Be Transformed by the Savanna
by Jill Sockman
The African Savanna is a place that has captured peopleâs hearts for centuries. Even those who havenât yet been able to experience the savanna face to face canât help but be inspired by the images of a migrating herd of wildebeest or the lion pride that captures its unfortunate stragglers. Perhaps the best example of how humans love to view nature in its âpurestâ form is the 8-minute You-Tube video called, âthe Battle at Krugerâ. In a very short period, an extraordinarily lucky tourist filmed lions stealing a baby buffalo from its herd, a crocodile that immediately tries to pinch the catch leading to an intense tug-o-war, only for the buffalo to walk back up to the lions and throw them completely out of the picture, rescuing back what belongs to them. This heart-wrenching footage with 64 million views to date, was even turned into an hour long National Geographic episode.
Part of our obsession can be explained by the desire to know that what is âwildâ still exists. It is hard to imagine a world without elephant, buffalo, lion, leopard, and rhino, otherwise known as the âBig Fiveâ. But I know it is more than that, because once you stand in the savanna, you are forever transformed. In this way the savanna is like the practice of yoga. When you begin taking yoga classes, the effects are immediate, and it soon becomes impossible to avoid class. At first it is hard to describe why, but as the transformation process sets in, we begin to realize we are changing from the inside out.
The savanna represents all the same lessons we long for in our yoga practice. The Savanna ecosystem is precarious at best â it would not exist without the right balance of earth, water, fire and air. With a little more water and large amount of fire, you instead have a grassland. Take away fire, and you now have a forest. And just when you think it is perfect, with a few large majestic baobabs surrounded by open fields of grass, a herd of elephant walk by and push over the remaining trees. Matriarchal and seemingly wise, African elephants remind me of Kali, the great mother energy that tears away your attachments and challenges your deep-seated ego.
These conservation areas remind us that our own habits of fencing off all we think is bad, or finding a way to keep those things that make us uncomfortable on the other side of a boundary, are historical legacies of human existence. We donât only do this in our personal lives, but it also manifests itself in the way we try to preserve what we love in nature. When we begin to accept what is uncomfortable and contradictory we can see, even in the beauty of the Kruger National Park, the subdued legacy of apartheid.
Interestingly enough, despite our protective mechanisms, the savanna changes anyway, as do we. If anything, the savanna represents that great yogic philosophy that we hear in our daily practice â everything is temporary. Maybe that is what people love in the savanna; they cannot deny, that when they return, it will be different. Furthermore, it seems to me, the only chance the savanna has at surviving is for us to begin moving outside of those fences into the world that we once blocked off because it was uncomfortable. We need to address our long-seated fears, and stop identifying the human race as something that is inherently bad. What happens if we step over that fence? Savannas are ânatureâ in its most spectacular form, but they are also places where humans have lived, for millions of years.
This yoga retreat will provide you with a real savanna experience–a place that breaks your heart with its extreme beauty, but also challenges you to dig deep into your own personal belief systems. Together we will move across the fence around Kruger, and see what it means to live on the other side. You might be surprised to find abundant love and happiness in the face of extreme poverty. I must warn you in advance, however, after this experience, the savanna and its people will haunt you in your dreams. You will always desire to come back.
~ Melissa McHale, PhD, assistant professor of Urban Ecology, North Carolina State University, EcoYoga South Africa organizer and guide
Body Awareness Through Art
by Jen Davis
Have you ever seen a stick figure drawing created by a child? They are hilarious! I have seen arms that hang to knees, heads as big as torsos and legs three times as long as the rest of the body you get the idea. Teaching kids correct body proportions when drawing is a great way to tap into body awareness. As part of this yoga art workshop I asked each student to draw a stick figure on a piece of paper. While each student was able to identify body parts during yoga, it was interesting to see the figures they drew. We looked at their drawings and discussed how they compared to their actual bodies.
One student drew her arms raised up, but they stopped at the top of her head. I had her recreate that movement in her body and she was able to see that her arms extend above her head. Although every body is different, the general proportions are similar. I explained that the body of a child is divided into 5ths when drawing – top of the head to chin, chin to mid torso, mid torso to hip, hip to knee and knee to bottom of the feet.
When it came time to begin the art project we looked at a Joan Miro’s painting “People and Dog in Sun”. This painting has a fun whimsical style that is exciting for kids to imitate using stick figures. The results are great! An awareness of their bodies and movement, that was not present in the practice drawings, is felt in their final paintings.
What To Do With Time
Back in the day, when I worked in the corporate environment, a couple of my employers used different âpersonality testsâ to gauge how people worked. The idea was that once you knew your own personality type and understood and appreciated that of othersâ, effective work teams for specific projects could be created by pulling in people of various âtypesâ or skill sets. One such test I took at a workshop with my peers was the Myers-Briggs Type IndicatorÂ®.
You may be familiar with this. Essentially, the results indicate a number of factors, like if you focus on your outer world (Extraversion – E) or inner world (Introversion – I). If you focus on basic information you take in (Sensing – S) or if you interpret and add meaning (Intuition – N). If you make decisions based on logic (Thinking – T) or looking at the people and circumstances (Feeling – F). And in your âstructureâ in dealing with the outside world, if you get things decided (Judging – J) or you stay open to new options and information (Perceiving – P). (Much like astrological signs or Ayurvedic doshas, we all have a tendency to feel like our âtypeâ is âthe bestâ and the envy of all others.)
Although I would like to think I have shifted a bit in the 15 years since I took the test, at that time I was an off-the-chart J. So, in the clever way these workshops are intended to bring us to our own âa-ha,â a bunch of us likeminded Js were sent off with a handful of extreme Ps, and the same question was posed to each group: âWhat to do with time?â
The responses we Js came up with were spot on and went something like this: organize it, plan it, arrange it, schedule it, divide it. We were going to DO something TO time. We were proud. You see, we Js love a plan. And in order to have a plan, you need to be able to manage time.
When the Ps reported their responses on âWhat to do with time?,â you should have seen the looks our our puzzled J faces as they listed âplay, read, vacation, eat, work, relax.â Hmmmm. We felt a little sorry for them, not knowing what to do with time and all.
Fast forward 15 years, the last eight of which have thankfully included an evolving yoga practice that has helped me improve my relationship with time. I think about what motivates me to spend my time a certain way. Do I feel obligated? Am I pressured by another person? Iâm also more mindful of my actions and how I move through the world, instead of thinking about five things and doing three others all at the same time. My J pendulum hasnât swung completely in the other direction, but letâs just say it has a more moderate placement now.
All of this all came flooding back to me recently as I read an article in Yoga Journal online that posed the question: “Is there a way to live that frees us from the cycle of longing for more time, misusing the time we do have, and then blaming a lack of time for our discontent?”
The author explains how through the yogic practices of svadhyaya, or self-study, and aparigraha, or nongrasping, we can begin to take the steps of developing a healthier relationship with time. She writes, âMost of us live in linear, chronological time, with its clocks and deadlines and pressures. A steady diet of this kind of time starves the most vital, alive, and essential parts of us. But there’s another, richer kind of time: extraordinary time. It’s a state of intense focus, of being in the moment.â
It was a good reminder for me. You might find the article an interesting read, too, if you aren’t too Strapped for Time.
Trust your journey~
Training For Enlightenment
by Jill Sockman
Every time I leave the guest house here in Dharamsala, itâs a climb up 166 stairs. If I go to a yoga class down the hill, thatâs another 103. Most restaurants offer rooftop seating, so thatâs another 30+ stairs each meal out. I suppose we go out a minimum of three times per day, so thatâs a bare minimum of 500 stairs up and 500 stairs down each day. Itâs no wonder then that you donât see loads of husky Tibetans roaming the streets. At altitude, I feel like Iâm in training for some enlightenment event: step by step, no end in sight, one foot in front of the other. Just. Keep. Going.
Trudging up the steps you can always smell the garbage that is strewn along from top to bottom mixed with the sweet, ever-present scent of incense. There are always dirty, friendly stray dogs along the way; yesterday there was a huge bull munching some garbage, waiting for us at the very top; this morning there were several goats a-roaming and a mongoose a-slinking. And always hawks circling overhead, content in their lot to ride the thermals, gliding round and round. About halfway up the hill on the other side from our guesthouse is a school for Tibetan children. If we time our outings just right, we get to see these adorable, smiling kids arriving or leaving, singing morning songs or shouting at noon recess. Even here, the home of the Dalai Lama, it is never quiet. The only peace you might find is on the inside, and that task is not any easier even here in the sacred Himalayan foothills. It is perhaps even more difficult as India has a way of breaking you down, cracking you open, revealing to you both the light and the darkness that live inside.
We are just past the halfway mark of the trip, and finally our feet are beneath us– ish. India is India: crazy, noisy, chaotic, beautiful, unmanageable, incomprehensible. It is nearly impossible to plan anything, and for certain when you do, something or everything will change. Most everyone has had at least a moment of stomach upset and most of us are dragging with a ubiquitous congestion and cough that most travellers here carry. But, relatively speaking, everyone is healthy. Weâve starred in countless family photos, been asked âWhat is your country?!?!?!â more times than we can count, have eaten amazing curries for $1 each, jumped into impromptu street kirtans, washed our feet in the Ganges, travelled all seven of us with five tickets on the night train, and made new friends all along the way.
We will be here a couple more days and then another crazy travel night back to Delhi and on to Agra. The adventure continues. Step by step, the journey unfolding.
Over Memorial Day, my husband was taking me on a surprise adventure. The weekend started out pretty trying, with a six-hour drive filled with hail, strong winds and thunderstorms. The B&B was not as luxurious as he wanted, we felt isolated, and we thought it was going to pour rain all weekend. I immediately went to disappointment and sadness with this idea that “the weekend is ruined,” and my husband went into his own negativity, which was more of the same. We were set on leaving the next day to return home because it turned into something we were going to have to “get through.” The next day the sun came out, and we realized we were minutes away from this great mountain town with lots of outdoor adventures, and we ended up having one of the most perfect weekends filled with horseback riding, tubing and wine tours!
Lesson learned AGAIN: When I start judging without seeing the whole picture, I’m not open to all the possibilities that are really there, and that closing down jennifer aniston pokies can start attracting more of that negative energy. It begins with our thoughts and what we start believing is going to happen. As we were able to shift our attitude on the inside to even the possibility of something fun, the weekend took a turn, and we started attracting more and more romance and fun.
I know you’re probably wondering “what does this have to do with yoga?” Well, have you ever thought to yourself on the mat, “I can’t do this, I’ll never be able to, I’m just not like everyone else.?” I know I have. So what if you could take a step back on the inside in that moment on your mat and open to the possibility of you as a whole and what’s really there? What is another conversation you could have with yourself? It’s never about the pose, but what gets stirred while we’re in the pose. Sometimes we only see a situation in one way, and often it’s negative. It starts with our thoughts, and our thoughts create our reality.
From My Heart,
Don’t Worry. I Got This.
“Don’t worry, I got this.” Probably the best line in the middle of a story ever. On our recent retreat to the North Carolina mountains, lots of time was spent in storytelling. Yogi’s seem to excel at the art of the story, and this group in particular could be found laughing hysterically at all hours of the day and well into the night as we told each other the funny stories that have made us the people we are today.
The weekend started for many of us with a delicious lunch at Salsa in Asheville followed by a short drive up some very steep hills. We arrived at the naturally breezy and very simple Prama Institute. After unpacking, we settled down to plan the evening and have some tea. The weekend then proceeded to take on somewhat of a dreamy, nidra like quality. We had yoga, delicious food cooked by the very efficient Kyle, and lots of time to relax and unwind. The lodgings were simple but sufficient and made us feel like we were at the best summer camp for grown-ups. I think the two favorite desserts were the strawberry shortcake and the grilled peaches. To try to describe them using words would not do them justice, so I will simply use one letter … mmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.
So what about the yoga, you say? Well, Julee and Carrington led us through practices that were also yummy beyond my ability to put into words. A wonderful flow and stretch to get us grounded, a yoga nidra, a morning hip opening and chair yoga ( which REALLY kicked our butts – fear the chair dude, fear the chair!), a shoulder opening practice, and to round out the weekend, a chakra practice focusing on opening and channeling the energetic body…sigh…this was all a slice of heaven! The yoga was our anchor and helped to facilitate the unwinding of the chatter of the mind and find the absolute joy in being fully present and grateful in our beautiful surroundings. We all left the practice room the second evening, and after dinner simply sat and watched the fireflies in the garden. Does life get any better than that?
It is hard to believe we were there and together for less than three days. Maybe a two-day yoga retreat is really like a week-long vacation? Of course, the weekend was not without its hysterically absurd moments, and I think that is what made it all come together in the end. We knew we would have good yoga and good food, but the interactions with each other and the comfortable companionship we shared so quickly was the bonus. Some highlights include: Sophie “pushing” a car up the mountain – with two or three fingers no less; Carrington experiencing some water snake action ( Kyle told us it was a poisonous snake and we all shrieked in appropriate horror. I have since researched that there is only one poisonous water snake in North America – the Cottonmouth Water Moccasin – and I am not sure this was one of those, BUT Kyle was a good cook so he probably knows best); when our Asheville day trippers brought us back chocolate; and one member of the group’s insistence that every person we encountered was up to no good and trying to kidnap us. (You can NEVER be too careful!)
If you were not lucky enough to retreat to the mountains, rest assured, another trip will be forthcoming this Autumn, October 14-16.
See you there!
Blueversary In Review
by Jill Sockman
What a fantastic weekend!
There are so many thank-yous to send around that I don’t quite know where to start. Organizing, publicizing and hosting three days of by-donation classes takes more effort that you might guess. So let me cut to the chase:
Thanks to the faces behind the front desk: they are often called “blue peeps” and they are always called indispensable. But this weekend they went above and beyond the call of duty, taking extra shifts to assist with registrations, donations and altercations! Thanks, Peeps! You’re the best.
Thanks to our team of blue lotus yoga instructors- the best yoga anywhere! Your willingness to offer your time, love and energy to share the gift of yoga for such a great cause is always inspiring. The light you share is both inspiring and essential…
Thanks to Kathleen Yount, our Studio Manager, who organized the instructors and classes, as well as the Peeps and peeply shifts. (As well as the multitude of other minutiae she organizes that I don’t even know about.) Oh yeah, and those cupcakes she bakes…
Thanks to Sandy Scherer, our Karmic Marketing Director, without whom blue lotus would perhaps never be found by the many people who eventually call it home. Her publicity and organizational efforts are never short of miraculous, and we’re so grateful for the many hours she so generously offers us to spread the word.
Thanks to all of the individuals and businesses who so generously offered gifts and gift certificates for the raffle, as well as those who took the time to solicit and collect those offerings.
Thanks to the folks at CORRAL for the amazing work they are doing with girls who might otherwise get lost in the system.
And most of all, thanks to YOU, the Blue Community, for coming out full force in support of a great cause. We are just $63 short of our $5000 goal, and I have no doubt that last bit will trickle in over the next 24 hours.
Take a look at a sample of photos from the weekend. There was a little something for everyone, and fun was had by all. Friday Flow to Potluck, Midnight to Partners, Kids to Kriya…we have so much, and what an amazing, inspirational display of generosity to see so much given back.
Monday Night’s Playlist
Since a number of students requested various songs, I’m happily posting Monday night’s Flow & Stretch playlist.
As you move through the weeks and months ahead, keep peace with yourself and any resolutions you may have made by practicing ahimsa. Be patient and kind and non-harming in the way you treat your own self as you continue on your journey.
My Many Colored Days
by Jen Davis
Can you be present with what is, knowing it will change? This question is asked from time to time in yoga classes, usually during a particularly difficult pose. We are challenged to pay attention to the running dialogue in our minds and begin to change it so we can stay, breathe and find peace in the truth it will be different soon.
Needless to say this is not easy on the mat, nor out in the world. I know for myself, I fight to get away from uncomfortable feelings, and in the fleeing I usually make it worse. I am working to stay with what is off the mat knowing it will change in time; it always does.
I wanted to weave this theme into the kids yoga and art workshop. After a great yoga session, we read the book My Many Colored Days by Dr. Seuss. In the book, feelings and moods are compared to a spectrum of colors in a way kids can relate to. They were able to identify feelings they associated with different colors in so many interesting ways. We then went on to discuss the main theme of the book –that feelings change from day-to-day and hour-to-hour. I emphasized that a gray day can lead right into a green day, so just stay with the gray trusting it will change.
Like adults, kids can also experience different feelings at the same time. All of these concepts are reflected in the art projects the kids worked on. They create a visual reminder on the canvas that circumstances constantly change — and it is OK be present with what is.
Someone recently asked me how long blue lotus has been open. My immediate response was the standard “It will be four years in February.” But my internal response had a little more excitement, amazement and surprise. I actually can’t believe it’s been four years, and that we are moving into our 5th year as downtown Raleigh’s yoga sanctuary!
Nearly every newcomer to the studio comments on the community that our teachers, students and volunteers have created at “The Blue.” It’s a place where everyone is welcome to join us for the fun, the inspiration and the family that has grown from a shared yoga practice.
So celebrating four years in business, we are gearing up for a “Blueversary Bash” on February 4-6. As per tradition, we will offer a full three-day weekend of classes by donation, including a Veggie Potluck on Friday night. Our goal is to raise $5000 for CORRAL, supporting one full year of participation for an at-risk girl right here in the Triangle. Check out the activities!
Thanks for being an active part of the blue lotus community, supporting the growth of our studio and giving back to others in the form of service hours and donations offered.
We hope to see you there!