Dara’s Yoga Blog
My Yoga Story
How did you get into yoga?
In 1995, before I got my first teaching job, I worked as an aide in a fun private school where my job was to play with the kids and help them with their work. One of the moms I got to know was a yoga teacher who invited me to her class. After that first yoga class, she told me that I did a great job coordinating my breathing with my movements. From that moment, I knew that yoga was not just about the poses. I kept going to her classes at various locations until I moved away. After
My oldest child was born having sustained a traumatic birth injury due to lack of oxygen which caused profound cerebral palsy with a variety of related complications such as seizures, tube feeding, severe reflux, and the inability to speak, walk, sit, crawl, etc. It was intense trying to nurse or bottle feed him because it was so hard for him to coordinate it all. He cried a lot more than a typical baby and did not sleep without crazy positional accommodations. I remember, though, when I could get him down for a morning nap, I would go to my room and do what I remembered of a sun salutation – mentally repeating phrases I associated with each pose. For example, in raising the arms up, I might look upward asking for “help”; I folded forward thinking “I surrender”; in a lunge “I am brave”; in lowering from plank “I am strong”; and as I lifted my chest forward and upward “I am open.” After the sun salutation, I would sit and listen – a practice that I would later learn was meditation. This practice was so important to my sanity during those early days. It gave me some peace in an otherwise very difficult time. My son is now 15 and I still use my yoga practice to help me endure the challenges that he/we face with an openness and bravery I might not have otherwise had without yoga.
What might your life be like if you had not found yoga?
That’s a scary thought. I needed yoga to survive those years without losing my mind or my marriage. Once I had a couple more kids and they got a little older, I was able to start going to classes again which helped me be a calmer and happier mom and wife. When trying to help my nonverbal child who was crying hysterically for reasons I couldn’t understand, I could imagine hearing my yoga teacher’s voice reminding me to focus on the breath when life puts us into uncomfortable positions. Learning how to do this saved me from bursts of desperation.
How does your quality of life compare now compared to pre-yoga?
During the time that I had more babies, my yoga practice slipped (imagine that!) and I became less aware in general. When I finally was able to re-connect with yoga, that dedicated practice awakened or revealed consciousness that wasn’t as accessible before. I felt more alive with a renewed sense of purpose. That being said, my practice still slips sometimes, but that’s ok – I just find a way to step back in. That might be different each time – a class, a workshop, a meditation challenge, breathing exercises in the car, signing up for a teacher training, etc.
What parts of the yoga practice have benefited you most?
I would say that what benefits me most is when there are multiple aspects of a yoga practice going on in my life at the same time for an extended period and with the support of others. This is why I love teacher training programs and I’ve done three of them so far – being immersed in the poses, breathing, meditation, subtle body and yoga philosophy with others is deeply transformative and crucial for my spiritual growth and understanding.
Why did you decide to do yoga teacher training and eventually become a yoga teacher?
As an adult, I first was an art teacher, and then a teacher of technology to other teachers. The idea of teaching yoga felt fairly natural to me, so the only thing holding me back was committing to the program from a time and finances perspective. Fortunately, I had a good friend encourage me to do it – “we’ll have the time of our lives” she said. Her words gave me the courage to commit and I’m so grateful that I did – it was a wonderful decision. Even if I didn’t want to teach after the training, I would have gained immense knowledge and been opened up to so many new ideas and wonderful people in the program. Now that I am a teacher, it keeps me constantly working to consciously exercise this blend of physical and spiritual in a creative way – which is really good for me. And hopefully it’s good for my students too.
~ Interview from World Peace Yoga
Sthira Sukham Asanam
Ok let’s break down what this bit of Sanskrit means. Sthira is steadiness, being stable. Sukham refers to sweetness – think sucrose. 🙂 And then asanam refers to a seat or position. So, sthira sukham asanam, which is the only line in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras that even mentions asana (or poses, as we’ve come to know the term), is suggesting that we should feel both a steadiness and a sweetness in the pose or seat.
This is why yoga asana is a practice. It takes practice to first of all find steadiness in each pose, and even more practice to actually find that sweetness. Have you ever been in a yoga class struggling to “achieve” a pose? Probably didn’t feel too peaceful, did it? Instead, if we practice going at our own pace and working where we can actually practice the pose without holding the breath or clenching our teeth, we feel more at peace. We ask the ego to have a seat while we practice feeling steady and comfortable in who we are and what our bodies can do, modifying and supporting ourselves as needed. Then we find gratitude that our bodies can do just that. We might feel an energy shift and experience a moment of sweetness in the pose. That is sthira sukham asanam. Now we are practicing yoga on the mat.
But what about off the mat? Life puts us into some pretty challenging poses (or positions) at times. Are we supposed to be able to feel comfortable and a sweet joyfulness when we are feeling pain or sadness? When I stub a toe, I’m pretty much not feeling very peaceful. Or when my kid is throwing up, I’m not feeling the joy. But here’s the thing, the more we practice this idea of sthira sukham asanam on the mat, we are that much more prepared to keep breathing steadily through life’s challenging poses – or at least it becomes more accessible to do so, and we can come to that place of steady peace more quickly than we were able to before.
Shift in Thinking
I think most of us, regardless of who we voted for in the election, have experienced a strong sense of knowing what we don’t want in the last 6 months or so. What if we all began to shift our thoughts to what we DO want? In that light, I wonder if we may all have more in common than we currently perceive. I’m curious – if you keep your words positive, without negative language (void of no’s, not, don’t, can’t, rid, without, void of, absence of, etc), what do you want for your self, your neighbors, our country, our world?
Collectively, there is so much energy right now around the administration of the country. It is highly charged and it has the potential to be harnessed for massive good. Let’s shift our thinking.
Image source www.theodysseyonline.com
The Gunas in Acro Yoga
I find an incredible sense of freedom and wonder in acro yoga. Working closely in careful partnership builds a tremendous sense of trust and allows for a unique expression of creative movement. I am ever grateful to my acro teachers and partners I have worked with as it opened up a world of empowerment, community, and fun. The process of working past fear takes courage, so acro yoga is rajasic by nature – meaning it is dominated by action, passion, fire. But when working in a kind and a communicative way, the rajasic practice definitey moves toward sattva guna – the frequency of peace, harmony, balance. It’s a lovely way to cultivate rajas-sattva guna. And this is truly a beautiful thing.
I enjoyed teaching a weekly acro yoga class for nearly five years, but now just practice occasionally due to being realistic about having an aging body. Acro is different than traditional yoga asana in that one is not entirely in control of his or her own body’s movement. I suffered an injury to my shoulder while working on more advanced (extremely rajasic) acro skills that required surgery in order for me to continue carrying out the physical demands of caring for my son with special needs. The resulting surgery of course led to a long period of recovery, or tamo guna – inertia, heaviness. Rajo guna, the fire and passion, is what leads us; it can lead us to peace, but it can also lead us to pain. While caution should be exercised at all ages, an aging body is certainly more prone to injury and acro yoga should only be practiced with a someone who is sensitive to his or her partner’s physical needs or concerns. The practice reminds us to be cognizant of our daily habits – in what direction are our thoughts and actions leading us? Learn more about the gunas here.
Lately I’ve been enjoying creating a yoga practice for my 12 year old son with special needs. He has cerebral palsy that severely affects all of his limbs, his spine, his communication, his eating, and much more.
After I change his diaper, I situate him in different positions that stimulate each of the main chakras — the top of his head touching his bed, his legs and hips lifted in the air, his chest lifted up, a spinal twist, external rotation of each leg, and supported standing as he leans against the bed. He smiles for all of it. I tell him that this is asana.
Then I get him into his chair and tell him it’s time for his deep breathing exercises. I use a small plastic mask over his nose and mouth for a brief period to initiate deep breathing and then take it off and watch his chest continue to rise and expand as he inhales a greater amount of oxygen than is typical. That is his pranayama practice – it continues throughout the day.
Then comes his most favorite part – his mantra time. I press my face up to the side of his head and repeat “Om” over and over. He lets out little giggles as he feels the primordial vibration of creation.
Driving home, I noticed my daughter staring out the window in my rear view mirror. I wondered what she might be thinking, and then she said to me, “I just figgered something out, Mom.” “What’s that?”
“Everyone is friends. How did I know? Because if I have a friend and then they have a friend, and then that person has another friend, and it goes on and on, then everyone is friends.”
Being a mom can be time consuming and challenging, but then you get to be privy to these kinds of gems. Here she is minutes later. She wanted me to take a picture of her “with the nature.”
My 4 year old daughter did it again!! “Mom, you wet me have some cookie dough, so now can I have a cawwot – somefing heawfy?” Makes me feel better about this helpful grocery list that my 7 year old wrote up for me.
I love the natural sense of needing to maintain balance that she was aware of here, at such a young age.
Aw man, dat is good!
I must have done something right! After helping me make her brother’s birthday cupcakes, my 4 year old daughter enjoyed licking the batter off the spoon. Then, she proclaimed, “I definitewy need some-ting heawfy.” I said, ” That’s good that you were able to recognize you needed something healthy,” to which she replied, “My body towd me dat.” So, I gave her some raw brocolli and after a bite she says, “Aw man, dat is good!” Whaaaaaat???!
Update Jan 2017: Now she is 8 years old and read this story on her own. She shared that she continues to listen to her body like she did when she was littler, yet she was able to identify which “body” she often listens to – the wisdom body. You see, I had recently taught her about the koshas and she was able to connect this new knowledge with what she had read in this story. She continues to amaze me.
When I asked my 7 year old son who he displayed this note on the window for (“I want to mrey you”), he shared that it was so anyone walking by would want to marry him. He is a lover of all.
January 2017: Children show us that it’s a natural desire to want to connect, love, and feel loved. While desire itself is problematic on the yoga path, the seeker of Truth aims to replace rajasic desires with more sattvic desires. This peaceful desire to love and be loved is as pure (sattvic) as can be. Learn more about rajas and sattva in your life during this guna workshop.
A few words from my daughter’s mouth (age 4) to my lucky ears today: “You’re so cozy. I can’t even bewieve I have you.” And, “Did you even know dat you would have a baby dat would wuv you dis much?”