John Friend and Anusara

So, I just got back from the first day of a John Friend weekend here in the Twin Cities.
I just want to say that John Friend might seriously be the nicest and funniest famous yogi in the whole world. I have been to so many workshops where the guru-type is obviously sporting a super huge ego and acts all aloof and distant from the people who paid a lot of money and want to ask him/her questions.
By contrast, John Friend was talking to everyone, smiling every time I looked at him and clearly full of joy and love.
Bravo, John Friend! I am truly impressed.

Tamping Down Reactivity

Through the practice of yoga in its many forms, we begin to acquire the skills to view each situation as an outside observer. We can begin to take a slight stance away from whatever is happening at any given time and observe it rationally without instantly reacting emotionally.  Rather than feeling that everything is happening to me, we can start to just recognize that things are happening, and assess them without too much involvement.
This type of ability doesn't occur immediately. And I do think much of this ability comes from a meditation practice, more than an asana practice. Though, yoga on the mat does teach us to slow down, watch our minds and explore our reactivity to poses and sequences.

This practice of settling our reactive state is about slowing down and it's also about our sense of self. In the Yoga Sutras Patanjali outlines 5 kleshas or "aversions" which prevent us from true liberation.
Asmita is the sense of the self as separate from everything and everyone. It is the ego. Verse 2.6 is


In literal translation, it says asmita is the misidentification of the power of seeing with what is seen. And asmita itself literally means "I am this" or I am that." (The Yoga Sutras by Ravi Ravindra pg. 61-62)
Asmita is clinging to the identification of "us" and not "them." Through this attachment to our sense of self, we are able as a human race to do really terrible things to each other. And it means that tend to feel that things are "happening to us" rather than just happening. We identify with our bodies and our minds as ourselves and do anything to protect them from being damaged.

When we step back from situations, even just for a brief second of assessment or contemplation, we can see that almost everyone is acting out of their reactive state of asmita. So the next time someone is cutting in line at the post office or putting their yoga mat really close to yours, can you separate from your sense of self and from that standpoint determine the level of reactivity necessary? In all likelihood, through just a few seconds of thoughtful consideration, you will act more kindly and rationally; a simple step to making the world a better place.

Yoga is For Everyone

Yeah, yeah, yeah. That's what everyone says, right?
I was talking to a good friend of mine last night about this blog and how I wanted it to be accessible to everyone--even those who can't put their big toe to their third eye--when I said, "yoga is for everyone."
Now, I totally believe this to be true, but my friend lives in Los Angeles where I get the feeling that the yoga culture is not particularly in line with what Patanjali had in mind when he codified the yoga sutras.
So, that got me thinking that people who don't do the physical practice of yoga (hatha) and even some of those who do, are still convinced that yoga is a form of exercise/stretching that requires $80 pants and a beautiful body.

Here is the reality. There are 7 main types of yoga--essentially there is "something for everyone." Many practitioners perform multiple types of yoga, but any one practice eventually leads to the same goal of liberation.

Hatha This is one of two that involves the performance of postures. The goal of performing the poses of hatha yoga is to increase the flow of prana which increases your sense of vitality which begins to make you more aware of the present moment and your very aliveness. This type of yoga should eventually lead to a meditation practice. (See my post on this here: Asana)

Mantra In this type of yoga, the practitioner repeats a phrase in Sanskrit, which is usually a prayer or a praise of a Hindu deity. But it doesn't have to be. It could be a Christian phrase or something that you find inspirational. You make space in your heart and you repeat the phrase 108 times. You can say the phrase out loud, silently but with lips moving or mentally. This repetition is called japa.
Om which is often chanted at the beginning of yoga classes is a potential mantra. It is a call to consciousness.

Bhakti This type of yoga is devotional. This is essentially giving your whole life and being to the devotion of a higher power. Notice that I did not say God. For many people this is "God" but it could also be nature, higher consciousness or love. This form of yoga is performed by praying, singing, dancing or any other action that you find can best express your devotion.

Laya/Kundalini This is the type of yoga that I know the least about. It is a meditative form in which you cleanse/open up your chakras (energy centers along the spine) to make way for kundalini energy to rise from the root chakra to the crown of the head. I'm not going to say anything more, because I truly don't understand it.

Karma The yoga of action. This is typically interpreted as "doing good" or giving back to the community. Which isn't a bad way of seeing it. But from the Bhagavad Gita we understand karma yoga as simply "action." There is a catch however, you must do the action (each and every action in your life) without attachment to the fruits of your labor. Damn.

Jnana yoga is the intellectual pursuit to liberation. It is the "path of discernment" in which you separate the real from the unreal. This is also a meditative form. I have heard people say that this is a form of yoga for atheists. Could be.

Raja yoga is the "kings path" of yoga. I have talked about this several times in this blog before. It is the 8-limbed path involving inner and outer observances, posture, breath, withdrawal of the senses, concentration, meditation and merging with consciousness. I think this is a great path for anyone trying to get a beginning grasp on yoga as a whole, before choosing a particular methodology.

I hope this is equally illuminating and inspiring--yoga can be for you at any level. You do not have to be attached to yoga as a form of postures, but rather can think about yoga as a form of liberation.

Psoas Opening with the Craniosacral Rhythm

I made a new video with a 15 minute sequence for opening up the psoas muscle.

Psoas major and minor
This is an integral practice to backbending, and this sequence could lead you up to a bigger backbend. Be sure to try it with the craniosacral breath work--I think it makes a huge difference in terms of opening.
I ran out of time before I could complete the second side of ardha virasana. Do the second side in the same way as the first and then you will be primed for a backbend. Try setu bandhasana or danurasana first and maybe by the third set you'll be ready for urdva danurasana or full virasana.
Happy practice!

Click here for the video:
Psoas Sequence

P.S. This video was shot in the lovely Yoga Garden space. Come by and check it out!


So, I am studying yogic philosophy with a local MPLS teacher--Ben Vincent. He's kind of amazingly smart and kind. Check his website out here:

Our work together involves many approaches stemming from the studying and chanting of the Yoga Sutras in Sanskrit. I'm here to tell you that it's not easy work. And for that matter, neither is the mantra practice, meditation practice or dharma work that I'm doing in conjunction. Not only is it difficult on the mind and body, but it stirs up all the emotional crap that I've been subconsciously storing for....oh, the past 30 years. Ouch.

So, as the work continues to, well, work, and my emotional health is feeling a bit low, I have finally figured out what I need. And that is of course a sangha. 
A sangha  is a community in which you practice. Ideally it would include people with whom you see eye to eye and who are doing similar work to you. In the current system of Western Yoga, this tends to take the form of a yoga studio. In Buddhism, it's your community of fellow meditation practitioners.

In Buddhist philosophy the sangha is one of "three jewels" or "three refuges" also including the teacher (Buddha) and the teachings (Dharma). In yoga these can be understood as the teacher (guru) and the teachings (shastra). Though I have a philosophy teacher, I've been lacking an asana teacher for some time now. Someone who I really connect with seems out of reach somehow, and in order to continue to grow as a teacher myself, I think it best to maintain a strong practice with someone.

Which brings me to my plan. I am going to attend a week's worth of classes at all the Minneapolis yoga studios that peak my interest. On my list are the Yoga Center of MPLS, One Yoga, The Om Collective, The Meditation Center, Devanadi Yoga and the St. Paul Yoga Center. And maybe, just maybe I will finally find the refuge that I've been craving. And maybe with the appropriate sangha connection, I will have a support system when the going gets rough on the meditation cushion.

The Craniosacral Rhythm

Here's a short video on a new technique I've been working with. Why oh why am I stuck in this horrifying half eyes closed shot?

My dad Dennis is a physical therapist and has been developing this movement pattern over the past couple years. I've only been putting it into my practice for about a month, but the connection to the bandhas (yogic locks) is incredible.

As you will see, the most important part of this work (as with a yoga practice) is to completely connect the movements with your breath. Also, keep in mind that this way of moving can feel counter-intuitive at first, but the more you work with it, the more natural it will begin to feel. As my dad would say, "breathe when you tilt and tilt when you breathe!"
There is an anterior tilt to the pelvis which connects to an inhale breath--in other words, make a motion as though you are going to arch your spine and stick out your booty. Do that subtly, but focus on drawing your diaphragm downwards. As you exhale, you'll draw the pubic bone toward your face and tuck the pelvis. As you do so, draw the low belly, about an inch below the belly button, back and up toward your spine. 

You can do this work anytime, not just in your yoga practice. Try fitting it into your downtime throughout the day, such as when you're stopped at a red light or sitting at your desk daydreaming. Also begin to work it into your time on the mat. I will be offering several more videos to come with more specific ways to find the connection.

My time cut off before I could say Namaste... Namaste, ya'll!

The Craniosacral Rhythm

The Yoga Garden

In a couple of weeks, I'm going to start teaching at Yoga Garden Mpls in Northeast Minneapolis. Laurel van Matre a local Anusara inspired instructor (and my sometimes teacher) is the owner. She takes inspiration from her other gig as a gardener, so the space is akin to a beautiful landscape--lovely natural lighting, instantaneous comfort and beautiful succulents line the walls.
The loft style space is ultra modern without any pretension and is easy to find.

I will be teaching a Wednesday Workshop from 1:00-2:30 in which we'll truly dig into a pose or a body part or maybe even some mantra practice. Once I figure it out, I plan to post my monthly schedule for the workshops ahead of time. Stay tuned for that.

I will also be teaching Sunday mornings (not quite mornings, though for the hungover crowd) from 11:30-1:00. This will be a classic vinyasa flow with super groovy music and an always exciting and highly anticipated peak pose.

If you're in the Minneapolis area, come by and check out the studio. Laurel's classes are great as well and she really knows her stuff. You can also check it out on the web at
See you soon!

Yoga Garden
1229 Tyler Street NE Suite 140

Niyamas: Svadhyaya

Svadhyaya the fourth of five niyamas is the "study of one's self."

In Living the Yamas and Niyamas by Aadil Palkhivala, he writes:

"As yoga teachers, it's our responsibility to help students develop a practice of constant inner reflection so that they will become aware of the changes that yoga is making. This can be done by asking such questions as, "Why are you here? If you had all the money, all the time, all the energy you wanted, what would you do with your life?" In my teaching, I find that these sorts of questions stimulate the practice of svadhyaya"

When we first begin a yoga practice, there are many overwhelming and potentially confusing new concepts, i.e. "you want me to put my foot where?" and "why are we chanting om?" After a few classes, as we begin to get more comfortable with our teachers and begin to enjoy the after-effects of practice, we may begin to notice a new sense of ourselves that we'd never experienced prior. The sense that we feel more alive, or that we have musculature that we never even knew about. This turning inward and observing your personal growth is the essence of the fourth niyama. You can even begin your classes by asking yourself, "what did I come here to achieve?" And, any answer is the right one for you today, even if it is six-pack abs or peace of mind. They are all just stepping stones along the path.

In terms of your asana practice, svadhyaya is the part of the practice in which you tune in to what you are feeling. From the observation deck of the mind, you begin practice by sensing--how does your breath feel as you embark upon your practice? What bodily sensations are you experiencing? What is your mental state?

Observe, non-judgmentally, the state of your being prior to practice. And then you continuously check in as you progress. After each pose, come back to your observation tower and have a look. Have you been able to increase the flow of prana? Is your breath calm, steady and deep? Is the body becoming more supple, or are you holding tension? How about your mind? Are you making grocery lists and envying your neighbor's bakasana or can you quiet the ticker tape of the mind and tune into your practice?

In terms of your day-to-day life practice, svadhyaya is put into practice by watching your emotional states. Especially those that are uncomfortable such as anger, shame or sadness. Was it an external force that created your emotional state? If so, in the future, rather than jumping to an increased emotional state, can you begin to step back and observe the situation, observe the activity of the mind before your reactive sense of self (EGO) flies off the handle?

This capability is years in the making—and isn't easy. But the more often you come to the mat and come to the cushion, the more you can "study the self" to be able to soothe your potential reactive mind before it even starts.

This practice of yoga is all about self-transformation—the possibility of waking up to experience the joy of the real you. So quite naturally, you have to take a darn good look at yourself, spend some time with your svadhyaya practice, before you can begin to make true, effective progress.




Yoga is not about poses. It is not about breathing.
Yoga is about consciousness.
I read this in the Yoga Journal about a month ago and it has really stuck with me.

The Raja path of yoga or "King's Yoga" outlines eight steps toward Self-realization, the third of which is asana.
Of course, most people who have delved into the philosophical aspects of yoga realize that the asana portion of the 8-Limbed Path or the "practice of poses" is a mere eighth of the work to be done on the way to enlightenment. And depending on who you talk to, the poses were designed mainly to prepare the body for long periods of meditation, or to give 13-year-old boys a way to release some energy while studying to become yogis.

Unfortunately, for many modern Westerners, it's easy to get caught up in the physical practice--a lot of people think that becoming flexible is the goal of yoga. Now to be clear, I don't think there is anything wrong with asana practice or with using it as the stepping-stone toward a more well-rounded practice. It is a fairly accessible format for the modern-day yogi and has allowed me to begin inching my way along the 8-limbed-path.

In fact, there are ways to use the asana practice in order to advance oneself toward expanded consciousness. The practice on the mat is the first place a lot of us begin to feel aware for the first time. It can be a huge wake-up call for a lot of people. Just gaining body awareness, something many modern people lack, can be a necessary step. After the body awareness comes the breath awareness, which can initially enable you to feel more present in the moment.This moment-to-moment presence, which can take years to cultivate, is the main goal of your work on the mat--not to put your leg behind your head or to hold handstand for ten minutes.

Another goal of the asana practice is the increased flow of prana or "life-force." Prana as a term can represent several things, but in an expanded understanding can mean vitality or aliveness. When one practices postures and links movement to breath, energy channels throughout the body begin to "wake up" and make space for unhindered flow. This is one of the reasons that you feel so good after you practice--you know that sense when you just get done with class that you really want to go back, but you're not quite sure why? That is mental awareness of increased prana, or more simply feeling more alive.
When you can begin to tap into your own individual flow of prana, you can begin to apply this new-found vitality into your present moment awareness.

While the body does become toned and supple as a result of years of practice, it should be considered a by-product (albeit a nice one) of the third step (asana) on the way to the eighth step (samadhi or self-realization).
I can greatly appreciate the modern-day application of asana because it brought me to the path of yoga. But after awhile, we have to make that next step. We have to accept that the ancient science of yoga aims at a much bigger goal than standing on our head. And that goal, of course, is Self-Realization.

Niyamas: Tapas

Tapas the third niyama translates as discipline or austerity, but can be better understood as "heat" or  something, the thing, that drives your practice.
The more regularly you practice, the more momentum or heat you are able to create to feed the continuation of your practice.
You practice, you begin to see results.
You practice regularly, your life begins to change.

The benefits of yoga asana practice are many--physically, mentally, emotionally--they are too numerous to list. The benefits of a meditation practice are also many--mental clarity, more level emotional state--again too numerous to create a simple list.
Despite the ability of these disciplines to heal the body, mind and spirit, there is a catch.
Isn't there always a catch?

It is this: in order to achieve the much desired benefits of practice, one must cultivate a regularity of practice. Through this regularity, we can begin to see our own weak spots, the areas of our lives on which we need to focus. If we only practice yoga asana once a week and meditate once a month, we are not exposed to the particulars of our own needs. How can we begin to listen to the focus of our thoughts--which may bring to light our personal samskaras or life patterns--if we don't sit down and do so each day?
Well, simply put, we cannot.

In this lifetime, if you wish to shed light on the true nature of your Self, if you wish to discover the fullness of life available to you (it's in there), come to the mat regularly and come to the meditation cushion even more often.

Nothing that's worth achieving comes easily. But the more consistently you practice, the more tapas you create, the more clarity you will have to see your Self as you really are.

Spring Cleaning: Ardha Matsyendrasana

With hand wrapped
It's time to clean out those pipes kids. What better all-natural way than twisting? When we twist we constrict the organs, depriving them briefly of their natural flow of blood and oxygen so that when we undo, new goodness floods into the kidneys, livers, intestines and spleen removing toxins and flushing out the muck.
Twisting is also great for spinal health, encouraging each vertebra to retain maximum mobility and strengthening the spine.
Hooked opposite elbow

To get into Ardha Matsyendrasana or "Lord of the Fishes" pose, begin with your left leg extended and your right leg crossed over the midline to the outer left knee.
Pin down the big toe ball mound of the right foot and fold the left foot toward your right hip (if you have the flexibility--if not, work with a strong flexed straight leg)

Make sure both sitting bones are evenly pressing into the mat. Draw the spine long, stacking one vertebra on top of the next with an inhale. As you exhale begin to turn the torso to the right. If you have open enough shoulders, you may consider hooking the left elbow to the outer right knee. Keep the head in line with the spine. Continue to press the left sitting bone down--it's going to want to pop up.

Don't get stuck here! The tendency in twisting is to go as far as you can and stop.
Continue to draw the spine long with inhales and twist open with exhales.
You may feel quite constricting in the low belly. This is normal and in fact, what you're going for here. Ardha Matsyendrasana is a closed twist, so it tends to feel more compressed.
Stay as long as it serves you, find a neutral position in between (dandasana works great) and then it's on to side number two.

Niyamas: Santosha

The second niyama or individual conduct is also the namesake of this blog--Santosha.
If you're curious as to why I chose this as its name, check out the very first post. If you're curious what a niyama could possibly be, check out the first posting on Yamas. Good? Good.

Okay, here we go.
Santosha can be summed up in a single word--contentment. Not happiness or joy, mind you. But straightforward contentment--not happy, not sad.
In my interpretation of santosha, when we practice the second niyama, we are striving for a sense of peace of mind in each moment. It is absolutely impossible to be happy and joyous at each moment in our lives--we are bound to experience pain and suffering on some level at some time. But through regular practice--daily asana, meditation and whatever other yogic practices move you, we begin to develop the tools to face each challenge of life and remain content in those moments.
This sense of contentment will not come easily. Through years and years of practice, you will begin to see the world with a discerning eye, enough to realize that to experience a moment fully, any moment, you must experience all the joy and pain available in it. And then to take the next step, you can have peace of mind within that moment.

Allow me to offer a daily life example.
Many people dislike their jobs, correct?  But also consider that the daily grind of going to work is a necessary evil to pay the bills, afford a family, etc.
I think that within this negative feeling toward your job, that there is the possibility for contentment, despite the suffering. There is the possibility to slightly shift your perspective to recognize that even though you have aspirations of being something bigger and better in your life, that this present moment experience of your job is a natural stepping stone. Can you try to find some sense of santosha there? Can you try to see the peace available through moment to moment awareness?

How do we practice santosha on the mat/meditation cushion?
I think we have to be content within each practice that we showed up to do the work. Not every asana practice will produce amazing results. At times you will be able to stay in headstand for 5 minutes and at other times, you will fall out on to your back. Sometimes in your meditation, you will easily find single-pointed awareness and sometimes your mind will be a gaggle of monkeys. Can you simultaneously practice non-attachment to the moments that are "good" and contentment with each experience no matter the outcome? This is the beginning of your santosha work.

Niyamas: Saucha

The second limb on the Raja yoga path is Niyamas. In Bringing Yoga to Life by Donna Farhi, she refers to niyamas as "inner observances" which act as a code for living soulfully. (p. 31)
They can also be considered "individual conduct" as the yamas (the first limb on the 8-limbed path) were defined as "social conduct."

The niyamas in order are:
1. saucha: cleanliness/purity
2. santosha: contentment
3. tapas: austerity/discipline
4. swadhyaya: study
5. isvarapranidhana: surrender to the divine

Practicing the niyamas means it's time to turn inward.  Each yama is best begun by looking inward, but with each niyama, the entire practice is about you. It's time here to do some examination of us before we proceed further along the path.

The first niyama, which can be translated as cleanliness and/or purity, is saucha.
These directives, the "to do lists" of the niyamas are truly of an individual nature--no one else can decide for you what it means to live with purity. While there is a hygienic component (a slovenly yogini is certainly not practicing purely) this niyama is about being the best person that you can.
How? I think it's up to us individually to decide.

We have so many choices to make--daily small choices and larger life choices. The options are overwhelming at times--to be a vegetarian or not? To have children or not? To buy organic or not? Why? To drive or take the bus? Etc, etc, ad nauseum.
I think a good practice for ourselves is to daily ask ourselves why we do something a certain way, or why it is that we think a certain thing. This sort of self-questioning is a good way to determine whether or not we are choosing a lifestyle which is to our best benefit. It's also a good way for us to question our own sense of reality. Assuming that everything is real is one of the four flawed perceptions. Can you expand your notion of reality?

We may even want to examine which yoga practice is best for us. For some of us, the practice of yoga asana is not the best way forward. Especially for those of us who have intense injuries or are entering this practice later in our lives--we may want to consider other options--perhaps bhakti yoga, the yoga of devotion or jnana yoga, the yoga of wisdom are better suited to our individual needs.

Start practicing saucha by asking some questions. They don't have to be big, but this daily practice may provide you with the insight you need to live with a pure heart and mind. Choose pathways that will best allow you to actualize your potential for pure consciousness.

Yamas: Aparigraha

Here in the West, we should want for nothing.
Most of us have ample food, housing, clothing and means of transportation, but it is somehow never enough. We spend our days thinking about what we "need" in order to make our lives better, more livable. If I only had _______ then my life would be better. You can insert material possessions, emotions, knowledge, a better yoga practice; there's always something.
On and on. Day in, day out.

The fifth and final yama is aparigraga which can be translated as non-attachment and also non-covetousness. If any of us take a moment of repose to ponder why exactly we want whatever it is that we want, it's often to fill a need other than that which the object serves. If we ponder why it is that we're attached to something, it is often out of fear of losing it. And through that loss, a void will form which we'll be unable to fill.

Now, I'm not talking about specific things that we need to function in day-to-day life--food, shelter--or things that serve a purpose--cars, computers--but rather the constant need to consume. The ever-present void that we feel unless we're obtaining something. Again, that notion that something will be the tipping point between our lives of suffering and a life in which we are fully alive. And then we tend to cling to those things, as though they are the engine that keeps us going.

In action, Aparigraha gives us the opportunity to work on "letting go" while simultaneously trying to squelch the fires of desire.  As in the previous four yamas, a fantastic place to start is with the self.
Take a little inventory and note your desires. Not your life goals, but the things which you covet. Good examples are power, a better body, money, a stronger yoga practice, people, etc.
And then a good practice is to notice how much of the time your mind is consumed by thoughts of these possessions or attachments. How much of your time is spent desiring a different life than the one that you have or clinging to the life that you "have"?

How are we going to stop suffering in attachment and desire in this life and simultaneously start living?

Well, I don't know. I mean, I have a few ideas, which I'll share, but I won't pretend to have life figured out. I'm just as much on the path as the next guy.

But here goes.
Desire is often rooted in fear. Attachment is also rooted in fear.
We are often attached to notions that we have of ourselves. The ego (ahamkara) is strong and loud. It takes lifetimes of practice to quiet its yearnings. Now is as good a time as any to begin.

On the mat, notice your tendency to cling to one style, one teacher, or even your ability to do a pose. Take a note of these attachments and try to use aparigraha to let go.
In your life, notice your tendency to cling to people, possessions, money, and power. Why? What is the root of these attachments? Maybe even take some time to consider what would happen if they went away--people will die, money will run out, power will fade, possessions will turn to carbon...
With each contemplation, note your reaction. Can you begin to ease your grip on these things?

The ultimate goal of a yoga practice is to let go of the false self and realize the true Self.
I have talked much about this in previous posts--about the 8-limbed path of Raja yoga and it's ultimate goal of Self-revelation. Aparigraha is just one step along the way, one which isn't going to be easy--attachment and desire are deep-seated--but one which we must take if we are to make it to the end.