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.

Vinyasa

A Compilation of commentaries from newsletters sent to students during the moon month

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Putting It All in Place

Sunday is a workday for me.  Two days of my week are dedicated entirely to creating content, planning classes and workshops, marketing and visioning – to building a scaffolding for the life that I want to be creating.    A workday, but it’s the day I get to flex my entrepreneurial muscles and work towards my own personal vision.  I had plans of everything that I would get done.    I work up early to get started, and when I woke, I knew – I just knew – that the time had come to rearrange the furniture.  Distraction or meaningful digression?  I didn’t know.  But I knew I needed to do it.  And so I did.  I spent the day sweeping away the dust which had accumulated under the desk and reflecting on the feng shui of it all.  Not deliberately forcing the placement of objects in the magical feng shui areas but noting the call of my heart to place an object here, or there, or to carefully dust off a beloved memento.  When I realized how late in the day it had gotten and how many things still needed

to be put in their place, I began to chastise myself about how I had “wasted” my time.  But then my eyes took rest on a yet to be placed object, and I recalled my planned subject matter for the month.  Vinyasa.  While Vinyasa is a term commonly used to refer to a general kind of flowing with breath in the yoga practice, the word itself breaks down into vi and nyasa.  Nyasa I understand this to mean placing something, and the vi confers a sacred intentionality. To place even a tiny object, like a thought or a wish intentionally is a very very big deal.  Mostly I understand this on the basis of my practice.  Not the how, but what was reveealed through practice embedded in spacious understanding.  This month we invoke into our practice a little energy of the elements of conscious co-creation revealed in vinyasa practice.

I was first introduced to this concept at the Jivamukti Yoga School, where Vinyasa is brought together with Sutra III.52 from Patanjali’s  Yoga Sutra to form the basis of a philosophy of vinyasa sequencing.

क्षणतत्क्रमयोः संयमात् विवेकजंज्ञानम् ॥५२॥

kṣaṇa-tat-kramayoḥ saṁyamāt vivekajaṁ-jñānam ॥53॥ Swami Vivekananada

PYS III.53 Through samyama on a particle of time and that which proceeds and succeeds it comes discrimination.

(Translation by Swami Vivekananda –>>)

This sutra is carefully placed at the end of the third pada, or foot, or maybe even step of Patanjali’s technical manual on yoga.  By the time we are this deep into the practice, we have entered the realms of mysticism.  The experiences encountered are multidimensional and beyond language.  But discernment is all about choice, and so the process of practicing this very deliberately, the movement into a conscious placement, the awareness of where we were and where we are going leads us to a place of clarity about how we are moving forward in life.  As always, the yoga illuminates an experience on and off the mat.  It brings us to a place where “going with the flow” and deliberate action are united, yielding conscious intentional movement.  It brings us to a place a conscious creation in conjunction with the power and love of our wisdom selves.  And that is a very powerful position in which to find ourselves.  Which brings me back to rearranging the furniture.  Sometimes, when I’m following

that luminous inner guidance, I am guided to do the most illogical things, but as I move forward with and in alignment with that higher guidance, like today, I find myself in some miraculous place that I could never have arrived at with my intellect, both eternally and in the physical realm.  As we moved through the chaos of the past 18 months or so,  I took a thousand conscious steps forward with guidance and this is where I landed.  I was so busy that I couldn’t adjust my environment to how my life was changing, and now, as I look around my little studio, I realize that it’s now the perfect set up to support where I am now, as I conscious craft where I am going, and I’m looking forward to the inevitable surprises contained in the perfect placements.  What will emerge in this newly reshaped environment I am living in?


Where Vinyasa Begins – Intention

A long time ago when I began to practice yoga vinyasa, one day during practice this thought arose ….this must have something to do with surfing…that riding of the waves of breath and movement.  I sensed, that there was some common element physically.  I found out soon there after that the first “landing” of yoga vinyasa in America was in the surfing communities of Hawaii and California.  The connection between the two disciplines, I felt, must have been mula bandha.  Mula bandha is a physical lift of the pelvic floor which allows one to balance while moving.  Esoterically mula bandha is associated with the practice of inner alignment, to direct one’s energy towards the highest possible levels of mystical consciousness.  It is a practice which leads to tremendous clarity.  We don’t need to go into deep resonance with the sacred to know this, if you’ve even done a few rounds of sun salutation, you know that clarity emerges quickly with such a practice.  While there is a physical component of mula bandha, the activation of it on the level of consciousness is achieved only through intention.  The physical activation of the pelvic floor wakes the energy up.  The direction of our focus will determine where the energy goes.  There is no right or wrong about the directing of energy, but I think it’s good to know that our results will very much be determined by  the direction of the energy.  In true vinyasa fashion this idea is circular, our intention . will determine our focus which will determine the direction of the energy which will then create a result which will influence our intention and so forth. The most important moment In our yoga practice is the moment we override inertia and consciously go about choosing a direction.

                   In the classical schools the only intention considered potent enough to activate the bandha was  desire to know God.  The aspirant would begin each practice bowing down to God and the Guru who represented God in form.  In America this intention became softened somewhat to offering the good of our practice to others, a classic Buddhist practice.  The energetic result is the same because the energy is directed towards something beyond our personal needs.  It’s uplifted.  In recent years in America the practice of intention has shifted again, now to honoring ourselves and good self care.  Good self care is essential to a yoga practice, but as an intention it can keep you anchored in what you need, rather than your most illumined potential. Following Patanjali’s formula we know that what we focus on grows.  We don’t want our needs to grow. The heart of the yoga practice is to transcend our needs and fulfill our potential (hence the complex landscape of renunciation practices which have historically defined the practice).  Deprivation is undesirable and not effective.  But to direct our intention higher than our needs is to up-level our capacity for living.  But even this requires some conscious consideration. We need to be aware of what we are intending.

                    To offer oneself as a vehicle for the divine may result in a role where you are the deliverer of blessings hard truths.  An important, but not always fun role.  An intention to serve may yield gracious and elegant opportunities to serve others, but you may have to deal with constraints on your self expression or ability to make decisions.  To intend to know true compassion may inspire you to give away your last dollar.  To intend to align with the most magnificent and expanded vision of your divine sacred infused snowflake self (no two are alike you know) well….that may lead you on your own magnificent divine journey which may include being compassionate in your own unique snowflake way.   It’s nothing we need to fear.  The point is to be awake and clear in the creative opportunity that Vinyasa presents.  Vinyasa, broken down into it’s parts is to place on purpose.  To place a purposeful intention at the beginning of our practice and then to consciously observe our ability to focus as the moments arise and fall in the practice is to take ownership of the power of asana in a whole new way.   Intending a practice is frequently invoked in yoga class, which is good.  Then it is up to us to discern the best way to use that opportunity.


What to Say About Vinyasa Om

This is the second time this year I felt called to teach about vinyasa, and both times when I went to write, words eluded me.  As this month unfurls practicing, contemplating and teaching vinyasa I come to a place where silence feels best.  Vinyasa, after all, in body or spirit is an experience.  But, it’s my job to teach and if  the only communication which occurs in teaching and learning is silent, so be it.  But there is a place for speaking about breath, movement, intention, purposeful placement and continuous focus on the past, present and future.  So we know, somehow this is not just about our bodies.  If we are spacious enough in  our practice through our practice we come to know that our placement in this moment in the spectrum of time is no accident, and through our conscious intention we can influence where we land in the days to come.  An intention for kindness, for generosity, for clarity and peace, cooperation and good relating can do wonders in transforming our life experience.  Today we’ll just experience, continuity of moment by moment movement through past, present and future on our mats.

Make it Easy on Yourself, Trust the Process

“But, whether the form be perfect or imperfect, the Being of the form is perfect [wisdom] power, substance, and intelligence.” The Life and Teaching of the Masters of the Far East, David T. Spalding.

I was married in my early thirties to an academic, a social scientist.  I’d been raised by a father who was protestant farmer turned highly successful businessman, a capitalist.  His advice to me when I was growing up was that I could have whatever I wanted if I worked hard.  My husband the academic found this very funny, as he observed me struggling to climb my way up the corporate ladder.  “You think hard work will save you.  This is a faulty philosophy.” I resisted his analysis, but I never forgot it, and as the years went by realized that there was some truth to it.  Shortly before my father passed away I spoke to him about my occupational struggles and he said, “Well, I guess I just got lucky.”  These days, I understand that perhaps success is a result of combination of things.  I have accepted the idea that it really isn’t hard work alone.  My ex-husband would have broken down the various obstacles to receiving (or not) rewards for hard work as some combination of class and economic oppression.  This may be true from a certain perspective.  But there are those, like my father, who successful slip through all those obstacles and find themselves successful, sometimes wildly unexpectedly, as in his case.  From the yoga perspective, whether on the mat or off, the key to successful navigation of the complex landscape of our lives is a combination of focus and spiritual alignment, or steadiness and spacious, or stability and ease – all these being expressions of the dynamic play of the opposites threaded through the universe and managed through the practices of yoga.  This month we are contemplating the idea of sukha (or comfort, ease, sweetness, joy) which Patanjali, a well-respected ancient sage and expert in yoga, advises is a key component of a successful posture.  One key to bringing sukha into our practices on and off the mat, is to identify  where we make things harder than they are, and let go of that. 

One of the first things we can get hung up on is doing the posture “right”.  Doing the posture “right” is very hard work, and well, there isn’t a lot of agreement about what is “right” in a posture.   Even the shapes themselves change in time.  If we try to get all the details “right” we can end up working too hard prematurely. We might be better served to consider just doing a posture well – meaning, weight balanced, reaching in all directions of the body equally, being present in  our bodies and breathing.  You will get there.  In time, the details will fill themselves in.  You will grow from feeling your feet on the ground, to feeling your toes and your navel and your shoulder blades.  The body will wake up through breathing and quieting the mind.  We don’t have to think about the postures.  We feel them and do them.

Another thing we can get hung up on is unrealistic expectations.  I remember taking Bikram classes in New York City.  Bikram had a standard set of instructions that the teachers memorized.  One of the instructions was to touch the top of your head to your toes in seated forward bend.  I yanked and pulled and sweated for years until finally one of the teachers said “Maybe two people in the world can get their head to their toes.  But we show up and we do our best and we benefit just from that.”  I lightened up on myself a lot of after that and my postures lightened up as well.

Another way a person could work too hard in asana would be expecting that our progress would unfold in a straight line.   It seldom does.  Yoga brings into alignment infinite aspects of our being.  Sometimes regression in one area (say the physical) brings progress in another area (say, the spiritual).  In the school where I studied the folklore was that if you injured yourself it was a call to meditation and a change in the quality of the  relationship with the body.  Indeed.  Becoming comfortable and easy in our practice is partly about allowing those fluctuations in experience without resistance.  We soften into spaciousness around the moment and open to what needs tending to.  Sometimes we soften the  physical effort and discover that there is a subtlety in the body that we are invited to tend to, say, microscopically adjusting the position of our little toe (and then the whole leg shifts). 

Breathing. Feeling.  Being.  Maybe this is the essence of sukha, to remember that we are not working machines, made to be constantly doing, but that we are breathing feeling whole beings  meant to be living and unfolding gently, powerfully and lovingly into an experience of magnificence which is unimaginable but ever present, like the blossoming of a flower. 

Oh, and, when my father passed away he left me a little bit of money.  I was getting nowhere in my corporate ladder climbing and so I followed by heart and stopped doing those late nights at the office and attended a yoga teacher training.  Surprise, surprise, when the year ended and I graduated from teacher training  I was rewarded with a raise and a promotion at my corporate job.  They were pleased at how I had changed.  Hmmm….

Trust the process.  Trust the process of yoga.  Maybe it is all easier than we think. 

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Surrendering into Power

We’ve been dancing around the practices of kriya yoga: Tapah, Svadyaya, Ishwara Pranidhanani.  They are central to the practice of yoga, on and off the mat. They are embodied in trikonasana and they are a simple doorway into the deeper dimensions of the practice.  These three building blocks of the yoga practice can be loosely translated into English as: effort, self-reflection, and surrender. Ishwara Pranidhanani, so-called “surrender”, may appear to be the antithesis of power. The translation of surrender, carrying as it does the connotation of defeat, may bear a coloring of sacrifice.  A closer examination yields a different point of view.  Surrender is required anytime we are invited to step up our game.  Ishwara is the “one beyond form “ and “Pranidhanani” is to bow down to.  The bowing down is not to make oneself less than, but rather to soften our rigidity that we might be transformed into something greater. .  The formless quality of Ishwara allows us to utilize any variety of divine entity or quality in our practice   Think: caterpillar, butterfly. It is that simple.  What do we wish to transform into?  Practice reveals that Ishwara Pranidhani is the most powerful of the three practices as softening our rigidities opens the door to great fullness of our being. This is great power, albeit of an inner sort. When we relinquish the struggles and conquests of our limited personalities, the spiritual power of our connection to source is moves through us, transformation occurs.  We all know our best relationships occur when the two of us together are better than each of us alone.  This requires a little softening.  It requires a little alchemy. It invites us to get out of our own way so to speak. This moment is about relationships, healing occurs when the us and them dissolves.

Ustrasana, camel posture, embodies this.  Our personalities and sense of conventional power are seated in the third chakra in the solar plexus, the heart resting right above this.  Relinquishing the tight hold of our personal power in the solar plexus region invites the flowering at the heart center.

Finding OurSelves – losing ourselves

Finding OurSelves – losing ourselves

We’ve spoken in these posts about yoga in terms of “yoking” or joining with, our higher self, God (dess), love or truth.  We’re always going to join with something.  Most of us are joined, intimately, with our personalities and the conditioning from our past experiences.  The yoga practices are designed to liberate us from the confinement of those identities, opening up fields of possibilities which are obscured by those limited perspectives.  The practices open us up to the vastness of our sacredness, our divinity and to an experience of life which is larger than ourselves.  But we live in a field of influences.  As we open up it’s important to be clear in our elevated personal intention. i.e. “I wish to yoke to the greater  creative force of the universe”. Otherwise it is all too easy to find ourselves swept away by a tidal wave of charisma, affection, or illusion.  I believe this is the source of many controversial events in spiritual history.  Participants got involved to find themselves and lost themselves instead.  It can be a very easy thing to do, getting lost.  In order to navigate the fields of liberated consciousness it’s wise to learned to stay centered as you practice (tapah), to develop your self-awareness of your own inner feeling states of consciousness (svadyaya), and to clear that you are surrendering your own restricted consciousness states to a higher consciousness state appropriate for you.

There are numerous techniques to stay centered in your practice.  Two widely used and simple techniques are the focus on the breath and the focus on the third eye center which is between the brows and slightly back.  Both techniques can be used in asana practice, in meditation practice, in bed, standing in line or on the bus.   It can be helpful to learn with eyes closed, but both techniques can be practiced with eyes open.  To focus on the breath, direct your inner gaze to the tip of the nose and watch each breath as you beath in and out through the nostrils.  To focus on the third eye center, direct the inner gaze to a space between the brows and slightly back, and allow it to rest there.  For both practices, the gaze can be directed either by moving the physical eyes or just directing the attention.  When you discover your attention has wandered, just bring it back again.  Try starting with 5 minutes and build from there.

Self-reflection is a perpetual on going process.  It may begin with noting your emotional states, and then deepen into subtler states of consciousness.  Just practice checking in with how you are feeling, and then what you are feeling underneath the feeling with a receptive and gentle awareness.

In the practices of bhakti yoga, practitioners nurture a relationship with what is called their Ishta devata. The Ishta Devata is their preferred form of God (dess), or guru.  Many western practitioners begin by working with Hindu deities they feel an affinity, a guru or or even Jesus.  Mahatma Ghandhi worked with truth.  You can take a quality that you aspire to embody in your practice and work with that.  Then the practice is to allow oneself to surrender into that.  For example, say I aspire to beauty and graceful femininity.   I find a symbol of that…a flower, a book, an image of Venus, and I focus on that, or in my asana practice, I dedicate my practice to aligning with that.  My experience is that it works well if you don’t use other people for this, or you can develop their flavor of the qualities instead of your own.

These practices work best when we hold them gently, training ourselves to rest in our own sacred centers and intentions rather than creating rigid boundary lines which we then defend by pushing the outside away.  Nurtured carefully, gentle centering practices allow us to stay clearly on our own path while opening up, connecting with others and accessing higher states of consciousness.  As the inner doors fly open, we find ourselves within ourselves, rather than losing ourselves in others.

The Forces Within

The Forces Within

In my observations as a yoga teacher all the postures we take, on and off the mat, have a variety of expressions one of which is the reflection of what we are feeling that day.  Some people shift from expression to expression in their postures, trying to find the one that “fits”.  Some people identify with one expression or another and hang out there for awhile until a new idea sparks transformation, or they feel the pain of the imbalance acutely and decide it’s time to change.  The days we live in require a great deal of strength and resilience.  Students thrive when given the opportunity to nurture their strength.  All of the Tadasana based straight line postures (Plank, Chaturanga Daṇḍāsana (low plank), Vasisthasana (side plank), Vrksasana (tree)) invite us to reflect on and move beyond the psycho-spiritual-physical tangles which obstruct our ability to experience the power of our wholeness. 

I always teach plank early in the class.  Why?  Because it tells me a lot about who I’m teaching and what they are in the mindset to engage with on any given day.    Over the years I’ve come across (and experienced in my own body) some common expressions of plank which could be thought of like this:

  1. The Conqueror:  Every ounce of will is drawn forth, the eyes and jaw tighten, the body is wrapped around the posture like grasping onto a twig if  we were falling off a cliff.  The breath is forced or held. 
  2. The Non-Chalant:  A similar determination to conquer the plank, or perhaps the way one feels in that moment, but being aware of the mind body implications of everything, we attempt to look cool.  The face and jaw are relaxed, the will is strong, but maybe the leg or the eye or the arm are twitching out a steady current of subconscious disharmony.
  3. The Dread:  The teacher says plank and there is hesitation (not today!  Do I have to do this today?).  The brows furrow – the face and body droop before even attempting to shift into the posture.  The body shifts forward into the plank and then crumples to the floor under the weight of expectations. 
  4. The Flying Buttock:  Exactly what it sounds like, our tailbone is not in alignment with the rest of the spine and is jutting up towards the sky.  Somehow, it seems to make things easier.  But the dis-alignment interferes with the subtle dynamic of balanced strength which we can cultivate through these straight-line postures.  In other words.  It’s easier, but not the easiest.  It’s a little like contorting yourself to adapt to an intrusive seatmate on a plane or subway.  We hold back a little from our ability to extend out into the world with the flying buttock shape.
  5. The aligned: The alignment comes all together, balanced front and back forward and backward and up and down and right and left and it’s EASY. And it SHOWS. This plank can be held for a very long time, by persons of all ages and appearances of physical body strength. The person inhabits the body rather than conquering it through will. The capacity for strength emerges from inside, not out.

None of these are bad or wrong but they can be invitations to bring a little more yoga into our yoga.  Yoga meaning to “yoke together”  to bring a little more of our inner being into our actions on and off the mat. 

Embracing the spiritual practices of yoga opens us to the exhilarating vastness of possibility.  To integrate that vastness into our lives requires a moment by moment yoking to spirit as we take action.    Breath is the key to this on and off the mat. Breath is a doorway to the subtle realms.  Developing an understanding of balance in the body supports this.  Balance in the body frees us from some of the struggles of the postures and opens an inner spaciousness which allows us to inhabit a physical action and tap into the vast potential of a given moment.  Releasing the external goals allows the body to be aligned by the illumined inner and outer forces, rather than our perceived shortcomings.

To cultivate right effort in your plank  try these:

  1. Focus on the breath
  2. Focus on the balance, which will always be some evening out of two opposing forces
  3. Release the goal – or perhaps the thought of the goal-including your expectations of what it would take to achieve it
  4. Extend in all directions
  5. Repetition and consistency

Practice of an integrated plank posture reveals our capacity to succeed through attention, presence, balance and extension (used in a geometric sense rather than anatomical), allowing us to funnel our spiritual potential into our physical form.  We no longer have to build strength, we become strength.

Open Sesame

It is an extraordinary moment.  Around me, I see those moving through life untouched by the turmoil in the world.  I see others, devastated.  I find myself fluctuating between the two.  Fluctuating is the key word here.  Flux is a substance used in metal joining (Attaching two metal pieces to form say, a ring).  It has a function of purification which facilitates the yoking of the pieces together.  The flux of my life is this moment of heat and challenge.  That process of fluctuating is a purifying one, my doubts, my fears, my worries, my angers are brought to the surface and purged.  In the moment that alchemical reaction is happening I have a choice.  I can identify with the matter which is being expelled or I can release and let it go.  To identify with it will move me away from yoga.  To release it and keep doing the work – allows me to move deeper into the experience of alchemical strength.  The joining of spirit and matter.

Forearm stand is the current focus of my personal practice.  Each morning  against the closed bathroom door, with an eye towards learning to balance in the center of the room, I lift, awkwardly into the position.  The other day I was in a time crunch but wanted to honor my commitment to work on the posture every day.  I flipped upside down and reached my foot back towards the door behind me to press against it and come back into balance and…the door swung open behind me.  What followed was an inelegant dance of flailing limbs and indecision resulting in a sideways crash into two drums, an electronic keyboard and an altar (I have yet to ascend into the level of real estate which would allow me to have a separate room dedicated to my yoga practice). 

It happens. 

But the glory is always there, the divine spark never leaves, and it surfaced a moment later when I picked myself up from the rubble, calmly said “ouch”, reordered the chaos in the belongings I’d crashed into,  and then promptly took child’s posture.   I just knew that any imbalances in my musculoskeletal system from the flailing would be rebalanced in steady breathing child’s pose.  Here’s to agility.  I don’t talk about it much, but I’m 57 years old (just a number of course), and I walked away from this without even a day of pain.  It was all absorbed within minutes.  This is the power of a well-balanced integrated yoga practice.    Agility.  Don’t try this at home!  But just know that when we allow ourselves to go deep in the process of yoga, power emerges in the most unexpected and subtle ways.

The impact surfaced the next day in an interesting way.  Pain?  No.  Restriction?  No.  Imbalance?  No.  But I was unable to lift into forearm stand.  I couldn’t get off the ground at all. 

“I guess, “  I thought, “this is what they mean by a setback.”  I settled into another child’s posture and allowed myself to find peace with that, breathing, accepting, not judging.  Then I proceeded to take headstand, a steady and confident posture for me.  Had I forced myself to keep trying the forearm stand I would have gone into conquest.   I want harmonious union, not conquest.  So, I honored the setback but maintained some ground in the world of the upside down. 

Conquest is exhilarating.  But it doesn’t stand on it’s own.  It requires that you reclaim it day after day after day.  Claiming the same victory over and over.  Harmonious union, with a posture or a life circumstance,  establishes a foundation of creative growth and an expansion of possibilities.  This is why inhabiting the simpler postures with awareness and love deepens our practices so much.  We become one with the shapes that way.  We internalize them and then that wisdom extends into every posture that we do. 

There was a time I learned in life that showing up consistently would change everything.  That became my effort.  Just to show up even if I felt tremendous resistance or fear.  Historically, when a relationship felt difficult, I would avoid and run away.  Showing up did change things.  But it was a fight inside to do that and that conflict continued to show up in the relationships I was trying to show up for.  Something deeper than showing up was called for.  Wholeheartedness was called for.  I learned that I needed to resolve the part of me that wanted to run away to begin with.   Personal resolution opened the door to experiences in relationship in which conflict transformed into love. 

The question then became less about conquering my shortcomings and more about understanding and embracing life as it was. After all, why keep balancing against a closed door when an opened door offers so many un-imagined possibilities?

Moment by Moment

Tadasana, again. 

Tadasana is the simple standing foundation posture in the hatha yoga practice.  It is the beginning and the end.  The atom and the galaxy.  The man in the image above is in a variation of Tadasana. 

Some days, I get on the mat and it just seems like I don’t feel like doing anything.  But, I’ve committed to my practice, and while I definitely have periods of it falling away, I know that the root of the empowerment in yoga is DISCIPLINE.  I’ve learned over the years that forcing myself to do things that I don’t want to do (a very old school idea of discipline) seldom yields a good result.  Instead it generates a deep rift in my relationship to myself.  I am forcing myself to do something I don’t want to do.  That, is not the kind of seed I want to plant.    Perhaps understanding where I am will reveal what my next steps are.  So….Tadasana.

I stand in Tadasana.  I am amazed at how quickly I am aware of the imbalance in my physical body and I question how long I’ve been IN the imbalance and not been aware of it until now.  When I began practicing in 1993, I may not have perceived it so quickly.   My weight is forward in the balls of my feet.  I am projecting myself into the future – which is a fancy way of saying “fear”.  Of course I am.  And at this moment in time, it’s likely that you are too!  In the fast emerging post-Covid economy we are all grasping at a secure future. 

Security can never come from a fear-based foundation – at least from the perspective of yoga philosophy.  Security comes from nurturing a sense of security.  From a yogic perspective that kind of thinking creates difficult scenarios.  Projecting into the future doesn’t place us in the right position to make wise decisions. 

I examine the weight distribution shifting front and back.  The balance point eludes me.  I recognize in the  imbalance, a pattern.  The front right corner of my right foot lifts and weight shifts into my left heel.  What would create balance here?  I consider that Trikonasana, the triangle, provides opportunities to explore the connection to the earth differently.  I have nothing to lose, so I try it, and then back to Tadasana.  The imbalance has diminished, but it’s still not easy to stay centered front and back in tadasana.  I try Vriksasana, tree posture, and my hip emits a little pop.  Back to Tadasana.  Wallah!!  Tadasana arises like a mountain, stable, uplifted and free.    The energy flows through my body and insight arises about why I am here and what I am doing.  I am pulled to meditate and reminded of the power of asana to set the stage for meditation by liberating energy.    Asana nurtures clarity vs. delusion, which is more common that we might think.  It’s been a big day in my personal yoga practice – all emerging from shifting into the “now” of balanced weight distribution. 

Patanjali Yoga Sutra (an ancient text on yoga) sutra 4.33, “The sequential progression of moments is understood at the final end of it’s changes” teaches this power of each present moment as points of creation.  My lived experience of this teaching is that at the end of a series of moments we see how we arrived at a destination.  I’ve found that this arises as a clear vision of every pivotal decision I’ve made which contributed to the outcome that I am experiencing.  When this understanding arises it is always amazing, although not always cheerful.  It’s a way  of owning that we  responsible we are for our lives.   Painful as this may seem, only through this awakening process can we transcend the perception of ourselves as victims, and thus become active creative agents. 

This month we consider moving through transitions in this mindful present tense kind of way.  It’s not that we don’t have goals, I know when I’m transitioning from down dog to plank that I’m aiming for a plank, but it is the way I position myself in each microsecond of that transition which builds the plank that I will find myself in. 

I think it’s no accident that the heroes of the great Indian epics are archers.  Imagine having such a sense of vision of the pathway to a target that you could accurately set up your bow and arrow in such a way that oncoming winds would work in your favor!!  Magnificence!  Our lives are no different.  The present moment by moment awareness of the multitude of choices that we make every single minute of every single day….taking OWNERSHIP of that decision-making power, is a choice of great consequence and a fertile field for creativity.

With love and blessings

Natalie

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