Spotlight on Susan Browne: Teaching to Learn

Like many yoga teachers, I did not pursue certification in order to teach; I had the simple intention of “getting better” at my asana/pranayama practice. I also felt strongly compelled to study the Classical Yoga teachings, and to better understand the human body and the ineffable experience of finding oneself actually living in one. But sitting in front of a room full of students? It struck me as being about as desirable a pursuit as going through a tax audit. Of course, regardless of my personal intentions, no certification would be given without a demonstration of a candidate’s teaching ability. I specifically remember the first time I led a class (a simple ‘practice teach’ for my fellow trainees) as part of my Kundalini training more than 15 years ago. I tuned in, chanting the “Ong Namo” mantra, and got the students breathing and moving. I knew what to do; how exhilarating to pull off such a feat! But suddenly I froze; the magic had somehow worn off! In a haze of panic, embarrassment and failure, I looked to my teacher and said, “I can’t.” I’ll never forget his response–he gazed at me with calm, non-judgmental knowingness and said simply, “You can.” In spite of my doubts, I believed him, and I went on. And so I’ve continued to go on, through trainings and extensive studies in various styles of yoga practice (the aforementioned Kundalini, along with Ashtanga, Vinyasa, Anusara, yoga therapy–the list goes on!), as well as the ancient texts. The experience taught me that if I could do what I never thought I could do (in this case, teaching yoga) and it could bring such a sense of profound joy and accomplishment, then others, too, if guided, could exceed their own expectations in some aspect of life meaningful to them. My teacher had demonstrated his belief in me, and showed me that as a teacher, a simple, genuine faith in others can help facilitate achievements otherwise unimaginable. He taught me the value of exploring possibilities, allowing vulnerability, riding out discomfort in order to realize untapped potential. That’s what yoga does!
While I expect my list of continuing eduction pursuits will grow even longer over time, these days my students have become my teachers; I learn from them and am inspired by them continuously. They are mirrors of my own struggles with physical and mental limitations, self-discipline, and misguided expectations or attachment to outcome.

While I daily draw on my years of study and training, if I have anything to offer students at all it is my desire and commitment to guide them in the yoga so that it may reveal to them that they are already in possession of what is most important. Everything they need to know to live comfortably, blissfully, in themselves and in the world, every pose they are capable of expressing, is already inside them. We keep unlocking the door to a world of possibilities with the key of yoga. As a teacher, I just keep handing students that key.
My classes lately offer students an opportunity to experience the demystification of the asanas while losing oneself in the mysterious Pranic flow.

The practice focuses on dissolving perceived boundaries; students develop and engage muscular strength and stability and marry it with a cultivation of expansiveness and freedom of movement. There is clear guidance and assistance, and lots of options for variations and modifications in both of the class styles I teach: Mellow Yoga (level 1), and Slow Flow (level 2). The Mellow classes are non-vigorous and offer a deep stretch for students at any level, from beginners with no experience, to advanced practitioners or athletes looking to dial down the intensity on the physical level. Slow Flow presents an opportunity to work harder and learn or practice more advanced poses, within the context of a continuous energetic flow. In all classes, there is the firm assertion that there is no one particular way to look in a pose, there is instead an encouragement toward the practice of simply being present, feeling truly alive in one’s self to all accompanying sensation in any given pose, on a multitude of levels.

To quote Erich Schiffman, “the goal is not to tie ourselves in knots…we’re already tied in knots. The aim is to untie the knots in our hearts. The aim is to unite with the ultimate, loving, and peaceful power in the universe.”
Sat nam, and Namaste!


The Practice of Self Gratitude

Gratitude is the sweetest of all the practices for living the dharma in daily life and the most easily cultivated, requiring the least sacrifice for what is gained in return. It is a very powerful form of mindfulness practice, that allows us to rejoice amidst all life’s suffering. Practicing mindfulness of gratitude consistently leads to a direct experience of being connected to life and the realization that there is a larger context in which your personal story is unfolding. Cultivating thankfulness elicits feelings of generosity, which create further joy. Gratitude can soften a heart that has become too guarded, and it builds the capacity for forgiveness, which creates the clarity of mind that encourages spiritual development.

The practice of gratitude is not in any way a denial of life’s difficulties. We live in troubling times, and no doubt you’ve experienced many challenges, uncertainties, & disappointments in your own life. The understanding you gain from practicing gratitude frees you from being lost or identified with either the negative or positive aspects of life, letting you meet life in each moment as it rises.

An important step in practicing gratitude is to actively notice things you are grateful for throughout your regular day, situations and interactions that are irritating or frustrating. There is a level of well-being and universal cooperation that is supporting you even in the midst of a so called bad day. You do so not to get out of a bad mood or to be a nicer person, but with the intention of clearly seeing the true situation of your life. The particulars may remain the same, but the inner experience of how your life is unfolding begins to shift. Slowly you become clearer about what really matters to you, and there is more ease in your daily experience.

When you are in a deep state of gratitude, you will often spontaneously feel the presence of grace. The grace in receiving a human life is that it grants you the capacity to experience that which is beyond the mind and body – call it god, allah, emptiness, spirit, or the Ground of Absolute. Reflect on this: You, with all your flaws, have been chosen for this opportunity to consciously taste life, to know it for what it is, and to make of it what you are able.

This gift of a conscious life is grace, even when you life is filled with great difficultly and it may not feel like a gift at the time. The grace of a conscious life, and having a mind that can know”this moment is like this” is the root of all wonder, from which gratitude flows. The wonder, the mystery, is that you, like everyone else, are given this short, precious time of conscious embodiment in which you can directly know yourself. However you find life to be – cruel or kind, sorrowful or joyous, bland or stimulating, indifferent or filled with love – you get the privilege of knowing it firsthand. Your sense of well-being is no longer contingent on external circumstances and you are able to rejoice that amidst all life’s suffering there exists joy. You realize that pain and joy are part of a mysterious whole. When this state of gratitude starts to blossom, your mind becomes more spacious, quieter, and your heart receives its first taste of the long-sought release from fear and wanting. This is grace.

by Philip Moffit/ Dharma Yoga Columnist for the Yoga Journal

The Cornerstone of the Yamas – Ahimsa

The word “Ahimsa” translates as “non-violence” and “non-harming”. At the root of this moral code is not simply the absence of these concepts but in the cultivation of kindness, friendliness, and thoughtful consideration of other people and things.  The root of vegetarianism in the yogic culture stems from ahimsa however it does not necessarily imply that we eat no living thing or that we should not defend ourselves: rather it is about exercising judgement and extending kindness toward ourselves in terms of fully taking care of ourselves.

“Should we as vegetarians find ourselves in a situation where there is only meat to eat, is it better to starve to death than to eat what is there?  If we still have something to do in this life, such as family responsibilities, then we should avoid doing anything that may cause us harm or prevent us from carrying out our duties.  The answer in this situation is clear – it would show a lack of consideration and arrogance to become stuck on our principles.  So ahimsa has to do with our duties and responsibilities too.  It could even mean that we must fight if our life is in danger.” (1)

Fundamentaly practicing Ahimsa is to adopt a considered attitude and make conscious choices in every situation. The spirit  Ahimsa is to combat cruelty, injustice and violence in favor of  cultivating kindness toward ourselves, others and the earth at large.

1. passage taken from “The Heart of Yoga” T.K.V. Desikachar

The Yoga of Living: The Eight Limbed Path

We all want to be happy, yes? We show up on our mats ready for the asana practice to transform us and often wonder, despite the immediate feelings of well-being and physical vibrancy, why we ultimately remain unchanged inside.

Pantanjali outlines this journey toward greater inner peace and fulfillment in the yoga sutras and particularly in the eight limbed path. Practiced in the context of these eight limbs, yoga becomes a guide for living.

“The limbs relate to each other in the same way as the limbs on our bodies do. Rather than being hierarchical, the limbs extend out from and feed into a central, whole being: ourselves. Rather than being separate concepts, the limbs connect to one another. The practice of one limb influences and strengthens all the others.” – Charlotte Bell

Pantanjali’s eight limbs are:

Yama: ethical principles
Niyama: personal practices
Asana: the practice of physical postures
Pranayama: breathing practices
Pratyahara: refinement of the senses
Dharana: concentration
Dhyana: meditation
Samadhi: state of bliss, wholeness

The Yamas and Niyamas, the first 2 limbs, are the cornerstone of our philosophical and spiritual discipline. These practices allow us to deeply explore what it means to truly live a yogic life and make available to us a path to inner freedom.

Stay tuned as we start on this journey of exploration…