Looking at resistance can reveal the nature of mind, for what we are resisting is often the very thing we say we want.” -Joel Kramer

The past month plus in class, the topic of the reading has been resistance (under “Mental Aspects” of yoga practice. About two weeks into the reading (reading a paragraph each week and now doing some related discussion and related reading), I realized that “Wow! Resistance is SO huge and up for me right now!” The resistance was showing up on many fronts, in meditation and yoga practice, family life, business life (including taking me about 2 weeks to finally sit down and write this blog!) and other interpersonal life. (The notable places with apparently no resistance were walking our dogs and actually getting into the yoga room to do my daily practices.) Also, ironically/obviously, as I’m typing this, the link for Joel Kramer’s Yoga as Self-Transformation article is not working, for over a day now! It’s not my fault!! 🙂 Resistance shows up in so many ways.

As I’ve been mentioning in class with this reading, though, I think him saying “often” in that quote above is him actually being too conservative. I personally would say “always.” ANYTHING we say we want, from more yoga or exercise to flexible hamstrings to losing weight to ice cream or chocolate or Netflix, I think that if we look closely enough, we’ll see some part in there saying “No” since that is the nature of the ego-mind. Yes, no, yes, no, yes, no, yes, no… (with an occasional “maybe” but “yes/no” is implied in “maybe”).

The (unanswerable) question that then arose in my mind was “Is the resistance so big right for me right now because that’s what I’m focusing on in the reading and it just now seems bigger, or is the resistance that had been underlying now coming to the surface to be seen since by the reading, it has an invitation or an opening?” Certainly focusing on a certain topic makes it seem bigger in our consciousness, but I am not a perfected being, I assume there are others reading this who are as I am, and I know that there is still plenty of buried stuff in there, too. The thing about resistance is that it is indicating or pointing to some pain in there, and so “looking at it” is not going to be a pleasant practice!

A personal experience of this pain/unpleasantness from that time is that in my meditation practice for a couple of weeks, it seemed that my mantra was joined by another mantra, equally strong and equally aimed at God/the Divine Mother (my Chosen Deity/Ideal). That new mantra was “I hate you, I hate you, I hate you…” It’s ironic or funny or totally appropriate since my last blog was “I love you, I love you, I love you, Part 2”, and the focus of December was/is that also!!! (Maybe the Universe/the Inner World was striving for balance? Or maybe the “I love you’s” did part of what they are supposed to do: to reveal their opposite!) I wasn’t worried at all about it, having experienced a much worse spontaneous mantra before and knowing that I still love/loved God/the Divine Mother, mySelf and all beings just as I had before, but there was that thought, repeating of its own accord in my mind. One positive thing about it, besides the complete spontaneousness and honesty of it, was that my attention did seem to be even more strongly anchored where I wanted it.

As a parallel reading, I am reading since this week from an interview with Amrit Desai from back when he was the Guru at the Kripalu Center in which he says, “In consciousness, which means nonjudgmental awareness,” (an important point)…we experience the desire, or resistance, without trying to suppress it but also without compulsively acting on it. We experience it as it is and experience all that is happening internally and neither choose for or against the experience. This is not an easy thing to do and it requires the capacity, of course, to consciously experience discomfort. Here, we need to remember that in general, on the mat, we are trying to find some discomfort, or “therapeutic irritation”, but NOT pain, meaning by Joel’s definition, I’m not running from the feeling or trying to get away from it in any way. On the meditation cushion, that will not necessarily apply, and at other times in our life, Life will be having us experiencing pain that is beyond our capacity to change anything other than our experience of it.

If we have the courage, strength, patience and faith to go through the discomfort consciously, if we can keep breathing, relaxing and feeling as Amrit Desai (and experience) tells us, the mind becomes quiet and tranquil, peaceful, and we can remember/see the Bigger Picture more clearly. After going through the hours and hours of the “I hate you” mantra, and remaining as nonjudgemental about it as I could, something did finally shift accompanied by a profound personal insight and a deep feeling of peace and OK-ness.

Resistance requires a perspective, which we all have. That perspective is necessarily a small and personal one. It’s only from my small, personal point of view that something (even something inside) is resisting “me” and “my” desires or will. The “me” IS the perspective that perceives resistance and is, from another perspective, the actual and only CAUSE of resistance since from the Universal perspective, which is an equally valid perspective, there is NO resistance, never has been, never will be, just the Flow, which includes yin AND yang, or in Yoga: tamas, rajas AND sattva. Summer is not resistance to winter nor is winter resistance to summer. They both exist as part of each other.

I write all this because in the world there is “resistance”. If we know it’s there and that it’s going to be there and that it’s totally natural, then we don’t need to get bent out of shape, we don’t need to freak out or get angry or whatever about it, but we can remain our conscious, loving, service-ful Self and move forward strongly, clearly and intelligently; and sometimes, us being our conscious, loving, service-ful Self will have us be “resistance” to other viewpoints. But if we don’t face our own inner resistance, we can be sure that the situation in the world is not going to change. Politically we see on both sides, an unwillingness and inability to consciously experience, to listen to, to understand the “resistance” seeming to come from the “other” side, but largely created from that one side itself. Let’s take that as a warning and as an inspiration to do it differently in ourselves and in our families and in our lives as much as we can. At the very least, then, we get to a deeper peace in ourselves which will spill over into the World. Who knows what the “at most” shift could be? Let’s find out.

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I Love You, I Love You, I Love You, part 2

“I love you. I love you. I love you.” – you to some part of you (or you to someone else)

“It works best if you DO it.” -a student

It’s December and as many of you know, this is the month that I lead what I call the “I Love You” practice, and you can read more about what “I love you” means in this blog from last year. In case you don’t know about this yet, it’s very simple. In class, or in your physical yoga practice, it means that when in any pose, to whatever is getting your focus at any given moment, you give the energy, the feeling, the attitude, the perspective, and even the words: “I love you. I love you. I love you.” One of the reasons behind this practice is to create a very safe, loving, friendly environment inside in which to do the important inner work of real Yoga, as opposed to simply exercising and getting a workout.

You may have guessed that I do it at this time of year specifically for several reasons. One is that, this being the dark time of the year, it’s one way to bring some serious light to the inner world and thus to the outer world since they can’t really be separated. We spend time, energy and money on outside lights which I enjoy and is festive and fun and beautiful (though sometimes excessive and wasteful), but to me it is insufficient to simply put a veneer of light, to light simply the surface, or just to light the outside, when really it’s the INSIDE that so desperately needs the light. Nature is just fine with it getting darker at this time of year, obviously. It’s US that need the light.

I also lead this practice at this time of the year partly because, between Thanksgiving and Christmas, a lot of people have more interaction with their family of birth than at other times. For many people, this is a wonderful thing, but for many others this is a huge challenge at best to stay loving, centered and focused on what they WANT to focus on. This inner practice on the mat can help us stay more loving and grounded in our true self and not buy in too heavily to others’ thoughts and perceptions/imaginations. It also works well when applied to OTHERS, silently and repeatedly thinking “I love you, I love you, I love you…” mentally directed toward other people, even those who present personal challenges, family or otherwise. After the fact, several people have told me what they consider as miracle stories of challenging relationships changing unexpectedly for the better after they did it for some time, even in one case changing a decades-old negative family situation. And you don’t have to tell them that you are doing it for it to work; in fact, in many if not all cases, it would be BAD to tell them you were doing it.

Though it’s a very simple practice, it is not necessarily an easy practice for many people. One woman each year for a bunch of years, has told me that it makes her angry when I lead it, but at least now when she shares that, the anger is in the past tense, which is, of course, progress. And she is not the only one. Over about 12 years that I’ve guided this annually, quite a few have expressed their (initial) strong dislike of this practice, though without exception of those, all have over years made self-admitted progress and in some cases, even getting to actually feeling/experiencing/giving love!

The reason for any negative reaction is that this simple practice is very confronting to the opposite voice in there. The inner critic, of course, for many, has a LOT of practice and is fairly content with being the preferred lens through which the Innermost Self views the world and the self. In general, it won’t let go of its feeling of power and authority very quickly or easily. When we confront it with an opposite voice, a necessity if we are to move beyond it to a deeper Truth, resistance may show up. If we can keep loving, keep thinking, and if possible, feeling “I love you” to whatever is showing up, then we are building our inner power AND our ability to love in all circumstances.

Here’s where we get to the above quote from the student. She so humbly and honestly said one day in class when I asked for questions or comments on the practice, “I’ve been coming to class very sporadically for about 7 years now, and today I realized that it works best when you DO it. Up till now, I thought it was just a mental exercise.” I loved her honesty and insight into the practice which to me indicates her awareness and progress in the practice. I figure that the practice may at times need to start as simply a mental practice which will in due time wipe away enough of the opposite voice and then reveal that the sentiment/words can actually be EXPERIENCED/felt and not just thought. I’ve been saying in class recently that if you are doing the practice and doing it doesn’t have you change what you are doing in the poses, or how you are doing them, at least from time to time, then it means either that your love is perfected… OR you are on autopilot and have allowed an opposite thought to dominate, a thought such as “I’m willing to SAY love you, but I really just want the pose to be this other way!” or “I love you, but I would love you MORE if you were as I think you should be.”

After that woman shared her observation, I started reflecting on how many things that statement, “It works best when you DO it,” applies to: basically anything that we already know would be good for ourselves or others! This being the end of the year and time to think about New Year’s resolutions, which I’ve written about before, I might suggest you joining me in contemplating what in your life or your mind would work best if you actually DID it, if you took it from the thinking-about-it realm to the doing-it realm? It’s possible it was the first thought in your mind when you just read that. That’s how it works: our Innermost Self KNOWS the best actions for us to take, always, though the mind often makes it difficult to hear that deep inner guidance.

“I love you” is, I think, a very important practice because it can help us move powerfully toward the perfecting of “our” Love and will inevitably reveal where we are blocking the flow and the guidance of Love. The practice is important because when we finally get quiet in ourself, the obvious Truth dawns that IT (whatever “it” is) is all about Love, it’s ALL LOVE, and that ultimately we are made of Love, we ARE Love and that we live in Love. Those words, though, in the end are meaningless if we don’t experience the Truth of them for ourselves, so feel free to use them for inspiration to check out their truth or just chuck ‘em and focus on the “I love you” practice and all your other good efforts for a long time without break and in all earnestness, to quote Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras (I.14).

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An Embodiment of Love

“I WILL be an embodiment of Love. I AM an embodiment of Love.” -Grace

Grace, one of my teachers for the past few years, was at Loving Kindness again last Saturday evening talking on “Return to Heart-our only true Home.” The quote above was the main gem for me. There were some points she made that I thought are worth sharing with a larger audience than was there.

People who come to or are interested in a yoga school called “Loving Kindness” tend to be on the same page in that we all seek to be more unconditionally loving in all that we do. It’s a good thing. One question/concern/doubt that I have heard frequently and that Grace said that people ask her a lot as well is, “How do I love _____________?” and in the blank goes “terrorists?” or “child abusers?” or “rapists?” or “Trump?” or “racists?” or whatever like that. Grace’s answer was more clear, succinct and to the point but along the same lines as my response has always been. She said, “That’s actually the wrong question. The question is really, ‘How do I remain loving, or How do I remain in Love, in whatever circumstances are in my world?” It’s not about “loving” some thing, situation, person, whatever, but about remaining connected to the Love that dwells within us, and then ACTING from that place/experience/perspective. Love that doesn’t act is not love. If I don’t maintain my connection with Love in certain situations, it simply reveals that my supposed “love” is dependent on other people’s actions, which means I wasn’t really experiencing love anyway, just some infatuation or passion or emotion perhaps. Love is an energy that can be experienced as an emotion but is not in any way limited to being an emotion, another one of the gems from Grace that I have held for a long time.

She also spoke about how to connect our will (3rd chakra) with the Heart (4th chakra) that produced the quote above. The Heart is about Love and that involves an element or perspective of surrender and acceptance, so there was a good question about what is the role of will in Love. Grace spoke about how we can’t just beg the Divine Mother/God for Love or Self-Realization. I think we can’t just go along in our lives and expect or hope or even just pray that we get what we want and especially that we get our own Heart’s deepest desire (which is Love). We have to make up our mind, we have to exercise our will, which we can do, as Grace said, by waking up everyday and rededicating ourself and our life to being an embodiment of Love. One way we can do this is by strongly affirming, “I WILL be an embodiment of Love. I AM an embodiment of Love.” I’ve found doing it out loud this week to be especially powerful. I intend to continue.

She also added that we can even affirm, “I WILL be Self-Realized in this lifetime.” I imagine everyone who has Self-Realization as in their realm of possibility or as a future Goal feels that IF they get enlightened, it will be after many more lifetimes…since we so clearly see our “lacks” and often not so clearly our Greatness and proximity to Reality (that’s not ego-“greatness” meant here). However, what if our simple lack of belief in ourself and in the possibility of Self-Realization is what prevents us? What if WE are the only one who is in our own way? (Obviously!) If we believe that Love or Inner Peace or Truth or Self-Realization or whatever is the Highest Goal, let’s all join in strongly affirming that we CAN and WILL attain/get/realize/manifest it in THIS lifetime. And then when Life (or as Grace called it, “the Earth School”) presents its inevitable tests, or even just little pop quizzes, then we get to practice and get stronger at what we are truly aiming at and believing in and professing, and then put it into real action.

Maybe you’ve seen the yard sign on Smith Level Rd, that says “Love Wins.” True. But how does it win? By us choosing over and over to be and act from Love, not because other people did it, but because WE chose it and did it (and other people did/do, too).

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“How Do I know if I’m Doing It Right?”

Most of you reading this article know that the “pose of the year” in my classes has been Triangle Pose, trikonasana. To describe it simply, it’s a leg- and hamstring-opening and -strengthening, pelvis-opening and -stabilizing, core-strengthening standing twist. Since the beginning of the year, we’ve been focusing on one little piece of this multi-faceted and complicated pose, starting with the feet and moving up, changing the focus every couple of weeks or so. We were focusing on just the legs all the way through May. Many people have been helped by this intensive focus plus spending a good deal of time on/in the pose almost every class, and many others who thought they had this pose down have been surprised to realize how much more there is to it than they had thought, and more than a few who used to like Triangle, have admitted that they don’t like it anymore… which needs it’s own blog.

A couple of weeks ago, a student, after the pose when I asked if there were any questions, asked the good question, the title of this article, “How do I know if I’m doing it right?” It’s a good and logical question and in retrospect, I’m a little surprising that it took 9 months for someone to ask this one… though maybe everyone else just assumed/felt that they were just doing it wrong. :/ I mostly dodged his question at the time and put it back to him, as I often do. (It’s one of the “typical Ti answers”.) He said something like, “It’s a feeling?” which seems like a good part of an answer, and then I asked him a follow-up/additional question, “How do you know if you’re doing your LIFE right?” and suggested he take that as a question for his homework to think about for the week till his next class since he didn’t have an answer at the time.

Ever since beginning teaching almost 25 years ago, when I have given homework or advice, I myself endeavor to take it, in the case of advice, or to do it, in the case of homework. That’s simply the way that I see the Universe working, that if I’m giving advice to someone else, I also need it, at least as much as but in some cases even more than the other person. So thank you, this student, for the inspiration.

Here’s what I noticed from more than a week of holding this question and looking fairly closely at it and meditating on it. First of all (always), the answer depends on what perspective one is coming from. The first answer, the most “loud” one, the answer coming from the Inner Critic, which is expert at getting it’s voice heard, was, “You’re NOT getting it right. In fact, you will NEVER get it right!” This dominant voice comes, as far as I can tell, from a very vigilant and committed place, full of seeming certainty. As far as I can tell, many people who attend my classes have a fairly well-exercised and practiced voice that says similar things. Even having that negative voice, it’s amazing, and I think incredibly hopeful, that I (and we) still work and do practices that that voice tells me don’t and will never work! It seems to point to something stronger in there, something more life-affirming and life-enhancing and forward-moving.

The enquiry continued. Another answer, perhaps a more “yogic-process” one, and really my first thought at the time of being asked the question, is, “It’s not about doing it ‘right’. Actually, it (yoga or life) has nothing to do with doing it right.” A number of times over the year, in the midst of adding yet more postural details to the Triangle Pose, I have pointed out, “Remember, these details of alignment are NOT to increase the amount of yoga dogma in the world, but that it’s about awareness! The points of alignment are partly for safety and energy flow, but primarily for awareness.” So if it’s all about awareness, then “right” becomes more a matter of “with how much awareness am I approaching this moment?” and we can answer that for ourselves.

This answer flies in the face of the government schooling and then college that most of us were subjected to in which there ALWAYS was a right answer and you could know it or not know it and be tested, judged and graded on it. You could even work backwards FROM the right answer to figure out how to approach the problem! From this perspective no gray areas are allowed and to NOT have a right answer is to be wrong at best, and to be risking death at worst. After the critic, this perspective is probably the next most destructive to a person’s peace and happiness.

If yoga or life has nothing to do with getting it right, then how are we to navigate through either? Is it all just random and arbitrary? These questions naturally follow, so from another perspective, there IS a “relative” right, and that, as my student had thought, is a feeling. We ourselves can KNOW, but it’s a more intuitive and feeling thing than a thing that others outside can assess, judge and grade us on. There’s a feeling of flow, of Life, of peace and connectedness, of Truth, or Knowing, of rightness, not so much thinking.

On follow-up with my student a couple weeks after his/my initial questions, he said he had realized that he didn’t necessarily know when it was right, but he did know when it WASN’T right. And that’s the easiest way to begin to know the rightness. If we can tell it’s NOT right, then some part of ourself knows what right FEELS like. And this is also a very hopeful thing. We can then celebrate the fact that it DOESN’T feel right when that’s what’s there because then we know that our inner compass is still functioning properly!

So many perspectives, just one “little” being! For those of us on a spiritual Path, the “final” or “ultimate” answer, but one which we CANNOT simply believe but must experience first-hand for it to be truly meaningful and honest, is “Of course it’s right (whatever it is). How could it (anything!) NOT be right?” In God’s “Infinite Economy,” everything has a place, though our limited little minds might (Often. Always.) have a hard time perceiving or even imagining it or letting that possibility even exist! From this perspective, it’s the little mind that makes right and wrong. If “I” can get bigger than that little mind, then I may see only good in this world, as we sing in the Universal Prayer at the end of kirtan on Fridays. (Scroll down to the bottom of the linked page, and you can listen to it on track 8 on the first playlist.) This perspective is not to invalidate suffering, whether our’s or others’, but to have a bigger perspective on it. This experience/viewpoint also does not in any way get us out of the necessity and loving inevitability of heart-felt service to those who suffer. As far as I can tell we can move toward this experience through loving devotion and surrender to God/Higher Power/Life/Nature/Love, whatever we call it.

So which of these perspectives is “right?” Ha! But true. Good question. After reading this far, hopefully we can all understand that they are all “right” and all “wrong”, just depends on where we’re standing. We may favor one or the other, but the fact is that until we are established in a complete knowledge and understanding of our True Nature and the True Nature of the Universe, these (and probably other) perspectives will continue to shift and flow one to another and back and around again. Perhaps, though, if we can even settle a bit into the rightness of even that fact, then we can have peace whatever is happening and whatever we are experiencing in the moment.

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“Guard the Heart.” or “What’s up with the left shoulder?”

Last week in my practice, one day I was doing what I call “Earth-hugging twist.”  In this case I was lying belly-down with the left arm extended, and reaching over to the left, I rolled over to the left to open the chest/shoulder/arm. This pose is one of my “self-created” poses that I only many years later had a teacher lead and give it some Sanskrit name which I don’t remember.  I lead it in class with some regularity.  This particular time was unique since lately in class the focus has been on “playing the edge” (still from Joel Kramer’s old Yoga Journal article Yoga as Self-Tranformation) and specifically finding the first or minimum edge, so I was doing that.  As I moved into the pose and found the first hint of resistance and stopped there to acclimate, as he suggests and as I’ve done many times before, I noticed that even here at the minimum edge, the resistance was surprisingly intense, and then all of a sudden I heard a loud, scared and earnest voice inside, felt like from the region being asked to stretch and release, “Guard the heart!”

Fortunately I have enough experience that I didn’t need to minimize, criticize, ignore, fear, justify or try to coerce that voice to be other than it was.  I just received it lovingly at face value with kindness, respect and love, and I backed up just a little bit in the pose so that it wouldn’t need to be so strident in its call.  I have done a lot of what a person may call “heart opening,” but in no way do I consider that I’m anywhere near done, so though it was surprising in its urgency, at the same time it felt like I had, in my respectful approach to my body in the pose, uncovered a long-buried and “secret” tendency; I had unearthed something that had been there all along, and which I knew about and had encountered in different ways before, but it was a layer so far under the surface that it could remain “hidden” and only come out when it felt safe enough to reveal itself.

I give all this as background on “me” and “my” exploration, but I don’t consider that this experience is in ANY WAY unique among human beings!  If you don’t feel even just a little (or a lot!) guarded around your own Heart, around the potentially divine energy center inside the center of the chest, then either “Good for you! That took a LOT of work!” or “Look deeper,” most likely, I assume, the latter.  I also share the above as encouragement to everyone reading this that you may be able to approach your body in your practice with even more care, sensitivity and respect and in the process, uncover even more, surprising but possibly obvious, deeper parts of yourself.

One of the things I’ve had on my list of things to write about for a long time now is “What’s up with the left shoulder?” since SO MANY (probably 90+% of the people I see) have some issue with the left shoulder, anywhere from obvious and painful to subtle and relatively innocuous.  (And yes, of course, some people have a right shoulder issue also or instead, especially if it’s been from injury.)  One simple and easily seen way this left shoulder issue shows up is when I guide the class to do arm circles, first one way and then the other. Then I guide the class to start with both arms up and move one arm one way, i.e. forward, and the other arm the other way, i.e. backward, and if a person does that, the two arms will pass each other at the bottom and top.  Many people can do this and some cannot, however EVERYONE I’ve seen who can’t do this motion and have the arms passing each other at the top and bottom, it’s because of some block or stuckness with the left shoulder.  In human bodies, generally we can’t say “always” about anything, and I’m sure even in this case there are exceptions, but I haven’t seen it yet, which is itself extremely noteworthy!

The obvious question then may arise, “Why the LEFT shoulder?” and not the right shoulder since most people are right-handed, which would, of course, tend to make that side more prone to injury just from its frequent use.  I think the answer was revealed in that simple statement from my body: “Guard the heart.”  The physical heart is, of course, slightly off-centered on the left side of the body, though it does overlap the midline.  Even though I think that what we really are unconsciously trying to guard is not so much the physical heart but more the energetic Heart, which is on the midline at the level of the physical heart, for some reason, maybe our physical sense of or perhaps from our training about the location of the physical heart, we tend to overwork the left pec muscles and consequently the left shoulder pulls forward in that attempt to guard the heart which starts a whole cascade of effects in the body since “it’s all connected.”  The left shoulder, then, is put in an uncomfortable or painful situation in which it is enlisted in protecting this deep, central and potentially glorious and blissful part of our Self.

A few years ago after coming back from being with Amma for a week in the summer and then being with one of my Amma brothers, he noticed that I had some special openness or Love or Peace happening, and I pointed to the center of his chest and said, “It’s right here.”  He said something like, “That seems too painful. I’m afraid that if I go there, it’ll be all dark and scary.” (good honesty, right?)  In our lives we all have experienced some emotional pain that we couldn’t deal with at the time and so “put it off till later.”  Over the years it gets compounded, in many cases around the heart as my brother had noticed.  I replied, though, “The Goodness, the Light, the Love, the Peace there in the Heart is underneath the pain and darkness.”  I still maintain this view, only from personal experience.  I believe that this pain or binding or armoring around the heart, is itself painful, quite possibly more painful than the emotional pain underneath.  As a result we are guarding against some (probably) emotional pain AS WELL AS the pain of guarding against THAT pain!  That must take a huge amount of energy!

The irony is that, as one of my teachers said so long ago, we actively, if unconsciously, guard the Heart but really the Heart is the protector!  I’ve pondered that over the decades and I still believe it to be true.  It means that we guard the region of space that we call the “Heart,” obviously, but the “Heart,” both 1. the qualities of the Heart like Love, compassion, empathy, connection, sensitivity, Universal Motherhood (as Amma, my teacher, speaks about), etc. as well as 2. That which dwells within the Heart, which the Yogis describe as The Self/God/The Indweller in all beings/Source/Emptiness/Oneness/Peace/The Inner Light, etc, ARE THEMSELVES the Protector (of us and of all beings!) and are truly in no need of outside protection IF (and that’s a HUGE “IF”) we will only let them come out and be manifested in and through our lives every day and every moment.  As long as we are intent on keeping them “protected” in our ego-/“I”-/“me”-/“mine”-mode, then that protection alone will give us plenty of suffering and prevent us from the larger “Protection”  (and Peace) that the qualities and Indweller of the Heart can provide.

Though this article is titled as it is due to simple honesty of experience, where we ARE, with the many gates we pass through, is not what I am advocating, nor, for those of us on a conscious Path, is it where we are intending to nor will we stay.  We can love ourself and Life as it is knowing full well that nothing in this world stays the same, and we can apply our loving energy in the moment and have faith coupled with introspection and know that we are, through a continuous and dedicated process, moving toward a personal experience of the Heart unguarded and ultimately unbounded and unlimited and flowing.  We just have to keep going till we get there!  May it be so.

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Burn Your Yoga Journal

A couple of weeks ago, in what turned out to be a private lesson for the one woman who showed up, (If you need/want smaller classes and lots of personal attention, this is the time of the year for it!  Come on down!) working with her for a few minutes on her seated twist, trying to get the pose to a place where she wasn’t hurting her body, and ending up with her body in a very non-traditional-looking position, she said, “It doesn’t look like the picture in the yoga journal.”  I said, “Thank you. That’s the subject of my next blog.” (She was already the inspiration for the “Put It in Your Calendar” blog a few weeks ago!)

This young woman has a notably strong AND flexible body, a rare combination.  She also has a good bit of yoga practice and experience, including going through Go Deep, my yoga teacher training and deeper studies course, a couple years ago.  A very flexible (read “mobile”) body tends to be more prone to injury than does a strong (read “stable”) one, and she has to be careful about a couple of places in her body. (Maybe you do, too?  Does anyone reading this NOT have to be careful of some part[s] of your body???)  This woman, I think, could easily be a model for Yoga Journal.  Her poses and her body can fit that “mold.”  BUT, and here’s the “Big But” (as per Pee Wee Herman), BUT some of that “posing” would be injurious to her body.  (I have first- and second-hand info that, at least some years ago, the people on the cover of Yoga Journal generally injured themselves during the photography, doing extreme yoga poses in a cold photo studio.  It didn’t surprise me at the time to hear that.  Of course they also doctor the photos, too.)

I resonate with this woman because at her age, I was the same in some ways.  I had come to yoga “naturally” very flexible (read “mobile”) and not very strong, and by her age, I was also pretty strong.  I could do wild poses…AND I regularly injured my body, a number of times pretty intensely.  Over years of practice coupled with aging, I learned not to injure my body in yoga so much, which in general has them be less “extreme.”  My poses, once so “Yoga Journal-worthy” (Ha! Funny to write that.) are not so much anymore.  However, in my (ego) mind, they are MORE “Yoga Journal-worthy” for what’s happening on the inside: more sensitive, less harmful, and less pushing toward some imagined goal.  Sadly, those shifts are not so able to be photographed and the resulting poses don’t fit the popular norms of yoga beauty.  I think this is what this woman was commenting on: It didn’t look like the Yoga Journal picture, but it did feel a lot better in her body.  Which would YOU choose, if you could only have one of those?  Do you want to look good, or right or impressive, or feel happy in your skin?  This question highlights is why I chose the (sensationalist) title of this article as I did.

If the yoga magazine is printing amazing or outrageous pictures of people in yoga poses (the same applies if it’s big-name yoga teachers on Instagram, YouTube, etc.), they are giving the impression that this is how the pose is SUPPOSED to be, and if you’re not doing it that way, you’re not doing it right or good enough.  (I’ve mentioned this before, but note that the 908 Yoga Pose poster is in the RESTROOM at Loving Kindness, NOT in the main studio room.) Though I did choose the title of this article, of course, that’s not really the main gist of this article.  Honestly, though, I do think burning your Yoga Journal, or better, just letting your subscription lapse, is a good idea.  Though there tends to be one worthwhile article in the whole magazine, in my experience, my yoga study time is much better spent reading yoga books, which actually helps take the teachings deeper, minus all the advertisements.  (If you prefer a periodical, Yoga International is better anyway, though now it’s only online.)

(Full-disclosure:  I do still see in my mind sometimes, the thought that some of “my” poses are not as they’re “supposed to be.”  Just in case you might have thought that I was “done” or had “mastered” yoga.  I don’t blame anyone for that, but I just see it as where “I’m” still stuck in thinking.  Also, I received no money from Yoga International for that mention above.)

When I receive teachings from a teacher, as long as I don’t have a moral disagreement with it, as long as it doesn’t seem hurtful or inconsistent with other “big picture” teachings that I have received, and as long as it seems logical and compatible with my own previous and current experience, then I will follow and practice the teaching as given and without question to the best of my ability, long enough to see for myself some results and then to know how or whether to continue to apply it in my practice ongoingly.  This has been how “Ti” yoga has evolved over the decades.  If we start with “chucking” the teachings or guidance, then we will stay “lost,” we won’t evolve and grow and will just remain in the prison of our own likes and dislikes.

Books, yoga magazines, teachers (including me!) obviously, have a place.  I think of them as a good, important and necessary start but definitely not as an ending point: a place to begin and to learn and to practice from, partly in order to find places inside that we wouldn’t find if we were just staying in our “normal” and predictable and known.  They are not a place to stop, however.  Of primary and ultimate importance is not, to me, following the rules, (obviously, if you know me at all) i.e. doing what the teacher/writer/picture says, though that, too has an important place.  What we should be most concerned with is that we are being very conscious of the feedback we are getting from our own body/inner being as a result of WHATEVER we are doing, on the mat or otherwise.  That’s the Goal, at least one of them, of the physical practice, not simply completing some predetermined (read “imagined!”) posture and alignment.  This Goal isespecially true if the predetermined (even “traditional” or “required”) alignment and guidance is hurting our body/inner being, as it was in the case for the woman mentioned above, and certainly has, as I mentioned, been the case for me many times over the years.  (Ego hurting is another thing that I am not addressing here.  Maybe another time.)

If we can explore/work/play from the actual in-the-body experience and feedback we are getting and less from what we remember from the book or teacher, at least ultimately or at some point, then we have the possibility of our Yoga and the Inner Energy/Consciousness coming Alive for us, not just coming from the dead past i.e. coming what we remembered or what we learned previously.  Living Yoga, with “Living” here being both a verb and and adjective, can then be a reality for us as we move forward in our lives.  Let’s take the teachings we have been given, from whatever source, and PRACTICE them but also be careful to free ourselves from any bondage we may be subjecting ourselves to, whether bondage from the “outside” or from the “inside.”

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Focusing Energy, positively

“Yoga develops the ability to focus energy into specific areas….Learning to focus energy with great depth and precision is a vital part of yoga that is often not emphasized (so I, Ti, am emphasizing it for some time in my classes). This ability [depends] on a quality of mind that is able consciously to sense the body for tightnesses and blocks and then focus into them.” -Joel Kramer, from “Yoga as Self-Transformation”, May/June 1980 Yoga Journal (the current reading in my classes)

There are so many possible ways that this writing could go from that quote above.  Since reading that in class for the past few weeks and continuing to ponder it over that time, I have about an hour and a half talk on it in my mind, but for brevity, only one point this time.  In Yoga, we are to focus our energy, true, but in that quote, he is suggesting/encouraging/pointing us to focus on something very specific: tightnesses or blocks that we encounter when we sense our body.

I think it is completely valid and meaningful to expand, or generalize, that narrow suggestion to include “any place that is calling for more focused awareness,” but regardless, if we are to focus on tightnesses or blocks or anything LIKE that, we can be assured that it is going to be at least SOMEWHAT unpleasant.  At the new Northside Gateway memorial at the corner of N Roberson St. and W Rosemary St. in Chapel Hill, a memorial to the freedom fighters of Chapel Hill’s Civil Rights movement (Check it out. It’s very powerful and beautiful.), there is a quote: “Courage, after all, is not about being unafraid, but doing what needs to be done in spite of the fear. -James Farmer”  I think that applies to our yoga practice, too.  If we are going to acknowledge, and possibly even explore and focus on, something that is uncomfortable at best, some part of us is going to resist that process and we may encounter some fear in it, …AND if we are going to continue in the process toward a deeper realization of our True Nature, we will have to do it anyway, which is courage, by that definition given above.

Mostly in acknowledging this fact, I want to honor and acknowledge all of you (and myself) who have committed to your yoga practice and who have dedicated yourself to looking deeply within.  This Path is not for the weak or the faint of heart. It’s also not for the deluded who expect only to find Love and Light inside.  (It’s in there, just sometimes buried under a lot of other unpleasantness.)  Yoga is a Path for the courageous and the strong… or at least for those whom living an un-investigated life is simply too painful, but even then, courage is necessary.  Will there be moments when you (I) doubt yourself and your abilities and your strength and courage?  Of course, but please, please, please, join me for a moment of sincere self-appreciation…unless, of course, you have already done that today.

We come to the mat and/or meditation cushion every day, or however often we do, and as rewarding as it is, as much as we are glad that we did it after we did it, there may be times when it’s challenging to get there, or to get to class, and if we can see some beautiful and positive thing about ourself in it, in our practice or even in the getting to it, then getting to the mat will be easier AND more fun!  So, can you feel it?  Can you LET yourself feel it? Some sincere positive regard for yourself?  Some love and appreciation for some part of yourself that is uniquely you?  Some love and appreciation for the beautiful and funny idiosyncracies that make their home in your experience?  Some compassion for yourself and for the parts of yourself with which you struggle? (You’ve read this far, so what are you acknowledging about yourself now?)

Having this sentiment toward oneself is not just for “new-age-y”, touchy-feely, sickeningly sweetness (which I have no tolerance for), but as a very real balm to soothe the process of being with the rough or chaffed or raw inner parts.  Though perhaps it is not completely needed, anything that helps smooth the ride and make it more pleasant will allow the process (our Path) to continue unabated, which is, in the Yogic “big picture”, one of the most important factors.  AND if you find it difficult to find something you sincerely love and respect and appreciate about yourself, in my book that in itself is a HUGE problem, just one step below not being able to think of anything about yourself that you would love to be different.  If you want homework from this article, then if you didn’t think of something positive about yourself and your practice yet, then you have a day to come up with at least 10 things.  Feel free to tell me how it goes.

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Put It in Your Calendar

“It’s so easy to let life get in the way (of yoga practice).” -Susan, my longest-time yoga student (20+ years)

Me to a student: “You’re being very regular in class (after not being regular for many months).”
Her: “I put it in my calendar!”

She went on to say that her life is driven by her calendar, and for so long she didn’t have yoga classes in her calendar so subsequently she wasn’t showing up.  All that it took for her to get to class was to have it in her calendar.  (And another long-time student and yoga teacher trainee said, “yeah, and it’s so easy since you can just click “copy to my calendar,” on the website calendar if you have google calendar.)

With my yoga teacher trainees each year, right at the beginning of the course, since home practice is so key to that training, we clarify not only what but WHEN they will be practicing, and I tell them, as I have for years, that if they tell me a day of the week, I can tell them approximately when I’ll be doing my yoga and meditation practice.  I can say that BECAUSE it’s in my schedule.  It’s not specifically noted on my calendar, but it’s mentally there.  I’m sure you can tell me, at least approximately, when you will be brushing your teeth each day because, though it’s probably not written down or on the calendar on your device, it IS in your schedule.

I have known for years that if something (whatever it is doesn’t matter that much) is in my schedule, I will be pretty sure that it will happen.  If it’s not in my schedule, no matter how much if I SAY I want to do it or even need to do it, it’s almost guaranteed NOT to happen.  If yoga, or anything really, is something that you profess to value and find helpful, just getting it in your calendar MAY make a big difference as it did for that particular woman.  That was certainly not the first time I’ve seen that happen for a person other than myself.

If putting it in your calendar DOESN’T help you showing up (for yourself) as much as you’d like, then it’s time to look deeper.  Feel free to revisit this blog from February 2015 on Resistance and Excuses.

Later, Susan made her above comment that it’s so easy to let life get in the way of yoga practice.  She’s been practicing yoga almost as long as I’ve been alive.  She’s speaking from experience and knows what she’s talking about!  I think the key word in her statement is “let.”  (“Easy” is another key word.) Life doesn’t get in the way.  We LET Life get in the way; we LET something apparently external stop us from doing what we want to do and what would best serve our long-term interest.  We AGREE to be stopped, too easily in many cases, from taking some positive and life-affirming and love-enhancing action.

Certainly from the small-mind perspective, Life appears more than happy to “get in the way”… of my plans, my desires being fulfilled, my goals, peace, ease, yoga, meditation, whatever.  Though it is actually possible that Life actually does “get in the way,” I think if we’re honest, even mildly so, it generally is that really we are in our own way. Life is simply a reflection/projection of what’s happening inside.

Without a firm commitment, possibly with the aid of our calendar, we could spend an entire lifetime of wanting to take some positive action and then find ourself at the end not having done it.  If you used to do yoga or meditate or dance or walk or eat good food or…, and you want to be doing it again/still, what’s the trajectory you’re on now?  Does that thing need to be in your calendar?

Remember, yoga works best when you DO it.

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Hurry, Hurry, Hurry!

Sorry I haven’t written in the better part of 2 months! 😦 It’s not from not wanting to. The rest of this article might clarify a little. I hope you don’t resonate too much with it… but you probably will.

I was sick last week for the first time in about 4 years, to the point of getting a sub a couple of days. FINALLY I had a little time when I actually COULD write… but then had no energy and the mind was not really functional enough to put coherent thoughts together, though the seeds of this article were sprouted. What being sick DID allow, however, was some more great practice and experience in knowing that I am not this body.

As I’ve written (and talked about in class before), physical yoga practice is great for many things, as everyone knows, and one of them is to realize—paradoxically—that I am not this body. With that awareness, hopefully we can begin to ACT knowing that, at least little by little, which brings us closer to experiencing the Peace that we are craving. A lot of the other benefits of yoga get more press, I guess because those of us living in material heaven (or is it hell?) like thinking that we are our bodies since we get to enjoy so much with them… until the inevitable experiences of sickness, old age, and death, which inspired Siddhartha to begin the work/quest which later led him to be called the Buddha.

There were times in being sick, which this time included MUCH intense coughing and mostly just feeling yucky and like not doing much. Thankfully though, when I remembered, I could very easily make a “mental” shift, a shift of perspective, to this beautiful, peaceful, blissful, open-hearted place inside where I could enjoy the experience of Life, in this case of body being sick. And yes, it’s easier to do it while sick than when injured or in pain, so I figure I/we might as well practice it when it’s easier. Certainly it is possible to do when injured or in pain as well.

Again, it’s been a long time since I was that sick, but I found it surprisingly easy to make the shift, even easier amazingly than making that internal shift when I am well. Maybe that’s a sign of progress on my Path, or just a moment of Grace? One of the books I am reading, Vasishtha’s Yoga by Swami Venkateshananda, had a part last week that the shift to Awareness/the Self/Consciousness takes no effort at all. The preparation toward it seems to take a lot of effort and energy, and it does, but the actual shift TO Consciousness takes no effort at all, and the text likened it to falling asleep, which we all know can’t be forced. We can only let go into it.  I found that observation incredibly helpful: just shift, relax my perspective into that unchanging Witness. Smiling happens. The Heart feels more open and full. I appreciate What Is. And then on a purely worldly level, I also strangely then have the energy to walk the dogs (slowly) and even pick up some trash on the way. I take that experience as a clear indication that the Spiritual is NOT disconnected from the physical/mental, just deeper, permanent, always FULL of Love and Giving-Energy. The physical/mental is pleasure and pain, like and dislike. (Think Yoda painfully walking with a cane, then fighting, then getting his cane back.)

When the body is compromised, then maybe what we have is not always just something to complain about, thereby willingly losing MORE of our limited energy, but really an opportunity. In fact, maybe ANYTHING we might want to complain about is, given a simple shift of perspective, an opportunity. Are we taking it? (I can’t say I always am.)

From time to time I see older people who are in a bad way, either physically or more often mentally/emotionally, and I think “Ti, take that as a warning!” meaning “Ti, do your work NOW so you don’t end up like that!” I’ve had friends who died young which I also take as a reminder to us all to DO IT NOW (whatever it is that our Heart is prompting us to do) because time in this body is limited. That idea can reveal very quickly and clearly whatever lame excuses we are operating under.

The reading of late in my classes, Yoga as Self-Transformation by Joel Kramer from the May/June 1980 Yoga Journal (for the third time in my Carrboro teaching career) is speaking recently about “conditioning” and habits. One line from last week was, “There’s no way to stay the way you are now: you either become more rigid and crystalized or you break out of patterns and transform.” My (very) old way of being sick is to just retreat into myself and feel bad. There was no Light in it. Even though there were elements of that this week, by God’s Grace, the shift was possible and healing energy could then flow, no longer blocked by my own thoughts and beliefs. (And I’m TOTALLY aware that the Divine Mother could easily give me an experience where the shift was not so easy, or even impossible.  I’ve been there before and can’t say I won’t again. In those cases, just humble prayer and inward surrender to the Infinite is all that gives solace.  That Loving Part of ourselves is, after all, just Pure Kindness.)

That shift of perspective is possible even when the mind/thought processes are compromised, though that takes, in my experience but maybe not yours, an INTENSE amount of energy and effort. It’s like we have to fight What Is until we just can’t anymore, and then we are finally able to open to receiving Grace.

OK, so what’s all that have to do with the title? Actually that was all the necessary setting of the stage. I’ve been noticing this repeated holding pattern in my body for the past couple of months. It’s muscular and energetic. I’ve been into exploring it, after finally acknowledging it and being willing to actually get to know it rather than just trying to fix it. (Some of you will remember the homework assignment I gave in class last week:  Commit to memory this sentence from Joel’s article, “The body’s resistance should be respected since it is useful feedback.” Teacher has to do that also and has been practicing it, too!)

The week before last I finally saw in meditation that that holding pattern is how I physically recoil from What Is, how I try to get away from some part of Reality, including thoughts, that I don’t want to be with (and it happens more than I wish it did). Being off for those couple of days and my body forcing me to slow down (finally), I believe, allowed the insight to come through in meditation last night that in that place lives “Hurry! Hurry! Hurry! Ti!” I think I live much of my waking life in that. Fortunately, I teach yoga and have my spiritual practices, at which times I definitely DON’T do that!

I could actually see/feel, still can when I focus on it, there in that place is “Hurry! Hurry! Hurry!” that voice, that self-imposed pressure! OMG! When I first saw that, what a hilarious relief! Ahhh! (sigh) OK, some letting go.  That’s a habit, a crystallization. But seeing it required NOT ONLY the slowing down, BUT ALSO the ability to be in the Loving Witness Consciousness so that that deep pattern could emerge and be seen and met without shame or whatever that would have it retreat back in there deeper.

I share all this since it’s likely that you, too, will find yourself in a compromised body someday (or now), possibly from sickness. You will probably also get older (oh, you are already getting older, right now!), and you might even be very old someday. Odds are you will probably even die.  BUT/AND, if we do our work NOW and hone our Awareness and Love and can practice letting go of fighting What Is and then making that loving inner shift to the Peace Within, we can, I hope and imagine, move through all the inevitable changes with some ease and even joy and an open Heart.

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Ignorance…or Implementation?

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras II.3: The lack of awareness of Reality, the sense of egoism or “I-am-ness”, attractions and repulsions toward objects and the strong desire for life are the great afflictions or causes of all miseries. (Taimni’s translation)

The Sanskrit word translated usually as “ignorance”, but above as Taimni’s more complete translation of “lack of awareness of Reality,” is “avidya.”  “A-“ means “without” or “not” and “Vidya” means “wisdom” or “knowledge;” so avidya means literally without wisdom or knowledge, without knowing, not knowing.

From the Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras quote above, ignorance is said to be the root cause of all our suffering and the source of all the other issues listed, but as Taimni’s translation says, it’s not just “normal” ignorance that is our problem, but a special kind: ignorance of Reality.  Of the Big “R” Reality, it must be true that we are ignorant of it, or at least so it seems, so clearly wrapped up as we are in our ego, our attractions and repulsions, and our strong desire for life and fear of death.  We don’t see the Truth… yet.  We’re a work-in-progress.  Much has been written and spoken about Reality, but all those words are just pointing at an experience that we haven’t had, and what the heck it really is, we don’t really know, yet.  (Remember that according to Patanjali and others, we don’t see the Reality because we’re just seeing the thoughts in our mind and mistaking them as Reality, to our own and others detriment.)

However, from the ultimate perspective, Truth or Reality MUST be HERE right now and always, otherwise it wouldn’t be True or Real.  We must be our True Nature always or it wouldn’t be our True Nature.  So I think maybe a better single-word translation of “avidya” in this case should be “ignore-ance”, meaning we are really, in some deep, unnoticed way, ignoring the fact of Reality or Truth or our True Nature.  I imagine everyone has had at least of glimpse of this truth, if not seeing it shockingly full blast at some point.  Just a little observation of the mind should fairly quickly reveal some way that we are actively ignoring some Truth, if we are brave enough to see it and have God’s Grace on our exploration.

On purely a mundane level, don’t we already KNOW what we “should” be doing, the actions that, were we to be taking them consistently and long enough, would be leading us and others to our Highest Good?  Are we really ignorant, meaning not knowing, of what would be for our best?  I think really we are just, at least from time to time if not chronically and habitually, ignoring the facts, ignoring our conscience, ignoring the obvious guidance we are getting from our body or from the Divine or our Innermost Self or from Life/the Universe, and instead choosing to do as the fickle and attached little mind is guiding.

So then maybe in some way ignorance is not the root of our problem.  Once we have some basic knowledge, ignorance ceases to be our problem, using ignorance here in the mental-knowing/intellectual realm (though, of course, that “knowing” is so weak compared to actual direct experience).  Even if we don’t have some basic knowledge of Higher Truth, everyone has a conscience which will accurately guide us, though sadly it does have to be interpreted through the mind.  Our problem then, really, is implementation, often simply an inability to implement actions we know we need to, sometimes to the extent of blatant disregard for what we know to be Right.  At some point, the negative results we have repeatedly gotten will, no doubt, lead us to decide otherwise; currently we just haven’t suffered enough.

For the purist yoga scholars, and it’s true, if we were not ignorant of Reality, of our True Nature, then we would automatically be choosing the actions most conducive to felicity.  However, until that is our experience, it would be good if we were following the teachings and insights that we already have and know.  If we believe them and have some degree of faith in the teachings we already have, let’s try more and more to live them, to bring them into action in our life, even when it’s challenging BUT DEFINITELY when it’s easy!  Maybe you already have an idea of something you want to implement today or right now.  And rather than second-guessing ourselves when we have an idea for a good action to take, let’s see what happens if we take it.  If we practice implementing what we already know, or implementing the next level of what we know, then I think we’ll find our ignorance of our True Nature/Reality waning naturally of its own accord.

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