Yoga Sutra Conversations I.33: "By cultivating attitudes of friendliness toward happiness, compassion toward suffering, delight toward virtue, and equanimity toward vice, thoughts become purified, and the obstacles to self-knowledge are lessened."

“This week’s sutra ought to be emblazoned in all public places.” ~Dharmayoga

I’ve been given the power to delegate 🙂 and so I do. I delegate: reading the newspaper to my boyfriend, big bosoms to some of my girlfriends, eating sugar to my kids, enjoying hunting to the hunters and giving the kids a cat to my ex. (at his house).
What I get out of this practice, is SERENITY. If I really believe we are all one – than I truly can enjoy soo many things.
~Jenni

If there was any doubt that yoga is more than what happens on the mat, here’s the antidote. The first time I heard this quoted,  I wrote it down and soon thereafter was digging in the Sutra like it was a life raft.

Sounds so simple: be friendly to happy folk, compassionate toward unhappy, take joy in good action and try not to get to het up about the bad stuff. Yoga is about the path, the everyday, every breath, every moment, what am I getting so excited about, where’d all my energy go, what’s it all about and how do I figure it out path.

Simple is not easy, though. I wrote this on the clipboard I carry everywhere at work and when I felt my heart skip or my dander rise, I’d look at it. So much of behaviour is reactive and what this Sutra asks us to do is choose how we respond. Don’t react, respond, and do that with consideration… for your own peace.

One of the things I admire about the translation above from Mukunda Stiles is that where other translators state these responses will bring us peace or quiet mind, he states they reduce obstacles to self-knowledge. In Sanskrit, the claim is “Citta prasadanam” which has overtones both of purification and calmness  regarding the mind. “Lessening obatacles to self-knowledge” reminds us we are discussing the path that leads to yoga, which happens in the mind that isn’t identified with its disturbances. We can, little by little, step away from all our identifications, the things we act like matter even when we would say they don’t if asked point-blank, but we react to them as if they were everything, and so make them into our world.

Peace comes from self-knowledge. In such a state we are transparent to the truth of our own being. How to reach this state? Start taking the veils off the dancer: the obstacles to self-knowledge must fall. But like any drunken reveller, when the veils start to ripple and fly we want to get caught up in them: Ooooo, look at how they catch the light! look at how they ruffle over the surface! smell how they catch the heady scent! We forget that the veils aren’t what they cover over, or we tire of the effort steady abiding, and we settle for the ruffle and sparkle, running off in the direction of the wind.

In this sutra we are aksed to tend to our own responses to our worlds and in return, the world to which we respond will reveal itself as different than we’ve previously experienced. Not sure changing the world can be so simple? Try it. Practice your equanimity when buffetted with derision or insult. Practice being undefended and friendly when you are around happiness. Practice being undefended at all. Undefended and compassionate in the presence of Sadness? How do you keep your heart open and your boundaries clear? Yoga is a razor’s edge and you walk it with your heart. When you truly open your heart in experience, the world you experience transforms, and so do you.

Where to start? In your next human interaction, your next breath. Heck, have you practiced compassion and undefendedness with your own precious self? Be friendly toward your own happiness, befriend and cultivate it. Have equanimity when you catch yourself in bad behaviour – no self-derision, no guilt. Steadiness, abiding breath and choice, whether in line or Ardha Chandrasana, these are the things that build our practice.

Roam the Hub of All Sacred Places….

“The light which shines above this heaven, above all the worlds, above everything, in the highest worlds not excelled by any other worlds, that’s the same light  which is in you.” ~Chhandogya Upanishad

What if all the thinking, all the words, ideas aren’t our minds? What if they’re the covering over our minds? Don’t get me wrong – they’re great tools. But what’s overseeing the job site? They’re not the tools you’ll need if you’re looking for your true self or for a steady place to stand.

Science tells us our minds are decentralized in the body. Yoga helps us settle into our heart, where wisdom and intelligence reside. Of course when we talk about heart in yoga, we’re not just talking about the juicy pumping muscle to the left of center in our ribcages. There are a lot of bits housed around there – chemoreceptors, baraoreceptors, lungs, thymus, arteries, lymph nodes, spine, circulating blood and air, esophagus, diaphragm. When we bring our attention to this area, when we just feel what comes up, we are contacting the heart of yoga. Our yoga.

Bringing ease to the muscles and joints around this area can be the beginning or development of this process. This is where many of us Western Yogis start, with asana. Maybe a little breathing practice. Then we might start calling that pranayama. Maybe we meditate for stress reduction. Somewhere along the way we realize these pesky emotions are less pesky, the aches are less achey, the mind is less muddled.

“The heart is the resting place of the pranas, the senses and the mind. It’s your true self, which is identified with intelligence and which finds repose in the space within your heart.” ~Nikhilananada’s Intro to The Principal Upanishads

So then we explore pratyahara – sense withdrawal. But then, where do the senses go? Niky above, says to the space within your heart, your true self. Makes some sense – it’s quieter there than the head or stomach. The feelings come up, but maybe we’re in a place where we can uncouple them enough from the words and judgments to just let them be a bit.

Now we’re practicing saucha in our hearts. Saucha – cleanliness, purity. We don’t often think of it in regard to our hearts, but after we’ve gotten glimpses of the Love that lives there, it makes sense not to store our crap on the porch. If we keep the windows clean maybe it will shine more brightly. The Sanskrit word for this place – Anahata – can be translated “unstruck”. “The space within your heart  is omnipresent and unchanging.” (~Chhandogya Upanishad ) Always with us, always available for us to touch and feel is a place that is unstruck by the blows of life, unmoved by the compliments and criticisms, the lost jobs and the awards. It is always what it is. We are always who we are. Sometimes we just cover it up with judgments, which are really old experiences in new clothes. Film on our windows.

Maybe this is the impetus to poke our noses into the pesky ethical side of yoga.  But if you’ve been cleaning your windows all by yourself, and someone gives you a step ladder and an extension for your sponge, you’ll be pretty glad to pay attention. And they’re pretty simple, deceptively so. Love, Truth, Conserve your energy, Be quiet, Be fierce, Stay Open, Be present, Learn you’re not in control, Study your experience, Respect Others’ Boundaries. But Wow! try to practice ’em all at once! That’ll give any college Ethics Professor a run for her money.

So you keep coming back to the place of quiet stillness to which your mat has become the doorway. “The heart is the hub of all sacred places; go there and roam.” ~Bhagavan Nityananda 

Shut your piehole, Watch your mind.

Is that too harsh?

Sometimes you need to interrupt. Just Stop. And watch.

And from there, we can see what’s to do. Then just do it. Not Nike style, not white knuckled, not competetively, factually, because it’s the only thing to do. You put you + this evolving situation + you watching, noting you AND the situation… soon, the thing will emerge. It will. Trust me.

And if you act before that, it doesn’t matter that it was “right”, it will be more complicated than it needed to be. It will have unintended consequences. Practice waiting for the dust to settle. I promise it gets easier, it’s quicker than you think. Even in a bonafide emergency – and there are precious few of these, really – the half breath to become present before choosing which of the myriad necessities to engage first is totally worth it. That necessity will flow into the next, because you’ve eliminated the competition between the necessities. You’ve entered the moment.

So time on the mat matters. In asana, in pranayam, in meditation. It matters. It’s a laboratory, it’s practice. Literally. It’s how you train. So show up, do it. Shhhh… your mind is talking. Watch it. Hear it. And move on. Feel your mat.

The Challenge

I’m well into the week of the Camel and some days I’ve indulged in a long Camel-centered practice, breathing length and openness into my shoulders, exploring the relation of my triceps to my shoulder girdle, using them to open more fully. (More on that in another post!) Some days I’ve had 5 minutes there of Sun Salutes, 10 of standing and busted out a camel in between.

I’m reminded through all of this that what camels do is store water. So, am I storing refreshing hydration for extended use, or shedding what has been stored because I didn’t digest it when I first took it in?

And I realize, the camel can’t drink until it creates room anew. It has to use its precious store of glistening droplets before it can drink deeply once more.

And the beauty of this pose is that I’m releasing and drinking simultaneously. I am storing sustenance. I am also letting go to make room. Exchange.

And the letting go can be hard. I’m through the initial terror I wrote about last year (see previous post) . And your responses have taught me that I have been in good company: many of us have stored scary and scared feelings in our guts, hearts and voices.

My new challenge is to release through all the layers of my existence. I’m finding that little – one might even say, petty – annoyances and feelings are coming to light. Feelings, judgments, ideas, words I thought I’d left behind. Ones that don’t bear repeating, but let me assure you they’re embarrassing to find tucked away. And they don’t just confine themselves to my mat. They help themselves to the rest of my day, too. Rude these little judgments are. See! There’s another of those rascals!

What is different is that while they register as feelings, they register as “mine” at first, I am finding it possible to let go of the embodied hooks, see them as “not mine, not not mine”, and not re-store them in new the clothes and layers of new judgments. Now, this isn’t a seamless process, and I’ll be perfecting it a long while. But I’m noticing noticing these packages I’ve left for my new self from all my old selves, and it’s allowing me to be more loving to all of them. And to let a lot go.

So that’s my challenge in the week of the Camel: to be a witness to my own experience, to not get lost in it, to let it do what experience does, which is to pass. And so to be able to fill up anew.

What’s yours?

Love, Bodies, and Demons

I’ve been listening to Iyengar’s Light on Life, read by Patricia Walden (yes, I’m inseperable from my iPod). I’m not an Iyengar practitioner and have always been disturbed by the stories of striking students and denigration of the body. All third (or twenty-seventh) hand, mind you, but repetitive none-the-less. His dualistic perspective seems to me evident from Light on Yoga, and is not one towards which I gravitate.

But I was listening to Lara’s last YogaPeeps show (yay Lara! see my blogroll for a link…) Light on Life was one of the books highlighted at the end. And it was one of those turns of phrase that tells you, “hey, that’s something to check out.”

So here I am, listening to a book I’ve passed over many times before. And I am not only impressed, but awash in his wisdom. These are not, to my ear, the words of a body denigrating yogi. In fact, the bath of tears I find myslef taking when Walden reads his words about loving every cell of your body, putting love into every cell of your body, tells me the shoe may have been on the wrong foot.

I’ve been engaged in a practice aimed at dissolving obstacles recently. I began with exterior obstacles. I quit smoking. I’ve created healthier routines. I’m rearranging my work life to align with my creativity. All well and good. And then I became aware of some stirrings of internal obstacles, stirrings of bonds being shaken. Old bonds. Strong bonds. And then there was fear protecting those bonds. And I was able to dissolve some of that. All the while, mind you, I’m still not sure what the bonds hold, only that it’s part of me and that the binding is keeping it hidden. Also, this is taking weeks. Slow, wordless, sometimes dubious process.  I plod on.

And slowly I am aware of a subtle rumbling, an undercurrent of unhappiness. Not with this or that. In fact this and that all are well. Slowly I find it’s with myself. It’s a secret, long hidden but ever-active seemingly endless cavern of self loathing. That’s right. Self-loathing yoga teacher. if you want to put a label on it.

And actually this is where labels are helpful. Because when I’m teaching I feel the farthest thing from self loathing. I feel transparent and powerful and awed by my students’ power all at the same time. I feel beautiful.

But when I look at myself or find myself wearing the role of yoga teacher (as in “what does your wife do for a living? Oh, how interesting! kind of role) deep feelings emerge that don’t fit with my pictures. Unsettling feelings, feelings familiar from long ago, from things and times I thought I’d processed and released. The ugly little girl (not the truth, but my picture of myself). The chubby girl. The athletic girl (not used as a compliment). They’re all here with me once more.

And Iyengar’s wisdom in Walden’s voice is helping me to care for them, to love every cell of them. To enjoy all my steps, to realize my samskara, meet it with tapas, svadyaya, surrender and find samtosha. My bonds are little by little being released, and the prisoners are escaping. They didn’t need to be locked up. Only to be acknowledged and loved.

Fall back into your Self

Yesterday my practice was crunched between writing and dog walks and getting off to work, quick sun salutations to warm and move me. The familiarity helps me connect to contentment and stay open for the surprises of my body and my day.

I’d just finished writing on Gather about the pain body Eckhart Tolle talks about, so this way of relating to pain and perceived burdens was much on my mind. As I entered the rhythm of practice and my mind began to clear of such entanglement, I rose from the forward bend at the end of a cycle, arms circling wide, dropping my tailbone to raise my heart. The heaviness of these thoughts lifted and I sensed them as a cloud gathering from my root, up my core and coalescing in front of my third eye. As my hands rose and I lengthened my side bodies in Urdva Hastasana I felt lightness and clarity. And as I brought my hands together in front of my third eye to trace down my midline to touch my heart, it was as if my hands had come together to form a knife’s edge which dissipated the cloud.

Try it for yourself, intentionally imagining what weighs on you as a cloud in front. Standing, circle your arms up and out, coming together and slicing through the pea-thick murkiness. See how you feel.

In some cultures the Self is believed to live in the back of the body, around the spine. I was told this when I first had the bodily sensation of falling back into myself years ago. As if I’d been living out in front, disconnected, and becoming present felt like finally coinciding with myself. Fall back into yourself today. Take a quiet moment, ask what will bring you back. Even if you’re not sure what the “right” answer is, try your first idea and see how it feels, if it gives you another idea, or if you just want to stay with the feeling you’ve now found. Fall back into your Self today, again, and again.

counterpose and camel pose

I love seeing what searches bring you here! Two of the searches yesterday really made me think:

“counter pose to warrior III” &

“why does camel pose in yoga store emotion”.

I have been looking for what others think about camel pose – or ustrasana – and emotion for a while (see my blog on “camel terror”). I haven’t found a lot of guidance, but here’s what I’ve decided: Ustrasana doesn’t store emotion, rather it releases emotion, particularly emotions we’re storing in our bellies and hearts. The third and fourth, and even the fifth chakras’ physical seats are opened and activated in ustrasana, as well as the front channel, or meridian, of the body. Anything we’ve squirrelled away there is stirred up when we lean back and expose those areas of our bodies the way we do in camel pose.

For me, I feel my third chakra, the solar plexis, most riled up by leaning back into this pose. I physically feel emotion at that location and then it spreads up and to a lesser extent down. I think that, like camels who store water, we store emotion along the body parts stretched in camel, and this position is a really juicy way to let go of what we don’t need.

The counter pose question is really good. A counter pose is a pose that’s meant to balance the effects of a preceeding pose, like fish for shoulderstand, or back for forward bends (or visa versa). Now, Vira III – or Warrior III – is a one sided balance pose, so by one way of looking at it, the opposite side is the counter pose.  Counter poses are usually used to neutralize effects on the spinal column, and in Vira III the Spine is long and neutrally aligned, so there is no need to neutralize.  I was unable to find any listed counterposes in the sources I consulted.

So, that’s all for this session of “ask the yoga instructor” 🙂 I love looking through the searches, but also feel free to email me with your questions or yoga concerns:

yogaguides (at) gmail (dot) com 

Yoga ON!!!

Uddiyana Bandha

I’ve been working with a breathing practice related to uddiyana bandha, the abdominal lock in which you compress your abdominal muscles as far back to the spine as possible and draw the diaphragm up and under the rib cage emptying the lungs as completely as possible and retaining the breath out.

With the method I’ve been using you then pump the abdominal muscles in & out while retaining the breath out. You relax the abdominals and diaphragm before drawing breath in.

 I’m experiencing many of the same emotions I found in camel a few weeks back. They’re not as overwhelming this time because of the work I did in Ustrasana.

I no longer identify the feeling as fear… I’m not sure I have a word for it yet. It’s definitely an edge, but an edge I can work with consciously. Has anyone else had similar experiences?

Core Strength… Up Side Down

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Image by Neeta Lind via Flickr

When you change your perspective, you change your perspective. Tautology?  Not for yogis! Going up side down involves so many parts of our bodies and psyches which we mostly take for granted that doing it consciously really can help you shift your consciousness.

And the way I’ve been teaching headstands has helped me and my students focus on core strength, both abdominally as well as soulfully. So first, I will tell you that head stand is not recommended for people with neck problems, strokes, glaucoma. For me and many people I work with it also involves falling a bit, so clear out any obstacles – furniture, dogs, shoes – and arrange for a soft place to land. If you are worried, place blankets or pillows around. Mostly, practice mindfully: As always, practice honesty with yourself about your own body and practice nonviolence with yourself. Pushing beyond your own limits only grinds samskaras deeper, it won’t dissolve them faster.

So often when we’re getting into headstand we place our hands and forearms on the ground near a wall, interlace the fingers and put our head in the cradle we’ve created. If, however, you find you’re still using the wall to stay upright, take a step back and give yourself more support. Then you’ll find your core strength with more clarity and can explore how that feels while you build it.

The abdominal muscles and the back muscles work together to support you. The back of the belly is just the front of the back. The muscles that we count on, mostly unthoughtfully, through most of our lives to support us while sitting, standing, walking are the same muscles we’re using in headstand to hold ourselves up. So why don’t they work as well?

Because of the imbalances of everyday life right side up. Just as we overcome natural, instinctual fears of falling when we go up side down, we overcome the natural and habitual ways we “hold ourselves up” both physically and psychologically through the challenges and joys of our days. We’re learning new ways and connections to the deep muscles of alignment. So give some thought to what you align yourself  in your everyday life as you’re preparing for this sequence. (The sequence I’ll describe is tadasana – malasana – bakasana – shirsasana and reverse).

Start in tadasana a couple of feet from facing a wall. Close your eyes, hands in anjali mudra in front of your heart. Inner spiral your thighs, press them apart, connect through your feet. Feel the back of the pelvis become open and your abdomen firmly supporting your spine. Roll your shoulders up to your ears and melt them down your back, feeling your sternum curl up to the sky and your heart open from the strength of your stance. Relax your tongue, and open your eyes.

Move your feet a little wider than hip width apart. Squat. You might want to use a blanket under your heels so you are fully supported, if they come up off the ground. Press the outside of your elbows into the insides of your knees and visa versa, hands still in anjali mudra. You are now in malasana, garland pose. Melt into the garland.

From here, place your hands on the floor in front of you, inside your knees and just in front. Keep your knees on or near your elbows. Dive forward, intentionally placing the crown of your head on the floor about six inches in front of your hands (you’ll know where it feels a comfortable distance). If your knees aren’t already on your elbows, bring them up one at a time. You are now in what is commonly called “tripod”. Your head and the palms of both hands are on the floor, the knees supported on the rigiht angles of the arms. You can stay here to explore, or …

Bring your awareness to your belly. Spend a minute really exploring what you are feeling there. When you are firmly rooted in this place, consciously begin to bring your knees in & up using the strength of your belly. Feel the muscles come back and feel the stretch from your sternum to your pelvis. When your legs are overhead, notice the relationship between your belly and your back in keeping them there. Allow yourself to sway and notice the emotions coming up. Touch them with your consciousness gently but keep your attention in your core. Make your legs strong, inner spiral the thighs, point & spread your toes, feel your calves hug into the bone. Shine your heart out towards your hands. Notice how this affects your balance.

When you are ready to come down, Focus on your breath, steady and smooth. Bend your knees and tuck in & down til the knees are on your elbows again and then rock back through bakasana into malasana, resting for a moment before stretching back to standing. You may now be ready for sivasana, or you may want to explore some one sided balance poses, such as vrkasana or garundasana.

Always observe your own capabilities and needs, listen to your own inner guru (the only one who matters!).

Zzzzzzzzzzz….

 Yeah, so this was me today. All day. All through the day I’d been looking forward to being at the Sanskrit seminar.

Made me a feel a little like this when I shook it off:

C’est la vie.

Actually, it’s kind of a pretty picture, but I digress.

I’m not sure why I keep doing things like this…  I only work three nights a week, but they’re long nights & I’m really quite worthless for anything between except sleeping. Accepting this would be wise. But no,  I think, “Sleep?!? Sleep? I don’t need  no stinkin’ sleep!”

Luckily these days the things I get all excited about and try to plan into these nooks and crannies are things like yoga seminars. There’s something inherently incompatible between self abuse and the contemplative nature of these endeavors.

The worst thing: I love sleep! I love dreaming, I love waking up, I love the bed I sleep in & the sheets and the backs of my eyelids.

I guess the whole thing is that life is about choices. Action and devotion are how we create ourselves. It’s not whether or not I learn a little more about this amazing language that matters, it’s how I treat myself and my world in the process.

Come to think of it, I do feel more like this than I would’ve rousting myself from dreamstate 7 hours ago after a couple hours’ of sleep after a weekend of controlled chaos:

Perhaps I did the right thing, if only by accident. And perhaps I’ll drop the guilt of not following through on my plan, my goal, my intention. Perhaps, I’ll just let myself enjoy this one, gorgeous, beautiful life.

Perhaps.