Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Well, that was my practice this morning… there was a lot of self-pity “child’s pose” happening after each asana, along with some overly dramatic moaning and groaning as I chipped my way through the cement in my body, and even more so, in my mind.
I’m not sure if it was because today is the winter solstice, with the longest night of the year, but I was certainly feeling the heavy weight of the darkness pressing in on my thoughts as I slowly crawled my way through this morning’s yoga practice.
It made me think about why I choose to practice in the first place.
Have you ever stopped and asked yourself, “Why do I practice this Ashtanga Yoga?”
It certainly isn’t the easiest type of yoga out there.
It demands commitment right from the beginning, and doesn’t allow much room for flirting.
It requires a certain amount of trust in the process, courage to confront your fears and face your shadows, and the stamina to go the distance, even when it feels like more work then reward.
The practice demands all of this from a student before it will reveal the depth of its richness, or offer its bounty for the body and spirit.
For me, I practice because it carves out space within my body, and creates clarity in my mind.
It realigns me day after day with a higher purpose, and a more noble way of being in the world.
It teaches where to let go, and where I should hold on.
It strengthens my ability to bring forth the qualities such as patience, compassion, joy, forgiveness, peace, truth, and love.
It shows me that surrendering to something greater then myself is not as scary as it might seem, and that through renouncing the results of my effort, I find true freedom and release.
Today was one of those days. However, I was reminded that although I may not always feel fantastic during the practice, I somehow always feel better by the end, just for making it through, and doing my best on any giving day.
The practice is our mirror for life. As we polish the mirror daily, we can see more clearly the truth of who we are, and gain deeper insight into the ways we choose to live.
But it really is not so important to know why I practice this Yoga.
The real value is in answering this question for yourself: Why Do I Practice?
Sunday, November 22, 2009
And what a breath of fresh air! I’ve got to say, the change of time, space, teacher, and class setting infused new life into my practice.
As the class began, whilst sitting with eyes closed focusing on my breath, I became acutely aware of the smell of the musty walls and floor, mixed with the heat and faintest sent of sweat from a previous class.
This aroma sparked memories of my very first experiences learning yoga in the upstairs space of an old heritage building, home to the much loved ‘Yoga In Motion,’ the yoga studio which first introduced me to the practice of “Ashtanga Vinyasa” and “Power Yoga.”
As we began our first sun-salutations I became immersed in the divine sensation of clearing my mind of all distracting thoughts, only breath, movement, and the one guiding voice of the teacher existed for me.
The practice took on a life of its own, and the “I” part of my mind began to dissolve into a perfectly synchronized dance of breath and movement.
There was no place to go, nothing to rush off to, no demands to perfect or perform, no expectations, judgments, or evaluations.
It was like everyone else in the room had faded into some hazy distant background, and I felt both completely alone, and yet somehow intimately connected to every cell, every breath, every being, and everything.
There was a feeling of complete surrender. The atmosphere was soft, warm and safe, allowing me to fully relinquish my sovereignty and let go to the experience.
I realized that finding the time, space and atmosphere to facilitate this complete release was a real luxury, and its presence was an unexpected gift.
It actually came as a surprise, that somehow in this small unassuming class, I would rediscover the heart of my practice, and the reason why I was drawn to this ancient discipline so powerfully from the very beginning.
There it was, that familiar homelike warmth; kind of like wrapping myself inside an old, soft, faded, cashmere sweater liberated from some long forgotten drawer.
That space within was nurturing and calm. For a little over an hour I found myself relaxing more, sinking into it, and drinking from a deep refreshing pool, one I visit often, but frequently only have time to just dip my feet in, before rushing off to the next activity.
This experience reminded me that as we integrate the practice of Yoga into our daily life, it is important that we don’t allow these practices to become so routine that they are simply done mechanically, making them little more than another box to check off on our “to-do” list.
It really is essential that we keep our awareness steady as we practice, and always remember the reasons for our practice. Otherwise, instead of creating more space, more clarity, and more energy, our yoga becomes a chore, another mindless activity added to our already desperately over-scheduled and hectic lives.
It also rekindled the wonder of entering a class with a ‘beginner's mind,’ and a delight in rediscovering all the hidden gems that each posture has to offer, along with the pure joy of sharing and learning with others.
We are all teachers for each other in one way or another, and the more open we are to receiving, and being in relationship, the more we will grow. We can learn something from everyone, if we choose to; but it requires us to set aside our preconceived ideas, and become receptive to other points of view, and knowledge.
Sri K. Pattabhi Jois (Guruji) would always repeat that there were no “teacher trainings” only “student trainings,” and he would remind us that he, himself, was still a student.
We would all do well to remember these words.
Some days taking a step back, and starting over from the beginning is more helpful then pushing forward. It may seem at times like we are not “progressing,” but if we are sincere in our efforts we will realize that as long as we remain open to learning, growing and expanding, we are always moving closer to the goal of Yoga.
Every challenge we encounter is an opportunity for us to extend beyond our own perceived limitations, and to soar off into new horizons.
Sunday, November 15, 2009
My attention has certainly been aroused lately, but it seems that whatever side of the proverbial 'vaccination fence' we find ourselves sitting on, the real issue is: How much will we allow the collective fear of the world to infiltrate our hearts and minds?
The pull to buy into the hype and fear-mongering propaganda pushes against our psyche more and more. It drives us into darkness. Makes us feel isolated and alone.
On both sides of the issue there is fear. We vaccinate more and more as a way of avoiding pain, sickness, suffering and death; but over the years there has been some correlation between S.I.D.S, autism, and several neurological disorders and the administration of vaccines, and so we see a growing backlash against vaccinating, based on a fear of iatrogenic sickness, pain, suffering, and death.
There are a great many industries that benefit from keeping a large percent of the population in fear. The more fear we have the less able we are to expand beyond ourselves and to make connections with others; the less real connection we have in our lives, the more powerless and alone we may feel. The more powerless and alone we feel, the more insecure we become.
These feelings of insecurity make us more susceptible to the onslaught of images and ideas that bind us to a perpetual cycle of fear and contraction.
We hide our insecurity through consumption, attempting to create an image of confidence, to feel protected and powerful, and as a way of covering up our tireless longing to be desired, loved, and respected.
The more we consume, the more we buy, the more we buy, the more debt we create, the more debt we create, the more trapped we feel. The more trapped we feel the more we feed our feelings of isolation, insecurity, and weakness… and the cycle continues. More and more we feel trapped by a system that is profiting off our enslavement.
We become dependent upon the media to tell us what to think, believe, and feel.
This constant presence of fear prevents us from retreating into that soft silent place of knowing inside ourselves. The fear makes it difficult to really hear that still quiet voice guiding us from within.
Our daily yoga practice is a sacred time that allows us to reconnect to that inner space. We breathe into the silence of our soul, and somewhere in the emptiness that lingers between our thoughts, we begin to listen and respond to the soft voice of our gentle inner guide.
So, in my opinion, the real question is: How do we regain our independence amongst all the fear and pressure to conform on either side of an issue when there is no clear, definite, or undeniably correct answer?
We start by letting go of our need to be right. There are extremely educated people on both sides of this issue, each with good points and opinions, and data to back up their beliefs.
We begin to recognize and trust that being kind is more important then being right. We all know there are many issues we can debate, and the truth may just be that there is no unequivocal "right" answer that can be applied universally, but rather, it is an inner feeling that directs each individual to a conclusion that supports their personal choice.
And still we fear.
So, we might ask: How do we conquer fear?
The answer is so simple to say, and yet so challenging to act upon: Love is the antidote for fear.
We choose to love.
And this requires constant practice and perseverance. We must resist giving into the barrage of fear through love and actions based in love.
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out all fear” (1 John 4:18), and the foundation of love is ahimsa – non-harming.
When we learn to love each other, with a sincere love that is true and untainted by our lusts, we empower ourselves to give, to serve, and to support.
Real love does not seek its own gratification, it asks for nothing in return, but only seeks to give of itself fully and completely, without conditions, control, or manipulation. It always acts with the heart of compassion, and non-harming, seeking the highest good and growth for all.
When we begin to love with the explicit intention of giving, caring, and nourishing one another, we find ourselves in true relationship.
When we can create the space to support each other, to listen without judgment, and without always needing to agree or prove our point, we can preserve our mutual freedom, and these authentic bonds of love will begin to transform our own self and our world.
When we start to listen with love, we will sense the heart behind the words.
We will realize that we are not alone. We are intimately connected to each other in ways we cannot see or imagine.
Love will strengthens us; love will keep us healthy and strong.
Love will take care of the sick and weak, and continually offer to help those in need.
So what is the real question we should be asking ourselves?
The singer, songwriter, and poet, Michael Franti, sums it up perfectly when he rightly asks:
“Is your love enough? Or can you love some more?”
Saturday, October 24, 2009
Tuesday, October 06, 2009
~ Rumi ~
Teaching new students always makes me smile, because I get to go back and remember how I felt in the early days of my yoga practice: I felt powerful, and real. It was quite literally like waking up and realizing you are connected to everything on the planet. I remember feeling like I could do anything. A deep-seated passion started clawing its way out of me, and I felt a compelling desire to change the world, or at the very least, make it a better, more beautiful, compassionate place. There was a distinct sense that all the answers I would ever need were hidden within myself, and all I had to do was uncover them.
I stood taller, walked with a new sense of confidence, and breathed deeper. Every breath was rejuvenating and sweet. I can remember feeling like all the toxins (and there was some serious toxic build-up I assure you) were being purged from my body, and I felt clean for the first time since I was a child: pure, simple, and soft. The idea of polluting my body started to become less and less appealing. I began eating healthier, and treating my body better. I felt a growing connection to the inherent life force within, and a deepening sense of self-worth (something I had never really felt before) and it penetrated every area of my life; all of my relationships changed because of this.
My connection to this practice began as a true love affair. I would have ecstatic emotions wash over me after every class, and when I left the room I felt as if I were walking on air.
I experienced so much joy and energy from this practice that I could not find enough people or activities to overflow it to. I wanted to have this experience more and more – I could not get enough. As a result, I practiced more, and immersed myself in every teaching I could find on this ancient philosophy for living, and way of seeing the world.
Like every relationship, I was finding that this practice above all else, required consistent dedication, commitment, and daily attention. Some days it felt like more work then I thought I was capable of.
In the early days of Yoga practice I could not wait to get on my yoga mat, now… it required some strong determination, and it was only because of a promise I had made to myself to at least “show up,” that I would often even start to practice.
However, once the initial obstacle of getting on my mat was overcome, I found that I still loved it, challenging or not, and I still felt all the benefits and more afterwards. I would notice how it lifted my spirits, and created a sense of clarity in my thinking, and how much more balanced I felt from it.
The newness of first love had worn off, and the real practice had begun. Even though I did not have that same 'blissed-out,' rapturous sensation that often accompanied my early days of practice, I found that I had something much more substantial and grounded.
At this point I realized it was because of the Yoga that I made it through the day without a major breakdown. I would often find the practice with me periodically, sitting beside me in a stressful situation, whispering to me, “just breathed deeply,” and tenderly showing me how to release tension, before the anxiety could take hold.
The practice was with me in the passenger seat while driving the car, guiding me to be calm, telling me that there was no need to rush, assuring me that all things happen in their own perfect time. I would find it showing up in various situations all throughout my day, and because of it, I never felt alone.
These days, my relationship with this practice feels more like that of an intimate friend. I no longer find it sitting beside, but I carry it in my heart at all times.
My day would be incomplete without it, and I know that something essential would be missing from my life had it not found me.
It continues to bring me back to myself, while still challenging me to keep it real, be honest, let go.
It fully aids in transforming those dark nights into light, and it continually acts as my teacher both on and off the yoga mat.
It goes on gently revealing the many ‘blind spots’ I still have, and encourages more growth in those areas I would rather forget about.
Some days the practice is nurturing and tender, at other times it is strict and demanding; but every time I begin to inhale and lift my hands above my head, I know I have returned home.
Through teaching, I am reminded above all what this practice can be for people. I see the excitement at the start, the fresh joy of new love. I also witness the struggles and discipline that come up along the way, the contentment of coming home to an old friend, and the all the delight interwoven between each new transformation.
I get to witness the everyday commonplace courage that our students demonstrate on a regular basis every time they get on their mat.
I watch the practice be for them a lover, a teacher, a disciplinarian, a healer, a mother, a father, and a friend. I see all the work and effort that each person exerts in order to grow and change on a daily basis.
They become stronger and yet, somehow softer. They develop the willingness to bend, to adjust, to relate more intimately with their own self, and as a result, all their relationships deepen and become more meaningful.
Watching our students gives me hope. I find it tremendously inspiring to be a part of their journey. During those days when I catch myself wondering who is going to answer the many desperate cries from our planet, address issues of war and oppression, help cure hunger and hopelessness, bring friendship to the lonely and suffering, I look up and am reminded - We Are.
We practice for it daily. This practice of yoga not only works on us as individuals - transforming our lives; but it also brings us together.
Through our commitment to it, we begin to dip our feet into the ocean of the infinite, and taste something truly divine within. We recognize that we are all apart of this living, breathing, eternal life force, and that we are interdependent and indispensably connected.
Little by little the presence of this practice spreads into every area of our existence, and because of it we learn to listen.
When we take the time to develop this awareness, we realize that we instinctively know how to help each other, and will uncover our purpose more and more through working together to heal a world in need.
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
"In 1969, a 14-year-old Beatle fanatic named Jerry Levitan snuck into John Lennon's hotel room in Toronto and convinced him to do an interview.
38 years later, Levitan, director Josh Raskin and illustrator James Braithwaite have collaborated to create an animated short film using the original interview recording as the soundtrack. A spellbinding vessel for Lennon's boundless wit and timeless message.
"I Met the Walrus" was nominated for the 2008 Academy Award for Animated Short."
Saturday, September 19, 2009
She is obvious, and yet still deceptive. Agitating our minds and seducing our desires, she is invoked whenever Big Business mixes with Yoga.
It seems that in many ways Yoga has become about Marketing: clothes, mats, make-up, the right look, the right book, the right attitude, the right choices, eco-friendly this, and biodegradable that, thinking positive rainbow-colored thoughts, while humming the latest rendition of the Gayatri mantra, and flashing your 200-hour Teacher Training certificate.
Yes, today I woke up with the ‘marketing blues.’
Lately I’ve been bombarded with messages from various sources all saying that as a “yoga teacher” you need to find some angle to market your “unique talents and abilities.” Learn to use the right “catch phrases,” learn to “sell yourself,” and start to “create more buzz.”
Of course everyone has the miracle solution on how to do this, and for “only $9.99” you can download the e-book that will change your life.
To be honest, I really loath the idea of have to market myself like some kind of new and improved running shoe that can be bought or sold at a discounted price.
On top of that, what really dampens my spirit and exhausts my enthusiasm are all the ‘spin-doctors’ who are more then happy to use the popularity of this ancient art for mass commercialization.
I’m sure there are many well-meaning, community oriented, feel-good, warm & fuzzy individuals out there, who have freshly read the newest best-selling self-help – ‘How To Become A Millionaire Entrepreneur In 30 Days While Changing The World’ - books out there; but it disturbs me that the latest fad seems to be taking pretty much any word and combining it with “yoga” to invent a new twist on an old philosophy, and create a tasty pseudo-spiritual item for consumers.
To be frank, the whole thing leaves a nauseatingly Fisher-Price flavor in my mouth, and I’m wondering if there is any real meaning to be salvaged in the word “yoga.”
It seems to me that even if the advertising strategy is smeared in icing sugar, and disguised as a delicious gluten-free vegan cupcake, it still promotes large-scale empty-caloric consumption, which really goes against the inherent wisdom of this bona fide tradition.
It’s not that the products and promotions are altogether sinister or completely off track. For the most part they are honestly trying to promote positive ideas and ideals. It’s just that the image has become so center stage that many have forgotten to look behind the curtain to see what makes the show worth experiencing at all!
I question: is there anyone looking for a way out of this modern-day onslaught of marketing madness?
Or are we so mindlessly dazzled by the glitz and glitter of the latest trend, too busy rushing off to the hottest ‘power-flow-yin-yang-restorative-shiva-shakti-sattva-shanthi yoga class’ that’s offered at the newest hip downtown studio, to notice that we’re hardly practicing Yoga in our lives at all.
I’m hoping that there are still some sincere seekers, questioning, enquiring, and looking for an authentic experience, and not so easily bemused by the wafting fragrance of Nag Champa.
I think it’s time to get back to the root of what Yoga is.
It’s time to dig deep down into the essence, and discover its Source.
The practice of Yoga is not about the clothes or the mat, nor is it about the way we look or even the way we feel. It’s not a hobby, something to do in your spare time, or a class you can “drop-in” or “drop-out” of.
Yoga is a commitment you make to your Self, a daily practice, a way of living in and relating to the world. It is a practice that can only give back to you as much as you are willing to surrender to it.
It’s not limited to what happens on a yoga mat, it extends into how we interact with other people, animals, and the planet itself. It is meant to permeate our entire life, and shine the light of awareness onto our very existence.
It is about being Real and Truthful. Meeting yourself Here and Now, exactly as you are in this moment, day after day, time and again. It will lead you to uncover the boundless inspiration buried in the silence of your soul.
Yoga is a spiritual practice.
It is a way to reconnect with a Spirit that once shone brightly from within, but somehow was forgotten, obscured by years of fear, pain, loss, and inhibition. This path of rediscovery is not necessarily easy. However, if we have the courage to truly begin this journey, it will be both rewarding and transformative.
Yoga is a discipline.
It is a discipline that works on your mind, your body, and your habits.
It can be challenging, and frustrating. Some days you won’t feel like getting out of bed to meet yourself on your mat, or your meditation cushion.
Some days you won’t want to look in the mirror of your life choices, and experience the veracity of how you are feeling, be it good, ugly, sad or bemuddled; yet when we do step up, we feel better for it.
Yoga is an ancient philosophy of living.
It demands both consistent practice, and an attempt to fully surrender.
It requires a desire to release the old and open to the new.
It is meant to weaken the ego, and awaken the Spirit. It entices us to drink drop by drop from the Infinite Ocean within, and experience the sweetness of what we truly are.
It teaches us to recognize authenticity both within and without, to sit with an uncomfortable thought, sensation, or situation and just breath without rebelling or reacting, and to confront our difficult relationships with compassion.
As one of our teachers said: “Yoga is the science of experience, and the art of living.”
And for this – there can be no marketing, only Practice.
A Special Thank You to Barry Silver for the use of his Fabulous Art!
For more information on Barry Silver and the work he does, please see: www.barrysilver.net
Sunday, September 06, 2009
We love it, we fear it.
We seek it, we resist it.
We are both thrilled by it, and terrified of it.
Its promise moves us into the morning.
Its challenge drops us into night’s sleep.
Ever on the horizon, leaving a trail of evidence close behind.
We adore it, we abhor it.
We need it, we avoid it.
We continually crave it, and combat it at every corner.
It is ever present; but can never be caught.
It is our healer and destroyer, the great physician, the last mortician.
It breaks our heart, and renews our spirit.
It is the shadow of Time.
We are imprisoned by it, bound to it, there is no escape.
It holds the key to our freedom.
We can never step into the same river twice.
A person is never the same from day to day.
We can start over at any time.
We can choose who we want to be in every given moment.
Monday, August 24, 2009
We purchased some plants a couple days ago. This, in my opinion, seems to be the ultimate symbol for ‘putting down roots,’ and beginning to grow in a new place, in a new way; integrating into a new community. The change and ‘newness’ of everything is very exciting for us, and all around we’re seeing so much possibility and potentiality. So, needless to say, we’re enjoying ourselves immensely.
Even in all this though, we’re being conscious to keep living from moment to moment, and doing our best to keep focused on what is immediately present and positive. For if the mind is left unchecked it wanders much too easily over into the territory of worry, and begins to feel the heavy weight of the future closing in. The mind tends to create anxiety, and gravitate towards what is negative, especially during times of transition, or under circumstances where there is a lot of uncertainty. It is especially important then during these times to be even more aware, and vigilant in guiding our thoughts towards inspiration, and lightness.
We’ve received many encouraging emails from so many wonderful people from around the world, and I can’t explain how much we appreciate all of the support from everyone. It has helped to keep our spirits high from day to day, and to feel closely connected to a larger global network of yoga practitioners and friends. These notes are such a blessing to us as we continue our search for the perfect space to transform into a little yoga haven. We know it’s coming…
Do you ever have those moments in your life when you just feel like you’re in exactly the right place at exactly the right time? Well, I’ve been having these moments all the time here. I feel so fortunate to be realizing a dream that I’ve held onto for the past decade. To live in a place that has always held a very special place in my heart, and then to be able to share the teachings of this profound practice with others who are also here. It feels like every experience from the past has been culminating to this very moment in time, and really I feel like I’m merely witnessing the unfolding of it.
Each day I begin to understand more what Krishna means in the Bhagavad-Gita when he says, “all actions take place in time by the interweaving of the forces of Nature; but the man lost in selfish delusion thinks ‘I am the doer’.” (BG 3:27). Now it is just learning to surrender even more, and then be open to receive.
Peace & Love,
Wednesday, August 05, 2009
"Isn't man an amazing animal? He kills wildlife by the millions in order to protect his domestic animals and their feed. Then he kills domestic animals by the billions and eats them. This in turn kills man by the millions, because eating all those animals leads to degenerative - and fatal - health conditions like heart disease, kidney disease, and cancer. So then man tortures and kills millions more animals to look for cures for these diseases. Elsewhere, millions of other human beings are being killed by hunger and malnutrition because food they could eat is being used to fatten domestic animals. Meanwhile, some people are dying of sad laughter at the absurdity of man, who kills so easily and so violently, and once a year send out cards praying for "Peace on Earth."
- Preface from Old MacDonald's Factory Farm, by C. David Coates
If you want to enjoy a good, fast, and hilarious book filled with many sad truths, check out a great little gem called Skinny Bitch by Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin. Definitely worth the read, and if this book doesn't motivate you to change a few things, I'm not sure what will!
Monday, July 27, 2009
It was amazing to observe the amount of love that this beautiful little being could draw out of every person who came into her sphere of influence. It reminded me that at the very core of every human being there is a deep need not only to be loved, but to also give love, and at the heart of every personal relationship there is the promise of possibility for the wellspring of love to open.
When Mother Teresa opened her mission in San Francisco, one of the wealthiest cities in one of the richest countries on the planet, people asked her “why there?” What could the people of San Francisco possibly need from the Sisters of Charity? Her reply was, “there is hunger for ordinary bread, and there is hunger for love, for kindness, for thoughtfulness; and this is the great poverty that makes people suffer so much.”
We all need love. It is an essential part of what we are as human beings, and is every bit as necessary to life as nourishment is for the body.
All of the world’s great religions reiterate this message in different ways: love is our real nature. Mechthild of Magdeburg was a medieval mystic and Benedictine nun, who wrote: “The soul is made of love, and must ever strive to return to love. Therefore, it can never find rest nor happiness in other things. It must lose itself in love.” In other words, our hunger for love is a profound yearning to reconnect with our essential Self, which is fundamentally spiritual in nature.
There is a great misconception that a ‘spiritual practice’ will take you out of the world, and that living a spiritual life means turning your back on your family or community, and cloistering your self far away from society.
In actuality, our spiritual practices should enrich our relationships with others, not only with our family and friends, but with strangers as well. As we become more established in the practices of yoga and meditation, our ability to act selflessly expands more and more, and consequently, our ability to love deepens and allows us to embrace all living beings. In the Bhagavad-Gita, this spiritual path is called: The Way of Love.
The Bible states: “God is Love.” Deepening and strengthening our relationships with one another is a sure way to manifest the grace of God in our daily lives. Evidently, as we create more and more love in our relationships and interactions with each other, we will start to uncover our connection to that Divine Reality that is most often called “God.”
Through our yoga practice we can begin to integrate this Reality of Love into our personality, consciousness, and conduct. Yoga is about creating union. True union has love at its core, and only through the cultivation of unconditional love can a genuine transformation occur.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Our Beloved Guruji, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois left his body yesterday, May 18, at 2:30 pm (Indian Standard Time).
Our love and condolences are extended to Sharath, Saraswathi, and the rest of his family.
We were deeply saddened to hear this news, although it was not altogether unexpected.
We feel very blessed to have been given the opportunity to say goodbye to Guruji in person while we were in Mysore last month. We had a very pleasant exchange with him, as he was in good spirits and feeling some strength the day we came to visit. Jeff and I both felt it would be the last time that we would see him in his bodily form, and so we made sure to tell him how grateful we were to him for his teachings and the practice, and how his influence had forever changed our lives for the better. I knew we were expressing the feelings of countless others as we spoke, and it felt good to be able to say these things to him face to face, and to know that he understood the love and appreciation we held for him in the depth of our beings.
Sri K. Pattabhi Jois has touched millions of people both directly and indirectly, and because of his presence and teachings, countless lives have been improved. We feel very close to the global community of Ashtanga Yoga practitioners at this time, as we all share these same feelings of deep gratitude, love, devotion, and reverence for Guruji. We will continue to keep his memory alive through our dedication to the practice, and through our love and support of each other.
Even though my heart is heavy today, I cannot help but smile as I remember him shining so vibrantly in his yoga shala as he would yell "bad lady" from across the room, or adjust me in some posture, or make his 'grunt of approval' as he would walk by, or as he would tilt his head to one side and ask "what news?" when we would come to visit... and I know he continues to shine even more so now.
Guruji's light will forever burn brightly in our hearts and minds, and we will keep his fire and passion alive as we humbly share with others the spark of energy he imprinted upon us.
Many blessings to all those who have been touched by this Mahatma, he truly was a Great Soul, and a Light along our path. If only words could express all the feelings that are flooding my heart at this time...
We love you Guruji.
May your travels be swift and peaceful.
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Sri Ramana Maharishi advised, “Whatever draws the mind outward is unspiritual, and whatever draws the mind inward is spiritual.” Thus, our yoga practice should be one that works to direct the mind internally, towards Self- realization, and liberation from the cycle of craving and aversion, which stems from our attachments to the external, material world.
However, it is easy for our yoga practice to become some habitual activity that we get up and just fall into each morning instead of a tool for spiritual growth. The question we must ask ourselves is how can we tell if our practice has become some kind of habitual ritualized routine rather then a spiritual discipline, and how do we find the original inspiration for our practice if we feel it has been lost?
The word “habit” typically has a negative connotation, and depicts a regular or repetitive behavior pattern, attitude, tendency, or practice that is somewhat addictive in nature and difficult to give up. On the other hand, “discipline” describes a repeated activity that provides mental or physical training to ensure calm and regulated behavior, and a conscious control over one’s thinking or lifestyle.
Discipline happens when you regularly perform a conscious act, which is beneficial to yourself and aimed toward some higher purpose, even though it would be easier not to make the effort. A habit is something that you would rather not do, but it is very difficult to stop yourself from doing it anyway. Discipline is a conscious choice every time you perform the activity. It takes some volition, dedication, and conviction on the part of the practitioner. Whereas a habit occurs mainly because of our unconscious mind, and the action itself is something performed with very little awareness, or conscious control.
The Yoga Sutras state that we need both practice (abhyasa) and non-attachment (vairagya) to assist us in our attainment of yoga: “abhyasa vairagyabhyam tannirodhah” (YS 1:12).
These are often likened the wings of a bird, we need them both in equal strength and measure if we are to succeed in taking flight through this discipline of yoga. We need to practice, but we are not to become dependent on our practices. Hence they do not become merely habitual activities, instead of conscious choices performed with full awareness.
We also need to cultivate an attitude of non-attachment towards the objects and activities of the material world. This is necessary if the yoga practices are to work in directing the mind inwards, instead of allowing distractions to pull our senses and thoughts outwards away from the inner light and truth of our Being.
Swami Prabhavanada says “If we try to practice spiritual disciplines [the eight limbs of yoga] without attempting to control the thought-waves of desire, our minds will become violently agitated and perhaps permanently unbalanced. However, if we attempt nothing more then a rigid negative control of the waves of desire, without raising the waves of love, compassion and devotion to oppose them, then the result may be even more tragic.” (How to Know God the Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali, p.28)
If we pay close attention we can easily observe whether our yoga practice has morphed into merely a mechanical, rigid, habitual activity, or whether it is still filled with a sense of devotion, joy, and gratitude. This does not mean that our practice will always be blissful, but behind each practice we will discover a sense of shraddha or trust in the process, and courage to face whatever arises without fear or doubt, and ultimately, an aspect of transformation.
If we find that our practice has lost its inspiration, and has become somewhat mechanized, then it can be of great benefit to step back a little, and take a break from the rigorousness of the routine. This does not mean to stop practicing altogether, but learn to relax your expectations for yourself and your practice, be more flexible in your approach, and try to find the inherent joy that brought you to yoga in the first place.
Do less with more awareness.
Find the depth of experience in only practicing a few sun-salutations, or in simply sitting and focusing on breathing deeply and fully, and maintaining a steady concentration on the life-force pulsating through your entire structure. Then, after a few days, and only when you feel ready, return to your regular yoga practice with fresh eyes and a new understanding.
It can be good at times to take a short rest from the full intensity of a regular yoga practice, and to reassess whether you are practicing out of devotion or dependency. Yoga should create more independence and greater freedom from our hindering habits, not become a new addiction or form of enslavement.
If we want to practice yoga as a spiritual discipline, then our practice must draw the mind inward, and create greater awareness and union within ourselves. We must develop sincerity, not seriousness; only a practice with this quality can be rightfully called: Yoga.