May 25, 2010
Enhancing energy is a part of every yoga practice. Increasing our internal warmth releases energy blockages and optimize the healthy flow of life force (prana) throughout the body. When energy is moving throughout your whole body, it’s easier to maintain health and happiness. So each time you give yourself time to practice, you’re taking one step toward improving your health.
Certain kinds of poses (asanas) are particularly good for unblocking and stimulating the body’s energy. Back-bends in particular are not only delicious, but also energizing, since they stimulate the nervous system, open the heart, and expand our breathing capacity. Breathing practices help cultivate and maintain our life force, increasing our health and vitality. Perhaps set an intention for good health, increasing energy, balancing prana by simply allowing yourself some time for a consistent yoga practice. Each and every practice takes us one step closer to greater well-being. You deserve it.
May 19, 2010
Saucha is purity that operates on many levels. We aspire to cleanliness for our bodies by washing ourselves, maintaining clean and orderly homes, eating healthy food and drinking clean water. We aspire to cleanliness in our minds and speech by not polluting our minds or speech with negativity or grasping after emotionally and physically charged obsessions. In other words, we find a balance that gives us a way to feel ourselves as clean and clear. As are the other yamas and niyamas, saucha is a pre-condition for experiencing the fullness of yoga and attaining enlightenment.
Cleanliness and order, reinforce our knowledge that we are worthy of good experiences, and improve our personalities so we can experience balanced self-awareness. When we feel pure and clean, we can be clear about our intentions, unencumbered by gross and subtle imbalances.
Here are some other ways to practice saucha, besides our daily routine cleansing of the body: mindfulness walks in nature (yes, even in winter), singing, chanting mantras, ringing of bells, smudging with sweetgrass and incense, blessings with water, rituals with fire, anointment with oil, use of the neti pot (to cleanse the nostrils), tongue cleansing, fasting from food, mona (refraining from talking for a day), abstaining from television, clearing out clutter and excess from our lives, recycling, surrounding ourselves with a bath of white light and even laughter.
Physicists say that 99% of matter in the universe is energy and space, invisible to the human eye. Those who practice saucha are more attuned to these subtle energies and often can discern the need for a brief ritual cleansing after experiencing negative energies. Using simple ways to clear our energies each day helps eliminate obstacles we cannot see. Practicing saucha is a way to increase our consciousness and spiritualize our everyday lives.
The reverence we bring to our daily lives and the cleanliness we practice alone and in community reinforces our sense of sacredness. Our individual purification and the freedom it brings is possible by the combination of our independent action with our recognition of interdependence with nature, other beings and the connection to divinity.
Adapted statements from Swami Shraddhananda
May 17, 2010
These guidelines are adapted from The Centre of Gravity Sangha in Toronto and agree that by living in this manner, we can live in a culture of awakening. Simply put; living your yoga means so much more than movement on the mat.
1. Returning to yoga practice it’s tantric and nondual roots by cultivating a yoga practice that aims to concentrate the mind, wake up the intelligence of the body, and decenter the habit energies that create a separate sense of self.
2. Combining a commitment to practice and a critical engagement with the basic tenets of yoga, especially the teachings of karmas and ahisma so that our practice is put to use in everyday life.
3. Expanding our understanding of community beyond the borders of a particular school or lineage, even beyond the human realm, so that “sangha” refers to the entire web of life. This brings with it an obligation of responsible action within the web.
4. Ensuring that our practice leaves no stone unturned by practicing ethical principles, breathing therapeutics, yoga postures, meditation, and integration. A strong formal practice gives us the skills necessary for recognizing the inherent yoga in everything and in all that we do.
5. Ensuring through personal mentorship, that we don’t hide in our practice and that we continually realize practice through true self-expression.
May 8, 2010
It is easy to relate to the fact that we are partly a collection of our life’s experiences. When we initially think of this, we think about why it is that we make certain decisions in life, or how we learned to perform a task. But, if we develop an inner awareness, a greater understanding of who we are, it can be traced back to even our childhood, back to the comfort of our caretakers.
I can recognize many things that make me who I am, as coming from my Mother. As my Aunt Marty recently reminded me, “you got your Mom’s artist eye”, when looking at pictures of some of my artwork.
But it is not just those obvious things that I am as grateful for her giving me, as for the more subtle qualities.
Just as in my adult life, when I was a child, my greatest enjoyment came from being outside. While I had some toys to play with, it was my Mother that taught me that all you really need is already within and surrounding you.
We would spend time together collecting locust shells from trees, an attaching them to our clothes and hair as she gave me a lesson about what they were and why they were there. I can still remember the feel of them on my fingertips and the sound of the light, crinkly casings as I plucked them from the bark. We’d collect pine-cones from Grandma’s lawn, and use our shirts as baskets for holding them.
Many summer days were filled with the joys of living a simple life, as we’d sit and pick beans and strawberries from the garden, stopping periodically to marvel at a beautiful butterfly fluttering by. Since I was young, my way of helping out with the laundry was to hand Mom one piece of clothing at a time for her to hang on the clothesline. She taught me to describe the smell of freshness as her “as new” afghans came off the line and onto our faces.
Even as my older sister would be annoyed as Mom would stop along the roadside to cut down some cat-tails and black-eyed susans from the swampy marsh and field a few feet away, I would beg to come with her so I could make my own bouquet.
Mom always saw the beauty in our natural world. She shared this mindfulness with me in a way that left me in awe, and with a fascination of the cycles of life, reminding me that all we really need is already within us and surrounding us.
It is perhaps also this deep connection that Mom has had with our Mother Earth, that has always encouraged me to also see Her with sensitivity, care and respect.
As Mom’s health has deteriorated, she is now unable to use her brain in a sensible way. As the home-health aides and even my help cannot give her the joy and comfort that she once reveled in the daily simplicities and in nature, I find solace in the many lessons of mindfulness that she has shared with me as a child. For that, a deep gratitude exists, deeper than she can be aware of today. I love you, Mom. Happy Mother’s Day.
May 3, 2010
The Yamas in Yoga are described as “restraints.” These humanize ethical responsibility, showing us intention behind our actions and thoughts.
One of the Yamas, called Asteya means practicing non-stealing. Of course this meaning is so much deeper than taking something that does not belong to us. It is the mindset that an individual’s needs are more important than those of another person, or our earth. This self-importance, selfishness, and sense of entitlement manifest as stealing behavior.
Not stealing means refraining from taking what is not freely given to us. Because the self-ego is so terrified that it’s temporary and without ground, it seeks wealth and other external things to satisfy itself. As Gandhi responds to this ill mindset, he states “there is enough on earth for everybody’s need, but not for everyone’s greed.”
The more we accumulate, the more we have to worry about. The vow of non-stealing, positions us toward a life free from discontent.
As Michael Stone teaches, “Any action motivated by craving, only leads to more craving. If our desires are endless and if self-image is inherently empty, no thing can ground us anyway. In this respect, taking what is not given freely only serves to reinforce our negative self-image whose substratum is the belief in insufficiency.
The subjective way of looking at the yamas consists of three basic criteria: 1.) Are your actions going to cause harm for you? 2.) Are your actions going to cause harm to some other being? 3.) What is the quality in the intention in the choice you’re making?”
So, we can ponder things in our own life, like: Am I taking things from my own body that is not given freely to me? (expecting it to digest foods that are non-pleasing, or pushing it too far past comfort?)
Am I taking food, water, or air supply that is not given freely to me? Can I reduce these amounts and reduce pollution to better preserve these resources that we rely on?
Do I expect others to pay for services that were not rendered to them? (recently I ran into this, as a refund for services that I did not receive was declined)
Keeping in mind that our actions easily become one piece of the whole evolving picture of life is a true Yogis way of living. When we work to transform the habit energies of the mind and body, we turn TOWARD the world, not away from it. This in turn is turning toward our own minds and bodies, as we are inherently one.
May 1, 2010
Perfect shoulder placement in yoga can be elusive. For starters, unless you practice yoga in a mirror-lined room or have eyes in the back of your head, it’s tough to know what your shoulders are up to. To make matters worse, poor posture is habitual. Many times our days are filled with our arms and shoulders reaching forward or suspending weight. If your shoulders slouch, slump, or cave all day long, you can’t help but bring a few bad habits into your asana practice.
The first step in understanding correct shoulder alignment is to start simply, by exploring Tadasana (Mountain Pose) and Urdhva Hastasana (Upward Hands Pose). Here are some alignment instructions for practicing Tadasana: First, lift your shoulders slightly so they line up with the base of your neck. Bring your chin in slightly toward your neck as well, to lengthen the cervical spine. Simultaneously, draw the heads of the arm bones back, toward the wall behind you. Keeping a slight curve in the back of your neck, draw your shoulder blades down toward your waist. Your shoulder blades should lie flat on your back, instead of winging out. Feel your chest rise, but not too much, and resist the temptation to pinch your shoulder blades together—doing this will only compress your spine. Instead, draw your energy from the back of the heart inward. Be an observer of sensation and continue breathing here.
As we’ve learned before, we can practice Tadasana anywhere and at virtually any time. (standing in the shower, waiting in line….)
The many benefits are awesome!