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

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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

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