Preparing for Winter

The cold is settling in. Fog lingers until the late hours of the morning, whilst the sun retires earlier and earlier. Winter is creeping up on us. In the beginning this comes as a relief. After the hectic schedule of summer and autumn, winter’s hibernation feels like a breath of fresh air. In the cold I go out less. My daytime activities, other than working, are centered around finding a spot of sun in which to sit quietly and drink in its warmth. The cold invites me to withdraw, to quiet and slow down.

Winter is a time of turning in–physically, mentally and spiritually. It is a time of quieting and learning to make friends with stillness and darkness. For many of us this comes, at first, as an experience of rest. After the outward activity of the earlier months, winter’s hibernation offers rest and a space to slow down. However, for many, after some time, stillness becomes uncomfortable. The slow pace goes against our mindsets to keep “doing”.  In the quiet we come face to face with ourselves and the harvest of earlier months. Do we like what we have sown and gathered? Does it support us during the dark and quiet of winter? This harvest is as much material as it is emotional and spiritual. What feeds us when we are in the dark? How comfortable are we with ourselves, as we are, when there is nothing to distract us from ourselves? Who are we without creating something or having something to show for?

Winter is a time of simplicity. There is little outward production. This simplicity, this lack of outward manifestation, is part of the cycle of life. It is essential to creation. Rest and retreat allow for us to gather strength, to learn to pace ourselves, and to reassess. In the act of not-doing, we create the space for the new to come. Without an end, there is no beginning. In the Christian faith the birth of Christ, the Lord of Light, is celebrated in the Winter months and coincides with the Winter Solstice, the darkest day of the year. It is only when we reach the darkest point of the year that the tables turn and the Sun begins his return. After the Winter Solstice days become longer, and we know that Spring, the promise of new life, is on its way.

It is in the dark that we need to be reminded of the light. It is in the dark that faith–the light of our heart–is born. It is at the most difficult times of our lives when we are initiated into our strength and recognize the need of support and of community. Darkness is a gift. So are stillness and quiet. May we learn to embrace them. And may we allow them to dance us back to our own inner light and to find the light of love in community, family and friends.

In preparation for winter, Isha is offering the following Yoga Retreat at the beautiful Chandra Ban Eco Resort. Details are as follow. We look forward to seeing you there!

Winter Weekend Yoga RetreatMain house
November 21-23, 2014

As the darkest time of the year nears, the temperature drops and the natural world around us retreats into herself. Just as Nature draws inward, so do we follow her calling to rest, store and prepare. The colder, darker months are a time to ground, internalize and find our ease and place in the stillness around- and in us.

Join us for a restorative and informative weekend retreat. Learn the practical tools that keep our body healthy and our mind and heart balanced during times of winter hibernation.

This weekend retreat includes:

-daily asana and pranayama practice for stoking the internal fire and encouraging suppleness

-daily meditation: yoga nidra (deep relaxation) and mindfulness tehcniques

-introduction to simple dietary and daily guidelines that, according to yoga and ayurveda, nourish and support our systems in the colder season.

-discussion/meditations to uncover how to bring these holistic tools into our daily life

-nature walks

-delicious vegetarian meals

-quiet time for reflection & rest

-good company!

Level: All welcome. No previous experience in yoga or meditation required.

Location: Chandra Ban Eco-Resort, Kathmandu

Information & Registration: Please contact Amrit at 98510-73559 or amritthapa108@gmail.com

Bad Days

You know those days when everything seems to go “wrong” from the moment you wake up? You stub your toe, bump into the wall, the dogs chew on your favorite shoes or get into the garbage and decide to play with it in the living room. A day of bumper to bumper traffic when you’re late;  of coffee spilled on your clothes before an important meeting.

Yes. Those days. 

I’ve had a few of those days lately.

Let me preface my tirade with the acknowledgement that this struggle is not life threatening. There are places and people in the world, as I write, that are in the throws of extreme turmoil, where the threat to life is real and constant. As I rant I am aware of the scale of my “bad days” as minuscule in comparison.

My current daily struggle is rather puny. And so it is for many of us. Even so, the low grade, chronic irritation that is born from a pile up of small or medium scale trials is not inconsequential. Much of our “stress” comes from bite size triggers that are repetitive and continuous, gnawing on us till we bleed. The relentless irritation can drive us to drastic and impulsive behavior.

Last week felt like walking in a minefield. No matter how aware, how present I practiced being, I seemed to walk into one booby trap after another. Some were small; some were splat-in-your-face-in-public painful. After the third or fourth time I walked into the wall (literally and figuratively) I stopped. I just stopped in my tracks. The usual onslaught of frustration and ‘poor-me’ was playing loudly and clearly in my head. The tears were on tap and ready to flow. But in the time it took me to pause, to stop and simply breathe, the ridiculousness of the situation became crystal clear. I plopped down where I was and instead of tears came laughter.

“This is completely insane”, I thought to myself.

And it was. What was insane was not just the events that were happening. What was more insane than them was my reaction to them. Insane was my insistence to continue pushing myself to do things in the same way I had been doing them. It finally occurred to me that if I was running up against walls wherever I turned, then perhaps I might want to consider doing things differently and use a new approach.

When I stopped for a moment, I could rest. I could look around me and within.  What was I feeling at the moment? What sensations was my body experiencing? Pain, ease, tightness, ache? Just by the act of paying attention, of checking in, my entire system relaxed.

Yoga understands that wherever our attention goes prana, or life force, goes. Being present and alive with what was happening within in that moment brought the life flow back into the space of what was taking place. Present, I could then enquire and ask myself what I needed at that moment. Rest? Water? Food? Crying? A hug? Quiet? Activity? A walk? Writing? Playing with the dogs? For the next few hours I followed only this directive: find out what needs tending to and tend to it with full presence. 

I went for a long walk. A walk in the same neighborhood, with the same shops as always. It was my same body walking.  It was the same day I had been struggling through. But this time I took my time. This time I looked upwards. The sky was gorgeous. Right before sunset, yellows, oranges and purples mixed into the huge billowing white monsoon clouds against a light blue sky. This time I looked around me. People walking, trees standing, street dogs and butterflies going about their business. Each one of us doing “our thing”. A thousand, a million activities happening simultaneously; synchronized, and orchestrated by the same forces that made the clouds big and the sky so colorful. The same forces against which I had been pushing earlier. As I popped by the Durga temple and went in, I bowed my head, asking for Her Grace and Her strength to cut through the clouds of my ignorance and self pity. Fixed in stone, Her idol didn’t budge. But She was moving mountains, gently pulling away the veils from my eyes of in-sight. 

It is not that the clouds of confusion nor that any challenging emotion are bad. It is not that having a bad day makes us any less than who we are. It is that those “bad” feelings and their accompanying states of mind alienate us from the beauty and connectivity around us, that are up for the taking all of the time. At times we are called to reach out to that raw magic through action. At other times it is through quiet, stillness and non-doing that we align with that very majesty. Moment to moment, we are invited to gauge, watch, and notice what is offering itself to us. A world of abundant auspicious-ness and beauty.

What’s in a name?

In Nepal when a child is born into a Hindu family it remains nameless for the first 10 to 12 days of its life. Bestowing a name on an unborn being seems strange and, for some, unthinkable.

A child receives his or her “title” during Namakaranam, the name giving ceremony. In this ritual, in the presence of the parents and close relatives, the priest whispers the child’s name into his or her ear for the first time, initiating the small being into its nada, or sound vibration, and the energy it carries. This ceremony is the fourth the child has already been part of (rituals accompany conception, pregnancy and birth) and one of the possible 16 rituals that will see it through the various stages of its life, including death.

Namakaranam marks the arrival of the child into its family and the beginning of its dharma, or life calling. The child’s name is chosen according to its Vedic birth chart, or horoscope, in which the Moon’s constellation- each endowed with a syllable- denotes the sound by which the name should start. Once this information is given, the family–more often than not the parents as well as the elders of the clan–pick the name that they feel is appropriate for their little one. Having observed the child for the first few days and throughout the pregnancy, the family will often choose a title that best suits his/her character.

Whether we are born into a culture in which such rituals exist, or come from a background of fewer customs, there is nothing haphazard about a name. Parents, family members, or guardians ponder with great care what epithet to give a new being, understanding that this calling will accompany the child throughout the rest of its life.

Name is sound, shabda shakti. It is an energetic vibration that carries within it a certain quality of consciousness. A name grounds us. Like the coordinates on the map of life, name denotes a space and place for us in the immensity of the Universe.

Name imparts a primordial sense of identity. Before we are old enough to collect experiences, degrees or titles and before we have anything to call our own, we have our name. And that name is a designation for all that I perceive that I am, up until that point: a body, a member of a family, an array of traits, a personality, a Spirit.

So, what happens when we change our name? Our identity shifts. Our path takes on a new meaning and direction.

Some of us will change our name when we marry, adopting the last name of our partner, thereby outwardly marking the merging of families or clans. Others of us will choose to change our first name at a point in life. This is common occurrence in spiritual rites and initiations, whether in formally recognized religions or in lesser known or unorganized wisdom traditions. For some this name remains only used in the circle of the spiritual community; for others it replaces their birth name.

A change of name is a rite of passage that marks the beginning of a new path; one that comes with a commitment. This may be a commitment to a marriage and its implications, personal and social. This may be a commitment to a spiritual path, with certain precepts and values to observe or nurture.

When I took initiation and asked my spiritual teacher for a name, I did so as a commitment to my spiritual path. I yearned for direction and clarity on my life course. I yearned to know my dharma; how best to apply myself with qualities I knew I had and the qualities within me that I had yet to uncover. I did not ask for a spiritual name to become a yoga teacher with some funky Sanskrit name. Teaching Yoga was actually low on my list of possible “professional” pursuits at the time. Asking for a spiritual name was no small thing, no cute little ritual to tick off of my “cool and different things to do” list. Quite to the contrary. It was a baptism. The beginning of my marriage to Self and Spirit, as my spiritual name would symbolize the energy or consciousness I was here to awaken and embody.

Truth be told I was hoping for a very subtle name; one that would slip off of the tongue easily and not be too noticeable. For, you see, I thought I was subtle. In fact, I thought many things of myself. Least of all did I ever think of myself as what my spiritual name signified. When I received my new appellation as YogaTara I was not only surprised but rather horrified. YogaTara. What? A name that begins with “yoga”? Are you kidding me? Good God. A name that means the Star, Shakti (divine feminine form) or Buddha of Yoga. The light in the darkness. The initial excitement of receiving my name was quickly smoked out by feelings of embarrassment and trepidation.

YogaTara is not a name that slips off the tongue easily. Nor is it subtle. It has taken me time to accept my name. Learning to carry it, to accept its energy, is part of my personal growth. My name is part of my sadhana, or spiritual practice, and brings me great focus. It is a constant reminder, to remain mindful, to align myself with Spirit and my path. More and more I use my spiritual name not only in my line of work, but also in the other circles of my life.  It seems fitting. For as I walk upon my path, there is less and less separation between the spiritual and material, the mystical and the mundane. It is merging, dancing into one-ness.

My name is YogaTara. Thank you for calling me so, for every time you do you join the choir that sings my spirit back to itself.