Mark Stephens' Musings
These writings are informal reflections on practicing and teaching yoga. Click on any title to read the entire piece.
Kagola, a poor student of the Vedas, sat at night reciting aloud the sacred verses of the Vedas, his pregnant wife by his side in the dim light of candles. One late night he heard a voice laughing and correcting him for mispronouncing a verse. The tired and short-tempered father was enraged, cursing the unborn child, causing him to be born with eight crooks in his body, naming him Astavakra for the deformity (asta meaning “eight,” vakra “crooked”).
This is where we can infuse our classes with creativity and playfulness. Shakti is the creative power of existence, the cosmic energy that animates the universe, the source of energy, the mother goddess, representing the active, dynamic principles of feminine power.
When Shiva’s consort Shakti was killed by the chief of the gods, Daksha, Shiva tore out his hair in grief and anger, creating the fierce warrior Virabhadra from his locks. With a thousand arms, three burning eyes, and fiery hair, Virabhadra wore a garland of skulls and carried many terrifying weapons. Bowing at Shiva’s feet and asking his will, Virabhadra was directed by Shiva to lead his army against Daksha
Shiva is usually represented in Indian iconography as immersed in deep meditation or dancing the Tandava upon the demon of ignorance in his manifestation of Nataraja, the lord of the dance (Zimmer 1972, 151–157). As an ancient form of magic, dancing induces trance, ecstasy, and self-realization. Shiva manifests in the form of Nataraja to gather and project his frantic,
Reminding students of the essence of hatha yogaas a practice of balanced integration of effort and ease is a powerful starting point for making yoga more transformational, especially as students begin to explore and discover how the practice can play with the apparent polarities of life. Although typically reduced to “physical yoga,” the term hatha is made from the syllables ha and tha, which respectively signify the solar
The verbal root as in asana includes the idea of ritual, a set of actions with symbolic significance that we can tie into practice to highlight certain areas of personal, emotional, spiritual, social, and ecological experience. When teaching yoga, you can accentuate these ties by emphasizing the symbolism expressed in different parts of the practice.
Your voice and use of language are invaluable teaching tools. Considered from a chakra perspective, the voice manifests through the vishuddha chakra, which opens with ease and clarity when the body is grounded, the creative juices flowing, the willful center strong yet supple, the heart open, and the mind clear. How you speak as a teacher thus reflects where you are in your life, skills, and knowledge. Building from this natural foundation, there are several elements of voice to consider.
Pada bandha, the energetic awakening of the feet through the stirrup-like effect of contracting the tibialis posterior and peroneus longus muscles on the lower leg, can be intimately related to the activation of mula bandha and uddiyana bandha. The fascial attachments of these two muscles interweave with those of the hip adductors, which have origins in and around the ischial tuberosities (the sitting bones). The sitting bones are the lateral aspects of the perineum, with the pubic symphysis at the front and the coccyx at the back. The front half of this diamond is the urogenital triangle,
Some movements involving voluntary muscle contraction happen automatically as a reflexive response to intended movements or external stimulation. Here the body is acting before you can think about it. When a muscle contracts in response to stretching within the muscle, this is called a stretch reflex. With eccentric contraction—for example, the hamstrings while folding forward into Uttanasana—it is easy to generate a stretch reflex. In folding forward we ideally relax the hamstrings, allowing them to stretch more easily.
Most people are first drawn into the practice to reduce stress, develop flexibility, heal a physical or emotional injury, explore new social connections, or pursue physical fitness. But once in the practice, connecting body-breath-mind, something starts to happen. Students begin to experience a clearer self-awareness, a sense of being more fully alive; they feel better, more in balance, more conscious, clearer.
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Mark Stephens Yoga
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Santa Cruz, CA 95060