Aparigraha and Isvara Pranidhana: Exploring the Connection between Non-grasping and Surrender

The Bhagavad Gita: Winthrop Sargeant

3.25: While those who are unwise act from attachment to action, so the wise should act without attachment intending to maintain the welfare of the world

4.33 Better than the sacrifice of material possessions is the wisdom sacrifice, arjuna; all action without exception arjuna is fully comprehended in wisdom

5.10 offering his actions to brahman having abandoned attachment he who acts is not tainted by evil any more than a lotus leaf by water

9.27… whatever you do… do that as an offering to Me


The concepts of nongrasping/nonattachment and surrender to the divine gives an interesting way to understand right action and how to live in the world practicing yoga in every moment.

One meaning of Aparigraha or non-grasping that I have been exploring is the idea of what it means to be in the present moment without expecting or wanting it to be different than it is. What does it mean to be in relationship with others and not expect or want them to be different than they are? If we met every moment and every person from a space of non-grasping, what would happen? What would happen if we stopped trying to control or make situations different than they presented themselves?  In our daily awareness our ego mind works so quickly to assess a situation and tell us the meaning and help us determine what we need to do to continue to validate and feel good about our situation.  In the idea of the wisdom sacrifice, we would be able to see each situation, each person from the space of wisdom- beyond the ego structures of our personal beliefs, emotions, and thoughts.  We would be able to meet the present moment as it is.  I recently read a definition of yoga as union with the present moment. Nongrasping for the moment to be different than it is this practice  of yoga as union, acceptance, and allowing the present moment to be seen as it is.  This practice of non-grasping can help us to see the present moment in the light of discriminative awareness, otherwise our thoughts, beliefs, emotions and reactions don’t allow that truth of the moment to be seen.

How do we find this nongrasping and allowing or union with meeting the present moment as it is? Isvara Pranidhana helps us in finding the space inside ourselves to meet the moment as it is. When we practice surrender to the divine we are practicing trust in the divine within us and in the universe. The development of this trust and surrender within and in the universe shifts our perspective and helps us move from the small ego self to the connection with a deeper Self in us and others and trust in the moment.  In the Gita, it speaks of offering all actions to the divine to not incur harm.  In the wisdom sacrifice, if we sat in the seat of discriminative awareness not grasping or trying to see things other than how they were and trusted in the divine within we could look at all of our actions, beliefs and thoughts to determine how action in the moment either takes us into deeper connection with the divine or separates us from that connection.

The Gita even tells us if we try not to act- action will happen anyway from the movement of material nature. So if action is to happen as we walk in the world, these two concepts ask us how we can meet each moment as it is, develop trust in the divine within ourselves, others and the universe so that each action can come from a space of clarity and for the maintenance or betterment of the world around us.  If we can remember these concepts continually as we walk in the world we have the ability to practice yoga in every moment and in every interaction

Studio and Program Spotlight: Mainstreet Yoga

We are happy to announce our 500 hour yoga teacher training with a focus on understanding the foundations of yoga therapy being continued this year and next year at Mainstreet Yoga in Bloomington Illinois. This will be the second time we have run the full program at this studio. We are so happy to continue working with Debra, Jeff and the Mainstreet Yoga community.   Debra has been practicing yoga therapy for years and has a beautiful knowledge of the depth of this practice for a variety of populations.  Jeff, who is the director of the course on understanding the interplay of fascia in yoga practice, is a very talented and inspiring massage therapist and yoga therapist.   Their studio models a unique practice in that there is ayurveda, massage, yoga and yoga therapy.  We are lucky to be part of this community of yoga practitioners and healers. If you travel for a program, this is a wonderful place to visit and be inspired by the vision of the studio as well as the intention and heart of the community.

Currently the programs we have scheduled are:

Musculoskeletal Assessment run in a 2 weekend format: Dec 12-14 2014 and Jan 23-25 2015 with Tra Kirkpatrick

Tantra Hatha Yoga Approach to Chronic Pain and Common Medical Conditions: April 24-26 2015 with Marlysa Sullivan

The Yoga Way: Towards Psychological Health and Emotional Well-being: June 19-23 2015 with Holle Black

We will be looking at also scheduling the Bhagavad Gita and Meditation Courses.


Thank you so much Debra and Jeff for hosting us and we look forward to the continued relationship!

Please see our calendar page and the resources page for these and other programs this year.


An intention of yoga therapy that I have been working with is one we came up with in a class one day at Maryland University of Integrative Health:  To end suffering by coming into alignment with a greater truth and from that space of truth being and interacting in the world. In class, we spoke about the idea that when we are in alignment with the Self inside, our dharma flows very naturally from that space and a compassionate way of interacting in the world and with ourselves opens up.

This year has been quite the experience of investigation of my own personal path and how I walk in the world with integrity, compassion and honoring the Self in me as well as those around me.

Everything changes and it is when we resist that change and try to keep things controlled and static that we begin to suffer, we begin to lose connection with our path and we begin to even lose our ability to honor the Self in us and others.

It is with both sadness and excitement for what is to come that I am announcing my leaving Pranakriya. It has been a wonderful and inspiring time in my life and I have enjoyed being a part of this program as well as being grateful to have had the opportunity to study with Yoganand so extensively.  However, due to changes within the administration and with the programming, I find that it is my path to leave Pranakriya. The energy has shifted and it seems that to walk with integrity, compassion, honesty, respect and love for all that I have learned, it is time to leave.  The Yoga Therapy program, which has been developed through a wonderful collaboration of teachers and honed by listening to and being with so many students, is moving to the Center for Integrative Yoga Studies.   By moving the program, I believe that it will flourish and grow as it will continue to be a collaboration between the same directors that have helped to create and teach it.  You will find many of the same teachers including: Tra, Holle, Stacie, Matt, Anne, Tracey, Jeff and myself.

You can see information about the program on the training page:


You can see where we have programs scheduled next year both on the studios affiliation link:


and the calendar page:


If you are currently in the program through Pranakriya and have any concerns, please contact us. We will work with you to continue in the way that is best for you.

A wonderful result of this change is the creation of the Center for Integrative Yoga Studies. Tra, Holle and I created this center with the intention of continuing our teaching and work to bridge the deep tradition of yoga with current biomedical and scientific understandings for healing and transformation. Many teachers will be a part of this center as we continue to develop programs.

One program that we are very excited to announce is our new 200 hour therapeutic and meditative yoga teacher training at Decatur Yoga and Pilates next year.  This training will be an opportunity to dive into yoga philosophy and practices to learn how we cultivate change through these practices. We will explore the yogic view of health, suffering, the process of healing and transformation and tie this into current scientific and biomedical understandings of health and disease. We will look at yoga practices of asana, pranayama and various meditations focusing on how to sequence and modify for various physical, mental and emotional conditions.  You can find out more about this program here:



We are looking forward to the continued teaching of the yoga therapy program and the new programs to come. Please sign up to receive our updates as they happen.





Knowledge, Discrimination and The Gunas

Two similar quotes from the Gita are inspiring me at the moment.  The first is:

“The yogin who is satisfied with knowledge and discrimination, who is unchanging, with conquered senses, to whom a cold, a stone and gold are the same is said to have attained Samadhi. 6.8

What does it mean to be satisfied with knowledge and discrimination? For me, this speaks to the idea of understanding the difference between the ego, the Ahamkara, and the Truth of the Self.  Our ego needs things to be satisfied. It needs to be validated by what is happening within us and outside of us to be satiated.  We can spend our lives trying to satisfy this sense of self, this ego. Running from this thing to that thing and creating a small world where everything fits and we only participate in those things that keep our ego fed and validated.  When anything arises that does not validate this Ahamkara, we can become upset, angry, anxious or sad. There are any number of ways to create an emotional experience that feeds our thought, body and behavior patterns to bring us back to a comfortable window of tolerance to who we think we are.

The idea of conquering the senses can be about seeing these patterned responses to stimuli and beginning to see through the responses to a place of Truth, of Being, of Self underneath.   We begin to notice how we run towards those things that validate this small sense of self and run away from those things that threaten that sense of self.  We can begin to see how we create emotional experiences, thought patterns, body patterns and behavioral experiences in response to our world.  This practice teaches us to sit back, observe, watch, and notice what arises and instead of feeding the ego- to be in the place of knowledge and discrimination to see everything in the light of the Truth. Rather than feeding the need of the ego to be satiated in every moment, we sit in discrimination which allows us to act in the world from a different place.


The second quote is this:

Later Arjuna asks what is he like who has transcended the three qualities, the gunas for which Krishna says “To whom pain and pleasure are equal, who dwells in the Self, to whom a clod, a stone and gold are the same…” 14.24

When we have transcended the qualities, the gunas, we can be in the place of discrimination, be in the space of Truth and see all as equal.  The energies of the gunas (activation- rajas, stability or inertia- tamas and clarity- sattva) create our world of experience which can fulfil our ego needs of validation or lead us to greater truth.  For the gunas to lead me to truth, I need to cultivate the capacity to sit back in knowledge and discrimination and watch the gunas move. I can see how energy arises and instead of these energies feeding my ego and creating a world of disturbance guided by rajas, tamas or even sattva- I can see all as the same. I can see the connection between all that arises and into the truth underneath.

When I consider what creates pain, suffering and separation I think about how the gunas move within us created by our internal and external experience. Information arises from outside of us and within us and our ego wants to figure it all out. It wants to understand, to be seen, to be understood, to be validated.  My ego knows how it has worked with these energies and emotions in the past and wants to restore a sense of identity and order. The ego is unsure of what would happen, who I would be, if I interacted with this energy and emotion differently.  As a yogi we have the choice to go with the ego, to create more of the same story, to harden those boundaries of who we are- or we can choose differently. Yoga gives us the capacity and the tools to sit back in discrimination- to see the ego clammering for validation,  the separation and suffering that is created by that ego structure,  and to choose differently.

When I come from the place of truth, seeing the truth in me as well as the truth in others, from knowledge and discrimination- I can make a choice about my emotional, mental, physical and spiritual experience in the moment. I can choose to create more separation or to see the Self in all, to be a friend to all, to act in the greatest good and to alleviate suffering. Through our yoga practice we are cultivating this capacity to have more choices in what we see and understand in the moment and to create action that comes from a place of kindness, compassion, honesty, and authenticity.  Through this kind of action we have the potential to create healing and connection within us and in our relationships with others.

Being a friend to the Self as a path of healing

“One should uplift oneself by the self; one should not degrade oneself; for the self alone can be a friend to oneself and the self alone can be an enemy of oneself. For him who has conquered himself by the self the self is a friend; but for him who has not conquered himself, the self remains hostile, like an enemy”- Bhagavad Gita: Winthrop Sargeant . 6.5-6

This is a quote I have been contemplating for a while and has continued to be a part of my meditation. I have been thinking about how this quote is important in the therapeutic context, in the healing of old patterns and receptivity to new ones.

What does it mean to be an enemy to oneself? There are ways that we keep ourselves in patterns of pain and suffering. That we are hostile, untrusting and an enemy to our own healing and empowerment process. These patterns are behaviors, physical postures, ways of thinking and feeling that have become our way of being in the world. Our ego, our Ahamkara, has even become comfortable at this level of energy, with these thoughts, emotions and these ways of being in our body and mind. Because these cycles of body and mind experience are what we know and what we become comfortable with, we continue to find ourselves in experiences that reinforce these patterns. So that when a stimulus arises I will react and reinforce behaviors and feelings that continue to support my belief of not being good enough, strong enough or open enough. As an example: when I have conflict with a person I may begin to feel guilty, or I may feel disempowered- a victim of the universe and out of control. My emotions will be anger, fear, guilt or any number of emotions this can turn into. My thoughts will spin towards all the other times this has happened and I had not control and no one cared or heard me. My body will become tense or I will numb out to my body. Being an enemy to myself is not trusting who I really am and not believing in that deeper inner wisdom so that I continue to see situations in a way that reinforces beliefs of not being good enough, strong enough, smart enough and so on.   Many people in emotional and physical pain seem to find themselves in these repetitive cycles of mind and body experience with difficulty in creating change.

What does it mean to be a friend to oneself? What does it mean to trust in an inner wisdom and guidance that may seem unfamiliar? Maybe we are more comfortable being small, not believing in ourselves, thinking we are not good enough. Maybe we are more comfortable with our jaws clenched, our bellies tight or not even being connected to the body. How do we begin to find trust in who we are? How do we begin to trust that sense so deeply that it creates change in our mind and body patterns and leads us into a healthier and more vibrant way of being in the world?

In Yoga we can use the practice of asana to begin to reconnect us with our body. Movement helps us find places we have been disconnected from, places we hold tension and places we hide from our own power and strength. Through asana we learn how to hold ourselves up from deep inner strength, we learn how to relax and create more spaciousness in our body. We can cultivate energy and a sense of vitality and aliveness that is unfamiliar to us. The practice of movement can become a practice of learning to trust ourselves, honoring our strength and our softness. Through a meditative and mindful practice of asana we befriend ourselves, which can then begin to create change in how we respond to both internal and external situations in a way to alleviate our own suffering.

Pranayama helps us to work with the underlying energy of the mind and body. The practice of breath techniques can show us how much vitality we allow ourselves to feel and receive. It can show us our patterns of how we choose to dissipate that energy through thoughts, emotions and physical tension/numbness and how we can work to receive that vitality differently. We can befriend and trust our ability to be vibrantly alive through the practice of pranayama.

When we befriend and learn to trust our own deep inner wisdom through the practice of yoga we can find ways to change our mind and body patterns that keep us in these patterns of suffering. We can see how our responses to life have become ways that we hurt ourselves, that we are an enemy to ourselves and we can begin to create the stage to have a different relationship with ourselves and the world around us. When we learn to find that friendliness within, happiness within, trust within -we can create the actions, thoughts and emotions that alleviate the suffering we experience within ourselves and in our response to the world. Our yoga practice becomes the practice of honoring ourselves and befriending ourselves so that we can become more compassionate and more understanding in our interactions within ourselves and also with others.

Prana and Apana and neuroplasticity

Prana can be defined as an underlying energy that is within us and the universe. An energy or vitality or aliveness that we can have access to all times.  In our lives we either allow that energy to flow through us, to be felt and seen and integrated or we can resist against it. Resistance to this energy or sensation can result in many levels of dysfunction.  We can begin to numb our bodies so we no longer have access to that level of sensation. We can spend that energy with our thoughts, our emotions, the way we eat, with physical activity. We can guard against that energy and sensation through muscular tension and tightness in our body.

In Tantra hatha yoga, one of the ideas or intentions is to help us access and be with that energy and to cultivate the capacity to be with greater aliveness.  We can use asana to awaken our bodies, to feel our bodies and notice the ways we react to that energy. We can use pranayama to awaken vitality, to change vitality and through an integrative, meditative process begin to change our relationship to sensation. In this approach, much of our suffering and pain stems from how we are in relationship to these energies as they arise in our practice.  We would want to work with pain and suffering from this underlying idea of how we sit with sensation and grow our capacity to be with layers of sensation with awareness.

In the understandings of the nervous system that are starting to arise in the field of pain science and physical therapy, the terms are changing to look at nervous system sensitization, and neuroplasticity. How do we help ourselves and others change the response to sensation? The medical model is beginning to see the importance of this approach of working with pain by working with awareness and changing the way people are sitting with sensation, pain and suffering.

A useful model from Tantra hatha yoga is the model of apana and prana. Energy either rises and is a form of free energy that we allow to flow through us and lets us have access to more vitality in our lives- or this energy gets tied down into apana. We can regulate and meet our energy needs through food, people, thoughts, and emotions.  Our ego has a certain vitality through which it sees the world, through which it understands its place and how to respond in the world.  As we work to change this vitality the ego will fight back.  Apana will allow us to spend this energy through anger, sadness, depression, anxiety, tension in muscles, numbness in our body, even food  helps us regulate our energy so that we can maintain the amount of energy or aliveness that we are comfortable with.

The techniques of Tantra Hatha Yoga ask us to sit with energy as we disturb it through a meditative practice of asana and pranayama and to allow the energy to become part of us, to live more fully alive. This greater vitality has the opportunity to flow into helping us live more meaningful, aware and compassionate lives.

To understand the application- imagine sitting in a posture- like bridge, or like a forward fold and adding breath techniques. Then sitting in that energy and noticing what happens without judgment or interruption of that flow. Allowing anger, sadness, grief to arise and instead of allowing it to become something else we breathe into it and see the energy underneath. Instead of just feeling our hamstrings stretch or our glut muscles engage we see the energy underneath and let it flow through us unencumbered.

Yoga Therapy and Hips

In October I am speaking at the KYTA conference on yoga and hips and wanted to write a small article about what I will talk about. So I wanted to share it here. This is something I teach in the anatomy, musculoskeletal and Maryland University courses.

Yoga Therapy is a vast field with many facets. To understand the viewpoint of the Yoga Therapist we must understand the worldview and perspective of Yoga. To work with a physical issue from a yogic perspective is not simply about the physical body. The physical body is a small part of the full picture of the causes and root of suffering and pain.

To start with the physical allows us to have a tangible picture of what is going on. Something that both the therapist and the client can see and feel and relate back to.  Hip pain can be related to many physical factors. The hip is connected to the rest of the body so that any misalignment through the low back, knee and even ankle can have immediate repercussions on the hip.  In any pain condition of the hip, there tends to be common musculoskeletal imbalances present.  Often the Gluteus Maximus, Gluteus Medius, pelvic floor and transverse abdominals become inhibited. The Psoas, Hamstrings, pelvic floor, Piriformis and external rotators become facilitated and often either tight or short or both.  The physical part of Yoga therapy is finding the postures that this person can do to “turn on” the inhibited muscles and “turn off” the facilitated muscles.

The perspective of the yoga therapist looks at these physical causes and then searches for the other root(s) of the problem.  Why are these imbalances present? Is it about the state of the nervous system, the vitality, or energy of the person and their reaction or capacity to be with vitality and energy? What is the state of their mind, their thoughts and emotions? Are they connected to Self, connected to their own being?

As a yoga therapist we use the physical as a way to look into and help heal on the energetic, mental, emotional and spiritual realms of being. Through pranayama, meditation, study and exploration of the Self, mind and body we can begin to help the client uncover these other causes of pain that keep them  in a perpetual cycle of injury and pain.

Bringing this into a session with a client we can do postures to work on the imbalances that are presenting such as:

First starting people in a relaxed state. Cultivating the parasympathetic state in order to release held tension that they come in with is an important first step in helping to build awareness, creating deeper connection and in helping people access engagement of chronically inhibited muscles.

Then strengthening the inhibited muscles with postures such as ½ locust, belly down boat, bridge and tree.   The important piece would be to make sure the Gluteals were engaging and the transverse abdominals and pelvic floor were working.

Finally you could work with stretching the commonly tight muscles such as the hip flexors/Psoas, Hamstrings and Piriformis with postures such as knee down lunge, supported bridge, Sitting forward fold, supine hamstring stretch, pigeon up the wall, ardha matsyendrasana.

Equally as important is working with pranayama and meditation to uncover the roots of held tension and capacity to be with sensation, vitality and energy. To work with the underlying causes of why these tensions continue to develop. Understanding how to work with these practices alone and within asana can help to uncover the more energetic, mental and emotional causes of continual tension and pain as well as help the person find a deeper connection and compassion for Self to heal and transform.

Yoga U online course

I am very excited that next week I will be presenting information on the tantra hatha yoga approach to working with chronic pain.  Here is the link to the course: http://yogauonline.com/yogaspirit/webinar/chronic-pain-and-tantra-hatha-yoga-integrating-current-biomedical-understanding-ancient-mode

I have taught this material several times and it never ceases to amaze me how the ancient tantra hatha yoga concepts give us such a fluid and multidimensional model to help with pain.  We will touch on how current concepts in the causes of chronic pain in the field of pain science, physical therapy and psychotherapy get tied together through the practices and philosophy of tantra hatha yoga.

My yoga teacher, Yoganand Michael Carroll, recently defined the work we do in Pranakriya Yoga and in Tantra Hatha Yoga as helping us to increase our “aliveness”.  The idea is that when our aliveness increases it changes our perception which makes life more intriguing and when we live from that space of shifting our perception, of greater aliveness we can bring more meaning into our lives.

The work of yoga for chronic pain has much to do with helping people to come underneath their stories. To explore the stories that are held in the body and mind that keep them in pain and to help find ways to shift, to move, to change their perception and to help find a greater truth within that can help them to heal and transform.

Thanks for reading!



Therapeutic Meditation Retreat. July 2014

Here is information about the retreat that Tracey Sondik and I are leading next year. An opportunity to deepen your own journey into healing and yoga!


Therapeutic Meditation Retreat: A Body Journey to Access Your Inner Wisdom and Truth

July 31 – August 3, 2014

Please join Marlysa Sullivan, Director of Pranakriya 500 hour Therapeutic Yoga Teacher Certification program and Tracey Sondik, Psy.D., Clinical psychologist, for a meditation retreat journey by the sea at the beautiful Mercy Center, located in Madison, CT.

Yoga therapists, yoga teachers, psychotherapists, and serious yoga and meditation students are encouraged to attend this retreat to explore one’s own inner wisdom and truth using the skillful methods of Tantric Hatha Yoga, Meditation, and Psycho-Spiritual Inquiry. Through this cultivation of inner wisdom and truth, yoga therapists and teachers and psychotherapists can develop a strong physical and psychological container which is essential in helping others on their own healing journey.

Over the four days, participants will be practicing yoga daily including the deeper practices of integrating asana, pranayama, mudra to raise energy and cultivate greater aliveness and sensitivity to their own inner world as well as the more contemplative traditions of Yin and Restorative Yoga, sitting meditations, body journeys and psycho-spiritual inquiry to identify and work through emotional obstacles that can block inner wisdom and intuition.

This is the first retreat offered in the Pranakriya 500 hour Therapeutic Yoga Teacher Certification which will count as an elective. We recognize the need for therapists to reconnect with themselves in a safe and nourishing environment. We hope you will be able to join us for this beautiful opportunity for self-growth, for development of a regular daily yoga and meditation practice, and a path for accessing inner wisdom and truth.

The cost for the 4 day retreat includes double room accommodations with private bath and all meals including dinner upon arrival and breakfast on the departing day.

Dates: Thursday July 31, 2014-Sunday August 3, 2014

Tuition/Accommodations: $695.00 per person

Early discount if registered by May 31, 2014: $650.00

Please contact Marlysa Sullivan: marlysayogini@gmail.com or Tracey Sondik: tmsondik@aol.com to more information or to register.