Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Is that a dog in my yoga studio?

by Dona
Seattle Yoga Arts student
and receptionist

If you practice with Rainey or happen to walk by the studio early on Tuesday mornings, you will encounter a little curly-haired red dog at the reception desk.  Your eyes are not deceiving you.  He and I have been coming into the studio together for a couple of years now. 

Before I tell you about him, I should tell you that I met Denise Benitez when I was 36.  For decades I’d struggled with panic disorder, agoraphobia, social anxiety, and PTSD symptoms.  Habitual negative self-talk, combined with a history of trauma, food restriction, and social avoidance had created a fearful life.  A colleague at my dot-com company recommended Denise’s class, raving about her instruction. I was intrigued.  I wasn’t sure about yoga, because I’d have to wear body-revealing clothes around people who were more flexible and competent and successful than I could ever hope to be.  Despite the efforts of my internal critic, I made it to Denise’s beginner class in 1997.

I’ve never been the person who accelerates quickly to the next level and then the next, and then goes on to achieve “success” – in anything.  For me, practicing yoga has been like most things I’ve really wanted – slow, steady, with lots of missteps and some breathing space between plateaus.  Sometimes I’m in class, sometimes I’m on my own for long stretches.  Denise’s gentle support has always been available when I’ve turned to her.  Rainey helped me face my fear of handstands, Meg helped me meditate.  Yoga and chanting and meditation have over time calmed my inner critic, quelled the anxiety that’s always coursed through my body.  These practices guide me as I continue to retrain my body and mental ‘ruts’,  to willfully create a better, more peaceful existence.

I’m not writing this as a rah-rah advertisement for Seattle Yoga Arts.  I’m writing it because this community has helped me change, and I’m a junkie for this sort of story.  I’m a fool for tales of resilience.  I read with fascination how people climb up and out of darkness. 
So what about the dog?  Well, Mickey came into my life three years ago.  I was nearing the end of my forties, never married, no kids, too afraid to try to connect to any one person too closely.  I’d wanted a dog for a while but was (holy crow, am I really going to say it again??) scared. 

Mickey and I met, and that was it.  I fell in love and there were no doubts.  He came to my home to live.  People talked to me the minute I went outside, and the world I was in was one where people smiled when they saw me.  I never knew what that was like.  A dog can open many doors for a shy, socially anxious person and Mickey’s bouncy poodle walk and bright orange curls attracted a huge amount of positive attention.   I started to have the best, most sweet human energy spilled and poured out at my feet.
OK, so this pup saved my life.  No joke.  The world morphed from a scary, bad place to one where I was able to see brightness, I saw love in peoples’ eyes, I saw happiness and gentle sweetness.  It happened way, way faster than the yoga journey did, I’ll tell you.  I had to breathe through all of these interactions,  steady myself as I talked with people, because you see I was unpracticed at seeing the good.  My doggie made it easy for me. 

Denise has graciously allowed me to bring Mickey to the studio, where I work as a receptionist on Tuesday mornings.  Mickey does the hard brave ice-breaker work while I turn on the computer and process payments.  After we’re done with our shift, we walk back home and I go to my full-time day job and Mick settles in for a nice long snooze at home, happily exhausted from doing his best work.
So to answer the question:  yes, it really is a dog at the front desk at Seattle Yoga Arts early on Tuesday mornings.  Mickey’s an extrovert, a party animal extraordinaire, a fellow who likes nothing better than to be in a crowd of people.  He would love to greet you with his ever-open heart.   I’ll be there, too.  We hope to see you soon.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Goal Pose Benefits

by Greg Lewerenz
Seattle Yoga Arts Teacher

A common question I receive from students is one I ask myself frequently: what do I need to do today – tomorrow – next week – in order to achieve my particular goal pose? Is it even worthwhile to have a goal pose? I have personally been working on Adho Mukha Vrksasana since the spring of 2005, when eight short years ago I watched in awe as my teacher, Matthew Cohen, planted his hands on the floor and slowly, gracefully, weightlessly lifted his feet to float into handstand. Since then I’ve been actively working on the pose myself and in the process I’ve learned many things about my body and my practice. 
Having a goal pose can give clarity and direction to one’s yoga practice. On days when I’m at a loss of which asana to do, I default to those which would help me achieve my goal of floating to handstand. I frequently review notes from my teachers to continue incorporating their ideas into my own body, like working on the building blocks of slowly scissoring the legs down from the wall and a plethora of supine core exercises.
Through this focused exploration I have become aware of the complexity of the body and have realized there are more components to this and similar poses than initially met my eye. Once I got over the emotional reaction to being inverted I worked on my shoulder strength. Once my shoulders started to get stronger my (lack of) wrist flexibility became the challenge. And then my core – oh, the core – and hamstring openness, and on and on. This long process has led me to connect with every aspect of the physical body, from my belly to my finger pads to my toes and back again.   
This process has deepened my connection with the philosophical aspects of yoga as well. I have found patience and have expanded my perspective. Through this eight year long exploration I see firsthand that yoga is a lifelong practice requiring both mental and physical endurance; it goes without saying that these skills apply more broadly than just to inversions. Had I never seen Matthew float into handstand on that wondrous day in 2005 I may never have experienced all I have since then. So I invite you to take note the next time you observe someone – obvious yogi or not – move gracefully into a crazy, expansive pose, to consider adding it to your list. You may be in for a wild extended ride, with years of insight and physical adventures ahead.
Greg teaches at Seattle Yoga Arts on Friday evenings at 5:45pm. He offers private yoga, acupuncture and massage at Foster Wellness (www.fosterwellness.com), his clinic located in the Magnolia neighborhood of Seattle. On sunny days, you might also catch him kicking up into handstand around the fields of Discovery Park.

Monday, May 6, 2013


by Elizabeth 'Rainey'
Seattle Yoga Arts Teacher

As the ancients saw it, refinement is the ever renewing process of life. We are all part of it whether we know it or not. Plants and animals adapt and grow to meet their environment. We seek knowledge to respond to our life situations. Our yoga practice is our endeavor to refine ourselves as human beings; to support our physical structure, attune to our subtle energy and learn to identify ourselves at a deeper and more steady place than our surface identities.

There is a beautiful teaching axiom that the yogins used to exemplify this: The grass is eaten by the
cow and turned into milk. The milk is then churned into butter. The butter is clarified into ghee. And finally, the ghee is offered into the sacred fire as a holy offering of love.

The process of transforming ourselves into a blessing for all life takes time and effort and dedication. This is why we practice, this is why we reflect on our actions, why we read inspirational and sacred texts and why we keep trying to do our best at whatever stage of growth we may be. Each round contributes to the next unfolding of our heart and best Self.

"Each minute of life should be a divine quest."  ~ Paramahansa Yogananda

Find more from Rainey at her website or facebook page.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Finding Ground

by Angi Donovan
Seattle Yoga Arts Teacher

The way inward is down
Into the seat of this body
Where red roots are eager for depth.
It is here that flesh and bone
Hold access to the unseen,
Our substance giving anchor
For the infinite to breathe.

To find this way
Dig here to the earth’s center
And comb through the matter
Of its crimson heart.
A force will meet you
And pull you thick
Into the ground of life.

Once tethered there,
Your soul will know its home
Steady upon the soil
Of that which draws you in,
And even with eyes open
You will rest deep
Into the great unwavering.

As the tides shift between winter and spring this month, I invite you to join me in deepening your foundation to prepare for the bursting of the new to begin. I believe this is where we will be able to grow together as we weather the changing of life.
Always Love,

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Fashion vs. Body

by Bianca Raffety
Seattle Yoga Arts Teacher

Pulling together our ‘look’ doesn’t need to drain the bank account, require a lot of effort, or even demand a great deal of thought. Ultimately though, we want to feel good in what we’re wearing and feel good about how we put ourselves together, regardless what we’re willing to financially dedicate to this end. So what happens when some of these things to complete our look start having hidden costs we didn’t anticipate? And how do we know if we’re paying that hidden price?

You may already be thinking about those shoes that are a little too tight (but oh so cool) or those heels you bought with the guilty knowledge they are probably terrible for your feet (let alone your calves, your hips, your low back, heck the whole body). But most of us don’t realize that what we wear, how we adorn ourselves, what we use to haul our belongings around, and even how we style our hair can begin to wear down on us. We just know that we’re experiencing creeping discomforts in our bodies.

For a long time, I was working with a student that had chronic discomfort in her back and neck. We did work to develop postural support and appropriate stretches for her chest and shoulders, but our progress was very slow. This was primarily because every time she came in her head was cocked to one side because her hair style made it difficult for her to see. I pointed this out on several occasions, but this was a well-entrenched ‘look’ for her and there was just no way she would give it up. So the pain continued.
Another fellow I was working with was a young man with severe back pain. This wasn’t surprising. He had a serious sports injury the year before and he spent most of his days on his feet on a concrete floor. He couldn’t figure out why things weren’t improving. He was young, athletic, and had done some physical therapy to remedy the situation. There was no indication from thorough medical examinations that there was any lasting injury to his spine. As I looked at him, his bright face and sincerity in wanting to remedy this situation, I pointed out the most obvious contribution to his problem. His posture was terrible. Why? Because in order to keep his pants up, he had to tuck his tailbone under, turn his knees out and walk with a slouch! Not only that, his ample trainers were loosely tied so they were loose on his feet. I strongly believe we have a back pain crisis of epic proportions heading our way due to low slung jeans. Luckily he took my observation to heart and at the end of our session, his shoes were tied and his belt was holding up his pants. His posture looked great.

I can offer numerous anecdotes and observations about the phenomenon of physical pain due to fashion, e.g. heavy shoulder bags, headwear, oddly fitting clothing of all types, etc. Look around, you’ll be surprised what you’ll see; and then look to your own investments in your ‘look’ and decide what price you are willing to pay. Then get yourself to yoga, a physical therapist, massage therapist, etc. and get to work avoiding those hidden costs!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Into the Listening

by Angi Donovan
Seattle Yoga Arts Teacher

Be a receiver, like an open drum ready for the sound of life to make its way into your willing heart.

Here we will find our steadiness, a ground built for light, an open space for being.

Our intuition waits patiently, hungry for us to be still and calling us to live in the silence that leans in to hear the presence of the moment speak.

This February 2013, let the listening grow within you as we move to the beat of the breath and the heart, and then melt into the deep stillness of healing restoratives. You will also find a little bit of partner yoga play (listening to others) sprinkled in.

Check out my February class schedule.

Much Love and Light,

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

No Place Like Ohm

by Rebecca Denk
Seattle Yoga Arts Teacher

We open and close each yoga practice by chanting the sound Ohm and following with an invocation in sanscrit. When I began teaching, I could always gauge how nervous I was by the shakiness in leading the Ohm - the vibrato in my voice a dead give-away to the butterflies in my chest.

Now that I’m a more confident teacher, singing the opening Ohm and invocation is less shaky but still daunting. I’m a much less confident singer than yogini. With Seattle Yoga Arts’ new Santi Mantra, I’ve been a late adopter. What if my sound is flat?  How do I get all those sanscrit syllables out clearly? If I can’t easily pronounce the invocation, how can I possibly lead it? Just like a challenging asana pose, the keys are dedication and practice.

Whenever I teach, the opening and closing Ohm are important in creating sacred space for all and for setting the tone, both environmentally and vibration-ally. Have you tried just jumping into a class without first centering and chanting? Perhaps you were late for class or took yoga at the gym? For me, it feels off somehow. I’m dedicated to setting apart my yoga practice from the rest of my day, and chanting helps create this shift.

I’ve been attending classes at SYA and singing the Santi Mantra with fellow teachers, just to practice. Other teachers have loaded the recording onto their iPod to help with memorizing (you can find it on the home page of the website). I find myself humming the invocation as I’m waiting in line or driving. That 4th line continues to present a challenge – but I’m working on it! 
Recently I asked a class of enthusiastic chanters why they enjoy Ohm. One student shared that it was her connection to the more spiritual side of yoga. Another agreed that it’s just not yoga without Ohm-ing. A third appreciated the chance to synch with the full group of yoga practitioners as class begins.  I often think of an orchestra warming up when I listen to a full class chanting. (And have you noticed in the closing Ohm often all are in tune?) 

Whether you are a confident mantra singer or quietly humming to yourself, you are actively contributing to the energy and tone of our yoga practice. I’m always so grateful to have strong voices sing out in class, especially when I’ve gone flat. And I promise to begin introducing the Santi Mantra to my classes on February 1. If all else fails, set a deadline….