Practicing More Than Asana

Today there are many teachers who excel at teaching wonderful asana classes.

There is more to Yoga than asana. If one explores the Ashtanga Path as defined by Pantanjali in the Yoga Sutras or the Hatha Yoga path as outlined by Svatmarama in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, asana is only one aspect of Yoga. The classical texts include even more techniques.

A basic listing of techniques includes: yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, samadhi, shat karma, mudra, bandha, drsti, mantra, multiple forms of meditation and ayurvedic attunement to practice.

You may be familiar with many of the practices. How many techniques do you practice? Practice is the door to real understanding.

How many techniques do you integrate into your classes? Granted, it is difficult to “lead” dharana, dhyana and samadhi in a yoga class, as these are the inner experience of Yoga. Class does create the safety and the space for students to experience these levels of union. The other methodologies listed facilitate the opportunity for students to find and explore the meditative practices fully.

It is important to start with an understanding of yoga and need for practices. Yoga is union. It is the quieting the mind. It is action in inaction. To do this effectively, we must maintain our prana instead of continually allowing ojas (a particular yogic form of reserves) to escape by releasing energy through the nine gates (eyes, ears, mouth, nose, anus and uretha) or by spreading ourselves so thin in a multitude of activities we have no way to sustain inner stamina or ojas.

Many of the techniques are about containing and channeling prana and sustaining ojas. The practices are about opening the channels in our body so the prana can flow in our body fluidly. As you practice your own sadhana, notice if you are doing practices to contain and sustain prana or if your practices allow prana to escape.

In this months’ YTOC newsletter, I will define the practices. If there is interest, I will be glad to continue to contribute articles exploring the techniques in an experiential format. The methods are listed the following in alphabetical order as I feel each is equally important.

Asana practices can be done as a stretch or with an internal awareness. Asana can be done with gross muscles or an inner attention to the intrinsic muscles. Asana can be done with containing energy or throwing energy away. Which factors do you consider when practicing asana?

Ayurveda is not really a practice. It is the sister science of Yoga which addresses our health, balance of life and lifestyle. We can do asana, pranayama and other techniques, which do not support our inner balance. For example, too many fire breaths or warming asanas are not good if you are already a fiery person. Understanding and integrating ayurveda knowledge will allow you to develop a balanced flow to enhance your life.

Bandha means “lock”. The major purpose of bandha is to lock energy into a specific region of the body, stimulating the vayu or prana. There are three major locks that are emphasized in the Hatha Yoga writings. They are the mula bandha ” root lock”, jalandhara bandha “throat lock”, and uddiyana bandha “stomach lock”. The locks are used to contain the prana in the subtle bodies. They can be used in pranayama practice or in asana to hold in or lock energy into a specific area for focus, for healing, creating agni and channeling kundalini to the sushumna if the vayus are balanced and the nadis are open.

Drsti is gazing at various points of the body, which changes the energy flow. The most common gazing areas are the chakras or the lingham. Lower gazes root into the earth. Mid body drsti is normally on the heart and creates a calming cooling effect. Third eye gazes can be warming and invigorating as well as deep penetrating energy. Explore a pose such as Paschimottanasana with your gaze at the root chakra and then the ajna chakra. How does it feel?

Mantra is the use of vibrational sound. In the context of the Vedic tradition, essence comes first and sound represents an essence. We therefore, chant sounds that stimulate or awaken aspects of physical, emotional or spiritual body when we use mantra. Mantras are energy based and often have no “translation.” Mantras are chakra based, representing the petals of the chakras. Mantra energizes prana and can be likened to purifying fire. Mantras quiet the mind Mantra can be chanted externally or internally. Do you do dhun, bhajan or vedic chanting with you practice?

Meditation is more than setting and stopping the mind. It is an unfolding process to quiet the mind, a practice that for some is simple, others very difficult. Therefore, in the yoga world there are many styles of meditation to accommodate different types of persons, whether you are more audio, visual or kinesthetic. (These parallel vata, pitta and kapha.) Examples of meditation include: chanting, mantra, japa, nada, ratak, Sambhavi, jyotir, pranayama, inner visualization, subtle body focus, Vipassana, metta. Are you doing a meditative practice, which supports your dosha and feels effortless?

Mudra have two forms both which are used to channel energy in the body. The classical mudras are asana practice with the energy contained by bandhas and channeled with drsti. In more recent years we have developed hand mudras. Each finger has a different energy, planet, organ, part of the body etc. which it effects when touched. Various angles of the hand impact a nadi. By aligning the hands in different positions with the fingers touching, energy is channeled. For example, we can change the breath from the right lung to the left lung, upper lobe to lower lobe just be the position of the hands and fingers!

Pranayama practices can heat the body, cool the body, stimulate or balance different doshas, calm us down or excite the body. We can do breathing practices or pranayama. Breathing practices allow us to strengthen our breath. Pranayama increases life force and sustains prana in the body. Pranayama should not deplete our energy. Do you use pranayama in a way to augment your practice and lifestyle?

Pratyahara is commonly defined as the withdrawal of senses. Have you ever been so engrossed in a book you became oblivious to movement around you — pratyahara. As a yogic technique, we do it as an inward focus rather than through external concentration. Bringing our senses inward, or pratyahara, is the first step of meditation; we can practice pratyahara doing asana by attending to the inner sensations rather then the external alignment and detail.

Shat Karmas or Kriyas are the practices of cleansing the body. Energy cannot flow through the body channels if they are clogged physically. The basic shat karma practices are an internal cleansing of the dhatu’s (tissues) and srotas (body channels). The practices include: neti (nasal cleansing), dhauti (cleansing of the body through washing and vomiting), vasti (enema), trataka (candle gazing), nauli (intestinal wash) and kapalabhati (a breath for “skull shining”).

Yama and niyama are, in my humble opinion, the two most important steps in a yoga practice, and the ones most often forgotten. If we are not living right livelihood, containing our energy appropriately, being distracted by our actions in the world, etc., we will be restless. Our mental time will be spent evaluating and examining ours and others actions. Yoga practice really begins with conscious thought to Yama and Niyama. (Note: there was an article on the Yama and Niyama two issues past.) I find students enjoy the inclusion of different aspects and techniques of yoga. More important is for me to enjoy, benefit and understand the practice. Once I “get” the practice, the inclusion in class comes from my personal experience, not a surface or book knowledge of the technique. Try them . . . you may enjoy the results.

This article was first published in 2010 by Hansa Knox and is still relevant today.

Yoga Beyond the Mat: Yamas and Niyamas

Pantajali’s Yoga Sutras start with saying, “Now, the study of yoga. ” Does that just translate as today, in the moment the yoga teachings are relevant? I feel he wrote “Now” for a more auspicious reason.

In the older traditions, a student went to a teacher to study yoga. The teacher had the student do seva (serving in the household), studying and learning the basic practices of right life. As an example, a friend of mine, Indukanta was studying flute in India. Her teacher often has students play one note for a year before he teaches them the next note! Some students of yoga practiced for years, purifying, cleansing and preparing themselves before they were allowed the privilege of, “Now, the study of yoga.,, Today, some begin asana without even a consciousness of the “living everyday life” practices. Yoga has become a tool for the manipulation of the body. Historically, it was a tool to support our gross life into living earthly life as a Spiritual Being. It is never too late to begin integrating the yogic practices into life transforming moments. The practices are summarized by Pantajali in the second Sutra, as Yama and Niyama.

The yama consist of Ahimsa – non-violence, Satya – truthfulness, Asteya – non-stealing, Aparigraha – non-desire and Brahmacharya – moderation. Niyama include the qualities of- Saucha – purification, Santosha – contentment, Tapas – discipline, Svadyaya – self study and Ishvara Pranidhana – surrender to God.

Sounds pretty basic. Let’s look again. Take an inventory of the following questions.

Ahimsa – non -violence. Did you hurt anyone today? Did you possibly say something that hurt someone’s feelings? Did you sit silent instead of responding to a question? Is the subtle violence any less violating than overt violence?

Satya – truthfulness. Did you tell a white lie to protect someone’s feelings? Did you put on a pretense, afraid to let someone know who you really are? Do you know the edge of when speaking is better than silence?

Asteya – non-stealing. Do you feel jealous of the belongings of others? Do you show up for appointments on time? Do you honor time boundaries in your life? Do you want more than you have? Do you desire … ?

Aparigraha – non-possessiveness. Aparigraha is not about owning possessions it is about the attitude towards belongings. Is there an area in your life you experience greed? Are you willing to let go possessions — physical, emotional, spiritual? Can you expand to the point of witnessing ownership?

Brahmacharya – moderation. Do you moderate all sense pleasures — eating, drinking, sleeping, dress, connection with others? Have you dropped your compulsion to seek pleasures? Can you find pleasure in the simplicity of Spirit?

Saucha – purification. Are you physically clean, neat and eat a pure diet? Are you in the process of purifying your emotions? Do you associate with company that supports a healthy mental diet? Do you include practices allowing you to be established in your “bliss” body?

Santosha – contentment. Santosha is not about being apathetic, it is living life with a passion, content and full each moment. Do you have gratitude for all you have? Do you learn and appreciate even the unpleasant experiences? Can you let go of preferences and receive life as it presents itself?

Tapas – discipline, being in the transformational fire. Do you keep your commitments, to yourself and to others? Can you disciple yourself to honor a healthy lifestyle, physically, mentally, emotionally and Spiritually? Does your breathing slow down, allowing you to breathe life, moment by moment? Have you found your self- creative consciousness?

Svadyaya – self study . Do you study the scriptures and apply them as analogy for living? Do you use your asana practice as insights for how you live your daily life? Can you be in objective self observation? Do you live in a balance with life energy?

Ishvara Pranidhana – surrender to God. Do you love God/Self? Are you willing to allow daily activities to be love manifest? Are you willing to dwell on the Beloved? Do ever feel absorbed in the Beloved?

These precepts are not unknown in other traditions. The Ten Commandments and the Ten Virtues from the Buddhist tradition represent the same concepts. We all must learn that more important than flexibility of the body, flexibility of Spirit reigns. Do you live a life of loving kindness? Do you practice living Yama and Niyama?

Consider exploring the yama and niyama. Choose one a week for the next ten weeks. Daily focus, practice and reflect on the yama or niyama. See how the practice and awareness will make a difference — first within yourself and then watch it overflow into your relationship with others.

Namasté

This article was first published in 2009 by Hansa Knox and is still relevant today.

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.

The Evolution of Yoga Practice

Have you ever noticed students in class deeply in love with the physical experience of yoga. Then there are a few students who realize there is something more to yoga than just postures. My journey falls into the latter category, although I did not know it in the beginning.

I was formally introduced to yoga by Raj Mangarat Rai in Hull, Massachusetts in 1984. Prior to meeting Raj I had read a yoga book and tried to do the yoga sequences. Something did not seem quite right as I tried to do the suggested flows so I gave up. I tried aerobics which I enjoyed thoroughly. As a traveling sales person, I couldn’t do aerobics in my hotel room. I thought yoga might be a solution to the need to work out. Yoga was one of those “things” that still intrigued me. I did want to lose some weight, keep fit and not be tied to aerobic classes and Raj’s private sessions were affordable.

The private sessions were excellent. I did not realize until years later the blessings I received by beginning yoga one on one with a personal teacher. The following year I began doing weekend retreats and group classes at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health. I took on an internal competition by being in group classes which fed my ego, competitive spirit and desire to do better — another awareness that I did not “get” for several more years. Eventually, I became a certified Kripalu Yoga Teacher.

Yoga, in the beginning, was a way to manipulate my body, although I defined it as flexibility. My goal was to attain a slim waist, firm thighs, the picture perfect posture and all the “important things.”

Something started to happen in my yoga practice. Sadness came up in the middle of holding a posture. A memory of a joyful time sprang forth in another asana. An insight surfaced as a teacher guided another movement. I could breathe. I couldn’t breathe. Flowing to another position came spontaneously as did resistance to another posture. Thankfully, Kripalu teachers had the insights to guide me into an understanding that: The body is the silent communicator of the Spirit.

Understanding yoga became more than how the muscles feel with various body movements. I felt my body and asked questions: Was the restriction in a back bend physical or was I afraid of leaning into my past? Were my shoulders curved to protect my heart or taking in a breath of life? I contemplated. Interpretations and answers came. I began healing myself and connecting to Spirit through body awareness.

It was necessary for my mind to make sense of the body experiences. Scriptures became my friend. Yogasana was only one tool to be with the body, I discovered and am still discovering. I delved into the writings on meditation, pranayama, chakras, meridians, body reading, mudras, doshas, koshas in the yogic texts I discovered that there are ancient time-tested truths to my experiences and insights and techniques to assist in the integration of the insights.

I continually explore the available tools. The essence that allows the technique to assist in growth is awareness versus rote action. The sensations, blocks to postures and pranayamas are messages. There are ways to interpret the insights through consciousness and awareness — not just on the mat, in daily life also!

The ability to be aware of the power of yoga practices and manifest the depth in right livelihood deepens through meditation — the time out to listen so we can live through the call of Spirit, not mental contriving and controlling. Many times I sat and attempted to find quiet mind in meditation only to hear a busy mind. I joked about being a type-A meditator who meditated better ironing, washing dishes and hiking than sitting. Meditation is a state of mind rather than an action, I assured myself. I believed this is true and during the time of justifying my practice, I was not at peace with the practice.

I knew there was more to meditation. Eventually, I was able to realize the busy mind is another message of “things“ I want to do” which prevent me from listening to the Beloved. Through acceptance, rather than resistance to “the voices,” continual practice, integration of balancing pranayamas and use of a meditative techniques appropriate for my energy, I found peace in my meditative experience.

Consciousness is practiced on the mat in the format of asana, pranayama and meditation. Consciousness becomes a way of life as sadhana, diet and lifestyle adapts and allows witnessing and awareness to integrate into daily living. Off the mat, consciousness is the key for a fulfilling life and, I find, is more challenging than yoga on the mat.

Weaving together experiences including a personal yoga practice, teaching yoga and doing therapeutic body work has confirmed that bodies are very loud and can be read. For me, this has become the essence of my yoga practice: to be quiet enough to be heard. If only we all could be heard . . .

I attempt to share the art and science, depth and breadth of yoga in my yoga classes. Recently, I began offering a Yoga Teacher Training Program and it has only served to introduce me to another level of yoga and my journey continues . . .

Poems to Mukunda By Mukunda Tom Stiles from his book The Yoga Poet

Abhyasa and Vairagya (Constant Practice & Dispassion)

Mind is racing
Never calm
O mukunda practice
Yoga Sadhana anyway.

Joy, ecstasy
Bliss eternal dances within me
O mukunda practice
Yoga Sadhana anyway.

No one loves me
I have no merit, no worth
O mukunda practice
Yoga Sadhana anyway.

I’m known the world over
Highly praised by others
O mukunda practice
Yoga Sadhana anyway.

I’m virile amazingly strong
I have the energy of ten
O mukunda practice
Yoga Sadhana anyway.

My joints are hurting
My back is sore, I’m old
O mukunda practice
Yoga Sadhana anyway.

Yogasana – I’ve mastered all
Peacock, scorpion, lotus
O mukunda practice
Yoga Sadhana anyway.

Siddhas, sages proclaim my greatness
Siddhis seek me to dance around
O mukunda practice
Yoga Sadhana anyway.

I’ve known all scriptures and sacred texts
No truth is hidden from me
O mukunda practice
Yoga Sadhana anyway.

This poem was published in 2009.

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.

Present Moment Practice by Bethany Doepke, YTOC Correspondent

Why do we practice yoga? What sustains us through every resistance, every episode of mind negativity, every bout with the chattering ego? Is it not the desire—often unarticulated, sometimes buried deep beneath everyday consciousness—to be whole, to be truly ourselves, to radiate the energy into which we sometimes, joyously, tap?

In fact, is that not solely the goal of yoga, but the goal of life—to tap into the source of pure energy, and allow that energy to play through us as if we were harps upon which the Divine played it’s song?

Yes! Yes, we cry!

Of course, on tired days (and perhaps this is one), wouldn’t we simply like to be free of our exhausting neurotic impulses: our fears and obsessions, our blind spots and constrictions?

Of course. Of course we would.

Even for the experienced yogi, however, the path to this freedom is subtle and difficult to discern. A beautifully executed asana is not the path if the mind is full of its own clutter. The thoughts, comments, judgments, and reactions that make up the mind’s clutter are the roadblocks to wholeness and freedom because they are not of the present moment, and here is the key,
here is the subtlety: the present moment. It is only in the present moment that true life, true freedom, occurs. It is only in the present moment that we have any real power.

Thoughts masquerade as the present moment because they occur in a slice of consciousness we call “now.” But actually, thoughts always have their reference point, their true origin and location, in the past or the future. It is not thoughts, but experiences, that happen in the present moment. Experiences are feelings and sensations that are always locatable in your body—your hamstring suddenly seizing in resistance, a piercing shock of embarrassment as you fall out of a pose others are holding, a sluice of sudden energy through your spine in a deep backbend. It is when the mind comments upon or judges the experience that we are taken out of the present
moment because all of the comments and judgments have their reference points somewhere else: in a comparison point against which this experience transcends or falls short. The profound experience of wholeness, however, comes when we ALLOW the experience to be whole in itself—not better or worse than another experience we have already had, or wish to have in the
future.

Seeking to unite the ancient consciousness-evolving practices of the East with the psychological insights of the West, John Ruskan writes, in his book, Emotional Clearing, that “while the mind is always either in the past or the future, the body is always in the moment because of its feeling
nature, and feeling is inherently in the moment. Being in the moment is a condition that we should strive to develop, because life is taking place in the moment. When locked in the mind, in expectations of the future based on the past, we do not confront and experience life.”

It must be admitted, however, that staying in the direct experience of the present moment is not easy. The mind has a way of asserting itself so convincingly that we are always believing ourselves to be just on the verge of real truth as we listen to its commentary. The mind is a persistent companion, a really loquacious “friend,” and just because we become conscious of the wish for it to pipe down (and perhaps, on an unconscious level, we’ve become rather comfortable with its noise), does not mean it will actually comply, and be quiet. It’s only means of survival, after all, is it’s own voice. It has every desperate stake in continuing its monologue, with you as it’s rapt audience.

Chip Hartranft, a modern interpreter of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, points out Patanjali’s recognition “that one of the most primary internal forces in a human being is the inclination toward selfhood. Self-making has the effect of organizing the shifts contents of consciousness into a seamless pseudo-reality that seems to unfold over time.

” . . .However, when consciousness becomes truly motionless, these appearances of permanence and continuity break down . . . [and] the illusory reality represented in consciousness becomes transparent as body and mind grow deeply still.”

Furthermore, Hartranft points out, “one’s sense of time becomes spacious, with consciousness sensing many more individual events than before, and beginning to perceive it’s own workings in more detail. What had seemed like a smooth flow—the reality of the phenomenal world—can now be seen as the flickering of microphenomena arising and vanishing with unimaginable
subtlety . . . As [the] illusion falls apart, the self and the world reveal themselves to be nothing but a stream of rapidly changing events . . . In this light, the dramas of consciousness no longer seem real, nor do they propel one any longer toward thoughts or actions that bring more suffering.”

The only hope, then, for dispensing with the reality of our exhausting and, essentially, false dramas, is to acquaint ourselves with a more steady, more present companion. This companion is the breath. The breath is remarkably subtle and quiet, and yet it is always there—no, it is always HERE, right HERE, precisely in the NOW. The more you know the breath, the more you
unite your actions with the breath, the more subtle will be your awareness of the present moment, and the more power you will have to dive into the present moment’s depths, and see the true nature of reality.

The Yoga-Sutra reminds us that “a disciplined inner life is the most direct path to happiness.” Interpreting ancient teachings to a modern audience, Chip Hartranft explains that “our bodyminds can know their true nature by letting themselves gravitate towards effortless sitting and breathing. And our attention can be stabilized, with perception coming to rest in the
present moment and clarifying to the point where the unity of all things is known beyond argument or reservation.”

In other words, eventually, the breath will take you deep enough that the mind will no longer follow. In this place, you will find truth and freedom, recognizing that truth and freedom are one and the same, and furthermore, that the mind, in itself, has access to neither.

Put simply, any time the goal is freedom, the breath can be your guide. In yoga, in meditation, in a stressful situation, at dinner with your partner, in the car with your kids, the breath is your portal into present moment experience, and present moment experience is where you find your wholeness and freedom. Hartranft reminds us, however, that it is not in sitting and focusing on the breath that the trouble occurs, “but in overcoming the well-established mental and physical habits that already produce suffering in our lives. These habits of perception and behavior cost us dearly, yet we cannot help but hold them dear, for they ARE us. That is, we have all
developed seemingly tried-and-true patterns of thinking and reacting, crystallizing into stories about ourselves and the world, and we cling to them as our identity and home.”

While clinging to the noise of these stories and beliefs may be our inclination, we must never underappreciate the profundity of the breath’s depth and silence. The breath leads us to a place that confirms that the present moment requires no judge or narrator. The mind, protecting its
very existence, would only have us think so.

Quotes taken from The Yoga-Sutra of Patanjali, by Chip Hartranft and Emotional Clearing, by John Ruskan

 

This article was originally published in 2010.

A story from Suzi Cameron on finding her first yoga teaching job through a YTOC Teaching Opportunities email …

As my Yoga Teacher Training was ending, I received an email from a fellow trainee who had seen a post for a teacher opening on the YTOC website.  I decided to apply, never dreaming that I would actually get a job as new and inexperienced as I was.  After applying, I was called in for an interview and much to my surprise, I was offered the job.  Talk about being on cloud 9…wow!  It was probably one of the most exciting days of my life!  Not only  to be able to share not only my new found knowledge but also to be able to share my love for yoga.  Of course, I went home and immediately joined YTOC and have never looked back.  Although that first class as a paid instructor was SO scary, it was so wonderful,  invigorating and reinforced my decision about training and joining YTOC.

New Year’s Resolutions and Self Acceptance

At the beginning of each year, we take great care and effort to come up with something to improve and change about ourselves. Why? We could probably answer by saying we do it in order to be better, which in turn we think will make us happier.

If only we were thinner, or looked younger, or were in better physical shape, or ate better, then we’d be more lovable and fit better into society.

But what if we just simply accepted ourselves just as we are today, in this moment, in our all humanness?

Accepting ourselves just as we are today, in this body, in our experience today, is the surest route to our own internal happiness.

Conditional love, based on what we look like, what we wear, what we might do for a living, is hollow and temporary. It does not truly satisfy.

We all yearn to be loved just as we are, unconditionally.

 

How do we find this unconditional love? Not by looking outward.

We find it by accepting ourselves as we are, right now, in this moment, opening our own hearts fully to the Love that knows no attachments and is already within us.

 

This Love is available at all times in the present moment, but we are not in the present moment. We are spending it in the past, reliving events and our thoughts, sometimes repeatedly. Or we are living it in the future, thinking of all we have “to-do” or should do.

We abandon the present moment and the joy it holds. We seek acceptance and love as if it is something we acquire, like a house, a job, or a degree.

This very seeking outside of ourselves is what keeps us separate and always looking, never finding. It keeps us from accepting ourselves in this present moment. We feel as if we are never “good enough” and there is something else we must do or acquire to be lovable.

 

How do we stay fully in the present moment? How do we accept ourselves just as we are?

 

  • We stop looking to the future and what think we need to do or have in order to be happy.
  • We instead fully accept our life in this present moment, without resistance, without analysis, interpretation, or trying to control it.
  • We observe each thought, emotion, sensation, or feeling we might have about what is going on without judgment.
  • If it is difficult to accept what is, then we simply acknowledge our resistance to acceptance, and just let it be what it is.

 

With this deep acceptance, the part of us that observes is itself free from resistance, knowing that accepting is not the same as enjoying something. It is an awareness that life is just as it is and we are just as we are. We rest within the perfection of our imperfection.

copyright S.M.Kline 2015

This article was originally published in January of 2015.