In defense of yoga as play…
Posted Sep 4, 2013 - Shawna Schenk
WRITTEN BY: JAMES HIPP
Yoga is play.
Yoga is a discipline; Yoga is a science of religions; Yoga is a kick-ass physical exercise.
But more than these, Yoga is play.
Recently I have experienced multiple shifts in my body — shifts toward health and new physical ability, but also more emotional stability and mental clarity. Additionally, I have been growing my physical endurance to deal with the significant pressure of working 35+ hour work weeks of shift-work at a coffee shop while studying to become a yoga teacher, itself a 30+ hour weekly commitment.
In all this I have forgotten something extremely important: Yoga is play — an intense and intensive return to the childlike ability to learn something new, while at the same time leaving the ego at the door. Play has been so important to my personal philosophy that it seems almost silly for me to have forgotten this, but sometimes losing connection to my ideals can happen gradually and without my notice. Play is the ability to be young — it is the difference between a smile and a frown, between the young at heart and the prematurely old.
When we are young we don’t care to fail; it is only later when the fictions of life (money, ambition, success, stability, and so many other society-approved narratives) come crashing down around us that we collectively decide to set play aside. Play is the ability to try and try again, eventually finding a victory that exists solely for its own sake. Play is manifested so intensely in yogic asana, as we twist and bend and contort, as we strengthen and lift and tuck, as we try and try again to achieve difficult forms, experiencing joy and laughter even in falling, and especially in attainment.
Yoga can be playing with motion, and playing with stillness. Yoga is playing with breath, and playing with muscles. Yoga is playing with consecration and spirituality as well, which of course exist only within the human being. It is this very conscious aspect of play that constitutes religiosity and ritual as well, and if we take that to be true, then something becomes abundantly clear: Play is the source of nobility and grace in humanity.
So I say throw caution to the wind! Embrace Tapas and discipline, the way we were evolved to — play our way into it! Do what you want, for its own sake, and make no apology; be loud, be focused, be interested and passionate! Take time for yourself in your life — as the great teachers say, you are the most important person under the sun.
Above all, remember to engage yourself fully in play.
I am home.
Posted Aug 8, 2013 - Shawna Schenk
I am home.
A few months ago, I was listening to one of my favorite yoga teachers explain a specific yogic concept and its effect on the physical body. She described our bodies as our “house” for it is where we live. This analogy of the body as a house resonated largely with me.
Sit any where. In your car. On the sidewalk. In the middle of your kitchen floor. Under a tree in a park. In front of your computer exactly where you are now.
Close your eyes. Breathe. You are home.
The muladhara is the first chakra in the energetic body. It known as the “root chakra” and physically is located at the base of the spine. This first chakra encompasses the largest area of the physical body as it is linked by the region from the bottom of the spine to the bottom of the feet.
The first chakra is the building block: the energetic foundation or the base, in the beautiful “home” that is your body. It sets the ground for security and growth for all chakras to follow.
Having a strong base chakra is equivalent to a tree having strong roots. Without strong roots, firmly planted into the earth taking up all the nutrients and basic survival elements (soil, food, wind, air, sunshine) as provided through Mother Nature, this tree could not flourish or stand up right. Without a strong base structure in a physical house, once the environment experienced any sort of issue, the house would topple over.
Now, rub your feet on the ground below you: maybe you feel carpet or the inside of the soles of your shoes or maybe you feel actual dirt or the earth of mother nature.
Close your eyes. Breathe. Feel your base. Feel your roots. Remind yourself, you are home.
To strengthen this chakra, is to strengthen all of your basic needs for survival. Do you have food, shelter, water? Do you feel part of a family or clan? Are your basic monetary needs met? Even if your answer is “no” to any of these questions, you can still find a strong root chakra within you: your body is your home. When you realize you are home, you realize you have all you need to survive.
Chakras can be over- or under- balanced. An over-balanced chakra is excessive. An excessive root chakra indulges in “things.” The notion behind this is that this person is trying to feel grounded or rooted here on earth so they need “things” to help them stay connected: maybe they are hoarders and their home is full of many “things they can’t live without” or maybe they are overweight eating way too much to feel present or here or maybe they live in a huge house trying to compensate for mis-rooted feelings.
An under-balanced chakra is one who is not present: they are not connected or rooted to the earth, they are “spacey” or “loopy.” This “flightiness” can come from a number of areas—a person physically separated from their body because of the use drugs or alcohol is deficient in this chakra. A person who is in their “head”—always thinking and worrying—is not living in the present and is not connecting with their body and earth, and this, too, leads to an insufficient root chakra. Clumsiness is also a sign of a deficient root chakra: when there is no body awareness, how can you feel that you are home and safe?
Take care of your home. It is your roots, your foundation in this life.
This chakra is associated with the earth element so simply being outside, holding a rock, putting your feet in dirt, or touching a tree can bring you back and connect you to this place…your home.
Eating root vegetables from the earth—deeply rooted within the soil—like carrots, beets, ginger, potatoes and yams are powerful as they invite root energy into your body. Seeds like pumpkin, pine nuts, and sunflower and sesame seeds work in the same way.
Burning incense of patchouli or sandalwood or dried sage or thyme leaves will invite the groundness as it is stemmed from an actual tree.
Red is the color created by the vibration of the root chakra, so wearing this color or visualizing it well help balance your first chakra.
Standing yoga poses like the warriors and chair pose will help you feel connected to your earth and your body. Balancing postures like tree and eagle will help you practice groundedness in a more challenging way.
Remembering, though, that you are here, in this life right now. That your body is your house and it gives you all you need to survive, will create this strong base needed for this chakra energy to thrive.
On the Body-Mind Connection and “Spiritual Yoga”
Posted Aug 5, 2013 - Shawna Schenk
WRITTEN BY: JAMES HIPP
There’s a fair amount of delirium surrounding yoga as a physical practice in the western world, and it seems like everyone has their own take on it. Most of the yoga practiced in North America is sweaty, physical, and often in a heated room; namely, most practice in this portion of the world is taken as exercise, and most students of yoga approach the practice for its numerous physical benefits.
As a result, the philosophical teachings of yoga are occasionally neglected by many teachers. Additionally, yoga, like everything else in the western world, is nigh-required to be a money-making operation; rare in our western world is the ashram where seekers come to offer service and obeisance in return for yogic instruction. Instead, yoga is usually approached as a service or good which requires monetary remuneration — and this exchange is viewed by many as deleterious to the practice, or at least to the philosophy of the practice.
Sometimes, when I divulge to others in conversation that I practice Vinyasa, Ashtanga, or Bikram yoga, I am met with what, to me, is an extremely puzzling response. I am told “that’s all well and good, James, but I don’t practice ‘physical’ yoga — I practice ‘spiritual’ yoga” as if the two were mutually exclusive, or even extricable in the first place. When I say I find this response puzzling, I don’t mean that the motivation behind the statement is mysterious, but rather that I find it silly.
Folks, we are physical creatures intimately connected to bodies. Those bodies are extremely versatile, and furthermore are our single greatest tool to access the mind, which paradoxically rests in the most intimate of connections to the body. As wise men have said, “it is far easier to act yourself into a new way of feeling than to feel yourself into a new way of acting.” And yoga is the science of acting oneself into new ways of feeling, and then observing them.
So let’s compare these two approaches:
In ‘physical yoga’ various poses are performed, sequenced in a specific way, adjusted and refined, and often in a strenuous manner. All along the way breathing is kept deep and full, rhythmic and controlled, in direct opposition to the difficulty of the postures. Static contractions of the body keep the torso aloft, the legs grounded and firm. Expertly trained teachers instruct students to send conscious thought this way and that; perhaps into the pinky toe side of one foot, perhaps to the gazing direction of the eyes.
All this twisting and lifting and conscious physical ‘exercise’ creates a deeply meditative experience — mentally challenging the yogi through conscious breathing — connecting the practitioner in an intimate way with their identity as a physical creature. Eventually, the regular yoga practitioner comes to understand many deep truths about their own inner nature, and to recognize the result of all the various sensations in the body, most of which they weren’t aware of before beginning a yoga practice. This results in a new awareness of the physicality of emotions and belief systems, and before long a ‘physical yoga’ student is running to ancient texts and learning sanskrit in an attempt to make sense of it all.
Meanwhile, ‘spiritual yoga’, usually an exploration in stillness during which time a practitioner is meditating alone or in a group, at other times a set of charitable actions meant to increase karmic health, follows the same path. The yogi is meant to set aside time and comfort to cleave to lofty and noble aspirations without thought for the immediate gain, indeed, without any concern for results.
Like the student of ‘physical yoga’, the ‘spiritual yoga’ practitioner eventually comes to an understanding of their inner state and emotions — both categories of student come to realize the reality of love and divinity within themselves through the most pragmatic of teachers: experience. Eventually, with diligence and practice, both kinds of Western Yogi, the ‘Bikram devotee’ and the ‘enlightened charity-worker’ begin to find inner peace and stability of mind.
The largest difference is that the student of ‘spiritual yoga’ remains bound to a certain degree — bound to the opportunity of charitable work, bound to the confines of the needy within their environment, and furthermore always thinking “have I done enough? Have I completed my yoga?”
By contrast the student of ‘physical yoga’ is connected always to their best tool for overcoming any state of mind. Even a beginning yoga student understands the many benefits of some poses, each of which are sacred and all of which have been scrutinized in the utmost for at least a century. A student of ‘physical yoga’ is never without the means to provide themselves with a calm, stress-free state of mind, not to mention really toned triceps, abs, and deltoids.
All forms of yoga are uniting to the body and mind, as is any form of meditation; however, the much-maligned ‘exercise yoga’ of the western world, although removed from its origin, is truly ‘Yoga’. Merely taking the poses, breathing accurately, under the guidance of a teacher or even a DVD, results in the opening of the heart and spirit, and openness of the self to the inner teachings of the Self. In ‘physical yoga’, one may come for physical fitness, but will leave with inner peace, a desire for self-loving action, and the cognition of infinite stillness. Conversely, one may come with a desire to just ‘get away’ from a stressful life, or deepen their self-understanding, but will accumulate a tight, toned core, and a detoxified body.
I find it helpful to keep in mind, as often as possible, that the I (myself) is an animal, made of meat and sinew and bone — not a disembodied mind floating on a head that just absorbs facts and interesting thoughts. To me, ‘physical yoga’ IS ‘spiritual yoga’ — and the passage between the two is real and tangible.
Full Moon of January 2013
Posted Jan 26, 2013 - Shawna Schenk
The moon affects us LARGELY: especially when it is full. There’s actually a science behind it and there is a reason why (especially on certain full moons) people feel or act like werewolves! So in this blog entry, I’m going to get all lunar on you…
The simplest-non-scientific-non-crazy-moon-lady explanation I can give you is this: during the full moon there is a serious increase of positive ions in the air which reacts with our hormones. We’ve all been in seventh grade, so we know the power of hormones (in fact, I know some 25 year old boys who are still learning their power )
This gnarly mix of hormones and positive ionic energy creates….a “buzz.” This affect is not just on humans: it’s on all aspects of our beautiful world—including the tides—and studies have even shown that during a full moon, a bee will sting without being provoked (watch yourself!).
Aside from the whole hormone, positive ion thing, when it is a full moon, it means the Sun and Moon are in opposite Zodiac signs. It’s a super charged time, but also one of balance. The solar yang and the lunar yin are in harmony.
Tonight, Saturday, January 26, at 11:39 PM, our moon will be full. In this full moon cycle (because it changes every month and thus reflects how different you may physically and mentally feel each month during the full moon) the Aquarius Sun will oppose the Moon in Leo.
In basic zodiac-psychic-lady-astrology talk: Leo is all about the personal and Aquarius is all about the impersonal. This is in terms of romance and relationships so this full moon deals with that polarity. It’s like college all over again
The energy of the Leo moon feeds the individual ego (watch yourself) and enables you to be creative and self-expressive in a pleasurable and romantic way, while the Aquarius sun rules impersonal friendships and objectivity. The Leo Moon is the romantic lover, while the Aquarius Sun is the wham-bam-thank-you-mam party girl/boy.
This full moon urges us to strike balance between romance and friendship. It also tests us in expressing ourselves in personal and impersonal ways. So this full moon pushes you to reflect on current relationships (or new evolving ones) which may be handled too objectively (“This is never going to last so I won’t even bother getting to know him/her.” or too romantically (“We just met and this person is the missing piece in the puzzle of my life.”) Can you find the balance?
The Leo Moon is proud and intensely individual–not content with simply being just one of the team. The Aquarius Sun, while individualistic as well, values independence and the “team.” The Full Moon illuminates this conflict. How do you handle it?
With the moon full and bright in the sky, symbolic “illumination” occurs in our own lives. The full moon is also a symbolic representation of completion as the moon has moved from a new crescent moon to a complete full moon. As this full moon reverts back to a new moon, use its energy to set new intentions: balancing the personal and impersonal. Self-express and let it go, while also being a part of something bigger than yourself: the team. Guide your relationships with balance: objectivelyand subjectively. Live the yin and yang, letting the full moon’s sweet, sweet light awaken and guide you.
Do your body good
Posted Jan 15, 2013 - Shawna Schenk
In this anti-botic induced, not sure what we are eating or drinking due to the corruptness of food labeling world, I can’t help but feel the sweet ads of the 90′s claiming “milk doing a body good” is just another fad (like mullets) that needs to stay in the nineties.
Throughout my childhood I was reminded (by my parents, my teachers, my television) of the importance of drinking milk to make my bones strong. So being the rule-abiding, 90′s power child I was, every day, in school, with my “poof bangs” (the girl equivalent of a mullet), I’d happily sip a little carton of milk. It was the cool thing to do. In fact, during lunch time, me and all my friends rocked that milk mustache along with our sweet, sweet 90′s hair.
I’m a 90′s girl. I’m a proud, proud 90′s girl, but years later, I wonder where all that milk power went as a teenager, I clumsily tripped over a power cord and chipped my elbow bone.
This blog is not a rant on the notion of the possible false beliefs instilled through the media to me throughout my childhood. And, although today my bangs are grown out and I’ve learned that coconut milk doesn’t make nearly as good as a mustache, I’m still trying to find rules to follow to “do my body good.”
Bones are the structure of the body. They are the root. They are everything. Without this strong foundation, the body isn’t much. And, as the days of the 90’s slip further and further away and we get older, this structure becomes more and more at risk of becoming weaker and weaker.
This first Riff’s yoga blog is going to center on the first powerful healing force of yoga: its effect on the bones.
I’m going to get all Dr. Doogie Houser on you for a minute and throw out some medical terms. The human body needs osteogeneis, that is, the continued growth of bones and tissues.Osteogenis equals bone strength. Bone strength equals stability within in the body. This stability prevents injury (like that caused from tripping over a power cord).
Whenever we bear weight on our bones, osteogenesis is stimulated. Yoga does nothing but bear weight on the bones: this happens when simply standing in Tadasana, doing an inversion like Downward Dog, or holding a posture that has us on all fours like plank pose. Positively, basically every pose starts from Tadasana or flows through a Downdog or Plank.
To break it down, yoga won’t give you a mustache. It will strengthen your root, and in return prevent or alleviate osteoporosis and arthritis because it is making your bones strong. This epic practice is also reliable—5,000 years ago there were people practicing yogic postures (and none of them had a mullet).