It is spring and it is warm in California. I haven’t been exercising over the winter because it has been extremely cold for California. I had the bug everyone else had. But, now I am back, and we have just experienced Spring Equinox on March 21st, 2019.
And I am headed back to yoga classes.
Why did I start doing yoga? It’s a good question, since I started as a senior in high school, which would have been 1973. I was a lower middle class kid who had very few resources. I was also from an abusive family, where I was responsible for taking care of my younger five brothers and sisters. This meant I almost always had to come home from school and start peeling potatoes, getting dinner ready for when my father would walk through the door—and hopefully be in a good mood.
I learned to not be around when he walked in that door, because he would take out his anger on whoever was first in his path. I remember thinking this was very smart on my part, and also feeling guilty that I hadn’t imparted this to the other kids. Someone had to be in his path when he got home, and I didn’t want it to be me. I still feel guilty about that—even though as the oldest I was punished physically by him more than the others.
About 5 years ago, I began a consistent yoga practice. Right around the same time, I started a PhD program in Women’s Spirituality at the California Institute of Integral Studies where I eventually wrote my dissertation on Women’s Spiritual Leadership. Throughout my studies, I realized that the path of the Divine Feminine is an intricate journey that accentuates the mind, body, soul connection. The yogic path does the same. In late 2018, I enrolled in an intensive 5-week 300-hour yoga teacher training in India where I continued my spiritual explorations. Hindu culture reveres the Divine Feminine and Divine Masculine and yoga is viewed as a pathway into God/dess through the body. Here’s the first part of the story…
I’m in India and it’s 5:30 a.m. and an hour of pranayama awaits me. The yogis define prana as the life force that animates the entire body and yama relates to discipline. The practice of pranayama consists of breathing techniques that aim to control the breath in order to connect to the life force that resides within. Accessing this life force can invoke feelings of bliss and a connection to the Divine.
Reading the brilliant post Another Brick in the Ivory Wall by Natalie Weaver brought back some old feelings about being an ex-academic who finally let go of the search. While the wound reopened a bit, I can honestly say that I’ve come to a calm peace about walking away from my goal of becoming a professor. This was a messy, emotional process, but through the muck, a lotus emerged within me nurtured by equanimity, humility, peaceful detachment, trust, and surrender. Here’s my story.
When I completed my Ph.D. in Women’s Spirituality in 2015, I was on a MISSION to become a professor and finally become credible in the eyes of the world (or, maybe just my father). From the Bachelors to the Ph.D., I had 15 years of schooling under my belt. Throughout the entire journey, I was told that I would probably never secure a position as a professor in Religious Studies or Women’s Studies for a myriad of reasons (e.g., those topics aren’t relevant anymore, there isn’t any money in academia to fund those fields, they only hire from within, etc.). Of course, the scared parts of me believed them, but nevertheless, I persisted, because truth be told, I was called to study religion, spirituality, gender, god/dess, female-centric philosophies, and diverse ethnic worldviews (everything my degree exposed me to). It wasn’t necessarily a choice to study; I felt called to from a soul level. Continue reading “Walking Away from the Ivory Wall by Vanessa Soriano”
Forgiveness and yoga require consistent practice. As we engage in each, healing unfolds in the body, mind, and soul. Forgiveness and yoga exist in a symbiotic relationship: forgiveness allows us to release emotional blockages that affect the body/mind, and yoga delivers us to more empowered and peaceful states within the body/mind that encourage the release. Yoga and forgiveness illuminate the body-mind connection.
All world religions and spiritual traditions emphasize the practice of forgiveness. Sages, prophets, rishis, shamans, medicine women—figures who have helped shape religion and spirituality—understood that resentment and anger depress the body and mind, which hinders our connection to the soul and Divine.
Being angry diminishes the quality of life and can incite violence against our self and others. Forgiveness helps us function at fuller capacity from a healthy internal state.
Just as forgiveness promotes healing in the body/mind, yoga accomplishes the same effect. Scientific studies from Harvard show that yoga increases body awareness, relieves stress, improves mood and behavior, and calms and centers the nervous system. Since yoga decreases the stress response in the body, it creates space in the psyche to journey into the practice of forgiveness.
I recently told my 4-year-old son the following, “son, I pray you fall in love with someone you call your best friend. I pray you both never cross the line and say mean and terrible things to each other, I pray you are not constantly apologizing for your bad behavior, I pray you will complement and enhance each other’s best qualities, and lastly, I really hope you fall in love with a teacher!”
A teacher? Of course, a teacher! I have always loved my teachers growing up. I never had one bad teacher. Teachers are caregivers and authority figures children experience separate from their own parents. Each teacher brings his or her unique love of learning and educating to the students. I was influenced so much by the vibe of teachers. And in the journey to my “career,” I became one myself….a yoga teacher.
A yoga teacher? Yes, a yoga teacher, which eventually led me to coming a ballet barre instructor. This all happened when, after a tedious and challenging few years of getting myself through law school, I rewarded myself with an entire summer off to become certified to teach yoga. Yoga got me through sticky times in my young adulthood, from soured relationships, to poor scores on my legal exams. It also kept my feet on the ground when I was flying high, whether from planning my wedding or completing my studies. Yoga was the antidote in my life. I cherished not requiring medication for all the different feelings I’ve had throughout my adult life; whether it was anxiety, depression, loss of focus, too much energy, or the run of the mill aches and pains, I always turned to yoga. The feeling of stretching and flushing out toxins, negative energy, frustration, while building strength and teaching myself how to breath, were all things I wanted to learn in more depth and, eventually, to teach. Continue reading “Teachers by Valentina Khan”
Shortly after writing “Asking for Help,” a blog in which I described losing my physical strength following a series injuries, I finally took a friend’s advice—mainly to stop her from badgering me—and went to the doctor. This is something I don’t usually do, as not only have I almost always had excellent health, but also, I believe that, for the most part, the body can heal itself. The first doctor sent me to an orthopedist who told me that the persistent bursa on my knee was nearly healed and to go ahead and exercise in order to regain my strength.
A few days later, I found myself walking to the end of my cobblestone street with my little dog and continuing on to the harbor, a walk of about fifty minutes that included a good deal of up and down, as my house is situated above the sea. As I had only planned to walk a short distance, I was amazed that I found the strength to go farther. Soon I found the perfect walk. Leaving home at 4:30 in the afternoon, I follow the road past houses and open fields down to the sea and around the harbor quay out to the lighthouse. The sun sets while I am on the quay and on most days the clear winter sky lights up and the sea turns rose-gold. The return around the harbor takes me past the little church of Agios Nikolaos where I stop to light a candle and say a prayer. Then back up the hill to my house, where I arrive just before dark. Continue reading “Reclaiming My Body by Carol P. Christ”
There are days I find myself so overwhelmed with sadness concerning the state of our world that I break down crying. Last week, I saw an episode of Mars, a scripted documentary shown on the National Geographic channel about human colonization of the red planet in 2033. One of the astronauts “interviewed” prior to leaving was asked why she was taking such a risk to inhabit Mars. She said something like, “We will give everything for this.” Why not give everything for Earth?
If we would give everything for the planet we evolved on, then we might immediately transition to a life where we would be self-sustainable, build greenhouses in our backyards, give up our carbon-emission- producing cars, and abandon all the unnecessary businesses that are only there to fill our loneliness and boredom. The idea on the psuedo-documentary was that humans are putting this planet in danger, so it might be smart to have a backup. Isn’t that insanity’s way: trash one place and then find another place to live? The insurmountable amount of money we spend on space expeditions could be spent healing our own world. This is not the time for luxuries. Continue reading “Lotus in the Mud: A Metaphor for Humanity on our Darkest Days by Elisabeth Schilling”
I write this from the heart of a ten-day silent yoga retreat deep in central Virginia. The peace within and without fills me as I gaze over the James River, meandering through its wide valley, thickly carpeted in green. The late summer thrum of cicadas rises and falls around me, and in the far distance I hear what sounds like a mower circling a field. Earlier today, during meditation, I watched a pileated woodpecker pry its meal from the hollow of an ancient oak. Rather than silently repeating my mantra with eyes closed, I had my eyes open, and I experienced the sacred vibration in the bird’s rhythmic taps.
Now a soft breeze touches my face, bringing with it the sweet scent of wet grass. “There is a blessing in this gentle breeze,” I remember the opening of William Wordsworth’s Prelude, and I am reminded as well of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s heroine Aurora Leigh, celebrating “the body of our body, the green earth.” Yes. This earth is my body, and I am blessed to be in it, here, at the ashram of my guru, Swami Satchidananda, silently practicing hatha yoga, meditating, breathing, simply being.
Both Eckhart Tolle and yoga have helped me become more conscious lately. As a Christian, I had always been a bit of a spiritual hypochondriac. Believing in the ultimate external body that had an opinion about my body – how it should feel, how it should be positioned – left me self-doubting and scrutinizing every moment for possible infractions. Christianity is supposed to be the peace that passes all understanding, but I think I had turned it into a moral gage that would never land on perfect for very long.
Furthermore, it was always difficult for me to believe what I was supposed to without being filled with ego about it. But let us face it, as someone who had journeyed outside those fundamentalist leanings, I was still a hypochondriac (it was simply that grad school had given me more physical conditions to be suspicious of) and completely full of ego, perhaps even more so. Except here I mean ‘ego’ not in a reductive way, but in the broader, more all-encompassing way that Eckhart Tolle describes.
One good way to explain ego is to relate the story that is found in Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth but that I first encountered in Yu Dan’s Confucius from the Heart: Ancient Wisdom for Today’s World. This makes me think it is a familiar story to many people, but perhaps even those people will enjoy reading it here once again. Dan narrates the story as such who also tells us it is a Buddhist tale: Continue reading “Coming to Consciousness: Eckhart Tolle and Yoga by Elisabeth Schilling”
Last month I wrote about “sleep as spiritual necessity,” and posted information about how even the Dalai Lama believes spiritual practice will suffer without sleep—and compassion must be practiced for the self—by giving the self—sleep.
If you didn’t get a chance to read that column—there is some pretty compelling evidence gathered there from an informal search of recent web articles attesting to the importance of sleep.
But, for now, let’s assume that we all agree—sleep is important and without it life is much harder than with it.
My body is the body of the goddess—witches and shamans and other magical beings (including humans) chant this in spring ritual …and other times of the year as well.
But as we prepare for spring equinox, I thought I would use my blog this March to give the Feminism and Religion community a chakra mediation for spring ritual and renewal. Spring is here. Your body is the body of the goddess. If desired, please say the following aloud or silently, participate in the suggested breathing exercise and allow yourself to sink deeply into the body that is yours and is part of the season– the awakening of spring.
Yoga is about in the moment, and gifting yourself with that moment.
I am interning right now and teaching classes in yoga. I am teaching in a park– donation based yoga. The other morning, I had no students, so was sitting on my mat and just holding the space as we wait for these classes to catch on and students to come—if we build it, they will come! A woman sat at a picnic table near me. I started up a conversation with her about yoga. She told me her lower back was “frozen” from sitting at a computer and did I know anything she could do? Yes, gratefully I did! I demonstrated some postures to her—cat/cow, cobra, downward facing dog…but also just standing in mountain pose and feeling the pelvis tuck under the hips, tucking the chin slightly and lowering the shoulders. She did not move from the picnic table—in fact held onto the picnic table edges and said she was not ready for yoga. However, she also kept asking me questions and I kept answering and demonstrating.
The next day she returned with a mat, and took a physical class. And has been coming back to my class ever since.
This year two significant shifts happened inside of me: I realized I was getting older. And I wanted to protect my body/mind. These may seem to be perhaps the same realization– but both of these realizations came from very different incidences.
Let me explain the first realization—realizing I was getting older. I am 56. Perhaps since I am a professor and while I have been getting older, my students stay the same age as each new crop of undergrads greets me in the fall. Perhaps because I have chosen to not have children of my own. Perhaps because I do work out—jogging (albeit slowly). Whatever the reason in my mind I was still not “older,” whatever that is — yet.
And then I went for a long over due eye exam. When my new glasses arrived I admired them in the large mirror across the room. But when I sat at the desk and looked in the mirror directly in front of me, I gasped. “Oh my God!” I exclaimed. “What are those?” I was staring through my new lenses at the wrinkles above my lip. I stared at the eye glass specialist — a fabulous gay man (and partner to my ophthalmologist) who helped me pick out the frames. “Do you see those wrinkles?” I asked. It was only after he said, “Oh, honey, $900 you can fix that– I know someone,” that I realized I was assuming he would say, “What? I don’t see anything.” But you can rest assured a gay male friend will not lie to you about your looks. If that dress make you look fat, he’ll tell you (and help you fix it). In any case, in that moment of corrected vision I saw my wrinkles for the first time. And I hated them. Continue reading “If You’re Lucky You Get Old—Part One by Marie Cartier”
Valentina Khan is a first year Master of Muslim Leadership Context student at the Claremont School of Theology. She is a co-founder of I Am Jerusalem, an interfaith organization which promotes friendship, understanding, and striving for the “greater purpose” by dedicating time to community service and social justice. Born and raised in Southern California, to Iranian mother, and Indian father, Valentina has a diverse background that helps her identify as a “citizen of the world”. Valentina hopes to mediate conflicts between intra-religious and inter-religious groups and cultures, via conflict resolution, as well as promote the peace she knows can exist between people if they just put in the effort. Valentina is a yoga teacher and the creator of Enerji barre, where she enjoys empowering her students to love their bodies, appreciate their health and live in the moment!
“I Am Jerusalem, that’s it, we got it, I Am Jerusalem! You are Jerusalem! We are all Jerusalem!” My best friend Sarah and I exclaimed on our yoga mats one day after a 90 minute intensive Vinyasa flow. Sarah was raised as a Christian, and I as a Muslim. It was when we were in the 7th grade when she asked me the heavy question, “so do Muslims believe in Jesus?” This question was the common theme in my life, growing up in suburban Orange County and surrounded predominately by white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestants. As a child, and still today, I can look up and down any major street in my town and find multitudes of churches: Trinity Presbyterian, a progressive church, First Church of Christ, Christian Science, Lutheran, Episcopalian, Unitarian, Methodist, and Catholic, all within a 5 mile radius. I remember we had to drive about 25 minutes to get to Sunday School at the local Mosque, and I wished so much to just go with my Christian friends down the street, after all God was the same…right? Continue reading “Recession Proof Devotion By Valentina Khan”