Choose Your Own Adventure

When I was a little girl, I would ride my bicycle to the library. I used to love the silence, the solitude, and being surrounded by books and endless possibility.

I gravitated toward the Choose Your Own Adventure books. I remember they were in one section of the library, and I would read them one by one.

But I wouldn’t just read them one time through. I had to explore every possible scenario in each book. I liked to witness how the choices I made at the bottom of the page affected the storyline.

It’s about the Journey, not the Destination

For as long as I can remember, I have used Choose Your Own Adventure books as my analogy to life.

We are born with a certain set of circumstances. From there, we choose what to do, where to go, who to be, how to feel. Then with each new choice we make, we are given a different set of circumstances and decisions to make.

That is the great adventure to life, this journey that we co-create right along with the circumstances we are given.

Becoming the Author

Part of practicing yoga is to become awake to being the reader of the story, the story of our individual lives. We stand back from living the drama, and instead witness how our actions affect our outcomes.

With this greater perspective, we can then become the author of our destiny. We can begin to make choices that lead us more toward happiness and less toward sadness, more toward living the life we truly love, and less toward attracting the things we do not wish to experience.

So that begs the question, “If I am unhappy, what actions can I take to change it?”

Progress Requires Action

Part of being a yogi is moving more toward becoming radically alive, about living each day as if it is your best day. It is not the path for everyone, but it is a path that leads to happiness.

One way yoga leads to happiness is by helping us realize that all we really have in life is the present moment. This present moment was created by our past decisions, by the choices that we made at the end of the page.

Our future, therefore, is determined by the choices we make right here, right now, by the fresh ink still wet on the paper of our current adventure.

So we can co-create our futures now by making decisions that will benefit our greater good tomorrow.

I will be working on answering the above question myself over the next several months, “What can I do to be happier?”. I invite you to join me. I invite you to Choose Your Own Adventure.

Namaste,

~Amber

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Choose Your Own Adventure books

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Fear Not the End

I have joined a Philosophy Group that meets once a week or so to discuss certain topics such as right versus wrong, and the definition of the “Self”. Being a student of yoga, which is a philosophical system, this group is socially and intellectually gratifying.

Our most recent topic was whether marriage was necessary.

“How does marriage pertain to a blog on yoga?”, you might ask. Well, one of the topics discussed was that the end of marriage can often be so bitter that the institution did not seem like a good idea anymore.

What Comes In Must Go Out

Swami Satchidananda, the swami who opened up Woodstock, was famous for saying, and I paraphrase, “what comes in must go out”. What he meant is that if something begins, then by natural design it has to end.

Marriage is the same way. If it begins, then it is certainly going to end. Perhaps not in divorce, but unquestionably in death.

So the question is, should we not do something for fear of it ending?

In yoga, the answer is a resounding “No”.

The Practice of Non-attachment

A yogi is a witness to life. We watch the ebbs and flows of life without too much attachment to the outcome. That is what meditation teaches us, and even asana, the physical practice of yoga.

When we practice yoga poses, some days we are good at them, and some days we suck. Our bodies, our thoughts, our focus are all different every day, so of course our physical yoga practice would vary from day-to-day as well.

In The Bhagavad Gita, yoga’s greatest parable, it states “As for you, do the work that comes to you–but don’t look for the results. Don’t be motivated by the fruits of your actions, nor become attached to inaction.” (2:47)

The Gita continues by defining yoga. “Equanimity of the mind is yoga…Renouncing all attachments, you’ll enjoy an undisturbed mind in success or failure.” (2:48)

The next verse: “Work done for the sake of some results is much lower than that done in mental equilibrium…”. (2:49)

Essentially, the Gita instructs us that peace comes by giving for the sake of giving, and by living for the sake of living. Being unattached to the results of your actions is peaceful.

Accept. Adapt. Move Forward.

So what happens when things end?

Let’s be clear, everything ends. Life is change. When we accept that, we can adapt to the change so that we can move forward in life.

The Gita explained that to us approximately 5,000 years ago. When we live our lives performing the actions required of us without attachments to the results, we can be nothing except happy.

Happiness is our true nature; attachment and expectation get in the way.

We cannot predict the future. All we can control is how we live in the present moment. The future unfolds moment to moment, so expectation is really useless energy when you think about it. Moreover, it is useless energy that can lead to negative emotions such as resentment, fear, and anger.

Another way of looking at it: Expectation is an obstacle to happiness.

“Practice and all is coming”

Sri Pattabhi Jois was famous for saying “Practice and all is coming.” I find those words comforting.

Just do your best. Everything else will work itself out. If you do your best at something in each and every moment, be it your yoga practice or marriage, you can never fail.

How could you fail if you are trying your best with no expectation? This is especially true if you are able to accept, adapt, and move forward to every circumstance that comes your way.

Buddha said “There is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way.”

Focus on doing your best and being your best right here, right now. Everything else will work itself out. That is the path of the yogi.

Namaste,

~Amber

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Free to Breathe Yogathon

I am once again raising money for the Baltimore Free to Breathe Yogathon that takes place 4 weeks from today (specific details below). Last year, I lost my grandfather to lung cancer just two short months after he was diagnosed.

In last year’s yogathon, I participated as an individual, but this year, I am Team Captain of Team Charm City Yoga. This blog post explains a little more about Free to Breathe, about the Baltimore Free to Breathe Yogathon, and about Team Charm City Yoga.

Free to Breathe

Free to Breathe is the event series raising money for the National Lung Cancer Partnership, an organization that supports lung cancer research and awareness.

In a yogathon, or a yoga mala, yogis perform 108 sun salutations continuously. We unite as one to breathe together for a single purpose.

On November 4, 2012 at 1 pm at the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, yogis from all over Baltimore will breathe together to raise awareness for lung cancer.

Did you know? Lung cancer is the number one cancer killer in the United States. In fact, it kills more people than the next 6 cancers combined. 27% of all cancer related deaths in the US are due to lung cancer.

Yoga and the breath are integrally connected. Yoga unites mind to body using the breath, so a yogathon is the perfect fundraiser for lung cancer, so says the Baltimore Free to Breathe Yogathon creator Elissa Sachs-Kohen, a Rabbi at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation.

Rabbi Sachs-Kohen reached out to Free to Breathe after her mother died of lung cancer. She brought the Yogathon to Baltimore in 2008, and has been an advocate for Free to Breathe ever since.

Team Charm City Yoga

This year several Charm City Yoga teachers have united to form Team Charm City Yoga to raise money collectively. We invite you to join our team and be a part of not only Charm City Yoga, but also a part of helping fund research for the most underfunded cancer.

That’s right: lung cancer is both the number one killing cancer and the most underfunded in research dollars.

Over the last four years, the Baltimore Free to Breathe Yogathon has raised over $75,000 and counting. Every dollar raised helps fund invaluable research and prevention.

Join Our Team

Today I ask that you consider helping Team Charm City Yoga. You can help in several different ways.

  1. Be a part of Team Charm City Yoga by joining our team.
  2. Donate to either my personal fundraising page, or Team Charm City Yoga‘s fundraising page.
  3. Join us on November 4th for the 108 sun salutations for a registration fee of $30.
  4. Or, simply share this blog, or our fundraising pages to help us raise money for Free to Breathe.

Yoga means “union”, so let’s unite as a team and raise money so that everyone can be Free to Breathe.

Details

When: November 4th, 2012 at 1 pm
Where: Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, 7401 Park Heights Avenue, tel: 410-764-1587

Thank you for your support!

Love,

~Amber

The 8 Limbs of Yoga

What is Yoga?

Yoga is a spiritual and physical practice that was created over 3,000 years ago in India. Yoga, meaning “union”, is intended to connect the mind to the body.

There are many different types of yoga. The physical practice is called Hatha Yoga, “ha” meaning sun and “tha” meaning moon, and its purpose is to unite opposites and stretch the body in all directions.  The physical practice was invented specifically so that yogis could sit comfortably erect in meditation without too many pins and needles in their bodies.

Hatha Yoga is what we think of when we refer to yoga in the West, however, as you will read below, yoga is much more than just the physical practice where we contort, strengthen, and stretch our bodies.

Wait a minute… What if I am not interested in a spiritual path? Can I still practice yoga?

Of course you can! The spiritual path of yoga is not for everyone. The beauty of yoga is that the philosophy can be adapted to fit your personal beliefs.

Even if you practice yoga just for the health benefits, or the amazing workout of asana, you can still call yourself a yogi. Likely what will happen is that even if you practice only asana and nothing else, you will find yourself able to deal with stress much better than before, which will improve your quality of life.

The 8 Limbs of Yoga

The asanas are just one part of yoga. There are, in fact, 8 limbs to yoga, which represent the intention of our yoga practice. These 8 limbs were written out in the Yoga Sutras by the sage Patanjali around 300 BCE.

In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali explained that the purpose of yoga is to calm the mind so that we can elevate our conscious awareness. He laid out an 8 fold path.

The 8 limbs of Yoga are:

Yamas (the restraints)                     Pratyahara (sensory withdrawal)
Niyamas (ethical observances)     Dharana (concentration)
Asana (postures)                              Dhyana (meditation)
Pranayama (breathing)                 Samadhi (higher consciousness)

The 8 limbs are meant to be a series of progressive stages where we begin to explore our ability to live in a state of Samadhi.

Samadhi, meaning bliss, refers to living our lives in a state of equanimity, where no matter what the circumstances are we can be content. The place of contentment comes through the journey of the other 7 limbs where we learn non-attachment to the fruits of our labor; giving, working, and loving just for the sake of doing the right thing.

But the 8 limbs does not start at the finish line, of course.

The “10 Commandments” of Yoga

The first two limbs of yoga are the Yamas and the Niyamas, which together make up the “10 Commandments of Yoga”. The Yamas are the restraints that Patanjali suggested allowed us to live a more selfless life. The Niyamas are the ethical observances that he recommended we adopt to live more healthfully and consciously.

The 5 Yamas are:

  • Ahimsa – Non-Harming
  • Satya – Truthfulness
  • Asteya – Non-Stealing
  • Brahmacharya – Control
  • Aparigraha – Non-Greed

The 5 Niyamas are:

  • Saucha – Cleanliness
  • Santosha – Contentment
  • Tapas – Heat/Passion
  • Svadhyaya – Self-Study
  • Ishvarapranidhana – Surrender to God, or surrender to the powers greater than yourself, or simply, surrender to that which is.

Asana

Asana means “seat”. In the Yoga Sutras, the word asana was used to represent the seat upon which a yogi sat to meditate. Asana includes the physical postures we associate with the word “yoga” in the West.

Part of the Niyamas is tapas, or heat. Asana is meant to purify the body using the heat that we build as we practice the athletic aspects of yoga. Yogis treat their body as a temple, and asana is the method by which that temple is maintained.

Pranayama

The second sutra in the Yoga Sutra states that yoga is a practice by which we still the mind. Pranayama is the breath work that yogis use to calm the mind.

There are dozens of breathing practices used by yogis, each of which have a different purpose. Some of the breath work stimulates the body to prepare it for intense labor, and some of the breath work is calming and relaxing. Some are meant to warm the body, and some are meant to cool the body. Others relax certain areas that commonly hold tension. There are even breathing techniques that intend to bring yogis to higher levels of conscious awareness.

As different as they are, all of the pranayama techniques have purpose along the 8 limbs of yoga.

Pratyahara

Pratyahara means withdrawal of the senses. Why would we want to withdraw from the senses?, you might as. Withdrawal from the senses allows the mind to begin to look inwardly so that the next limb of yoga can be achieved.

Dharana

Pratyahara withdraws the distractions of the senses from the mind so that the mind can reach Dharana, which means concentration. The Sutras claim that with single-pointed awareness, the yogi can move to the next stage of the 8 limbs. Are you beginning to see how the limbs are intended to be followed in a sequence?

Dhyana

Dhyana translates to meditation. Remember that asana was created so that the yogi could sit comfortably in meditation. Through purifying the heart with the yamas and the niyamas; keeping the body strong and relaxed through asana; stilling the mind through pranayama; withdrawing from the senses with pratyahara; finding concentration with dharana; the yogi finally comes to a place where the mind can be quiet enough to sit in meditation.

Samadhi: Why We Meditate

Yogis meditate to reach Samadhi, bliss. Through meditation, yogis can begin to explore the intentions behind their actions. With this kind of svadhyaya (self-study), equanimity can be achieved.

As previously mentioned, the path of yoga is a path to live without attachment to the fruits of our labor. To live for the sake of living. To give for the sake of giving. To love for the sake of loving.

When we live from a place where we are not attached, inner peace is achieved. By not being attached to the results of our actions, there is no place in our hearts for greed, jealousy, resentment, anger, or heartache. When we peel away those negative emotions, we find our true nature, which is love.

More importantly, through non-attachment, yogis are content (santosha) regardless of the circumstance. Does that mean they are never sad? Of course not. What it means is that even though yogis might be sad, we are aware that “this too shall pass”.

Nothing is constant except change. Yogis understand that the ups and downs of life are all fleeting moments. True happiness, true contentment, true satisfaction can only come from within.

Yoga is a path to enlightenment, and yogis believe that enlightenment is living without attachment to action, equanimity.

To Practice or Not to Practice

Remember, you do not have to be on a spiritual journey to practice yoga, but I am sharing this with you because most people do not know that there is more to yoga than just the physical practice.

Please feel free to continue practicing asana or meditation, or only the limbs suit your needs. Regardless of how many limbs you practice, you will reap rewards!

Namaste,

~Amber

Different Styles of Yoga

BhealthyBmore.com asked me to write a blog post for them about the different styles of yoga and where they can be found around Baltimore. The blog also points out who the different styles of yoga are appropriate for: Beginner; Intermediate; Advanced.

Read the blog post by clicking here, especially if you live in Baltimore.

Different Styles of Yoga

For everyone else, here is a list of some of the different styles of yoga, what they are, and who should check them out.

Acro Yoga

What: Acro Yoga is a super fun and super exciting style of yoga done with one or multiple partners. It is a combination of acrobatics, performance, and yoga. Below are some pictures from some Acro Yoga classes I have taken at Charm City Yoga and Project Yoga Richmond.

Who: Intermediate/Advanced Yogis. Beginners may attend as long as they are willing to take flight. Please tell your instructor if you are new to yoga.

Aerial Yoga

What: In an Aerial Yoga class, also called anti-gravity, you perform the poses using hammocks suspended from the ceiling. The hammocks swing constantly, of course, but when you sit or lie down in them, they completely support every curve of your body.

Who: Any brave yogi or yogini looking for an exciting adventure! Be sure to tell your teacher if you are new to yoga.

Anusara Yoga

What: Anusara Yoga is a style of yoga that focuses on precise body alignment. It is designed to uplift the spirit, all the while protecting the body from injury. These medium paced classes are challenging, but they allow beginners to develop a deeper connection to their bodies.

Who: All levels, but beginners should tell their instructors that they are new to yoga.

Ashtanga Yoga

What: Ashtanga Yoga comprises several sequences in which there is one breath in each pose. There are no variations to the sequences, and it is very fast-paced.

Who: Intermediate/Advanced yogis, but beginner classes are offered.

Beginner Yoga

What: This style of yoga is specifically geared toward the beginner. Instruction of the poses are very precise, and the movements are slower. Most studios have a beginners or intro to yoga classes. Look for a series where you can cultivate a relationship with the teacher and your yoga practice over many weeks.

Who: Definitely start here if you have never practiced yoga.

Bikram Yoga

What: Bikram Yoga is a practice taught in 105 degree temperature with the same 26 poses in every class. Teachers speak the same script in every class too, so this style of yoga is perfect for people who do not like surprises. Beginners be forewarned: Bikram calls the studios “Torture Chambers.” The upside is that there are Bikram Yoga studios every where, so finding a class is easy, and especially convenient if you are traveling.

Who: All levels, but beginners may have an adjustment period to the temperature.

Gentle Yoga

What: Gentle Yoga really is for everyone, and it can be practiced anywhere including the office! Gentle Yoga can include neck rolls, shoulder rolls, and deep breaths as a way to alleviate tension in the body. Even 5 minutes of Gentle Yoga throughout the day can benefit your stress levels tremendously.

Who: Everyone.

Hatha Yoga

What: Hatha Yoga is very traditional yoga. The postures are more geared for opening the body up so that meditation and breath work can be performed. This style of yoga is very accessible to people of all ages, body types, and abilities.

Who: All levels, especially appropriate for beginners.

Hot Yoga

What: Hot Yoga does not lie; it is hot, but it is less hot than Bikram. This style of yoga incorporates elements of Vinyasa yoga (see below), where rapid movement is involved. Teachers also allow you to hold the poses for several breaths to establish a deeper connection with them. The classes are taught in the heat to warm the muscles and the synovial fluid in the joints to make the practice easier for the body.

Who: All levels, but beginners should take beginner hot yoga classes.

Iyengar Yoga

What: Iyengar Yoga classes include blocks, straps, bolsters, and the wall to assist the practitioner in the practice. The focus is on alignment and what is going to be appropriate for the individual so that students may evolve their practice.

Who: All levels, especially appropriate for beginners.

Power Yoga

What: Power Yoga is similar to Ashtanga Yoga in that it is extremely physically. If you want a major workout, but do not want the same sequence every time like in Ashtanga, this style is for you.

Who: Intermediate/Advanced. Beginners should look for a beginner version if one is offered at the studio.

Restorative Yoga

What: Get ready to exhale. Restorative Yoga is designed to help you unwind from stress, and to reduce tension in the muscles. In a restorative class, the poses are supported using props and blankets, and are held for a much longer duration than in an athletic tradition.

Who: All levels.

Vinyasa Yoga

What: Vinyasa Yoga intends to connect one breath with one movement. The classes vary in style and are fast-paced to build up heat in the body. The more heat your build up in your yoga practice, the further you will be able to explore the edges of your abilities.

Who: All levels, but beginners should look for a beginner Vinyasa class.

Yin Yoga

What: Yin Yoga is a style of yoga created to loosen the connective tissue in the body so that the yogi can sit in meditation. It is also beneficial for people with injuries. Poses are held for a long time, like in Restorative, but unlike Restorative, the point of holding the poses is to release the connective tissue. Yin Yoga uses gravity to aid in the release of the connective tissue.

Who: Everyone.

Beginners Fear Not

Most every yoga studio offers beginner classes. Remember to always tell your yoga teacher if you are new to yoga even if the class is not a beginner class. Teachers love the opportunity to help newbies enjoy yoga.

Intermediate/Advanced Yogis

The best way to stave off weight loss plateaus or workout boredom is to mix up your routine. Even if you have years of yoga experience, don’t be afraid to try a new style of yoga or a workshop. So what are you waiting for? Get out there and explore!

Namaste,

~Amber

Namaste

Have you ever wondered what the word “namaste” means? Yoga teachers use it all the time, but not everyone knows its meaning.

Namaste is a traditional greeting used in India. It is often accompanied by a bow with the hands at the heart in Anjali mudra (prayer position). Anjali mudra is a sign of respect across Asia.

In India, it is not necessary to say “namaste”, as the bow with the hands at the heart means the same thing.

Namaste is a Sanskrit word that literally translates to “I bow to you”. To bow is to acknowledge respect to the person in front of you.

But namaste means more than that to yoga practitioners.

What’s love got to do with it?

That the hands are placed at the heart chakra gives a deeper meaning to the phrase namaste. The heart chakra is where the ancient yogis believed love flowed.

Have you ever felt warmth in your chest after hugging someone? Yogis would say that is love flowing in your heart chakra.

Namaste can also be translated to something along the lines of “the divine spirit in me honors the divine spirit within you”.

In yoga, and in many of the world’s greatest philosophies–or all for that matter–love is a state of being. Love and happiness are our natural state, and everything else is an obstacle to that natural state of being.

By saying namaste to someone, we are also honoring that natural, divine state. When we honor that divine state, we honor the similarities we have as humans.

The below image explains it very well: “Namaste – I honor the place in you in which the entire universe dwells. I honor the place in you which is of love, of truth, of light and of peace. When you are in that place in you, and I am in that place in me, we are one.”

What can namaste do for you?

Understanding the deeper meaning behind the custom is a start to realizing that yoga is not just about the postures. There is a rich philosophy behind yoga.

As a yoga teacher, I wish for everyone to find that true state of love and happiness if that is their desire. That is why I teach, that is why I blog, and that is why I post positive affirmations on Facebook and Twitter.

With that in mind, I say to you, “Namaste”.

“There is no way to happiness – happiness is the way.”  ~Thich Nhat Hanh

With love,

~Amber

 

The End of an Era

Bye Bye Baltimore…

Yesterday I left the state of Maryland to return to my hometown of Richmond, Virginia. A series of events since my last blog post lead me on this path.

I moved to Baltimore in January 2005 to work with my brother’s band, Fools & Horses. They disbanded last October. I  recommend listening to their music.

The Band Years

Working with the band were some of the greatest years of my life. I am so honored to have been a part of such an amazing adventure.

Throughout the 9 years they were together, my boys opened up for Bon Jovi, The Presidents of the United States of America, the Gin Blossoms, and many more national acts. They played iconic venues such as Whiskey A Go Go, CBGBs, Arlene’s Grocery, The Knitting Factory and more. They also had radio play, television exposure, and were even on a FUSE TV dating game show.

My point is that these were some good times that I will always cherish. In that time, Baltimore treated me very well. I have amazing friends whom I will always love, I will forever root for the Baltimore Ravens, and I will visit because I love Charm City.

The End of an Era

Obviously, the thing I am most grateful for about my nearly 8 years in Baltimore is that I found yoga there. That is the reason I created this blog: to share my understand of yogic wisdom so that others may benefit as I did.

I will return to Baltimore with pride and love, but now is the time for me to return home.

Over the past year, since I last blogged, before that even, a series of events occurred that made me realize it was time to move back to Richmond, Virginia. My grandfather died, my baby cousin was diagnosed with a rare condition, and my aunt has been very sick with lymphoma.

Dealing with this from a distance has been very difficult. My family needs me right now, but more importantly, I need them.

New Town, New Yoga

I intend to start blogging again now that my life will be less chaotic, and I cannot wait to share my yoga adventures with you in my new town.

Love,

~Amber

P.S. Richmond was voted one of the best river cities in America in by Outside Magazine.