We are stardust, we are golden

“I’m going to camp out on the land

I’m going to try an’ get my soul free

We are stardust

We are golden

And we’ve got to get ourselves

Back to the garden”

– Joni Mitchell, Woodstock

Dear stardust,

Hope this finds you shining with some golden summer vibrations. Who’s been camping this summer? Who’s been gardening? I’ve been doing a little of both and I’d love to hear about your adventures too. We are no doubt in the midst of the world as we knew it turning upside down – but at the risk of sounding lighthearted, I must say that yoga has a lot to do with getting better at getting upside down. This is a great time for yoga practice, especially while seeking to improve public health and social justice…

Whether we are feeling up or down, or upside down: it’s actually the perfect time to practice yoga.


Yoga practice is a way to find ourselves and each other again and again, in balance, in the present – whatever pose the present is taking. It’s how we can come to know our natural strength, flexibility, peace, and contentment; ultimately, how we can find – as Joni Mitchell sings – our way back to the garden.

I’d love to see you for yoga practice! Here are some upcoming and ongoing opportunities:


1) For those in Boulder, this is so rad: I am teaching at the gorgeous Chautauqua on Thursday evenings in August for Meditative Hiking & Yoga outdoors at Sunset! Meditative (gentle) Hiking + Vinyasa (all levels) Yoga = a little piece of paradise. If it’s raining, we will be inside the soulful auditorium. Following social distance protocol, this is an online ticketed event. Please don’t wait to get a ticket because two of the four sessions have already sold out! $25 / class ( $22 for concert members ). Max 4 tickets per order. 

Sunset Yoga & Meditative Hiking at Chautauqua

Thursdays in August (8/6, 8/13, 8/20, 8/27)

Visit The Colorado Chautauqua Website

2) For those who are not in Boulder, or for those who are more comfortable staying at home, let’s connect online! I’m working full time now throughout the week but I’m still offering One-On-One Zoom Yoga Sessions to meet you in your own space at your own pace. This is a great opportunity to receive individualized attention and tailored assistance for developing your home yoga practice. Pandemic special offer: $30 / 1 hour, $75 / 3 hours, $100 / 5 hours.

One-On-One Zoom Yoga Sessions

Develop Your Home Yoga Practice

Very Early Mornings, Evenings, Weekends

Email: shantiwithsandi@gmail.com

3) Also online! Get your yoga theory going whenever you’re ready. I’ve received some helpful feedback that this course is a little advanced, so I’m considering re-presenting the material in smaller bites. Let me know what you think. 

Ashtanga Yoga Theory Online

Anytime – at your pace!

Visit the course on Coursecraft.

4) Last but not least, you probably know that Shiva is considered the lord of yoga and of dance! Yoga and dance are two sides of the same coin. We’re social distance dancing outdoors on select Sundays in the park! Join us for free classes in BollyX The Bollywood Workout, Shimmy Fit Belly Dance Fitness, and Rajasthani Folk Dance. Next dance party is most likely 7/26. RSVP required for social distancing.

Outdoor Dance Classes in the Park

Sundays at noon! Martin Park, South Boulder

Check out this video from our last class!


Love,

Sandi


p.s. I have a new phone number! Message me for that if you need to reach me by phone.
p.p.s. Here’s Joni Mitchell singing “Woodstock”.

COVID-19 STAY-AT-HOME EMAILS

Prior to the Stay-At-Home order for COVID-19 which ultimately left me furloughed from three yoga teaching jobs (at The Colorado Athletic Club, The Yoga Loft in South Boulder, and The Boulder Parks and Recreation Department), I had not really been corresponding with my community of yoga students and fellow teachers via email. I had been defaulting to my real life classes and social media. However, by suddenly being withdrawn from in-person classes, I was forced to acknowledge the importance of staying in touch virtually, more directly, because we could no longer rely on being able to communicate in person (my preferred method of communication). I definitely was not prepared with everyone’s emails nor contacts and I felt momentarily lost at sea, like a shipwreck had torn me away from everyone I had been sailing on board with! Even though it’s common business practice, I was never into “constant contact” and other forms of “growing your business” online. I tend to get turned off by commercial aggression. However, this necessary online shift also woke me up to understanding that there is an essential balance to be found: commerce, and commercial behavior, is also about maintaining community (interesting that these words have the same root). As such, I have been advised to email more regularly (personally, I still prefer not too regularly), and to share correspondences on my website. So here we go! These are the emails I sent during the Stay-At-Home period. I will try to keep emailing and sharing emails more contemporaneously on my website.

To join my direct e-mailing list, send me an email here. Thank you!


“This is not a pipe dream, this is our heritage.” – Laura A.

Hello, good morning –


How are you? Do you have a moment to imagine?


Imagine a society in which women have a central role in the spiritual, social, economic, and political determination of the culture, not at the exclusion of men but to their equal inclusion. Imagine an egalitarian society that respects the health and wellness of the whole natural world, including the animal population – wild and domestic – as integral to the highly valued health and wellness of the human population. Imagine an egalitarian and ecologically balanced society in which collective celebration, recreation, art, education, and the diverse appreciation for this great mystery of life is thriving because “profit” is no longer more valuable than “people” and “planet”. Imagine all that… and then consider something that my current “Goddess Traditions and Early Tantra” teacher said today: 


“This is not a pipe dream, this is our heritage.” – Laura Amazzone 
IMAGINE THAT!


Matriarchal societies (which are not the gender reversal of patriarchal societies, but a different order altogether) have flourished far beyond what our current history acknowledges. Collectively and individually, we don’t just need to declutter our lifestyles, we need to decolonize our memories. We need to listen to the voices that have been excluded from His stories. We need to consider Her stories that go much farther back.


Yoga practice and meditation help me create the space in body and mind to decolonize my memories, to hear the quieter voices of my stories, and to reconnect with the balance and appreciation of the natural world. In this way, yoga and meditation feel like such a powerful and essential gift to share!


It’s been a real blessing to connect with my yoga teachers and yoga students online during this Corona-Karuna-Stay-At-Home-Order. I have surprising loved working online, especially one-one-one with students, and I look forward to seeing you again for practice soon. This is my last week offering all classes by donation. Please contact me directly to schedule your time this time! I’ve been working hard on updating my website with easy-to-access sign-up times and buttons to quickly pay online and make me a millionaire (ha ha, who’s actually reading this?), but this website transformation seems to be taking forever to finish.


However, I am very happy to share that I’ve just released my first online course!!! YAY. This has been a true labor of love (and the baby of a broken bone in my foot that had to heal as I worked on it):


ASHTANGA YOGA THEORY WITH SANDI – https://coursecraft.net/courses/z91bT/splash


Ashtanga Yoga Theory with Sandi familiarizes you with all 8 limbs (or progressive stages) of Ashtanga Yoga according to the yoga sūtras of Patañjali. It includes a study of 75 select yoga sūtras (with my own friendly translations and recitations). 100+ optional chanting videos. A total of 14 lessons. And healthy provocation, for example: What if the Patañjali who wrote the yoga sūtras was actually a woman???I have promotional discounts for those who write back to me with the need and interest. Don’t be shy. I would LOVE to hear from you.

Jai Ma!
Sandi H.

Photo: recent sighting of a “Sea Raven” (Double Crested Cormorant) at Harlow Platts Park in Boulder, CO


Happy Earth Day & New Moon Day and join me for some fresh online classes this week! 4/19-4/25 

“Yoga is an ocean… Asana is just a bucket we bring to that ocean.” – Sharath Jois

Dear friends,

How are you? I want to give a big thank you to those who replied to my last email, and to those whom I had the pleasure of teaching this past week. It was so great to hear from you, to see you, and to connect with each other.


This past week, I also had the opportunity to practice and conference online through Zoom with my teacher Sharath Jois (who is currently in Mysore, India), thanks to the stellar organization of Kino Yoga and the Miami Life Center. It was so inspiring to reconnect with the worldwide Ashtanga community (over 1,000 yogis and yoginis all at once!) for practice and satsang. Somehow the same practice is always more challenging with Sharath! Mostly though, I’m amazed by how we we were able to synchronize so many people in movement across time and space… It gives me hope and makes me wonder… What can we, as a whole planet, accomplish together by connecting intentionally online… Perhaps together we really can curb climate change from causing further devastation and species decimation around the planet? 


I wanted to share with you that during the conference, Sharath put a lot of emphasis on how much asana (our physical postural practice) is only one small part of the whole practice of Ashtanga yoga, and that we do not need to be so hard on ourselves about what we can and cannot do in terms of our asana practice! That said, we do not need to be lazy about it either. 🙂 He also emphasized that, in this unprecedented time of being so physically separated from each other and all beings, we do need to turn inward and seek to connect spiritually, even more than physically.


I’m always offering japa (yoga chanting) and meditation, because these less-physical practices really inspire me. I’m curious though, if not that – what are some less-physical spiritual practices that inspire you? 


Also, before I forget: this Wednesday is Earth Day (and a New Moon)! Do you have plans? Would you like to join me in making Earth Day mandalas and creating an online sacred circle where we will commit to better caring for the Earth together? These mandalas can be made at home out of: – foraged pieces of nature from a nature walk- single-use plastics that you haven’t thrown away yet- other “waste” materials that can be upcycle into yogic art (What is yogic art? Art that blends creativity with intention, intention with action, action with peace and contentment. More details and instructions for those who are interested will be provided! ;-))


Please see the attachments (PDF & JPG) for the schedule of all my online classes for the coming week (all current classes are still by donation! I haven’t received my stimulus check yet and I bet a lot of you haven’t either, so please don’t feel bad if you can’t pay, and please do pay if you can). Feel free to contact me with any questions. I hope to see you soon!


Thank you!
XO Sandi H.


p.s. it would make me smile to the moon and back if you liked my new social media pages and helped me to share these class offerings. Thank you for supporting practices of peace on behalf of those whom you know personally. Do let me know how I can be of better support to you: www.facebook.com/shantiwithsandi / www.instagram.com/shantiwithsandi


shanti with sandi : april 12th – 18th : online class offerings by donation this week!

“The thing about aging is all your old lovers, pretty much if they were really friends, become your family. It’s great. You have those terrible feelings of possessiveness and uncertainty go out the window. You have what you shared. You know you would help each other in times of trouble no matter what.” – Gloria Steinem


Good morning! 

As we all get older in quarantine [really: stay-at-home], I wanted to offer you some ways to keep feeling young and fresh in body-mind-spirit this week… 
Please see my class offerings listed below (also attached as jpg in case you want to print and frame it, haha ;-).

It would be the highlight of my week to connect with you, so even if you don’t see a time that works for you this week, send me an email or a message anyway! If you have other classes and times to suggest – even for classes that are not my own – I’d love to hear. 

I can finally jump around a little after healing my broken foot, so among other things I am starting Bollywood dance fitness classes again (after 6 weeks without dancing, it’s going to be a softly ecstatic experience no doubt). I’m also expanding my weekly offerings of Ashtanga yoga, fitness, meditation, and yoga philosophy/chanting… so, if you see a class/time that works for you, please send me an email to receive the info to join the meetings on Zoom. Thank you Zoom!

Yesterday one of my Ashtanga students said to me that this quarantine feels like a collective “shavasana” or “corpse pose” on our dying culture of exploiting the Earth (and all its beings and environments), and that we are hereby being given an opportunity to re-emerge from this period with a new vision, a new genesis, for a healthier & happier relationship with our amazing planet. What a great idea! Imagine ourselves coming up from this collective “shavasana” with a new vision, held by far more peaceful, connected, and content hearts. What could this new vision look like? 

Can we all imagine one new Earth-centered practice for our post-stay-at-home world? Please share!

With gratitude,
Xo Sandi


The Kiss of a Dog & 10 Actions for Grieving the Loss of Your Pet

I’m one of those people now, the ones who stop the dog walkers they pass to ask about their dogs and say hello. I delight in crouching down to get eye-eye with those furry wonders and to give them a friendly pat, perhaps receiving some big-nose sniffs and the occasional lick-yo-face kisses. It’s always amazing to me with animals how strangers can be as worthy of a kiss as their own kin. I miss all that amazing doggy affection since losing my beloved dog, Fiesta, in November. She helped me feel so worthy of love.

Fiesta had the cutest snout. The softest ears. The sweetest kiss. In her older years, when she could no longer jump into my car on her own (even though she would always make the effort – right up to her very last day), I would pick her up in my arms and savor that moment of a quick cuddle and kiss before putting her back down and buckling her safely into the seat. Yes, Fiesta wore a doggy seatbelt in the car. From the moment we got rear-ended a few months after arriving in Boulder, CO, and I watched with horror as her furry little body flew helplessly off the seat and hit the dashboard (thankfully with no harm but a bloody broken nail) – I buckled that dog in evermore. Her health and safety were as important as my own.

I have yet to have my own children. Fiesta was like my only child, my favorite companion, my best friend.

The choice to euthanize my best friend of 15 years was the hardest choice that I have ever made.

This choice may have also been the most compassionate.

Fiesta had great health for 13 years but the last 2 years of her life were wrought with escalating difficulties. In addition to becoming blind and deaf, Fiesta developed skin cancer at the age of 14 that caused her leg to bleed copiously 24/7. I wrapped her leg for 7 months. I couldn’t find a solution beyond surgery or amputation, neither of which would promise to improve her overall quality of life, which was increasingly deteriorating. Fiesta also developed a malignant melanoma inside her mouth that was operated upon and removed, only to return. The vets warned me that the cancer risked manifesting elsewhere, internally, which would cause a regrettable amount of suffering for her to endure. I had also been giving Fiesta eye drops in her only remaining eye 3 times a day for 2 years to prevent the eye pressure from causing her pain. She could no longer see from that eye. We were just prolonging the life of an organ that wasn’t functioning for her anymore. It felt hopeless. Her other eye had been removed due to glaucoma. She loved her independence to explore her surroundings, and that independence was rapidly disappearing. Fiesta often got stuck walking in circles, even when on the leash, as if she couldn’t remember which way was forward and which way was back. She would sometimes get stuck in the corners of my room and whine, lost in darkness only a few feet away from me. I had the impression that dogs are suppose to lose their appetite when they’re ready to die but Fiesta absolutely LOVED to eat. She never lost her appetite. She always gave me lots of kisses. She seemed happy to be there with me.

I could not discern whether I was being selfish to hold on to her, or selfish to let her go.

The vets told me this was the hardest part of having a dog. Saying goodbye.

Then one day, while taking a yoga class with another teacher at the Yoga Loft where I also teach, the yoga teacher said to the class: “Whatever it is you’re dealing with, are you choosing peace? You can choose peace. What would it be to choose peace?” And something clicked. I had to make the choice of peace for Fiesta. She didn’t have to fight anymore. I cried hysterically while driving her to the vet that night. I thought I might have an accident on the road. But we got there. She peed very casually on her way to the door. She always shook with fear when we went to the vet, but this night, she never shook. She showed no fear. She looked excited, actually. I thought I might faint when we stepped inside that room but something kept me conscious. And in that last moment of transition, as her physical form fell gently into my arms, there was truly a sense of peace, a sense of Spirit even laughing at me for thinking that my dog was ever just her body.

Fiesta’s physical death has asked me to surrender my sweetest love to the unknown. There is an ethereal peace in that surrender.

It’s been almost 3 months now that I have been staring at the soft purple velvet sac that Fiesta’s ashes are wrapped in, wondering: what do I do now?

I do not have all the answers but I have found a few actions helpful. I value conscious action to intentionally move our energy in order to digest our experiences. Avoidance of issues accumulates over time as stress and illness in our tissues. So, I am here sharing my current Top 10 Actions for Grieving The Loss of Your Pet in case they could be helpful to you in facing these issues, too. I’d love to hear if you have found others…

My 10 Actions for Grieving:

  1. Create An Altar. I created an altar where I put some of Fiesta’s things including her paw print, her collar, a wrapper from her last treat, a picture of one of my spiritual teachers, and a painting that I had made of her.
  2. Sit For Meditation, Chant, Song, Prayer. I sat in at least 15 minutes of meditation every night (sometimes in the morning or afternoon) and said prayers, chants, songs for her passage for 49 consecutive days. I’ve heard that sitting for a loved one for 49 days, or 7 weeks, after their death is what Tibetan Buddhists do. They seem to have done a lot of research on death and the afterlife.
  3. Make Water, Food, Incense Offerings. I continued to fill her water bowl and offer fresh treats to her alter every day for those 49 + days.
  4. Write Letters. I wrote letters of thanks and farewell to her best veterinarians and to her best groomers. One of them even wrote back with a sweet card that said they made a donation in Fiesta’s name to a local animal rescue organization!
  5. Offer Flowers To The Altar & To The Earth. This in particular has felt like a significant discovery. I bought a bouquet of fresh flowers and put them on her altar, where I was sitting in meditation and prayer on a regular basis. Once the flowers dried after a week or two, I cut the stems and crumbled the flowers into a kind of potpourri. I then carried that potpourri in a little sac with me on one of my favorite hikes that I used to walk with Fiesta. As I walked alone without her now, I tossed little handfuls of the potpourri to the ground around the path as I walked, thinking of her. Then I got another set of fresh flowers and put them on her alter, to repeat the hike once these flowers had dried – after another week or two of meditation and chants at her alter. I have found this ritual particularly helpful as an honorable and refreshing way to actively connect her memory with the Earth, the birthplace of our bodies and also their deathbed. I suppose I could do the same thing with her ashes, but I’m still holding on to her ashes.
  6. Walk With Japa Practice. I try to take walks as if Fiesta was still with me, meaning I continue to walk in the places we walked together. I can’t always do this with a pocket full of dried flowers, but I can do this with a mala. So I walk and do japa practice, the recitation of mantra, with my mala – sometimes with Fiesta specifically in mind, sometimes I try to bring all animals to mind. I think I got this idea from one of my friends in India who takes power walks every morning while reciting japa. She makes her physical fitness routine a spiritual fitness routine as well.
  7. Invest In Your Physical Fitness. Physical fitness, or the efficiency with which our bodies use oxygen, has a direct effect on our moods and our minds. I signed up for three months of personal training sessions at the Colorado Athletic Club where I also teach yoga and dance. I started these once-a-week sessions several weeks before Fiesta died and I continued them for several weeks after. Working with a trainer offers a far more challenging and educational experience than exercising on one’s own. Our sessions really challenged me during the session as well as throughout the week between the sessions. Having to be accountable to a personal trainer caused me to face my weaknesses, rather than caving into them. We worked on cardio and weights in a way that I had never done before. Learning something new is always helpful. I remember one day when we were doing a weight-lifting exercise with a focus on the pectorals and rhomboid muscles, it felt like I was really getting into my muscular “grieving zone” and building strength there.
  8. Initiate Change. I moved. Two weeks after Fiesta passed, I moved out of the little room that I had been living in with Fiesta into an empty room in the same house that we had been living in for three months. Two months later, for several reasons, I moved out of that house into another house entirely. Initiating change can be very helpful. If you can’t move houses, you can usually move some furniture, or artwork, or maybe even move the way you move around the house. Initiate change, rather than being perpetually shocked by it.
  9. Practice Mysore Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga. I have been practicing Vinyasa Yoga for 16 years and Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga for the past 8 years. The Ashtanga practice in particular has helped me to work through many traumas. The Ashtanga Vinyasa emphasizes deep steady breathing and subtle energy cultivation in the face of physical and psychological challenge. I have not had my Ashtanga Vinyasa teacher in town to practice with since the Yoga Workshop closed here in Boulder last year, so I have been doing self-practice for a year. When I left New York City, I was also doing self-practice for two years before moving to Boulder. Through these fluctuations of Ashtanga teachers, my practice has fallen apart in many ways – but it has also progressed and come back together in fresher ways. Having a relationship with practice is like having a relationship with a significant other: oneself. It has to be organic. It can’t be forced. Valuing this relationship by showing up to it in some way, even if it’s not looking its best on any given day, creates an opportunity to get involved and to get evolved. The relationship with our practice can help to balance our other fluctuating relationships. I know no other form of yoga that helps to develop such a relationship with practice like the Mysore Ashtanga Vinyasa.
  10. Share In Conversation. Dance. I continue to reminisce about Fiesta with those who knew her and also with those who didn’t. Her spirit lives on in the sharing of her memory. Sharing this whole process in conversation with my mom has been especially invaluable, as my mom loved Fiesta just as much as I did. Maybe even more! It can be hard to hear someone else’s grieving, but it’s really important to listen to others grieving too. Conversation must go both ways. I also created a tribute page (in-progress) on my website and several blog posts (I guess that’s because I’d also love to hear from YOU). All forms of Art are forms of Conversation. Dance is one such art form that is instantly accessible and liberating. It can be a conversation with oneself, with another, with a piece of music, or simply, with a feeling. Dance can also be a fantastic form of physical fitness. Dance!

Xo Sandi

February 20th, 2020

Boulder, Colorado

Gratitude in Motion

“It is through gratitude for the present moment that the spiritual dimension of life opens up.”

Eckhart Tolle

“I don’t believe in gratitude.”

Ram Gopal Varma

Just a few days before teaching Moving With Gratitude, a Dance and Restorative Yoga workshop at the Colorado Athletic Club last November, I lost my beloved dog of 15 years, Fiesta Higgins (July 4th, 2004 – November 22nd, 2019). She died peacefully at the Aspen Meadow Veterinary Specialists in Longmont.

Grieving is not a linear process. I have found many different feelings slithering in circles around my heart since the loss of Fiesta from the physical plane: sadness, emptiness, loneliness, fear, courage… There is also a feeling of peace knowing that she is no longer suffering from her physical ailments. Most of all though, I feel gratitude. I feel so grateful for having shared 15 years with the sweetest creature on Earth! I feel so grateful to have known a beautiful being who gave me, and asked from me, a new level of love, joy, worthiness, friendship, furriness – ultimately, Grace – that I pray never to forget. I am starting a memorial page for her and plan to add video, text, and more photos soon.

Meanwhile, I also felt grateful to have had a dance and yoga workshop to focus on in the immediate aftermath of my dog’s death because it required me to completely connect with the present moment – to be present – and not to sink into the sadness of her absence. It was also a workshop concentrated on, you know it, gratitude.

Gratitude is the antidote to grief!

Grief is the recognition of loss. It is the aching sense that we had something that has been taken away. It is the inevitable consequence of love and attachment in an impermanent world. Grief is the power that our memories possess to pull us into their tide, drawing us out of the present moment and into a sea of sadness.

Gratitude is the recognition of gain. It is the blooming sense that something has been given and received. Gratitude is the power that our hearts possess to stand strong in the midst of crashing waves with an appreciative – and maybe even hopeful – view of the horizon.

Gratitude is the antidote to grief.

Ekhart Tolle (author of the book/audiobook The Power of Now, which I’ve just recently listened to), is quoted as saying that gratitude opens the spiritual dimension of life. Ram Gopal Varma (filmmaker who made some Indian ganster movies that I remember enjoying), is quoted as saying that he doesn’t believe in gratitude.

Personally, from my experience, both gratitude and grief can open the spiritual dimension of life. And yet, we don’t have to believe in the spiritual dimension in order to benefit from practicing gratitude. The Buddhists say that we don’t even have to “believe” in our feelings, nor our thoughts – even when we feel them, even when we think them – but we can still observe the shifts that our thinking and feeling create in our lives.

When we find ourselves getting lost in thought or emotion, disconnected from the present, drowning in a sea of memories and the sadness of grieving: moving with gratitude is surely a way back to shore.

I want to give a shout out in thanks to my workshop partner, supervisor, and dancing diva Shira Souvignier for inspiring everybody at our event, including myself, to connect body-mind-heart to the present moment through dance. Shira has a positive, compassionate, playful, and encouraging attitude that is totally contagious. You’d think I’d be the one crying during the workshop but in fact she she was literally dancing with tears in her eyes that day, exuding a sense of gratitude for dance, and for all her dancers. I also want to thank everybody who attended the restorative yoga part of the workshop for their willingness to explore partner yoga at a time when touch is understandably a touchy topic in the yoga world. It’s encouraging to see people, sometimes total strangers, coming together and communicating about how they can best be there, fully embodied, to assist each other in letting-go, resting, relaxing, and re-connecting through yoga. Thanks also to everybody at the CAC for bringing community together in myriad healthy, well, and fun ways. And thanks most of all to my dog, Fiesta, for showing me so clearly how gratitude can manifest in movement, like little tail wags, that fill everyday with miraculous love.

May we keep moving with gratitude!

Join me at the Colorado Athletic Club Flatirons this month for: the New Year Dance Party on Saturday, January 11th; BollyX The Bollywood Cardio Dance Workout on Saturdays, January 18th and 25th; and Chakra-Inspired vision boarding with Restorative Yoga on Sunday, January 26th!

Xo

Sandi

All rights reserved 2020

Moving With Gratitude: Dance and Yoga Workshop

So happy to join my friend and colleague (and one of my favorite dance teachers) Shira Souvignier to bring you Moving With Gratitude, a Dance & Yoga workshop at the Colorado Athletic Club Flatirons this Sunday! More about all the fun we’re up to in my next post. Hope to see you there!

BAE YOGA BOOK CLUB

Since September 2019, BAE YOGA has been meeting every other Sunday at the Boulder Public Library to explore the Yoga-Sūtra of Patañjali and to reflect on the relevance of this ancient wisdom to our contemporary lives.

If you’ve never read the yoga sutras before, this is an awesome opportunity to become acquainted with a valuable text that can transform your yoga practice on and off the mat. If you have been studying the yoga sutras for many years already, here is an awesome opportunity to share your reflections and stay engaged.

All translations & commentaries are welcome! If you need a suggestion to start with, please reach out in advance or just show up empty handed. Handouts available for cost of copies. Suggested donation: $10 per session or $25 for 3 sessions. Donations by PayPal to: baeyogagroup@gmail.com


This event is not sponsored by Boulder Public Library. For more information, please contact info@sandihiggins.com. Access to free meeting rooms is a service of Boulder Public Library.

Restorative Yoga: Form & Function

How to find integrity in the form when you don’t feel the strength to function?

Restorative Bakasana

Find support to contemplate your structure without the fear of it collapsing.

Restorative bakasana, for example, can help you feel the right actions to fully lift the lower body while balancing on the arms: flexion of hips, adduction of thighs, curving of the lower back, scapular protraction… and once you find this mandala of sensation, you can more intuitively move when the support is not there.

Bakasana

In restorative poses, we non-attach from “function” and contemplate “form”… such that we can then better integrate the form into its function and vice versa.

If only all of life could be like restorative yoga.

Align & Restore with me tomorrow at 10:30am and Ashtanga with me at 5:15pm at the Colorado Athletic Club Flatirons.

contemplating form with a very palpable sense of non-attachment to its function

Riding the Wave

Feel your breath move in elongating waves through your body, and let your mind surf the full length of their sensation.

This wave-like movement is something that was first drawn to my attention many years ago while studying physical theater and Commedia dell’Arte in Italy (circa 2005). It was taught to me then, in a very basic way while standing-up, as one of many warm-ups to prepare the body-mind for physical improvisation and theatrical performance. Then, about a dozen years later, this movement has resurfaced for me, now in a horizontal way, while practicing Ashtanga yoga with Richard Freeman, Mary Taylor, and Ty Landrum. It is particularly accessible in the down dog, chatauranga, up dog pattern, but can also be explored in any asana as a way of elongating the spine and ensuring the un-impinged flow of breath-energy through the body. As Ty has explained it, the “wave” traces the primal pulse of energy in the body from the root of the spine through the soft palette to the crown of the head and encourages the body-mind to stay more organically connected with the energetic sensation of moving with the breath at every point in its flow.

Git Woke & Get Saved

This was originally posted on my Facebook in July 2016 and recently popped up as a memory there. I am reposting it here because it is still just as relevant two years later. I have also been reflecting more on the sufferings of my pre-Ashtanga days that this post alludes to, and would like to share some of those reflections soon.

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Sri R. Sharath Jois Ashtanga Yoga USA Tour 2016 in Brooklyn, New York. Photo thanks to Sonima.

When I came out of the Brooklyn Yoga Club after practicing with Sharath last month, I was putting on some sun screen just outside the club’s door in front of the Ganesha statue on Vanderbilt Ave. Three black folks, two sisters and a brother, approached me. They first commented that I was smart to have sun block in the bright heat and I laughed about being so white that I need it, and then the guy motioned to give me a pamphlet in his hand. I said “no thanks” to the pamphlet so as not to carry anything I won’t use. He said, “well let me ask you one thing: have you been saved?”. It was a Church pamphlet. Fresh from yoga practice, I felt a natural smile rise in my eyes as I looked directly into his: “yes, I believe I have.” He said, “well, good then” and smiled back. I offered them all sun screen and the two ladies said no thanks but he used some with a laugh himself. We parted ways with a warm feeling and I wondered if I really had been saved. What gave me the conviction to say so? Yoga practice is not a religion but it is a method to deepen our spirituality whether we channel that through a religion or not. I can safely say that practice has saved me from my sins in the sense of awakening and preventing me from repeating them. Yoga gives me the tools to observe my suffering and to better protect myself from creating further suffering. Before I started practicing Ashtanga yoga around the age of 30, I had made a lot of mistakes in my 20s that created immense suffering in my life, which I can see now were a direct link to previous suffering. I was in a web of alcohol abuse, promiscuity, extra-marital affairs, codependency, broken promises, irresponsibility with money, and victimization – much the result of being enmeshed in a cycle that I didn’t know how to cut. In practicing Ashtanga, I have learned how to wake up, and how to wake up earlier, literally. Mind you – I had been practicing vinyasa yoga for many years before coming to Ashtanga, but it was not until the Mysore Ashtanga practice & emphasis on 8 limbs that I began to experience a more multidimensional, ongoing, transformation. With practice, every day is an opportunity to git woke and to get saved. 

Advanced Teacher Primary Student

“Right now, I want it to be about him [acknowledging Sharath Jois in the front of the room]. He’s about to begin.”

~ David Swenson

They say we live in degenerate times. How do we, as yoga practitioners and dharma practitioners, develop and maintain a genuine respect for our teachers and our lineage? This is a little anecdote with some personal reflections about rediscovering respect and regeneration by observing an advanced teacher being a primary student.

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Photo by Agathe Padovani thanks to Sonima. Sandi Higgins practicing next to David Swenson at the Led Primary Series with Sharath Jois in Brooklyn, 2019

David Swenson has lived and breathed the Ashtanga Yoga practice longer than I’ve been alive. Known as one of the world’s foremost practitioners and instructors of Ashtanga Yoga, David is also one of the original disciples of guru Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. 

Jois was himself the disciple of Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, often referred to as the grandfather of all modern yoga in the West. Other disciples of Krishnamacharya include: B.K.S. Iyengar, Indra Devi, T. K. V. Desikachar, and Srivatsa Ramaswami.

Back to David: I had the joy of first meeting David Swenson when he came to give a Weekend Workshop at the Shala in NYC, where I had just started practicing Mysore Ashtanga Yoga with my first teachers, Barbara Verrochi & Kristin Leigh. I recorded the talk that he gave that weekend and listened to it several times after. If I knew where that audio file is today, I’d listen to it again! In a spirit of casual question & answer conversation, David elucidated many difficult aspects of the Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga practice, or sadhana (spiritual practice), in his down-to-earth and accessible style – while also making everybody laugh a lot. He shared a great sense of humor about Ashtanga and how he relates with it in his own life. To this day, I continue to quote him from that talk in many of my own yoga classes.

Since then, I have only seen David Swenson once a year when Sri R. Sharath Jois comes to the USA to teach on tour from Mysore, India. For those of you who don’t know R. Sharath Jois, he is the grandson of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, and probably the most coveted transmitter of traditional Ashtanga Yoga in the world. Although David Swenson has a very advanced practice, and an extensive international student body of his own, he has consistently shown up in NYC to practice as a student with Sri R. Sharath Jois. I have always seen David place his mat humbly in the back of the big auditorium, filled with practitioners from all backgrounds and experiences. If you’re not familiar with this scene, it is common for advanced students to put their mats as close to the front-row-and-center as possible. I’m not as advanced, but I certainly do that too, especially when I haven’t seen my teacher in many months or even years and I want to be held accountable by his inescapable eye-line. The back of the room asks for more personal accountability.

One year, probably 2016, I had been following Sharath-ji for practice on tour through California and then in NYC. My body was a little tired after 3 consecutive weeks of Led Intermediate and Primary Series classes with him! I had a back spasm during the second or third day of practice in NYC and I had to sit-out on the side of the auditorium in the middle of the practice. While watching the whole room move in its ritual ebb and flow, I couldn’t help but notice David Swenson practicing in one of the back rows. I particularly appreciated his way of doing the Ashtanga-style chakrasana transition. He had a very simple and economical manner about this sophisticated backwards roll. Instead of rolling directly into chaturanga, he rolled directly into adho mukha svanasana. It was like a little revelation. Somehow I had never seen chakrasana done that way before. It was very soft and slow and strong, and super mindful of the space behind and around him (which is especially a good idea when all the mats are very close together). I later tried and found this way of doing chakrasana very difficult compared to the way I had previously learned it. Yet it looked easy when David did it. Since then, the image of this way of doing chakrasana stuck with me. One day, I just found the way to do it! New mindful tool in my practice belt! A lot of practice works like that. An image is imprinted in the mind and gradually the body awakens to it. Now I can chakrasana either way (depending on whether or not I want to be kind to the person behind me – just kidding – let’s be kind whenever possible).

Last year in 2018, Sharath-ji didn’t make it to teach in NYC during his tour and I didn’t have the opportunity to catch him in any other city. This year in 2019, however, he did. Although I currently live in Boulder, Colorado, I flew back to New York City and attended his classes. Happily, I saw David Swenson again and somehow this year I had the courage to ask David if I could put my mat down next to his all the way in the back row. He welcomed me and my mat kindly and continued to chat with his mat neighbor on the other side.

The chattery excitement in the Brooklyn auditorium began quieting down and drawing itself inward as we neared the start of practice. Sri R. Sharath Jois was looking softly over the sea of mats and bodies and minds before him. He had not yet stood up to call “Samastitihi” which brings everyone to the top of their mats to begin the Surya Namaskars, so there was still some lingering chatter through the auditorium. David Swenson had stopped talking to the person on his other side, thus just before putting my phone away and getting quiet myself, I seized the moment to ask him for a seemingly-obligatory-aspiring-ashtangi-selfie: “Hey David, can I take a picture with you?” 

His response continues to resonate with me. “You know what, let’s do it after.” he said. “Right now, I want it to be about him [acknowledging Sharath Jois in the front of the room]. He’s about to begin.”

Sure enough, David took a picture with me at the end of the practice, and there were lots of pictures taken by the event’s official photographer in the middle (see above). But in that brief and casual way at the beginning, David pointed out something to me that is perhaps more valuable and enduring than any photo: 

  1. even the most advanced teachers are humble students

  2. there are many ways to show respect and disrespect to our teachers 

It made me reflect. These are some of my reflections. I claim no authority on truth, nor truth on authority!

What does it mean to be a student? What does it mean to be a teacher? Why is it important for students to show respect to their teachers, and vice versa? 

Although I haven’t had a chance to ask him directly (and maybe after writing this I will ask him), I don’t think David Swenson shows up as a student in Sharath-ji’s Led Primary Series classes to get adjustments or to further perfect his asana practice.

My guess is that David shows up as a student, not only because he likes getting on his mat and he trusts the count of this teacher!, but because he respects the lineage that has gifted him the tools that he has used to craft his own lifelong Ashtanga practice. Being a student in this way means that you are staying connected to the source from which you drink, from which you have tapped your own well, and you are tending to that flow. 

If, as teachers, we act as though we are no longer students, that our wells are so full, that we know more than our lineage: eventually, we will no longer recognize the source of the water we are drinking, and if the well runs dry, we can’t get very far without water. These days, we also need to be more vigilant than ever about what’s going into our waters.

Now, let’s say we find some pollution in the water (for example, the accusations of sexual assault against Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, or any guru in any lineage for that matter) and we just want to distance ourselves as much as possible from feeling in any way complicit or connected with such violence, and yet we want to keep practicing what we’ve learned. This is totally understandable, but unfortunately, unworkable. We do not purify our wells by pretending that they are somehow separate from their ground source. We cannot really clean the water we drink by ignoring where it comes from and using our own filters. For the long run, we have to acknowledge the pollution at the source and work to clean it there as well as in the flow – if we want clean water, or a karmically clear practice, for ourselves and for others to continue drinking. 

The source of a lineage is always a living continuation from one person to another, a parampara, that leads back to the guru. Yes, perhaps the ultimate guru is the Om in every heart, but it manifest in often “imperfect” human forms. Every genuine teacher we learn from within a lineage leads back to the source and is part of our flow. If we don’t respect the flow, we don’t respect the source nor the need for flowing water.

Why is it important to sometimes make the teaching more “about” the other?

A teaching can only be given and received in proportion to how much attention and respect is shared between student and teacher. I think that this is probably true no matter what we are learning. Ashtanga Yoga is ultimately a sadhana, a spiritual practice, an organic, living, lineage of knowledge, skills, tools – wisdom – that has a unique healing power. It is a transformative learning process. As such, learning a sadhana, as far as I understand, is at some point about taking one’s fixation completely off of oneself and one’s story, and putting it instead into the sadhana – and thereby, towards the one who embodies the sadhana. Some teachers may embody it in its entirety, but often different teachers reveal different proportions of skills, knowledge, insights, and qualities of the sadhana that we want to learn. 

Respect is the way we approach this process, the way we shift our “fixation”, or the way we give our “attention”, with a healthy sense of balance. Disrespect is the way we try to bypass that balance and ultimately cheat ourselves of trusting our process – that we actually do have more to learn and to receive.

Learning and receiving is the sustainable way to continue teaching and giving. 

My first yoga teachers in NYC, Barbara & Kristin, would host many yoga workshops with visiting teachers/colleagues/friends from around the country and the world. Every time I was at a yoga workshop hosted by Barbara and Kristin, but taught by another teacher, the two of them would be in the room practicing or listening, pen and paper nearby, taking notes and exploring the teachings right alongside their students.

Respecting a teacher or a student doesn’t mean agreeing with them about everything. It means being open and curious about the truth they are expressing.

Sometimes there is a fine line between respect and disrespect. What might appear “irreverent” might feel more “reverent” in certain situations. I don’t think these things can always be understood by looking from the outside-in, because respect is not really something that can be codified in external gestures like “touching the feet” of the guru. Codified gestures without a genuine heart-intent can be more disrespectful than “disrespectful” gestures with a genuine heartfelt intent.

Respecting the teacher, and for that matter, respecting the student, does not mean disrespecting one’s own self. To the contrary, the more we respect ourselves, the more we can respect each other. Discerning respect in a relationship might appear differently at any moment in any relationship.

Personally, I am still learning this discernment and these distinctions, and it’s a great thing to be learning!

Thank you David Swenson for inspiring this reflection.

And then Sharath-ji called, “Samasthiti!”

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Sandi’s selfie with Sharath-ji after practice in NYC, 2019