Introducing Alive in the Fire's 2015 Sponsored Yogis

I’d like to introduce you to three very special yoginis… 

The 2015 Sponsored Yogis!

Congratulations, Valerie, Elizabeth and Keyla! I could not be more excited to have you on board!

I also wanted to take a moment to thank all of the yogis who submitted applications. It was harder than ever this year to narrow down my selections, because you are all SO amazing. (I seriously wish this program could be my full-time job so I could sponsor all of you!) I hope you will remain encouraged to deepen your yoga practice, and I hope that answering some of the questions on the application allowed you to explore what yoga means to you.

At the heart of Sponsored Yogis is the yogic principle of seva, or selfless service. I hope that this program inspires you to give to others, whether you’re working directly with me or just reading about it here on the blog. We all have so much love to share, and the time for doing that is now. Don’t wait. Give hugs. Give thanks. It’s the most important thing we do – loving others, and ourselves.

Here’s a little more info about each of these amazing women, and please stay tuned for more of their posts!

Meet Valerie, a Sacramento-based yogini. She is a student and teacher of various yoga styles, including Raja, Hatha, Kundalini, and hot yoga. She graduated from New York University with a BA in Journalism and is excited to share her passion for writing. As Valerie says, “Yoga makes me a better person. There is a quote- today, be better than you were yesterday. Yoga helps me do that.”

What drew you to yoga? 
I once heard in a yoga class that people either come to yoga because they want more or they need to let something go, or both. I was both. I had a yearning for more--- more meaning, more gratitude, more contentment. I was drawn to yoga because my heart needed to heal and it was the one place where I could quiet the thoughts in my mind and be in the present moment. 

Why are you excited to be a Sponsored Yogi?
I love the idea of the yoga community coming together and working to help one another. I also see it as a chance to meet more like-minded souls. I would like to contribute by posting positive affirmations and look forward to writing about what I continue to learn on and off my mat. 
Meet Elizabeth, a yogini, hula hooper, yoga teacher, mom from Sutter, CA. Elizabeth describes herself as a ‘baby-wearing, glittery, braids-in-my-hair, tattooed, ring-on-every-finger, incense-burning wife, daughter, devoted friend, community servant, head-over-heels-in-love with my husband kind of woman.’ She was exposed to yoga during a traumatic and devastating time in her life, and found that the practice was incredibly healing. 

How has yoga changed your life?
I feel so grounded and connected with the present moment when I'm on my mat. I apply art emphasis in my yoga practice, and also in my parenting and daily way of life.

Why are you excited to be a Sponsored Yogi?
I am always looking to learn more and more to better myself and inspire/empower others. I am motivated and committed. I can’t wait to promote and spread the love!

Meet Keyla, a yogini, yoga teacher, break dancer and freelance artist from Orlando, Florida. She practices Hatha, Vinyasa and stand up paddle board yoga. Keyla is a holistic health coach, and raw chef with a passion for eating well (keep an eye out for her recipes—they are divine!). Keyla is excited to be a part of Sponsored Yogis because, as she says, “It’s easier to stay inspired when you are part of something bigger than yourself.”

Why do you practice yoga?
My body asks for it. Nothing keeps me on it; it’s just part of me. Same habit as brushing my teeth daily. It’s just something that my body does naturally now.

Why are you excited to be a Sponsored Yogi?
I love to write, I love to meet new people and I love to share great things going on in the community that I feel more people should know about. I would like to bring awareness to people that yoga doesn’t have to be something serious, you can have a lot of fun as you’re learning more discipline at the same time.
Photo by Jobi Otso.

More Sponsored Yogi posts coming soon… stay tuned!

The Path Before You Is Clear

Photo via Pinterest.

Today I vibrate the mantra om namah shivaya. Some have translated the words to mean I acknowledge my highest self and all the ways I may become.

To me, the mantra means this path is clear; I am free to walk it.

Photo via Hindu Wallpaper.

Om namah shivaya is an incantation to Shiva, a clearer of obstacles, the Hindu lord of meditation and the conqueror of death and destruction. 

By bringing this mantra into meditation, we acknowledge the guru within, the part of ourselves that is wise and powerful.

Photo via FYeahYoga.

May the path before you be open, and may you navigate it with grace and purpose. Namaste.

Threads of Yoga: A New Approach to Patanjali's Yoga Sutras

When you stretch out a limb you spotlight the primary condition of your existence, your spatiality. Or: you call your already-present extension to conscious attention. 

The limb seems to stretch out into empty space, but it plunges ever deeper into contact, now noticed. You stretch your arm upward, and the internal sensations —  muscles relaxing, ligaments lengthening, and circulation finding underused pathways — are all responses to contact. Every movement of the flesh is a dive into space. Reaching up is really plunging your hand into a well of dark sweet water.
- From 5.8 The Beginning of Asana, Threads of Yoga by Matthew Remski

As part of my preparation for yoga teacher training, I have been diving into the yoga sutras of Patanjali. Occasionally I'll find myself lost in thought as I read them, my mind turning an idea over and over.

I was lucky to be approached by Matthew Remski, a yogi/ writer/ therapist who's been working on an incredible analysis of the text called Threads of Yoga. His book explores yoga philosophy as a living art which calls for flexibility, accessibility, and hermeneutic bravery.

He also explores the eight limbs against the literature of psychoanalysis, psychotherapy, evolutionary biology, and psychohistory. 

No doubt I'll be referring to Remski's writing as I continue to explore the sutras. I have high hopes that reading both will lead me closer to self-knowledge and enlightenment.

More feedback on Threads of Yoga from Mark Singleton:

"I don't know of any reading of the yoga sutras as wildly creative, as impassioned and as earnest as this. it engages Patanjali and the reader in an urgent, electrified conversation that weaves philosophy, symbolist poetry, psychoanalysis and cultural history. There's a kind of delight and freshness in this book that is very rare in writing on yoga, and especially rare in writing on the yoga sutras. This is a Patanjali for postmoderns, less a translation than a startlingly relevant report on our current condition, through the prism of this ancient text."

Change Brings New Light

Sometimes change hits us in the heart like a windstorm. We are struck by the unexpected, the abrupt, the weight of the words as we utter them, turning toward a new path.

I sold the house.

I'm closing the store.

I'm leaving, and I won't be back.

How do we survive? How do we move on?

In yoga, there are postures that make us feel as though we're ready to pass out, puke, die. Often in the standing balancing series, toward the end of a long pose, we want to come out. To give up.

We make a choice: do I surrender, or do I breathe right through it? One more breath, one more moment. And then, the posture is over.

At the beginning of class, during deep breathing, a new flow of oxygenated blood to our brains may make us feel lightheaded, dizzy, even euphoric. This signals that we are experiencing a change -- a movement into a new state, a shift into meditation, a conscious and deliberate decision to rest in the present moment. During the breathing, we feel ourselves fully within the room and within our own bodies. Centered, whole, ready.

We become the breath.

We become the change, without panic, fear or hesitation.

In yoga, it is the breath that carries us through.

In his book The Wisdom of Yoga, Stephen Cope describes the transformational inner process which yoga guides us through. He highlights a passage from the Yoga Sutras to explain the changes that take place:

Being absorbed in the play of the mind's luminosity yields insight about the subtle, hidden, and distant.
Focusing with perfect discipline on the sun yields insight about the universe.
Focusing with perfect discipline on the moon yields insight about the stars' positions. 

Yoga brings the mind into focus by using the body, by placing it in space. When we can contextualize ourselves in a physical universe, we can then begin to explore the inner world of our mind, leading to greater self-understanding. Our understanding is likened to light, and has been described by various religions as "the light within" or "the divine light." Cope goes on to describe it beautifully:

"The compelling luminosity of 'deep mind' draws the seeker's awareness increasingly inward. In the yoga tradition, this increasing interiority is seen as a developmental imperative. All adult development moves from the external to the internal. That is to say, our experience of each stage of our 'waking up' process is inevitably one of deepening interiority...Introversion draws us into an exploration of the compelling inner structures of the mind."

Change can be hard. Change can hurt or heal, it can confuse us, it can leave us gasping for breath.

But at the moment when we become fearful, bewildered, distraught -- at our greatest moment of weakness -- we must remember that this change also brings new light.

Emotional Drama or Dreamy Thriller: What Kind of Teaching Does Your Studio Feature?

Which summer blockbuster are you more excited about: the recently-released, breathtaking dreamscape Inception starring Leo DiCaprio, or Julia Roberts' impending mom-friendly drama Eat.Pray.Love?

Just like your preference for Bikram teaching, this answer depends quite simply on your personal style.

Are you more of a punk rocker, or a bookworm? Do you rock the hot-pink shaktis in class, or prefer to cover up with long leggings and a loose T-shirt? Do you like one towel to cover your mat, or two?

It never ceases to amaze me what variety pops up in the Hot Box. Mat colors, hairstyles, facial expressions. Yogis, yoginis, and rockstar Bikram teachers. No doubt that we all deal with the heat a little differently, to say the least!

The biggest factor in succeeding in this endeavor is, not surprisingly, just getting my butt to the studio to do some seriously-hot meditating, but there are a couple other steps I'm taking, too:

  • reading & reflecting on the ancient wisdom of the Yoga Sutra
  • spending more time with friends who I've been meaning to catch up with
  • praying in quiet places, like the local Bahai Temple, along Lake Michigan, or with my eyes closed sitting on the comfy couches in local coffee shops
  • talking to my family and trying to accept their quirks, power trips, and annoying habits before I'm swarmed by all of the guests in a couple weeks
  • and, of course, hitting up the movie theater for some big-screen entertainment and central AC!
Next time you leave yoga feeling a little bothered by someone in the room -- whether it's your neighbor's loud breathing or your instructor's stern corrections -- consider this:

"There will come a time when differences no longer harass you."

Those Indian masters know what they're talking about! Seems you just have to give it time, be open-minded, and consider trying a few other relaxing, satisfying practices outside of the hot room.

Man, I can't wait for the cheesecake cupcakes we've got planned for the reception. Yum!
Photo via Our Labor of Love.