Daydreaming about Mt. Shasta, Mexico and milestones

Globe via libertygrace0 Flickr

It was a distracting day to be in Lansing, Mich., because there was so much going on in the Ashtanga world elsewhere.

Mt. Shasta and McCloud, Calif.

Tim Miller started the distractions that turned into daydreams when he posted a dispatch from Mt. Shasta, where he is leading his annual weeklong second series retreat. I was there last year, and it was the beginning of what I’m seeing now as a yearlong emotional shed that began last August in Mt. Shasta, hit a crescendo during my honeymoon in Maui in May, and went all the way up to settling into a new house last month. The friends I met last year who returned to Mt. Shasta this year were posting about their exploits on Facebook, and I would have rather been there with them than at my work desk.

The Ashtanga Yoga Confluence and San Diego, Calif.

By afternoon, the Confluence Countdown blogging husband-and-wife team posted that the schedule for the 2013 Ashtanga Yoga Confluence was out. It looks amazing. That brought my mind forward to March 2103 and back to this past March, when I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the first-ever Confluence. I won’t be headed to the Confluence next year, however, because money is pretty tight right now, and I’m saving up for . . .

Ashtanga Mexico Retreat with Elise Espat and Angela Jamison

My Ashtanga teacher will be co-leading a retreat near Puerto Vallarta next March, and I want to be there. It seems like an incredible way to experience my practice, and a perfect opportunity for some sort of mental and emotional deep-dive. I wanted to get on a direct flight other Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor folks are taking — and get on it while the prices are still low — so I’ve bought my ticket yesterday. This afternoon, I realized my name was spelled incorrectly on the reservation, which means it doesn’t match my passport, which means it could cause some trouble during the actual trip, so I called Delta today to fix that. Calling the airline got me all excited again for this trip.

I think getting away for yoga trainings and retreats is important not just for deepening a practice, but for the purposes of rekindling inspiration and creating an environment for some healing work. I know these retreats sound like vacations — and they totally are. But if you want them to be, they can also be work — intense and not always pleasant emotional work.

I’d say I hope tomorrow will be a little less distracting, but having too many Ashtanga events to think about is a pretty good problem to have — more opportunities to get away as part of a journey to settle back home.

(Photo credit: “WTF — Globe!!” via libertygrace0’s Flickr

 © YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Mt. Shasta –>Work (Why is reentry so hard?)

It’s been way too long since my last blog post, which I wrote on the last day of my Mt. Shasta-based Ashtanga second series retreat. It was such a luxury to have the time to hike, take bubble baths (!), start each day with two-and-a-half hours of yoga and write a daily blog post. I returned home last Monday evening and went to work the next morning. I can summarize the time since with just one word.

Slammed. 

Work has been so intense. (I always say that, and it is nearly always true.) Yesterday, in the midst of other looming deadlines, my colleagues and I helped staff four concurrent news conferences aimed at getting more kids enrolled in one of the state’s free or low-cost health insurance programs. (By the way, if you know any family who would benefit from this program, please help spread the word. About 127,000 children across Michigan don’t have health insurance.) It’s been really, truly rewarding to work on this project. But it has admittedly consumed so much of my time of late, and it’s just one of several projects I have right now with lots and lots of moving parts.

No matter what you come back to, I’ve found that the post-yoga-getaway period triggers the same realization time and again: reentry is hard. In a retreat setting, you’re not in many situations that test your level of reactivity. I mean, what was confrontational about Heart Lake in the Mt. Shasta region? When you return to your daily grind after this, it’s especially jarring every time your reactivity is tested — whether it has to do with deadlines queuing up or things not going according to plan.

In any case, though I’ve had radio silence here, I did squeeze in some updates over on the YogaRose.net Facebook page — such as the news that the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence is now sold out (hope you got in, if you had wanted to get in!). I also shared that news with the Ashtanga Yoga Professionals group on the professional social networking service LinkedIn. If I had had more time (I already don’t get enough sleep as it is), I would have done a blog post by now about how there is still room in Tim Miller’s October trip to Tuscany (please note this link opens as a PDF).

Even when I’m too swamped to produce much of my own personal social media pushes, though, I still consume when I can. One of the many reasons I love social media is that it keeps me connected to ashtangis around the world. And it has seemed that the more I’ve had to hunker down over the past several days, the more Steve and Bobbie over at the Confluence Countdown have been stepping it up in terms of blog post volume and frequency. And thank goodness, because I needed something for my post-Shasta fix.

Have I mentioned that reentry is hard?

P.S. — This has nothing to do with Ashtanga yoga, but now that I have you here, maybe you’ll want to check out the public service announcement about Enroll Michigan and getting kids signed up for MIChild or Healthy Kids. Anything you can do to spread the word could really end up helping a family in need.

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Departures and arrivals

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As I am starting to write this post — with just one minute left until midnight — I just received a text from a fellow Mt. Shasta retreater saying she just arrived where she was headed to. She sounds happy but tired, which is how I feel as well, sitting with my sister and my brother-in-law in their living room. Our retreat officially ended this morning with what’s become known as a circle of tears. A box of Kleenex gets passed around, and tears are shed as each retreat participant offers a few words about their week. Once eyes are dried, everyone grabs a quick breakfast in the garden across from our lovely hotel and then zips back to their room to pack. In between, several rounds of goodbyes are shared and Facebook friend requests are made from our mobile phones before we finally face the reality that we have to leave.

In my case, I had more than five hours of driving to do so that I could see my sister, who just so happens to be celebrating her birthday today. It’s been years since I’ve been able to be with my sister on her actual birthday, and I am grateful for this chance this year.

I didn’t post at the end of Friday, the final full day, because too much was going on. Too many great late-night conversations. I have thoughts from today but I’ll have to owe you a raincheck on that too.

Suffice it to say that this retreat ended without ending — for each of us as individuals, and for this blog space. I’ll be posting more about the retreat as soon as I get some time. In the meantime, don’t forget to keep checking out Steve and Bobbi’s blog posts about the first week of the retreat.

Final thought for now: if you’ve never been to this retreat but have had your curiosity piqued, it’s never too early to start plotting how to get here and experience Mt. Shasta with Tim Miller for yourself next year. Check out the info on this year’s retreat, along with contact info for more information. Mt. Shasta is one of those places where it’s about the journey, yes, but about the destination too.

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© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Feeding the body, mind and spirit: An exercise in less is more

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On the first day of this Ashtanga yoga retreat held in the sacred space of California’s Mt. Shasta region, Tim Miller explained the itineraries for yoga practices, open discussions, hiking trips and — last but not least — meals. He told us the retreat aims to feed our body, mind and spirit.

We have been fed in abundance when it comes to fodder for the mind and spirit. Not so when it comes to sustenance for the body.

Don’t get me wrong. We’ve eaten very well, with breakfast buffets that have included yogurt parfaits, lunches with veggie goat cheese wraps and dinners featuring risotto and corn cakes. What’s key, however, is that we’ve been fed, but not overfed.

The result? With just a day and a half left in this weeklong retreat, my gastrointestinal system feels better than it has in a long time. My acid reflux hasn’t acted up at all. My little purple pills — my prescription Nexium — have stayed in the little Altoid case I use to hold my assortment of reflux pills, vitamins, and the like.

I’m not the worst eater you’ll find — it’s not as if I live on fast food back home — but I am not the poster child of someone who maintains an enviable diet either. With the exception of the occasional omelet or scrambled egg plate, I don’t cook. If I do make something for myself at home, it’s most frequently achieved by assembling wraps, sandwiches and the like.

But my real downfall when it comes to food is portion size. I have that skewed American perspective of what constitutes an acceptable meal. It’s the perspective that makes us as a society view plates of food the way you might see things in a carnival funhouse — totally out of proportion. This was totally driven home to me during a visit in 2005 to Thailand, where my parents were raised. The portion sizes all seemed to be about a quarter of the typical American meal.

And yet I returned from that trip and continued eating the way I aways have.

This week, however, I have avoided getting seconds when that’s been an option, and I have been moderate about desserts. I usually skip the bag of chips put out with our bag lunches. Even though I’ve been expending a great deal of calories through our daily yoga practices and our hikes, I haven’t been hungry at all — proving once again that so much of what we think is our body talking is really our mind talking.

When it comes to healthy eating, food, much like words, falls into the category of less is more. I’m going to take this feeling and these meal habits to heart when I return home and try to get myself on a better eating routine than I currently have.

Sleep, on the other hand, does not for me fall into the category of less is more. Since I’m getting up at 6 a.m. for our last pranayama (breathing) class, I should call it a day. Goodnight.

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Economic bubbles, bubble baths and a breath of fresh air

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This sounds ridiculous — because it is. But I just enjoyed a bubble bath in which I played my Radiohead channel on my iPhone Pandora app (great app for traveling, by the way) as I read about today’s major stock market drops seen in the United States and across European powerhouses.

It’s quite the juxtaposition to read about financial markets tanking while out here in McCloud, Calif. — where you always have a view of Mt. Shasta, considered a deeply spiritual place by Native American cultures — with no real obligations except to feed your body, mind and spirit with Ashtanga yoga practices, discussion on yoga philosophy and hikes that take you past sweeping vistas and natural springs.

There are times when I go on vacation and completely disconnect — not even so much as sending a tweet. There are also vacations such as this one where I feel less taxed if I can touch base with the outside world now and then. As a former journalist, I feel pretty strongly that it takes an informed citizenry to foster a strong open government. I don’t want to pretend that terrible riots haven’t been taking place in London, and I don’t want to miss out on the broader discussion about the role social media played in the unfolding of the violence.

After an afternoon of hiking through beautiful expanses of wildflowers, it’s interesting to think about whether Ashtanga yoga brings heightened relevance to current events, or whether a retreat such as this one allows yogis like me to sidestep the realities of the world for a few blissful days.

You’ll be shocked — shocked! — (guess I didn’t leave my sarcasm in Michigan) to hear me say that I think a yoga practice that speaks to the traditional eight limbs of yoga is not at all a withdrawal from the world’s very real challenges. If anything, what yoga allows us to do is continually improve ourselves on the deepest level, and in that way, make an important contribution to the greater social good.

How does that work?

During our evening class tonight, the discussion eventually led to the question of what the sutras that guide the yogic system say about the causes of vrittis. The most accepted definition of yoga is that it is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind. Those fluctuations of the mind — the vrittis — lead to a lot of problems. Lots and lots of problems.

What causes the fluctuations? A pretty long list of states, such as illness, stagnation, impatience, incorrect viewpoint, etc.

Tim Miller asked our group about people who are not at all connected to their body. If they are not in their own body, where are they?

Yep — they are solidly in their head.

Tim called it “Vritti-ville,” which made us laugh (yeah, yeah, yoga humor. Trust me, it’s funny if you do yoga. :-) ).

I know it can seem like a bit of hypocrisy to say that yoga is not about contorting the body when the series of Ashtanga get increasingly more challenging and does demand that the practitioner do postures worthy of Cirque du Soleil. But as Tim said tonight, “In Ashtanga yoga, we keep pushing the envelope of proprioception. The point is to cultivate the refinement of proprioceptive abilities.”

Proprioception is basically awareness of one’s own body — the ability to know what the parts of the body are doing without looking in a mirror.

Achieving these increasingly difficult yoga postures requires so much — including focus, practice, patience and not only a deep awareness of the breath, but ability to control the breath and the body’s energy locks. And as Tim reminded us tonight, thanks to the body-mind connection, we can indirectly control the mind by controlling the breath.

I often think about the corporate world when I think about the benefits of yoga. I’ve worked with people didn’t seem to have any idea how to read the signals of their own body, which led to them not being able to create a circuit-breaker for high stress levels. This, in turn, triggered desperate attempts to cope with that stress by being very reactive and lashing out at people around them. I think that if everyone in corporate America had to practice yoga and learn to read their body and connect to their breath, we could potentially create more compassionates cultures in our workplaces — and that would make a real difference in quality of life for millions of people.

I am not so idealistic that I think we would attain world peace if everyone simply started to practice yoga, nor do I think we could eliminate man-made calamities such as stock market crashes if yoga were more popular. But if everyone took it upon themselves to find something in their life to help them connect to their body in a meaningful and disciplined way — be it yoga, martial arts, sports training or dancing — we might have more balanced tendencies as a society.

Like everyone else, I have a long way to go to become a zen master. When I come to a retreat like this one, it is for selfish reasons. Absolutely. Out of that selfishness, however, I am hopefully a better person in general, and hopefully those around me also benefit by having a less reactive Rose on their hands.

By the way, I chose a bubble bath tonight that had eucalyptus and arnica in it to soothe my sore muscles. Don’t let the moniker “retreat” fool you — with Tim Miller, a retreat involves getting up at 6:30 a.m. for 2.5 hours of a physical (asana) and a breath (pranayama) practice, followed by an afternoon hike (some of which kick your asana, as you know if you read my post yesterday), and an evening class built around questions and discussions.

This retreat is work, and what you get out of it depends on what you invest in it. If you were considering coming to this second series retreat or the primary series retreat in 2012 or beyond, I can guarantee that you’ll get a far better rate of return on your dollar than any stock that exists out there.

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© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

A girl and a guru

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“That’s the great thing about Mt. Shasta — the veil of illusion becomes gossamer thin.”

–Tim Miller, the first westerner certified by Pattabhi Jois to teach Ashtanga, Aug 9, 2011 during a class discussion on the kleshas (afflictions) described in the Yoga Sutras

I’ve always been drawn to allegories. Today, I hiked into one.

The morning started out as every morning during this Mt. Shasta retreat yoga led by Tim Miller — with half an hour of pranayama (breathing exercises), and a two-hour physical practice (a guided Ashtanga second series class alternates days with a Mysore, or independent-paced, practice). Sunday’s first class of the retreat — a led class — was pretty rough for me. I felt I had the quality of tamas — lethargy, stagnation. Yesterday I did primary series during the Mysore session, which somehow went even worse. It seems I left my proprioceptive awareness in Michigan, because Tim was working with me on the most basic postures. He totally called me out on my virabhadrasana A (warrior A) posture by coming to my mat and saying, “What is this? A baby warrior?”

Incredibly, this morning’s second series practice felt downright lovely — challenging, with a deep payoff in body, mind and spirit. I was grateful, because one of the reasons I came to this retreat was to discover how to more deeply connect with second series. At the moment, it’s a practice I respect but don’t exactly enjoy doing. I guess on some level, I don’t know if it’s the practice for me to focus on right now.

After breakfast and a short break, we went on our hike of the day. There were two options: hang out at Castle Lake, which required no hike after you parked your car, or hike to Heart Lake (named because it is lake shaped like a heart), which was described as a short but steep hike.

A couple of my fellow yogis decided to take the first option, because a fairly strenuous hike was not what their body needed. I figured what my body needed most was a hot stone massaged, but, short of that, a hike represented the next best thing I could do for my body and mind. Ever the indecisive person that I am, I decided to split the difference — I would start walking and see if I felt like continuing.

I quickly became the last straggler going up this route. I had maybe gone a third of the way up and decided I would turn around — wasn’t feeling like this hike was for me right now. I didn’t have the enthusiasm needed to make this not feel like a ton of work.

After mentally checking out, but before I turned my body around, I looked up, and saw a single figure up the hill. It looked like Tim’s hat and his Hanuman T-shirt. Was he waiting for me? The last two people who had walked up the hill had probably past that point 5 or 10 minutes before. Well crap, I thought to myself, if that was the case, I couldn’t turn around now.

When I reached Tim standing there stoically, I asked if he was waiting for the last person.

“I didn’t want anyone to miss the turn,” he said. He stood right where the trail forked, and the path to the left looked as well-traveled as the one to the right.

Tim turned around and started up the hill, and I followed without saying anything for a while — partly because I was breathless from the steep climb, partly because I was feeling pretty lame for being so far behind. Tim has better things to do than wait for someone who after all these years still needs to work on dandasana (staff pose).

As we got closer and closer — the light at the end of the tunnel for me — I said, “Thank you again for waiting. I’m sorry I kept you.”

In his signature non-reactive way, Tim said, “No problem.”

He added, “I like going slow.”

I didn’t care how big that heart-shaped lake we were walking toward turned out to be — I knew with absolute clarity that I was already next to Mt. Shasta’s biggest heart.

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© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The flexibility of fearlessness

Check out the roughly 40-foot (that’s a best guess) drop of Middle Falls, located in the McCloud River Loop, where our group hiked today, the second full day of this Mt. Shasta Ashtanga second series retreat.

Now check out yoga studio owner Jayson Barniske from Brawley, Calif., as he jumped into the water after climbing up the ledges:

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I did a quick Google search and apparently, fearless kayakers like to careen down the falls. I find that absolutely incredible.

I seek fearlessness on a much smaller, perhaps even imperceptible scale to most. I recently “finished” (note: I did not say “graduate from” :-) ) an adult swimming class, and yesterday I faced another fear: getting into a sweat lodge. I had been in one once and had a horrible time — it reminded me of not being able to breath during an asthma attack when I was a kid, and that triggered anxiety and panic. I swore I would never do the whole sweat lodge thing again, ever. Yesterday, I not only went back into one, I stayed the whole time. I didn’t say “door” to be let out, as I thought I would surely have to. I found it really powerful, and I think it helped loosen some of the emotional barnacles I wanted to dislodge on this trip.

But I was sort of second-guessing myself earlier today and wondering whether it’s sort of pathetic, these fears I’ve been working on recently. Swimming and a sweat lodge? Really, Rose? Suck it up already. In the scheme of human challenges, these two are barely specs of dust, overshadowed by mountains of real fears, like war, famine and so many types of unspeakable calamities.

In my less self-critical moments, I think about my issue with getting into water and getting into a small confined space that feels like it’s slowly being filled with a suffocating heat as deep-seated fears that invoke abhinivesha, the yogic concept that can be viewed as fear of death or change. In cases like these, I think opening the mind up can be process similar to opening up the body. In a yoga practice, we are trying to increase our own range of motion — be it in our hips, our shoulders or our perspective.

Looking at someone else and wishing you had their flexibility or their fearlessness won’t make that happen for you. Persistence and patience on the mat can help chisel away at your hard-as-rocks shoulders and it can start to erase snippets of a negative reel constantly running through your mind.

Perhaps fittingly, Tim Miller reminded us today that in the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna tells Arjuna that “Better one’s own duty (dharma) though deficient, than the duty of another well performed.”

Back to the waterfalls today. It was a blast to watch Jayson and also Amy Williams, who owns a yoga studio in Provo, Utah, make that jump. I wasn’t quick enough on the draw to get Amy mid-flight, but here she is at the top:

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She seemed to have so much fun getting to that spot, and she seemed to effortlessly jump in. When Amy came up out of the water onto the comfy rocks the rest of us were watching this dive show from, we asked her how it felt. She said fine — cold, but fine.

“I’ll take this over second series any day,” she said with a big smile.

And yet here she is on this second series retreat. Huge props in my book.


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© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

‘Volcanic legacy’

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I got a kick out of this sign I saw yesterday on the drive toward McCloud, Calif., home base for a week of learning about Ashtanga second series — with some gorgeous hiking on Mt. Shasta interspersed each day. Getting closer to Mt. Shasta, which is a dormant volcano, made me think of different kinds of heat and their effects. My first thoughts were drawn to the kind of fiery energy that’s not so productive — a fiery explosion that causes destruction.

I know a thing or two about a fiery energy of the emotional kind. Ask anyone who has ever had the misfortune of being in the car while I was driving angry. I get worked up about something and get enraged and I spew harsh, negative energy. What good does it do?

I’ve been trying to work on it, and I do better some days than others. My father used to say I was born in the year of the dragon, and I had a temper to match a dragon’s fiery breath. Yoga helps. Being around people who are always calm and have their wits about them helps.

I hope eventually, my emotionally volcanic days are also a mere legacy and not an active status. :-)

In the yogic tradition, there’s another kind of fire that is productive because it purifies. It’s called tapas. That’s a far better kind of heat, and it’s the type of heat I am especially seeking this week.

Speaking of which, it’s time for our first morning class — guided Ashtanga second series, followed by a short road trip to a sweat lodge.

>>Read about the first week of this year’s Mt. Shasta retreat from the Confluence Countdown team.

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© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

A girl, a volcano and a ring

I am headed to Mt. Shasta, located in the upper reaches of California and rising more than 14,000 feet. Tim Miller and his sweet wife, Carol, lead two trips each year to this mesmerizing place. They spend one week with folks who want to hike and explore a dormant volcano while practicing Ashtanga primary series, and another week with folks who want to focus on Ashtanga second series.

I chose the second series option for a few reasons. For one thing, I want to learn more about second series, a sequence with backbends, extreme hip openers and arm balances requiring you to be the boss of your core, center of gravity. The sequence intrigues me and frustrates me. Maybe practicing second series in a different place will help me reset that relationship. But I don’t expect the process to be easy. (I asked for permission to attend this week, since I still have a couple postures in primary series I am working on — supta baddha konasana being the main one — and since there are a few postures in second series I can barely even approach. Access was granted, and the course was set.)

The other is timing. I’ve decided I should try this whole settling down thing. I traveled to Encinitas, Calif. last year to spend two weeks in a primary series teacher training, and I’ve given myself this year to find the yoga adventures I want to find — second series is top of that list — and then set my wanderlust aside, at least for now. (Part of me had hoped I could fit a trip to Mysore, India, but I’ve let that go. Maybe later in my life.)

I used to set artificial deadlines for myself — by this age I want to so-and-so, and by this time of my life I hope so-and-so — but adulthood taught me the perils of doing that. You can only control what you control. This isn’t an artificial timeline — it feels right.

So I’ve come to Mt. Shasta to be in Timji’s orbit to practice second series — “nadi shodhana” in Sanskrit. Nerve cleansing. Unlocking dormant energies so they can transform into something positive. I am pretty sure something is going to erupt this week. And I am pretty sure it won’t be Mt. Shasta. (Though if Mt. Shasta does blow, I promise to try to live-blog or at least live-tweet the historic event. 😉 )

Why do I feel ready to face this now?

That’s where the ring comes in. I am a ridiculously fortunate girl to get a fresh start on a new adventure with someone who is as rock -and-roll bad-ass — and yet somehow deeply deeply zen — as they come.

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