Rox Does Yoga

Yoga, Wellness, and Life

Happy Holidays December 23, 2011

Filed under: Miscellaneous — R. H. Ward @ 9:22 pm

Christmas Yogini

From my mat to yours, and from my heart to yours, have a bright, safe, happy holiday! No matter what holiday you celebrate, or if you choose not to celebrate at all, I hope you’re able to find joy and peace this season.

I’ll be taking a short break from the blog, but I’ll be back in 2012!

(I also want to say that the photo at left here is not posed in any way. My husband F and I were about to shoot our holiday card photo, and it was taking him forever to set up the tripod, so I thought I’d get my meditation in. He snuck up on me and took this picture. I like it!)



Yoga Book Recommendation List December 22, 2011

Filed under: books,yoga — R. H. Ward @ 2:17 pm

At our last yoga teacher training session, each trainee shared a brief review of a book we’d read. Here for your reading pleasure, then, is a yoga book recommendation list! (Please note, I haven’t yet read any of these books myself – my notes and descriptions are based on my colleagues’ reviews.)

The End of Sorrow: The Bhagavad Gita for Daily Living, Volume 1, by Eknath Easwaran: This version of the Bhagavad Gita includes Eknath Easwaran’s commentary on each verse. My friend found it to be very relatable.

The Bhagavad Gita with commentary by Mahatma Gandhi: Gandhi loved the Gita and strove to live his life according to its principles. The commentary collected here is very detailed, intellectual, and comprehensive, but written such that it’s understandable for ordinary people too. (My friend noted that her edition was published in India and didn’t seem to have been edited or even glanced at by a native speaker of standard English, but once she got past the typos she couldn’t stop reading.)

The Ramayana: The ancient epic poem of Rama, a story of love, duty, and dharma, was another of Gandhi’s favorites, and was recommended by one of my teachers.

The Pure Heart of Yoga, by Robert Butera: A good overall look at yoga. Topics covered include the eight limbs of yoga, a nice summary of the chakras, and some interesting discussion of yoga psychology complete with case studies.

Job’s Body, by Deane Juhan: This is a bodywork text required by many schools for massage therapy, acupuncture, etc., but the detailed anatomy is also useful from a yogic perspective. My friend was really impressed with this book.

Yoga Bitch, by Suzanne Morrison: A cute and funny memoir about a woman who undertakes a yoga retreat that wasn’t what she was expecting.

Be Young with Yoga, by Richard Hittleman: My friend chose this book to read simply because it had been sitting on her family’s bookshelf for as long as she could remember. Originally published in 1962, Hittleman was ahead of his time in promoting the physical and spiritual benefits of yoga in the US. He wrote many books, and it looks as though some of these are still being reprinted today.

Goddess to the Core, by Sierra Bender: This book explores spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical aspects of the body, particularly in relation to healing. It includes yoga asanas and pranayama breathing but discusses many other tools as well. My friend described this book as intense, deep, and woman-centric.

Living Your Yoga, by Judith Lasater: The goal of this book is to help people live yogically 24/7, in touch with the benefits of yoga not just on the mat but in every moment of life. The book includes practical strategies for keeping up the drive and discipline to practice yoga day to day.

Happiness is Your Creation, by Swami Rama: Two of my classmates happened to read this book, and it’s highly recommended by one of my teachers as well. Swami Rama (also author of The Royal Path) discusses the yamas, niyamas, and meditation here as well. This book teaches that happiness shouldn’t depend on successes or failures but is real and vibrant within each of us. (My friends talked about this book so effusively and enthusiastically that their sheer joy in it almost made me skeptical that it could be that good – as if they’d been drinking the Swami Rama Kool-Aid – especially since I was not all that hot about The Royal Path. However, each person gave several real examples of how the book had helped her in her life, which convinced me enough that I think reading it will be worthwhile.)

God Makes the Rivers to Flow, by Eknath Easwaran: This is an anthology of sacred poetry and prose from around the world. Inspirational in itself, this is also a great book to have on-hand if you’re looking for a meaningful passage to use in meditation.

Inner Quest, by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait: Another one highly recommended by my teacher N.

If you still want more book recommendations, check out this amazon list compiled by the teacher of my friend Rambling Yogini! Some great and completely different selections there! (Personally, I really want to look up The Hindus: An Alternative History, and Donna Farhi’s book on Teaching Yoga has been on my list for a while now.)


books: The Joy of Living, by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche December 20, 2011

Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche’s The Joy of Living: Unlocking the Secret & Science of Happiness is an excellent and informative book and a good practical manual for meditation. A wide variety of meditation techniques are discussed, in language that makes them accessible to even the most un-Buddhist of readers. Mingyur (Rinpoche is an honorific given to respected teachers) is a kind and encouraging teacher; his writing style is very natural and conversational, helping you feel as if he’s right there beside you to help along the way.

The book is divided into three main sections. Part One: The Ground begins by describing Mingyur’s early life and training in meditation and his journey toward overcoming anxiety. He’s an engaging storyteller, and it’s comforting to hear that even a monk who grew up meditating from childhood can still struggle with his mind. This section also discusses the connection between the ancient Buddhist practices of meditation and modern advances in neuroscience, physics, and biology. Raised in isolated monasteries, Mingyur is fascinated with Western science and has worked with many scientists to learn about the brain’s workings and the structure of the universe and compare them with the Buddhist understanding of the mind and reality. While interesting, this area was not as strong as other sections – these discussions could have benefited from a scientist coauthor to help refine and make specific Mingyur’s comparisons. However, Mingyur does make a good case for meditation as valuable and needed in the West, and his ideas here are well worth reading.

In Part Two: The Path and Part Three: The Fruit, Mingyur is at his best, carefully walking the reader through the basics of meditation. He provides a firm foundation for beginners, with examples from his own history as guidance. Beyond the basics, he details a variety of different meditation techniques that will appeal to new and experienced students alike. He asserts that it is the intention to meditate that is most important, not the actual time spent on it or whether your mind wanders off in the middle. Mingyur strives to make meditation available to everyone.

I began reading this book back in February 2011 and just finished it this month, but the long reading time is due to my own crazy schedule this year, not any failing of Mingyur’s. I’ve actually posted about this book on several other occasions because as I read I found his words so encouraging and insightful. I highly recommend this book to anyone hoping to begin or deepen a meditation practice.


Books: Karma-Yoga, by Swami Vivekananda: My Response December 13, 2011

I recently summarized and commented on Swami Vivekananda’s book Karma-Yoga. Although the book is based on lectures given by Vivekananda over a century ago, it feels incredibly relevant and important to me today, and I wanted to comment on what touched me so much about this book and what seemed so important about Vivekananda’s words on work and duty.

First, I identify as a Karma yogini (which is why I chose this book to read rather than Vivekananda’s books on Jnana yoga or Bhakti yoga). I feel that the ideals of karma yoga that are outlined in the Bhagavad Gita are really beautifully explicated in this book; the Gita tells us to be unattached and to work without regard for the results of our actions, but Vivekananda begins to explain how we’re supposed to manage that. He sets the case for Karma yoga as the yogic path that is most accessible to anyone – a Jnana yogi has to study and use logic and intelligence, a Bhakti yogi relies on love and devotion, but a Karma yogi mostly just has to show up, and keep showing up. I have always had a high regard for the virtue of showing up, whether it’s for work, for appointments and events, for classes and study, or, on a larger level, showing up for your life. If you think about it, a lot of people don’t put in the effort to show up for life, not truly. Many people coast along, just getting by, then wake up when they’re 50 and wonder what the heck happened. A Karma yogi makes a commitment to show up every day and be truly present in the work they do.

This book gave me a way of looking at my own life that really meant a lot to me. I’ve received a lot of blessings in my life, I’ve worked really hard, and I’ve also been incredibly lucky. My life is pretty fantastic, but just like anyone, I have parts of my life that are less than ideal. This book gave me a window into how to negotiate my way through those things. For the past five years, I’ve worked in a job that I don’t particularly like. Sometimes I get angry about that, or frustrated, or all worked up; I’ve tried to combat that by reminding myself how lucky I am to have a job at all, let alone a job that pays well, with good health insurance, with colleagues that I like and respect. Reading this book has given me another way to manage my day-to-day frustrations. I’ve started trying to treat my job as my Karma-yoga duty, at least for right now. I have a family to support and a home to maintain, and it’s my duty to go to work and to do my very best while I’m there. By getting worked up and frustrated about my job, feeling trapped by my job, I’m just getting more and more attached to it. If I practice non-attachment, the work goes more quickly and it affects me less. I’m able to leave my work at the office more readily, which allows me to more fully enjoy my home life, which is what really feeds my spirit. This doesn’t mean that I give up on the dream of finding something that suits me better, but it does mean that I feel more peaceful in my day-to-day life. Feeling more peaceful means that I have more of myself to give to my family (and I whine a lot less), and I’m better able to do my work when I’m at the office.

When I read the Bhagavad Gita, I understood the concept of Karma Yoga, but it never really clicked to me how to make that an everyday part of my life. I thought of the larger scale implications of Karma Yoga, but not the small scale ones. Reading Swami Vivekananda’s book has really helped me to understand this better and to apply it to my own life. I’m only at the start of this practice, but just reading the book gave me a great sense of relief, and the lessons that Vivekananda teaches are ones that I want to cultivate.


December Training Weekend: Graduation Wrap-Up December 12, 2011

Filed under: reflections,teacher training,yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 2:18 pm

My weekend was a lot more emotional than I was expecting.

Friday night, we spent some time checking in and figuring out what had gone wrong with communication about our group’s end-of-YTT celebration. Different people had had different things in mind for our celebration, and, not knowing that the others were planning something else, moved forward with reservations and such. The spirit behind the problem wasn’t the problem: everyone just wanted to make sure that we all had a chance to celebrate together. Things just weren’t communicated as well as they needed to be, which resulted in frustration, disappointment, and hurt for a few people. We talked it all over and cleared the air, and then proceeded to plan on having modified versions of both celebrations, which was really the best of both worlds.

We then spent some time Friday night talking with N about the business end of yoga teaching: what to charge, how to charge, where to teach, what do we need to worry about in our non-compete clause, whether to register with Yoga Alliance (short answer: yes, definitely), whether to get liability insurance (again: yes, definitely), how to react to emergency situations, and other aspects of the business. This was really useful and we all had questions to ask and things we were wondering about. After Friday night’s class, several of us went next door to Sukho Thai for Celebration # 1. A few people brought wine and since the restaurant was almost empty except for us, we really had a chance to relax.

On Saturday morning, I attended the 10:30 all-levels hatha yoga class with several of my classmates (my last opportunity for complimentary yoga!). After lunch, we started on the afternoon’s classwork. First, we talked with J about some different issues with being a yoga teacher: how to react to and deal with students. J talked about his long experience in working with different students, and it was really informative. Every person brings something different to yoga class; different people want different things, and there are often students who came with a friend who don’t really want to be there at all. J talked about strategies for working with difficult students and not taking things personally. Then N arrived and we played our last Yoga Jeopardy game. J was Alex Trebek/Vanna White again, and again did a fantastic job. My team somehow ended up with all the hardest questions, but overall our group did really well and got almost all the answers right (and really, who needs to know the Sanskrit name for candle-gazing anyway?).

After Jeopardy, N and J held our graduation ceremony. It was very simple: each new teacher came up to the front of the room and had a chance to say a few words if she liked, and then N and J presented her with a certificate. We all choked up several times as each person spoke about how meaningful this training had been and how much we’d learned from each other and from N and J. After graduation, our spouses, friends, partners, and kids began to arrive for Celebration # 2. N had picked up some cookies and pound cake from Whole Foods, and we shared tea and snacks and met the people our classmates had been talking about all this time. I was still feeling really teary from graduation, so I clung onto my husband F perhaps more than necessary. We all said our goodbyes and cried some more, and then F drove me home.

When I was first planning to do a yoga teacher training, I was thinking of it as a requirement to fill, a piece of paper to achieve. I am very good at school and at filling requirements. I knew I wanted to teach yoga, and this was the credential that would allow me to do that. I was not thinking of a yoga teacher training program as a transformation or a journey. Yoga teacher training isn’t like taking a course on web design or something; it’s not just developing some specific skill. It includes that, but that’s not all it is. When I began this program in March, I was not a yoga teacher. Now I am one. The piece of paper I received this weekend isn’t what makes me a yoga teacher, it’s just a recognition of what’s happened: I am a different person now than I was ten months ago. I think this is part of why this weekend was so emotional for me. I wasn’t just receiving a certificate, I was acknowledging a major transformation in my life and the end of a process that’s meant a lot to me. This weekend also marked the beginning of something new as I look ahead to what may be next for me as a teacher. I was also saying goodbye to a group of people I’ve come to love – even though I may see them again at the yoga center, and some of them I may even see often, we won’t really be together in the same way again. These are big, emotional things.

I just want to say here that I really appreciate everything that N and J have done for us, and everything I’ve learned from my classmates. I also want to say that I appreciate all the support and love that F has given me throughout this process. He never said no, he never complained, he just made room for more (more yoga classes; more time for me to do my homework and write papers and work on the blog; more people in our house at my home yoga class every week, and even more beyond that), and he always made it a priority, because it was important to me. I feel incredibly grateful for the gift of the past ten months.


Graduation December 9, 2011

Filed under: checking in,reflections,teacher training,yoga,yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 7:26 am

This weekend, I’ll be graduating from my yoga teacher training program. We have a short session tonight, followed by a little party at the Thai restaurant next door to the yoga center, and then a full day tomorrow, and then I’m done! Ten months of work and learning and growing. I’m a little sad for it to end: I’ve really gotten to love my classmates, and I’ll miss seeing them all the time. I will also miss having the time set aside specifically to work on my yoga and my spirituality. (And of course I’ll miss the unlimited hatha yoga class pass that comes with the program – I’m going to have to start PAYING to go to yoga classes again!)

But I really feel like I’m ready. I’ve learned so much, and really come so far since I started training in March. I feel like I’ve gotten out of this program what I wanted to get out of it: I have the confidence to teach yoga, first of all, and most of the expertise necessary to do so, and more will come with more teaching experience. I also really wanted to explore the spiritual aspects of yoga and meditation, and this program definitely gave me the time and support I needed to do that. I’d like to look into teaching meditation on its own, actually. I think that, combining both the yoga teaching confidence and the time spent on spirituality, I’ve grown as a person and I feel much more confident and happy and comfortable in myself. That’s the sort of thing I couldn’t expect or predict, but only hope for, at the start of the training.

The ten months of this program felt like forever at times, but looking back, I’m really glad I chose such a long-term training. I’ve talked to friends who’ve had shorter training programs, and it seems like in order to get all the hours in, they have to cram a lot of information into a short amount of time. In my program, I really had a chance to absorb everything I was learning. Now it’s hard for me to separate some of the things I’ve learned or point to specific things that I learned, because it’s all a part of me. I feel like the ten months was transformative in that way: I wasn’t a yoga teacher before, and I am one now, not just because I finished a program but in some indefinable way that has to do with who I am. I’m not saying that teachers who choose short or intensive programs get less of this; I just know that if I’d done a program like that, I would still feel like I had a lot of work to do afterwards. I really wanted that spiritual growth piece in my teacher training, and you just can’t cram that into a short amount of time. (On the other hand, you can’t cram it into ten months either, and I’ll be working on my meditation practice for the rest of my life – but I feel like I have a good firm foundation to build on.)

Overall, I feel really proud of what I’ve accomplished. I’m going to enjoy the heck out of this weekend, and then do some relaxing and unwinding over the holidays, and then see what happens next.


Books: Karma-Yoga, by Swami Vivekananda December 8, 2011

Filed under: books,yoga philosophy — R. H. Ward @ 1:15 pm
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Swami Vivekananda lived from 1863 to 1902 and is best known for his address at the Parliament of Religions in 1893, which helped to bring Hinduism to the modern world as a major religion. Vivekananda wrote a number of books, some of which are based on his lectures, and Karma-Yoga is one of these. Karma-Yoga has been reprinted many times over the past hundred years; the copy that I read,  borrowed from a college library, is a tiny little book, maybe 4″ x 5″, and only 143 pages. Because the book was published so long ago, you can read the whole thing online, so feel free to check it out! If you’re interested in the topic, this book is well worth the time.

In this book, Vivekananda expands on the concept of Karma yoga as set out in the Bhagavad Gita. Vivekananda covers a variety of topics related to karma, including work, action, character, motivation, morality, duty, and non-attachment. While Vivekananda’s explication of Karma yoga really moved me and helped me to understand how the path of Karma yoga can work in my life, I’ll try to keep this post focused on what Vivekananda writes, and I’ll follow up with another post on my personal response to the text.

Vivekananda begins by providing an introduction to the concept of Karma and work. For Vivekananda, a person’s character reflects that person’s will, which is shown through their work. He states,

Watch a man do his most common actions; those are indeed the things which will tell you the real character of a great man. Great occasions rouse even the lowest of human beings to some kind of greatness, but he alone is the really great man whose character is great always, the same wherever he be (5).

Karma, or work/action, is the means by which we each build our character. Our actions, our work, build us into who we become: doing good works reinforces good character, and constantly doing evil work builds a bad character. Therefore it’s possible for someone to change his character through his actions.

Vivekananda also discusses the motive for work: one shouldn’t work for money or fame or even the results of our work, but simply for the work’s sake. Removing selfish motives from our work builds self-control and character. He describes how the ideal person can find balance between a quiet, solitary spiritual practice and life in the world. Such a person can be in the middle of the densest city traffic and his mind will be as if he’s in a cave by himself; whether in a city or a cave, he’s intensely working at all times.

Vivekananda describes how the concept of morality and duty varies greatly depending on the country or culture: what’s considered right and moral in one country can be thought wrong and evil in another. Vivekananda argues that for this reason there can’t be a universal morality or sense of duty, but that each person must act according to what is deemed right and good in his or her own culture. Vivekananda recommends that we try to view each person’s actions through their own eyes rather than judging that person by our own standards of duty, especially when meeting people from another culture. If we view them by our standards, we may think they are acting wrongly or strangely, but if we try to understand their actions in the context of that person’s culture, we may see that the person’s actions are right and good to him. Every person should work to accomplish his own ideal, according to his own skills and abilities; if you take up someone else’s ideals, you can never hope to make progress. He then explains that one person’s duty isn’t higher or lower than another person’s; even working at hard physical labor can count towards spiritual progress if it’s approached with the right attitude.

Vivekananda also discusses the idea of non-attachment. Each person must constantly work, because it’s in our nature as human beings, but the only way to truly make our work count is to be unattached to the results of the work. Vivekananda compellingly describes how attachments affect the mind as well as how non-attachment relates to love, self-sacrifice, and charity, and how all of these come together: being able to love perfectly, without attachment, we are able to give freely of ourselves to others without worrying about how it will affect us. Vivekananda uses the powerful image of the grumbling worker: if you’re grumbling and complaining about your work, that means you’re attached to it; all your duties will seem distasteful and you’ll never be satisfied. However, if you’re able to do the work for the work’s sake, without attachment, you’ll find satisfaction and freedom.

Vivekananda states that no action can ever be completely good or completely bad: even the most kindly meant action can have negative consequences, and even the foulest evil act can result in some good. Because Karma results from every action, there’s no way to attain perfection simply by doing good works, because each good work will also have some negative effect. This is where non-attachment comes in: you continue to work and strive to do good, but free yourself from attachment to the results of the action. You set yourself aside, removing all selfish wish for praise or reward, and do your duty because it’s right to do your duty.

At the end of the book, Swami Vivekananda sums up his views on Karma yoga:

Karma-Yoga, therefore, is a system of ethics and religion intended to attain freedom through unselfishness and by good works. The Karma-Yogi need not believe in any doctrine whatever. He may not believe even in God…. He has got his own special aim of realising selflessness; and he has to work it out himself. Every moment of his life must be realisation, because he has to solve by mere work, without the help of doctrine or theory, the very same problem to which the Jnani applies his reason and inspiration and the Bhakta his love (131-2).