Freedom Flowers

Let your mind be undisturbed, like a lotus leaf in murky water.

5 Upavistha Konasana

(Wide-Angle Seated Forward Bend)

Roll to one side and sit in Dandasana (Staff Pose) with your legs stretched in front of you. Bring your arms behind you, lean back, and open your legs into a 90-degree angle. Flex your feet, press your thighs down, and rotate them outward so the kneecaps are facing the celling. Place your hands on the floor in front of you. Inhale to lengthen your spine. Exhale and walk your hands forward without rounding the middle or lower back. (If your back rounds, sit on a folded blanket or cushion to elevate your seat.) Press through your heels, lengthen and lift the inner thighs toward the ceiling, and press the femurs toward the floor. Stay here for 6 to 8 breaths. Inhale to come up.

BENEFITS Creates flexibility in the inner thighs and orients the femurs toward external rotation.

Pankajam is one of the many Sanskrit words for "lotus" and means "that which is born out of the muck or mud." The lotus flower grows in the swamp but rises above it, sitting on top of the mire so that it is not sullied by the swamp it came from.

That something so beautiful and pure can rise above its origins makes the lotus a symbol of kaivalyam, or "liberation." Kaivalyam is synonymous with freedom from suffering, which is the ultimate goal of yoga.

The lotus leaf does not absorb what falls on it; water beads up and slips off, leaving the leaf unaffected. So we, too, should strive for the mind to be undisturbed by whatever it comes into contact with. No matter what our background or what circumstances we are born into, we all have lotus potential. KATE HOLCOMBE

Dana Winner Yoga

continued from page 120

Pose press into the acupuncture points of stomach, gallbladder, spleen, kidneys, and liver. This brings about changes in the metabolic structure and brain patterns, helping to crcate balance in the whole system.

The Pradipika's companion texts, the Gheranda Samhita and the Shiva Samhita, also mention Lotus Pose—in somewhat lofty ways—as a pose to master for pranayama. (Together, these three works are known as the oldest texts on classical hatha yoga.) The Gheranda Samhita instructs students to "sit in Lotus Posture [Pad-masana] on a seat [asana] of kusha-grass, an antelope or tiger skin, a blanket, or on earth, and face either east or north." And the Shiva Samhita says: "When the yogi seated in the Lotus posture leaves the ground and remains firm in the air, he should know that he has attained mastery over that life-breath which destroys the darkness of the world."

Awakening Energy

Contemporary practitioners, though not likely to sit on antelope skins or attempt to leave the ground, continue to practice Lotus for its numerous physical and energetic benefits. The pose is said to increase circulation in the lumbar spine, nourish and tone the abdominal organs, strengthen the ankles and legs, and increase flexibility in the hips.

But anyone who practices Lotus can tell you that its benefits go beyond loosening the hips. "What is unique about Padmasana is that it's both a grounding and a profoundly expansive pose," says Para Yoga founder Rod

6 Baddha Konasana

(Bound Angle Pose)

From your wide-legged position, bend your knees and bring the soles of your feet together. Allow your knees to fall open. Wrap your hands around the tops of your feet. Inhale and lengthen your spine. On an exhalation, fold forward with a flat back. On each inhalation, lengthen the spine, and on each exhalation, release the upper body toward the floor. To deepen the stretch, place your elbows onto your calves, and lengthen your spine as you gently encourage your knees toward the floor. Stay for 6 to 8 breaths, slowly come up to release, and return to Dandasana.

BENEFITS Stretches the inner thighs and tones the sacral and lumbar areas.

Stryker, who has been teaching yoga for 25 years and who designed the sequence shown here. "The grounding happens in the body, but energetically it directs our awareness toward the spine and the higher centers."

In other words, Lotus holds the alluring potential to awaken the dormant energy known as kundalini at the base of the spine and move that energy up the chakra system. You do this by engaging the batidbas, or energetic-locks, Iocatcd at the chin, abdomen, and pelvic floor. According to Stryker, the body's position in Lotus makes it easier to access Mula Bandha, the pelvic-floor lock, since it brings the pelvic floor directly into contact with the earth, and the heels press into the belly, helping to naturally draw the pelvic floor up. (The best way to learn more about chakras and bandhas is to seek out an instructor who focuses on yoga's energetic practices.)

"In yoga, this is a key practice to begin to collect and channel life force," says Stryker. And once we have begun to channel our life force? We feel less flighty and more grounded. Less fatigued and more vibrant. We can more wisely use our energy, whether toward progressing in our own spiritual development or being of service to others.

One aim of hatha yoga practice is to awaken kundalini energy. The Pradipika explains how Lotus helps us reach that goal: "Having placed the palms one upon another, fix the chin firmly upon the breast and, contemplating upon Brahma, frequently contract the anus and raise the apana [down breath] up; by similar contraction of the throat, force theprana {life force] down. By this {the yogi] obtains unequalled knowledge through the favour of Kundalini, which is roused by this process."

continued on page iS4

Ardha Baddha Padma

Ardha Padma Paschimottanasana

(Half Lotus Seated Forward Bend)

From Dandasana, bend your right leg and turn the sole of your foot toward the ceiling, allowing your thigh to release. Bring the top of your foot to the top of your left thigh as close to the groin as possible. Once your foot is in place, strongly flex it. Press your straight leg firmly Into the floor and tilt your pelvis forward. Bring your hands to the ball of your left foot, or use a strap. On an inhalation, lift the breastbone. On the exhalation, press the lower back toward the thighs. Stay for 6 to 8 breaths. Repeat on the other side. If this pose strains your knees, practice Janu Sirsasana (Head-of-the-Knee Pose) instead.

BENEFITS Creates a deep stretch in the knees, ankles, and hips in final preparation for the full pose.

8 Padmasana

(Lotus Pose)

Come back to Dandasana; snuggle your right foot into the top of your left thigh. Then bend your left leg, externally rotate it, and take hold of your left foot, turning the sole toward the ceiling. Place the left foot on the top of the right thigh. Flex both feet and draw the inner thighs toward the pelvic floor. Lengthen your spine and rest your hands on your knees, with your palms facing up. Take 5 smooth, even breaths. As you inhale, feel the crown of your head moving toward the ceiling. On each exhalation, maintain the action of the inner thighs, gently lifting the pelvic floor in Mula Bandha (Root Lock). Maintain a soft gaze, with eyes relaxing downward. Connect with the sense that as your mind turns inward, you are growing ever more vibrant. Feel that your heart is buoyant and open. Stay for 6 to 12 breaths. Switch legs and repeat on the other side.

NOTE If you weren't able to do the Half Lotus versions of the previous poses, your body is not yet open enough to do Lotus without risking injury. Keep working on the previous poses until you are ready.

Genocide survivors in Rwanda stretch in new directions, thanks to Project Air.

Through seva (selfless service), dedicated students of yoga bring the healing power of practice to those in need around the globe.

O by

Carmel

Wroth

"In essence, yoga is a practice of service to humanity,"

says Mark Lilly, the founder of Street Yoga, a nonprofit that teaches yoga to at-risk youth and their families in Portland, Oregon. "Yoga is a tool of transformation. With that transformed Self, you can show up for others and be of service."

'ITiis understanding—that yoga is something far more powerful than a fitness routine or a time-out from a busy life—is motivating hundreds of yoga students to offer their time and talents to those in need. In the past several years, impassioned practitioners have started up dozens of organizations to offer humanitarian aid, yoga programs, and more to populations in need around the world. Groups have formed to reach out to just about every kind of at-risk population, from inner-city schoolchildren to battered women to refugees.

"Yoga service organizations have multiplied greatly since I founded Street Yoga in 2002," adds Lilly, who is also the coordinator of the Yoga Service Council, an umbrella organization that supports yoga-related service projects in the United States by sharing best practices and providing a forum for communication.

Founded last year, the Yoga Service Council has already

For a brief history of seva, see page 157-

doubled the number of participating organizations from 12 to more than 25. ^ ^ >

Homeless youth in Portland, OR, practicing with Street Yoga.

become mentally and physically healthy. Project volunteers give weekly classes in two prisons (one for men, one for women) in rural Mexico. They also provide training and support to released prisoners to work as yoga teachers in local community centers.

INSPIRATION Founder Ann Moxey says she takes inspiration from her own Anusara Yoga practice and from Swami Muktananda's Prison Project, which he founded in 1979 to teach meditation to prisoners. "He told them, 'I bring you the key to freedom,'" Moxey says. "My goal," she continues, "is to take yoga to people who are in a double prison-the physical one and the prison of addiction."

IMPACT Most of the roughly 350 students who have participated in the program report that yoga has helped them get off drugs while in prison, and that it reduces their stress levels, improves their health, and creates more emotional stability as well as less inclination toward violence.

HIGHLIGHT Though students often start classes with an aggressive attitude, Moxey is always amazed by the way they soften and become more aware. After teaching in prisons for seven years, she still feels exhilarated every time she goes. "I've had the proof that the more you give, the more you get back-it's such a buzz to see these guys so involved in yoga," she says.

WEBSITE annmoxey.blogs.com/yogaprisonproject

MISSION To help prisoners recover from addiction and

Founder Ann Moxey. (Parinaama is Sanskrit for "transformation.")

Seane Corn, with Ugandan kids, while on a service trip.

Seane Corn, with Ugandan kids, while on a service trip.

^ ^ y Lilly estimates that there are 800 classes being taught per week among member organizations in North America.

"I wanted to give back."

Many service-oriented students describe their motivation in terms similar to those of international vinyasa yoga teacher Seane Corn, whose desire to serve others has continued to grow since her first forays into service in 1999, when she taught yoga to a group of adolescent prostitutes. "I felt a responsibility to engage in community that I had never felt before," she says. "I felt gratitude for all the gifts yoga had given me, and I wanted to give back."

Corn soon discovered that service could be far more challenging than she had imagined. Her first hourlong class left her in tears: "The girls were defiant, angry, and rude," she says. She was convinced she couldn't help them. But in the weeks that followed, not only did the girls' behavior improve, but Corn felt a shift in herself as well. "I realized what I had just met were parts of myself that I still hadn't recognized and loved," she says. "I got in touch with the child in myself and started to heal what was broken."

Indeed, if you speak to anyone who engages in service projects like those featured here, you'll learn that while yoga practitioners intend their acts of service to benefit others, they often realize great benefits themselves: coming face-to-face with their own fears, pushing past limitations, experiencing true joy.

For Corn, seva (selfless service) offers a tangible opportunity to practice yoga's teachings. "The idea that we're all one is an easy concept to hold continued on page 157

Ann Moxey here about project etc

africa yoga project

Kenya: Nairobi's Kibera slums, and rural villages

Students in a Masai village practice yoga (left); Paige Elenson and Moses Mbajah, founders of Africa Yoga Project (above); Mbajah assists a student while teaching class in Nairobi (below).

MISSION To use the transformative benefits of yoga to empower vulnerable communities in Kenya. The project is based in the Kibera slums of Nairobi, which house close to 1 million people, with little access to safe water or sanitation. Disease is prevalent, while schools and job opportunities are scarce. For many youth, petty crime and gangs become a means of survival. Africa Yoga Project offers free yoga classes and provides teacher training and financial support to young people who want to teach yoga in their communities.

INSPIRATION Formerly a yoga teacher in New York City, Africa Yoga Project co-

founder Paige Elenson went to Nairobi for a few months in 2006. Used to seeing a studio on every corner in New York, she found none in Kibera, but she knew that the people, stressed and sickly from crowded living conditions, needed yoga. "There was this gap, and I wanted to fill it," she says. "I realized, if not me, then who? With the abundance we have in the yoga community, we need to be activists, sharing yoga in places that are hungry for it."

One of the first students she trained, Moses Mbajah, joined her as the co-director of Africa Yoga Project after he attended a Baron Baptiste teacher training in Mexico, in 2008. Mbajah wants to train other youth like himself to transform their own lives and participate in the betterment of their communities. "Yoga has taught me about taking a stand for myself, my family, my country, and my world," he says.

IMPACT In 2009 Africa Yoga Project invited Baptiste, an international Power Yoga teacher, to give a teacher training in Nairobi, and now 43 young teachers lead more than 100 classes per week, with roughly 3,000 students each month in Nairobi and nearby villages. The teachers offer classes to groups they wish to help, such as schoolchildren, women entrepreneurs, and orphans. Many report that yoga has changed their lives and the lives of their students; they feel less stress, eat better, and practice better hygiene. Some feel empowered to improve their lives, whether by getting further education or by starting small businesses. Some say they've found a new gang to belong to, a "yoga gang."

HIGHLIGHT In 2008, right after violence swept the country In the wake of a contested election, Elenson and Mbajah taught yoga, along with circus arts, in refugee camps. They saw people from warring tribes relax into the practice of yoga, even offering adjustments to each other and smiling in friendship. "The scope of yoga is so much bigger than teaching asanas," Elenson says. "It's service and a connection to the self and others. Yoga [can be] a means of community transformation."

WEBSITE africayogaproject.org

MISSION To help HIV-positive women and girls heal from the trauma of sexual violence experienced during the Rwandan genocide of 1994 and /

cope with their illness through the practice of Ashtanga Yoga. Hundreds of thousands of women and girls in Rwanda were raped during the con- , flict, and many were left with deep depression and emotional scarring. Common symptoms are Insomnia, lack of appetite, and bouts of hysteria that traditional Western mental health approaches /

(such as drugs and therapy) don't always help. The '

program will expand to the Democratic Republic of Congo, where rape is also used as a tool of war. /

INSPIRATION "My inspiration is the women we '

teach," says Project Air founder Deirdre Summerbell. "There's no excuse for what happened, and , no excuse for leaving them to rot and do nothing. ' I know personally how strong this form of yoga can make you, and my impulse is to pass it on. It's not t something you can keep to yourself."

IMPACT Project Air has reached hundreds of HIV-positive women and girls. Many women report being able to sleep through the night for the first time in years as well as feeling strong and hopeful again. One woman said yoga allowed her to finally mourn the loss of her family in the genocide and to begin to think of forgiveness. i i

HIGHLIGHT Summerbell says that watching women walk into class convinced that they are too old and too sick for yoga, then seeing them suddenly begin to smile and move through Sun Salutations, is deeply satisfying. It reawakens in them the visceral joy of being alive, she says. '

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