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.

Who we think we are – Asmita

दृग्दर्शनशक्त्योरेकात्मतैवास्मिता ॥६॥

dr̥g-darśana-śaktyor-ekātmata-iva-asmitā ॥6॥

The klesha of asmita, of Egoism, is the tendency to identify wholly with one’s individual self. 

Patanjali, in his Yoga Sutra,  identifies 5 kleshas or afflictions which entrap us.  The first is avidya, or ignorance, which refers to absorption in the material experience, believing that there is nothing beyond our sense experience.  The second is asmita, which is a form of avidya.  Whereas avidya comprises the whole material (physical)  experience within and without.  Asmita is a specific dimension of avidya.  It refers to the tendency to completely identify with our bodies and personalities, ignoring the spiritual dimension of the ourselves. 

Some of the best examples of transcending egoism exist in the stories of the great “Jivanmuktas” or liberated ones of India.  One of the distinguishing characteristics of a Jivanmukta is their ability to demonstrate that they are not bound by form.  In one story told of Anandamayi Ma, a “saint” widely recognized as being fully liberated, she refused to eat.  The pure fast went on for some time, weeks or months.  She was never alone, and her devotees never saw her eat a thing.  Her devotes were concerned and attempted to force feed her.  One day, unexpectedly, she called the devotees, and she begin to eat without ceasing in a single sitting until they ran out of food in the ashram.  She just kept eating and demanding more.  Finally she stopped and suggested to them that they could never fill her as she was as vast as the universe.  It did not matter to her one way or another if she ate or not.  She knew herself as pure consciousness so she was not changed by food or lack of food.

Need Karoli Baba was known to appear in places where he could not have been.  He would be seen in two different places at the same time.  After his apparent death,  he has continued to appear to people all over the world.  Not just a few….thousands and thousands.  He appears to people before they know of him.  In the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, a medieval text written by Swami  Muktabodananda it says that the liberated ones roam the universe.  Free as it were from the limitations of body and mind. 

Liberation from asmita  to this degree is always possible, but for most of us it assumes a more mundane form.  A common example is those described as “handicapped”  who transcend their physical limitations and achieve greatness.  Helen Keller, blind and deaf  since early childhood, lived an abundant, enriched wise public life.    But it also could something as mundane as physical changes to the body (weight loss or gain, aging, physical debilities) do not interfere with your sense of who you are.   Healing from incurable disease, which is more common than  we think, also would be a resolution of this klesha. 

Liberation from asmita or Egosim also occurs when we are called upon to let go of elements of our personalities in order to adapt to a change in the roles we play in our lives, jobs, family roles, positions in community.

A powerful means to work with this klesha is to pay attention when you are dwelling in it.  Stop and listen to your self talk and note what kinds of ideas are floating through your mind with the sense of “I-am” attached to them:  I am skinny or fat or smart or stupid. 

I once had a student who was given yoga classes as a gift by  her husband.  She attended my class in a small ballet school in New Jersey.  She was exceptionally large and round of body and was very absorbed in her perception of herself as a body.   Often, she would stop in a posture and say, “I can’t do it”.  I encouraged her to let go of that idea, over and over again.  Finally one day she said “Okay, if you say so, and she took a perfect crescent moon poster.  More even and circular and expansive than I had ever done or ever seen.  It was perfect. 

Such is the power of releasing the programmed limitations by which we have come to define ourselves.  The beauty of this is that it is not always a grandiose transformation, sometimes little victories are the fuel which changes a life.  In a single moment of transcending asmita, we enter a realm of choice.  In the moment in which we are trapped by our egos we see only a finite number of options.  When that shift occurs to a larger vision,  our options expand as well, and our sense of being agents of our own lives begins to grow within us.   It is empowering in the deepest sense of the word.  We are not empowered by someone giving us power, but by accessing our own portal to  the infinite source of all power by remembering that we are one with it.  The practices of yoga are designed to soften the bondage of our afflictions  freeing us lead more fulfilling and authentic lives.

How to resolve asmita?  Consistency in practice is the key to resolving all of the afflictions.  Choose your practice and commit to it.  I’ve been practicing simple standing everyday as my consistency practice in the morning.  The posture is called Tadasana, and I do it every day, hopefully for ten minutes.  I haven’t made it there yet.  Sometimes the power of simple standing is so profound I question whether I am needed as a yoga teacher at all!  This is a resolution of asmita.

Bows and Arrows to Blossoms and Blessings

Perhaps some of these experiences are familiar to you:

It’s morning and you hop  out of bed ready to begin your daily yoga practice.  Two minutes into practice a deep craving for chocolate arises.  At a certain point it becomes so compelling that you abandon downward dog and head to the kitchen, even though you know that practicing the postures will mitigate your cravings.

Another day you sit down on your meditation cushion and begin to watch your breath.  Your silent reverie is shattered as  a bubble of anxiety about  a difficult conversation with your partner bursts open and floods your attention.  Try as you might, you cannot quell the eruption of memory and projection about the situation, even though you know that a few calm quiet breaths  will give you a more balanced perspective on the challenge.

You are really and truly happy.  As you look around your life, you see that you are surrounded by blessings. But, in the presence of others, you compare yourself to them and find yourself lacking.  Your home isn’t as luxurious or your spouse doesn’t behave like theirs does.   Every time this happens you find that your sense of self is deflated.

You have been at the top of your game for years in your chosen career when the tide shifts suddenly  and you find your role is no longer relevant.  As you go through the process of decision making about your future, you are plagued by the nagging sense that some critical piece of yourself is being  stripped away from you.

You are about to begin a new project at work.  It is a great opportunity and you are excited about it.  But nagging fear and insecurity disrupt your ability to focus on the project itself. 

You are offered a new project at work which is a great opportunity.  Your ego, rightfully it may seem, inflates.  In that state of inflation you inadvertently alienate a dear friend, a lover, or a colleague essential to the success of the project.

The person in the cubicle next to you at work has a tendency towards mild vulgarity.  Nothing far outside conventional boundaries, but you find yourself feeling squeamish in their presence, often going way out of your way to avoid making eye contact. 

As the years go by you experience despair about changes in your body.

You are given an opportunity for a great adventure: climbing a mountain, doing your first handstand or going on a first date with someone you really like.  You find that you are too overwhelmed with fear to fully participate.

Yoga is a success practice. The practices of yoga clear away the debris which keeps us from leading successful lives.  In my experience it is one of the world’s most consistently powerful tools for transformation.  It sometimes takes some time, but often happens quite quickly.   The success may not be visible or outwardly apparent to others, but consistent practices reliably bears the fruit of small inner victories.  Moment by moment the yoga practitioner acquires the skillful means to conquer the psychological afflictions  which keep them fettered and dis-empowered. Those small internal victories  are like bricks in a foundation for good living.

In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, he summarizes the afflictions as:

Avidya (ignorance)  the experience of being submerged in and identified with the material.  Feeling worthy or unworthy based on what we own or the shape of our body is an example of being identified with the material.

Asmita (I am-ness)  the experience of seeing the world through mundane personal perception.  When our sense of being “right”  obscures the objective nature of a conflict, or when we become so strongly opinionated that we alienate others we are perceiving from a limited perspective.

Raga – Attachment – to call forth again and again a desire for an object which previously gave us pleasure. 

Dvesha –  Aversion – to repeatedly push away an object which previously caused us pain. 

Abinivesha – Fear of death – All fear emerges from the the fear of death. 

Afflictions is an ideal word, because you may notice that these painful  inner tendencies appear powerfully and abruptly at the most inconvenient times.   Sometimes they are experienced as torments, as though something external is hammering at us.

There is a beautiful story told about the Buddha’s awakening.  The Buddha, prior to his great awakening, was living in great austerity as a wondering sadhu or holy man.  One day when he  went to touch his belly he discovered that his body was so wasted away that he could touch his spine.  There was no flesh between the belly and spine.  At that moment he realized that he was off his path and that depriving himself to such an extreme was counterproductive to his mission to awaken.   The practices he’d been doing were not leading him to the truth he was seeking.   He walked away from those practices and committed to sitting under the bodhi tree until he awakened. “There must be a better way”.  During the night as he sat in meditation,  he was plagued by afflictions – ancient memories and profound self-reflections unfurled in his interior space.  At one point, Mara the demon, the ego himself, appeared, flinging sharp arrows at the peacefully sitting Buddha.  As those arrows neared the form of the Buddha, the sharp arrowheads transformed into flower blossoms, showering down upon him.     The Buddha understood that Mara the demon and the arrows he shot were not coming from outside of him, but were generated internally.  The practices of yoga, approached with consistency and awareness, empower us to manage our own minds, bodies and spirits, transforming the arrows of the afflictions into blossoms and blessings.

So, how do we do this?  Patanjali says that the kleshas, or afflictions, can be resolved through the committed effort to address them through discipline, self-awareness and letting go. 

The first step is to commit to a practice.  I suggest you begin with asana, or physical yoga postures.  Make the commitment manageable.  It is better to start with five minutes a day that you actually successfully complete than to make grand commitment of an hour which, in practice, is very difficult to do.   As you fulfill one level of commitment, expansion occurs fluidly on the strong foundation of commitment.  This is discipline in practice.

The second step is to develop awareness of the afflictions themselves.  One way to do this is to set any alarm to go off three, four or five times a day, and note the state of your mind when the alarm goes off. Are any of Patanjali’s affliction’s occurring when the alarm goes off? This is a practice which increases self-awareness.

Third, begin to discern if the triggers for the afflictions that you note in the alarm exercise are things you can change, or things you cannot change.  For the things that you can change, as part of the discipline process, take one step a day to change them.  For example, conflict about weight can be resolved by committing to one small painless adjustment.  As the shelter in place extended, I found myself putting on weight. I changed my grain portion from a third of a cup to a fourth of a cup, for every meal (I eat many whole grains).  I didn’t expect a difference, but it occurred, and I never felt hungry.  For things you cannot change practice just being spacious and not judging the situation, moment by moment.

Before you know it, you’ll notice that the affliction have less ability to disrupt you, and that you have more power to move forward in your life.

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The afflictions of attachment and aversion

सुखानुशयी रागः ॥७॥

sukha-anuśayī rāgaḥ ॥7॥

 The residue of pleasure is attachment.

duhkha-anushayi dveshah ||8||

दुःखानुशयी द्वेषः ॥८॥

duḥkha-anuśayī dveṣaḥ ॥8॥

The residue of pain is avoidance.

In the practice section of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, the second “padah”, Patanjali offers a set of three powerful practices which propel one towards the experience of yoga.  The three are the practices of Tapah, Svadyaya and Ishvara Pranidhanani, which were discussed in the previous post.  After presenting these practices Patanjali notes that not only will these practices lead to samadhi, but that they will also diminish our afflictions.  We all want to diminish our afflictions.  They are forms of mental fluctuations which create the experience of disturbance.  We experience them, until we learn to work with them. 

Today we will discuss two potent kleshas or afflictions:  raga (attachment) and dvesa (aversion).  In this context attachment and aversion refer to the experience where we form a judgment about a person, place or experience based on our history with it.  Either we , want it again, or we never want it again.   While it may seem that this is sound reasoning – to avoid something which has caused pain and to go near that which gives us pleasure there are three important things to note here.   First, by dividing the world into that which we like and that which we don’t like we are creating division and separation.  This moves us away from the experience of our ourselves as whole.  We split off parts of ourselves and others.  To be yoked to our higher self, to be in union with, is to join with our higher self.  Any kind of duality will interfere with that joining.  Second, these judgments are based on the erroneous idea that because we experienced something one way one day, that we will always experience it that way.  We project the past on the present.  Third, that projection of the past into the present creates an expectation which can create conflict in ourselves or with others.   The experience of connection is obstructed when we are absorbed in a memory of the past.  We only experience connection when we are present!

Practicing yoga philosophy  in our lives and in the techniques of yoga asana,  we encounter the dynamic play of opposites.  Through cultivating a harmonious aligned relationship between apparent opposites we create stable foundations for unlocking the power of a posture or an experience.  This is central to all asana, but today we will consider this approach in relation to back bends. 

Back bends transcend time.  They are constructed in such a way that it is possible through practice to open the heart chakra.   The heart chakra is an energy center, or realm of consciousness where we begin to open to our deeper connections with the whole of existence around us.   Whatever we might be holding which could be termed a judgement or a lack of forgiveness will show up as a congestion in the body which obstructs our ability to experience the back bend with a fully open heart.  I use the word experience deliberately because in one body the back bend may appear small to the observer, but is experienced as vast and open to student.  Likewise a back bend may appear as a deep curve but still contains the experience of pain or restriction for the person doing the back bend.  The postures, like all other experiences which we could label good and bad, are all relative.  As we cultivate spaciousness and non-judgement of ourselves in our postures we train the mind to be spacious rather than judgmental towards others.

tapaḥ svādhyāy-eśvarapraṇidhānāni kriyā-yogaḥ

तपः स्वाध्यायेश्वरप्रणिधानानि क्रियायोग:

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, an ancient yogic text compiled some 2000 years ago,  by sage Patanjali, enumerates specific actions  or practices which support the process of aligning with our true nature or what is sometimes called the “Higher self”. Aligning  with that true nature will always lead us to greater clarity, wisdom and empowerment.  Asana, or the physical yoga postures which we practice, are a small piece of that, and actually the positions themselves are influenced by the level of clarity which we have created through the practices which work on the mind and reveal the heart. Patanjali’s text is a compendium of theory, methods and results organized to foster depth and simplicity.  Each sutra or line is directed towards a single focus.  One key grouping of practices is identified in PYS – Sutra

2.1.  The sutra reads:

तपः स्वाध्यायेश्वरप्रणिधानानि क्रियायोगः ॥१॥

tapaḥ svādhyāy-eśvarapraṇidhānāni kriyā-yogaḥ ॥1॥

We know that these three apparently unrelated practices are related to one another because they are placed together in the text.  I reflect on them as a triangle.  A shift in one element of the triad will influence the other two.  A translation always reflects the experience and world view  of the translator.    For me, tapah (intensity, fire, desire) expresses as a strictly disciplined and heart felt mode of nurturing an intention which benefits both ourselves and others.    Sometimes this refers to an offering oneself and historically is associated with yogi’s placing themselves into penance or suffering to bring them closer to the divine.  My experience of yoga is more balanced.  Right now, we are all practicing tapah.  It’s April 2020 and the whole world is in lockdown in the wake of the corona virus.  While we can stay home with the intention to stay healthy, from the yogic perspective your overall result will be better if you stay home because you want everyone else to be healthy!  This is a reflection of tapasya…to give up something for love of the whole.  As the teaching in the Bhagavad Gita goes, no effort made in this way will ever be wasted.  Does it mean we will be rich and contented?  Not necessarily, but the deeper levels of fulfillment which are opened up through yogic practice nourish us in unique and powerful ways which add tremendous value to a life.  We could say giving up a little opens the door to a life well-lived.

Svadyaya, the second point of the triad, refers to the many modes of (S)(s)elf study.  The yogin comes to know their individual conditioning and personality  – the so called “small” self – through observation and analysis.  Through meditation, study of sacred texts and other yogic practices the yogin comes in contact with a larger experience of their consciousness.  This contrast fosters comparative study of our personality and our spirit, which yields discernment.  Discernment is a key to acting with wisdom in our lives, to sift through the subtle possibilities of our moment by moment decisions in order that we might always choose the most valuable option. 

The final point of this triad is ishvara pranidhanani which is translated as surrender or cultivating the willingness and receptivity to come into alignment with our higher self through attention , intention and action.  Practiced together, these three practices form the basis of the entire yoga practice  – and create a ground of taking actions which will bring us out of confusion and into clarity. 

In this moment, the world is shutdown in response to the threat of the corona virus.  That shutdown in itself forces us into a position of surrendering our personal will, making sacrifices for the larger whole and being present to ourselves in a new way. 

For many people this is precarious and unsettling.  Feelings we’ve been suppressing for decades may come bubbling up to the surface.  That is a result of the clarifying nature of this kind of restriction.  The yoga practice prescribes this as things to take on willingly, with discipline and intention so that we might use the moments of restriction to wake up rather than dig deeper into the murky sea of emotions and imaginings which govern us in ways which are frequently not to our advantage. 

By choosing to consciously and deliberately embrace this period of time as an opportunity to grow and transform into a new way of being we take that perception that we are victims of the virus, the government or the others we are in the household with, and we turn it into an inwardly empowering victory.  These inner victories are the seeds of powerful practice and the opportunity to create them through tapah, svadyaya and ishwara pranidhanani is present in every moment.

How to practice:

  1.  Use your capacity to self-reflect as you go through your day.  Where do feelings of conflict arise?  Does the conflict emerge from some habitual way of being which is no longer functional?  Is there something (an expectation of your spouse, a craving to run out to the store for chocolate, a tendency to blame or take the easy way out) that you can respond to by taking a hard step or giving something up (tapah)?  What happens if you softening around the situation to receive what is already present, rather than what you might be wanting (ishwara pranidhanani)?  What happens if you stop and take a breath and turn inward?

  2. On your yoga mat, what is it which surfaces a tangle of mind chatter or emotion?  Sometimes it’s a scary posture, sometimes it’s child’s pose.  Sometimes we can spend a great deal of time fluctuating around getting on the mat, or attending to the 10,000 other demands for our attention.  Once again, the triad is useful.  If you can’t get a moment of peace to practice, you can surrender into that experience, accepting it.   Getting up very early to practice is a common tapah which many mothers I know practice. Can you let go of doing a posture you are compulsively drawn to, or engage that posture which scares you a little?

New Schedule, and thoughts on on abundance

2020-04-22_Lakshmi+image

 

I share this as a student of yantra, not a teacher.  I’ve been working on this yantra of Kamala or Lakshmi, the goddess of abundance,  for some time – but just now I am finding the time to nurture her.   It’s a work in progress and I am drawn to keep refining her details.   The yantras always blossom in my life in interesting ways and Kamala/Lakshmi is no exception.  Today in Marin the smell of the flowers is extraordinary and the time to clean the kitchen properly after a meal (like my mother used to do) shows up as a luxury I’ve overlooked for decades.  Honest reckoning of  my budget, once a scary task,  is now an opportunity to embrace the precious wisdom of discernment – even though the numbers might appear to be dismal to some eyes. I’ve cycled through times of restriction before, I’ve learned to appreciate the power of making choices about what to keep and what to let go of.  The clarity to refine well is sometimes absent until the moment our backs are at the wall.   Many times in life I’ve had the painful experience of having things events or people torn away from me.  Now, looking back on it, I can see how my relationship with what was removed was obstructing my growth and the fulfillment of my potential.    I’m enjoying that sifting process, that exercise in discernment, and loving releasing that which has served me well and is not part of this new beginning. It amazes me, always, that sometimes we can have everything and feel like we have nothing, and then sometimes we have nothing and it feels like we have everything .  I believe this is what Lakshmi is teaching me.  I recognize her in the luxury of cleaning the kitchen, for a Goddess who governs caring for our material well-being will always guide us to care well for what we have.  Our kitchens, our monies, our bodies and the planet we all share.

On Saturday we will complete our introduction to  the triad of foundational practices, Svadyaya (Self-reflection), Ishwara Pranidnani  (willingness in relationship with our higher power) and Tapah (the process of choosing to give up something for love).  I can think of no better reflection to cultivate in these days of pandemic than to embrace these three powerful practices of discernment,

My schedule is changing!  This week is the last, 90 minute, Saturday evening class.  Starting Sunday, April 26, 2020,  all my YogaWorks classes will be one hour.  Starting Monday May 4, 2020 at 4 PM PDT I will be teaching an independent, 80 minute, by donation Zoom class.

 

Schedule as follows, further info on this week’s class to come…

 

Saturday April 25th, 6:15 PM PDT  90 minutes  YogaWorks Live…Tapah

Sunday April 26th, 1:30 -2:30 PDT, 60 minutes, YogaWorks Live

Tuesday April 28th 7:30-8:30 PM PDT, 60 minutes YogaWorks Live

Saturday May 2, 6:00-7:00: PDT 60 minutes YogaWorks Live

Sunday May  3, 1:30-2:30 PDT, 60 minutes, YogaWorks Live

Monday May 4, 4 PM PDT, 80 minutes,  on Zoom,  link to follow.  By donation. .

 

True You

TADA DRASHTUH SVARUPE-‘VASTHANAM .

(तदा द्रष्टुः स्वरूपेऽवस्थानम् )॥३॥

Then one stands in their true nature

Patanjali was a sage who lived about 2000 years ago.  He compiled a text about yoga known as the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.  His text provides an overview of the yoga practices which were done at that time, together with very clear statements about the results one obtains as one becomes established in the practices.  As an overview, Patanjali tells us that yoga is a means by which we liberate ourselves from the fluctuations of the mind and become established in our true nature.  Historically, the experience of yoga, couched as it is in mysticism and esoteric techniques, has been depicted as a state of complete disconnection from the physical realm.  Ancient yogis would attain samadhi  or union and become more and more deeply absorbed in that state.  Others would gather around them to feel the energy…the resonance of their brain waves.  Those who attained that state were able to access levels of wisdom unattainable to those anchored in the material world by obligations.  This state of deep absorption has value.   But the times we live in call for high degrees of awareness, mastery and effective engagement.  While Patanjali’s text directs us towards the path of meditation, many of the techniques  explained in the text can be used to enhance our capacity to stay centered in the world around us.

This sutra, the third sutra in the text, references a state of mind, samadhi.  When samadhi occurs the sutra states, one resides in the true nature.  We are never actually separated from our true nature – but we seldom make our home.  That true nature is obscured by the fluctuations of the mind – the beliefs, thoughts, opinions, memories we have accumulated over lifetimes.  The state of union or yoga is not a state outside of ourselves  that we acquire.  It’s a buried treasure.

Perhaps you experience yourself as “not good enough”.  Too fat, too skinny, too old, too young.  We are just never enough!!  That internal dialogue, those fluctuations of the mind, are running like the constant hum of cars driving by on a busy street.  This constant noise obscures the inner peace within which we come to know ourselves as perfect, whole and complete. The experience of our wholeness is a restoration of a true understanding of ourselves in all our extraordinary beauty.

A practice:

  1.  Upon waking, make a commitment that five times a day you will remember the sutra, and whenever possible that you will note every time that dialogue of self-deprecation begins.   When you catch yourself in self-deprecation, stop, and silently say to your “my true nature is good (beautiful, wise, knowing, abundant – whatever attribute you believe you are lacking)”. 
  • The practice is a way to begin unplugging from external sources of information and tuning in to your own inner wisdom.  For this reason, I recommend that you not use your phone or computer to remember the sutra.  It’s easy for our minds to reach out and become absorbed in our phones (or computers or televisions), and this exercise builds our capacity to shift gears from external to internal.

di

Happy treasure hunting!

© NUllmann not for copying or redistribution

ATHA YOGA-ANUŚĀSANAM (अथ योगानुशासनम्)

ATHA YOGA-ANUŚĀSANAM is the first sutra or line in the yogic text Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra. It is believed that about 2000 years ago, Yoga Master Patanjali studied deeply the yoga methods and results of successful yogins of his day.  He then organized them into what we could consider a concise technical manual of the yoga system.  The text consists of concise statements or sutras which can be memorized and then drawn from at will, as needed.  By some accounts, Patanjali is considered a mythical being.  By other accounts he is considered  a revered sage of this day.  But the general consensus is that Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras is useful guide for the development and deepening of a yoga practice. 

The first sutra of the text reads:

ATHA YOGA-ANUŚĀSANAM
(अथ योगानुशासनम्)

Which may be translated as:

                Now, Yoga. 

This apparently simple statement, like many of the simple statements found in the ancient yoga texts,  is packed like a holograph.  The whole truth of the volume of Patanjali’s sutra is contained in these 2 words.  This particular sutra, because of its vast simplicityis translated and retranslated and commented upon in a wide variety of ways.  But for today, for now, I would like to discuss the element of the present moment in a yoga practice.  Yoga, the experience of yoga, the whole of the interconnectedness of all things, is contained in the present moment.  

This seems an extraordinary statement – how could everything be now?  Especially if we are here in a very temporal form, which appears to be limited.  I feel like I’m here now.  What more is there to experience?

Our physical bodies are reservoirs of subconscious information. The shapes and forms and feeling qualities of our bodies are impacted by our past experiences.   A long-departed habit can reemerge when conditions spark a memory.  A long-departed skill re-asserts itself with surprising speed, when conditions for its expression arise.  As we move our bodies through the forms of asana (the yogic postures or poses) we awaken those unresolved memories of our history.  As we learn to work with the body to release long held stress patterns, we also learn to release those unresolved memories. 

When we experience an upset or a trauma the most fundamental unconscious reaction  is to stop our breath.  Our breath is an expression of a subtle energy called prana.  A  light bulb turning on and off is an expression of electricity –when electricity flows through the bulb it turns on.  When the electricity is shut off, the lightbulb goes off.  Prana is like electricity, when it flows things happen.  When the breath shuts down in reaction to trauma or shock, it shuts down the flow of prana.  That moment of interrupted unconsciousness is stored in the body and the stagnation interrupts the flow of prana further.  That stagnated energy and the sensory memory connected to it, is not available in the now. 

As we gently approach these areas of holding by gentle breathing during asana–  the channels of flow are reestablished.  The prana flows through the stagnated areas like water – flushing out the memories and re-assimilating those fragments of consciousness into our “now”.  Our creative energy flows more fully.  We experience a greater degree of wholeness.  The experience of wholeness is an experience of feeling better.

The process of bringing the unconscious to the conscious in asana doesn’t require force or sacrifice – it merely requires a little willingness to see and feel that which may be uncomfortable.  It is a process which often unfolds over time, but, some instances of reemerging consciousness can be instantaneous and powerful.  The key is to prepare ourselves to allow the breath to flow uninterrupted for deeper levels of self-emergence.  That process allows the prana to flow and restores movement, awareness, creativity and agility. 

Jai Bella

blooming rose

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Miles of concrete, lined with parking lots.  Not a tree in sight for miles.  Burned out buildings housing pigeons, feral cats and a host of other mysterious wild beings (I saw possums, often).   This was the city of Newark where I lived, for many years.

Unlike New York, there were no shady trees lining sidewalks.  I realized this the first time it hit 104 degrees  There was no shade to be found.  I was living in a concrete sahara.

Gradually, over the years, I began to see dandelions pushing up through the cracks in the sidewalk.  They were so exciting, I had to celebrate them.  I gathered their seeds and planted more on the roof.  The next year, the bloom of the moment was Queen Anne’s Lace, the following year, Bachelor Buttons.  The year I left, Red Morning Glories  were climbing up chain linked fences.  On the day I drove away from Newark for the last time, all these so-called “weeds”, tough little flowers that they were,  had burst into a symphony of colors lining the parking lots.

As I was loading up the car,  a guy with a gasoline powered weed whacker was heading down the tiny lane between the parking lots, whacking the flowers up in the name of urban neatness.  I was glad that I wasn’t going to see the end of that story.  How on earth, could you weed whack a miracle?

If you don’t see it as a miracle, I guess.

I was reading today, the interview of a gentleman, now immersed in the business of Silicon Valley, who traveled to India in the 70’s.  He stated that the 70’s was the age of miracles, and that they no longer happened.

Really?  Or did we just get so focused on something else that we missed them?

I now live in a converted garage in Marin County, California.  In the surrounding yard there are flower bushes, not one, or two, but dozens. Oh the pleasure, to be surrounded by flowers. To walk out of my humble abode and see the spiky trees, dotting the horizon.  To see the beautiful Mt. Tam,  a Kailash I can get close to, rising above the landscape.

I make it a point every morning to smell the roses.  Literally.  I can’t afford a Maserati, but I can smell the roses.  Miraculously, everything keeps blooming here throughout the year, even though it never rains.  To my Northeast born and bred eyes, this is a miracle.

This morning, my landlady’s daughter was expressing her various woes.  Well, don’t we all have them?  And yes, many of them are considerable.  I expressed that I was sorry she was challenged, but then offered some appreciation for the flowers.  I’m so glad that there is a rose bush outside my door, and that I can smell the roses everyday when I walk by.

“Roses?”, she responded, looking a bit puzzled.  “Are there roses?  Which bush?”

It was the one right by her car.

“I didn’t see them.”

“I see,” I said.  Meaning, “I understand”.  I know what that is like, those moments when the hard things, the ugly things, the challenging things appear to be so oppressive that it is difficult to see beyond them.  I know what that is like.

I remember learning from one of my teachers to count ten blessings before I put my foot on the floor each morning.  ESPECIALLY when I didn’t feel grateful.  This was partly how I learned to cultivate the awareness of the many miracles that surround us each day.  Dandelions coming up through the sidewalk made the list often on days when I felt I had little to be grateful for.  Oh, how they grew, the more they were on the list, the more I observed them.  The more I observed them, the more it seemed they grew.  I kind of figure that’s how I landed here, with the roses and everything.

“Well, I just wanted to thank you.  I enjoy smelling them.” I said.  She looked at me a little mystified, like I was a little strange, but to me, I was enjoying a miracle