About the body the body  – In time

Hatha Yoga Pradipika Verses 103-104

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For this I rely on my yoga practice.

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

About the Body – Thoughts on designing sequences for personal practice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Elements of Sadhana: Santosha- Contentment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the Body – Alignment

Understanding Alignment — in the body.

“Just tell me what to do.”

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

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

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

Refuge: Commentaries from last months emails

April 1, 2021Refuge in Hatha Yoga

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ENERGY ANATOMY – The Manipura Chakra

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

Yoga at Home

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

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

April 11, 2021

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

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

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

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

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April 17, 2021

Refuge II: Peace in the Body

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love

Natalie

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April 26, 2021

Refuge III:  Refuge in Community

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

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

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

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

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

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Refuge 4:  The Power of Spirit

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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.

The Full Circle of Vinyasa – Transcendence

In its purest form, the Vinyasa experience  is what Patanjali calls samyamah, a synthesis of  forms of concentration which modulate the fluctuations of the mind, in this case, the focus is on breath, movement, intention and internal anchoring in the moment by moment unfolding of time.  The result is that beautiful transcendental physical flow that so many of us admire, aspire to and experience.   In my experience the vinyasa is an inner experience first, an inner experience of moving intentionally through time and space oriented primarily in an anchoring in the wisdom self. 

To understand this brings us to one of Patanjali’s key instructions about yoga, that yoga is nurtured through the practice of abhyasa (practice time spent dwelling in the true nature) or practice dwelling in our true nature, the wisdom self, and vairagya – detachment.  These practices form the landscape from which the classical practices of renunciation arise.  In it’s essential form, renunciation is an inner practice, developed through outer practice.  A simple moment when you soften around a moment of change can teach us a lot about the inner landscape of yoga.  What do we feel as we begin to move, is it sticky?  Clunky?  Awkward or painful?  Or does it flow?  Are we able to be still comfortably or at a different pace, comfortable?  Our capacity to do that is built on practicing this inner spaciousness which arises with practice and detachment.  The experience of and wake from the COVID related worldwide shutdowns has triggered an avalance of change.  Having survived four job changes and a tumultuous presidential election which, last night I found myself cringing in fear at the thought of further changes which will likely be unfolding as we move forward.  Who knows what’s coming?  Cringing.  I was  actually cringing.  And then, like a good dream my years of practice kicked in and I was awash in love and gratitude rather than fear of what was to come.  I am grateful that I was here in this beauty and that I have had the experience of knowing amazing people in my life.  Things may be different for all of us moving forward, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be good.  I find this way of vinyasa-ishly moving through a challenging experience helps me keep it in perspective.  It’s like walking through the streets of the city, any city.  Every neighborhood has it’s flavor and feel and we are just walking through those varying flavors and feels.  An uncomfortable neighborhood doesn’t require us setting up house there.  One the inner level we don’t need to set up camp in an interior landscape of opinion and belief which doesn’t serve us.  Instead we set up our camp in the wisdom self as we move through the discomforts and comforts  of life.  Th

In its purest form, the Vinyasa experience  is what Patanjali calls samyamah, a synthesis of  forms of concentration which modulate the fluctuations of the mind, in this case, the focus is on breath, movement, intention and internal anchoring in the moment by moment unfolding of time.  The result is that beautiful transcendental physical flow that so many of us admire, aspire to and experience.   In my experience the vinyasa is an inner experience first, an inner experience of moving intentionally through time and space oriented primarily in an anchoring in the wisdom self. 

To understand this brings us to one of Patanjali’s key instructions about yoga, that yoga is nurtured through the practice of abhyasa (practice time spent dwelling in the true nature) or practice dwelling in our true nature, the wisdom self, and vairagya – detachment.  These practices form the landscape from which the classical practices of renunciation arise.  In it’s essential form, renunciation is an inner practice, developed through outer practice.  A simple moment when you soften around a moment of change can teach us a lot about the inner landscape of yoga.  What do we feel as we begin to move, is it sticky?  Clunky?  Awkward or painful?  Or does it flow?  Are we able to be still comfortably or at a different pace, comfortable?  Our capacity to do that is built on practicing this inner spaciousness which arises with practice and detachment.  The experience of and wake from the COVID related worldwide shutdowns has triggered an avalance of change.  Having survived four job changes and a tumultuous presidential election which, last night I found myself cringing in fear at the thought of further changes which will likely be unfolding as we move forward.  Who knows what’s coming?  Cringing.  I was  actually cringing.  And then, like a good dream my years of practice kicked in and I was awash in love and gratitude rather than fear of what was to come.  I am grateful that I was here in this beauty and that I have had the experience of knowing amazing people in my life.  Things may be different for all of us moving forward, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be good.  I find this way of vinyasa-ishly moving through a challenging experience helps me keep it in perspective.  It’s like walking through the streets of the city, any city.  Every neighborhood has it’s flavor and feel and we are just walking through those varying flavors and feels.  An uncomfortable neighborhood doesn’t require us setting up house there.  One the inner level we don’t need to set up camp in an interior landscape of opinion and belief which doesn’t serve us.  Instead we set up our camp in the wisdom self as we move through the discomforts and comforts  of life.  Th

In its purest form, the Vinyasa experience  is what Patanjali calls samyamah, a synthesis of  forms of concentration which modulate the fluctuations of the mind, in this case, the focus is on breath, movement, intention and internal anchoring in the moment by moment unfolding of time.  The result is that beautiful transcendental physical flow that so many of us admire, aspire to and experience.   In my experience the vinyasa is an inner experience first, an inner experience of moving intentionally through time and space oriented primarily in an anchoring in the wisdom self. 

To understand this brings us to one of Patanjali’s key instructions about yoga, that yoga is nurtured through the practice of abhyasa (practice time spent dwelling in the true nature) or practice dwelling in our true nature, the wisdom self, and vairagya – detachment.  These practices form the landscape from which the classical practices of renunciation arise.  In it’s essential form, renunciation is an inner practice, developed through outer practice.  A simple moment when you soften around a moment of change can teach us a lot about the inner landscape of yoga.  What do we feel as we begin to move, is it sticky?  Clunky?  Awkward or painful?  Or does it flow?  Are we able to be still comfortably or at a different pace, comfortable?  Our capacity to do that is built on practicing this inner spaciousness which arises with practice and detachment.  The experience of and wake from the COVID related worldwide shutdowns has triggered an avalance of change.  Having survived four job changes and a tumultuous presidential election which, last night I found myself cringing in fear at the thought of further changes which will likely be unfolding as we move forward.  Who knows what’s coming?  Cringing.  I was  actually cringing.  And then, like a good dream my years of practice kicked in and I was awash in love and gratitude rather than fear of what was to come.  I am grateful that I was here in this beauty and that I have had the experience of knowing amazing people in my life.  Things may be different for all of us moving forward, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be good.  I find this way of vinyasa-ishly moving through a challenging experience helps me keep it in perspective.  It’s like walking through the streets of the city, any city.  Every neighborhood has it’s flavor and feel and we are just walking through those varying flavors and feels.  An uncomfortable neighborhood doesn’t require us setting up house there.  One the inner level we don’t need to set up camp in an interior landscape of opinion and belief which doesn’t serve us.  Instead we set up our camp in the wisdom self as we move through the discomforts and comforts  of life. That, is transcendence.

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 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 uplevel 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. 

(c)natalieullmann

The last word on Sukha (सूख) – Joy

We spent a lot of time this month speaking of the cultivation of ease in our lives and yoga postures – sukha.  But there is another essential facet of the sukha experience which in some ways eclipses the idea of ease, and that is JOY.  Joy is key in the yoga practice:  we cultivate it, and the experience of it is the culmination of the yoga experience. 

The Joy referred to in yoga is a spirit rooted, inspired state which arises from within as our practice unfolds It differs from an outward kind of happiness or pleasure in that it grows in stability over time as we become established in our well-done practices, it’s lack of correlation with so-called “happy” experiences in life, and that it emerges from within.  My personal experience, the few times I’ve touched it, is that it’s flavor is truly sweet.

This deeper flavor of sukha is connected with primarily through our cultivation and openness to our inner development and practices, breathwork, devotion to our relationship with our higher power, meditation, and sacred text study.  You may have other inner practices which serve as deepeners in your personal spiritual recipe.  It’s the deepeners which bring us to yogic Joy.  Joy is this form is also met through good service to others.  This doesn’t mean necessarily running down to the local soup kitchen to ladle soup to the homeless, although it could mean that.  It means truly seeking to render service in whatever role you have assumed, whether it be a clerk or the president, a school teacher or a musician.    You may have discovered that joy of this nature is infectious.  If you have ever been blessed by the experience of having your table waited on by someone who is embodying true service…it can almost be giddying to be in the presence of such a person. 

Another aspect of Joy to consider is that when Patanjali (an ancient sage and expert on yoga) tells us in his seminal work “The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali” that our postures should be stable and joyful, he’s advising us that we don’t need to suffer. This is very very important.   Yoga is not a “no pain no gain”.  endeavor.  Everything that yoga has to offer is encompassed in an ever increasing stability in the state of joy. You are  meant to be happy.  The work in the practice though, is the discovery of what happiness truly is. 

May you have a blessed and wonderful week and I hope to see you in class today!  Links below. 

This post is from the weekly newsletter I send out to students, complete with easy links for classes. If you would like to see this in your email once a week, and once more when the new moon month begins, please sign up for my email!!

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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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