Vayus and Bayous: how does your energy flow?

Prana Vayus are the five main currents by which Prana flows subtly throughout the body.

In Yoga, “Prana” is what we call that unique, life force energy that animates all things. Prana moves through the body in a subtle way, that is, not necessarily experienced through the five senses.

Do you feel your own energy as a river or as a meandering, borderless, spreading bayou? Does it flow with direction and intent, or does it puddle and become clogged and seasonally disrupted? Our Sushumna, the spine, the central channel is our major river, our energy thoroughfare. Energy moves up and down the spine, and radiates into all parts of our body, our organs, and our limbs. This energy flow is helped along into all our “tributaries” with the specific types of currents called the Prana Vayus.

Ah, Take Me To The River YOGA

Let’s start with acknowledging the “ports of call.” We practice bringing our attention to the seven Chakras in the body. Our yogic study of these areas center around their location, core qualities, elemental attributes, colors on the light spectrum, and how to recognize balance and imbalance in these areas of the body. And we practice Pranayama (breathing) and Dharana and Dhyana (focusing) into these areas to generate currents of energy, to balance, and to unblock energy within the Chakras.

The Prana Vayus are our way to develop the story further! We learn more about Yoga through the interesting narrative laid down by the ancient philosophy of Yoga. The story of Yoga and of vital energy continues with the introduction of five new characters: the Prana Vayus. They have names, symbols, direction of energy, location in the body, are related to the Chakras and the five elements, and they have qualities. These are the currents that move our energy like that of water in the river. When we experience imbalance within our system (be it physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual, or psychically) we may become like that proverbial bayou. The bayou can be wild, and rich, and exciting in its own right. But eventually we need to join the bigger river, and flow through our journey.

Summary of the 5 Prana Vayus

Apana Vayu – Downward direction, related to 1st & 2nd Chakra, earth and water elements
Samana Vayu – Inward & outward direction, related to 3rd Chakra, fire element
Prana Vayu – Upward direction, related to 4th Chakra, air element
Udana Vayu – Upward and in a circulating direction, related to 5th Chakra, space element
Vyana Vayu – From the center and outward, related to 2nd through 6th Chakras, space, air, fire and water elements.

Prana Vayus and the Pranamaya Kosha

This story of the Prana Vayus springs from the Pranamaya Kosha. In order to understand the many dimensions of our true being, Yoga looks at our form as having five distinct Koshas, or layers, or sheaths. The Koshas provide an outline to help categorize aspects of our human being-ness. Just as Asana (yogic postures) are related to Annamaya Kosha (the physical body), the breath and Pranic energy is related to Pranamaya Kosha.

The five Koshas are:

  1. Physical Body – Annamayakosha
  2. Breath/Energy Body – Pranamayakosha
  3. Psycho/Emotional Body – Manamayakosha
  4. Witness/Wisdom Body – Vijnanamayakosha
  5. Bliss Body – Anandamayakosha

Kriya Yoga: Tapas, Svadhyaya and Ishvara Pranidhana

Group of Yoga Joes doing postures

Group of Yoga Joes doing postures

Kriya Yoga* (or kriyayoga) is yoga in action. The “action figures” of yoga are the last three Niyamas: Tapas, Svadhyaya, and Ishvara Pranidhana. They make up the perfect how-to formula of doing yoga. Kriya Yoga can be practiced along the more modernized, Westernized version of yoga (i.e, primarily doing Asana postures). The three parts to Kriya Yoga separate the do-ers of yoga from the posers of yoga.

Yoga in Action off the Mat

Yoga Joe doing Warrior I

Kriya Yoga is active, rather than passive. The strengths of Tapas (spiritual discipline), Svadhyaya (self-study), and Ishvara Pranidhana (the ultimate surrender to the divine) make for a solid, yogic action plan. I find it interesting that Kriya Yoga, one of the most “active forms” of yoga, takes place off the yoga mat!

It may be that Kriya Yoga is more difficult than many of the Asana (yogic postures) in a yoga practice. Let’s see . . . hold Warrior I for three minutes, or stay fast to practicing the yoga of Tapas, Svadhyaya, and Ishvara Pranidhana everyday? Yep, Kriya Yoga is definitely harder!

Kriya Yoga kicks off the second of four Padas or “chapters” of the Yoga Sutras, the Sadhana Pada. Yoga Sutra 2.1 (YS 2.1) is tapaḥsvādhyāyeśvarapraṇidhānāni kriyāyogaḥ. This first sutra of the second pada spells out the three Niyamas of Tapas, Svadhyaya, and Ishvara Pranidhana. It is about needing the three main qualities of Kriya Yoga: enthusiasm, intelligence and humility.

Summary of these three Niyamas

  1. Tapas – “fire” of spiritual discipline, burning away impurities at all levels (body, senses, and mind) to bring transformation. The heat and energy brings to the surface the limiting beliefs, feelings and thoughts of the personality. Tapas brings a burning enthusiasm and passion for the practice of yoga.
  2. Svadhyaya – “self-study” to begin to see our true being. The inner witness observes our body, thoughts, emotions, and beliefs. This process helps us to release over-identification with a lifetime of conditioning. The practice of self-study points out the helpful and the unhelpful ways of being that we have cultivated.
  3. Ishvara Pranidhana – surrender to the intelligence that is in all of creation. With honor and humility for all of creation, we begin to see the divine in everything. This reverence helps us to recognize life as a gift and a blessing, even in challenging times.

The practice of “yoga in action” is how we take our yogic practice off the mat and into our daily lives. It is about having the passion to transform, the will to look closely at ourselves, and wisdom to yield to something greater than the everyday world we think we have created. Namaste!

*Kriya Yoga is also a named tradition of style of yoga meditation described by Paramhansa Yogananda and the Ananda organization focused on his teachings. Like many traditional styles or types of yoga, it too follows the philosophical precepts of the Kriya Yoga discussed in this post.

 

Aparigraha: learning to let go

Aparigraha is the idea of non-grasping. We’re talking about the synonyms of grasp, not the antonyms of grasp! I promise this is not an English lesson on the proper use of terms. Bear with me. Here are a few synonyms for grasp: hold, grip, clinch, clench, clasp, grapple, clamp, and lug. In yoga, Aparigraha asks us not to (fill in the synonym of your choice) thoughts, emotions, actions, ideas, people, things, situations, memories . . . that no longer serve. Translation: let go of anything that keeps you from realizing your own true nature. Learn to let go. Move forward to realizing your own true nature. Learn self-awareness to find your true nature.

Number 5 Aparigraha caps off the list of the five Yamas with an interesting twist. After we consider all the nuance around the other four Yamas, we come to Aparigraha. The Yamas ask us to study our thoughts, words and actions, that we might be more self-aware. And then, Aparigraha reminds us to not hold too tightly to what we perceive. Not to cling, even to our own self-awareness. Does this remind you of the odd phrase, “moderation, even in moderation?”

The five Yamas

  1. Ahimsa – non-violence
  2. Satya – truthfulness
  3. Asteya – non-stealing
  4. Brahmacharya – non-excess
  5. Aparigraha – non-possessiveness

Each Yama can be taken as literally as the Sanskrit translations allow. But a study into the Yamas, as a group, reveals that each Yama is more complicated than its direct translation. Aparigraha is equally vexing. When we are working on living a yogic life and trying to move forward on our spiritual path, “letting go” seems risky. We cling to our yoga practice, we hold tight to our need to be better practitioners of yoga. Easing up, letting go, and softening are all a hard sell to a dedicated yogi.

To release or to restrain

The root of Aparigraha is in the term “Parigraha.” Parigraha is greediness and possessiveness. The “A” in Aparigraha indicates it is the opposite of Parigraha. That points to Aparigraha as a form of self-restraint. We release excessive internal and external attachments. We restrain from achieving anything by way of harm or destruction to other sentient beings. We release the need to take possession. Aparigraha asks us to hold the reins lightly.

To reach or to grasp

The poet Robert Browning wrote a 267 line poem titled “Andrea del Sarto.” Fortunately for him, part of one line is recognized by millions with no interest in (or knowledge of) poetry. It is this:

Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp,
Unfortunately the rest of his sentence didn’t make the same famous cut. “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, Or what’s a heaven for?” Exactly. What IS heaven for, but to remind us of the infinite? We stop ending some pursuit with a grasp, and are freed to reach for our infinite being. Our own true nature. Free from limiting beliefs, free from grasping onto the borders of our limited personality.

The end of suffering

The letting go of Aparigraha is an end to a type of suffering. Similar ideas exist within other spiritual traditions. Buddha taught the four noble truths and the path that frees us from suffering (abandoning our expectation on the way things must be). Christianity commands us not to covet in a whopping two of ten commandments. All manner of suffering is in store for adherents not sticking to these spiritual paths. Psychologists have even described insatiable greed and its inherent grasping as an addiction. This grasping stuff is widely recognized as a real sore spot!

Five mindful ways to practice Aparigraha

  1. Watch your internal dialog for words like: always, never, all, nothing, must, should
  2. Be aware of feelings of envy and jealousy
  3. Make a gratitude list. Include people, things, gifts, and accomplishments.
  4. Examine your goals with an eye for the purpose behind your striving
  5. Adopt a short breath practice: inhale and say to yourself “I am,” exhale saying “enough”

Five ways to develop this discipline – the Niyamas

  1. Saucha – purity
  2. Santosha – contentment
  3. Tapas – disciplined use of our energy
  4. Svadhyaya – self-study
  5. Ishvara-Pranidhana – surrender and devotion to a force higher than yourself

As the first of the 8 Limbs of Yoga, the Yamas set forth a challenging list of social and ethical restraints. With the second of the 8 Limbs of Yoga, we are presented with the help guide: the Niyamas. The Niyamas assist us with needed personal discipline and self-study. It is through the Niyamas that Aparigraha can be recognized. Then, with our complete yogic practice we are able to compare and contrast what is real with what is the conditioning of our personality. We come to realize we are able to reach for our own true nature, our own limitlessness, Or what’s a heaven for?

 

Brahmacharya: Conservation of Life Force Energy

List of the Yamas

Working with our life force energy is a primary, physical yogic practice. We “stretch the muscles” of that life force with the body and our breath. The philosophical and spiritual aspects of yogic practice are also primary to working with life force energy. Brahmacharya falls into this latter category of working with “mind stuff.” Brahamacharya is one of the Yamas, the first of the Eight Limbs of Yoga. Brahmacharya is the mindful practice of conserving life force energy, making it more available for our spiritual journey.

To focus our life force energy we can start with Asana, the physical body postures of yoga. Asana is probably the most recognizable form of yoga. Most people understand that yoga involves body postures such as downward facing dog, sitting in Lotus posture, or holding some variation of the Warrior postures. And from Asana, we move into the breath practices of Pranayama. Asana and Pranayama are practiced together. Our gateway to generating and directing life force energy is through the body. We move, we breathe. We focus, we transform.

Brahmacharya is the fourth Yama. The Yamas are a listing of ethical guidelines, although not necessarily worked through in a particular order! The 5 Yamas are as follows:

Ahimsa – non-harming
Satya – truthfulness
Asteya – non-stealing
Brahmacharya – non-excess
Aparigraha – non-grasping

Taken together, the Yamas give us a way to recognize how we are directing our life force energy with our words, actions, thoughts, and intentions. By examining ourselves in meditation and contemplation, we begin to recognize where we are sending our energy. Another term for life force energy is Prana. And as the saying goes, “Where the mind goes, the prana flows.”

Brahmacharya asks us not to waste our life force energy in excessive behavior. If we become too heavily invested in something (you name it: fame, fortune, sex, money, rock and roll, and so on . . . ) we pour all our life force energy in a single focused direction. Sometimes single focus is needed to achieve goals and to accomplish things. A sign of single focus overload, and imbalance is when we describe ourselves as burned out, wrung out, or stressed out. The ability to bring our energy back in balance allows the life force energy to flow with comfort and ease.

A yoga practice gives a full range of tools to achieve balance. We prime the body for balance by moving the limbs, stretching, holding, centering, and breathing. Breathing deeply and thoroughly. Breathing into the posture, visualizing the breath as it rises up through the body and moves gently downward in a easeful and grounding direction. We engage the muscles and experience the sensations of that muscle activation. The body moves and is stimulated. The nervous system is queued by the breath for either action or to reach a calm state. The mind becomes focused on every experience of the body, and the monkey mind is tamed by being given the task of total awareness. And then we step off the mat!

Yoga has both “on mat” and “off mat” components. Both require yoga practices to develop a keen awareness to our own personal experience of body, mind and emotion. Brahamacharya and the other Yamas of Ahimsa, Satya, Asteya, and Aparigrapha are off the mat yoga practices. By watching our thinking and questioning our intentions, we may become aware of a mind/spirit imbalance. Here are a few subtle examples of how Yamas may give us opportunities for more balance:

Ahimsa (non-harming, or doing no harm) – we realize we are making judgement calls about a complete stranger. Rather than looking away or avoiding them, we decide to smile and offer a few words of friendly conversation. We do this because we realize others may sense they are being judged and rather than continuing to perpetuate that harm, we choose differently.

Satya (truthfulness) – we notice one day that something we have believed in is a “truism.” It turns out to be fully formed by our personality, upbringing and culture. We may have been believing something simply because “it’s always been done that way.” We realize it isn’t really true, after all. We experience the difference between our distorted thoughts and our own true nature.

Asteya (non-stealing) – after realizing our constant tardiness is an irritation to our family and friends, we decide to stop wasting their precious time. Rather than “stealing” their time by making them wait, we decide to return that valuable item! We show more patience, we offer to do a favor or a task that will lighten their load. We begin to understand we should not take that which is not offered (someone’s time, their energy, their self-respect, etc.).

Brahmacharya (conservation of life force energy, non-excess) – after reading some old journal entries we notice a pattern of negativity. Granted, the journaling project has helped us clarify our feelings. But in this hindsight we realize how much energy we have expended on worry, doubt, and agitation. We decide to start a gratitude journal!

Aparigraha (non-grasping, attachment) – We begin to question why we are hanging on to this idea of the perfect relationship. It’s caused us to “unfriend” people and disengage from others who seem to care for us. We wonder why we are so attached to having some need met, why we keep grasping for some great prize. It’s making us tired and depressed. We decide to give it a name. We call out its name when we see it working its way into our thoughts. Here’s a great story about that very thing: “I see you Mara!”

Brahmacharya helps us consider how we are spending our energy. A practice of Brahmacharya may be one where we take time to watch thought forms in the mind. This can be done on the mat, such as during seated meditation or during Asana. Or off the mat, by developing a “radar system” to detect patterns of excess. Patterns of thought, particularly reoccurring themes may clue you into places where you may want to consider conservation of energy. Developing awareness to sensation in the physical body, emotional activation in the nervous system, and awareness to thought forms are all tools to be sharpened through yoga practice. Through a regular (non-excessive!) yoga practice, a greater sense of balance will be achieved.

 

 

 

 

 

Universal Loving Kindness Meditation

Universal Loving Kindness Meditation comes from the Buddhist practice of Mindfulness. It is one of the mindfulness exercises used to clear the mind and focus the attention. It is often referred to as Metta (Poly) or Maitri (Sanskrit), the practice of loving kindness. There are many variations on the general theme of this meditation. The basic approach is to recite statements asking for loving kindness for ourselves, for those we love, for those we do not know personally, for those who we may dislike, and for all sentient beings.

Book Cover Mindfulness In Plain EnglishMy favorite version of the Universal Loving Kindness Meditation can be found in the book Mindfulness In Plain English by the Venerable H. Gunaratana Mahathera. The book was copyrighted in 1991 with several statements in the opening pages offering it as free for distribution. “Permisssion to reprint for free distribution has been kindly granted by the author.” “Reprinted for free distribution.” “This book is strictly for free distribution, it is not to be sold.” At 185 pages, this slim volume gives practical, straight-forward direction on how to practice mindfulness meditation.

In Chapter 9, Set Up Exercises (numbered pages 89-98) Universal Loving Kindness Meditation is explained in as plain English as one could hope. The text goes through a discussion on the importance of reciting certain passages within the Mindfulness practice. Simple and clear:

“They are not prayers, and they are not mantras. They are not magical incantations. They are psychological cleansing devices which require mental participation in order to be effective. Mumbled words without intention are useless.”

The “psychological cleansing device” is actually the mind viewing itself in deep concentration. Through this close examination of our thoughts, we begin to eliminate harmful thoughts that no longer support us on our path. Instead, we replace them with the more useful thoughts of loving kindness toward ourselves and others. Replacing a negative thought with a positive thought is not a new psychological construct. And using repetition we begin to encode to memory, and indeed encode to a new way of thinking.

As in most skillful development, we make progress when we repeatedly work and practice. Mindfulness is a skill and Universal Loving Kindness Meditation is one of its practices. As mentioned, there are many versions of Metta. Take a look at a few of the ones listed below and see if one of them will work for you. At the end of this post is the version given in the book Mindfulness In Plain English.

Links to the book Mindfulness In Plain English:
In print, a pdf file from the Buddha Educational Foundation: http://ftp.budaedu.org/ebooks/pdf/EN036.pdf
In audio, via YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sLbflbaj_1A

Basic instructions for a similar practice from The Metta Institute.

Issue at Hand by Gil Fronsdal, free from The Insight Meditation Center

 

The following is a direct excerpt from the text of Mindfulness In Plain English. It contains the recitation phrases for Universal Loving Kindness, along with the general instructions given along with the practice.

______________

At the beginning of each meditation session, say the following sentences to yourself. Really feel the intention:

1. May I be well, happy and peaceful. May no harm come to me. May no difficulties come to me. May no problems come to me. May I always meet with success.

May I also have patience, courage, understanding, and determination to meet and overcome inevitable difficulties, problems, and failures in life.

2. May my parents be well, happy and peaceful. May no harm come to them. May no difficulties come to them. May no problems come to them. May they always meet with success.

May they also have patience, courage, under-standing, and determination to meet and overcome inevitable difficulties, problems, and failures in life.

3. May my teachers be well, happy and peaceful. May no harm come to them. May no difficulties come to them. May no problems come to them. May they always meet with success.

May they also have patience, courage, under-standing, and determination to meet and overcome inevitable difficulties, problems, and failures in life.

4. May my relatives be well, happy and peaceful. May no harm come to them. May no difficulties come to them. May no problems come to them. May they always meet with success.

May they also have patience, courage, under-standing, and determination to meet and overcome inevitable difficulties, problems, and failures in life.

5. May my friends be well, happy and peaceful. May no harm come to them. May no difficulties come to them. May no problems come to them. May they always meet with success.

May they also have patience, courage, under-standing, and determination to meet and overcome inevitable difficulties, problems, and failures in life.

6. May all indifferent persons be well, happy and peaceful. May no harm come to them. May no difficulties come to them. May no problems come to them. May they always meet with success.

May they also have patience, courage, under-standing, and determination to meet and overcome inevitable difficulties, problems, and failures in life.

7. May my enemies be well, happy and peaceful. May no harm come to them. May no difficulties come to them. May no problems come to them. May they always meet with success.

May they also have patience, courage, under-standing, and determination to meet and overcome inevitable difficulties, problems, and failures in life.

8. May all living beings be well, happy and peaceful. May no harm come to them. May no difficulties come to them. May no problems come to them. May they always meet with success.

May they also have patience, courage, under-standing, and determination to meet and overcome inevitable difficulties, problems, and failures in life.

Once you have completed these recitations, lay aside all your troubles and conflicts for the period of practice. Just drop the whole bundle. If they come back into your meditation later, just treat them as what they are, distractions. The practice of Universal Loving Kindness is also recommended for bedtime and just after arising. It is said to help you sleep well and to prevent nightmares. It also makes it easier to get up in the morning. And it makes you more friendly and open toward everybody, friend or foe, human or otherwise.

______________

 

First encounter with Ram Dass

Baba Ram Dass first appeared on my radar in 1971. I am remembering him now after learning he reached the other shore on December 23, 2019. Back in the summer of ’71, I had just turned 15 and was spending a few boiling hot summer weeks at my grandparent’s house in Nashville. Many a summer was spent alone with my grandparents for a few weeks. In hindsight I realize I was sent there to reduce summer trouble/fun with my friends. That strategy unraveled quickly within the mix of my grandma, the Nashville scene, access to a new set of FM radio frequencies, and the explosive, culture movements happening all over the country at that time.

The real undoing began when Grandma took me to a local bookstore that summer. She was a strong supporter of reading and collecting books. Her shelves were stocked full with my two aunt’s complete collections of Nancy Drew books, classics from Tolstoy and Salinger, the Firefox set, and a whole lot more. I think I read them all. Then there was the bookstore, with its large table stacked about two feet high and from edge to edge with Ram Dass’ new book Be Here Now. Grandma breezed right past the display and off to the history section, or some other area of her interest. And I stood there frozen in my tracks wondering, what IS this?

There are several visceral and tactile things that happened that first time I picked up a copy of Be Here Now. First, the format is square, the cover art is “stareable” for long periods of time, and some of the pages are printed on a darker brown, Kraft-style paper. I picked it up, flipped through it, and looked at all the unusual drawings and handwritten passages. I read the captions under the pictures of the exotic people, pondered the images of the long hairs, and wondered at all the religious imagery and messaging. Bink! A light inside switched on. This book would be mine. Oh yes, it would be mine!

I met Grandma at the cash register and handed over my copy of Be Here Now, she gave it a quick glance and put it on the counter. Whew. She must have been focused on her own purchase because if she had opened it and looked through it, I would have been dispatched immediately back to the display table to return it!

My grandparents were loving and affectionate. Their love of family was matched with a passion for God-fearing, Southern conservative values. They went to great lengths to preserve the minds and views of all our family members, and they worked hard to save us all from any hint of impropriety. Thinking about this now, I am sure Ram Dass would not factor into their idea of great literature for young minds.

It was an unusual time. By the next summer I had read and re-read Be Here Now many times and had somehow lucked into a copy of the book Monday Night Class by the late Stephen Gaskins. Imagine my surprise when I realized that Stephen Gaskins and other members of The Farm were in Summertown, Tennessee! At the time it seemed odd that Tennessee, that state of civil war division, was the center of the universe for my 16 year old awakening. But there it was. Tennessee, home to a long line of my maternal ancestors. 

So it was with some crazy thinking that I considered asking my grandparents to take me to The Farm in Summertown. Ah, to be so young and so optimistic! It just seemed like an amazing place that I really needed to experience. But Grandpa proved to be on top of the goings-on in Summertown. He worked for the Tennessee division of highways and knew every highway, and county road in the state. When I asked him where Summertown was, he looked down his nose at me with one of his most serious expressions and said, “you don’t need to know anything about Summertown.” Gulp. End of discussion. 

But then, there was the miracle of how I talked them into letting me go see Leon Russell and Poco at the Nashville speedway in 1972 with the nice young ice cream man who discovered me on his route through their neighborhood. My own parents would have never approved. What? A rock concert? With who? That long haired ice cream boy, who we don’t even know? No way. Grandparent’s are great, aren’t they? But I digress. Again.

Every summer in the early 70s proved to have different parts of mind-expanding periods in my life. Ram Dass’ book Be Here Now had a profound impact on how I would see the world differently. I didn’t entirely understand what he was talking about, but I was drawn to Be Here Now with its odd poetic rambling, spiritual vibe, and the feeling of a journey into consciousness. It would be much later that I would hear the sound of his voice and come to love the recordings of his lectures.

Born Richard Alpert on April 6, 1931, Ram Dass was many things: son of the founder of both Brandeis University and the New Haven Railroad, psychology and education professor at Harvard alongside contemporary Timothy Leary, and LSD experimenter before LSD became illegal in 1968. I’ll remember him most fondly for his great laugh, intellectual gymnastics, spiritual insightfulness, and (alongside Alan Watts) one of the best distillers of eastern thought for the western mind. He was brilliant. Profane. And one of my first teachers.

I keep Be Here Now on my everyday book shelf. I take it down from time to time to remember that summer in 1971 when I first encountered Ram Dass and his book Be Here Now.  I try to have moments of clarity when I am actually here, now. And I can hear his voice in my head, as he might deliver the following list of his quotes:

“What you meet in another being is the projection of your own level of evolution.”

“Treat everyone you meet like God in drag.”

“As long as you have certain desires about how it ought to be you can’t see how it is.”

“If you think you’re free, there’s no escape possible.”

“Only that in you, which is me can hear what I’m saying.”

“A feeling of aversion or attachment toward something is your clue that there’s work to be done.”

And, of course, one of the most quoted, “We’re all just walking each other home.”

Namaste to you Ram Dass.

June 21 is International Day of Yoga

The International Day of Yoga (and the summer solstice!) is on Friday June 21. Many yoga studios have special events planned around this auspicious day. We do not have classes on Friday at the studio but will celebrate in classes on June 18 & 19, and 25 & 26. In honor of this June event, Take Me To The River Yoga will donate all the proceeds from all classes in these last two weeks of the month of June to The Spring.

Headquartered in Tampa, The Spring was established in 1977 and is the Department of Children and Families (DCF) certified Domestic Violence Center for Hillsborough County.

The Spring’s mission is to prevent domestic violence, protect victims, and promote change in lives, families and communities.

The Spring’s mission aligns with the Eight Limbs of Yoga and we are happy to support their efforts as we practice yoga at the studio. Our number one “branch” among the Eight Limbs of Yoga is Ahimsa, the concept of non-violence and of doing no harm. Join us in support of The Spring in this season of celebration for the International Day of Yoga.

Check the class schedule, come to yoga class and have your class fee sent as a donation to The Spring. If you’d like to bring gently worn clothes, or would like to make a larger donation to The Spring (by cash or checks) drop them off when you come to class.

Thank you in advance for your generosity. Namaste!

Dharana is concentration

Going out on the 6th limb

Dharana (pronounced DAR-ah-nah) is one of the 8 Limbs of Yoga. It is described as a type of focused attention, or concentration. One has to wonder why this important yogic practice is relegated to the sixth limb position! Our ability to concentrate and to focus is at the heart of both our meditation and asana practices.

Let’s look at the order of the 8 Limbs of Yoga, starting with the first five. Right thought, speech and action as described in the first two limbs (the Yamas and the Niyamas), posture and breathing in the third and fourth limbs (Asana and Pranayama), deep awareness and the ability to withdraw from sensory input with the 5th limb (Pratyahara). At the sixth limb we arrive at the practice of single pointed attention on an object of focus (Dharana). Maybe the discipline of the first five limbs helps us to develop the serious intention required to practice Dharana. And the other thought is that the 8 Limbs of Yoga aren’t necessarily practiced in any particular order!

To practice Dharana we concentrate deeply to lock consciousness in on a single point. The importance of Dharana is probably evident to our practice of yoga. It’s made even more clear in the opening of the third chapter of the Yoga Sutras. Chapter three starts with a complete description of Dharana. By the fourth and fifth verses we learn that it is a key to wisdom.

4. Concentration, absorption, and integration regarding a single object compose the perfect discipline of consciousness.

5. Once the perfect discipline of consciousness is mastered, wisdom dawns.1,2

The steps to single pointed focus is similar to many of our yogic practices. It starts with watching the mind, and bringing it back to the practice when it wanders. The following Dharana information is largely based on teachings from one of my teachers, Freedom Cole3. Here are the steps, science, benefits, and practice of Dharana:

Practice steps for Dharana

  1. Sustain attention on a selected object of focus
  2. Self monitor
  3. Detect wandering thoughts
  4. Return attention from wandering thoughts to the object of focus
  5. Disengage from distractions
  6. Practice 3-5 minutes. Work up to longer periods of time
  7. More experienced Dharana would include Pratyahara

Dharana and the science of EEG

Research using EEG (electroencephalogram), scientists are able to view activity in the brain during meditation. It is through the practice of Dharana that  to focus the mind.

    1. Increased Gamma waves in the frontal lobes
    2. Increased activity in the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex

Therapeutic benefits of Dharana

Science is coming online to help us understand the yoga therapy benefits of Dharana. Measurements such EEG, heart rate, heart rate variability are quantifying the results of meditation and the deep focus that Dharana plays.

Dharana may benefit:

    1. Research indicates that it may benefit depression by reducing active brooding on negativity
    2. May reduce distractibility and cognitive decline
    3. Strengthen self-monitoring, mental stability, and memory
    4. May be beneficial for trauma and addiction by strengthening the prefrontal cortex
    5. May improve Mindfulness meditation practice (without concentration skills, mindfulness may turn attention to anxious or traumatic stimuli). Dharana may help keep the mind from turning in a negative direction

How to practice Dharana with Asana

Dharana is an embodied practice. There is no need to engage the mind in all sorts of rational thought forms. Focus on the body. Focus with the body. A few examples of basic Dharana practices, going from simple to a more complex approach:

  1. Focus on a body part (i.e., the big toe in a forward bend)
  2. Focus on a specific muscle or a specific repetitive movement (i.e, vinyasa flow)
  3. Focus on combined integration of asana, pranayama, and pratyahara (i.e., sun salutations as a “meditation in motion”)

Dharana, the sixth limb of yoga, is the development of skill to consciously control attention. It is at this point that the 8 Limbs of Yoga do tend to work in a linear fashion. The seventh limb is Dhyana, the state of meditation. And finally, what we all are waiting for: Samadhi, the eighth limb, the state of Yoga.

 

1The Wisdom of Yoga, by Stephen Cope, Appendix B – Yoga-Sutra in English translated by Chip Hartranft

2Online pdf of the Yoga-Sutra in English by Chip Hartranft. Includes Sanskrit pronunciation guide, Sanskrit-English translations, and Sanskrit-English glossary

3Freedom Cole, Integrated Yoga Therapy Training, Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, Stockbridge, MA, 2019

Home Yoga Practice

Do you have a home yoga practice? Have you developed a regular yoga practice for yourself? Maybe your regular practice is to go to your favorite yoga classes every week as consistently as possible. And your home yoga practice might be to take a few minutes to move and stretch each day.

I started thinking about home yoga practices for my students. Sometimes I have to cancel a class. When I’m away from our classes together, I hope my continued encouragement to do yoga at home gains traction. As a yoga teacher, I want students to learn yoga and eventually develop their own home yoga practice. A person makes the most progress when yoga becomes a part of their everyday lives. So, let’s consider the merits of both a yoga studio practice and a home yoga practice.

Home Yoga Practice vs Yoga Studio Practice

Most of us would agree that practicing yoga with others helps to keep us in class, and on the mat from start to finish. It may make us more motivated to put in a strong yoga practice. We stay with each pose, attempt each move, and participate more actively. Yoga is not a competitive sport but it can feel like a team sport. A “team of yogis” moving through asanas and breathing together in pranayama can inspire you go that extra mile. It is uplifting to watch as others move together with you in a yoga studio class.

The home yoga practice can make yoga easy. For starters, you’re at home! You don’t have to find a class, get dressed, comb your hair, drive your car, or go online to schedule or pay for class. The downside is you don’t have to commit to… well, anything. The home yoga practice can make yoga hard, because it is easy to get distracted with home tasks. Like some many areas of our life, we bemoan: “The mind is wonderful servant but a terrible master.” But let’s decide that your heart is in it. You know it will be a good and positive habit to develop. Even the servants of your logical mind must yield to the obvious pros and cons.

Merits of a Home Yoga Practice

  • Developing intentional awareness – many yoga studio teachers (like me!) will give the queue to become more aware, to notice sensation, to scan the body, to go inside and check in with how you are feeling. The teacher may be talking through this at just the moment when you need quiet and stillness! In a home yoga practice, develop a keener awareness by suggesting these queues to yourself by yourself. You set the intention when you say to yourself, “now, go deep inside and feel your body from the inside out.” 
  • Giving your body exactly what it needs – you’re the expert on your own body! You know the difference between a twist that feels oh-so-good versus one that is unpleasant and is moving in the direction of painfulness. Ask your body what it needs. Offer yourself movement suggestions, “how does this feel? oh, well, how about this, then?” Move in ways that help you release and relax, and strengthen and balance.
  • Working on advanced poses – So you want to do headstands? Gear your home yoga practice to poses that prepare your body for headstands. For example, warm up and spend the rest of your time going up and coming down (gracefully! and against a wall!) from headstand and child’s pose with strength and control.
  • Choosing more meditation or more pranayama – Have you ever been in a studio yoga class doing alternate nostril breathing and reluctantly had to stop before you were ready? I have! Several more rounds would have been oh-so delicious. A few minutes more (or less!) of mindfulness meditation or savasana would have been just right. Experiment with yourself. You choose!
  • Working with personal preferences – In a home yoga practice you may find yourself doing the same poses and sequences every session. What’s up with that? A home yoga practice gives you the opportunity, indeed the intention to examine your own choices. Like eating habits, what we most avoid doing in yoga class may be exactly the thing we need most! Working with personal preferences help us to notice and choose a practice (a habit, a meal, a pose) that creates more balance in our lives.
  • Going long or going short – What’s the ideal yoga practice time. An hour? An hour and 15 minutes? Ninety minutes? Two hours? With a home yoga practice you decide. Some days it may be exactly 23 minutes using your phone timer. Other days it may be outside, in the park, in between walking, skipping or running. Go long or go short. Just go and do it!

Planning a Home Yoga Practice

Deciding to develop a home yoga practice is the first step. Once you set the intention to begin, you’ve already started! Yoga Journal offers a few keys to a successful home practice:

  • Make a date with your mat – use the time you have, even if that means 15 minutes
  • Find inspiration – books, videos, or using your favorite sequence from your studio class
  • Choose a focus – standing poses, inversions, twists, forward folds
  • Beginning and ending – develop quiet and calm for the start and the finish
  • Just do it – get past your mind stuff and “experience yourself more clearly”

Beginning a Home Yoga Practice

There are all sorts of videos online for yoga, pranayama, meditation, mudras, chanting, and yoga philosophy. The following are links that give me inspiration in teaching yoga and in doing my own home yoga practice. You may recognize some of the postures, queues, and language that I use when I teach classes at Take Me To The River Yoga studio. You can always come to Take Me To The River yoga studio to practice these same styles in a studio yoga class with me. I encourage you to also try a few of these online classes, get inspired and develop your own most meaningful home yoga practice. 

Somatics and Yoga – James Knight’s youtube channel “Gentle Somatic Yoga” lays out several different somatic practices by topic. For variety and for addressing specific issues, this is a good primer on the topic of Somatics and Yoga.

Mindful Hatha Yoga – Mindful Hatha Yoga tends to be a more gentle practice with focus on slow movement and concentration on the breath. Yoga with Adrienne is a popular yoga channel with different styles. I like Adrienne because she’s approachable, has a sense of humor, and gives great direction and options. This is her Gentle Yoga – 25 Minute Gentle Yoga Sequence

Chair Yoga – The Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa has posted several chair yoga videos. This “Gentle Yoga in the Chair” is one of the best I have found.

Kripalu Vinyasa Flow – One of my teachers at Kripalu, Coby Kozlowski teaches this Moderate Kripalu Vinyasa Flow class. 

Mindfulness Meditation – Tara Brach is my go-to meditation teacher. Her videos and podcasts are so inspiring! Here’s her youtube channel. Most all her talks begin with a discussion and end with a short, guided meditation. She is easy to relate to, offering poignant, compassionate quotes from Rumi, Rilke, and telling stories to give texture and deep meaning.

Kirtan Kriya – The Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation explains the steps, benefits and results they’ve seen with the practice of Kirtan Kriya. Read up on the technique using the fingers, then go to this link to practice with music and timing. The youtube video has are no words or instruction but just provides the framework of music, chanting and timing for this practice. I’ve written on Mudras and Homunculus Man to explore the physiology behind the effectiveness of hand gesture practices.

 

Chair Yoga is still YOGA

Chair yoga at Take Me To The River Yoga
Getting ready for Chair Yoga at Take Me To The River Yoga

Chair Yoga is still YOGA. Still, meaning in the future, as in the past (an adverb). I’m not talking about “still” as an adjective (not moving)! It’s the real deal. When you do yoga in a chair you are STILL doing yoga. You do yoga with all the benefits of movement, breath, and mindfulness. Even if you swear by your uber-active Ashtanga or your hot flow Vinyasa, Chair Yoga may STILL have something to offer you.

We’re still doing Chair Yoga at Take Me To The River Yoga studio in the Wednesday morning 10 am class. It started out with one of my students needing a few more options to the poses in our regular Hatha Yoga practice. She was uncomfortable in our reclined poses. So I combined our favorite yoga poses with Chair Yoga for seated poses, and several options for standing variations using the chair.

As an aside here… people often ask what its like in a typical studio class. My usual response is that it depends on who shows up! My classes do have brief descriptions and titles like Kripalu Yoga, Kripalu Vinyasa Flow, Mindful Yoga, HRV Yoga, Energy Body Yoga, etc. But “It is all Hatha to Me” (I need a t-shirt with this slogan). Hatha Tantric Yoga. Traditional Yoga. Classic Yoga. I teach YOGA to the class. I check in with the students who show up, and adjust the class accordingly. That often means offering several options to the poses, depending on the ease and preference to the anatomy and the energy in the room!

Chair Yoga combines all the elements of a typical Yoga class using the chair as a “prop.” Props like blankets, blocks and straps will be familiar to those students who have practiced yoga. The chair is just another prop. The special prop-erties of the chair are support and comfort for weight, balance and mobility.

Students wary of sitting on the floor, or getting up off the floor come to appreciate the support of a chair in their yoga practice. People with conditions such as ankle, knee or hip pain, low back pain, lack of flexibility, fatigue, shortness of breath may find greater ease by practicing yoga in a chair.

One of the first Chair Yoga practices I experienced was in a 2012 youtube video posted by the Moffitt Cancer Center here in Tampa, Florida. It’s called Gentle Yoga in the Chair. The practice is wonderful and the comments below the video post tell the true story of what this kind of practice can mean for many, many people. I have gone to Chair Yoga school on this video and with many online Chair Yoga videos. Even with a long running personal practice, I find Chair Yoga is still YOGA!

If you relate to the popular yoga meme, “I just came for the Savasana,” you simply must experience Savasana in Chair Yoga. It’s still Savasana!

Mudra and Homunculus Man

Hand positions used in the practice of yoga are called mudras. Like the breathing practices of pranayama, there are many different mudras for evoking certain physiological responses. The mudras have wide ranging effects on the sensory functions within the body. What is behind this experience?

Homunculus Sculpture by Sharon Price-Jame
Homunculus Sculpture by Sharon Price-James

 

Enter Homunculus man! Images of the “little man” or homunculus show body parts scaled to their relative sensory function in the brain. The sculpture pictured above is a graphic representation by Sharon Price-James. It is one of three of her Homunculus man sculptures (the other two are motor and sexual versions). This is the sensory version showing those parts that make the greatest contribution in our cortical functioning. Look at those hands! Hmm… could this be a scientific basis for mudra effectiveness?

Let’s continue. The fastest and most detailed information we can gather for our nervous system is through the rate of our breathing and our sense of touch with the hands. In yoga our controlled connection to that nervous system is through the breath in pranayama and with the hands in mudra. These two yogic practices are our direct connection between the relationship between the body and the mind, in their combined relationship to our environment.

The concept of mudras has its detractors and its supporters. Some discount mudras as simply ritualistic or symbolic. The experiential evidence (that’s real people doing real activity) shows a number of related techniques using the hands and fingers as having similar effectiveness. Think tapping, Super Brain Yoga, Kirtan kriya yoga advocated by the Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation using SA-TA- NA-MA mantra with finger movements. Other yogic techniques such as meditation and mediation of the body have been studied using technology to measure and evaluate the mystery of the practice. Don’t get me started.

So back to Homunculus man and mudra. How does a topographical map of the body’s sensory areas inform our practice? Would that we could ask Dr. Wilder Graves Penefield, a pioneer in mapping the regions of the brain. Not a guy satisfied with the amazing feat of describing the cortical homunculus, he really was interested in the science behind consciousness and the soul. Wow. His early work on brain stimulation gives us many threads to follow. After all, he branched out into the study of hallucination, out-of-body-experience, deja vu – seamlessly and without hesitation. We should be such doubters.

Bottomline. Hands are innervated in a way that has huge significance to dedicated brain activity (can we call that activation?). Hand gestures and mudras communicate outwardly and inwardly. The brain and body has developed in a way to collect loads of data from the hands. Find a mudra that works for you.

Now, how about the lips and tongue on Homunculus man? Kiss someone today and let me know if its love or pseudoscience!

Kleshas and the Yoga Sutras

Chapter Two of the Yoga Sutras, the Sadhana Pada are instructions to our practice. They give us the road map to liberation. The mental practices of the Sadhana Pada are used to remove kleshas (the mental obstacles) that hold us back.

The explanations of the kleshas begins in Book Two, or Chapter Two, the Sadhana Pada. In this part of the Yoga Sutras the actual practice of yoga is spelled out clearly. Section 2.1 tells us the practice of yoga includes plans to purify, study spiritual books, and surrender to God. In Section 2.2 we learn why yoga should be practiced: to remove obstacles and attain Samadhi.

“The goal of yoga is not to obtain something that is lacking: it is a realization of an already present reality.”

The practice of asana and pranayama (yoga postures and yogic breathing) are the physical practices that we use to teach the body self awareness and control. Asana like backbends can be used in overcoming kleshas.

Understanding mental practices, such as removing kleshas is the cornerstone to yogic philosophy. Removing kleshas, or obstacles to liberation, peace and freedom is the start of the practice outlined in Book Two of the Yoga Sutras.

In 2.3 of the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali lays out the five Kleshas:

    1. Ignorance
    2. Egotism
    3. Attachment
    4. Hatred or Aversion
    5. Clinging to Life

The kleshas are described as obstacles at the root of human suffering. Following 2.3 in the Yoga Sutras are a description of each of the five kleshas in detail.  Sri Swami Satchidananda in The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali explains the significance of the order. He points out that each klesha tends to build on the next. With ignorance of the self comes egotism. Because of egotism there is attachment to things enjoyed by the ego. When the things we are attached to are taken away, or if they do not get something we become angry and experience hatred or aversion for those who get in our way.

The following are three different translations of the 2.3 Sutra:

Avidyasmita raga dvesabhinivesah klesah

  • Ignorance, egotism, attachment, hatred and clinging to bodily life are the five obstacles. -translation Satchidananda in The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
  • The causes of suffering are not seeing things as they are, the sense of “I,” attachment, aversion, and clinging to life. -translation Chip Hartranft in The Wisdom of Yoga, Stephen Cope, Appendix B The Yoga-Sutra in English
  • These are ignorance (avidya), ego or pride, which acts as an imposter of the seer (ahamkara-asmita), attachment (rarga), aversion (dvesa), and anxiety or fear of death (abhinivesa), as if life were eternal. -translation B.K.S. Iyengar in Core of the Yoga Sutras

B.K.S. Iyengar’s statement that ego or pride acts as “an imposter of the seer” speaks to the idea that the ego is a mirror to the seer. It is a copy of the real thing. The ego and the seer and separate. The ego is related to an identity that we choose for ourselves. The seer looks on with dispassion and detachment, being unidentified with the self or ego. We are not who we think we are. Our true nature is not the same as the identity we have taken on as a representation of ourselves. The difference here between seer or true self and the ego is an important distinction.

Chip Hartranft makes the point that ignorance is “not seeing things as they are.” This suggests the true self might know the difference! How do we discern how things truly are? How does ignorance development a faulty sense of “I”? How does egotism promote our ignorance? How does egotism blind us to what is true and real?

Sri Swami Satchadananda breaks down the Sanskrit for us:

Avidya = ignorance; asmita = ego sense, egoism, I-ness;

raga = attachment; dvesa = hatred

abhinivesah = clinging to bodily life; klesah = obstacles, afflictions

Kleshas are referred to as obstacles. They are also considered “afflictions” or what we might call character flaws. The Yoga Sutras explain that kleshas keep us from experiencing peace and enlightenment, Samadhi. Without yoga we cannot overcome the kleshas.

An Eclipse: Hatha Yoga, Sun & Moon

Hatha means sun and moon.
Photo credit: August 21, 2017, original eclipse photo by Lindsey Blum, Farmington, Missouri, as profiled by SkyandTelescope.com

The Great American Eclipse viewable from Oregon to South Carolina happened on Monday, August 21, 2017. I was fortunate to view the path of totality in Madisonville, TN. The sun caught up with the moon and became eclipsed. I was reminded of “Hatha” and the sanskrit meaning of Hatha Yoga.

Several interpretations exist for the word Hatha. Yoganand (Michael Carroll) the dean of the Kripalu School of Yoga explains that the ancient meaning had a forceful or violent connotation. Not the act of yoga, but the effect of yoga. In ancient India where yoga originated, the sun and moon represented a cycle. The hot, dry season of the sun withered the plants. The lunar cycle of the moon ushered in the monsoon season.The belief was the moon brought the rain, a replenishing and rejuvenation force.

Here in Tampa we’ve definitely felt the effects of THA in Hatha. Rain falls daily. And therefore we yearn for cool, dry days in fall. It’s been very HA HA HOT! Like watching the weather, we often watch for signs of change. Change comes with the lunar cycle of a full moon and a new moon, and planetary cycles such as Mercury in retrograde.

The 2017 eclipse was a reminder of traditional Hatha yoga. Hatha is the balance of earth and moon. Yoga “yokes” sun and moon together. The eclipse was a dramatic example of the sun and moon cycle. We are “yoked” in a universe of social, political and psychological cycles. Hatha Yoga asks us to stand in balance of opposing forces.

As for Hatha Yoga, Yoganand speaks of the other interpretation of yoga. The other sanskrit translation describes the forceful nature of yoga. Yoganand asks what kind of force would it take to pull the sun and the moon apart? In this interpretation Hatha is used to define a process so radical, so forceful, and so profound. Hatha Yoga is a force of nature known to balance the obstacles of the past with building blocks for the future. It is the sun and the moon, and the powerful relationship with us here on earth.

In this season between HA and THA, it is time to examine the cycles of our own lives. The cycles that we create for ourselves and others, and those we get drawn into. The eight limbs of yoga provide the powerful force needed to correct that trajectory. Practicing Hatha Yoga is a journey around the sun, under the watchful eye of the moon. The eight limbs of yoga are the roadmap and the road, the direction and the destination. Namaste.

 

Ahimsa in an aggressive world

The Yamas are five moral codes and the first guides of the 8 Limbs of Yoga. Ahimsa is the first of the five Yamas. The word Himsa is translated as violence. The addition of an “A” changes himsa (violence) to no violence or non-violence. So the short meaning of Ahimsa is non-violence, an instruction to live in a non-violent manner.

Ahimsa may be the most important of the Yamas. This is because the other four Yamas hinge on this first guide. After all, if we practice Ahimsa the result is a smoother journey with the other Yamas. It may make us more truthful (Satya), avoid stealing (Asetya), reduce excess (Brahmacharya), and be less possessive (Aparigraha).

Ahimsa is never Going all Jack Nicholson on your fellow driver
Is “going all Jack Nicholson” with a golf club in a road rage more violent than other harmful actions?

Today we live in a very aggressive world. Being a little forceful here or acting out a little road rage there probably would not be seen as violent. It is easy to claim that we are not violent and that we practice Ahimsa because violence is such a strong word. Laying on the horn because someone cut us off doesn’t seem as “violent” as going all Jack Nicholson on someone’s windshield in a road rage with a golf club.

The lines become more blurred when we examine the concept of Ahimsa. What our society considers a “normal reaction to stress” becomes indistinguishable from true anger, violence and aversion. Anger, rudeness, disrespect and personal attacks become commonplace. Our harmful words and actions become normalized.

When we examine the aggressive nature of our culture it is harder to parse out simple ugliness and full blown violence. The “I win and you lose” is a tenet of everything from sports to capitalism. We end up in the danger zone of harm to others, as well harm to ourselves.

Ahimsa in a larger, social context asks us to do no harm. That automatically broadens the definition to include others, ourselves, and everything in our world. Non-violence becomes less tolerant of all harm. Ahimsa asks us to consider others and ourselves before taking any action that might cause harm. Ahimsa sheds light on how we individually create an increasingly violent, aggressive world. Practicing Ahimsa helps us change it.

Asteya and the many ways to steal

Do you steal? If you don’t steal, what does stealing mean to you? If you do steal, is there any difference between stealing something big and valuable (like a car) versus stealing something small and seemingly inconsequential (like paperclips at work)? What is ownership and are there moral rights around ownership? What can be “owned?”

Let’s explore the idea of taking something that does not belong to you from the perspective of yoga and the yogic path. Asteya, or non-stealing is the third of five Yamas. The Yamas are the moral codes set down as part of the yogic path. The path of yoga is spelled out in the Eight Limbs of Yoga.

Asteya, or the idea that you should not steal from others is a moral cornerstone found in many major religions. For Christians it shows up as either the 7th or the 8th commandment, appropriately sandwiched between adultery and bearing false witness!

Asteya or steal this bookThere are many cultural examples of rule making among humans for defining socially acceptable, honorable ways of living. Rules for right living often address a specific need that is tied to a social context within a historical time and place. For example many Jewish traditions around food selection and food preparation have a rich historical context for healthy living.

Asteya is not bound by time and place. It is a direct, clearly translated order that can be found in cultures the world over. Do not take something that does not belong to you. And, of course there is a flip side. Here’s a discussion around acceptable and even honorable stealing to accomplish diversity, peace and other social goals.

The idea of stealing also shares wide and nebulous boundaries with stealing’s closely related cousin: lying. Ask a group of people to discuss what constitutes stealing or to debate the merits of lying to help someone versus telling the honest-to-God-truth, and you’re guaranteed to generate a heated discussion! Stealing and lying often fall into that foggy zone known as “it depends.”

Back to Asteya! Asteya, non-stealing. Or defined further as “the abstinence, in one’s deeds or words or thoughts, from unauthorized appropriation of things of value from another human being”. From the blurry lines of “it depends,” arises a broad definition to include the idea of value. Value might be in the eye of the beholder or in the eye of the possessor. How do we decide what has value enough for the individual?

What do you find valuable? Is it your possessions? Your home? Your time? Knowledge you have gained that others may “spirit away” in a manner that makes you feel cheated, violated or stolen from? Maybe Asteya should be viewed from the other person’s perspective. Stealing might be decided as the taking of something that another person perceives as valuable. It may not be something that you perceive as valuable. The recognition of how someone else feels could be a guiding factor.

Maybe we should be “unauthorized” to appropriate things of value from another person. This idea certainly takes the “me” out of the equation. Stealing is not about “me.” Stealing is about the other person’s value system. Stealing is about taking something viewed as valuable from someone else. Otherwise, we could just ask permission . . . could I please have a cutting off your beautiful plumeria plant?

Many of the Yama’s pose important questions of morality that we can use as a starting point for inquiry.

Svadhyaya and Swami Kripalu 

The first time I heard the word “Svadhyaya” I immediately thought of “The Divine Secrets of the YaYa Sisterhood,” the 1996 book by Rebecca Wells that was turned into a movie in 2002. It seemed a natural leap, a reasonable thought progression . . . Svad-h-ya-ya. It was that YaYa part that swept over me like a wild banshee cry.

But of course, Svadhyaya has next to nothing to do with the YaYa Sisterhood. Unless you consider the book’s plot line that “the tangled beauty of imperfect love, and the fact that forgiveness, more than understanding, is often what the heart longs for,”  ties into the self-study that is Svahyaya. That’s a lot of self-examination for a southern tale, and may not be that far off for the YaYa Sisterhood!

In yoga, Svadhyaya is one of the five Niyamas (there’s a YA in there!), along with Saucha, Santosha, Tapas and Ishvara-Pranidhana. And the Niyamas are one of the eight limbs of yoga. I hope you’re keeping count of all these numbered items for which yoga and many oral traditions are famous! A lot of YAs being laid down too.

The short description for the yogic practice of Svadhyaya is that of self-study. A book that is better suited to the “YaYa’s” of yoga, and one that is all about self-study is “Pilgrim of Love, The Life and Teachings of Swami Kripalu,” compiled and edited by Atma Jo Ann Levitt. It begins with the epigraph, “To pilgrims of every path, and especially those willing to be fools for love.” This path to love is very serious and is far from foolish.

Pilgrim of Love. The Life and Teachings of Swami KripaluPilgrim of Love teaches us much about Swami Kripalu, whose name was given to the Kripalu Ashrams in Pennyslvania where he taught yoga from 1977 to 1981. (In 1983 the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health continued the legacy in Stockbridge, MA, its current location). Swami Kripalu followed the path of Kundalini yoga, a branch of yoga sometimes referred to as the yoga of awareness.

In this book’s deep dive into the life and teaching of Swami Kripalu, there are many lessons for the study of yoga and yogic philosophy. The chapter on “My Guidance to Disciples,” he shares the message given to him by his teacher Gurudev. It is a series of 14 guidelines meant as a summary for yoga Sadhana. As with many of Swami Kripalu’s teachings, the guidelines are not for casual yoga participants, is intended for serious yoga practitioners, and goes well beyond the yoga postures that dominate western yoga.

The guidelines start with something common to most spiritual practices, “#1. Love all living beings, do not hate anyone.” And end with #14. Read this guide every Thursday. Guides 2-13 range from the pleasant to extremely difficult. Like #7. If possible, take cold baths three times a day (… to maintain purity and piety of the body. Never sleep during the day, and so on), to the much more difficult #5. Initiates should have one pure and moderate meal a day with milk in the morning and evening. Do not eat meat. Do note use liquor, marijuana, tobacco, coffee, tea, or other stimulants. Ok. Cold shower. No coffee. I got this. Not. Even. Close.

One must stand in complete deference to a gifted teacher guiding us to “cross the ocean of samskaras and attain the supreme love of God.” We should not expect that a commodified life of sloth and torpor to usher us to the gates of Heaven, or to send us into immediate Samadhi!

Swami Kripalu’s guide relating to Svadhyaya is #12. As a source of self-study, contemplate the meaning of Shri Gnaneshvar’s Bhagavad Gita. Memorize lines 54 to 72 of the second chapter of the Bhagavad Gita. Chapters 12, 15, and 16 should also be memorized and recited every day. Recite Brahmacharya Bhavani (treatise on celibacy) every morning. Practice bhajans, and read and contemplate good books everyday. Never stop listening to the messages of pious saints.”

The second chapter of the Bhagavad Gita is about the Practice of Yoga and lines 54-72 are all about giving up attachments and investments in both craving and aversion. And the other Chapters 12, 15 and 16 respectively are titled in various translations as The Yoga of Devotion, The Ultimate Person, and Three Kinds of Faith. Memorizing and reading these passages everyday would certainly give one food for thought. Turning the spotlight inward with these passages is a lesson in self-study to examine our behavior in greater detail.

For all you Yogic YaYas out there, the following are a few links to other blogs discussing the Niyamas and Svadhyaya!

https://kripalu.org/resources/yoga-s-ethical-guide-living-yamas-and-niyamas
https://www.ekhartyoga.com/articles/the-niyamas-svadhyaya-or-self-study
http://www.expressionsofspirit.com/yoga/eight-limbs.htm

 

International Day of Yoga – Wednesday, June 21

June 21
International Day of Yoga, June 21

What will you be doing on Wednesday, June 21, 2017?
Since June 21 is the International Day of Yoga, take a yoga class. Or participate in a yoga-inspired event. It seems like the best idea is to check out the local yoga studios in Tampa. So that definitely includes yoga classes at Take Me To The River Yoga Studio! Celebrate International Day of Yoga with us. We will have our regular Wednesday classes (10:00-11:15 am and 7:00-8:15 pm).

Which Mudra for this day?
On International Yoga Day we will be practicing Prithivi Mudra, gesture of the Earth. There are several reasons for the choice for this mudra, aside from the obvious! Prithivi means “Earth.” This mudra directs our breath and awareness down through the body for a feeling of being more grounded. Grounding to our Earth in yoga and mudra practice helps us feel stable, secure and safe. It sends the message to our body that we are grounded.

When we are grounded we are better able to inhabit our bodies and connect with our natural world. It is important to love, honor and ground into the Earth right now. It is important to remember how our beautiful Earth supports us. We thrive because our Earth creates a most awesome experience for all Earthlings. We must protect our Earth and tie ourselves closer to its power. We must share in protecting our planet to preserve our own existence. It’s that important!

More about I Day of Yoga
The UN General Assembly declared June 21st as the International Day of Yoga in 2014. The idea began at the suggestion of the Honorable Prime Minister of India, Mr. Narendra Modi. He addressed the assembly saying, “Yoga is an invaluable gift of India’s ancient tradition. It embodies unity of mind and body; thought and action; restraint and fulfillment; harmony between man and nature; a holistic approach to health and well-being. It is not about exercise but to discover the sense of oneness with yourself, the world and the nature.”

 

Two Beautiful Candle Poses

Candle PoseThis is a strange yoga alignment story. The image above may seem like an odd conjunction. But for me, it seemed a perfect match. Two candles. Both posing. Maybe I should back up and explain!

Earlier this week I was walking my dog and came upon a Night Blooming Cactus in a pose of full expression. I’ve seen these flowers many times. They grow on the large oak tree trunks in my Tampa neighborhood in Florida. Curious and wanting to know more that day, I looked it up. Listen to this: it blooms once a year on one night only! Its botanical name is Selenicereus Grandiflora. Let’s break down that Latin like Sanskrit: Greek Moon Goddess (Selene), Latin word for candle (Cereus), large flower (Grandiflora). My mind takes a yogic leap. It’s a Candle. A Candle Pose.

Maybe I’ve found my edge and this Grandiflora alignment is really over stretching! Who would would expect to answer this analogy correctly on an exam: Iyengar in candle pose is to Night Blooming Cactus as down dog is to cat stretch. Anyway, the idea was sticky as a yoga mat to me!

Now, when I go into shoulder stand, I’ll start thinking about candles. Then as I lower down into plow I’ll begin to feel some odd resemblance to a melting candle. Some moments later I’ll realize that my mind has started to wander. I’ll bring myself back to the present moment, focus on my breathing, inhale deeply and exhale slowly …. as I blow the candle out!

 

Prithivi mudra – Gesture of the Earth

Prithivi MudraThe word Prithivi (or Prithvi) means “Earth.” And Prithivi mudra is related to the Earth elements. When we work with the Earth elements it helps us to reduce the influence of Agni, the Fire elements. More balanced energies restore equilibrium to the physical body. Prithivi mudra supports this balance and promotes a sense of being more grounded.

When we are grounded we calm down and can begin to feel more in touch with our bodies. Being grounded allows us to feel safe, secure, and stable. The Prithivi mudra is practiced to bring us into a greater connection with our physical bodies. So, in seated postures for Prithivi Mudra we send attention to our breath and to our seat. Grounding into the Earth, sending attention to our breath and root chakra, gives us the experience of greater harmony. With this harmony comes strong support to the physical structure of the body.

There are many claims made about the benefits of Prithivi mudra. Probably the best way to prove this out is to DO Prithivi mudra. Suggestions vary as to how long and how frequently one should practice a mudra. Like most things, it depends! And it depends on you. When practiced regularly, this mudra can reduce stress, lower blood pressure, and improve eliminatory health.

Here’s how

Like meditation, mudras are best practiced for several minutes every day in a comfortable seated position. In fact, mudras and meditation go together like a hand in a glove! Find a comfortable seated position. Position your hands in Prithivi mudra. Sit up tall. Roll your shoulders back and down. Begin to focus on your breath, inhaling deeply, exhaling slowly. Bring your attention to the base of your spine. Visual rooting yourself into the Earth. If your mind wanders bring its attention back to how your body is breathing. Quiet down. Go inside.

Practice in class and at home

In yoga class at Take Me To The River Yoga Studio we practice different types of mudras. Unfortunately most yoga classes are not long enough to give special attention to any one mudra. So the best approach is to come to class and learn different mudras. Then, go home and try them out!

 

June 21 – International Day of Yoga

InternationalDayOfYogaLogoIn 2014 the prime minster of India, Shri Narendra Modi spoke before the United Nations and called for setting aside a day as “International Day of Yoga.” The date is June 21 and is celebrated all over the world with inspired yoga studios and yoga teachers everywhere celebrating the practice of yoga. Many studios offer free yoga classes and other special events to mark the importance of the practice of yoga in their communities.

Resources to learn more about yoga and International Day of Yoga can be found on the government of India’s page on International Day of Yoga. Particularly helpful is the 44 page pdf document “Common Yoga Protocol” that can also be viewed online as an interactive “flip book.”  The document gives extensive explanations on what yoga is, several pages on asanas, details on pranayama, references to the eight limbs of yoga, health benefits and more.

“Yoga is not about exercise but to discover the sense of oneness with ourselves, the world and Nature. By changing our lifestyle and creating consciousness, it can help us to deal with climate change. Let us work towards adopting an International Yoga Day.” – Shri Narendra Modi

InternationalDayOfYogaAsanaRead through the Common Yoga Protocol document and check out the section on asanas. Each asana is clickable to a window that pops us listing the steps of the posture and a  link to a video on how to practice the posture. It is interesting that each asana video comes from a different source. The different videos truly represent yoga in the modern world where we experience a wide range of yoga styles and many different teachers that use both traditional and unique approaches to the postures and to the sharing the practice in a yoga class.