Inspiration from the Texas Yoga Retreat

The Texas Yoga Retreat happens annually in Austin each fall.

It is held at a beautiful ashram, a spiritual community centered around the practice of yoga. The site itself is an immensely inspiring place where Bhakti yoga is practiced– devotional chanting and meditation. Situated in the peaceful countryside on over 200 acres of rolling green hills in southwest Austin, the ashram has been home to spiritual devotees for over thirty years. The vibration of unconditional love is palpable from the moment you step onto the property.

This year’s 18th annual Texas Yoga Retreat will be held the weekend of October 26-28.

In the early 2000s, I was a marketing/advertising volunteer for the retreat and was fortunate to attend several times. I participated in inspiring workshops led by talented teachers across many lineages and styles of yoga who come from across the U.S. and also internationally. There are teachers who come each year and others who rotate and change from year to year.

One memorable aftereffect of a powerful Kundalini class I attended in 2006 was the sudden inspiration to reflect the inward transformation I was feeling with a drastic outward change—so I shaved my shoulder-length hair into a buzz-cut. I was coming into my own as a yogi and yoga teacher and despite a very negative reaction from my boss at the time, my family and friends loved my new style. This was a huge turning point for me, a time when I truly began to embody my authentic self, without fretting over what others’ would think or say.

I was blessed to attend the retreat last year as well. This time, I brought my Colombian husband along for the experience. I was impressed by the quality of each workshop, due to the teachers’ ability to inspire us with practical knowledge that took us deeper into our spiritual practice, both formal and “off-the-mat”. The Yoga Therapy Conference sponsored by the International Association of Yoga Therapists is open to everyone and runs concurrent with the regular retreat.

There are plenty of asana-based classes offered, for beginner, intermediate and advanced students alike, and one can also delve deeper into the less-commonly-taught limbs of yoga which are often overlooked in a standard class yoga studio or gym.

We learned about Dharana, the sixth of the eight limbs of yoga, in a Friday afternoon workshop with Texas Yoga Retreat co-founder, Charles MacInerney. He overflows with an abundance of wisdom, practical knowledge, humor and motivation. We practiced “eye yoga,” which involves mindful movements and stretches of the eyeballs; the very advanced pranayama technique known as yawning; and were inspired by his reading of the Wendell Berry poem, “The Future”:

For God’s sake, be done
with this jabber of “a better world.”
What blasphemy! No “futuristic”
twit or child thereof ever
in embodied light will see
a better world than this.
Do something! Go cut the weeds
beside the oblivious road. Pick up
the cans and bottles, old tires,
and dead predictions. No future
can be stuffed into this presence
except by being dead. The day is
clear and bright, and overhead
the sun not yet half finished
with his daily praise.

 

Dharana means single-pointed concentration. It is traditionally taught through seated meditation. Charles encouraged us to expand our practice of dharana into our yoga poses and life in general. He shared a “trick”—to slow down when we are doing the things we dislike. For example, washing dishes. If we have an aversion to washing dishes, we should very mindfully, slowly and carefully wash them, making a ritual out of it, doing a great job and being totally present as we complete the task.

He defined dharana as being in the flow, the place where learning happens, rather than in a place of boredom with our routine or pain/fear that arises when we strive for lofty goals that are too far beyond our current skill level.

We also attended a class on “Prayala Yoga” focusing on the hips and legs with Houston yoga teacher, Robert Boustany. I have attended several workshops with him over the years and am always blown away by his grounded yet charismatic demeanor, coupled with his vast experience and knowledge of the physical and energetic bodies.

In addition to doing some intense hip, quadriceps and hamstring stretches with the use of blocks and straps, we also got to balance our chakras. Robert explained that the first knot of energy that prevents kundalini from moving up the spine is at the 2nd chakra , which is located in the pelvic bowl around the level of the sacrum. The second knot is of space, at the heart center. The third knot is of prana, also known as life-force, and is located at the brow point, the third eye chakra. The class ended with an awe-inspiring meditation on the space behind the brow, the soft pallet of the mouth, the throat and finally the space within and behind the heart center.

The weekend serves up delicious meals of flavorful, healthy, vegetarian Indian food. The retreat attendees are friendly, open-minded yogis from Texas and beyond. All in all, this is a highly recommended weekend retreat for anyone looking to deepen their yogic studies and connect with a soulful, diverse community of spiritual practitioners.

To learn more or register for this year’s Texas Yoga Retreat from October 26-28, please visit TexasYoga.com.

The Path of Beauty: Yoga & Writing Weekend Retreats

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Yoga has altered my life, for the better, for more than two decades. I’ve been teaching for the past sixteen years. I’ve also been writing pretty much since I can remember. Diaries, journals, blogs, poems, essays, articles. So I’m beyond thrilled to be offering a few weekend retreats in August & September that are all about yoga and writing — and gratitude and practice and community and love and kindness and laughter and the path of beauty.

YOGA & WRITING WEEKENDS at Villa Sumaya in August & September!

{2 day/1 night, Saturday & Sunday affairs} * Suitable for ALL LEVELS!

Join me at the divinely inspirational Villa Sumaya for a weekend getaway to relax and recharge with a heart-opening yoga practice designed to accommodate all levels, ages and body types. Participate in a writing circle, focused on introspective journaling and optional sharing, clarifying your life goals by tapping your creative muse and inspiring new growth.

AUGUST 18-19        SEPTEMBER 1-2        SEPTEMBER 22-23

We’ll start Saturday at 11am with the opening circle, followed by lunch, free time, afternoon workshop, dinner. Sunday we’ll gather together for morning practice, breakfast, and finish with a closing sauna ceremony.

About the Instructor

Michelle Margaret Fajkus is a longtime yoga teacher, writer/blogger, and heart-centered human being. She has been  joyfully teaching yoga for over sixteen years and has facilitated yoga and mindfulness retreats in Guatemala since 2010. Her classes are suitable for all levels, ages and body types and incorporate hatha, vinyasa flow, dharma yoga, yin yoga, pranayama/breath work, chanting, mindfulness and relaxation.

Details: http://villasumaya.com/event/group-retreats-michelle/

Discounted day passes available for lake friends!

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.

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.

Read more