Yoga & Meditation

Spotlight on Cindy Walker: Certified Yoga Instructor, Life Coach, & Dynamic Retreat Leader

                                      By Dr. Dennis Augustine (DPM-Ret.)

“The success of yoga does not lie in the ability to perform postures but in how it positively changes the way we live our life…”—Desikachar

Cindy Walker has been involved with yoga in one form or another for over a quarter century, and in the process has become a well seasoned certified yoga instructor with a loyal following at Yoga Source Los Gatos and Bay Club Courtside in the South San Francisco Bay Area.

As a former certified yoga instructor myself and a dedicated student of this practice for 30 years, I can say without a doubt that Cindy is one of the most gifted yoga teachers in Silicon Valley. 

Though I have taken several of her classes off and on over the years, I wasn’t able to attend her popular 8 AM Sunday morning class at Bay Club Courtside, as I reserved that time to attend an ongoing group sitting meditation session at the Insight Meditation Center in Redwood City. 

This changed however, a few years ago, when my wife Cecile and I downsized our home. Focusing on settling into our new townhome we had very little time to make the forty-five minute commute. This freed me up to take Cindy’s class. I thought it would be temporary. But, after a few weeks went by, I discovered I was experiencing better results from her class than sitting meditation at the center. Cindy’s slower, more mindful vinyasa flow approach to yoga with an emphasis on energetic breath work is akin to a moving meditation really resonated with me. As a result I became one of her regular Sunday morning students.

One of Cindy’s favorite wisdom quotes is by Goethe, an eighteenth century philosopher, novelist, poet, playwright, who once said: “When you trust yourself, you will know how to live.” Cindy tells her students that, “Yoga trains us to reduce the mind’s constant chatter, concentrate on living in the present moment, and focus on what’s most important in our precious lives.”

Her first introduction to yoga was during her college years. She was instantly awakened to the many benefits yoga had to offer, including stress management and a dramatic improvement of her general well-being. In effect, yoga revealed her inner guide, her inner therapist and her body-temple became her sanctuary. 

What distinguishes a good yoga teacher from a great yoga teacher? One could argue it requires superior technical abilities, a great resume, and excellent communication skills to articulate the posture sequences and philosophy of yoga. Cindy certainly has all that and more. She holds a BA in Movement Therapy & Psychology, the prerequisite number of hours of certification through the Yoga Alliance, and has received a number of other yoga certifications including Restorative and Yin Yoga from some of the top teachers in the country. But, what truly makes her a great yoga teacher is how she makes her students feel during class and the residual positive afterglow that carries over to the rest of their day. 

When a student attends one of Cindy’s mixed level classes, you can expect a well choreographed eclectic blend of different styles of yoga and an amazing, full body workout. This is accompanied by a cool tunes playlist ranging from jazz, Afro-Caribbean beats and Indian chants to name a few, invigorating breath movement, guided imagery, playful humor, and ending the class with zen meditation and a deep relaxation pose. 

After years of showing her students how to build muscle strength, improve flexibility and balance, Cindy, a compassionate observer of the human condition, saw a need to help heal the mind. This led her to become a certified Life Coach which she describes as “Yoga of the Mind.” The goal is to assist her clients to overcome everyday obstacles that often get in the way of discovering their authentic selves. 

She accomplishes this by creating the space for clients to recognize and let go of old patterns of thinking and unhealthy belief systems. She then guides them in creating newer and healthier ways of seeing, that allows them to discover peace and inner joy that is not dependent on events that happen outside themselves. 

Through “The Art of Living Life Coaching & Yoga Services” Cindy is available for private one-on-one and group classes, Skype sessions, and conducts workshops, teacher trainings, mentorships and retreats in some of the most tranquil venues throughout the Bay Area. To learn more about this amazing teacher and healer, check out her website and see her contact information below:

http://yogaandtheartofliving.com

email: cindy@y-tal.com

phone: 408-234-6430

 

Why the Beer Yoga Phenomenon & Other Controversial Yoga Trends are Alarming Purists

“If you are going to yoga with the goal of getting high or buzzed, at least do so after yoga and not before or during class…Anything that alters your natural state of mind is no longer yoga in my book.”
—Jake Panasevich, Contributor, US News & World Report

In a 1940 Professor Walter Kitschnig told Holyoke College students to “keep their minds open—but not so open that your brains fall out.” 

I had been meaning to write this post for a some time. What prompted me to write it today is a couple of photos that were texted to me yesterday by our friends and neighbors Susan and Nelson Bye with the following message: “Thinking of you at the Hoffbrauhaus in Las Vegas.” They were having dinner and watched people doing yoga poses with beer bottles and found it humorous. Little did they know that posting about alternative and controversial yoga programs that were popping up around the world were on my “To Do List.”

Yoga has been taught as a sequence of physical poses to get fit and to calm the mind from the stresses of the day. For those wanting to take it further, it can be a pathway to personal transformation. But, there are a number of outlets that are selling the loftier charm of taking “inner calm” to a “higher level” (pun intended). The original “Bier Yoga” ads presents itself as the “marriage of two great centuries-old therapies for mind, body and soul” that pair the philosophies of yoga with the pleasure of beer drinking to take one to a higher state of being (again, pun intended). Two Berlin-based instructors were inspired to offer Bier Yoga classes after seeing it done at Burning Man (Esquire: January 01, 2017).

In recent years the focus has been to lower the bar to welcome the greatest number of people. But, the concern among mainstream yoga studios and aficionados is how to best accomplish this without diluting the essence of yoga.

There has been a great debate taking place on the world stage on whether yoga has “sold its soul” by passing off anything and everything as YOGA and pushing towards global commercialization rather than staying closer to its spiritual roots. Those roots include adhering to social and personal ethics, proper breath control, and reprograming the mind through mindfulness meditation to think in healthier, less stressful ways and create your own inner sanctuary of peace. The latter is becoming more common place in sports, high tech and financial service companies, schools, fire departments and law enforcement to name a few.

There are a plethora of yoga styles for the adventurous, some utilizing experimental musical genres, or alternative venues like beach yoga, yoga in the park, on a roof top, at an art gallery, nightclub, vineyard, and farm.

There are dog yoga classes with your four legged-friend, aerial yoga, laughing yoga, and even naked yoga that proposes to transform personal limitations, inhibitions and shame into a realm of personal freedom. On the more artistic side, there is glow yoga that utilizes fluorescent body paint that glows in the dark.

Then there are those who are pushing the envelope even further with cannabis (pot) yoga, and at the far extreme, the highly controversial: “gun yoga,” created by someone who was stationed with the US ARMY in India. I’m not even going to touch that one as it is no where near being on my bucket list, but have included a photo.

In closing, there is no way to put a lid on experimentation especially with the young and carefree. In the 60s I did plenty of experimentation. Gradually I upgraded my addictions to healthier outlets like yoga and meditation. When I first started doing yoga over 30 years ago, there were very few males in class.  If the only thing that is going help women get their husbands and boyfriends to take a yoga class is Beer Yoga or ganja yoga, until they find out they can obtain an organic high without the intoxicating additives, who am I to argue? But for those of you who are looking for a healthier workout that honors the mind, body and spirit in it’s purest form, your average accredited neighborhood yoga studio is still the way to go. As for me, I prefer to slowly sip a cold mug of beer with friends without yoga being a distraction:-).

Postscript: For the sake of fair reporting there are some teachers around the country that do straight up yoga classes with the add-on being pairing it with a beer at the local pub afterwards. They are happy to report that many of their male students confide in them that they would have never set foot in a yoga class were it not for the promise of beer. By the end of class, they were amazed how good they felt and have joined the growing ranks of students worldwide discovering the many benefits of yoga.

Photo Credit for first 2: Susan Zanders Bye & Nelson Bye
Photo Credit 3: Rediff.com
Photo Credit 4: Indiatimes.com
Photo: Jerry & Me drinking a cold one in Cambodia

Nazanine Bain: An up and Coming Silicon Valley Yoga Teacher With Heart

…“An amazing yoga teacher is a beacon of light who is willing to share that light with everyone around them, making their class a special place to be.”—Anna Coventry

Nazanine (pronounced nah-zah-neen) is a common Persian name that means “sweetheart, lovely and delightful." If you speak to her students, friends and teachers, they will all agree that the name fits her perfectly. 

Born in Los Gatos, she was introduced to yoga by her beloved mother at the tender age of 16. Little did her mother know the introduction would change the trajectory of her daughter’s life. Now 36, Nazanine describes her yoga practice as being a “Vehicle for her personal Transformation.” She firmly believes it can assist anyone to become a healthier, happier, and a more authentic, conscious human being. “Yoga creates the atmosphere for bad energy to exit the body so that good energy may enter and enliven it,” she says.”

I first met Nazanine Bain about two years ago, when she took over the class from a popular and well-respected yoga teacher I had been taking classes with at Courtside Bay Club for many years. As a certified yoga teacher back in the day, I can say without reservation it is not easy to replace a teacher that students revere. However, it wasn’t too long before Nazanine won over the hearts and minds of a growing body of students who support her brand of yoga. A year later another beloved yoga teacher decided to give up her class due to health issues and again Nazanine was embraced as the new instructor. 

In my thirty years of practice, I have seen instructors come and go and have a good sense who has the “right stuff,” to become a great yoga teacher. My first impression of Nazanine was her sincerity, presence, preparation, winning personality and her ability to connect with students at the heart level. Her sheer energy and joyful presence that fills the room inspires you to want to practice yoga even when you’re not particularly in the mood. If that doesn’t motivate you or put you at ease, her infectious giggle will. Whether you’re a first time student or a seasoned yogi, she has a gift for making everyone feel connected and bends over backwards to be of service. Even though some of the photos seen here could easily make the cover of Yoga Magazine, Nazanine leaves her ego at the door. She knows it’s not about her own practice but rather to lead and support students in doing asanas (poses) safely and suitable for their level.

Nazanine received her 200-hour Flow Yoga teacher certification at Yoga Source in Los Gatos, CA and completed her 500-hour teacher training at “Breathe Together Yoga Studio" (formerly called “Breathe”) that was co-founded by Jennifer Prugh, whom she calls her primary yoga teacher mentor.

But, the greatest teacher in her life is her precious two year old son, Mackai. “As a single mother, he teaches me patience, unconditional love, the meaning of ‘letting-go’ and how to enjoy the simple things in life,”’ she says. “If there is anyone that lives entirely in the present moment it’s my son,” she proudly adds.

Nazanine’s training has evolved to include a broad variety of yoga styles including Power Yoga, Vinyasa Flow, Yin Yoga, Gentle Yoga, and Restorative Yoga to name a few. She teaches classes at Courtside Bay Club, and St. Mary’s, a private school in Los Gatos. On the corporate side, she leads classes for employees at Apple Computer. She also teaches one-on-one private lessons. 

With a deep passion to learn, improve her skill set and share the latest trends in yoga, Nazanine has taken special training in “Yoga Nidra,” often referred to as “Sleep Yoga,” a powerful meditation technique that can be practiced by young and old alike, and can easily be incorporated into your daily lifestyle. It instills a deep sense of inner peace and leaves you feeling relaxed, present and thoroughly rejuvenated. It’s just another tool in Nazanine’s yoga toolbox that allows her to better serve and support her students.

For more information about Nazanine Bain and her body of work, Please direct all inquires to: nazanineyoga@email.com

You could also check out her website and instagram: nazanineyoga.com and connect with her via twitter.com/nazanineyoga

Postscript: Watch Nazanine's short Vimeo Video clip about what yoga means to her filmed out doors near the Golden Gate Bridge: https://vimeo.com/241452956

Photos: of her postures were provided courtesy of Nazanine.

Photo:   of Nazanine and I doing a double tree partner pose outside the Mind-Body Studio at Courtside last summer just for the fun of it.

Namaste’! 🙏❤️🙏

 

Happy Birthday to Dad “Frank the Tank,” Who Would have been 101, T-Shirt Wisdom, the Memorial Tattoo & Grief Yoga

“Grief is as individual as a fingerprint. Do what is right for your soul”

There are different ways to mourn and pay a memorial tribute to a loved one. For my nephew, staff sergeant, Andrew Augustine, who has served in the US Air Force for the passed 9 years, it was to have a memorial tank tattoo inked on his body with grandpa Frank’s name on it. He and his brothers liked to call my dad “Frank the Tank” because he enjoyed rhyming our names (Mine was Dennis the Menace:-) and because dad was a veteran of the US Army. Andrew was recently deployed to Portugal and regrettably was unable to attend his grandpa’s funeral. However, he did get to see him in mid-November when Cecile and I made a short visit to NJ to see my dad and the family.
Today is the day dad would have turned 101. Some family members hoped against hope he might make it. At a New Years Eve event Cecile and I attended one of the servers, named Carina was wearing a black T-Shirt that read “The Journey is the Destination.” Every time she passed by a platter of appetizers, I seemed more interested in the quote on her shirt than the food she was serving. I kept reflecting on the fact that life is about all our experiences that occur “between" the significant milestone events we reach. Whether dad made it to 101 was irrelevent. After all, it was not about reaching a particular age, it was the wonderful way he lived his life that I have recounted here over the years.
The day after we buried him it was pouring rain. I attempted to go to my favorite yoga studio to take a class with my favorite teacher to create some space for myself to deal with the mental and emotional residue of losing him. It had moved to a new location. My Uber driver got misdrected by his GPS and I was not only late, but I wound up at the different studio called Honor Yoga. Their mission statement: Honor your mind, honor your body and honor yourself.
I approached the young woman at the reception area and asked when was her next class and she said 45 minutes. 
I told her I would wait to take the class but felt some disappointment arising. I was still holding on to the assumption that I was best served taking a class with my favorite teacher at the other studio. 
Jennifer Gigantino, co-owner of Honor Yoga and would be leading the class. I found myself staring at her T-shirt which read: “Let it Be, Let it Be, Let it Be. There will be an answer Let it Be.” I had noticed the lyrics written by Paul McCartney when I first checked in. The inspiration came from the Beatles' dead mother, Mary when he was having a tough time dealing with her loss.
Jennifer, a former teacher of autistic children led a good gentle class. She opened with “Let go of any worries and concerns and be in the present moment.” Calming music was being played. At the close, during relaxation pose, she came around to each one of us and massaged some soothing essential oil around the crown of our heads. I had been nursing a sore right elbow for weeks and had I gone to the other yoga studio I would have found myself in a more active class which would have been problematic. Honor Yoga was the place I needed to be. It was gentle, relaxing, peaceful and easy on the elbow. It is interesting how things we often fret about clear up just in the process of life itself, when we don’t try to control the outcome, justing “letting things be.”

Postscript: The last photo of me wearing dad’s winter coat I took home to keep him close.
Photo Credit: Honor Yoga January 2018 Newsletter

REMEMBERING MOM on Her BIRTHDAY FOUR YEARS AFTER HER PASSING

She was our rock, steadfast and strong.
She had a sharp wit and infectious laugh like no other.
She was a dreamer who left an poor village in Sicily in 1947 for a new life in America. I discovered her first Passport (see photo) she used to get aboard a Merchant Marine Clipper that nearly went down in an electrical storm.
She was married to my dad for 65 years before she passed.
She began her life as a seamstress for a local garment factory and also worked from home. I used to help her sew closure hooks on fur collars when I was young.
Among other things she taught us to respect our elders.
She sent whatever extra money she could muster to her mom and dad. She loved us to a fault and wanted the best for me and my siblings.
She left no debts and a life full of fond memories.
She was beautiful but humble and kind unless you crossed her or messed with her kids🙂
What I remember most is our many trips to the old country to visit the relatives. The photo of her and I was taken at her best friend's Villa in St. Agatha in the Amalfi Coast in 1984. We love and miss you mom.
Thank you for all you did for us and encouraging me to get an education at a time when I was ready to drop out of college and supporting my goals in every way. Were it not for you I wouldn’t have had the wonderful family I have now nor the success I have achieved. You were the best.
❤️❤️❤️🙏🙏🙏🌹🌹

The Mother Daughter Yoga Pose that Captured my Heart

“Behind every young child who believes in themselves is a parent who believed first.”

This photo of a mother and daughter doing a yoga partner pose captured my heart. Mom is in an upside down modified head stand in a cross-legged position creating a ledge for her adorable daughter to sit in a basic seated yoga/meditation pose. The young girl with a smile of joy looks like a little goddess.

When I asked the mother for permission to use the photo to use in my lifestyle blog which has a section on yoga and meditation, her immediate response was, “Yes, of course.” I then forwarded the photo to my long-time friend Elizabeth Sharkey, a much beloved teacher at Fisher Middle School in Los Gatos, Calif. Some month ago, Elizabeth had invited me to teach a yoga class to 25 of her students during Indian History Month. I asked Elizabeth for her first impressions of the photo from the perspective of being a mother and a teacher.Here’s what she had to say:

“Parenting is a balancing act. You literally and spiritually support your children as you lift them up in life. The mother is grounded in the earth as the daughter ascends to the heavens.”

I thought her comments were a beautiful metaphor for a parent acting a mentor for her child. This ancient practice supports children in their classrooms, homes, in their sports activities and in their relationships. It teaches them to focus, build confidence and self-esteem as they embark on all of their life’s adventure. Moreover, it helps reduce stress in a safe and nurturing environment, and teaches them to be patient, kind and accepting of others. Namaste’ 🙏🙏🙏

Photo credit: The mother of the child whose names I offered to keep anonymous.

 

Photo (Doing Yoga w her Daughte)rn.jpg

Warrior ll On the Dock of the RInconada Lake & the Canada Geese that Yielding the Right of Way

Warrior ll On the Dock of the Rinconada Lake & the Canada Geese that Yielding the Right of Way🙂

Journal Entry: 7 AM. Sunday. After Cecile and I walked on the trails with our son Jason's dog Daisy, and before my 8 AM yoga class at Bay Club Courtside I had the urge to do a Warrior ll pose which is a symbol of wisdom, courage, and focus. Normally, I have to compete with the Canada Geese for floor space on the dock, but they were off wading in the cascading ponds except for one who stood steady on a rock, gazing on the reflection of the lake—which is what I was doing moments earlier. We were both loving what we do.

Wild Geese by Mary Oliver

“You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert—repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves."
Via Lis Huntly writes: 
"You are perfect in your wholeness. 
Your wholeness includes your scars, your weaknesses, your mood swings, the days of your life you’d rather pull the covers up over your head and stay in bed.
Yoga is a practice of peeling away labels of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ and embracing whatever form of beauty you bring to your mat each day."

Namaste'

P.S. Normally, I would do the pose barefoot...but the geese can be messy in what they leave behind—if you know what I mean.

Debora Cohen: Yoga Teacher, Energy Therapist, Healer, Author & Friend

Debora Cohen: Yoga Teacher, Energy Therapist, Healer, Author & Friend

“I cannot emphasize enough the importance of a good teacher.”—Temple Grandin

Debora Cohen, and my wife Cecile and I go way back. She was one of our first yoga teachers at Courtside Bay Club. She exemplifies all the special qualities one wants to see in a yoga teacher. She empowers her students to get the most out of their practice, she emphasizes safety, and rather than working from a script, she choreographs a sequence of poses according to the energy she feels in the room. More importantly, she maintains a positive attitude throughout the class that allows her students to have an uplifting and energetic experience.

Speaking of uplifting and energetic, I reminded Debora recently, that back in the day—and much to my surprise—I did my first deep back bend called “Wheel Pose,” in one of her Sunday morning classes. We simulated a back bend in one of the photos below, to demonstrate how Debora goes about assisting a student to safely get into the pose. As a beginner, you never start out doing an advanced back bend. It takes practice. Then one day, you suddenly find yourself in the pose saying to yourself, my God, “I can do this.” It's a very empowering experience.

Debora holds a BA honors tract in psychology, one year of masters study and three year of clinical doctoral education. She also holds many certifications in the disciplines of energy work, yoga, fitness, meditation and medical qigong to name a few. Her continuing education efforts led her to becoming a Certified Energy Health Practitioner (CEHP).

Sometime later, I had heard about a spiritual leader affectionately called Amma, or "mother.” She was best known for literally "embracing the masses," resulting in the media giving her the nickname: “The Hugging Saint of India.” By this time, she had hugged millions of people around the world, and her status as a “Spiritual Therapist,” was attracting a large audience in the US. When reporters would ask Amma how she kept up such a hectic pace, she would simply say, “I am connected to the Eternal Source, so I am not like a battery that gets used up.” Her organization raises over 20 million worldwide to fund her many charitable causes including Mother’s Kitchen, that feeds the poor and the hungry. I used to see Amma at her 164-acre campus near San Ramon, Calif., twice a year when she was on tour. I was moved when I saw spiritual leaders from every major religion standing in line to be hugged by her. After a while I felt compelled to take people I knew to see her and experience her compassionate embrace. I brought family, friends, fellow yoga students and many of my yoga teachers. Debora was one of them. 

Out of all the people I invited to visit Amma, she was the most taken by her. Her experience met all the criteria of the old saying: When the student is ready, the teacher will come. In a section of new book: Kundalini, Empowering The Mind, Body, Heat and Soul: The Energy of Joyful Transformation (Balboa Press, 2017), Debora talks about how she came to meet this humble living saint many compared to Mother Teresa. Without mentioning me by name, Debora wrote in Chapter 3, “One day a student came to me and told me about a woman known as Amma that he thought I would resonate with.” 

Like myself, and thousands of others from all stations in life, when Amma was in town, Debora would go see her at the San Ramon campus—which sits atop an equestrian farm. Later, she would go on to visit her ashram (teaching center) in India. In effect, Amma became her Guru (spiritual guide). This experience played a major role in her personal transformation and enhanced her abilities to: “feel or sense what was going on with my clients while I was working on them.” 

Postscript: To those not exposed to yoga, the partner yoga poses as seen in these images are are rarely taught in a traditional yoga class but "are" taught at certain yoga workshops. 
To learn more about Debora’s energy work, online courses, podcasts, retreats and her new book, check out her website: http://www.insightfulrelaxation.com 
www.amma.org
enjoyyourlifenow.net
Note: Studio Photos taken by my beloved Cecile...

Stretching the Stillness: Published in the Los Gatos Times Weekly

I want to THANK the nearly 100 people from my general Facebook Friends and the inspiring yoga enthusiasts around the country that are members of the “Yoga Room” Facebook Group who responded to my recent post: 
“Doing Yoga Poses on the Dock of our Pristine Lake at Rinconada Hills." One of the photos that appeared in that post was published by the Los Gatos Weekly Times last Friday along with a brief story entitled: Stretching the Stillness. 

The late Andy Warhol, a leading figure in the visual art movement was credited for the phrase: "15 minutes
of fame," once said: ”In the future everybody will be world famous for fifteen minutes. Now, that I have had my 15 minutes of fame, it’s time to wash the dishes🙂

I received some inquiries about how to get started doing yoga. Once a counterculture pastime, this 5000 year old tradition from India has gone mainstream over the years. Thanks to researchers who discovered that the practice of yoga had important health benefits: decreased blood pressure, improvement in cognitive function, positive mood leveling effects, increased flexibility, a calmer, focused mind, the yoga phenomenon began to accelerate. According to The Yoga Alliances latest report in 2016, over 36.7 million Americans (and climbing) have a regular practice. That figure will likely arise to 80 million in the next 12 months.

“The most important pieces of equipment you need for doing yoga,” says nationally known yoga teacher Rodney Yee, “are your body and your mind.” I would add, the “willingness” is also required. Woody Allen once said, “The secret of success is showing up.” My experience is that some people are fearful of attending class, believing they won’t measure up. However, there are no expectations. No judgments. The teacher sets a tone of openness to all newcomers and faciliates a safe zone for people to start where they are.

As one of my teachers, Cindy Walker told our last Sunday morning’s class, “Yoga is not about rushing through a pose, its not a competition, its just yoga.” Even though you share the yoga room with others, It’s your personal journey, not someone else’s. You don’t have to compare yourself with others. Begin with a gentle class or take private lessons as one of my former medical assistants decided to do. Yoga is for all ages, all body types, for people from all socio-economic backgrounds, even people with a life threatening illness (check with your doctor) find the benefits of practice. 

Personally, I am in no competition with anyone. I just want to be happy, healthy, peaceful and free and be able to deal with the challenges of the day with as much grace and equanimity as possible. I believe this is what everyone desires. Yoga is a practice, it’s poetry in motion. It’s life.

The late yoga master teacher, B.K.S. Iyengar,* author of "Light on Life," who lived until to age of 96 once said: “Yoga is like Music. The Rhythm of the body, the melody of the mind, and the harmony of the soul…”

Namaste’

*Postscript: B.K.S. Iyengar, is the author of Light on Life: The Journey to Wholeness, Inner Peace, and Ultimate Freedom. In 2004, Time Magazine called him one of the world's most Influential people. He was credited with popularizing yoga in India and introducing it to the Western world. One of 13 children, he lived through a very unhealthy childhood, facing diseases such as malaria, TB., typhoid fever, and malnutrition. 

Photo credit: of Iyengar: Indian Express

Doing Yoga Poses on the Dock of our Pristine Lake at Rinconada Hills

"Yoga takes you into the present moment, the only place where life exists."

                                                              —Patanjali

Performing two classical poses, Warrior l and Warrior lll in the early morning on the wooden dock of Rinconda Hills, in Los Gatos, CA, a gated community, where we live. The peace and stillness of the lake and the habitat around me provides the perfect backdrop to practice these strength and balancing poses. When I'm not doing my daily yoga practice with my wonderful teachers at Breathe Together Yoga and Bay Club Courtside, I walk the trails of this wonderful abode three times a day with Cecile-my best friend and wife of 40 years-who also does yoga and our son Jason's dog Daisy. My other passion is blogging about my day-to-day experiences with a sense of deep joy and gratitude. Whether doing yoga on or off the mat, It's all yoga to me, and this wonderful refuge provides plenty of inspiration. Namaste' everyone!

Angels Among Us: A Memorial Tribute to an Amazing Woman

At some point in our lives, when we least expect it, we encounter a person that leaves a compassionate and loving imprint on one’s family by performing a “mitzvah,” which in Hebrew means a good or charitable deed. 
In our case that person was Karen Mullens Michane, a New Jersey native like myself who recently passed away at her home in surrounded by her family. 


After my mom died four years ago, Rev. Alex Santora, pastor of Hoboken’s Church of Our Lady of Grace and columnist for the Jersey Journal, arranged to have Karen administer Holy Communion once a month to my 100 year old dad, Frank Augustine. It couldn’t have been a better match. 


In an email to Rev. Alex, which I was copied on, Karen had expressed her “thanks for the opportunity,” to be of service to a man whom she called “a remarkable gentleman and a true Hoboken treasure.” She enjoyed my dad's "stories of the old Hoboken.” They brought back memories of her late dad, who also grew up in Hoboken, where Marlon Brando starred in "On The Waterfront), and where Frank Sinatra got his start as a crooner. 


Karen was truly a courageous and amazing woman—a godsend if you will. During my many visits from California to see my dad she always had a beautiful smile on her face, in spite of living with a life threatening illness.She bestowed on dad gifts of joy, optimism, kindness, compassion and graciously offered a listening ear. He thoroughly enjoyed her visits. 

 

She was a woman of deep faith and as she was approaching what I perceived to be last stage of her life, asked me to keep her in my prayers. I wholeheartedly obliged by lighting a virtual candle and included a healing prayer on gratefulness.org, a website founded by Brother David Stendl-Rast, a Benedictine monk and Zen practitioner I met at a spiritual retreat at Esalen Institute in Big Sur, CA. 

 

Karen had gone to the Academy of St. Aloysius (my dad’s middle name) in Jersey City. She was one of the first women accepted to St. Peter's University, taught at St. Vincent de Paul in Bayonne before becoming a principal probation officer. After retiring 33 years later she participated in liturgy at St. Joseph’s Church and became the executive secretary for the local homeless shelter. I enjoyed hearing about her travels to Ireland, Scotland and the Vatican City. She also enjoyed goiing to the theater, reading mysteries, and listening to Bob Dylan. I would like to express my heartfelt condolences to her surviving family, relatives and close friends, most of whom I never met. It was an honor to have known her and experience her angelic presence. At the request of her family, a donation was made to the Hoboken Homeless Shelter in her memory. 
May she rest in peace!

My Full Moon Relaxation Aqua Yoga Experience: An Unexpected Delight

"Let the waters settle and you will see the moon and the stars mirrored in your own being." —Rumi

When I slept passed my favorite afternoon gentle yoga class, that familiar twinge of guilt popped up into my mind. I let it pass. I have a little cue I give myself when the mind tries to stir up discontent. I say, “Not Now!” 
Besides there was an hour long Full Moon Aqua Yoga class at Bay Club Courtside that began at 8 PM. Our California weather has been a little manic depressive lately. It was 85° to 94° degrees recently. Last evening It was 62 degrees and the wind had been blowing strong all day. The offset was that the temperature in the pool was a comfortable 88° 

Our Aqua Yoga Fitness Instructor was Kathleen O’Malley. I introduced myself after one of her morning group classes. I was at poolside reading a book on Mindfulness from the comfort of my lounge chair and took notice of her unique style. Her command over her class was skillful and notable. She gave visual and verbal instructions from her captain’s chair in a clear and concise way. She showed her students how to move gently and rhythmically in the water to build tone and stretch isolated body parts. 

I noticed how she was able to create an instant rapport and sense of camaraderie with her students. She greeted her “wet babies,” as she affectionately called them, with her enthusiastic presence, good sense of humor and signature smile that made eveyone feel at home. At the end of her morning classes she even had her students engage in a few rounds of “laughing yoga.” 

But, the evening Aqua Yoga class added a new dimension. Unlike the morning classes Kathleen joins her students in the water rather than pantomiming the movements from her chair. It’s more mellow. The music is soothing. There were eight hearty souls that braved the unusual cool, windy weather, including Susie Brenner, a former fitness instructor in her own right and a long-time friend of Kathleen’s, Cecile and myself.

We did some warm-up exercises, a series of basic yoga stretches and Kathleen had us use the pool floor and wall to partially create resistance for some of the poses. She also encouraged us to find our balance in the water by employing the use of floating aids (i.e. foam noodles) to gain greater freedom of movement.

The benefits of aqua yoga are similar to studio based yoga. It eases anxiety, promotes relaxation and peace, reduces fatigue, relieves stiffness, increases joint range of motion, improves muscle tone, strengthens the core muscles, and improves breathing patterns. The water’s buoyancy takes the weight off your joints, making what would normally be challenging yoga postures feel effortless. It was humbling to witness some students who have certain day to day physical limitations thrive with a sense of ease, comfort and confidence in a water environment. Whatever preconcieved notions I had in the mind that, “this isn’t really yoga,” were put to rest when I saw how challenging it was to keep one’s balance with the water moving and shifting atround my legs and feet. 

Kathleen cautions students that while aqua yoga has many benefits one must continue with weight training in the gravity environment. It is important for bone health.”

In the first thirty minutes of the class, we did some basic yoga postures and the last half hour we did the aqua yoga version of relaxation pose. Kathleen handed out pool floating aids called noodles to assist us to float while on our backs. We placed one behind our knees, another behind our backs and underarms and third one behind our necks. It sure looks funny, but the end result is a heavenly experience. As we looked up to the sky, it didn’t take long to feel that joyful and magical feeling of weightlessness. I noticed the calming effect of my overactive mind slip into a deep, relaxing, meditative state and when I left the club the full moon followed me home. OMMMMMM!

Yoga on the Hudson in my home town of Hoboken, NJ

Marvin J. Ashton once said: “Home should be an anchor, a port in a storm, a refuge, a happy place in which to dwell.” For me, yoga studios are a sanctuary of peace—a home away from home.

I come to the yoga mat not to compete, but to breathe, to let go of the annoyances of the day, the chaos on the national and International scene, and remind myself how to be fully present, for whatever comes up in my life. I do yoga to appreciate and nurture my body and become aware of the mental chatter the mind creates, make peace with who I am; and to feel alive, open, and free.

In January, I was in my home town of Hoboken, NJ, to attend my dad’s 100th birthday party. The studio I most frequent while there is Devotion Yoga, located on the second floor of the old Trust Company of New Jersey bank building that overlooks the Hudson River and the NYC sky line. I consider Devotion Yoga to be the East Coast counterpart of Breathe Together yoga studio on the West Coast that I attend, co-founded by friend and teacher, Jennifer Prugh.

In life many people will come across your path. Some will use you, some will test you, some will judge you, but the ones that are truly important are the ones that facilitate bringing out the best in you. A dedicated and compassionate yoga teacher fits the bill. There are many capable teachers at Devotion Yoga, now in its 17th year. One of a few I have become acquainted with over the years is Tam Terry, one of the studio's founding members. As someone who has practiced yoga for 30 years, and as a former yoga teacher in my own community of Los Gatos, CA, I have come to recognize the qualities, skill sets, and signature styles of many yoga teachers.

Tam has a welcoming presence that makes everyone feel like they belong; has a calming effect on students; creates a peaceful and fun environment, is energetic, focused and kind, and her joyful love for yoga and her students is clearly palpable. While the class was in play, a winter snow storm was quietly setting in covering everything in sight. On my way back to the W Hotel, where my wife Cecile and I were staying, I spotted a Temple-top like hut in Frank Sinatra Park draped in snow. It couldn’t have been a more perfect day. Namaste'

Postcript: Devotional Yoga, Breathe Together and other yoga studios around the country offer a selection of classes and exceptional teachers for beginners and advanced students alike. It will change your life.

Teaching Yoga to 12 year old Middle School Children

Long time friend and a much beloved and dedicated school teacher, Elizabeth Sharkey, invited me to teach a yoga class for her 25 students who at the time were studying Indian History at Fisher Middle School in Los Gatos, CA. Though I don't formerly teach yoga anymore I accepted the challenge. After all, it's been a passion of mine for over 30 years. I spoke about the benefits of yoga; led a breathing, meditation, and visualization exercise; and Elizabeth and I demonstrated a few partner poses that her students creatively and joyfully improvised upon. They were wonderful, and I was honored for the opportunity to be of service and rediscover the inner child within me.😃

Though I hadn't expected it, a week later I received 25 heartfelt thank you letters from the students.

See below photo album link of the kids in action!

https://goo.gl/photos/cwDxUMwMSj4nkrAXA