All the Yoga, All the Time: An Interview with Aadil Palkhivala

Headshot-Aadil-2001By Katie Vincent

The flow of yoga has surrounded Aadil Palkhivala since day one. Not many practitioners can claim that they were conceived by the tradition they preach. Aadil Palkhivala is one such individual with karmic ties to yoga; his mother struggled with fertility for seven years until she began studies with B.K.S. Iyengar, which she continued throughout her pregnancy and brought Aadil from age three onward. At age 22, Aadil was awarded an advanced teacher’s certificate by Iyengar himself.

Co-director of the Alive and Shine Center in Bellevue and the College of Purna Yoga, Aadil continues to share his life-long passion for authentic living with yoga teachers and practitioners worldwide. Also holding degrees in physics, math, and law and extensive studies in bodywork, hypnotherapy and Ayurvedic medicine, Aadil brings a diverse perspective while working to restore what he calls the “essence” of yoga–the main goal of his Purna yoga teachings. In his book Fire Of Love, Aadil preaches a reconnection with the heart’s message through all eight limbs of yoga.

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What is Purna Yoga?

“Purna means ‘complete.’’ It is an authentic, lineage-based yoga which consists of four petals: Alignment-based asana and pranayama, Heartfull Meditation™, applied philosophy, and nutrition and lifestyle. All these are steeped in heritage and adapted for our modern lifestyle by over a half century our personal experience. The lineage of Purna Yoga comes from Sri Aurobindo, B.K.S Iyengar, the Veda, Patanjali, Ayurveda, and other ancient nutritional systems.

What makes it unique?

Many systems of yoga focus on either asana or meditation or Samadhi or simply a workout. Purna Yoga addresses all aspects of the human being and therefore is not merely asana-based, nor only meditation focused. It is a complete system for building a deep and honest relationship with ourselves, the people we surround ourselves with, and the world as a whole.

How do your studies of math, physics, and law inform your teaching?

Yoga is about cultivating the whole human being. An essential part of that cultivation is the development and use of the mental faculties. Historically, yogis were extremely intelligent, focused and prized knowledge. They were well versed in mathematics and sciences, as well as the arts. Having trained in many other science and art fields makes my teaching more clear and accessible to different ways of thinking. Also, it makes Purna Yoga teaching more inclusive than exclusive.teaching_ardha1

What do you feel is “lost” in modern yoga?

The lost essence of yoga is the living of yoga in day-to-day life. It is about being more present, rather than running away from living. Much yoga is merely asana; though asana is crucial, it is not yoga. Yogis often try to get into a space of consciousness to avoid life challenges. This is an escape and is not yoga. Also, yogis often deny the world and wealth and this flies in the face of vedic knowledge. The one thing that every practitioner would be helped by would be to sincerely embrace Svadhyaya and examine every thought, word and action that the practitioner thinks, speaks and does. Additionally, the reach for beauty creates joyfulness and equanimity. This is why, in Purna Yoga, we surround ourselves with more joyful colors and keep our environments as beautiful as possible.

Have you ever embarked on a pilgrimage?

Here I would like to quote my teacher, Sri Aurobindo in his book, “Savitri”:

‘Make of thy daily way a pilgrimage

For through small joys and griefs thou movest toward God.’

So, yes, a lot of pilgrimages, and the preparation for each is the Purna Yoga practice of integrity, joy and love from the prior day!” 

To learn more at the Northwest Yoga Conference, attend Aadil’s ‘Living the Eight Limbs of Purna Yoga’ workshop on Friday, March 4 at 9:00am or his ‘Strengthen Your Legs, Strengthen Your Spine’ class on Saturday, March 5 at 12:00pm. You can also catch him on Saturday at 2pm on the panel discussion: ‘On the Pilgrim’s Path: The Journey of Self-Discovery Through Yoga.’

Can We Build It? Yes We Can!

by Jill Rivera Greene, Conference Blogger

“Building community is not optional if you want a thriving yoga business.” – Jill and Michael Knouse

When my kids were preschool age, they loved to watch “Bob the Builder.” In each animated episode, Bob and his friends serve their neighborhood through a variety of building and repair projects. The group’s rallying cry, “Can we fix it? Yes we can!” reinforces the show’s message that people do more and do better when they work together in community.

The same can certainly be said of yoga. Although we often practice alone, on our mats and meditation cushions, so much of our growth as yogis takes place in communities—in group classes and trainings, on retreats and pilgrimages, or through social action inspired by yogic principles.

So we asked some of our presenters: What makes a strong yoga community?

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Jill and Michael Knouse

Jill and Michael Knouse are the dynamic duo of community building, having proven their considerable skills in the worlds of both business and yoga. They write:

“‘Building community’ means cultivating a place where people can feel safe, seen and valued. It’s all about creating an environment that brings people together in a way that is unique and valuable to them. When people experience YOUR community, many of them will feel as if it’s their second home—the place where they finally get to let out a deep breath that they had no idea they were holding.”

The Knouses say that building community is “smart marketing”:

“When you create a place where people feel they’ve found their tribe, they will join you in your classes, workshops, retreats, and trainings.” (And, they point out, they’ll tell their friends.) “Having 100 really passionate people in your community is exponentially more effective at spreading a message than marketing to the masses.

The Knouses will be sharing the secrets of their success during their Sunday morning workshop, “How to Build Your Own Thriving Yoga Community.”

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Molly Lannon Kenny

But they’re not the only presenters with a wealth of knowledge on the subject. Presenter Molly Lannon Kenny is the founder and spiritual director of The Samarya Center, a nonprofit service and training organization dedicated to individual transformation and radical social change since 2001.

She shared what she considers to be key elements of a successful community:

“You have to have somebody who is the fire-keeper, somebody who is at the center (not necessarily the top), who’s keeping the community alive. … You also have to define what your community is based around. Is it your studio, a value system, a person? Finally, you need some kind of community agreement, so that people really feel accountable to the community, and have ample opportunities to be involved and share ownership of the community.”

Kevin Graybill

Kevin Graybill

Kevin Graybill adds one more to this list: Communication.

“If you take a close examination of any communities of the past or present,” he writes, “they make meaning together, and share a collective understanding of some sort. Neither of these things can be done without communication.”

Not all forms of communication are equally conducive, though.

“Some styles of conversation, like debate for instance, intend to fragment and pull groups apart via the egoistic act of making someone right, and making someone wrong. Dialogue is on the other end of the spectrum, and can be described as a conversation with a center, not sides. The goal of dialogue is for everyone to contribute to this center, with the hope of creating and tapping into a unique collective consciousness.”

Graybill is offering a unique opportunity to participate in a specific type of structured dialogue, Yoga Circles, on both weekend afternoons during the conference. These circles offer an experience of authentic dialogue, in which participants learn to be more mindful in conversation, increase their compassion through patient listening, and realize the interconnectedness between us all.

Finally, Andrew Tanner of Yoga Alliance suggests that building community doesn’t have to be complicated:

Andrew Tanner, Yoga Alliance

Andrew Tanner, Yoga Alliance

At Yoga Alliance, ‘community’ begins with the firm belief … that yoga in all its diverse forms is a major force for good on the planet; and it deserves to be spread as widely as possible.” He adds, “A yoga community begins every time a yogi shares the yoga knowledge or technique that brought them health, happiness, or inner peace with another.”

Tanner will talk about some of the ways that Yoga Alliance helps nurture these communities during his workshops, “The Future of Yoga, Reading the Data Tea Leaves” and “Let Yoga Alliance Work for You!”

Whether you are looking to find your tribe, or hoping to attract more like-minded people to grow your yoga business, the Northwest Yoga Conference is a great place to start.

As Lannon Kenny says,

This conference is a tremendous opportunity. There’s nothing else like it in the Pacific Northwest. Community doesn’t happen by itself. If you want community, you have to show up!”

 

Yoga in the Wild: Answer the Call of Nature with an OM

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Practicing yoga in the canyonlands of southern Utah

 by Katie Vincent, Conference Blogger
Ever stared at the ceiling in
vrksasana and wondered what it might be like to truly become one with the trees? Well, there’s more to yoga than your yoga mat might have you think. The basis of Ayurvedic medicine, which is intertwined with yogic philosophy, is to tune the body’s internal seasons with the natural rhythms of the surrounding Earth. There is no better way to reboot your system and find the deep flow your body, mind, and spirit craves than to practice yoga in the wilderness.

Practicing detachment and true presence in a busy urban setting has its benefits, but it’s also not easy—especially for beginners whose awareness on all levels might already be so far removed from the natural flow. To step away from the urban setting altogether, where the sounds of birds, feel of the breeze and the aroma of trees all hold sacred space, is a beautiful jumpstart to healing and reconnecting with one’s essential self. Many outdoor adventure companies in the Pacific Northwest offer yoga adventure trips, ranging from half-day walks to multi-day backpacking trips

Melissa Phillips-Hagedorn, the Director of the Northwest Yoga Conference, teaches wilderness yoga for Get in the Wild Adventures and was eager to share her enthusiasm for the experience:

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Melissa Hagedorn practices yoga in the Dirty Devil/Robber’s Roost Wilderness of southern Utah

Why practice yoga in the wilderness?

Studios are familiar environments. Sometimes, to have a breakthrough moment, you must remove yourself from the familiar. In most parks, you are still surrounded by many unnatural things that move at unnatural rhythms, like cars, planes, and cell phones. In the wilderness you are connecting with pure natural rhythms, allowing your mind, body and spirit to rest—something we seem to be lacking these days.

Why hike to practice yoga instead of just one or the other?

Hiking provides transition time to create space from daily obligations and the familiar, allowing for a deeper yoga practice. On the way back, there is then space for reflection and processing. In enhances the experience exponentially.

How do you choose the right landscape?

You should choose the landscape that resonates most with you.  Each evokes a different experience. The wild and austere deserts of southern Utah are awe-inspiring and remind us that even when times get tough, if we are resourceful we can take care of our needs. Mountains offer an expansive and majestic view of the world. Lakes allow us the opportunity to literally and figuratively reflect on our lives. Rivers remind us of the steady yet ever-changing ways of the world.

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Yoga in The Wild

How might wilderness yoga be likened to a pilgrimage?

There are numerous steps to a pilgrimage that one can find in wilderness yoga. First is the the call or yearning to find a deeper meaning, leading you to sign up for a yoga trip. Next is separation from the known and into unfamiliar wilderness. The journey, or hike, is when yogis find themselves humbled by the beauty of nature and united as a community with their fellow yogis. This leads to the encounter,  or the yoga practice, where yogis find their awareness elevated and meaning becomes clearer.  And finally, the completion and return, where the yogi processes the experience and applies it to their daily living.

Are there risks to practicing in nature?

If you decide to venture out on your own or with a group of friends, you should have awareness of everybody’s abilities and choose an adventure that is suitable for all. Beyond that, using common sense, being prepared with proper gear and clothing, and traveling with experienced outdoor adventurers will help minimize risks. Still, because we live in a “plugged in” society, it is not uncommon for people to feel anxious. Take note of that feeling but do not avoid it. Our true nature is the wilderness and so if you feel nervous out there, I would encourage you to spend more time in nature to sync your rhythms.

What do I need?

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Melissa Hagedorn practices Yoga In The Wild in the North Cascade Mountains of Washington

Instead of using a mat to adjust the physical space to the practice, adjust your practice to the physical space offered by the wild. Practicing with a mat in nature inhibits your ability to connect with the Earth. There is no replacement for this physical connection. As for gear, bring the usual essentials you would need to do a day hike or overnight backpacking trip.

To learn more at the Northwest Yoga Conference, attend the Yoga in the Wild workshop with Christopher Hagedorn of Get in the Wild Adventures on Sunday, March 6 at 11:15am.

Changing the Self, Changing the World: An Interview with Molly Lannon Kenny

by Jill Rivera Greene, Conference Blogger

Molly Lannon Kenny spoke to me by phone from her home in Mexico, where she recently transitioned to living full-time. The slower pace gives her more time to focus on trainings, retreats, and writing. Her new book of essays, No Gurus Came Knocking, was released in November.

MLK6Congratulations on your new book! I’m intrigued by the title. Does every yogi need a guru?

Often when people start to go deeper in their practice, they realize there’s something more they could gain from someone who has more experience. One place I have learned that is through my relationship with my friend and mentor, Ram Dass, who gives me so much joy. It’s affirming to know that I am connected to lineage through him.

But I don’t want to promote the idea that if people don’t have that relationship, that lineage, they’re not legitimate. Someone doesn’t have to have a guru to be a really great student or to make a change in their own life and in the lives of others.

The idea of a guru is not something we are particularly inclined toward in our culture. We’re very focused on independence. The idea that we would be somehow subservient to someone, take someone on faith, is not a very American idea. And we don’t really have many opportunities to find and connect to gurus here. Many people have had experiences with someone who is putting themselves in the role of “guru” but who is not very evolved themselves. When their students figure that out, they may become wounded by the experience, and that turns them off to the whole idea.

Having a relationship with a guru (if it’s right for you) is really special.. But not everyone will have that opportunity.

But the search is still important?

Yes. On one level, you don’t need a teacher. The answers are already inside you. At the same time, if we skip the step of seeking, the risk is that we become egocentric in the idea, “I already know what’s best for me!” We do, at a soul level, but at a superficial level, we often don’t. It’s easy to use that phrase, “The answers are inside of me” and reinforce your own ego-identification without really getting to the depths of your own soul.

MLK4What led you to develop Integrated Movement Therapy®, and how does it differ from therapeutic yoga?

Integrated Movement Therapy isn’t “therapeutic yoga.” It’s actual therapy in a more clinical sense.  It’s focused on individualized goals and objectives, and it’s based in clinical experience.

I developed IMT when I was working as a practicing clinician in a hospital. I wanted to change how I was working with people, to put the emphasis on partnership and building people’s essential self-worth before anything else. That was not supported by the clinical model.

I had the incredible honor of being on the committee that created the standards for yoga therapy, but I ultimately opted out of seeking accreditation. All forms of yoga therapy differ from one another. But in general, the standards of yoga therapy adopt the medical model. The last thing I wanted to do was to take yoga and turn it back into a pathological, medicalized model. IMT is an individualized intervention, and it’s really based in the orientation of the practitioner themself. It’s their spiritual practice, their worldview that informs the therapy.

That being said, my specialty areas are traumatic brain injury, stroke, and autism … so there’s definitely an emphasis on practical outcomes. When someone comes to me with a stroke, I’m working on increased mobility and improving their general well-being, but it’s not “physical therapy.” It’s very holistic. When I’m working with a child with autism, I’m seeing inherent divinity in the child as she is already. I’m being deeply present with the family as they are. And then I’m working within the family system to support change.

Your bio mentions the idea of “healing the self as a means for healing others and our communities.” What do you mean by this? Is it just about taking care of ourselves so that we can care for others?

Taking care of yourself is really important, especially if you care for others. But the danger is in thinking that just by doing things to care for ourselves we’re actually contributing to some kind of greater social change.

There also has to be action. For example: I’ve been involved in a lot of conversations around race and privilege, as everyone is right now. I can often see a difference between people who have done deep inner work—their ability to contribute to those conversations in a meaningful way and elevate the conversation through their work—and other people, who are very passionate about what they’re saying but not very skilled at participating constructively in situations that are challenging.

I’m talking about making radical internal shifts. If we don’t acknowledge our implicit racism, then we’re never going to be a part of a solution, because we’re too busy saying “not me.” If instead I create a new understanding of myself, and realize of course I have implicit biases because I was raised in a country where that is the paradigm, then I can begin to create change.

So when I talk about changing yourself, it’s changing yourself so that you can bring that changed self to various organizations or activities. It’s both/and.

You’re offering a workshop at the conference on adjustments. What is your philosophy on that?

Molly on pilgrimage, bathing in the Ganges.

Molly on pilgrimage, bathing in the Ganges.

I use my hands a lot in teaching. I was brought up as an Ashtangi, so I assumed that’s what you do. I believe in the power of touch.

At the same time, I see too many adjustments in yoga classes that are basically micromanaging people. Students are trying to have their experience, and someone is coming along and judging the pose. Anatomically, the ideas that we are promoting often are not based in science. What people are doing is not necessarily going to be harmful to them. Even the idea that we all know what Triangle looks like … it looks different in different books, different philosophies … so we’re not really basing it on anything.

I love to teach teachers to put their hands on other people’s bodies with the sensibility of having a dialogue. When I am teaching, I’m in a conversation with someone, not just asking them to defer to what I tell them to do. I’m not looking at people and seeing “what’s wrong with you” so I can fix it. It’s not my job to make you different than you are.

This year’s conference theme is “a pilgrimage to the soul.” Can you talk about your experience with pilgrimage?

The one that comes to mind is when I made a pilgrimage to the Ganges river during Kumbh Mela [a mass Hindu pilgrimage to bathe in a sacred river]. Bathing myself in the river with all the other devotees was a powerful experience of humility, unself-consciousness, and transformation.

 

Pilgrimage in the Everyday: An Interview with Janet Stone

by Jill Rivera Greene, Conference Blogger

My plan to talk with Featured Speaker Janet Stone was initially disrupted by a call from the nurse at my daughter’s school, while Janet dealt with a few last-minute delays of her own. But in the end, these small challenges provided the perfect jumping-off point for a conversation about the intersections of yoga and everyday life.

Your Strong Mom yoga practice is featured in this month’s Yoga Journal. Can you talk about this practice and its inspiration?

yj_cover_featurebutton-300x287The inspiration really began with my own experience. When you have a baby, there’s prenatal yoga and postnatal yoga, but then there’s this moment that happens after postnatal, when everyone is cooing about the baby and you’re left alone. Your belly is hanging over your pants, your boobs are dripping with milk, your friends are out doing what they’re doing, and you’re home, steeped in the vital life care of these creatures.

I wanted to create a place where people could come together, feel seen, and honor this transition. Where they could truly embrace where they are in life. When you’re a parent of young children, you’re no longer going to have 3-hour practices, you’re not going out at night like you used to … so this is an opportunity to build a community of people who are in a similar place.

Strong Mom is an opportunity to be with people at their most vulnerable, no matter when that is. I have people come who have 27-year-old kids and others who have 11-day-old kids. It doesn’t matter. They’re all looking for themselves in the midst of that title of “mother” (or “parent”).

It’s so easy to lose yourself in that word, that role.

Yes! And then there’s shame, resentment, feeling selfish … so many feelings are just not allowed. There are not a lot of places to talk about it. Through this practice, you literally get back in your body, reclaim it, but you also find ways to nourish yourself so that you can nurture others. It’s so much more than asana—it includes grounding practices, meditation, pranayama, and energetic alignment as a framework to find yourself in the midst of all the stuff that comes up in this role of mother.

I’m excited to see that you’re leading a workshop on chanting at the conference. Can you talk about what chanting has brought to your practice?

Janet and DJ Drez. Photo by Melina Meza.

Janet and DJ Drez. Photo by Melina Meza.

Chanting is a Bhakti practice. It’s an opportunity to set down the mind for a moment, and what comes forth is just infinite love. In churches, tribal traditions, all forms of spiritual cultures, they’ve always included some kind of coming together of voice, as a way of collectively drawing our attention away from our individual drama. What opens up in those moments is really potent.

My practice of chanting began 16 or 17 years ago. My teacher chanted “Om” in class in a way that went past my mind, it went past thought, and spoke to a place inside of me that had never been touched before.

Inspired by teachers Max Strom and Jai Uttal, I began incorporating simple chanting into my own classes. The response was really powerful. I teach in a room where as many as 150 people can attend—people from every environment (from Google and Facebook employees to full-time mothers)—and when we are chanting, everyone is the same.

I recently released an album of chants with DJ Drez that is super simple, uncomplicated, from the heart. It has been very well-received (shooting immediately to #1 on iTunes world).

You are offering two asana workshops at the conference: “Ganesha: From the Ground Up” and “Rasa Lilasana: Divine play.” Can you talk about the role of deities in your asana practice?

The deities are a big part of my own practice, and therefore my teaching.

It’s really tied in to the mantras, the chanting, and I also do a lot of teachings around the stories about the deities. These stories weren’t just meant for “back then”; they’re so relevant and relatable to the lives we live today. They reveal themselves again and again in our daily experience.

I love this quote on your website: “She aspires not to teach but to allow the practice to emanate from her.” What does this look like in practice, to aspire “not to teach”?

It begins with always remaining a student and continuing my own practice, at a myriad of levels. So when I am in front of people at an event, the teaching is informed by the present moment.

Normally if you think of teaching, it involves gathering up the self, the “I.” We offer a teaching through all of our various filters. But my approach is to step out of the way and offer whatever is within me, my own practice, to simply allow it to come forth.

This year’s conference theme is “a pilgrimage to the soul.” Can you talk about your personal experience of pilgrimage?

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Photo by Jennifer McNiven.

My pilgrimage is long term, it has been since Day 1. It unfolds daily: in my mothering, in yearly trips to India, in all of my practices.

To me, the soul is found through everyday interactions—so the pilgrimage is how I treat the barista at the coffee shop, how I manage difficult situations, how I attend to my body in asana, and in the totality of my living, both when I’m in studentship in India, but also as I am carpooling or picking up a sick child.

Anything else you’d like conference-goers to know?

I have a special relationship to the Pacific Northwest. I have family history there, and I lived in Portland for many years … it’s a place deeply rooted in my heart. I’m so looking forward to being there with all of you!

Hindu Deities 101

By Katie Vincent, Conference Blogger

HINDU_GODS1While singing and reciting mantras can be fun, on this side of the Pacific Ocean we usually do not have the frame of reference to fully understand Hindu mythology. Sure, we are welcome to pick what resonates for us and and it weave into our own story, but in this freedom it is easy to innocently pick up an asana practice, song, or mantra without fully understanding the inherent energy or context behind it.

Some choose to interpret the Indian gods and goddesses as tangible entities (physical or energetic), while others may prefer to think of them as symbolic archetypes or aspects of the self and the natural world. Translating this to a yogic practice, understanding the myths and archetypes can allow for a deeper understanding of the energetics or intention of a pose. Take matsyasana, or “fish pose”, for instance. What some may think of as a mere lymph-moving or chest-stretching position carries with it the energy of Vishnu—one of three Supreme gods—who incarnated as a golden fish to tow a boat packed with flora and fauna (a la Noah’s ark) through a monstrous flood that nearly destroyed the world. Bringing this story to mind, a practitioner might play with embodying Matsya the Fish and notice twinges of strength emerging in themselves.

hindutempleIn this way, accessing the pantheon of yourself need not require asana. To call upon or honor a divine energy you might repeat a mantra, sing (as in kirtan), meditate, perform a ceremony, or maybe even just dance. In the reverse, if a particular mantra or pose resonates strongly for you, consider researching the mythology of the god or goddess energy you are invoking. To get you started on this mysterious, mythical path of self-discovery, below is a sampling of the divinities most commonly encountered in the yogic tradition.

 

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Shakti: Goddess of Feminine Energy & Power

Derived from the Sanskrit word shak (meaning “potential to produce”) Shakti is the divine feminine, the powerful potential energy behind all creation. She is embodied in many forms: Parvati, the loving and devoted consort of Shiva; Kamakshi, the world mother; Durga, the unconquerable; Kali, the “Dark Mother” of fierce anger and destruction.

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Shiva: Supreme God of Destruction and Resurrection; Asceticism and Sensuality

Certainly a complex figure, Shiva is one of three primary cosmic life energies. While Brahma represents creation and Vishnu preservation, Shiva is the god of destruction and the transformative creation that occurs out of death. He is the tapas energy, or fire, that can burn out of control if not contained by feminine energy. Usually Shiva is depicted wearing a snake coiled around his arms and neck to symbolize power over reincarnation; holding a trident to represent his role in the trinity; holding a skull to signify samsarathe cycle of life, death, and rebirth; and riding a white bull to show his control over sexual impulses. Often worshiped as a lignam, an ovoid phallic shape. Shiva is the father of Ganesha.

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Vishnu: Supreme God of Preservation, Peace and Truth

The second of the divine trinity, Vishnu is the protector of the world and restorer of moral order. Supposed to derive from solar energy, he is often associated with lotus flowers, holds a conch shell to represent the first sound of creation (“OM”), flies on the back of a giant eagle and uses a mace as a weapon, signifying the elemental force from which all physical and mental powers derive. Vishnu’s consort, or female counterpart, is Lakshmi. He famously has ten avatars, or embodiments, in myths, some of which include Matsya the fish, Rama, Krishna and Buddha.  

brahma

Brahma: Supreme God of Creation

Along with Vishnu and Shiva, Brahma is the first of the Supreme triumvirate and is credited with the creation of the world and all creatures. He is said to have birthed himself from the lotus flower that grew from Vishnu’s navel at the beginning of the universe. He is depicted with four heads, faces and arms with none holding a weapon. Instead, he bears a water pot representing the all-encompassing nothingness from which evolution came, a string of malas to keep track of universal time, the Vedas and a spoon to pour holy ghee.  He rides a divine swan that can discern between good and evil. It is important not to confuse him with Brahman, who created the universe and is the Supreme god force present within all things.

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Ganesha: God of Obstacles and Success

A popular figure, the elephant-headed Ganesha is renowned as the remover of obstacles. Born and spiritually conceived when Shiva was away, Ganesha didn’t recognize his father when he returned home and lost his head defending his mother from this “intruder.” When Parvati told Shiva about his son he felt remorse and negotiated a replacement head from a wise elephant. Worshippers of Ganesha invoke him when beginning a new business, ventures, home or work of art to remove any obstacles in the way. He also holds an elephant prod to steer souls away from ignorance and illusion. Depicted with a prominent potbelly, Ganesha’s appetite for sweets reflects his underlying celebration of life’s pleasures and beauty.

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Hanuman: Monkey God of Mischief, Courage and Loyalty

Technically a demi-god, Hanuman is the child of Shiva and a forest-dwelling woman who was desperate for a child. As a hybrid being, Hanuman represents a mixture of the divine and the impure; as a child he attempted to eat the sun, which he thought was a fruit, and was struck down by a divine thunderbolt that injured his jaw. In fact, in Sanskrit hanu means “jaw” and man means “disfigured or prominent.” Hanuman is most famously known from his heroic role as Rama’s skilled and devoted general in the Ramayana epic. He is invoked for playful strength in the trials of own life, for protection against sorcery and bad luck, and to counter bad karma.

sita_ram

Rama: The Ideal Man

As the seventh embodiment of Vishnu, Rama is the protagonist of the Ramayana epic in which his journeys led him to kill the demon king, Ravana. Bow and arrow in hand, Rama is a hero representing the qualities an ideal man: Perfect son, loving brother, faithful friend, loyal husband, flawless citizen, ideal king and  honorable adversary. On his adventures, Rama walks the metaphorical path of dharma that leads to righteousness. His wife is Sita, an embodiment of Lakshmi, and together they represent marital devotion and purity.

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Durga: Goddess of Power and Strength

When divinity itself was endangered by evil demons, the highest gods came together to create a secret weapon. The result of their combined radiance was Durga, a manifestation of the invincible power of feminine energy. In some traditions, Durga and Shakti are synonymous. A virgin figure, she rides a tiger and carries all of the gods’ weaponry to slay the most evil of evils. She is a reminder that the divine always conquers even the worst of evils and can be invoked when powerful demonic forces create imbalance and distress. She is the mother of the goddess Kali, an angry, imbalanced and destructive manifestation of Durga’s power and strength.

lakshmi

Lakshmi: Goddess of Wealth, Beauty, Fertility and Fortune

Derived from the Sanskrit word laksme, meaning “goal,” Lakshmi asks us to aim for a balance of physical and spiritual abundance. She is the consort of Vishnu, showing how both kinds of wealth are necessary for body-mind-spirit preservation. One day, Lakshmi grew tired of human greed and corruption and, in protest, dissolved herself into an ocean of milk. The world lost its luster and the gods began to churn ocean, begging her to return. Eons later, she finally emerged from the foamy oceanmuch like Aphroditefull of rasa (life-giving essence) and joy to bless those who approach wealth with nobility, beauty and compassion.

saraswati

Saraswati: Goddess of Wisdom, Learning and the Arts

Often associated with the sunrise, whose rays dispel darkness of ignorance, Saraswati lives above pleasure in a space of ascetic knowledge. Often depicted in a white sari and riding a swan to represent her purity, she symbolically resists cravings of the flesh and finds joy in the power of the mind. Schools and libraries are Saraswati’s temples, and musical instruments, books, pens, paintbrushes and other tools of art are her implements. Her energy enlivens creation and she is attributed as the mother of the Vedas. As the consort of Brahma, her knowledge helped him form the plan to create the world and her arts give value to life.

krishna

Krishna: Embodiment of Divine Love that Destroys Pain

Famously known as the eighth embodiment of Vishnu, Krishna is heralded much like Jesus in the Christian tradition and some even worship him as the only Supreme Being. Even though his personality changed over the course of his life, from mischievous child to amorous cowherd to noble warrior to Supreme being, Krishna usually represents the loving, compassionate and righteous being inside all of us. Sometimes in mantra or kirtan he is referred to as Govinda, which means “protector of cows.” This is an important role in Hindu culture, as cows represent the divine mother nature who gives life.

Photos courtesy of the Sanatan Society.

At the NWYC, you can look forward to related workshops like Yogic Lore Flow: The Goddesses with Kimi Martin and Rob & Melissa Lundsgaard, The Holy Trio with Clara Roberts-Oss and Rob & Melissa Lundsgaard, Chanting 101: Bhakti Yoga with Janet Stone, and a rocking evening of Kirtronica! with Jaya Lakshmi and Ananda.

Interview with Kirtan artists Rob and Melissa Lundsgaard

By: Melissa Hagedorn, Conference Founder/Director

For many Seattle yogis, husband and wife team, Rob and Melissa Lundsgaard need no introduction.  They are well known for offering an accessible environment for both kirtan and Bhakti yoga and are regulars at many yoga studios in the area.  We caught up with them to discuss their upcoming album and their participating in the Northwest Yoga Conference.

Can you describe your music style/offerings in 1-2 sentences?
We sing kirtan, a call and response form of group singing, in which we chant the names of the divine. We lead groups in this way, or weave the mantra into asana classes.

RobandMelisaSome of our readers may not be familiar with kirtan.  What is kirtan?
Kirtan is a form of bhakti yoga. Bhakti yoga is the yoga of devotion or the way of love, and singing kirtan is a mode of expressing that devotion. We simply come together in a group setting and sing. The music and chanting of the mantra becomes a meditation. There is no set form or way of being, it can be meditative or ecstatic. You can sit or you can dance. It is a celebration and a recognition of the divine in each of us.

Can you give us a little overview of how you both found kirtan and found each other?
We found each other a long time before we discovered kirtan. We met at a wedding on Kitsap Peninsula, and at the time we were both leading very different lives. Our relationship and our devotion to each other developed quickly, leading us toward a similar way of being in our daily and professional lives.

Kirtan found us slowly over time. Our first experience was with Krishna Das, and although we loved it, we never imagined that we’d do it ourselves. But, the seed was planted. Rob wrote a song called ‘Breathe,’ which caught the attention of a yoga teacher, who then asked him to come lead kirtan at her studio. Pretty soon we found ourselves immersed in mantra, chanting, devotion and our undeniable love of kirtan.

RobandMelissaatFestival

You are working on a new album and currently have a fundraising platform going to help raise the necessary funds.  What is an unexpected lesson that you have learned from the process of opening up and asking the community to support you?
Although not an easy feat to run a fundraising campaign, we have been blown away by the support. Not just from the backers who have contributed to the campaign with their dollars, but also the countless people who have shared it with their friends on social media, and even the folks who convinced us to reach out to our community in the first place. Sharing our love of and through the music, mantras and bhakti yoga helps make this project a beautiful exchange. It is an uplifting and inviting way of being and gives us a chance to spread joy, making it accessible to anyone who wants it.

On your new album, you are working with producer Ben Leinbach who has worked with the likes of Deva Premal, Snatam Kaur, Jai Uttal, just to name a few.  What has this process of collaboration been like for you?
Working with Ben has been incredible. He is a magician of sound – quick, fluid and creative, but also a brilliant musician. It’s been an easy, collaborative and fun experience. We look forward to many more collaborations in the future.

What can listeners expect from your new album?
Our first record, ‘Bolo’ was pretty bare bones, just our voices and Rob’s guitar, yet we were really happy with the way it turned out. For this new CD, ‘Tejase,’ we didn’t want to lose the essence of ‘Bolo,’ or the sound that listeners may have come to expect from us, but wanted to add a little more depth to our offerings. ‘Tejase’ definitely has more bells and whistles (literally!), but it is still very much Rob and Melissa, easy to sing along with and great for a yoga class playlist.

RobandMelissaPlayclassYou will be providing live music during two yoga workshops at the Northwest Yoga Conference. How does this enhance the experience for attendees?
Live music in a yoga class adds an entirely new dimension to the practice. These ancient Sanskrit mantras have a life and energy of their own, and our bodies and minds are especially open to healing and transformation when we are on our mats, practicing asana. This opening increases as the class goes on, and the live music pours right through that doorway, even if the practitioner isn’t consciously aware of it.

Rob and Melissa’s new album, “Tejase” will release in the Spring accompanied by a West Coast tour. Tour dates and locations to be announced by the end of the year. Please consider supporting their Kickstarter project which ends in only 4 days!  As an extra incentive, we will be giving away a spot in each of the workshops that they are playing music for at the conference, “Yogic Lore Flow” and “Holy Trio”.  To be eligible, simply support the Kickstarter!

Conference Team Yoga Workshop Picks

By Melissa Phillips-Hagedorn, Conference Founder/Director

Do you remember those days in school when you would receive your class schedule? The next few days were filled with the chatter of comparing schedules. Which classes did you and your bestie have together? Were you able to get into your favorite teacher’s class? And how could you rearrange your schedule to make it the most ideal for you?

Seattle Yogis Choosing Their Yoga Workshops at the Northwest Yoga ConferenceThis is the analogy I think of when picturing conference attendees signing up for their yoga workshops at the conference.  Going through and hand-picking the yoga workshops that call out to them. Comparing schedules with their friends to try and make at least one or two yoga workshops together, mat by mat, friend by friend. Of course, here on the conference team, we enjoy checking in with each other and seeing what each person is excited to take. Take a peek below at the workshops that each of us are looking forward to this year:

Melissa's Yoga WorkshopI love studying with Annie Carpenter and appreciate her dedication to teaching in a style that keeps the body in a safe alignment while keeping the bigger picture of the practice in mind. I am really looking forward to her yoga workshop on backbends as I know it will be full of useful insights into practicing backbends safely! -Melissa Phillips-Hagedorn, Conference Founder/Director

Jill Yoga WorkshopAlthough I love the yoga workshops that deepen and expand my practice of asana, I am most excited this year about those that explore other aspects of yoga. The opportunity to hear Aadil Palkhivala speak on living the eight limbs, make my own mala with healing stones, and explore devotional chanting with Janet Stone … all in one place … is what makes the Yoga Conference such a special experience for me. I can’t wait! – Jill Riveria Greene, Conference Blogger

Torrey Yoga WorkshopThe Northwest Yoga Conference always has such an amazing and wide variety of yoga workshops that it is difficult to choose just one! I am excited to explore new ideas for how to lift-off in Arm Balances 101 with Annie Carpenter, and to learn more about the elements of our hands in Mudras: Expressions of the Hand with Kimi Marin. -Torrey Kaminski, Marketplace Coordinator

Katie Yoga Workshop This is my first year giving my full presence to the Northwest Yoga Conference. I’m so excited to learn, play and grow with all of the master yogis sharing their wisdom with us, but I’m not-so-secretly most excited for Joanna Dunn’s Restorative/Somatic Movement/Pranayama to Soothe the Nervous System to give myself an intentional space to relax, clear my mind and integrate some of the more extroverted yet equally awesome yoga workshops. Self-care is the best! – Katie Vincent, Conference Blogger

Carly Seattle Yoga Workshop With all of the wonderful teachers and genius workshops, it was wonderful agony trying to choose which classes to attend at NWYC! Most of all, I’m looking forward to Sadie Nardini’s “Next-Level Authenticity, Anatomy, and Abundance” all-day intensive. I teach a wide range of yoga styles, and it will be wonderful to hear advice on how to maintain my authentic voice while still delivering what my students need most. – Carly Hayden, Swag Bag Coordinator

Linds Seattle Yoga WorkshopI am really looking forward to Sadie Nardini’s workshop ‘Bust Sabotage and Rock Who You Are’. As a small business owner and creative enthusiast, vulnerability and doubt sometimes cloud my thoughts and can distract me from my core truth. I am excited to learn about Sadie’s techniques in a high energy, yet rooted – soul filled workshop! – Lindsay Baugh, Graphic Design

Julie Seattle Yoga WorkshopWhich to choose? I am definitely excited that Sadie Nardini will be here and am looking forward to taking a yoga workshop with her. But also looking forward to another class with Annie Carpenter and my ‘bestie’ Jill Knouse. But then there are workshops with Naomi Jones and Kimi Marin, who were volunteers with us in the past, so that’s cool to see them on the other side of the conference. And the yoga sutras with Silvia Mordini is always a good topic. So, I don’t know! – Julie DiRusso,  Volunteer Coordinator

For those of you who may find yourself in Julie’s predicament, don’t worry! Just like school, you can change your schedule. Sign up and register for the yoga workshops that call to you right now and check-in at the beginning of the year to see if those choices still resonate with you. If not, go ahead and change it up. Keep in mind, just like school, there are a limited number of spaces in each workshop.

You can view the full conference schedule here.

What Will You Discover?

by Jill Rivera Greene, Conference Blogger

Pilgrimage is a spiritual tradition that has persisted for millennia and can be found in nearly every major religion. Whatever their destination, all pilgrims share a common desire for transcendence—through contemplation, an experience of awe, or a glimpse of the divine.

Although the word itself carries the faint whiff of an exotic locale, a pilgrimage does not have to be difficult or long. An inward journey can be just as meaningful as a physical trek.

Melissa Phillips-Hagedorn, founder and director of the Northwest Yoga Conference, has this to say about her own recent pilgrimage:

This summer, I attended a 9-day meditation retreat at Cloud Mountain Retreat Center in southwest Washington. As it was the first retreat that I have ever attended, I had no idea what to expect. Though it was certainly challenging, I am so grateful that I created the space to attend. The retreat allowed me to know myself on a much more intimate level than I ever have before and provided support in continuing to nurture wholesome qualities.

The retreat she describes has all of the necessary qualities of a pilgrimage, including an intentional separation from the familiar, time and space for deep discovery, and lessons brought back to enrich one’s everyday life.

cropped-NWYC16-Poster-LineUpAnnounce.pngThat’s why it felt so right when Melissa announced that the theme for the 2016 Northwest Yoga Conference would be, “Pilgrimage of the Soul.” Attending last year’s Northwest Yoga Conference truly felt like a pilgrimage to me! I had been practicing asana for about a year, but I had not yet experienced anything like this three-day immersion into yoga philosophy, community, and practice.

Making the commitment to leave behind my daily routine of home, work, and kids for three days was challenging. But by stepping into new and unfamiliar territory, I discovered so much—from a fresh appreciation of the Bhagavad Gita, to an expanded village of fellow yogis, to reservoirs of physical strength and stamina I didn’t realize I had … along with, yes, a few new sore muscles! The experience definitely took my commitment to and practice of yoga to the next level.

This year’s conference offers a similar opportunity for all who are willing to take the first step. No matter where you are in your yoga journey—from beginner to advanced student, teacher or studio owner—there is a full schedule of workshops waiting to support you on your path to the soul. Registration is now open, and you can check out the schedule here: http://nwyogaconference.com/full-schedule/

And you don’t have to wait until March to get started! Keep an eye on this blog over the next few months as we interview conference presenters about their own pilgrimage experiences and share tips to help you prepare for your own. You can also share your own pilgrimage stories via our new Comments feature, coming soon.

We can’t wait to hear what you discover! Namaste.