Established in yoga…while moving through it all…

I fractured my wrist at the end of October. The cast came off, December 11. During the time in the cast I floated through time and space, a little removed from life, a little removed from pain, a little removed from sitting with this unexpected event in my life. I did some responsibility taking around that somehow, but generally, I was floated by my spiritual practices in this place beyond time. I didn’t struggle against the weight of the cast to do asana (physical postures) practice, because I understand true healing to take place on the level of consciousness, first. Lots of healing happened on that level, and then the cast came off, and I plummeted back to Earth.  I was back in my body, remembering the accident and the pain, and meeting and seeing the limitation now embedded in my physical body. I was in shock. When I left the hospital and climbed into my car, I burst into tears. It wasn’t victimy. It wasn’t woe is me tears. It was sadness for the whole world, all of us, going through this experience of restriction. It was a visceral experience of the sense of vulnerability of our bodies and the sense of vulnerability to all kinds of forces external to us. This month in my classes we are talking about pratistayam, or to be established in.  In Patanjali’s  yoga sutra Patanjali refers to yoga as a state where we dwell in our true nature and the text builds a pretty good case that where we seem to dwell in the external world is intimately related to where we dwell inside. To make a choice to dwell in our true nature is to become established, and that is to position ourselves in such a way that the impact of external forces on our ability to move through the world is diminished. We become conscious co-creators of our life experience.

When I was in the hospital, initially, after the break, I was there four days. A significant amount of the time was spent discussing pain. This was what the hospital staff worked with me on. The managing of pain. The avoiding of pain. I liked the underlying message which was, you don’t have to suffer pain. I’d spent many years with the belief that I did have to suffer pain. Of course, there is that meme “Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional”. I will say that what when you extract the suffering, it’s no longer pain. It’s just powerful sensation. But therein lies the rub. We have to choose not to sit in the state of mind of our own suffering. Randy, the very kind, bright-natured nurse who was my primary “pain coach” advised, “You don’t want to chase pain.” What does that mean? She explained that it’s very difficult to reduce the pain once you’ve allowed it to take hold. So, the process is to ward it off in advance, in this case by regular systematic taking of meds as the doctors prescribed. Every X number of hours. Isn’t that interesting? Patanjali advises the same thing. He says future suffering is to be avoided. And I think it’s good to note that Patanjali is not just one guy with one idea, but he organized all the information from what people who were practicing in that day were doing so, you know, it’s not the kind of information that gets outdated.

So if future suffering is to be avoided, how is this done?  Yogically, there are a number of different interpretations of what that means but for today let’s just consider that part of it, avoiding future suffering, is that we train ourselves through asana pranayama meditation and good old fashioned discipline to stay anchored, to stay established in our true nature. Part of that training is learning to catch ourselves when we are not in our true nature. Randy advised that pain was a tricky thing. In my post cast life I feel what she meant. It’s random and it’s stubborn – arising with no apparent logic. Although, the mind will try to give it logical source, ‘I ate french fries yesterday and must be inflamed’. But then one might notice the pain lingers long after the french fries are gone. 

The time came last week to remove myself from painkiller killers. You can’t really take Tylenol or aspirin, in large doses, forever. I’d left the high-octane painkillers behind while still in the hospital. There are herbs and there is homeopathy. Last week I began physical therapy and what I didn’t realize was how painful the process of rehabilitation would be. I’ve spoken before here about the releasing of fascial tissue and trauma stored within it. Now I’m living that daily and an important side note – when fascia is releasing you relive the pain of the trauma itself. Medicating at that point is thought to interfere with the release process. On some level, you have to feel it to heal it on the level of consciousness.

Just transcending just moving out of the place of awareness of the pain

might support psychological health in the moment, but holistically transforming the pain creates a more integrated healing. About three days into my PT exercises a return to a generally full asana practice, as I lay down to sleep, my whole arm caught fire with pain. It was clearly a fasica release, as I could feel the impact traveling through my body, as it had at the moment of the accident, dull but shocking. I already taken my herbs for the day. That was it. I was left with chamomile tea and deep breathing, as my only recourse. “I’ve entered the world of pain.” I thought, knowing that millions of people abide there full time. Now, I have some inkling of their experience, and I am awed by it. What that must be like to live there, in pain, through your whole body, all of the time. I think to myself that I don’t want to live in the world of pain. So as I breathe deeply and consciously, I effort to reorient myself to be situated, established, not in the pain, but in the calm center I have touched many times over my years of practice. Pain is tricky. It is seductive and magnetic and absorbing. This requires some effort.

But I really don’t want to live there. I chose to dwell in my true nature. The pain is not receding, but it ceases to be me. And instead, the sensation becomes an experience I am having. It sounds like splitting hairs. But when I pull myself out of the pain experience, it’s just another experience. I know that there is some experience within me at all times, that is not pain, and that somehow I will find my way to dwell in that space. I woke up the next morning amazed that I slept. Funny that, right? We think a billion bucks is the goal but how valuable is a good night’s sleep? The big deep pain of that evening is gone, but it still comes and goes both emotionally and physically as I reclaim the use of my arm as part of the whole of my body – and work to expand my reach. And now I feel really connected to a whole new level of this pratistayam thing – to master being able to sit in that calm sweet place as I deal with the challenges of the world. The practice becomes a a deeply essential life skill to have. It’s been very exciting. I was able to use my left hand to take some vitamins yesterday. And that was a big leap. And I’ve enjoyed creating sequences without the Down Dog for the time being. No plank, no Chaturanga. And a world of creative movement has opened up too.  My treatment goal is down dog. Okay, so two months ago, right before the accident I was jogging and doing a forearm stand and enjoying the process of reclaiming each little step. And now and then, I feel a glimmer of hope that maybe, just maybe, my yoga practice will evolve into such a grand adventure, yet again.

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.

Are you ready?

The heart of the yoga teaching  is that there is a unified essence underlying the spiritual teachings of the world.  There are many paths, and one destination, although each one of us experiences the destination differently.  All spiritual teachings are merely fingers pointing at the moon.  There is one truth which exists beyond the form of any teaching.  The teaching merely points us in the right direction, and through practice and grace the experience of yoga, of union with the divine, is experienced directly. We choose the depth of our exploration, and so  we choose the depths of the empowerment we wish to draw from the practice.  Wholeheartedness and integrity are  never finite.  To be congruent, inside and out, is to discover an extraordinary form of strength.  The seeker becomes the finder when joy and feeling better give way to true self knowledge and empowerment.

The word yoga comes from the root word “yuj” which means to yoke together.  Like an ox pulling a cart, how much easier things can be when another is by our side, yoked to us and pulling the cart with us?  In it’s most essential and authentic form, yoga is about aligning and working together with the divine heart mind, the truth, love itself.  That process of yoking – building that connection – building communication and co-working  as terrains are travelled and burdens hauled, is the heart of the journey.  The working of the relationship  creates the connection.  Alignment with our true nature, is the work to be done.  The healing of the fundamental schism – that experience of being alone and unyoked – is the pathway to coming into our true power, our true resourcefulness, our true prosperity and  creativity, our true identity as love itself.    This experience of wholeness within – our Destination Sovereignty – is available to all who are willing to change their minds and open their hearts.  It is the resolution of all lack, all loneliness, all love longing. 

So how do we begin?

I taught for some time in Central New Jersey, where traffic was, erratic.  One day it would be fine, and the next it would take hours to drive down the road.  When describing how long it took to get somewhere we would say – “It takes a half an hour for travel and a half an hour for the adventure.”  You never knew what was going to happen.  When we embark on a journey it serves us to consider that it will be an adventure.  This way disruptions became scenic detours and delays opportunities to rest.  The spiritual journey is no different.  The only guarantee is that when the journey is over we will not be the same as we were before.  Life is like that you know, but to take a spiritual path, the path of yoga,   is to take the reins and  face the adventure head on.  Old ways will be shed, new ways will be introduced, we will allow ourselves to be melted down and reshaped into more exalted forms. 

So perhaps we should begin our journey to sovereignty by asking ourselves

“Am I ready?” 

Many people at this point are tempted to check out.  As we scan our lives for stability and security we may want to ask ourselves is there is really anything out there we can count on?  If so, maybe it’s not the right time to embark.  But if we are wobbly and uncertain, stressfully buffeted from one way to the other, wishing we had anchor, a secure place to rest our heads, then, we might want to ask ourselves again,

“Am I ready?”

While there are no guarantees, to have a sense of security within ourselves, well, that is certainly helpful, isn’t it?

It is not a question of repeating spiritually what others have done before us, for our adventure begins beyond that.  It is a question of a new creation, entirely new, with all the unforeseen events, the risks, the hazards that it entails–a real adventure, whose goal is certain victory, but the road to which is unknown and must be traced out step by step in the unexplored.  Something that has never been in this present universe and that will never be again in the same way.  If that interests you….well, let us embark. 

From “The Sunlit Path”, Passages from Conversation and Writings of the Mother, Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry, India

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

Thanks for sharing the link http://www.natalieteachesyoga.com or my name whenever you refer to anything presented here.

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.

Why Practice?

My teacher said once “What is the greatest obstacle to practicing yoga?  [dramatic pause] Getting started. “ That is a challenge we face day after day.  It’s not just the first day we practice.  It’s every day.  Sometimes the second class may be the hardest one to get to because after the first class we know that we will change if we continue to practice.  What then do we draw on to get us past that point to the mat for the second class?  Or the 10,000th class?  Faith.  Faith in what?  Faith in the practice of yoga.  Faith in the practice of yoga how?  Faith that something good may come of our practice which would be worth the effort.  Faith that something good will happen in spite of all the disappointments we may have faced. Faith that yoga might help us to find something, something beyond the fringes of our current understanding of the way the world works, that might help us to live in the world more easily.  Nurturing our curiosity brings us to the first class, nurturing our faith helps us to continue the practice.  How do we nurture our faith in yoga? 

In the days when I began my yoga practice, my teachers drew on the stories of the enlightened masters of the old schools.  I understood that yoga brought about a state of liberation.  Upon deeper investigation and searching I learned those states of liberation often involved removing ones consciousness entirely from the material world and dwelling in absorption with the divine.  It was a sexy, titillating idea peppered with promises of deep bliss states.  After years of practice, I fell into questioning this.  While I’d never attained the exalted states of the Jivanmuktas (the ones who attained this exalted state) I had experienced enough connection to the divine to have experienced detachment from the material world.  Big deal, I thought, I still have to go back into the material world, pay my bills and deal with difficult people.  So, I left that goal behind and continued to ask myself, what is this yoga for?  After so many years spent in practice I couldn’t give up.  That is when things began to change, and a deep teaching it was. 

I went back into the world of work, inhabiting job roles I found oppressive and navigating social and economic hierarchies which were not always kind.  Here is what I found.  The disciplines of yoga had freed me.  Physically I was still entangled in these roles and hierarchy but my mind was free….most of the time….free to choose who I wanted to be in that moment and by that I meant how I wanted to respond to the aggressive or unkind environment. 

There was no overt breakout that occurred.  It was subtle and gradual.  If my employer said something which hurt my feelings, I felt I could detach my attention from the pain and direct it to something useful.  Completing the tasks at hand which would provide useful skills for a better position.  In the unkind social hierarchies I could keep myself from retaliating for longer and longer periods of time and later detach enough to exit those social circles all together.

My focus developed in such a way that I could apply a healthy balanced measure of discipline to my day – allowing me to consciously own the power of a moment so I could focus on creative activities long before neglected.

But most of all this freedom which emerged from the disciplines of yoga opened the door for me to choose to be different.  Instead of feeling like I was stuck in  a role I hated I could choose to move in the direction of being someone wanted to be, rather than being condemned to repeat the same story over the over again. 

So the goals look different from how they were lived by the great yoga masters of history,  but the practice and disciplines themselves still proved to have a valid result. 

So what exactly does the process of yoga do?   Done in accordance with the original recipes, with an willing heart and an open mind, the process of yoga breaks down our conditioning.  From the time we were born we were conditioned by schools and governments, our families our friends, the media and our fears , in subtle and deep ways.  Sometimes this conditioning is so deeply entrenched that we are unaware at all that we aren’t seeing what is there.  But it controls our every moment by moment decision. 

So how do we get to our second class?  Faith.  Faith that it will be worth it.  Faith that there substance in the practice which will be valuable.  A good use of your time.  Faith that, while what happens for us may not look like what happens for others, that it will be a good result, aligned with our personal truth.   IN the words of yoga master K. Pattabhi Jois, “Keep practicing, all is coming!”

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. 

Thriving in Balance

I once dated a gentleman who was a practicing Hindu. I was new to yoga, and was not yet deeply familiar with the many Gods and Goddesses, their forms and their qualities. I was kindly disposed in that direction and had some exposure to the religion. His deep swim into the ocean of that exotic and alluring landscape intrigued me. At that time, it was still common, at least in New York City, to see representations of the Gods and Goddesses adorning the studios. Often, there was no indication who they were or what it all meant. Some of them had many arms and carried objects I was unfamiliar with. They seemed to be similar to one another and different at the same time. I felt I was supposed to understand, and I didn’t. So one day I asked him. How many arms do they have? He turned and looked at me like I saw daft and responded, very seriously, “As many as they need.” I didn’t understand and he explained that they were Gods/Goddesses and so they were infinite and so they weren’t limited by a particular form, they could just manifest as many arms as they needed. It remained a mystery until a yoga friend of mine had a child. her husband turned to me one day and said, “Now I understand why the Goddesses have so many arms”. A kind reference to the many roles his wife was now tending to, simultaneously. We all do this in our own way, mothers or not. It’s not surprising that yoga and Hinduism emerged from the same landscape. Just as the Hindu deities appear centered as their many arms swirl around them, yoga practices nurture our ability to stay in our center while reaching in multiple directions to tend to the requirements of a various roles.

It begins with the right and the left. It’s more common these days for a yoga teacher to create a sequence to mix the movements of the right and left side. If you’ve taken such a class you know that the brain skips a beat and you may feel the beneficial effects of being jarred out of the routine flow of thoughts that we each carry around inside of us. No matter how complex or simple the routine, the bottom line is that every yoga practice is done equally on both sides.

Most of the traditional healing arts observe a roadmap of the human anatomy. Yoga is no different. In the simplest of terms you have three primary channels which are very important. We all have a left side channel (the ida) which nurtures the various flavors of interior experience: depression, intuition, sleep, coolness, lunar, yin, the spiritual and the feminine. We all have a right side channel (the pingala) which is associated with various flavors of external states: anger, action, heat, solar, yang, the physical and the masculine. When these two side channels are balanced, the energy is drawn into the neutral third channel which is called the sushumna. When the energy is elevated in this subtle central channel we are transformed spiritually. This is the most fundamental teaching of yoga. Our practice will progress smoothly and harmoniously when we are perfectly balanced right and left, materially and spiritually, neither directing our anger outward or inward but finding resolution, when we nurture both our masculine and feminine qualities in equal measure.

Many times we are tempted in our practice to charge it up in whatever way we can, and then relax. This is great fun to do! But when we are looking towards a long term shift in our quality of life, the practice unfolds with more value when we approach it with an intention towards a state of balance. It can actually be one of the biggest challenges to determine the right amount of effort in a given posture. It requires attention and, consistency can be really helpful in this way. A daily practice helps us to observe what happens in the body as a result of what we have done, and provides the information with which we can identify what we need to tweak to obtain and optimal result. The optimal result being a healthy body which feels resilient and strong and an awake clear mind, unfettered by emotional or mental afflictions. We then dwell a state of balance in the body and the mind, centered on a very deep level.

So, what can we learn from those many armed Goddesses? That being centered is not about pushing away the world. It’s about extending ourselves out into the world. We don’t move our center towards that friend in need, we stay in our center and extend our hand, our good will, our strength. When we extend we share as opposed to giving ourselves over to. It’s subtle, but then some of the most powerful techniques from the yoga practice are saturated with subtlety. In fluctuation subtlety is lost. In balance, subtlety is visible.

So what do we do to stay in balance? We observe. We notice. We stay still a moment before charging forward. We honor process as much as destination. We trust that if we attend to what is here in the moment, that the path with unfold with it’s own wisdom.

Stay High

From:  Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras:

Sutra 1.12:          abhyasa-vairagya-abhyam tan-nirodhah

In Devanagri:      अभ्यासवैराग्याअभ्यां तन्निरोधः

Pronunciation:  abhyāsa-vairāgya-ābhyāṁ tan-nirodhaḥ

Idea:  The fluctuations of the mind cease through practice and detachment. 

Why practice?  Isn’t the practice now to be out on the streets supporting our allies? It is, but our time on the mat is important, too.  I once had a cat named Toshi.   I was an inexperienced cat guardian, and quite frankly, not very good at it.  I never much brushed him, it was boring and I didn’t think he liked it very much.  When the day came when I realized that he was getting older, I felt called to brush him.  We sat for some time together, brushing.  Me, and Toshi the cat.  That day, I had no time for meditation.  I posted something about it on Facebook later in the day and one of my friends said, “No, Natalie, you need to meditate AND brush Toshi.”  My time management was not very good in those days.  Brushing Toshi took precedence.  Everything about Toshi took precedence.  I have to say, when he choose to leave his body, I was so glad that I’d spent all that time with him.  But the decisions I had to make about his well-being during that time, would have been easier had I not fallen off my practice wagon.

A fundamental principle of the yoga practice as outlined in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra is the practice of Abhyasa.  It means to dwell in the experience of yoga.  It also means to be consistent in your practice.  From one perspective, this consistency is about discipline, and the way that a dedicated discipline whittles the frivolous from their life.  From another perspective, there is the dwelling in yoga.  Scratch  below the surface of  the idea of dwelling, and we find that dwelling becomes being established in the state of yoga.  To be established in the state of yoga is to be unwavering in our expression  of yoga’s peace (shanti) in all facets of our lives.  When established in the state of yoga, nothing, I mean nothing, could sway you out of being in alignment with the truth, peace and love that is yoga (so I’m told).  We become established through consistency in practice, over a long time, without veering from our commitment.  We know where we are in our practice when we experience how much or how little it takes for our stability to turn into a wobble. At what point does the emotional turbulence of our minds take precedence over our practice?   We may be attending to the burning fire, but our attendance would be enhanced by the stability our established yoga practice confers.

Being anchored in our peace does not mean that we do not communicate.  The most effective communication unfolds when we are tapped into the higher dimension of ourselves.  If we spend a lot of time on our mats or our cushions, or in deep contemplation of the teachings, then that relationship with our higher self becomes more and more prevalent in our expression off the mat. 

Sometimes, there have been those called to act drastically under divine order.   I never assume that I am called that way.    I know that there have been times in my own life when I spoke harshly to others and I really felt it was something “higher” coming through.  But we cannot really know, so nowadays, I stay anchored in peace to the best of my ability and never presume I am being called upon to judge my brothers or sisters.  I can communicate my perspective, but I do my best not to judge.  I know I never listen to one who is judging me, why would anyone listen to me if I was judging them?

So why practice?  There is enlightenment and self-care and exercise and calmness, but right now I propose we consider the importance of maintaining our practices so that we are stable, non-reactive, loving, and wise.  Established in yoga.  As the miraculous Michelle Obama said, “When they go low, we go high.”  Or we might change that to, “When they go low, we stay high.”  To the best of my knowledge, I have perfected none of this.  But I do reflect on what I have done and have not done.  I check my results.  I do commit to practice and take the high road, to the best of my ability and if I fall I forgive myself.

Keep the love alive,

Natalie

Presence in Practice

From:  Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras:

PYS 1.12:          abhyasa-vairagya-abhyam tan-nirodhah

In Devanagri:      अभ्यासवैराग्याअभ्यां तन्निरोधः

Pronunciation:  abhyāsa-vairāgya-ābhyāṁ tan-nirodhaḥ

Idea:  The fluctuations of the mind cease through the dwelling in yoga and detachment. 

During a recent conversation with a dear friend I became upset and said many regrettable things.  Try as I might to fix it, it cannot be changed.  I’d like to take my words back, but I can’t.  The first of the yoga sutras calls our attention to the moment we turn our attention to yoga.  On one level, the entire text is summarized in that call to the power of our attention.  In practice I found the potency of practice isn’t initially in the focus itself, but in our ability to turn our attention back to our chosen point of focus when it has wandered.  In other words, choosing to turn our attention to practice is a powerful choice. Through our choices our lives are built.  Between each sentence of this paragraph, thoughts of the relationship arises.  Mid thought, I catch myself and return my attention to the sutra about which I intend to write.

As I sit down to write this, the disruption in my relationship haunts me.  In regret I continue to mull the past.  I assess and reassess.  He is not a forgiver; I think.  Neither am I; I think.  My attention flickers to avoiding any place I might run into him.   That would be very inconvenient.  I’m also not sure that it would be the best choice.   I finally decide that it is time to accept that the relationship will never be the same again.  Perhaps, I think at this point, it will be better in some way that I do not understand.  No, perhaps it’s better to avoid.  I grow tired of the fluctuations of my mind and turn my attention to the task at hand.  Writing this post.  My attention turns towards yoga. For a moment only. 

I am attached to what I want this relationship to look like.  To avoid the relationship entirely is to stay attached to what I think it should look like, which, truth be told, was the problem to begin with.  It’s my responsibility to be present to what exists, spaciously.  Not gritting my teeth and enduring, but allowing deep acceptance of how things are, and allowing the transformation that occurs when I get out of my own way enough for the situation to become spacious.

Abhyasa has two flavors   It refers to dwelling in the illuminated consciousness that allows us to see everything clearly and with love (the state of yoga).  It also refers to consistency in practice.  We take aim at a desired state of mind.  We develop spiritual muscle by continuing to turn our attention to the practices which nurture that state of mind, with consistency and discipline.  When I choose to honor my commitment to practice asana (postures) 5 minutes a day, I build spiritual muscle.  When I resist the urge to quit practicing and go have a snack, I build spiritual muscle.  When I forgive myself for skipping practice and show up the next day like I never missed a day, I build spiritual muscle.  Abhyasa, as consistency, is about building spiritual muscle.  In the long run, this is cultivating the strength to live in alignment with our inner truth.  Every time we choose to practice, we are choosing to align with our inner truth rather than external demands.  Through practice, living in our inner truth becomes a lived reality. 

Detachment is a practice of staying aligned with our inner truth, rather than allowing ourselves to be absorbed or repelled by a circumstance, object or person.   As I write this, my attention turns back to the situation with my friend.  The spiritual muscle of Abhyasa provides the strength for me to turn my attention to this article.  As I begin to consider detachment I understand what love would do in the situation.  Before I contemplated detachment, I thought only of what I thought I should do.  But in detachment my heart tells me – Your job now is not just to be present …but to be present in LOVE which is the willingness to be shown what “presence” really is.    Which might just be another way of saying being shown what friendship really is.

Through this we come to know what love really is, and what love really is, yoga really is.

Practice Possibilities;  Honor your commitment to be present in your practice in whatever way you have committed to and for as long as you have committed to practice that way.   Allow love to unfold in your life by exploring the spectrum of avoidance, presence and absorption in your relating this week.  Taking notes will help you remember what transpired.

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