The ‘Yogi’ by Will

Reasonable (?) Expectations of Our Yoga Instructor

As a yoga teacher I wear the many hats of observer, attentive listener and guide. We humans need to categorize every person, place or object we encounter. This is to better understand our relationship to others and our place in the world. In Yogaland we like to negate labels, as we are neither this nor that, instead we are one consciousness. So let’s try on non dualism for size, starting with a coffee mug meme to illuminate the concept.

Stereotypes and labels solidify our ancestral beliefs and perpetuate the cultural norms. As yoga practitioners we examine the way our bias informs our language. Yet I can speak to the assumptions placed on yoga teachers.

It used to be lawyers and dentists saturating the job market. Now we see a surplus of yoga teachers in a headstand while sipping a blue majik algae smoothie on Instagram. Apart from a side gig as social media influencers, yoga teachers are expected to be well versed in holistic nutrition, sporting injuries and medical concerns.

Does it seem like the wellness community strives for an effervescent state of being?  Allow me to showcase the platitudes in the yoga universe: let’s douse our feet with essential oils, or join the social media tribe for #handstandarmy. Better still, let’s follow yoga teachers who don’t practice asana much, and talk in great length on the biomechanics of yoga with the dry assurance of an orthopaedic surgeon.

Some believe that yoga teachers can easily rise above conflict, road rage, caffeine, alcohol, meat eating and ruminations. I share an extract from a conversation with a newly minted yoga teacher attending my class. Let’s call her “Suzy.”

Suzy: Thanks for class. It was interesting.

Me: Thanks Suzy, it was good to practice with you.

Suzy: I was wondering, what’s in the Starbucks cup? Is that coffee? I know you don’t consume caffeine, right?

Me: Oh this cup? ( pause, heart races) Yes. That’s  a cappuccino. (did not reveal triple shots of espresso). I have a few more classes to teach today. (pull out the trump card!) And I have four kids so…

Suzy: (a long pause, subtle look of disdain) Oh. I see. Thanks again. Bye.

To round this out, the yoga teacher is asked to know a lot. We have a scope of practice that includes a code of conduct, inclusivity, trauma informed practices and core curriculum that is expanding as we speak. Teachers create public classes for the general population with an awareness of breathing techniques and hundreds of yoga postures to sequence from. There are over three thousands years of yoga philosophy to contemplate.

We fail. We evolve. We listen. We care. We embrace a beginner’s mind. We are relatable once we share our challenges. Yoga teachers are special when they choose to share a bit more than the persona, and allow the shadow self to emerge. This is when creativity is at its height.

With consent cards in plain sight, let’s consider giving our yoga community a group hug, a potluck dinner and a follow for follow on social media. Namaste.

Jodi Fischtein is a mixed lineage yoga teacher, loving the many aspects of Ashtanga, Prana Flow vinyasa and Yin yoga. Being a mother of four opened the gates to empathy. With the practice of deep listening she is able to better understand her yoga community.

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Namaste by Will

Understanding the Interconnectedness


“And you may find yourself in another part of the world. And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile. And you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife. And you may ask yourself, well... how did I get here?"

The suggestion from David Byrne’s lyrics is that we are largely unconscious in our daily lives. We have heard this before. Our busyness feels like productivity. Yoga and meditation practitioners bring mindfulness through a mechanistic lens to optimize the way they engage. So if we are preoccupied with our goals, family and friends, is there time to lend ourselves to civic engagement? Yes. Just look at the innovation of digital natives through crowdfunding for social causes at home and abroad.

The yoga community has long understood our holistic interconnectedness. The practice of mindfulness and concentration enhance the concept that we are all "one."  Camaraderie exists amongst us in the sports arena, Star Trek gatherings, etc., and the tribal aspect of yoga which allows us to cultivate a call to peace for all beings, hence the dictum, "Lokah, Samasta Sukhino Bhavantu."  Yoga teachers often galvanize their students, friends and family into volunteerism with powerful mantras like this. If you were encouraged to donate your time in the yoga community you have shared in karma yoga. Karma serves as a yoga of selfless (altruistic) service, derived from the Sanskrit kri, meaning ‘to do’. Yet karma yoga is distinct from the law of karma, which relates to the law of cause and effect. Yoga teachers embrace public speaking, knowing persuasive rhetoric serves as a conduit for consciousness, shifting us away from the steady ruminations of our own shortcomings. Selfless service provides a clear path to reduce suffering, which benefits all beings.

Buddhist peace activist Thich Nhat Hahn evokes compassion through a triad of ethos, pathos and logos that redirect our perceptions with the practice of insight. Thich shares in the Buddhist ideology of the Noble Path, which begins with Right View. Right View is our wisdom and our ability to have deep insight. This practice of insight brings us to a clear awareness that all human beings, animals, plants and minerals are interconnected. We all live in unison, an interdependence without which we cannot survive.

With this revelation of interbeing, we can engage authentically. Empathy is genuinely felt and not placed there by obligation. We sense our civic duties, and if we find ourselves of sound mind and good health, we may engage in service to humanity. But perhaps deep down we all instinctively feel interconnectedness. We just need to be reminded every once in awhile. As we listen and sense our primordial instincts, we begin to understand the truth of our existence. With clear insight, we see deeply inside ourselves and into the hearts of others.

Jodi Fischtein is a mixed lineage yoga teacher, loving the many aspects of Ashtanga, Prana Flow vinyasa and Yin yoga. She has Thai Yoga massage training and is currently immersed in MBSR protocols at University of Toronto. Through the dedicated work of Buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh, Jodi experienced a shift that speaks to inner peace. Being a mother of four opened the gates to empathy. With the practice of deep listening she is able to better understand her yoga community.

This article appears in the June 2017 issue of Tonic Toronto

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Yoga for Seniors by Will

It’s Never Too Late


Where is yoga going vis-à-vis senior citizens? Can a 70-plus-year-old man or woman visit a local yoga studio for the first time and enjoy themselves? Of course!

 Yoga studios are making a meaningful contribution to the anti-aging movement through physical strengthening, mental resilience and concentration. Yoga offers a science of mind, where we cultivate inner freedom and integrity in our words, thoughts and actions.

Senior yoga practitioners have gathered wisdom and an appreciation for an active lifestyle. Seniors that embrace life with elegance and vigour are often referred to as Boomers. For all of us, our life experience can be synergized within a vibrant yoga community. A ritual gathering maintains socialization skills, which could provide a psychological balance. Moreover, each student may choose to be part of a peaceful community.  

As a yoga instructor, I observed a 73-year-old student practicing vigorous yoga sequences. He’s maintained this weekly method over the past decade, content to share his microcosm in our gathering. He feels fantastic. You will see many fit seniors who enjoy a movement-based yoga practice. Most likely this modality of movement was established in their younger years, thus reasonable for them to continue mindfully.

Many of us experience symptoms associated with osteopenia, osteoporosis and osteoarthritis. We are advised by our primary physician to attend yoga sessions.  Yet sometimes, the physician doesn’t realize there are many yoga lineages and methodologies. Acknowledging osteopenia and osteoporosis, we know that our bones are at risk for breaks and fractures. This is frequently coupled with medications and possible side effects. In response to this, the physical goals in yoga are to ease the swelling in the joints, enhance coordination and balance.

What are the aims for a mindful yoga practice ?

Each student is encouraged to engage in svadhyaya, which is the Sanskrit term for self-study. Svadhyaya is a fundamental principle of yoga, where we are encouraged to explore equanimity. We can gracefully balance strength and ease in classes described as Hatha, Yin or Restorative yoga.  Yet hatha is an umbrella term that describes the physical aspects of yoga, including methods of breathing, postures and conscientious eating habits. If senior yoga students lead a sedentary lifestyle, (exercise less than three days per week) begin with simple poses to assess balance, breathing and overall strength. Chair Yoga and standing poses at a wall are effective  for everyone.

In the yoga realm, one strives for intuitive movement. Our meditation practice asks us to remain present with whatever arises. Over time, we experience embodiment. We move deeper into the human experience. It is the aim of every yoga practitioner to reach their full potential, tempered with benevolence, composure and a steady intellect.

Jodi Fischtein is a mixed lineage yoga teacher, loving the many aspects of Ashtanga, Prana Flow vinyasa and Yin yoga. She has Thai Yoga massage training and is currently immersed in MBSR protocols at University of Toronto. Through the dedicated work of Buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh, Jodi experienced a shift that speaks to inner peace. Being a mother of four opened the gates to empathy. With the practice of deep listening she is able to better understand her yoga community.

This article appears in the November 2017 issue of Tonic Toronto

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The change within by Will

Listen more, speak less


“You’ve changed.”  Has anyone ever said this to you? When I heard this, it provoked a self-conscious shrug. Yet why so? It is our birthright to evolve. Ironically Jamie Bussin, (el jefe at Tonic) asked me to write on any revelations or changes that came up within my yoga practice. So I decided to address a recent comment.

“You’ve changed. I guess all that standing on your head has made you nicer.”

 For a little background, that observation came from a family member.  Families often have collapsed boundaries. In all fairness, that comment was in tune with our classic Long Island vernacular, so he meant no harm. I guess. Americans speak their mind and Long Islanders do so with extra zest.

 As these are my people, the correct response is to thrust a backhanded compliment right back. The method is to remain witty yet raise the stakes in a personal attack. This is my hometown repertoire. So the dance goes.   ...Press pause.

Living in the oppressively polite Toronto has had a positive effect on my manners. Yoga enhanced the DNA of my communication style. Yet not from practicing a headstand.

Yoga has an ethical code that encourages us to see all dimensions of our Self. This holds our mental, physical, and subtle body.

The most profound shift was my readiness for internal inquiry. Self-study (svadhyaya) is the practice of examining your behaviours and habits. It’s about reacting less to external stimuli. Svadhyaya is the practice of inquiring into our true nature.

 My time reading passages from Buddhist monk Thích Nhất Hạnh has helped me shed old stories. There is a universal understanding that Yoga is a path of unification, and “one is all.” To go further is to say we are all “interconnected” or in a dynamic state of “inter-being.” These are relatively new words conceptualized by peace activist Thích Nhất Hạnh. His encouragement of metta (loving kindness) in our speech has shifted my behaviour in subtle ways. In my relationships, I strive for qualities of satya or truthfulness. An honest question for me was, “what do I want to call into my life?”

 Through svadhyaya I was able to evaluate my strengths and weaknesses. I asked myself to listen, learn more and speak less. My goal was to truly contemplate another point of view without resistance. Thich’s reassurance that compassionate speech and deep listening opens the gates of understanding was true. I learned more about the people I cared about, simply by listening.

It is important to mention that this subtle shift into loving speech takes time to cultivate. I still like to drop the F-bomb. Road rage is real. Old habits die hard, yet I have experienced eureka moments through conflict resolution. This encourages me to continue on this yogic path.

Jodi Fischtein is a mixed lineage yoga teacher, loving the many aspects of Ashtanga, Prana Flow vinyasa and Yin yoga. She has Thai Yoga massage training and is currently immersed in MBSR protocols at University of Toronto. Through the dedicated work of Buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh, Jodi experienced a shift that speaks to inner peace. Being a mother of four opened the gates to empathy. With the practice of deep listening she is able to better understand her yoga community. 

This article appears in the May 2018 issue of Tonic Toronto

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Evolution Through Meditation by Will

Mindful Stress Reduction


Mindfulness Meditation offers exploration of our mind body interactions with the intentions of healing and finding contentment with life as it simply is. Through observation and deep listening we can better understand ourselves, our friends and family. First, we should acknowledge that we as a species are largely unconscious. We are often in auto pilot when driving, walking and eating. Meditation strengthens our ability to focus and consolidate mental strength.

From my experience, we can sense revelations during meditation that shift the bias of our implicit knowledge. In the yogic realm we may practice pratyahara, a Sanskrit term of deep inner reflection. The practice of looking inward allows us to bring our minds back “online” as opposed to our preoccupation with events of the past, or contemplating the future. Sitting with one’s self, we begin to see how we might feel led by desire and habit, endlessly seeking sensory stimuli.

Can we invite a shift in our perceptions or consciousness without getting too metaphysical? Does it need to be steeped in theology? Those preferences are up to you. One path that does not embrace such platitudes is Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of MBSR, was Influenced by the work of Buddhist monk and peace activist, Thích Nhất Hạnh. The efficacy of MBSR is supported by recent findings in brain MRI research. MBSR is sought after by top corporations for training for physicians, executives and administration.
Those who practice MBSR often refer to themselves as “feeling people who think.”

One goal in meditation is to embrace the narrative of equanimity in all things. Eventually we stand strong with the stark reality of impermanence. With inner reflection, we can identify when we engage in reactionary behaviours. Our brain and health cannot support a stress response level that keeps our sympathetic nervous system on high alert. On a side note, we know stress can create unhealthy levels of cortisol in our brains.

There are two roads diverged in a wood with regards to how we function and endure in our world. Our first state of being is considered the low road, governed by our amygdala -a critical part of our brain that evaluates each experience on an emotional and sensory level. Visualize a complex alarm system in which the amygdala executes a quick flight or fight response. This response has given us our survival as a species, and the choices of our cautious ancestors led to their offspring today. MBSR cultivates the high road through the prefrontal cortex, residing in the right and left hemisphere of our brain. It is through the right and left prefrontal cortex that we are able to self regulate our behaviours and arousals. MBSR enhances the regulation of our limbic system, and in yogic terms, brings us mindfully back to focus.

As Thích Nhất Hạnh reminds us, simply sit still. Our meditation practice asks us to observe our breathing, thoughts and feelings. The practice of deep listening can bring about healing to the one who speaks of their suffering, and awaken compassion within yourself. From this place of compassion we can transfer this feeling of goodwill to others. We then begin to nurture the qualities of meditation. Over time, you may sense a shift in your consciousness that speaks to contentment within.

This article appears in the October 2016 issue of Tonic Toronto

Posted on October 14, 2016

The Syncronicity of Yoga by Will

Concentrated Focus in Groups


“Synchronicity is an ever present reality for those who have eyes to see.” Carl Jung

Let’s look at the way we integrate our minds and bodies within fluid yoga. Carl Jung, the pioneer of analytical psychology, spoke of our concentrated focus to support connectivity. We have an innate ability to mirror movements and emotions within seconds. Synchronized patterns adapt within other species for protection. If you’ve been mesmerized by a murmuration of starlings in the sky, or schools of fish, then you have witnessed nature’s endless shapes, spirals and patterns.

Do we sense how well we synergize with other yoga practitioners? Even if you prefer to practice yoga alone, or seek the solitary pleasure of great literature, you still sit amongst great minds. You take refuge within their headspace, the written word, hence not alone. We are designed to connect.

Our yoga practice reveals itself in contemplative meditation, movement and breathing. There is a sublime level of synchrony within the yoga realm, through the lens of social intelligence. This concept of sociability unfolded for me during an hour long yoga sequence with a good friend. We had decided to film our session moving under a warm sun, mildly preoccupied from previous late night festivities. Within this unrehearsed filming we noticed synchronized harmony. I attributed our rhythmic movements to our close kinship. Being able to mirror each other with little calculation remained a touchpoint for observation.

Afterwards, I spent time reading Daniel Goleman’s Social Intelligence. Goleman expanded on our ability to move with resonance. Our uncanny pacing was more than friendship. Indeed, we engage a series of synaptic connections in our mind, that fire over and over like a most watchful clock. These innate abilities can be referred to as micro-meshing.

In Social Intelligence, neuroscientists refer to our neural systems as internal clocks, or oscillators. Our impromptu yoga practice had us moving as coupled oscillators. Our internal clocks respond rapidly to any incoming signal. So even though we remained a bit languid, our neural systems remained on point. We echo the rate at which we were moving so as to synchronize.

On a grander scale, we arrive at these yoga festivals such as OM.TO. and Wanderlust as seekers. We connect in mass oscillation, moving in synchrony, and it looks similar to the murmurations of the starlings. We witness a mass neural link up. Our attention is no longer split; we have what psychologists referred to as a concentrated focus. I have heard the 1-2-3 dictum loosely spoken in meditation circles, “I notice you. I feel with you. And so I act to help you.” Yoga is a conduit for this expression.

I leave you with another extract from Goleman’s research, “A mood can sweep through a group with great rapidity, a remarkable display of the parallel alignment of biological subsystems that puts everyone there in physiological synchrony.’

Jodi Fischtein is a mixed lineage yoga teacher, loving the many aspects of Ashtanga, Prana Flow vinyasa and Yin yoga. When I often doubt myself, I reflect on this quote : “Don’t be satisfied with stories, how things have gone with others. Unfold your own myth.” ~Rumi

This article appears in the Summer 2016 issue of Tonic Toronto

Posted on October 14, 2016


By: Jodi Fischtein, 889 Yoga Teacher

889 Yoga is a warm cocoon for many of us. This is helpful as our yoga path calls for deeper self attunement, with an opportunity to understand the powerful effects of metta, gratitude and compassion.
With self introspection (pratyahara) we can reformulate our thinking patterns and bias, regarding the way we view ourselves and those around us. The shifts in our mind and body patterns arrive in our daily lives, meditation and asana practice.

I was asked to write about advanced asana, or the level 2-3 practice. As a student, I enjoy the heat generated in a vinyasa practice. As a yoga teacher, I feel the only way to share the level 2-3 practice is within the context of safety and security. As a mother, I tend to blend the qualities of seeing and listening deeply to each student, observing the spoken and unspoken language.
Sometimes we refer to this as “holding the space” for our students. We appreciate kindness when it flows our way, and perhaps we feel the therapeutic presence amongst some yoga teachers, as they guide us to an intention of personal attunement.

“What does a level 2-3 vinyasa yoga practice mean to you?”

My feelings around the rigours of yoga asana evolve alongside the joy and humility. Some days I am strong and content. Other days I could roll myself into any random mat like a sushi roll, and hide there.

Is this the flux of hormones?
Could it be a healthy sense of doubt about myself or the practice?
Is there a full moon?
Did I need that second cappuccino?
Do I judge myself about consuming caffeine?

Just as I contemplate this, I shift back the sublime thoughts and contentment. I try to sit with myself, as we are always advised to notice what comes up. There is little success with letting my thoughts “go” but there is enormous success with letting my thoughts “be”.

“Nosce te ipsum.” “Know thyself.”

Our yoga and meditation practice should feel similar to the goal of the Buddhist, which is to maximize human potential. Taking a mindful approach, we may embody our yoga practice with the freshness of a beginner’s mind. I have often said that I am a protozoa within an amoeba swimming in the meditation and asana pond.

We now look at 889’s level 2-3 practice. A typical vinyasa session warms the body, linking breath to movement. Over time we explore the peaks within the asanas. We begin to add layers of complexity when our practice has been cultivated over a period of time. We experience humility when faced with an asana that takes months or years to understand.

There should be a familiarity with pranayama (breathing methods) and a visceral understanding of the bandhas (groups of muscles that engage in a way to move energy, such as a lock or valve).

Our yoga practice, once we contemplate it, means something personal to each one of us.

What do we choose to see?
What resonates for us?

The glory of an intense vinyasa arrives as my liberation. Vinyasa flow sequences hold a place in my daily grind. The utility of vinyasa begins with the simple analogy of a strong horse in the paddock. I am that horse pacing within the paddock. I am content, yet sense my confinement. The paddock represents the big life chosen, and the commitments as a mother and wife. Still, I have the urge to run wild, to get out of my head. All the pent up aggressions I held in my muscles are drained away. I leave the studio vibrating and relaxed.

More questions will arise within the evolution of our practice, such as how we honor the deeper meaning of our life.

Once we harness this vigorous asana, will we feel content?
Will we grasp for more sensation, validation?

Balancing our physical practice with a bit of stillness is logical. Guided meditation is the natural compliment to a level 2-3 practice. Our intention, or our sankalpa expresses a commitment to knowing our true nature. We seek to better know ourselves, which will sustain us long after we’ve mastered the peak expressions in a level 2-3 class. The sankalpa becomes a testament to us reaching for our most compassionate selves.

Some of us live for our yoga practice as an identifier, as it is everything, it is all things, and it lives deep inside.

Is your love of yoga perceivable to your friends and family?
Is it a purely secular practice or approached with deep reverence?
What is tangible for us?
Is the arm balance easier than finding stillness?

Some of us will gravitate to the theological and metaphysical aspects of yoga, while others will dilute the practice into an expression of secular. Some will preach only to their lineage of yoga, while others seek refuge in deconstructing the practice as based purely on the physiological, seeing only ligaments, bones, fascia and soft tissues within the yoga asana.

The teacher holds the space and sets the tone for the class. If it is one of warmth, then the group will integrate those feelings amongst themselves within the space. If it is rather quiet, serious and clinical in its instruction then these sentiments will exist in the room. We gather with the intention of satsang, a sense of being with the truth amongst your kula, your yoga tribe.

In my 2-3 vinyasa flow class I will say “Sthira sukham asanam.” This Sanskrit sutra indicates the desired countenance of contentment, steadiness and equanimity within your practice. There is less chatter from me on the basics of asana in an advanced class, as each student is expected to have an understanding of fundamentals. If there are health concerns, sporting injuries or pregnancy, there should be increased awareness on my behalf and on that of the student.

If a new student finds their way into my advanced class, I will offer simple variations for every “apex” pose. We should come to the space with lightness of heart. There should exist a collective patience and kindness. This is the framework from which we may find a sustainable practice.

On Sanskrit: I often share yoga asanas in Sanskrit with deep reverence. I am humble in my pronunciation and always seeking guidance. I share Sanskrit so that the students become comfortable listening to new sounds that comprise the matrix of yoga language. In this way, we can find ease in yoga studios abroad where English may not be spoken, yet we can recall the poses in Sanskrit.

Some yogis are seekers of the glorious cardiovascular surge and strength resulting from advanced asana practice. They have invested the time to immerse themselves, and for many this feels delicious. I mention delicious as in the rasa, the sweet nectar of a sensory experience within the fluid practice of vinyasa. We feel our body buzz, breathe and vibrate. We marinate within a transformative edge. The ongoing question to ask ourselves should be, do we imbibe the gospel of Yoga Sutra 2.46?

2.46: The posture (asana) for Yoga meditation should be steady, stable, and motionless, as well as comfortable, and this is the third of the eight rungs of Yoga.
(sthira sukham asanam)

The experiential learning associated with advanced physical asana is fantastic yet with limitations if not embracing all aspects of a well rounded practice. You can find yourself mastering the peak poses, yet still ask yourself, “what makes a meaningful life?”

The physical prowess of advanced asana indulges a healthy sense of ego, so as long as we lead a balanced life. We can’t truly maintain any extreme approach to our life, as it may not likely be the way to the truth or feel deeply satisfying.

I close this essay by offering feedback from various practitioners on what a level 2-3 practice means to them. The sensible means of assessing one’s abilities leads us back to “know thyself.”

What does a Level 2-3 yoga practice signify to you?

Heather C. Toronto, Physiotherapist & Yoga teacher & movement therapist:
“I consider level 2/3 students to have the self awareness to modify practice as needed. Meditation, pranayama are included, there is expectation that fundamental postures don’t require breakdown, they’re comfortable exploring inversions. Sequences can be intricate, advanced postures can be played with, and more importantly, folks are comfortable learning intricacies.”

Audrey S. 889 Yoga teacher, yogini & chef:
“As one moves deeper into it, a sense of ownership and responsibility takes place and leads the practice.”

Jennifer A. Toronto, Yoga instructor & physiotherapist. Resides in Abudhabi teaching yoga & pilates:
“Level 2/3 requires an understanding of postures and stamina. Practitioners should be able to modify and push through challenges rather than blindly follow into pain or injury. 2/3 pose challenges require integration and body awareness.”

Jennifer Birenbaum, Mother of 4, Co-owner & Director, Camp Walden, recent yoga teaching graduate:
“A practice where the foundation is strong and the flow moves at a good pace.”

Laura G. LCSW, MSW. Mother, Therapist, Colorado:
“Level 2/3 for me is holding poses until it burns, meditation, and an inversion.”

Marni L., BEd Physical & Health Ed. McGill, Toronto Realtor:

Tara T., MBA, HR Manager, mother to be:
“For me yoga is the embodiment of lifelong learning. I promote and enjoy the concept of lifelong learning in my professional life and yoga is one of the ways I do this in my personal life. Level 2/3 opens up new poses to be “imperfect” in and therefore a new place of concentration and excitement.”

Ariel W., Toronto. Mother, Aerial yoga, Yoga Instructor:

Level 1 your eyes begin to open. Level 2/3 you stop for a moment. You remain still and it’s time you begin to walk and work backwards. You begin to observe the flaws and the greatness, you begin to manifest change. Why I go almost everyday. There is no stillness in yoga, it’s always vibrating, everything is vibrating.”

Posted on November 30, 2015

Feeling Shanti (Peace) by Will

By: Jodi Fischtein, 889 Yoga Teacher

How do we really feel when we chant the Hindu prayer and Peace Mantra, Om, Shanti, Shanti, Shanti? Close your eyes. Visualize this invocation of peace. Om, sending peace into your past, your present and into the future.

If we are new to chanting, we may feel shy about releasing our special sound into the community. We are encouraged to do so to share in the creativity of collective harmony. We are encouraged to create sacred space for our practice to commence or to signify the end of your practice.

In my first yoga class, I wondered why we chant this lovely utterance Shanti, and for three times. When I inquired, I was enchanted with the reasoning: Shanti, Shanti, Shanti is for acknowledging, calming and removing obstacles in the three realms which are the Physical, the Divine, and the Internal Realms. The three realms are referred to as Tapa-Traya in Sanskrit.

Your first “Om” sends peace out to the Physical Realm and all of its inhabitants that may be deemed as a source of conflict.

Your second “Om” sends peace to the Divine Realm or external world, regarded as spiritual, mystical and those entities, deities, spirits deemed supernatural.

Your third “Om” sends peace to your Internal Realm of thoughts and emotions. There exists the trappings of one’s own mind, the source of troubles or obstacles, physical pain, disease, afflictions in your body and mind.

As yoga practitioners, it is reasonable to say we seek to feel and share this benevolent feeling of Shanti, which revolves around patience, listening and acceptance.

I feel Shanti in waves. It is elusive at times. I question. Can the very act of being seekers, or the preparation of reaching for inner peace, in and of itself be an exhausting endeavor? Why can I not sit still? I ask myself why I prefer to lie down to meditate. This is a strong preference. Are rigid preferences a hindrance to inner Shanti? Apparently, yes.

I silently scold myself for fidgeting and rocking in meditation and during Yin yoga. It is self-stimulatory behaviors that creep into my stillness. I am still grateful for the cumulative effects of a Yin practice, which gives a fluid feeling deep in my bones. One can achieve a peaceful easy feeling when there is an understanding of patience.

I smile at my thoughts, even those that feel dark, and the ones that are quite ambitious. My oh my, with so much strife in the world, if I am lucky enough to feel safe so as to sit quietly, then I can also acknowledge my gratitude.

Some days I “try” to simply come in for a landing, and sit with myself, and accept whatever thoughts arise. If there is a calm acceptance of ourselves and of our flaws, then can we practice less judgment of others.

It is beneficial to declutter our surroundings to feel inner Shanti. If our physical space is clear, we can better understand our erratic thoughts, which is often referred to as “Citta-vrtti” in Sanskrit. We add a few vowels so as to pronounce this idea of the monkey mind, mind chatter or even mind clutter: “Chitta vritti.” In essence, the “Chitta” is our consciousness and “vritti” is our powerful mind and the fluctuations that occur. Mind fluctuations are quite nimble, whirling at around 2,000 thoughts or more per hour (debatable).

We can still seek inner peace, even on days we may not feel worthy. For example, if I was obnoxious or impatient on a particular day, I would feel that I was negating shanti, hence unworthy. In forgiving myself, I was able to witness my higher Self. Having compassion for those around me also allowed me to have compassion for myself. You can flip that, having compassion for myself allows me to accept others. I struggled with these feelings as a young girl, before I understood the concept of shanti. I would be disappointed with myself, and carried my mistakes around with me, which would drain my confidence.

The first time I felt a liberation from mind clutter and excess baggage was in 2007 at the Omega Wellness Center in Rhinebeck, New York. My two girlfriends and I were at Jivamukti Yoga center in Union Square, we felt good, and we hopped on the Amtrak to Omega.

We, the three merry travelers were drawn to the physical (asana) practice of yoga. We smuggled in our vices of wine, cupcakes, designer attire, smartphone, and cigarettes. So unworthy, right? What a sight amongst the Puritans in attendance. I happened to meet Dharma Mittra that day. He said something that set me free and gave me permission to forgive myself. It seemed too easy, like holding rosary beads at Confession. But I needed to hear it. Loosely translated from memory:

Dharma : “When you do something selfish, something not with good intentions or hurt someone’s feelings, directly or indirectly, forgive yourself. You did not do it. The Self is innocent. Your ego did that (the Mind). The real Self is good and kind. The Self would never do that. Your ego was just out of control at that time. Forgive yourself.”

That day I saw myself and this world differently. I forgave myself, and many others that my ego had blacklisted. Behind the ego, related grudge was love anyway.

So if and when you join in and chant this invocation to peace, Shanti, Shanti, Shanti perhaps you can feel a deeper connection to your true Self, to feel your heart’s desire and walk on a clear path of contentment.

Posted on March 31, 2015