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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Santosha (contentment)

An attitude of contentment (santosha) gives rise to unexcelled happiness, mental comfort, joy, and satisfaction. ||42||

In Marin County/San Francisco we are now at exactly 20 weeks since the first day of the shutdown.  That is a very long time, and much has happened in those five months.

One of the teachings of yoga which has become a bit controversial these days is a practice called Santosha.  In that practice, the yogi assumes that everything is perfect as it is, and goes about making living their life in that way.

Here is the underlying principle.  If you react to something you do not like, it creates a condition, a likelihood that that the condition will stay the same, or keep repeating in the life.  By choosing to look at everything as perfect, the yogi plants a seed for everything to unfold perfectly.  Here is an example (and I’m not saying this is true or not true, it’s just a hypothetical example)

During the shutdown, many people who live their lives with relative freedom experienced, maybe for the first time in their lives, a degree of oppression that prevented them from walking down the street, eating where they wanted to, going to church, hanging out in a bar, earning morning.  Whatever it is.  Everyone had a different experience of this, and many felt oppressed.  In that oppression minds were opened to understand a little better what life feels like for those who live in perpetual oppression.  We had a big shift.  Things may not be resolved as of yet, but there was definitely a shift.  So the yogi, understanding that everything is perfect, knows that only a shutdown  of this magnitude would have created the pressure cooker in which so many  minds and hearts could be changed.

On a more personal level it’s useful to look at where we each are right now.  What happened for us?  What shifted?  In those shiftings, what opportunities were created?  Sometimes we just have to train ourselves to see them.

Long before I practiced yoga, a very savvy NY recruiter was sending me out to interview for paralegal positions in some of the fanciest law firms in New York City.  Good pay, great benefits.  She also sent me to this tiny little firm, two attorneys, just hiring their first patent clerk.  I saw an opportunity.  She was astounded.  It turns out that she just included them because she knew one of their daughters.  They taught me so much about patents at that little firm, and it served me well for years to come.  Things are not always what they appear.

So, in yoga, the maximal push of a posture is not always the means to the biggest result.  On one level, when we first start, that’s how we “feel”  progress.  But in yoga the subtle shifts are sometimes the most powerful.

संतोषातनुत्तमस्सुखलाभ

saṁtoṣāt-anuttamas-sukhalābhaḥ

From the practice of contentment, one obtains unsurpassed comfort and joy.

Stability and Joy Revisited

“Yoga is the process of dehypnotism”  Shri Brahmananda Saraswati

This month the underpinning  ideas of our practices were stability (shtira)  and  joy (sukkah), as embodied in parivritta trikonasana, the Rotated Triangle.  We nurtured a balanced and activated foundation in the legs and feet, which provided the opportunity to then “reach out” with the upper body, leading with the heart and extending out into the world around us.  In practice on the mat it can be just that simple – an intention to connect to planet earth well, and an intention to extend that experience of connectedness (which is love)  into the world around us. With patience, the body will follow where the mind leads. 

Here is the crown jewel in all of this.  The stability and joy doesn’t really need to be cultivated at all. They are already within you, waiting to be revealed.  They are aspects of your true nature, svarūpe. The experienced yogin stands in their true nature.  To stand in one’s true nature is to be yoked (yoga’d!) to your essence.  Our ability to root our feet, activate our legs and extend our hearts and our arms will reflect how well we are yoked to our true nature in any moment.  The more we are yoked to our true nature internally, the more we will experience joy which creates activation, extension and rootedness in a posture.  It is a process.  For most of us, still buffeted by the fluctuations of our minds, there will be a fluttering throughout any posture when the stability fluctuates. 

A friend recently pointed out the degree to which the current state of affairs on planet earth is surfacing our shadows and much projecting on one another is occurring.  It is a prime time to become aware of our inner stability.  The media and perhaps those around us are posing powerful influences.  Using a wide variety of means to manipulate the stuff of our minds, they bombard us with opinions, accusations and suggested terrors.  We all have ways of dealing with this.  I have a friend who seems to be immersing herself in horror stories.  Catharsis!  The fear is expelled, but the conditioning of  vulnerability remains.  Yoga suggests, instead, that we dehypnotize ourselves through the process of unplugging from externals and plugging instead into the reservoir of peace and joy which is accessed through the silence in our mind.  Yes, we can stay connected to  peace with our eyes open, even when a disagreement is going on.  That is the power of yoga. 

So how do we practice this?  Self-observation.   The moment we catch ourselves fluctuating, we stop and make it a point to detach from what is coming at us from the outside and anchor in to something inside.  We develop a habit.  Say that someone around you does not like your political stance or your mask choice.  They direct angry energy at you, it is quite intense.  For most of us the first reaction is likely to be retaliation.  Any action we take which emerges from the small self will have limited effectiveness.  The actions we take while connected to our inner resources will have limitless effectiveness.  If I’m not anchored in myself and I shout back, I may get the person to go away for a while, but it’s likely to be temporary.  The same issue will arise again.  If instead we choose to stand silent in our truth, extending love all the while, our actions will extend out to hearts and minds and in ways we cannot see.

Consider taking the knee (a graceful and magnificent gesture of support and love) vs. burning down  a building.  The first extends love and changes hearts.  The second inspires nothing and demands a retaliation.  Taking the knee is an expression of svarūpe.  The first is a manifestation of fear and disconnection.  There are those who would like us to remain forever fluctuating, buffeted and hypnotized into fear and submission.  Yoga teaches that we can break away from that influence and choose to stand in love, instead.  In that breakaway our inner freedom is ensured.  Only Love is truly sovereign.  Only love (in all it’s flavors, truth, joy, sweetness etc.) is svarūpe.  We can train ourselves to choose and we can train ourselves to be steady in remaining unplugged from  external influences.  (and by the way, we can train throughout every day, not just in the big events.  Lakshmi, the cat who lives with me, forever tries to press me to be at her beck and call at all times.  It is a herculean effort to stay connected within and take care of everything else which needs to be done!  But I grow stronger and her efforts to communicate become more skillful all the time. 

Ha—tha—-Yo—ga

“….the Kula Arnava Tantra states [that the] the ultimate purpose of Hatha-Yoga, which is God-realization, or enlightenment, here and now, in a divinized immortal body.  This is often expressed as the state of balance or harmony (samarasa) in the body, when ordinarily diffuse life energy is stabilized in the central channel.  This idea is present in the term hatha yoga itself, which is esoterically explained as the union (yoga) between “sun” and “moon” the conjunction of the two great dynamic principles of aspects of the body-mind. “  Georg Feurstein, commenting on the Kula-Arnava Tantra, in the Yoga Tradition (1998)

This sums it up!!

Here are many words which describe the potential of a yoga practice, all of which reflect the culture and time in which they were said.  In an age of skepticism (now), few are enticed to the mat for something like “God-realization”.  What does that even mean?  “Divinized immortal body”.  We have bionics, why do all the work of hatha yoga?  So, let’s step back from the words of the Georg, and uncover the essence of this.  The yogi attains a magnificent state through the alchemical combining of two opposites into one presence in which opposition ceases entirely. Let’s consider that the opposition never really existed.  The body and mind were always one, the left and the right were always two parts of one body, but some how we experience ourselves as fragmented.  When we cease to swing from one polarity to another, we will function optimally.  In any moment, to function optimally would be to outperform any previous and similar circumstance.  In other words, evolution.    When we cultivate honoring balance and harmony on and off the mat, the best aspects of ourselves will shine through our physical form:  emotional and relational depth, creativity, wisdom and innovation of all kinds.  Whatever our field of endeavor, yoga practice with a mind towards balance and harmony expands what we are capable of. 

We’ve been in Shelter in Place for 15 weeks now.  In the months before the shutdown, I’d left a long term, very exhausting job, and unexpectedly found myself teaching yoga again.  I was a substitute teacher.  I taught enthusiastically through the holidays, stacking classes with abandon, sure that when the holidays were over the intense need for coverage would diminish.  It did not.  My base camp was a tiny yoga studio in the Inner Richmond, San Francisco.  Sometime in February people began to get sick.  Teachers, students, front desk staff one by one being taken mysteriously ill.  The studio ran out of substitute teachers and I was working my ass off.  I was chugging along thinking everything was fine, I was rising to the occasion!  I’d lost my center.  On March 17, 2020 when Marin Country went into Shelter in place, I took to my bed, tired beyond having the energy to question or fear what was happening.  I never got sick.  I was exhausted. 

It’s 15 weeks since the shutdown.  Today, I made a new recipe for lunch.  Everything was calm –  the bounty of colors and smells as I tossed the ingredients one by one into the pan drew me deep into the present moment.   I realized that I was in balance for the first time in a long time.  It took 15 weeks of solitude, nurturing and yoga for me to return to my center.  It amazes me that it took that long.  Compared to many modern American lives, my life is pretty balanced.  Today was a day of focus, accomplishment, giving and nurturing.   The point is, when we go out of balance, the rebalancing may call for  some awareness, some presence and some time.

What do I notice in this new state of balance? After all, each time we rebalance we land in a different place.   I’m aware.  Aware of how I am standing, alert to the smells, sounds, sights and tastes of the world around me.  It’s easy for me to respond to the neighbor who asks for a little of my time.  Laughing comes easier, and so does hope.

An imbalance can sneak up on us.  First, we are doing a little more of one thing and then another.  Before you know it, we’ve lost our center.  While a “divinized immortal body” may seem remote to us, the fragility that arises when we become out of balance is familiar to just about everyone.  When we are in balance, we are strong and resilient.    Balanced here refers to resting our attention, awareness and presence inside of ourselves, rather than having our attention pulled by ten thousand things.   Or in the language of Mr. Feuerstein, “ordinarily diffuse life energy is stabilized in the central channel.”  Classically this is done in meditation, but our waking lives are reflections of those inner energies, and the inner energies are reflections of our waking lives. When we are centered our attention is broad enough to hold the awareness of all the facets of our lives while we stay stably rooted in our own awareness.   

It’s a superpower, to choose where and when to give your attention to something, and to choose to stay focused when the guy next door is using his chain saw.  It’s a superpower to cultivate the skill of harmonizing the body and staying well.  It’s a superpower to not be buffeted by the fluctuations of the world around us.

There are many approaches to harmonizing the body  and reclaiming our center in the yoga practices.  What I consider the most useful, is to  just begin with the structure of a given posture.  The weight balanced between both feet. This weight distribution will, in turn balance our channels, right and left, or in classical practice the sun and the moon.  If we practice just this, with consistency and detachment the sense of fragmentation dissolves as our central channels are awakened.  We begin the movement towards a deeper level of potential and fulfillment.

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