It is a such is an honor and a pleasure to share in the work of Great Heart Yoga with Whitney Lawless! Whitney is dedicated to her own evolution and to helping others evolve and awaken through movement and authentic inquiry. One of the things I love about working with Whitney is that she is always opening herself to new learning, especially in the realm of movement. She is body smart and super curious about embodiment and the ways of the human body. Whitney doesn’t use limit her movement practices to classical yoga asana postures, she is an avid student of movement in all forms including yoga, dance, circus performance, tree climbing, natural and restorative movement practices, Cross Fit, paddle boarding, and the list goes on! Being a natural mover, Whitney brings to the teaching of yoga asana a wide view of movement and alignment, and draws on a variety of movement knowledge systems which makes for a rich and varied learning experience.
Whitney writes regularly about her authentic journey in yoga and in life on her blog. Check it out here:
saha nau bhunaktu
saha viryam karavavahai
tejasvi navadhitam astu
OM shanti, shanti, shanti
May we be protected together.
May we be nourished together.
May we create strength among
May our study be filled with brilliance and light.
May there be no hostility between us.
Om peace, peace, peace.
This is our go-to invocation at Great Heart Yoga. The Shanti mantra is an affirmation of our commitment to learning and practicing within the context of a supportive community. We do yoga to evolve ourselves and to evolve humanity. We evolve faster in a group than on our own. Plus, having community helps us stay accountable for our actions and growth. When the path is tough, we have buddies who have our backs. We share the challenges and the gifts of our study and practice. Together we bring more light into the world.
handful of flowers, an offering. This simple, universal gesture invokes sacredness, our relationship to the great mystery. It is at once an offering, a commitment, a prayer, an intention to make meaning of one’s life, and to align with the Great Heart, the Great Mystery, or whatever you choose to call the Big Energy that manifests as everything and as you. We bow to That.
"To truly support people in their own growth, transformation, grief, etc. ...We have to be prepared to step to the side so that they can make their own choices, offer them unconditional love and support, give gentle guidance when it’s needed, and make them feel safe even when they make mistakes." Read the rest of the article by Heather Plett
Learning to hold space for your students is one of the most important things you can do as a yoga teacher. It has to do with how you hold yourself and the way you step into the seat of the teacher. It's one of my favorite things to teach on, and I think this article might help clarify some things as well.
How do you hold space in your life? How do people hold space well for you?
Annie is one of the smartest people I know. She's book smart sure. She's also people smart, body smart, a kitchen wizard and an Ayurveda nut (I could go on). But one of my favorite things about her is that she can translate complex yoga ideas to real life with ease. She can take the densest, most ancient, wisdom packed scholarly writings and explain them in a quotidian way. She's so funny too.
I love working with her because she is a hard working mom who is deeply committed to her own evolution, and the evolution of the planet. She channels her integrated intelligences to skillfully pass on tools for creating and maintaining healthy habits in this chaotic and magical world.
Here at Great Heart Yoga, the core of our work lies in helping individuals tap into their essential nature or dharma. We enthusiastically guide individuals into discovering who they are at root and at core through the work of yoga, and then help them learn to express themselves in the world more fully. This inquiry work starts with a willingness to engage in deep listening on the level of the body, mind and heart.
Here is a yoga asana inquiry practice to begin to discern and name your dharma:
Go to your mat with a desire to listen deeply from within. As you begin to practice, listen to your breath. Notice what it feels like to be you. Choose to do your practice today as you, not as someone else (do your own dharma, not someone else’s). Own your experience by setting your physical foundation more deeply. Feel into who you are this phase of your life. Listen to what is coming forth from deep within you. Discern and name and get grounded in the essential nature of your being. Open to the fullness that is you. Get curious about what is making you come alive at this time. Open to your unique gifts.
After you practice, ask yourself:
What shifts in your body when you listen deeply?
When and where are you most receptive for listening to your truest self/voice?
What is one action you can take to support deeper listening in your daily life?
Invocation: “to call upon, something greater than ourselves and so break our own boundaries [which is].. the beginning of wisdom, the source of hope, and the condition of joy.”
– Raimundo Pannikar
Each time you begin your work of yoga with the ritual of an invocation, be it a mudra (hand gesture), a mantra, or a prayer, you put out the to the universe that the work you are doing is bigger than whatever your limited notion of yourself is. Maybe you go to your mat with a very individual concern to de-stress, to experience more energy, or alleviate a kink in your back. All totally valid reasons. But, the truth is that the practice won’t just shift you, it will shift the universe, seen and unseen. Whatever spark of insight, wave of hope, or alleviation of mental or physical suffering emerges in you comes as an energy that has no bounds. This energy ripples out into the universe, seen and unseen and has a beneficial effect. Yoga is that powerful.
photo by Laurae Burns @radicalbodylove
But seriously. Tight pants affect our bodies by compressing and holding our bellies in. While this is precisely why I wear them might be going through your head right now, the health implications of tight pants over a long period of time can be adverse.
When you suck in your belly, it doesn't go nowhere friends. It usually goes in and up, shifting the pressure balance in your abdominal cavity and displacing organs that are happy and healthy where they are.
You know that feeling of relief when you take off your tight pants at the end of the day? Go with it. Choose the yoga pants. Your belly will thank you.
“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” – Howard Thurman
This has been a guiding quote for my life. It asks the big question: What am I doing here?
What if you live your days without really exploring what makes you come alive? There are lots of people out there who don’t bother to really explore this question, people who settle for doing things in life that they are not really passionate about. To me, this is a huge disrespect to the Life Force, to Consciousness.
If you practice yoga earnestly and take to heart its teachings, your yoga, at some point, will force this question upon you, and you’ll begin to listen and explore the answers. It’s pretty much inevitable and it’s powerful thing.
Maybe it starts with the breath. Via yoga, you get to know your breath and get curious about prana, the life force, surging within you. As you breathe more fully, you begin to more fully inhabit your body, and more fully experience yourself physically, emotionally and psychologically. You discover your strengths and confront your vulnerabilities. You encounter your growing edge and the places you feel a little afraid to inhabit, but that you’re curious to check out. All of your senses become enlivened. You feel more alive.
Alive and curious. Curious about who you are and your life path. As yoga heightens your capacity to sense, feel and listen, you gradually you begin to hear the yearnings of your own heart. Deep in your heart lie the questions and answers about your dharma, your unique life work. As you practice, you get stronger, steadier, and more confident in body, mind and heart so that you can hear the questions more clearly and explore the answers.
Elizabeth Swanson, Great Heart Yoga graduate and Olympia yoga teacher writes about how she experienced this:
Yoga has helped me cultivate a way of listening that I have never utilized before. It's as if the signs and cues of my dharma were there, but I was listening at a different frequency. This practice helped me to dial in, to become more aware of the signs that were there all along. I just needed to hear them in a different way.”
When people begin to listen to their own hearts and dial into their dharma, and act from that place, it is an amazing thing.
In my work as a yoga teacher and as a yoga teacher trainer, I have the huge privilege of seeing people awaken to their passion and purpose in life. When people connect to their heart’s yearnings, they start to act differently and make different choices. Time and time again I see how yoga helps people courageously confront and release old, negative patterns, habits and addictions and adopt new life-affirming ways of living. When the old patterns are cleared away, new ways of living open up. People awaken to talents and skills that were inside them all along but were not noticeable up until this point. Following this aliveness and stepping into one’s dharma wholeheartedly and offering it up to the world becomes the only way to live.
“What the world needs is people who have come alive.”
So, please ask the big questions. Please take the time to ponder them, write about them, and chat about them.
What makes you come alive?
How does your yoga serve to enliven your senses and incite your curiosity?
What will it look like in the world (and in your community) when you fully step into your passion and purpose?
With love and respect,
"If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you." Gospel of Thomas
These days, I feel like everyone is talking about creativity. These discussions go beyond cultivating artistic talent, or the profession or proliferation of the artist. They stress the impetus for living a connected, courageous, authentic life. Our engagement with our own creativity makes each of us uniquely who we are. It is the vital marrow in the bones of our existence. We are all born into the world under different conditions with varying kinds of intelligence, temperament and talents at our fingertips. Everyone has inherent gifts. And it is our duty to uncover and be a service to these gifts throughout our life.
I remember the exact moment when I discovered I could awaken awareness in my life, and it was a game changer. What follows is my personal inquiry through the practices of yoga and creativity as well as wise words form smart people that have way more experience than I do on these things. I'm liberally stealing from as many great minds as I can to remind myself (and hopefully you, too) that people have sought out creative ways to align with one's true calling throughout the ages.
The great Indian tale, The Bhagavad Gita, talks exactly about this. How to find your calling and do it fully. How to let go of the outcome and as Stephen Cope says (in his interpretation of the BG, The Great Work of your Life), turn it over to God. There is a saying I've heard about faith that says, "leap and the net will appear". In this podcast with Liz Gilbert and Brené Brown, they talk in a really candid way about how taking big risks equals having big failures. "Don't leap for the landing," she says "leap for the experience through the air".
The conversation around creativity does not exist without addressing failure. As a recovering perfectionist and closet control freak, just getting the creative shit out is near impossible for me some days. Yesterday for example, I got super stuck. I texted one of my she-roes and a fellow motherwifewritermakeryogini for help. She sent me a mantra to offer the aggressive voices of self-doubt: I give less than zero fucks.
The internal critics (as well as the looooooong list of things-to-do-before-making-stuff and the perceived lack of time) are often a clever but transparent mask for risk-taking (aka fear of failure). The best advice I've ever been given on how to get started, and the only thing that has ever worked for me is to just start. Begin doing what you intend to do. Do it badly. Just start doing it. You can manually override the doubts by taking action. Even if you can commit to 5 minutes only! It's akin to starting a meditation practice. My brother is an awesome example of this. At the end of 2010 a friend of mine began a 3-year long meditation retreat (I wrote about it here). I committed to sitting with her everyday in solidarity. And my brother got on board too. Well, I fell off the wagon after a few months and my bro is still going strong. We were just talking today about how all that really matters is showing up to do it day after day. (He's telling me. I'm nodding.)
Dharma is the work, duty or calling of our lives. Honing in on it takes practice, showing up, and asking the questions that you might be scared to ask. Unleashing your creativity on the world is also your duty. Creativity is how you feeds yourself. Dharma is how you use that creativity to feed the world. They are really not that different.
Watch this 5 min clip of Oprah's last televised audience show. "Let your life speak for you" she says. "Everybody has a calling, but not everybody gets paid for it".
Seek and answer the call of your inner voice! Have courage to speak and bring to action the things you hear. Commit each day to a single action that will further you along on the path of your heart. And stay in touch.
“Most of us are not raised to actively encounter our destiny. We may not know that we have one. As children, we are seldom told we have a place in life that is uniquely ours alone. Instead, we are encouraged to believe that our life should somehow fulfill the expectations of others, that we will (or should) find our satisfactions as they have found theirs. Rather than being taught to ask ourselves who we are, we are schooled to ask others. We are, in effect, trained to listen to others' versions of ourselves. We are brought up in our life as told to us by someone else! When we survey our lives, seeking to fulfill our creativity, we often see we had a dream that went glimmering because we believed, and those around us believed, that the dream was beyond our reach. Many of us would have been, or at least might have been, done, tried something, if...
If we had known who we really were.” Julia Cameron
Book: The Great Work of your Life by Stephen Cope.
YouTube, and audio: Brené Brown on vulnerability, shame, courage and living an authentic life.
Annie and I are starting up our 200-hour teacher training Jan 2016. In the first half of the program, we will dive into the heart of your yoga practice. We will use a variety of yoga techniques as well as personal and group exercises to begin to uncover your gifts and your great heart in a supportive and welcoming learning environment.