Open Sesame

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

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

It happens. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Creating a Mosiac – Integrating Spiritual and Material Goals

The process of integration consists of millions of choice points where a single aspect of a life reflects our inner values or external values.  In the context of yoga (yoking) philosophy and practice each single aspect reflects proportions of spiritual and material expression.  Consider gold.  It must be mixed with another substance in order to be substantial enough to wear as a very useful ring or necklace.  Gold is just too malleable and soft to hold a shape without some other element present in the mix.  My experience is that our practice of yoga is like this.  Too much pure spirit leaves us ungrounded and ineffective in our lives.  This is not much use for ourselves or others unless your role in life happens to be embodying that ideal for others.  We need a mix and we can work consciously with our choices to create the right mix for the lives that we are creating. 

I studied the energetics of food around the time I transitioned into veganism.  My food teacher, a seasoned wise man who had been vegan for many years, did not think that I should be a vegan.  It didn’t fit what he saw my role in life to be.  I objected and went my merry way, working as a yoga teacher in a school which emphasized heavy duty spiritual practices and deep meditation.  He was right, I crashed to the ground with that, unable to manage the business of being a yoga teacher, and reside in those exalted realms.  My colleagues, many of them, had others to support them in the business functions, but to be honest, I knew I was a better teacher when I was grounded and present physically for the students.  When I still had my corporate job and taught in the evenings, my classes were packed.  Of course, I was younger and all of that, but, the grounding I had in my job helped me to relate to what every one was going through. I shared the way that yoga worked in my day to day life at work. 

So, I considered what my food teacher told me, and I decided that veganism was a really really important component of my practice.  I would have to change something else to create the perfect mix of spiritual and material for my life.  I chose to re-enter the work force and to lighten up a little on the extreme practices that I was doing.  I felt better, more awake of my life and more aligned – meaning I felt like myself again.  It’s a constant juggling act integration.  A little more of this, a little more of that, and developing the awareness to feel when the mix is perfect.  Generally when the mix is perfect I feel functional, strong satisfied and balanced.  In that place of integration there is balance strength and joy.  Balance strength and joy isn’t some long off goal I’m always working towards, it’s my chosen normal.  In that normal I find that I’m productive and I have the energy to be kind and generous.  In balance, in alignment I find that I don’t feel that parts of myself are suppressed.

If balance strength and joy aren’t goals in some far-off future, what does setting goals have to do with anything? 

Well, in a life of thousands of decisions at every moment, it’s good to know where we are going, what kind of balance or expression feels optimal to us, and then re-establish the “goals” of how to get there.  I’ll write more about this, but for the time being consider this, my goal of integration is built on an understanding that with my time I am creating a mosaic.  Several times a week I sit down and create visions, schedules and commitments to myself.  I block out time for each of the things that are important to me.  For example, for some, working in the soup kitchen is their spiritual practice, for me it is asana and music.  For some, health is jogging every morning, for me it is nurturance and good food.  (Some jogging doesn’t hurt!)  But the point is, I work with all the components of what is important to me and make sure they are all represented in that schedule and then my goal is to actually fulfill what I have scheduled for myself and the outcome is assured.  It’s very effective.  It means I learn to write a little faster, keep the kitchen clean while I’m cooking, and not spend all my time chasing money but to step by step do what I can to make my time worth more, to myself and others.  Then moment by moment, choosing to honor the schedule (sometimes choosing not to if, say, someone needs a hand).  It means not procrastinating on what I am wanting to do! 

I consciously choose the sequence of my week, and then roll it out, knowing that it may need to change.  At that point I recalibrate.  You may recognize this from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, at the end of a series of steps we can see how we arrived at a given destination.   We flip it around and take charge of the steps along the way so we can create consciously.

As far as asana practice goes, well, I do the same thing.  I try to create a well-rounded practice and I build it over time, practicing those postures I like and those I don’t.  A steady well-rounded practice, like a steady well rounded life will establish the discernment to detect when something is missing  or when the balance of life needs to be adjusted. 

It’s not romantic, but balance allows our energy to be available for romance, love, creativity…whatever we want.  Balanced energy sustains, it doesn’t deplete. 

It is my deepest wish that this information is useful to you!

Have a blessed and wondrous day.

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.

Ha—tha—-Yo—ga

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

This sums it up!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

STEADY AS SHE GOES – DEVELOPING A PERSONAL YOGA PRACTICE

      “Well, it’s been done”. 

       This is the feedback I received when proposing a creative yoga project.  “Well, it’s been done”.  It’s yoga, I think to myself.  Of course it’s been done!  As much as I’ve complained over the years about how the personality of the yoga teacher can obscure the yoga itself, some part of me wants to say. “Yes! But it hasn’t been done by me, and I see it differently!”.   I descend a bit into depression and a sense of defeat. 

       I began to spin a rather unflattering story in my head about the person who gave me the feedback.  You know how this happens, right?   Someone doesn’t like something we have created and we go into defense.  I catch myself going into defense mode.  My yoga practice kicks in. 

What does this story  about my emotional reaction have to do with yoga?  Everything.  The fruit of our practices is yoking to the more luminous and exalted aspects of ourselves.  We train ourselves to stay yoked and when the pressure is on we find peace.  In struggle we find an ability to stay strong.  Twenty-six years ago, I would have stormed out of the meeting.  Maybe ten years ago, I would have peacefully left and cried my eyes out, never to have returned.  Now, my yoga shows up in my life.   I can sit still in a conflict, not run away, and consequently,  hear what the person is saying.  The capacity to do this grows with steadiness, or consistency,  in practice – abhyasa.  Be still in a posture over and over again, and be awake while you are there and you will develope the capacity to be still in the face of discomfort. 

So, I stay present to the critique.  I breathe deeply and the air me around becomes a little more spacious.  In that spaciousness, the realization comes.  The woman who gave me feedback is a communicator a professional communicator.  She knows how to get a message across to people.  I now see  – Don’t change what you are doing, find another new way to communicate it.  Keep the gems of what you understand and transmute the old story into a new one.  My attachment to my project was blocking my ability to hear the message.  It wasn’t a critique at all, it was the universe directing me to keep working for something new and better.  There is always a new and better.

This is a good time to get quiet as we shelter in place.  There are ideas in silence.  The constructs of our minds, the grooves we think in over and over again, can be observed and transformed in silence.  Detaching from the groove confers that spaciousness, and in the silence we open to what we haven’t created before.  I’ve taught artists who, likely, would say they never really meditated.  But in that space when they are brushing a color onto a canvas, when they are absorbed into the color, they enter another realm.  I’ve been inspired by more than a few musicians and artists who traveled through my life as teachers or students.   Their perspectives are always illuminating.  Entering spaciousness opens us to vision.

Abhyasa, or consistency in practice, builds the spiritual muscle which allows us to stay present when we are uncomfortable.  Vairagya, or detachment, develops the spaciousness which allows change to occur. If we are too attached to what we think should happen, there is no room for us to turn around.

The best way I know to develop these facets of the  yoga practice is to allow for process.  First, commit to practicing a certain number of times a week, and stick to it.  Start out with a small amount which you can easily fulfill and then amp it up from there.  Detachment can grow with consistent practice.  Each day the body will feel different.  Somedays you feel tired, other days lively, some days you feel heavy, other days light.  Just show up and practice, however you feel.    As you work your consistency, your detachment will grow, and vice versa.   Consistency and Detachment nourish one another.

When the world around us is spinning out of control, if we fall into a place where we feel ourselves low, the yoga practice is a powerful means to lift ourselves up.  We’ve looked to others to inspire us spiritually, and that is amazing, but the truth is, we can only stay lifted up when we take that task, that task of uplifting and decide that we will be active agents in choosing to do that in ourselves. 

It’s a simple step. It doesn’t have to be complicated.  Your personal practice doesn’t have to be extravagant, or the same as what happens in a public class.  But if you choose to cultivate a personal practice, you’ll be glad you did.  We never know when a moment is going to arise when we will benefit from an ability to stay centered and clear and open.  In that moment, if we let go of our projections and our expectations, we might just see things differently.  We just might see how we can take the circumstance we find ourselves in and chart a new course.  Transforming the unexpected into opportunity.

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