Thinking Twice: Our “Second” Brain

Most people are unaware that we have a “second” brain, located in our gut. Yet how many times have we heard the admonition, “Trust your gut?”

 

There is good reason for this. Known as the enteric nervous system (ENS), this second brain is part of the autonomic nervous system. ENS reacts to emotions, receives and sends impulses, and records experiences. It doesn’t have thoughts like our brains, yet the ENS can affect our moods and our thoughts.

 

Sheaths of neurons are embedded in the alimentary canal. They run some nine meters end-to-end from the esophagus to the anus. There are more neurons in the alimentary canal as part of the ENS than in the brain or the spinal cord. Wow! Who would have ever guessed?

 

Most of the ENS work is done in the digestive process, yet it has also been tied to abdominal epilepsy and abdominal migraines, and most recently, research as being one of the causes of autism.

 

Our center of gravity, the hara, lies just below the navel. We talk about “listening to our gut” and living our authenticity” from our core.

 

The good news is that the belly is an important center of energy and of consciousness. In yoga and in Buddhism, many of thedevas and icons have large bellies, thought to be full of prāna.

 

Since abdomen is a sacred space in our bodies, we would do well to stop being judgmental about how it appears and shift to respecting how it feels. Now that sounds good to me.

 

 

 

What’s It All About?

Please note the ideas in the following article may not reflect the opinion of YTOC. These are my personal insights, shared by my dear friend Pat Hansen and other yoga teachers.

Yoga Teacher
Registered Teacher
Certified Teacher
Yoga Stretching

What is in the Name, the Words, the Essence of Yoga? ? ?

So much is currently happening in the yoga world. Studios are popping up all over the Denver Metro area. More and more people are becoming teachers. With all of the rapid growth, what is happening to Yoga?

Last year someone told me their girlfriend went to work at Recreational Center in Denver. Her first assignment was to teach a yoga class. When she responded that she had not studied yoga, the Director of the Center responded, “Go in and do some stretching, no one will know the difference.” I personally gasped at hearing this story.

A couple days ago, I received information on a program program offered in Denver that allows people to do a sixteen hour training, teach eight hours and receive a Yoga Teacher’s Certificate. I am very concerned.

The Yoga Alliance worked diligently for several years deciding on how to define “minimum standards” to be considered a Registered Yoga Teacher. Representatives from thirteen different schools and yoga organizations (including YTOC) gave input. The standards include study in the following areas: 30 hours in Yoga Philosophy and Lifestyle, 20 hours in Anatomy and Physiology , 20 hours of Teaching Methodology, 10 hours of Practice Teach, 30 Elective hours and most important 100 hours of Techniques which include asana, pranayama and meditation.

Can someone without this much training teach yoga? Yes. Should they be able to call themselves a “registered” teacher? No. Should they be able to call themselves “certified?” I don’t know. Certified has two meanings. The first is to “prove by certificate.” This the person has done — they have completed what the organizer presented. The second meaning of certified is “guaranteed, reliably endorsed.” Would I consider someone with a minimal amount of training “reliably endorsed?” No, I cannot say I would “reliably endorse” a teacher with only a sixteen hour training.

Why all the training hours? I feel there is a dramatic difference between yoga and just moving into the position of a pose (which I am going to language as stretching for this article). I feel in a short training, stretching is emphasized more than yoga. It is the position they are teaching. The difference in a yoga pose and merely stretching is more than the Spiritual component. It includes — well, let me be specific:

oYogasana focuses on a single, comparatively slow contraction of isolated muscles followed by relaxation. Stretching is often a repeated, sometimes vigorous succession of contractions and expansions.

oToning and strengthening in yogasana comes from the consciousness of working specific intrinsic muscle groups in a sustained manner. The purpose of stretching is more frequently used to balance an aerobic or weight workout or lengthen muscles after they have been challenged.

oYoga isolates muscle groups and draws the practitioners attention to relax muscles which do not pertain to the asana. Stretching is often more focused on the goal, rather than the details. How often in life do we flex into something we don’t need to be concerned about? Asana becomes a practice of identifying the priority muscles (life experience) and letting the other muscles(and life experience) go.

oStretching is not normally organized in a sequential format to balance the external and internal bodies. Yoga is taught in a format to work the body thoroughly, both externally and internally.

oThe slow gradual movements of yoga places no strain on the heart. Strenuous stretching can strain the heart.

oStretching focuses on attaining an external goal. Yoga is an experience of the journey. Often, when we attain the “goal,” we discover an internal fine tuning which invites us to explore the asana with a different perspective and alignment.

oYoga is as much about mobility as flexibility. Tuning into the interconnectedness of all parts of the body enhances both mobility and flexibility. Stretching, with the goal of only flexibility in a specific position, can compromise mobility in other movements. An example of this is working a forward bend to touch the toes, often straining the hamstrings and psoas, limiting motion in other movements. Yoga would explore the forward bend from the lengthening of the low back and gluteal muscles supporting the elongation of the psoas, creating a stable core and more mobility.

oYou can’t stretch and already tight muscle. In stretching, reaching for a goal creates a tightness of the muscle. Yoga uses the integration of breath to massage the muscles, softening the tissues of the body and inviting the continued elongation through gentleness. Our bodies like gentleness.

oStretching works the skeletal muscles. Yoga works the intrinsic muscles, organs and glands.

oStretching and exercise is often presented in a competitive format. Yoga emphasizes tranquility, harmony and no competition.

oStretching is designed to balance the physical. Yoga is designed to effect the mental and Spiritual.

oThe whole theory of yogic anatomy, balancing the nadis, chakras and the inner body is a concept foreign to the fitness world. The integration of inner flow of yoga empowers the asana practice.

oAsana is defined as “sthira sukham asanam,” a steady comfortable position. The definition includes a steadiness of body, breath and mind. Stretching does not include this perspective.

oBreathing practices, or for more advanced practitioners, pranayama, are integral to yogasana practice. I personally teach “breath proceeds movement.” The breath opens, massages and aligns the body, preparing it to move into expressing the asana. Stretching does not emphasize an integrated breath.

oYogasana is about accumulating energy rather than spending energy. A practice properly done allows a practitioner to walk away feeling like they have added energy. Stretching can leave a person feeling they have expended energy.

oRelaxed efficiency is another way to define the body process of a yogasana practice. Yoga is not about cooling down after a workout. It is more than an alternative to a workout. It is a practice for living life, relaxed and efficient.

oYoga is an analogy for living. If we are competitive on the mat, we are probably competitive in other areas of our life. If we are judging ourself, we probably do this in life. If we nitpicking our poses, we probably nitpick our life. Stretching misses the vital opportunity to enhance self awareness.

oRama Jyoti Vernon said, “When you put away your practice mat, your true yoga begins.” Yoga goes beyond the mat. It is more than stretching, it is an opportunity to gain tools to live your life fully. The other day a student came up to me to share how yoga made a difference. She realized she had a rock in her shoe. She was excited because she actually felt her feet. More important, rather than ignoring the rock (which she would have done at one time) she stopped and took the rock out! Silly? No. She was willing to honor her body! Do you? Do you even feel it? The awareness of yoga invites you to listen and take care of yourself so other things you do become an overflow.

Understanding how the body is impacted anatomically and in the subtle body are essential. Yogasana are powerful. I have made myself sick from improper choices of asana and pranayama. A teacher needs to be able to evaluate the students and adapt the class to create safety for the students. Stretching classes do not emphasize the power to honor the moment.

In the Puranas, it is said, “Shiva manipulated his body into 840,000 ways, each represented a different bird or beast. These asanas, energized the body, revealing the pulsating animal instincts within, the ones that have to be brought under control.” Merely moving into a position does not necessarily open the door for someone to bring their instincts under control.

The many points listed above are elements you can’t pick up in a short training. They come from learning to be present for yourself, practicing and fine tuning each asana until they become second nature. The many “hours” of training, whether done through a professional program, or through your own life experience are a key to Yoga.

Have you been inclusive of the “whole” of Yoga in your training and teaching experience? Are your students learning to stretch or are they learning the depth and breadth of yoga? How do you define yourself — a Teacher, Registered or Certified? How do you feel having people listed as Certified teachers with only a sixteen hour training plus eight hours of teaching?

How can we keep the integrity in Yoga?

 

This article was first published in 2010.

Arthritis Diet from Indra Devi

Indra Devi gave this diet to me during the Unity in Yoga’s Peace Conference in Jerusalem January, 1995. Mataji Indra Devi is called the “mother of Yoga” as she was the first woman teacher in the western hemisphere. Currently 102 years young and quite healthy, she is living in Buenos Aires, Argentina where she has over 2000 weekly students at her 6 major centers. Mataji claimed that 90% of those people who followed this diet get relief from their symptoms within ten days.

For ten days eat a diet consisting only of 90% whole grain (brown or basmati) rice and 10% of any type of cooked squash. Cook one cup of rice for two cups of water. Every spoonful of rice is to be chewed at least 50 times until only a watery gruel remains in the mouth. Every two hours between meals have a relaxing non-caffeine tea. During the diet consume no other foods – no coffee, sugar or condiments. Drink as much water as you can.

Be prepared for your body’s release of toxins that are the cause of the arthritis. This may take the form of headaches, body pains, constipation, moodiness, irritability, etc. Practice being present to yourself and do not medicate yourself to avoid your feelings with addictive substances – sugar, caffeine, food cravings – nor avoid your true feelings by watching excessive TV or seeking other sensory stimulation. Take plenty of water and herbal teas. You might consult an herbalist or take a Bach flower remedy (see me for a personal formula) to assist with the emotional or mental difficulties that may arise.

If there is pain from the arthritis symptoms, take a raw potato and slice it to the size of the painful area. Lay the flesh of the potato against the painful site and tie it there with gauze. Let it stay until the potato becomes hard then replace it with another. This can be done during the day though it is especially good for overnight use.

If there is inflammation, apply a milk compress (a small towel soaked in milk) at room temperature. For fever apply a vinegar and water compress on the shin and calf area down to the foot. Wrap your lower legs fully to retain the moisture then lay in a warm bed and within four hours the fever will be gone.

If you become constipated take an enema or one tablespoon of castor oil just prior to bed.

Following this an anti-pitta regimen (to lessen heat and inflammation) is recommended for your regular routine – eliminate all night shades (potato, tomato, eggplant, bell pepper, and tobacco) and spicy foods. This will help you to identify the most likely aggravating foods and activities. More details can be found in Ayurvedic Healing by David Frawley or other Ayurvedic books.

Asanas, Koshas & Elements: An Essential Relationship: by Mark Giubarelli

“The five elements and Koshas are essential to your proper understanding of this art. You cannot understand balance of harmony if you do not perceive all these layers and elements.” That is what my teachers told me in my earlier years. Many thousands of classes down the road and the clarification has come. Not only has the clarity come, but with it is the ability to give a clear presentation of these theories and concepts to people, even those with no understanding of yoga.
It is complicated to write about these matters and how they are viewed in the yoga postures. So I will just touch upon them. The elements start with the heaviest: earth–skin, bone, and flesh;water—fluids in the body; fire–mental charge that is applied to the body; Air–the air in the body; Space–viewed by my teachers as mental presence. The Five Bodies (Koshas) starting with the heaviest: Anatomical Body; Physiological Body; Psychological Body; Intellectual Body; Blissful Body.

It is necessary to consider each body; otherwise it is almost impossible to reach a blissful state in not only the Yoga posture being performed but also on the sequence and transitioning from posture to posture. We can think of the five bodies like this while in a posture. How is the bone structure? Can I push any further? What effect does this have on my nervous system and mind? How does this posture affect my breathing? Is there that state of lightness in the pose where I am engulfed in light and that light is engulfed in me…where I am no longer inside or out…where I am one with the light that is all around me?
I hope you can attend this presentation talking first about the theories above and then applying those theories to a Yoga Sequence. (Note: Sanskrit left out.)

Mark has taught thousands of classes in the Denver Area, specializing in Vinyasa style, the art of sequencing. He is originally from Scotland, where he began the study of Yoga that eventually carried him to further studies in California and a teaching life in Colorado.

The Yoga of Freedom by Roseanna Frechette

From the time we enter our first hatha yoga class, we are told that yoga means union. But it is the way in which we experience yogic practices that gives personal truth to this meaning. If, through pranic breath and asana practice, the mind becomes clear as the physical body relaxes and opens, we may connect with our inner truth and the presence of spirit. As we find ourselves progressively on the yoga path, embracing an array of time-tested practices, we may begin to identify the underlying value of these practices, the reason for having yoga in our lives. We may begin to understand what Patanjali, yogic sage and author of the Yoga Sutras, identifies as the goal of our practice. We may experience freedom. Or not.
Somewhere in my experience as a teacher of yoga, I have understood that the yoga of freedom lies in my willingness to continually open the door for my students’ independent experience of the practice we share. Thus I become a steward of freedom. But what exactly is freedom? Webster says it is “the quality or state of being free,” with free meaning “to relieve or rid of what restrains, confines, restricts, or embarrasses” also “not subject to the control or domination of another.” In his book Freedom and Destiny, author Rollo May points out that: “Freedom is the possibility of development, of enhancement of one’s life; or the possibility of withdrawing, shutting oneself up, denying and stultifying one’s growth.” May implies that freedom includes choice.
As teachers of yoga, we are in a position to exert power and control over others in such a way as to impart our subjective experience of yoga on those others. We are also in a position to lead others through a series of shared moments in such a way as to encourage those others to find their own personal meaning for the freedom that lies at the heart of this practice. We are in a position to ride that fine line between tyranny and freedom, the line between having students submit to our will or discover the truth of their own. The subtle differences that comprise this line are, in my opinion, very important.
For instance, I can always tell when I’m teaching too much. I begin noticing a change in my attitude and language. When this happens, I begin to sense that I am telling my students what to do more and leading them into making independent choices less. If not careful, my teaching agenda can become a prescribed practice that forgets the individual. To be fair, we must have structure, some sort of boundary we can recognize and bump up against in order to measure our freedom. Our job as teachers of hatha yoga is one of creating a sturdy framework for our students’ practice. How we do that is worth noticing.
I consider myself blessed to have learned early on that asana practice is meant to be a form of meditation in which we can find personal equilibrium, personal equanimity. It is meant to be, as Mukunda Stiles states in his interpretation of Patanjali’s Sutras, “…steady and comfortable…” I believe that by offering our students choices, we can more surely facilitate their experience of steady comfort. I also take Webster’s words re: restriction, confinement and embarrassment to heart when striving to honor the goal of freedom. Some teaching techniques I favor include:

  • giving students step-by-step instructions that invite them to find their uniqueness and the right place for them to be in a pose, often encouraging them to move towards a place rather than all the way to a place (a favorite cue being “as best you can”);
  • taking long reflective moments of still time in between times of action;
  • giving students full permission to do something different than what I am doing if what I am doing is not okay for them;
  • being playful and offering creative movement as a way of self-exploration and release;
  • allowing for moments of spontaneity within the class structure;
  • using occasional cues that specifically honor free will such as: “you may choose to…” “if you will….” or, another favorite, “if this challenges you, you may stay here;”
  • reminding students now and then that this is their practice, not mine, and inviting them to take care of themselves throughout; AND
  • to “stay tuned in” for their own needs and awareness within the practice.

By inviting our students’ willingness to explore who they truly are rather than who they are expected to be in this practice we also invite their experience of freedom. In his freedom discourse, Rollo May asks: “Have we not too easily and readily seized upon freedom as our birthright and forgotten that each of us must rediscover it for ourselves?” As translated in Barbara Stoler Miller’s Yoga: Discipline of Freedom, Patanjali tells us “Freedom is…the power of consciousness in a state of true identity.” Let us remember the power we have, as teachers of hatha yoga, to offer our students such freedom. Or not.

Roseanna Frechette is Founder & Director of Inner City Yoga in Denver where she teaches all populations and trains instructors. Creator of the audiocassette “Refreshing Hatha Yoga” and www.yogabtyes.com, her writings have appeared in various publications including Yoga Journal. Roseanna is V.P., Programs, for Yoga Teachers of Colorado as of January 2001. This article was written out of a presentation Roseanna has previously made to YTOC.

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali Samadhi Pada Portion on Contemplation

I.1. ATHA YOGANUSASANAM

ATHA – now
YOGA – yoga
ANUSASANAM – instruction

Now begins the instruction of Yoga.

 

I.2. YOGAS CITTA VRTTI NIRODHAH

YOGAS – yoga
CITTA – sum total of the mind, consciousness
VRTTY – fluctuations
NIRODHAH – control

Yoga is the control of the fluctuations of the mind.

 

For many of us, when we think of Yoga, we think of the physical postures. While the physical practice of Yoga will bring you many benefits, it can also be viewed as a means toward a better capability to control the mind, moving toward a feeling of oneness with the universe.

I.3. TADA DRASTUH SVARUPE AVASTHANAM

TADA – then
DRASTUH – the Seer
SVARUPE – in its true nature
AVASTHANAM – abides

Then the Seer abides in His true nature.

 

As the fluctuations of the mind are quieted, one can then begin to experience her true nature. If you have a jar filled with water with a little mud in it, it is only when the jar remains still for a period of time that you can see clearly through the water. Likewise, we use breath, awareness and receptivity in our physical practice of Yoga to clear our minds, letting some of the “mud” settle. Then, our true nature can be experienced.

I.4. VRTTI SARUPYAM ITARATRA

 

VRTTI – fluctuations
SARUPYAM – identifies
ITARATRA – otherwise

Otherwise we identify with the fluctuations of the mind.

 

Once we identify with these fluctuations, then we lose our true Self and become blind to the one unchanging consciousness.

I.5. VRTTAYAH PANCATAYYAH KLISTA AKLISTAH

 

VRTTAYAH – fluctuations
PANCATAYYAH – five kinds
KLISTA – painful, distressing
AKLISTAH – not painful, not distressing

There are five kinds of mental fluctuations, which are either painful, distressing or not painful, distressing.

 

Each of the five fluctuations can fall within these two broad categories and they can change with time. On the whole, selfish thoughts bring pain, while selfless thoughts bring peace.

I.6. PRAMANA VIPARYAYA VIKALPA NIDRA SMRTAYAH

 

PRAMANA – correct knowledge
VIPARYAYA – misconception
VIKALPA – delusion
NIDRA – sleep
SMRTAYAH – memory

These are correct knowledge, misconception, delusion, sleep and memory.

 

These are the five types of “vrittis” or fluctuations and they will be explained in the next five sutras.

Namasté

 

This article first appeared in 2009.

The Season for Ahimsa

Two lives injected into the global consciousness the life-proof that it is possible to transform the human community without violence. Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King drew on a concept that spans millennia and cultures: the concept of nonviolence, or as we know in the yogic tradition, Ahimsa. Arun Gandhi, the grandson of M.K. Gandhi and his wife, Sunanda, created A Season for Nonviolence in 1998 to commemorate the lives of these two great men. The fourth anniversary of the Season extends from January 30 – April 4, 2001. These dates are represent the 54th and 34th anniversaries of the assignations of Gandhi and King.

During this time, I will be reading quotes and focusing yoga classes with a theme of how we create inner violence through agendas, self- judgment, and competition. Each week I will be using the precepts outlined in Yama and Niyama to create awareness for yoga students. Focusing through how I language asana to give students an opportunity to practice ahimsa through svadyaya. Examples of guiding students may include the language reflecting these thoughts:

Week 1 – Ahimsa – Nonviolence: Are you being kind to yourself as you explore the poses? Are you pushing too hard? Can you find the edge between not challenging yourself and pushing to hard?

Week 2 – Satya – Truthfulness: Am I being truthful about my expression of the poses? Is today a day I need to be more gentle and kind or is it a day my body allows a different expression of the pose? Am I lying to myself as I try to be the “frozen pose in the book”?

Week 3 Asteya – Nonstealing: Do I own the asana for myself or do I steal my “agenda for the pose from someone else,” violating my own expression?

Week 4 – Brahmacarya – Moderation: How do I practice fully and yet moderate my asana and pranayama to honor my energy? Have I eaten moderately? Do I sleep moderately? Where is the edge where I push myself or find myself slothful — both on and off the mat?

Week 5 – Aparigraha – Simplicity and sharing: How do I “own” what is mine, share what is more than enough? Do I keep my asana flow simple or complicate it with adding more, pushing my limits and not being totally present for Self?

Week 6 – Sauca – Purity: Do I find the gem in each asana? Am I pushing to do it right, violating the purity within the unfoldment of asana flows?

Week 7 – Santosha – Contentment: Where is the edge between contentment, sinking in and being with the depth of asana and reaching to attain external image?

Week 8 – Tapa – Discipline: Do I practice the old concept of no pain no gain, or do I discipline myself to return again and again to Self as asana unfolds in its expression and I unfold into the Being rather than Doing?

Week 9 – Svadyaya – Introspection: Am I doing the asana or am I exploring? Do I practice “stihira sukaham asana” steady and comfortable asana in body, breath and Spirit?

Week 10 – Ishvara Pranidhana – Surrender to God: Do I control my practice or is there a place of flow? How does it allow myself to fully be in the hands of God?

With each of these practices, we have an opportunity to look inside and see the many facets of inner violence. I personally feel, how we treat ourselves, overflows into our treatment of others. Asana and “on the mat” yoga is simply an opportunity for us to listen and practice, reframing our behavioral patterns from deep introspection and a cellular release. Asana practice is a gateway for all students to do the same — especially if we as teachers model the path.

I would like to encourage every yoga teacher to take the opportunity during this time to invite your students to support the Season for Nonviolence. Whether you integrate the above ideas, read quotes or ask them to do an exercise such as creating a diary of how they manage anger and create loving kindness in life.

Gandhian Principles with regard to Personal Policy:

1. Respect – To respect others and accept the interdependence and interconnectedness of all life.

2. Understanding – We must begin to understand the whys of being here for ourselves and others.

3. Acceptance – Out of respect and understanding, we can begin to accept on another’s differences.

4. Appreciating Differences – Move beyond acceptance into appreciation and celebration of differences.

“My optimism rests on my belief in the infinite possibilities of the individual to develop non violence. The more you develop it in your own being, the more infectious it becomes till it overwhelms your surroundings and by and by might overwhelm the world.” Gandhi

Kingian Principles of Nonviolence:

1. Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people.

2. Nonviolence seeks to win friendship and understanding.

3. Nonviolence seeks to defeat injustices, not people.

4. Nonviolence holds that suffering for a cause can educate and transform.

5. Nonviolence chooses love instead of hate.

6. Nonviolence holds that the universe is on the side of justice and right will prevail.

“The nonviolent approach does not immediately change the heart of the oppressor. It first does something to the hearts and souls of those committed to it. It gives them new self-respect; it calls up resources of strength and courage they did not know they had. Finally, it reaches the opponent and so stirs his conscious that reconciliation can become a reality.” King

There is a local task force developing programs for the Season For Nonviolence. If you choose to be more involved, you can contact the local representative, Robin Chapuis at 303-984-0930. Or feel to join me on an independent level of speaking the message of nonviolence as we connect to our students on a daily basis.

Namasté

This article was first published in 2009.

Spiritual Guidance on Meditation

A while back I was in a yoga class and the teacher said, “I will be guiding a vipassana meditation from the Buddhist tradition as there are no forms of meditation in the yogic tradition.” I was aghast. Meditation IS the basis of the yogic tradition!

I do realize, in America, many people view yoga as only asana. Traditionally, this was not so. Yogasana was not recorded in texts until the third century C.E.. Meditation is illuminated in the Vedas, Upanishads, Epics and it is the major focus of Pantajali Yoga Sutras. Here are a few examples of scripture references:

~~Yoga, as expressed in Pantajali’s Yoga Sutras 1.2: “Yoga citta vritti nirhodaha,” is about calming the fluctuations of the mind (meditation). Through calming the fluctuation, the true Self is realized. 1.3.

~~The Hatha Pradipika opens with the following statement: “I bow to Lord Shiva who taught the lore of Hatha Yoga, which is held in high esteem as if it were a flight of steps for the aspirant who looks forward to climbing the highest peak of Rajayoga.” 1.1. The Gheranda Samhita starts with a similar verse. Swami Kripalu explains this by saying, ”In Hatha the organs of action are mastered: in Rajayoga the organs of the sense are mastered.”

~~Taittiriya Upanishad, Bhrigu asks his father, Varuna, “Sir, teach me Brahman (God).” Varuna responds, “Seek to know Brahman by meditation. Meditation is Brahman.”

~~Bhakti Sutras, verse 6 says, “The devotee first becomes intoxicated with bliss (meditation). Then, having realized That, he becomes inert and silent and takes his delight in the Atman.”

~~Bhagavad Gita, includes directions on how to meditate.

8.8: “When you make your mind one pointed through regular practice of medi-tation, you will find the supreme glory of God.”

12.6 – 7: But, they for whom I am the supreme goal . . . . and meditate on me with single hearted devotion . . . . I will swiftly rescue . . . . for their consciousness has entered into me.

6.10 -16, 18: Day after day, let the Yogi practice the harmony of soul (meditation): in a secret place, in deep solitude, master of his mind, hoping for nothing, desiring nothing. Let him find a place that is pure and a seat that is restful, neither too high nor too low. . . On that seat let him rest and practice Yoga of the purification of the soul: with the life of his body and mind in peace; his soul in silence before the One. With upright body, head and neck, which rest still and move not, with inner gaze which is not restless, but rests still between the eyebrows; with soul in peace, and all fear gone, and strong in the vow of holiness, let him rest with mind in harmony, his soul on me, his God supreme. The Yogi who, lord of his mind, ever prays in this harmony of soul, attains the peace of Nirvana, the peace supreme that is in me. Yoga is a harmony. . . . When the mind of the Yogi is in harmony and finds rest in the Spirit within, all restless desires gone, then he is a Yukta, one in God. 6.35: “The mind is restless. It is indeed hard to train. But by constant practice and by freedom from passions the mind in truth can be trained.”

~~Pantajali describes meditation as a process. Sutra 2.54 and 55: Pratyahara is the process of the senses imitating the mind’s withdrawal by withdrawing contact with their respective objects. From that follows the highest mastery over the senses.

Sutra 3.1, 2, 3 and 7: Concentration (dharana) is fixing the mind to one object. Meditation (dhyana) is an uninterrupted flow of thought toward the object. That same (meditation) becomes trance (samadhi) when the object alone shines forth and there is no consciousness of the mind itself. The three (dharana, dhyana and samadhi) are internal in relation to the preceding limbs.

Many yogasana classes include relaxation, not meditation, although they may call it meditation. Not everyone understands the difference so let us begin by clarifying terminology, based on the above readings. Relaxation guides you in connecting with the inner self within the world. Meditation guides you to merging with the Spirit through one pointed focus until you and the point become one.

Relaxation is a step in the path of meditation. It allows you and/or the students to be quiet, a time out to be with oneself and begin the inner journey. Therefore, it is easy to include in a class. For many, it is the closest they have come to a form of meditation and it is very different from their many concepts.

A relaxation can be silent, with music and/or a guided visualization. The language used in the flow will be broad and permissive. People with various inclinations will relax better with different clues during the process. Visual people like to have colors and images introduced. Audio people want to have sounds. Kinesthetic people want to feel the energy. “Take a walk on the sandy beach. Feel the sand under your feet. Notice the color of the sky, the sound of the waves and birds.” would be a very inclusive guided visualization.

Students walk away from the experience relaxed and less stressed. They know they have been inward and they feel they have had a meditative experience. This is not really meditation. Meditation is being one focus so we merge with our concept of a Universal Presence. I describe this process similar to the following with “T” representing thoughts and “O” representing focus on the object.

T T T T O T T T T O TO T T T TO T T T O T T T T O T T T O T T O T T T O T T O T T T O T T O T T O T O T T T O T T O T O T T O T O T T O T O O T T T O T T O O O T T O O O T O O O T O O O O O T O O O O O T O O O O O O O T O O O O O O O O O T O O O O O O O

As you can see, it is movement from the busy thoughts to a focus on the object. It becomes a training, not an instantaneous experience. Krishna emphasizes practice in the Gita and I feel this is the journey Pantajali refers to as he illuminates the steps for pratyahara, dharana to dhyana and samadhi.

The major issue, which comes up for many, is what object do I focus on. We hear about focusing on the void. What in the world is void! ? ! Our mind gets busy just trying to figure out the void. Let’s look at the scriptures, Pantajali, 1. 32 – 41: “For the removal of distractions and symptoms, practice on one principle is to be done. The mind becomes purified by cultivating attitudes of friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the miserable, delight for the virtuous and indifference for the evil-natured.

The mind may be calmed by expulsion and retention of breath. Or else the mind can be made steady by merging it in subtle sense perceptions. Or by perception of the luminous light within, which is beyond sorrow. Or contemplation on one who is free from attachments. Or else by giving it the knowledge of dream and deep sleep for support. Or by meditation as desired. Mastery is gained when the mind can be fixed on the smallest atom as well as on the greatest infinity. Just as a transparent crystal takes the color of the object on which it rests, so a purified mind is absorbed in the object of contemplation, whether the object is gross or subtle, the senses or ego, or the pure I- sense.”

This is a powerful guidance. To review, focus on one object: kindness towards others, pranayama, sensations, inner light, a deity, a dream, or as desired regardless of size. It doesn’t matter, just focus! There is a Buddhist story about a man who came to Buddha and said that every time he tried to meditate on the Buddha, he thought about his wife. Buddha’s response was to meditate on his wife. The Sutras say pick an object which works, even if it is your wife. When we realize thoughts, acknowledge the thought, “Thank you for the awareness.” Then go back to the object.

If you are in a class and want to lead a meditation, guide the students to a seated position and inner focus and allow flexibility on the focus point. Visual people do better with tratak, Shambhavi and Jyoti mudra for meditation. Audio people will prefer mantra, japa and anahata nada. Kinesthetic people will do better with pranayama, observing subtle body energies such as vayus, nadis, chakras and the sushumna. Take some time and teach the various methods. Then, simply guide a group “in,” allowing their inner guidance to choose the form.

The yoga tradition is rich in the path of meditation. There are many sacred writings which share the above mentioned forms of meditation (and others) plus the joys and blessings of meditation. Take some time, read the yoga scriptures and practices of meditation. Enjoy the richness of meditation in your own practice and in your classes.

Hansa is a yoga teacher and body oriented holistic health therapist in Denver, Colorado. She teaches a 250 hour Contemplative Hatha Yoga Teacher Training Program and a 500 hour Professional Teacher Training Program. She is on the faculty of Rocky Mountain Institute for Yoga and Ayurveda. Hansa is a past president of Yoga Teachers of Colorado and serves on the Board of Trustees for Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Lenox, Massachusetts.

Yoga Is…

Yoga is about finding balance. In fact, the word yoga is taken from the Sanskrit word “yug” which means “to yoke” or “to join” – joining together of two equal but opposite things or ideas into a balanced whole. The integration of the mind & the body, the past & the present, masculine & feminine, strength & flexibility, to name but a few.

Many people have a tendency to equate the practice of yoga with the goal of placing the body in pretzel-like positions and contortions when in actuality it’s not at all about goals or learning to tie our bodies in knots.

” Before you learn to stand on your head, you need to learn to stand on your own two feet.”
Swami Satchidananda

Balanced in the present moment. Yoga is a process, not a goal. It’s not about trying to look like a picture in some book, but about learning about your own body and cultivating that mind-body connection. The physical is a reflection of the mental and spiritual. When the output of action does not balance with the input, we experience stress. Hatha yoga attenpts to bring the input and output into balance. We, as human beings, exist as a polarity. This is epitomized by the very word Hatha. “Ha” means Sun in Sanskrit – Heat/Light/Energy/Creativity/Action/Passion “Tha” means Moon in Sanskrit – Cool/Reflective/Receptive/Intuitive/Accepting

We move from one extreme to the other. The process of yoga is to lead us into balance and harmony of this polarity. The asanas or postures are a discipline for the body, exerting effects on the mind. Positive effects not only on the mind and the emotions, but on the muscles, organs and glands as well. They have a balancing effect upon the nervous system, making us better able to deal with stress. They increase our flexibility, improve our circulation, strengthern our muscles, aid in digestion, support stress-related conditions and improve our breathing capacity and the elasticity of our lungs.

The health community has realized that a high-impact aerobic work-out creates more injuries than benefits – in the knees, low backs and ankles. Yoga lasts for a liftime unlike many sports that we may need to abandon as we age. But the benefits far exceed enhancing our physical health and mental activity to promoting emotional balance and spiritual awareness. It provides a way to feel peaceful in this chaotic world in which we live.

Yoga is neither political or religious. Anyone can practice it regardless of age, sex or physical condition. Yoga evolved initially as an oral tradition which was taught one on one so that the teaching was passed directly from teacher to student. Today, there are many fine books and tapes about yoga which are very useful whether you are a beginner or a continuing student. But a teacher can provide that personal guidance and instruction that you may not find in the pages of a book. You make your own choice as to what will work best for you. And if you do decide that you would like to try a yoga class, please utilize our directory of teachers. There you will find representatives of a variety of styles of yoga from the strengthening yet relaxing focus of classical yoga, to the dynamic pace of astanga yoga and the alignment-oriented requirements of an Iyengar class. Please feel free to make inquiries of any of the teachers so that you can learn more.

Practicing yoga and meditation is not about withdrawing from the world, it’s about how to embrace life more fully – how to accomplish more without getting stressed in the process. It is the process of joining the ordinary with the extraordinary during our daily life. Yoga is a tool for learning to notice and challenge our perceived limitations, giving us the opportunity to suspend our beliefs about what we can and cannot do.

“Whatever you can do or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.”
Johann Wolfgang van Goethe

The above article was written by Christine, a certified yoga teacher in the Denver area and was originally published in 2009.

The Beauty of Breath by Roseanna Frechette

Within our breath lies the fundamental essence of yoga. Without the sustenance of breath our human selves would not even be alive to experience the vital life force, the pranic essence of yoga. Without breath we lose the connection to that universal life force energy, the joining with which brings us into a state of yoga.
But how many times a day do we find ourselves lessening, stalling and even holding the breath? We get busy with the never-ending list of to-do’s and all the details of our day-to-day existence. Our attention constantly goes out of ourselves. We feel rushed and stressed. We forget to breathe!

Try this. Take a moment just to notice the immediate quality of your breath. Is it shallow or deep, quick or slow? Is it sporadic or steady, incomplete or full? Just notice at first. Watch the breath coming and going. You may begin to feel the sensation of your breath against your nostrils–cool as it comes in, warm as it moves out. You may begin allowing the breath to slow down.

As you continue to consciously breathe, you may try allowing the breath to drop down to the belly. Imagine you are filling a balloon in the belly with breath. Try this several times. Next allow the breath to widen the rib cage. You might imagine you are playing an accordion by allowing the breath to move the ribs in and out, sideways. Try this many times. Now allow the breath to warm the upper regions of your lungs where the heart center lives. You may feel the breath move front to back as if you had doors opening to the front side of your heart and doors opening from the back side of your heart. Let the winds of your breath move freely in and out of the doors to your heart.

Now try moving the breath like a rhythmic breeze slowly, smoothly, in and out. Feel the expansive quality of your breathing as you fill the belly and rib cage as well as the upper lungs. Hear the sound your breath makes. Feel a vital life force, the pranic essence, filling you over and over. And when you empty the breath, let it empty all the way from the belly, rib cage, and upper lungs. You might allow tensions and mental debris to flow out on the exhalation. Or you might choose to send a beautiful force back out of yourself through your breath.

As you move forward from here, try carrying this quality of breath with you. Make a decision that you will honor your breath throughout the day. And from here on, when you catch yourself tensing, stalling, holding the breath, give yourself just a few moments to repeat the above exercise. You may need to practice with the written instructions many times at first. You are training yourself to breathe the full yogic breath. But like many things, with consistent practice you will eventually just know how to do this. You won’t need instruction. Only awareness. Then, as often as you like, you’ll be able to let your devoted awareness bring you back to the beauty of your breath.

 

This article was originally posted by Mandi Ashbrook in 2010