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. 

Experiencing Yoga:  Overcoming Obstacles within – without

This month in class – as we practice asana, we are holding space for the understanding of yoga as presented in the first pada or book of the timeless text Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra. In this pada Patanjali lays out the arc of yoga – he spells out the origin and result of the practice as well as  some fundamentals of practice itself.  He also spells out the inner and outer obstacles.  This is important.  Hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of people in the world find well-being in yoga.  We all want that  well-being, but, well, maybe we just don’t feel like we can do yoga. My teacher once taught me that the hardest part of yoga was just getting to class. Do you have obstacles? What are they?  As a yogi, I confront those obstacles daily. As a yoga teacher, my life is filled with persons telling me why they can’t practice — at job interviews, at the bank, at the dinner table and in the grocery store.    Hey, maybe you just don’t want to! Nothing wrong with that!  But if you do want to, acknowledging the obstacles and being willing to engage them can be a powerful move forward towards actually becoming stable in your practice. It’s really important to note that Patanjali spells out both inner obstacles (our thoughtforms) and outer obstacles (i.e.not feeling well). Adopting a two pronged approach to address these two apparently separate dimensions of our being can be a powerful catapult into a strong practice.

For many of us, the outer obstacles seem to be the easiest to focus on in the beginning.  It seems that  if there was just a little less traffic we could get there.  But, from the perspective of yoga, the outer obstacles always have an inner corollary.  The outer obstacles Patanjali identifies are: illness, laziness, negligence, the attraction of pleasures, confusion about the practice, attachment to the way things are and a tendency to fall back on old habits.  The inner barriers to the experience of yoga are the various thoughtforms that we have been conditioned to believe are true and unchangeable (“I’m not athletic – never have been since I was a kid”).    The solution to the equation is yoga.  In the samadhi pada Patanjali describes the experience of yoga arising as we shift away from identification with our conditioned thoughtforms and engage with and identify with the ground of consciousness which is fresh and clear and unfettered. 

Arm balances – historically – have always been a big struggle for me.  It took seven years for me to do a handstand.  When I finally stood on my hands, it was a surprise.  My physical effort had been minimal; linking to some measure of illumined consciousness had been maximal.  It’s a story I lived many times in my years of practice.  Today, faith in myself and a willingness to let go and link up with a more illumined perspective is still essential to my practice.  If that linkage wobbles, so does my posture.  But what I saw in that moment of my first handstand was that I had held myself down with the belief that I could not support myself with my own two hands.  To be honest, that epitomizes much of my life journey and my journey through yoga.  It’s been a journey from dependence to independence. 

The first step is a little bit of willingness to see what our inner thought forms are.  We don’t have to worry about changing them.  A willingness to consider that they are there can go a long way towards dissolving them.  Patanjali identifies them as:

  • What we’ve learned intellectually from valid sources
  • What we’ve learned intellectually from invalid sources
  • Hearsay – what we’ve heard about, but have never experienced.
  • The arising of states of non-wakefulness (sleepiness)
  • Recall – drawing forth of past experiences (memory)

Because the obstacles can be so deeply embedded in our programming it does take a bit of faith to get on the mat at all.  But if we desire the sovereignty to deeply transform ourselves and our world that desire can propel us along in our practice until faith in the practice emerges.  It’s all in what you focus on.

Sama Stitihi – The Unified Body

When we think in terms of unification and yoga, the prevalent tendency is to consider yoking the mind to the body, or the body to the spirit, or the spirit to the mind.  But within the experience of the body itself – a possibility of a more unified experience exists.  Bliss arises in the practice when our attention and focus are such that the whole body is functioning as one unit.  Rather than moving the legs and arm we discover ourselves extending our very being into tine and space.  It’s an Aha.  In my experience with myself and others in practice and teaching I understand that this experience arises when the body is harmonious: healthy, balanced, serene and understood. 

The body is a field of consciousness.  It IS and expression of our beingness.  It’s not our master.  My experience is that when I experience my body in bits and pieces that somehow, within myself I am in bits and pieces as well, and it’s time to be willing to open more, resist less and just stop fighting with myself and what is in my life.

Sama Stitihi (simple standing), also known as Tadanasa (mountain posture) is about the discovery of this sama – sameness or unification.  It’s said that this posture is the easiest and the most difficult.  It’s one thing to simply stand still.  It’s another thing to stand in that way fully present and alive. 

So how do we get there?  There are infinite paths, but some of the things I work on  is tuning into the body from the inside out…organs, bones, tendons, ligaments etc.  and observing when I am divided in myself, in conflict with the things I want or the things I feel.  It’s important to bear in mind that the state of yoga is sometimes described as perfect alignment with our divine source.  Within that alignment with source all conflict dissolves.    

About the Body – Alignment

Understanding Alignment — in the body.

“Just tell me what to do.”

 I hear that a lot as a yoga teacher.  Life can be overwhelming, and when we get to yoga, we just want to let.  That has its place in our practice.  But like eating chocolate cake It’s best used in a particular time and place – but not all the time.  It’s easy to get lost and miss what we come to the mat do to, whether it be physical or spiritual results we are aiming for.  The personal experience of life and yoga blossoms with individual alignment and connection to the effulgent source of being. This requires a bit of trailblazing to find our way through the wilderness of situations and challenges we encounter on and off the mat.  This call to authenticity and engagement led me to study the source texts in the original (rather than relying solely on expert commentary) and to apply them in the moment  – opening into the essential experience of living yoga. This includes physical body postural alignment.  Alignment always is an individual matter. While masters of yoga can pin point an alignment issue, I’ve found it isn’t complete if my own insight and understanding doesn’t emerge from it.

 There are very, very few alignment instructions in the texts (another reason why Iyengar’s “Light on Yoga” was such a breakthrough yoga classic). The texts discuss the shapes of a few postures in a general way (the Hatha Yoga Pradipika) and Patanjali advises that our posture should be stable and  joyful, or  steady and easeful (although the translations for that vary widely). So we are given a general principle ( think of it as equivalent to gravity) and then it’s up to us to find it in the world and decide what it means. The journey of self-discovery that yoga offers can elude us if we rely just on the teacher who offers their experience. To find our own understanding requires that we embrace the forms, as we as we have encountered them in class on YouTube, etc., and then let’s explore this mystical formula oin our own f steadiness and ease in our own bodies.

It requires attention, honesty with ourselves and a willingness to feel. You see, in the end, what a yoga practice always reveals (and this is supported in the texts) is that the level of change is in mind. This is a universal principle. If the mind is heavy or inert the body will be, or perhaps wobbliness arises during change in the life, etc. and you may find difficulty balancing.  So I invite you to open to discover your alignment through exploring balancing steadiness and ease and take note of what interferes with  the experience of steadiness and ease when you are on your mat.  Most of the people I’ve worked with find that it’s surprising what the underlying issues are, and the sense of freedom that emerges as a result of that work is well worth the effort.

Refuge: Commentaries from last months emails

April 1, 2021Refuge in Hatha Yoga

HYP 1.10 for those continually tempered by the heat of tapah (pain – difficulty – challenges) hatha is like the hermitage giving protection from the heat.  For those always  united in yoga, hatha is the basis acting like a tortoise.

Perhaps this has happened to you —you select a relaxing and remote vacation destination, longing for a break from the hassles of day to day life.  A deposit of thousands of dollars is placed – the time between making the arrangements and the date of the trip is consumed with the desire for that rest and relaxation.  The state which will come when life as you know it is escaped for a little while.  The day arrives.  The plane is delayed, the luggage is lost, negotiating the unfamiliar terrain of the destination, for whatever reason, falls out of the realm of an adventure and just feels a little arduous.  Now, I love to travel, I’m not knocking it, but it’s not always the escape that we want it to be, there are no guarantees of relaxation or freedom on any journey.  But, as this sentence from the Hatha Yoga Pradipika puts forth, a well done yoga practice allows us to establish an essential experience of ease and refuge within.

Granted, a yoga class can have similar distractions to a pilgrimage in terms of time, obstacles, disruptions.  But the function of a yoga class is to learn, to be together in learning and community  The discovery of the inner refuge is the path of our personal practice.

The inner work of yoga, depending on the techniques you practice, can reveal many different things.  There is the awakening of insight and contemplation, there is creativity and conscious co-creation, there is awakening and there is refuge.  We have many alternatives to choose from.

What’s specific about the techniques of Hatha Yoga is that they support and develop this experience of refuge specifically.  It’s put forth here at the beginning of the text, which is claimed to have historical roots in the origins of the practice of Hatha Yoga itself.  The beginning of the text states it’s lineage back to the teaching of Shri Adinath, the first yogi, also known as Lord Shiva.  As the text unfolds we are advised to create the conditions for the experience of Hatha Yoga.  The conditions within and without, create a scaffolding for this experience of transition from a state of dualism to an experience of unity, and in that unity there is peace, there is refuge, there is healing and there is rest.

Last month we explored the kundalini energy.  When directed in unconscious ways the creative energy can lead to the experience of fluctuation, conflict and unstable moods.  Well directed and managed energy can be elevated to a steady state where such disruptions are minimized or ideally left behind.  Think about it, we know sorrow only because we have known happiness, two opposing energies will always conflict until they are harmonized and when a pendulum swings one way it inevitably swings the other way.  The idea as I understand it is that when we become anchored in this steady unified, harmonized state,  which is yoga then the fluctuations and conflicts occur, but we are not imprisoned or buffeted by them.  I measure the depth of the yoga practice these days, by my ability to stay steady in the face of those fluctuations. 

This month we’ll explore techniques of focus on breath and gaze which support this experience of unity.  The Hatha Yoga Pradipika refers to miraculous states where the physical body is transformed through the practice.  This experience unfolds as we master our ability to be in union as we move in the physical world. 

ENERGY ANATOMY – The Manipura Chakra

The Manipura Chakra (the city of jewels) is located in the area of the solar plexus under the rib cage.  This chakra is “worked” when we twist, when we work with our diaphragms in breathing exercises and bandhas, and when we work with our gaze.  Spiritually, psychologically, this center affects and is effected by or relationships with others in community — how we see them and how we are seen.  My experience is that the gaze is a deep purifying technique for the manipura chakra.  To use our drishti (a technique of gazing) breaks down the experience of self and other and harmonizes the relationships between.

Yoga at Home

One of the nicest things about working in a personal practice at home is that you can draw out the technique which your personal journey is calling for and work with it on your own schedule and with your own ability to focus and observe and digest the experiences that you have with a given technique.    There is no one way of yoga.  Traditionally, one would work one on one with a teacher, and a form of relationship which is no longer really available or desirable for many of us.  Our opportunity in engaging our personal curriculum of yoga in a structured and mindful way provides the opportunity to experience a personal relationship with what refer to these days as the Wisdom Self.  Engaging the Wisdom Self opens a deep level of knowing which reveals the journey step by step and provides an illuminated understanding of our personal function, our opportunities for rich and unique growth, and decisions which lead to deep healing. 

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HYP 1.10 for those continually tempered by the heat of tapah (pain – difficulty – challenges) hatha is like the hermitage giving protection from the heat.  For those always  united in yoga, hatha is the basis acting like a tortoise.

April 11, 2021

Many spiritual traditions contain within them an indicator of the power of taking refuge, as a means and an end.  In Buddhism, one takes refuge in the awakened consciousness or the Buddha, the community, and the essential truth.  In Christianity, it’s the experience of salvation, or being saved by surrendering into Christ consciousness.  In yoga, that refuge is liberation or mukti, the experience of releasing into the limitless divine which is known by many many names.  .  This passage is located at the very beginning of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, a seminal text on the yogic processes.  The Hatha Yoga Pradipika is a manual for balancing the forces of the physical body to enable deeper levels of absorption in the state of union or yoga.  Hatha Yoga is notable for it’s simplicity, it’s power and it’s promise, that the dissolving the separation of opposites or the sun and the moon, will protect us from the experience of pain. 

While the language of the HYP is mysterious and riddle-like, the practice is simple.  The text itself enumerates some extreme measures….living alone in a hermitage built to specifications outlined therein, avoiding overeating and regular folks, and avoiding long pilgrimages and women – to name a few.  But basically, whittled down to essence, the foundations of preparation prescribe that we create a life which is relatively free of conflict. The hermitage of yoga is built of our own powerful moment by moment choices to stay centered or give into the temptation to fluctuate or be fluctuated.

We live in a world of duality:  right or wrong, this or that, black or white, red or blue, science or fiction, spirit or  matter, male or female, etc.  It is our attachment to the opposing elements of that duality which causes the fluctuation within, and the conflict without.  Hatha refers to the union of the Sun and the Moon.  Our intuitive psychic qualities and our active and engaged qualities cease to be in opposition to one another.  Instead they work together. 

If you’ve ever butt heads with someone with a stubbornly opposing viewpoint you know how much conflict within and without is caused by that duality.  When we choose peace the duality ceases to have power over us and we are protected from the pain of the fluctuations.  We move towards yoga. 

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April 17, 2021

Refuge II: Peace in the Body

The Hatha Yoga Pradipika describes the process of Hatha yoga as a refuge for those best by the pain of suffering.  A considerable amount of our suffering is of the body, and later on in the text when the results of practice are described we are encouraged that the pain will cease.  The text specifically points to a moment when all physical disease is eradicated.  Last week we spoke of the transformative power of moving beyond duality as reflected in the word Hatha.  Dualities are infinite in number (although limited in expression) and one such duality is the divide between the mind and the body.  Think about it.  How much of your time is spent warring with your body?  Even many forms of so-called self-care are merely thinly disguised ways to try to make the body different than it is:  it’s appearance, behavior sensations.  Either it’s in charge or we are (you know those struggles over the chocolate thing).  In the meditative processes of yoga it’s sometimes spoken of that the mind is a battlefield.  Well so is the body.  Part of the power of well-done Hatha yoga is that this dichotomy between mind and body can be dissolved into peace, and the body, once a battleground becomes instead a vehicle, a tool, a field which can be used for healing and transformation on a psycho-spiritual level. 

In yoga 2021, we are best by images of what we should look like.  They are changing but the images of perfection still loom large.  There is much suffering in the attempt to spend your life trying to look like someone else!  Any spiritual path can be distorted into suffering. A well-done practice, engaged with wisdom and discernment, yields a state of peace with the form we are in. 

My classes are small. Being out of the studio is a blessing for that reason.  Part of that is – I encourage students to back off, to give up the striving for the physical ideal, but to still be engaged.   It’s pretty specialized…and good for those who are wanting to engage their inner being.  It also requires an understanding uniquely yogic that just because you give up striving doesn’t mean that you won’t’ get what you want.   It also requires and understanding that the inner work has the power to transform the physical form.  Imagine this – your limitation – say a restriction in the hamstrings – to sit in the limitation and breathe and find peace and not fight against the limitation is the field of true inner strength.  To learn to move forward without pushing against or opposition, but instead through the creative willingness and love in your heart, well….It’s a moment to find beauty in what is instead of what should be.  And-practicing that way balances the energy field and tones the body in an integrated way.  Creating balance within the limitation rather than saying …”If conditions were different…I would be balanced” This is a measure of true power.

As I practiced this way I found that many times something would change without my doing anything.  One day I would be light enough to invert spontaneously.  A deeper or more specified level of engagement and articulation would reveal itselve providing a deeper experience of integrated balance.  But mostly, my relationship with my body changed.  I began to love it for what it was, this little skin suit I trip around in.  That alone lightened the whole thing up.

Many of you know that I broke my wrist last October.  As healing progressed deeper levels of balance and healing were revealed.  It was a significant injury.  I’m finding that those years I spent finding peace in the limitation I had, in order to move beyond them is serving me very well.  The injured  part of my body is something I love and want to care for, it isn’t an obstacle or a burden or really even a limitation.  It’s an opportunity.  This is the first major injury I’ve had since practicing yoga, so much had my agility improved through practice, this kind of thing was rare and unexpected.    But compared to my experience of breaks I had experienced in my twenties which were painful and inconvenient.  My body became a landscape of areas which I dissociated from.  (One of which was this wrist, which I had broken before).  This is now an opportunity to relate to this broken part of my body with more awareness, to reintegrate into the whole of who I am in a new way.

This allows something else to happen.  I become able to celebrate the way the miraculous unfolds in the physical form  When I began to do down dog again, the carpals began to regrow. This appeared on the x-rays.

I am able to celebrate and bear witness too the body’s miraculous power os regeneration.  At an age when the world would tell me my body should be deteriorating it’s regenerating instead.  I imagine as I open my mind up to really accept and understand this,  it will change everything.  These are just a few of the ways that making peace with and building a relationship with the body via the practice of hatha yoga can be practical and useful.  So, you know….come to class!!!

Love

Natalie

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April 26, 2021

Refuge III:  Refuge in Community

Although the Hatha Yoga Pradipika advises that the practitioner establish in solitude, in the larger scope of the practices of yoga, of which Hatha Yoga is only one (others include mediation, text study, chanting, service and others) the yogi is advised to take refuge in the satsang- or meeting with other truth seekers.  Buddhism as well suggests that we take refuge in the community or “sangha”.  Settling into an inner landscape of non-dualism (which merely means that we stop making a division between this and that) is in itself a form of refuge.  But does this mean that we have to leave the material world behind and just melt into that inner state of peace and lack of conflict?  No. We can take refuge in our ability to practice seeing others without conflict – in a state of right relationship:  appreciating  them as sacred, focusing on the spirit which expresses through them as individuals, and neither judging nor adulating them.

This understanding emerged in my practice after a long time.  I kept searching for truth seekers or those who would provide right relationship for me, but to no avail.  As I worked with resolving my judgements and adulations (in yoga terms aversions and attachments) I found that finding right relationship in the life I was living meant to recalibrate the way that I was relating.  Period.  Can I suspend my judgement about who I think someone is or what a specific relationship means enough to allow the particular gift of a given exchange to be revealed?

In the exalted spiritual philosophies we hear about oneness and emptiness  and mirroring.  In simple day to day practice I found that became distilled into  physical form by not judging and not adulating.  From there discernment began to arise, revealing deeper potentials or possibilities for the relationships I was in.  What emerged was a much richer tapestry of relationship, one which I could not have imagined in that kind of good-bad, stay-go kind of relating I had been engaged with. 

And then, a little bonus emerged.  What was reflected back to me about myself in those relationships began to transform in a very rich, full, helpful way.

The practice of Hatha Yoga, cultivating my ability not to veer into one extreme or another, provided the support  and discipline  which empowered me to choose in every interaction whether I wanted to judge or not. 

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Refuge 4:  The Power of Spirit

HYP:IV.113. A Yogin in Samadhi is not vulnerable to any weapons, not assailable by any persons, not subject to control by the use of mantras and yantra-s (incantations and magical diagrams).

When the yogi succeeds in leaving behind their dualistic thinking, quote, this and that, unquote, good and bad, up and  down one attains an experience of unified mind, which is the entryway to the experience of yoga. It can arise in an instant, though some stay in it for an extended period of time. It’s blissful. It’s peaceful. It’s healing. It is a refuge. We are evolving spiritually, we humans, and what I see and know around me is that many people experience unified mind.  Through the  practices of yoga we can intentionally cultivate it. While most of us living in 2021 are unlikely to have enemies assaulting us with mantras and yantras, we are daily subject to bombardment by influences.   Our capacity to be still, centered and true to ourselves in the wake of this is true empowerment. This sentence above,  the last line in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, is a beautiful affirmation of the living refuge which is manifest as we cultivate unified mind through our practice.

While I don’t recommend stopping a bullet with the power of your mind, there are stories of the invulnerability of the human body when one is anchored in higher consciousness.  In one of the books scribed by the great jazz musician and yogi, Alice Coltrane, it is briefly mentioned that through the auspices of her guru Swami Satya Sai Baba, she was lifted out of her body into a transcendental peaceful state of consciousness during a significant earthquake. The body was unharmed.

I was skeptical of the relevance of this story until my mind became a bit a little clearer. I know for me that I can make a crisis worse through my noisy inner dialogue. The longer I practice the more I am able to hold peace within,. Allowing for , even wondrous,  outcomes to emerge from seeming challenges. It isn’t a blind faith, it is a consciously cultivated capacity to project a positive future for myself, rather than a fearful one. When we nurture conflicting thoughts, which is really a mundane example of dualism, this gets projected outward. We do not see our best interests amidst the fluctuations of our minds. As we learn to choose to nurture peace rather than conflict in our thoughts,  this is projected outward. We project a more harmonious future. Don’t worry, the centered peace projected out does not mean an absence of action, fun or pleasure, it just means that the conflict is gone.

As our access to media expands we can be bombarded by the opinions of those who profit greatly from capturing our trust and opinions.  To step away from the tides of this influence and anchor in and remain established (pratishtayam) in the inner refuge, we create to yoga, we become unassailable. By that I mean we can continue on our personally charted journey of evolution. The practices of yoga are designed for this degree of self-mastery or sovereignty. Yogi’s can choose to explore deeper and deeper subtler dimensions of this journey, which reveal the magic and powerful love and healing which is revealed through practice.

Interested in empowered choice – making?  Check out my Destination Sovereignty Programming!

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Refuge IV:  The Power of Spirit

HYP:IV.113. A Yogin in Samadhi is not vulnerable to any weapons, not assailable by any persons, not subject to control by the use of mantras and yantra-s (incantations and magical diagrams).

When the yogi succeeds in leaving behind their dualistic thinking, quote, this and that, unquote, good and bad, up and  down one attains an experience of unified mind, which is the entryway to the experience of yoga. It can arise in an instant, though some stay in it for an extended period of time. It’s blissful. It’s peaceful. It’s healing. It is a refuge. We are evolving spiritually, we humans, and what I see and know around me is that many people experience unified mind.  Through the  practices of yoga we can intentionally cultivate it. While most of us living in 2021 are unlikely to have enemies assaulting us with mantras and yantras, we are daily subject to bombardment by influences.   Our capacity to be still, centered and true to ourselves in the wake of this is true empowerment. This sentence above,  the last line in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, is a beautiful affirmation of the living refuge which is manifest as we cultivate unified mind through our practice.

While I don’t recommend stopping a bullet with the power of your mind, there are stories of the invulnerability of the human body when one is anchored in higher consciousness.  In one of the books scribed by the great jazz musician and yogi, Alice Coltrane, it is briefly mentioned that through the auspices of her guru Swami Satya Sai Baba, she was lifted out of her body into a transcendental peaceful state of consciousness during a significant earthquake. The body was unharmed.

I was skeptical of the relevance of this story until my mind became a bit a little clearer. I know for me that I can make a crisis worse through my noisy inner dialogue. The longer I practice the more I am able to hold peace within. Allowing for , even wondrous,  outcomes to emerge from seeming challenges. It isn’t a blind faith, it is a consciously cultivated capacity to project a positive future for myself, rather than a fearful one. When we nurture conflicting thoughts, which is really a mundane example of dualism, this gets projected outward. We do not see our best interests amidst the fluctuations of our minds. As we learn to choose to nurture peace rather than conflict in our thoughts,  this is projected outward. We project a more harmonious future. Don’t worry, the centered peace projected out does not mean an absence of action, fun or pleasure, it just means that the conflict is gone.

As our access to media expands, we can be bombarded by the opinions of those who profit greatly from capturing our trust and opinions.  To step away from the tides of this influence and anchor in and remain established (pratistayam) in the inner refuge, we create to yoga, we become unassailable. By that I mean we can continue on our personally charted journey of evolution. The practices of yoga are designed for this degree of self-mastery or sovereignty. Yogi’s can choose to explore deeper and deeper subtler dimensions of this journey, which reveal the magic and powerful love and healing which is revealed through practice.

Compilation of Newsletters for the April Moon Month

Kundalini Image

Compilation of Newsletters for the April Moon Month

Arundhati, the Awakening of Creation

This word arose in my awareness this month as I took a glance at The Hatha Yoga Pradipika scribed by Swami Swatmarama.  The translation I read, issued by the Bihar School in India, contained commentary by Swami Muktibodandanda of the lineage of Swami Sivananda Saraswati.  While the  text is thought to have been scribed in the centuries after 6 AD, it claims it’s mystical roots in the primordial origins of the sacred knowledge of Hatha Yoga from the beginning of time.  Swami Muktabonananda mentions Arundhati as another name for  kundalini, the powerful feminine creative source, which resides dormant and resting in the terrain of the subtle energy body commonly associated with the cradle of the pelvic bowl.  Muktabodananda breaks the word Arundhati down into “arun” translated as “dawn” and “dhati” which he translates to mean to “generate” or “create”. The dawning of a new creation.   Arundhata, he adds, means unobstructed.  It’s a  powerful description of the potent and mysterious creative potential within each and every one of us, and a clue to tapping into the potential of our yoga practice.  Hatha Yoga in it’s essential expression is a discipline in the management and effective direction of this creative force, leading us to a place of full alignment with  and expression of our sacred potential in this world and beyond.

Folklore runneth over with tales of the power and pitfalls of awakening this goddess force.  The most famous teller of these tales is Gopi Krishna who wrote a book about the unexpected eruption of his kundalini force and the trials and tribulations of having the energy charge through his body.  Any time we encounter powerful expressions of feminine creative forces it’s good to consider that, historically, feminine power has been feared and this has resulted in a great deal of distortion of information related to these energies.  My experience in energy work while working with students and clients over the years is that the awakening of this force does not have to be violent or disruptive.  It does not require forceful action to ignite it (although you can try that if you want).  It’s part of human evolution that it organically awakens when we have certain experiences, some of which are the practices of yoga.  Yoga ignites it and supports in the management and direction of  the energy.  What is important is how well prepared you are and how well you are able to sustain a healthy environment for the unfolding of this energy.

When the energy is managed in a balanced and well directed manner, what unfolds is gentle awakenings and shifts in perspective and understanding.  The way this is cultivated, is through balance.  In the simplest sense, creating an environment in the body, mind and life which is neither aggressive nor passive (think easefully assertive), neither nurturing of depression nor anger (think peace), and vaster than self absorption (think relating) will create a habitat for a productive and rich unfolding. Nurturing  a balanced state allows the process to be one of healing, rather than a struggle to control.

When the energy is directed in an uplifting but grounded  fashion,  the creative process reflects a spiritually evolutionary journey, and an important one.  It’s the upliftment that leads us to a higher vision, the transcendence of a mundane understanding of the world we live in.  What is the use of this?  A well balanced cultivated transcendence nurtures an empowered and liberating perspective.  It opens us up to our capacity to choose.  In a gentle and non-reactive way, we learn, step by step, to function without feeling trapped in the confirmed of the opinions or perceptions of those around us.  WE are opened to align with our inner truth across the varying facets of our person — from our relationship to our body to our relationship with our higher power and everything in between (in realms of love, power, creativity).

OM

From Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra:  1.28-1.29:

Repeat the sound of Om and all is revealed.  This anchors one in inner consciousness and dissolves obstacles.

This month we are investigating the direction and management of or essential creative  force, known by many names, primarily kundalini, but this month I’m thinking of it as Arundhati.  This week we’ll begin by exploring the most simple and fundamental technique for managing this energy, and that is Om.

Om is vibrationally whole.  It contains within it every sound, and every possible vibration so it is the closest thing to totality that we can merge with materially.  When we focus on parts – this or that – then our creative force becomes divided. This can diminish clarity and inhibit the yogic process.

Om is beyond language.  Beyond language there is no limit – we can create something wholly new and not yet conceived of.  Beyond language we are not bound to create within that which already can be named.

The resonance of Om permeates all levels of our being – the physical, emotional, mental and  spiritual so it’s capacity to illuminate unity impacts all of the dimensions of who we are.

Practically, how does this mystical practice pan out?  Well, when you have a moment of conflict, within or without.  Stop and Om, inside or out and allow yourself to tune into the sound and feel, it will uplift the energy and pull into the center.  Before practice, it points us in the right direction.

The Straight Arrow

To begin with:  It’s said that no effort in yoga  is ever lost.  It stays with you forever – no matter how clumsy the attempt.

The bottom line? In it’s purest form, the Arundhati (another term for the primordial sacred energy kundalini) travels through the energy channels along the spine, easily piercing the tangles and moving upward directly toward illuminated consciousness.  The only thing that can create this experience is pure devotion.  One instant of pure devotion to a spiritual ideal, love, truth or God, can be sufficient.  In an instant Arundhati’s journey is complete and we experience the Truth of everything.  The purity of the devotion comes from an unadulterated desire to experience that spiritual ideal.

Unadulterated is one word which could reflect this, uninterrupted is another one.  That would mean never wavering into lack of faith or anger or delusion about the state of affairs in the universe – meaning that we have right relationship to both our spiritual lives and our material lives in an undivided way.  Holding the space for both of them as the waves of life press against us.

In the tales of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana (ancient Indian epics which illuminate the principles of yoga), the heart of the stories revolve around archery, the greatness of the archers and the dedication to their craft.  The stories illuminate the rewards of accomplishment and the pitfalls which deter the practitioners as well.  Author Ramesh Menon, one translator of these epics, details the nature and the precision of a well-aimed arrow – the all-consuming focus and calculation required.  The target is determined,  and at the beginning of the arrow’s journey it is positioned in such a way that one would expect it to travel smoothly through varying conditions  towards it’s destination – the target.  To have such expertise and insight is phenomenal.

In a pure classical yoga practice there is only one target – the state of yoga.  If we aren’t aiming for that target, well that’s okay, the effect is never lost.  This is a spiritual principle, but you may have already observed it’s a physical one too.  You may have experienced  that when an asana aligns it’s more of a discovery than an accomplishment and after a break in practice you move back to the level of accomplishment more swiftly than the initial journey. The point is that all practice is sustainable on some level.

These detours of the straight line of Arundhati aren’t always errors.  Sometimes they are little side trips into discoveries and experiences which are helpful.  The yoga practice teaches us that just about any action or experience when offered with a sense of devotion, can serve to establish the right direction in the inner flow of our consciousness.

It’s All Good

We started the month speaking about the creative force Arundhati, most often known as kundalini.  We spoke of how this force can be violently awakened, or naturally awakened.  We’ve used spaciousness in the hips to gently open the channels surrounding the energy in it’s dormant state, and focused on our third eye centers to encourage the energy in an upward direction.  Is that it?  Is that Yoga?  Well, these are practices of yoga, but in the experience of “YOGA”, the state of union arises unites and ignites the central energy channel, the sushumna, from our roots to our crowns.  Then, there is union, there is yoga, there is bliss, there is understanding and wisdom.

So how do we do this?  Let’s take a simple decision.  Should I eat chocolate chips or carrots?  The mind flips from one to the other, “good” “bad” “black” “white” “sun” ‘moon” “right” “left”.  This movement of the mind is reflected in the channels of energy by movement from right to left, left to right.  We fluctuate.  Patanjali says that Yoga occurs when the fluctuations are no longer dominant.  Stop.  Breath.  Lift the pelvic floor. Focus on the 3rd eye center.  Center!!

Maybe the first time or the millionth time you do this the creative energy moves fully into the central channel and you move out of duality.  If you are all in, roots to crown, mind and heart, you move out of duality.  “Carrots good, chocolate chips good.  It’s all good”.  This is the union of the sun and the moon.  Opposites and fluctuations between apparent opposites no longer exist.  Any choice made from that point of view is beyond duality.  There is no wrong choice.  We become the Om itself.  Yogis absorbed in this Om state experience profound healing.  We are yoked to the cosmos within and without on a sublime level.  Don’t forge…Om is a technique which will get you there, as well, it’s the journey and the destination.

On a practical level we step into the flow.  Everyone experiences this state of union organically from time to time.  The practices of yoga allow us to cultivate them intentionally.

Compilation of Newsletters for the April Moon Month

Arundhati, the Awakening of Creation

This word arose in my awareness this month as I took a glance at The Hatha Yoga Pradipika scribed by Swami Swatmarama.  The translation I read, issued by the Bihar School in India, contained commentary by Swami Muktibodandanda of the lineage of Swami Sivananda Saraswati.  While the  text is thought to have been scribed in the centuries after 6 AD, it claims it’s mystical roots in the primordial origins of the sacred knowledge of Hatha Yoga from the beginning of time.  Swami Muktabonananda mentions Arundhati as another name for  kundalini, the powerful feminine creative source, which resides dormant and resting in the terrain of the subtle energy body commonly associated with the cradle of the pelvic bowl.  Muktabodananda breaks the word Arundhati down into “arun” translated as “dawn” and “dhati” which he translates to mean to “generate” or “create”. The dawning of a new creation.   Arundhata, he adds, means unobstructed.  It’s a  powerful description of the potent and mysterious creative potential within each and every one of us, and a clue to tapping into the potential of our yoga practice.  Hatha Yoga in it’s essential expression is a discipline in the management and effective direction of this creative force, leading us to a place of full alignment with  and expression of our sacred potential in this world and beyond.

Folklore runneth over with tales of the power and pitfalls of awakening this goddess force.  The most famous teller of these tales is Gopi Krishna who wrote a book about the unexpected eruption of his kundalini force and the trials and tribulations of having the energy charge through his body.  Any time we encounter powerful expressions of feminine creative forces it’s good to consider that, historically, feminine power has been feared and this has resulted in a great deal of distortion of information related to these energies.  My experience in energy work while working with students and clients over the years is that the awakening of this force does not have to be violent or disruptive.  It does not require forceful action to ignite it (although you can try that if you want).  It’s part of human evolution that it organically awakens when we have certain experiences, some of which are the practices of yoga.  Yoga ignites it and supports in the management and direction of  the energy.  What is important is how well prepared you are and how well you are able to sustain a healthy environment for the unfolding of this energy.

When the energy is managed in a balanced and well directed manner, what unfolds is gentle awakenings and shifts in perspective and understanding.  The way this is cultivated, is through balance.  In the simplest sense, creating an environment in the body, mind and life which is neither aggressive nor passive (think easefully assertive), neither nurturing of depression nor anger (think peace), and vaster than self absorption (think relating) will create a habitat for a productive and rich unfolding. Nurturing  a balanced state allows the process to be one of healing, rather than a struggle to control.

When the energy is directed in an uplifting but grounded  fashion,  the creative process reflects a spiritually evolutionary journey, and an important one.  It’s the upliftment that leads us to a higher vision, the transcendence of a mundane understanding of the world we live in.  What is the use of this?  A well balanced cultivated transcendence nurtures an empowered and liberating perspective.  It opens us up to our capacity to choose.  In a gentle and non-reactive way, we learn, step by step, to function without feeling trapped in the confirmed of the opinions or perceptions of those around us.  WE are opened to align with our inner truth across the varying facets of our person — from our relationship to our body to our relationship with our higher power and everything in between (in realms of love, power, creativity).

OM

From Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra:  1.28-1.29:

Repeat the sound of Om and all is revealed.  This anchors one in inner consciousness and dissolves obstacles.

This month we are investigating the direction and management of or essential creative  force, known by many names, primarily kundalini, but this month I’m thinking of it as Arundhati.  This week we’ll begin by exploring the most simple and fundamental technique for managing this energy, and that is Om.

Om is vibrationally whole.  It contains within it every sound, and every possible vibration so it is the closest thing to totality that we can merge with materially.  When we focus on parts – this or that – then our creative force becomes divided. This can diminish clarity and inhibit the yogic process.

Om is beyond language.  Beyond language there is no limit – we can create something wholly new and not yet conceived of.  Beyond language we are not bound to create within that which already can be named.

The resonance of Om permeates all levels of our being – the physical, emotional, mental and  spiritual so it’s capacity to illuminate unity impacts all of the dimensions of who we are.

Practically, how does this mystical practice pan out?  Well, when you have a moment of conflict, within or without.  Stop and Om, inside or out and allow yourself to tune into the sound and feel, it will uplift the energy and pull into the center.  Before practice, it points us in the right direction.

The Straight Arrow

To begin with:  It’s said that no effort in yoga  is ever lost.  It stays with you forever – no matter how clumsy the attempt.

The bottom line? In it’s purest form, the Arundhati (another term for the primordial sacred energy kundalini) travels through the energy channels along the spine, easily piercing the tangles and moving upward directly toward illuminated consciousness.  The only thing that can create this experience is pure devotion.  One instant of pure devotion to a spiritual ideal, love, truth or God, can be sufficient.  In an instant Arundhati’s journey is complete and we experience the Truth of everything.  The purity of the devotion comes from an unadulterated desire to experience that spiritual ideal.

Unadulterated is one word which could reflect this, uninterrupted is another one.  That would mean never wavering into lack of faith or anger or delusion about the state of affairs in the universe – meaning that we have right relationship to both our spiritual lives and our material lives in an undivided way.  Holding the space for both of them as the waves of life press against us.

In the tales of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana (ancient Indian epics which illuminate the principles of yoga), the heart of the stories revolve around archery, the greatness of the archers and the dedication to their craft.  The stories illuminate the rewards of accomplishment and the pitfalls which deter the practitioners as well.  Author Ramesh Menon, one translator of these epics, details the nature and the precision of a well-aimed arrow – the all-consuming focus and calculation required.  The target is determined,  and at the beginning of the arrow’s journey it is positioned in such a way that one would expect it to travel smoothly through varying conditions  towards it’s destination – the target.  To have such expertise and insight is phenomenal.

In a pure classical yoga practice there is only one target – the state of yoga.  If we aren’t aiming for that target, well that’s okay, the effect is never lost.  This is a spiritual principle, but you may have already observed it’s a physical one too.  You may have experienced  that when an asana aligns it’s more of a discovery than an accomplishment and after a break in practice you move back to the level of accomplishment more swiftly than the initial journey. The point is that all practice is sustainable on some level.

These detours of the straight line of Arundhati aren’t always errors.  Sometimes they are little side trips into discoveries and experiences which are helpful.  The yoga practice teaches us that just about any action or experience when offered with a sense of devotion, can serve to establish the right direction in the inner flow of our consciousness.

It’s All Good

We started the month speaking about the creative force Arundhati, most often known as kundalini.  We spoke of how this force can be violently awakened, or naturally awakened.  We’ve used spaciousness in the hips to gently open the channels surrounding the energy in it’s dormant state, and focused on our third eye centers to encourage the energy in an upward direction.  Is that it?  Is that Yoga?  Well, these are practices of yoga, but in the experience of “YOGA”, the state of union arises unites and ignites the central energy channel, the sushumna, from our roots to our crowns.  Then, there is union, there is yoga, there is bliss, there is understanding and wisdom.

So how do we do this?  Let’s take a simple decision.  Should I eat chocolate chips or carrots?  The mind flips from one to the other, “good” “bad” “black” “white” “sun” ‘moon” “right” “left”.  This movement of the mind is reflected in the channels of energy by movement from right to left, left to right.  We fluctuate.  Patanjali says that Yoga occurs when the fluctuations are no longer dominant.  Stop.  Breath.  Lift the pelvic floor. Focus on the 3rd eye center.  Center!!

Maybe the first time or the millionth time you do this the creative energy moves fully into the central channel and you move out of duality.  If you are all in, roots to crown, mind and heart, you move out of duality.  “Carrots good, chocolate chips good.  It’s all good”.  This is the union of the sun and the moon.  Opposites and fluctuations between apparent opposites no longer exist.  Any choice made from that point of view is beyond duality.  There is no wrong choice.  We become the Om itself.  Yogis absorbed in this Om state experience profound healing.  We are yoked to the cosmos within and without on a sublime level.  Don’t forge…Om is a technique which will get you there, as well, it’s the journey and the destination.

On a practical level we step into the flow.  Everyone experiences this state of union organically from time to time.  The practices of yoga allow us to cultivate them intentionally.

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Kaladanda – Beat Death

Sometime in the early 2000’s , a series of teachings on the Hatha Yoga Pradipika were presented at the school where I taught.  At that time yoga branding was all the rage- a new thing =  and people were using Sanskrit words to define their yoga, their clothing brand, their travel agencies.    We had great fun with this.  You see, at that time most of the people who were branding that way were part of this kind of geeky cool strata of the New York yoga world in which everyone studied Sanskrit because it was “cool”  I’m not making this up, there were fashionable New Yorkers participating in this.  Someone had branded the word Kaladanda for something, I don’t remember what, but we all were given baseball caps with a beautiful design and the word Kaladanda on them.  Kaladanda is a staff carried by the Lord of Death, Yama, in the Ramayana an important Indian epic.  The word is composed of “Kala” which is time and “Danda” is staff – the club with which we beat time.  In the Hatha Yoga Pradipika the Danda is the Yogi’s staff (see Dandasana) or the energy channel that runs a long the spine, formally known as the sushumna nadi.  If we beat time there is no death.    The reference is to our capacity to visit worlds without restrictions through  our yoga practices.  If you’ve ever experienced a truly blissful moment of joyful absorption in your creativity, in love, or on your mat,  you have touched this timeless unrestricted space.  Many of us have, although the magnitude appears to be somewhat more dramatic in the yoga practices.  A well done Hatha Yoga practice empowers the yogi to enter these states of consciousness at will.

How does this work – we spoke last week about the way Arundhati, or kundalini, travels up the sushumna nadi along the spine – and travels through and opens three knots called the granthis – each of these being a conditional experience of limitation.  The Rudra granthi placed at the juncture before the  opening of the third eye is what keeps us anchored in time and space.  To experience a state of consciousness that is beyond time is to know true liberation.

What practical value does this have?  A lot.  You know that wound you are carrying from age 15?  (Forgive me if you are beyond that, but most of us humans carry a little baggage) well, it can be resolved through the practice.  How can that be?  When we carry those moments we don’t really move forward, we keep feeing the same feelings and choosing the same things over and over.  When we touch the space outside of linear time the clarity that arises at that moment allows us to choose differently,  Taking ownership of that power to choose anew heals the wounds from choices made long ago, before we knew better. 

What other practical value does the experience of yogic liberation have?  Entering a transcendental space, the relationship to the body changes.  It ceases to define our experience of life, instead the yogi defines the body.  To me this is a great power of the practice of Hatha Yoga.  One can attain transcendental states  in meditation or chanting or study, but the relationship with the body is transformed uniquely through Hatha Yoga.  Transforming the relationship to the body is pivotal to the spiritual journey.  To be comfortable dealing  with the body as things arise is a form of freedom. 

It is worth reading the stories of the great jivanmuktas of India – as this unique relationship to the body is frequently demonstrated to their followers.  There are many validated tales of Neem Karoli Baba, Ramana Maharshi and others taking disciples disease states into their own body, and by transforming the disease themselves leaving the disciples body healed and whole.

In practical terms in our Hatha Yoga practices a transformed relationship with the body points to an opportunity to shift our yoga experience from confining to liberating.  Through directing how we interact with the body via our thoughts and beliefs while on the mat, we lay the groundwork for a different life with the body.  Some practical tools to begin transforming the relationship with the body:

  1. Om – Om always resolves unclear thinking.
  2. Tune into sensation rather than labeling.  If a knee hurts in postures breath and observe and feel.  But I avoid going into the realm of “there is something wrong” or even “pain”.  I also don’t push it away.  The recommendation would be to stay present with it without developing a story about it.
  3. Make the breath primary and layer the body experience on top of that.
  4. Practices turning the mind towards breath or Om, love or devotion, as you practice.

The tales of beating death are glamorous and enticing. For today we can understand this idea of transcending death is really about changing our experience of time, and our relationship to the body.  This opens the doorway to  understanding and living our lives in a new, less restricted way.

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