Yes, But, How Do You Know?

How do we know that we're doing what we're supposed to do? How do we know the right course of action, the right step to take? How do we KNOW that we're on the right path?

I recently had a conversation with a friend in which he asked me how I knew that I was doing what I was supposed to be doing. Well. I kinda just know. I feel it deep in my bones, deep in my gut. I feel continuously pulled toward yoga practice, teaching, studying, understanding. And I've felt it from the very beginning. It only took me one yoga class to know that I wanted to do this. All. The. Time.

So, that's a pretty good indication to me.

 Yes! I'm on the path!

Yes! I'm on the path!

But, there's more. In the past month or so, I've realized that in addition to my own gut feeling about the course of my life, there have been 3 outside influences, specific instances, that gave me the clarity and the motivation to continue along my path. Especially when it was challenging. I'll tell you about them.

It's not super often that we can understand why things are happening when they're happening. Especially! if they're difficult or uncomfortable things. Then we feel especially indignant about understanding them. I think it actually makes us feel better to throw our hands up at the universe and ask "WHY ME?" rather than face the possibility that it's just a step along our path.

When things are going well, it's a little easier to feel that the steps make sense, but even still it can be hard to see clearly.

In my opinion, this is one of the many reasons to note our reactions to the events of our lives. It's also another reason to practice regularly. If you come to the meditation cushion/yoga mat every day, you'll continue to do so even when shit is hitting the fan, even when all the good things are happening, even when you don't feel like it. If you are aware of the typical way in which your mind reacts to "good" events and "bad" events, you can begin to work with your own perspective and letting go of outcomes and offering your work up to something greater than you. But, that's another post entirely.

I am currently co-leading a teacher training program at One Tree Yoga in Omaha. It's been incredibly enriching so far and I am so grateful for the opportunity to pass on the tradition. Our program is very well developed and goes pretty deep compared to many teacher training programs. So, these newbie teachers are just inundated with new information and hopefully a new way of thinking about themselves and how they relate to the world.

This brings me to the first of my 3 experiences which spurred me along on my path. Through this co-leading experience, I'm very aware of how much I've learned in my own yoga path. Like a lot. And when I had just finished my own TT I knew very little. But regardless of my new teacher status, my teacher Theresa Murphy gave me a bunch of her classes to sub, immediately following my graduation. She just handed them off to me and fully trusted me to do a good job and conduct a good class and hold my shit together.

Now, this might not seem like a big deal to some of you, but having seen the state of teachers just coming off a training, I am blown away by her level of trust. And her willingness to give me such a big responsibility with her complete confidence. I absolutely didn't understand the scope of this at the time, but looking back today, I see it as a major stepping stone to where I am today. Major gratitude, T-Love!

The second of my major motivators came from one of my teachers in MPLS. His name is Ben Vincent and if you follow this blog, you've heard me talk about him several times before. His greatest strength, in my mind, is his intellect. He and I teach entirely different styles of yoga asana and so my biggest takeaway from our work together has been in the realm of philosophy. I had the pleasure of taking two courses with him, one on the Bhagavad Gita and the other on the Yoga Sutras. The Bhagavad Gita course was our first encounter. It was a big group, at least 25 people and we would get together once a week to practice meditation and discuss the book. Ben and I, to this point, had almost no personal interaction. Which is why I was incredibly surprised and pleased to receive an email from him one day in which he stated "It is apparent that you are fully ready to receive the Dharma." Done and done. And yes, he talks like that. 

These simple words came at a time when I absolutely needed them. I was working a job that was highly dissatisfying and trying with all my might to be a yoga teacher on the side. I really believe that this motivation from Ben kept me going, feeling like I was on the right path. 

The third actually doubles as a major cue that I was on the right path and the biggest compliment of my entire life. Some of you know this story, but the way that I came back to Omaha was through this compliment. Tias Little of Prajna Yoga in Santa Fe has always been in the periphery of my yoga awareness, but it wasn't until May of 2013 that I really understood his greatness in full when I came back to Omaha to take a weeklong workshop with him. It was swell. Since I knew the owner and the studio manager, I was invited to hang with them throughout the week and had the opportunity to get to actually know Tias and have some conversations with him. Apparently we hit it off.

Next thing I knew, I was back in Austin with a call from Jamie Rye suggesting I come back to Omaha and an email from Tias suggesting I continue study with him. Apparently he orchestrated the push to get me back to Omaha, to my home studio of One Tree Yoga where I am today.

 These two knew. My grandparents wed in the 1940's.  They super loved each other a lot.

These two knew. My grandparents wed in the 1940's. 
They super loved each other a lot.

As these events were occurring there was no way that I could see them for the major stepping stones that they were. In the moment, we can't ever really know how the events of our life will play out, form patterns and shape our existence. But damn if it isn't nice to look back and know that we're doin' alright.

I feel so grateful for the tradition of yoga, the teachers who have and continue to inspire me and the ease of my surety about my path. I know how it feels to not know if you're doing the right thing, which makes it even sweeter when you find your place in the grand scheme of the universe. And it may be fleeting! So you best enjoy it while it's good. Trust your instincts and do what feels right.

Happy practice!

Niyamas

gabriellehopp-niyamas.jpg

Saucha

The second limb on the Raja yoga path is Niyamas. In Bringing Yoga to Life by Donna Farhi, she refers to niyamas as "inner observances" which act as a code for living soulfully. (p. 31)

They can also be considered "individual conduct" as the yamas (the first limb on the 8-limbed path) were defined as "social conduct."

The niyamas in order are:

  1. saucha: cleanliness/purity
  2. santosha: contentment
  3. tapas: austerity/discipline
  4. swadhyaya: study
  5. isvarapranidhana: surrender to the divine

Practicing the niyamas means it's time to turn inward.  Each yama is best begun by looking inward, but with each niyama, the entire practice is about you. It's time here to do some examination of us before we proceed further along the path.

The first niyama, which can be translated as cleanliness and/or purity, is saucha.

These directives, the "to do lists" of the niyamas are truly of an individual nature--no one else can decide for you what it means to live with purity. While there is a hygienic component (a slovenly yogini is certainly not practicing purely) this niyama is about being the best person that you can.

How? I think it's up to us individually to decide.

We have so many choices to make—daily small choices and larger life choices. The options are overwhelming at times—to be a vegetarian or not? To have children or not? To buy organic or not? Why? To drive or take the bus? Etc, etc, ad nauseum.

I think a good practice for ourselves is to daily ask ourselves why we do something a certain way, or why it is that we think a certain thing. This sort of self-questioning is a good way to determine whether or not we are choosing a lifestyle which is to our best benefit. It's also a good way for us to question our own sense of reality. Assuming that everything is real is one of the four flawed perceptions. Can you expand your notion of reality?

We may even want to examine which yoga practice is best for us. For some of us, the practice of yoga asana is not the best way forward. Especially for those of us who have intense injuries or are entering this practice later in our lives--we may want to consider other options—perhaps bhakti yoga, the yoga of devotion or jnana yoga, the yoga of wisdom are better suited to our individual needs.

Start practicing saucha by asking some questions. They don't have to be big, but this daily practice may provide you with the insight you need to live with a pure heart and mind. Choose pathways that will best allow you to actualize your potential for pure consciousness. 

Santosha

The second niyama or individual conduct is also the namesake of this blog—Santosha. If you're curious as to why I chose this as its name, check out the very first post. If you're curious what a niyama could possibly be, check out the first posting on Yamas.

Good? Good.

Okay, here we go.

Santosha can be summed up in a single word--contentment. Not happiness or joy, mind you. But straightforward contentment—not happy, not sad.

In my interpretation of santosha, when we practice the second niyama, we are striving for a sense of peace of mind in each moment. It is absolutely impossible to be happy and joyous at each moment in our lives—we are bound to experience pain and suffering on some level at some time. But through regular practice—daily asana, meditation and whatever other yogic practices move you, we begin to develop the tools to face each challenge of life and remain content in those moments.

This sense of contentment will not come easily. Through years and years of practice, you will begin to see the world with a discerning eye, enough to realize that to experience a moment fully, any moment, you must experience all the joy and pain available in it. And then to take the next step, you can have peace of mind within that moment.

Allow me to offer a daily life example.

Many people dislike their jobs, correct?  But also consider that the daily grind of going to work is a necessary evil to pay the bills, afford a family, etc.

I think that within this negative feeling toward your job, that there is the possibility for contentment, despite the suffering. There is the possibility to slightly shift your perspective to recognize that even though you have aspirations of being something bigger and better in your life, that this present moment experience of your job is a natural stepping stone. Can you try to find some sense of santosha there? Can you try to see the peace available through moment to moment awareness?

How do we practice santosha on the mat/meditation cushion?

I think we have to be content within each practice that we showed up to do the work. Not every asana practice will produce amazing results. At times you will be able to stay in headstand for 5 minutes and at other times, you will fall out on to your back. Sometimes in your meditation, you will easily find single-pointed awareness and sometimes your mind will be a gaggle of monkeys. Can you simultaneously practice non-attachment to the moments that are "good" and contentment with each experience no matter the outcome? This is the beginning of your santosha work. 

Tapas

Tapas the third niyama translates as discipline or austerity, but can be better understood as "heat" or something, the thing, that drives your practice.

The more regularly you practice, the more momentum or heat you are able to create to feed the continuation of your practice.

You practice, you begin to see results.

You practice regularly, your life begins to change.

The benefits of yoga asana practice are many--physically, mentally, emotionally—they are too numerous to list. The benefits of a meditation practice are also many—mental clarity, more level emotional state—again too numerous to create a simple list.

Despite the ability of these disciplines to heal the body, mind and spirit, there is a catch.

Isn't there always a catch?

It is this: in order to achieve the much desired benefits of practice, one must cultivate a regularity of practice. Through this regularity, we can begin to see our own weak spots, the areas of our lives on which we need to focus. If we only practice yoga asana once a week and meditate once a month, we are not exposed to the particulars of our own needs. How can we begin to listen to the focus of our thoughts—which may bring to light our personal samskaras or life patterns—if we don't sit down and do so each day?

Well, simply put, we cannot.

In this lifetime, if you wish to shed light on the true nature of your Self, if you wish to discover the fullness of life available to you (it's in there), come to the mat regularly and come to the meditation cushion even more often.

Nothing that's worth achieving comes easily. But the more consistently you practice, the more tapas you create, the more clarity you will have to see your Self as you really are.

Svadhyaya

Svadhyaya the fourth of five niyamas is the "study of one's self." In Living the Yamas and Niyamas by Aadil Palkhivala, he writes:

As yoga teachers, it's our responsibility to help students develop a practice of constant inner reflection so that they will become aware of the changes that yoga is making. This can be done by asking such questions as, "Why are you here? If you had all the money, all the time, all the energy you wanted, what would you do with your life?" In my teaching, I find that these sorts of questions stimulate the practice of svadhyaya.

When we first begin a yoga practice, there are many overwhelming and potentially confusing new concepts, i.e. "you want me to put my foot where?" and "why are we chanting om?" After a few classes, as we begin to get more comfortable with our teachers and begin to enjoy the after-effects of practice, we may begin to notice a new sense of ourselves that we'd never experienced prior. The sense that we feel more alive, or that we have musculature that we never even knew about. This turning inward and observing your personal growth is the essence of the second niyama. You can even begin your classes by asking yourself, "what did I come here to achieve?" And, any answer is the right one for you today, even if it is six-pack abs or peace of mind. They are all just stepping stones along the path.

In terms of your asana practice, svadhyaya is the part of the practice in which you tune in to what you are feeling. From the observation deck of the mind, you begin practice by sensing—how does your breath feel as you embark upon your practice? What bodily sensations are you experiencing? What is your mental state?

Observe, non-judgmentally, the state of your being prior to practice. And then you continuously check in as you progress. After each pose, come back to your observation tower and have a look. Have you been able to increase the flow of prana? Is your breath calm, steady and deep? Is the body becoming more supple, or are you holding tension? How about your mind? Are you making grocery lists and envying your neighbor's bakasana or can you quiet the ticker tape of the mind and tune into your practice?

In terms of your day-to-day life practice, svadhyaya is put into practice by watching your emotional states. Especially those that are uncomfortable such as anger, shame or sadness. Was it an external force that created your emotional state? If so, in the future, rather than jumping to an increased emotional state, can you begin to step back and observe the situation, observe the activity of the mind before your reactive sense of self (EGO) flies off the handle?

This capability is years in the making—and isn't easy. But the more often you come to the mat and come to the cushion, the more you can "study the self" to be able to soothe your potential reactive mind before it even starts.

This practice of yoga is all about self-transformation--the possibility of waking up to experience the joy of the real you. So quite naturally, you have to take a darn good look at yourself, spend some time with your svadhyaya practice, before you can begin to make true, effective progress.

Ishvara Pranidhana

Yoga Sutra 2.45 states:

samadhi-siddhir-isvara-pranidhanat
Perfection in samadhi arises from dedication to Ishvara

—Ravi Ravindra

or

Samadhi is experienced from surrendering the results of action to and deeply respecting the inner, universal light of knowledge

—Nicolai Bachman

Okay, it's time for me to get real. When I did my first teacher training and we (I hesitate to say studied) learned about the yamas and niyamas I pretty much had no idea what was going on. My head was so far in the asana clouds that I couldn't see much that had to do with yogic philosophy. But! I was always interested. Just more from a distance. I wanted to know about yoga philosophy, but I didn't necessarily want to live it. As time has progressed, I am pleased to say that my perspective has shifted to allow space for a life based in yoga.

gabriellehopp-niyamas

When isvarapranidhana was first explained to me, it was described as "devotion to god." It's a pretty good start, but there is so much more to it. For one thing, isvarapranidhana is part of a three-step process to weaken the kleshas and work toward samadhi. The other two parts are tapas and svadhyaya or the fire created from regular practice and self inquiry; both which are up to you, the practitioner. They are very much something that you have control of, whereas isvarapranidhana is about giving it up to something higher than yourself.

Indians have no problem with this step. They are all about devotion. Where else in the world could you find businesses called "Sri Hanuman Used Tires" or a clothing boutique called "Jaya Laxshmi"? You can't walk a block in India without coming across a statue, burning incense or flowers laid down as puja. It's as though they were put on earth to devote themselves to something greater.

So, that's what Indians do. But it's not necessarily what we as westerners have to do. We are often cynical and jaded about things religious or devotional. I get it! I was raised in a tradition that I no longer practice and have certain angry feelings toward said tradition. Five years ago, I would have been the last person on earth capable of writing a blog post about "devotion to god."

Alright. Here's where it's up for interpretation. 

Ishvara is not necessarily "god" in the traditional sense. It can also be understood as "the universal teacher" or the light within you capable of connecting to the light present in someone else. Or maybe for you it's the "inner teacher"  or personal sense of something more than you. In other words, you can be a practicing atheist and still identify in some regards with ishvara. It certainly won't be in the traditional sense intended, but likely more of a "giving it up to my inner teacher" idea.

Yoga in Action: abhyasa, diligent practice

Daily practice is challenging. Especially if you aren't comfortable with a home practice, have a long commute to and from work, have a regular work-week, have children, etc. Carving out the time to get on the mat and get on the cushion may not fall high on the list of priorities. I feel really grateful to have established my yoga practice at a time when I didn't have a lot of responsibilities and I could make yoga and meditation a daily priority. It just stuck and now it's in there for keeps. 

 Wild Thing. Practice, practice and all is coming.

Wild Thing. Practice, practice and all is coming.

The good thing about coming to practice regularly is that you end up practicing through the ups and downs of life. When you are rooted in a regular routine of morning meditation or evening asana you can't help but do it even when things are really bad, or when things are really good. When I think back over the past decade of my practice, I think of practicing through break-ups, through moves, practicing on vacation, making it to the mat in India, practicing through health issues. And a great thing about the versatility of a yoga practice is that you can always practice something, no matter your state of mind, state of body.

Some days I seriously don't feel like it. And not always, but sometimes, those are the most fruitful days of my practice. 

Now I know that some of you are probably thinking that I obviously practice every day because yoga is my job and that's what I do and so I have to. But it isn't that simple. I think about my personal practice, my personal spiritual quest as somewhat separate from my teaching. I incorporate a lot of my findings into my classes for sure and my training is usually translated right into my teaching. But, my time on my mat and my morning meditation is mine. It's work that I do for me, it's work that I do to actualize my potential, it's work that I do to fulfill my dharma. Being anchored in regular practice is the key for me to living in the middle ground.

In the Yoga Sutras the sanskrit term for diligent, continuous practice is abhyasa. (The following translations and explanations are taken or adapted from Nicolai Bachmann's The Yoga Sutras. It's a great resource with a workbook, flashcards and several cds explaining the philosophical concepts. I would highly recommend it for anyone interested in deepening their understanding of yoga philosophy)

There are several sutras which explore the concept of abhyasa

The most commonly cited is sutra 1.12:

abhyasa vairagyabhyam tat nirodhah
The stilling of the vrtti-s (mind-chatter) is due to diligent practice and vairagya or unattached awareness. 

Sutra 1.13 goes on to further explain abhyasa:

tatra sthitau yatno 'bhyasah
Diligent practice is the effort put forth to maintain a point of focus. 
 Ganesh, rooted in practice as the lord of the root chakra.

Ganesh, rooted in practice as the lord of the root chakra.

Nicholai goes on to list the qualities of a yoga practice that represent abhyasa. They are effort of focusing on a point, over a long period of time, uninterrupted, with sincerity and firmly grounded. The following sutra 1.14 suggests that abhyasa becomes firmly established when pursued with eagerness, sincerity and continuity for a long time. 

Whether it's good news or bad news, there is opportunity to practice yoga all day every day, even when you're not on the mat. The work of the yamas and niyamas is never ending and can be put into action with every interaction with another person, in your daily routine and each time you find yourself aware of your thoughts. 

Mr. Iyengar (R.I.P.) translates abhyasa as practice and about the everyday work of yoga he says:

"I have said that the cure for our inherent flaws lies in sustained practice of the eight petals of yoga (here, understood as the eight limbs). Knowledge of yoga is no substitute for practice. Since the difficulties lie within ourselves, so do the solutions." —Light on Life (pg 94)

And so, we must practice. The more often we confront our difficulties, the more likely we can create solutions to them. If you find yourself struggling to commit to regularity on the mat or the meditation cushion, what can you do to encourage yourself to get there? How can you make greater lasting changes by incorporating your yoga work with regularity?

Awakening to spirituality

I was raised in a faith, 12 years of school in that faith, all the sacraments, all the Sundays at church. And I can see the benefit for my parents to follow this framework. It was what their parents did, it was how they were raised and it made sense to them to continue in the same way. Well, as commonly happens, around the time I was 16, I started to question the faith and why I had so many disagreements with their approach. I eventually denounced my faith, spent a lot of time pondering, experiencing agnosticism and at times even bordered on atheism. I was really turned off by organized religion and felt that I had to make it very clear, very loudly, that I was no longer a practicing member.

 on a blanket in the sun? yes, please.

on a blanket in the sun? yes, please.

It took me nearly a decade to come to the realization that I can be a spiritual person without any religious affiliation. For so many years, I just couldn't separate the idea of divinity/spirituality from that of the rules and dogma present in most of the world's religions. It actually came as quite a relief to discover that I wanted to feel spiritually connected to something and to be able to recognize it as a joyous moment when it occurs. For my whole life, I've felt really deeply moved by classical music. But I didn't ever see it as a divine experience until I could create separation. The same is true of natural beauty. The joy that I experience in the quiet of nature is almost unsurpassed. I now feel a genuine, at times even physical pull toward this depth of feeling.

I was talking to my sweet little sister Laura this weekend and she asked me if yoga was a religion. I think this is a great question. And one that I'm surprised I don't hear more often. There are a lot of aspects of yoga practice that seem well, religious. Chanting at the beginning of class seems a lot like praying, mala beads seem a lot like a rosary, many studios have statues of the Buddha or Hindu deities, there is a whole body of philosophy that goes along with a physical discipline. And I can say from my own experience that it took me several years of asana practice alone before I was even remotely interested in the spirituality/philosophy piece. I think this is one of the brilliant things about a yoga practice—there is always the potential for more depth, more knowledge, more study. And not in a one-dimensional way, in so many ways—physically, mentally, emotionally and spirituality. But everyone must allow this to play out in their own time. I think we become ready to learn the deeper aspects when we're truly ready to be open to them.

 A walk in the woods can deeply connect one to the divine.

A walk in the woods can deeply connect one to the divine.

So, what's the answer? Is yoga a religion?

Yoga is a science. 

The ancient yogis developed yoga practices as tools for enlightenment. Open up the energy channels in the body through asana and pranayama, create vibration and additional energy through chanting and devotional practices and then meditate in a cave in India for 15 years.

Tada! Enlightenment. 

While this level of devotion isn't super practical for most of us in the modern world, we can certainly benefit from these ancient practices in much the same way. Through our asana work, we cultivate sensitivity to our bodies and minds, we begin to tune-in, to awaken essentially. And on a spiritual level, when we are moved by beauty in the world, we can recognize it for what it is.

I think you'd be hard-pressed to find someone who hasn't had a spiritual experience, but many people are uninterested or unwilling to view it in those terms. I think that each time we are moved by beauty, joy, contentment, even sadness; these all have potential for spiritual awareness. Of course some experiences are more intense than others and one can certainly have feelings without it being a divine encounter. But when we feel really deeply about something, when we are really open to the experience of depth, the potential for spiritual connection is present. As with anything, it takes practice to see these experiences for what they are. But with a bit of effort and self-reflection, any one of us can find ourselves on a spiritual journey. 

Yamas

Ahimsa

I've decided to include you all in my own little self-study of the 8-limbed Raja path of yoga. The idea of the Ashtanga (eight-limbs) method is that through devoted practice to the eight steps, the yogi will progress toward the final limb, samadhi, understood as "self-revelation." But of course, there is much work to be done along the way.

The limbs, in order, are:

  1. Yamas: Social Conduct
  2. Niyamas: Individual Conduct
  3. Asana: Posture
  4. Pranayama: Breathing
  5. Pratyahara: Withdrawal of the Senses (beginning stages of meditation)
  6. Dharana: Concentration (also in relation to meditation)
  7. Dhyana: True Meditation
  8. Samadhi: Self-Revelation

There are five Yamas which begin the 8-limbs. They are basically five ways to act in the presence of others. To me, they represent a way to sort of set ones' intentions in a clear and pure direction. They are the "if you can accept these, then you can move on to the next stage" step.

The yamas, in order, are:

  1. Ahimsa: non-violence/non-harming
  2. Satya: truthfulness
  3. Asteya: non-stealing
  4. Brachmacharya: moderation
  5. Aparigraha: non-attachment

Today, I want to do a little exploration around Ahimsa or non-harming. Whenever I think of the first Yama I think of the lesson told to me by my teacher, Theresa Murphy. She is brilliant when it comes to putting knowledge of the 8-limbed path into practice on the mat. Although the Yamas are in reference to social conduct, certainly, you must be able to apply them to yourself first. In Theresa's lesson, one needs to consider acting with non-violence not only toward others, but toward oneself, especially when it comes to yoga asana. 

In the class setting, we often try to push ourselves further than our bodies want to go or are prepared to go. Maybe we are trying to impress our teacher or others or maybe we feel a sense of peer-pressure to look as good as our neighbor does in their pose. In practicing ahimsa on the mat, you respect your limits and abilities by avoiding harmful behaviors which could lead to injury.

In the social context of ahimsa how do we act non-violently, or non-harmfully toward others? Seems like a no-brainer, right? Treat others with kindness, compassion, and love.

Easy to say. Not always so easy to fulfill. It is common to become annoyed or angry with others due to the wide-range of personalities out there and the regularity with which we interact with people. Even those who we choose to spend our time with can anger or annoy us, leading us to act in a harmful way.

What steps can we take to prepare ourselves to act regularly in a non-harmful way?

I like Donna Farhi's perspective on the first yama. In Bringing Yoga to Life on page 30, she says,

"When we feel connected to others, we find that we are naturally compassionate, ahimsa, and that the first yama, "not-harming" is not something we strive to be but something that we are. We see the essence of ourselves in the other and realize that the tenderness and forgiveness we so wish to have extended toward us is something that all humans long for."

Okay. So maybe the first step of the first yama is (again) beginning with our own selves, actually recognizing our own humanity. Recognizing our own desire to be treated non-harmfully and without violence. Calls to mind the old adage to treat others the way you'd like to be treated. Understanding that we ourselves should prefer love, compassion, and kindness over hate, misunderstanding and meanness is a great way to prepare ourselves to act accordingly when we go out into the world.

Now the hard part. Acting with ahimsa toward those whom we love. They are (almost) always the recipients of our anger because we spend more time with them and we know that they will love us even when we are cruel to them. How do we avoid funneling our harmful thoughts and actions toward them? I can think of a few ways, but surely they are boundless:

1. Thinking before you speak.

My mother used to suggest this to me all the time. And I finally just decided that she's right. Before something unproductive and harmful comes out of your mouth, taking a moment to reflect on its possible damaging effects. And then stopping yourself if it's bound to do more harm than good.

2. Consider how you would feel if the roles were reversed.

Putting yourself in the others situation and trying to understand their perspective and reason for action before acting hurtfully yourself.

3. Breathe.

Sometimes when we are going to say something negative or hurtful, the best way to avoid it is to breathe deeply and count to ten. Perhaps by the time you get to ten, you will have thought about what you were going to say before you say it and you may also have considered the reversal of roles.

So, maybe as you move through your week, thinking about ahimsa and how to put the philosophy into action. Perhaps each time before you are about to act in a harmful way (be it towards yourself or another) you can stop yourself and consider the possibility of acting more kindly. And with each time you do so, making it more habitual and more likely that you will live with love in your heart.

Satya

The second of five yamas is Satya which translates as truth or truthfulness. (For a refresher on the limbs of the eight-fold path or all five yamas, you can refer to the last post: Yamas: Ahimsa) Ah, the notion of truth. A sticky subject in my opinion. I suppose I should start by trying to define truth. Is it non-lying? Complete honesty? Certainty?

I think non-lying is a good place to start. So, what does that mean?

As I touched upon with ahimsa, although the yamas are considered "outward observances" or social conduct, they must inherently begin with the self.

How?

So, not lying to ourselves about our intentions, our capabilities, our dharma. Not only not lying, but also recognizing our full potential as an aspect of truth. And knowing what it is that we desire out of situations and people; which is more easily obtainable if we are truly knowledgeable about ourselves to begin with. And also knowing the limits of our abilities and knowing when we've given our best and when to cease.

Okay, let's simplify. The yama of satya begins with us.

We must first come into an understanding of ourselves about our true nature. In other words, we need to get to know ourselves. Some of us have no problem with this initial step, while for others it's easy to avoid addressing the issue by being caught up in daily life, watching TV, surfing the internet, etc.

An easy place to begin the practice is on the yoga mat! We can use our asana practice to gain awareness of everything, but especially of ourselves. The physical practice of yoga is the perfect platform on which we can begin to grasp a sense of Self.

If we don't know us, how can we be held accountable for our actions? Judith Lasater actually talks about integrity as element of truth. To her, integrity is internal honesty--the idea that you wouldn't do something harmful even you were the only one to know about it. (Living Your Yoga p. 124) I think I have to agree that integrity can act as a self-test for whether or not we have established satya within ourselves.

Once this initial step is taken, when we can firmly grasp at least some truth about ourselves, then we can take the next step and bring the satya into our daily lives.

This part of it seems much easier to me because of its literal social implications. Socially, we tend to all (mostly) know that it's better to tell the truth than to lie. Even little white lies can be damaging. And sometimes this means saying things that don't want to be heard.

But this does not mean saying things that are intentionally damaging!! I think we've all been in situations in which we are fully aware that what we are about to say will be hurtful, but we do it anyway. But speaking our minds honestly is a great way to develop satya in social situations.

By acting honestly in each of our interactions and relationships, we create a solid base from which to grow most functionally. When we lie, we create separation between ourselves and others, potentially damaging our relationships with them.

How can we apply satya to our practice on the mat?

Knowing our physical limits and understanding the truth of pain vs. non-pain. Despite whatever it is that your neighbor is doing or that your teacher is requesting of you, you are remaining true to your physical capabilities and not pushing yourself to injury.

Another truthfulness practice is knowing why you are in class. What is it that you are there to achieve? You can work on this by setting an intention for your practice (however small) and sticking with it throughout your time on the mat.

One final satya practice is recognizing the broader scheme of Yoga. This one can be hard for new practitioners and those who feel that they attend class to work out. Understandable in the first few years of practice. But eventually, if you are acting from a place of truth, you must reconcile the work on the mat with the greater goal of Self-realization.

There is one final thing to say. The word satya literally translates as "actively becoming the truth of the Universe." (Lasater p. 124)

Wow. Something for which we truly can aspire.

Asteya

I have been stuck for the last couple of weeks thinking about asteya, the third of five yamas. I was steadily humming along writing easily once a week until I bumped up against asteya, and haven't been able to drag myself to the computer to hammer out some specific ideas until now. So, I guess I can't promise any specific ideas--I feel as much in the dark as I did two weeks ago.

I wonder if my problem is that I'm trying to find some hidden meaning in the literal translation of asteya. In English it translates to non-stealing. That being stated, I suppose that it can most easily be understood as not taking what does not belong to you. Or to avoid the double negative, taking only what is rightfully yours.

Much like the first two yamas (for an in-depth explanation, see the previous two posts) despite the social connotation of non-stealing, the third yama must originate with us, with the self. How then can we avoid stealing from ourselves?

The most obvious things that come to my mind are things like getting enough sleep, eating properly, not smoking and drinking too much, and getting proper physical exercise. But those things make me sound like a 1950s government health announcement. And, for students of yoga, even beginning ones, they should be understood as necessary to a balanced life and practiced regularly.

What are some ways that we can avoid stealing from us on the yoga mat? Or in other words, how can we practice asteya and give to ourselves rather than take from ourselves when we are practicing?

Here are a few of my ideas:

Link the breath with each movement.

I see so many students struggle through postures trying to find the deepest expression of a pose while all the while holding their breath or gasping for air. The practice of yoga is about gaining awareness and consciousness while on the mat. When practiced properly with breath supporting body and body supporting mind, yoga can be very soothing for the neural system and should serve to energize you. Forcing yourself to go too far in a pose and struggling for comfortable breathing as a result is simply a disservice to the self. One which could even be considered a form of stealing. So, BREATHE! Make it smooth, even, and comfortable. And if you're not in the greatest yoga pose ever seen, at least you'll be making progress, rather than hindering your journey.

Try to stay present in the moment.

Unless we are consciously working on present moment awareness through a meditation practice, our minds are generally humming along at a million miles a minute. Our lives are regularly narrated by our constant barrage of thoughts. When we come to a yoga class, we are often looking for a refuge from the outside world; a place in which we can relax the body and mind and "escape" from what lies beyond the edges of our mat.  When you're on the mat in a classroom setting or in your home practice, try to avoid "escaping" from your current task at hand. Rather, enrich your moment by being hyper-aware of your body, breath, and surroundings. The practice of yoga is really a training for Self-discovery, so use your time on the mat as such.

Know your limits.

This is as much for me as it is for you. As a fellow-human being I am regularly subject to all the issues that I boss you around about on this blog. Just like the rest of you, I also desire to strike my very best pose and make big leaps quickly in my physical practice. But the practice of yoga asana is not a practice of quick rewards. As mentioned in the previous point, this time on the mat is training time, practice time for progress on the yogic path. Injury and pain is the result of trying to move too quickly toward asana achievement. In the end (now!) you will be best served to treat your body with respect and keep your practice pain free.

So, while I can't say that I solved any mysteries about asteya, I will say that I feel more comfortable with my understanding of it. To sum it all up, I think asteya is about following your body, mind and spirit toward the positive and toward ways in which you can give rather than take. And let it begin with you and naturally it will move outward to positively (hopefully) effect others.

Brahmacarya

Everything in moderation is the universal truth that accurately describes the goal behind the fourth yama Brahmacarya. I have heard specifics about to what specifically one should be applying the principles of moderation, but I don't personally find them individually important. The key to this broad understanding of the fourth yama is as easy as it sounds. In everything in your life—work, food, exercise, meditation, talking, shopping—practice moderation.

It's so simple right? We all know what is an appropriate amount of food for dinner, versus the heaping plate of pasta which so tempts us. That one's a no-brainer, because when we overdo it, we immediately feel the effects in the form of an upset stomach. When we over-indulge in exercise, our body becomes physically taxed. Et cetera. In Meditations From the Mat Rolf Gates describes this phenomenon well in his chapter on yamas. He says:

"There is the middle of the road and while on it we experience "knowledge, vigor, valor, and energy." If we indulge in immoderation, though, even for a moment, we immediately embark on another set of experiences-- namely, guilt, remorse, obsessive worry, inertia. It is really that simple." (p. 56)

I do consider this understanding of brahmacarya to be totally valid and not only that, completely comprehensible to everyone. But, I think there is more. I think that there are several layers of depth to the true brahmacarya. I have heard another simple description of this yama, which explains it essentially as "conservation of one's individual essence."  Which is like moderation from a different angle.

How to describe it?

  • It is not giving too much of the self away, and equally not taking too much from others.
  • It is understanding one's mind and the nature of the mind, and then acting accordingly.
  • It is determining one's dharma, the overriding purpose of why we are here, and then pursuing it.
  • It is practicing everything, and I mean everything from a place of love in one's heart.

How to practice it in everyday life?

Practice yoga! The true meaning behind the practice of yoga is self-realization. It all starts and ends with the self. Maybe the first years are mired in physically practice (asana) only, but that's okay! The important piece is that you are here on your mat, not running on the treadmill, and that there's a reason that you're consistently drawn back to the practice on the mat.

Furthermore, live out your days—your time at work, eating, sleeping, reading—practicing yoga. Practice the yamas and niyamas (I'll get there someday, I swear!) in all that you do. Set aside some time to meditate even if it's just a few moments a month, begin to cultivate the notion of quieting your mind. 

How to practice brahmacarya on the mat?

Practice with love. While we all want to have rockin' bods, there is no need to overdo your asana practice. Trust me, I'm as guilty of this as anyone. I love to push myself physically and am as competitive as the next guy. But we are not here practicing yoga in order to be bootylicious. We practice as part of a comprehensive plan to understand fully the Self.

And as with anything in life, your heart will tell you when you are practicing brahmacarya accurately. And when your essence is fully in balance you will know because you will shine.

Aparigraha

Here in the West, we should want for nothing. Most of us have ample food, housing, clothing and means of transportation, but it is somehow never enough. We spend our days thinking about what we "need" in order to make our lives better, more livable. If I only had _______ then my life would be better. You can insert material possessions, emotions, knowledge, a better yoga practice; there's always something

On and on. Day in, day out.

The fifth and final yama is aparigraga which can be translated as non-attachment and also non-covetousness. If any of us take a moment of repose to ponder why exactly we want whatever it is that we want, it's often to fill a need other than that which the object serves. If we ponder why it is that we're attached to something, it is often out of fear of losing it. And through that loss, a void will form which we'll be unable to fill.

Now, I'm not talking about specific things that we need to function in day-to-day life--food, shelter--or things that serve a purpose--cars, computers--but rather the constant need to consume. The ever-present void that we feel unless we're obtaining something. Again, that notion that something will be the tipping point between our lives of suffering and a life in which we are fully alive. And then we tend to cling to those things, as though they are the engine that keeps us going.

In action, Aparigraha gives us the opportunity to work on "letting go" while simultaneously trying to squelch the fires of desire.  As in the previous four yamas, a fantastic place to start is with the self. Take a little inventory and note your desires. Not your life goals, but the things which you covet. Good examples are power, a better body, money, a stronger yoga practice, people, etc. And then a good practice is to notice how much of the time your mind is consumed by thoughts of these possessions or attachments. How much of your time is spent desiring a different life than the one that you have or clinging to the life that you "have"?

How are we going to stop suffering in attachment and desire in this life and simultaneously start living?

Well, I don't know. I mean, I have a few ideas, which I'll share, but I won't pretend to have life figured out. I'm just as much on the path as the next guy.

But here goes. Desire is often rooted in fear. Attachment is also rooted in fear. We are often attached to notions that we have of ourselves. The ego (ahamkara) is strong and loud. It takes lifetimes of practice to quiet its yearnings. Now is as good a time as any to begin.

On the mat, notice your tendency to cling to one style, one teacher, or even your ability to do a pose. Take a note of these attachments and try to use aparigraha to let go. In your life, notice your tendency to cling to people, possessions, money, and power. Why? What is the root of these attachments? Maybe even take some time to consider what would happen if they went away—people will die, money will run out, power will fade, possessions will turn to carbon...with each contemplation, note your reaction. Can you begin to ease your grip on these things?

The ultimate goal of a yoga practice is to let go of the false self and realize the true Self. I have talked much about this in previous posts—about the 8-limbed path of Raja yoga and it's ultimate goal of Self-revelation. Aparigraha is just one step along the way, one which isn't going to be easy—attachment and desire are deep-seated—but one which we must take if we are to make it to the end.

Satya: Tell It Like it Is

As a way of introduction, allow me just say that I am currently in the dating pool and it has been a very, um, interesting experience thus far.

There are some challenging aspects to putting yourself out there: nerves about meeting new people, having awkward encounters with them, the potential for rejection. But the real difficulty for me in this experience has been consistent with just about every one of my potential suitors. People really don't like to tell it like it is. Especially guys who don't want to screw up the possibility of maybe some day getting into your pants (sorry mom!).

 Moose, the cat, who tells me no lies.

Moose, the cat, who tells me no lies.

It's really difficult to be forthcoming with your feelings. This I know. We are all concerned with not hurting feelings and trying to let people down easy. It feels yucky to be rejected and our awareness of that feeling can keep us from presenting information clearly.

But. Wouldn't it be more kind if we were upfront with our feelings? In relationships with people, romantic or otherwise, we have to be able to trust their words in order to have open and honest interactions. We also create expectations for people around what they tell us. Whether for good or bad, we tend to choose our activities, think our thoughts, and live our lives around our interactions with others. When someone is unclear or untrue in their communication, it's quite challenging to know how best to proceed. It doesn't require brutal honesty or unkindness, but maybe just letting someone know that you'd rather be friends, or even that you really like them would make life easier in the long run. Plus, when we can tell the full story, it means that we no longer have to worry about it. It's often a load off of our chests to let someone know how we truly feel. 

My grandmother, who you may remember from previous posts, is a big proponent of The Four Agreements. One of the agreements is to "use your impeccable word." Impeccable. As in true, with integrity, honest, open. In the yogic tradition, the word for truth is satya and it's one of the yamas or the outer observances of practice. It's essentially the second rule of thumb for how to treat others.

Sutra 2.36 says

satya-pratistayam kriya-phala-asrayatvam
When one abides in truthfulness, actions result in their desired end

So, if we truly mean the words that we say, if they are actually our intentions, the likelihood of them coming true is high. Nicolai Bachman says it like this:

Satya also involves a high degree of responsibility and follow-through. If we give our word that we will do something, then it becomes our responsibility to finish it. Following through on commitments develops confidence in ourselves and others that we will do what we say. If we think one thing and say another, the energy becomes diffracted and much less potent. When all three energies are the same, they are focused like a laser beam and the intention is much more likely to come true. (The Yoga Sutras, pg. 108)
 Non-harming through truth-telling. How sweet.

Non-harming through truth-telling. How sweet.

How would our lives be different if we were more careful with our words? If we could be honest and open and upfront about our intentions with other people? I understand that at times we feel that we're protecting them from pain or shielding them from the suffering that may result from the truth, but is that truly kind? Wouldn't we be practicing ahimsa, non-harming, in the fullest way possible if we told the whole story? Can we tell it like it is?

Yoga in Action: Loving You First

Perhaps it's self-imposed, but I commonly sense that other people think of my yoga practice, or yoga practice in general, as very selfish. And to a point, it sort of is. It's certainly self-involved; I would even argue that yoga is the study of the self, it takes up large chunks of time, and typically your practice isn't really a group thing. Sure, you go to class and see your friends and fellow practitioners, but ultimately you're there to dig into you. And then hopefully, you can take that work out into the world. (That seems to be a message in every single one of my posts, huh?)

In one of my favorite books on yoga, Awake in the World, author Michael Stone puts it this way:

Yoga reawakens ones connection with the whole body and mind and in so doing restores pathways of communication at an inner level that then begin to spread out into the interpersonal world as well. When we are safe in our own bodies, we have a ground from which to step out into the world. (p. 155)

And I wonder, how else are you going to get to know yourself? To really begin to understand the inner workings of the mind, you have to go deep. You gotta really go inward and get really quiet and listen, listen, listen, and do that again and again and again. And then you might, just maybe, possibly catch the tiniest glimpse into your true nature. Your capital S Self, if you will.

Okay, that's all well and good, but take caution. You come to know yourself through svadhyaya or self-study, but hopefully we can use that self-awareness to be part of the greater whole. We get into trouble when we think of ourselves as separate from the rest of humanity.

Again, Michael Stone:

We are not in any way separate from anything else. Ocean cliffs get hammered by the wind, falling rain is eventually pulled back into cloud, and the ego is always traumatized by the flux of life. When we are stuck in the framework of a "me" and a "world out there" or a "me" in a body in a world, we alienate our "selves" from the world. Self apart from the world is a mere abstraction because we are not inherently separate from anything. (p.23)
 Makin' myself the Number One love.

Makin' myself the Number One love.

Alright, so we've got a few things going on. Through the practice of yoga, we study ourselves and become aware of our habitual patterns of thought, our reactionary tendencies, and the intense hold of our ego on our own minds. Then, (probably many years later) once you are armed with your Self-knowledge, you can start to break down the barriers of the mind which see the self as separate from the rest of humanity. Everyone has the same (to borrow a term from sanskrit scholar Nicolai Bachman) inner light of awareness and ultimately we're all just trying to be happy. Or perhaps more importantly, we're trying to have santosha (contentment). 

Which brings me to my point, the reason I'm writing this post.

Only you can make you happy. When we rely on other people (spouses, children, boyfriends, friends) to create our happiness, we run into trouble. It might work for a bit. We can certainly feel joy and love in the presence of others, but to rely on that feeling, to need the presence of another person to feel it sets us up for future pain. Because then when things change, as they inevitably will (the world and all its creatures are in a constant state of flux) suffering results. 

When we can take refuge and root into ourselves, while we will evolve and change in time, we are present for that change. If you can be comfortable with all your quirks, if you can accept your humanity, if you can love you, you'll have the foundation for a life of contentment. Which is not to say that there won't be suffering, but when it occurs, you will be both your anchor and your guiding light to joy again.

Okay great! Let's do it, right? Well, how?

Like pretty much all the posts on this blog, it's easier said than done! If it was so easy to love ourselves, there wouldn't be nearly the heartache and pain and struggle that exists in the world. But I know it's possible! We have to practice acceptance. We have to be as kind to ourselves as we would to another being. We have to offer ourselves compassion for our failures and missteps. We have to acknowledge our shortcomings and try to be better. Put your lovin' kindness into you first. If you can be happy and content, you'll project that action out into the world.

What are some of your ideas? How do you practice self love?

Cultivating the Opposite

Last night, I had dinner with my Grams who's 91 years old. She is fortunate to still be completely sound of mind and fully capable mentally, spiritually and emotionally. She looks to many sources for her spiritual growth and guidance included the Catholic church (she's big on JC), Judge Judy and Deepak Chopra. She reads every book that she can get her hands on that centers around positive thought. She does the work for herself first. But she also wants you to do the work too. For yourself. Last night, the plan was to manifest me a husband through a writing exercise from a book called Write it Down, Make it Happen. For her, every opportunity for practicing positivity and impeccable speech (from The Four Agreements) is worthwhile for improving her life and the lives of those around her.

 Gramma Jamma

Gramma Jamma

In our chat, we were discussing the inevitable "mind loop" that occurs when something bad happens. More specifically when someone does you wrong. We can't help but go over and over the same damn scenario in a million different ways to try and figure out what went wrong, what we could have done differently, what the other person should have done, what we would say to them if we saw them today, etc.

What we both recognize is that these thought processes are a waste of time. Maybe not at first while you're hashing out your feelings and gaining clarity into the full-scope of the situation. But eventually, once it becomes obsessive and we begin to grip and grasp it for all that it's got, it's time to change tactics.

The Yoga Sutras offers an absolutely precise and clear solution to the problem of the "mind loop."

2.33 vitarka badhane pratipaksha bhavanam
When difficult thoughts restrict us, we can cultivate opposite ones.

Okay. Easy enough, yeah?

Well....maybe not the easiest. I think this is a practice that you work your way up to. The first step to retraining the mind is to be aware

I try to remind my yoga students that the initial stages of yoga are really about creating body and mind awareness in a new way. We have to first create new neural pathways to see things and then see things as they truly are so that we can approach them with clarity and insight. In yoga asana you have to recognize the body's defects and differences from one side to the next and where you are stuck and where you are too open and how your body moves. In that way you can approach physical practice safely and for your specific bodily needs.

In meditation and matters of the mind, you first become aware of the frequent thought patterns that you're prone to, the mind loops that you tend to get in, and when and how often you find yourself thinking negatively. If you kept a tally throughout a single day of all the times you had a negative thought, how many would it be? 5 or 500? If you were aware of an excessive amount of negative thoughts, would you want to change it?

Armed with your new-found self-awareness, you can (hopefully) see the areas which need attention.

 just cultivating the opposite over here.

just cultivating the opposite over here.

For me, it pretty much always comes back to the mind-junk. The mind loops of 'what if' and 'why didn't I' and 'how could I have' etc. My work is to cultivate the opposite. What did I do right? In what ways did I display integrity in the face of challenges? Was I able to act with kindness and compassion, even though I probably didn't want to?

When things don't go my way, my work is to first change my perspective and hopefully through that effort begin to plant new seeds (remember that work?) for positive thoughts.

And like anything else in life, the more often you practice, the more it becomes easily accessible. If you can cultivate the opposite one difficult thought at a time, eventually it will become a part of your routine.

Holding Yourself Accountable

In my opinion, one of the biggest challenges in our day-to-day lives is holding ourselves accountable. It's pretty easy to talk a big game about ways that we are going to improve ourselves, how we are going to be better, resolutions, etc. but in truth it's really really challenging to actually follow through. I don't think that anyone wants to over-eat, watch TV all night and not be physically fit, but it can be easier to let yourself off the hook than to actually do the work.

If you have made the decision to live yogically, you pretty much have no choice but to hold yourself accountable. A big part of the day-to-day work is the discipline that it takes to get yourself to your mat and cushion on the regs. The more often you can make it there and do the work, the more you will build tapas, one of the components of kriya yoga. Through practicing again and again, we build tapas which is an internal heat. Essentially you "stoke" the fire within which hopefully keeps you coming back to practice again and again. 

If you are not a regular practitioner of yoga, it is still important to hold yourself accountable for things that you say you are going to do. How many times a day or a week do we say we are going to do something and do exactly the opposite or a half-assed job? It's hard to put forth the effort that is required to achieve our goals and aspirations. There is no question about that in my mind. But the more often you plan to do something and don't actually take the steps to follow through on it, the more challenging it will be the next time for you to keep your promise to yourself.

 You know darn well that you have to come back up.

You know darn well that you have to come back up.

And then, there is the issue of holding yourself accountable for things you promise to other people. Be it your spouse, your children, someone you just started dating, or your yoga students, it is absolutely integral to honoring your own inner light of awareness to actually do the things that you say. For instance, with your yoga students, are you expecting them to attend 3 to 4 classes a week but not practicing regularly yourself? Are you telling your children or your spouse that you're going to make more time for them and then filling in that timeslot with other less important life events? When we say one thing and do another, we set a precedent for others to follow our lead. By actually remaining true to our word, we are establishing a foundation in truth. This good example will hopefully lead to continued true behavior.

If you are reading this and you think that I am talking to you specifically, I am not. But it seems that way, right? It's because we all do this. We all make greater promises and than we can keep. So, how can we do better?

For one, I think we need to lessen our expectations of ourselves. Not that we need to dream smaller or aspire less, but we need to make more realistic goals that have actually achievable outcomes. We also need to not get down on ourselves for minor deviations from the path. Shit occasionally goes awry and it's our job to recognize when we've strayed and come back to the straight and narrow.

For another, we need to just follow through.  Most especially when it's challenging and we don't want to, that's the time that we need to put on the heat and make ourselves act. This way the next time will be much less difficult.

We also need to celebrate when we do accomplish what we set out to achieve. However small, if you plan an action and make it happen, it is worth your while to recognize your work.

See if you can begin on a small scale. Follow through on several small projects/ideas and take note of how it feels. And then build from there. Happy practice!

Operating on a positive plane

I was talking the other day with my pal and boss Jamie about the poisonous effects of gossip. Everyone seems to do it. Whenever I meet someone who isn't a shit-talker, it stands out in my mind. Like, I am surprised and impressed by their ability to refrain from negativity.

When you spend any amount of time with someone who has a negative outlook/talks shit/can't find positivity in anything it sucks. It's actually kind of the worst.

 say nice things, y'all

say nice things, y'all

And I'm not saying that everyone has to be always super-bubbly and warm and kind (though it sure would be nice), but I think we would all be happier if we kept our mouths shut when we didn't have anything good to say. And said nice things about people when we did.

If you are unhappy with someone/something that happened, there is a natural tendency to look for a commiserator in your misery. Telling someone else who agrees with us makes us feel better. But does it? I am starting to think that it actually feels really gross. And unkind. And hurtful.

I am reading Christina Sell's book My Body is a Temple. I had the super fortune to study with her in Austin, TX for a few months. She's been through some serious stuff and has come out with a gorgeous positive perspective on the experience of being alive. At the end of each chapter in the book, there are journaling exercises and one chapter in particular is a personal study in the yamas and niyama.

The yamas  are social observances, ways that you should practice interacting with others and with the world around you. The niyamas are personal observances pertaining to your individual internal thoughts/actions. If you are interested in an in-depth look at all 10 of them click on the link in the text.

So, for each of the observances, she poses 5 questions for you to consider and write about. They are:

  1. What does (yama/niyama) mean?
  2. What does (yama/niyama) mean to you?
  3. In what ways do you violate the spirit of (yama/niyama)?
  4. What areas of your life could benefit from the consistent application of (yama/niyama)?
  5. How might you practice (yama/niyama) in these areas?

I love this kind of work. You have the opportunity to choose to be thoughtful about all your actions/reactions toward others AND toward yourself. And if you really want to do the hard work, you can look deep inside yourself for true answers, even if they aren't always the ones we want to have.

I have found through my own work on these questions that a consistent difficulty for me is in the realm of gossip. I don't like to do it, it makes me feel terrible. Yet I find myself again and again in situations where it's happening and I'm involved. Maybe I'm not saying anything, but I'm also not shutting it down.

What to do?

 

 the path of yoga is often an uphill battle

the path of yoga is often an uphill battle

A simple practice that I do all the time is one of shifting perspective. Whenever I have a negative interaction or feel some troubling emotion about a person or situation, I try to turn it around to see their perspective. I know I've mentioned this many times before in this blog and it is truly transformational work. It can be maddening at times, but it almost without fail makes me feel better every time. And it saves me the vast amount of energy that we can potentially expel by having a negative response.

Something else I've been trying out is to say nice things about whomever is being gossiped about. Mentioning their good points and doing so with compassion usually works to diffuse the negative speak and change the subject.

Life is a work in progress. Mistakes are consistently made along this path and our work is to be aware of them and try to be better next time.

Lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu.
May all beings be happy and free from suffering.

Giving it Up to the Universe

When we were little, our dad always told us that we had to give up all of our goals to the universe. You can really really really want something, but you have to hand it off to the cosmos to take care of. In other words, you have to let the vice grip of your yearning heart and mind relax. You have to soften and settle around your goal. After you've set your intention, it's no longer in your control. It's under the control of the universe.

I go in and out of remembering the work that my dad gave us as children. He always had some project or energy-focused activity for us to increase our positive output into the world. This idea of letting go of intentions and offering them up to a higher power has just surfaced back into my consciousness.

I just finished How Yoga Works by Gesne Michael Roach. It's a fictional story which outlines the Tibetan tradition of yoga and how it came to India centuries ago. The technical lingo is a bit challenging at times in the book, but the takeaway is essentially simple. In the book, the work of the characters is to "plant good seeds." First they learn the physical practice of yoga to open up their energy channels and then they remove negative energy from the channels by sending out good vibes to the universe for all the people that they know. And from there, their work is to always act in a manner that will "plant good seeds" for growing future good things. They essentially learn how to be good people by never lying, keeping themselves and their surroundings clean, wanting happiness for others, thinking before they speak, etc.

And so, by planting good seeds, you set the groundwork for good things to happen for you. Which means that when bad things happen, that you planted the negative seed at some point earlier in your life. It's a little bit like the Americanized notion of karma, but what it really boils down to is that you are completely responsible for making your own future outcomes. And if you want them to be good ones, you better plant the sweetest, most fertile seeds.

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I have been thinking about this work so much lately. What can I do to plant better seeds? How can I have intentions and goals that I can just offer up to the universe? Can I plant enough good seeds in my life that I can let go of attachment to future outcomes and know that I've done the work to make my dreams come true?

I'd like to think that I manifested my biggest life goal earlier this year. I had spent years and years wanting nothing more than to be a full-time yoga teacher. I thought about it constantly. I schemed plenty of crazy ideas for how to do it. But it just wasn't happening. I was still slogging along, waiting tables to pay rent so that I could teach yoga on the side. I certainly wasn't happy with the arrangement, but I didn't know how to change it.

At some point last year, I sort of stopped worrying about it so much. I inadvertently forgot to grip so hard on being a yoga teacher. I got pretty comfortable with waiting tables so that I could teach yoga. I settled in to the reality of my situation and tried to make the best of it.

And then.....

Seemingly out of the blue, I was offered a gig. It involved moving back to my hometown. I was skeptical. I had finally settled into my life as it was, you know?

I mulled it over for a long time. I talked to everyone who I love and trust for their opinions. I weighed the pros and cons. And I accepted.

Originally, it was just another part time situation, but in an established studio. But as time unfolded prior to my moving back, the job became even better. It became full time. The thing that I wanted more than anything. It just happened. But did it just happen? Was it my previous work that allowed it to come to fruition?

And just for the record, it's the total best. It is literally my dream job. I am living out my dreams. And now, onto the next manifestation....