The Coiled Serpent: New Moon in Aslesha

On August 6th the new moon occured in Cancer creating a new cycle of compassion and deeper intuition. Cancer is ruled by the moon which helps us to access innate knowledge. We often mistake this intuition for our emotions. If we are brave enough to experience her truth, the moon can take us beyond our emotions into deeper awareness.

According to Vedic astrology this new moon occurs in the Nakshatra of Aslesha, the coiled snake of kundalini. Aslesha is called the entwiner and is ruled by Mercury, our lower practical mind. The snake’s nature is to hide and in yogic philosophy it hides and the base of the spine in Muladhara Chakra, our base chakra or nerve plexus that dictates our feelings about our own physical survival.

The coiled snake of Kundalini is a consciousness energy reservoir that can be activated through bandhas, breathing, dristi (gaze) and movement. The word Kundalini is comprised of two root words: Kundala meaning coiled and Kunda meaning a pit. Once it is activated and guided in the correct direction kundalini energy can provide tremendous illumination, awakening energy nexuses throughout the body leading us further down the path of self understanding and truth.

During my last trip to India, I met with my Ayurveda Teacher, Dr. Madan Kumar, and we discussed the concept of kundalini. He said the idea of the coiled snake was too archaic for a modern society that yearns for factual scientific evidence. He said that recent studies have shown that kundalini is in fact an energy reservoir created by “controlling your natural reflexes”.

The more I contemplated and researched what he said I found myself discovering that he meant constantly controlling sympathetic nervous system response. In physical yoga the practitioner puts himself in scenarios that would generally cause a fight or flight response (in a normal person) because of the challenging, fear invoking nature of the exercises. However Hatha Yoga provides the tools of bandha (particularly Mula Bandha, the contraction of the PC muscle), dristi (gaze), and even breathing, that allows the practitioner to control and suppress the sympathetic nervous system response. This maintains the energy that would normally be exuded from the body in the form of adrenaline and other stress hormones. We can then guide this storehouse of energy up through the chakra system awakening the more enlightened nerve plexuses which will allow us to enter into a higher state of consciousness, unconditional love, presence and peace.

We must pay close attention to steady the mind and body this moon cycle so we can correctly direct Aslesha’s energy. Take time to observe your thoughts and emotions in a detached manner. This way, as the waxing moon pervades, we can tangle our hearts in pure unconditional love so compassion and kindness pervades.


Guru Purnima: Honor Your Teachers

On Monday, July 22nd the full moon occurs in the nakshatra Uttara Ashadha meaning “latter victory” or “latter unconquered”. This causes us to focus on gaining strength from doing what is ethically right and virtuous. Uttara Ashada is symbolized by an elephant tusk or the four posts of the bed driving the theme that establishing a strong foundation in truth will grant you victory in your dharma. The deity associated with this lunar mansion is Vishvadevas, meaning all gods or universal gods. The Vishvadevas are the ten sons of good Dharma. They have the power to grant unchallengeable victory over evil. Vishvadevas deal with the laws of karma, right action, the laws of time and universal moral principles.

This particular full moon is the day of Gurupurnima in Yogic Tradition. It is a day devoted to honoring the great teachers in our lives. Guru means remover of darkness or one that brings light to the darkness. The guru is the imparter of Jnana or good knowledge and acts as our spiritual guide. The syllable gu means shadow and ru means he who disperses them. The guru therefore has the power to disperse darkness and illuminate the correct spiritual path.

As an adjective guru literally means heavy, implying heavy with knowledge. The root of the word guru is found in “gri”, to invoke or praise and also “gur”, to raise up or make an effort. It is cognate to the latin word gravis which means serious, weighted or heavy.

The Guru is affiliated with the planet Jupiter, the largest planet, because he has the most moons or disciples.

The guru concept was intruduced in the Upanishads in 2000BC. The Upanishads are a series of stories that embody the foundation of the Hindu religion. They were originally orally transmitted and later inscribed. The word Upanisad means to sit down near. Literally meaning to sit down before a teacher to orally receive knowledge.

Gurupurnima is celebrated in the Hindu month Ashad (July-August) and is celebrated on the birthday of the great sage Vyasa who contributed vastly to the documentation and development of Hindu philosophy. Vyasa is said to have edited Vedas and classified them into 4 groups. He is credited with being the author of the Mahabharata and is also a character in the great text. Vyasa also is said to have edited the 18 Purunas and the Srimad Bhagavata. He was even the teacher of Dattatreya who is considered the guru of all gurus. Vyasa is often considered an incarnation of Vishnu, the preserver in the Indic trilogy of gods who chooses to incarnate himself to illuminate the minds of the people of the earth.

In my opinion, the ultimate role of the guru is to illuminate the fact that the true teacher lies within all of us. As teachers we draw out a path of practice that ultimately leads the student back to himself. We all have the power to dispell darkness inside of us by acknowledging what is not serving us physically, emotionally and spiritually. As physical yogis we process our samskaras on a conscious and subconscious level in our daily practice. We manipulate energy within the body through breathing, bandha, asana and dristi. This process helps to clear out our negative tendencies that cause suffering and separateness in forms of disease in the body and unrest in the mind. The use of asana practice serves as a foundation for our lives because it grants us stability in our bodies and minds so we can relate better to ourselves physically, emotionally and spiritually. That then allows us to relate to others, the world and the universe in the same way. This process brings us out of the false egocentric idea that we are separate beings fending for ourselves in a scary uncontrollable world and brings us back into the idea that we all share energy and are part of one loving source. Therefore our discipline and dedication to the mat practice serves as a platform for illumination and true happiness in our lives. It sets us free.

It is extremely fitting that Sri K. Pattabhi Jois’s birthday falls on this day. Thank you Guruji for creating the tremendously transformative gift of the Ashtanga yoga system which continues to serve as a foundation in my life and teaching.

Celebrate and honor your teachers today. Begin with honoring your mother who is your first teacher and move on from there. It is an auspicious time to begin a spiritual quest. Dive into yourself and be courageous enough to get a glimpse of who you truly are. Take time to acknowledge the beauty that your community helps you see within yourself and in others. This brings you closer to your own personal truth so you can be liberated from separateness and inspire others to be brave enough to do the same.


Lighten Up: New Moon in Gemini

The new moon occurs in Gemini on July 8th. Gemini is a Mercurial sign that represents our lower mind. It is associated with reason, discrimination and intellect.

In Vedic astrology this new moon is in the lunar mansion of Punarvasu. Punarvasu is a quiver of arrows. When the arrow quiver of Punarvasu is aimed correctly it is able to penetrate deeply into who we truly are. The goddess associated with Punarvasu is Aditi, the goddess of virtue.  She helps us in the pursuit of self-understanding.

Aditi was one of thirteen daughters belonging to Daksha, the Progenitor. She was given to the Sage Kashyapa for marriage and she bore 12 sons that were rulers of the heavens. Kashyapa had 12 additional wives who bore children that populated the universe with demons, birds and other living species.

Aditi’s sons were stricken with bad luck because the demons rebelled against them in the rule over the heavens. She was so distressed by the fate of her sons that she vigilantly prayed and fasted to Surya, the Sun God asking for his help. Surya was so impressed by her devotion and discipline that he offered one thousandth of himself to Aditi in the form of a son. He entered into her body using his ray of conscious light, called Shushumna, which in itself contained a thousand finer rays of brilliant illumination.

Aditi nurtured her unborn god son by fasting and performing prayers despite her husband’s distress that she would kill the fetus. The baby was then born as bright as a thousand suns and defended the honor of his brothers by burning all of the demons that had crossed them.

Aditi embodies the essence of what our yoga practice can provide for our lives. As we gain control over our physical and emotional bodies through the practice of yoga we get closer to becoming more balanced, virtuous, compassionate people. She shows us that disciplined practice and devotion slowly burns away the false ego and refines us into our best god like selves.

Point the quiver inward to plant the seeds of self-discovery during this waxing moon period. Take time for meditation to honor the brilliance within you so you can see the luminescence in others.Image


“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

~Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

On Friday of last week the full moon occurred in Scorpio. Scorpio is watery, deep and intense. It belongs to Mars (planet of war) and is affiliated with aggression and getting things accomplished.

The debilitated full moon took place in the Nakshatra Anuradha which means “following Radha.” Anuradha means success and is affiliated with devotional practices and creativity. The divine feminine energy was strong. So instead of drawing inward and focusing on our own feelings we needed to practice outward compassion and understanding. Some conflicts and misunderstandings occurred last week because people turned inward and focused on their own personal emotional survival and deeply ingrained fears instead of pouring their compassion outward.

Well what now? We forgive. We learn. We move on.

In Hinduism forgiveness or tolerance of others is called kshama and is cultivated from being devoted to a higher entity. Once you devote yourself to that entity you are granted kripa. Kripa means divine grace, kindness, love or surrender. Kripa is the central tenant in the practice of Bhakti Yoga or the yoga of devotion. Kripa has the ability to remove unfavorable karmas (actions) that we have accrued so that we do not have to encounter its consequences.

The relationship between kripa and karma can be compared to a river. The flow of this river is caused by adharma or wrong actions that impede our path in life. The flow of adharma takes us further from the source of the river. However when we are able to see our misgivings (patterns created by the ego) we are able to experience kripa which brings us closer to the source of the river.

We have to realize that karma (choice in action), maya (illusion) and anava (our ignorance created by ego) are gifts from the universe. We are given these obstacles to help us decipher our egotistical survival patterns from what is the true happy you.

In life we have ingrained emotional patterns called samskaras. These are habitual emotional response mechanisms that we have accumulated over lifetimes. They cause us to behave in certain ways. What we must do to get closer embracing kripa is learn from our experiences by examining our patterned emotional responses. We need to see how we have reacted before and what the triggers were for those reactions. Finally we must find a solution that helps us break the pattern. Once we break away from the habitual patterns we have the power to make amends.

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra 2:33 states:

“When obstructive thoughts arise, practice the opposite thought.”

If our tendency is to lash out when we feel hurt or threatened, instead try to generate a positive thought about the person who has inflicted the pain. When I I was in Haridwar, India last year at Santosh Puri Ashram, Mataji gave an entire lecture about making your dislikes your likes. She explained that this is one of the central themes of the Bhagavad Gita. She said that surrendering (kripa) and letting go (aparigraha) of our conflicted emotions and spreading love (by means of liking pretty much everything) is the key to happiness in our lives.

This may seem like a farfetched task in this lifetime. But its something that we can gradually work toward. Its a practiced skill that needs dedication, discipline and time just like our physical yoga practice. If we can teach our bodies how to do surya namaskara, bakasana, or a handstand we certainly can teach the mind new ways of managing our emotions. In that way we can choose to be happier, healthier people instead of victims of our emotional ups and downs.

Science says that the limbic brain, the “old mammalian” brain, stores reactions to trauma, stress and pain. This is where deeply rooted emotional patterns tend to exist.

The front brain, the cortex, the seat of rational thought, has the ability to replace a negative thought pattern by making a willed choice. This is where grievance can be terminated and where the process of forgiveness begins.

What we need to remember is that we ultimately have the power over what we hold onto. We have to figure out if we want to live in the safe and familiar prison of our samskaras or the vast liberated essence of forgiveness and divine grace.

Annular Solar Eclipse

Annular Solar Eclipse May 9-10th 2013

Solar eclipses generally occur twice a year at the time of the new moon (dark moon) when the earth enters into the moon’s shadow. The eclipse occurring tonight PWT is visible in the areas of the South Pacific and Australia.

Solar Eclipses mark the end of a 19 year cycle that connects to all events related to each astrological sign. This eclipse is occurring in the sign of earthy, grounded, Taurus. A Taurus solar eclipse makes us examine our self worth and values. We feel drawn to questioning old value systems that are no longer serving us in our lives. We need to ask ourselves if we honor our talents. This will serve as a tool to seeking out what values stand at the center of our lives.

In Vedic astrology, this eclipse takes place in the Nakshatra of Bharani. Bharani means “bearing the star” or “the star of restraint”. He teaches us restraint through consequences. Bharani has the gift of apabharani shakti, or the ability to carry things away and terminate. His animal is the elephant and his energy associated with all things we expend to live in this world. Bharani is ruled by Yama, the god of death, who is responsible for guiding souls once they have left their earthly bodies. Bharani can be quite destructive and is associated with the fiercest of all Hindu Goddesses, Kali, the black one, clearing the path for a new dawn.

Its a good time to clean out the clutter in your life on a mental, physical and spiritual level. Tie up loose ends and finish all things that need finishing so we can set foot on a new journey.

This eclipse is near the South Node of the moon, called Ketu. When an eclipse is next to Ketu which is associated with spiritual energy, it can give access to past life and occult knowledge. It intensifies our ability to discriminate between what holds us back from experiencing our own truth and our relationship with the divine.

During eclipses our protective energy barrier is lessened so there is potential for emotional contagion. We temporarily feel metaphorically “in the dark” and unable to connect with collective consciousness. Offer prayer to a loved one that has past. Take time to meditate and center yourself. This quiet contemplative time will help you release any negative things you have been hoarding so you can dive into who you truly are.


A Blustery Full Moon

On April 25th the full moon occurs in the lunar mansion Swati. Swati is ruled by Vayu, the wind, and has the ability to move in all directions. Swati is based on changing form due to the power of pradhvamsa shakti, or the ability to scatter like the wind.

Swati is causing things to scatter and change. It is a good time to cleanse mentally and physically. Reorganization is key during this full moon so we can accommodate new ideas and developments in our lives.

During the full moon there will be a partial eclipse that will be visible in Western Africa, The Middle East and Western Asia. During eclipses our energy is vulnerable. Make sure you practice discernment in terms of the information you consume and the company you keep. The positive energy you take in during an eclipse will create long terms effects on your psyche.

This eclipse highlights the power of Jupiter and Mercury which are associated with learning and teaching. This gives us the ability to hold space for personal growth and wellbeing. We have the opportunity to see our difficulties as lessons that will make us more balanced, compassionate, and understanding beings in the universe.

Don’t be surprised if you are feeling like things have been turned upside down and thrown around. Change is good! Use this time to learn from the dishevelment so you can put the pieces back together into something stronger and more complete.


Milky New Moon: Get Nourished

Garage Yogis! Greetings from Sri Lanka! I’m in a beautiful beachside town called Arugam Bay where the watery adaptable essence of this new moon seems to blend perfectly with my surroundings.
Today, April 10th, the new moon occurs in the Nakshatra Revati.
Revati means wealthy and is governed by Pushan, the nourishing form of Surya, the Sun God. Pushan is symbolized by milk (kshiradyapani shakti). It is said that this milky energy has the power to nourish the entire world.
Revati occurs at the tail end of Pisces making this an emotional watery time of new beginnings, and illumination. The important message of this new Moon is trust and surrender. We must be grateful for the simple nourishment that we receive daily through the life giving properties of the Earth and Sun, our families and greater community. Start your day by thanking mother earth. Dedicate your yoga practice to a loved one or simply give your friend a hug. Be grateful and trust in the unity and love that sustains the world.


Happy Spring!

Happy Vernal Equinox! On this day the sun places itself directly over the equator creating perfect balance between hours of light and darkness. The earth and sun are in perfect equilibrium, as the sun centers itself between earth and sky. This creates a sacred cross of balancing energy that heals and harmonizes the planet and all living beings.

It is an excellent time for us to consider how to incorporate more balance in our lives.
As we move from celestial watery Pisces into fiery Aires the amount of light increases (in the Northern Hemisphere) and darkness falls into the background. It is a time of illumination. Symbolically we are shedding light on the higher chakras (the Northern Hemisphere of the body) or energy centers above the heart that emphasize unconditional love, compassion, acceptance, truth, intuition and unity.

This is a potentially fertile time in earth’s evolution. A time when beautifully healing changes can occur. So step into the light! Invite balance into your life and use it as the foundation to let your inner light grow. Happy Spring!


Awaken! Aquarius New Moon and Maha Shivaratri

The Moon falls in conjunction with the Sun on March 11 creating its darkest state. The moon is symbolically draining itself into an empty vessel that can be filled again with the Sun’s energy. This new moon falls in Aquarius occurs in the lunar mansion of Purvabhadra.

Aquarius encourages us to align our individual selves with a higher purpose. This new moon is aligned with Mercury and Venus in retrograde. These planets facilitate the Aquarian theme and increase adaptability, creativity and tact.

Purvabhadra is ruled by the diety Aja Ekapada, the one footed serpent. The energy produced from this lunar mansion is Yajamana Udyamana Shakti which spiritually empowers beings to reach a higher level of consciousness. This energy is fierce. It brings a lightening bolt of divine inspiration. Take time to tap into your eccentric creative genius. It is a time to set intentions and await spiritual transformation as the lunar cycle builds again.

This particular new moon is the time of the one of the greatest Hindu celebrations, Maha Shivayatri. It falls on the 14th day of Phalgum (Vedic calender month that falls in February or March) on eve of the new moon. Ratri literally means night in Sanskrit. It is believed on this night that Shiva performed his tandava dance of primordial creation, preservation and destruction called Tandava Nritya.

This festival dates back to the Puranas, ancient narratives that describe the creation of the universe, Hindu cosmology and philosophy, gods, sages, heroes and geography. In the Puranas there is an epic narrative in which the primordial ocean is being churned into Amrita (the immortal nectar of the gods). From this churning, called Samudra Manthan, a poison emerged from the sea and threatened the existence if the universe itself. All of the Gods and demons panicked. They called upon the only God capable of destroying the poison, Shiva. Shiva heroically drank the poison and held it in his throat. Parvati, his consort, strangled his muscular neck to prevent the poison from escaping. This is why Shiva is often depicted as blue and is called Nilkantha, the blue throated one. His blue hue is a constant reminder of how he saved the universe from destruction.

This evening worshippers pay homage to Shiva, the destroyer in the Indic trilogy of gods, so he will absolve them of all of their sins. It is said that anyone who says his name with pure devotion is freed from negative karma and liberated from the cycle of life and death (samsara).

Myths also mention this day as the supposed day of Shiva and Parvati’s marriage. This day is of special significance to unmarried women who pray for a husband with similar qualities to the God Shiva. Married women pray for Shiva to shower them with blessings for a peaceful and happy marriage.

Traditionally a three tiered platform is placed around a sacrificial fire (Shiva’s divine element). The three tiers represent the three worlds or lokas: earth, space and heaven. On the highest platform 11 urns are placed representing 11 forms of Rudra, Shiva’s most destructive personalities. The formless depiction of Shiva, Shiva Lingam, is bathed with the five sacred elements of the cow, called panchagavya (milk, sour milk, ghee, urine and dung) and the 5 foods of immortality (milk, ghee, sugar, honey and curd). After the Lingam is bathed, people offer milk, bael leaves, and cold water. Holy men or sadhus, offer cannibus to Shiva, his patron plant, to gain his blessings.

People fast strictly throughout the day and night. They give datura fruit and flower (supposedly Shiva loves this poisonous fruit and flower) offerings and chant vigils throughout the evening to connect and praise The Destroyer of Ignorance.

This holiday is celebrated throughout India and Nepal. In Kashmir it lasts 15 days. Many sadhus or holy men pilgrimage to Mount Amarnath, the holiest Hindu mountain, where they seek a deeper relationship with Shiva by offering and smoking vast amounts of cannibus, the sacred plant of Shiva.

So chant “Om Namah Shivayah” in honor of the Dispeller of Ignorance on Sunday evening. He will help you clear your negative karmic past and catalyze you into deeper spiritual awareness.

Happy New Moon! Bom Shiva!


Lighten Up Your Practice: Mula Bandha In Simple Terms

What is Mula bandha?
Seriously though, what is Mula bandha? Does it really exist?
Yes it does.

However, this root lock is a very complicated concept to grasp in our asana practice. The problem is many teachers avoid explaining it because:
1. It’s difficult to explain and teach.
2. Truthfully they don’t really understand or use it themselves.

So what is Mula bandha? Why do we use it in practice?
Lets start at the beginning.
Bandhas are a series of internal energy gates within the subtle body, which control pranic flow. Bandha is connected to the English words to bind, lock or connect. Bandha connects movement, breath and awareness. There are 4 bandhas that are used in Hatha yoga:
Mula bandha (root lock), Uddiyana bandha (flying upward lock), Jalandhara bandha (throat lock) and Maha bandha (combining all 3 locks at the same time).

Mula in Sanskrit it is defined as “root.” It is a contraction of the Pubo-Coccygeal muscles; A refined lift of the pelvic floor. It is located somewhere in between the pubic bone, the coccyx and the 2 sitting bones (ischeal tuberosities). This area is slightly different in men and women due to our incongruent anatomy. In layman’s terms, in a yoga posture, mula bandha is a lift of lower belly toward the navel. I say this because hardly anyone’s knows what the hell you are talking about when you say “contract your pubo coccygeal muscles.” And also because it can be confused with a Keigal (in women, when in fact its higher up) or a mere contraction of the anal sphincter muscles (in men).
To become familiar with mula bandha sit in an upright position and send your inhalation all the way down to the pelvic floor. When it reaches the pelvic floor contract the lower belly region and feel an upward suction that creates an energetic lift through the torso. This is the essence of Mula bandha.

Why use Mula bandha? It creates stability and balance in asana practice. Mula bandha provides the foundation of stability and lightness in arm balances and gives us the ability to float in transitions instead of landing like an elephant.

On a physical level, Mula bandha is said to lower respiration, heart rate and blood pressure. It calms sympathetic nervous system arousal (fight or flight), improves digestion, and harmonizes urogenital issues. Mula bandha creates a sense of calm in the body and mind because it activates the parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system is generally referred to as “rest and restore”. This is where that feeling of balance, presence and inner peace comes from. It gives us the ability to reflect inwards creating a physical practice that envelops moving meditation (dhyana). In this way, this mysterious root lock controls, and over time, diminishes the fluctuations in the mind.

For yogis Mula bandha is of great importance because it lifts downward moving energy, called apana, located at the Muladhara chakra (root energy center) and unites it with the upward flowing energy (prana) at Anahata Chakra (the heart energy center). Earth energy, if left to its own accord, likes to stay put to linger in physical survival mode. It makes us feel stuck and fearful. By reversing the energetic flow and uniting apana and prana, Mula bandha helps us use the grounding earth energy as a gateway for spiritual exploration.

Two weeks ago, Sharath spoke about the three elements that are essential to one’s physical asana practice. These three elements make up what is called yoga tristana. The tristana assumes that asana practice must involve correct alignment (achieved through correct repetition) to bring stability to the body and mind; Rhythmic, even breathing that is synchronized with movement to remove toxins (ie vinyasa); And proper gaze or dristi (there are 9 of them) to bring concentration.

Momentarily I thought what about the bandhas?!? Well he immediately answered my question without me saying one word. He said, that bandha is always expected to be there no matter what. In order for the tristana to exist, bandhas must be present and engaged. Sharath said “Bandha is always there, just as God is the source of the 5 elements Mula Bandha is the source of controlling the mind.”
He also added if mula bandha is engaged properly then all of the bandhas will follow in the same manner.

So thats it: Mula bandha demystified in simple terms. Really the only way to get, it is to practice it. Once you begin to feel the upward suction from the pelvic floor through the torso in downward facing dog you will know you are on the right track. Do know that mastering Mula Bandha can take many life times. Have patience and slowly, slowly you will begin to feel it work it’s magic. So good luck and happy practicing.

For some inspiration, here is Mula bandha in action in my Gokulam apartment: