Japa Meditation

by Crystal Woodward

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Japa is a form of meditation done using the repetition of a mantra, for example OM or om shree maha lakshmi namaha. A mantra is a word or a sound repeated to aid concentration. Typically Japa is practiced using the aid of a mala bead necklace to further direct attention toward a single place of focus, in this case the mantra itself.  A complete mala consists of 108 beads while a smaller mala has 54 or 26 beads.  Malas can be made with various materials but most are include semi-precious stones, crystals or seeds.  A mala is special and sacred, and should be treated as such. The mala should never just be cast onto the floor or tossed in a pile. A mala deserves the care of  something that holds a vibration of our dreams.  Some believe that a personal mala should have a special bag and others should not see your mala. Others believe a mala should be worn around the neck so that the day’s intentions stay close to the heart.  In the center of each mala is a slightly larger bead often referred to as the Guru or God Bead.  The Guru Bead is used to create intention within the wearer and to be a reminder of the motives for sitting in meditation. There is also a tassel at the end of most traditional mala necklaces that lays below the Guru Bead. The tassel is said to represent one-thousand petals of a crown chakra lotus flower.

When a mantra is repeated the yogi can use the sound vibration as an anchor for their awareness that can draw them into a deeper state of meditation.  Mantra can be a great entrance into meditation because there is more happening on the external physical plane to support the mind in being present in the moment; speaking and moving a bead with the hand.  Mantra can be practice aloud, whispering, muttering to one’s self or mentally. It is generally easiest to begin practicing Japa aloud however, it is believed that mental repetition of a mantra is the most potent.  

When you sit for Japa, close your eyes and bring the Guru Bead either to the heart or third eye and pour in your intentions - hopeful and powerful manifestations and prayers for your day. This can also be a time to make associations with the specific mantra about to be preformed.  Holding the mala in their right hand, the yogi begins to circulate the mantra, spinning the bead in each finger as the garland moves.  I find that this spinning is a great meditation tool, when the mind wanders throughout the Japa practice the feeling of the spinning bead in the fingers draws my mind back into the meditation practice.  The right hand moves the garland with the thumb and middle finger. Using the index finger is not recommended as this finger is associated with the ego.  If when going around the whole mala the yogi would like to continue their mantra practice they will hold the last bead closest to the Guru Bead and flip the mala over, to go back over the way they just came, so as never to pass over the Guru Bead out of respect for all of the gurus or teachers.  Traditionally malas and a specific mantra were given to a student by a teacher.  In our modern life this is not always possible.  Go ahead and choose a mantra that speaks to you and feels special to you. If you are crafty you could make one!  When picking a mantra do a little research, know what the mantra means and why you would chose it. If you get stuck, ask a trusted yoga teacher for guidance in choosing your mantra.  Try a few and when one feels right, stick to it.  

Mantra is powerful and we will want to work consistently with only a few mantras at a time.  Yoga is about repetition and practice to get results. Keep at it and begin to slowly add Japa into your daily routine. Start with once or twice a week and practice more often with time. Japa meditation calms the senses. At the end of the mantra repetition, the yogi may find it easier to the sit in silence and meditate in the residue of the vibration.  This is a practice that I have added into my daily routine and has really helped me deepen my meditation practice.  I would love to teach you more about this practice in person at my weekly Japa meditation class.  This class is about 20 minutes long and is offered at no cost. It is held each Saturday after my 9:30 am Flow: All-Levels class at the Shala.  Come to both the Flow class and the Japa meditation or arrive at 11am for just the meditation piece.  I hope to meditate with you! 

Manager Spotlight: Sally Sjolin

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Name: Sally Sjolin

Practicing Yoga Since: A long time

1). Tell us about the first yoga class you took?

I lived in San Francisco two blocks from the Guru Ram Das Ashram which is housed in a beautiful victorian. The Ashram was founded by a co-op community of students and teachers and is now known as the Kundalini Yoga Center. I remember walking into the building and being seduced by the smell of food cooking. I signed up for a beginner series and learned that they had a community meal each evening after class. At the time, I was living a stressful corporate lifestyle and was craving balance and interactions with mindful people. I went to class at the Ashram 2 nights per week until I moved from SF.

2). What do you remember of the first yoga class you taught?

Last January, I started managing the Shala which gave me the opportunity to be more involved with the yoga community that I love.

In June, I got very lucky and was accepted into Tim Miller’s Ashtanga Yoga Primary Series Teacher Training in Encinitas. Because this door opened, I am currently apprenticing/assisting one day per week during Mysore class. I have become surprisingly unattached to the outcome. I love yoga and want to learn as much as possible. Thank you fellow Mysore students for allowing me to learn by pushing on you. ;-) I will also take the Tahoe Yoga Shala 200-hr teacher training which begins in April.

3). Who/what are your teachers? Why?

Laura and Kacey, because they are amazing and I love them. They offer a safe space to practice and grow. The Shala Mysore program is growing and thriving. It’s the shared commitment and the love and support from teachers and fellow students that motivate me to practice every day.

I’ve also been able to spend time with the wonderful teachers at Ashtanga Yoga Center in Encinitas. It was eye opening to study at Tim’s studio with people who have been practicing and teaching for so many years. It’s not uncommon to see practitioners side by side doing 3rd series or others working on 4th. The community is inviting, happy to share space and teach no matter which series you are practicing. The energy at AYC is magical and inspiring, but there is so much to learn.

4). In what ways has yoga supported or impacted your life?

Yoga has been a part of my life for a long time, but did not become a lifestyle and spiritual path until recently. Practicing daily has had a huge impact on my body and mind. It has opened my heart, helped me gain physical and mental strength and has reduced anxiety. It’s meditation, spiritual movement, truth, love, and a path to peace. But it’s rarely that simple, because the practice meets me right where I am on any given day. It can be challenging to keep my mind calm when faced with fear, doubt or impatience. Yoga has become a comforting ritual and for me and is ultimately an act of devotion, trust and faith. When I become unmotivated, I remind myself that dedication is a choice.

5). What does your current yoga practice include? Why?

I practice Ashtanga Mysore Style 6 days per week. Mixed in with my Asana practice is pranayama, meditation, chanting and Sanskrit. Like many things in life, it started out of necessity. I was struggling with anxiety caused by a heart condition. I was told by my doctor to stop exercising and not elevate my heart rate, but yoga was ok. Obviously, that doctor had never done Ashtanga because it’s really not that easy. One of my earliest observations was that Ashtanga is a breathing practice and that focusing on breath during Asana would calm my mind and help reduce the anxiety. This was much easier to accomplish in the Mysore room with a self-led practice. Now that my heart is fixed and my anxiety is mostly gone, I still practice daily.

6). What currently inspires you?

My dog Lizzi who has been fighting cancer, but continues to love and make the most out of life despite what she goes through.

7). What is your favorite season? Why?

I love Spring. Mostly because there are baby birds, but also because it’s such a beautiful season in Tahoe.

8). What secret helps you to maintain balance and stay healthy?

Taking time for myself. This has been a learning process, but it’s one of the most important things that I do to keep myself balanced and sane.

9). A fun fact most people don’t know about you?

I love wildlife and have been known to do dumb things to observe them more closely. I wouldn’t say that these encounters were fun, but they were definitely exciting. I’ve been bluff charged by a Bull Moose in Canada, a Bull Elk in Yellowstone and a Male Lion in South Africa. I was trying to take photos and got too close.

10). What do you want to share with the Shala community?

I’m so grateful to be a part of the Tahoe Yoga Shala community. I’ve recently had the opportunity to take a class from each of the teachers at the Shala. What a great experience, they are all wonderful. We are so lucky to have such an experienced team of diverse teachers, each offering their own unique style. It was hard for me to step out of my Mysore comfort zone, but I’m glad I did. Try a different teacher or style of yoga, you might be amazed.

Navaratri: The Nine Nights of the Goddess

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NAVARATRI: The Celebration of the Goddess
Monday, September 25th from 3-345pm with Kacey Davy

Donation class benefitting Sierra Child & Family Services.

Join us for Sanskrit chanting and storytelling…

This class will honor the Goddess with chanting of mantras, flowers, and offerings of food. All are welcome to join in this celebration of the Goddess. 

FREE! Bring a snack and something special for the altar.

REGISTER ONLINE

Navaratri is widely celebrated throughout India and symbolizes a time for internal reflection and purification. “Nava” means nine and “ratri” is night. The first three days are devoted to the Goddess Durgā who symbolizes the destructive and protective aspect of ourselves. Durgā represents the destruction of our inner demons by acknowledging our shortcomings and emotions such as fear, selfishness, desire, and anger. The next three days we honor the aspect of Lakṣhmī who represents our seeking of prosperity in the form of positivity, courage, generosity, and devotion. During the last three days we celebrate the Goddess Sarasvāti who represents spiritual knowledge, wisdom, creativity, and the ability to know our true Self.

Spread the Bhakti Kirtan

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Sunday, October 1st I 7:15 - 8:15 p.m. I Donation Only

Join Laura and friends for a casual evening of devotional music and song.  Our voices are healing instruments of connection, joy and transformation. YOU ARE WELCOME - whether you're a professional singer or prefer to save your vocals for the privacy of the shower!  Chanting is an authentic expression of the heart that helps us wake up to who we are. This is a donation only event.  No one turned away for lack of donation.  Come sing your favorite bhajans!!

100% cash or check donations benefit Sierra Child & Family Services.