• 01/01/2020 6:00 AM | Anonymous

    Here we are, beginning a new year and a new decade, certainly an auspicious time! We look forward with great zeal and optimism, as we rightly should, to how we will manifest, at long last, that which will help us to experience greater fulfillment.

    One thing I learned from the years that have passed is that the promises and resolutions put forth at the time of holiday excitement dismally slow down and dim as the energy stabilizes. In fact, the old habits and patterns that were to be changed for the better might even alter to become more fixed and stuck. 

    I would like to share my personal experiences of the last two years that have enriched and changed my practice of yoga. As we all know, because of our interest and involvement in yoga, with its philosophies and all-encompassing teachings, we have a head start toward those changes we desire. At the first YTA retreat at the Himalayan Institute led by Luke Ketterhagen, one point he made resulted in a major physical shift for me resulting in greater freedom of thought. The refinement of Mula Bhanda by using the image of how an octopus travels toward the surface of the sea changed my existing point of view, thus allowing my mind to be more flexible and my physical body to use the strength of the pelvis more efficiently. 

    At the second YTA retreat at the Himalayan Institute with Todd Norian, another simple teaching resulted in greater stability of the shoulder girdle, with the supported expansion of the rib cage permitting more activity for the breath to enhance the function of the heart and lungs. The teaching of simply moving the head of the humorous bone back brought greater alignment to the shoulder, the rotator cuff, the neck, and in the embodiment of the rib cage over the pelvis.

    At this time I am choosing to embrace these teachings, as well as those that continue to evolve through my practice, to enhance, brighten, and strengthen the "now" which ultimately becomes the future. This is my New Year's resolution. We have within us all the joy and light we seek and through our practice, the means to intuit our path and to be inspired as we integrate these teachings for our own greater good.

    Make sure your "list" includes attending the monthly YTA workshops that are held the second Saturday of each month at Club Fit in Briarcliff. See the exciting lineup of workshops and presenters below and on our website. And keep in mind the third annual YTA retreat!

    Yours in yoga, 
    Paula Renuka Heitzner

  • 12/31/2019 11:43 AM | Anonymous

    Some of us come to yoga in a quest to resolve problems with pain, to reduce stress, or to explore our fascination with the body. Others come as part of a spiritual journey, in a quest for greater meaning and personal transcendence. Still others come to yoga seeking emotional balance, freedom from negative emotions, and liberation from a karmic inheritance. Because yoga is a profound discipline, wherever we begin our journey, we eventually find ourselves addressing all these dimensions of healing: physical, emotional, and spiritual.

    I was introduced to yoga in 1975 when I was a young professor of philosophy, through the renowned philosopher Mircea Eliade’s classic book, written in 1936, Yoga: Immortality and Freedom. Yoga, as Eliade described it, is the pathway to direct knowledge, or the ability to liberate ourselves from illusion. But if ultimate wisdom and the freedom it brings is the goal of yoga, why and how must we use the body to get there? What is it that we are looking for through bodily exploration, beyond greater strength, stability, focus, and alignment? And why can bodily self-awareness lead us to the truth with a big capital “T”? The challenges I faced in my own life led me to explore those questions. The answers to those questions all revolve around one thing: the body is the seat of what is unconscious ourselves. What lies beyond consciousness includes both our restrictions and limitations (all the forms that ego takes), and our higher self. The path into the body brings what is unconscious to light in order to let go of what binds us and become free.

    My own life took me out of a purely intellectual journey as a philosopher and into intensive somatic self-exploration. In 1976 I began to suffer from severe chronic pain. No amount of hospitalization or conventional medical care helped me. Over the years I came to realize that my dis-ease was the result of a combination of factors: on the physical level, scoliosis and a tight ligamentous structure; on the mental level, a hard-driving, self-critical type A personality; and on the karmic level, buried emotional conflicts dating to infancy and before. I was tied up in knots, and it was my body, not my mind, that was showing me that.

    I spent years studying meditation with an Indian spiritual teacher, all of which helped. Then I discovered the Alexander Technique in the late 1980s and its study opened the door to a complete change in understanding of who we are and how to heal. The Alexander Technique is a specific approach to learning how to identify and release unconscious physiological tension. While this tension is physical, it affects every aspect of our being: our thought processes, emotional reactions, and so on. You can’t change those thought processes or emotional reactions more than marginally through mental analysis or psychotherapy, because ultimately the body rules the mind. FM Alexander, the founder of the Alexander Technique, showed that all of us carry excess physiological tension all the time, and demonstrated that this unconscious tension underlies physical disease, as well as mental and emotional stress. He developed ingenious methods for helping people identify, observe, and release this tension. The consequence of putting your primary attention on noticing, feeling,and releasing physiological tension is that life as a whole becomes increasingly effortless, the mind becomes more peaceful, perception becomes more accurate, health improves, and it becomes easier to stay detached in the face of life’s bumps.Does this sound like yoga? It is. It’s not the same as yoga, but it shares a lot of yoga’s ultimate aims. It just uses different tools, a different terminology, and comes from a different culture.

    The path into the subtle body in yoga is the path into more and more refined sensation and perception. It’s a path toward effortlessness. We move from the grosser to the subtler sensations and perceptions. As we learn to do this, we are increasingly able to release negative karmic issues, tied to heavier and grosser sensations (being more tamasic or rajasic), and move toward lighter, more expansive and sattvic states. This process of refinement can only happen if we make effortlessness—softening and letting go—more important than achieving, being right, or any other ego issue. The deeper we move into refined physiological sensation, the more we let go of outer compulsions and reactions. The commitment to the exploration of lighter and lighter states of being is a very important aspect of higher yogic practice. This is a process of ever subtler physiological awareness.

    The quest for effortlessness, with everything it implies, both mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually, has been a guiding force in my understanding, study, and teaching of both the Alexander Technique, craniosacral therapy (which I have practiced and taught internationally since 1994), and yoga. It has also been the focus of my three books on self-healing: The Art of Effortless Living, Effortless Pain Relief, and Fear-Less Now.

    The practice of yoga extends far beyond our workout on the mat, in which most of our attention is on strengthening, stabilizing,and expanding the body. As yogis, we all seek to release our own samskaras (grosser physical, spiritual, and emotional restrictions) and become more attuned to our more refined, sattvic selves. And this is a process that takes place every moment of every day. The conscious pursuit of physiological effortlessness, which is identical with deepening peace, can be a great adjunct to the yogi’s journey, and can help deepen one’s understanding of the core meaning of ancient yogic practices.  

  • 11/20/2019 6:37 AM | Anonymous

    From Asana to Samadhi: Exploring the Hatha Yoga Pradipika

    Just as lions, tigers, and elephants are gradually controlled, so prana is controlled through practice. Otherwise the practitioner is destroyed.
    Hatha Yoga Pradipika 2:15

    How well-trained is your inner lion-tiger-elephant? This verse from the preeminent hatha yoga text, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, suggests that we all have a beastly inclination in need of taming. This is probably not news to you; most of us know our inner lion-tiger-elephant all too well! It’s the part of us that wants what it wants when it wants it, regardless of the consequences. It’s the blind instinct of life: the powerful drives of hunger, fear, sex, and sleep. It’s our inner two-year-old stamping her foot and refusing to share her cookies, eat her peas, or go to bed on time. This untrained lion-tiger-elephant resists any efforts at discipline or restraint. Unregulated, it rampages blindly through life, driven by instinct and habit. From the yogic point of view, we are acting out patterns laid down in the unconscious mind, spinning on the wheel of karma, mindlessly squandering prana, our precious life force, on worldly affairs without making an attempt to realize the purpose of life.

    However, the verse also implies that although we have inherited a beastly side, we have also inherited an inner-wild-animal trainer. In other words, we have the inherent capacity to control prana and regulate the life force that animates our body and mind. This trainer has intelligent self-awareness, and serves as an inner locus of control that is not thoughtlessly driven by unregulated passions, selfish desires, fear, or greed. Our inner trainer has discrimination, intention, and purpose. Our inner trainer has the capacity to train the exuberant pranic force and create a harmonious, enjoyable inner world.

    Now the question becomes: what kind of training, and how do we train ourselves? As for what kind of training, here’s a hint: The verse appears in the chapter about pranayama practice, in a text on the practice of hatha yoga.

    As for how: Prana gradually comes under control with practice. Perhaps that reminds you of what Patanjali tells us right up front in the Yoga Sutra (YS 1:14):  “That [practice] becomes firm only when done for a long period of time, with no interruption, and with reverence.”  He’s explaining abhyasa, the “ardent effort to retain the peaceful flow of the mind free from roaming tendencies.” Bringing prana under control reins in the wild-animal mind, roaming under the spell of its habits and instincts, but mastery is achieved only with sustained, uninterrupted, reverent practice.

    Like instincts, our individual karmic samskaras can be deeply ingrained in our unconscious mind. It takes time and consistency to create positive new habits that are just as strong as our undesirable old habits. This is true of training elephants and tigers, and it is true of training our mind. Patience is required in training wild animals, and that is just what is needed in working with our inner lion-tiger-elephant. Patience means having reasonable expectations, avoiding condemnation, staying the course in the face of setbacks, and cultivating commitment for the long run. It also requires having faith in the practice and in the process of training. Faith, or shraddha, develops from knowledge and understanding, from our own experience, and from confidence in the experience of those who have gone before us—the lineage and tradition of teachers and practitioners who have shared their accomplishments and their methods. Without faith, doubt undermines our dedication and consistency of effort.

    Finally, practice with reverence. Have respect for the inner lion-tiger-elephant and its enormous strength and power. After all, our animal nature is also an expression of the divine, worthy of our respect, and essential for our life here in the phenomenal world. The Sanskrit word sevita, translated in this verse as “practice,” has connotations of protection and preservation, as well as pursuit and practice. We must be firm and consistent in practice, yes, but we must also feed and protect our inner lion-tiger-elephant self. Think of it this way: Love and serve your teeth and claws, and they will love and serve you.

    And now we come to the consequences of not training ourselves. “The sadhaka (practitioner) is destroyed,” reads the last stanza of this verse. At the mercy of haphazard experiences, instinct, social conditioning, and deep-seated distorted perceptions, the untrained mind creates enormous stress in the mind and body, and so we fall victim to distress, sorrow, anger, and disease. Untrained, the pranic force runs amok, exhausting our vitality in the pursuit of worldly and instinctive desires. We suffer; we die in ignorance; the practitioner is destroyed. The great gift and promise of yoga is that we can bring the wild animal to heel. Then our passions, in the service of a greater intelligence, operate joyfully and harmoniously at every level of our being. Our vision begins to clear, and we realize that our life’s beastly inclinations and all—is emanating from the source of divine consciousness, eternally pulsing in the depths of our heart.

    Republished with permission from himalayaninstitute.org

  • 10/17/2019 6:55 AM | Anonymous

    My interest in scoliosis was fueled both by my own right thoracolumbar curve and my mother’s severe scoliosis, generated by having her left arm braced overhead for the first six months of her life. A boyfriend’s scoliosis is what originally brought me to yoga itself. I was looking for something that might help him with his back. Together we started yoga classes in Munich. 

    When I returned to New York, I continued my studies, slowly making it my career path, and went on to train with both Elise Miller and Bobbie Fultz, the two Iyengar pioneers of yoga for scoliosis. I completed my certification in yoga for scoliosis with Elise Miller. I began anatomy studies with Irene Dowd in New York, and subsequently completed Gil Hedley’s life-changing six-day human dissection course for nonmedical professionals. I continued to study anatomy and kinesiology and developed new material for yoga for scoliosis. I also began using mudras, energy-channeling hand gestures that can deeply impact the body and mind.

    In 2007, I cofounded the first and only dedicated yoga for backcare and scoliosis center in the world. There I conduct “Gold Standard” 200-hour Three-Pillars of Practice Teacher Trainings and a full 500-hour Mandala of Yoga Masters program and teach workshops and master classes nationwide, in Europe and in the Middle East. In 2011, on the tenth anniversary of 9/11, I opened the new Yoga Union and Yoga Union Backcare & Scoliosis Center, with both a dedicated Backcare Program and a full regular yoga program from basics to level 3-4.

    I also became involved in the creation of Yoga for NY in 2007, the organization that represents all yoga studios, teachers, and students in New York State, when the state attempted to license Yoga Teacher Trainings. I was elected Executive Director and Chair of Yoga for NY, which succeeded in defeating this licensing attempt with a bill signed into law by then Governor Paterson. I went on to defeat the city’s attempt to impose a “class tax” on yoga classes despite the prevailing view that this would be impossible to accomplish. 

    My workshop for the YTA on November 9 will give the basic tools for reading a back and an understanding of the fundamental principles of action to help balance the spine, as well as the entire interconnected organic body. 

    Learn more at yogaunion.com

  • 09/16/2019 6:45 AM | Anonymous

    From the base of the mountain, many paths. From the peak, only one moon.

    While yoga has its roots in Indian Vedic scriptures, qigong grew out of the Chinese Taoist pursuit of longevity. For me, they are different paths up the same mountain; the goal of each is to improve the health of the body, to calm and clarify the mind, and to strengthen connection to the human spirit and humanity. These forms complement each other so well, that for me a synthesis of yoga and qigong as a practice has become the most potent combination for the improving my life and the lives of my students. 

    Looking at each system separately (and I know I’m speaking in broad categorizations), yoga has been described as the “union of body, mind, and spirit.” The physical practices of yoga are geared towards the cultivation of strength and flexibility in the body. As I see it, for the most part the postures of yoga are quite lineal, with straight lines and angles predominating. Alignment and precision are not only important, but required; to really “stretch” the body we need to bring sustained effort to opening the connective tissue in ways that do not injure. This requires correct technique, time, and skillful application of effort. 

    Qigong translates as “life energy cultivation” and utilizes practices that enhance the flow of life force in our bodies. The exercises often involve connecting breath with gentle, circular, flowing movements, bringing suppleness to the body and flexibility to the mind. It is this suppleness that allows the free flow of healing life force (qi) and connects one to authentic being. Through qigong practice the senses are cleansed, and the movement of energy is experienced as pure joy.

    These two systems, yoga and qigong, are not at odds with each other. On the contrary, they are mutually supportive paths up the same mountain, from which the  “one moon” can be seen in all it’s brilliance. Strength and flexibility through yoga (ability to hold firm) and suppleness  (ability to hold yield) through qigong.

    So, in the end, the objective is to meld the linear (expansion in all directions) and the circular (return to the source), creating a practice that improves strength, flexibility and suppleness. This brings balance to yin and yang, heaven and earth, sun and moon, male and female. Dancing with this “pair of opposites” brings balance to the whole being and connects us to all of nature. 

    For more about Daniel, visit yogaofenergyflow.com/.

  • 09/10/2019 7:05 AM | Anonymous

    From the late '60s forward, I had the good fortune to study with many of the renowned yoga teachers who had come to the U.S. from India. Yoga felt incredibly familiar to me and totally in alignment with my path and purpose, but I always felt that something was missing, something as yet undefined. It seemed that many of the Eastern teachers assumed that Western bodies and Western psyches were somehow not quite ready for the truly authentic, unabashed techniques that would deliver us to unprecedented breakthroughs and bliss. That all changed when Yogi Bhajan unveiled Kundalini Yoga, which I encountered as a student at the University in Chicago in 1972. 

    Kundalini is a tantric path. Tantra means that the seen and unseen are interwoven. It also posits that desperate times (Kaliyug or the Age of Darkness, which we're in now despite the onset of the Aquarian Age) call for desperate measures (i.e., what works!). Kundalini Yoga is immediate, powerful, and potent. It's a gift to humanity from the saints and sages of the ages and lets us enter into the profound process of our unfolding in the context of life as we know it. Life is the crucible for our transformation process. But we need to approach life with a firm discipline and the willingness to take our yoga beyond our mat and extend it to everything we do. 

    I first met Yogi Bhajan in 1973. He was not like the swamis and gurus I'd met previously. He was more like Sean Connery in the Wind and the Lion rather than Ben Kingsley in Ghandi. What I learned from Yogi Bhajan was exactly what I'd always been looking for in my yoga journey: something immediate; something with some spiritual juice; and, most importantly, something that I could pass on as a teacher to help people deal effectively with all of the issues they invariably encounter. 

    For many years I was the only Kundalini Yoga teacher in Manhattan. I had a number of yoga centers and throughout the '80s and beyond I published books, videos, and DVDs. In the 2000s I met Ana Brett, who was a sub for the Vinyasa teachers at my studio. We soon merged into one unit and began to teach together. We recently published The Kundalini Yoga Book—Life in the Vast Lane, a 10-year project. 

    This year marks my 45th year of teaching. Yoga now in the U.S. is a bit bipolar. On one hand, it's trendy and silly (goat yoga, beer yoga, nude yoga…) and conversely it's evolving into something amazing. What I foresee is a Grand Synthesis of yoga styles that will be woven through the fabric of our culture and consciousness. 

    A Kundalini Yoga teacher is a spiritual teacher because Kundalini Yoga is all about spirit. When spirit is present we can live our greatness. The purpose of Kundalini Yoga is to give us the means to live lit up. What I see happening among many modern yogis is that people are sometimes losing sight of what's important. The key is to remember what the saints and sages have been telling us for 5000 years. Successful living means bringing our minds and emotions under conscious control. Also, we need to deal with karma before it deals with us. We need to live in a way that honors and gathers energy. Our chakras, nadis, nerves, and all bodily systems need to be aligned and purified every day. Every day we need to ingratiate ourselves with the self that never dies. Kundalini Yoga gives us the means to do all that every day so we can live the high life. Then our life can become our yoga and yoga can be our life. 

    I look forward to seeing all of you on September 14 at the YTA's kickoff for the 2019 season of workshops. You will experience a yoga workout, and we'll also be focusing on yoga tools for every form of modern malaise. These include: thyroid issues, addiction, weight loss, anxiety, irritable bowel syndrome, issues around menopause, adrenal fatigue, digestive issues, depression, insomnia ... and anything you would like to request a protocol for. 

    Increase your professional palette. Share in a powerful group energy. Give your life and practice an energy boost. Manifest destiny and heal the world!

    To learn more about Ravi, go to raviana.com.

  • 12/01/2018 4:55 PM | Anonymous

    I just read a column for a newsletter that I wrote 9 years ago entitled Healing Through Dance.  I had written it after my 53rd birthday ... Yes, that makes me 62 years old now.  And the essence of what I wrote in that article still holds true for me today, that dance is healing.

    In the article, I was sharing how some painful feelings were opening up for me in celebrating my birthday. Any of you know that experience, where celebrating your birthday brings up issues!?

    A few days after that birthday, I was teaching at my studio and because of my struggles around my birthday, I had no inspiration to teach, nothing to give. Yet the music spoke to my spirit, and the pain I felt around my birthday transformed into the joy of dance.

    So as I’m in my 60s, I still have the same joy through dance as I had in my teens!! I would have never imagined when I was in my late teens and discovering dance as a career path that I would be dancing like this at 62!

    Not only that, I still feel as connected to the grace, power, and aliveness in my body—maybe even more so now than I had over 40 years ago. As I've cultivated more mindfulness and connection to energy within the body, it actually feels like I feel MORE joy and life force moving within me as I dance now. What a blessing!

    What's the secret to healing through dance? My sense is that what makes dance healing is that it keeps our spirit young. When rockin' music is playing what do kids do? Yes, they dance! Put the same music on in a room full of adults and what do they do? They usually talk. Something has happened to the spontaneity of our spirit that we had as children and how our spirit was intimately connected to our body.

    We can recover this lost connection of body and spirit. That's why I call Shake Your Soul "the yoga of dance." When our body and spirit return to each other—THAT is yoga! The key to recovering our spirit's youthfulness through dance can be as simple as putting on a piece of music that moves you and let it move you!  

    Honestly, that is a big part of it—trusting our movement instinct. Yet there is something even MORE wonderful when we have this kind of communion experience of our bodies and souls in a community of other bodies and souls. Dance, indigenously, was a community experience for the most part.

    For me, the art of teaching a dance class that invites people's spirits and bodies to unite is in the linking of meditative movement disciplines like yoga and qi gong into the dance experience. This provides participants a direct connection to embodied spirit that can then find its way into the dance. Alongside this, I build in creative dance exercises into my classes, what many of us did as kids, like follow the leader.

    We all need permission and support to reconnect to our creative spirits. We all get the encouragement to exercise,  become more flexible, and increase muscular strength and cardiovascular health—all so very important. Yet what about the health of our being that IS about reconnecting our bodies and movement with our life force or spirit? How can we be disciplined in terms of building movement back into our lives but at the same time connected to the FREEDOM of our spirits that dance can bring us?

    I invite you to answer these questions experientially through dancing with me at my Shake Your Soul workshop January 12th.  It would be a joy and privilege for me to support you in uniting your body with your spirit through dance. 

    To learn more about Dan, visit leveninstitute.com.

  • 11/20/2018 6:52 PM | Anonymous

    My background is in the performing arts. I have been presenting comic mime, health, literacy, and stress management educational programs in schools, libraries, and theaters for over 30 years. In 2009, Mary Rives and Keith Carlson offered a Laughter Yoga session at my performing arts guild. I loved it. I felt great on the drive home and for several hours afterward. That night, I read online everything I could about Laughter Yoga and Dr. Kataria. I ordered and studied several Laughter Yoga books, CDs, and DVDs. I shared Laughter Yoga with everyone I met. I set up a number of friends that I would call and, without a word, simply laugh together to relieve stress. 

    In 2010, I took my Laughter Yoga Leader Training with Rebecca J. Foster and immediately set up a weekly Laughter Yoga club. I started offering classes in senior centers. I also presented free public awareness programs and mini-demos everywhere I could. I started including Laughter Yoga follow-along segments in my comic mime shows, health shows, and stress management programs. I did over 500 of these shows, sharing Laughter Yoga with audiences of 200 to 600 people at a time. From a desire deep in my heart to share Laughter Yoga with people near and far, I created several “Laugh Along with Robert” YouTube videos. To my surprise, they became very popular and increased my laughing audience worldwide by the thousands. 

    In 2011, I attended Jeffrey Brier’s Laughter Yoga Teacher Training and began leading two-day Laughter Yoga Leader Trainings and presenting Laughter Yoga in corporations, schools, hospitals, fitness studios, minimum security drug and alcohol rehab facilities . . . you name it. In  2013, I attended and assisted Dr.  Kataria’s 5-day Laughter Yoga Teacher Training in  Orlando, Florida , and was invited to Japan to share my style of Laughter Yoga.  In 2015, I became a Laughter Ambassador and in 2016 I was trained and mentored by Dr. Kataria to be a Certified Laughter Yoga Master Trainer. I have taught over 30 Laughter Yoga Leader Trainings in the USA and Japan.

    Personally, the real benefits of Laughter Yoga came when I committed myself to practicing pranayama and Laughter Yoga everyday.  I have witnessed myself become more playful, joyful, generous, giving, friendly, peaceful. and relaxed. I am more present with my family and friends. I had a difficult/distant relationship with my father and in his later years he happily attended my Laughter Yoga classes. I believe it may have eased some of the symptoms of his Parkinson's disease. My younger sister occasionally attends my Laughter club and my older sister graduated from my first Laughter Yoga Leader training in 2012.

    Mentally and physically, I am much healthier now. I get sick less often, can exercise more, and breathe more easily than ever before. In my early 30s, I suffered from several trauma-induced and stress-related illnesses including post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and allergies. To heal, I practiced mindfulness meditation, Tai-Chi, Qigong, and yoga. Since 2009, Laughter Yoga has been a major part of my healing process and has helped to greatly reduce many of my symptoms.

    Socially, things have opened up for me too. I am a better listener now and more understanding and compassionate. People everywhere are friendlier to me. I am absolutely thrilled to be a part of a social network of  laughing, caring, Laughter Yoga friends all around the world!

    Professionally, I am much more understanding of my clients’ needs and am able to “go with flow” with greater ease when "surprise" situations occur. Laughter Yoga has been exceptionally beneficial for me as a performer and speaker. It has given me tremendous control of my breathing and vocal quality. I am able to give more of myself and be of greater service. Laughter Yoga has helped me reach, and truly connect with, an even more diverse group of people, in an ever-widening circle of joy. I have cotaught with several Laughter Yoga professionals and look forward to more laughing partnerships in the future. The ripple effect of Laughter Yoga is amazing and very profound.

    Robert Rivest is presenting Laughter, Expression, and Joy on December 8.

    Find out more about Robert at robertrivest.com.

  • 10/23/2018 12:32 PM | Anonymous

    One night while I was in college, some friends and I began discussing philosophy, reaction to the Viet Nam war and the military presence at our college, and if there was a common point between spirituality or activism. Our feeling was that spiritual practice is an internal process where we see external reality as an illusion, and activism is believing that only focused political action can create change. That night, we spoke into the wee hours. In the morning, my friend needed to stop at the library to work on a paper. I accompanied him and was drawn to the philosophy section. My body drew me to the yoga section—right to the Bhagavad Gita. I spent the next 2 hours totally enthralled in the Gita and felt as if I had read it many times before. What Krishna was teaching Arjuna was the conversation we were having the night before!

    Arjuna cannot see a place for connection of spiritual practice and political action. Krishna teaches him that people can only be in spiritual practice if they act in the world in the moment from their truth and bring their spiritual knowledge into the human condition. This was so powerful for me; it showed me how I could deepen my spiritual practice by following my activist feelings against that war. This was the beginning of my true spiritual path and exploration. As I demonstrated against the war and the injustice and hypocrisy, I also began practicing yoga and meditation. I felt rather than demonstrating in anger that I was coming more from conviction and true wanting to shift my consciousness and that of the people I was close to.

    The next semester I walked into a class on Eastern philosophy with my best friend. The teacher taught the basics of yoga philosophy eloquently, and I felt as if I was back in India learning outside in a field with a breeze, flowers, and birds. We could almost hear the birds chirping. The course turned out to be life-changing for me—studying the full realm of yoga philosophy from the Rig Vedas up to the words of Shankara. The depth of the discussions and their relevance in our day-to-day life was transforming as we explored the Gita, Yoga Sutras, Narada and Shiva Sutras, Vedas, and other ways to look at reality. The key here was that they all involved some type of physical or mental regimen that allowed me to experiment with various practices, from pranayama to chanting, asana, and meditation.

    I continued to explore yoga and philosophy in college, making philosophy a minor in my program. I took yoga classes, taught yoga, deepened my outdoor pranayama and meditation practice, and chanted on the quad with some friends. I felt my consciousness opening and inner clarity deepening. 

    My medical education was tedious and often boring as most of the materialistic philosophy that was applied to healing made no sense to me. I was firm in believing in prana and an energy body by then and craved to learn about natural methods. My education was supported by my yoga practice. The postures kept my body healthy, as what meditation did for my mind. The lessons of the Gita and Yoga Sutras kept me feeling centered and in myself. When on call two nights a week, I used pranayama rather than coffee to stay awake all night, and I found it to keep me clearer and more relaxed than were the other students and interns. I was able to relax the patients and doctors around me. The practice had a profound effect on my belief in yoga practice and the philosophy of the existence of subtle bodies. I encouraged patients to relax, stretch, and breathe, resulting in my patients being released much more quickly from the hospital than patients not encouraged to do this.

    While in medical school in 1976 I saw an advertisement about the Kripalu ashram and that the Guru and a few residents would be visiting Chicago. I attended the meeting and fell in love with the idea of living a yogic lifestyle while doing work that was uplifting for people and society. 

    I began to lead the Kripalu group in Chicago while in medical school, and later when I was in DC in 1979 during my internship. We spent much time studying the yogic writings and ways to integrate the teachings into our day-to-day life. This led me to meet some people who were being treated with homeopathy. I saw how they were helped medically in a nonviolent way and began an apprenticeship in homeopathy.

    I moved into Kripalu in 1980 and spent most of the next 15 years there. It was a great training ground to learn more deeply about yoga practice, to study the yogic scriptures, and to teach them to other residents and students. 

    Since 1997, I have led workshops around the world on yoga practice, teachings, and lifestyle and how we can integrate the teachings into our lives and practice for greater health, vitality, and consciousness. I feel that my initial experience of finding and reading the Gita while in college was one of the greatest and best turning points of my life.

    Jeff Migdow will be leading "The Practical Wisdom of the Yogic Scriptures" on November 10, 2018.

  • 10/17/2018 6:29 AM | Anonymous

    It's 1957. The 6-year-old boy is outside in the dead of winter looking at the Orion nebula with his new telescope. He is alone, as no one else wants to come out into the Chicago winter wind. He can’t look for too long at a time as the freezing metal eyepiece burns his skin. He pulls back from the telescope and gazes into the magnificently clear night sky. He is drawn to the red shoulder star in Orion, Betelgeuse. He feels a pull up and towards this star and feels at the same time joy and pain in his heart. He feels his connection to all things but also his confusion around the sadness in the eyes and face of one of his classmates. In this moment he sees the boy’s face and feels not only his pain but the pain of humans in the world. Tears start to flow from his eyes, freezing as they stream down his face. He gazes into the soul of Betelgeuse and asks out loud, “Why can’t all people be happy?” And then wishes for the happiness of all beings. His first memory of the Oneness in both joy and sorrow.

    It is now 1971. I’m outside on a cool autumn evening. I instinctively look up and see a group of stars, including a reddish star at the upper left. I feel a connection to these stars and a long lost memory begins to float into my awareness. What are these stars? What is this longing feeling? I have a fleeting image of a young boy looking at these stars in wonder and deep connection. “Was this me, was it in a dream?”

    The next night I walk outside late at night to look at these stars again, and I begin to hear the words Orion, then Betelgeuse. “That’s a strange word,” I thought, and then a rush of memories flooded into my being. I was that boy gazing at the stars, loving Orion, the cosmos, living so fully and praying for all people to be happy. What had happened to that full experience? Where had it gone all these years? Where had I gone?

    These questions reopened me to my inner self and connection to life on a deeper level. The connection I had until I was 7 years old, when I became embarrassed to be free in my actions and thoughts and constricted myself into a typical American boy. Here I was 14 years later, reconnecting to that freedom of thought and wonder and connection to life, activated by my recent delving into the science and practice of yoga. I had discovered and read a copy of the Bhagavad Gita at the college library. I had gone to the library with a friend and was magically drawn to the yoga philosophy section. The wisdom of the Gita felt so profound as it touched my soul. As if I had read these words hundreds of times before, the wisdom of the Enlightened Self guiding the ego mind, the connection of all things within ourselves.

    Yoga practice—yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, and the depths of meditation—taught so clearly in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, has brought such presence, richness, and openness into my life. It has led me to connect with wonderful people, find deep relationships and friendships, given me the confidence and clarity to spend my life earning a living practicing what I love: energy medicine, Reiki, and teaching all aspects of yoga all due to the knowing that the prana flow is real, more real than my mental concepts and judgments. It led me to living for 15 years at Kripalu ashram, where every day was a deep journey into life within and around me and to transition to day-to-day life in our cynical, materialistic culture. Through yoga workshops I have traveled all around the world, meeting people of many different cultures and connecting to yoga aspirants in an open clear way.

    I have deep gratitude for the practice of yoga and philosophy and the profound effects it has had on my life and the life of many of those I have touched—family, friends, colleagues, students. It’s the vibration that is opened through the practice of yoga/union that not only vibrates throughout my being but affects the world around me. The energy of light/love/presence that resounds and travels is palpable and has been a true blessing in my life.

    Jeff Migdow will be presenting "The Practical Wisdom of the Yogic Scriptures" on November 10, 2018.

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