When practicing yoga asana, you are encouraged to use your body with the intention of drawing yourself inward. Postures are used to understand the self. Focus on the hands is used in dristi, a focal point. However, there is much more to the hands than just creating a visionary focus. The term mudra applies to the use of hand gestures that channel your body’s energy flow or redirects energy. It refers to a gesture, sign, or seal. There are more than 100 known mudras that have been developed over the centuries, with about 60 that are common. Our hands are thought to hold energetic points for these elements and thus the use of mudras is a way of manipulating these elements. There not only connecting principles at play but also freeing actions taking place depending on the mudra.
The hands are an expressive part of our bodies, with the ability to make a wide range of gestures, as well as subtle movements. They help us communicate, connect, and convey thoughts and feelings. Mudras stem from Hinduism and have been used in many forms of dance, including Kathakali, Manipuri, and Kuchipudi. During these dances, the hands express various emotions. We can think about the many ways we use our hands in our daily lives as well, in the form of a wave or handshake, for example. Mudras are also used to influence prana, or life force energy. Holding a mudra has the ability to move prana around the body, or redirect it. We can direct prana toward a particular part of the body or use mudras to create a higher state of consciousness. There is a story in the Cherena Samhita in which Shiva explains to Parvati that mudras will grant great happiness and health. The Hatha Yoga Pradipeka states that mudras are a way to activate Kundalini energy, passing through the Sushumna nadi, and moving upward throughout the chakras. If one is not familiar with these concepts, current practices such as reflexology hae shown that specific parts of the hands and feet correspond to other parts of the body. For instance, the pads of the forefingers have shown to have an association with the sinuses. Stimulating these areas of the hand has activated the region of the body associated with it. Whether you are practicing reflexology, acupressure, or mudra, the goal is similar: to heal the body and mind and promote wellness.
The hand is thought to be associated with the five elements:
Thumb: Fire, associated with digestion, muscles, sight as well as inner strength, willpower and self-esteem. Also considered Brahman, ultimate reality
Index Finger: Air, associated with breathing, lungs, heart & circulatory system, arms and hands. Also assocaited with freedom, joy, stress relief
Middle Finger: Space, ether, associated with the throat, mouth, ears, hunger, thirst, weight, hearing. Also inner peace, self-expression, creativity, communication
Ring Finger: Earth, associated with skeletal and immune systems, feet and legs, sense of smell, and stability or groundedness
Pinky Finger: Water, associated with general wellbeing, body fluids, urinary and reproductive systems, sense of taste. Also overall health, the ability to let go and move forward, to be adaptive and go with the flow
Palm: Mind, the overall control of the senses and body, and concentration. Clarity, intuition, intelligence, imagination and insight are all associated
I seem to be hearing so much about meditation these days. Everyone seems to be practicing mindfulness, and meditation has become quite popular. Celebrities and professional alike boast of their meditation practices. My employer encourages learning to meditate and even offers daily guided meditation sessions. Most of the time I am too inundated with work to attend, but hey it’s out there! According to Tim Ferriss, entrepreneur and author, “80% of top business leaders meditate”.
Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention, on purpose, to each moment. Mindfulness can promote feelings of calmness, increased concentration, increased creativity, elevated mood, improved sleep and promote overall health.
When can we practice mindfulness?
Meditation is simply a way to enhance the capacity to be mindful.
Most of us have some trouble meditating. We have this need to be doing something. We listen to our thoughts. We are aware of our urges to do something else and to plan. With meditation we learn to quiet our thoughts and to be still. It can be quite difficult until we cultivate the habit.
When my meditation closes, I often find myself smiling. I feel more grateful and ready for the challenges that life throws at me. This is clearly an indication for me that I should be diligent in my practice. I want to share my newfound practice and joy with family and friends. I hope they can feel the same way!
I am an aerial yoga teacher. I teach a hybrid form of yoga that for some people might seem so loosely related to any “real” type of yoga it should be called something else. It is the marriage of yoga and circus arts, an unlikely pairing. I fell into this position accidentally. I was a hobby aerialist who enjoyed practicing traditional forms of yoga. In August of 2015, a local yoga studio offered an aerial yoga teacher training. In truth, I signed on with the intention of using it as an immersion to complement my separate aerial and yoga practices, but also to take my mind off my mom’s serious health issues. On the last day of training, I was stunned to be offered a position to teach. I hesitated. No, I panicked. Then, I hesitated. Eventually, I accepted. And, I have been teaching consistently ever since.
While I greatly enjoyed the practice, I somehow felt lesser as a teacher compared to other teachers at the studio. It was as though I was looking for some validation because of the type of yoga I was offering. After a year of teaching, I decided to take on a 200-hour yoga teacher training thinking that it may be what I needed to validate myself. It was helpful in many ways. I dove more deeply into many aspects of the yoga practice and it helped me hone my skills as a teacher. But, it wasn’t the solution for my perceived shortcomings as an instructor. What I didn’t realize was the answer had already been coming but so slowly I was missing it. My perception of what I was as a teacher was my limitation and the more I continued to show up to the best of my ability, the more I started to see real change in myself as teacher and practitioner. It was transformational. This then translated to students who came through the door.
I came to the realization that, while there is still much for me to learn, I had much to offer, and I should not shy away from that with excuses. I believe in the aerial yoga practice. I feel it is a legitimate and “real” form of yoga. Maintaining focus on the breath and moving with intention can bring about a positive difference regardless of the type of practice. Students were delighted to see the offerings honor the more traditional forms but add a different perspective. They felt supported in familiar poses and that allowed them to explore the postures more deeply. The tactile use of the aerial hammock helped quiet the chatter in their minds. I began having a steady flow of students who entrusted me to be there as they stepped out of their comfort zones. Upon realizing my role as a guide, I was able to place aside my ego and clear away the thoughts of what I was or wasn’t. It allowed me to authentically step into this role more confidently to help effect real change in the students who came to practice. I simply needed to believe in myself first before others believed in me.
Susan discovered yoga shortly after beginning aerial circus training. Yoga provided the perfect complement to the rigorous aerial training and helped her balance body and mind. While weaving in and out of both practices separately for a few years, eventually they merged, leading her to aerial yoga. She received her 50-hour aerial yoga teaching certificate in August of 2015 through Om Factory in New York City. Her classes blend yoga asana and conditioning with playful movement while safely utilizing the aerial hammock. She complete her 200-hour teacher training at Boundless Yoga Studio and is currently completing her 300-hr Advanced Studies Program at Boundless. In addition to teaching aerial yoga, she also teaches classes in aerial fabric and is a mother to five amazing children.
Study with Susan!
Aerial Yoga Teacher Training
Dates: June 15, 16, 17 and June 29, 30 and July 1 (2 weekends) at the Boundless Yoga Studio Mt. Pocono Location
Boundless Yoga Studio offers weekly Aerial Yoga Classes
Mondays 7:15 pm w/ Kate Deangelo
Wednesdays at 11am w/ Linnette Gomez
Saturdays at 11 am w/ Brian Davis
Most of our lives are spent in a very Yang state of body and mind. Fast paced, busy, deadlines, family, obligations and disruptions. It is not often that we take the time to find balance, quiet the mind, and center the nervous system, not to mention- open the body and release stress and tension. Yin Yoga is the answer to to this balance. Yin is the lunar, quieter cooler, side to your practice, and I get it… for a long time I only practiced the more heated, intense style vinyasa flows. I thought that I needed to nearly exhaust myself in order to feel like I was moving forward in my practice. That is, until I understood the benefits of Yin and the profound transformation this practice brought.
On the surface, Yin may feel and look like your not doing much at all, but on a cellular level the body is quite busy! Yin can be Intense or Yin can be soft, depending on your needs on a day to day basis you… choose your path, (on and off the mat). Yin works to target the deeper connective tissues of the body such as the fascia, ligaments, joints, tendons and even the bones. Yin yoga balances the meridian systems found in the philosophy of Chinese medicine. Freeing blockages in our meridian lines brings balance to the entire body. These meridian lines include the liver, kidney, heart and many others.
I will be presenting a Yin Yoga Advanced Studies Training and in it will dive deep into the practice and study of Yin Yoga methods and applications. Chris Loebsack, my Yin Training co-creator, brings an incredible understanding and delivery of anatomy, specifically how it relates to the yoga practice and safety in stretching. You will also receive an understanding of The Five Elements of Chinese Medicine and how these energies can be integrated into the practice to serve you and your students based on what is needed on a day to day basis and a deep understanding of the postures of Yin.
Join Chris Loebsack and me in this comprehensive study of Yin Yoga. This course of study is open to students looking to deepen their understanding and practice of Yin Yoga as well as Certified Teachers seeking specialized certification and continuing education credits.
"Whatever IS is, I want That, Only That, but That is what I want." ~ Not sure of the Author, Poem shared in class by the teacher.
When you step back without expectation to observe and truly listen and see what is before you without coloring your thoughts with prior expectations there is a sweet freedom where learning can take root and knowledge expands. When we are always looking for confirmation of what we think we already know to be true about the world we end up making the situations conform to our vision and miss the gems that are there or cannot see the healing path in front of us because we have not remained innocently open. This lab is a place where the dead heal the living.
Five days ago were were strangers coming together to learn. What we found was a room full of incredibly compassionate souls all wanting to heal the world of its wounds by seeing how this new knowledge could shape each practitioners work to help one person at a time. We cannot heal the whole world, but we can give our best to whatever is in our reach. Each day is a step to being a better human being and connecting with those around you.
Each of us had the opportunity to pick a learning project and follow it through. I choose to remove all of the muscles of the leg and the forearm while leaving the interosseous membranes intact to explore the stability verses mobility of the joints in each region. I was nervous I would tear through the membrane as that would destroy the integrity of the project and I would have to choose to make a different model. Patience is not my strong suit so I decided to embrace slowing down and committed to the delicate brushstrokes of the blade to clear the muscle tissue. Aided by slow deep breathing and the cheerleading support of Joe and Corrine I ended up with two beautifully clear and working models. I was able to demonstrate the tensile pull of the interosseous membrane between the tibia and fibula. We were able to watch the membrane tense up as we shifted the ankle into dorsiflexion and witness the pull of the membrane guide the fibula laterally and superiorly to make space for the talus bone to shift and fully come into dorsiflexion. I had time then to help Joe remove the brain and work to check the relationship of the suboccipitals to the dura mater of the brain. As Joe suspected you could pull on the muscles and feel the tension inside the skull. Although Joe and I would no have time to go look at everyone else's projects were were so happy and full with the current work I'm sure it will be weeks or months before all of the other projects that we observed will fully settle into my mind.
At the end of the last day we ceremoniously wrap each cadaver with care to return them to the facility so they can be cremated and reunited with their families. Jenna, Joe, Bea, Kim, Corinne, Karin and I stand around the table holding hands in a moment of silence. Bea breaks the silence with thankful words and we hold the space for a moment longer before we are ready to part for the final day.
Outside the lab I fly a few students is a little therapeutics and we are all happy to have a bit of playtime and hugs. A few hours later I would be on the redeye home.
Tonight I step back into my studio and prepare to lead a partner yoga Valentine's event. My heart, body and mind are so full. I have no idea yet how all of this week will begin to show up in my work, but one thing is super clear to me. I am OPEN! Whatever IS is. I want THAT!
Boundless Yoga Staff & Students
We are continuously interested on how our reactions and responses to our personal journeys, albeit travel, adventure, new job, etc. mirror and reflect our social, emotional and spiritual ups and downs. We try every day to apply what we learn about ourselves on the yoga mat to our personal lives. Thank you for tuning in as we share some of those aspects with you.