What brought you to yoga?
Yoga came into my life 11 years ago when I was looking for a new fitness routine. I was an athlete when I was younger and I was looking for a new way to work out that would be supportive for injuries I had acquired over the years. Little did I know that yoga was so much more than the exercises and poses. The fitness aspect brought me to yoga and the mental awareness and life lessons are what have kept me growing and learning on the path.
Describe some impactful experiences in your yogic path.
My most impactful yogic experience was probably my teacher training. I trained in an intensive program in Bali with some amazing teachers, spiritual leaders, and students from all over the world. Spending time in such a serene and natural setting helped me to see and experience the full beauty of the practice, and it is something I feel and embody with each session I teach and attend.
How has your yoga practice affected your life?
Yoga has been a truly transformative part of my life. It has been an all inclusive outlet for movement, mental shifts, and creativity. It is the constant in a busy world and busy life, and it keeps me grounded. Yoga has been a key reminder of what is important in my life, and it is something I truly believe has the ability to help all who practice.
Describe your classes and what your share at Zazen.
I teach a Friday morning Hatha Flow class that focuses on breath, alignment, and moderately paced movement and flow. My classes and workshops incorporate meditation and mindfulness techniques that are designed to be carried into your everyday life. I understand that many of us lead busy lives and active lifestyles, and my intention is to share ways that we can bring awareness and mindfulness into our day to day in a sustainable and supportive way.
After suffering from a what I considered a very relentless cold viral attack that could’ve lasted weeks, I thought it would be a perfect time to share how Chinese medicine helped me to greatly shorten my recovery time. Spring is generally the windiest time of the year in the Bay Area as I discovered a couple of weeks ago when I had to spend hours outdoors in the Presidio after carelessly leaving the house without sufficient layers.
A couple of days after being exposed to the blustery cold wind that day for many hours, I came down with intense cold symptoms that I was thankfully able to tame with acupuncture, herbs and cupping.
In Chinese medicine, a common cold can be diagnosed or classified as either a wind-cold or wind-heat that has attacked the defenses of the body. The term wind is analogous to the viruses or microbes associated with colds, flus or infectious diseases. Wind is considered the primary factor that can penetrate through the skin and open pores of the body. According to Chinese medicine, the back of the neck is where the most superficial meridian runs. Therefore one should be mindful about covering up with proper layers, especially the back of the neck, when being exposed to the often unpredictable wind and cold in San Francisco.
With a wind-cold, one can experience symptoms such as body aches, more chills than fever, malaise, possibly a cough or itchy throat, clear runny nose, and no sweating. Wind-heat symptoms often start with a sore throat, where there is fever more than chills, body aches, malaise, cough and yellow nasal discharge, and more sweating is present.
Acupuncture points are used that strongly support immune function, reduce pain, and aid the body to clear the pathogen. Cupping is another method which is also used to aid the body’s defenses by pulling out the toxins. Glass cups are gently placed on the skin after creating a vacuum suction seal. The pressure facilitates the release of toxins out by stimulating fresh blood and oxygen flow to the organs such as the liver, kidney, intestines, lungs, and skin, that are involved with detoxification in addition to the lymphatic system. Since the blood is being pulled to the surface, there will be some bruising with various discoloration depending upon the level of stagnation, which can last for a few days.
Thankfully after receiving an acupuncture and cupping treatment at the onset of the worst of my symptoms, I immediately experienced tremendous relief from the cold symptoms and increased energy. After a few treatments, which also included taking herbal formulas, I was completely healed of my symptoms and my energy was fully recovered back to 100% more quickly than if I had tried to fight it on my own.
With renewed energy, I have discovered an even greater appreciation for the 3000+ year old ancient medicine that continuously inspires and empowers me to better help my patients have a deeper understanding and awareness of their health.
In my next newsletter, I would like to further discuss different ways we can maintain the natural order of balance in our lives according to the philosophies of traditional Chinese medicine in order to prevent illness.
For the month of July, Zazen will be offering free community acupuncture every day, as well as the opportunity to schedule a free 15 minute phone consultation for private treatments.
In best health,
Patricia J. Kim, L.Ac.
What brought you to yoga?
For as long as I can remember I have been drawn to body movement and the healing arts. I have been dancing since birth, basically, and practicing yoga for over ten years. I really landed on my yogic path in 2013 in a moment of grief, questioning, and life transition. I found that when I stepped onto my mat, I experienced a kind of deep awareness, relief, and healing that I had rarely touched into before. The routine of my morning practice felt like a sanctuary within myself. Over the years since then I have discovered profound healing and radical self-transformation by tuning into the wisdom of my own body heart and soul. I am passionate about sharing this practice with others and cultivating space for them to embark on their own healing paths.
Describe some impactful experiences on your yogic path:
Some of the most impactful experiences I've had on my yogic path have been during retreats that I've been on and then co-taught on the Big Island of Hawaii. When I'm in my practice and in Hawaii, I've learned that my powers of manifestation are extra charged up by the energy of the island - I truly feel like my best self and my creativity gets totally unleashed! Another deeply impactful experience on my yogic path has been my Yoga Therapy group work with veterans through the Purusha Seva Project. During these 8 week programs I've seen amazing transformation in these wonderful people toward states of deeper self-knowing, relief, and inner peace. I feel gratitude for the opportunity to work with each of them.
How has your yoga practice affected your life?:
I continue to be drawn deeper into the practice of yoga not only for the physical benefits of asana, but for the yoga that happens off the mat. Integrating the yogic principles of truth, compassion, mindfulness and acceptance into my life has been transformative. One of the most impactful things I've learned through my studies of yoga is that what you give energy to in your mind, what you feed with your attention and thoughts, is what you manifest in your life. So...you have the power to manifest anything you want through positive, heart-full thinking and imagination!
Describe your classes and what you share at Zazen
My Vin/Yin classes at Zazen are somatic in nature, infused with energizing chakra practices, guided visualizations, and conscious breathwork as we flow between the styles of Vinyasa and Yin. Depending on the energy and vibe of the day, I may steer the class more into vigorous Vinyasa, or take a more mellow approach with a deep Yin practice with a gentle flowing warmup. My goal is to create a safe and inspirational space in which students can let go and discover their deepest truths as they move, play, and heal. I feel passionately about embodying and integrating self-love, authenticity, empowerment, and support into my teaching, and sharing this with students.
Lucia teaches Vin/Yin on Fridays, 4:30-5:45 at Zazen
On the tail end of this sunny spring season, have you noticed more edgy people on the road, at work, or in your day-to-day social interactions? This is a part of the natural seasonal cycle according to the Chinese medical Five Element Theory. The spring season is controlled by the wood element. The wood element, like a tree sprouting from a seed, jaggedly bursts outward from its winter constriction. It makes sense that the emotion of the wood element is anger.
During the spring season, we are more prone to wood element imbalances, like road rage and stress. These imbalances can be quite significant in our society because of the cultural acceptance of obscene amounts of stress as a necessary burden for survival. We can start to see a variety of physical symptoms, as well. If not properly treated, these wood imbalances can become difficult to manage chronic illnesses. Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon pathway for many people these days.
Have you been feeling less tolerant of those around you this season? Are you feeling more likely to flip off your fellow drivers on the road? These are clues that you are experiencing a wood imbalance. It's important to make time for self-care when you notice these feelings arising.
The good news is that there are a variety of ways to take care of yourself to keep your stress levels in check. A daily meditation practice is one of the easiest and most affordable ways to manage everyday stressors. Chinese medicine is also incredibly supportive for keeping that wood element from throwing your nervous system out of whack. The deep relaxation induced by acupuncture and the nourishing support of Chinese herbal medicine will help to calm the wood element and keep it from growing out of control. If we want to fully experience the fiery joy of the approaching summer season, maintenance for our wood element right now is key.
Zazen is currently offering a full schedule of private acupuncture sessions and daily community acupuncture, as well as daily community meditations.
Yours in health,
Charity Burgess, L.Ac.
For more information about acupuncture and other related topics, please check out the recent interview I did with the dynamic Nutritionist Anna Frumkin here.
Tyler Krupp interviewed Sandy Lamerson, Yoga Teacher and Yoga Manager at Zazen.
Question: Why practice yoga at Zazen?
Sandy: Yoga students in San Francisco may be overwhelmed, perhaps overjoyed, by the number of yoga studios in this city as well the number of yoga teachers and styles of yoga. For some new and seasoned students, it may be challenging to find a practice "home". What is important for every student, however, is finding a teacher they can trust: someone who inspires them and helps them grow -- not only in yoga poses, but as a person.
I think Zazen is a unique yoga studio in San Francisco, in that we provide a warm, inviting "container" for students to explore yoga and explore themselves. Our teachers are trained in both traditional and modern yoga lineages including: Ashtanga, Iyengar, Hatha and Vinyasa Flow, Yin, Restorative, Gentle Yoga and Mindful Movement. Despite the range of yoga styles, all of our teachers work to uphold the principles of yoga and to cultivate the basic intentions of Zazen which are:
Presence - We are present and mindful in our work, practice and teaching
Gratitude - We are aware of the gift of life and look for ways to express gratitude
Care - Our work involves being with people who benefit from our care and attention.
Mastery - We aspire to master our respective skill or discipline and offer its fullest expression
Zazen teachers recently met to discuss the overreaching intentions of Zazen and how to manifest the mission of Zazen in our yoga classes and everything that we do. Yoga students can expect our teachers to work to cultivate these basic intentions.
At Zazen, yoga students can expect personal instruction, a meditative environment and teachers who are deeply interested in teaching yoga in its fullest sense. The atmosphere is supportive, non-competitive and community oriented with a focus on cultivating balance, health, wellbeing and growth.
Question: Can you say something about your personal experience teaching and practicing yoga and working at Zazen?
Sandy: I started teaching yoga at Zazen in the spring of 2013 at the old Hyde St. location. Zazen was the first place I started teaching public classes. Zazen has been a supportive place to grow and develop as a teacher. This support has allowed me to become more confident and pursue a path of yoga that feels like a trustworthy and noble path for a lifetime. What I am sharing in my classes now comes from my studies and training in Iyengar yoga. Some hallmarks of Iyengar's teachings are precision in alignment, timing and sequencing. The alignment begins with the outer physical body and leads one to the inner experience of mind and consciousness. So, you could say that yoga is a culturing of the body, but more importantly it is a culturing and maturing of the consciousness. Last year I had good fortune to travel to India and study with some of BKS Iyengar's long time students. This deepened my faith in yoga practice and I experienced the effects of sustained and directed practiced under skillful teachers. So I feel that as I continue to learn, it becomes my job to share the gift of yoga with others. BKS Iyengar said, "Teaching Yoga is difficult, but it is the best service you can give to humanity."
I am also a practicing Buddhist and meditator and my main interest is exploring practices which lead to the cessation of suffering and the growth of wisdom. I feel blessed to live in San Francisco and have the opportunity to study with wise and experienced teachers.
Working at Zazen in the management team has also been a blessing. I am continually amazed by the positive community space we are creating here. Not only are we a yoga studio, Zazen is also a wellness center and interfaith practice community, so we are a home for many disciplines.
A unique and fulfilling part of working at Zazen is our daily meditation and check in. Everyday the staff and members sit together for meditation (the public is also welcome). After the meditation we do a "check in" in which we can share whatever is arising for us that day: physically, mentally, emotionally, basically we can share whatever is arising. Then we state an intention for the shift: this is what we want to manifest in our time together. It can be a practical intention or sometime closer to the heart and spirit. Overall, this practice of meditation and check-in continues to strengthen our community and lead us on in our paths in manifesting what is important to us.
Question: Teachers often use the phrase, "taking yoga off the mat". What does that mean to you?
Not only do we need community, teachers, teachings in the sacred space of the yoga room or meditation hall, church, mosque or temple, we also need to continue our practice all of the time in our daily life, otherwise there is a disconnect. Disconnection brings suffering. So, to realize yoga, spirituality, or religion you have to BE yoga, be spiritual, be religious. Not just some time, but all of the time. Yoga means union and this union is yoga. To forget even for a moment, to be pulled by desire, greed, hatred, or forgetfulness we are pulled out of this fundamental union. That is why the way we live our life is most important. Our choices, our lifestyle, our patterns our consumption all have a big effect -- but most fundamental is our mind and heart.
I try to live simply, live with few desires. But it is more than that. There is an active component too. We must actively resist the negative forces and habits in the mind. This transformation is the most difficult thing we can do as human beings, first to transform negative habits into positive ones, and move to a place beyond "good and bad" to a wisdom which sees things as they are and responds appropriately in the moment. This is the essence of Zen and Yoga in my understanding: to never be apart from that fundamental connection. That is what I aspire to.
Om, shanti, shanti, shanti...
I find room to breathe in floating, away from the external voices, logical narratives, and societal pressures in my daily consciousness, and find some space for grounding and exploring within.
When I first heard about floating, I was curious about the darkness. I had heard it could be a strange secular initiation of sorts. My first float was actually quite uncomfortable, with my neck hurting, hair feeling heavy, and my body reluctant to give itself to the unknown water. As with any practice, I decided to try it for a bit, at least more than once. Upon entering, the tank is very dark and moist every time. After a few more floats, accustomed to the walls and space in between, my breaths started to melt me into the warm darkness, the green screen for an alternate existence.
The reflections that follow come from my journal. These experiences have each only happened once.
“I can’t tell whether my eyes are open or not. It’s darker than the night. I feel nothing. I am nothing. I lie between subconscious and conscious levels. I wonder if this is what it feels like to be dead. I wonder where I would be in death. Something transitions. I get the sense of being truly here in this space, beyond any land I can travel to. In this plane of existence, I feel an amorphous love for humanity. I remember where I happen to be in all this - isolated in the deep, dark tanks of the Marina, and laugh.”
“I enter and feel nothing. I sway from side to side to feel the water, then start breathing and waiting. The sadness I’ve been neglecting for a while comes back. I continue to feel anxious and sad. I start crying and decide to give myself permission to cry more. It feels heavy for a while. I then remember where I am, in a box that resembles a safe, away from my mom. I make the choice to be brave and let myself go deeper. In traveling toward the dark knot of my emotions, sadness and sympathy opens into love, a bright unraveling of my fear. I wonder if my brain is trying to relax me as I start to see my mom, actually happy, a sight I’m sure I have yet to see in real life. I suddenly feel nauseous and sit up for a while.”
“This time, I fell back and felt immediate release. I was excited to see where I would end up. I fell… deep into the dark blue end of an ocean, as I used to imagine beyond the cliffs of Guam, where I grew up. One by one, my tense body was washed away of layers of armors I didn’t know I had been wearing. Why had I been wearing so many? I wondered if I would like dying in the ocean and whether death excited me and whether that’s why I loved the ocean. Like the ocean, I remembered how vast I loved being yet how I wasn’t allowed to be. I had such few places where I could be, even in my own home. My memories cradled me to the surprise of feeling truly loved and seen for the first time and the space for release I felt. My body melted. I felt my brain lighting up. I FELT JOY! I wished for everyone, this sense of release and safety even for one sweet moment in their lives. I felt tears, warm on my face. I remembered when I couldn’t find trust; I couldn’t allow myself to love. I remembered I can be here now with the gift of this memory that’s lasted beyond our relationship.”
Jane Chen, co-founder and CEO of Embrace
Why I float:
Floating is amazing because it really helps to put my mind at ease and bring me stillness, in a way that even meditation cannot at times. My deepest periods of being in a meditative state have been during my floats. I have found that during my most stressful moments, only floating helps to completely clear my mind and bring it to state of thinking about nothing, which is quite remarkable. I highly recommend it for anyone who has never done it, and has found that is has helped to deepen my meditation practice. For those new to meditation or who want to try it, floating is a great way to to know the desired state you want to achieve.
Lessons from floating:
I am generally very claustrophobic and have horrible night vision, so being in the float tank has always been a little scary for me. I usually leave the door ajar just a little bit to let some light in. A few months ago, while I was floating, the door closed completely without my realizing it. Because I was a bit disoriented and my body had shifted position a bit, it was unclear to me which way the exit was. I started to panic: what if I was locked in the float chamber? In my state of panic, I started to tell myself to calm down, which was only serving to make me even more panicked. I finally said to myself instead, "it's ok to be scared." By accepting the fear, rather than judging myself for it, or forcing myself to feel any differently than I did in that moment, I was finally able to calm down. I found my way to the exit and pushed the door open, relieved to see the light flooding into the chamber. While this is certainly not the point of floating, I think it was a good reminder of mindfulness, which to me, is being aware and accepting how you are feeling in each moment, and treating these feelings with peace and equanimity - rather than casting judgement or trying to force them to be any different than what they are.
ADVENTURES IN THE TANK
Micha Peled, Director / Producer / Independent Film Maker, Teddy Bear Films
How do you describe NOTHINGNESS? Words fail. At least they do me.
But that’s the premise of floating. Eliminate all sensory stimulation, even gravity, and lsee what happens when you physically feel nothing at all.
It was with this notion that lowered myself into the lukewarm waters of Zazen’s floatation tank.
At first, the water is cold. Actually, it’s the air that’s cold. The parts that are not submerged are caressed by the wisp of a cool current. My head bumps lightly against the soft wall a few times as I’m swayed back and forth in the water.
In “Altered States,” Ken Russell’s 1980 sci-fi cult movie, William Hurt plays a mad scientist who self-experiments in a flotation tank. But he goes in fully loaded on psychedelic substances. I, perhaps overzealously, deny myself any pharmacological assistance in the name of scientific integrity. In the movie, Hurt comes out of the tank completely bonkers, Hollywood, as usual, offering no insightsinto real life situations. So I’m on my own on this.
In the meantime, things are getting more comfy. My body has adjusted and now the temperature is perfect. I settle in, laying still, my limbs stretched out but not touching anything. It’s effortless. My body is fully relaxed. Now, I have to deal only with my mind, which is racing. Here comes a review of the day. Then the familiar To Do list, ravenously claiming items into its fat belly. Who, what, when. Is this what happens to the minds of the few people who get to float up in space? I hope not.
One theory goes that in eliminating our sense of gravity, the floatation tank frees our mind. Much of our brain activity is tied up with constantly performing gazillions of calculations for muscular activity required to negotiate our gravity-burdened universe. Since we don’t need to do this heavy mental lifting in the tank, we become aware of a deeper layer of minute and subtle muscular tensions, knots and hot spots in our body.
Flotation takes me somewhere else. Focusing on the physical aspect of no-sensation allows the frenzied list-making in my mind to dissolve into a weave of relaxed daydreams. They are very vivid and my eyes remain open, staring into the vast darkness. I touch nothing and nothing touches me. I hear nothing till a loud knock signals that my hour is up.
Back in my street clothes, I feel strangely calm, but I also have a distinct sensation of walking taller, more upward, like after a very good massage. Living for years with chronic back pain and related neuropathic issues, this feeling of a relaxed and straight spine is heaven-sent. On a physical level, I feel wonderfully transformed. The rest will have to wait till the next time.
Frank E., Float Ambassador, CIIS Graduate Student, Zazen Manager
Things just didn't feel right and I didn't know what was wrong with me. I had all the usual trappings of modern life held together with one of those painfully fake smiles, yet I couldn't ignore the fact that I constantly felt empty inside. While this is probably how every self help author beings, this time it was happening to me. With no one in my family willing to have a real conversation about what was wrong, I turned to talk therapy for help.
Harboring a harsh inner critic, I initially felt a great deal of self judgment around the idea of sharing my deepest and most personal feelings with a complete stranger. Yet I later realized that a psychotherapist was the perfect person to do that with. Who better to explore the depths of my mind with than someone who has traveled into the darkest regions of their own psyche and made it back. I felt comforted by the idea of having a sherpa to walk with me down the windy and unknown path of my inner life.
Around the same time I discovered isolation float tanks through an online documentary. Two hours after doing a quick google search I walked into Zazen's front door. I entered the tank for the first time without any idea of what to expect. A dark room, no lights, a sound proof tank, what was I thinking? Pushing past my fears I dove into the experience and entered into what felt like a warm hug from the salty ocean. Emerging on the other side, my entire body melted into relaxation as I finally experience what life without anxiety felt like.
After about my third float I quickly realized how useful the tank was for introspection and meditation. The difficult work of exploring my psyche with a talk therapist often brought up hard emotions that regularly thew me into a tailspin. Floating grounded me by allowing a spaciousness and clarity to surround the difficult feelings, while also allowing my nervous system to settle down. Sometimes I opted to float before my therapy sessions, creating a unique opportunity to move my awareness from the outer world into my inner experience. This process helped me witness the torrent of thoughts, worries, fears, beliefs and feelings that I often bypasses in life.
Over the year of floating and therapy I came to better know myself through exploring the conditioning, belief systems and "shoulds" I was handed down by older generations. Week after week I developed an awareness around my emotional states, growing my ability to hold boundaries and tell people how I felt in the moment. My life didn't exactly become a happily ever after story through this process, but now I have gained an awareness to choose a new way of being in the world. One that isn't preprogramed and entirely run by habit, rather now I can choose to relate to myself and others in an intentional and meaningful way.
The healing potential of combining therapy and float tanks are as close to magic as you can get. Having both available at Zazen has been one of the greatest gifts I have come across on my healing journey. There are few places in the world that offer this unique combination and that's one of the many reasons Zazen is a special place.
I am a yoga instructor and teach a dozen group classes/week as well as maintain my own yoga practice. I also play tennis, hike, swing dance, etc. so I'm very physical. Floating helps me release muscular and emotional tension.
There's this concept called "Pratyhara" in yoga, where one withdrawals their senses to move closer to a meditative state. The flotation tank is pitch dark, which calms my mind, and cuts out all sensory input and takes me there. I get to be fully with myself, it's a gift for myself. It takes courage to go deep within, and floating supports that.
I find when I do it more regularly, it helps relieve deep layers of stress I didn't even know were there. I find more peace within. There's a deeper letting go and a feeling of surrender when I float that I do not get anywhere else. I was a regular receiver of Watsu at Harbin Hot Springs, and find Zazen to be a safe, clean substitute. There's a healing atmosphere there and conscious community.
Brittany B. , Zazen Float Ambassador, President & Co-Founder of Ritual Hot Yoga
"Six months ago I floated for the very first time. At this point in my life I was practicing yoga and meditation almost daily and was teaching anywhere from 10-12 yoga classes a week. One day after class a student of mine mentioned that they had been wanting to try floating and asked if I knew anything about it. At the time I had heard a bit about it, but had never actually tried it for myself.
This conversation peaked my curiosity and I decided to do a bit of my own research on floating shortly after. Turns out there is a lot of research and literature around the topic and I became fascinated by what I believed could be the next wave of meditation. Interestingly enough my business partner and best friend beat me to the tank and came back raving about his experience with a gift certificate in hand for me to sign up for my very first float.
Within the week I booked my first float. When you float, you are submerged in a pool of water filled with pounds of epsom salts that make your body feel weightless. As a result your body floats just above water. The water is warm, 93-95 degrees, and the tank is pitch black. You can’t hear, you can’t see, and there really is nothing to smell. With almost all of your senses deprived you have no choice but to concentrate on you and that is where the magic really begins.
Within a few minutes of floating I became very aware of what the things that were racing in my mind. I could hear the way I talked to myself. The way my thoughts flowed rapidly from one topic to the next. My mind felt messy and busy. It was no wonder in my life outside of the tank I often felt stressed and overwhelmed.
After 30 minutes inside of the tank I felt as if 3 days had gone by. I was very ready for this experience to be over and to distract myself again from all that was swirling around in my mind. It was right around this time that I noticed my mind softened and a sense of ease started to takeover my entire body. My mind didn’t feel so crazy and my body felt relaxed. “Is this what peace feels like?” I thought. I let go. I felt held. I felt calm. I felt connected. I felt like me. Oh how I had missed me. "