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Yogi of the Month—Marilyn Bunte

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Before she passed away, I had planned for Marilyn Bunte to be our yogi of the month. So in honor of her, I’d like to share some of my memories of Marilyn as well as some memories from others at The Yoga Sanctuary.

Marilyn was of my very first students when I began teaching yoga in Punta Gorda 11 years ago, well before we opened The Yoga Sanctuary. She stayed with me back then, and as soon as the studio doors opened, Marilyn was one of the first to come in. A lovely woman, she was not only a student but a friend. She was sweet, friendly, and always smiling and giving big hugs. She was very committed to the yoga community at the studio, always willing to help out and attending all the events. She was a truly a part of our yoga family.

Marilyn was so much fun to be around. She made a point to include everyone, no matter what the activity. A beautiful woman, Marilyn was the type of person that you never forget. She was always “put together,” even before a yoga class! She had a warm heart and was always so thoughtful of others. We were all fortunate to be able to be a small part of her life. Marilyn will be forever missed and will always hold a space in our hearts.

A Beautiful Mind – by Melissa Goodwin

photo for staff spotlight April

“You think too much.”

I’ve been told that more than once. And you know what? The people who said it were right. I’ve always been a worrier—I worried about everything! I also have a great imagination, which, as a writer, is an asset. But I used to believe that I had to think out everything I was going to write in great detail before I wrote it. My mind was a very busy and rather messy place!

I say “was” and “were” and “used to” because I have been working hard to change this. In retrospect, it occurs to me that all that thinking and worrying and imagining was a way of trying to control the world. It was as if I thought that by worrying enough, I could prevent bad things from happening.

I think we all know that’s not how it works.

The mind is a beautiful and miraculous thing.  But the same mind that can write poetry and solve problems can also cause tremendous suffering. A beautiful mind doesn’t use our memories and imaginations to torture us with thoughts about what happened in the past or the infinite unknowns of the future.

Once I began to delve into yogic philosophy and wisdom, my eyes and mind were opened to a wonderful realization: this practice that I loved so much could also be the key to reining in my overactive mind. It could help me reduce or even eliminate the unnecessary mental suffering caused by “thinking too much,” and it could help me be more fully engaged in my life, right here, right now.

I began meditating, but for a long time, I felt like I wasn’t getting the hang of it. My mind wandered. I criticized myself for not doing it “right.” More often than not, I fell asleep!

What eventually helped me was finding a mantra —a set of gentle, loving phrases to repeat over and over. Before long, I found myself repeating them not just during my meditation time, but when falling asleep at night, upon awakening, while taking a walk, driving the car or simply sitting quietly. After a few months of this practice, I found that if my mind started to conjure up worrisome thoughts, I automatically shifted it back to my comforting phrases.

I feel calmer now and more present in this life with which I’ve been blessed. I rarely worry. And as a writer, I’ve found that not thinking so much before I write allows a freer flow of creative inspiration that takes me to delightfully unexpected places. In my writing and in my daily interactions, my words, actions and responses feel more heart-centered and authentic than they did before.

Before this practice, I secretly doubted that the mind could be retrained. Of course others said it could be done, but they were yogis, gurus far more enlightened than I. They seemed to me somewhat like members of a special club with a secret password that the rest of us were not given.

But having experienced it myself, I can say with confidence that yes, we ordinary humans really can control our minds rather than letting them control us. The key was, and is, practice. Diligent, almost constant practice.

In his book, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Sri Swami Satchidananda writes, “As the mind, so the person; bondage or liberation are in your own mind.” I prefer liberation, so I return to this practice again and again. And again.

Relevant Yoga Sutras:

Yoga Sutra 1.2:  Yoga is the restraint of the fluctuations of the mind.

Yoga Sutra 1.12: These fluctuations are restrained by practice and non-attachment.

Yoga Sutra 1.13: Of these, practice is effort toward steadiness of the mind.

What Your Challenges in Yoga Can Teach You

 

In yoga, you will inevitably encounter challenging postures and movements that might even cause you to avoid them altogether. For example, you may find that Utthita Hasta Padangustasana (Extended Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose) is extremely challenging—and you wouldn’t be alone! Those poses that are most challenging tend to be the ones we need to be doing on a regular basis.

If you change your attitude from one of avoidance to one of curiosity, you will find that the challenging parts of yoga can be your greatest teachers. When you change your perspective of challenges as a way to move through them rather than away from them, your entire practice can change.

This is also true off the mat. Pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone is one of the best ways to grow. Embracing your vulnerabilities—on and off the mat—is a powerful practice that will help you not only get to know yourself better, but also help you to experience life in a new way.

The next time you reach that dreaded pose, instead of heading to the bathroom, adjusting your yoga pants, or staring at “that one person” who does it perfectly, find your breath and take the pose. Every. Single. Time. One day, a few weeks or a few months down the road, you will realize that your relationship to the challenge has transformed. This practice is one of the gifts of yoga. Use it on your mat, and then try it in your life.

Bhakti Yoga

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Bhakti Yoga is the branch of devotion. It integrates a spiritual aspect to yoga. That spirituality can take the form of religion or a connection to God, nature, love, or a higher power. At its essence, Bhakti Yoga helps us to realize our connection to all that is by recognizing the part of us that is eternal. It is the ultimate surrender to the divine.

Bhakti is “pure, unselfish, divine love,” according to Sri Swami Sivananda. “There is not a bit of bargaining or expectation of anything here. This higher feeling is indescribable in words. It has to be sincerely experienced by the devotee.” Your yoga practice may not involve Bhakti Yoga at first, but as you get more interested in the philosophy and practice of yoga, you will likely begin to find a deeper meaning in the practice. This is the natural evolution of Bhakti Yoga. You might already be practicing Bhakti yoga, you simply didn’t have the term for it.

Bhakti yoga often begins with ritual, offerings, mantras, or ceremonies. The practice of all forms of yoga can involve bhakti if a sense of divine devotion is present. You might choose to offer up your yoga practice (or anything in your life, for that matter) to a higher power. You could recite a mantra that has special meaning for you. Place a picture of spiritual being in a special place where you practice or meditate, or wear mala beads to remind you of your true nature.

Bhakti Yoga is said to be a sweet practice that softens the heart. Perhaps you might begin to notice a deeper connection in your yoga practice—to yourself, to others, and to a higher power, whatever your interpretation. Yoga can help you to find this connection.