Where Vinyasa Begins Intention

A long time ago when I began to practice yoga vinyasa, one day during practice this thought arose ….this must have something to do with surfing…that riding of the waves of breath and movement.  I sensed, that there was some common element physically.  I found out soon there after that the first “landing” of yoga vinyasa in America was in the surfing communities of Hawaii and California.  The connection between the two disciplines, I felt, must have been mula bandha.  Mula bandha is a physical lift of the pelvic floor which allows one to balance while moving.  Esoterically mula bandha is associated with the practice of inner alignment, to direct one’s energy towards the highest possible levels of mystical consciousness.  It is a practice which leads to tremendous clarity.  We don’t need to go into deep resonance with the sacred to know this, if you’ve even done a few rounds of sun salutation, you know that clarity emerges quickly with such a practice.  While there is a physical component of mula bandha, the activation of it on the level of consciousness is achieved only through intention.  The physical activation of the pelvic floor wakes the energy up.  The direction of our focus will determine where the energy goes.  There is no right or wrong about the directing of energy, but it’s good to know that our results will very much be determined by  the direction of the energy.  In true vinyasa fashion this idea is circular, our intention . will determine our focus which will determine the direction of the energy which will then create a result which will influence our intention and so forth. The most important moment In our yoga practice is the moment we override inertia and consciously go about choosing a direction. 

In the classical schools the only intention considered potent enough to activate the bandha was  desire to know God.  The aspirant would begin each practice bowing down to God and the Guru who represented God in form.  In America this intention became softened somewhat to offering the good of our practice to others, a classic Buddhist practice.  The energetic result is the same because the energy is directed towards something beyond our personal needs.  It’s uplifted.  In recent years in America the practice of intention has shifted again, now to honoring ourselves and good self care.  Good self care is essential to a yoga practice, but as an intention it can keep you anchored in what you need, rather than your most illumined potential. Following Patanjali’s formula we know that what we focus on grows.  We don’t want our needs to grow. The heart of the yoga practice is to transcend our needs and fulfill our potential (hence the complex landscape of renunciation practices which have historically defined the practice).  Deprivation is undesirable and not effective.  But to direct our intention higher than our needs is to uplevel our capacity for living.  But even this requires some conscious consideration. We need to be aware of what we are intending. 

To offer oneself as a vehicle for the divine may result in a role where you are the deliverer of blessings hard truths.  An important, but not always fun role.  An intention to serve may yield gracious and elegant opportunities to serve others, but you may have to deal with constraints on your self expression or ability to make decisions.  To intend to know true compassion may inspire you to give away your last dollar.  To intend to align with the most magnificent and expanded vision of your divine sacred infused snowflake self (no two are alike you know) well….that may lead you on your own magnificent divine journey which may include being compassionate in your own unique snowflake way.   It’s nothing we need to fear.  The point is to be awake and clear in the creative opportunity that Vinyasa presents.  Vinyasa, broken down into it’s parts is to place on purpose.  To place a purposeful intention at the beginning of our practice and then to consciously observe our ability to focus as the moments arise and fall in the practice is to take ownership of the power of asana in a whole new way.   Intending a practice is frequently invoked in yoga class, which is good.  Then it is up to us to discern the best way to use that opportunity. 

(c)natalieullmann

Destination Sovereignty: Co-creating your next steps


From here to there. Assessing and re-assessing where we are and where we are going.

As we work on our co-creative skills, the ideas we hold for any creations may seem like distant horizons, and indeed at that moment they are. It can be frustrating. At I time like that I know for me it can feel like the person I am is trapped in a life that won’t let me be me, and I long for the day when I am situated in a way that support this freedom of personal actualization. The trick is that we have to actualize internally to get to the place where that freedom becomes apparent externally. In the end we discover it’s been there all along, within us. Perhaps we slipped slipped past opportunities in our limited perceptions, not seeing them for what they were or, in some cases, we were to lost in our limiting beliefs or perceptions to consider that we could succeed in the opportunity. In Sanskrit and the yoga practice this is called “chitta vrittis”. This can be loosely translated as our mental contents including beliefs about ourselves and the world. Fear not! Yoga is one of the many universal spiritual curriculums which align us with our inner guidance, and open a gateway to the divine qualities which exist in the realm of possibility within and around us. These curriculums are pathways to get us from where we are now, to the place of co-creation and sovereignty. Spoiler alert: When you get to a place on the path where the expanse of possibility opens, you see and know and experience that these possibilities were in you all along, and that you cannot lose them. You will were already there. When we aren’t in that limitless spaciousness we traverse the path from here to there. From who we are now to who we want to be. Each moment practicing the steps which move us forward with the faith that we are who we envision we might be. On any journey, you need to know where you are, to get where you are going. This week, while doing our daily and weekly visioning. we incorporate the periodic re-assessment of our visioning.


I’d like to emphasize today the importance of an awareness practice in the process of co-creation. It’s important, and is illumined in the assessment process process which we’re adding on this week. Some visions which appear to be unrealistic to the small self when in critical mode are perfectly reasonable from the perspective of your highest self. A vision drawn from our smaller self may be attainable. But we may discover that it costs us our connection to our higher wisdom, and we can’t see this when we’re completely absorbed in that limitedness. Nurturing higher awareness allows us to access these different perspectives. Anything which opens the mind to more expansive realities will be helpful: yoga, tai chi, meditation, chanting, and esoteric music studies. The list is endless. I’ve known people who could do anything as an awareness practice that somebody else might not do as an awareness practice their meditation was golfing, painting etc.. It’s how you do it. It’s being willing to spend that time, just fully absorbed in an activity and opening yourself to higher realms. I teach yoga asana because that is my primary tool for opening the gateways to a higher vision in a balanced and grounded way, and it works for me. I need that grounding.

The assessment process is about refinement not judgment. Our first creative impulses may be what the personality wants versus what our deeper self wants. There’s nothing wrong with that. But our personalities in part are created by either conforming to or resisting the world around us. The higher states of consciousness unfold a deeper level of personal desire, which is unique, authentic and true to ourselves. They also open a path to navigate through the world to a destination, harmonious with that unique inner unfolding. So I encourage nurturing a consistent personal awareness practice that you enjoy.


So what do we do to assess our inner vision? This step has two stages.


1. How do you feel?


First, I periodically check in to see how I feel about the larger vision. Last January, I envisioned 30 people in every yoga class I taught. Now, that goal is not that important. I’d rather have 30 people a day reading my blog posts and listening to podcasts, and allow the classes to arise organically from that. Last year, I couldn’t have imagined that. I was enmeshed in a studio system which obscured my higher vision. During the years worked in the studios, I worked my inner program and now, I can make choices which feel more organic and natural to me. I expect these more organic foundations will yield stronger structures in my creative work. So the first step of assessment is to see how I feel. Oh, and to allow myself to adjust those larger visions accordingly.


What do you see if you zoom out beyond your biggeet vision?

As I zoom out from what I know: a yoga class with thirty people, I see that vision is a little small. I refine it to be a little more effective and a little more spacious: a financially successful business writing, speaking and teachin. It’s broader, it’s more inclusive and it contains more possibilities within it. I had had been nursing a desire to break free of the studio system but a year ago, I couldn’t have seen how. That has transformed in part because I keep aligning with my higher self, and it’s evolved into a more expanded vision. Rather than counting the heads in class, and imposing my will for more people to come, I’m focusing on what I really have to share. Spaciousness is key to reassessing, so…zoom out.

Who do you want to be?

Part of the process of co-creating is allowing ourselves to be changed into the people we envision ourselves to be in our grand vision. Who do I need to become to participate in the vision? It’s common to perceive that achieving the external goal will transform us into the person we want to be, but it’s actually the opposite. While I’m creating my vision. I’m invited to become the person who will live comfortably in that vision. This can happen instantly, or if it’s more comfortable for us, it can take a little longer. The step by step daily visions are useful here. To be successful. That’s one of my goals. To be succesful I must be confident and focused in a healthy way. So I enter that on my daily vision. Not necessarily in those words, confidence and focus may feel far away and daunting. But it might be something like. “Today I’d like to effectively complete the following tasks”. And through those tiny steps I build focus and confidence that I can accomplish something that I want to accomplish. My daily vision includes a couple thing I am certain I can do. I set my self up for an experience of success that way. These things they sound so mundane, right? But it’s just my experience that larger, more exalted visions do best when grounded, and a lot of the grounding process is through detail. That’s true in yoga asana, as well. A lot of what grounds a posture is subtle transformations of movement as opposed to larger gross movement. To embody a relationship, I want to be gracious and loving, and to hold loosely. And so every day, I make it a part of my practice. Today, just create the intention to be a little more gracious and a little more loving. Part of that is honoring the tiny ways to do that. putting my hair up a little more carefully, ironing my blouse a little more crisply. That’s something to me that is kind of gracious that embodies a certain graciousness that kind of care taking of presentation. At work, bringing a little more attention to a task was gracious , thinking about things to do that will make others comfortable, or happy in small ways. This brings us back to the foundation of creation in yoga, that every step we take as a creative one, and that by bringing consciousness to each step, we become intentional co-creators.


Our steps so far are as follows:


Stage one

Write out a big vision for the year including all areas of the life

This works best with 10 or less items. Then write out bite size visions for the week or day. Incorporating steps towards the larger vision. Follow through on the daily vision, as best you can.

Stage two

Refine and Reassess


Periodically reassess so we go back to the beginning we review what our visions are, how they feel. Do they still bring us joy.


Every Wednesday I’ll be posting about some creative process steps for envisioning the new beginning for 2021. On the 26th, we’ll gather on zoom and share our visions. That day we’ll actually talk about the importance of sharing the vision and rooting for each other.

Destination sovereignty: Co-creating your next step

Over the next 4 weeks we’ll follow a program of co-creating as follows (note, of course you will be inspired to veer into your own way of doing these things…I’m just sharing what I am doing);  You’ll want a notebook, and a nice pen, and for the third week, collage materials, magazines, or junk mail, I grab anything that might have words or visions which I can create into a vision board.  You can also draw your own items.

0.  Awareness practice

1.  Big picture, Little picture

2.  Revise, re-frame, rearrange the picture as you go.

3.  The vision board

4.  Action plan/timeline.

This week I invite you to consider, your big picture and all the little pictures that you are creating within that big picture.  We can split this up by time, and also by subject.  Larger segments of time (the year) and smaller (the day).  Larger categories of life (all our relationships, the world) and smaller (my family).  I’d like to propose that as you consider the course you want to chart this year, that you craft and design your plan with a mind to the big picture and the little picture. In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra he tells that, when we arrive at the end of a series of steps, we see how we got where we are. We can flip that teaching around and understand that conscious decision making is a step by step process and that the steps we take to get from one place to another are happening continuously in a stream which is, for the most part, not conscious.  Until we decide to make it conscious, which is part of what we are doing here. We make thousands, maybe millions, of decisions a day. Intending, crafting and charting your course, moment by moment is a way to co create a life. Co create meaning We are Creating with the highest wisest aspect of ourselves with which we reconnect through our yoga practice. ‭For years I did this visioning once a year, vision board, goal setting. Everywhere, sometime during the year it would get lost. Years ago, I went to my first seminar about this, and the facilitator encouraged us to keep working and revising our plans throughout the year. I was so rigid at the time, I couldn’t do that- I couldn’t even imagine doing that. But as I worked with this idea from the Yoga Sutra of step by step conscious decision making, I learned to be more fluid about my outer destinations and more anchored in my inner destination. In my opinion, this was the basis of my successful pivoting throughout the past year during Covid-19. Successful being defined as never feeling thrown off course, always celebrating each new trail and never dissolving into defeat. This is a part of it, it’s a good idea to celebrate the journey to completion rather than the completion of some projected big dream.  Each step on the journey will contain little victories and little victories add up to big accomplishments.  The understanding of the little relationship between the little pieces an the big pieces is part of working the first creative step:  Big Picture, Little picture. 

One of the things I learned as a conscious co-creator was that I could create castles in the air and actual opportunities galore. But there was a big disconnect with my ability to manifest the opportunity and my ability to ground those opportunities into tangible successes. I might get 30 people in a class if I desired it, but they were a hodgepodge of people so diverse that my teaching became fragmented, and no good roots were grown which sustained the work into the  future.   As you craft the big picture those roots ar important…where is the desire coming from and what is it really about?  Perhaps the beautiful new home you dream about emerges from a place of love for beauty and craftsmanship, or perhaps it has significance in the realm of extended family. Perhaps the new romantic relationship you desire is a desire for  sharing or collaborating or good old fashioned enjoyment.  Perhaps the new career path is about discovoring and embracing your own gifts and value.  It’s good to turn the larger visions over like precious gems, investigating their many facets.

When crafting the large vision, be prepared to revisit and rework it periodically, and reflect on it often. 

I then begin a process of working the vision everyday in some way.  I make a quicker more mundane list of the ten things I want to experience each day, maybe effectiveness or communication, joy or flirtation.  At the end of the week, I review those lists and my larger vision, and create a 10 item vision plan for the week.  Once again I repeat the daily vision plans. Make note as you do it, that each time you work your program, you are planting seeds of creation.   

The little plans were powerful. They became actual action plans towards my goal, so at the beginning of the day, I committed to what I wanted by scheduling actions related to the large goal.  This moved things forward but it also did something more important. It acted as a filter. Perhaps I envision a work role or romantic partnership. When the time came to take action toward the goal arrived, I would find myself resisting, never sending the resume, never meeting the fellow for coffee. I learned that somehow I wasn’t aligned with those goals right now. As much as I thought wanted them, I wasn’t ready to have them.  So, I would just “turn them over to spirit” and re-frame the bigger picture vision.

So that is a way to develop and work with these visions in time.  Remember though, that a miracle can happen in an instant, so taking the time to do this, isn’t because the goals take time to develop.  It’s to get ourselves ready to receive.

Spend Day 1 of week 1, writing out your big vision.  In the big vision, I suggest that you include all the different areas of your life, relational, financial, social.

Each day of this week, between our posts, go through and craft your little big, little picture list. What are you going to take from those large visions into your day? Note any feelings or resistances that come up.  By December 26 your vision will be clearer and more embraceable.   Because actually, we’re going to we’re using these steps to develop the big picture that we want to launch our new year.

Each morning think about how you want your day to go. Refer to the vision and integrate relevant action steps into your daily obligations. It’s likely during the day that you will forget, get distracted and redirected. These are excellent times to stop do a little breathing or a yoga posture.   Check in to see how you actually want to move forward with your list. .Which brings us to an important piece.  The best visioning includes a foundation of an awareness practice. Yoga, meditation, dancing.  Whatever it is that allows you to step outside of who you believe you are for a few minutes and connect with your highest and wisest self. 

That’s it for today, I hope this helps you to get started with charting your course for your next new beginning.

To register for the gathering on December 26th where we will share our visions, please sign up here:

All my classes are offered at this time as pay what you are able and are comfortable with via Venmo, PayPal or Zelle, radhanatalie63@gmail.com

Register in advance for this meeting:

https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZcrd-qtrjIpH9z4EHsJhn1lvDoFmiAib_6h

Finding OurSelves – losing ourselves

Finding OurSelves – losing ourselves

We’ve spoken in these posts about yoga in terms of “yoking” or joining with, our higher self, God (dess), love or truth.  We’re always going to join with something.  Most of us are joined, intimately, with our personalities and the conditioning from our past experiences.  The yoga practices are designed to liberate us from the confinement of those identities, opening up fields of possibilities which are obscured by those limited perspectives.  The practices open us up to the vastness of our sacredness, our divinity and to an experience of life which is larger than ourselves.  But we live in a field of influences.  As we open up it’s important to be clear in our elevated personal intention. i.e. “I wish to yoke to the greater  creative force of the universe”. Otherwise it is all too easy to find ourselves swept away by a tidal wave of charisma, affection, or illusion.  I believe this is the source of many controversial events in spiritual history.  Participants got involved to find themselves and lost themselves instead.  It can be a very easy thing to do, getting lost.  In order to navigate the fields of liberated consciousness it’s wise to learned to stay centered as you practice (tapah), to develop your self-awareness of your own inner feeling states of consciousness (svadyaya), and to clear that you are surrendering your own restricted consciousness states to a higher consciousness state appropriate for you.

There are numerous techniques to stay centered in your practice.  Two widely used and simple techniques are the focus on the breath and the focus on the third eye center which is between the brows and slightly back.  Both techniques can be used in asana practice, in meditation practice, in bed, standing in line or on the bus.   It can be helpful to learn with eyes closed, but both techniques can be practiced with eyes open.  To focus on the breath, direct your inner gaze to the tip of the nose and watch each breath as you beath in and out through the nostrils.  To focus on the third eye center, direct the inner gaze to a space between the brows and slightly back, and allow it to rest there.  For both practices, the gaze can be directed either by moving the physical eyes or just directing the attention.  When you discover your attention has wandered, just bring it back again.  Try starting with 5 minutes and build from there.

Self-reflection is a perpetual on going process.  It may begin with noting your emotional states, and then deepen into subtler states of consciousness.  Just practice checking in with how you are feeling, and then what you are feeling underneath the feeling with a receptive and gentle awareness.

In the practices of bhakti yoga, practitioners nurture a relationship with what is called their Ishta devata. The Ishta Devata is their preferred form of God (dess), or guru.  Many western practitioners begin by working with Hindu deities they feel an affinity, a guru or or even Jesus.  Mahatma Ghandhi worked with truth.  You can take a quality that you aspire to embody in your practice and work with that.  Then the practice is to allow oneself to surrender into that.  For example, say I aspire to beauty and graceful femininity.   I find a symbol of that…a flower, a book, an image of Venus, and I focus on that, or in my asana practice, I dedicate my practice to aligning with that.  My experience is that it works well if you don’t use other people for this, or you can develop their flavor of the qualities instead of your own.

These practices work best when we hold them gently, training ourselves to rest in our own sacred centers and intentions rather than creating rigid boundary lines which we then defend by pushing the outside away.  Nurtured carefully, gentle centering practices allow us to stay clearly on our own path while opening up, connecting with others and accessing higher states of consciousness.  As the inner doors fly open, we find ourselves within ourselves, rather than losing ourselves in others.

The Forces Within

The Forces Within

In my observations as a yoga teacher all the postures we take, on and off the mat, have a variety of expressions one of which is the reflection of what we are feeling that day.  Some people shift from expression to expression in their postures, trying to find the one that “fits”.  Some people identify with one expression or another and hang out there for awhile until a new idea sparks transformation, or they feel the pain of the imbalance acutely and decide it’s time to change.  The days we live in require a great deal of strength and resilience.  Students thrive when given the opportunity to nurture their strength.  All of the Tadasana based straight line postures (Plank, Chaturanga Daṇḍāsana (low plank), Vasisthasana (side plank), Vrksasana (tree)) invite us to reflect on and move beyond the psycho-spiritual-physical tangles which obstruct our ability to experience the power of our wholeness. 

I always teach plank early in the class.  Why?  Because it tells me a lot about who I’m teaching and what they are in the mindset to engage with on any given day.    Over the years I’ve come across (and experienced in my own body) some common expressions of plank which could be thought of like this:

  1. The Conqueror:  Every ounce of will is drawn forth, the eyes and jaw tighten, the body is wrapped around the posture like grasping onto a twig if  we were falling off a cliff.  The breath is forced or held. 
  2. The Non-Chalant:  A similar determination to conquer the plank, or perhaps the way one feels in that moment, but being aware of the mind body implications of everything, we attempt to look cool.  The face and jaw are relaxed, the will is strong, but maybe the leg or the eye or the arm are twitching out a steady current of subconscious disharmony.
  3. The Dread:  The teacher says plank and there is hesitation (not today!  Do I have to do this today?).  The brows furrow – the face and body droop before even attempting to shift into the posture.  The body shifts forward into the plank and then crumples to the floor under the weight of expectations. 
  4. The Flying Buttock:  Exactly what it sounds like, our tailbone is not in alignment with the rest of the spine and is jutting up towards the sky.  Somehow, it seems to make things easier.  But the dis-alignment interferes with the subtle dynamic of balanced strength which we can cultivate through these straight-line postures.  In other words.  It’s easier, but not the easiest.  It’s a little like contorting yourself to adapt to an intrusive seatmate on a plane or subway.  We hold back a little from our ability to extend out into the world with the flying buttock shape.
  5. The aligned: The alignment comes all together, balanced front and back forward and backward and up and down and right and left and it’s EASY. And it SHOWS. This plank can be held for a very long time, by persons of all ages and appearances of physical body strength. The person inhabits the body rather than conquering it through will. The capacity for strength emerges from inside, not out.

None of these are bad or wrong but they can be invitations to bring a little more yoga into our yoga.  Yoga meaning to “yoke together”  to bring a little more of our inner being into our actions on and off the mat. 

Embracing the spiritual practices of yoga opens us to the exhilarating vastness of possibility.  To integrate that vastness into our lives requires a moment by moment yoking to spirit as we take action.    Breath is the key to this on and off the mat. Breath is a doorway to the subtle realms.  Developing an understanding of balance in the body supports this.  Balance in the body frees us from some of the struggles of the postures and opens an inner spaciousness which allows us to inhabit a physical action and tap into the vast potential of a given moment.  Releasing the external goals allows the body to be aligned by the illumined inner and outer forces, rather than our perceived shortcomings.

To cultivate right effort in your plank  try these:

  1. Focus on the breath
  2. Focus on the balance, which will always be some evening out of two opposing forces
  3. Release the goal – or perhaps the thought of the goal-including your expectations of what it would take to achieve it
  4. Extend in all directions
  5. Repetition and consistency

Practice of an integrated plank posture reveals our capacity to succeed through attention, presence, balance and extension (used in a geometric sense rather than anatomical), allowing us to funnel our spiritual potential into our physical form.  We no longer have to build strength, we become strength.