Expressing Gratitude: Participant Testimonials from our Summer Retreats

As the summer comes to a close, we reflect on our front and backcountry retreats from the season with participant testimonials. Thank you to each and every individual who joined us on these experiences, and the instructors and staff who made the trips possible! The feedback we receive allows for us to continue to make our retreats and experiences even better for the participants.

Participants smile in front of Yosemite Falls during the Writing from the Heart retreat led by Heather Sullivan

“I attended the Writing from the Heart retreat. From the moment I stepped into the campsite, I felt loved, welcomed, and safe. Our yoga practices were centering and our writing time helped me to reignite my love of writing. Heather Sullivan was an amazing leader. I am so thankful for my time in Yosemite. The peace and rest I found there are truly indescribable.”

“Writing from the Heart was very well run and organized. I felt very provided for, and I think Heather’s heart and professionalism created the opportunity for a transformative experience for me.”

Saluting the light during our Summer Solstice backpacking trip
Summer Solstice instructors and participants gather for a group photo

“My yoga and backpacking retreat couldn’t have gone any better. This was a life-changing experience where reconnecting to nature and spirit was the key. Breezy and JP are absolutely exceptional yoga instructors, they cared a lot about the welfare of the group, the food was super healthy and convenient, meditations were beyond my expectations, Yosemite was fantastic and the instructors were super knowledgeable of our surrounding environment.”

Yogis strike Tree Pose during the Wild Awareness backpacking retreat, led by Breezy Jackson and JP Salonen
Participants take a break during the Women of Color backpacking trip, led by Miho Aida and Grace Anderson
All smiles from the Women of Color backpacking retreat!

“This was the greatest weekend in my twenties thus far! I was challenged, loved, and supported!”

“This was such a beautiful and healing and joyous trip! Miho and Grace were extraordinary trip leaders. I felt totally safe and held by them and inspired by their wilderness skills and facilitation. I learned more about myself and others’ similar struggles and strengths through the meaningful and powerful exercises we engaged in.”

“I’ve been backpacking and climbing for over nine years, and this was one of the most special, healing, and joyous backpacking trips I’ve ever been on. I really loved spending time in the mountains with women of color–sharing space to talk about our experiences, joys, and pains in the outdoors, and cultivating the healing that comes with being heard and seen (and from plunges in freezing alpine lakes). Thank you to the trip leaders, Grace and Miho, for holding such beautiful space, and the Balanced Rock for providing this magical and necessary space!”

Sunset in the High Sierra
photo credit: Patrick Bremser
Starry Tuolumne skies
photo credit: Patrick Bremser

“What can I possibly say that would adequately summarize the exceptional leadership of Jana and Patrick? I would follow them around the world. They are wise, strong, insightful, beautiful people. I am so overflowing with gratitude for both of them. My being is full.”

“The amenities that Balanced Rock provided for a completely comfortable camping experience, made me feel very cared for.”

Group smiles in Tuolumne, led by Jana Kilgore and Patrick Bremser
photo credit: Patrick Bremser
Sunbeams and granite in the high country
photo credit: Patrick Bremser

Stay connected to our Programs Calendar to see what courses/trainings we are offering this Fall/Winter, and the upcoming 2020 Summer trip season!

Asana Breakdown: Uttanasana

Uttanasana, or Standing Forward Fold, invites us to look inward and reduce our stress

Uttanasana (OOT-tan-AHS-ahna), meaning “intense stretch or extension” in Sanskrit, is one of the most classic and beneficial postures in our asana practice arsenal.

The practice of forward fold can be utilized in many ways throughout yoga asana, but Uttanasana invites us to stand on two feet, hinging at the hips and bending forward to encourage the chest to melt towards the thighs. Read below for instructions on exploring this posture:

  • Stand in Tadasana, or Mountain Pose, by grounding down through the soles of the feet and shining the palms forward with the arms at the side.
Shining the palms forward, stand proudly in Tadasana or Mountain Pose to begin moving into Uttanasana
  • Inhale and extend the arms up toward the sky reaching through the fingertips.
  • Exhale and bend at the hips with a flat back, allowing the chest to melt forward and come into a folded standing position.
  • Depending on your flexibility, allow the hands or fingertips to come to the floor. Honor your body and acknowledge your limits, maybe allowing the hands to come to the thighs. Keep a flat back or take a generous bend in the knees and let the belly fall heavy on the thighs to avoid arching and straining the lumbar spine.
Uttanasana, or Standing Forward Fold, invites us to look inward while allowing for lengthening and stretching along the back body
  • There are a couple ways to come out of this posture, 1) place the palms on the ground in front of the feet and step back into high plank pose, with the option to move through Chaturanga, or 2) slowly rise back to standing by rolling up the spine one vertebrae at a time, allowing the head and neck to be the last thing to come up as you return to Tadasana.

Benefits: Uttanasana has many benefits. The physical perks include stretching the hamstrings, hips and calves and alleviation of pain and stiffness in the neck and back. The practice of yoga asana is inherently physical but the mental benefits are also abundant. This posture invites us to look inward, cultivating stillness and mindfulness. Uttanasana is a rejuvenating pose, allowing the ease of stress and nerves as we allow the upper body, neck and head to hang heavy and relax down.

Modifications: Standing Forward Fold can be modified based on your level of flexibility and needs by the use of different versions or props. The most important element to remember is to avoid straining the lower back by “reaching” for the ground. Keeping the knees bent and letting the belly rest on the thighs allows this posture to be truly restorative without stressing the lumbar spine.

Utilizing props is also a great way to modify this pose. A great article explains the use of blocks in the posture, as well as others, in “Yoga Blocks: Everything You Need To Know” on Section 3.4 dives into using blocks in Uttanasana to bring the floor up to you, so as not to disturb the alignment of the spine.

Contraindications: Back injuries or torn hamstring muscle/ligaments (practice with bent knees to reduce stress on these areas and consult your physician or physical therapist before performing if you are injured).

Practicing Uttanasana is extremely beneficial and adding this posture to your daily practice will increase flexibility and reduce stress. If you want to learn more about yoga asana to deepen your practice join us for our WildYoga Immersion, starting October 2nd. During this immersion course we will offer daily asana, meditation, pranayama, philosophy and more in some of the most iconic locations in Yosemite. We will deepen our relationship with the Five Elements (Earth, Water, Fire, Air, Space) as expressed through our yoga practice, in our bodies, and by the planet that sustains us. Click here to learn more about his upcoming training and register today!

Through the Lens: Photos from our July Backpacking + Yoga Retreats

Explore memories and sacred moments through snapshots from two empowering backcountry trips this past month in Yosemite’s High Sierra


The height of the season when the air is drenched in heat and the Sierra granite sizzles and shines in the summer sun. It’s that time of year when locals and visitors alike wander out of Yosemite Valley and set their sights to higher places–namely the High Sierra–for a little respite from the heat and some sweet, sweet elevation gain.

Here at Balanced Rock we absolutely love this time of year for that reason, and how that evolves the kind of experiences we can offer our participants on our summer backpacking trips. The passes open up, and so do the options for backcountry exploration and deep connection to these sacred spaces within the bonds of community.

We most recently facilitated two incredible treks into the High Sierra, led by a team of wonderful guides and instructors. They were asked to document moments and memories from these trips through photos, here is their story:

Wild Awareness 4-day Yoga & Meditation Trek, Ostrander Lake, July 18th-21st

Wild Awareness participants and guide Breezy Jackson go through the backcountry gear
Saluting the mountains in tree pose
Guide JP Salonen offers an assist in headstand on the 2019 Wild Awareness backcountry trip
The group strikes tree pose during their backcountry adventure this past July
Many thanks to this amazing group for a memorable 2019 Wild Awareness backpacking trip!

Women of Color Wilderness Retreat, May Lake, July 25th-28th

Our WOC program is one that is very near and dear to our hearts, and one of our absolute favorite experiences to share. We believe that women, specifically women of color, are highly underrepresented in the outdoor and Westernized yoga sectors. Since 2004 we’ve offered this program to encourage WOC to participate in these environments, and to foster the belief that these public lands belong and should be accessible to everyone. Every year, this trip invokes powerful and meaningful experiences for the participants and guides. Here are some treasured snapshots from our 2019 WOC Wilderness Retreat as they set out for May Lake:

Hikes through the backcountry
Photo credit: Grace Anderson
The 2019 group poses for a photo lakeside
Photo credit: May Vang
Miho & Sandy keeping the vibe high during the rainstorm!
Photo credit: Sandy Hernandez
Balanced rocks and High Sierra sunsets
Photo credit: May Vang
The group takes in sweeping views of the High Sierra
Photo credit: May Vang
The group gathers amidst sweeping vistas
Photo credit: Grace Anderson
Smiles all around!
Photo credit: Endria Richardson
Swim anyone? Cooling off in High Sierra lakes!
Photo credit: Grace Anderson
Sharing and empowerment in community by way of the backcountry
Photo credit: May Vang
Mountain silhouettes and High Sierra sunsets
Photo credit: Bryana Moore
Our incredible instructors for the 2019 WOC trip, Miho Aida & Grace Anderson
Photo credit: Grace Anderson
Smiles, community and bonding bubbled over on this 2019 WOC trip!
Photo credit: Bryana Moore
What a group of incredible humans! We are so grateful for these strong participants and our talented instructors for guiding another amazing WOC trip!
Photo credit: May Vang

A huge thank you to all the participants & guides for sending their photos from these two adventures, and to the entire BR support staff for making these experiences happen.

If you are interested in attending one of our trips please visit our programs page for more details, we will be posting our 2020 trips this winter!

In Your Own Words: What kind of yoga does Balanced Rock teach?

We asked our WildYoga Teacher Trainers and support staff to share, in their own words, what kind of yoga Balanced Rock offers the community through our YTT program

Balanced Rock has been offering a unique Yoga Teacher Training since 2008 in and around Yosemite National Park. The next round of Yoga Teacher Training and Immersion will begin in October 2019, click here for more information.

Below are words the instructors & staff for the WildYoga Teacher Training came up with at a recent gathering beneath the summertime trees in El Cap Meadow. After compiling all these journal entries….it’s hard for us not to want to go as students!!! Here is how they describe our yoga teacher training program:

From Dennis Eagan, 500hr-ERYT |

Balanced Rock offers a holistic approach to yoga that blends the practices of asana, pranayama and meditation with the energy field that sustains us–the biosphere. It is a deep exploration of yoga’s roots in nature and provides a bridge between eastern philosophy and our western culture.

From Jana Kilgore, 500hr-ERYT |

Inclusive, all levels and nature based modern yoga influenced by classical teachings. 

From Eliza Kerr, 200hr-RYT |  

It is my understanding that the yoga we teach is true to the original meaning of yoga. We offer a variety of tools that help the students connect to their truest self.

From Heather Sullivan, 500hr-RYT |

LOVE. Love could suffice as my full answer but just to clarify; heart-felt, nature-inspired, 5-Elements, authentic, niche, accessible, comprehensive, infused with Ayurveda and Nature and Creativity. Compassion. Union. Service. LOVE.

From Paula Wild, 500hr-ERYT |

Balanced Rock offers accessible yoga classes inspired by nature that are welcoming to beginners through expert, all ages and all body types. Yoga that is rooted in deep connection to nature and spirit. Yoga which incorporates attention to the breath and connection to our body as nature. 

BR has many instructors trained in different yoga lineages. However the thread that weaves through all of the classes is a lifelong connection to nature and wild landscapes that inspires the teaching. Each class is unique; certain instructors offer a more vigorous practice, while others take a more gentle or restorative approach. What you will find in every BR yoga class is a connection to your body as nature and a focus on the breath. 

BR classes include yoga asana, however the focus is not on physicality, rather it is on connection; to self, the breath, community and nature.

From Cassidy Engfer, BR support staff & 200hr-RYT

The yoga that Balanced Rock teaches not only yolks or unites the mind, body, and spirit- it reconnects our unified self to the natural world. 

From Meaghan Olsen, BR support staff & 200hr-RYT

Elemental. Philosophical. Modern yoga influenced by classical teachings. Wild. Expansive. Grounding. Connected to Source. Nature-based.

Some of our instructors and program support from our recent gathering in El Cap Meadow!
(From left to right: Heather Sullivan, Breezy Jackson, Jana Kilgore, Dennis Eagan & Cassidy Engfer)
photo credit: Meaghan Olsen

If you find yourself connecting to these elements then check out our 2019-2020 WildYoga Teacher Training! We offer full course enrollment to become a 200hr-RYT, or stand-alone modules for continuing education credits. We offer tuition assistance, and all of our teacher trainings are certified through Yoga Alliance. Join us starting this autumn!

We Come With A Story: Reflecting on the Writing from the Heart Retreat

Lead Instructor Heather Sullivan recaps on powerful experiences from our reflective writing & yoga retreat in Yosemite Valley

“I am just back from facilitating a weekend in Yosemite Valley during a verdant spring with a late dogwood bloom and thundering rivers and waterfalls.  Afternoon thunderstorms and downpours added excitement and decorated the skies as our group met and convened in fireside discussion, yoga class by the Merced river, around lovingly cooked meals, and internally in our journals through writing.

Participants putting pen to paper to reflect and share their stories during our Writing from the Heart retreat this past May/June

Each of us came with a story.  Many stories. Some easy to share and some we didn’t want to share…at least at first. A safe space was created for each of us to share what we needed in the moment and each one of us to listen to one another and hold space for one another. Yosemite Valley, carved by the flows of rivers and glaciers over time has seen it all and can hold so much.  It can hold it all. The joys, the pains, the loves, the losses.  It is the ultimate witness and this weekend was witness to the love and vulnerability of our sweet group of 10 souls.

Participants explored different perspectives on this 3-day Yosemite writing retreat

I left the weekend feeling in awe of each person there and in awe of what every person’s story can be and how much we each as humans endure in our time on earth. Equally I was left in awe of the beauty and the magic in the world that can help each of us on our journeys of hardship and triumph….of simply trying to breathe and show up as our authentic selves each day. 

Bathing in the magical sounds of the cello in the meadow of El Cap
(a huge thank you to local cellist Erin Wang!)

Here are a few of the writing prompts we shared.

1. Use the following sentence stub for a free flow prompt:  As I begin the day in gratitude…..

2. We each came up with 5 topics we wanted to write about.  This came from a participant brainstorm:  I was walking next to sadness and I put my arm around it.

3.  Spend 10 minutes writing.  The story I need to tell but haven’t been able to.

Then try writing it again from a different perspective. (From the perspective of a waterfall. From the perspective of a squirrel.)

The group poses with Nancy Aronie’s book “Writing From The Heart”, a key inspirational piece for the program

This course is inspired by my writing mentor, Nancy Aronie. Nancy facilitates writing workshops on Martha’s Vineyard with Chilmark Writing Workshops and has written a book about writing and life called: Writing From the Heart. We will be offering this course again next year so stay tuned if you are interested in this type of heart journey.”

words by Heather Sullivan

Hugs all around as we say goodbye after an amazing weekend of reflective writing and sharing in community
Our deepest, most heartfelt thanks to all the participants for showing up in authenticity, reflection and love. We couldn’t have done it without you!

Journaling, Yoga and Embracing the Seasonal Change

Cultivating creative outlets to embrace and nurture your highest Self during times of seasonal shift

This spring we have so much energy.  So much in bloom.  So much water flowing. Take 10 minutes and write/journal on what is blooming for you in your life right now. Or what is blooming in your heart. If you need inspiration for this, sit in front of a flower and observe it for 5 minutes before writing.

If written expression doesn’t feel right for you then explore other creative avenues of reflection: drawing, painting, composing a song, or artfully preparing nourishing food for your body. Cultivation and reflection in creativity can be found almost anywhere!

Pausing in reflection can offer so many things for us: cathartic release, enlightenment, empowerment, or a deeply grounding experience. Harnessing the power of written word to check-in with ourselves and cultivate deeper self-awareness can open doors to the vastness of the Universe and the depths of our soul. If you are seeking to dive deeper into your reflective writing practice, or have interest in starting one, consider joining us for our Writing from the Heart retreat from May 31st to June 2nd in beautiful Yosemite Valley. Led by Heather Sullivan with special guests, participants will be guided and inspired by the landscape and yogic practices to embrace their inner, one-of-a-kind voice. Visit our Program Calendar for more details on this new and exciting retreat in Yosemite!

Our spring has come at last with the soft laughter of April suns and shadow of April showers.” –Byron Caldwell Smith
Redbuds in bloom on banks of the Merced
Photo credit: Bryan Weaver

Practices & Remedies for Springtime Allergies

  • Heal your gut: Nourishing the body with light, warm, cooked vegetarian food allows the digestion fire a chance to rest. Allowing the gastrointestinal tract to reset provides gut stability so you can enjoy raw greens and salads come summertime.
  • Decrease or avoid dairy products: Consuming dairy products inherently causes mucous and hinder the body’s process of removing toxins. To ease congestion opt for dairy-free alternatives to allow the body to process and remove toxins more efficiently.
  • Drink warm, cleansing water: Cleansing the body by drinking warm water with lemon and/or local honey is a simple and effective remedy for calming irritated passages. Lemon acts as a purifier and detoxifier, while local honey gently soothes and comforts. Not a fan? Drinking ginger lemon tea is also a wonderful alternative.
  • Consider herbal compounds for immune support: Allergies can feel impossible to manage if our immune systems aren’t being supported. Using herbal compounds to assist can be incredibly helpful. Our friend Prashanti de Jager has an Ojas Mix from the Himalayas that helps support the immune system, which features Ashwaganda, Cinnamon, Saffron, Suduchi, Licorice, Arjuna, among others. Visit his website and Instagram for more information and inspiration.
  • Use a Neti pot: Spring bloom brings high levels of allergic agitators that can wreak havoc on your sinuses. Clearing the nasal passages with warm salt water offers some relief to allergic congestion. *First time users please defer to your preferred health practitioner before using a Neti pot
  • Gentle exercise and pranayama: Practicing relaxing asana and breathwork allows for refocusing the breath and re-centering the mind. Mellow poses like Cow (Bitilasana), Cat (Marjariasana) and Cobra (Bhujangasana, see above photo) allow for gently warming up the spine and opening up the chest space which can feel tight during spring allergy season. Moving with the cadence of your breath permits the body to decompress and return to a state of rest.

Practicing gentle heart openers like Cobra Pose, or Bhujangasana,
allows for expansion and relief in the chest space
Photo credit: Josh Helling

A Tribute to Arin Trook

Honoring former Program Director Arin Trook with words shared from the Balanced Rock community

Below is a compilation of photos and words about Arin from the BR community and beyond.  We miss him dearly.

“This news feels like a big meteor hit the Earth and left a huge deep hole. The complexities of this impact are beyond what I am able to describe. It is incredibly frustrating not to be able to adjust anything about it.

He was sparkly, kind, curious, thoughtful, engaging, and devoted. I think his super power was suspending time. When I had the opportunity to be around him whether for five minutes or an hour it never seemed rushed and somehow there was always enough time to plunge into and complete a meaningful conversation.

For those who had the opportunity to share days and years with him, I can only imagine what time is like after his death. It is not like we can go down the street and get another Arin. He definitely was one of those people that I think we all would be significantly better off if there were more people like him. I hope the world we live in is creating that opportunity.

If there is anything that I can do that would be helpful please let me know. You, Arin’s family, and the rest of his vast sphere of influence and inspiration are in my thoughts.”

With love,

Brenda Ostrom (Balanced Rock Board Member, Owner of Mountain Meadow Farms), Mariposa, CA

“While many friends’ memories of Arin will flash to high-country adventures and wanderings, my sweetest memories of Arin, Liesa and Kosma were of the most domestic kind in the low canyon living of El Portal. Arin and family stayed with our family on Incline Road during one of the many evacuation events here in EP; we felt lucky to get them to ourselves. Arin was good company in conversation and in silence. His comfort in his own skin and spark for living and connecting were palpable in his cleaning the kitchen, making food for his son, and hanging on the couch in the evening. He offered a cozy-hearted presence that invited others into the comfort of his kindness. Our blessings go out to Liesa and Kosma and Ria.” 

-Schuyler Greenleaf (Yosemite Conservancy, El Portal resident, Volunteer Yoga Instructor with Balanced Rock), El Portal CA

“Arin was a one of a kind human being with a captivating presence, who seamlessly balanced playfulness with deep reflection.  In my mind I can hear his voice, echoing jewels of wisdom embedded in the most engagingly presented stories.  I can see his smile- joyful and warm, with a pinch of mischief.  Arin was a teacher and a friend, and someone who led life in a way that inspired those around him.  He was a mentor for me when I was an eager young educator for NatureBridge in Yosemite, and again years later as I deepened my study of yoga.  Arin was an old soul, wise beyond his years. I am grateful for the time that I got to spend with Arin, and for the way that he touched my life. Arin, thank you for sharing your inspiring spirit with us all.  May you roam wild, peaceful and free. “

 –Jenna Beers  (Former Nature Bridge Instructor, Nursing Student, Wilderness Guide and Yoga Instructor for Balanced Rock), Columbia, CA

Story-teller. Heart open! Look at your Urdva Danurasana.. proud El Cap in the back ground! Lover of music and listening and singing and playing. Elf, imp, magician, sparkly, bright, twinkle. Soulful and wise. Deeply studied. You put in your time; your hard work.  Wicked smart, you Berkeley and Standford grad…Ha! they didn’t know what to do with all those dreads on campus! No sleep, too much to explore and celebrate. Caretaker, nurturer. Deep dedication and commitment to Liesa. To Kosi. To Ria. Family. Husband. Father. “

-Eliza Kerr (Ayurvedic Practitioner, Co-Founder and Board Member for Balanced Rock), El Portal, CA

“My memory of Arin is when he was the lead instructor for a custom trip of women from Oakland.  Most of them had never been backpacking before.  So they were excited and nervous.  We had a VERY slow trudge up the 10 Lakes trail to get to our camp site.  Arin was incredibly patient and played his guitar the entire time to serenade us.  We were all surprised he could be doing that, while we were just struggling to breathe!   Arin was amazing at reading the individuals and meeting their needs every moment during that trip.  His cooking was fantastic and his smile infectious.  I’m so incredibly honored to have shared this journey with him!  My heart goes out to his family and to the entire community!”

-Marcia Hodges (Top Facilitator, Balanced Rock Board Member), Oakland, CA

“One of my most vivid memories is when a woman who wasn’t on our trip got angry and started yelling at us. Arin was incredibly skilled at non-violent communication and within 3 minutes, this angry woman was hugging him and talking to him like she knew him for years. That is the kind of person Arin was. He was such an original. We had so many good laughs! Arin was one of the most gifted outdoor guides and storytellers that I ever met. He lived an absolutely authentic life, motivated by ecological citizenship and loving kindness. Arin was a facilitator of transformation, bringing out the best self you didn’t even know was there.”

   –Pam Kuhn (former Balanced Rock Executive Director)

ACES has set up a memorial fund to help Arin’s family:

Balanced Rock seeks part time Program and Operations Assistant

Estimated Term: Jan 2019-Dec 2019
Exact Start Date: Flexible
Balanced Rock (BR) is excited to be hiring a part-time, temporary position of Program and Operations Assistant (POA) to support Balanced Rock’s high-quality wellness, yoga, nature-based programs & retreats in 2019. Balanced Rock is a small dynamic non-profit 501(c)(3) operating in Yosemite National Park since 2000. Balanced Rock’s Mission is to inspire health and wellbeing through deep connection to nature and spirit. Successful candidates will have program support experience, work well independently and with others, and align with BR’s mission. This position will report to the Managing Director.
We are looking for a competent Program and Operations Assistant to undertake a variety of program support, administrative support and instructional tasks. This position will assist staff and instructors in planning, organizing, facilitating and supporting programs and activities as well as carrying out important operational duties. We are seeking someone who has good problem-solving skills and naturally takes initiative but is also comfortable receiving and following directions. A kind, positive outlook and excellent verbal and written communication skills are essential for this collaborative customer service and programming position.

Requirements: The candidate must have their own housing, a working vehicle, clean driving record, WFR/CPR certification, and familiarity with the local area. We are looking for someone who has a personal yoga and/or mindfulness practice and loves spending time in the wilderness and connecting with nature. The ideal candidate will have a 200-RYT certification and at least two years of wilderness guiding experience.

Compensation & Benefits: The pay range for this part-time temporary position is between $20-$25/hour depending on skills and experience.  Hours and schedule to be negotiated to fit organizational need and applicant skill-set and availability.

To Apply: Please submit a cover letter, current resume, and three current (contact) references to:
Heather Sullivan, Managing Director – Currently accepting applications, if you have questions please contact us.

Deadline to apply is Friday, October 26, 2018.

The Power of Ritual

At various times we all experience a sense of feeling anxious or disconnected, and creating supportive rituals for ourselves can be a remarkable anchor in the tumultuous uncertainty of life. For thousands of years humans have utilized rituals to reconnect mind, body and spirit. Even if we don’t have a formal background in creating or engaging in ritual, this practice is available to us! At Balanced Rock we offer many approaches to ritual and we welcome you to check out our WildYoga Intensive or WildYoga Teacher Training to experience it firsthand! We are grateful this month to share the following guest blog post from Jennifer Allan about the power of rituals to support wholistic health. 

How Spiritual Rituals Can Boost Your Health

By Jennifer Allan

Photo by William Farlow on Unsplash

According to a new study from the PPRI, 18 percent of Americans consider themselves spiritual, but not religious. That number has increased with each new generation of Americans. Why? Spirituality provides a number of benefits in our lives. One cornerstone of spiritual beliefs is the process of creating rituals that center your body and mind. Many spiritualists have morning routines that focus on growing their spirituality. However, rituals can be practiced at any time of day while still providing exponential benefits.

Physical Health Benefits

Spiritual rituals vary from person to person. Typically, when we think of spirituality, we see images of people meditating. That’s certainly a beneficial ritual, but it’s not exclusive. In fact, people who incorporate physical activity into their routine experience emotional and mental benefits. Spirituality is directly connected to the physical body; when we feel centered and connected to the earth below our feet, we feel calm. Focusing on connecting with the physical world through exercise, observing our surroundings, and connecting with others feed our spirituality and improve our quality of life.

Mental Health Benefits

Creating a spiritual ritual that you practice every day can have a significant impact on your mental health. Americans are struggling with increasing rates of depression and anxiety. The combination of societal pressures, identity crisis, and trauma all impact our mental health. The inclusion of spiritual rituals like meditating, yoga, and mindfulness all aid in treatment. In fact, psychologists have created a new form of treatment for people suffering from mental health issues that heavily focuses on spiritual health.

How to Create Spiritual Rituals

Since you know how beneficial spiritual rituals are for your physical and mental health, it’s time to try them out. One easy way to start your spiritual journey is to practice gratitude. Every day (morning or night), write down three things you’re grateful for. You can list physical things or emotional. Gratitude rituals are a great stepping stone for beginners in spirituality. They’ll create a more positive outlook on life. Later, consider incorporating mindfulness techniques and meditation.

Embracing spirituality and creating rituals can significantly improve your physical and mental health. As more and more Americans are becoming spiritual, research is proving that spirituality and its rituals truly benefit us. Whether you have concerns about your physical health or are struggling with mental health issues, spirituality can help. Starting with gratitude, begin incorporating rituals into your daily routines and reap the benefits.

Fire Season Reflections: With a Yoga Lens

Agni, the Hindu God of Fire, is personified in actual flame, in the fire of the sun, in lightning, celestially in the stars, and in sacrificial and ceremonial fire.

The word Agni is used in many contexts, ranging from the fire in stomach, the cooking fire in a home, the sacrificial fire in an altar, the fire of cremation, the fire of rebirth, the fire in the energetic saps concealed within plants, the atmospheric fire in lightning and the celestial fire in the sun.  ~Jayaram V 

Fire is one of the five elements in both Samkhya and Ayurvedic Philosophy According to both, the universe is composed of the 5 Elements:  Earth, Water, Fire, Air, Space (Ether). Concepts like seasons and time of day can even hold the qualities of these elements.

Here in California, we are well aware that this is fire season and see and experience on a daily, very gross level fires physically burning around us.   We see the burning or recently burned landscape, we smell and taste the smoke in the air, and we evacuate our homes on what feels like a regular basis.

When left unchecked, fire can burn out of control and be very destructive.   Many of those we know have lost their homes and some their lives or their loved ones in these big fires. Fire becomes the ultimate transformer in these moments and often we are not ready for it.

One of the original founders of Balanced Rock’s predecessor organization, Wild Women Workshops, had parents who lost their home in the recent Carr Fire just a month ago.  The Ferguson Fire, which burned through the Yosemite Region, claimed the lives of two hard-working, local and beloved firefighters this summer.  We mourn these losses of life, livelihood and homes deeply while increasing deep reverence for the power of fire.

Firefighter water puja. El Portal, CA.

Not mentioned much is the great loss of animal life and habitat in these monstrous western wildfires:  the bears burned over in Swall Meadows, the charred rattlesnake found in a coiled position by Mono Lake as though trying to defend and strike the flames, the deer family huddled together in a burned out tree stump hole that couldn’t outrun the Butte Fire.

The Vedic people were aware of his (Agni’s) destructive ability, as he sets the forests aflame. “Urged by the wind he spreads through dry wood as he lists, armed with his tongues for sickles, with a mighty roar. Black is thy path, Agni, changeless, with glittering waves! When like a bull thou rushes eager to the trees, with teeth of flame, wind-driven, through the wood he speeds, triumphant like a bull among the herd of cows, with bright strength roaming to the everlasting air: things fixed, things moving quake before him as he flies.”  ~Jayaram V 

But wildfire is one of ten forms of Agni described traditionally.  The first five are material:  and the last five are ritualistic. Fire in its healthy and balanced state consumes, transforms, purifies and conveys as it engulfs matter and reduces it to ash, transforming it from one form to another. As it consumes it morphs matter from a gross level to a more subtle level. Fire can do the same for us in our yoga and breathing practice in terms of transformation.   We use the fire of our breath and the heat generated by physical postures to burn through obstacles, establishing a fertile landscape for new energy. This is something we can witness in our outer landscape in the springtime after the rains come and new life abounds.

The fire of our breath cultivates tapas, discipline and focus and (when burning well) slowly consumes them, revealing our true authentic nature. The fire of our digestion helps us consume our food as well as all that we take in through all of our senses.  Hence, our physical practices are essential for us to handle all of this input from our environment, diet and habits and assimilate them in a healthy way.

When fire is unharnessed as in a wildfire, it can create chaos, stress, fear, and confusion. It poses danger as it can burn out of control and be extremely hot and destructive. But just like a well-tended campfire, when fire is harnessed and able to be controlled it sheds light and warmth, it purifies, and it serves as the ultimate vehicle of transformation.

There is a reason Agni, the Hindu fire god was revered so much and that hundreds of hymns in the Rig Veda were addressed to him.  Though he has fallen out of vogue as less sacrificial ceremonies were held over time in, his qualities are still observed in Hindu wedding ceremony, in burning of butter lamps, during funeral ceremony and many of his qualities have been absorbed by other deities with more of a re-directed focus on the inner transformation that Agni represents.

Topics for Reflection during this Fire Season:

  • What are you sacrificing to the fire?
  • What is transforming for you during these heated months?
  • What could benefit in your life or yoga/meditation practices from the purification properties of fire?
  • How can you harness the power of fire through your breath work and physical practice?

Written by Heather Sullivan