The Poetry of Retreat

Wake up well before dawn.

Set an alarm, just in case. I don’t want to miss a moment of the five a.m. sadhana.

Under the veil of darkness, stroll along the starlit, lapping lake to the candlelit temple where White Tara beams down upon us all every day and night.

Location: Sumaya, which means “a long awaited dream come true”; a.k.a. paradise found.

Akasha shares his personal practice with us, in such a down-to-earth, accessible and friendly way. Casually imparts the wisdom of years and decades of practice. So humbly, with the authenticity of actions and the nebulous precision of words. The time flies by.

Breathing, chanting, moving, holding, listening. Paying attention.

Sun rises, pastels paint the sky. We invite the morning light. The lake’s daily awakening. All the sounds, the water, the boat motors, voices, birdsong.

And now, a series of seven-minute chants. I read from the sheet and marvel at all the people in the room who has these long strings of Sanskrit syllables memorized.

Mid-morning Ashtanga practice. Powerful. Right effort. Knowing boundaries, challenging limits. Mountain men and women gaining strength, vitality. Soaking up inspiration from our teacher and his teacher’s teachers.

Just one week, and yet we go so deep, transforming energy on all levels. Strangers swiftly become sangha, friendships are forged over meals and spirit animal tarot cards.

Healing circle, full moon, New Year’s Eve evening; glowing hearts, positive energy, splendid synergy. Giving and receiving.

Inner transformation, outward evolution. Deep bow of gratitude, dream come true. The closing of one chapter leads to the opening of the next.

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Thank you. I love you. Please forgive me. I’m sorry. Namaste.

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The Yoga of Yawning

By Michelle Fajkus & Charles MacInerney

{Read the full, original post on Elephant Journal}

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Only we humans, conditioned to be polite, suppress our urge to yawn. Our suppression of a natural, healthy, physical urge is actually detrimental to our health.

Yawning is an ancient and vitally important reflex. Human fetuses begin to yawn and pandiculate (stretching and yawning at the same time) during the 12th week of pregnancy. All vertebrates yawn—humans, primates, mammals, marsupials, birds, reptiles.

There is a misconception that yawning implies boredom, disinterest, or tiredness. Yawning helps us transition from wakefulness to sleeping at night, and it also helps us transition from sleeping to wakefulness in the morning. Yawning increases circulation of cerebrospinal fluid and plays a role in arousal. Yawning also helps us relax and reduce our stress levels, which is why Olympic athletes are often seen yawning prior to competition.

I (Charles) began taking yoga classes in Oxford when I was 11. At the end of the practice, during savasana (corpse pose), I went into a state of deep relaxation. When my teacher closed the class with an Aum chant, I started to yawn. Not wanting to be disrespectful, I tried to suppress the urge and when it got away from me, I covered my mouth.

After class, my teacher advised, “Don’t suppress the urge to yawn. Let it out,” and yawned herself. After that, I indulged in yawn after yawn, until my eyes watered, and I felt alert, calm, and happy.

In a workshop he taught at the Texas Yoga Retreat last fall in Austin, I (Michelle) witnessed the humorous way in which Charles can yawn with his entire body—mouth, arms, legs, fingers, and toes! He encouraged all of us in the class to practice yawning and considers it the perfect yogic “complete breath” and an underutilized form of pranayama. (Charles is one of the main organizers of the annual weekend retreat and always offers a few fun, fascinating workshops.)

The scientific community is just beginning to realize how important yawning is to our overall health and well-being. Repetitive yawning increases the beneficial effects.

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The Story of the Texas Yoga Retreat

TYR3In creating their vision statement—“Building a caring, diverse and empowered yoga community”—the Texas Yoga Retreat co-founders realized they wanted to combine the best attributes of a conference (experienced, high-caliber teachers, multiple workshop options during each time slot), with the best aspects of a yoga retreat (community, compassion, and shared experience).

Bringing famous teachers on board was actually counter-productive to this goal of building community and keeping the retreat affordable. Over the years, they have continued to deliberately invite amazing, local teachers (mainly from Texas) who are not yet famous but should be.

The moment you step onto the grounds at Radha Madhav Dham Ashram in southwest Austin, the incredibly peaceful and loving energy field there is palpable. Built in 1990, the ashram grounds feature 230 acres of rolling green hills, lots of wildlife, including dozens of peacocks milling about (babies are born each spring), luscious gardens, walking trails, and the Ancient Yoga Center, a section of the ashram specifically intended for retreats. With no TVs or cell phones in sight, the ashram is a true sanctuary, enabling all those bathed in its glory to restore their body, mind, and spirit.

Charles, Donna, and Ellen met a devotee from the ashram at a gathering of the Austin Yoga Teachers Association in 1999. When they inquired about the possibility of offering a yoga retreat there, the three were invited for a meeting with a man called Swamiji who was the spiritual leader of the center at the time. They apparently passed the test and were later told that Swamiji had requested the meeting because he needed to look into their hearts. He must have found their intentions to be pure and true. The colleagues were also instrumental in organizing the first few years of the annual Free Day of Yoga in Austin on September 1st, and the three also collaborated to create a yoga teacher training called the Living Yoga Program which continues to be held regularly on the grounds of Radha Madhav Dham.

The inaugural Texas Yoga Retreat in November 2000 was the first time that the ashram had ever invited an outside group to host an event on the property. Year after year, the ashram has been a wonderful spiritual home and the devotees who live there feel like family. The Texas Yoga Retreat is a unique, beneficial, and authentic gathering that has been held annually each fall. Back when it was just beginning, I volunteered to help with marketing and promotion. Throughout the early 2000s, I was blessed to be able to attend the event several times and participate in many inspiring workshops led by talented teachers across many diverse lineages and style of yoga.

Much has remained constant over the nearly two decades since the retreat began. The organizers collect student evaluations after every workshop. The majority of presenters are chosen from the best of previous years’ retreats. These presenters not only deliver quality workshops, but more importantly, they love teaching at the Texas Yoga Retreat and immerse themselves in the experience, rather than just showing up to teach and leaving again.

About 20 percent of the presenters are chosen for the quality of their reputation and the content of their workshops. Ellen says, “The teachers we hire are deeply steeped in their own field of practice and this comes through in their teaching. Although you may have been studying yoga for years, these classes are specifically designed to take you to the deeper level, a more authentic level of teaching that you will not typically find in a regular yoga class.”

 

Keep Reading (full article on elephant journal)

This year’s retreat will be held from October 20-22. You can attend the entire weekend or just come out for the day on Saturday or Sunday. Find more details here.

Collected Writings 2010-2017

51hV0yux+mLMoving abroad eight years ago was a rebirth for me.

The choice to uproot from my home country, the United States of America, and plant new seeds in my host country, Guatemala, suddenly changed my whole life and lifestyle.

I was bestowed with the best gift of all: time. I used my newfound abundance of this magical time and mental space to focus on my personal yoga and meditation practice—and to hone my writing skills. I started this very blog on WordPress in early 2010. In October of that year, I crossed my fingers and submitted my very first article for publication on Elephant Journal. (I’m so grateful that they accepted it and hundreds more since!)

Over the years, I’ve maintained my passion for yoga and writing, though of course both practices have fluctuated over time and with the influence of life, work, partnership, parenthood and all the little moments that make up our days.

I’m delighted to present my latest e-book offering: The Best of Yoga Freedom. These collected blog posts and essays from the past seven years deal with everything from developing and deepening spiritual practice to stories of shame and sexual healing to heart advice on long-term partnerships and healthy, simple lifestyle choices. If you’re new to this site, this is an ideal place to begin.

The book is available on Amazon/Kindle. If you would be interested in reading and writing a review, please connect with me and I will gladly send you a free copy.

Thank you for reading!

{Get your copy of The Best of Yoga Freedom}

How to get your groove back

Healing the 2nd Chakra

2ndchakraSwadhisthana chakra is the Sanskrit name for our second energy center and translates to “sweetness” or “sacred home of the self.”

Imagine your mind as still as water in a vast lake.

Breathe in a long, deep breath of inspiration, then let the exhalation go naturally, easily. Repeat this technique for a few moments. Notice how your breath sounds like the ocean waves that are forever crashing upon the seashore. Feel how your body moves. Let your energy take on the physical qualities of water, flowing to fill its container. Breathe in a sense of arriving totally, right where you are.

The element associated with this center is water. The sense is taste and the color is orange.

The key dynamics with the sacral chakra have to do with integration of male and female, sexuality, sensation and feeling, movement, change, balance, emotion, and pleasure. If the root chakra is unity and oneness and the groundedness of being, then the sacral chakra is duality, represented by the two-way street of attachment and aversion, desire and relationship.

Many of us on the planet could use some major balancing and healing of our essential second chakra energy. When our energy is out of balance here, it can show up as sexual repression and frigidity, or over-the-top promiscuity. Our sexuality, if not healed, can cause a range of problems in our physical, emotional, and mental bodies.

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7 Sacred Directions ~ Weekend Retreat

June 23 – 25, 2017

“Hold on to what is good even if it is a handful of earth.
Hold on to what you believe even if it is a tree which stands by itself.
Hold on to what you must do even if it is a long way from here.
Hold on to life even when it is easier letting go.
Hold on to my hand even when I have gone away from you.” ~ Pueblo Blessing

On this weekend retreat in the land of eternal spring, we’ll voyage through the seven major energy centers in the body: root, sacral, solar plexus, heart, throat, third eye and crown and the seven sacred directions: east, west, north, south, above, below and heart center.

The circle is open to all levels and all body types. Take time to unwind in our lakeside paradise… enjoy group practices, wholesome vegetarian cuisine and free time for reading in the hammock, spa treatments, swimming or simply being.

Schedule

Friday

3:00 arrival & settling in
5:00 opening circle
6:30 welcome dinner

Saturday

8:00 yoga & meditation
9:30 breakfast
11:30 chakra workshop
1:30 lunch
3:00 cacao ceremony
6:30 dinner

Sunday

7:30 breakfast
8:15 Mayan fire ceremony
10:30 closing circle
12:00 lunch & farewells

*Also being offered September 1-3

Learn more!

Location: Villa Sumaya

The Earth-plane: 6 Ways to Ground Your Root Chakra

Where on Earth are You?

Feel where your body connects to the planet. Feel how gravity is grounding you to Mother Earth. Breathe in a sense of belonging and of being completely right where you are.

Our chakras, according to Swami Saradananda‘s wonderful guidebook, Chakra Meditation, are “seven focal points of radiant power, or vital energy, within the subtle body.” Translated from Sanskrit as “wheel,” these seven energy centers can be visualized as gears, constantly shifting our subtle energy upward and downward.

Muladhara chakra is the Sanskrit name for our root center and literally translates to “root support.” The element associated with this center is earth; the sense is smell; and the color is red. The core issues are energy, identity/ego, safety and security, roots and ancestry. In other words, the root is our foundation and personal ground of being.

In a recent interview with Deepak Chopra, he explained how Donald Trump is stuck in his root chakra. When our energy stagnates here, we can become egomaniacal and extremely paranoid. Our insecurity, if not healed, can lead us to feeling incredibly uncertain, unsafe, and unsupported. The feelings, of course, become unhealthy, narcissistic behaviors and words that lash out in a fruitless effort to protect our little selves, by keeping others at a perceived safe distance.

Perhaps right now, most of us on the planet could use some grounding, balancing, and healing of this primal, primary chakra. May these be of benefit.

Six ways to connect with the root chakra.

1. Connect with the soles and the soul.

Practice a walking meditation. Walk in exaggerated slow motion, noticing the act of walking. Feel gratitude for the ability to move in this mundane and miraculous way. Focus on the soles of the feet. Notice the heel touching the ground, next the ball of the foot, then the toes. Walk more slowly than you’ve ever walked before. There is no destination. The act of walking is itself the practice. Simply walk and breathe, nothing more, nothing less.

2. Use aromatherapy and healing stones.

Aromatherapy is a fancy way to say smelling stuff. The essential oils that activate muladhara energy include patchouli, sandalwood, ginger, thyme, basil, and clary sage. We can burn or smudge cedar, sage, or patchouli, in the form of incense. Wearing gems and stones, such as hematite, smoky quartz, beryl, black tourmaline, and garnet, assist in healing and aligning root energy. It’s also useful to place these gems and stones on our meditation altars.

3. Eat earthy foods.

To counteract feeling too airy, spacey, or ungrounded, we can intentionally eat meals and snacks that root us and reconnect us with the earth element. These include veggies that grow in the ground (beets, carrots, potatoes, and sweet potatoes), as well as beans, nuts, tofu/tempeh/soy, and pumpkin or sesame seeds. Eat these comfort foods in small portions, mindfully and slowly, savoring their density and deliciousness.

4. Give love to your knees, ankles, and feet.

Keep reading

Yoga is for Every Body.

{Deep bow of gratitude to elephant journal. Original post here.}

Own it.

Own your shape, your color, your size.
Own your feminine side and your masculine side.
Own your curves and your rough edges.
Own your shadow and shine your light.
There is no such thing as too big or too small.
There is no too much this or too little that.

It is what it is.

Our bodies are temples.
And we don’t need anything but a body to practice yoga.
Yoga can be practiced anywhere, anytime, all the time.
We don’t need to be anything to do yoga.
Yoga shows us that our ego is sacred.

Yoga is daily life, no stone left unturned.
It’s how we breathe.
It’s in our posture: the way we stand, walk, talk, eat, dream, relate.
It’s in the way we love.

Yoga is this moment, right here, right now.
Yoga is awareness, acceptance and the sacred union between truth and balance.
Yoga gives us the energy to serve others and share love, kindness and compassion with all beings, without exception.

Yoga is not dogmatic or bound to a single lineage or guru.
Yoga has no physical or spiritual prerequisites and requires no fancy clothing, props or accessories.
Yoga is the connection to our breath, our bodies, our minds.
Yoga cultivates gratitude for this life, this breath, these teachings, this chance to be here and love and grow and let go.

We don’t need to be any certain way to practice yoga: not flexible, not strong, not balanced, not thin, not young and lithe. Not anything!

It’s a lifelong practice.