Yoga Practice for Memorial Day

Thoughts on a Memorial Day Practice

Honoring those who continue to inspire and guide us

Class today was supported by inviting in and celebrating the energies of those whom we hold sacred in our lives.  We chose to remember people whose very existence has deepened our own experience on this planet.  It didn’t matter whom we chose to bring with us into our practice.  Some may have chosen their mothers, or grandmothers, or friends, or maybe they invited Lao Tsu, or Rumi, or Leonardo DaVinci, or Ramakrishna, or Abinhavagupta or Gandhi.

We didn’t discuss who was inviting whom to class, or why.  We simply chose in our hearts, one or two people to celebrate during our practice.  And what a magnificent practice it was.  Heads bowed to open hearts, warriors were courageous and strong, mountain poses were the embodiment of strength and endurance, and forward bends – poses of stillness and embrace were soft and nurturing.

I am grateful to my wonderful students today who chose to honor Memorial Day through their yoga practice, and in doing so, honored their heroes, ancestors, and sacred teachers as they celebrated and nourished themselves.

Shalom & Namaste,

Diana Bonyhadi

Ahimsa – Taking Care of Yourself & Others

Ahimsa

The first leaf on the first limb of the 8 limbed tree of Yoga is ahimsa.
Ahimsa roughly translated means to “do no harm”.

When Patanjali set out the eight limbed path of yoga sometime between 100 BCE and 100 AD, it appears that his intent was to tersely codify the previous 4000 years of yoga wisdom.  He did a very fine job of it.  Laying out in short simple verses (sutras), the wisdom of yoga as it had been taught until that point.  He stated that there are 8 limbs on the tree of yoga; yamas (personal practices), niyamas (community practices), asanas (postures), pranayama (breathwork), pratyahara (withdrawal of senses), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation) & Samadhi (ultimate enlightenment).  

So, ahimsa – do no harm – is the very first thing we must strive to do as yogis.  It makes sense.  Every spiritual/philosophical path I know embraces this philosophy.  But in yoga, the goal is not only to save random spiders from their doom and avoid taking swords up against our neighbors, but we are also encouraged not to commit harm against ourselves.

This is difficult.  We live in a world where we are constantly bombarded with messages about how thin we should be, what cars we should drive, what knowledge we should have, what clothes we should wear, etc. All this in order to be happy.  So it is no surprise that many of us beat ourselves up trying to fit ourselves to this commercial image of what we are supposed to be, all with varying degrees of success.

This dissatisfaction with how we look or feel, may be what got us to yoga in the first place.  “If I just take that class, I will loose weight, get better muscles and maybe that nagging ache in my back/neck will go away.”

In mind my, there is nothing wrong with this.  Whatever gets you in the door and on the mat is good.  But I do worry about negative self speak, and not listening to the cues our bodies are sending us. Practice Ahimsa – do no harm – to others or yourself, through your actions or through your speech.

I read somewhere that we process over 60,000 thoughts a day. Unfortunately, the majority of these thoughts are less than complementary.  It turns out that we are experts at self criticism.  I know from experience that while I am pretty good at being kind to others, I am pretty rotten at being kind to myself.  I frequently hear all those would’ves should’ves.

Thus the trick really is to practice ahimsa with our selves.  When you go to yoga, listen to what your body needs.  Don’t push yourself too hard just to get that firm butt and those strong biceps. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against those, but not at the sake of physical or spiritual injury.  Don’t try to do some else’s practice.  Don’t try to do more than you are ready for in the moment.  Yes, push your boundaries, but don’t hurt yourself.  Be kind and compassionate and loving with yourself.  And then from that foundation, you will find yourself expanding and reaching farther than you ever could from a place of self-criticism.


Shalom & Namaste,

Diana Bonyhadi

Questions of a Snowbound Yogi

Living without power – Yoga lessons for all of us

In case you missed it, Seattle was snowbound for most of last week.  Snow and ice-covered the streets and houses and trees.  Driving was treacherous, and many folks lost power.

Running a business was stressful.  To close or not to close?  That was the question of the day.  And then how do you notify folks that the business was or wasn’t closed, when you don’t even have power or internet access?  How to send the message and who will get it?

Here are some of the questions/issues that many in my community had to deal with.  These are questions which were brought to the fore by the snowstorm, but really, these are  questions that bear investigation regardless of the weather.

  • How do we deal with the unexpected?
  • Can we live with not knowing?
  • Can we live without transportation?
  • Can we live without our computers?
  • Do we have enough food/candles/water in our homes in case of emergencies?
  • What do we do when we don’t have heat or electricity?
  • Do we have friends we can go to in times of emergency?
  • How comfortable are we with spending 6 days alone with our families?
  • How comfortable are we with silence? No ticking clocks, computers, washers, etc.
  • What do we do when our to-do list can’t be completed?

For all of us yogis, we had the added challenge of figuring out where our practice really was.

  • If you can’t make it to the studio, do you still practice?
  • If your house is filled with people, and no heat, do you still practice?

And then… the power comes back on.

  • How do we respond?
  • How quickly do we rush back to our lists of things to do?
  • Are we overwhelmed by trying to all that we didn’t do and all that we still must do?
  • Do we wish (surreptitiously) for more snow and less power?
  • How do we capture those moments of silence in our daily life?

That seems like more than enough to chew on for one day.  Happy thinking.  I welcome you thoughts and comments.

Shalom & Namaste,
Diana Bonyhadi

Thanksgiving – Begining a Practice of Gratitude

Thanksgiving is right around the corner.  Our to-do lists are full, as are our shopping lists.  We will spend a significant amount of time this week cleaning and cooking, and preparing to welcome friends and family into our homes.  We may even travel to join our friends and families in near or distant locations.  This is the time of year when we as a culture sanction taking a few precious moments out of our busy schedules to open our hearts to gratitude.  And we do it in community.  Perhaps we all become yogis on Thanksgiving.

I believe that gratitude is the foundation of yoga.  We start our practice with intention setting and we finish it with gratitude for the practice and our teachers.  We strive to cultivate the niyama of santosa (contentment) on the mat by letting go into each of our asanas; accepting and rejoicing in each asana for the strength and energy it brings to us.  We seek to be present and content for each moment and for each breath during our practice. And finally, we bring our hands together in Namaste in recognition and gratitude for the divine spirit which lives and breaths in all of us.

But once we leave the studio, and move beyond the mat, shouldn’t we also seek to build a mindfulness practice of gratitude?  Medical studies from such esteemed institutions as the Harvard Medical Center note the health benefits of engaging in a practice of mindulness meditation.   Indeed, such practices have been shown to reduce the effects of stress related to chronic health concerns, and loss of loved ones.

The question then, is where and how to begin.  Why not this week with Thanksgiving?

As you prepare for the holiday, take time to note the beauty around you. Notice the red and yellow leaves as they fall to the ground.  Take a moment to be consciously grateful for friends and family. Remember those moments of joy shared with different family members.  Appreciate the bounty in the stores, the truckers who delivered it there and the farmers who brought it forth from the earth. Open your heart with gratitude for the artists who bring beauty to our eyes and ears; for the activists and foundations who provide shelter and services to those in need; and the for physicians who bring healing.  The list can go on and on.  Be thankful for each moment of life, the beauty that surrounds you and the kindnesses you experience.

Lest someone should accuse me of polyannaism, let me state that there is no denying that these are difficult times we’re living.  Challenges of hunger, poverty, racism, sexism, exploitation and yes death are a part of our daily existence.  The goal though, is not to descend into to pain of these experiences.  The understanding gained from practicing mindful gratitude keeps us from getting lost in the loss of freedoms and life.  So even when you are stuck in traffic, late for a meeting, low on blood sugar, or suffering from illness or the loss of a loved one, you can still allow gratitude to soften the moment.

Breath in, look around and remember many wonderful moments in your life and community.  Practice santosa and gratitude, both on the mat and beyond.
Happy Thanksgiving
Shalom & Namaste,

Diana Bonyhadi

Living Your Dharma

Living your Dharma

Insights from the Bhagavad Gita

Action is a duty, but let not your ego crave the fruits of action, be not attached to either action or inaction.
Bhagavad Gita, Chapt 2, vs. 47

Okay, you are in your yoga class.  You are feeling great.  The asanas are humming in your body.  The prana is flowing.  You feel alive, strong, flexible, vibrant with life.  And the next thing you know your teachers throws you a new asana, one you have seen in books, but have never before tried.  And you think, “that’s it.  I am going to master that.”

“Bend the knees, place your right elbow in your right armpit, lift up and reach your left leg out behind you in the air.”

Splatt.  Before you know it, you are in a heap on the ground.  This is when you hear the loud voice of the Ego coming through.  The string of thoughts that go rampaging through your brain – anything from “get up before anyone sees you”, to “I told you that you are not strong enough, flexible enough, whatever enough to do this yoga stuff.”

Ah, now you can really practice your yoga.  For it is not about mastering any particular pose.  Yoga is about being present in the action, in the moment, for the sake of the action itself, and NOT for any specific rewards that will be achieved as the result of an action.

The other day I was trying to learn how to float up into a handstand, and then down into crow.  Try as I might, I could not seem to raise up through that lovely pike position into a handstand and then settle down so that my knees rested lightly on my biceps.  Soon I found myself obsessed with self-doubt.  “I will never be able to do this.  I am too old for this.  I will never have a strong enough core…”  And then thankfully, I was reminded that the only thing that really mattered was the effort in that moment.  I needed to let go of the fruits of my actions.  I won’t tell you that after this awakening I suddenly did find myself floating effortlessly through the air. No, but my practice did get lighter.

The next day I came across the above cited verse, and breathed in relief.  Even Arjuna, that mighty warrior, had to be reminded not to hold too fast to the results of his actions.  We are here to live our dharma.  There are many things we try and do, and the blessing lies in the doing.  So, whether it is handstands, cartwheels, mountain climbing or other tasks like dishes and laundry and floors, remember to breathe into the moment and let the fruits of those actions be – without prejudice or celebration.  This is yoga, living and breathing in this moment and the next.  This is living your dharma.

Shalom & Namaste,
Diana Bonyhadi

Yoga can help Insomnia

Sleepless in Seattle

I don’t know if it is the change in the weather, or the shift from summer awareness to winter awareness, but either way, sleeplessness has been a recurring theme for many of my students of late.

Insomnia is a plague for many of us. For some it is the struggle to fall asleep, for others, it is the waking up in the middle of the night, but either way, all  insomniacs are desperate for more/enough sleep.

Can yoga help?  There is a definitive yes.  There are many asanas which you can do prior to bedtime to help relax the body.  Also, having a regular yoga practice, which includes asana, pranayama and meditation will help to reduce stress, and thereby lesson the likelihood of insomnia.

Here is a link to a an article published in Yoga Journal over a year ago, which I have found to be very helpful for many of my students and friends.

If getting to sleep is the issue, it is important to try to go to be at the same time every night.  Take a warm drink with you to the bedroom.  Here is a wonderful ayurvedic recipe for a bedtime drink which is very soothing and soporific.  On the asana front, do a few cat-cows, a couple of twists, and some forward bends. Shoulderstands are also very helpful but please make sure that you are both safe and comfortable in your shoulderstand before trying them at bedtime.

If the issue is waking up in the middle of the night (mine), I have found it useful to get up right away.  Don’t hang out in bed, haranguing yourself, it won’t help.  Go downstairs, make a cup of tea.  Try to avoid going any where near your computer or desk.  Chores are not allowed. So what to do with your wakeful self?

I have begun to look on these hours as a gift.  No one is around to bug me, or ask me to do something for them. The house is quiet. The street is quiet.  It’s like I have the world all to myself.  I curl up on the couch and read and write in my journal.  If after an hour, I find that I am still up, then I will deal with the things that are on my mind/to-do list.  If I am still up, well, then it is time for a hot bath with lavender.  But usually, the cup of tea and boring book do the job, and I am ready to go back to bed within the hour.

I hope this helps. If any of you have other hints and tips, please do add them as comments.
Shalom & Namaste,
Diana Bonyhadi