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Staff Spotlight: Anna Martin – Remember When…

remember when

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


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 of 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.

In spite of regular yoga practice, I feel I 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. In spite of 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


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.

Yogi of the Month: Myriam Sauchuk

Myriam S.

I started practicing yoga in the late 90’s. Initially, it seemed like a good compliment to the other physical activities I was engaged in at the time. I also benefited from other effects, such as reduced stress and increased mental focus. Not to mention, it opened some much needed internal spaces. I was impressed by the power of breath – so essential that without it, we cease to exist, and yet it is easily ignored. I had to start practicing yoga to realize, “Oh, I breathe.” My early yoga practice also taught me how important it is to rest. For many people these may seem like very obvious aspects of living, but it has taken me a long time to become aware of them.

My work as a Spanish-English translator and interpreter has given me the opportunity to live and work abroad, which I did from 2004 to 2014. During the time I was planning and imagining my return to the US, I compiled a wish list, and near the top was my wish to live near a Zen or Yoga center; some place that would give me the space to do the wandering I needed to do. You can’t imagine my delight when I landed so near TYS. For me, it is a place to practice, learn from others, take shelter, tap into the resources they offer–such as Jennifer’s recommendation that I get connected with Upaya Zen Center in New Mexico–thank you—and maybe weave an imaginary blanket of this moment on these particular coordinates.

Over the years my teachers have patiently encouraged me to incorporate meditation to my yoga practice, but I was very reluctant to do so. I finally took that step two years ago; in turn, meditation has intensified my desire to be on the mat.

The postures I gravitate towards change at any given day and time. Nevertheless, at this time I am really enjoying the variations on triangle and warrior poses, which felt uncomfortable to me at one time. Twisting poses also seem essential for my body and improve my posture and stance. I am also more curious about bound poses and what impact they might have on my practice.

Zen Master Hongzhi’s instructions seem to resonate with me at this time, and I particularly like this instruction, “Wandering around, accept how it goes. Accepting how it goes, wander around.”