About the body:  Empowerment and Ease

About the body:  Yoga and the Parasympathetic nervous system

When we breathe calmly, peacefully, rhythmically through the nostrils, we ignite our parasympathetic nervous system – the relaxation response.  In that mode – many things happen.  Rigid long held stress patterns in the body dissolve, the immune system is nourished and deep healing occurs.  It is also easier to access deeper levels of inner states of consciousness – which allow for different perceptions of the world – for transformation on the level of mind. 

As we take a posture we want to ignite this kind of easeful experience while remaining awake, alert and active.  The more challenging a posture is for us – the more powerful it will be to nurture this kind of breathing.  This is pivotal in transforming our life experience from being a person with a body that is always controlling us – to being a person who has some degree of mastery over the physical and energetic bodies.  It’s important.  

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Paschimottanasa – the Grand Poobah of forward bends. 

(It’s a very, very powerful posture)

Paschimottanasana is a seated forward bend with legs extended straight in front of you.  It’s best if your knees point towards the ceiling so the feet  are neither rocked in nor rocked out.  If you find that you can hardly fold at all – don’t be discouraged.  It’s very common – it’s just no one gets their picture taken if they aren’t touching their toes yet!!  Some find it helpful to bend the knees and rest the chest on the thighs.  You can also sit on the front edge of a folded blanket.

Either your standing forward bends will be easier – or your seated forward bend will be easier.  It reflects certain anatomical tensions in the neck and hips.  If the seated forward bend is stubborn and unchanging, I suggest you work a variety of  standing forward bends first to warm up for paschimottanasana.  The folklore is that  paschimottanasana is about “letting go”  whatever that means.  Let go of what?    I could write a thesis on that…but generally it meant I needed to soften my edges, releasing the fixed ideas that I had about how the world should work.  It involved letting others win disagreements, accepting discomfort, allowing change and opening to possibilities and opportunities in my life that I never would have considered.  It was about choosing ease.  For you it might mean letting go of fear and charging forward by being more active – engaging your thighs or activating your bicep muscles to pull you closer to your toes.  It’s always good to try do so the thing that doesn’t come naturally in the moment.  I feel lazy…activating my thighs (or some other part of my anatomy) may be just thing.  If I’m struggling, then more ease is called for.

The bladder meridian runs down the entire back of the body, so being balanced with water will help as well.  That might mean more water, but it also might mean less water – it’s about balance.

Experimentation is helpful here.  That is a great thing about our yoga postures – they give us data about ourselves that we can use to refine our lives. 

Most of all, like all things yoga, forward bend requires practice -so even if you don’t like it…keep practicing!!

About the Body: The Body as a Communication Device

In the classic medieval text the “Hatha Yoga Pradipika” or The Guiding Light of the Yoking of the Sun and Moon – we learn that in classical yoga, the practice of Hatha Yoga culminates in the body’s resonance with the sound of “Om”.  We are tuned by the practice to a vibration where opposites are united and revealed as facets of one source. That state of unity creates a particular feeling tone. In my experience when that happens, we are feeling the love of the universe within our own form.  To do this, the biochemical aspect of the body requires cleansing (diet and various cleansing practices – the shat karma kriyas – the process of sweating during practice), the musculoskeletal system needs to be toned and balanced, and the energy body, emotions and the mind require discipline and clearing through meditation and sound practices (Om) and adjustments in personal care and ways of relating.  I know it sounds like a lot, but for most of us we do a little at a time, transforming at a pace that is appropriate for us.  The result of this is a clear “sound”.  We can hear it in the sound of our voice.  We can also hear it inside us as our intuition and wisdom become illuminated.  A common test is to listen to your Om at the beginning and end of the class. Or any old time you feel out of tune.  This clarity of resonance or lack there of is key to our capacity to communicate.  If you’ve ever tried to sort things out with a friend when you felt foggy day you know it’s more difficult than  when you are awake and clear.  The body is a communication device – not just with our tongues and mouths, but with our posture, the brightness of our eyes, and our health.  Imbalance in our system is reflected in the body.  And through working with techniques of Hatha Yoga we can bring the system back into balance. 

A good place to start is always the musculoskeletal system. The density of the bones and the memory capacity for the fascial tissue and muscles impacts the balance of the whole body mind spirit system.  So how do we start? 

All yoga starts with Tadasana – or Mountain  -or Simple Standing Posture.  It is so simple and straightforward that every tension is apparent. We just stand upright with the balance of the weight distributed evenly across the soles of the feet, arms alongside the body.  Personally, I never try to force change in Tadasana.  I use it as a measure.  How is my Tadasana at the beginning of practice? What is it like at the end.  Like the Om, it’s often very different, reflecting as greater state of balance and resonance.  Sometimes I’ll just stand in it for a long time and feel the tension patterns surface. 

Those tension patterns can tell us a lot about how we could create positive change in our lives.  There is no formula.  For me it’s always my hamstrings get short and tight and my head juts forward.  Over the years – through spacious self-reflection and input from yoga colleagues – I’ve come to know that when that pattern emerges – some piece of me is not in the present moment.  I’m hanging on to a belief, or perception or way of being that doesn’t serve me anymore.  Often by the time my body communicates something – I’ve been ignoring it for a while.  Sometimes insights about what needs to change will emerge during asana practice, sometimes meditation or the other forms of practice can help to illuminate the issues.  The key is to seek to understand in a receptive way rather than just to fix or overcome and that understanding lays the groundwork for transformation of the body and everything else through my practice.

My newsletter lays a philosophical ground drawn from Patanjali Yoga Sutra 1.40 to work with in conjunction with this blog post. Take a look here: To Know – Results of the Experience of Yoga – https://mailchi.mp/4f8d72e44e70/to-know-yoga-and-the-experience-of-knowing

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About the Body: Navasana:  The Boat that Crosses Samsara

The imagery of yoga is embedded in the understanding of yoga.  On one level the imagery is just about communicating an idea – how to convey an abstract principle in a way that all kinds of students can understand.  On another level it is about communicating technique – something is called what it is called for a reason.  On another level it ignites our spiritual know which supports the execution of the posture. 

One of my favorite examples of the spiritual image of a posture conveying the experience of the posture is  Navasana – boat posture.    In the classical yogic way of looking at life – there is suffering. The practices of yoga, meditation, mindfulness, and the associated behavioral prescriptions are considered a vehicle which can carry us to the other side of suffering – peace, joy and liberation.  The suffering is global and cosmic.  It’s also deeply personal, intimate and immediate. The capacity of the global suffering to land as the personal experience of suffering in our lives is mitigated by our practice of yoga.   The uncomfortable experience may be present, but we don’t experience it the same way when we are well practiced.  Navasana, or boat posture, is an asana where we embody the boat which can safely convey us across the vast presence of suffering in the cosmos to the safe shore of the state of yoga. 

 At its worst, Navasana is a clench your teeth, grin and bear it hold your breath posture.  At its best we lightly balance on our sitz bones, heart lifted, reaching our toes to the sky.   We can aspire to endure the posture or to understand the posture enough to find the lift that will take us across the sea of discomfort that life can be.  It’s a posture that invites us to take ourselves lightly.  

In my experience working with students the key to the posture is the connection of the sitz bones to the earth.  Too far forward, the posture will be more challenging than it needs to be – but notice where the challenge emerges in the body.  It points to an area that may need some awakening  try a combination of strengthening and stretching the area with good breath and attention.  Too far back on the sitz bone the heart closes.   To discover the sweet spot for balance prop yourself a bit.  Sit with knees bent.  Place your hands on the floor slightly behind you.  Lift one foot at a time until you feel comfortable with the action.  Lift both feet, then press your hands into the earth and rock forward on your sitz bones, experimenting to find the spot where it’s easiest to hold your feet in the air.  Lift your hands.

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About the Body: Being Present

Our bodies are fields of vibration.  It’s obvious right? Even though it feels woo.  My teeth are denser than my muscles…that means that they are at a lower vibration.  They are more solid. 

An exercise we can use to experience this directly is to focus internally from the densest to the subtle-est. Bones and muscles,  tendons and ligaments, internal organs and the fascial tissue that weaves it all together, and then the boundary of the skin, then feeling the air on the skin.  You can experiment with this yourself. Don’t hesitate to use your imagination to connect with the various parts of the body. 

This simple exercise is priceless in terms of becoming aware of our bodies in time and space.  Often we aren’t in our bodies! We are thinking about past and future…using the imaginal mind to unfurl stories and memories which exist only in our minds.  – when we open our eyes they aren’t here any more, or they don’t exist yet. 

If you’ve ever attended a Vipassana meditation retreat you may have done a simpler more diffuse body scan to begin your meditation practice.

Bringing our attention, focus and awareness back into our bodies is an essential part of the transformation power of yoga.  As we learn to be present to the body in this spacious non-judgmental way, the emotional wounds the body carries can be healed.  The power of this cannot be overestimated.  Carrying a body full of memory interferes with our capacity to fill our present moments with newness- the fullness of our love our creativity. 

Was this useful for you?  I hope so.  If it was I encourage your to sign up for my newsletter.  Once a week or so …its yoga information and inspiration based.  No sales, but I do share songs I love that might be fun additions to you practice.

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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.

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. 

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.

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.

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