The Living Yoga

Name: Jacob Daniel
Location: Southern California, USA
Occupation: DJ, Producer, Artist, Author, Entrepreneur and Yogi

Artwork by Jacob Daniel.

Allowing my own personal yoga to bubble up from within, collect in my heart and then to consciously guide it, as to how it may express through my every thought, word and action – is a much different perspective of yoga than I had when I unknowingly stepped upon this path. My first perspective, which was shared widely among western men, was that yoga was basically for sissies who couldn’t or chose not to play competitive contact sports. My first class was attended in an attempt to win the favor of someone, and had nothing to do with breath, balance, calm or deep connection with the Divine within.

As I stretched fairly easily through all of the poses (I was playing collegiate soccer at the time and was in fair shape), I was marveling at the facts that not only did these people meet in a room to stretch together multiple times a week, they were paying to stretch together. It is safe to say that I did not instantly awaken to the gift hidden within yoga.

Years passed. Yoga enters and leaves, enters and leaves. Each time a little more presence is brought to the experience, as thankfully the difficulty in actually holding some of the more advanced poses offered a degree of challenge which required focus. During those handful of experiences, which happened over about 10 years or so, yoga became less associated with stretching and became a workout, something physically demanding and strangely relaxing.

Years passed. Meditation enters my life on a wave, and I am given an understanding that there is stillness contained within yoga, it is that calm, golden core of energy that I had tapped into while playing soccer when “in the zone.” I understood why it felt so relaxing, even as I moved. As soon as I was keenly and acutely present, the stillness from within would begin to flow out and seemingly guide my movements through an outer hush. During this time yoga evolved from a workout and something physical into something mental which allowed for becoming calm and centered, each time sensing the power that rested within the deep calm.

Next came my introduction to Anusara Yoga and a reinforcement of a major change that was occurring in my life, as my understanding of God was changing and expanding. The underlying philosophy and practice of Anusara is connecting with the Divine within us, and the idea of being an extension of the very energy that is God, was rapidly expanding within my consciousness. I had recently had an experience that gave me great insight into this seemingly invisible connection to the Divine.

Artwork by Jacob Daniel.

While sitting with my love, Elizabeth, I was describing a new understanding that I was given about our connection with God. I held in my hand a large rough-cut crystal. Science has discovered that crystals have a consciousness operating within them, which causes them to grow as they do. Knowing this, I said, “…then that means that if we break a little chunk of this crystal off, we will have a little piece of the Original Consciousness, contained within the little piece of crystal. The consciousness within the little crystal is forever linked to the Original big consciousness within the big piece of crystal, by the fact that it came from there. It is forever linked to it’s Source.”

Understanding what this meant caused me to realize my connection with God, and how it was unbreakable. With this blockage in understanding cleared away, a sharp sensation like a needle pierced through my side. I instantly grabbed it as if I had been shot, yet found to my surprise that it was not painful, it simply felt as if something had been released, as if a cork was removed to allow water to flow. I laughed and cried for an hour or so, feeling a heightened vibration within.

After focusing upon this connection with God with greater regularity, it became a simple obvious knowing that was always in the back of my mind, “I have an unbreakable connection to God.”

My love and I continued our practice with a few Anusara CDs. In between sessions I would find myself stretching more and more, and breathing consciously as I stretched. I was moving based on what I felt in my body. I was allowing my body to guide me into each asana. My own personal yoga was coming from within.

Then one day I asked myself, because I had recently posed the same question to another, “What is yoga to you?” It wasn’t until I asked the question that the answer came and gave me a deeper understanding. The natural expansion of yoga in one’s life, or any spiritual practice for that matter, is to completely fill one’s life with the practice. I had never thought about it, yoga “completely” filling my life. In an attempt to understand what that could mean my imagination produced an image of what life would be like “filled” with yoga, every breath conscious, every movement deliberate. Then I realized, yoga has been the physical preparation for existing permanently within the awakened or enlightened state of being, being consciously aware always of our connection with and the presence of God, union with the Divine. Shortly after this the “Living Yoga” and the “Heart Breath” came forth.

Breathe through the heart as often as possible to experience peace and true happiness and may all paths be showered with blessings and wondrous awakening.

Jacob Daniel is a DJ, producer, artist, author, entrepreneur and yogi. He lives with his wife and creative partner, Elizabeth Anna, in Southern California where they produce music, create art and are currently writing a series of books for both adults & children alike. Two of the short stories and an essay can be found on their website and downloaded through the Kindle and Nook platforms. To check out their Wisdom Blog,  downloadable art, short stories and music visit: www.OneDropWithinTheWave.com.

Follow on Instagram @: EOTL_ElizabethAnna
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A Yoga Transformation Journey: 30 Years and Beyond

This week’s Yoga Diaries are being presented in honor of the 15th Anniversary of
The Atma Center of Cleveland Heights, Ohio.


Name: Mary Baird (spiritual name, Mantram)

Location: Cleveland, Ohio, USA
Occupation: Yoga Instructor, Atma Center Yoga At Work Coordinator.

Photo by Flickr User whalt.

It all began in my 40’s  once a week yoga. I found yoga sometime in 1979-80. Back then, I hung onto that weekly class as my “oasis,” a welcome relief from job stress. My work was physically and mentally challenging – carrying ladders, climbing poles, running wire, repairing phone lines, and dealing with skepticism and isolation as the only woman on my crew for nearly two decades. Not exactly experiencing total transformation at this point, I would say that yoga “saved” my life! The transformation process, a process that still feels “never done,” began then as I learned to use the basic tools of yoga (asana and pranayama) to develop my capacity for self-healing.

Off the mat – yoga at work. In those “early yoga days,” it got easier to maintain my “cool” in the face of  constant verbal challenges and put-downs like “You’re taking that job away from a man who really needs it!” Or, “Who’s coming to help you with that ladder?” Using relaxation and breathing techniques to support my mental health, I’d find myself spontaneously stretching and re-positioning my body to counteract the often taxing physical demands of the job. I can remember the relief of stretching into “downward dog,” gripping the bottom rung of my ladder and breathing deeply for a few moments after too much time up the ladder, leaning out over the cable to test and connect lines in the terminal – maybe holding a side stretch in the opposite direction to balance the stress on my spine.

Developing awareness – inward bound. Though I used my yoga as “first aid” for survival, I had no daily or formal “home practice” during the first 20 years of my journey.  I did, however, develop a keen awareness that I had never before experienced — an awareness of the “state of my mental and physical self.” (It took many more years for me to become aware of my awareness – to realize how AWARENESS itself is yoga’s most fundamental gift!) In my early adult years I was very busy and externally focused on the demands and problems of the world and the people around me. A key aspect of my evolving transformation was a slow but steady shift from external to internal, beginning to experience the more subtle, deeper benefits of yoga. Knowing and healing myself became a priority. Still an activist on behalf of women and workers, I began to incorporate a broader perspective. After all, how could I change the world if I couldn’t maintain my own health and inner strength?

Moving from an early retirement at the phone company in my mid-50’s, I continued my weekly yoga – a great support as I embarked on graduate studies and other career pursuits. One thing I noticed as I approached 60 was an increased awareness of chronic aches and pains, especially low back ache and joint stiffness. I knew I needed “more yoga,” to work with my aging physical body but also to explore more deeply the philosophical and spiritual aspects of this awesome “life science.”

In the 80s and 90s I had taken classes with two excellent teachers near my west side home and kept getting their message, “There’s more here for you!”  I just didn’t know how to go about finding it. I still had not connected with the idea of a daily home practice or the personal motivation to begin.

Beyond bending and stretching Enter Satyananda Yoga® & the Atma Center on the “other side of town.” I was working with Hard Hatted Women, a nonprofit I helped start, developing school-based programs to expose children to nontraditional careers. This brought me into contact with many wonderful people. An amazing, dedicated teacher who has since become a close friend told me about this great yoga center she had discovered and suggested that I try it and that it would be worth the drive. And it was! What a great 60th birthday present, discovering a whole system of yoga, Satyananda Yoga®, deeply rooted in tradition, right in my back yard!

Daily practice and the resulting benefits. My first taste of the fruits of daily yoga took place not at “home,” but at the Atma Center where my eagerness for the “more” saw me attending classes nearly every day! The rest is history: This wonderful decade (2001 – present) has helped to solidify my deeper personal experience with a style of yoga that continues to be well-suited to my needs as an aging practitioner and spiritual seeker. The practices of meditation and mantra chanting have helped me to anchor and still my busy mind and explore my mental habits. “Freedom from the bondage of the mind” is the meaning of my spiritual name, Mantram, given to me a few years ago by Swami Niranjananda. Yoga Nidra has become a new and deeper form of relaxation to counter the stresses of life and aging and Pawanmuktasana practices have began to work on my “sluggishness” and joint pain.

Photo by Daniel Levin.

Somehow during those first few years under the tutelage of Swami Atmarupa and the other wonderful teachers, my chronic low back pain disappeared! Using my new-found intuitive wisdom, I added regular strength training sessions to my routine, combined with daily yoga to reverse diagnosed osteoporosis in my lower spine. I’ve experienced and survived accidents (one falling on ice and another “crashing” onto my tailbone in roller blades) without fractures and with only temporary aches and pains, letting me know that stronger muscles are indeed protecting my bones. Developing body awareness and a confidence in my ability to strengthen and heal myself has been an important transformative aspect of my yoga journey.

About a year into the wonderful physical and mental benefits of daily classes, I found Yogic Studies, enrolling in the first “Yoga Patha I” course offered in the U.S. Doors opened to an understanding of the roots and multi-layered components of this amazing “life science.” Finally, I received the guidance and structure I needed to begin my own home-based daily yoga practice that continues to sustain me today.

Teaching yoga – my most transformative experience. Before long, I enrolled in the first official Satyananda Style Teacher Training course, also based at The Atma Center. I thought it might be a way to “give back” some of the benefits I had received. It took me several years to complete the whole series of Yogic Studies and Teacher Training courses, but the effort taught me a great deal: (1) It’s never too late to take on a new challenge. Believe me, it has been a challenge  – not unlike enrolling in a PhD program as a senior; (2) Learning begets more seeking begets more learning; (3) The experience of teaching is the greatest teacher of all. Meeting the diverse needs and interests of my students has been a living impetus to continue on my yoga path and to continue my yoga education for as long as I am able. My motivation is enhanced by their penetrating questions, their stories of struggle and success, and the insights they acquire and share as they embark upon their own yoga journeys.

Photo by Flickr User ojoqtv.

Add to this transformational decade, the opportunity to travel to Swami Satyananda’s ashram in India where I met him and experienced his divine energy face to face. It was there that I developed a deep appreciation for the Bhakti aspect of Satyananda Yoga®. Seeing his astounding example of giving and serving others at the core of a fulfilling spiritual path, I rejoiced in an opportunity that opened for me here in Cleveland to give where the need is great. Along with two Atma Center colleagues, I volunteer to teach yoga at a center for women recovering from addiction. We use their feedback to refine our approach, finding new ways to tailor the practices of Satyananda Yoga® to the urgency of their need for tension release, balance, peace of mind, and a self-nurturing attitude. Teaching and learning in this and other classroom settings has become one of the most satisfying, shared processes.

I am eternally grateful to Swami Atmarupa, the Atma Center, and Satyananda Yoga® for offering a community-based program that has nurtured my growth into my “later years.” In the end, it is the ongoing process of deepening awareness that comes with continued practice, which constitutes the spiritual support for navigating each day with the clarity and insight that I need at this stage in my life. And the transformation continues…

Mary Baird has been practicing yoga for over 30 years and credits yoga with saving her life, during her 17 years of working as a phone line repair and installation technician, by helping her to manage the physical and emotional stresses of her job. A yoga teacher for nearly a decade, in addition to her passion for instructing yoga, Mary has had a variety of other teaching roles: Peace Corps English teacher, elementary Career Education Specialist, tutor in adult literacy, class designer and teacher at a local women’s prison among others. Mary is now an avid volunteer: she instructs for the nonprofit Yoga Academy of North America, teaches yoga to women in addiction recovery at Orca House, prepares and serves holiday meals at Orca House and annually participates in the Stand Down for the Homeless through Interact. In her free time, Mary enjoys creative writing, biking, gardening, and visiting her adult children and their children.

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