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Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, United States
Karen is a yogini, writer, student, teacher and meditator. She founded Garden Street School of Yoga in 2000. Karen lives with her husband Chris. They have two amazing sons, Eli and Leo (both of them young men).

Mar 15, 2016

Sundi



SUNDI
The Place in the Middle
The Gateway to the Heart

The Sanskrit work sundi refers to the space between two actions.  Some familiar sundis  are the space between breaths, the space between preparing food and eating it and even the pause just before sneezing.  Dawn and dusk are considered significant sundis in the daily cycle. And then there’s Sunday, the sundi between the weeks. A profound sundi, recognized by any woman who has given birth consciously, is “transition”, a potent quiet place between labor and birth, that is so powerful and filled with Shakti, that it feels like the eye of a storm of Grace. 
Yoga teaches that in the sundi there exists the potential for a great opening to Grace.  In the sundi, blessings rain down.  It all depends on learning to recognize the sundi and then being present in that place in the middle. 

In Yoga Asana, Pranayama and Meditation there are many sundis.  The centering and chanting at the beginning of class is a sundi between the busy world of 10,000 things, and the focused time of practice.  There is another sundi just after practicing when you consciously intend to take the fruits of the practice off the mat and into the world of “the 10,000 things”. Two of the classic and most obvious asana sundis are Tadasana and Savasana. Tadasana is a pose which honors the place between poses. Savasana can be a way to practice the Sundi between life and death (well OK - maybe just between yoga class and the rest of your day :).  Pranayama offers a wonderful awareness of sundi - the pause between breaths. And meditation sometimes takes one into a very deep sundi - a vibrating silence and space between thoughts 

Gurdjieff spoke of sundis (although he didn’t use that word) when he said that at two points in an octave you either go forward or backward; there is a shift in direction.  You can’t stay the same.  Because the flow is blocked and requires more energy to bridge the gap, you need a push or you will go backwards.
In other words, when we hit a gap, a sundi, if we don’t have enough energy, we don’t jump the gap and move forward.  We have to make a sort of leap and this is always precipitated by some sort of shock although we may not always label it that way and it may be only a mild shock if it is only a mild sundi.  Think, for example, of the mild shock it takes to leap the gap between dog pose and kicking up into handstand. 

Yoga teaches us exactly what to do in that gap.  We must become spacious inwardly, open to grace.  Yoga trains us to learn, gradually but inevitably, to draw inward and expand when we find ourseves in a sundi.  This is in fact the practice of pratyhara.  We draw our senses inward and expand our inner body and heart from the inside out.  One of my favorite images for understanding how to practice pratyhara in the sundi is the tortoise.  I like to imagine that I can withdraw all my senses like the tortoise withdraws her 4 legs, tail and head, into a spacious light filled room in my heart.  And from there I can open to grace and leap the gap. 

One other thing that often helps us leap the gap is purposeful or intentional use of sound.  Imagine hovering at the door of a plane, waiting to sky-dive, and the shout of “GO!” is what makes you leap.  Or, in a quieter way, imagine someone saying “yes, yes, keep going” as a child attempts a difficult new skill.  In Yoga, chanting “OM” or saying “Namaste” at the end of class has been what has taken many people across the gap between “just a work-out” and “the practice of Yoga”.

Whether on the mat or off the mat, leaping the gap is how we evolve and transform.  On the mat, we learn to recognize the quality of a sundi, pause to draw into our heart and then, moving from the expansiveness we find there, we learn to leap.  The practice on the mat helps in another way also. It builds in us, gradually and over time, a reserve of energy.  When you reach a point where you must either go forward or backward, where you can’t stay the same, you will have the reserve of energy and a practice of courage to bridge the gap, to leap across.
         
Awareness, cultivated by practice, generates a current or charge of Prana which can help to bridge the gap. Think of a synapse and the spark that leaps across the gap. Practice is the key: we do not rise to a challenge (or a leap) but instead are enabled to leap by the ground that is cultivated by our practice. Steady practice over a long period of time, with devotion, will assure that when the sundis arise, you will be able to see the opportunity and leap the gap.

Nov 16, 2015

Spirals








Inner and Outer Spiral are two of the primary Principles of Alignment used in Anusara Yoga. The details of these spirals are elegant and  specific. But first, to place Inner and Outer Spiral in the larger context of the 5 principles, here’s a synopsis: In every pose, the first principle is to open, soften, expand with inner  brightness and ground. Then comes the second principle, Muscular Energy, which balances and provides a riverbank for the expansive quality of the first principle. Muscular Energy creates the integration and stability necessary to effectively engage Inner and Outer Spiral and allows for the the expansiveness and freedom that follows when its time to R-E-A-C-H with Organic Energy.

Learning to work and play with the engagement of the spirals in Asana helps to make Yoga truly a practice of aligning with the way the whole of the universe works - working with the same principles that are found universally in nature and spirituality.

Like the Spiral Pattern..............
The spiral is probably the oldest symbol of human spirituality. Spiral petroglyphs have been found on every continent in the world. The Hopis have a name for God that is “The Great Spiral”. The Divine – or the Great Spiral, if you will - has imprinted itself on every aspect of our embodied life, from our DNA to our fingerprints to the spiral pattern of our hair growth.

In nature, the spiral dynamic is found everywhere, from the spiral helix shape of our DNA structure to the spiral shape of the Galaxy. The spirals in nature are governed by the Golden Number – sometimes called the Divine number (the Fibonacci sequence) and are therefore called expressions of “the Golden Spiral.”

In movement, again, the spiral is universal. The movement that animates our lives is infused with spiral patterns, from the baby’s spiral journey out of the birth canal, to the spiral pattern that the sun makes every three months in its travels.

In the round of the seasons, as we move towards Winter Solstice, we are part of an Inner Spiraling towards Deep Source, what Brian Swimme calls "The All Nourishing Abyss," from which life arises and back to which all life returns.

From Winter Solstice, as we move towards Summer Solstice, we are part of an Outer Spiraling towards radiance and fullness of Life as the “Great Spiral” unfolds itself into form and individual expression.

Summer Solstice marks the zenith of this outer spiraling Spirit into a “Multitude of forms most wondrous” (Darwin). All of these forms most wondrous have a spiral encoding. All are an exhale of God(dess) / Mystery into Embodiment. And all will be spiraled back to the Divine and then spiraled back out again to become Life and inhaled back in again to the One. This pulsing and spiraling dance is sometimes called the Work, or the Great Process of Divine evolution. And sometimes called Lila, or God’s play.

The Spiral energy is encoded into mythology. For example, the story of the goddesses Kali and Laksmi. The center of the Spiral galaxy is a black hole - the energy of Kali - the cosmological counterpart to the Winter Solstice and the place to which all the “forms most wondrous” must make their inward spiral of return. The beauty of the Milky Way and it’s radiance is the outer Spiral and is akin to Summer solstice. This maximum outward spiral of bright life is Shri or the energy of the Goddess Laksmi!

Using the spirals in Asana give us an elegant way to  align with and participate with the Divine.
Inner Spiral in the lower body begins at the mound of the big toe and spirals upward in a bright pathway, activating and spiraling the upper thighs inward and towards back body, broadening the pelvis and continuing its expanding spiraling path to the back waistline and kidney area – the “Back Body” - the part of us that is the more of an embodiment of “Universal will” than is the Front Body.

Outer Spiral begins at the back waistline and kidney area, and spirals back down towards the feet, engaging the outer rotators or the hips, activating tailbone action, narrowing the pelvis, firming and externally rotating the outer edges of the legs and rooting the outer edges of the feet. All of these Outer Spiral actions move us more into the “Front Body”, the part of us that is an embodiment of Individual Will. Outer Spiral engages the  steadying and strengthening action of tailbone and core and firms the the large muscles of hips and buttocks necessary to walk our walk in life and be strong as Individual expressions of the Universal.

Yoga is a Gift that has been spiraled into the Heart of the practitioner from the Heart of the Beloved. A Yoga practice, sustained over a long time with devotion (abhyasa),is a devotional outer spiral that R-E-A-C-H-E-S from the Heart of the practitioner back to the Heart of the Beloved.




Nov 2, 2015

Bring the Light

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3 Teaching from Yoga
·      Balanced Action generates a current of prana
·      I don’t see the works as it is, but as I am
·      As I see the world I create the world
(Prana is the yoga tradition’s word for life energy. I think of and experience prana as liquid light – or light mixed with love.)   

I try to remember to pray – before I get out of bed or even open my eyes. My prayer doesn’t have words so much as a feeling or wish that I can do my day in such a way that I generate a steady, bright current of prana inwardly…so that I might see more prana in the world (more light; more love)… so that I might create the world as I see it, a world with more light and more love.

Then I get out of bed and have a cuppa and sit and enjoy the quiet. And then I meditate and practice pranayama.

I love love love to begin my day the way Yoga asks me to begin my day - by making of myself a deep gravity well of listening. Start in stillness. Meditate. Become like the moon listening to the sun. When I do this, the generosity of the sun and the softer more liquid light of the moon, begin to shine more fully in every cell and atom.

By listening in this way, I can also bring balanced action into my day. I take my work orders for the day from the big boss. S(he) is a wonderful boss - the best. I sit down with this Maha-Manager, we close our eyes and wait and listen and I allow the work orders of my day to arise from a still point within.

When I skip my morning practice - because I am sooooo busy - I usually make plans that are too small. and my work day becomes driven by a crowd of mean little Mafioso.

But the Big Boss is generous and gentle - as generous as the sun and as gentle as the moon.  S(he) has a much nicer work day in mind for me and gives me unexpected bonuses of serendipity, surprise, spontaneity and synchronicity. She makes sure I have plenty of time for lunch and even a nap. And s(he) likes to make sure I quit on time – or even knock off early - so I can go outside and play or relax on the couch with my sweetheart.  S(he) is the Best Boss ever.  

I trust the principles of alignment which guide my Yoga practice to help me move through my day in a way that generates a steady current – no brown outs, intermittent power surges or power losses. Whatever I am doing – dishes or computer or teaching -  I try to remember (and I do forget regularly, but I do know how to begin again) to do things in this order:
1.     Soften and Ground. Breathe. First Principle first: come home to the Bright Middle between Heaven and Earth.
2.     Engage Balanced Action – the play between Muscular Energy (stabilizing, firming, integrating) and Organic Energy (opening, expanding, spacious).

Both #1 and #2 are Balanced Action, which generates a steady current of prana.

Balanced Action is Yoga: a generation of Light and Love that happens if you stay in place long enough to hold two poles that are contradictory complements (like inhale and exhale; firmness and suppleness; listening and expressing) in proximity to one another until a current begins to flow more brightly in body, heart and mind. It is an alive technology that both turns on light and grounds the current.

There is a weighty responsibility to having access to Yoga and a knowledge of how to turn on light. I do not see the world as it is, but as I am. I will see the world through a brightening lens – or through a glass darkly. And as I SEE the world, I CREATE the world. My center opens to every center. My heart opens to every heart. (Truly both mysticism and physics, this).

Don’t curse the darkness. Bring the light.
Maharshi


Oct 18, 2015