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The Interconnectedness of All Beings and All Things

In an essay posted on audubon.com entitled ‘What Do Birds Do For Us’, Barry Yeoman writes about a tree in the American Northwest called the white bark pine, that both humans and other animals have come to rely on.

Its large seeds feed grizzlies and black bears. The tree community provides a habitat for deer, elk and raptors (the birds, not dinosaurs, although they are related 😉 The white bark pine tree grows all the way up to the tree line, so they are effective at protecting drinking water supplies. The mountains they grow on are essentially water towers – equivalent to the water towers we see on the roofs of buildings in NYC. The tree’s roots hold the soil in place, preventing erosion, preventing avalanches. The roots of the tree are what stop the mountains from crumbling to pieces. The shade of the canopy slows down the spring snowmelt, preventing flooding from occurring.

The white bark pine tree’s seeds are dispersed by just one bird! One! This bird is called the Clark’s Nutcracker, and is a black and white winged cousin to the crow. The nutcracker has a long beak that it can use to open up the pine cones to reach its seeds. The bird either eats the seeds or stores them in the back of their throats. It then replants them, at the exact location (!) and depth (!) for the tree to reproduce.

To recap:

Mountains = water towers

Trees = prevention of avalanche and flooding, protect drinking water, provide shelter & food

Birds = reproduction of trees, stops the world from ending

Humans = benefit from all this magic, cause unnecessary destruction

So what would happen if this one bird, the Clark’s Nutcracker, disappeared? The trees would disappear; natural disasters prevail.

This is just one example of how everything on this earth is interconnected and interdependent on each other. In a lecture by Alan Watts he discusses the idea that everything on this planet – humans, flowers, weeds, birds, bees; EVERYTHING – only exists because everything around it also exists. Flowers only exist because of bees, and bees only exist because of flowers.

The rainforests of South America exist because of dust storms in Africa. The temperate climate of the American Northeast exists because of the rainforest in South America, and so on and so on.

Unfortunately, humans have a hard time seeing all this. Most of us only see what’s right in front of us. We don’t see the connection between tiny little bees and the fact that they pollinate 70% of the global food source. We don’t see the connection between the fruit and vegetables in the supermarket and all of the human and animal labor that brought them there: farmers, pollinators, harvesters, bundlers, truckers, etc.

We don’t see the big picture, so then we say, “I am only one person, how does anything I do make a difference?” Multiply that apathy by the 7.7 billion human population, and we have a big issue.

So with global warming becoming a legitimate, present moment threat, what can we do?

In chapter 3 verse 21 of the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna tells Arjuna that a great person leads by example, setting standards that are followed by others all across the world.

Humans have the unique ability of being the only animal that caused this mess in the first place, and the only one that can do something about it. If we take a cue from Krishna’s suggestion, and we lead by example, others will see what we are doing. It can be subtle, you don’t need to force your views on others. Maybe the person behind you in your local coffee shop sees your reusable coffee mug, in the supermarket they see your reusable shopping bags, in the bodega they see you reach for the tofu wrap, on the park bench they see your reusable utensils. Maybe they go out to get their own reusable stuff, maybe it sparks a conversation. You are playing your part, and saving the planet spreads like wildflowers.

The āsana practice can also teach us about the interconnectedness of it all. The alignment of tāḍāsana (mountain seat) exists within EVERY SINGLE OTHER ĀSANA WE COME INTO! No joke!

Tāḍāsana:

Equal weight in both feet, front and back, side to side

Arches lifted

Calf muscles draw down towards the earth, front shins back, outer shins draw towards each other

As the lower legs are moving down and back, the upper half of the leg is lifting up – hamstrings lift, quadriceps lift, glutes lift (but without clenching the butt – New Yorkers do this too much already!), outer thighs externally rotate, as the inner thighs draw towards each other

The lower belly is pulling in and up as the tail bone draws slightly down, in a way that the pubic bone and tail bone are drawing towards each other and the hips are neutral

Rib cage lifts up away from the hips creating length in the side body, and the lower ribs pull slightly in (but remember to draw the tail bone back down!)

Sternum lifts up (with the ribs still pulling in!)

Shoulders move down and back

Upper arms externally rotate, as the lower arms internally rotate.

Chin parallel to the earth

The entire lower half of the body is grounding down into the earth and the upper half of the body lifts up

All of the joints are stacked: head above shoulders, shoulders above hips, hips above knees, knees above ankles – the spine is in its full integrity

I’m not going to go through another āsana here, but try applying this alignment in any and every other pose. If you don’t believe me, come talk to me 🙂

The āsanas all have the same physical alignment, they are just shaped different. Similarly, everything on this planet, living and inanimate, is made of the same stuff, we are just shaped different.

The mountain, or let’s say Earth, is also the connection between all of the other forms we come into. We come into the form of warriors and sages and saints, of animals- dogs, monkeys, birds, frogs, fish, insects. We come into the form of flowers and trees. We come into the form of tools – compasses, plows, boats. The mountain (Earth) is the common factor. Everything on this planet, even what we think of as inanimate objects, comes from this earth.

The practice of yoga, both physical and philosophical, teaches us how to relate and connect to everyone and everything around us in a meaningful and supportive way.

Mountain/ Tāḍāsana is also sometimes called Samasthiti – equal standing. The alignment of the āsana is equally balanced – front/back, side/side, top/bottom – but also we are on equal standing with the Earth. This Earth takes care of us – offers us food, water, shelter, a way of life, but we should take care of her just as much.

Peace, love and vegetables,

April

Barry Yeoman’s essay

Alan Watts lecture

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#mythmonday : Matsyendra

Thousands of years after Matsya the fish received the teachings of yoga from Shiva, he was reincarnated as Matsyendra (sometimes also referred to as Matsyendranath), which means Lord of the Fishes (matsya = fish, indra = lord, nath = refers to Nath group). 

Matsyendra was a Nath Warrior, who was also a half man, half fish (a mer-man!) The Nath Warriors were a power-hungry group of people during the 10th-14th centuries who would do whatever it took to become more powerful – pillaging villages, tearing down forests, destroying everything around them without giving a second thought to the destruction they caused. 

Matsyendra had heard about this strange group of people who hung out in caves deep in the woods meditating and contorting their bodies in all sorts of ways – and they also had superpowers. These yogis, as they were called, could predict the future, become invisible, levitate, had super-strength, could go a long time without food or drink, had super-sonic hearing, and so much more. The Nath Warriors thought that if they had all of these powers, they would be invincible and could take over the world! So they took a break from destroying the world to study yoga. Eventually they transformed and realized there was much more to life than taking over the world. Through long and consistent practice (abhyāsa) but also non-attachments to the results of yoga (vairāgyā) they found happiness, joy and bliss, and became the Nath Yogis, rather than the Nath Warriors. 

Matsyendra shared these physical yogic practices with Swami Svatmarama, who wrote them down, and they were passed down to us in the form of the Hatha Yoga Pradīpikā. Each chapter of the HYP starts off with an invocation to the Lord Shiva who was the first to pass down the teachings of yoga.

In an āsana class we take the form of Ardha Matsyendrāsana (sometimes referred to as seated spinal twist) as an homage to the lineage of teachers who passed down the teachings of yoga either directly or indirectly to us. The upper body represents the torso of a man, while the folded legs resemble the tail of a fish. This āsana is not only a twist, but also an outer hip opener (on the side you are twisting). It promotes spinal health and flexibility, and also stimulates our digestive function.  We typically twist to the right first to allow food to move up the ascending colon, and then to the left down the descending colon.

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#mythmonday: Matsya

Introducing: #mythmondays!

I am so excited to share a new project I am working on with Jivamukti NYC! All of the yoga poses have Sanskrit names that either refer to an anatomical alignment, or are based on a mythological story. Matsyāsana, Aṣṭāvakrāsana, Hanumanāsana, Viśvāmitraāsana – these are just 4 examples of the 50 stories I will be telling over the next year!

“The myths behind the asanas are one of the most profound tools for giving you intention, energy, focus, insight, and an expansive view of your asana practice – stepping far outside the simple lines and shapes normally understood in these moments. Context from these stories gives you so much more background and understanding in a conversation that is not just physical.” – Jivamukti Yoga NYC

The characters that appear in these stories are often Gods and Goddesses with magical powers, but each and every one of the characters contain human emotion and actions that we can all relate to, or have experienced in our own lives. The āsanas contain so much more depth than just physical exercise. They are the embodiment of our lives that we are working through each and every day.

Every Monday we will release weekly installments of the mythological stories the yoga āsanas are based on. The first installment: Matsya the Fish.

Matyāsana

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Always Moving Forward

This past December I travelled to Australia for the first time. I spent time in Sydney, Melbourne, and the Blue Mountains. I taught some yoga classes, hit up every beach possible, went to art galleries, and went on bush walks. But the only thing I really wanted was to see kangaroo in their natural habitat.

Much like deer in the United States, there is an over-population of ‘roo in Australia, so I didn’t think it would be that hard to do. A friend who lives in the valley of the Blue Mountains told me she has kangaroo in her backyard pretty much all day everyday, so she offered to pick me up from where I was staying and take me to her home. We drove about 40 minutes to her house and were hanging out for about an hour without a single ‘roo in sight. None on the drive there, none in her backyard. I had pretty much given up hope and while my friends went inside for some tea, I decided to walk around the garden. I had been outside for a while, and started to head back in when I saw a flicker in the corner of my eye. I was sure it had to be a squirrel, but when I looked I found an entire kangaroo family in front of me – mom, dad, and toddler joey! I spent a good 15 minutes hanging out with my ‘roo friends before they headed off into the woods. (See video below).

I compared kangaroo to deer in the U.S., and that is pretty much what they are. Although they are not evolutionary related (kangaroos are marsupials), they are very similar; they look at you the same way, live in the same type of habitat, travel with their family, have similar ears, are both herbivores, and, as I mentioned earlier, are over-populated and sometimes a nuisance. Aside from how they take care of their young, there is one big difference – how they move around. While a deer can move forward, backwards, and side to side (although as Bambi has taught us, sometimes quite clumsily), kangaroo can only move in a forward direction. They are completely unable to move in reverse, but they can pivot quickly to change direction with the use of their tail.

Similarly, in our own human lives, we can only move forward. Physically we can move in all different directions – forward, backward, sideways, turn upside down and bend over backwards. Time-wise we can only move forward. Yet many of us are stuck in the past – we ruminate and agonize over things that have happened – words we regret, actions we wish we could change. We even tell ourselves that things will never change – that we will always be miserable, never have enough money, find the perfect partner, always have tight hamstrings (!). We tell ourselves these things as if they were hard truths. When the truth is that everything changes AND we can always pivot in a new direction.

There are many ways to look at the concept of truth, or satya in Sanskrit:

Within the realm of yogic philosophy we are told that the only thing that is True or Real is that which never changes. That there is something within all of us that is a constant, and this is what the quest is within a yogic practice; our Holy Grail; the journey of finding Ātmabōdha, or Self-knowledge.

In the realm of science there are definitely things that we can take as truth (for now anyway) – the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. The Earth is round; the Earth and the other planets in our solar system revolve around the sun; Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, just to name a few. But even these scientific truths have changed. It was once thought that the Earth was flat, and that the sun revolved around the Earth. As science progresses, what we once thought of as truth is suddenly not. What I am absolutely sure of is that it cannot be proven that you will always be miserable and that your hamstrings will always be tight…

In a relative sense, in our everyday lives, EVERYTHING CHANGES. Our bodies change, our hair changes, clothes, jobs, the people we hang out with, life situations, our āsana practice, EVERYTHING CHANGES. And although we can’t change something that has already happened in the past, the truth is we can make different choices in the present moment. If we are not happy with something in our lives, if we recognize that something needs to change, but we feel like it never will, then that is the first step! Hopefully making choices that are the benefit to ourselves and others.

I’m not saying this is an easy thing to do. Most of us don’t like change – it is hard to let go, even of misery, and is very often painful, but this challenge is what allows us to grow. In every single yoga āsana we are moving in opposing directions. In tāḍāsana (mountain seat), we are grounding down to lift up taller; in utthita parsvakonāsana (extended angle), we are pushing into the back leg while our top arm and the crown of our skull (amongst other things happening) are reaching forward. It is the opposing directions that allow us to feel expansive and grow. Similarly, in life, we are often pulled in opposing directions. We are trying to make changes and move forward, but are being dragged back by those incessant thoughts of the past. It is within this challenge that we can find growth, and maybe discover new truths. Just like a kangaroo, we can pivot, and then keep moving forward.

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When the Noise Stops

The other day I was on the train with a large group of teenage boys who were extremely loud. I aware of how loud it was, but wasn’t disturbed by it; it was just there. And then all of a sudden they all got off the train at the same stop and there was complete silence. It was absolutely glorious. The BEST FEELING EVER.  It was that same feeling we have after we stop chanting and the words stop but you can still feel the vibrations. Or those moments when meditating when you don’t realize you were in it until you are taken out of it. 

I imagine this is what finding yoga/samadhi/enlightenment/Ātma Bodha, whatever you want to call it, is like. (I say imagine because I’m not there yet.) That Ātma, our highest Self, is always there, but there is all this noise – our thoughts, our worries of what already happened and what we think will happen, this crazy world around us – covering it up. We are all already enlightened but it’s being masked by the noise of life. Like how the sun is always present, but some times it’s covered by the clouds, and especially in the winter, we forget it exists. Eventually the sun comes out and we remember the joy of sunshine. Eventually, through long, consistent yoga practice, the noise is drowned out. It’s still there – the boys were still making noise, it was just muffled out by the closed doors – but we aren’t affected by it as much. We are able to move around amongst this noisy world but in a way that we are acting for the benefit of all beings and not just reacting to the noise. We find Ātma Bodha; Self-Knowledge. 

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Jivamukti in Paradise: Retreat to Colombia

Jivamukti Yoga in Paradise: Retreat to Colombia with April Dechagas
March 31st – April 6th 2019
Relax, kick back and find inner peace while discovering a new paradise on the Caribbean coast of Colombia, South America. Spend days exploring the jungles, rivers, waterfalls and beaches of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta while enjoying daily yoga and meditation with April in our gorgeous ocean front Yoga Shala.

Your retreat package includes:
  • 6 nights accommodations
  • 3 vegetarian meals/day
  • 2 yoga classes/ meditation each day with April
  • Mendihuaca Jungle Hike to natural pool and waterfall
  • Unlimited water, coffee, tea
  • Unlimited use of beaches/pools/retreat grounds

Not included:

  • Flights to Cartagena and airport transfer to Gitana del Mar (airport transfer will be arranged.)
  • Staff tips at end of trip
  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Additional excursions and spa treatments
Pricing: 
Registration after December 1st (A 50% non-refundable deposit required, paid in full by February 28th):
Single Bungalow $2400 (SOLD OUT)
Double Bungalow $1750 (SOLD OUT)
Triple Bungalow $1550 (SOLD OUT)
Glamping Tent $1650(Single) $1450 (Double)
Room Description:

Our Eco-Chic Bungalows are the ideal place to relax. Each bungalow is designed with a very distinct architectural feature that the indigenous from the area have been utilizing for hundreds of years…. the palm roof.  Not only are these structures made from sustainably and locally harvested palm fronds, the vaulted ceiling design keeps the rooms cooler and more fresh than any other available, man-made material.

Let the soothing sounds of the ocean lull you to sleep after a full day on the beach and exploring the area. Our simple, clean and comfortable rooms are equipped with full private bathrooms, outdoor showers*, fans*, down pillows and plush sheets and towels.

Glamping Tents – large luxury semi-permanent tents (20m2 / 215 sqft). They have their own wood deck front porch and are set apart and more private than the bungalows. They have shared bathrooms.

Other activities available, but not included in cost of retreat:
  • Kayaking/Stand Up Paddleboarding
  • Hiking
  • Waterfalls & Natural Jungle Pools
  • River Tubing
  • Horseback riding
  • Private Scuba Diving Excursions
  • Bathing in one of the many rivers that flow from the Sierra Nevada to the Sea
  • Spa Services

Parque Nacional Tayrona- Located just 10 minutes away, this park is one of the jewels of Colombia covering 58 square miles of land and 6 different beachfront bays. Kogis and Arhuaco people still live within the park and visitors can visit the ancient village of Pueblito while hiking around. There are over 180 species of mammals and over 300 species of birds living in the park, some of which can only be found in this area.

Postcard Front

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The Saṃyama of Birds

I just returned from two weeks in Belize, Guatemala and Mexico. My first morning in Belize I was woken up, waaaaay too early, by a cacophony of birds. There are about 590 different species of bird just in Belize, and I’m pretty sure every single one of them was saying, “April, RISE AND SHINE!”

That first morning was pretty irritating; but then I found myself purposely waking up with the birds, listening to them, watching them eat breakfast as the sun rose over the ocean.

What I noticed most during my time in Central America and Mexico was not just the many different kinds of birds, but more how all of them flap their wings in different ways. Some glide, some have a meandering wave, some need to get somewhere fast (they must be a NYC ex-pat), and some are nearly invisible. But they all move around this planet with consciousness and purpose. While hunting for food, they are deeply concentrated (dhāraṇā), and meditative (dhyāna), but have the ability to see the expansiveness around them (samādhi); they interact with the greater world without falling out of step. All the time totally absorbed in their point of focus. All three of these together (dhāraṇā, dhyāna and samādhi) are known as  saṃyama; or an intuitive insight.

It is believed that birds who fly together in flocks have a sort of biological radio, able to communicate those intricate patterns and actions instantly. The flocks have no leaders. Instead, each bird hones into the signals of the seven closest to them, and they act as one, flying up, down, around and to the side. They have an amazing ability to choreograph their movements in less time than it takes to blink an eye. (Joan Morris, Mercury News). I don’t know about you, but I have never seen a bird fly off in the wrong direction. And it’s not just those seven birds in communication – these circles interconnect, so they are all in communication with each other.

5af06749af1238853a10c1678752beba-flock-of-birds-silhouette-set

We as human beings can look to these birds for inspiration on how to move around this planet with consciousness. Hopefully we are also tuning in to those closest to us – not just our friends and family, but also our neighbors, community, country and all Earth-beings. Making decisions based on the benefit to all those surrounding us, and not just flying off in the wrong direction. This doesn’t mean we can’t have our own chirp or flap our wings our own special way, but we act with the highest of intentions for the benefit of all.

Happy Earth Day!

 

 

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Sunday Samadhi in the Sand

Beach-asana in Rockaway!!! 1 hour donation based yoga class on the beach! Mats are provided by Lola Star Rockaway.

Sundays 7/30, 8/13, 8/20, 8/27

11 am at 116th Street (LOCATION HAS BEEN CHANGED!!!) on the Beach in Rockaway. Mat pick up at the Lola Star store on 116th Street. Take A train or new Rockaway Ferry! Hang out at beach with me after!

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BigToe Yoga

Introducing a new App that connects yoga teachers to students throughout NYC! I am now teaching a weekly class through BigToe Yoga in Bed-Stuy at Aspire2Dance. This weekly class will be a bit different from the other classes I teach – each week will be more of a workshop where we work through a specific pose. There will be some vinyasa involved to warm up, but a majority of the 1 hour & 15 minute class will be focusing on a specific pose.

Thursday nights at 6:30 pm, Aspire2Dance, 1195 Bedford Ave. Pre-Registration is required through the BigToe Yoga App http://www.bigtoe.fit/, and it’s only $12!

The next four weeks we will be working on arm balances. This week we will be focusing on Eka Pada Galavasana, also know as “Flying Crow.”

flying-crow

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Opportunities Abound in 2017!

It has been 8 1/2 months since I broke my arm, 6 1/2 since the cast came off. The doctors told me my arm would never be fully straight again. As a yogi and yoga teacher, my response was, “that is unacceptable!” My physical therapist told me otherwise. She said we will get it straight again.

There are two kinds of people represented above: those who see the impossible, and those who see endless opportunities. I could have taken what the doctors said and just given up my yoga practice, stopped teaching, gone back to a job that made me completely miserable, lived with a crooked arm. I chose to see space where there seemingly wasn’t. I worked every single day on getting my arm back to what it was. It wasn’t easy – there were definitely days when I felt like giving up. But now, 6 1/2 months later, my arm is almost perfectly straight (the last bit is inconsequential), I am back to my full practice, and even holding handstand longer than I was before I broke my arm!

The new calendar year allows for enormous possibility. It is a way to start fresh, see opportunity where maybe we didn’t before. As David Life says in this month’s focus at Jivamukti, “A new way of approaching the future is expanding what is possible rather than limiting it. There are actually a thousand different ways you can get to work instead of taking the same route each day.” We often get stuck in a pattern, doing the same thing over and over again because that is the way it’s always been, even if it means wallowing in misery. As Albert Einstein says, “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is the definition of insanity!”

Even though we have a calendar date of January 1st that tells us it’s time for a new start, really every breath that we take is a new moment to start over. Each breath is a brand new moment. With every inhale, our rib cage expands and our diaphragm lowers, creating space, and with each exhale we move deeper into that new expansiveness. With every inhale there is a moment to pause and think about what you are about to put into the world, and with every exhale is its result. If you tell yourself something is impossible, then it will be, but if you allow at least a little bit of space for something new, opportunities abound!

Happy New Year!!!

An opportunity for transformation in 2017:

Join me on what is sure to be a life-changing experience on a yoga/hiking retreat in Utah/Zion National Park! March 13th – 17th, details can be found here: infopacket. Put down a deposit by January 10th to reserve your spot at this pricing!

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