Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Thinking of You...

I have been teaching yoga for a long time. So many students have come into my classes over the years and I still remember most of the ones who started with me so many years ago. Several still attend my classes even after all of these years, and have grown with me as a teacher. I always enjoy meeting new students and making new friends at the studio, but I do always think about some of the old faces that I never see anymore.

About five or six year ago one of my students, who is a therapist, made the comment to me that it must be sad once people go through my training and having spent so much time with them, then to have them move or get busy and not see them anymore. Prior to that conversation, I didn't really think about it. But she put the thought in my head and now I always think about it. And I find myself missing many of the folks that used to grace my classes...and yes, sometimes feeling sad.

From the early days at Aquarian Dance, I have faces that I miss. Some who's names I recall, and others that I do not. From my first "unofficial" yoga studio, first in the attic of Full Circle Family Massage, then in their basement, I have so many people who I do, really think of quite often. Then moving up to the space above City Streets Cafe where I met some of the most amazing folks and really became a yoga teacher - for real and not for play. I miss those easygoing days and the fun we had after Power Yoga going to Dairy Queen! Even the old home under East Windsor Flooring where we spent ten years holds some amazing memories of friends and students for me. All of the places I worked on-site over the years in corporate or township places, I just continued to meet some very special people. And I do think of many of them often. Some I even get to bump into when I am running errands around East Windsor. And others I can catch up with on Facebook. Yet there are so many that I just have no idea where they went.

Sometimes people move away and tell me. Other times they do not and I just have to assume that many of the folks have done just that. Others may have stopped doing yoga due to "life" - which is a shame. Each time I run into someone who says, "Oh, I have been wanting to come back to yoga," I feel so badly for both of us! Why is it that when we really need and want something that will be helpful, good for us, and supportive, that we just don't make the time?

I realize finances have cause issues for some folks. And this is why I implemented the Community Hatha classes at the studio. I see some friendly names on the sign-in sheets, but don't get to see them myself. Then there is my always changing and forever crazy schedule. I used to teach a lot of evening classes. Now I teach a lot of morning classes. I know I am missing so many people because my schedule has changed. And I realize that some are not coming in because I am not there, and that others are, but, again, I am just not seeing them.

Bottom line is: I AM thinking about you. I AM. I truly am.

When a former student's face pops into my head, I know that I am sure to run into them somehow. Of course my favorite times are when those old familiar faces drop into a class. My response is usually the same: "Hey, Stranger!" And then hugs ensue.

Well, I just wanted to say, that I think about you...and I miss you...and I hope that you are doing great.

Amy, Leonid, Shirley, Lori, Laurie, Alison, Irene, Peggie, Andrea, Karen, Lynn, Janet, Susan. Sandy, Helen, Brenda, Colleen, Kathy, Barbara, Jodi, Marlene, Sandra, Jessica, Sarah, Rachel, Kasey, Carolyn, Diane, Michelle, Michele, Gina, Mary Beth, Denise, Pam, Jeanette, Jennifer, Geri, Tom, Carey, Lettie, Virginia, Kelly, Wendy, Gayle, Joyce, Natalie, Peter, Cindy, Penny, Phyllis, Donna, Jeff, Cheryl, Arlene, Amrita, Pat, Paul, Cookie, Greg, David, Geeta, Christine, Francine, Alice, Jackie, Melissa, Stephanie, Valerie, Ben, Shirley, Kathy, Elizabeth, Kathi, Lois, Beth, Debbie, Giselle, Richard, Connie, Jyothi, Julie, Rose, Marianne, Gina, Charlene, Anne, Kim, Dee, Marie, Dana, Janice, Catherine, Victoria, Senayit, Fathima, Seema, Hemang, Shanti, Anna, Dixie, Lisa, Eileen, Joann, Judy, Rina, Claire, Carrie, Ryah, AnnMarie, Mona, Nora, Jeanette, Linda, Suzi, Vincent, Kelly, Megan, Shain, Nicole, Trish, Chris, Laura, Jen, Stephanie, Melinda, Sharon, Audrey, Ellen, Sue, Kiran, Nick, Jill, Lorraine, Leigh, Cathy, Rebecca, Margaret, Gayathri, Lindsay, Angela, Annie, Felicia, Ursula, Patricia, Isobel, Maxine, Melissa, Marica, Rita, Carol, Leslie, Oxana, Sharlene, Viktoria, Vivian, Heidi, Grace, Yaffa, Issa, Betty, Lisa, Aubrey, Francine, Rosemary, Olga, Emily, Paulette, Felicia, Kristin, Erica, Christopher, Kate, and so, so, many more. Blessings to you all.
Love, Tracey

Monday, March 13, 2017

Ganesha: The Mighty Remover of Obstacles

Sporting Ganesha Tattoos with my new friend in Thailand - 2013
Lord Ganesha is known to most as the "Remover of Obstacles." Invoked at the beginning of new ventures, he is one of the most popular and most known of the Hindu gods by people all over the world. I became aware of Ganesha very early on in my yoga career when my first yoga teacher introduced us to him in a class. Perhaps it was because I had a lot of obstacles in my life that needed removing at the time, but he quickly became my favorite God in the Hindu pantheon.

Throughout the years I have chanted to Ganesha for fun, for new beginnings, and during difficult times. And I have always found chanting to the elephant god to be a good and positive thing. Perhaps this is why I was drawn to tattoo him on my right arm several years ago. Still as bright and beautiful as the first day I had the tattoo made, I always receive such complementary remarks about this tattoo when I travel. And the Hindi women in Dunkin' Donuts love to send him kisses when I come in for my morning Chai. At first they looked at me very surprised, inquiring, "Do you know who that is?" This tickled me, but always I gave a respectful response.

Known as Ganapati, images of him can be found all over India, Thailand, Nepal, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka, and he is worshipped also by Buddhists sand Jainists as well as Hindus. But I do not believe you have to be a part of any particular religion in order to connect to this wonderful deity. His large belly and numerous symbols make him an inviting god in which to chant to.

The first story of Ganesha that I ever heard was how he received his elephant head. Now I have heard many versions of this story - all equally unpleasant, but the one I first remembered hearing from my teacher was that Lord Shiva's wife Parvati wanted a child very badly. Shiva was always away and she wanted company, so she created him from the dirt of her body while bathing. She instructed him to guard her entrance to the bathroom and not let anyone enter. So when Lord Shiva returned and Ganesha would not allow him entry to his wife's chambers, he quickly became enraged and cut off his head. Running out, Parvati asked Shiva to what he had done and he immediately sent his army out to find a suitable replacement head for his son. The first animal they came across was an elephant, and so they brought its head back, and Lord Shiva attached it to the boy. Shiva's troops or army are called "Gana" and he eventually made Ganesha leader of the troops, which is "pati." Thus, his name: Ganapati. 

I am not making this story up. It can be found in the Shiva Purana. An even more interesting and true story is that every morning when I take my shower, my lovely dog, Bodhi (enlightened one) always comes and sits in front of the shower and waits until the water stops to go back into the bedroom. I think of him as my little Ganesha every day.

The most popular chant to Lord Ganesha is "Om Gum Ganapatayei Namaha." And I have chanted this mantra for many, many years. Chanting his name 108 times at first seemed daunting, but after so many years and so many repetitions, it seems to fly by in a couple of minutes. In actuality it could take 8-10 or so, depending on the speed in which I am chanting on that particular day. It has always been my go-to Ganesha mantra even though the first one that I learned was "Ganesha Sharanam." Sharanam means to take shelter in, so this is often translated as "I take refuge in Ganesha." Another lovely chant that I sometimes sing when I am in a very jovial mood and full of energy.

Before 2017 began I knew that I wanted to take my chanting practice deeper. I had felt a disconnection spiritually and wanted to dive into a practice of surrendering and honoring the different aspects of the divine. I knew that I wanted to being the year with Ganesha and began an alter to him on January 1st and chanted to him until the New Moon on February 26th. This was an extremely challenging time for me. As many already know, I had an auto accident in December and post concussion syndrome. For the entire time that I intended to chant to Ganesha, I battled with headaches, memory issues, and certain brain fog daily. I felt energetically depleted and mentally exhausted, so on days when I had to work I would come home and want to crash. But I forced myself to chant even just three times on those nights. On other days when I had more energy I would chant 108 times, and eventually changed up the chants to include a new favorite "Om Shreem Hreem Kleem Glaum Gam Ganapatayei Namaha!" This was fun and interesting on the day that I could enjoy it. Chanting 108 times and more in the car on other days made the time go by and more enjoyable. One source translates this mantra to mean the following:

‘Shrim’ invokes love and beauty; it concerns the heart and hence, both physical and emotional health. ‘Hrim’ is associated with Maya, a syllable that empowers us to see through the illusory nature of the world. ‘Klim’ is forceful, stimulating and energizing; symbolically, it is represented by a thunderbolt that destroys lowly ignorance. ‘Glaum’ is the earth element while ‘Gam’ is the primal Seed, Ganesha himself. In chanting this mantra, the devotee seeks the grace of Ganesha in his present life and all future lifetimes.

Chanting artist Girish says this mantra, "invokes the energies of abundance into our lives by clearing away all energetic obstacles and cultivating the energy of attracting our highest good."

The one thing that came to mind during this period of chanting to Ganesha was, "Careful what you wish for." I was chanting daily to the Remover of Obstacles, to clear away impurities, and energies that did not serve my spirit and highest good. Health concerns seemed to show up daily and ongoing personal issues seemed to be heightened. I wanted to quit. But I knew that I needed to see it through because I had asked for this. I had asked to be cleared, and in the process of clearing energy, it has to come up and out, doesn't it? Well, it sure was! All of it: the good, the bad, and the ugly! Well, truthfully it was mostly the bad and the ugly, but in the end it was all good!

I also taught myself the Ganesha Gayatri Mantra. Beautiful and melodic, this chant is a very powerful mantra said to facilitate the dawning of spiritual enlightenment through the grace of Ganesha. 

Om Ekadantaaya Vidmahe
Vakratundaaya Dheemahi
Tano Dantih Prachodayaat

All I can say is, "Wow." For the past few years my intentions have been to work on opening the energies in my upper chakras and make a greater connection spiritually. And although I thought that I felt depleted and disconnected during this time of chanting to Ganesha, I was actually more connected than I gave myself credit for. I was there every day in some way dedicating myself to the connection. I believe that once his Gayatri Mantra became a part of me that I was able to begin to move out of the phase that I was in, and truly clear away the obstacles at hand so that I could emerge lighter and more assured than I had been before.

Chanting to Ganesha helped prepare me for the next stage of my chanting, which turned to the Goddess Lakshmi. I am currently chanting to her daily. So when my good friend Raj returned from India with a token for me - bells with the image of both Ganesha and Lakshmi - I thought, "how perfect!" That has had a place on my alter since. 

Ganesha is the used at the beginning, and I still feel like I am at the beginning of a very deep and soulful journey...the journey of my life and quest to deeper understanding. There seems to always be a perfect time or opportunity to chant to Ganesha, but I invite those who are at a particularly difficult or challenging or a huge change in their life to begin a daily chanting practice to the Remover of Obstacles. And I would enjoy hearing about your experience.


Wednesday, March 1, 2017

March 2017 Theme: SING!

"Singing provides a true sense of lightheartedness. If I sing when I am alone, I feel wonderful. It's freedom."
- Andrea Bocelli
Singing - singing is an activity that brings people together. we sing at church, at funerals, and weddings, and social gatherings. we sometimes sing at yoga classes, and even have special singing gatherings in yoga that we call kirtan where we chant the names of God. The true essence of signing is inspiring that divine connection. Whether you sing in the car alone or with a group, you are sharing your inner bliss, joy, sorrow or triumph and connecting to the well of feelings within you and releasing it into the world. 

Some people feel funny singing out loud in front of other people. It is often the case that it takes several months for a new yoga student to chant "OM" when they start attending classes. Over time and once we are comfortable with the meaning and vibrational sound the individual voices opens up and becomes more resonant. And when more people open up, the sound created together is intoxicating. 

Singing activates the 5th Chakra located in the neck and throat. It is associated with the color light blue and is the energy of communication and truth. Lying blocks this chakra, and living a lie and feeling unable to speak your truth (for whatever reason), certainly takes a toll on this chakra's ability to open. So what's the best thing to do to work on opening this chakra? You got it: sing!

You can sing off key or badly. In fact, one of the ways to start working to activate this chakra is called "toning," and that does't always sound perfect. You choose a note - let's say we choose the first letter in our alphabet, which is also the first letter of the mantra "OM" (pronounced and sometimes spelled "AUM"). Now open your mouth and begin with the sound "AAA." Whatever note comes up start to take it up in pitch slowly until you cannot go any higher, then begin to take it down as low in pitch as you can go. Then the fun begins - just simply move the sound up and down at random, feeling out the energy of the note and connecting with the sound. It doesn't have to make any sense and it can be quite liberating. After the A sound you can move on to another sound, or just keep working with that one. After all, this is your practice!

The other aspect of the 5th Chakra is creativity. Being able to live creatively and express ourselves as creative beings is an important right to acknowledge. In the business of our lives, many of us forget to live creatively or have a creative outlet. Whether you enjoy writing, drawing, painting, playing music or any other paths of being creative, it is important to keep this energy in your life. When you feel stagnant or stuck, try to create. When you feel blocked in creating, sing or chant and work to open the 5th Chakra. 

One of our favorite kirtan artists who inspired many others is Krishna Das. This relatable, self proposed "Jew from New York," has brought his method of chanting to the yoga masses for decades now. And as luck would have it, he will be in Philadelphia on March 17th for "Kirtan on the Square." We highly recommend attending and you can get tickets and more information on his website and "Eventbrite." Kirtan on the Steps

So for March let's sing! Sing alone and sing together and express ourselves and open our creative center. Let's see where it takes us as we move into the energies of rebirth for Spring!

In Love & Light,
OYC Founder, Tracey L. Ulshafer & your OYC Teaching Staff

* * * * * * * * * * *
Since I had an accident on December 1st and have been recovering from a concussion, my asana practice has been almost nonexistent, except for some Restorative yoga and when I model in class. I knew I wanted to do something to activate and go deeper into my yoga practice for this year and since it couldn't be on a physical level, I decided this year to plan to chant every day. I wasn't sure how to get started, although I figured I would start chanting to Lord Ganesha, the "Remover of Obstacles," who is invoked at the beginning of new ventures. And since it was a new year and a new idea, I was sure that he would encourage my first set of chants. I spent a few days thinking about how I would go about the rest of it: how long would I chant to each god or goddess, and who would come next and why, when I received a free copy of Girish's new book, "Music and Mantas." Talk about divine timing! This interactive book helps you begin a chanting practice and even suggests which deities to chant to, and at what length. It was exactly what I had been contemplating. So, with book in hand, I set out a schedule for 2017 of chants. I was ready and on New Year's Day I created an alter to Ganesha and began chanting to him every day - and my plan was to chant until Feb. 28th, 59 days total.

The experience has been humbling. I began with the mantras that I know, but then found some deeper mantras to connect to. In total, I played with several of his mantras but memorized two other mantras to Ganesha, including his Gayatri Mantra, which is soulful and melodic, and the version combining the energies of Lakshmi which is fun and whimsical. 

Through the process of dealing with my own health issues the past two months I have been chanting to Ganesha. There were days when I could only light the candle and chant 3 times. There were nights I did 108 and more. Sometimes I really wanted to sit there and other times it felt like a chore. All the while I reminded myself I was chanting to remove my obstacle...and my obstacles are quite stubborn. But the good news is that I am seeing some old patterns begin to clear and new energies emerging as I lift the veil, uncover and work on releasing things that I have been holding onto for far too long.

I decided to cut my chanting to Ganesha short by 2 days, on Sunday Feb. 26th, the night of the New Moon. It just felt right to create my new alter and start my new chanting to Lakshmi. So, for March, my energy moves from removing obstacles to the goddess of wealth, success, and prosperity. I'm excited to see where it takes me on this next phase of chanting. Wherever it does, I am sure it will be deep and humbling. OM SHANTI.
In Love & Light.
Tracey L. Ulshafer,
Founder/Director, One Yoga Center