Yoga is more than physical exercise; it has a meditative and spiritual core. It is a system of philosophy and practice to yoke the mortal self to its divine nature of pure consciousness. It is not a religion but a path to realization through physical, mental and spiritual disciplines. In our yoga practice we heat and cleanse our body, train our senses, and let go of physical and mental attachments and aversions to our body and thoughts. As we move from asana to asana, focusing on our breath and staying present in each moment, we are brought to awareness in the ecstatic edge of our experience. It turns us inward to face something harder to comprehend. It dissolves the coverings of separation and anxiety that obstruct our realization of the creative force that is ever arising from the center of our being. We learn that happiness is not attached to an outcome or circumstance but something that resides inherently within us based on our peace of mind.
When we are seeking and investigating happiness not found through external pleasures but through peace of mind it becomes evident that it is the absence of the uncomfortableness that we call suffering. Suffering ceases when we have an understanding of life in which happiness is not the gaining of anything but a functioning of our perceptions and relationship that we have towards ourselves. Guilt, blame, pride, worry, and expectations keep us bound in this psychology that our happiness is outcome driven versus the real phenomenon of our attitude. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali provide us with the tools to suppress the activities of the mind. The Bhagavad Gita gives us real-life skills to separate from contact with suffering. I am beyond thrilled to share A History of Yoga next weekend which will delve into these sage wisdoms to live a more fulfilled life off our yoga mats. Lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu.
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.
When we surrender, we release fears, anxieties, doubts and all the endless agitations of the mind discovering our difficulties are only temporary. Our perspective expands tremendously and we change our karma…giving without expectation. Yoga Sutra 1.23, Isvarapranidhanadva, is devotion to a higher power. When we bow or surrender to a force greater than ourselves we find that what we seek is already present within us, the divine source of life. To devote or dedicate is the means to dissolve the citta vrtti, that place of mind chatter, and surrender to love. Truly devoting ourselves becomes a selfless service to all beings as we recognize the Divine in everyone. Imagine what a world this would be. Surrender to the flow yogis, Namaste.
Knowledge is one thing. Abiding in it is another. Steadfast wisdom is a result of unwavering experiential knowledge. It develops from constant reinforcement that strengthens our conviction…through our practice. Every time we show up on our yoga mat the Truth is lit up as the teachings spontaneously present when we need it. And this is no ordinary understanding; with each breath and movement, we polish the lens of our Citta, our mind-stuff, to develop Viveka Khyati, discriminating wisdom.
This perception is not a simple distinguishment of salt from sugar. This is recognizing Truth from the ever-changing names and forms it assumes. A tree is cut into a plank to create a chair that degrades to firewood then burned to ash. The substance is always there; it simply changes form. If we remember this basic Truth we will not attach to one particular form nor find disappointment when it changes. Nothing is lost or gained and in this knowledge is the key to our liberation.
Yoga Sutra 2.26, Vivekakhyatiraviplava hanopayah, is exercising this continuous discriminative discernment as the remedy for our unhappiness. Viveka khyati opens our eyes to realize we are no longer powerless and do not have to accept suffering. It frees us from living stuck in the daily grind of convention and rather become the architects of our own destiny. Through our practice and disciplined inquiry, we make the conscious effort to develop our unique style of surrender that raises our awareness enabling us to separate true consciousness from Maya, the illusion. True consciousness exists in all of us, in everything. Our bodies are just containers for this Spiritual Spark. Imagine we are all gems on a strand and Truth is the thread that is strung through each and every one of us. Shine on yogis, Namaste.
I am continually amazed at this incredibly phenomenal experience called life. When completely engulfed in its presence I am filled with curiosity, happiness and love. When trying to control it I am filled with fear, judgement and frustration.
I have several Sanskrit words written on my yoga mat to continually refresh my brain matter during practice. One in particular that has been resonating is Yoga Sutra 1.1: Atha Yoganusasanum. This very first sutra explains that in this auspicious moment, right now, the distilled teachings of yoga are being revealed. Every time we step on our mat is like no other; it is a new beginning, blossoming to reveal its vital nectar through the practice of yoga. Inhale each breath, savor it, then exhale all thoughts into stillness. While in a pose, smell the texture of the air as you watch it enter the nostrils in nasagre drishti. Off the mat, make eye contact with others to fully absorb what they say.
When our minds are clear, we are less attached to an outcome which enables us to be present in the moment. We can relish an experience instead of documenting it. It is in these instances our minds are free to be who we truly are and synchronize with the universe. Yoga is the practice of tolerating the consequences of being yourself. Choose to be content. Shine on yogis, Namaste.
We are more than two weeks into the new year and it’s time again to accept the brevity of New Year resolutions. I am the first to proclaim they rarely stick yet year after year I would begin a drastic routine or new regimen that would somehow transform my life for the better. With each rotation around the sun I have realized these are doomed for failure not because of willpower but because fixation with being overly severe can create unnecessary rigidity and restriction…the exact opposite of growth and expansion I was attempting to obtain. Yoga Sutra 2.38, Brahmacarya pratisthayam viryalabhah, is about moderation and taking the middle path, the one of flexibility and balance. Inherently we all know this but why do we continue to set unrealistic goals every January?
We live in a society where happiness is equated with lavish comforts and enjoyment. Today’s world has become so extreme…it has to be epic, baller, monumental, or insane to be noteworthy. How easily we become sidetracked in fulfilling these sensory appetites that we lose sight of our original intent of finding peace within. When we fixate on sensory gratification we become bound to it. Moderation produces the highest individual vitality. Too much of anything brings problems. Too little may be inadequate. Nothing is wasted by us if we seek to develop balance. By keeping strong and calm, aligned with our creative energy instead of our fleeting desires, we become resilient and cultivate true joy and health. Listening to our bodies and thinking about where to direct our energy we develop poise. And that’s what we really need going into this New Year. Shine 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.