Tag: Yoga Journal

Alan Finger on How He Didn’t Choose Yoga, Yoga Chose Him

It was practically ordained by Paramahansa Yogananda that Finger teach. Learn more about his journey from young yogi to creator of ISHTA Yoga.

Yoga Journal’s new online Master Class program brings the wisdom of world-renowned teachers to your fingertips, offering access to exclusive workshops with a different master teacher every six weeks. In April, Alan Finger will share ISHTA meditation practices. If you’re ready to get a fresh perspective and maybe even meet a lifelong yoga mentor, sign up now for YJ’s year-long membership

Like many master yoga teachers, Alan Finger’s first foray into the practice came early. He started dabbling at age five with his father, Kavi Yogiraj Mani Finger, at their home in South Africa. At 15, he got serious about studying, and a year later, he was teaching classes across Johannesburg on the path to systematizing a profound yoga method that would come to be called ISHTA—now studied widely across the globe.

Though Finger had no initial ambitions of becoming a teacher, it was practically ordained by his father’s teacher Paramahansa Yogananda, a father of yoga in the West and preeminent teacher of Kriya Yoga, advanced meditation techniques to move you through different levels of consciousness. And as Finger describes, his first time teaching was almost surreal: “It was freaky,” he says. “I said all of these things and I didn’t know where they were coming from. It simply came through me. From that moment on, I just taught; I didn’t even think about it.” Keep reading for the rest of Finger’s story and more about ISHTA Yoga.

My father was shell-shocked in the Second World War; he had shrapnel in his back, and he became a drug addict and alcoholic. My grandfather was a wealthy businessman, and he tried to get my father involved by sending him on a business trip to Los Angeles. One time at their hotel, Yogananda happened to be giving a lecture. Drunk, my father went to the lecture. Afterward he went up to Yogananda, who said, “Come; I’m going to teach you Kriya Yoga. It’s going to change your life. I want you to go to the Sivananda Ashram in India, and then go back to South Africa where you’ll become a famous yogi, and one of your sons will follow.” And so he did!

I was five years old when my dad came back from India. In South Africa, there’s a very large Indian population, and they brought all the yogis and swamis over. My dad would get them to lecture or stay at our house, which slowly metamorphosed into half ashram, half home. I started doing a little bit of yoga then. Swami Venkatesananda, from the Sivananda lineage, was a major influence in my life. He would spend up to three months of the year at our place. Swami Nishraisananda from the Rama Krishna would come for a week at a time; Shuddhananda Bharati contributed a lot to the tantric part of the ISHTA practice.

By the time I was 15, I had various psychosomatic problems because of the way my father had been for the first five years of my life. My mom got me to go to a psychiatrist, and when my dad asked how it went, I said, “Terrible! That guy can’t help me!” We laughed, and then I said, “Dad, you’re teaching all these other people how to use yoga to get better; I need you to teach me, please.” He told me I’d have to wake up at 4:30 in the morning and join whatever practice he was doing, which involved 1.5 hours of pranayama, kriya, meditation, and 1.5 hours of asana. I did it! Immediately, it worked—I felt so much more clear and stable; the psychosomatic breathlessness and lightheadedness I was experiencing all went away. In four and a half years, I missed only two days of practice.

See also Master Class: Rodney Yee’s 3-Step Pranayama Technique for Stillness and Peace

One day, when I was 16, my dad had to travel to a funeral and he couldn’t contact the student who was coming to see him. He came to me and said, “You need to teach Mrs. Lazarus.” So I met her in the yoga center, and I asked, “Is there anything in particular I can help you with?” She opened up and started crying and telling me all her issues and stresses. I explained to her how the nervous system works as it had been explained to me by the swamis, and before I knew it, she stopped seeing my dad and became my student. Then her granddaughters wanted to learn, and then her cousins. When my dad’s back collapsed and he had to have surgery, I took over all his classes. It was never a thought—I’m going to make this my profession—it was just a natural progression.

Developing the system of ISHTA was my doing. My dad was a genius, and very academic. He and all the swamis used to sit together with their books, discussing kriya and Kriya Yoga. But the information that was being handed down was being taken for granted. I wanted to systemize it. I told them, “It’s too all over the place; people have no idea what we’re talking about.” Eventually, I got Venkatesananda and my dad to agree to it, and we started organizing. And then we had to give it a name. My dad liked ISHTA, because it comes from Sutra 2.44—Svadhyayat ishta devata samprayogah—which means, “When you are grounded in self-study you will find the appropriate yoga practice, life’s purpose, and path that really resonates with you.” I love that, because I believe every human being is different. The yoga that resonates with you is the yoga that’s correct for you. Eventually we created an acronym for ISHTA: Integrated Sciences of Hatha, Tantra, and Ayurveda, which are the three sister sciences in India and what ISHTA yoga revolves around.

See also Master Class: 2 Iyengar Variations for an Effortless Extended Side Angle Pose

Things became very tough politically in South Africa. I got in trouble because I wasn’t supposed to go into neighborhoods that were black or Indian, but I kept going there to teach. Eventually the police actually threatened me with house arrest. My wife said, “Why don’t we go to America?” She had friends there, so we moved to Los Angeles. Norman Seeff, a famous South African photographer, was in Los Angeles. I went to see him, thinking I’d get some photographic work with him to make ends meet, but he wanted to learn about yoga. His girlfriend at the time was the actress Taryn Power, and she was totally into it too. I started teaching at her apartment. Within a month, I was teaching two classes a day with 30 to 40 students. So I moved my classes to Norman’s studio in West Hollywood, and one of the people he was shooting was Cindy Williams from Laverne and Shirley. She took my class, and afterward she told me she was about to sign a contract for a new season, and she wanted to write me into it to help her cope with stress. I said yes, and my business grew from there. Robin Williams signed me into his contract for Mork & Mindy, and the director of Family Ties brought me in once a week to teach. I ended up teaching all these stars, which is funny because I’m not into celebrities—it’s not a part of me.

I eventually started YogaWorks with Maty Ezraty. She was looking for a teaching space, so we joined forces. I had always taught ISHTA Yoga, but as yoga was becoming more popular in Los Angeles, I wanted to open a studio that encompassed all different styles of yoga. I later moved to New York City to open another YogaWorks studio, then Maty bought me out, and I went on to open Yoga Zone, followed by Be Yoga, and finally, my first ISHTA studio in 2008.

Over the years, ISHTA has evolved into different teacher trainings, master programs, modules, and manuals. But the ancient secrets of yoga, specifically of Kriya Yoga—how to change and alter your consciousness in the energetic body—haven’t changed. It’s so profound that scientists are beginning to say the same things as the ancients. People come to ISHTA to learn more about the science of yoga—to look a little deeper than just the physical body and to learn how to purify consciousness so it’s not filled with thought and with vritti (fluctuations of the mind), and instead begins to reflect spirit, knowledge, and genius.

See also Alan Finger’s Energy-Clearing Yoga Sequence to Prepare for Meditation

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Alan Finger’s Energy-Clearing Yoga Sequence to Prepare for Meditation

Find freedom by settling into a meditative state with this gentle asana practice.

Yoga Journal’s new online Master Class program brings the wisdom of world-renowned teachers to your fingertips, offering access to exclusive workshops with a different master teacher every six weeks. In April, Alan Finger will share ISHTA meditation practices. If you’re ready to get a fresh perspective and maybe even meet a lifelong yoga mentor, sign up now for YJ’s year-long membership

Kriya yoga is all about purifying your consciousness, says Alan Finger, and from there, meditation becomes easy. “You’re able to sit and do nothing, which is remarkable,” he says. “Because when you’re doing nothing, you’re actually tuning in to unbound, universal intelligence. That’s when inspiration, intuition, and insight come to us.”

The Kriya Yoga practice Finger shares here serves as a great introduction to his upcoming Master Class on ISHTA meditation. In it, he combines asana with breath and sound to help you prepare for meditation by bringing consciousness to the brahma nadi (divine channel), the line of energy that travels from the top of your head to the middle of your pelvic floor, governing intelligence. As you move through the poses below, keep your fingers closed, as this develops more of an inner focus. On an inhalation, bring awareness down the brahma nadi, from the top of your head to your pelvic floor. On your exhalation, sense a distribution of energy from just in front of your sacrum, at the bottom of your spine, into each cell of the body. On the inhalation, think sa, which is the sound of inspiration. On the exhalation, think hum which is the sound of transformation.

See also Natasha Rizopoulos’s Sequence to Build a Safe Vinyasa Practice

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The Gift of “I Don’t Know”: How Mary Beth LaRue Is Embracing Life’s Uncertainties

Becoming a parent involves all kinds of big decisions and questions. Sometimes “I don’t know” is the guiding answer.

The moment I wake up, I pad down the stairs and stand in the nursery. Light floods in through the window over the crib. I glance at the Ganesha statues and elephants I’ve nestled in every possible corner in hopes of removing some of the unseen obstacles that no doubt lay before us.

I will become a mom in the coming weeks. Like most new mothers, I’m nesting and excited and scared. Though unlike most new moms, this baby is not with me now. I haven’t had headphones on my growing belly, sending early good vibes from Van Morrison. I haven’t felt any kicks. I haven’t seen any sure signs of there you are.

That’s because my husband, Matt, and I will be brand-new foster parents, and we’re currently waiting for the call. Every time the phone rings, my hand goes instinctively to my heart. This could be it. While all new parents have no idea who they will meet until their little being arrives, we are preparing to foster children who’ll come into our home for a week, a few months, a year, and hopefully even longer, eventually adopting a child—or children—who will become part of our family. And now, after holding more anticipation than I could’ve ever imagined, all we can do is wait.

Matt and I started the journey to becoming parents last year. When we didn’t conceive, we saw a fertility specialist who recommended intrauterine insemination (IUI) and in vitro fertilization (IVF). That appointment was immediately followed by another with a financial advisor, who threw a lot of (big) numbers at us. Because so much was still unknown—we hadn’t spent that much time trying to conceive, and I hadn’t seen any of the alternative practitioners my friends had recommended—the paths being presented to us didn’t feel quite right. So we left, got an ice cream cone, and tabled the baby conversation.

A few days later, Matt and I were on a walk when I asked him, “What do you think about adoption?”

He looked at me with big eyes and said, “I think it’s beautiful.”

“Yeah, me too,” I replied with a big smile. “Really beautiful.”

See also 7 Ways to Navigate Change Like a Yogi

Fast forward a few weeks and we’d sought the advice of a student of mine, named Taylor, who is a foster-adoption lawyer. She’d been coming to my classes for years, always setting up her mat front and center. Life is like that, not letting you miss the important people who will change everything. After talking to Taylor, Matt and I met with a foster-adoption agency and made the big, scary, beautiful decision to become foster parents. With more than 34,000 children receiving services in Los Angeles, where we live, we thought surely a few of these kiddos were looking for us as much as we were looking for them.

In addition to the unknowns all parents face, we’re staring down a few more. We’re not sure how old our baby will be, and we won’t know the gender, race, or even what kind of prenatal care this baby’s birth mama received. We may foster a baby who is ultimately reunited with his or her birth parents; we hope to foster a child who we’ll ultimately adopt. We will ask questions and get some answers, and amid all of the uncertainty, what we know for sure is that this will be an education in trust. Trust that no matter what happens, we will be united with this child who we thought my body would carry and who our hearts have always wanted to hold.

Back in the nursery that morning, as I looked into the crib and wondered about the baby who’d soon lie in it, I silently repeated my new mantra—I don’t know—a phrase that’s offered me more hope and comfort than I’d ever imagined it could.

When we met with a social worker to talk about the foster system, she warned us, “You’ll fall in love, and you might get hurt.” Scary, to be sure, but isn’t this true of so many things in life? After all, so much of what’s worth doing is a messy path for the heart.

I’ve spent most of my life bracing myself for the impacts of those messes. These days, I’m choosing to dance with uncertainty.

Becoming a foster parent feels a bit like a free fall, and of course one part of me wants to engage with the countless worries and what-ifs. Yet more of me is tapping some well of wisdom I didn’t even know I had, and one day at a time—even one hour at a time—I’m simply putting one foot in front of the other, trying to make the next right choice. And with my eyes and heart wide open, I’m reveling in the I don’t know. 

See also The Yoga of Childbirth: 3 New Yogi Moms Share Their Birth Stories

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Erika Halweil Decodes Sutra 2.16: Prevent Future Pain from Manifesting

With this sutra, Patanjali teaches that yoga practice is preventive medicine for our minds—a way to keep future pain and suffering from manifesting.

With this sutra, Patanjali teaches that yoga practice is preventive medicine for our minds—a way to keep future pain and suffering from manifesting. He reminds us that past pain doesn’t exist anymore, current pain is in process and will run its course, and future pain can be diminished or avoided altogether by committing to the yogic lifestyle.

“Pain that has not yet come is avoidable” is a sutra in the Sadhana Pada, the chapter of the Yoga Sutra on practices. This chapter tells us to work hard, tempering our level of effort with both self-observation and an understanding that how our efforts are received is beyond our control. Through practices on and off the mat, we build strong, pliable bodies to maximize the health of our physical systems; cultivate free, unobstructed breathing to invite fresh energy into our bodies; and gain a greater understanding of our minds by meditating, reading, and reflecting on our experiences.

By practicing whole-hearted attention in whatever you are doing, you become more aware of the subtle details that fill your days. Try to observe your interactions, and then begin to notice what kind of residue your thoughts, words, and actions leave. When you observe an undesirable residue (usually accompanied by feelings of sadness, doubt, fear, guilt, or anger, to name a few), you can then shift your actions to prevent a recurrence. Once you start paying attention, you’ll notice that your days are sprinkled with tiny bits of avoidable anxiety and stress, like hitting the snooze button and then suffering from the self-imposed anxiety of rushing to avoid being late. Through reflection and assessment, you can keep suffering from happening again by choosing to get up when the alarm goes off.

See also Olivia Hsu Decodes Sutra 2.12: Learn How the Kleshas Can Boost Self-Awareness

Another example might be excessively indulging your sweet tooth and then agonizing through a stomachache, disturbed sleep, or even worse, dental work. There’s no need for a radical shift and swearing off sweets entirely, but the solution is one of moderation.

Of course, life is filled not only with mild states of anxiety and suffering, but sometimes you are overwhelmed with unexpected tragedy, inexplicable cruelty, illness, and loss. While these kinds of suffering cannot necessarily be avoided, your capacity to process the trauma can be enhanced by your studies. During times of great sadness, I have found that the tools of my asana, pranayama, chanting, and meditation practices create an invaluable refuge. Even if the suffering is only assuaged while I’m on my mat, that relief wouldn’t have been possible without the structure and support of these teachings.

As with everything in your yoga practice, there is no quick fix or trick, but there is the suggestion that you can have a positive effect on your own life—immediately and continuously. By doing a little bit of sincere practice every day, you’ll cultivate the discernment to make better choices, minimize your exposure to disturbing situations, and protect yourself from harm that is easily avoidable—like overreaching in your asana practice or overextending and overanalyzing yourself—so you don’t miss out on the gift of this life. 

See also Rodney Yee Decodes Yoga Sutra 1.2: Calm the Chatter of the Mind

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Baron Baptiste’s 3-Step Process to Find Your True North

Getting your body, mind, and heart to agree is easier than you may think. Baron Baptiste says it starts with your feet.

Want to unlock an unexpected world of possibility in your practice—and your life? Then Yoga Journal’s upcoming course The Power of Play Bootcamp is for you. Baron Baptiste—veteran yoga teacher and founder of the Baptiste Institute and Baptiste Foundation—will lead you through four weeks of meditation, asana, and self-inquiry specifically designed to spark awakening and growth. Start the new year with a powerful perspective—and discover how to put it into action.

One of the keys to moving through life with the kind of ease and harmony we all want is being comfortable with yourself. The quality comes easily when your body, heart, and mind align—when you come from center, from your true north.

About 10 years ago I was in a teachers workshop with B.K.S. Iyengar, when he said something that has stayed with me since: “The spiritual heart is located just to the right of the physical heart, and it sits right in the center.” Iyengar’s guidance gave a measurable place for the desires in my heart to join my mental attention and body, then move in one direction simultaneously, creating my true north.

Sometimes asana practice helps illuminate concepts like this. Tadasana (Mountain Pose) is the true north of all yoga poses. Let’s break down why that is and how to get there. Finding your center is something we focus on in my new course, The Power of Play Bootcamp. Here are three steps to help you find your true north, in any situation, big or small, easy or difficult.

1. Find and feel your feet.

Focusing on your feet is the first step toward finding your center: Draw your attention to each foot, and feel its contact with the earth. In Mountain Pose, the feet are grounded and activated, a few inches apart. Your feet are like antennas that tune in to the physical universe below, above, and around you. Locating your feet in real time creates a physical “presencing.” It wakes up your whole body and its sensory doorways up to your pelvic core and your centerline—your physical true north.

2. Find and feel your centerline.

Locating your physical center creates the physical container for your mind: Integrate your whole body, from periphery to centerline and drop your attention into your spine. In Mountain Pose, your spine is stacked and relaxed. Your muscles are drawing in toward the bones, and there is a general organization of all physical parts toward your centerline—as if they were notes in an orchestral arrangement.

3. Drop into yourself.

Physical presencing lets you mentally stop, drop into your center, and just be: Notice the ebb and flow of breath, in and out of your chest. In Mountain Pose, the eyes are focused with a calm determination—the drishti is steady, alert, and relaxed. Much like a ballerina’s performance, the pose appears effortless yet dynamic. Through the pose, you are comfortable in your own skin. This space allows for the natural, organic arising of what’s in the heart. You can be open and receive the inner guidance to follow the true north of what matters most to you, and then allow your body and attention move in that direction and manifest what matters most. Sometimes you will lose your center and fall back. When you do, simply begin again, finding Mountain Pose, and again working to restore your true north.

Ready to start your process? Enroll in The Power of Play Bootcamp

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3 Simple Ways We Could All Spread More Love and Kindness

Remember when you distributed love notes to every single kid in the class on Valentine’s Day? Imagine how the world would be different if adults spread that kind of light.

What the world needs now, is more love, sweet love. It’s undeniable, as we’re bombarded by world news of hate-fueled terror attacks, discrimination, and injustice. The only remedy for such darkness has and always will be to bring more light into the world through the practice of love and kindness.

Luckily, there are plenty of people doing such good work—acts of kindness, random and targeted, large and small. Let them inspire you to take your yoga off the mat, rediscover the kindergarten spirit of Valentine’s Day (remember when you distributed love notes to every single kid in the class?) this year, and do something to brighten a stranger’s day. Everyday efforts like these can truly heal the world.

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25 Ways to Beat Stress

Do you find it difficult to unwind and settle your mind? Incorporate these tactics into your everyday life to manage stress.

1. Exercise. Take a walk, go to a gym, bike, swim, dance

2. Meditate. Even a few minutes makes a difference

3. Do yoga postures. Start simply

4. Do yoga breathing exercises. Deep and alternative nostril breathing

5. Yoga deep relaxation. Check out all parts of your body

6. See the good. How might this event be beneficial?

7. Pretend. Even faking it works

8. Massage. Both giving and getting help reduce stress

9. Visualization. See yourself differently

10. Change your attitude. You can always choose to fluff up your attitude

11. Focus on the good. Look for it

12. Look for signs. What messages can you find?

13. Write and draw. Keep a journal and art book

14. List your goals. Give details and baby steps

15. Keep a gratitude list. Write as many as you can, and update daily

16. Live in the moment. Let go of thinking about the past or future

17. Live as if you already have what you want. This relaxes you

18. Have a list of friends to call. Choose more than one

19. Learn to say no. In a kind way, say “I’d love to, but I can’t”

20. Give without any expectation of reward. Be a secret Santa daily

21. Laugh. Live on the funny side of life. Laugh often, especially at yourself. Even fake laughter helps.

22. Sing. Whistle while you work works.

23. Get a pet, or a stuffed animal. Anything that makes you laugh

24. Do something fun. Be silly, choose a healthy fun activity, like yo-yoing

25. Pray. Even a short prayer can replace a worry


7 Ways to Change Your Diet and Manage Stress

14 Ways to Create a Happy Home Environment

10 Ways to Get a Better Sleep Tonight

A Simple Way to Relax: Yoga Nidra

14 Ways to Practice Mindful Eating


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