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Offering Thanks – At the End of Yoga Class

The Hindi salutation “Namaste,” is a friendly greeting and a great way to start a yoga class. Participants can even say namaste to one another as a form of unification.

One of my first introductions to the word namaste was from an instructor at my local gym. She defined namaste as, “the divine light in me bows to the divine light in you.” When she said namaste at the end of class, everyone said it back. It was a genuine exchange of gratitude.

As much as I loved her class, the namaste felt awkward. I would simply respond, “Peace.” Perhaps it was due to my Catholic upbringing. Saying anything other than “amen” at the end of a spiritual experience felt odd.

I spoke to my girlfriend, Rajni, about my reluctance to say namaste toward the end of yoga. She smiled knowingly. Rajni advised that namaste means “hello” and that in Hindi there is no word for goodbye.

Rajni grew up in Pune, a town just outside of Mysore, where Ashtanga was born. She speaks 3 Indian languages: Tamil, Hindi and Marathi and is fluent in English. She studied Ashtanga since she was a young girl, living in India.

After my discussion with Rajni, I approached over a dozen Indian friends, clients and complete strangers to see if they concurred with Rajni.

While on a hike in Death Valley, an Indian man kindly offered to take a picture of my daughter and me, after seeing me struggle with a selfie. In exchange I took a picture of him and his partner against a backdrop of red looming rocks. This seemed like a good opportunity to ask what namaste meant.

He held that saying namaste for goodbye was like a silly cowboy western. He stated, “We don’t say namaste for goodbye, just as American Indians don’t say ‘how’ for hello.” He wanted to make sure I got the picture.

Each time a newcomer of Indian origins takes one of my classes, I usually get thanked for using namaste correctly. I apply what I learned from friends and fellow travelers.

One of my clients from Western India, Shikha, told me that she was really taken aback when she first heard “Namaste” at the end of a yoga class. She thought, “I guess that’s how they do it here.” It must have been bewildering for her.

When we borrow elements of another culture, we have a duty to do so with authenticity. This is is part of the yogic code of satya. It is a way of honoring what is true.

Can you imagine a dance instructor saying “Hola” at the end of flamenco or salsa class? Most Latinos would respond with, “Come se dice?” (“What did you say?”) Almost everyone knows that “hola” means hello and “adiós” means goodbye.

Most of the Indian women and men that I know are fairly assertive, so why aren’t they correcting western yoga instructors? Perhaps it is out of respect.

Rajni explained that it is considered extremely disrespectful to go up to an instructor and correct them in front of a class or to correct them, in general.

Maybe there is a deeper reason. I read an article written by a British ambassador in the 1940’s. He claimed that people in India bowed with a namaskara during a greeting or goodbye. Perhaps this led to the jump in translation, where namaskara and namaste were both interpreted as goodbye.

While it is not clear how namaste gathered a new meaning, it is clear that namaste has been incorrectly interpreted; particularly as yoga traveled along the western trail to our continent. So, how do we proceed and what is appropriate to say going forward?

According to Rajni, instructors in India typically conclude class with a profound silence. The silence lingers like incense in the air and allows time for reflection. It is a sacred silence.

When the students are ready to part, they bow in a prayer mudra and finish class by saying, “Dhanyavaad,” which means “Thank you.”

I often conclude class by saying:

Peace, until we meet again,

Dianne


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Moving with Care

In yoga there is philosophical code, similar to the the the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts Code of Law. The Yogic code is found in the texts of the Yamas and Niyamas.

The Yamas consist of 5 restraints and the Niyamas consist of 5 observances.

The first two Yamas are non-violence and truthfulness, known as ahimsa and satya in Sanskrit.

Non-violence and truthfulness are intertwined with one another, like condensation and rainfall. They germinate within the practice of yoga, but flourish both on and off the mat. They offer growth, both in how we treat ourselves and how we treat others.

When we think of ahimsa, while in a yoga posture, we actively think of how to move in a way that is kind to the body. We want challenge, but also want to respect our body’s boundaries. Rather than “being careful,” we want to move in a way that is full of care.

I remember when I was teaching my son how to move his lower limbs when he was just 4 months old. I would place him on his back and help him emulate either walking or running and sing a little song about what he was doing. He would shriek with joy whenever we switched gears from the walking to the running game. I did all of this with great care.

As he got older and his limbs became stronger, we moved to standing and then walking with support. At around 12 months, he was walking on his own and would soon move faster than me.

Like learning how to walk, yoga is a process that takes time and practice.

Increasing flexibility to the point where you can nearly touch the floor, takes practice. Gaining enough upper body strength for descending planks, takes practice. Staying balanced during tree pose, takes practice. If these things could happen in one week, then there would be a void in the process of discovery. We would miss the insight from the body’s biofeedback loop.

Yoga is an art form that teaches us to let go, take it slow and find patience.

I could not imagine getting frustrated with my toddler because he was not walking at exactly 12 months. Each baby is different. In yoga, every individual is different. In addition, your own body can be different from one day to the next.

On days when I do not get enough sleep, I cannot balance in one legged tree pose with my usual ease. It surprises me and reminds me to tend to my sleep more carefully. Yoga kindly tells me the truth. Which brings us to the second part of the yogic code, satya.

Being truthful or authentic, is the ability to have a genuine connection free from incorrect thinking, perceptions or representations.

Having a genuine yoga practice means honoring your body by seeing what is true for you. Adaptations may be required. It is important to be true to your body rather than true to a pose.

In Warrior 2 I take care of my body by staying in a higher stance than I did 10 years ago. I have some arthritis in my right knee. I remember having a fall on that knee while stepping over a child gate in my family room. I was carrying my daughter and I didn’t want to drop her. All my weight landed on that right knee and I thought I had broken it.

As a result, the Warrior 2 stance that I take is higher than the widely stretched and deeply athletic stance I see pictured in yoga books. I am still using my quads and hamstrings and distributing weight on both feet, but with my heels closer together. Finding a stance that accommodates where we are is a way of finding our own personal truth.

How do we take ahimsa and satya with us off the mat?

It is important to approach our body with kindness and to approach others with care as well. It is important to free ourselves from images or societal expectations that we might try to impose on ourselves or others.

As far as the dance between ahimsa and truthfulness, we want to avoid violent or harsh truths. If a student is really upset with themselves over their progress, I lovingly guide them into practicing patience. A harsh statement can hurt feelings, diminish confidence and erode trust, even if it was intended to foster progress.

Truth is not to be used as a blunt or violent instrument in our relationships with ourselves or others. The truth hurts, if it is used in a cruel fashion.

It is our duty to proceed with the truth in a way that assists us in finding our footing. Our inner guide can encourage and be a “lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path.” Truth can move us in the right direction, when we proceed with wisdom and care.

Peace and Yoga,

Dianne

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Breathing First

The foundation of yoga is the breath. It is pure, simple and true.

When we sit on a cushion or chair and merely notice our inhalation and exhalation, we are doing yoga. We are uniting with our breath while in a seated posture.

During a hatha class I took with Mark Devenpeck (owner of Triad Yoga and Pilates), I remember him saying, “If you are forgetting to breathe, you are doing something, but it is not yoga.”

When we breathe life into the yoga postures, we are now doing yoga. We are forming an energetic connection with the movement.

We often inhale on the extension, in order to lengthen the movement. In contrast, we tend to exhale on the contraction, making ourselves more compact and harnessing the strength of the breath.

We can also imagine the breath rolling in and out of the body, like the waves on a friendly shore; both giving and taking away.

We can visualize inhaling into any part of the body that needs a little love, similar to air filling a red balloon. When we are ready to exhale, we can practice letting go of any unwanted tension. This is an opportunity to unwind or literally un- “wind” with the breath.

Some spaces that can carry tension are the shoulders, back, hands and abdomen. Our bodies tend to symbolically carry the weight of the world on our shoulders and backs. We also tend to grip our hands or clench our bellies while under pressure.

Yoga can help reclaim the peace and calm in our bodies through targeted breathing.

One of my favorite breathing exercises is to breathe through each of the energy centers of the body. It can be done in savasana (final resting pose) or at any time.

Starting at the top:

  • Breathing into the top of the head, then exhaling and relaxing the muscles in the eye sockets or around the eyes
  • Breathing into the area between the eyebrows, then exhaling and releasing the muscles through to the back of the head
  • Breathing into the sinuses and cheekbones, then exhaling and relaxing the muscles inside the ears
  • Breathing into the tissue around your mouth and lips, then exhaling and releasing the tongue from the roof of the mouth and softening the jaw bone
  • Breathing into the front of the throat, then releasing the muscles on the back of the neck, tops of the shoulders and all the way down to the hands
  • Inhaling into the tops of the hands, then exhaling and releasing through the palms
  • Breathing into the heart center, then exhaling and releasing the muscles between the shoulder blades
  • Breathing into the area above the belly button, then exhaling and releasing all the way through to the mid back
  • Breathing into the area below the belly button, then releasing and relaxing all the way through to the low back and muscles around the tail bone
  • Breathing into the hip sockets, then exhaling and relaxing the seat muscles
  • Breathing into the tops of the legs, then exhaling and letting the back of the legs melt into the earth
  • Breathing into the tops of the feet, then releasing and relaxing the arches of the feet
  • Breathing into the spaces between the toes, then exhaling and relaxing all the way through to the tips of the toes

I invite my students to enjoy this relaxation from head to toe, giving them some space and time, free from any cues.

Our parents rejoiced in the first breath we took when we were born. Coming back to the breath is an opportunity for renewal and a reminder of our most innocent beginnings.

Peace and Yoga,

Dianne

Tadah! The Magic of Tadasana.

In order to make a good first impression, we often offer a firm handshake. Similarly, if we want to make a good first appearance, we stand straight and tall.

Tadasana or Mountain Pose helps you to find that poised posture. It helps restore alignment and put things back in their proper place.

Practicing Tadasana restores balance, spinal alignment, hip extension, shoulder placement and positioning of the organs. It reignites proprioceptor sensors in the hands and feet, creating more spatial awareness.

The practice of mountain pose also helps manage emotions. Standing slumped forward tends to reinforce feelings of depression or defeat. Whereas, straightening up tends to restore feelings of confidence and ease.

There is an expression, “Fake it till you make it.” Standing with correct posture allows nervous feelings to diminish and helps us achieve results we desire.

So, let’s begin the practice of Tadasana.

Feet First: First start with your feet hip distance apart. Practice lifting your toes up, spreading them wide and then setting them down, so you can find your arches. Do this a few times.

Knees: Allow a microbend of he knees, so they are active rather than locked.

Hands: The palms should be facing forward in the anatomical position, with the fingers gently reaching toward the ground. The triceps or inner arms will become more activated with the palms forward and it enables the chest to open up more.

Abdomen: Imagine a button 2 inches below your belly button and gently pull that area inward and upward toward the spine.

Chest: Allow the chest and heart to buoyantly rise and allow the shoulders to naturally roll backward and downward.

Head Check: Bring the chin downward to the chest, feeling the elongation of the back of the neck. Bring the chin parallel to the floor, while maintaining much of that neck elongation. Feel as if a string is gently pulling upward on the crown of the head. Allow the head to bobble from side to side a little so it will feel more free.

Breath: Feel this posture and use the breath to create space. Make any adjustments by breathing into a space that might need care and use the exhale to let any tension in that area go.

Standing in Tadasana for just 60 seconds, a few times a day, can bring about big changes in body alignment and confidence.

The morning after I had my daughter, I practiced Tadasana 3 times a day while I was in the hospital. Intuitively, I knew it was what my body needed and I could feel changes within my abdomen each time I took the pose.

The nurse in charge at Saddleback Hospital was training a group of future RNs while I was there. She was shocked because the shape of my uterus went right back to its normal size by Day 2 in the hospital. She had never seen that before and wanted to know what I did. I showed her Mountain Pose. She seemed skeptical and literally turned around with her flock of young white coated students.

That was 16 years ago. Now hospitals in my area offer onsite prenatal yoga classes or refer patients to Mohm Yoga, where I teach prenatal under the direction of owner, Danya Sher. You better believe that Tadasana is one of the poses we recommend after delivery.

I also taught this pose when I worked as a PE instructor for Irvine Unified. Children often came to PE with attention difficulties, particularly those in the first grade and second grade. We would practice 60 seconds of Mountain Pose and it was like a little miracle. Many of the kids would emerge with smiles on their faces. I remember one boy saying, “Why do I feel so good?” I told him it was because he learned how to focus and relax.

Those children were my inspiration for becoming a yoga teacher and why Tadasana remains one of my favorite poses today. It is so restorative and uplifting.

If you feel the urge to look a few years younger, a few pounds lighter and few inches taller, practice a new alignment trick, “Tadah with Tadasana!”

“Mira, Mira!”

Concentration on subtle sense perceptions can cause steadiness of the mind.

— Patanjali.

This is the first post on my new blog. I’m just getting this blog going, so stay tuned for more. Subscribe below to get notified when I post new updates.

In this blog, I am hoping to make yoga accessible to every age group and population and to respect the origins of yoga, in terms of both language and lineages.

The name Yoga Mira was chosen for a few reasons.

Yoga in itself is a way to harness and bring the mind, emotions and physical body into harmony with one another. Within a steady mind-emotional-physical triad a yogi is better able to reflect and receive guidance from the soul.

The word “mira” means an ocean, lake or body of water in the Sanskrit language.

Yoga Mira is merely a reflecting pool and a place to allow the mind, emotions and body to flow in communication with one another and to find peace. The word “Mira” in Spanish also means “look.”

When I was a little girl my Panamanian mother would often say, “mira, mira” when she saw something special in our backyard. It could be a white butterfly, green lizard or hot pink fuscia flower. These things were fascinating and a delight to the senses. At 81 my mother is still very active in her miracle jungle of a backyard and will point out new hydrangea blossoms and thriving plants. She will offer snips of greenery that I can take home and use as starters for my garden.

Interestingly enough, she is also an active yogi. She takes a gentle yoga class two times a week and it has helped her thrive and keep her asthma at bay. When she feels an asthma attack coming on, she guides herself into her yogic breathing and is able to calm the histamine response. Mind you, she still keeps her inhaler nearby and sees her allergist regularly. However, her doctor has told her to keep up the yoga and has been impressed with her diligent practice.

As a yoga teacher, I am constantly learning and sharing new ideas and concepts. In this blog my intention is to synthesize and share with others in a clear and fluid way. Currently, I teach prenatal, hatha flow, teen yoga and chair yoga on a regular basis. Working with the very young on up to the senior generation is a blessing. Everyday, I feel like calling my mother or a dear friend and saying, “Mira, mira!” I love to share what I learn from wonderful students and fellow yogis.

Please join me once a week for a look into how yoga and can benefit your relationship with your body, your inner self and with the people whom you hold dear.

“Mira, mira,” my friends and may peace be with you,

Dianne Daucher