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"Lofty Ideas" ~ Archives

1999 to 2005




Spring '99

Say No More
     Often you and I meet as we're out and about town. When we do, frequently you apologize for not being at yoga class or you give me an explanation of why you haven't been there. Believe me, I understand that there are many factors and other priorities that can keep you away from class. Besides, once you have learned some poses, and grasp the basic principles of hatha yoga, there is no reason why you can't practice yoga quite well at home. That's the whole point. There are lots of advantages to doing yoga in the studio, but ultimately it should become an integral part of your everyday life.
     I'm trying to remember to practice yoga principles as I sit here at my computer, typing. In order to stay comfortable, I have to sit up straight in my chair, no lumbar flexion! I take time periodically to notice if I'm getting tight in my neck and how I'm holding my head in order to look through the right spot on my bifocals. When I can't think of what to write next, I take a deep breath and open myself up to "inspiration", which literally means "a breathing in."
     I always encourage students to start practicing at home as soon as they begin to learn, even if they only spend a few minutes trying to remember what we did in class, breathing consciously, and focusing on the state of the body.
     On the other hand, there is nothing like a guided, hour and a half of yoga. You don't have to think about what pose you're going to do next. Someone is leading you through a balanced, purposeful lesson, and is there to assist and correct you when needed. When it's time to relax, you can rest deeply, knowing that someone will rouse you when it's time.
     So I encourage you to come to class. I love seeing you all come back for more. But if you haven't been for awhile, don't feel guilty. There's no usefulness in that. And you don't owe me any explanations. I'll assume you've been "following your bliss" elsewhere.

Summer '99

Lost in Space
     We have spent a lot of time living in our heads like the disembodied king and queen of the moon in "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen" ( a great fable available on video tape). It is the job of yoga to reunite our scattered parts. Move your attention down the body. Notice if you chose the front first. If so, then send your awareness into the back of your body as well. Stay in the back body for awhile. Is this familiar territory? When we open a yoga class in corpse pose, one of the first exercises we do is moving perception into the back body. We do this repeatedly so we can know our backs well and direct energy there. Remember: Where the mind goes, the energy goes.
     Have you ever noticed how easy it is to lose track of where your body parts are when learning new poses? Sometimes even when practicing those you thought you knew? Are you becoming aware that your consciousness frequently vacates certain parts of your body? This happens to most of us every day. Tension builds through the neck and shoulders and we don't even notice it until we're reminded to relax. The shoulders will drop and muscles will soften again upon conscious intervention.
     There are several common areas, besides the shoulders, that I notice my students "forgetting" when practicing. One is feet. I've been reminding you a lot lately to look at where your feet have gotten to when you were busily focused elsewhere. It feels awkward at first to place the feet parallel to each other, but your knees will thank you for it in the long run.
     Then there are the body parts that we never really knew. I hope you are learning where your ischial tuberosities are. I think that's a beautiful name for your "sitting bones". Ischial refers to the ischium, the bone of which these tuberosities are a part. You might recognize the root word "tuber" in tuberosity. Tubers are thickened portions of roots in the ground. When we sit, our ischial tuberosities "root" us to the earth. 
        The pelvis is like a bowl that can be tipped in any direction. The tuberosities are rounded, and the pelvis is jointed to the spinal column allowing a range of angles from which to choose when placing ourselves on the floor, a chair, or the earth.
     Think about how you position a plant when you put it into soil. You create a space for the roots, then align the stem or trunk in as vertical a position as possible. Even if your placement is a little bit off, you know that the plant's instinct to reach for the sun will straighten it out eventually, while its roots travel downward seeking nourishment and stability. Plant yourself in a similar manner when you sit. Become aware more regularly of the relationship between your pelvis and your spinal column.
     When you stand, think about rooting your body through your feet. Let this rooting energy flow down the backs of the legs into the heels, still keeping weight evenly distributed over the feet, exhaling. Feel an upward flow of energy, streaming up the front body, lifting the sternum and the crown (not the chin), breathing in. Maintain balance between front and back, side to side.
     Observe your body whenever you can. Bring more energy through attention to the parts that have been forgotten, ignored or hitherto unknown. This is one way to practice yoga throughout the day, anytime, anywhere.

Fall '99

Deep Thoughts
     If you are a yogi or yogini interested in yoga philosophy, you will not want to miss an upcoming event. Arun Gandhi, the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, will be visiting St. Helens soon. On Monday October 11th at 7:00 p.m. Mr. Gandhi will speak at St. Helens Sr. High. The topic will be "Nonviolence or Nonexistence: Options for the 21st Century." Tickets are available through the St. Helens Chamber of Commerce, Tony's Shoes, St. Helens Book Shop, The Spotlight, or at the door - $10 for adults, $5 for 18 and under.
     Yoga is a holistic system for health, which involves body, mind and spirit. Nonviolence is a primary element in this system. I've written here before about the eight limbs of Yoga as taught by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. If you recall, the first two limbs of yoga are yama and niyama, patterns for ethical behavior, self disciplines. Yamas guide the way we deal with society and the world. Niyamas guide our attitudes and behavior towards ourselves.
     The first component of yama is ahimsa - often translated as nonviolence. I suggest that we not limit our understanding of ahimsa to a single worded translation. If you read many texts and translations you will find a broader meaning of ahimsa and its connotations. Ahimsa is also translated as harmlessness or non-injury. It includes consideration, kindness, love and compassion. Ahimsa does not seem to be our nature as humans. It is a discipline that needs to be practiced and developed.
     I think we American yogis should know this Sanskrit word ahimsa and its significance. I like to think of ahimsa as kindness. It is very simple to begin the practice of asking yourself if your actions and thoughts are kind. Your answers will come swiftly.
     It is a truth that is becoming more and more understood that much of the injury and harm we suffer is self inflicted, usually at an unconscious level. Have you ever considered the injurious impact of unkind thoughts? Even if the thought is toward another, the harm is bestowed upon yourself. If the thought is against yourself, the harm is still bestowed upon yourself. It's a lose-lose situation.
     Many researchers are studying this phenomenon. Refer to Candace Pert's book, Molecules of Emotion or any of the works by Deepak Chopra. Negative self talk is like the "friendly fire"of our minds. We may not realize how high the stakes are until we experience personal loss. The immune system weakens when degrading thoughts are permitted to take hold, regardless of the target.
     I am curious to hear what Arun Gandhi has to say about ahimsa on a global level. Maybe I'll see you there.

Horsing Around
     Did you read the summer issue of Lofty Ideas? Have you given any thought to your ischial tuberosities over the past 3 months? I had an intense meeting with mine for a few days in August.  While some of our friends from Japan were visiting, we took a trip to Leavenworth, Washington. Their daughter, 20 year old Noriko, wanted to go horseback riding. I am not an equestrian, to say the least. I'm not really comfortable around horses even though we've owned a few. I'll feed them, pet them, I even held the tongue of an anesthetized horse out of the vet's way once, while she "floated" his teeth. But horses are big, their backs are up high, and they don't have safety belts or brakes. 
     I had no intention of being involved in this adventure beyond my preferred role as photographer. My resolve weakened as peer pressure hoisted me onto a horse named "Repeat"(accent on the Re), whom, I was assured, was gentle and whose only bad habit was wanting to stop to eat frequently. We weren't long into our journey before my ischial tuberosities started speaking to me. Soon they were shouting and I tried numerous pelvic adjustments trying to find relief from the pounding of bone against muscle against saddle. 
     There was not much relief for this untrained novice on horseback, except to relax, breathe, and be aware of the moment. And so I loved our ride through a woodsy river island in the beautiful alpine setting, nonetheless. Repeat's footwork was steady and sure, his gait rhythmic and calming. He could steal a snack and never miss a step. The sun was hot, the shade felt good. It took 3 days for the soreness to subside but I didn't mind a bit. 

Maintaining Balance
     We've just gone through the Autumn equinox, the day when light and dark are in perfect balance. Ironically, this is a period when our physical homeostasis is very easily unbalanced. Why? I don't know, but I do know that it is a fact. More people get sick during the seasonal changes, and there's more involved than just the weather.
     I find that the transition from Fall to Winter is the most difficult for me because it's just a few days before Christmas. It's so hard to eat well when friends are delivering homemade, sugary goodies to your home. It's not easy to get your rest when there are still presents to make or buy or wrap. You're under stress when you start counting the days left before the holiday not because of joyful anticipation, but more like overwhelming responsibility.
     If you don't relate to this, then Happy Holidays!!! You've got it under control. If this holiday syndrome sounds familiar, consider this advise. Create your own version of a holiday celebration. One that is manageable and fun, and forget Martha Stewart! As much as I enjoy Martha's ideas, who has the time and money and staff!
     Three years ago after a hellish Christmas at my house where 7 out of the 12 people staying there were sick with the flu, I decided that something had to change and I reinvented Christmas. For the past two years we have spread Christmas out over the whole month, rather than cramming it all into one exhausting day. I decided that by the time Christmas Day rolls around I want to be just having a lovely day off - my Christmas gift to myself. I try to spend less money and do less work. I focus on what's really important to me, and that's having a good time with my kids and grandkids.
     And finally, a word of thanks for your patience as I've interrupted your yoga schedule to pursue my latest interest, floral design. I'm loving this new venture. So one last bit of advice: If you're planning to send flowers to someone for the holidays, order early, please!

Winter '00

     I sit here writing this on the verge of the year 2000. I remember wondering about this dawning of the new millennium back in the 60's. I imagined what it would be like to be as old as my parents, what my children would be like, what the world would become. 
     I never worried about osteoporosis, or my teeth lasting a lifetime. I didn't think about body maintenance to keep my parts working. I suspected that most of the science fiction movies we used to watch were more fiction than science. I do clearly remember once believing that by now our air would be so polluted that we would be in a constant fog of filth. I also envisioned that perhaps space travel would begin to be accessible to adventurers who were not scientists or astronauts. I never dreamed we'd have so many TV stations and that we'd have to pay for them, or that I'd be typing on a personal computer in my home office. I never realized that science was leading us toward manipulating our genetic structures. I expected cars to be much more efficient and self guiding than they have become. I didn't anticipate that I would spend so much time driving, that our communities would sprawl making distance travel more necessary. I thought that the possibility of a third world war occurring near the end of the century was much greater than it seems to be today. I actually believed "them" when they said that we were moving into a time of more leisure and recreation, that our work week would be shortened due to automation, and that there would be so many conveniences that all forms of work would be easier. 
     It appears to me today, that as much as the world changes, it stays the same. It's easy to talk on the phone to someone across the world, but do we communicate better? We can heat a frozen meal in a microwave in 7 minutes, but are we better nourished? We can see the shadows of atomic particles under amazing microscopes, but has our understanding of what we are deepened? We can create so-called "test-tube" babies with in vitro fertilization and have numerous methods of birth control, but have we created a stronger family unit? We can remove or replace diseased body parts through surgery and transplantation, but have we learned to heal ourselves? 
     Ironically, our lives have not become easier. Our suffering is of a different nature. We have a lot more ways of trying to control the world in order to make a better life, but was there something really wrong with life to begin with? I continue to wonder.

Learning the Limbs
     Here I go again, writing about the eight limbs of yoga as taught by the ancient sage, Patanjali. Knowing the eight limbs and their subsections, help you to take the skills you learn doing postures and breathing exercises (which are the 3rd and 4th limbs, asana and pranayama) and apply them to other branches of your life. 
     The tree of yoga begins with ethical behavior and the first limb is yama. The Yamas are a set of disciplines regarding our relationship with society and the world. I wrote about the first, ahimsa, nonviolence, kindness in the Fall newsletter. Here I would like to mention the second yama which is satya - truth, truthfulness. 
     In our culture we use many examples of truthfulness to teach our children. The first two who came to my mind were the archetype of "Honest Abe" and George Washington's cherry tree story. The element of truthfulness vs. foolishness is told memorably in the story of "The Emperor's New Clothes".
     Caroline Myss makes the distinction between truthfulness and truth. Truthfulness is not lying, for example, about whether or not your clothes are invisible. Truth is a more profound statement. In her book Anatomy of the Spirit she lists seven sacred truths which correspond to the seven chakras: 1. All is One. 2. Honor One Another. 3. Honor Oneself. 4. Love is Divine Power. 5. Surrender Personal Will to Divine Will. 6. Seek Only the Truth. 7. Live in the Present Moment.
     It serves us all well to examine our ability to express ourselves truthfully and to acknowledge Truth when we recognize it. 

More Profundity
     Here's a gem that was sent to me via email, an excerpt from the Tao Te Ching. I like the translation.

             Can you coax your mind from its wandering and keep to the original oneness?
             Can you let your body become supple as a newborn child's?
             Can you cleanse your inner vision until you see nothing but the light?
             Can you love people and lead them without imposing your will?
             Can you deal with the most vital matters by letting events take their course?
             Can you step back from your own mind and thus understand all things?

On the Level
     I just want to say a bit about plateaus. It is a normal part of the growth cycle to level out at some point. During this horizontal part of your development the ego may get full of itself and quite confident that all is going well and you have arrived at a place of competency. And then a new slant of light will shine on you and suddenly your plateau will appear to be a valley where you have been stuck for awhile. Not to worry. Put your ego aside, and start to climb to the next level of understanding in yoga. There will always be another level to approach. Even if you've reached the mountain peak the air may be too thin and you might have to go back down for supplies.

Spring '00

Yoga as Healer, Yoga as Teacher
     On the weekend of March 3, I was privileged to attend a teachers' workshop given by Eric Small, an expert in teaching yoga to people with Multiple Sclerosis. Eric has lived with MS for almost 50 years and managed his condition quite amazingly through his yoga practice. He follows the Iyengar school of yoga faithfully, having personally studied with Mr. Iyengar for years. He taught us numerous adapted poses and breathing exercises that can be used by anyone with restricted mobility or ability. 
     He reinforced for us the value of yoga as medicine, and stated that as fact, in no uncertain terms. I recalled that when I took some fitness classes at Portland Community College a couple of years ago, even in that more conservative setting, the same principle was taught as absolute fact: "Exercise is Medicine." 
     I am always reserved in any claims I make for yoga. I can only say what yoga does for me. It makes me feel better than I do when I don't practice. It helps me to be more contented with my life. It helps me to maintain strength and flexibility as I get older, and when I decide to apply myself, it makes me stronger and even more flexible. 
     Most important, yoga teaches me how to learn more about myself. I think the beauty of yoga is that by understanding its basic principles, uniting body-mind-breath, and then harnessing these energies, one can tap our innate ability to learn, rejuvenate and heal. Please remember that it is this process of yoga that is your teacher, not the person who happens to be suggesting that you relax your shoulders or take a deep breath.

Continuing Study
     Here's another lesson on The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali. To review:
          •Patanjali outlined the eight "limbs" of yoga. The first two limbs are yama and niyama.
          •There are five yamas. We have been discussing one yama in each newsletter.
          •Yama - ethical behavior concerning our relationships to others. 
          •Niyama -ethical behavior concerning our relationship with ourselves; self discipline; personal attitudes
          •Ahimsa - the first of the five yamas: harmlessness, nonviolence or kindness. 
          •Satya - the second yama: truth, truthfulness. 
     The third yama is asteya, which means non-stealing. In his wonderful book The Heart of Yoga, T.K.V. Desikachar establishes asteya as "non-covetousness or the ability to resist a desire for that which does not belong to us." Societies and families usually teach us where the boundaries of property and ownership lie and establish consequences for those who don't comply. The act of physically stealing something is considered a social crime. We usually focus on the person who has lost something as the victim and quickly assign blame to the thief. Now look at the paradox. What does the thief lose when he thinks he has gained? And what does the victim try to gain by blaming the thief? 
     Do you have desires for things that are not yours or that you don't really need? You may think that you are not a thief, until you apply this principle to your nonphysical life. There may be ways in which you steal that you've never been aware of. Do you steal energy from people? Have you ever baited someone to capture their pity or praise? Are you demanding of other people's time and attention which have not been offered to you? I once had an acquaintance who confessed to me that she knew she was an "energy thief." You probably know the feeling of being drained after being in the presence of certain people. A friend of mine once used the grizzly yet accurate term, "spiritual vampire." 
     By practicing yoga we realize what a precious commodity energy is. We observe ourselves cycling and recycling energy throughout the body. In conscious relaxation and in meditation we recognize how the mind has the power to wastefully consume energy, allow it to stagnate, or to conserve and redeploy energy. We don't need to steal if we wisely manage what we already have and we can't be robbed if we don't participate in the thief's game.

Summer '00

     The last anatomy lesson I gave was about ischial tuberosities. Unless you're a relatively new student, you should be very familiar with your sitting bones by now. Next I'd like you to move your attention upward to the sides of the rib cage where the shoulder blade connects to ribs below the armpit. Over the next weeks and months you will hear me talk about serratus anterior. This muscle helps to hold the shoulder blade (scapula) in place and it is essential in creating space between the shoulder blades and drawing them down the back. (Sound familiar?) I hope that you will be feeling and using these muscles in a more conscious way soon. They can help us to counteract the habitual shoulder tension that pulls the scapulae together and upward. 

Big Words ~ Lofty Ideas
     Brahmacharya is another new word to add to your Sanskrit vocabulary. It is the 4th of the 5 yamas, ethical guidelines that I've been introducing with each newsletter. Yogi John Friend gives the literal translation of Brahmacharya as "walking or having ethical conduct like God." Whoops ~ there's the "G" word. Some Americans want very much for hatha yoga to be strictly a secular endeavor, just a good workout/exercise program for stress relief. But the holistic nature of yoga makes involvement with the spiritual inevitable. Desikachar in his book The Heart of Yoga offers another definition: "moving toward the highest modification of the senses; it is the stage of life where the young student studies the sacred texts." Sacred texts as part of a fitness program? I think so.
     Another reference by Desikachar lists Brahmacharya as "moderation in all our actions." Now we're getting toward something that sounds more familiar. This could be a recommendation from the AMA or the ACE. Moderation is often spouted as sound advice to those who want to stay healthy. We hear suggestions to eat a balanced diet(whatever that is), get plenty of rest(not too much, not too little), a modicum of sunshine daily(but keep sun screen handy), take a walk( in well-engineered shoes), and of course, floss. Avoid all the known hazards to your health, such as sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll :-) Occasionally indulgences are tolerated in this affluent society, but to reduce risk factors, indulge "in moderation." Sensible words? Probably, but limited mostly to the physical self.
     A further look into John Friend's definition of Brahmacharya reveals guidelines for sexual conduct:
"Restraining from sexual misconduct; sexual moderation; chastity; to relate to another with love and integrity without selfishness or manipulation; not lusting. Celibacy/chastity." Don't worry. I'm not suggesting that celibacy or chastity are requirements for your yoga practice. But I am suggesting contemplation of the reasoning behind the establishment of this standard and what it has to do with wellness.
     This brings to mind a most fascinating book by Taisha Abelar, The Sorcerers' Crossing. The author as a young woman is advised by one of her mentors to beware of the energetic residues of casual sex that remain in the body for seven years, not to mention the cost of valuable energy expended that could be otherwise deployed. The practice of yoga involves managing energy. Classically yogis draw base energy upward through the central channel (sushumna) to be used in the higher chakras. It is said that we each have an allotment of energy that we are born with. If we want to have more energy at our disposal we need to conserve and reassign. Chastity would be one method. This principle, once understood, can be applied anywhere. 
     Sometimes we talk too much. Planned days of silence can be useful to force the body and mind to work differently. Sometimes we eat too much. A day or some period of fasting or partial fasting will heighten awareness and redirect energy. An interesting observation I've had during fasting is how much energy becomes available when the body doesn't have to digest food. Most of us have fears and desires that sometimes preoccupy the mind. Meditation can train the mind to recognize and then change its patterns.
     I think the first step toward finding moderation is to identify where there is excess, then ask what are all the possible ways in which one can overindulge? What are your passions, weaknesses? What are the sacred and spiritual implications of excesses? What are steps that can be taken to change the pattern of overindulgence. Asking these questions may help you to find the middle path ~ if that is what you choose to do. 

Fall '00

     With aparigraha we complete our introduction to the five yamas, ethical behaviors that Patanjali set forth as the first of eight limbs of yoga. Here is a quick review so that you have an overview of the five yamas:

1. Ahimsa - harmlessness, nonviolence, kindness.
2. Satya - truth, truthfulness.
3. Asteya - non-stealing.
4. Bramhacharya - moderation in all our actions.
5. Aparigraha - non-covetousness.
     In The Heart of Yoga, T.K.V. Desikachar says that aparigraha means to "receive exactly what is appropriate and no more." Yogi John Friend adds "voluntary simplicity, not accumulating things beyond what is necessary." Similarly, in Christianity we are warned against the deadly sin of greed. 
     It's quite difficult in this affluent society not to get swept up in the desire for possessions. So many products are readily available and affordable. Look at the stuff that people set out in their garage sales - things they bought two years before at someone else's garage sale! Necessities? Marketers and advertisers do their best to manipulate us into believing that we need what they've got. First we buy the idea that we need the product, then we get out our cash or credit card. Even the "neediest" people I know have more than bare necessities. It's easy to accumulate clutter and debt. Consider the amount of energy it takes to maintain what we have, as well as the wastefulness of having things we don't use. 
     Along with possessions, comes the attachment to them as we assign them worth beyond their monetary cost. Our self-esteem can get entangled with our belongings. Status is certainly connected to what we own. We can develop fears surrounding the possible loss of possessions. What a challenge this is to keeping balance.
     I remind you that yoga is achieved by managing energy. At that workshop I attended given by Dr. Robert Svoboda, he offered a great description of the Eight Limbs of Yoga as a "progressive restriction of your organism's ability to waste energy." The yogi increases his energy by functioning efficiently, eliminating that which is toxic or stagnant(in body or mind), and then building up reserves of healthy prana. We learn this process during our practice of asana and pranayama in our classes. But it is my understanding that the hugest waste of energy occurs in the mind.
     Here is a self-guided image that I created once when I found myself obsessing with the desire for something that was totally unrealistic for me to have. I noticed a physical sensation around my heart when I was experiencing longings. I also found that I would instinctively place my hand on my chest when I felt this way. Meditating upon the situation, I saw an image of a voracious, snarling wolf, eating my heart. (Just a little snapshot from the dark side of my brain!) So I put a muzzle on him. A strong one. I realized the truth in the expression "eat your heart out." This statement is literal at the subconscious level. Symbolically I was allowing my yearnings to consume big bites of energy from my heart chakra. Occasionally I go back to this image and check the muzzle. There have been times when the wolf looks more like a domesticated dog. I take that as a good sign, but will not be fooled into removing the restraint. If desire or greed is eating at your heart, close your eyes and form an inner muzzle to control the hunger, or come up with your own creative solution to end this kind of self-cannibalism. Don't consume your own energy needlessly with greed. 
     Now my longing is to simplify and reduce what I have. Ironically, I still need to find more energy in terms of time and effort in order to accomplish that before I can be back in balance. 
Winter '01

The Next Set of Five - Niyama
     In the last five issues of Lofty Ideas I have written about yama, which is known as the first limb of yoga. These are ethical standards of personal behavior in relationships with others. They establish the footings on which we build a structure of yoga practice. 
     The second limb of yoga is niyama, five more observances that influence our attitudes toward ourselves. The first niyama is sauca (shauca) - cleanliness, purity. This refers to cleanliness of body, thoughts, words, dress and living environment, internal and external purification. 
     It's great to exercise; asana and pranayama are cleansing to the body and mind. It's an important step to cut out the fries and the burgers; healthy eating and fasting detoxify the body.  We also need to tidy up the mind; mindfulness enables us to observe our motivations and thought patterns so we can discard those that are undesirable, and choose consciously to express thoughts and words that are pure and simple.
     One thought pattern that I've been glad to eliminate is one that is prevalent. It's easy to pick up because we hear it so often: " I'm going to really be pissed if......." And usually we say that when we know that what follows the "if" is very likely to happen. So what this phrase expresses is our intention to be angry even if the inevitable occurs.  It is an attempt to justify our anger, but it diverts our energy from finding a more suitable way to handle an undesirable situation. It seems such a waste to plan anger! Why not plan coping? An interesting factor here, is that usually there is time involved to make another choice before the dreaded event happens. 
     When I realized how often I hear this phrase and what it means, I decided that when I felt anger welling up in anticipation of difficulty, I would ask myself, "what is really going on?" And usually I find that there is a wounded ego that is frustrated by its inability to control people and events (a simple fact of life). Then there is usually some self-pity involved if I find that the situation results in more work for me (which happens often). Just these two simple insights allow anger to diminish greatly and keep me focused on the deeper issues I need to attend. 
     This is one way in which I have begun to cleanse my mind of toxic patterns. I think we are all full of such seemingly harmless expressions. They are part of a "social/cultural unconsciousness" that truly does us a disservice.

Spring '01

Limb by Limb
     Our work as yogis is to carry over the lessons from each limb of yoga to the next, to integrate our attitudes with our behavior, behavior with movement, movement with breathing, breathing with detachment, detachment with focus, focus with meditation, meditation with insight. Aware of it or not, we all function on all of these levels simultaneously. 
     As we are learning the Five Yamas and Niyamas (ethical behaviors) of the Eight Limbs of Yoga, we now come to santosha - contentment, or the ability to be comfortable with what we have and what we do not have. If you recall, the fifth yama is aparigraha - non covetousness, which has similar implications. Aparigraha suggests simplicity in lifestyle, limiting our quest for "things", avoiding envy and the accumulation of more than we need. As one of the Yamas, this refers to external relationships. 
     The Niyamas guide us in our relationships with ourselves. I understand santosha to mean contentment with the hand I've been dealt in life, to be accepting of those things which are my karma and have been presented to me for my growth. I think its purpose is simple. This perspective permits us to view the 'hardships' of life without anger, bitterness, resentment, blame, or any of the other feelings that are potentially harmful and interfere with pure perception.
     Acceptance of the way things are, is reminiscent of the serenity prayer of AA: "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." Serenity, courage and wisdom are exercised along with the body during asana practice. How does this apply to the discontent that we all experience with the body at one time or another in yoga practice?"
     It is said that change is the only thing in life that is constant. So if change is constant why are there things I cannot change and why should I accept them? The operative word is "I." Try posing these questions to yourself: "Is this my ego vying for control? Can I serenely accept the current condition even though I dislike it? Can I restrain my ego from the impulse to force change to occur? Can I alter my response to this condition? Should my focus be on changing the disliking?" 
     Tight hamstrings, weak shoulders, and overworked low backs cannot be forced or hurried to change. With courage they can be submitted to the process of yoga, while the mind, connected to those parts, can be consciously guided to surrendering to the flow and pace of universal energy - Om, Swaha. Then observe without judgement. If change comes, do not applaud it, just experience it. If the desired change does not come, release the desire, and in so doing another important change will have occurred that you may notice if you pay attention. 
     On the other hand, mustering the courage to make changes that are possible may lead us to a head-on confrontation with fear, because the changes we can make are internal. Can you imagine yourself in your life after the transformation has taken place? Do this in a relaxed, meditative state. Look at the feelings that come up. You may be surprised. If you sense even the slightest misgivings or discomfort about your future condition, your efforts will be sabotaged from the start from deep within. When facilitating change we'd best do it in an integrated manner to prevent this phenomenon of one level of consciousness undermining the efforts of another. To be unaware of this conflict may be the cause of many failed diets, aborted attempts to quit smoking, etc. 
     One of Patanjali's "tips" to yogis is to learn to distinguish between that which is temporary and that which is eternal. He says that to base our happiness on attachment to those things which cannot last, may result in suffering. To recognize the transitory nature of this world may be what liberates us from the pain of loss that is inevitable. Wisdom is consciousness, the mind becoming aware of itself.

Summer '01

Just keep doing it
     Returning to our study of Niyama, the second limb of Patanjali's Eight Limbs of Yoga, we arrive at Tapas. No, it has nothing to do with little Spanish appetizers. Tapas is derived from the Sanskrit root "tap" meaning "to burn." Various sources translate its meaning as: a burning energy, self-mortification, self discipline, purification, will power, austerity, and patience. Tapas is the energy that it takes to break through old patterns and habits. Sometimes the relief that our yoga practice gives is only temporary. Many of us are working on parts of our bodies that have been out of balance for years, even decades. We find the need for persistence, consistency and deeper delving. As we continue our personal study and practice of yoga we become more sensitive to the roles played by breath, emotion and thought in the whole picture of our wellness. 
     I had a Tapas experience last year at a very challenging workshop. It was three days of the most strenuous yoga I had ever done. By the morning of the third day, I didn't want anymore. Had it not been for the fact that I was attending with two friends and we were car pooling and they were students of mine, I would have stayed in bed. I was so sore my hair hurt. I complained to anyone who would listen (I didn't get much sympathy). But I made myself go for the finale. I had hoped for some easy restorative poses, but when we started we were right back to sun salutations and preparing for back bends. All I could do was keep on moving. 
     It became more important than ever to work at my own pace and to know my edge; to accept my limitations by honoring them, but not by running away from them. My ego wanted me to be in bed, or anywhere else except the here and now. But I found that I could proceed, if I kept myself focused in the present moment. We had begun with the chant of Om and were reminded by the instructors to stay in the Om current, to maintain the meditative mind while continuing the practice. It worked. Without even noticing when or how the pain left, I suddenly found myself comfortable in my own backbend, and with energy and interest in seeing the class through. Looking back on this experience it seems as if there was a period of blackout. I had to "pass out" of the thinking that was making me miserable. I don't remember getting from point A to point B because I was so intent on just taking one step at a time along the path.
     Here is an interesting definition of discipline from Carlos Castaneda. In the Active Side of Infinity he wrote, " . . . by discipline, I don't mean harsh routines. I don't mean waking up every morning at five-thirty and throwing cold water on yourself until you're blue. Sorcerers understand discipline as the capacity to face with serenity odds that are not included in our expectations. For them, discipline is an art: the art of facing infinity without flinching, not because they are strong and tough, but because they are filled with awe." 
     Time is not a requirement to have an awesome experience. Often I advise students to begin their home practice with just a few minutes of a posture or two. You've probably heard me talk about how I use the time that it takes for something to heat in the microwave, usually my flax seed bag, to practice balancing poses. I'm in the kitchen standing on a good hard surface, kitchen counters are a perfect height for use as a support if needed, and 5 minutes or so is just enough time to clear the mind and get into the body. Another little time slot that can be used easily for yoga is the two or three minutes it takes for your PC to warm up, or to connect to a site and download info. These are perfect opportunities for neck rolls, eye exercises or shoulder movements. When you find yourself standing in line somewhere, notice if your weight is on one leg or two. Are your hips level? Stand evenly on both feet, take a deep breath, exhale slowly. Old habits will change as you develop new ones and practice them consistently. Persist through the present moment, without expectations, without falling back into old patterns, and you will be practicing Tapas.

Fall '01

Poised for Peace?
     I couldn't write this newsletter without saying something about the suicide missions to hijack jets, destroy symbols of power, and murder thousands of people. The last class of the summer session was four days after the attacks. The impact of these events had found its way into the bodies of all present. I could feel the kind of hardness that results from tension and weakness. There is a softness to the poise that results from strength and power. Many felt emotionally injured and drained and were seeking healing. Hour after hour had been spent watching TV, empathizing with those who experienced loss directly. There were questions and concerns about our future. Does this mean war? Who is the enemy? Why are we hated so? How will the bereaved cope with their losses? What can we do to promote peace?
     Hopefully at your first yoga class you were advised not do anything that would hurt you. This is the practice of Ahimsa, nonviolence, kindness, harmlessness. We apply it first to ourselves, then to others. If we set this standard for ourselves, we are obligated to find a way to respond to assault without perpetuating violence through revenge and retaliation. There is an essay being circulated through email called "Bomb them with Butter".   If you haven't seen it yet, I will have copies at The Yoga Loft or you could click on this link.  It suggests a shift in consciousness.
     My local newspaper arrived the other day folded in such a way that one of the headlines appeared to be "Prayer for Terrorists." For a moment I was hopeful to find this shift in consciousness. Then I unfolded the paper and it said "Prayer for Terrorists' Victims." Indeed, Americans were the targets of the attacks and prayer is in order. But as I see it, both offenders and victims are equally out of balance, simply on opposite ends of the spectrum. And those who attacked must have felt they had been victims of America's power.
     It is not just my own opinion that healing our consciousness of the victim mentality is one of the lessons of this era. Much has been written about the key role of transmuting victim consciousness into survival skills for AIDS patients and cancer patients. Victim mentality sets in after an injury or illness has occurred if we allow ourselves to wallow in a pool of self-pity. It's an all-to-common pattern of thinking in which the most pitiful part is the way it consumes and wastes our own precious energy. Self-pity has the power to lock the mind into the past and to plunge us into a quagmire where blame and anger thrive, seeming perfectly justifiable. They propagate themselves, keep the wound infected and festering, and prevent the healing that would allow the wound to close. 
     The true Jihad, the holiest war, is to destroy the enemy which insidiously attacks one's own being. This enemy is hidden in the illusion that the enemy is external. Yes, there are those who will do us harm if they can. They are our opponents in the world of duality. But life would be nothing without conflict to create experience and learning opportunities. Several years ago I studied Tai Chi and I also observed my son participating in Karate and Tae Kwon Do tournaments. The martial arts are the arts of war. There is always an opponent imaginary or real, to which one bows before the bout, for without the opponent there would be no contest, no winning, no losing, no victory, no defeat. This is an expression of respect and gratitude. I realized then that this action embodies the principle of Loving thine enemy. This is Love with a capital L, a transcendent love that does not require liking your opponent. It's a love for the game, the story, the precious life experience.
     The illusion that the enemy resides externally diverts energy away from body. This is taught by Caroline Myss, one of my favorite teachers. Here are some daily messages from her website, www.myss.com, about victim consciousness and forgiveness:

  • "Blame is a form of energetic cancer."
  • "To the extent we forgive others, we are forgiven ourselves."
  • "I am forgiving not for you, but for me. I am forgiving because I want my power back."
  • "Feeling victimized only adds to your illness, and should it become a full state of mind, would qualify as an illness in itself."
  • "We are addicted to the power of the wound."
  • "Release victim consciousness and embrace forgiveness."
  • "Release the need to know why things happen the way they do."
  • "Change is constant. Learn to go with its flow, whether it's peaceful or difficult."
  • "Forgiveness doesn't look attractive until we get to the other side."
  • "We are never being punished, only being taught. Everything is a teaching."
  • "Making contact with the archetypal realm allows us to see beyond the physical meaning of events and view them as Divine opportunities to evolve our consciousness."
Ponder these insights and you will be practicing the next Niyama in our study of yoga philosophy from Patanjali's Yoga Sutras. 

The fourth Niyama ~ Swadhyaya 
     The root meaning of swadhyaya is 'swa/self' and 'dhyaya/teach'. Thus, it means to 'teach oneself'. Formal education only gives us a start in life. A good education teaches us how to continue to learn on our own. Asana and pranayama practices train us to observe attentively and objectively. In my self-exploration I have seen that when a loss occurs, the mind (ego) looks for a way to prevent the pain of that loss from happening again. If we can place blame for our loss by identifying an enemy and live off the hope of being able to destroy this enemy, we fool ourselves into thinking that life will be safe and secure again. But life never was and never will be. We don't want to accept that. It generally doesn't occur to most of us to consider changing our response to the loss. We are conditioned by the mass consciousness to accept placing blame and seeking revenge as "fair" practices. Only 6% of Americans polled recently disapproved of the Presidents intended military action. In other words, that's what they would probably do in his shoes. I neither approve nor disapprove of the President's intentions because they are the result of his life, his experience, his growth, his self-study. He is in a position of power and the story will be played out with him as a main character. That is the most objective way I can view it. Caroline Myss would say to view it from the archetypal realm. Shakespeare said that all the world's a stage and we're all just playing our assigned roles. Let's play our parts knowing who we are.

Spring '02

Going with the Flow, Riding the Wave
     We have come to the fifth Niyama, Ishvara Pranidhana, which is the last of the ten disciplines from Patanjali's Yoga Sutra that I've introduced in these issues of "Lofty Ideas." I would call Ishvara Pranidhana the practice of becoming Human - with a capital H. By that, I mean transforming oneself into a being that is fully connected in consciousness to its spiritual source. Ishvara can be viewed as generically as "consciousness," or if you prefer, as one's concept of Divinity. Pranidhana is the individual's relationship to Ishvara. Ishvara Pranidhana implies a harmony that results from the integration of one's individual self with the Whole.
     Let us say that to become Human is the potential of every human that is born. To achieve that potential it is recommended to surrender one's personal power to the infinite power of Cosmic Will. Or, this could be thought of as simply realigning oneself with that energy which is already in motion to carry you along, like a surfer studying the waves as they roll in, then choosing one that beckons him(her). 
     In this world of opposites we can move toward balance or toward discord. Sometimes we take a step to the right when a step to the left might have been steadier, but how were we to know? The wisdom of those who have gone before, tells us that there are different ways to choose wisely - emotionally, through the field of kindness, harmlessness, and compassion; intellectually, through the mental field of judgment based on ethics, morals, or philosophy; and intuitively through the single vision of the third eye that sees beyond the world of duality. 
     Aligning oneself with the flow is the first step we take in learning yoga, permitting ourselves to be refreshed as we notice ourselves breathing in, and relaxing into peacefulness as we observe the breath flowing out. It's a practice both elementary and profound.
     I found a  websites that discusses Ishvara Pranidhana. You can link to the article here. There I found this translation of a beautiful mantra that yogi Gary Kraftsow teaches as an expression of Ishvara Pranidhana: 

"Let my life force be linked to my heart and my heart be linked to the truth that lies deep within me. Let that truth be linked to the eternal which is unending joy."
Summer '02

Pain and Martyrdom
     I hesitate to admit how long it is taking me to learn to trust my own knowledge, especially when in the presence of a teacher whom I respect. Somehow I find that I confuse the value of another's experience, training and expertise, versus the simple wisdom of my own innate knowledge of myself and my body. 
     While at Kali Ray's workshop in Portland last May, I found myself unable to find sthira and sukha, during about a 15 minute frog pose. In the Yoga Sutra Patanjali mentions sthira - steadiness and alertness, and sukha- lightness, comfort and happiness, as necessary components of yoga asana (posture). Kaliji had instructed us to place a support under the torso if necessary, but not under the pelvis. It was impossible for me to be relaxed and comfortable without putting a block under my pelvis. So, did I move the block? No, in spite of pain, I let myself stay in the pose, denying agony, trying to adjust my position, to breathe more deeply. I tried to figure out what was wrong with my body that it didn't respond to the instructions successfully. I attempted to find another way to get relief than to simply move the support and do what I would have done, had I not been so intent on being compliant and doing it "right."
     As one who particularly detests pain, I have learned a lot in my efforts to defeat it. A yoga teacher of mine once said that pain is simply blocked energy. An acupuncturist would say that pain is a result of an imbalance of energy, either an excess or insufficiency. I know that at times when I have had pain in my body, the skillful treatment of an acupuncturist, a massage therapist or a chiropractor can bring amazing relief. The pain pill is always my last resort because its effects are temporary and costly. The greatest and most immediate pain relief I ever experienced was from some simple homeopathic drops, given to me for the "after" contractions of my fourth childbirth. The point is, that pain is information that is given to us so that we may take action. Our physical, mental and emotional fields are interactive, so physical pain creates mental/emotional responses and mental/emotional conditions create physical responses. It's a loop. We can make choices on all these levels. I've found that pain is malleable. It can be moved, softened or sharpened depending on the action, or inaction, taken. So are attitudes.
     Pain can cause shifts in consciousness. I know yoga teachers who say that pain is simply part of the process. I think there may be a place for that. Some pain in life is inevitable. I've written before about my yoga experience of Tapas, which was breaking through a pain barrier with endurance and tenacity. (In my case that endurance and tenacity were sparked by peer pressure.) But I have also noticed with repeated wonderment, how a most gentle, subtle, movement or position, when practiced with precision can achieve a similar breakthrough. I've practiced yoga both ways, in comfort and in pain, with and without props. If the value of yoga is to be found in the process, in present time, then at any given moment, I would rather be completely comfortable, composed and relaxed. 
     I want to be clear that this choice does not limit me to passive poses nor does it necessarily require the use of props. On a good day, I can find comfort, composure and relaxation even in a Warrior pose or Chair pose. Those poses challenge me. Your challenge may come from Swan or Forward Bend. What makes one willing to suffer for the sake of achieving a pose?
     The Martyr archetype is present in many of us. The expression of this archetype is to suffer needlessly for the sake of someone or something. Caroline Myss in her latest book Sacred Contracts, connects the Martyr to the third chakra, the solar plexus, the center of our individuality. She explains this behavior as a means of attempting to control and manipulate one's environment. It can be tied to the belief that one is "meant" to suffer. This thought lays the groundwork for justifying self-pity. I think that Patanjali would call this kind of mental activity avidya- misapprehension, false understanding. The Sutra states that avidya is the primary obstacle to clear perception.
     We are subject to quite a bit of cultural conditioning that can encourage the shadow side of the Martyr archetype to prosper. We are taught to value working "hard." Praise is given to self-sacrifice. 'It is better to give than to receive.' These "good" intentions may create imbalance unless the light elements of the third chakra are in effect: a love of self, self respect, courage, personal ethics, self-discipline and awakened "gut" instincts. Without balance, the solar plexus can become a pit of fear and darkness. In the absence of healthy self esteem, shame rises and resentment of others grows. Denying our own needs, accepting agony and avoiding change keep courage imprisoned. 
     In Story, the Martyr suffers and dies, usually publicly. In the end, the cause, the goodness for which the Martyr died, is strengthened and many benefit. So here's the metaphor for our inner work:  We are transformed by the death of our own suffering. We are emancipated when we end pain, agony, resentment and fear by self-acceptance, through controlling self rather than others, and with courage to flow through the natural cycle of change - birth/death/rebirth. 
     When I notice myself struggling in a challenging pose, I try to remember to seek the sweetness of yoga. There is nothing that can lead to discouragement, depression, and a feeling of inadequacy, more easily than the sense that what you are attempting is too difficult, unattainable, uncomfortable or painful. The Martyr will thrive on the idea that what she/he is doing is laborious, excruciating, hopeless and impossible. So here's the question to ask yourself: Can you empower yourself and strengthen your goodness, by allowing your Martyr to die and thereby putting your own suffering to death? Patanjali put it so succinctly in the sutras. Find sthira and sukha.

Fall '02

I know you are, but what am I?
     Patanjali tells us in the sutras that the path of yoga includes self study, swadhyaya. This endeavor is simplified when we are able to identify, by patterns, categories, archetypes, etc., the many ways human beings present themselves. Many minds (probably Virgos) have spent lifetimes of observation and analysis seeking modes of understanding.
     I have a fun book, Who are You? 101 Ways of Seeing Yourself by Malcolm Godwin. Mr. Godwin has compiled numerous methods of analyzing bodies, behaviors, thoughts, emotions, and beliefs, and organized an overview under one cover. Here are just some of the scores of labels from his compilation that might fit your description: 

Is your body endomorphic, mesomorphic or ectomorphic? 
Are you yin or yang, the tiger or the dragon? 
Is your pattern of muscular tension schizoid, oral, narcissist, masochist or rigid?; 
Is your element fire, earth, metal, water, or wood? 
Or in another system, is your element air, ether, fire, earth or water? 
Is your "dosha" vata, pitta, or kapha?; 
Is your "humour" sanguine, choleric, phlegmatic or melancholic? 
Are you right-brained or left-brained? 
What's your sun sign, your moon sign, your rising sign? 
What's your animal totem? 
Are you an extrovert or an introvert? 
Is your intelligence linguistic, logical/mathematical, spatial, musical, body/kinesthetic, interpersonal or intrapersonal? 
Do you identify mostly with the personality of the perfectionist, the helper, the achiever, the individualist, the investigator, the loyalist, the enthusiast, the challenger, or the peacemaker? 
In business relationships are you the director, the counselor, the reviewer or the dominator? 
     In the newest yoga book I'm reading, Yoga for Transformation, it says that the ancients saw that an individual could be symbolized by one of four types of imperfect vessels ~ the upside-down vessel, the dirty vessel, the leaky vessel or the tilted vessel. The author of this book, Gary Kraftsow, is one of the teachers I will study with next month at the Yoga and Ayurveda Conference. I think my vessel is tilted, but I'm only on page 15.
     So what's the point of all this pigeon-holing? Once we have a glimpse into our own construction and motivation, what do we do with the information? One popular application is in pick-up lines or small talk at parties and awkward situations. "What's your sign? No, let me guess..", "I can't take my eyes off your mount of Venus..." 
     But seriously, it is clear in seeing so many systems of identifying patterns in Malcolm Godwin's book, that all of them seem to honor the varied forms of humanity without judgment. They recognize the need for a more sophisticated approach than the one-size-fits-all method of behaving, interacting, growing and healing. There is not a body type that is bad, or a personality that is superior to another. There is just enormous variety in the combinations of factors that make each of us unique (just like everybody else).
     All systems demonstrate at least two opposite characteristics, a pair of opposites, that can be brought into balance for well-being. There are also systems of threes, fours, fives and nines which display geometric forms of interplay. All aspects play together like parts of a mobile which move gracefully within a state of balance. 
     There can be positive and negative expressions of a distinctive feature. For example the shadow side of the analyst might be the critic, who is analytical with judgment. When the opinion of good or bad are allowed to take form, perception begins to muddle. Power and control issues arise. The ego begins to flourish. When perception is untainted by judgment, awareness can be more easily maintained in the present moment. It is the objective viewpoint that illuminates Truth. 
     An effective technique for placing the mind in a state of objectivity is to look at your own life as if it were someone else's story. We are all familiar with many archetypal patterns, but tend to recognize them more easily in others than in ourselves. We know them from fairy tales, history, films and theater. Imagine the people and circumstances in your life as the characters and plot of an epic tale, intriguing and complex. This is best done in a relaxed, meditative state. You may begin to notice the roles of a hero (the knight), an antagonist (the destroyer), a child (the innocent), a victim, a trickster, an angel, a clown (comic relief), a magician, and others. Detach from the emotions and struggles as you have experienced them personally and watch yourself and others simply playing their parts. It may shed a new light on your life.
Winter '03
Tidbits of knowledge and wisdom that I brought back from the Yoga and Ayurveda Conference in Palm Springs:
*An ayurvedic meal is balanced by including all six tastes in the foods prepared - sweet, sour, salty, pungent (hot), bitter and astringent. This is a different approach than the Western model of the food pyramid, made of basic food groups. I find it very practical and simple to apply.
* Observe the body as heavy or light, cold or hot, dry or wet.
* Soak raw almonds in water and peel them before eating. They're easier to digest and are a good source of vegetable protein.
* Ayurveda recommends fasting one day per week or every two weeks. One can fast on air, water, or a single food.
*There is a relationship between heart disease and gum disease, so floss!
*A traditional view of how a yogi's practice should evolve throughout his life is that up to age 30 the focus should be asana, from  31- 70 years old the focus should shift to pranayama, and from 70 on he should concentrate on prayer and meditation.
* In the therapeutic view there is no precise form in asana. What one seeks is functional benefit in a posture.
*One must identify his own neuromuscular patterns, become aware of them, then make changes in order to restore balance to the body, or else these patterns of chronic subliminal contraction will remain in control. 
* Don't force the body. It will resist. How do you react to being forced? Do you resist?
*Mantra (sound/chanting) is used to link information to the flow of prana. Mantra rides prana into the cells of the body. Mantra holds a symbol which links you to a yoga tradition or lineage. 
* Healing begins at the level of the heart.
* "Ask a cancer cell [any disease or injury], 'May I see God expressed there, please?' Look for the Truth, rather than thinking that this is out to get you. If it's God, it can't be against you. 'Thy Will be done' is like the biggest mantra you could . . . 'mantrate'."  ~Erich Schiffman. 
* Embrace and love injury. It is part of you. Not to do this results in "dis-ease." 
* "If [because of injury or illness] you never do downward dog ever again in your whole life, you will not lose anything. If you never do chaturanga for the rest of your life - what will happen? Nothing!" ~ Gary Kraftsow
* Any place you take your mind is where you become masterful.
* What we think, we become.

Spring '03
Whoa, baby!
     When war was imminent, I heard a report of many pregnant Iraqi women choosing to have Cesarean sections, so they wouldn't be faced with labor and delivery during a military attack. As I thought about that, I wondered if caring for a newborn baby while recovering from major surgery during wartime was really preferable to a natural delivery at the time chosen by Nature! Here's a perfect example of how fear can drive us to take drastic measures in an effort to control our fate. Ironically, this fear can also block the intuition that might provide us with the kind of knowledge that helps us make wise decisions regarding an unknown future. For a while I had hoped that maybe our president was really a brilliant strategist in disguise (a very good disguise), and that just in the nick of time he would reveal a masterful plan, an obscenely expensive bluff. It could have happened. (But it didn't) This has been the basis of my day to day hope -'it could happen' - not just in world affairs, but in all my tribulations. I've learned this: To have expectations limits possibilities. 
     In the dreariest of situations, the potential for great, sudden, drastic change is as formidable as in a pregnant woman whose water is about to break. It's seen in the image of the Bagua, the Chinese yin-yang symbol. As yang comes to its fullness it transforms into yin and vice versa. There is always a seed of yang within yin and yin within yang. One does not exist without the other. Change is inevitable. 
     I can see the possibility of peace. I can imagine cultural barriers being bombarded by our shared tragedies. I hope that when this "war" is over, we don't forget to continue to wage the real war that we should be fighting, against our true enemies - ignorance, fear, hatred, lies, separatism, arrogance, greed, blame. Here's the beautiful paradox:        

If these enemies are destroyed, there will be no harm done.

Fall 2003

Judging Mind vs Witness Mind

We can go to a movie and watch suspense, tragedy, drama, all kinds of intensely emotional events, and sit relatively calmly in our seats and call it entertainment. We even pay for it. When the same kinds of events occur in our so-called “real” lives, to ourselves, our friends and families, we call it stress. The practice of developing the “witness self” is honing our skills to watch the drama of our lives with detachment at the same time we are participating in it. 
     The judging mind places a “good” or “bad” value on everything we perceive. Often our stress is exacerbated by the uncertainty of the future. We wonder how long or how much we can endure the bad stuff that's happening. Yet as movie critics we would praise the script that keeps us guessing and then endows us with the gift of the unexpected.
     Even comedy contains elements of tragedy. What's funny about slapstick? We laugh at people getting hurt. In the world of “toons” slapstick is taken to unreal extremes. We laugh at absurd violence and invite children to view with us. Comedians and satirists have defined their art as “tragedy plus time”. Time heals wounds, and healing transforms perception. Or perhaps transformed perception produces healing. Or maybe they are just simultaneous occurrences. At any rate, there would be nothing to laugh about if nothing went “wrong.”
    The judging mind is the default mode of our thinking. It has been programmed into us and therefore requires quite a bit of uninstalling to overcome. Why do we want to overcome it? It can be the source of suffering to believe that life or any part of it is bad. That is not to say it isn't painful, difficult, or tragic, but we don't have to put a negative value on difficult experiences.
        I've been enthralled with the current Harry Potter series and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. On the surface these stories may appear to be about good vs evil. That would be perspective of the judging mind. The witness mind can see the metaphors that abound in these tales. 
     Both heroes in these stories suffer danger, uncertainty, and loss that go on and on. The more they suffer, the more their resolve must grow. Their strength and hidden powers are intrinsic, but not invulnerable. Harry and Frodo have mentors and loyal friends to accompany them on their journey. Both need the support of their allies to fulfill their own destinies, even though they ultimately face their challenges alone. Both possess magical tools that have been bestowed upon them. These are tools that warn them when danger is near or shield them from it, blades or spells that can disarm their enemies, garments that give them protection when worn. Within each hero is the potential to move toward the light or the darkness. 
    We are meant to be the heroes of our own screenplays, not to allow ourselves to become powerless victims of the plot. Yoga puts us in touch with our mentors, our allies, and our magical tools when we see clearly. Judgement clouds perception.
    During yoga practice we have an opportunity to replace judgement with objectivity. The first step is to avoid looking sideways. What another can do or not do does not need to be a reference point for your own ability. There is something your body would like to tell you that has nothing to do with anyone else. It is only about your experience in your body. 
    The second step is to improve and expand your vocabulary. If you're not going to allow the mind to use the lazy descriptions of “that feels good” or “that hurts” you will need to come up with some other adjectives. How about tight, loose, soft, hard, heavy, light, confusing, different, warm, burning, cold, unbalanced, wobbly, disconnected, whole, steady, still, dynamic, wet, dry, slippery, sticky, electrical, sharp, etc. 
    The third step is to understand, love and respect the person in the body that you are witnessing, as your most beloved. This is not ego or vanity. It is true self-esteem.

Spring '04

Right under your nose
      If you have an email address you must know that spam is out of control. Even with multiple filtering systems at many levels, too much still gets through. On the other hand I have received occasional, unexpected and unsolicited gems of wisdom through email because of The Yoga Loft website. One such jewel is the following excerpt from a talk by Mark Whitwell who has written a new book, Yoga of Heart.

     "Yoga in the hands of male Brahmins became an exaggeration as part of their attempt to know God as if God is absent. This aberration has played right into the Western obsession with the outward appearance of things. The idea that spiritual or physical gymnastics are needed only deny the reality of our own wonder already given. Yoga actually is the means by which ordinary men and women can easily absorb the nurturing force of Life freely available to every one. Truth is not something we have to seek out. It is not something absent and far off, requiring great effort to find. Truth is present in you, as you, right here, right now, as the Life that is you.”
(For more from Mark Whitwell visit http://www.heartofyoga.org/contact.html)

      This meshes perfectly with the teachings of Caroline Myss which we have been listening to during our Wednesday evening meditation sessions. Being the relentless teacher that she is, she hammers out of us the misconception that intuition is a talent or a gift that some people have and some people don’t, or even something that one can acquire. She implores us to notice the constant barrage of intuitive information, aka spiritual guidance, that we are receiving through mind, emotions and body. We can’t escape our connection to Spirit. It’s built in. But we have been conditioned to ignore it, rename it, doubt it, dishonor it, deny it or discount it. Maybe because it is so incredibly prevalent we find it hard to believe that such treasures are at our feet. We expect lightning strikes and thunder claps to herald the arrival of something sacred, but both of these teachers emphasize the point that Divinity is not on its way. It’s already here and it’s been here all along. Pay attention!

Spring '05

The Traffic Helicopter

      Life is full of paradox and unexpected turns.  In our Wednesday evening meditation group we have been listening to recordings of Erich Schiffman, a well respected yoga instructor and author of Moving into Stillness .  He presents the following story for your consideration. 

Imagine yourself driving down a long road in wide open spaces.  You can see for many miles, but in the far distance the road curves and leaves your vision.  The road you're on is the shortest and quickest path to your destination, but suddenly a thought pops into your mind to turn off the main road and go the long way.  That not being logical, you decide to stay the course you're on.  What you can't see, is that there is an accident blocking the road just around the curve.  If you were to turn on your car radio, you might tune in to the traffic helicopter above, from which the path around the turn is clearly seen.  The job of the helicopter pilot is to tell you that the detour off the main road is actually the shortest and quickest path to your destination now. 

The thought that popped into your head was a clue to the fact that you are already tuned in to the helicopter pilot.  If you turn the radio on, the reception might be clearer.  Then you may choose which road to take.  Do you trust only what your eyes can see?  Will you follow the guidance from above?

This image is intended to remind you to listen.  Sometimes we're too busy talking to hear.  Sometimes we hear, but ignore.  Sometimes we don't like the message.  Maybe we hope it's wrong.  After all, there are many thoughts bouncing around in our heads.  How do we know if the message is true?  Doubt and fear undermine the process.  But the process is part of our nature.  We are designed for this type of communication.  Erich suggests practicing using this kind of guidance with small, everyday decisions, like "What shirt should I wear?"  "What shall I eat?"  It is wise to start out small and allow yourself to grow gradually.  That is the design of life. 

    You might entertain yourself by counting how many little decisions you can relinquish to inner guidance in a day, in a week.  Then notice how many are inconsequential, or do some make a difference?  There is no "control" group here, so who knows what difference it would have made if you wore the yellow shirt.  But pay attention to unexpected coincidences.  A coincidence signals some kind of connection.  Yoga is all about The Connection. 

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