"If I could ask you to do anything, it would be to invite a veteran to yoga. It might just save their life." ~ Staff Sergeant Dan Nevins — U.S. Army Operation Iraqi Freedom II. Veteran turned yoga teacher.
We were originally inspired to offer free yoga to veterans by photographer Robert Sturman back in 2016. And we continue to be inspired every November.
Thank you, Veterans, for your service. 🇺🇸
Please contact Dena to schedule classes. 315-673-7535. Proof of service (DD Form 214) required.
If you are a student at the studio, you may have noticed that we've been exploring some alternatives to Namaste at the end of many Mandala Moon Yoga classes.
In our 2022 Yoga Teacher Training, we had a segment on Cultural Appropriation in Yoga. As you know (I hope), the practice of Yoga originated in India thousands of years ago, and I try to be very careful to give credit to that history and culture whenever possible. For instance, our current study of the Yoga Sutras (in my ongoing multi-level and restorative yin classes) reminds us that our practice is more than a physical practice, and it reminds us where the philosophies of yoga originated.
In preparation for the Mandala Moon Yoga Teacher Training, I took some training of my own from an American Yoga teacher of Indian descent, and she included some enlightening information about Namaste.
In my experience, the intention of American practitioners was/is to "bow in respect" to their teacher, students, or classmates. However, in South Asian countries, the word is used as a greeting, usually reserved for elders. So, rather than saying "Hello" at the end of class, we are trying out some new closing words. I've been exploring simply "Thank you" or "Shanti," which translates as peace. You may also hear "Jai Bhagwan," which is the Hindi phrase used most at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, where I completed my yoga teacher training. Jai Bhagwan is Hindi rather than Sanskrit and similar to Namaste. The translation I enjoy is "May the divine in you be victorious."
Do you have a favorite? Let me know!
You can read more about "How 'Namaste' Flew Away from Us" in this NPR article. The author, Kumari Devarajan, explains the evolution of the word, which originated in the Vedas, and speaks from an Asian perspective about why it is considered appropriation.
Like all things yoga, though, I believe that intention is the most important thing. This is not a hard and fast rule. If you are comfortably and respectfully finishing your practice with Namaste, I most certainly will not stop you! Just wanted to provided some food for thought.
So what is "heart opening" anyway? It's basically yoga teacher lingo for backbending. Below are my top 5 reasons to practice heart openers as often as possible
1. Reverse damage
Without changing your current posture, take a moment to become aware of your chest and notice your ability to take a deep breath. As you're reading this post, sit up taller, roll your shoulders back and down, and take a deep breath. That was a very gentle heart opener. You came out of the hunched over position and gave your heart and lungs a bit more space to do their jobs. Think about all of the time we spend curled forward. Maybe as you sit at your computer, in the car, or on the couch, or as you look down at your phone, your body has devolved to the point where rounding forward feels more natural to you than being straight. Heart openers can help reverse some of the damage created by frequent slouching.
2. Better Breathing
You probably felt it just now. You can take a much deeper breath when you open the chest. Stretching around the rib cage and creating more space for your lungs creates more space for your breath. Longer, deeper breaths stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system's "rest and digest" response. Your rewards for better breathing include decreased stress and anxiety, better immunity, sleep, and digestion, and an increase in energy.
3. Backache Schmackache
Postures that "open the heart" such as wild thing (pictured), fish, bridge, sphinx, camel, help you expand throughout the thoracic cavity, where your heart is, as well as your diaphragm, the muscle that separates your lungs and heart from the organs below. If you don't stretch out the thoracic area, your upper and lower (cervical and lumbar) spine may eventually overcompensate, resulting in neck and/or lower back pain.
4. All You Need is Love
The subtle body houses our energy centers. The heart chakra is associated physically with our chest, arms, and hands and psychologically with our ability to give and receive love and sympathy. Someone with a "broken heart" is likely to protect this area, but to heal, we need to open up the heart chakra and clear out any blockages.
5. It Feels Awesome
It's no mistake that the bija or "seed sound" for the heart chakra is "yummmm." (Translated as "yam" but pronounced yum.) Heart openers can feel yummy! Once upon a time, long, long ago, I was not a fan of heart openers. I preferred forward bends, balance poses, even planks. When it was time for bridge pose or camel, I felt my whole body and mind tighten up with resistance. Once I became aware of this resistance, I worked more on heart openers. I allowed myself to breathe through the mental, physical, and emotional discomfort, and I realized I was protecting myself and hiding out in forward bends. With time and practice, I leaned into those back bends. Now, I prefer heart openers to almost everything, and I believe that we need them more than anything else for balance in the body.
Hope to see you soon for some yummy heart openers!
COVID-era social media scrolling led me to several unusual purchases. I am probably on every marketing sucker list now. I’m hooked on MUD/WTR™, a chai tea and adaptogen coffee replacement. For the once or twice per month that I bother with make-up (I mean who can tell with a mask on anyway), I have eye brightener and a color stick from Thrive Causemetics™, a cosmetic company that donates generously to “help women thrive.” But the big one is the dress I purchased from “Wool&,” a company who seemed to know that I love a challenge. A plank challenge, a walking challenge, whatever. This particular challenge was a 100-day dress challenge. Here’s the gist directly from their website:
We now invite you to do a 100-Day Challenge, or at least attempt one. We’re convinced you could benefit from simplifying your morning routine, making “what to wear” the easiest question of your day. Here are some reasons you should give it a try:
I love this challenge for all of the reasons listed on wool&’s site, but the big one is that I’ve been trying to get away from “fast fashion.”
If you aren’t familiar with the term fast fashion, read this article from Borgen Magazine. If you don’t want to read it, here’s a quick summary. Fast fashion refers to the mass production of trendy clothing. Among the issues with fast fashion is that it is the second largest industry contributing to pollution in the form of carbon emissions (the oil industry is the worst). Additionally, the overseas workers who are employed by the fast fashion industry are often exploited - working for very low wages and in dangerous conditions.
This is the last paragraph from the article written by Samira Akbary:
Fast fashion may provide affordable and fashionable clothing to many people, however, it comes with an ethical price. This industry is one of the leading causes of both water pollution and carbon emissions. Workers are paid unlivable wages without benefits and are exposed to many hazards. Many young women are exploited for the benefit of these large companies. So next time before you buy fast fashion items, think of the consequences of your purchase. Look for alternative shopping methods such as thrift shopping.
I would rather have a few expensive items of clothing that I know come from companies who have fair labor practices than support those who are exploiting their employees and adding to our planet’s pollution problem.
From a yoga standpoint, fast fashion purchasing is unethical. Consider the yamas and niyamas. If you aren’t familiar with the yamas and niyamas, they are the 10 ethical guidelines listed in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra. (For more on the yamas and niyamas, find my blog post titled “Lessons from my mother and my yogurt” from 2013.) As yoga practitioners and good humans, we strive to follow their guidance. Consider these four:
Asteya - Nonstealing - includes not just stealing from others, but stealing from the earth. I’ve made a conscious attempt to reduce my use of plastics over the years. I’m careful about the cleaning products I use as well as personal care items. I refill glass or aluminum water bottles from the tap. I have rain barrels. I recycle and reuse.
It’s time to get on board with my clothing now! I wore this dress every day for 100 days, and I probably only had to wash it four times. I know that sounds gross, but two things. First, this fabric really is amazing. It did not get smelly! I only washed it because it seemed weird not to. Second, I didn’t wear the dress all day every day. As a yoga teacher, I spend at least a couple of hours most days in yoga pants and tanks. I brought the dress with me to work every day and changed after class. OK - make that three things. I wore the dress in the cold winter months of Central New York. I’m guessing I would have needed to wash it more often if I’d been wearing it in the summer!
Brahmacharya - Nonexcessiveness - not taking more than we need. That’s pretty self-explanatory! I definitely have way more than I need, and I’ve been trying to declutter and simplify for several years.
Santosha - Contentment - being grateful for what we have. I will think twice before buying clothing in the future. The closet full of clothing I already have is enough. If I need to invest in clothing, I will consider the source.
Svadhyaya - Self-Study - We can use things we read, our yoga practice, therapy, our experiences in life, etc. to study our own behavior and hopefully, grow spiritually. Wearing the same dress every day from Christmas until almost Easter taught me a lot about myself!
I’m attaching the 100 photos I took from late December 2020 through early April 2021. Some of them are better than others, but I’m wearing that wool dress in every one of them! Earth Day is on April 22. How can you honor Mother Earth?
This was originally on the home page of our web site. I try to occasionally go through and clean things up, and I decided this was better as a blog post. It's all about how I came up with "Mandala Moon Yoga" as the studio name. What I didn't mention was that part of the process was in finding a name that was original. Most of the first names I came up with were already taken. Half Moon, Full Moon, Moon Dance, Blue Moon, Crescent Moon, . .. all taken! So I combined the moon with another of my favorite things . . . mandalas!
A mandala is a design that radiates from a central and unifying center. Yoga is a practice designed to help us connect with our own core and become established in our essential nature.
The traditional language of yoga is Sanskrit, an ancient language of India, and translations can be iffy. A simple translation for mandala is “circle.” Some Sanskrit experts would argue that if broken down into syllables, a mandala is an “essence (“manda”) container (“la”). A mandala is symbolically so much more than a simple circle. It’s a tool for healing, a meditation practice, a work of art. It is a symbol of wholeness. According to various sources online, a mandala is “a cosmic diagram that reminds us of our relation to the infinite, the world that extends both beyond and within our bodies and minds.” And if that’s all too “out there” for you, you can just enjoy mandalas for their mesmerizing beauty. Once you are familiar with them, you will see them everywhere: In the sky--the shapes of the earth, sun, and moon; in nature—flowers, honeycombs and sea shells; in the spiritual and religious history from many traditions--church windows, stone circles, yantras, architecture.
If you would like to explore mandalas more, keep your eyes out for the occasional mandala workshop, our annual retreat "Mandalas, Malas, & Moon Meditations," or read about the Mandala Assessment Reading Instrument (MARI).
Much of our yoga practice, like our lives, is spent in doing, accomplishing, striving. Sun Salutations, a sequence of yoga postures common in many yoga classes, are strong and heating. This is in line with cultural pressures and, in terms of yogic philosophy, our more solar and masculine energies. Our moon, or feminine, side connects us with our cooling, calming, and nurturing nature. And who in this culture doesn't need a bit more of that energy in their life? At Mandala Moon, we strive for balance, and we love to practice Moon Salutations at least as often as Sun Salutations. Or maybe more.
Our theme in class this week is being present. This is one of those easier-said-than-done ideas. Have you ever experienced eating while driving? Surfing the net while watching a movie? Texting while sharing a meal with someone? Daydreaming when someone is talking to you? If you are in a state of constant multi-tasking, are you ever truly present? I love the quote above my cup of tea. "Live the actual moment."
What does this mean? Consider this. If you're eating, just eat. Enjoy the food, taste it even, relish it, enjoy it. Enjoy, too, the person or people sharing the meal with you. Look at them, make eye contact, and have a conversation. Out loud, with your actual voice. When driving, just drive. Don't eat or drink or fiddle with the music. Don't reach into the back seat. And does it really need to be said? When you're driving, don't text or chat on your phone! Driving is kind of a big deal. Cars are huge pieces of machinery.
In class, we often anchor ourselves to the actual moment through a practice of breath awareness. This week, we anchored with our breath as well as mantra. The Vietnamese monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, is one of my favorite go-to guys when it comes to mindfulness and living in the moment. I love his book, Happiness, and I borrowed one of his meditations for class this week. The next time you are feeling distracted, try this, and let me know how it goes in the comments.
Meditation to bring yourself into the Moment
Come into easy pose or sit in a chair with your feet flat on the floor. Root down through your sitting bones and rise up tall through your spine, crown of the head pressing up toward the sky. Roll your shoulders back and down and connect with your natural breath. Take a minute to settle in, then add the following mantras with your breath.
Breathing in, I follow my in-breath all the way through
Breathing out, I follow my out-breath all the way through
Breathing in, I’m aware of my body
Breathing out, I release all the tension in my body.
Breathing in, I know I am breathing in.
Breathing out, I know I am breathing out.
As my in-breath grows deep,
My out-breath grows slow.
Breathing in, I calm my body,
Breathing out, I feel at ease.
Breathing in, I smile,
Breathing out, I release.
Dwelling in the present moment,
I know this is a wonderful moment.
There’s always room for improvement.
Svadhyaya is self-study and the fourth of five Niyamas, the personal ethics or observances listed in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. Svadhyaya is not always fun to practice, but it is always fun to say.
Imagine this. You’re in the dressing room of a department store under those awful fluorescent lights. You have selected a teeny-tiny bikini (or Speedo if you are of the male persuasion). Once you have it on, you look into a three-way mirror. You study yourself. You cannot help but notice every perceived flaw on your body. You can see the results of your penchant for late snacking or beer or sweets or bacon or [insert your vice here]. Look again. You see the places where your age and gravity are evident or the battle scars from surgeries, disease, or childbirth. Or, perhaps you are diligent of diet and dedicated to a regular exercise and moisturizing routine, so you admire your toned muscles, your curves and skin. Perhaps a bit of both. You enjoy the “good” and make weird faces at the “bad.”
What can you learn from this study of your physical body? Are there areas you don’t want to see? Areas you avoid? Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to replace one cup of coffee each day with a glass of water. What about your best features? How do you feel when you gaze at your attributes? And what does it all mean? Are you ashamed, proud, judgmental, content? What else? When you take the time to reflect on your thoughts about this experience, this is self-study of your mind. You may realize you’re hard on yourself or easy on yourself. You may realize that you’re hard or easy on everyone else too!
Did you ever hear a recording of your voice or see yourself on video and think, “That’s not what I sound/look like?”
Now, imagine you could hold up a mirror that showed the emotional or mental or spiritual reflection of your habits. Svadhyaya is about paying attention to your own behaviors, thoughts and actions. And then thinking about them. There are many mirrors available. Your yoga practice is a wonderful mirror. Are you critical of your asanas (poses)? Proud? Do you peek at others in the class or secretly hope they are looking at you? Are you able to sink into the stillness of a surrendering pose or do you dread the quiet time with only yourself for company? Do you push yourself to the point of injury? Are you habitually the first one to arrive to class? Or the last? Do you need to have the best yoga mat and apparel? Why? Do you always practice at the same spot in the room? To all of these questions, why? What might it reveal about you and your engrained habits?
Books are mirrors. Traditionally, the study of spiritual scriptures was considered the key to learning about the self. Religious rituals and practices from all traditions are mirrors. Relationships are mirrors. Running, biking, dancing, singing, meditating? All mirrors. Whatever you’re doing, are you doing it mindfully? Or out of habit? Think of the person you most admire. Would he or she be proud of you?
The bottom line? Pay attention. Notice your behaviors. Adjust according to your core values. Repeat.
I love cookies. They have power over me, and I have difficulty practicing moderation when cookies are nearby. I gave up most of my other vices years ago. I haven’t had a cup of coffee in almost 10 years. Haven’t had a cigarette in more than 20. But cookies still have their magical hold on me. And my daughter recently baked the most incredible, crunchy on the sea-salt-sprinkled outside, chewy on the dark-chocolate-morseled inside batch of chocolate chip cookies I have ever tasted. Ever. And my mother baked a mean cookie.
If Patanjali, the ancient sage credited with writing the Yoga Sutras, saw this blog post, he would undoubtedly roll his third eye. He would wonder why on earth I was writing about cookies in a post about Brahmacharya. Brahmacharya, in its original form, suggested a practice of celibacy.
Consider the time period in which the Yoga Sutras were written. Depending on your source, they were written in 400 BCE or 200 BCE or 200 AD. The scholars don’t all agree on the exact date or even the exact author, but it’s safe to say they were written a really long time ago. Life on this planet was not much like it is now. Plus, they were written in another country on another continent and steeped in a different culture than the one you may live in. Imagine yourself as an ancient yogi, having given up all of your worldly possessions to devote your life to yoga. Imagine living in a cave with the clothes on your back and just enough food to survive. You would spend all of your time meditating, chanting, practicing and teaching yoga. Your practice of Brahmacharya would literally mean a life of celibacy, such as the life of a Catholic priest.
The typical modern yogi is not interested in celibacy. In my years of practice, I’ve never heard of anyone actually practicing celibacy (on purpose) as part of their practice. I have vague memories of reading about the rare person who takes the vow, and I have heard through the yogi grapevine that there are some Yoga Teacher Training programs that require their students to abstain during their training. I can’t help but wonder how that plays out.
For most contemporary yoga practitioners, Brahmacharya is taught and practiced more as a practice of moderation. As in, save your energy for the things that really matter. If you are lucky enough to have figured out your Dharma (your life purpose – more on this another day), you will want to conserve as much of your physical, mental, and emotional energy as possible to pursue that Dharma. Don’t use your energy for things that simply waste your time. Consider some of the distractions we use that take us off course on a daily basis:
Screens – this includes ALL of your devices with screens, such as TV, computer, cell phone, iPad or other tablet, etc. I love connecting with people on Facebook and laughing at Modern Family or Big Bang Theory as much as the next person, but sometimes I look up and realize hours have gone by. Hours that could have been better spent elsewhere – with my family, in the yard, outside walking or hiking, reading, writing, or practicing yoga!
Socializing – There’s nothing wrong with socializing; in fact, it’s wonderful. But like anything else, if you overdo it, it can take away from more important pursuits.
Sex—I can’t have a blog post on Brahmacharya and leave it out. I believe you can have a healthy sex life and still practice Brahmacharya. Put the focus on healthy! A healthy sex life is one in which your desires do not overpower your thoughts. Consider fidelity, promiscuity, respect for self and others.
Cookies (or cake or drugs or alcohol or nicotine or caffeine or insert your vice here)—I read once that Stephen King savors a cigarette each time he completes a novel. Once a regular smoker, he has found a way to enjoy the rare cigarette while still enjoying good health.
The bottom line is moderation--enjoying all of the pleasures of life in moderation. When a craving or habit is unmanageable and out of control, we are no longer practicing Brahmacharya. The desires or cravings are running the show. We can’t have that.
Take the reins or the steering wheel or any other metaphor you like. Make mindful choices about how you spend your time and energy. That qualifies as a modern yogi’s practice of Brahmacharya.
Coming back to my vice. I suspect my cookie addiction will be with me for as long as I draw breath. I strive for moderation. Sometimes I succeed, and sometimes I fail. I am human, and that is okay.
If you would like to sample the amazingness of the cookies that inspired this post, in moderation of course, the recipe came from the NY Times. After a quick Google search, I realize I may be the only person on the planet who was not already familiar with them.
My mother died two years ago. There will never be another person who loves me so completely and unconditionally, worries about me constantly, and provides the virtual blanket of security that only a mother can offer. My mother was, among a million other things, my first teacher.
She was proud of me, and she believed in me, even when I failed miserably. She didn’t judge me or scold me when I wasted a lot of money, unable to successfully transition from high school (achiever) to (lost and reckless) college freshman. When I was hopeless and depressed and felt like a big fat failure, she believed I would persevere, and I did, buoyed by her quiet support. She was proud of me a zillion times, including when I became a yoga teacher. She witnessed several of my graduations, even—eventually—a college graduation. And then, later, even though she never stopped calling it “yogurt,” (as in, “how was your yogurt class today?”) she was just as proud of my graduation from Yoga Teacher Training. I corrected this pronunciation error many times, but eventually gave up, realizing that I would actually be disappointed if she got it right. I don’t think she had a really clear idea what yoga was all about, but she saw that it made me whole and happy, and that was enough.
When she was not proud of me, when she was clearly disappointed, I felt deep, soul-darkening shame.
Like most mothers, she was my barometer of right and wrong. I remember a grocery shopping trip with her when I was very young, maybe four or five. She had allowed me the luxury of purchasing a cardboard backed, molded plastic covered assortment of varying-degrees-of-tiny little naked dolls. I can remember these dolls as part of a favorite game. My brother would hide them around the living room-- on the knobs to the television, on a bookshelf, behind a coaster on a side table. I found immense pleasure in running around the room locating all of my little naked babies.
We were at the Victory Market in Chittenango, an institution that’s been gone as long as my childhood. I grabbed a pack of gum from the conveniently located treasure trove in the check-out line, while she was busy putting groceries on the belt. I don’t remember why I chose not to ask if I could have it or if I even knew that I was stealing. When we got home, she discovered the larceny, and she put me right back in the car to make amends. I had to tell the store manager what I had done, and she paid for the gum. I lost the privilege of owning the gum and, more upsetting, the naked babies. I was crushed and ashamed.
I don’t remember a lot of details from childhood. I don’t remember a lot of details in general. I tend to remember things in terms of feelings and perceptions. But I remember feeling ashamed, because my mother was ashamed of me. It certainly wasn’t the last time she taught me right from wrong, but it’s the first time that I can clearly remember.
As practitioners of yoga, we study Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. We learn of the eight limbs of yoga. We aspire to practice, along with the other six limbs (to be savored in future posts), the Yamas and Niyamas, a list of guidelines for leading a yogic lifestyle of awareness and principle.
The Yamas are five practices of restraint.
The Niyamas describe five self-observances.
If you are blessed, you learn about right and wrong from the people in charge of raising you. You may learn some from your religious or civic leaders, teachers and friends and role models of all sorts. No matter what form it comes in, the basic tenets of right and wrong seem to all boil down to the same things.
I am constantly reminded of my mother’s teachings. She never practiced yoga in her life, but she and my father lived a more yogic lifestyle than most people I know. I will revisit each of these ideals in future posts, as I move through them in life or in classes.
Dena D. Beratta
Honored to teach, but always a student.