Yoga Retreat in Florida: The Art of Relaxation

Namaste!

Often I have been asked if I lead retreats in the Tampa Bay area. Finally, I am glad to announce an upcoming retreat at the beautiful Safety Harbor Resort & Spa. This retreat, The Art of Relaxation is an excellent opportunity to take time to pause and use a wide range of Yoga techniques to help you let go of pain, tension, and stress. In this weekend retreat, we will use a variety of traditional and contemporary yogic techniques to re-discover and re-connect to your true and balanced self.

Basic Information:

  • 3 day workshop
  • Arrive: Friday July 17 (evening)
  • Begin: Friday July 17 (evening) at 7 p.m.
  • End: Sunday, July 19 at noon
  • Cost: $450
  • Register online or call 727-894-9642 / 727-458-8664

A retreat is a conscious decision to pause, that is, to remove ourselves from our immediate experience. Although stress is, unfortunately, pervasive in our society, few of us seem to dedicate time to relaxing, resting and renewing ourselves. In this weekend retreat we’ll cultivate the art of relaxation, an essential part of a healthy, balanced and fulfilling life.

More information …

Mantra, the power of words

Natural Patterns / Patrones naturales

Often when we hear about mantras, the concept seems both exotic and esoteric. In general, the word mantra is defined as a word or short sentence repeated often. The original word in Sanskrit is mantram, and it is often translated literally as instrument of thought. The underlying assumption is that mantras are a tool for personal transformation. Every day as I observe myself and the people around me I notice that most of us use mantras on a pretty regular basis. There are two distinct approaches on the use of mantras. The technique is very similar and in either case it renders a result.

Mantra Approach 1:

Even for people who think they do not use mantras it is quite simple to discover if they are using them or not. All that is needed is to listen, to observe, to pay close attention to the words that we use. We might discover a pattern or patterns where we repeat a word or sentence quite often. For instance, during the day you might hear your self saying “…this is going to be a pain” or “I’ll have to worry about this…” or “I hate this”. Quite often it doesn’t take long before we discover the mantra that we repeat habitually. When we uncover our mantra, we can try repeating it aloud at least 5 to 10 times. Most likely we’ll notice that our mantra fills up our mind and focuses our awareness on those words. My suggestion is that these words we repeat habitually are the mantra we have chosen unconsciously, and that by using it we are unleashing the power of those words to influence the way we feel, think and act.

Mantra Approach 2:

As I mentioned at the beginning, both approaches are quite similar and both produce results. The major difference is that in the second approach we add the element that is present in all yoga techniques, AWARENESS. So, the change is simple, instead of repeating mindlessly a word or sentence, we can choose consciously, with our full awareness, the words that we need to hear to remind us of our goal. We can use the mantra that we discovered, if it is a positive one that creates a a sense of clarity, of spaciousness, of more openness and less restriction in body, heart and mind. If the mantra we use unconsciously is a negative one, we can use the technique of cultivating opposite principles or thoughts (pratipaksha bhavanam) from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra (2.33). This technique consists of focusing our mind on the opposite idea or at least we try to move our mind in the opposite direction.

Try it now, find a word or brief sentence that helps counteract negative thoughts, feelings, emotions in your mind, heart, body. Repeat the sentence with full attention 5 to 10 times and notice how you feel at all levels.

Making the change

The difference between the two approaches is simple. This small change in perpsective definitely works to our benefit. Although the change is simple, it takes work for us to move from our habitual unconscious pattern of thought, feeling and action to a conscious positive pattern. It is helpful to remember that the first step is just to observe and listen to our words in order to notice unconscious patterns. As we become aware of the patterns we are ready to shift from unconscious repetition to conscious affirmation.

I hope this helps you uncover the mantras you use in your life to facilitate unleashing the power of mantra for conscious life transformation.

Namaste.

Simple guided meditation with Rubén

 

5 minute easy and effective chair Yoga practice (excellent for the office!)

5 minute easy and effective chair Yoga practice (excellent for the office!)

Those of us who spend a lot of time sitting every day, for instance in front of our computers, driving and watching TV, often start noticing weakness and tension in the lower back as well as in the upper back, shoulder and neck areas. Certainly it is best to take frequent breaks, as often as every 30 minutes, to stand-up, walk around and move our body and counteract the habitual position we maintain for long periods.

Here is a simple 5 minute chair Yoga session to help you revitalize and refresh yourself even while sitting. Remember that the it is essential to be aware of the breath and of the quality of our participation.(If you have not read the disclaimer yet, please do. )

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If you sit for long periods of time, you can try this practice once of twice a day, noticing its effects on your body, breath, heart and mind. Enjoy!

Namaste.
 

 

January 2011: Yoga Retreat in Costa Rica!

Yoga Retreat in Costa Rica

I hope your week is going very well.

Often I have been asked if I lead yoga retreats. I love teaching where I live so that I can offer students opportunities to practice consistently. However, for a while I have wanted to offer a Yoga retreat to help students deepen their practice in a beautiful location. Finally, everything has come together and I am really excited to share this opportunity with you. The idea is to set the tone for the new year with a week in a sustainable retreat in the Costa Rican rain forest, practicing yoga in the morning, enjoying the surrounding area during the day, and coming together again for a gentle yoga practice and deep relaxation yoga nidra session before dinner. In this way you can let go of the previous year and start the year balanced, truly refreshed and focused. I am attaching a flyer with more information.

Please notice that there is a reduced price if you pay in full by September 21st.

We are organizing the retreat through St Petersburg Yoga and there is lots more information about the trip on the website: www.StPeteYoga.com/retreats

I know this trip will be a joyful and fun experience.

Namaste,
rubén

Yoga Workshop: Discover your Home Practice

I am pleased to announce that I will offer a workshop on home practice this Sunday, August 29 from 2:00 – 5:00pm at St Pete Yoga.

I love helping others discover how to create the habit of practicing at home.

In this fun session you can learn how to :

  • Start practicing at home.
  • Energize your practice.
  • Create appropriate sequences for you.
  • Attune to inner guidance & much more!

This workshop will conclude with a short free-form practice. All levels of students are welcome.

You can sign up on the: St Pete Yoga website

Yoga: Sincere Effort Towards Clarity

Path to greater heights/Sendero hacia mayores alturas

When we set out on any journey it is necessary to know, as clearly as we can, what is our intended destination. Knowing our destination makes it easier for us to keep our sense of direction in the midst of distractions. Our Yoga practice, this lifelong pursuit to better know our true selves, is the quintessential human journey.

Mistaking the vehicle for the destination

As it tends to happen, sometimes we get so absorbed in the details of our day-to-day actions, feelings and thoughts that we may end up confusing the road and the vehicle for the actual destination. For instance, somehow we learn that performing some yogic postures (asanas) might help us find relief of pain and stress resulting from our habitual patterns of posture, movement and thought. Then we decide to start practicing asanas to create a greater sense of ease in body and mind. Over time, consistency in our practice most likely will bring about a better balance between strength and flexibility. It is likely that our practice will also help us develop greater sensitivity. However, as we feel the improvements resulting from our practice, we might start thinking that the goal of the practice is to achieve more complex or fanciful postures. That is, our exploration of asanas may become a vehicle to appease our ego’s insatiable appetite for achievement (usually related to external recognition) at the expense of a greater sense of ease throughout our being –our intended destination. Whatever posture, regardless of how it looks from the outside, will only serve us if it facilitates a greater sense of clarity, balance and interconnectedness between all aspects of our being. In other words, the technique, be it posture, breathing, chanting, meditation, etc. is useful if it contributes to create a greater sense of centeredness and clarity. Otherwise, we embark on a never-ending quest towards mastering a more elaborate or complex technique. Given our goal orientation and inclination to achieve, how can we stay focused?

Staying on course

Even when we think we are very passionate about a particular idea, practice or journey, it happens, at least in my experience, that we tend to get distracted, impatient or frustrated along the way. For instance, given the continuous flow of external stimuli we have in our day-to-day lives, it is challenging for our minds to stay focused on one goal for a long period of time. Also, since many of us have grown accustomed to the idea of instant gratification, the gradual, step-by-step results from Yoga seem to take way too long.

It is good to remember that even when we think we are working ‘only at the physical level’, Yoga can only work in gradual steps to help unravel the habitual patterns we have cultivated consistently for years or even decades. It is necessary to work gradually, so that we can develop organically the necessary strength and flexibility in our bodies, minds and hearts to transform our lives and move away from mechanical and mindless actions, thoughts and feelings towards a life that truly feels more centered and balanced.
Along the way is helpful to find ways to maintain our flexible focus on the destination. For instance, I often ask myself why do I practice Yoga? or I remind myself that the journey of self-discovery is a lifelong process. Another simple way to stay on course in our practice is using a simple definition of Yoga.

A simple definition of Yoga

I like to find easy ways to remember why I do what I do. So, I try to create simple and easy ways to remember and verify that I am oriented towards my intended goal. Here is one definition of Yoga that works well for me:

Yoga is Sincere Effort Towards Clarity

What I like about this definition is that it is made up of only 6 words that encapsulate well both the practice and the objective. I also like that the definition is general enough so that it is not restricted to only one aspect of Yoga.
Let’s take a look at each word in the definition,

Sincere
Genuine, open and honest. I like to think of this as a reminder that the practice starts in our hearts.
Effort
The use of physical or mental energy to do something. Our actions are earnest and conscientious, so we do as much as we can, no more and no less. This is also a way to remember that there is work involved and that the fruits of our actions accurately reflect our intentions and the quality of our participation.
Towards
In the direction of. We are aware that Yoga is a journey of self-discovery that takes a lifetime. The practice is a process that changes over time because it reflects our specific circumstances and that it adjusts to changes in ourselves and in our environment.
Clarity
Lucidity, being clear. Our goal is to reduce obstacles to the flow of life in our bodies, our breath, our minds and our hearts, so that we enjoy greater awareness.

Bringing The Definition To Life

Of course, this definition is only good if it helps us stay on course. In order to do this, we need to incorporate it into our practice. As I mentioned, in my opinion this definition can be applied to any of the techniques used in yoga such as asana, pranayama, meditation, chanting, cleansing practices like neti or fasting, etc.

  • As I set up to start my practice I think about the definition and try to plant it as a seed in my mind, heart and body.
  • During the practice, I ask myself and verify if the technique is resulting in greater clarity.
  • As I am bringing the practice to a close I observe the effects of the practice in body, breath, mind and heart.

I also like try to apply this definition as I engage in my daily activities in order to bring yoga into my life. Quite often I find that it doesn’t take long for me to forget my destination. However, as I try to bring the definition to life, in itself the act of asking remembering the definition becomes a source of clarity and of encouragement to stay true to the practice.

I hope that this idea may help your practice be mindful, joyful and fulfilling.

Namaste,
rubén

 

6 Basic Principles for Practicing Yoga Poses

Path / Sendero

 

Basic Principles

As I unfold my mat every morning I try to find different ways to ensure that the practice remains alive, fresh and enjoyable. In the process of creating my DVD Yoga: Here + Now I tried to create a list of basic ideas that would be useful to people starting to practice. As I reflected on these ideas, I was interested in presented some clear, simple and easy to follow guidelines that could be applied to all styles of Yoga. I hope that these basic principles might be of help in being fully present in your Yoga practice:

  1. The breath is the integrating axis of our practice. Our breath is continuous, fluid and comfortable, without any abruptness
  2. Synchronize all movements with each inhalation and each exhalation
  3. Each posture has a firm foundation, so the parts of the body that are in contact with the floor press down firmly
  4. In each posture we balance strength and flexibility, so we activate our muscles as much as is appropriate, without forcing and without pain
  5. We respect our body, mind and breath. In each pose, at all levels, we do as much as we can without doing too little and without doing too much
  6. We make our practice enjoyable, so at the end of practice we are relaxed, energized and calm
  7. I am aware that there are always ways to get clearer. It would be excellent if you could shared your experience in trying to apply these principles in your practice so that I can continue learning. Thank you!

    Namaste.

     

Yoga video for beginners in English AND Spanish: Yoga Here + Now

Yoga Here + Now/ + Yoga Aquí + Ahora

Great news!

I am very happy to have time to write on the blog again. This time I would like to share the great news that my first Yoga video for beginners is finally ready! This video, one of the only videos for beginners produced in both English and Spanish, is the result of the generosity of my family, the continuous support and help of many friends, teachers and students. Thank you very much for all your help and support, special thank s to Camilla, Luz Vi & Adolf, Adri & Carlos, Natalia, Daniel Medina and Nicolás Ospina and everybody who made this dream come true. I really hope that the video will be useful to people who want to start practicing Yoga at home.

This DVD is a complete practice designed with beginners in mind. It includes:

  • 7 different sessions ranging from 30 minutes to 1 hour.
  • 1 special session focused on relaxation, breathing and meditation, particularly useful to release stress.
  • Basic principles spelled out in easy-to-understand language.
  • Bilingual edition, in both Spanish and English.
  • Guided pranayama (breathing) and meditation practice in each session.

Video Samples

Pranayama

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Ujjayi Breath

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Asana Practice I

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Asana Practice II

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Asana Practice III

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More information

For more information and to order the DVD: www.yoga-here-now.com

Namaste.

 

 

Slowing Down for Greater Awareness

Fountain Statue/Estatua en la fuente

According to the Yoga Sutras (II.28), the classical text on Yoga, the various Yoga practices enumerated by Patanjali gradually result in diminishing impurities, blockages and obstacles while at the same time unveiling greater knowledge, clarity and awareness. Thus, integrating these practices into our lives helps us gain a better understanding of ourselves so that we can discern between what is essential and what isn’t. One possible application of this is to use that greater clarity to affirm our connections to the ever-present, ever-changing web of life all around us. In this post a simple suggestion to increase our level of awareness.

Formulas

In our daily lives we often recognize patterns in our circumstances, actions and their consequences. When we are pleased with the outcome of a particular set of actions in a specific setting, the next time we find ourselves in a similar situation we feel inclined to repeat our previous actions in order to replicate our desired outcome. This is a rational and effective way of learning. Consequently, over time, through trial and error, we create useful formulas or scripts to guide our actions toward the results we expect. Along the way, whenever it is possible, we generalize our observations so that our formula or script can be applied in more situations and contexts. Gradually, we gather these formulas to help us navigate many situations and to move through life with more ease.

Acting mechanically

Many times we use these formulas or scripts to save time, because by using them we feel as if we don’t need to analyze, as we regularly do, our setting, conditions and intentions before taking action. The longer we use a formula, we are more likely to ignore the particulars of a specific situation and assume that the formula will render the expected outcome. However, when the formula we have developed, learned or inherited is applied mechanically, that is without being mindful of our circumstances, needs and options, we might be surprised when our, previously effective formula, does not lead us to the results we have grown to expect.

Usually, the transition from mindful application of our formula to its mechanical use unfolds very gradually, almost imperceptibly. A simple example might help us see this more clearly. For instance, in asana practice, our useful laboratory for experimentation with self-awareness, we may notice that a particular sequence of poses seems to always have a beneficial result on our body, breath, mind or spirit. So we choose to practice the sequence diligently and with honest effort over a period of time. However, as time goes by, since our previous experience indicates the effectiveness of our sequence, or because we feel that we already know the sequence and how to perform it, we assume that we already know the outcome of our actions and focus on the outcome instead of paying close attention to the moment-to-moment experience of the sequence. As a result, we may overlook the feedback we receive constantly from breath, body, mind and heart during our practice. Thus, we choose, consciously or unconsciously, to give up our ability to respond to the particular aspects of the present moment experience, perhaps with unexpected outcomes that may not be necessarily beneficial. In some cases, obtaining unwanted or painful results motivates us to return to mindful conscious action in our practice.

Gradually cultivating imbalance

Many of us frequently feel that the pace of our lives keeps getting faster and faster, or that our lives keep getting busier every day. It is not surprising that many of us want to find shortcuts and formulas to help us save time. In many cases, we move toward mechanical action to save time by not having to pay attention to our moment-to-moment experience. For instance, when we need to walk from point A to point B, we just walk without paying too much attention to the details of the task at hand, because we need to get to our destination. Consequently, we may not be able to notice that we might be putting more weight on one foot or leg than on the other, or that we twist our pelvis slightly to one side with every step. As we repeat this action over and over again, we gradually, and unconsciously, cultivate a physical imbalance. Furthermore, that strong focus on results usually requires that we ignore the feedback we constantly receive at all levels, in our breath, bodies, hearts and minds. Hence, it is not surprising that, in order to capture our attention, the feedback we receive tends to grow louder, gradually moving from mild discomfort towards pain.

Slowing Down

As it was mentioned at the beginning of this post, Yoga, through a wide range of techniques, helps us move towards greater clarity and awareness. One simple way to increase our clarity is to cultivate our ability to observe. When something moves fast, it is difficult for us to perceive with clarity the event and its characteristics. Slowing down our actions gives us enough time to notice what is happening because it forces us to pay attention to what we are doing. As we mentioned before, we can start by focusing our attention on our breath as a way to immerse in the present moment. Then we can observe the complexity of even the simplest action. For instance, slowing down considerably our pace when walking will help us notice with greater clarity the way we lift each foot the ground, how we move the leg and foot forward and we plant the foot on the ground again. As we continue this process we can compare the two feet. We can also notice how the pelvis, shoulders, arms and head move with each step. In this process we may start recognizing patterns that affect our gait and its level of ease and smoothness or lack thereof. Then we can choose consciously if there is anything we need to do to make our gait better. Along these lines we previously suggested to slow down our pace when eating to enjoy our food more and to improve our health, which aligns with some of the ideas in the slow food movement.

Slowing down in controlled settings

It seems we find ourselves at a crossroads. On one hand there are multiple demands on our time, energy and attention, requiring of us to focus on results, thus ignoring the minute details of life around us. On the other hand, slowing down seems to be a good way to gain a better understanding of our circumstances and actions, thereby facilitating a more mindful participation in life.

Clearly, slowing down all of our actions is not practical for most of us. However, slowing down the pace of some of our actions can be an excellent way to focus our attention on what is truly important. My suggestion is to continue using our Yoga practice as our laboratory for exploration. Slowing down the pace in our asana practice is a simple change that works at multiple levels. It can help us notice where we tend to be less mindful. It also requires us to breathe more consciously, thus improving our connection with the breath and perhaps even our breathing capacity. In addition, it may help us notice where different aspects of our practice need more integrity. In addition, slowing down our pace, strengthens our mind by making it stay focused on the myriad aspects of every pose. Moreover, practicing at a slower pace helps to improve our patience and can make our practice safer as we are paying closer attention to the feedback we receive from breath, body and mind. Finally, all of these benefits will eventually start emerging also beyond our yoga mat.

I hope these ideas are helpful in your journey towards greater clarity.

Namaste

 

5 minute yoga practice to ease into sleeping

bedroom / habitacion

The main objective of yoga is to integrate all aspects of our being in the present moment. Often we find that in spite of, and perhaps because of, our efforts to bring about this integration, at the end of the day we might find ourselves tense and unable to fall asleep. A common recommendation to help us fall asleep is to establish a relaxing routine before going to bed.
Here is a simple 7 minute relaxing Yoga practice to help you ease yourself towards a restful night. (If you have not read the disclaimer yet, please do. )
Once you are ready to go to bed, wearing comfortable clothes in a quiet dimly-lit space in your bedroom follow these steps:

Restful Mountain

With your back gently resting on a wall, stand in mountain pose, feet hip-width apart, feet parallel.
Shift your body weight gradually from one foot to the other a few times. Find your point of balance, where your body weight is equally distributed on both feet and legs. Close your eyes and observe your breath for 5 rounds of natural, spontaneous breath.

Easy Forward Bend

Step away from the wall and inhale lifting your ribcage up without any strain. As you exhale, bend forward allowing your knees to bend as much as it feels right for you. Point the crown of your head towards the floor and reach with each hand for the opposite upper arm or forearm. Allow your eyes to close and your lower back to get long effortlessly. Let go of the experiences of the day as you continue breathing comfortably.

Gentle Twist

Recline on a blanket on the floor with your back and back of your pelvis resting with ease on the floor. Bend your knees and separate your feet a little bit wider than your shoulders. Allow your arms to rest a comfortable distance away from your torso. Inhale expanding your chest and, on exhalation drop your knees gradually to the right without any strain or effort. The next time you inhale return to center and on the following exhalation drop the knees to the opposite side. Repeat a couple of times. The last time, stay with your knees to each side for 3 or 4 breaths, focusing your attention to this process. When you are done return to center.

For the last two parts, move to your bed.

Connect to your Breath

Lie down on your back with your knees slightly bent. Close your eyes. Observe your breath and gradually start to soften and lengthen each exhalation. Do these for 5 to 10 rounds of breathing and then let go of any control over your breath.

Gratitude

Lying on your back, stretch your legs out and make your self as comfortable as possible.
Close your eyes and from your heart appreciate and give thanks for all the love, goodness and abundance in your life. Allow your face to soften and bring a gentle smile to your face reflecting the gratitude in your heart. Immerse in this sensation and relax completely.

Diagram of 5 minute Yoga practice for sleeping

5 min yoga for sleeping

I hope this practice will help you sleep better and more easily.

Namaste.

 

Simple guided meditation with Rubén