessary part of life and the greatest gift, the Sat Guru, or Enlightened Master, is the embodiment of the three Gods of the Universe:  Lord Brahma the Creator, Lord Vishnu the Sustainer and Lord Shiva the Destroyer.  Further, the Guru principle is available to us through the written word of the sacred texts, as the ancient seers stored this wisdom in the language of various scriptures.  It is the hope that, through God’s grace, the lamp of knowledge is lit within each of us, the darkness of ignorance is removed, and that we may have a direct personal experience of our own Divinity.

Traditional ceremonies and festivities on Guru Purnima normally include kirtan (chanting), havan (a fire ceremony where prayers are offered) and prasad (a food offering, usually kheer, a sweet rice pudding).  On this important day, disciples not only recommit to their own spiritual path, but brother and sister-disciples recommit to each other as well in solidarity on their spiritual journeys. Please join us on the 31st at The Yoga Sanctuary for this annual event which will include discussion, chanting, guided meditation and homemade kheer.

Click here to sign up for The Yoga Sanctuary’s Guru Purnima Celebration on July 31st!

Staff Spotlight: Anna Martin – Remember When…

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A few times over the past couple years I have been asked the question, “When did you start practicing yoga?” I realized that, subconsciously, I have been practicing yoga throughout my life and in various ways since I was five years old. At that age, I would put on “shows” for my grandparents, featuring Hanumanasana (splits, or Monkey Pose), Dhanurasana (bow pose), and Urdhva Dhanurasana (back bend). As a young introvert, dharana (concentration) and dhyana (meditation) arose naturally when I was by myself—reading, painting, playing, or skating. 

I was brought up to understand the ground rules of satya (truthfulness), asteya (non-stealing), and aparigraha (non-greed). Oh, the stories I could tell about the learning curve of being truthful! Always seeking knowledge (svadhyaya), I was guided to explore different languages, cultures, and ethnic and religious differences.

My subconscious yoga experience continued as I got older. As a young adult, a difficult-to-treat skin condition led me to encounter doctors who practice the Buteyko Breathing Method, a pranayama practice that helped me to heal. My path has been long and rich with experiences, both good and bad, that have made me who I am—and brought me to the place I am—today.

Consciously, I found my way to the yoga practice ten years ago when a good friend invited me to a class at another yoga studio in Port Charlotte. I don’t remember the exact experience, but I do remember that I wanted to come back. I felt at home, and I knew there was a lot to explore and learn.

During my first year of practice, each class intrigued me more. I wanted more of this abundant, available knowledge. I participated in many firsts: a kirtan with David Newman, a book club, and a Sanskrit language and Indian spices workshop. I trained in Reiki I and II. This growth made me feel comfortable with who I was and where I was, and it defined the path to where I wanted to go. I know that I will be on that path for many years to come.

 

Yogi of the Month: Sarfraz Islam

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My name is Sarfraz Islam. I have lived in Port Charlotte for the last 30 years and recently moved to Punta Gorda. I am a physician who has practiced for 30 years, until March 2014 when I retired.

I have always been inspired by the physical and spiritual aspects of yoga but could not spare the time to practice due to my busy career and life until a year ago.

I was introduced to yoga about 6 years ago by a dear friend after a stressful incident in my life. Although yoga had a positive effect on my life, I did not keep up with it.

In April of 2014, I joined The Yoga Sanctuary in Punta Gorda and started practicing 3 to 4 times a week. Now I feel physically and mentally rejuvenated. The aches and pain I felt for many years are much less intense. The stamina to walk has improved. In stressful situations, meditation and restorative yoga brings me back to a state of peaceful mind and body.

I continue to practice yoga 3 – 4 times a week. I attend gentle, level one and mixed level yoga classes. My favorite pose is the tree pose; it focuses on balance, concentration and meditative thoughts.

Yoga has changed my life in many ways. Not only am I able to create more peace and tranquility around me, I can also successfully relieve tension in my muscles. All in all, it makes me a more balanced human being.

I feel I still need to learn a lot more. I know that I can’t learn each and every yoga pose, so I keep coming to learn as many as I can. Despite all the above mentioned benefits, I still feel there is a lot to gain in it for me—physically and spiritually.

My favorite quote is:

“Do not dwell in the past,

do not dream of the future,

concentrate the mind

on the present moment.”

– Buddha

Prajna Yoga: The Yoga of Wisdom and Compassion – A Guest Blog by Tias Little

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The word prajna is a very old word, akin to the Greek word gnosis. Prajna suggests wisdom, a kind of sixth sense—or seventh sense—not intellectual but an intuitive wisdom. Through prajna one actualizes the dharma in everyday life and engages in the world whole-heartedly without grasping. To use the words of the Chinese sage Mahasattva Fu, one “takes hold of the plow with empty hands.” I founded Prajna Yoga with my wife Surya in Santa Fe, New Mexico, based on our collective forty years of practice and study. The first in-depth study training program in this practice was offered in 1998.

In this day of racy yoga classes, chic yoga wear, and classes that emphasize power work-outs, Prajna Yoga involves mindfulness and precision. In order to tap the internal alignment of a posture, a mindful approach is necessary, and this involves slowing the practice down. By going slowly a student can feel more, and attune to the changing rhythms within her body. We have a bumper sticker we designed that reads: DARE TO BE SLOW. It does take practice—and patience—to go slowly, especially in the midst of the lickety-split, pixel craze in which we all now live.

The aim of yoga is not simply to build strength and flexibility, but intelligence—a kind of somatic wisdom. How do we build this intelligence, this sensitivity? The key in all training, whether headstand, down dog, or seated meditation, is listening. It is through internal listening that one can attune to the subtle body including the breath, holding patterns in the connective tissues, emotions and thoughts. We think of this as the Art of Listening.

Prajna Yoga combines insightful teachings on mindfulness that stem from the Buddhist tradition, with the techniques and practices within Hatha Yoga. The combination of these two are potent means to transform the mind and body. The Prajna approach involves “skillful action” and mindful articulation within a pose.

The practice always begins from the ground up. It is critical to set the foundation of a pose so that it is balanced and stable. Typically this involves the feet, but the foundation of a pose may be the crown of the head, the forearms, or the shoulder blades. When the foundation of a pose is set then one can safely build the temple of the pose.

The Prajna approach is inter-disciplinary and there are many elements woven together in the Prajna practice. One of the primary stitches in the weave is the way hatha yoga combines with the science of anatomy and structural alignment. Techniques from Iyengar Yoga are combined with principles from Osteopathic medicine, the work of Ida Rolf, and elements from Chinese medicine. Also in the Prajna weave are Taoist teachings, yoga for women’s health, nutrition, poetry, and Sanskrit studies. The emphasis throughout is not simply to build a more flexible and stronger student, but to educate students on the nuances of the mind-body-heart connection. The emphasis is to develop “Big Mind”—a mind (and heart) that is wide and broad in its perspective.

One of the things Prajna Yoga avoids is the rigidity of a system. Due to the authoritarianism and the self-serving motivations within any system (something that J. Krishnamurti cautioned against), Prajna Yoga emphasizes a body of practice that changes and evolves. This follows the original teachings of the Buddha who taught that nothing is static, neither the body, the weather, relationships between people, or beliefs. In this sense, the “system” of Prajna Yoga is like the current of a river. This flow can be seen in a variety of ways—the flow of awareness, the flow of vinyasa, the flow of blood and lymph through the body, and the flow of change that happens all the time. This flow also manifests as a practice that can change and adapt according to the needs of the time. In this sense Prajna Yoga is like the Tao and when the Tao flows it is responsive and dynamic.

The cornerstone of the Prajna Yoga approach is metta or loving kindness. The essential practice of kindness does not necessarily involve religion. In fact sometimes the dogma that stems from spiritual practice can become an obstacle to kindness. Metta does not require that one believe in one particular deity. Rather, this kindness manifests when one sees into the fragility of all life and the impermanence of all circumstance. Metta is the ground for being in relationship—within the teacher-student connection, within a marriage, and between co-workers and colleagues. The heart of metta practice involves ease, compassion and non-judgmental awareness toward oneself and others. One student spoke to the Prajna Yoga experience this way, “here is a practice that educates and challenges, but at the same time accepts a person for where they are and works them gently but firmly forward.”

The realization of metta involves the understanding that all life is inter-dependent, something Thich Nhat Hahn called inter-being. The symbol that best describes this is the “knot of eternity,” a weave pattern that best represents Prajna Yoga. This “knot of inter-being” is one of the eight symbols that expresses veneration for the teachings of the Buddha. The knot represents the indivisibility of all of life—all things animate and inanimate, all circumstance, and all activity. Suggested in this symbol is that there is no such thing as an isolated “I” or “me” apart from the weave of everything else. The suggestion of this weave is that the purpose of the path of yoga is not to get outside of or away from one’s relationships in the world. Rather, through understanding the inter-connectivity of all life, one participates more whole-heartedly and fearlessly in the fabric of life.

Prajna Yoga involves a fearless approach to living, yet one that is realized through wisdom and compassion. By training the body to be centered and pliable and the mind-heart to be clear and open, one can live a wondrous and intimate life.