The Fruits of Yoga: The Experience of Connection

A yoga friend mentioned to me the other day that an experience that interferes with her yoga practice is competitiveness.  If a moment arises in class when she glances around and sees that others are doing a “deeper” version of the posture than she is doing, she feels competitive.  I have a feeling that this is very common, even if we sublimate it in some way to keep it manageable for ourselves.  I know in my own practice it took a very long time for me be able to celebrate the beauty in another’s posture, even if I might admire it, I didn’t necessarily celebrate it.  If my yoga friends celebrated a postural accomplishment that I achieved, I denied it’s value in my practice.  What my yoga friend is pointing to is not some egoic moral issue.  It’s that one of the most precious fruits of yoga practice is the experience of connection we can experience when we practice together –  even on Zoom, and that the very human tendency to compare ourselves to others interferes with that.

Some of you may have read that my wrist was smashed a few years ago.  It’s fully functional, but I’m taking my time reclaiming the fullness of some of the postures I did.  I do remember what they felt like…Urdhva Dhanurasana, for example, full wheel.  As I draw up the kinesthetic memory, I recognize now what a celebration of life it was that I was able to experience that full opening spaciousness of the front and back of the body. I had a dream after the wrist smash that I would do that posture again.  That inspires me.  But I go one step at a time.  The gift of that experience though, is that I can’t compete.  I can’t even compare.  The truth is, based on the degree of the smash, doing plank is a miracle.  Side plank also a miracle.  That I can participate in a live class  of the nature that I always practiced is a miracle.  With my previous accomplishments removed what remains in class is the sense of connection…unadulterated by the thoughts I had about the quality of my practice, good or bad.  

 A week ago I had my first experience of actually being deeply moved by a colleague’s accomplishment of physical grace.  Instead of “I should be able to do that” – well, that thought was not relevant – I had a spontaneous “that is so cool”.   And then, an interesting thing happened in my ability to see without comparison I could perceive my colleagues articulation of the posture differently, and as a result I began to understand that there was a small micro movement in my body which, at this moment in time, I wasn’t accessing.  Sometimes, becoming aware of something you aren’t doing becomes the doorway into doing.

I was told once that the Buddha said that the final frontier to overcome in the mind is comparison.  Think about it.  He has this…she has that…I have this…she is this, she is that, I am this.   It all points somehow to lack.  That one or the other of us is missing something or one of us has something that we should be grasping for.  This mode of thinking – it’s not bad or wrong – it just interferes with what is possible I ourselves and in our relationships.  Yoga promises that we will come to know ourselves as whole through practice.  If we know ourselves as whole, we know each other as whole and we experience the wholeness that is love itself.  This is an experience worth practicing for.

About the body – Speaking in Paradigms

Paradigm: From Merriam Webster: : a philosophical and theoretical framework of a scientific school or discipline within which theories, laws, and generalizations and the experiments performed in support of them are formulated the Freudian paradigm of psychoanalysis broadly : a philosophical or theoretical framework of any kind

In the course of my early yoga career I learned at least three different combinations of feet positions in Trikonasana.  It seemed everyone was teaching something different.  Couldn’t we all just settle on one right way?  I pressed my mentors for an explanation and they allowed my frustrated questions to just fly past them. I determined which of those was “correct” and advocated it heartily.  But as my journey continued I learned that various foot positions have their own logic within certain schools where they are taught. They are reflections of each yoga schools paradigm of the body.  But the logic won’t necessarily hold in a school with a different paradigm. 

There is the western science view of the body, the Indian view of the body (based on energy, tradition, or a particular lineage), there is the American pop culture point of view of the body (based on? who knows) or my mother’s point of view about the body.  There is the Chinese medicine view of the body, the macrobiotic view of the body, the Barbara Brennan school view of the body. The surgical view of the body, the chiropractic view of the body. The variety is endless. 

I had one client who made a clear decision with his wife that they were going to stick to the straight Western science understanding of the body in all circumstances and that would govern their decisions.  It was a conscious choice.  I had a bodywork teacher who used western scientific language to describe the nature of traditional energy medicine to his students – the resulting vision of the body and it’s place in the universe is deeply wise and well considered.  When I began practicing, my body was this unruly thing that I wished was more elegant, more beautiful, more manageable, more comfortable and less of a bother – it was a paradigm of dislike.  As I continued my practice that point of view transformed into understanding the body  as a reflection of my emotional well being, and later still as a field of interwoven energies which could be used to heal.  I now understand it as a manifestation within the vast field of consciousness and an opportunity to evolve. 

It doesn’t really matter which point of view we take about the body when we practice, but it is important to explore what our point of view is when we are making choices about our practice.  How are we relating to our bodies? From what point of view and why?

Yoga can work with all these differing paradigms, and it can be beneficial to explore how our experience changes with differing views. I encourage you to consider in your practice this week…how is it that I understand my body?  Scientifically?  Intuitively? Mechanically?  Kinesthetically? Emotionally? Some combination? How do I experience it right now?  How do I want to experience it moving forward? Notice when you are taking class what point of view the class is constructed from, and notice the nature of the result you get and how you feel.

Awakening Inner Authority

Teacher and student- the heart of yoga

Balancing on your own two arms – it’s a heart thing💖

In the newsletter this month we’ve been focusing on the relationship between teacher and student. By understanding the ideal dynamic of that relationship in classical practice we can enhance our capacity to learn yoga well on our own or with outer teachers. 

When looking to external sources for guidance, information, understanding – there is a transfer of authority involved in the learning. We learn by imbuing a source with authority. To learn we must be willing to consider that the external source has valid and relevant understanding of what we want to learn, and we must be willing to try on, sincerely, what they have to offer- to be open to it.  At this time scientists and doctors are held up as the pinnacle of valid authority-in other cultures in other times shamans and mystics are revered authorities. For some, journalists are valid authority. Judges are authorities in our culture.   

From the yoga perspective authority is not inherent in any of those people. Others confer that authority on them.  True authority exists on a whole other level – in the realm of inner wisdom that we all have access to. Scientific findings are replaced, legal decisions are over turned, medical advice is found to be wrong.  From the yoga perspective relative authorities like these can be useful but the truest of authorities is the limitless consciousness that we can access by looking within ourselves – beyond intellect, beyond knowledge in the deep silence.

Regardless of your reasons for practicing yoga it’s likely your mind has quieted down through the practice – revealing glimpses of peace and stillness.  This inner fount of silence and peace is also the source of ultimate authority.  It’s not your personality, it’s not your intellect-it’s the place inside you where your true potential resides waiting to be revealed. The more we choose to connect with it the more that silent wisdom self pervades our point of view.

So how do we access this fount consistently? Asana (postural) practice is a big part of this – by staying peaceful in an uncomfortable position we train ourselves to access this peaceful place at will.  There are layers to this….first we just stay an extra breath and then another and then another. Next we practice staying focused on the breath rather than  discomfort.  Once we have mastered that we can bring ease into the posture by softening gripping resistance.  Then in that space of wisdom and peace we can mindfully press more deeply into our alignment or our depth in the posture with wisdom. Press forward with wisdom.

As you practice nurturing this peace within while on your mat, it might be worthwhile to practice accessing that quiet space within when challenged to make a choice.  Test the wisdom.  This process of testing the wisdom born of silence can be helpful in making a relationship with our inner authority.  We begin to recognize the difference between acting from our fear or our wisdom, and our faith in this subtle deeper wisdom grows.  We begin to reclaim the authority that we may have given away to the world around us.

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Yoga, Freedom and Moving into Sovereignty

The focus this moon month in the newsletter is freedom or in Sanskrit, Mukti.  Mukti translates as “liberation”,  freedom, and it’s important to understand that freedom in the sense of yoga is different than freedom in of our day-to-day life – although they are related. We may think that having tons of money would be freedom or rebelling against social conventions would be freedom. Freedom is not inherent in those experiences.  Ask anyone who has very large amounts of money or who has lived in the counterculture for a long time and in their story you will hear of the oppressions that still remain.  In yoga  freedom is something that we develop inside ourselves as we cease identifying with the fluctuations (vritti’s) of our mind. That’s the  second sutra of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra. The fluctuations of our mind frequently take the form of how we think of ourselves, how we think of others and how we think of the world we live in. These mental constructs can become rigid and block our ability to be open and spacious and, well, liberated.  The freedom of the yogi comes in the form of an inner sovereignty which allows us to become the masters of our own minds and to use that freedom to choose the path of love over and over again.

Yoga is a discipline that leads to freedom The practices of yoga involve experiencing certain kinds of restraint and under those conditions finding the freedom there. When the  restraint is lifted you have a different understanding of who you are. Restraint comes in the form of tying yourself in a knot in an awkward posture and remaining peaceful.  Restraint can mean  being willing to suspend our immediate desires in order to allow a higher state of wisdom consciousness to guide our actions.

When we tie ourselves in a knot in a posture we stir up the deep resistances we have to living.  The knots are knots within our consciousness and so the goal is that to breathe, to be present to what’s happening and not fight with it. Consider this first level of freedom one that you could find contentment even when circumstances around you are not to your liking.  That’s a tremendous amount of freedom. Sometimes for whatever reason it’s not the best idea to change a circumstance. Even though it’s uncomfortable, it’s better to be strong. This capacity is honed in the practice of asana.  Accept the limitation, breathe be still and allow your inner guidance to direct you step by step to moving beyond the limitation into a deeper expression of the posture.

This kind of yoga training reveals discernment – the capacity to understand if our impulses are coming from our authentic heart desires or our desire to control. It’s a powerful means of developing aligned autonomous inspired choice making. Sovereignty. It is a gift of the yoga practice born of moment by moment alignment with self and that is the freedom. Rather than having others dictate who we are or who we become  or what actions we take in our lives we are free to take action in alignment with our highest best interest.  Yoga will take us to a healthy and beautiful body of all different kinds of shapes and sizes but this is the heart of the yoga  – this sovereignty and the freedom that emerges through practice.

In my lifetime- written last Monday, January 17, 2022

I’m thrilled to be writing this from home as the large international company I worked for celebrates Martin Luther King Day. I suppose if I hadn’t left the corporate world for 20 years of yoga the change would not appear so dramatic to me. In 2002 at Pfizer Inc we had “a black person” in the department. Then maybe two. Now the firm I work for is populated with all kinds and colors of people in all levels of management and administration. It’s more than a little wonderful. Martin Luther King Day is celebrated by the whole firm rather than being an optional day to take off. In my lifetime I’ve seen the first president female presidential candidate {hardworking and persistent), a female vice president of color (intelligence strength and courage). I’ve witnessed the birth of the personal computer, the explosion of the Internet, the cell phone, the electrical car, the surge of plant based foods worldwide, and then the spread of yoga all over the planet. These evolutionary transformations are the result of thousands of people, hundreds of thousands of people committing their time and their energy, their mone,  their resources into what they believe in. The bottom line – how we spend our time – matters. This is a new paradigm. One component of a well-done yoga practice is that we experience the power of a moment of choice – this is vinyasa (Vi- to know,  nyasa – to place on purpose). It’s to place our attention on purpose. It’s to place our foot on purpose. It’s to place our mind on purpose. It’s too to choose what we’re doing moment by moment on purpose.  On purpose – in alignment with our purpose. As the yoga business wobbles to regain its footing after COVID as practitioners we are invited to consider what we place where and when – on our mats and in our lives. Moments of crisis are always moments of great creativity.  Big changes are composed of moments of choices.

I can remember in the early days with my teacher – she would teach one side of the sequence and then invite us to do the other on our own. Sometimes we would practice both sides and then she would ask us to repeat the sequence on our own backwards. I was snagged more than a few times with not remembering what we’ d done. I quickly learned to pay more attention.

Last week I talked about esoteric mathematical ideas of time and yoga. There is no need to understand that deeply except to open to the underlying understanding that your yoga practice opens you to know yourself differently  in the context of these vast dimensions of time and space.

Patanjali teaches in The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali that what we focus on grows (throughout the entire book. On the mat or off we are well served by awakening to where we rest our attention – celebrities, calm joyful thoughts, things that are wrong, things that are beautiful, breath, pain, love, etc. and consciously choosing, without judgment, where we want to place that oh so powerful vehicle of our attention

Today as I said is a holiday

my mind turns back to the struggle of job and work and what I want to do and what I want to accomplish there, but this is not a time for that. It’s a holiday of reverence. I attend to what I consciously must and then I tend to what I choose to attend to.

This is easier if you practice establishing intention at the beginning of your day to be aligned and focused in a particular way appropriate for the time. On the mat a clear intention will focus your whole practice. In all the ways you can practice intention I invite you to play creatively with these intentions. Crafting them and your practice lovingly and with full awareness or as full as it is available in the moment.

It is useful to work with intentions divine, personal, worldwide, communal,  spiritual, physical, emotional and more for broadening of our perspective.  The creative way that we craft them-  the intentions – the language we use, matters. As these intentions are part of sadhana or conscious spiritual practice, it’s generally a good idea to commit to working with a particular intention for a period of time. I’m finding that due to the intense transformation of the landscape of experience unfolding for all of us through the pandemic that my intentions work best when I update them about weekly.

It is my deepest wish that you find this information useful, that it serves your practice, your heart and your healing. 


	

My personal Upcoming Moon Months Sequence – for your ….imagination

I’ve been speaking a lot about designing your own sequences, and I thought it might be useful if I shared a sequence that I create for myself.  I do find they organically change a little from practice to practice – I’ll be inspired to tweak or shift something while in the practice- but unless I’m just having a day of goofing around, I always get on my yoga mat with a planned sequence that I’m working with for an extended period of time.  By performing it consistently in time, I learn was it does.  Physically I’m always aiming for balance in the musculoskeletal structure, and openness and support of the spine, which in the HYP is called the “yogi’s staff”.  To have a clear spine is essential to good health and good yoga.  That “clarity” can occur even with long standing spinal issues if you approach your practice with balance in mind.

I don’t suggest that you do this sequence, as it’s designed for me, but it’s to give you some ideas about what you can do – get you out of the box, so to speak.  These are all ordinary asana segments I’ve payed with for some time, but I’ve put them together just for me.  Of course, check with your doctor before trying anything here.

I practiced Bikram and Jivamukti for a long time.  In Bikram, you do every posture twice so it’s progressive.  A friend recently did a presentation on Tesla, the great inventor, and she shared that he loved the numbers 369, and attributed mystical important to them.  I thought, what if I  did each posture three times instead of Bikram’s two?  What evolved from that practice was that I began to do mini-segments 3 times.  It sounds goofy, but it worked – it built heat in the body, my postures deepened in a sustainable way, my spine felt light and free.  This has a dramatic opening because I have a hip issue I was born with, so I always work on my hips first.  The tension that accumulates there from living was a barrier to the rest of my practice, when I do it first, nothing hurts in my practice.  There is no sun salute because I’m recovering from a wrist injury and the chattaranga variations are a little remote at the moment. That means the transitions are too creative to articulate here.  That is part of the fun, it’s driving me into novel transitions.   Since I want to reclaim them, I work with plank and Up Dog.  Any questions please feel free to ask. 

Also, for teachers, I would never teach this in an open class.  Hence the understanding that I’m sharing a personal sequence.  I’ve practiced since 1993 and been a bodyworker…so I take freedoms with my own body that I would never take with other people’s bodies.

 I drop sections depending on how much time I have.

Yes , it’s in Sanskrit, mostly – with misspellings (oh to have more hours in a day to proofread).  Perhaps this is a good time to check out Light on Yoga by B.K.S Iyengar if you are unfamiliar with the names.  Well, or Goggle, but Mr. Iyengar was a true master, lifetime teacher, who studied with the root guru – Krishnamacharya.  So, please put the book on your reading list.

Remember this is for contemplation only!  Check with your doctor before attempting any exercise.

About the body the body  – In time

Hatha Yoga Pradipika Verses 103-104

“All of the all the processes of hatha and laya yoga are but the means to attain raja yoga. (samadhi) One who attains Raja yoga is victorious over time (death).” (Bihar edition and translation)

Perhaps when you were a child you experienced being measured. Sometimes parents make marks on the wall to emphasize how much a child has grown physically. As children we were measured physically, intellectually, emotionally… how we are growing? Then at some point the nature of that measuring starts to compare itself to an end point rather than the beginning point.  We mark a wrinkle (one step towards old age) A gray hair (another step towards old age). Perhaps we worry more about a physical symptom than we would have when our hair was colored rich and deep and our skin was rosy and clear.  One great blessing of combining the inner and outer yogas is that the processes are designed to liberate us from time. A mark of a well-done yoga practice is that decline is minimized and many times even reversed. One advantage of studying the tales of the great accomplished masters is that they completely transcend time. They choose when to leave the body behind. It’s a great teaching. There are many records  (Paramahansa Yogananda, Shri Brahamananda Saraswati ) of enlightened beings whose bodies did not compose after death but remained intact as their devotees prepared the funeral rites. When Shri Brahmananda Saraswati was cremated it is said that his ashes were pure and white as snow. He also regenerated his body and brain after a stroke through study and practice of Sanskrit (an energetically based yoga practice).

What does that mean for us as contemporary yogis? We don’t really know. We don’t really know what that means. Will we be immortal? Do we want to be immortal? Will we just stay lively? Will we live on as souls beyond the body?

What we do know is that well-done yoga is a rejuvenating practice.  It’s hormonal, it’s energetic, it’s the nervous system but essentially to tap into the field of consciousness is to tap into that place beyond time and that is infinite.  To keep the spiritual dimensions of the practice front and center. Serenity makes for a great facelift.

How do we make this more tangible? The usual choices for this kind of experiment are meditation or chanting. The point is your body will change through these practices.  And you can practice it and find out.  Just note that other lifestyle choices will mitigate your results.  Wise lifestyle choices will enhance them. 

For me the door which opened the understanding of this spirit body connection was yogic chanting. I knew it immediately even though I was not spiritually or athletically accomplished. I was living in New York and had much pain in my body — weight training, aerobics, desk work, crazy diet — so many possible culprits for the pain. After finding no remedy that was clear through the western medicine lens I started yoga to ease the pain.

I noticed almost immediately that if the class started with an Om  my body didn’t hurt as much during class. I thought it was a goofy thing and I made jokes about it. I figured I was imagining things, but then I found the Jivamukti Yoga Center in New York. Chanting was central to that practice,  and I learned there that the ancient yogis understood that the body is made of sound. To those I spoke with and studied with there, when I made the statement that my practice was better if I Om’d first, it made perfect sense. I stayed with that practice for years and experienced many complex postures that I never imagined that I would do in part because my relationship with my body changed as I worked with this understanding that the body was made of sound. Things I could never imagine at 29 opened up for me as I moved towards and through a so called middle age. I am now 58 and I have less pain in my body than I did at age 29 – even in the wake of injury.

For this I rely on my yoga practice.

For the practitioner I believe that the bottom line of this is that we begin to consider that our bodies are not our masters — our hearts and our souls are. To embrace the spiritual aspects of the practice is not to deny the body but to nourish it at a deep level — beyond DNA, consciousness (which is experienced through practice) nourishes our very cells. You will be strengthened by it and it will cost you nothing to try.

About the Body – Thoughts on designing sequences for personal practice

I’ve waited years to talk about this!  It’s absolute freedom to me to be honest about designing your personal yoga practice.  You see, when you teach yoga you have to learn to construct a sequence which will be manageable for the largest number of people in the demographic that you are working with.  It’s a fabulous way to learn, taking group classes.  The support is amazing and often, especially in the early stage of practice – you can go further in association with others.  There comes a time in practice though…a time when it’s really time for you to discover your own personal connection with yoga and the truth that is being uncovered in you by the practice.  This can really only be done on your own.  No one else can feel what you feel.  No one else can really understand that revelation that you have.  It all travels through our personal filters.  And what, if not the actualization of our own yoking to the sacred, to the infinite, to the wise  – are our practices about?  It’s something to celebrate when we are called to develop our personal practice.

Generally I suggest that you start out considering two approaches to designing.  The first is to get on your mat and play – and in this I encourage you work with and without music.  Music will drive you in a particular direction, but it can also obscure what is going on inside at a deeper level.  It’s a complicated topic which we’ll address in future posts.  The key at this point is to be aware that it will have an impact in your practice.  The second is to decide on a goal and then work towards it.  For this second, more structured sadhana-like way to practice yoga asana – I suggest you start by picking a few basic key postures and doing them every day.   Overall, I design my sadhana moon month by moon month, and each month I will design a full sequence for myself. I decide the minimum postures I will do on a busy day.  Each day when I get on my mat it falls somewhere in the spectrum.  I always have a posture which is key for the moon month.  I try to tie it into my spiritual theme.  I always did that for the students and yes, I do it now just for myself.  I don’t hesitate to indulge the desires I have about my body, but I always try to give them a context.  For example, I gained weight during COVID (can you believe that? Lol) and I want to change that.  So my spiritual themes are around sadhana and the discipline contained therein.  That spiritual practice supports what I need to do for my body- which right now is to practice almost everyday.  We are integrated beings and there will always be a physical and spiritual coherence in our practice if we are open to it. 

Also, in this more structured component of developing practice it’s good to decide how you want to learn to understand your body.  Some people thrive with that anatomical memorization of parts.  Eh, not me.  For me, learning about the energy body was the doorway to learning about the muscles and bones and tendons and organs.  Once you decide on your approach, there are many resources online books and workshops.  If you are serious about yoga, I highly recommend, Light on Yoga by BKS Iyengar.  He has sample sequences at the end of the book which are great learning devices. 

IF YOU FORCE NOTHING YOU WILL BE 100% SAFE.  FORCE NOTHING!

Remember to bring your wisdom with you on your mat.  In my years as a teacher I’ve seen people fall out of arm balances because they were drinking before class, people pushing postures until they snap, all kinds of things.  Most recently, my last employer – probably in his early seventies, felt fat from the COVID too.  He jumped immediately into doing 200 sit ups with a 25 pound weight on his head.  I said, “I would never let one of my students do that”.  He kept doing it.  Let’s put that in the “don’t try this at home” file.  The beauty of yoga is that you can gain without pain, and that the results of everything you do are cumulative  – a sustainable practice builds sustainable gains.  Moderation, balance and consistency are better than dramatic pushes followed by collapses into nothingness because you’ve overdone it. 

It is my deepest wish that this information will be useful to you, that you will grow in your life through your practice.  Keep practicing all is coming.

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The Elements of Sadhana: Santosha- Contentment

In the newsletters we’ve been talking about creating a sadhana – a conscious spiritual practice of yoga, a discipline of yoga as conscious spiritual practice. This past week I introduced the mahavratam or great vows outlined in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra. These vows aren’t something that Patanjali devised – he compiled them from studying with the esteemed yoga masters of the day (which was some time a few  thousand years ago no precise date is known).  There are ten of them. They are often considered to be moral imperatives. In practice I’ve found it more useful and more authentic  – I get better results – if I let that idea of morality go and open up to practicing them whenever and however I can, trusting that they are actually learning devices for me.  Through practicing them I open to understanding who I am and who everyone else is.  As I open to understanding I make better  choices. The ten mahavratam are: nonviolence, non stealing,  adherence to truth, continence, non- hoarding, cleanliness, contentment, austerity, self- reflection and devotion. In the newsletter I briefly talked about the practice of saucha or cleanliness. Today I’d like to speak a little bit about contentment, or santosha. 

One thing to consider when practicing these – they’re also called yamas and niyamas, restraints and observances – is that we are always creating. We are creative beings – extensions of the divine, which is the creative energy of the universe, the supreme creative energy of the universe. This is an underlying paradigm of the yoga practice.  The yoga practice will reveal that we a specks of divine creative consciousness – and we can live from that truth. This is co-creating, which is yoga – to be yoked to the divine. The restraints and observances clear the palette of our consciousness, enabling creativity which is unbridled by our past. 

 With yoga the idea is that creating in alignment  with the infinite divine opens the doorway to limitless possibilities- and that wisdom, that intelligence – will create richer more satisfying possibilities than our personalities with their cravings and conditioned attunement to lack. If we choose it, these practices deepen our understanding of the elements of a good life.  This is partly why I encourage you to set aside the idea that they are imposed morality.  Practiced lovingly, they open the way to a delicious abundant live.  Less is more. 

With the practice of santosha or contentment this connection between our behaviors our beliefs our thoughts in the world that we experience is made very clear. 

Perhaps in your life you have met those or perhaps you’ve been in this space yourself ( I know I have been) where you feel a need to complain about everything. I’ve seen a real uptick in this during the COVID situation. 

 I think we can all agree there is much to be addressed in the world., but right now we have to accept what’s happened and what is happening and learn to work with it. Shaking our fists at a perceived enemy is unlikely to change the world…changing ourselves is likely to change the world, not only because we engage those conversations differently. 

But let’s think back to the before time – before COVID – and remember those days in offices or classrooms or social gatherings where we or our friends or neighbors or our family would lapse into days where we complained and complained and complained. Surely we’ve all known in ourselves or others that momentum that complaining develops – once you start complaining there just seems to be more to complain about. The yogis understood this very deeply through their meditations , analysis and self reflection. The practice of contentment is to practice contentment under all circumstances that’s a key of these mahavratam – under all circumstances.   So in any moment (the grandeur of universality demands we operate one moment at a time) when faced with complaining, we choose contentment.  It’s like putting down a heavy object.  “I just don’t want to carry the weight of my complaints, so I’m a gonna put this down, right here.”  It’ll be okay.  Once we’ve entered a quieter state of mind, wise action can emerge more clearly. 

What does that mean – in the yoga practice – to work a difficult situation? Perhaps it is to rest in the understanding that you’ve participated in the creation of it and take responsibility for the fact that you’re there. You skip the blame (of yourself and others) you skip the victim story and nurture and invite the ability to see the situation differently.  Liberation arises when we realize there is no one to blame.  The practice of contentment opens our minds so that we are able to see that. To be honest, in content I perceive that there is nothing to complain about.  It’s all perfect.  But to deeply know that feeling we have to practice.  

One of the ways that we can train ourselves in the vast practice of contentment is to practice on our yoga mats. One of the most obvious powerful and potent ways to do this is to be content with a posture even as you are working to transform it. Where I am is fine but I’d like to deepen it. I’d like to expand it; I’d like to move to the next expression of it. So the first part of that is to enjoy every posture just where you are with it. This is one of the reasons why the postures that we can’t do are so important. As I say this I realize that this is one of the biggest difficulties of a home practice is that we never bump into those postures that we don’t like. At the same time if the classes available around us are not suitable – to force ourselves to go into a class that is just full of difficulties makes no sense either.  So what can be a good idea in your practice is to add a small step towards a posture that you would like to attain someday. For me right now this is wheel urdva dhanurasana. 

 I had an accident last fall where my wrist was smashed. I’ve consciously decided to recover slowly. In my full practice days I would do three full or wheel postures every day.  Wow right?  To me that seems like wow.  I was never a born gymnast. That posture has intense ramifications on the wrist and feels remote to me but at a certain point I had an intuition a revelation that in fact I would be able to do it again in this lifetime So what I’m going to practice this moon month is to sit at the wall and take a camel posture and place my hands on the wall. A highly modified introduction to the movement that would lead to wheel. And I am content.. This is the beauty of modifications in yoga. What they do is – if you practice them fully,happily embracing what the modification has to offer you – it’s actually like working the full posture you develop the shape energetically on a deep level and it opens from the inside out. One day your’re ready and the full posture emerges – like a chuck busting out of an egg. 

So how do we learn about modifications if we’d like to incorporate them in our sadhana?  I highly recommend them even if you don’t have an injury. Spend some time in modified postures.  By working with the modifications you’ll learn some of the paradigms of postural yoga. We’re very fortunate to live in an opulent world where there’s all kinds of information about yoga on the Internet so I’m sure you can find some information about modifications there.  As far as books books go and even Internet the best school of yoga from which to learn about modifications is the Iyengar school so I encourage you to look into that when choosing postures to work in your sadana. 

Once you’ve practiced santosha on your mat for some time don’t be surprised if you  catch yourself practicing it in your life.  You don’t have to make a big trip out of doing all of these mahavratam.  Just know that they can extend to all circumstances, and they’re not limited.  Your contentment is not limited to certain circumstances.  You can start practicing them in certain circumstances until you feel confident to apply them in more challenging circumstances.  

OK that’s our blog post for today. As always it’s my sincere wish that this information be useful to you and that your practice will lead you to a blessed and wonderful life. 

Pranayama: Potency and Subtlety

Patanjali Yoga Sutra III.43  When you focus on the relationship between the body and the space around the body, the lightness of cotton fiber is attained and allows one to travel through the sky. 

We use the word  focus here, but it is about Samayama, restraint of the qualities of attention.    When our casual attention, our intermittent attention and our constant attention are all resting in one concept, we become that concept.  We lose our identity in that something.  It’s just something that human minds do.  We slip into falling in love and we become the other’s partner instead of being ourselves.  We become our role, instead of inhabiting the role for a time.  Patanjali, the great yoga psychologist teaches how we can master this tendency and use it intentionally.  This sutra is one of the many where he describes a practice one can do, here focusing on the body and the space around the body, where the qualities of lightness is revealed.  We focus on the edge of our density and the air around us and our own spaciousness is revealed.  In Yoga the intention is to identify with the unlimited aspect of consciousness, and then operate from that vantage point.  In order to do this we must develop our awareness of the subtle.  We developed this awareness by learning about prana – the subtle energy.  Learning to work with prana transforms our relationship with the body and with the asanas.

Asanas work powerfully on the gross level, developing muscles and balancing bone structure.  Squeezing out the internal organs and changing the blood flow.  Working with prana impacts the subtle fluid energies of the body and their conduits – the veins and nervous system – purifying blood and lymph and plasma.  In the traditional Chinese system, chi, a relative of prana (it appears to function differently), is associated with the spirit in its function in blood.  We can understand then that the finer the substance the closer it is to spirit.  To understand our prana is to come to understand ourselves.

A primary yogic technique for working with the prana is pranayama, or restraint of the prana.  We practice consciously controlling, restricting and releasing the prana. The result is energy, wakefulness and creativity.

Don’t be surprised if you go through a period of transition before you feel that.  The heavier elements of consciousness formed by lifestyle factors may present obstacles to clarity.  But that’s part of the gift.  Like dropping sandbags out of a balloon we may decide to let things go.  It’s important to note that  it’s not necessarily the object of attention that we let go of, it could be how we relate to it.  We see things differently when we take a few steps back.  When we release the obstacle and  gather our attention on what lifts us up we float, like a cloud, or a helium balloon when what weighs it down is released. In the case of this sutra, the we learn that what weighs us down is the compartmentalization that there is space and there is body,we are the body, and not space. And they are separate.  The deeper our intimacy with breath and space through the practice of pranayama, the more we develop discernment of the subtle in our practice, and find our way to lightening up. 

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