The Season for Ahimsa

Two lives injected into the global consciousness the life-proof that it is possible to transform the human community without violence. Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King drew on a concept that spans millennia and cultures: the concept of nonviolence, or as we know in the yogic tradition, Ahimsa. Arun Gandhi, the grandson of M.K. Gandhi and his wife, Sunanda, created A Season for Nonviolence in 1998 to commemorate the lives of these two great men. The fourth anniversary of the Season extends from January 30 – April 4, 2001. These dates are represent the 54th and 34th anniversaries of the assignations of Gandhi and King.

During this time, I will be reading quotes and focusing yoga classes with a theme of how we create inner violence through agendas, self- judgment, and competition. Each week I will be using the precepts outlined in Yama and Niyama to create awareness for yoga students. Focusing through how I language asana to give students an opportunity to practice ahimsa through svadyaya. Examples of guiding students may include the language reflecting these thoughts:

Week 1 – Ahimsa – Nonviolence: Are you being kind to yourself as you explore the poses? Are you pushing too hard? Can you find the edge between not challenging yourself and pushing to hard?

Week 2 – Satya – Truthfulness: Am I being truthful about my expression of the poses? Is today a day I need to be more gentle and kind or is it a day my body allows a different expression of the pose? Am I lying to myself as I try to be the “frozen pose in the book”?

Week 3 Asteya – Nonstealing: Do I own the asana for myself or do I steal my “agenda for the pose from someone else,” violating my own expression?

Week 4 – Brahmacarya – Moderation: How do I practice fully and yet moderate my asana and pranayama to honor my energy? Have I eaten moderately? Do I sleep moderately? Where is the edge where I push myself or find myself slothful — both on and off the mat?

Week 5 – Aparigraha – Simplicity and sharing: How do I “own” what is mine, share what is more than enough? Do I keep my asana flow simple or complicate it with adding more, pushing my limits and not being totally present for Self?

Week 6 – Sauca – Purity: Do I find the gem in each asana? Am I pushing to do it right, violating the purity within the unfoldment of asana flows?

Week 7 – Santosha – Contentment: Where is the edge between contentment, sinking in and being with the depth of asana and reaching to attain external image?

Week 8 – Tapa – Discipline: Do I practice the old concept of no pain no gain, or do I discipline myself to return again and again to Self as asana unfolds in its expression and I unfold into the Being rather than Doing?

Week 9 – Svadyaya – Introspection: Am I doing the asana or am I exploring? Do I practice “stihira sukaham asana” steady and comfortable asana in body, breath and Spirit?

Week 10 – Ishvara Pranidhana – Surrender to God: Do I control my practice or is there a place of flow? How does it allow myself to fully be in the hands of God?

With each of these practices, we have an opportunity to look inside and see the many facets of inner violence. I personally feel, how we treat ourselves, overflows into our treatment of others. Asana and “on the mat” yoga is simply an opportunity for us to listen and practice, reframing our behavioral patterns from deep introspection and a cellular release. Asana practice is a gateway for all students to do the same — especially if we as teachers model the path.

I would like to encourage every yoga teacher to take the opportunity during this time to invite your students to support the Season for Nonviolence. Whether you integrate the above ideas, read quotes or ask them to do an exercise such as creating a diary of how they manage anger and create loving kindness in life.

Gandhian Principles with regard to Personal Policy:

1. Respect – To respect others and accept the interdependence and interconnectedness of all life.

2. Understanding – We must begin to understand the whys of being here for ourselves and others.

3. Acceptance – Out of respect and understanding, we can begin to accept on another’s differences.

4. Appreciating Differences – Move beyond acceptance into appreciation and celebration of differences.

“My optimism rests on my belief in the infinite possibilities of the individual to develop non violence. The more you develop it in your own being, the more infectious it becomes till it overwhelms your surroundings and by and by might overwhelm the world.” Gandhi

Kingian Principles of Nonviolence:

1. Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people.

2. Nonviolence seeks to win friendship and understanding.

3. Nonviolence seeks to defeat injustices, not people.

4. Nonviolence holds that suffering for a cause can educate and transform.

5. Nonviolence chooses love instead of hate.

6. Nonviolence holds that the universe is on the side of justice and right will prevail.

“The nonviolent approach does not immediately change the heart of the oppressor. It first does something to the hearts and souls of those committed to it. It gives them new self-respect; it calls up resources of strength and courage they did not know they had. Finally, it reaches the opponent and so stirs his conscious that reconciliation can become a reality.” King

There is a local task force developing programs for the Season For Nonviolence. If you choose to be more involved, you can contact the local representative, Robin Chapuis at 303-984-0930. Or feel to join me on an independent level of speaking the message of nonviolence as we connect to our students on a daily basis.


This article was first published in 2009.

Spiritual Guidance on Meditation

A while back I was in a yoga class and the teacher said, “I will be guiding a vipassana meditation from the Buddhist tradition as there are no forms of meditation in the yogic tradition.” I was aghast. Meditation IS the basis of the yogic tradition!

I do realize, in America, many people view yoga as only asana. Traditionally, this was not so. Yogasana was not recorded in texts until the third century C.E.. Meditation is illuminated in the Vedas, Upanishads, Epics and it is the major focus of Pantajali Yoga Sutras. Here are a few examples of scripture references:

~~Yoga, as expressed in Pantajali’s Yoga Sutras 1.2: “Yoga citta vritti nirhodaha,” is about calming the fluctuations of the mind (meditation). Through calming the fluctuation, the true Self is realized. 1.3.

~~The Hatha Pradipika opens with the following statement: “I bow to Lord Shiva who taught the lore of Hatha Yoga, which is held in high esteem as if it were a flight of steps for the aspirant who looks forward to climbing the highest peak of Rajayoga.” 1.1. The Gheranda Samhita starts with a similar verse. Swami Kripalu explains this by saying, ”In Hatha the organs of action are mastered: in Rajayoga the organs of the sense are mastered.”

~~Taittiriya Upanishad, Bhrigu asks his father, Varuna, “Sir, teach me Brahman (God).” Varuna responds, “Seek to know Brahman by meditation. Meditation is Brahman.”

~~Bhakti Sutras, verse 6 says, “The devotee first becomes intoxicated with bliss (meditation). Then, having realized That, he becomes inert and silent and takes his delight in the Atman.”

~~Bhagavad Gita, includes directions on how to meditate.

8.8: “When you make your mind one pointed through regular practice of medi-tation, you will find the supreme glory of God.”

12.6 – 7: But, they for whom I am the supreme goal . . . . and meditate on me with single hearted devotion . . . . I will swiftly rescue . . . . for their consciousness has entered into me.

6.10 -16, 18: Day after day, let the Yogi practice the harmony of soul (meditation): in a secret place, in deep solitude, master of his mind, hoping for nothing, desiring nothing. Let him find a place that is pure and a seat that is restful, neither too high nor too low. . . On that seat let him rest and practice Yoga of the purification of the soul: with the life of his body and mind in peace; his soul in silence before the One. With upright body, head and neck, which rest still and move not, with inner gaze which is not restless, but rests still between the eyebrows; with soul in peace, and all fear gone, and strong in the vow of holiness, let him rest with mind in harmony, his soul on me, his God supreme. The Yogi who, lord of his mind, ever prays in this harmony of soul, attains the peace of Nirvana, the peace supreme that is in me. Yoga is a harmony. . . . When the mind of the Yogi is in harmony and finds rest in the Spirit within, all restless desires gone, then he is a Yukta, one in God. 6.35: “The mind is restless. It is indeed hard to train. But by constant practice and by freedom from passions the mind in truth can be trained.”

~~Pantajali describes meditation as a process. Sutra 2.54 and 55: Pratyahara is the process of the senses imitating the mind’s withdrawal by withdrawing contact with their respective objects. From that follows the highest mastery over the senses.

Sutra 3.1, 2, 3 and 7: Concentration (dharana) is fixing the mind to one object. Meditation (dhyana) is an uninterrupted flow of thought toward the object. That same (meditation) becomes trance (samadhi) when the object alone shines forth and there is no consciousness of the mind itself. The three (dharana, dhyana and samadhi) are internal in relation to the preceding limbs.

Many yogasana classes include relaxation, not meditation, although they may call it meditation. Not everyone understands the difference so let us begin by clarifying terminology, based on the above readings. Relaxation guides you in connecting with the inner self within the world. Meditation guides you to merging with the Spirit through one pointed focus until you and the point become one.

Relaxation is a step in the path of meditation. It allows you and/or the students to be quiet, a time out to be with oneself and begin the inner journey. Therefore, it is easy to include in a class. For many, it is the closest they have come to a form of meditation and it is very different from their many concepts.

A relaxation can be silent, with music and/or a guided visualization. The language used in the flow will be broad and permissive. People with various inclinations will relax better with different clues during the process. Visual people like to have colors and images introduced. Audio people want to have sounds. Kinesthetic people want to feel the energy. “Take a walk on the sandy beach. Feel the sand under your feet. Notice the color of the sky, the sound of the waves and birds.” would be a very inclusive guided visualization.

Students walk away from the experience relaxed and less stressed. They know they have been inward and they feel they have had a meditative experience. This is not really meditation. Meditation is being one focus so we merge with our concept of a Universal Presence. I describe this process similar to the following with “T” representing thoughts and “O” representing focus on the object.


As you can see, it is movement from the busy thoughts to a focus on the object. It becomes a training, not an instantaneous experience. Krishna emphasizes practice in the Gita and I feel this is the journey Pantajali refers to as he illuminates the steps for pratyahara, dharana to dhyana and samadhi.

The major issue, which comes up for many, is what object do I focus on. We hear about focusing on the void. What in the world is void! ? ! Our mind gets busy just trying to figure out the void. Let’s look at the scriptures, Pantajali, 1. 32 – 41: “For the removal of distractions and symptoms, practice on one principle is to be done. The mind becomes purified by cultivating attitudes of friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the miserable, delight for the virtuous and indifference for the evil-natured.

The mind may be calmed by expulsion and retention of breath. Or else the mind can be made steady by merging it in subtle sense perceptions. Or by perception of the luminous light within, which is beyond sorrow. Or contemplation on one who is free from attachments. Or else by giving it the knowledge of dream and deep sleep for support. Or by meditation as desired. Mastery is gained when the mind can be fixed on the smallest atom as well as on the greatest infinity. Just as a transparent crystal takes the color of the object on which it rests, so a purified mind is absorbed in the object of contemplation, whether the object is gross or subtle, the senses or ego, or the pure I- sense.”

This is a powerful guidance. To review, focus on one object: kindness towards others, pranayama, sensations, inner light, a deity, a dream, or as desired regardless of size. It doesn’t matter, just focus! There is a Buddhist story about a man who came to Buddha and said that every time he tried to meditate on the Buddha, he thought about his wife. Buddha’s response was to meditate on his wife. The Sutras say pick an object which works, even if it is your wife. When we realize thoughts, acknowledge the thought, “Thank you for the awareness.” Then go back to the object.

If you are in a class and want to lead a meditation, guide the students to a seated position and inner focus and allow flexibility on the focus point. Visual people do better with tratak, Shambhavi and Jyoti mudra for meditation. Audio people will prefer mantra, japa and anahata nada. Kinesthetic people will do better with pranayama, observing subtle body energies such as vayus, nadis, chakras and the sushumna. Take some time and teach the various methods. Then, simply guide a group “in,” allowing their inner guidance to choose the form.

The yoga tradition is rich in the path of meditation. There are many sacred writings which share the above mentioned forms of meditation (and others) plus the joys and blessings of meditation. Take some time, read the yoga scriptures and practices of meditation. Enjoy the richness of meditation in your own practice and in your classes.

Hansa is a yoga teacher and body oriented holistic health therapist in Denver, Colorado. She teaches a 250 hour Contemplative Hatha Yoga Teacher Training Program and a 500 hour Professional Teacher Training Program. She is on the faculty of Rocky Mountain Institute for Yoga and Ayurveda. Hansa is a past president of Yoga Teachers of Colorado and serves on the Board of Trustees for Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Lenox, Massachusetts.

Poems to Mukunda By Mukunda Tom Stiles from his book The Yoga Poet

Abhyasa and Vairagya (Constant Practice & Dispassion)

Mind is racing
Never calm
O mukunda practice
Yoga Sadhana anyway.

Joy, ecstasy
Bliss eternal dances within me
O mukunda practice
Yoga Sadhana anyway.

No one loves me
I have no merit, no worth
O mukunda practice
Yoga Sadhana anyway.

I’m known the world over
Highly praised by others
O mukunda practice
Yoga Sadhana anyway.

I’m virile amazingly strong
I have the energy of ten
O mukunda practice
Yoga Sadhana anyway.

My joints are hurting
My back is sore, I’m old
O mukunda practice
Yoga Sadhana anyway.

Yogasana – I’ve mastered all
Peacock, scorpion, lotus
O mukunda practice
Yoga Sadhana anyway.

Siddhas, sages proclaim my greatness
Siddhis seek me to dance around
O mukunda practice
Yoga Sadhana anyway.

I’ve known all scriptures and sacred texts
No truth is hidden from me
O mukunda practice
Yoga Sadhana anyway.

This poem was published in 2009.

Yoga Is…

Yoga is about finding balance. In fact, the word yoga is taken from the Sanskrit word “yug” which means “to yoke” or “to join” – joining together of two equal but opposite things or ideas into a balanced whole. The integration of the mind & the body, the past & the present, masculine & feminine, strength & flexibility, to name but a few.

Many people have a tendency to equate the practice of yoga with the goal of placing the body in pretzel-like positions and contortions when in actuality it’s not at all about goals or learning to tie our bodies in knots.

” Before you learn to stand on your head, you need to learn to stand on your own two feet.”
Swami Satchidananda

Balanced in the present moment. Yoga is a process, not a goal. It’s not about trying to look like a picture in some book, but about learning about your own body and cultivating that mind-body connection. The physical is a reflection of the mental and spiritual. When the output of action does not balance with the input, we experience stress. Hatha yoga attenpts to bring the input and output into balance. We, as human beings, exist as a polarity. This is epitomized by the very word Hatha. “Ha” means Sun in Sanskrit – Heat/Light/Energy/Creativity/Action/Passion “Tha” means Moon in Sanskrit – Cool/Reflective/Receptive/Intuitive/Accepting

We move from one extreme to the other. The process of yoga is to lead us into balance and harmony of this polarity. The asanas or postures are a discipline for the body, exerting effects on the mind. Positive effects not only on the mind and the emotions, but on the muscles, organs and glands as well. They have a balancing effect upon the nervous system, making us better able to deal with stress. They increase our flexibility, improve our circulation, strengthern our muscles, aid in digestion, support stress-related conditions and improve our breathing capacity and the elasticity of our lungs.

The health community has realized that a high-impact aerobic work-out creates more injuries than benefits – in the knees, low backs and ankles. Yoga lasts for a liftime unlike many sports that we may need to abandon as we age. But the benefits far exceed enhancing our physical health and mental activity to promoting emotional balance and spiritual awareness. It provides a way to feel peaceful in this chaotic world in which we live.

Yoga is neither political or religious. Anyone can practice it regardless of age, sex or physical condition. Yoga evolved initially as an oral tradition which was taught one on one so that the teaching was passed directly from teacher to student. Today, there are many fine books and tapes about yoga which are very useful whether you are a beginner or a continuing student. But a teacher can provide that personal guidance and instruction that you may not find in the pages of a book. You make your own choice as to what will work best for you. And if you do decide that you would like to try a yoga class, please utilize our directory of teachers. There you will find representatives of a variety of styles of yoga from the strengthening yet relaxing focus of classical yoga, to the dynamic pace of astanga yoga and the alignment-oriented requirements of an Iyengar class. Please feel free to make inquiries of any of the teachers so that you can learn more.

Practicing yoga and meditation is not about withdrawing from the world, it’s about how to embrace life more fully – how to accomplish more without getting stressed in the process. It is the process of joining the ordinary with the extraordinary during our daily life. Yoga is a tool for learning to notice and challenge our perceived limitations, giving us the opportunity to suspend our beliefs about what we can and cannot do.

“Whatever you can do or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.”
Johann Wolfgang van Goethe

The above article was written by Christine, a certified yoga teacher in the Denver area and was originally published in 2009.

Excerpts from Yoga Sutras of Patanjali interpreted by Mukunda Stiles

II, 28
By sustained practice
of all the component parts of yoga,
the impurities dwindle away
and wisdom’s radiant light
shines forth
with discriminative knowledge.

II, 29
Yoga’s eight component parts
are self-control
for social harmony,
for personal discipline,
yoga pose,

regulation of prana,
withdrawal of the senses from their objects,
contemplation of our True Nature,
meditation on the True Self,
and being absorbed in Spirit.

II, 46
Yoga pose
is a steady
and comfortable position.

II, 47
Yoga pose is mastered
by relaxation of effort,
the natural tendency
for restlessness,
and promoting an identification
of oneself as living
the infinite stream of life.

II, 48
From that
perfection of yoga posture,
such as reacting to praise and criticism,
to be a disturbance.

II, 49
When this is acquired
then pranayama naturally follows
with a cessation
of the movements
of inspiration and expiration.

II, 50
The vacillations of breath
are either external,
internal, or stationary,
they may be regulated
three ways:
by location, time, or number;
then they will become
prolonged and subtle.

II, 51
In a fourth method
of regulating one’s breath,
it is extended
into the Divine Life Force
and prana
is felt permeating everywhere,
transcending the attention
given to either
external or internal objects

II, 52
As a result
of this pran-ayama,
the veil obscuring the radiant
Supreme light of the inner Self

II, 53
And as a result,
the mind becomes fit
for the process of contemplation
of the True Self.


This article was originally published in 2010.

Present Moment Practice by Bethany Doepke, YTOC Correspondent

Why do we practice yoga? What sustains us through every resistance, every episode of mind negativity, every bout with the chattering ego? Is it not the desire—often unarticulated, sometimes buried deep beneath everyday consciousness—to be whole, to be truly ourselves, to radiate the energy into which we sometimes, joyously, tap?

In fact, is that not solely the goal of yoga, but the goal of life—to tap into the source of pure energy, and allow that energy to play through us as if we were harps upon which the Divine played it’s song?

Yes! Yes, we cry!

Of course, on tired days (and perhaps this is one), wouldn’t we simply like to be free of our exhausting neurotic impulses: our fears and obsessions, our blind spots and constrictions?

Of course. Of course we would.

Even for the experienced yogi, however, the path to this freedom is subtle and difficult to discern. A beautifully executed asana is not the path if the mind is full of its own clutter. The thoughts, comments, judgments, and reactions that make up the mind’s clutter are the roadblocks to wholeness and freedom because they are not of the present moment, and here is the key,
here is the subtlety: the present moment. It is only in the present moment that true life, true freedom, occurs. It is only in the present moment that we have any real power.

Thoughts masquerade as the present moment because they occur in a slice of consciousness we call “now.” But actually, thoughts always have their reference point, their true origin and location, in the past or the future. It is not thoughts, but experiences, that happen in the present moment. Experiences are feelings and sensations that are always locatable in your body—your hamstring suddenly seizing in resistance, a piercing shock of embarrassment as you fall out of a pose others are holding, a sluice of sudden energy through your spine in a deep backbend. It is when the mind comments upon or judges the experience that we are taken out of the present
moment because all of the comments and judgments have their reference points somewhere else: in a comparison point against which this experience transcends or falls short. The profound experience of wholeness, however, comes when we ALLOW the experience to be whole in itself—not better or worse than another experience we have already had, or wish to have in the

Seeking to unite the ancient consciousness-evolving practices of the East with the psychological insights of the West, John Ruskan writes, in his book, Emotional Clearing, that “while the mind is always either in the past or the future, the body is always in the moment because of its feeling
nature, and feeling is inherently in the moment. Being in the moment is a condition that we should strive to develop, because life is taking place in the moment. When locked in the mind, in expectations of the future based on the past, we do not confront and experience life.”

It must be admitted, however, that staying in the direct experience of the present moment is not easy. The mind has a way of asserting itself so convincingly that we are always believing ourselves to be just on the verge of real truth as we listen to its commentary. The mind is a persistent companion, a really loquacious “friend,” and just because we become conscious of the wish for it to pipe down (and perhaps, on an unconscious level, we’ve become rather comfortable with its noise), does not mean it will actually comply, and be quiet. It’s only means of survival, after all, is it’s own voice. It has every desperate stake in continuing its monologue, with you as it’s rapt audience.

Chip Hartranft, a modern interpreter of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, points out Patanjali’s recognition “that one of the most primary internal forces in a human being is the inclination toward selfhood. Self-making has the effect of organizing the shifts contents of consciousness into a seamless pseudo-reality that seems to unfold over time.

” . . .However, when consciousness becomes truly motionless, these appearances of permanence and continuity break down . . . [and] the illusory reality represented in consciousness becomes transparent as body and mind grow deeply still.”

Furthermore, Hartranft points out, “one’s sense of time becomes spacious, with consciousness sensing many more individual events than before, and beginning to perceive it’s own workings in more detail. What had seemed like a smooth flow—the reality of the phenomenal world—can now be seen as the flickering of microphenomena arising and vanishing with unimaginable
subtlety . . . As [the] illusion falls apart, the self and the world reveal themselves to be nothing but a stream of rapidly changing events . . . In this light, the dramas of consciousness no longer seem real, nor do they propel one any longer toward thoughts or actions that bring more suffering.”

The only hope, then, for dispensing with the reality of our exhausting and, essentially, false dramas, is to acquaint ourselves with a more steady, more present companion. This companion is the breath. The breath is remarkably subtle and quiet, and yet it is always there—no, it is always HERE, right HERE, precisely in the NOW. The more you know the breath, the more you
unite your actions with the breath, the more subtle will be your awareness of the present moment, and the more power you will have to dive into the present moment’s depths, and see the true nature of reality.

The Yoga-Sutra reminds us that “a disciplined inner life is the most direct path to happiness.” Interpreting ancient teachings to a modern audience, Chip Hartranft explains that “our bodyminds can know their true nature by letting themselves gravitate towards effortless sitting and breathing. And our attention can be stabilized, with perception coming to rest in the
present moment and clarifying to the point where the unity of all things is known beyond argument or reservation.”

In other words, eventually, the breath will take you deep enough that the mind will no longer follow. In this place, you will find truth and freedom, recognizing that truth and freedom are one and the same, and furthermore, that the mind, in itself, has access to neither.

Put simply, any time the goal is freedom, the breath can be your guide. In yoga, in meditation, in a stressful situation, at dinner with your partner, in the car with your kids, the breath is your portal into present moment experience, and present moment experience is where you find your wholeness and freedom. Hartranft reminds us, however, that it is not in sitting and focusing on the breath that the trouble occurs, “but in overcoming the well-established mental and physical habits that already produce suffering in our lives. These habits of perception and behavior cost us dearly, yet we cannot help but hold them dear, for they ARE us. That is, we have all
developed seemingly tried-and-true patterns of thinking and reacting, crystallizing into stories about ourselves and the world, and we cling to them as our identity and home.”

While clinging to the noise of these stories and beliefs may be our inclination, we must never underappreciate the profundity of the breath’s depth and silence. The breath leads us to a place that confirms that the present moment requires no judge or narrator. The mind, protecting its
very existence, would only have us think so.

Quotes taken from The Yoga-Sutra of Patanjali, by Chip Hartranft and Emotional Clearing, by John Ruskan


This article was originally published in 2010.

Working With the Chakras to Energize Your Practice by Bethany Doepke

I believe it is safe to assume that everyone reading this article knows what yoga is; however, as yoga teachers, it is easy to lose sight of the ultimate goal of yoga, and fall into a primarily physical focus. After all, our primary medium for teaching is the body, and our primary method is teaching postures. That being so, our students (as we, as well) often forget that the body is merely a vehicle for reaching the state of yoga, which is union, Oneness, and bliss.

Our true nature is divine; that is what we are. We are not bodies sheltering spirit; we are spirit embodied. Our bodies are nothing more and nothing less than gateways to remembering our true divine nature. Yoga asanas help us tune in so that we can penetrate through the seeming solidity of our bodies, and understand, in an immediate and experiential way, our truest, most free, most blissful essence.

Though mere vehicles, our bodies are much more complex and subtle than we realize. We are not merely skin, bone and fibers; we are also beings of energy, and just as our physical bodies can be out of tune, our energy bodies can be blocked and constricted. We are dynamic beings, and there is constant interplay between our breath and our energy bodies, our energy bodies and our minds, our minds and our physical bodies, our physical bodies and our energy bodies . . . One aspect of our embodied beingness is always dynamically affecting and being affected by another aspect.

The chakras are part of the energy body. Chakra is a Sanskrit word which means wheel, and these wheels operate in the body like spinning vortices through which consciousness both ascends and descends. Though the chakras can be associated with physical structures of the body—namely, the base of the spine, the sacrum, the solar plexus, the heart, the throat, the third eye (between the eyebrows), and the crown and just above the head—they are actually invisible whirling energy centers, localizing and then moving consciousness up and down our spines. In Tantra Yoga, our divine consciousness is understood as Kundalini, a snake coiled three and half times at the base of our spines, laying dormant until awakened by our intentions, our breath and our physical postures. Once awakened, she ascends through the spinning vortices of the chakras, each one the seat of a certain stage of consciousness, until she reaches the abode of Shiva, at the Crown Chakra, the place of consciousness where our egos fall completely away and we are once again returned to our Oneness. If the chakra centers are stifled, however, or the energy is blocked or constricted, Kundalini may not be able to pass through, and we will become stuck at a certain restricted level of freedom and awareness.

In her workshop, Energizing Your Life: Exploring the Chakras With Jivamukti Yoga, Alanna Estes, president of Yoga Teachers of Colorado and Jivamukti yoga teacher, inspired a vital awareness between our energy bodies and our physical bodies through the experiential stimulation of the seven chakras. Emphasizing that ALL forms of yoga are, in essence, practices of raising consciousness, Alanna cut through the surface emphasis on physical poses, using the chakras as points of conscious energy awareness. In this way, she transformed a physical asana practice into a vehicle for raising the energy from the base concerns of the body and the ego to the higher concerns of loving kindness, purity, truthfulness, and intuitive perception of our true natures.

The first chakra is the Muladhara or Root Chakra. The consciousness at this level is concerned with basic survival such as food and shelter, and the basic preservation of our lives. It is essential that we feel safe and grounded in the world in order to move into higher states of consciousness. Standing poses, such as Mountain Pose, Warrior I and II, and Triangle help us feel rooted, harvesting energy from the earth, developing a deep connection to the Great Mother. The legs and feet are extensions of the root chakra, so bringing awareness and strength to these lower extremities activates the Root Chakra. First chakra consciousness is also concerned with balance, so poses such as Tree Pose, Standing Forward Bend, and Crow Pose are also helpful in reaching a stable connection with the root source of our being.

The second chakra is Svadisthana Chakra, located just below the navel at the front of the body, and at the sacrum at the back of the body. This is the seat of our sexuality, our emotionality, and our creativity. Hip opening poses, such as Janusirsasana and Hanumanasana help open this seat of consciousness, although it is important to do some rooting poses as well, such as Downward Dog. There is no ascension into higher realms of freedom and consciousness without a strong initial groundedness.

The third chakra is Manipura Chakra, located at the solar plexus . This is the seat of our personality and individuality, the power of our egos. The goal in activating this chakra is to be able to let go of the grip on our egos, so that we might finally realize that we are not actually competitive creatures by nature, striving in our individual lives to get and achieve great things; but, rather, that we are all already divine, and it is precisely our egos that blind us to this reality. Twisting postures help us towards this realization by wringing out our egos. It is important as we twist, however, to stay connected to the ground—first chakra, and open in our hips—second chakra—twisting deeply from the solar plexus, the seat of the ego, consciously wringing out that sense of self that keeps us locked in our own urges, fears and desires.

Most Westerners live primarily in the consciousness of these first three chakras. Our culture and society reinforces the notions of individuality and competitive striving, while bombarding us with suggestions that we are not enough, that we need to buy more and strive more to compensate, and furthermore, we are losing our power day by day as we age. In reality, when we finally activate, understand, and ascend through the first three chakras (and remember, we cannot move on until we’ve activated each chakra successively), we come into the consciousness where yogis strive to be—the consciousness of the heart.

The fourth chakra is Anahata Chakra, or the heart chakra. In order to activate this seat of consciousness, we must open our chests through backbends such as Locust Pose, Cobra Pose, Bow Pose, Camel Pose, Bridge Pose and Upward Bow, remembering to let go of expectations in each pose, and allowing ourselves simply to be the pose. When we are finally able to be instead of do or perform, we are moving fully into the consciousness of the heart chakra, for love itself is a reality, not an activity.

The fifth chakra is Vishudha Chakra, located at the throat. Once we are pure in our actions, which is the consciousness of the heart chakra, we are able to speak purely and truthfully. We speak though the heart with the voice. Poses such as Plow and Shoulderstand help us clarify and purify our throat chakras, enabling us to speak clearly and truthfully. It is only by coming to this place of consciousness as a result of the strengthening and purifying journey through the other chakras that we actually have something to say. Otherwise, we are liable to speak through the confusion of our desires and fears, which often produce the noise of gossip, pointless chatter, and hurtful or manipulative words. The ability to speak clearly hinges upon the ability to hear clearly, to be receptive, to know that everyone and everything around you is a teacher. This receptivity opens the awareness of the sixth chakra, which is direct receptivity to the divine.
The sixth chakra is Ajna Chakra, located between the eyebrows, a physical location understood as the third eye, the eye that sees all things as One. This is the seat of highest intuition, the seat of knowing that all divisions are false, and everyone and everything is divine. Child’s Pose presses the third eye into the ground, establishing a deep and tender connection with all manifestation, reminding us to realize the true, undivided nature of all that is.
The seventh chakra is Sahasrara Chakra, or the Thousand-Petaled Lotus, which is located just above the crown of the head. This is the seat of pure being, the place where everything just is. This is the place of bliss. Headstand helps us feel the divinity at the crown of the head. More powerful yet is to lift slightly off the ground in headstand, bringing consciousness to that divine space between the crown and the earth, that place that is both empty and absolutely full, where all has been relinquished but the desire for union, and then, even that desire has been released.

This is the briefest introduction to “tuning” or activing the chakras through asana practice. This was merely a tribute to the richness of Alanna’s workshop and, I hope, a seed planted. For more instruction and radiant insight, contact Alanna Estes at her website,, and watch out for upcoming workshops.


This post was originally published in 2010.

The Beauty of Breath by Roseanna Frechette

Within our breath lies the fundamental essence of yoga. Without the sustenance of breath our human selves would not even be alive to experience the vital life force, the pranic essence of yoga. Without breath we lose the connection to that universal life force energy, the joining with which brings us into a state of yoga.
But how many times a day do we find ourselves lessening, stalling and even holding the breath? We get busy with the never-ending list of to-do’s and all the details of our day-to-day existence. Our attention constantly goes out of ourselves. We feel rushed and stressed. We forget to breathe!

Try this. Take a moment just to notice the immediate quality of your breath. Is it shallow or deep, quick or slow? Is it sporadic or steady, incomplete or full? Just notice at first. Watch the breath coming and going. You may begin to feel the sensation of your breath against your nostrils–cool as it comes in, warm as it moves out. You may begin allowing the breath to slow down.

As you continue to consciously breathe, you may try allowing the breath to drop down to the belly. Imagine you are filling a balloon in the belly with breath. Try this several times. Next allow the breath to widen the rib cage. You might imagine you are playing an accordion by allowing the breath to move the ribs in and out, sideways. Try this many times. Now allow the breath to warm the upper regions of your lungs where the heart center lives. You may feel the breath move front to back as if you had doors opening to the front side of your heart and doors opening from the back side of your heart. Let the winds of your breath move freely in and out of the doors to your heart.

Now try moving the breath like a rhythmic breeze slowly, smoothly, in and out. Feel the expansive quality of your breathing as you fill the belly and rib cage as well as the upper lungs. Hear the sound your breath makes. Feel a vital life force, the pranic essence, filling you over and over. And when you empty the breath, let it empty all the way from the belly, rib cage, and upper lungs. You might allow tensions and mental debris to flow out on the exhalation. Or you might choose to send a beautiful force back out of yourself through your breath.

As you move forward from here, try carrying this quality of breath with you. Make a decision that you will honor your breath throughout the day. And from here on, when you catch yourself tensing, stalling, holding the breath, give yourself just a few moments to repeat the above exercise. You may need to practice with the written instructions many times at first. You are training yourself to breathe the full yogic breath. But like many things, with consistent practice you will eventually just know how to do this. You won’t need instruction. Only awareness. Then, as often as you like, you’ll be able to let your devoted awareness bring you back to the beauty of your breath.


This article was originally posted by Mandi Ashbrook in 2010

Wisdom at its best! … A message from Swamiji Dharmananda

Dear Friends,
This is wisdom at its best, coming from a young 33 year old American. Please pass it on to as many young people as possible.

It is these informations that are coming to me day by day. It is these informations that are termed as the highest wisdom. This particular piece of wisdom is from a young American age 33. This is the young generation and this is there wisdom.  For some reason I feel everybody needs to know this. It is this education that all great ancient traditions/masters have taught and modern education is not teaching. Present education in the Universities is wrong, in the families is wrong, leading to a unhappy existence. That needs to be corrected.

Love and blessings.
Address in USA
1813 Rannoch Dr,
Longmont, CO-80504,
Telephone:  USA – 720-.310.2207)

India Address
Spiritual Teacher and Counselor
International Vishwaguru Meditation and Yoga Institute
Ved Niketan Dham, P.O. Swargashram – 249304
Dist. Pauri Garhwal, Uttarakhand, via Rishikesh, India

“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” — Gandhi
Happy moments praise God. Difficult moments seek God. Quiet moments worship God.
Painful moments trust God.  Every moment thank God
Good thoughts are always positive to the bad ones and bad ones are always negative to the good ones
Everything is impermanent, so let giving without bargaining be a joy.