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The Helicopter View From Space Yoga Studio

The Helicopter View From Space Yoga Studio

”Yogaś citta-vritti-nirodha” - Patanjali, Yogasūtras.

Written in Sanskrit at some point between the second century BCE and the fourth century CE, Patanjali's classic definition of the purpose of yoga has been translated in a number of different ways, but they all boil down to essentially the same message - the calming or quieting of “mental fluctuations.” Thus the ultimate goal of all yoga postures is to develop the ability to sit still with a straight spine, listen to the breath, and journey inward. The literal meaning of asana is not simply to assume a certain posture, but more accurately to develop the ability to find a comfortable seat.

Meditation is not what you think. It's like driving along an eight-lane highway, constantly trying to avoid delays, accidents, and all the other traffic, and forgetting that we constitute just a small part of the general congestion around us. The problem is that gravity keeps us earthbound, our field of vision is constricted, and we are unable see past the first bend in the road. We have no idea what lies ahead, but tuning into a radio station or using Sat Nav in search of directions for the quickest route provides us with a higher elevation or 'helicopter' view - a better perspective that makes it possible to consult expert opinion about the optimum way to get back home. Sometimes it is not the most direct path, frequently it involves some convoluted contortions and detours along the way, and what often happens is that our bodies distract us with muscular tension, discomfort, and pain, preventing our minds from focussing on the simple act of breathing. We get stuck, feeling sad, angry, or frustrated, even though we are sitting in the driver's seat and striving to remain in control of whatever direction our lives take us.

In an intermittently successful effort to overcome some these vicissitudes as a yoga practitioner for over forty years and an instructor for twenty, I can testify to the constant struggle to cope with the pressure and anxiety of dealing with the seemingly endless difficulties that living on this planet entails. There are many individual paths up the mountain in this particular time and place, and I have explored a wide variety of classes in cities from Rome to Hawaii, and Bangkok to Rishikesh, as well as teaching at dozens of different yoga studios, health clubs, and gyms. I received my first teacher training in Kundalini Yoga at Yoga West and took advanced courses with Erich Schiffmann at Exhale in Los Angeles, studied Conscious Communication with Yogi Bhajan in Espanola, New Mexico, and worked with Nancy Gerstein in Chicago. My personal practice is definitely a work in progress, with plenty of peaks, valleys, and plateaus still to be experienced along the way.

For the stark natural beauty of its location, however, few can compare to Space Studio, which is nestled at the top of Mt Victoria high above Wellington. It has been specifically designed to provide a breathtaking vista of a spectacular landscape where the sky collides with the sea around the Miramar peninsula in the foreground and the Rimutaka mountain range provides a distant backdrop beyond. The ever-changing views promote a sense of floating in a serene world high above the harbour below. They provide an inspiring inducement to neutralize the waves of feeling that constantly lap at the edges of our consciousness.

With over thirty years experience behind her, Owner and Director Lana Bright originally trained at the Insight Yoga Institute and the Mindfulness Training Institute Australasia. She has recruited an international team of skillful and caring instructors from as far away as Germany, Mexico, the US and UK. As an ensemble, they offer a gentle programme of finely balanced yin-yang classes that transcends the tedious repetition of endless sun salutations sadly commonplace in most vinyasa flow classes. Their collective approach to teaching orientates students towards both dynamically mobile and satisfyingly still practices for both body and mind, encourages them to focus on developing their strengths while moving beyond barriers, and leaves everyone feeling simultaneously centered, strengthened, flexible, and alert.

All classes at Space Studio are specifically designed to meet our lives' ever-changing flux of needs and demands - whether dynamic, restful, flowing, still, strengthening, or challenging. Students are encouraged to arrive early in order to sit and meditate or just stretch out and relax. There is no need to talk in this beautiful silent space, only a compelling incentive to become aware of the organic environment, from the constant stridulation of cicadas and gentle gusting of the trees during the summer months, to the winter winds and horizontal rain, and the continuously mutating formations of cumulonimbus. Even the intermittent yawn of airplane engines arriving and departing provides a metaphoric aspiration upward toward the lifting grace of flight, while paradoxically attempting to stay firmly grounded on the mat. Plenty of props are provided to support your individual practice and the instructors always offer a plethora of options, constantly inviting us to rest more and do less than they might suggest. The idea is to listen to your body and choose whatever position feels most appropriate at that specific moment. Sometimes simply lying down and resting - even for the whole class - might be the perfect practice for our over-stressed bodies and over-stimulated minds.

Whatever practice you may personally prefer, all yoga is designed to increase our self-awareness, recalibrate the endocrine system, and strengthen the nervous system - in short, to relax, reinvigorate, and renew. At Space Studio, a sense of greater mindfulness is also cultivated in order to encourage states of both wakeful presence and increased calm. During the daytime classes, the masculine yang energy is increased, while the evening classes tend to focus more on the feminine yin energy with a gentle, restorative practice that explores more passive postures and targets the connective tissues in the hips, pelvis, and lower spine. This is an holistic process that involves concentrating the mind and healing the body through simple poses held for anywhere between five and ten minutes with the help of props such as blocks, bolsters, and straps.

The aim of all the instructors at Space Studio is to increase flexibility and encourage a feeling of deep release, while also explaining the basics of meditation by quieting down what Buddhists call the chattering 'monkey mind' - our constant tendency to jump back and forth between thoughts, memories, and emotions. It is not only ideal for athletic types who need to release tension in overworked joints, but also provides an excellent practice for those with limited mobility who simply want to relax. Space Studio is the perfect environment for cultivating this yin-yang balance, using the gentle susurration of the breath and the soft hum of the heart to rejuvenate all aspects of the body, mind, and spirit.

Ultimately, we may find ourselves in contact with something larger than ourselves and totally at ease in the driver's seat, no matter what vehicle we are driving or whichever fuel we choose to put in the tank. This is the fundamental goal of yoga to which Patanjali was referring - literally, to 'yoke' our individual identities to a higher consciousness and merge with an expansive sense of infinite awareness. At Space Studio, achieving such an elevated perspective is never a struggle, simply a continuing process of gradually opening and deepening as we strive toward perfection in our daily practice. We may never arrive at such an ideal destination in this lifetime. Nonetheless, in the immortal words of Hamlet, it remains “a consummation devoutly to be wished.”

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