Kindness. Consideration. Friendliness. These words embody ahimsa meaning non-violence and one of the yamas in the eight limbs of Ashtanga yoga. In the second chapter of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, the Sadhana Pada, Ashtanga is referred to as the eight practical integrated steps leading to a greater gradual awakening of yoga. The first limb or step is yama, our social observances and behaviors, in other words, how we relate to others. In Yoga Sutra 2.35, ahimsapratisthayam tatsannidhau vairatyagah, it is explained that when we live in a state of non-violence, those around us will cease to be hostile. It’s rather simple really…as old adages go…it takes two to tango or two hands to clap. If we do not react when someone has a conflict with us, no dance, no sound, the conflict will end. This interpretation does not imply to just turn the other way and ignore it. In fact, it is far from that.
My heart has been really heavy from the repeated and increasing gun violence in our American culture over the last two decades. It can’t be ignored which is exactly what we are doing. We hear of another deadly mass shooting as we say, oh god not again. We see the homeless on the street and look away. We go into a difficult asana and hold our breath. If we don’t like something we move away from it instead of working through the uncomfortable depths of ourselves. How about we look into the person’s eyes who we have conflict with and see ourselves responding with empathy and compassion? How about we look into the homeless person’s eyes and see ourselves with a genuine smile? How about we speak kind words to ourselves to build positive attitudes? When we cease harmful actions, speech and thoughts, love can shine through. It is the force that underlies the energetic structure of the universe. When we align ourselves with love others will no longer feel angry, fearful, and alone because there is nothing that separates us. And in that peace, harmony begins. Ultimately we help one another remember that we are all part of something so much greater than each of us as individuals. Cultivate love yogis, Namaste.
The Sun is the star at the center of our universe. Our concept of time is measured by this relationship, as it shapes our reality and perception of the world. It is the most important source of energy for life here on earth and in some cultures regarded as a deity because of its power and strength. In Hindu mythology, Surya is worshipped as the sun god, the giver and protector of life and illuminator of the intellect. Surya Namaskara, the sun salutation, is the foundation for the entire method of the practice of yoga.
Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, the father of modern yoga, spent his youth traveling India studying Vedic philosophy then later at university studying Ayurveda, Vedanta, and Sanskrit and even spent over seven years in a remote cave in the Himalayas with his guru studying the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, learning asanas (postures) and pranayama (breathwork). He ultimately came back to Mysore to teach others such as Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, B.K.S. Iyengar, and Indra Devi among others. Many considered him a scholar and yoga master but he never took credit for his teachings rather attributing the knowledge to his guru or ancient texts. He stressed the importance of combining breath work with the postures and meditation so that health, clarity of mind and spiritual elevation may be achieved.
Simply performing Surya Namaskara without focusing on the mental energies is just exercise, losing meaning and outcome. Pranayama, bandhas (energy locks), drishti (gaze) and meditation on the mantra are equally important. Practitioners develop control of the senses and a deep awareness of themselves, emotions, and workings of the mind. By maintaining this discipline with regularity and devotion they develop steadiness of body and mind. When the practice of breath is synchronized to movement, the asanas become linked together on the thread of breath called vinyasa. This also creates heat within the body, increases blood circulation and flushes toxins from the body through the sweat. With strengthened bodies, sense organs and minds, one becomes healthy and righteous and able to attain eternal liberation. As Pattabhi Jois said “yoga is for everyone – man, woman, the young, old, healthy, and infirm. It is all a matter of having an inclination for it. Laziness or lack of interest are the only things that get in the way of its practice, nothing else. This is a universal truth.” Practice on yogis, Namaste.
New Year. New Intentions. And this year, 2017, I have begun a year long commitment to an ashtanga yoga practice. Why? So many reasons…strengthen my physical practice, go inward, generate prana…but in truth it is to meditate. I have trouble sitting for any length of time because shortly into it a small cramp, tinge or pain will show up. Sure the mental aspect of meditation is the eventual challenge but finding a relaxed seat is my most pressing matter. Our issues are in our tissues.
The great sage Patanjali revealed in Yoga Sutra 2.46, Sthira sukhamasanam, that posture is to be cultivated with the two qualities of steadiness and ease. However our physical bodies are ravaged with tension and physical and mental toxins resulting in this struggle to find a stable comfortable seat. So we come to the physical practice of yoga postures to summon pain as our teacher. Bending, twisting and folding cleanse the liver, spleen, intestines and various organs in the physical body. Longer holds access our emotional body. When we stop trying to avoid the pain we tap into our ability to transform tension into attention. Through focus rather than fidgeting we access ease. Asana provides us the vehicle to release the anxieties and neuromuscular patterning that have vitrified in place.
Tapas is the the heat generated by the yogic practice that burns off our impurities. When our will conflicts with the desire of our mind an internal “fire” is created which illuminates and burns up our mental and physical impurities. By learning to accept pain within the safe space of yoga we learn to create a pause between the stimulus of pain and the response in our body and mind that wants to avoid or run away. As the late BKS Iyengar so eloquently stated, “Life without tapas is like a heart without love.” This balance of tension and ease in stillness is the state in which we resonate in our own true nature, our own true brilliance. Shine on yogis, Namaste.
The theme for the month of November in one of my yoga studios is contentment, one of the niyamas called santosha. A state of happiness and satisfaction, of being at ease with things as they are. As the Buddha says, “Peace comes from within”, and this inner peace is a result of a calm mind. For at that very moment the mind is relieved from the compulsion of constant thinking, from planning, worrying or striving, we experience peace and happiness. Our mind is able to fully experience each moment. In the now. And we are able to love every moment. In its perfection. And it is why we come to yoga practice again and again.
There are 196 Yoga Sutras which are threads of knowledge, aphorisms, that have been passed on for thousands of years. They were originally disseminated by word of mouth from Rishi to student until a great sage Patanjali compiled and articulated them into Sanskrit literature. In the second sutra, Yoga Sutra 1.2: Yogas citta vrtti nirodah, the goal of Yoga is revealed. Yoga is the restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff. So do the yoga, our mind will be calm and we will become peaceful, happy and content. I’ll be the first to admit, way easier said than done.
Once we bring our awareness to our thoughts we can begin to acknowledge what they truly are, mostly habitual behaviors, opinions and judgments conditioned over time. A wise yogi once told me we don’t always have to buy everything the mind tells us. When we stop to observe and not respond to our thoughts, we can begin to truly experience what is happening in the present moment instead of living in the past or looking towards the future. The mind is calm, like a still clear lake, and we are able to then see our true Self in its reflection. We are free of the mind-stuff.
So what happens when it is tough to let go, to not attach to our thoughts? I struggle with meditation and completely relate to how calming the mind is hard work. Savasana (corpse pose) is one of the most difficult poses in my opinion. Fortunately Patanjali goes on further and has lots of options for us. One of my favorites is Yoga Sutra 1.36: Visoka va jyotismati. Translated it means concentrate on the supreme, ever blissful Light within. So try this…imagine there is a beautiful glowing golden orb in the center of your heart, like a lotus flower. And with each breath you fan the flames of that fire, the Light, so it begins to shine a little more brightly and more brilliantly. Your true brilliant Self. The Light in me sees the Light in you. Shine on yogis, Namaste.