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.

Presence, Patience, Simplicity

Mindfulness. It’s become such a buzz word, much like “yoga”. And yet, the practice is popular and now mainstream precisely because it offers simple methods for cultivating greater awareness of the present moment.

In other words, mindfulness empowers us to more fully live our lives by fully embodying our experience from moment to moment. Not escaping into illusion or delusion, addiction or habit-patterns, mindless scrolling or empty gossip.

Mindfulness, heartfulness, pure consciousness, heart-centered awareness. Semantics. Yet words can help. Concepts can be of assistance. Eventually the words, techniques, concepts, ideas, opinions, memories and plans for the unknown future fade away. There is just this One Love.

Yet alongside this miraculous beauty is a dark shadow side, a seedy, shady, sad, sick side. We must bring light to this shadow and deal with all the -isms our society has created, all the borders and security measures and rules and regulations and political correctness and the racism, sexism, patriotism, narcissism, consumerism, capitalism, careless shortsightedness and destruction of Mother Earth.

Mindfulness, you see, is not all lollipops and rainbows. It encompasses all, everything that arises and passes away. With practice, we learn to see things on a continuum, within a vast spectrum. We expand our consciousness and raise our vibration. We tune in more and more with the One Love of All That Is. We serve others, giving of ourselves for the betterment of beings less fortunate, less lucky to have been born into wealth or at least not into poverty.

Present-moment-awareness is gorgeous and simple. There are many anchors that can bring us back right here and now when the mind wanders. Of course, there are also times when it is good and helpful to contemplate and reflect on the past or plan and set goals for the short and long-term future. Most of our days, however, are ideally spent focusing on the present, being kind to ourselves and others, cultivating compassion, peace, balance and wisdom.

By paying attention to whatever is occurring in the present moment, we can connect with a sense of gratitude for the gift of breath and life, a sense of wonder for what this day or experience is here to teach us, and a sense of open-minded curiosity for what adventures await us next.

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!

5 Ways to Find Balance & Bliss in Daily Life

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Our past does not have to define or confine us. We have the power to choose, now, in this moment, to say YES or NO or MAYBE. We have the power to affect our present and future, yet the wisdom to know that there are many things outside the realm of our control.

Finding our balance is lifelong work. If we were perfectly balanced all the time, that wouldn’t be much fun, would it? We wouldn’t appreciate the times when we find balance because there would be nothing to compare it to, no growth, just a stagnant, too-easy, status-quo balance.

Here are some wonderful ways to cultivate more balance and wellness into our daily lives:

1) When you wake up every day, repeat this Shantideva verse three times (Pema Chodron swears by it):

Just as all the Buddhas of the past
Embraced the awakened attitude of mind,
And in the precepts of the bodhisattvas
Step by step abode and trained,
Just so, and for the benefit of beings,
I will also have this attitude of mind,
And in those precepts, step by step,
I will abide and train myself.

Bodhisattvas are human beings who strive to benefit all beings (including themselves) and choose to stay in the human realm helping inspire everyone to achieve enlightenment. The precepts include a long list of things to avoid (killing, stealing, etc.), the Buddhist version of the ten commandments. What it all boils down to is cultivating openness, honesty, compassion, loving kindness and equanimity. 

2) Be in touch with reality. Remember the simple truths of life: everything changes; be kind and grateful as much as possible; eat things and consume ideas that are wholesome, nourishing, and in alignment with nature.

3) Be in touch with your breath, taking time each day for some yoga and meditation practice, and always cultivating loving relationships with self, family, friends and ultimately all beings and things.

4) Choose to slow down, shed toxicity and be patient. Awareness of how our minds and bodies and hearts work is the first step. Acceptance is the next. And, simultaneously, striving to improve, to be more disciplined yet more spontaneous, more natural and open. I know it’s paradoxical to be content with how things are in this moment and to set goals and achieve them. Life is full of paradox!

Thanks for reading! May this article be of benefit. Please pass it along to someone who could use it, if so inspired!