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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I Love You, I Love You, I Love You!

December is the month when in classes I lead the practice of “I Love You, I Love You, I Love You” i.e. saying that silently inside (or outside) to whatever (or whoever) is getting your attention at the moment.  What does that phrase mean?  Here’s an attempt to clarify and offer some possibilities, whether offered inward to the hamstrings, or to some part of our personality, … or even outward to a family member or friend or previous friend, or whoever.  As I say in class, sometimes with the “I love you’s”, we just need to repeat the thought enough times to wash out the opposite thought which has so much more prior practice!

I love you.  If I am currently unable to truly love you, I am willing to love you.  I am willing to learn to love you.  I am willing to consider the possibility that I could one day love you.  I am here, and I am willing to learn to see you, to acknowledge your existence at the very least, and from there move to a more and more full embrace of who and what you truly are.  I am patient with you.

I love you.  I see you clearly, untainted by my likes and dislikes.  You are in my heart and I hold you there in all tenderness.  I feel the energy of Life flowing from my Heart to you.  I hold you in the highest and only positive regard and want only what is best for you, me and all beings.  I apologize for any way that I may have hurt you in the past, whether knowingly or unknowingly, and I’m willing to learn what I need to do to keep you safe now and in the future.  I am willing to be in the discomfort or pain that my previous lack of love and care for you has brought to us without shaming myself or you.

I trust that you have something to offer me just as you are, that you hold some jewel or gift in your being exactly as you are, and I am willing to face any unpleasantness that shows up inside of me as a result of my being with you, without needing or demanding that you change in any way at all.  I accept you and I am willing to meet you as you are, to get to know you more deeply as you are and to go beyond any desire I may have that you change to make me more comfortable.  I feel no need to push you to be any way other than you are.  I endeavor to use my time with you as a mirror in which to see myself more clearly so that I can rest in Love more deeply.

I love you.  You are part of me, I am part of you, and I am willing to see beyond the illusion of our separateness and division.  Your well-being is my well-being, your happiness is my happiness.  I am willing to offer you my strength when it is needed, and I’m willing to see and own my own weakness and negativity and to refrain from projecting them on you at any time.  I absolve you of any guilt for being less than I wish you were, as I also absolve myself from any guilt for being less than I think or thought that I should be in relation with myself or with you or with others.

I love you and allow myself and you to coexist in this living moment, free of reactions based on the past and free of imaginings or hopes about the future.   I love you and claim no ownership of you, and I free you of any demands that I may have made upon you in the past. I apologize for any subtle demands I am currently making on you of which I am unaware, and I am willing to see them so that my love for you can be more pure.  I free you to leave without guilt if and when that time comes.  I love you and am willing to receive what you freely offer, whether I experience it as pleasant or painful.

I hear and understand you, even the subtle communications from you whether they be verbal or come in some more subtle form, and I respond from that understanding.  I am willing to serve you, to be your friend or your helper or your protector given what you need in the moment, not what I think I need.  I am on your side.   If I find it difficult to hear you, I apologize again for my limitation.  I am willing to sit with myself in a deep way in order to see and clear any and all blocks to my clear hearing and receiving of you.  I am willing to hear whatever you need to tell me, and I am willing to listen without reacting or censoring and without disagreeing or invalidating what you have to say, whether it is beautiful or painful or in-between, whether what you say is personal to me or not.  I love you and acknowledge my current limitations without excuses.  I know that I still (always) have something to learn, and I know that I have something to learn from you specifically.

I feel you, in my heart and with my whole being.  I am willing to let go of needing to feel separate and superior to you.  I am willing to let go of needing to know how I “should” act or what I “should” do with you.  I love you and let go of any need to be in control, of you or even of my own thoughts and reactions. I love you and come to you in an attitude of friendliness, kindness and sincere interest, not knowing beforehand what you mean or have to tell or teach me.  I let down my guard and allow and accept you.  I free you of blame for the hurts that you or others inflicted on me or that I inflicted on myself.

I love you.  I love myself.  I love all beings.  I love Life.  I love Love.  I love the expression of Life in this moment.  I love.  Love.  Love.  Love.

I love you as a friend, as my teacher, and as my very Self.  I offer myself and consciousness completely to you in the time of our meeting.  I love you in order to know more clearly the truth that ultimately we are One and that in Reality, there is no “you” nor “I.”  I am willing to hear, see and feel the whole and wholeness of you, and to receive you in the Energy of Love, Love being the foundational energy of Creation of which “you” and “I” are made.  I trust the Universal Flow and your and my place in it in this current space and time, and I offer my actions up to that Infinite One.  I love you… until the final and obvious realization/remembrance that I AM LOVE!

May you have meaningful and beautiful holy-days and year to come!  Thanks for being part of my life.

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The Light Wins

I know that many of my students and followers of my blog began a grieving process on November 9.  Grieving is, of course, a natural and important part of Life in this world of duality and the inevitable result of our attachment to any temporary thing, whether that be a person, animal, place, object, or thought.  Grieving itself is a wonderfully painful cleansing process, and must be allowed to proceed unhindered to come through it a stronger and deeper person.  If grieving is blocked or held down for any reason, it will only lead to later troubles, probably disease (“dis-ease” at least!), so PLEASE, if you feel grief, let it flow if you haven’t already.  Don’t hold it back or get stuck in the avoidance of it through “depression” (depressing the pain of grief or anything else) or numbness or denial, but also don’t get stuck in it, don’t identify yourself with it.  It’s just energy moving.

Part of the grief is, of course, that we may have felt that the values we hold to (compassion, love, equality among people, fairness, kindness) were rejected by enough people to send Trump to the White House.  Some may even say that the “dark side” won.  BUT here’s an equally plausible possibility (and all we get at this specific time in history is conjecture, from anybody and everybody with an opinion):  maybe it’s completely the opposite of that—maybe the Light side “won.”  (I put that in quotes since this is the world of change that we are talking about and everything is constantly in motion, so to put an “end result” idea onto it is patently ridiculous.)

Speaking personally and for myself only here, of course, on November 9, I had a momentary “blip” of negative emotion but then I found, to my surprise (though in retrospect, it should not have been a surprise to me), that the Inner Light was SO MUCH stronger feeling and obvious and easy to connect to, whether in meditation or in daily life.  The presence of what I called “darkness” around in the psychic atmosphere made the Inner Light stronger (at least it seemed so, perhaps by contrast.  I’ve definitely seen this phenomenon before, and I have talked with others on the spiritual Path who experienced the same thing.)!

I began to think that really the Light won, not the Dark as I had initially thought.  BUT this idea is true ONLY TO THE EXTENT that we make our own way through our inner darkness and pain to the other side of making a strong and non-negotiable decision to LIVE OUR highest values whatever they may be; for me it’s to stay in the moment and to live from the Heart’s Inner Radiance, from Love, compassion, friendliness, service, selflessness, inner peace.  The Dark Side only wins if we let it stifle or dampen our own Inner Light.  The Inner Light can only be held down for some time, never forever.

If the election had gone the other way (who knows, maybe it still will), we may have been in a more complacent place, accepting the forward movement of the status quo, but for myself, I feel that there’s no time anymore for being half-assed or lukewarm in coming from my Heart, in trying to be guided by the Inner Light.  Eight years ago, the tables were turned and, making a sweeping generalization, the losing side spent their energy stocking up on guns and cultivating racism and hate, wasting the precious opportunity to move forward in a way consistent with the highest ideals a human being can have.  I hope others join me in taking the current situation as a major prod to move forward in a way that is sustainable and noble for the human species and all life on Earth.

I don’t mean in any way to deny the existence of hate crimes and other problems that have already occurred and that are very real possibilities in the next four years, nor do I mean to deny the existence of the violence and “evil” that has occurred under probably every other President, definitely including the present one.  Spiritual bypassing (a particular form of denial) can be as harmful a thing as outright violence.  But we must acknowledge that this is the world of up and down, or day and night, of back and forth, so here we are swinging one way, and some people are rejoicing and some are grieving, but all of us have in common that our mood is dependent on outer circumstances.

From the yogic perspective, this is a problem, actually the main problem we face, that our mind swings one way or another given external circumstances!  IT (the mind) controls us, our reactions, our emotions, our thoughts, and thus we are at its fickle whim.  Some of you were in class the week after the election when I was reminding everyone of the most basic yoga philosophy from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.  Sutra I.2: Yoga is cessation/control of thought waves in the mind.  I.3: Then the Seer abides in It’s own essential and fundamental Nature.  I.4: At other times, the Seer appears to be the thought waves in the mind.

Those who have experienced the Seer, the one inside who sees through our eyes, describe It in various ways: as Pure Being/Awareness/Bliss, as an Ocean of Love or Peace or Bliss, as Infinite Light, etc.  So basically Patanjali is saying we have a very simple choice: the Ocean of Bliss or our thoughts?  Think about that for a moment.  Do I want Infinite Peace OR the thoughts in my mind?  I’ve observed my mind a good bit, and with that experience, personally I’m going for Infinite Love.  My mind with its thoughts, though an AMAZING and mostly functional tool for which I am hugely thankful, will not, simply cannot, give me the experience of perfect Peace for which even IT seeks.

In choosing (and it IS a choice, made from moment to moment) to live guided by the Highest Principles each of us hold dear, we arm ourselves, as it were, with the strength needed to face whatever any future moment brings us.  At the same time we also move ourself into a stronger connection with Source/the Seer.  By living the qualities that bring our True Nature to the fore, we weaken our negative tendencies and clear the inner space for experiencing what everyone seeks.  The outcome will only be good for all beings.  That’s how Light wins, one inspired and awakening heart at a time.

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VOTE! …but not JUST in the election!

(If you’ve had enough of the election AND have already voted, feel free to skip to the 5th paragraph, noted below.  If you HAVEN’T voted yet and are not sure if you are going to, read it all, and then vote!)

Of course, early voting has begun and you can vote now through Nov. 5 and then Tuesday, November 8, election day.  Elections are, of course, decided, supposedly, in part by the people who show up, so SHOW UP and cast your vote.  Even if you don’t like the options, write yourself in, or me if you feel the need, or whatever, but at least vote.  (And I know all the arguments for “not” voting but having voted in every election, even “off-year” ones, since I was 18, I know that “not” voting is, in actuality, voting in the way that those who really decide the elections want you to.)  Voting, as pathetic as it has become in our “democracy” (oligarchy), is still, I think, a yogic practice.

One way that Krishna defines Yoga in the Bhagavad Gita is to act without any thought of reward and without any attachment to the outcome.  In many areas of Life we can resist acting without attachment to the outcome, i.e. we act with HUGE attachment to the outcome, but in an election, unless you are a Tea Party-er who is going to join the armed uprising if Hillary wins or are one of the “patriots” that Trump is giving the thumbs-up to assassinate her, we cast our vote and in our Constitutional society, we agree to live with the outcome. It’s likely that one outcome will mean more work than another outcome, but we don’t know WHICH will require more work yet.  Still as aspiring yogis, we work in the moment and then surrender the fruits/results to Something Greater; otherwise, we’re not in the moment and just practicing tension.

(Just a thought: If two sides are saying that the other side is “Evil Incarnate,” at least two of those sides are wrong, and though each side clings to the belief that it’s the OTHER side that’s wrong, we don’t actually KNOW which side is wrong.  And here we have a third side is saying that BOTH sides are “Evil Incarnate!” Yogically speaking, and having watched my mind enough, I’m confident it’s ALL sides are wrong, in some way or ways.  Though Hollywood and society continually tell us that people are either all evil or all good, it’s simply not true.)

Having said all that, I acknowledge that I am a white man, as you have noticed, and under Trump, I recognize I won’t have it quite as bad as women, blacks, hispanics, Muslims, etc., but I am also a yoga teacher and there are those, we know, who see yoga as a form of Devil worship (I have met some), and these are some of the people that Trump has empowered in his candidacy.  I am also on the lower-end of income level, a choice that all but the “rock star” yogis make in being a full-time yoga teacher committed to my personal practice; this is an economic status that will come under even greater attack if Trump is President and has a Republican majority in Congress, notwithstanding any of his claims to the contrary.  A while back, trying to see the positive, it occurred to me that service to the poor is so valued by Christ and Christianity, so I imagine that the Republican brand of “Christianity” sees it as their duty to make as many poor people as possible so that people can serve them.  I say all this because “if I don’t speak up now for those who will suffer under Trump rule, who will speak up when they come to take me away?” to paraphrase a famous quote from pre-WWII and Nazism.  (And I hope all this doesn’t sound too contradictory from what I wrote previously on the Lesser of Two Evils.  We all have to make the best choice we can, hopefully coming from a place of Love and not fear.)

(5th paragraph) Voting in an election is just one of the duties we have as citizens of this country.  More importantly, and I think infinitely more satisfying and meaningful though, is voting EVERY DAY and even EVERY MOMENT and even EVERY BREATH!  In an election, as we’ve seen this cycle, we are fed plenty of lies, part-truths, exaggerated claims, and occasional truth, but remember, WE created this.  Since we have a society committed to avoiding self-awareness and introspection and driven by greed and violence, how could it be otherwise?  In fact, those lies, part-truths, etc. are simply the state of the human mind, if your’s is anything like mine.  I figure it’s a human condition, which really only becomes problematic when NOT recognized for what is and all thoughts being taken as true! (Yikes!)

Whatever way you choose to vote, don’t think of it as an end in itself, since it’s not.  Many of you are active in the election and I thank you for your service, but don’t stop being politically active on Nov. 8, even if your candidate of choice wins.  And definitely don’t JUST vote in the election, but vote with every dollar you spend to support what you WANT to support.  Vote in every breath that you take that is on-purpose relaxed and in your belly, not just fight-or-flight chest breathing, that I’ve been reading about in classes this week.  Vote in every action you take that is made from Love and not from fear (=chest breathing again).  Vote in choosing to be of service and to give MORE than you take.  Vote every moment you choose to be present and not surrender to distraction or consumption.  Vote in how and where you CHOOSE to give your mental and emotional time and energy; THAT, in theory, is TOTALLY under your control.  Sometimes I’ll remind myself, “Ti, you could think that thought (or do that action) for a million years and still not be different/not be the person you are aiming at being,” and that thought helps me to drop it and move forward or to replace the thought or action with a more life-affirming and life-enhancing one.

As I’ve been saying in class this week as I’ve been reading about the numerous negative impacts of chest breathing, which is the breathing of fight-or-flight, “if someone tries to sell you on chest breathing, JUST SAY NO!”  It’s kind of a joke, but really it’s not.  There are plenty of people out there (and maybe even inside you!) trying to convince you to start/resume/continue chest breathing.  Anytime anyone (including you) tells you to be afraid for any reason, or tells you that you are less than you should be, that you are not good enough in whatever way, that you are bad or a sinner, or that you need to do as THEY are saying “or else,” that person is trying to convince you to surrender YOUR Peace, your calm belly breath, to them in favor of unsatisfying and harmful chest breathing and the associated mental/emotional agitation.  DON’T DO IT!  Calmly smile (if you can), remember Love and your connection with Source and get the breath back in your belly.  That’s a vote for Life and will certainly have a positive impact in your world and in society, which is made up of individuals.

Recently I put a quote on the mirror in the restroom at Loving Kindness, from Steve Cope’s The Great Work of Your Life, “If we organize our Life’s energies around anything less sublime than our True Nature, we will continue to be split, cut off from Source.” (something like that) So really the most important vote we can make is in how “we organize our Life’s energies.”  What I wrote above is movement in that direction, but if we don’t KNOW what our purpose is in Life, both the BIGGER purpose as well as our individual purpose, we still be cut off from Source.  Hence we need some serious introspection and self-reflection, and having a daily commitment to it is key; it could take the form of yoga practice or meditation or some other form.  Just thinking about it from time to time won’t suffice.  Just thinking or telling ourselves that we are doing it won’t suffice.  It takes work, conscious, sometimes hard and sometimes painful work, to get clear and open and in the Flow of Love, to go beyond our self-imposed (and societally encouraged) limitations, to connect again and again with Source until the connection is permanent, or at least to consciously move in that direction.

Life is full of “distractions” away from that Goal, even our own thoughts usually function in that way.  As I said in class this evening, “As far as I can tell, if we see ourselves as separate from the Infinite in any way, it takes tension.  If we feel ourselves as anything smaller than Infinite, it takes tension, and the smaller we feel ourselves, the more tension it takes.”  So instead of realizing we are plugged into the Infinite Source of Energy and Consciousness, we use the energy available to us to cut ourselves off from Source in myriad ways.  To transform ourselves and our world toward Love, we can choose to “vote” with how we spend our time and how we prioritize our time and life.  I recently told a student, “I never think of my spiritual practices as ‘self-care,’ though from one perspective they are.  I really think of them as my job.”  It’s really how I have chosen to “organize my Life’s energies” and that is in the direction of Source.  I make that “vote” every day and every moment.  Please join me in it, if you haven’t already.

As Bhagavan Das, one of my teachers sings, “If I don’t pray all of time, it’s nobody’s fault but mine.”  We choose (“vote”) each and every moment.

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WAKE UP!

“TIME TO WAKE UP!” -D.O.A., a punk rock band from the 80’s (song starts at 0:18)

“It’s very easy to wake a sleeping person.  It’s very hard to wake a person pretending to be asleep.” -Amma

Awake” -movie title, currently on Netflix on the life of Paramahamsa Yogananda, author of Autobiography of a Yogi (I don’t know for sure that the link will work.  You can stream the movie.)

Happy 3rd night of Navaratri!  That literally means “9 nights” and they are in honor and celebration of the Divine Mother.  The first 3 nights are for Durga, the 2nd 3 to Lakshmi, and the final 3 to Saraswati.

There is great symbolism in this celebration for those of us on the spiritual Path.  Durga is invoked first because she is the personification of ENERGY and is the energy of and for waking, or beginning to awaken to the Truth of the world and to a deeper understanding of the world and our Self.  From the Yogic perspective, there are 3 states of consciousness that the masses of us experience: waking, dream sleep and deep sleep.  There is a fourth that is spoken of, called “turiya” (literally “the fourth”), that when experienced has us realize that what we previously called “wake” was really also sleep, or as Amma has said, “a very long dream.”  That’s the dream of separateness and smallness and dreaming the temporary to have ANY permanence at all, the dream that has us not being Love and willing to defend our pettiness in all it’s painful forms.  Though D.O.A. maybe didn’t realize it at the time, their song (linked above, one of my top 10 songs for a long time) is a hymn to Durga (if you listen to it, don’t expect something flowery but do expect to get a dose of energy and motivation! :).  One of the lines is “break out of a bad dream.”  That’s exactly what I’m writing about here, though on a different level than they were singing (screaming).

So hear we all are, currently pretending to be asleep and thus being very hard to wake up.  We need Durga, the energy of Grace to wake us up from our “blissful”, but really, fitful, sleep.  Durga can be seen as the pain of Life that has us begin to lose our expectancy that the temporary world will give us the permanent happiness we seek.  Durga can come in moments of Grace in which we realize that things are not as they seem, or people are not as they seem, or I am not as “I” seem.  Durga comes as dissatisfaction with the surface life that the world presents, a gift that gives inspiration to inquire deeper into ourself.  Durga comes as seeing the inadequacies of worldly things to feed our soul which gives motivation to move toward the deeper happiness that comes from seeking to GIVE and serve rather than to GET and take.

One story behind her is that it was one of those times when the demons (parts of ourselves that take us away from Truth/Love) were battling the gods (parts of ourselves that bring us a deeper connection with Truth/Love) and winning in a big way.  (Ever been there?)  The (male) gods all got together and focused their energies together and out of that combination emerged Durga, and they all gave her their weapons.  She is greater than any of the (male) gods and sovereign in herself as the Primordial Divine Energy.  A huge battle ensued in which Durga destroyed all the demons.  So Durga incarnates/manifests to rid us of our selfish, baser energies and tendencies.  The main demon she destroyed (any main demon in any story, including the Christian story) is, of course, the ego, the Seeming-to-be, the apparent separate self.  In the “destruction” of that (since it actually doesn’t exist, in a deeper sense) lies Oneness/Unity/Yoga/Union.

She is visualized as riding a tiger, symbolic of controlling the animalistic tendencies.  Durga is fierce, as Ram Dass said about his stroke, “fierce grace.”  Recently in class, I quoted a movie line, “God loves you just the way you are… and too much to let you stay that way.”  Durga is that Force of Love that is too great to let you stay as you are!  There is a destructive element to that; something has to be destroyed to birth the New.  The part of us that does not want to change, is committed to NOT changing, views this Love with terror!  Though completely beneficent and loving, she can be kind of a “scary lady” since we have attachments to our likes and dislikes and some parts of ourselves DON’T want to wake up.  Or at least that’s true of me, and I assume of everyone.  If you don’t think that’s true, I figure, “just look deeper.” Amma says, and I agree, that if God came to our door to give us  Enlightenment/Self-Realization/God-Realization right now, we would say, “Aaahhh…. I just got home from work and I just want to relax; my spouse made me a really nice meal, and my favorite TV show is about to come on…. Can you come back later.”  If you want Self-Realization, or heck, even just to experience LOVE for yourself and all, if you take just a breath and notice what is NOW keeping you from experiencing it, what is your excuse of the moment to NOT be already IN Love, maybe it’s different than Amma’s story, but we all have some petty reason(s).  Otherwise we’d already be there!

So we can invoke Durga (as an Energy or as an Archetype, if not as an actual Being) to help us in our waking, or even first, in our willingness to BE woken up by thinking of her, visualizing her form, chanting or listening to her mantras or hymns (or if you want, the heavy metal version by one of Amma’s devotees J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. will give more energy, or Dave Stringer’s more rocking one, though good speakers or headphones are preferable for both of those), praying, asking, listening for her, or inviting her/her energy into our heart and mind.  If we don’t want to change, we shouldn’t really be doing yoga or meditating, which will only speed and smooth the process of transformation.  But really, if we are unwilling to change, we will be forced to.  It’s as simple as that.  However if we take the latter course, we will experience more pain in the process.  If we’re satisfied with things as we are, that’s either contentment, which is something I as a spiritual seeker aspire to, or complacency and dullness.  Only an individual can truly know for oneself, but we have to look deep, which will certainly induce some change.  Ha!  Isn’t that ironic?  Not really since Durga is the Energy of Consciousness or Awareness (which is experienced as Love).  Isn’t that what those of us who seek the Good of All need and want?  Really, we JUST need to open to it… again and again, deeper and deeper… and keep going!

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Progress in Yoga

“3Things You’re Doing that are Holding You Back in your Yoga Practice.” -approximate headline for an article on FB that Nikki, my wife, read to me a couple weeks ago

“What would progress look like in this pose?” -a student a couple of weeks ago asked in class about the current Pose of the Year – the “Twisted Hitchhiker” (a student suggested that name for it)

(Those are the inspiration for this writing.)

When Nikki read that above quote to me, I answered, “Not doing yoga, and what are the other 2?” in all seriousness and partly in jest.  Truly, not doing yoga is probably the best way to not progress in yoga.  Sorry to be the bearer of bad news.  Beyond that, there’s probably a number of things that we could argue are stymying further progress, though next on my list would probably be “not doing it ‘enough’,” perhaps an obvious next choice.

Isn’t that true of anything?  For example, before I made the terrifying leap to “full time” yoga teaching (long ago), I had to come to the (obvious) realization that what was holding me back from doing it was simply NOT doing it, meaning to do it I just needed to DO IT!  (So yes, Nike was onto something with “their” slogan.)  After seeing that, I could more easily make the jump.  I’m sure each one of us has some personal example of that in our own lives.

(I just felt the need to “weigh in” on the subject since it WAS on FB, which is the main “news” source of some people.  If you find that you are needing to make (again?) the leap to more regular yoga practice, I had previously written around this issue and you can [re-?] read that here.)

Then that same week, one long-time student and (often) VERY regular student asked, while in the Twisted Hitchhiker, that great question, “What would progress look like in this pose?”  Though I spoke of this in all of my classes for that week, some of you who read these articles weren’t there and may find the answer helpful in some way.

If you don’t know that pose yet, one of many that “I” “made up” and that show up in classes regularly, you’ll have to come to class for that for more complete details, but it’s an on-the-back twist focusing on the arm/shoulder away from which you are turning, while attempting to 1. strongly externally rotate the arm while 2. strongly shrugging the shoulder blade down the back, and eventually adding 3. reaching the elbow out away in the direction it is pointing.  Even if you don’t know the pose, the answer may apply in other poses as well.

The first part of my answer to her question is that physically, it may look very much the same as where a person starts in it.  From an outside perspective, progress may not look really like anything, certainly nothing dramatic or easily noticeable as in other poses.  However inside one’s body, the EXPERIENCE will be VERY different from what it was at the beginning.  (And I believe there are parallels with this process in Life in the World, too.)

The full answer to this question lies in what I wrote previously about The Essence of Physical Yoga Summarized, there in a more general form applicable to all of of the physical practice.  Initially we come to the pose and try to tell the body to do what I suggest and think that “nothing’s happening” or “I don’t have that muscle,” comments that I have heard from MANY over this year.  But with repeated practice, though in the first part of the pose there will be little if any further physical movement in the direction of the action, the muscles will first come into our awareness and then into our conscious control and then will continue to get stronger, eventually to the point where we notice them in other poses and possibly even other times in our daily life.

In the second part of the pose, the initial thought and experience may be the same as with the first, but there actually can and most likely WILL be actual physical movement in the direction of the effort, though the movement of the scapula may only be maybe 1/2-3/4”, a small but VERY significant amount in one’s inner experience.  The subsequent increased conscious connection and strengthening also will occur.

The implications and possibilities of moving from no awareness to more full awareness to actual CHOICE should be obvious when we consider that possible journey in our own Life and in the Life of Society and of the World.  Though certainly there will always be resistance to this movement, whether internally through our “unconscious projects” (borrowing Steve Cope’s idea from the reading last week) or from those parts of ourself or society that have profited from the lack of awareness and choice, the growth can still happen if we continue to show up and work in that direction.  (Hence the Just Do It part at the beginning.)

The effects and result of the third movement of the pose, I’ve been describing as ending the painfully codependent relationship of the shoulder blade with the neck in which the shoulder blade thinks that and acts like it is one with the neck.  Progress in that part actually WILL involve movement of the shoulder blade away from the spine possibly even a couple of inches.  This final part I suggest beginning to put in only once the first two parts are fairly strong and confident.

This pose is a TOTALLY unnatural set of movements largely centered around learning to work things together that never work together.  If we can get that going in our own body and experience, then maybe there’s hope for our political system.  Now wouldn’t that be a great way to see progress in the pose!

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