Sharada’s New Year’s Greetings 2014

Greetings and Happy New Year!

Life at the Centre is very quiet in mid winter. Later this month, the resident community will begin growing again, but for now it is very small. We meet for meals in Sage House rather than the main program house. Scooch, the Centre’s resident cat, will be delighted when there are more people and more laps to sit on.

Meal circle at the Sage House

Meal circle at the Sage House

Babaji continues to radiate sweetness. The latest update on his health, as reported in this newsletter, includes some recent photos. Although Babaji’s age is definitely showing, so are his beauty and love. I hope you enjoy the photos.

Altar

Altar

There are several articles in this month’s edition of Offerings that I think you will enjoy. January’s ‘Our Centre Community’ features Raven Hume, who has been connected to the Centre for about ten years. Many of you know him through satsang; here is an opportunity to learn about his background and the path by which he arrived at the Centre.

I invite you to read ‘Finding God, Finding Peace’, focusing on both the intentions we set for the new year and a reminder of why we’re here in the first place, prompting us to bring our minds and hearts back to the place of peace that we all recognize as the centre of our being.

Pratibha has shared another Ayurveda gem this month – ‘Winter Wellness Routine’, full of practical advice for thriving in the winter as well as suggestions for when you have a cold. Jenny Collver, who has spent many years at the Centre, from her early years helping Usha in the Centre School, later as a YTT student and, in recent years, as a yoga teacher at the Centre, has contributed the Asana of the Month article – Dhanurasana (Bow Pose).

Yoga classes will resume again in the week of January 6th, and of course satsang continues every Sunday. The Centre School will be back in session January 6th, so there will again be the sound of children playing.

Dharma Sara’s AGM will be held at the Centre in the spring (April or May). The date hasn’t yet been determined, but please note that in order to vote you need to have been a member for 90 days, so now is a good time to join, or to renew if you are currently a member.

Our popular karma yoga program – KYSS (Karma Yoga Service and Study) – is being enhanced to include more emphasis on study, workshops, mentorship and self study. There will be deeper immersion into all aspects of yoga, with many teachers, including several of our YTT teachers, offering classes. This new program – YSSI Yoga, Service and Study Immersion, running from June 1 through August 31 – will replace KYSS. Details will be posted on our website in February. Those who have already applied for KYSS will be notified about the program change, and given the option change their applications to YSSI.

With best wishes for a peaceful new year,
Love,
Sharada

Finding God, Finding Peace

Babaji

Babaji

The beginning of a new year is a time to reflect on how the past year has gone and to resolve to make some changes in the one that’s just beginning. Generally our resolutions have to do with losing weight, starting an exercise program (again) or committing to some path of action. The new year can also be a reminder to ‘come back to where you once belonged’ (Beatles, circa 1967), asking the big questions: Why am I here? What is my purpose in life? Who am I?

In the Sufi master Rumi’s ‘Table Talk’; (quoted in ‘The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying) there is the following passage:

“The master said there is one thing in this world which must never be forgotten. If you were to forget everything else, but were not to forget this, there would be no cause to worry, while if you remembered, performed and attended to everything else but forgot that one thing, you would in fact have done nothing whatsoever. It is as if a king had sent you to a country to carry out one special, specific task. You go to the country and you perform a hundred other tasks, but if you have not performed the task you were sent for it is as if you have performed nothing at all. So man has come into the world for a particular task, and that is his purpose. If he doesn’t perform it, he will have done nothing.’ Sogyal Rinpoche goes on to say ‘The task for which the “king” has sent us into this strange, dark country is to realize and embody our true being.”

As we flounder on our path to realizing our true being, Babaji reassures us: Everyone makes mistakes in life. That’s the way people learn. If one says, “I am a sinner, I am not worthy of attaining liberation,” then one can’t progress. Liberation is for sinners. Liberation is not for those who are already liberated. So counting your sins and doing nothing will not do any good. Don’t dwell in the past and don’t worry about the future. Just make your present positive and peaceful.

Liberation is waking up from the dream of ourselves as separate, individual egos, each with our own story of who we are. Whether one talks about realizing one’s true nature, Self realization or finding God, the awakening is the same.

In answer to the question, “How do I find God?”, Babaji answered: Open your heart in front of God and your prayer will be heard. A yogi searches for God in the world and says, “This is not God…..this is not God…….this is not God,” and thereby rejects everything. As soon as God is found, the yogi says, “this is God…..this is God…..this is God.” God is seen in everything, and everything is accepted.

There is a lovely story in the book “One Hundred Wisdom Stories from Around the World”, compiled by Margaret Silf, called “God in Hiding”:

“A legend tells how, at the beginning of time God resolved to hide himself within his own creation.

As God was wondering how best to do this, the angels gathered round him.

‘I want to hide myself in my creation,’ he told them. ‘I need to find a place that is not too easily discovered, for it is in their search for me that my creatures will grow in spirit and in understanding.’

‘Why don’t you hide yourself deep in the earth?’ the first angel suggested.

God pondered for a while, then replied, ‘No. It will not be long before they learn how to mine the earth and discover all the treasures that it contains. They will discover me too quickly, and they will not have enough time to do their growing.’

‘Why don’t you hide yourself on their moon?’ a second angel suggested.

God thought about this idea for a while, and then replied, ‘No. It will take a little longer, but before too long they will learn how to fly through space. They will arrive on the moon and explore its secrets, and they will discover me too soon, before they have had enough time to do their growing.’

The angels were at a loss to know what hiding places to suggest. There was a long silence.

‘I know,’ piped up one angel, finally. ‘Why don’t you hide yourself within their own hearts? They will never think of looking there!’

‘That’s it!’ said God, delighted to have found the perfect hiding place. And so it is that God hides secretly deep within the heart of every one of God’s creatures, until that creature has grown enough in spirit and in understanding to risk the great journey into the secret core of its own being. And there, the creature discovers its creator, and is rejoined to God for all eternity.”

Babaji says: Searching for God outside is like looking for your son who is sitting on your shoulders. Our search for God outside is simply a method of finding God inside.

God is not somewhere else; you are God. You are God and you are in God. It’s simply a matter of acceptance. Accept yourself, accept others and accept the world. You will see everything is full of love and love is God.

contributed by Sharada

Winter Wellness Routine

hot tea - marco arment

The Vedic sages understood that the great rhythms and forces of nature—the alternation of day and night, the rhythmic cycle of the seasons— affect our wellness, as do the seasons and cycles of this human life. Living in tune with nature, they taught, allows us to also be in tune with our individual constitution which comprises three subtle energies of vata (movement), pitta (digestion and metabolism) and kapha (structure and lubrication).

The Best Ways to Adapt to Winter
Staying healthy all year long requires living in harmony with these natural cycles, adjusting to changes in the environment through the food we eat, the type and amount of exercise we do, the herbs we ingest, and so on. While you can’t control the weather, you can control these factors, which either build your health, vitality, and resistance to disease, or wear you down. Ayurveda’s view on winter, the kapha season, includes the weather factor.

In winter, the sky is often cloudy and grey, the weather is cold, damp, and heavy, and life moves more slowly. When balanced, kapha supplies strength, vigor, and stability to both body and mind. This subtle energy is responsible for lubricating the joints, moisturizing the skin, and maintaining immunity. But in excess, it can lead to sluggishness, mucus-related illnesses, excess weight, and negative emotions such as attachment, envy, and greed.

In general, we should follow a kapha-pacifying routine in the winter. But dry, cold, windy weather can provoke vata, too, and can lead to arthritis, indigestion, and other problems. So to keep both vata and kapha balanced when temperatures drop, here are a few lifestyle suggestions:

Morning routine

Ayurveda suggests waking up a bit later in the winter (7 a.m.) than you would in other seasons. Upon rising, scrape your tongue to remove the excess kapha and ama; then brush your teeth. Next, drink a cup of warm water to stimulate the movement of the bowels. And treat yourself to a quick massage. Rub warmed sesame oil all over your entire body (it’s heating and good for all body types in the winter). Let the oil soak in for 5 to 10 minutes, then take a hot shower and rub the skin vigorously as you dry off.

Conclude your morning regimen with pranayama, meditation and asana. A few rounds of kapal bhati or bhastrika will help stoke your inner heat. Surya namaskara (sun salutation) and poses that open the chest, throat, and sinuses remove congestion in the respiratory organs. Kapha balancing poses include the fish, boat, bow, locust, lion, and camel poses, along with the shoulderstand.

After morning sadhana, it’s important to eat a nutritious breakfast. If you don’t feed your digestive fire in the morning, it will dry up bodily tissues and provoke vata. Enjoy a bowl of oatmeal, barley, cornmeal, or buckwheat (or a mixture) mildly spiced with cinnamon. An hour after breakfast, boil 1/2 teaspoon of fresh or powdered ginger, 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon, and a pinch of ground clove in a cup of hot water for 5 minutes. Drink this tea to increase your digestive fire, improve circulation, and reduce excess mucus. (Skip the tea if you have an ulcer or another inflammation-oriented problem).

Exercise (Even Indoors!)

Dr. Lad suggests that if we don’t want to brave the cold, then we can join a gym, do a workout video, or use the exer-cycle to increase circulation. Soak up sunlight, too. Walk outdoors when the sun’s out or sit by a window to bathe in early morning sunlight. Sun rays relax the muscles, produce vitamin D, soothe Seasonal Affective Disorder, and help the body maintain healthy sleep rhythms.

Dietary Guidelines

In response to cold weather, the body constricts the skin pores and superficial connective tissue to prevent heat loss, which directs the heat away from the peripheral tissues and into the body’s core, including the stomach. Agni (and, therefore, your appetite) becomes stronger in winter. However, if kapha or vata are provoked, agni burns low, leaving you more susceptible to colds, poor circulation, joint pains, and negative emotions.

Incorporate more whole grains, dairy products, steamed root vegetables, warm soup cooked with ghee), and spicy food into your meals. Because your appetite is heartier in the winter, eat more protein—beans, tofu, eggs—and if you’re not a strict vegetarian, chicken, turkey, and fish. Add warming spices such as cinnamon, cloves, and black pepper to promote digestion. Drinking a few ounces of sweet or dry wine with your meals will stoke your agni (digestive fire), improve your appetite, and increase circulation.

Avoid cold drinks (they aggravate both kapha and vata); choose hot water instead, or hot tea, and occasionally, hot cocoa or chai.

When a Cold Comes On

Ayurvedically speaking, colds are a kapha-vata disorder. The body builds up an excess of cool and moist kapha qualities, resulting in congestion and a runny nose, and at the same time it may suffer from excess vata, which reduces agni, leading to chills, loss of appetite, and poor digestion. Here’s help:

  • Stay Warm. Avoid cold drafts, wear warm clothes, and don’t forget to wear a hat outside. (Grandma was right: more than half of the body’s heat is lost through the head.) Also, cover your ears and neck to keep vata and kapha in check.
  • Ginger. Ginger is the best remedy for colds. Drink ginger tea, take a bath infused with ginger and baking soda (put 1/3 cup of baking soda and 1/3 cup of powdered ginger into a hot tub and then soak the body from the neck down), or try a ginger steam treatment. (Boil one teaspoon powdered ginger in a pint of water. Turn off the stove, put a towel over your head, and inhale the steam through your nostrils for about 5 minutes. This will help relieve congestion and soothe dry membranes. Also include 500 mg Vitamin C daily during the cold winter months. Drinking hot water several times a day removes toxins from the system and speeds up your recovery time.
  • Use Natural Nose Drops. Lubricate the nasal passages and relieve the irritation and sneezing of a cold with nasya. Lie on your back, face up, with a pillow under your shoulders and your head tilted back, so your nostrils are facing the ceiling. Put 3 to 5 drops liquefied ghee in each nostril and gently sniff the oil upward into the nose. You can do nasya in the morning and night (on an empty stomach and at least one hour before or after showering).
  • Reduce dairy products. Strictly avoid dairy products when you have a cold, including yogurt, cheese, milk, and ice cream, until your congestion clears up.

May your agni stay strong, your immunity high, and your spirits bright!

Peace,
Pratibha

Pratibha Queen

Pratibha Queen

Pratibha Queen is a yoga instructor and Ayurvedic practitioner, who attends Salt Spring Center of Yoga retreats on a regular basis. Feel free to email with any questions that arise as you engage in health practices to support your yoga practice: pratibha.que@gmail.com.

 

[Hot tea image by Marco Arment]

Our Centre Community: Raven Hume

Raven, part of our centre community.

Raven, part of our centre community.

In 1991, I was living in Vermont as an undergraduate student and college hockey player when I started to hear tell of “a yogi who was living up in the hills nearby.” My friends would return from visiting with him with soft, glowing eyes, warm hearts and kind laughter. Despite being a musclebound jock, I still had a huge soft spot, and their smiles and radiance spoke to a deep part of me. They would tell me about how he took them into his tiny house, how it had a wood burning stove, how his family was there and there was “macrobiotic food” cooking away. I was entranced, but somehow couldn’t generate the avenues to make it up there. If I recall correctly, I even tried to find the place, asking around at the corner store in the area where I thought he lived – to no avail. Ultimately, I had to content myself with learning from my friends one of the techniques he had taught them. It was called, “alternate nostril breathing.” I graduated without meeting this man, but these were the first glimmerings of my practice of yoga and of a particular magnetism which I ended up finding out more about only recently.

I’ve always had an appreciation for radiance. When I was three or four, I remember walking up the driveway of our suburban Toronto house and seeing the neighbours walking down theirs. Something about them was radiant and peaceful and moved me enough to tug at my mother’s sleeve and communicate a wondering. It must have been something along the lines of, “wow, what’s up with them?!” Because she looked at them, then me and said, “oh… they don’t smoke or drink.” It wasn’t really a comment about smoking or drinking per se, but rather said something about discipline, about the possibility of living an alternative life… a life of radiance… the possibility of not “running with the herd” as Andrew Cohen would say at a later time. To this day, I recall my young mind saying, “when I grow up, I’m not going to smoke or drink.”

Early darshan with a Saint. Me and my brother Billy.

Early darshan with a Saint. Me and my brother Billy.

We lived the suburban dream of commuting to achieve success in school, playing on sporting teams to achieve the Christian ideal of the healthy body, and periodically attending churches to achieve, perhaps, a moment of relative peace, relative beauty, relative community. But behind the scenes, there was something lurking. As one of my current heroes, Charles Eisenstein, writes, “I (like many others) felt a wrongness in the world, a wrongness that seeped through the cracks of my privileged, insulated childhood. I never fully accepted what I had been offered as normal. Life, I knew, was supposed to be more joyful than this, more real, more meaningful, and the world was supposed to be more beautiful. We were not supposed to hate Mondays and live for the weekends and holidays. We were not supposed to have to raise our hands to be allowed to pee. We were not supposed to be kept indoors on a beautiful day, day after day.” I remember a small placard in the change area to our suburban swimming pool.

Behold the fisherman
He riseth early in the morning,
He waketh the whole household.
Many are his preparations,
Bountiful his expectations,
BUT
He returneth late in the evening,
Smelling of strong drink,
And the truth is not in him.

Reciting this aloud at eight years old seemed to bring a certain delight to my family, and an avenue of self-expression for a certain background anxiety for me. What was it about our preparations and expectations that was ‘driving us to drink?’ I began to see that “the truth” was powerful and important.

A highlight of my youth was brief exposures to nature through my father. Each summer, we would go on camping trips in North Ontario. Sometimes to a river near Georgian Bay. Sometimes to a beach on Lake Huron. Just the other day, spreading the grass mats out for Arati at the centre, their scent took me back to this beach. I could feel the sand between my toes… smell the apple fritters my dad brought back from the local bakery… feel the sun and wind of Lake Huron. Swimming in those waters, smelling the pines, feeling the sun and hearing the sounds of the forest at night would plant the seeds of connection to the elements and to ecology, a relationship which has been crucial to my awakening and healing.

The beach on Lake Huron.

The beach on Lake Huron.

In the ninth grade, our English teacher had us read “Siddhartha,” by Herman Hesse. The most compelling thing about it to me was the way it introduced the sound: “Om”. Something in me intuitively understood and resonated with it. Our homework was to create a “book cover”. Mine was the word “Om”, stylized, with a person walking down a path into the “O”.

Fortunately, during that time, I saw the beauty of life and nature, because by the time I reached 16, like most teenagers perhaps, I was feeling an immense amount of anguish and pain. In the midst of striving to “be somebody” in academics and on the hockey rink, as Charles writes, “the Age of Aquarius had morphed into the age of Ronald Reagan.” I was surrounded by the mid-eighties messages of hyper consumerism and the rise of the corporate state. Gordon Gekko’s “greed is good” speech in the movie “Wall Street” was not necessarily being seen as a recipe for failure. Moreover, my burgeoning love affair with the natural beauty of Northern Ontario was up against ever increasing evidence of despoilment and the ravages of industry. The spiritual bankruptcy of my surroundings seemed complete.

I was indeed very fortunate, because in the maelstrom of inner turmoil, two things happened. One was that I heard the most beautiful sound outside. It was a small bird, and its chirp was astonishing. It seemed to show me that despite appearances, there is a beautiful, benevolent force and existence at the core of life that is imperishable. The other thing that happened was that somehow I had the insight to realize that one day I would die naturally – that one way or another the pain and anguish would have an end, and that that day would come soon. I made up my mind that if the pain was going to stick around, tempting me to deny this imperishable beauty I had discovered, then just to spite it I would live with it. I would “just allow.” I seemed to have come upon a version of the insight, “this too shall pass.” This was the best thing I could have ever done. I found myself able to move on. It was perhaps the beginning of the realization of the power of surrender.

In my late teens, I fell in love, but was perhaps doubly confused and frustrated, not only when the relationship didn’t last the apparently necessary move to university, but also when the love I was feeling didn’t seem to engender a matching level of integrity, truth and honesty. I found myself asking, “what does it take to live a life of true love and affection?”

Armoured up.

Armoured up.

It was at this time that I started to hear about the yogi in the hills, and while I was working to attend to my academic duties, I also fanned the flames of a creative revival of sorts: I started a rock band with some friends. After two and a half seasons, I left the hockey team. I took up “big brother” service with a young boy in the neighbourhood. I wrote poetry. I explored dance and theatre. I managed to explore some courses which hinted at the possibility of true freedom… true peace, true affection… I studied Thoreau , Shakespeare, and many others whose work hinted at transcendence and the Creator at the heart of nature. I saw the beginnings of the enquiry into true nature – into release from suffering, into the “fullness of life,” but nonetheless, graduated with a sense that something was missing.

I had an opportunity to teach English at a secondary school just outside of New York City, but decided to turn it down. Something in me knew that I had more to discover. On the plane ride out west that fall, through a bizarre coincidence, I sat next to a man who at the end of the flight said to me “You should check out J. Krishnamurti… I think you’ll like him.” The library in Whistler had one text by the man: “Education and the Significance of Life.” Very quickly, his message began to become clear: all conflict on the planet has the same source – a search for “psychological security.” I was immediately captured and astonished. Why don’t they teach this stuff in college, I wondered? Krishnamurti’s work supported my first headlong dive into the realization and practice of true-nature, of Self, of Yoga. The fullness of life which I was seeking was to be found in exposing the falseness of the idea of the “personal, psychological ME.” He wrote: “The self is made up of a series of defensive and expansive reactions, and its fulfilment is always in its own projections and gratifying identifications. As long as we translate experience in terms of the self, of the “me” and the “mine”, as long as the “I”, the ego, maintains itself through its reactions, experience cannot be freed from conflict, confusion and pain. Freedom comes only when one understands the ways of the self, the experiencer. It is only when the self, with its accumulated reactions, is not the experiencer, that experience takes on an entirely different significance and becomes creation.”

I got the message, and was entranced by the grace and skill with which he led his life and spoke with people. I embarked on a journey of studying his work very deeply, and despite his harsh critique regarding the manner in which the west was adopting “Eastern spirituality” and Yoga, I simultaneously moved into the insights and practice of Patanjali yoga.

For eight years, I spent my winters in the mountains, finding enough work to “pay the rent” as I deepened my practice and study. I was a builder, a taxi driver, a daycare worker, a lift operator on the mountain. My summers were spent in Ontario as a wilderness camp guide, director, and coordinator. The health, healing and vigour that I was discovering through leading a “simple life close to nature” found my appreciation for natural beauty growing. I began to see the power and importance of a certain conscious austerity. True to my childhood vow, I found myself neither smoking nor drinking – not a sign of integrity in and of itself, but an expression of a deeper focus, a deeper calling and urgency. My youthful hunch of a certain “wrongness” – a certain lack of truth – was finding its sources. I came to see, like my hero Charles, that our culture’s apparent wealth and security was merely “a bubble built on top of massive human suffering and environmental degradation.” He goes on to say, “… as my horizons broadened, I knew that millions were not supposed to be starving, that nuclear weapons were not supposed to be hanging over our heads, that the rainforests were not supposed to be shrinking, or the fish dying or the condors and eagles disappearing. I could not accept the way the dominant narrative of my culture handled these things: as fragmentary problems to be solved, as unfortunate facts of life to be regretted, or as unmentionable taboo subjects to be simply ignored.” We all have a need for integrity, for truthful, loving action. I could see that the solution for me lay in living and understanding yoga and the liberation teachings to the core.

In attempting to live a life which was vulnerable to truth, I lived with a tension. Krishnamurti’s words regarding yoga rang in my ears: “It’s about unitive consciousness, not all this other racket.” And yet push seemed to be coming to shove. My enthusiasm for wilderness guiding and life in a sporty ski town seemed to have taught me all it could. It was time to move on, but to what? In the summer of 2003, I was burning. Everyday I would sit, somewhat embarrassed, in between two cabins on the shore Alta lake in Whistler, obviously having a crisis. Feeling the burn of “not knowing.” Finding the breath. Letting the mental noise pass by like so many clouds. The scent of the mountain wildflowers was intoxicating, the fluff from the cottonwood trees was blowing over me like warm snow.

Alta Lake, Whistler. Great spot for a crisis.

Alta Lake, Whistler. Great spot for a crisis.

Despite my fear that I was getting involved in “all that other racket”, I decided to do a yoga teacher training, and stumbled upon one in the Kripalu tradition – a tradition with which I had had a good deal of experience. During the training, and with my new circles of friends in the city, I started to hear about the “Salt Spring Centre”. A friend of mine said, “you could go there.”

I decided to go, was accepted, and was immediately impressed by the kindness, inspiration and creativity of the people whom I began to meet. I found a home for my enthusiasm for study, practice, and for serving and supporting people in theirs. I began to explore Babaji’s written work, and there was an Eckhart Tolle video group in the yurt every Monday evening. A consistent invitation bubbled through it all: Attaining peace through the “perennial teaching” – the teaching of “true nature.” The teaching of the Self which exists despite thought, imagery and thinking. At one point, Eckhart questioned, “what does it mean to be enlightened?” He said, “it means you are very present.” Like Krishnamurti, Babaji wrote, “violence and ego consciousness can’t be separated. So long as there is individuality to be defended, there will be violence.”

When at long last the day arrived when I would see and meet Babaji, I was working in the kitchen and was told that I would see him out on the mound, under the maple tree. Washing dishes at the sink, I peered out towards the mound and saw him sitting there. A feeling of relief and delight washed over me. Instantly I could sense that he didn’t need anything from me – that he didn’t have any psychological agendas, that he wasn’t stirring up any drama – any racket. I could see that he wasn’t pushing anything away, wasn’t living in any ideas, and wasn’t living in any expectations. He was simply “very present.”

Since that day, over nine years ago, I have had the great fortune to be able to serve regularly at the centre. With Babaji’s support, my principal aim has been to attain peace – to be in my deepest spiritual enquiry, my deepest warmheartedness, and to support others in being in theirs. Meeting and working with Babaji has been a delight. I’ve returned year after year to be a resident and to work primarily in the garden and kitchen. I have also enjoyed regular participation at satsang, kirtan evenings, yajnas and celebrations. In that time, I have consistently received warmth and support from the many people who are inspired by Babaji and who mirror and embody his selflessness. The Sattvic climate generated by the people and practice at the centre and the focus on cultivation of positive qualities has supported my deepest values and awakening. I am so grateful to all who have done ‘the work’ of being kind. The work of supporting and holding space for Yoga and Self-realization.

Working with Babaji and the rock crew on Babaji's most recent trip to Salt Spring.

Working with Babaji and the rock crew on Babaji’s most recent trip to Salt Spring.

So there is a punchline to the story of the yogi who lived up in the hills of Vermont. A few months ago, I found myself reminiscing about those times (over twenty years ago!) and I thought, “hmmn… what was that fellow’s name again? Prem something… Prem Prakash!” On a whim, I “googled” his name and found that he had continued his teaching career and had started a yoga school. I looked at his bio and was delighted to see that his Guru is none other than Baba Hari Dass! So as I turned my youthful attention to the possibility of a life of meaning, Babaji’s grace was instantly there, calling to me from across the miles through the radiant eyes, smiles and hearts of some students of his student. May we all surrender to our love – to living the teachings – and know the effect our simple exchanges have on each other as we fall into grace – into the fullness of life.

Performing Arati in the Temple at Mount Madonna.

Performing Arati in the Temple at Mount Madonna.

Asana of the Month: Dhanurasana

Dhanurasana – Bow Pose
as taught by Jenny Shanti Collver

Dhan

Dhanurasana pose

Dhanurasana is a back bend which requires flexibility in the shoulders and thighs.

Benefits
Bow Pose energizes the body and counteracts the effects of too much sitting. Stretching the front of the body increases blood flow to the digestive tract, enhancing the efficiency of the liver, intestines and stomach. Contracting the back of the body stimulates the kidneys and adrenals.

Logos (shape, essence)
The pose arches the body backwards into the shape of a bow as the arms reach back to the ankles, resembling a taut bowstring. Vishnu is often depicted with a bow in his hand, which is said to represent the five senses. The arrow represents our feelings, shooting out into the world.

Entering the Pose

  1. To prepare the body for Dhanurasana, practice Salambasana (Locust), Bhujangasana (Cobra) and Balasana (Extended Child’s Pose).
  2. Fold a blanket into quarters and place it on the mat. Lie on the blanket, resting on your forehead.
  3. Lift one leg a few inches off the mat and extend it back. Repeat with the other leg. The legs are slightly more than hip width apart. The belly feels long on the mat and the pubic bone is comfortable on the blanket.
  4. Focus attention on the sacrum, pressing down on the top of the thighs and the lower abdomen. As you bend the knees, reach back to grasp the ankles.
  5. With an inhale, keep pressing the top of the thighs and the lower abdomen onto the blanket and lift up, opening the chest as the shoulders pull back and the knees rise off the mat. Keep the neck long and the face soft. The front of the shoulder joint is vulnerable in this bound pose, so mobilize the shoulder blades out and up. Use knee extension to deepen extension in the hips and spine. When the feet and hips are in a line and the toes are flexed, the knees are safe. Don’t allow the knees to bow out.

Releasing the Pose

  1. Exhale, relax and release the bow. Lengthen both legs, bend the elbows, stack the hands and rest the forehead straight down on the hands for a few breaths.
  2. Repeat the pose, staying up for 2 breath cycles, releasing on an exhale. Gradually increase the number of slow breaths you spend in the pose.

After the Pose

Roll to the back, bend the knees into the chest and gently roll side to side, massaging the lower back.

Modifications

Modify with a strap

Modify with a strap

  1. If the shoulders or quadriceps are tight or the knees are sore, try half bow. Lie on your belly and extend the legs back and both arms forward. Bend the right leg, flex the right foot and reach the right arm back to grasp the ankle. Inhale and lift the right shoulder and the head, moving the right heel away from the buttock. Keep the left arm and leg extended, pressing them into the floor. Hold each side for 3 breath cycles.
  2. Try a diagonal bow pose by holding the right ankle with the left hand, then holding the left ankle with the right hand.
  3. Or use a strap. Place a strap under the ankles as the legs extend back and you lie on your face. Place one end of the strap into each hand, keeping the legs hip width apart. Bend the knees and flex the feet. Hands are on the strap, as close to the feet as is comfortable. Inhale, press the top of the thighs and lower abdomen onto the blanket, and extend the tailbone towards the feet to broaden the low back.
  4. Inhale move the shins away from the buttocks and rise up. Exhale and relax down. Repeat, increasing the number of breaths in the pose with each repetition.

Cautions

Don’t practice bow pose in the last two trimesters of pregnancy. Also, this pose might be uncomfortable for nursing mothers. Get advice from your doctor if you have diagnosed disc disease or spondylolyis.

About Jenny Shanti Collver

Jenny-Collver

Instructor, Jenny Shanti Collver

Jenny Shanti Collver has been practicing Yoga since 1973 in Vancouver. She worked at the Salt Spring Centre School as Usha’s assistant from l987 to 2002. She obtained her 200 hour RYT at the Salt Spring Centre of Yoga in 2007 and taught yoga for a few years at the Ganges Yoga Studio. She studied Restorative Yoga with Judith Lasater in 2007, and is certified to teach as a Relax and Renew trainer. Jenny worked with Cathy Valentine in 2012, completing her 500 RYT in the Traditional Yoga Apprenticeship in practice and teacher training.

For the last few years, Jenny has been teaching yogis from the Salt Spring community, karma yogis and yogis on personal retreat at the Salt Spring Centre of Yoga. The study of Yoga asana and the aging yogi is Jenny’s most recent study.

She lives on a small farm on Salt Spring Island, where she raised her two daughters, Arianne and Melaina. For many years she has raised angora goats (whose hair she dyes, spins and weaves), donkeys, dogs and cats.