Archive for the ‘Karma’ Category

The Business of Yoga (part 1)

I’m sure you’ve heard it multiple times…when you’re passionate about what you do professionally, it doesn’t feel like work.  I’m lucky to say I’ve been experiencing this for the last six plus years teaching yoga full-time in the vicinity of Washington, DC.  When I left my last marketing gig, I realized I no longer thrived in the corporate atmosphere like I once had just a couple years prior.  Already an Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT), I wondered how I could possibly make a living doing something I loved.  After some research and brainstorming, abellaYoga was born.

So yes I make a living teaching yoga.  I’m often asked “how?” both by other experienced yoga teachers and those just fresh out of a yoga teacher training program.  I’ve received calls and emails from several around the country asking for advice on how to start teaching yoga full-time.  More than once, the business side of me has thought “I could make additional money coaching new yoga teachers on “the business of yoga” (aka being a yoga teacher mentor).

It happened again last week.  As I hung up the phone on Thursday with a girl from California who wants to create a mobile yoga business like abellaYoga —offering in-home privates and office yoga classes— it dawned on me that maybe it is just in my karma to share what I know.  Sure I could charge for these 30-45 minute calls but why?  Why not simply help those who want to spread the power and joy of yoga?  I’ve had the honor to teach yoga full-time the last few years and continue to be blessed so why shouldn’t others experience this.  It’s selfish and non-yogic to not share what you know (think Aparigraha, sutra 2.30).

So here goes.  Let me first say the yoga times have changed since I started teaching.  There are way more certified yoga teachers than 5 years ago.  Secondly, when I started abellaYoga in 2006 there really wasn’t much information available on how to start a yoga business, or make a living teaching yoga.  My 200-hour yoga teacher training program didn’t cover this topic.  Unlike today, you can Google the business of yoga (or teaching yoga full-time) and you’re bound to find free articles on the topic or yoga teachers who are willing to mentor you on the subject for a fee.

Fortunately for me, my years in the business & marketing world came in handy.  The first thing I did was create a business plan and to this day I still use it as a guide to keep me on track with my vision, annual goals, marketing, pricing and the many “to do’s” that go on beyond just teaching yoga in homes and offices.  If you’re not sure where to start, again go to Mr. Google (as my Grandmother called it), type in the phrase business plan and you’re bound to find a slew of free templates.  No one has to see your plan especially if you’re not seeking a loan (i.e. to open a yoga studio).

As you go through the business plan process, keep a copy of The Yoga Sutras close at hand.  There are a slew of instructions in there that can be helpful in guiding your entrepreneurial spirit.  “Effort toward steadiness is practice” (sutra 1.13) is the first one that comes to mind.  A business takes dedication, through both the highs and lows.  To be successful, there will be plenty of times you’ll need to do things that pull you out of your comfort zone (think Tapas, sutra 2.1).  And through it all, it’s key to stay positive (think pratipaksha bhavana, sutra 2.33), grounded and focused (sutra 2.52 & 2.53).

In my next post, I’ll share a few other biz tips that come straight from my heart.

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Karma Yarma Smarma

No, the title of this post is not Sanskrit for something particular or grand.  It’s simply me being frustrated with myself for not fully understanding karma.  I realized today (after pondering this topic the entire month of September & not posting a single thought about it) that maybe that’s the point of karma.

As with many of the yoga sutras & other yoga philosophy, they’re often easier to read about and get vs. live.  Further try to apply them in full-blown action and whoa! life wakes you up.  I think if the world was filled with yogic living beings (i.e. yogis and yoginis) maybe the yoga sutras and concepts such as karma might play themselves out in life smoothly.  Unfortunately, life isn’t a bowl of strawberries (one of my favs), a box of chocolates or whatever it is you crave.

So here it is straight from Inside the Yoga Sutras (By Jaganath Carrera):  “the womb of karmas (actions and reactions) has its root in these obstacles, and the karmas bring experiences in the seen (present) or the unseen (future) births.”  sutra 2.12

“the karmas bear fruit of pleasure and pain caused by merit and demerit.” sutra 2.14

Or again sutra 2.12 from another translation I purchased at the Dharma Yoga Center in NYC:  ” a man’s latent tendencies have been created by his past thoughts and actions.  These tendencies will bear fruit, in both this life and in lives to come.”

I get the obvious karma connections.  For instance, if we eat too many cookies or chips today, we are likely to wake-up tomorrow feeling blah or weighing more on the scale.  Or if we stay up too late watching a movie (or drinking), we feel very tired (or hungover) the next day.  This is probably obvious to those of us who studied Newton’s law of motion in high school physics:  “for every action there is a reaction.”  I feel, and based on my continuous studies of The Yoga Sutras and The Bhagavad Gita this obvious karma is known as “present” karma.

I also get the more subtle karma concept such if we do something nice for someone today (with no expectation) then down the road someone will do something nice for us.  The “kind” thing, thought or word may not be the same but there’s a connection and often we can’t connect the kind offering to what we previously gave/did.  With subtle karma, it’s your intention and not about the expectation which leads to the phrase “what goes around comes around.”  To me this is “future” karma.

And on a deeper karmic level I totally get what can happen if I violate Ahimsa.  Ahimsa (well-known in yoga philosophy for thousands of years as non-violence to all beings anyplace, anytime) if violated can lead to unhappiness/violence/suffering at some time in this lifetime.   Yet this is where I get “STUCK“, where I think karma SUCKS (sorry Mom!) and where I struggle with the concept of  “present” karma

Present karma doesn’t always make sense since it’s based on “past” karma.  A common example that repeatedly happens for me:  when I read/hear news about someone who has been a positive force in their community and they were violated in some way, I struggle.  I really struggle with how something bad can happen to someone who has been doing good and been a positive influence.  If this person lived such an exemplary life, why were they harmed?  How can I think this person deserved this act of negativity when they are always producing acts for the good of others?

Sure if you are dedicated and fully understand the karma concept, you’d probably say they did something in the past (whether in this life or previous) to deserve what happened.  To me this thinking/belief lacks compassion (a yogic violation in some sutra which I’ll find if you command).  Plus, to think someone deserved something bad lacks sympathy and a basic appreciation for humanity.

Again, this is where I struggle with karma.  Though I believe everything in life happens for a reason, I can’t quite get myself to a place where I think people always deserve what happens to them.  As much as I read about karma and think I get the concept, I’m torn when life throws a curve ball of reality in my face.  This is why I’m on the fence and chanting “karma yarma sharma.”

Are You a REAL Yoga Teacher?

As part of the 2012 Arts Festival Day at an elementary school in Alexandria, VA, my yoga teacher-friend Brittanie DeChino and I volunteered to do a few yoga demonstrations to third, fourth and fifth-graders.  We taught them sound breathing (a breathing technique we learned from our teacher Sri Dharma Mittra), sun salutations, balancing poses, partner yoga and a few other fun things.  It was a nice change from my daily office yoga gigs.

At the end of each 20-minute presentation, we opened it up for a few questions from the kids.  In the last group, which was about 75 fifth-graders, one girl asked “are you real yoga teachers?”  Of course, we said with a smile “yes, we are real yoga teachers.”  Though now I’m thinking, what is a real yoga teacher?

From an educational standpoint in the United States, the Yoga Alliance defines the educational requirements needed to be known as a Registered Yoga Teacher (aka RYT) with their organization.  Is being an RYT enough to be considered a real yoga teacher?  I say no.  In fact, you can become an RYT and not ever teach an actual yoga class.  Or you can become an RYT and teach yoga classes every day.  Though I don’t think whether you teach yoga classes or not makes you a real yoga teacher.

To me what makes a real yoga teacher is someone who shows up in life doing their best every moment.  Someone who shows up in life for other people —helping others, giving to others and not expecting anything in return (aka karma yoga).  Someone who inspires others naturally through their actions.

To me a real yoga teacher honors the universal vows of the yamas (sutra 2.30) and niyamas (sutra 2.32).  And if the “teacher” only follows the first yama which is ahimsa (nonviolence in thought, word and action) to me they are a real yoga teacher.  Actually, this is more important than whether the teacher can even do the physical postures.  I also think a real yoga teacher takes time to pause daily –whether it’s to move (asana), meditate, or just simply open a yoga text, like The Yoga Sutras or The Bhagavad Gita, and reflect.  A real yoga teacher is a truth seeker – someone who is following their heart and sharing from the heart.  As Sri Dharma always says, the goal of yoga is self-realization.

And how is yoga related to art (a question posed by one bright fourth-grader today)?  Practicing yoga calms you (as Brittanie explained) which creates space within, opening you up to endless amounts of creativity.  And as I type this I realize that teaching yoga is an art.  It takes practice and a dedicated heart.  Living yoga is an artistic journey.  It takes constant practice and an open heart to whatever and whoever shows up in the moment.  Isn’t this all art?

2012: A Year of Challenge

With permission I have copied & pasted Sri Dharma Mittra’s latest message from the Dharma Yoga Center 12/31/2011 newsletter. 

I admit it’s a lot to take in.  My suggestion:  Read it here, then print it to have on hand so you can reread it several times, contemplate upon it and decide what it means for you.  Enjoy!

rainbowyogiman
                        HAPPY NEW YEAR!

A Message from Dharma:

All suffering and pain experienced on the material plane is for the purpose of purification – the gradual cleaning of the mind, heart and intellect so that one day, in this incarnation or one of the next, we may at last have a complete vision of Supreme Reality.

All yoga teachers and students, prepare yourselves! The year ahead will be a year of challenge. It will be a year that will provide many opportunities to really be of service to others. It will also provide us with the chance to discover how strong and faithful we truly are.

According to present and past conditions including predictions and even some direct evidence, sometime during and especially in late 2012, the Earth may pass through some severe weather conditions and maybe even some unusual phenomena. Those with lots of attachment to things and comforts may endure lots of pain and suffering, and those without good health and spiritual knowledge and who are attached to comfort surely will suffer more.

In our study of yoga, we learn about the Kleshas, the mental impurities, the root causes of all pain and suffering. All five are rooted in the first, Avidya or ignorance of your own True Self, but attachment or Raga, another one of the Kleshas, will cause many great problems during this period of transition and change. We can combat this as Yogis by re-dedicating ourselves to Sadhana (spiritual practice), and, the more we learn, the more we’ll have to then share with others to help them through the dark days potentially ahead. Commit every bit of knowledge you can to memory and strengthen the physical body so you can help others who are weaker. Many Yogis become flexible and strong through their dedication to the Asana or posture practice, but you mustn’t sacrifice cardiovascular fitness, since the ability to run if there is danger is of great value both to save yourself and to then help save others. Do something for at least five minutes every day to strengthen and tone the cardiovascular system, even Jumping Jacks. Pursue Self-knowledge every day with great intensity.

To fully arm yourself, spend more time in contemplation and realize what you really are today! We are all a portion of the Almighty One; immortal, omniscient and formless. It is only by this knowledge that you will truly remain unaffected by the possible external state of turmoil. Stay healthy and share as much as possible spiritual knowledge with others so that their pain can be reduced. Acting in this way is the highest type of charity. Remember, belief is not enough!

How unwise it is to sleep! (To float through life unaware of anything and without learning anything.) How foolish it is to remain unguarded and full of doubts! Constantly breaking the law and taking chances and stupid risks that will always result in disappointment, embarrassment, pain and suffering. The wise man is always awake and fully prepared. He follows the rules and guards his knowledge. Compassionate to all, he lives happily and is immune to delusion. The wise man is ever ready to face any amount of pain that may be inflicted upon him at any time.

But even the holy man’s body and mind are still subject to extremes of discomfort, since no one is immune to the forces of nature. Those who are still without Self-knowledge and who abide in a state of ignorance as regards Supreme Reality doubtless will suffer more in the year to come. Due to the present condition of everything, including the mental and spiritual, everything is moving, acting and changing perfectly according to and is affected by these constantly shifting patterns, resulting in a specific new condition. Everything is controlled by the Divine Laws of Nature, and everything is connected to everything else. Whatever happens to anything in any distinct area has an effect on everything else to some degree. Einstein saw this through the lens of Physics: “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” In Karmic terms, perhaps this is better expressed as: “For every action, there is an equal required action.” Or, “Everything we are passing through at present is a result of our deeds from the past.” If we were able to look back at every action taken in previous lifetimes, we would come to understand with clarity everything we are now experiencing from moment to moment.

Those devoid of Self-knowledge are fully under the sway of their external environment and its given state from moment to moment. But the wise men and women, endowed with right knowledge, can control the effect these external changes have to affect the internal environment and, most crucially, the mind. Of course, no one can escape their fate entirely, but, since the enlightened one is not identified with the body and mind anymore, he or she is truly untouched by the effect of the outside world upon them.

Only a lit candle can light the unlit wick of another. Some who lose everything will feel that the world really has ended. If you have a little knowledge and a little self-control, you will be able to serve and help anyone and everyone you come into contact with both now and after everything begins to possibly shift and change.

May Brahman bestow upon you the treasure of understanding this Divine knowledge! Om Shanti, Shanti, Shantihi.

Lots of Love,  Dharma Mittra

Remember! The goal is Self-realization!

Karma Yoga Defined

Yoga is Sanskrit for the word union.  Yoga means uniting body, mind and soul.  Yoga also means uniting with other souls.  This to me is where Karma Yoga comes in.

A main component of my yoga teacher training with Sri Dharma Mittra is Karma Yoga.  So beyond just performing my hours of karmic duty to fulfill my training requirements, I’ve been really thinking a lot about how so many small and daily actions can be considered Karma Yoga.

Karma Yoga is defined as selfless service.  When selfless service becomes a natural extension of our everyday life, we are really starting to practice and experience yoga in its fullest sense.  Selfless service can be as simple as holding the door for a stranger at your local Starbucks, or lending a hand to a neighbor in need.  Though the most often talked about type of Karma Yoga seems to be around organized volunteer or giving opportunities (i.e. donating food to a local food drive or giving money to charity).  These are all great acts of service but with the later (donating) there is little human connection and often a low level of frequency.

To me Karma Yoga is most effective when we do it often and it flows naturally within our normal daily activities.  In this way, Karma Yoga becomes a path that constantly carries us to a deeper connection with others and ultimately a deeper connection within ourselves.

Touch the heart of others with a simple gesture and you’ll not only shine from your heart but you’ll shine light to help others realize the importance of giving each and every day.  Thank you.