Monday, September 22, 2008

Spiritual Growth - The private relationship between you and God

GOD: Now there's a loaded word! If you want to see an argument break loss bring up religion or politics.
My relationship with this label has had its ups and downs over the years, but in the end it's just a word. Stick in any combination of sounds that works for you, be that Universal Consciousness, Higher Self, Jesus, Buddha, etc. What's important is NOT what you call it; rather that you understand that I'm referring to the part of you that is within and beyond--a calm and peaceful place void of ego. This is what I'll call Spiritual Source--I could just as well call it Buga-Buga, but to avoid too much silliness, we'll stick with Spiritual Source.
Dr. Douglas Brooks shared a story about three years ago at a yoga teacher training in Massachusetts saying that his teacher "never shared his spiritual beliefs with his family. Not even his wife." Yet, this master spoke of his private practices with Dr. Brooks. This is because Douglas asked. The Indian culture was set up in such a way that
one's spiritual life was private but not secret.
This concept aligned deeply within me. As soon as one is off yakking about their beliefs to others the ego (or attachment) gets involved, and in a severe case people are attempting to shove their beliefs onto others. Did you ever have someone ring your doorbell over dinner to tell you about "their God?" Oh, pleeeeease! These are total strangers invading someone's home-time to push ideas. Tell me that's not ego driven.
As a teacher of yoga, which is by definition a spiritual practice, it is the teacher's responsibility to guide others spirituality. This is not to be confused with religion--the rituals and traditions. This is about helping others to experience for themselves what Spiritual Source is for them. In a class or in the student-teacher relationship, this is part of the agreement. However, this does not give the yoga teacher license to even attempt to guide those that do not want guidance. It took me almost seven years to understand that when I tried to help my sister with issues by providing my outlook on Life, I only drove her farther away; she hadn't asked for spiritual guidance, she had only wanted a listening ear.
Dr. Wayne Dyer, one of America's great spiritual leaders today, reminds us again and again to stay private and keep your relationship with Spiritual Source sacred and just within your own heart. I've never quite gotten this, until last Friday. Why not share your profound inspirations with a close loved one? I'm not talking about knocking on doors and telling my neighbors--who quite frankly could care less. I'm talking about expressing the excitement of spiritual growth with your most intimate partner.
Well, I did this last week and awoke the next day in doubt--the thinking mind had stepped in. I believe this is why Dr. Dyer advises so strongly to keep your personal spiritual path just that--personal. No words can accurately describe the spiritual realm. Language can point to it, but not fully explain it. So the simple act of attempting to describe a remarkable spiritual experience, is always lacking. Also, one must consider the reaction of the other person. It's like telling someone the name you've chosen for a baby while still pregnant. If the reaction is hesitant or someone tells you why/how they hate that name, then it mars the joy of using that particular name. When I attempted to describe my spiritual life and shifts in it to my partner, the thinking mind slipped in and took hold. This is in part due to simply using words for something that words can not be truly used for and in part due to a conversation that ensued regarding where inspirations come from and what the results mean. Suddenly the peaceful surrender that I had been experiencing was replaced with worry, doubt, and "trying" to figure it out.
Admittedly, a stronger person may be able to share how the universe works through them and how sometimes the most perfect actions or words just appear, but this was not the case for me. For now I will focus on returning to that place of peace and hold my tongue until the desire to share stems only from knowing it is the right time and not from anxiousness or excitement.
Love Much,


Today is the first day of the rest of your life!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Yoga Asanas -- What's the point?

Lately I've been questioning the usefulness of asanas. When a teacher, usually in the Anusara style, says to "open your hamstrings in order to let the divine in" I (sort of) want to puke. (I must disclose here, that I studied Anusara--and received my hatha yoga certification from Todd Norian--for 2-3 years.)

There are plenty of people out there that can forward bend and place their head between their legs and there's nothing divine about them. Let me rephrase; their egos are so huge that their actions and words are far from divine. Yes, we're all divine--I really believe that. But some of us hide it better than others.

These same teachers--that tout being a better person by opening your hips--speak frequently of "taking it to the next level." I'd like to think that means growing closer to self-actualization, but unfortunately they are usually referring to a more difficult pose. Perhaps these folks heard it from their teacher and something was lost in the translation--or maybe the teachers of the teachers have gotten so caught up in the "glamor" of beautiful poses that they themselves have forgotten why we do them at all.

In the west countless people associate yoga with asana, which is almost laughable. There are many types of yoga that don't even consider postures, such as the yoga of devotion, chanting, or self-less actions. Hatha yoga is a subset of yoga as a whole, and this subset includes the use of body movements and positions. Yet, even here the intention is to take the "path of the higher life" (Lectures on Yoga by Swami Rama, pg 12). Let's be honest, that doesn't mean to get your feet behind your head! Really, will that bring you closer to God or a deeper knowing of the authentic self? Admittedly, you might just get those feet back there along the way, but it's NOT THE GOAL. Not only that, from personal experience I can say some of us are not meant to do such challenging poses.

On the other hand, when I began hatha yoga just over 10 years ago, if the teacher had sat us all down and said, "Close your eyes and we'll begin with a 20 minute chant. Focus on the Om sound and simply let your thoughts drift by," I would have been out that door so fast no one would even know I had been there at all. For starters I couldn't sit still for 20 seconds, let alone 20 minutes! Now I enjoy, even relish, in the quiet solitude of meditation; but it's taken a number of years to get to this point. In the silence I commune with God, higher consciousness, or a deeper awareness of what is (whatever you want to label it). This has become a valuable, if not necessary, part of my daily life.
Did asana help me get to this point? Most definitely. I remember the first time a teacher had us lie in savasana for over 5 minutes. I wondered when he was going to finally let us get up. "Antsy-ness" was setting in. It took almost two years of practice until I could remain relaxed in comfort for 10 minutes or more. Perhaps a slow learner, but as mentioned earlier I couldn't even sit still for 20 seconds! So, 10 minutes without moving was pretty amazing stuff.

Upon honest reflection, my beef with asana is not asanas fault. It's a wonderful tool when used correctly. Just as a hammer is great to drive a nail into wood; thus connecting items together. However that same hammer may be used to harm another human being or animal. It's powerful, but how you use that power is more important than the tool itself. Asana may be used to embody your breath and mind, to bring awareness within and quiet all the distractions of everyday life. Used inappropriately it is nothing more than a means to cause more separation from everyone else and to enhance your ego. "Yoga" literally means to yoke or bring together. So you see, anything that separates us from each other is NOT yoga!
Aadil Palkhivala put it beautifully last week in Chicago,
"Yoga must use asana--if at all--to uncover and then live dharma. Otherwise asana is at best an exercise and at worst a means off your path."
So, to asana or not to asana? That is the question. Only you can decide what works for you, but most importantly be willing to change that answer! If the answer never changes, you are not growing. And to live is to grow. And to practice yoga is to live.
Speaking for myself, 3 years ago asana was a big part of my practice. Sometimes to feel fully alive I would do 2-3 hours of asana and 30-45 minutes of pranayama and meditation; I did this 5-7 days a week.
Today is different; I begin and end every day with meditation. Sometimes pranayama finds its way into this set aside "connection" time. Asanas for about 1 hour 3 days a week, and that's mainly because I teach asana I feel a responsibility to keep up with it. More walks outside and tennis with my family. The body thanks me for this. The mind enjoys being on the mat and the energy pulsing through the body is wonderful, but the body complains and some of the ligaments have been compromised over the years. To honer what is, I work more on integration and strength building than opening. This is today. I cannot say what will be tomorrow. Yoga brings awareness, if you let it. So, tomorrow I will listen and hopefully respond to my body, my mind, and my soul with or without asana.

Love Much,


Today is the first day of the rest of your life!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

It's not what you do, it's how you do it that matters.

We've all heard the expression,

It's now what you do, it's how you do it that matters.

Aadil Palkhivala brought this statement to life earlier this week. Aadil is a yoga master and commonly referred to as "the teacher of teachers." He's been practicing yoga with Iyengar since the ripe age of 7 and has taught some the better known teachers today, such as Shiva Rea.

This week he is in Chicago (a mere 2-3 hours depending on traffic from me). So I attended one of his classes/workshops. The title was The Five Vayus in Purna Yoga™ Standing Poses. In this 2 hour standing posture class, there was some lecture, warm up, cool down, and only 4 standing postures. I hadn't noticed how few there were, until later reflection on the class. All of them were done first to the right and then to the left and a couple of them were done twice, but what shocked me was how hard I worked and how my entire body responded. Two days later my butt and legs still feel the effects--which translates as they're sore as hell! Well, the "good" kind of sore. The one that let's you know that you've challenged yourself and grew some muscle tissue.

As I sat on the couch last night I wondered, how after a measly 4 postures (trikonasana/triangle, parsvakonasana/side angle, virabhadrasana I/warrior I, and virabhadrasana II/warrior II) could I feel so much? After all, I do plenty of poses like these--or even these--2 or 3 times a week.

The answer came, "It's not what poses you do, it's how you do them that matters." I'm mindful and breath steady and easfully (like the sutras instruct) through my practice, but what was missing was the "huspa". You know, the oomph! Now I've practiced with plenty of energy in the past, and usually it ends in a lack of awareness and injury. Aadil led us in a different manner.

Here are the two main vayus (winds) that made the biggest difference. First there is apana which relates to the earth element. As you exhale root your legs like rocks heavily connected to the ground. Then inhale with samana vayu. Samana is like fire lifting vibrantly up from the arches in the feet and through the perineum. To keep up with sincerity in awareness of these opposing forces while maintaining a position for about 6 breaths, provides amazing energy and centering to the body. Between postures, pause with the feet together and notice the effects. Notice if your central nadi/channel is humming or more alive than before. Mine sure was.

I can only speak for myself, but using the imagery of earth and fire along with the breath was magical in my body--much more so than simple alignment and mechanical muscular actions.

Best of luck in your practice,


Today is the first day of the rest of your life!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Spiritual Seekers

Do you find yourself looking for answers or simply looking? I've been a "seeker" for many years and quite frankly, I'm getting a little tired of it. Maybe it's simply a case of sheer laziness, but I like to think it's a glimmer of enlightenment.

People frequently get "stuck" in search mode. It's like googling for the word "house" and the search engine hangs. Being that google never "just keeps going" and gets stuck in the questing of a subject or word, does that make it smarter than us self-proclaimed "seekers?" Now there's a scary thought!

I met a gal, let's call her Mary, at a Yoga class two years ago. Mary was a bit put-off by any advice or spiritual suggestions. "I've been questing for so long, I'm just worn out and need a break," she lamented.

This sounds like progress. No, really, it does. Think about it, when we're constantly looking outside ourselves for answers and meaning with the mind, the heart (the soul) can be easily forgotten. Ironic but true.

Two options exist, as far as I can see:

1. Keep reading and looking for meaning or understanding while allowing your mind to take over and risk getting lost in the search.
2. Pause and listen to your breath. Stop long enough to hear or feel your heart beating and the blood circulating. Observe. Be present. From this place, and only from this place, read and observe new ideas.

Do you see the difference? Option 1, you are driven from a point of lack and trying to find meaning. This is a fine place to start, but over time we must move onto option 2. When you do, the mind is useful, but no longer controls the show. The heart does. A detachment begins to occur and when you run across something that is true for you, you will feel it inside as if a wave of peace has just washed over you.

To seek or not to seek? Tempting to say, "That is the question." Instead let me summarize with a quote from Dr. Wayne Dyer,

Love Much,


Today is the first day of the rest of your life!