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In Yoga, Every Day is Earth Day

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This year, Friday, April 22 is Earth Day. Around the world, communities come together on this day to promote environmental awareness. Trees are planted, roadsides and shorelines are cleaned up, companies are encouraged to make environmentally conscious changes, and individuals feel inspired to do their part to make the earth a better place for this and future generations.

In yoga philosophy, the first of the five yamas (the first limb of the eight limbs of yoga as set out by the sage Patanjali) is ahimsa. Ahimsa means, simply put, non-harming. To practice ahimsa means to do no harm—to others or to the earth itself. It is one of the most widely sited of the yamas and niyamas.

Yoga philosophy, although rooted in the present moment, takes a far-sighted viewpoint. The rule of karma states that, essentially, what goes around comes around. Treating the earth with respect, as the finite resource that it is, is the logical practice of one who is in tune with yoga practice and philosophy. In yoga, the earth can be celebrated every day.

Dedicating a special day to environmental awareness is a great way to spread the enthusiasm for practices that help make the world a better place. This year, why not take your yoga practice outside to reconnect to nature and remind yourself that this paradise we live in deserves our attention and utmost respect. Take some time to consider how you live your life and whether or not any changes could be made to make your life even more earth friendly. Being in the presence of nature—feet on the ground, breathing in fresh air and feeling the wind and sun on your skin—can help instill a renewed vigor that inspires you to recommit to environmental practices that may have fallen by the wayside.

NOTE: The Yoga Sanctuary will be celebrating Earth Day at the Charlotte Harbor Environmental Center on Friday, April 22nd at 5:30pm. Join us for an outdoor yoga class on the CHEC greens followed by a guided walk through some of CHEC’s trails. All donations collected at this event will go directly to CHEC to help support the work they do in our community! Find out more about CHEC at www.checflorida.org.

Yogi of the Month—Karol B. Wyckoff

Karol Wycoff

I was born into one of the original pilgrim families (Elder Brewster) and have been an artist since I first held a pencil and drew on the blank pages of my parents’ books. I won my first of over 120 awards when I was 12 years old and from there went on to study at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and graduated from Rhode Island School of Design, Providence. (At the time, I was granted two scholarships. I still give back on a yearly basis to needy art students through both RISD and Rotary International, the organizations who sponsored me!) After graduation, I became an art director for Liberty Mutual Insurance Co., Boston, and Scholastic Books, NYC. This was before I married and raised two children. Since then, my passion for art has delved into fine arts (watercolor, pastel, pencil, ink, and oil) which I still do on a daily basis.

When my children were 13 and 16, their dad died, but not before he set me up with a five-year business plan to market my art. Six years later, after being represented by numerous galleries throughout New England and the east coast, I opened the Karol B. Wyckoff Gallery in Wellfleet, MA. Two years later, I met my present husband and we moved to Punta Gorda where we have resided for the past 23+ years. I no longer own the gallery, but I do run two studios and continue to participate in many art exhibitions around the country. Over the years, I have been blessed as a Master Artist member as well as a signature member of many prestigious art organizations. My paintings hang in permanent collection of 1000s of homes, businesses, the Smithsonian Museum, and Cape Cod Museum of Art.

I started doing yoga about six years ago after having severe arthritis and spondylolisthesis, and sciatic nerve and spinal stenosis problems in my lower back and legs. After several spinal shots over a four-year period (before starting yoga), I was much improved—no surgery for this old back of mine! My internist recommended physical therapy, where I was introduced to KamiPractics. Kami changed my life. After six months of PT, she introduced me to yoga and suggested that I go to Yoga Sanctuary to take the Gentle class two or three times a week, as well as doing stretch exercises each and every morning upon getting out of bed (which I do faithfully).

Yes, it has changed my life. Yes, I still suffer from pain in my lower back and legs, but since I have attended The Yoga Sanctuary over the past five+ years, I am able to do just about everything I did before I had my hefty back problems. I find wonderful relief in the calming way everything is approached, even the softness of the instructors’ voices. Heck, I’ve even heard snoring some days when we’re ready for our last approach as we calmly wait for the final ding of the bell. If my pain becomes too severe, I can stop my yoga at any time—one must be comfortable! When this happens at home during my workday, I can get down on the floor and do the stretching exercises that we were taught in our yoga classes. My body continues to be less tense since I have been doing my daily yoga. And yes, it’s definitely keeping me young, or at least younger!

My favorite quote: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Staff Spotlight—Melissa Goodwin, The Teachers I’ve Never Met

Melissa Goodwin

A great many of my most important teachers are people I’ve never met. That seems like an odd statement, I know, so I’ll have to explain.

I’ve been an avid reader since – well, since the moment I learned to read. As a child, my first favorite book was The House at Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne. I have a very clear and distinct memory of thinking, Someday I want to write books like this, after reading it at around the age of eight.

I read and read and read, book after book after book… classics like The Secret Garden (my all-time favorite), The Wind in the Willows, Treasure Island and all of Dickens – and pretty much every other kid’s book you can name. In my teens I became obsessed with mythology – Greek, Roman, Norse. I read Shakespeare and mysteries and historical fiction and fantasy. You name it, I read it.

Each book, each writer, took me not only to other worlds and other times, but also taught me how to write. I think that perhaps I had an innate talent, but it was the generous gift of all these authors, each with a different style and voice, that helped me develop my own gift later on.

So now you are surprised to learn that becoming a yoga teacher was not my first dream – or even my second or third! No, that came much, much later. My first and enduring dream was to be a writer, but it’s a dream that I allowed to go by the wayside while I pursued “normal” jobs working for banks and insurance companies.

But my soul never let me forget about writing. Feeling unfilled with my jobs (okay, let’s be real – I hated them!) I eventually gravitated toward reading books that spoke about the heart’s desire; the soul’s longing. One of the first books that helped me reconnect with my spirit was Simple Abundance by Sarah Ban Breathnach, which spoke of gratitude for simple pleasures and rediscovering one’s authentic self. From that point on, I devoured “self-help” books and books about spirituality. My new teachers included Wayne Dyer, Louise Hays, Susan Jeffers and Oriah Mountain Dreamer. And so many others….

It wasn’t until I was in my forties, when I (joyously) left the corporate world, that I finally began to write. And when I did, the words flowed as though they had been waiting years to be released. Well, they had been! My stories and articles were published quickly and often in magazines, and I attribute this to the fact that my teachers – all those writers – had taught me well. In 2011, I realized my first dream of writing a children’s book, The Christmas Village. Two years later I published the sequel, and in 2014 I wrote a book with advice about living full-time in an RV (but that’s another story).

At about the same time that I had that crystalized thought about wanting to become a writer, I also discovered yoga. When Mom and I took our first class at the local community center, I fell in love with the way the postures made me feel. Through the years, the stretches and poses stayed with me and I practiced off and on. And then, at about the same time that I began writing in earnest, I also returned to a dedicated yoga practice. Interesting….

Those same books that helped me move toward fulfilling my heart’s desire to write also led me to become more connected to my spirituality, and that led me back to yoga. My practice deepened and eventually I became a teacher. So, I never actually dreamed of being a yoga teacher, but I think now that perhaps the Universe dreamed it for me because it kept veering my path in that direction. A very cagey one, that Universe! Through the written words of others, my teachers, it led me to realize my writing dreams and also toward living a yogic life, in which what I do and who I am are very much in alignment.

I still devour books, but most often now I devour books by people like Pema Chodron, Jack Kornfield, Brene Brown and Thich Nhat Hahn, who write about spirituality and life. These are some of my new teachers, and the list is ever expanding.

What I’ve realized is that these two things that have always called to me – writing and yoga – are very intertwined. I think that opening the door to my creativity through writing helps me to be more creative in the development of my yoga classes. And the more that I explore the spiritual side of yoga, the more open and receptive I am to divine inspiration in my writing. I believe that the Universe tries very hard to reach us and will figure out how to speak to each of us in the way that we can best hear it. For me, that has always been by way of courageous people who are willing to express their hearts through the written word – writers; the teachers I have never met.

Exploring the Myths of Asana—Balasana

child's pose

Balasana, or Child’s Pose, is one of the most-loved yoga postures for the simple reason that it feels so good. The fact that it’s often taken after a difficult pose may even increase its appeal. Balasana is like a refuge. A breath of fresh air. A release. It’s where we can let go of all the stress and just be. Perhaps that’s why it’s called Child Pose after all. The innocence of childhood is graced with a feeling of ease.

In fact, many say that children are closer to divinity because they have not yet forgotten where they come from. The myth of Balasana touches on this very idea. Krishna, who is Vishnu incarnate (Vishnu being the god of preservation, one of three main Hindu gods), during childhood displayed the behavior of a child who did not know his own divinity, a playful forgetfulness known as lila. Not to be confused with maya, or the illusion that tells us our mortal experiences are real, lila is experienced when one is fully grounded in his or her own divinity, but can then forget it in a way that brings about lightness.

According to Alanna Kaivalya, author of Myths of the Asanas, “This is one of the paradoxes of yoga philosophy: First we need to remember our divine nature, and when we are established in it we need to forget it again in order to stay engaged in the world.” In other words, we must be in the world, but not of the world. Child’s Pose represents this balance.

We can use children as our teachers. Witness the full attention a child gives to each moment. They are not burdened by their past or worried about the future. They live in the moment, just as yoga teaches us adults to do. Taking the time to find our own childlike—yet godlike—nature is a worthwhile endeavor. “Balasana invites us to cultivate this childlike quality,” says Kaivalya. Keep this in mind next time you come into Child’s Pose.