Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Practice - with a capital "P"

"The greatest reward of doing sadhana is that the person becomes incapable of being defeated. Sadhana is a self-victory and it is a victory over time and space. Getting up is a victory over time, and doing it is a victory over space."  - Yogi Bhajan
Sadhana is the Sanskrit word for Practice - the category of behaviors, habits, exercises and services a student of Yoga will do in the action of reaching truly authentic living. These acts you do with the intention of knowing yourself wholly and completely, as you are, warts and all. These are things you participate in, with the intention of living YOUR life, not the life you "should" have or what others want you to have.

Patanjali notes in the cornerstone of all Yoga literature, that these practices should be taken up with a clear intention, and acted out with consistent dedication.

Students who come to classes consistently (or take tips from free, online classes and clips) are always better suited to show up with this consistent dedication to authentic living. Once the decision has been made to take a change in how you live in your body, how you view your life, or how you think, the hardest part is over. The Practice will meet you where you are -physically, mentally, energetically.

I've had students arrive to my classes after a 13 year hiatus from their on-the-mat practice, usually after a serious injury. How often do you hear of people returning to playing football or chess, after a break like that? The Practice is a journey all its own, and not to be confused with exercise, nor escapism.

In order to shift from unconscious, habit-based, surviving-but-not-thriving, living, sadhana must be completed every day.
"Always do some sadhana no matter how short, because every effort of the individual mind to meet the Universal Self is reciprocated a thousand-fold" - Yogi Bhajan
This doesn't mean you need to pour your savings account into a studio membership...this means taking up one practice that you can achieve every day, just as you eat and bathe and brush your teeth each day. Make your Practice part of your life, and your life will flourish.

Here is a short video I've created for you to do when you aren't going to make it to a public class where your teacher and peers can hold you accountable. Enjoy it and share with those who need it!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

How to Get Your A+ in Yoga

Students often ask their teachers how they can know when they are good at what they're learning. "How do I know I'm doing it right?" ..."How do I know I'm mastering this?"

People who practice yoga will often get caught up in the idea that to be a great yogi is to be great at creating shapes with their bodies, nailing a pose, or even worse, bending their limbs into the most extreme possibilities. 

The truest test of how good you are at yoga is this: how peaceful are your relationships with other people? 

Consider a few day-to-day scenarios that will immediately indicate to you how masterful you are in the art and science of yoga:

1. Someone cuts you off in traffic, nearly causing you to swerve into another car. They give you the sorry-I-did-that-open-hand-gesture before speeding off. What you do next will indicate how good at yoga you are. 

2. You best friend confides in you that they are cheating on their spouse. The thing you say and think next will indicate how good at yoga you are. 

3. You wake up after a night of unsatisfying sleep, one-too-many glasses of wine and a bloated stomach from eating your feelings after dinner last night. You pull yourself together enough to get to work. Once there, your co-worker pays you a genuine compliment on your complexion and your outfit. The thing you say and think next will indicate how good at yoga you are. 

4. The barista at your go-to coffeeshop explains to you that they are out of your preferred brew/milk alternative, etc. What you do next will indicate how good at yoga you are. 

5. For the second time this month, one of your colleagues is given a raise or special recognition for doing the same kind of work that you do. The way you react to this says a lot about how good at yoga you are. 

Some other things to consider:

If you haven't laughed at any point this week...your yoga practice might need to be modified. 

If you think that girl who practiced next to you yesterday and nailed her hand stand/ warrior 3/ tree pose is a bitch...your yoga practice might need to be modified. 

If you believe that wearing LuLuLemon makes you a superior yogi...your yoga practice might need to be modified. 

Sometimes we can lose sight of our heartfelt intention, when something we love becomes inundated with fashion, popularity, goal-orientation and a plethora of other people's opinions (including mine!). Take a moment every now and again (or better yet, at the start of your class before you get moving) to consider why you are practicing this age-old wisdom tradition that aims to quiet the distraction of living in a world of variety, and encourages us to know ourselves as individuals, in a deep and intimate way (warts and all).

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Building a Gratitude Attitude

On September 17th, 2013 I began a social experiment and accountability partnership with friends, students and fellow Facebook users whom I have never met in the real world. This project was the result of my hearing (not for the first time) how invaluable the practice of being grateful is for our health and well-being.

On an average week, I am able to teach about 150 people and provide them with a yogic forum to build upon the idea of realizing their greatest Self without causing others to suffer in the process. But on that late summer evening, after enduring a characteristically "LA" drive home, I felt compelled to do more!  In an effort to reduce the epidemic of assholism, I utilized one of the greatest and most taken-for-granted resources we modern humans have - the internet.

Today marks the 51st and final day of this project, which began as a public Facebook event. The idea was simple: contemporary science and esoteric wisdom traditions know that gratitude fosters longevity, health and aids in repairing and preventing illness,  so why not get people to practice this together, and use Facebook's transparent social media platform as free exposure.

One experiment somewhere else...
 Psychology Today Magazine says..
Ancient Eastern Medicine knows...
 Buddha knew...

The outcome: Of those who managed to follow through with the practice and post one thing they were grateful for each day, their reports were on par with what was expected - higher rates of gratitude for small and otherwise mundane aspects of daily life, mood shifts tending toward happiness and acceptance, and an awareness of other people's gratitude attitudes who were not in any way associated with the Facebook event. The voyeurs, and those who posted infrequently, reportedly had an expanded awareness of spontaneous moments of gratitude, as well.

While the scope of this experiment is clearly slight and mostly insignificant, it's results remain aligned with the greater tenant - taking a pause everyday to note what is awesome in your life makes the experience of  life more valuable,  more fulfilling,and is best when shared with others.

As we approach the end of the year, with its holiday traditions of  kindness and community, let this locally sourced, social experiment arm you with at least one tool to beat the corollary rise in social assholism that is upon us! Practicing an attitude of gratitude is a free, self-serving, wide-spreading phenomenon that can shift you into a place of greater peace and wellness. On days when your inner-brat is at the helm, check out the Facebook archive of our event to see what others found worth celebrating  in the ordinary day-to-day of being human, for some inspiration!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Fall Workshop Lineup 2013

This is a unique and deeply meditative class. I will lead a 90-minute restorative style yoga practice while Guy Douglas orchestrates a complete sound bath with huge planetary gongs and live ambient music. Donate in the lobby before this class starts! This is an ALL LEVELS class not to be missed.

This workshop is appropriate for people with foot & knee injuries, nerve issues or other spinal conditions. This is an all-levels workshop intended to help restore balance to the body-mind system as a whole.

"Niki is able to lead students to have a deep experience within. She offers this practice in a way that is so honest and true to her own truth." - Jen , LA based yoga teacher who took this workshop from me earlier this year. 

If you'd like to get all of the news, sign up for my newsletter: yogawithniki@gmail.com

See the full newsletter here

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Get to Know Me Better: The Proust Questionairre

Black Dog Yoga blogger Anne Clenndening recently asked me to answer the famous Proust Questionairre that is often found in the back of Vanity Fair magazine. Check out the original blog post here, though I've included my answers below. It was a fun practice in self-study (a yogic practice known as svadyaya that facilitates personal growth and clear perception). Try it for yourself! 


What is your idea of happiness?
I stopped striving for perfection a while ago and am more interested in recreating balance. Since balance isn’t static or stationary, happiness is more about resiliency to given settings, creating relationships and honoring boundaries. For me, all of the connotations we have about”perfection” and “happiness” are not relevant. Everything is in a state of change, all of the time. Fleeting moments in perception may seem to line up with what we are told is ideal, but in my experience, perfection deals with others expectations.
In my experience, happiness is like meditation—it happens spontaneously when the pre-conditions are set. Sometimes it happens at festivals with tons of strangers, being with my dog, breaking bread with friends, alone in nature, in bed with my lover. My experience of blissed-out happiness comes in fleeting parcels of synchronicity and peaceful cooperation. It is always different! But the common denominators are always the same: a resilient psychology, a surrender of perfectionism and an honoring of the limits of a given scenario and its participants.
What is your greatest fear?
Taking pseudoscience as science, to me, is ignorant. That being said, I have two great fears. First, ignorance as normative. Second, diffusion of responsibility… these two things alone and together are equally terrifying. Not as a concept I learned in undergrad, but for what they produce. These two together seem to be the breeding ground for the atrocities we have all shaken a fist or finger at.  I’m not afraid of dying or the sudden blast of nuclear warfare or the schizoid homeless person pandering near my car.  I’m afraid that we will continue to play dumb to the fact that this is our life, day to day, and as such will continue the unproductive finger-pointing.  The holocaust wasn’t a spontaneously arising event… it was a process that unfolded into one of humanity’s, “that-was-horrible-and-let’s-hope-it-doesn’t-happen-again” moments.When people choose to give up the ability (and responsibility) to live their own lives, sacrifice democracy for streamlines politics and instead follow a template of some system or authority without fully educating themselves, then this resists the objective evidence of reality as it is.
Where would you most like to live?
Right now I am really drawn toward Thailand… the food, general Buddhist worldview, beaches, temples, everything I’ve heard from friends who have traveled through it reveal that the people are kind-hearted, helpful and happy to share their cultural nuances… and there is an island full of monkeys! I’m always eclipsed by a travel bug, though. Parts of India, Hawaii, Northern Italy, Berlin and Brooklyn are all on my list of possible future homes. I’d also really love to live in an Amazonian village for a short stint to learn some of their music and participate in their esoteric rituals and ceremonies.
What is your favorite virtue?
My parents raised me on this household principle: Don’t be an asshole. Tried and tested, it seems to be working so far. I had to look up “virtue,” since it is one of those words I’ve learned through context. I found that it’s root comes from the Latin word for “man,” but the connotation is more about righteousness and moral perfection. I’m not into either of these qualities. Moral hierarchy encourages superiority, and that’s a worldview I think we can all do well to get away from.
What are your favorite qualities in a man?
Playfulness and not playing games. I appreciate that men can typically horse-play, stay connected to that silly quality we usually have as children, and won’t get too heady and over-analytic. A dividing line I’ve noticed between “man-boys” and “men,” is this: a man will play cooperatively and carefully, and boys will play competitively and carelessly… in love, business, domestic affairs.
What are your favorite qualities in a woman?
Self-esteem! An ability to think for herself beyond the media and misogyny. Also, grace, nurturing intuition, subtly. Women who are not co-dependent or righteously independent.
What do you most value in your friends?
Integrity and honesty. Acting in a way that doesn’t honor their own convictions or personal path is just uncomfortable, and these people don’t usually last too long in my life. Having both integrity and honesty assumes that they know who they are, have a realistic sense of what is happening in their world, and behave in the world and with themselves in a manner that is congruent with this knowledge.
What is your biggest weakness?
Self-doubt, and being stubborn.
What do you enjoy doing most?
Adventuring with good company. Sometimes this looks like a great heart-to-heart, creative collaborations in art and music, traveling somewhere new, checking out a new part of town or hiking trail, or indulging in a music festival.
What is your most marked characteristic?
On the surface, survey says: my hair. Beyond that, my forthright passion… since childhood I’ve had people tell me that I am strong willed and will achieve a goal, no matter how big it is, once I decide that is what I’m doing. That’s when my being stubborn works well.
What is your idea of misery?
Acting out a life that is not my own. Fulfilling requests that don’t align with my own sense of harmony, achieving “success” that doesn’t serve my own sense of belonging, not having the freedom to create, speak, share, contribute or participate in a way that is life-enhancing, enriching and helpful.
If not yourself, who would you like to be?
The revised version of current me that I am co-creating all the time.
Who are your favorite writers?
Adoleus Huxley, Neal Donald Walsch, Alan Watts, Dr. Seuss, Terrance McKenna, Voltaire, Daniel Pinchbeck, Paulo Cuelho, Don Miguel Ruiz.
Who are your favorite poets?
Aesop Rock, John Donne, Allen Ginsberg, Saul Williams, Sage Francis, George Watsky, Mike Ladd, my own poetry, Rudy Francisco, Sarah Kay, Shihan the Poet, Rumi and basically anyone signed to Strange Famous Records.
Who are your favorite artists?
Bosch, Alex Grey, Amanda Sage, Chet Czar, ABSNT, Banksy, Dali, David Ho, Dale Chihuly, Walt Hall, Grafitti Muralists from all urban fauna (especially, Dabs and Mala, How and Nosm). Also, perma-culturists and anyone who is actively and successfully growing their own plant-based food sources.
Who are your favorite musicians?
I don’t like “favorites” questions because there is so much to appreciate… for the sake of this interview, here are a few off the top: Tool, Pink Floyd, DJ Shadow, Amon Tobin, Bonobo (full band), Portishead, Bjork, James Blake, Ben Harper, Sigur Ros, Ravi Shankar, Boards of Canada, Bad Religion, Kruder and Dorfmeister.
Who are your favorite heroes and heroines in fiction?
Smith from “Stranger in a Strange Land,” by Robert Heinlein, Helen Keller…from her whole life, Alice from “Alice in Wonderland.”
Who are the heroes and heroines in your life?
My parents [together and individually], my brother, my best friend Kari, anyone who has ever surrendered their ego for the sake of acting in a compassionate manner, people who dream big and then act to make it happen without sidelining basic human rights, my students who come to practice consistently in a non-addictive manner, people who protect those that cannot rightfully protect themselves, my yoga teachers…heroes and heroines are loose concepts in my book…everyday people do spectacular things everyday.
Who are your favorite heroes and heroines in history?
I don’t have a ready answer for this… history is an amalgamation of shorts and clips from other people who deem the information important… but there is a glacier worth of history that we will never be privy to in this life… and I would bet there are many heroic feats that have gone unnoticed and unreported.
What do you most dislike?
Side-effects of fear mongering, passive-aggression, “I can’t” attitudes, short-sighted goal-orientation, diffusion of responsibility, knowing better and not acting on it, addiction to plastics and Styrofoam materials/money/substances, humiliation, shame mongering, excuses and lack of personal accountability, being stuck in a conversation with an ‘over-sharer,’ cockiness, politics being mistaken for diplomacy, poor grammar,  littering, exploitation of natural resources, non-enriched educational environments (Though I do love alliteration!), hoarding, exhaust fumes, snoring…I could go on and on.  
What event in history do you most admire?
I don’t know very much about history. I do know that right now, there is an ongoing action through MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Research) that is redefining how certain chemicals and tribal medicines are viewed to the FDA, through systematic and legal scientific research, worldwide.  These events are subsequently revising the general worldview on how we choose to overcome trauma and pain via medicine and medicinal therapies. I have a lot of respect for this venture and it’s intention to reclaim rights that big business has, over the years, trapped under layers of red tape and bottom lines.
What social movement do you most admire?
Human Rights Movements always pique my fancy… not just from North American history… as a humankind phenomena. That passion to overcome the inertia of passivity, complacency, and authoritarian extremism on a mass scale, it is an interesting social phenomenon. It is interesting how these movements will revise the idea of what it means to coexist amid the ever-widening scope of diversity. It’s like evolution in real-time… and that is sexy.
What natural gift would you most like to possess?
How would you like to die?
Assured that my worldly affairs would be taken care of so that my loved ones wouldn’t have the burden of sorting out all of the tedious details, paperwork and things. I actually think about this question sometimes…on the one hand, if I’m only going to die once, why not make it epic since the pain will be relatively transient…. On the other hand, what sane person wouldn’t want to die peacefully and without commotion? It might be great to spontaneously combust on cue, surrounded by all of my loved ones, and then rain down in a glitter storm of aromatic flare and light.
What is your present state of mind?
After all of these questions, a bit silly and non-sequitur. In general, realistically optimistic.
What is your biggest pet peeve?
Which fault in others do you most easily tolerate?
Excuse making and disorganization.
Which fault in yourself do you most easily tolerate?
Excuse making.
What is your motto?
It’s not my motto, but one of a few that I have in my default wiring on how to live in the world: Leave it better than you found it. The other major motto is: Live in love.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

aMUSEing: Poem

 "Wild Geese" by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body 
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, 
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting-
over and over announcing your place 

in the family of things.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Raising the Chakra Consciousness

I got involved with sound baths and working with music as part of my own meditation process before I practiced yoga regularly. For me, as a poet, and a writer, I always had words.  Early on in college I got into hand drumming...had an excellent teacher who taught me about listening, hearing multiple layers of sounds at once and how they relate to one another. Through drumming, I was creating sound and even music with my hands. When I was playing, I didn't have words. These few moments of wordlessness was a liberating experience! 

Singing in Sanskrit later, during the start of my yoga practice, was also interesting because I was using words but didn't know what I was saying. Sometimes my words weren't even what my teacher was singing. Her advice was for me to close my eyes, feel the sounds, and join in. So I started with making sounds through instruments, and then making sounds with my own body.

Sound work requires us to be vulnerable and open-minded because it’s in the trying of something different that we notice something different about ourselves.  

One way to think of sound healing work is like conducting an orchestra. The orchestra has many parts and can make many sounds, and as a whole creates a concert. The body has trillions of cells that all have a frequency, and when some of the cells are “out of tune,” the whole organism can feel out of synch.

The subtle body system (sometimes referred to as the chakra system or energy body) and its landmarks (chakras) represent one map to understand the nature of human being.  Each chakra can be thought of like a landmark on this “subtle body map” intended to help us, the traveler, navigate the somewhat unfamiliar territory of the human condition. Each chakra  has a natural frequency that when perceived as sound, can be heard like the sound of a syllable. These are the bija mantras. Each bija has it's own distinct sound, tone, frequency, and can be used like a mantra to bring about an awareness to the varied aspects of what each chakra represents. Many traditions have interpreted the ideas represented in this map and will describe in greater or lesser detail the information that I am providing here.

Chakra: A Sanskrit word meaning “wheel,” or “disk,” identifying major energy hubs that can correspond to the physical body and nerve ganglia branching out from the spinal column.  Each hub associates with generalized states of consciousness, archetypes of human development, and functions of various physical body parts and systems.  It may be helpful to think of chakras as an extended metaphor for seeing aspects of the human condition.

Bija: Sanskrit word meaning “seed.” Yogic history states that each letter of the Sanskrit alphabet is the resonant vibration of an aspect of the material universe.

Mantra: Sanskrit term meaning “tool of the mind,” and serves to train cognitive (mentalistic) functions. Mantras can be a syllable, like “Om,” a phrase like, “Om Mani Padme Om.” It can be said aloud or in the mind, sung and hummed. It works by quieting the mental “noise,” through saying, thinking or singing it repeatedly.   

Bija Mantra: The seed sound of an energetic hub (chakra) in the material body, and identifies the most primary sound vibration corresponding to that chakra center. When a yogi practices with mantra, mental “noise” quiets, and the meditation [in this case, a full understanding on the bija and what it represents] can be attained.

Sound and Modes of Healing:  Sound healing is a mode of therapy that uses sound to affect the material body on a cellular level. Our cells and everything they make up has its own resonant frequency, and as a whole, generates a composite frequency like the instruments in an orchestra. Our body is made of 60-70% water, and water is a strong conductor of sound. Empirical support from the Western, scientific community is proving what the ancient Eastern traditions knew all along – that sound can bring us back into states of wellbeing, without the use of invasive surgeries or chemicals.

Chakra Name
Bija Sound
Region of Physical Body
Relationship Focus
Function it serves
Crown of Head
culmination of  6 chakras
Energetic body/
Center of Brain behind the mid-forehead
Sensory body/
Clarifying, Seeing
Spinal area of the throat
Personality body/
Vibratory, Symbolism
Spinal area of the heart
memory body/
Relational, Integrating
Spinal area behind the sternum
 mental body/

Spinal area above sacrum
emotional body/

Coccyx bone at base of spine
physical body/
Foundational, Grounding