Welcome to Karen’s Yoga Blog!

Thanks for visiting! I am delighted to share my thoughts and discoveries about the art, science and philosophy of Iyengar Yoga. Visit this blog for ideas about practice, notes from workshops with senior Iyengar Yoga teachers, and reflections about how yoga can help and support us in the art of living. You can also check the August 2008, 2010 and 2016 archives for entries about my visits to the Ramamani Iyengar Yoga Institute (RIMYI) for yoga study with the Iyengar family in Pune, India.

May your practice flourish to benefit all beings!

Namate,
Karen

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Happy Interdependence Day

On the Fourth of July in the United States, we celebrate Independence Day, commemorating the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Perhaps after over 200 years of existence, our country can start living up to the ideals expressed in that document for all the people who live here.

For the past few years on July Fourth, I have been thinking about the yogic teaching of interdependence. The principle of interdependence reminds us that all beings and all of creation are bound together in a vast web of cause and effect. The truth is that no one and nothing is truly independent. We are always in relationship to other people, to our environment, and to our own past thoughts, words and actions.

We rely on the earth, the rain and the sun for life itself. We rely on other people, whether those are our neighbors, friends and family, the farmers who grow our food, or the workers who make our clothes, our computers and our cars. We are connected, and we need and influence each other.

When we reflect on this truth, we may realize that what we think, say and do effects others. Reflection on this truth may in turn help us build up our habit of virtuous thoughts, words and deeds.

Part of the purpose of yoga practice is to have a daily experience of heightened self-awareness, so we can become more mindful in everyday life. Support your own practice of self-awareness by taking a free yoga class posted on the Green Tara Yoga & Healing Arts YouTube Channel.

As much as we recognize our inexorable link to others, we also long for the experience of freedom. We like having choices, freedom of thought and expression, and the ability to forge our own unique path. These freedoms build up the capacity of each individual to develop their full potential. Yet this philosophy can easily get distorted into thinking we can do everything for ourselves, or that our choices affect only ourselves.

Remembering the truth of interdependence brings a more balanced point of view. We may start to cultivate awareness of how we interact with others and how we can contribute to our communities on all levels – local, national and world.

So as we celebrate the forging of a nation founded on principles of liberty and equality, let us hope that those ideals can truly come to fruition, as we embrace not only our freedom to choose our own path, but also our freedom to consciously connect with each other.

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In Balance with Nature

While moving through the ups and downs of life at this challenging time, I find that spending time outdoors every day helps me immensely. Whether swimming in Lake Erie, riding my bike, gardening or walking in my neighborhood, being surrounded by the beauty of nature brings peace and balance.

Engaging in physical activity outdoors is exhilarating. It energizes the body, frees the breath and calms the mind. When I am outdoors, I feel the power and grandeur of nature and get absorbed in the moment. The warmth of sun on my skin, the touch of wind in my hair, the smell of the flowers, and the solidity of the ground under my feet – these all bring joy, presence and a sense of connection to all that is.

In yoga philosophy, the five elements of earth, water, fire, air and space are used to create a map through which we can view the world and ourselves, and gain greater understanding of how to live in balance. If this ideas resonates with you, read my blog post From Earth to Space – The Five Elements in Yoga Practice for a more thorough treatment of this subject.

EARTH represents solidity, form and shape. It is the mountains, trees, rocks and plants. The earth element is our bones and muscles, which create our form. When the earth element is in balance, we feel stable, calm and grounded.

WATER represents fluidity, movement and creativity. It is the oceans, rivers, streams and rain. The water element is our blood, lymph and organs. When the water element is in balance, our energy flows like a stately river, and we experience vitality and emotional serenity.

FIRE represents heat, warmth, and potency. It is the sun, the core of the earth, and the energy continued in every atom. The fire element  is our nervous system and our mind. When the fire element is in balance, the mind is focused and orderly, able to make decisions and plans, and yet remain firmly grounded in the present.

AIR represents mobility, sensitivity and discernment. It is the currents of wind around us and the air we breath. The air element is our intuitive spiritual intelligence. The air element is in balance, we can make fine tuned assessments and discriminate between what brings temporary pleasure and what brings lasting happiness.

SPACE represents vastness, formlessness and openness. It is the great cauldron of emptiness that contains all forms. The space element is our innermost being, where we can experience bliss, spaciousness and ultimate freedom.

We can look at any situation and ask ourselves which elements are dominating and which elements are missing. Sometimes, just recognizing that I am not relating to the earth element can remind me to ground and settle myself. Or noticing that my breathing is constricted, and I reconnect to the lungs and the inner body. Or I find that I have been focusing only on the relative world instead of making a daily practice of going inward to search for a glimmer of the infinite being within.

There is so much in life that we do not have control over, and in challenging times, that is more obvious than ever. See if the beauty of nature can help you come into balance as you recognize that you are also made of the same elements as the creation around you.

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Trying A New Way

In the midst of constant change, we crave stability. When things are too static, we want variety. Life is always a balance between maintaining what is good about the present, and being courageous enough to make changes when they are needed.

When we do a yoga pose, there is something called the “ego of the pose.” This is how I do the pose. The way I always do it. The way that works for me.

But sometimes we need to shake that up, and step our feet out wider, or stay in the pose a little longer, or let go and breathe. Perhaps we could try a new prop, or take all the props away. Maybe we need to move with more precision, or instead just let go and move with freedom.

One of my teachers said that the ego of the pose is like wax running down the side of a candle. Each time we light that candle, the wax will again flow the way that it flowed before. When we practice yoga, we tend to do things as we usually do them, like the wax flowing along the same path. We need to wake up to new possibilities with every practice.

Each time we practice, there is a tension between doing things in our usual way, and trying something new. The old and familiar patterns and techniques may be useful, and we don’t need to throw them all out. But if we never question them, we get stuck. Instead, we can challenge ourselves to keep the mind fresh, inquisitive and open to new ideas.

B.K.S.Iyengar said many times that as he aged, what kept his practice full of vitality was that he did not allow it to become mechanical. He said that each day, he felt fresh, and had fresh learning experiences. We hope to practice with that kind of awareness and immediacy on our own, but sometimes we need the support of a teacher.

One of the teachers from Green Tara Yoga – me (Karen Allgire), Amy Runnels, or Colleen Clark – can help you try new possibilities in your practice in one of our online classes. Visit our Schedule Page to view the online options and register for a class.

In the face of uncertainty, a daily practice of yoga helps keep the body healthy, the mind focused and the emotions calm. I hope you will take whatever opportunity you have today to give yourself the gift of yoga.

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Non-Violence and Truth

The path of yoga as outlined by the sage Patanjali consists of eight limbs or petals to guide our journey toward wholeness. These are ethics, self-discipline, postures, breath control, sensory withdrawal, concentration, meditation, and complete meditative absorption. The Sanskrit term for the first limb is yama, the ethical precepts of yoga. The yamas deal with our relationship with others and how we can work together toward a more enlightened, altruistic society. As we face the trifecta of the pandemic, the economic crisis, and racist violence, I have been thinking about the first two yamas, which are non-violence and truthfulness. These two principles formed an important foundation in both Gandhi’s and Martin Luther King’s work for social change through non-violent means.

The first principle, ahimsa, is non-violence. This is the commitment to avoid causing harm to others or oneself. To avoid causing harm, we have to become self-aware, and recognize the possible effects of our thoughts, words and actions. Ahimsa means that we cultivate empathy and compassion for every living being. It is the most fundamental teaching of yoga. B.K.S. Iyengar taught that if we could fully encompass ahimsa, no other practice would be necessary.

The next principle is astaya, truthfulness. This means that we are not only honest with others, but also unflinchingly honest with ourselves when we examine our own behavior, attitudes and prejudices. Again, this truthfulness requires reflection and rigorous self-examination. Unflagging commitment to truth over time makes us trustworthy individuals.

To say that we agree with these ideas is easy, but to live by these principles takes constant attention. In the face of worldwide social injustice, I recognize that I am basically uneducated about how to talk about, or think about or respond to racial inequality and prejudice. While I say with conviction that I believe in equality for all, perhaps now is the time to face the truth that I have not done enough to help make that a reality. I am not sure how to go forward, but I know the first  step is to educate myself with wider reading, conversation and deep reflection about these issues. I am facing the truth of my ignorance, and am determined to learn how I can do my part to be of help, both as an individual and as a yoga studio owner.

Yoga practice can and should go beyond building our personal health and well being. Each moment of mindfulness contributes to a better world. When we practice present moment awareness in a yoga pose, we prepare ourselves for clarity when we have to make tough ethical choices or make a stand for what we believe is right. When we correct or adjust our posture, we learn how to correct course when we find ourselves getting pulled toward complacency or negativity. Each yoga posture is a situation in which we can practice the qualities that we hope to bring into our everyday behavior.

To build mental quietude and increase present-moment awareness, follow the Seated Forward Extensions video on the the Green Tara Yoga YouTube Channel. It’s a ten-minute practice of postures that will help you develop the clarity you need as you face tough ethical choices and make a stand for what is right.

The principle of ahimsa says that we must avoid harming others, but it also implies that we should take wise and compassionate action to help them. I am humbled by the magnitude of the problems that we face, and question not only what I can do, but also how much difference my efforts can make.  I hope to move beyond  my current uncertainty, and begin to learn how I can be part of a change toward a more just, equitable and peaceful world.

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