E-RYT 500, yoga instructor for children and adults

Archive for the ‘The Bhagavad Gita’ Category

I’ll Be Om for Christmas

Maintaining equanimity amidst the holiday rush can be challenging for even the most mindful yogis. The good news is even regular Joe-gis can benefit from some simple techniques drawn from the yoga tradition. Come with me on a journey of OM from AM to PM!

Snooze Button Meditation
The holiday season sometimes means late nights and early mornings, which isn’t great for motivating you to get up early to meditate. Make it easy on yourself by using this snooze button meditation technique. When your alarm goes off, hit the snooze button and sit up cross-legged in bed or hang your legs off the edge. With a tall spine, rest your hands palms face up on your thighs. Inhale and exhale deeply and slowly, observing the sounds and sensation of your breath until the alarm goes off again. Bonus points if you set your alarm a few minutes early and get up for a longer session!

Traffic Jammin’ Dance Party
Typical rush hour traffic is bad enough, but add in the shoppers, travelers, distracted drivers, and bad weather and it can get downright nasty out there. If you find yourself caught in traffic, you can either arrive late and angry or arrive late and happy! Practice the yogic principle of santosha, or contentment, and make the best of the situation. Take advantage of the awesome acoustics in your vehicle and have a good old fashioned traffic JAM! Put on your fave holiday tunes, or any song that lifts your spirits, and sing and dance along. True story, one day I was getting super frustrated in traffic and glanced in my rear view mirror to see the driver behind me singing and grooving, having a blast! It made me smile and reminded me not to take anything too seriously. Bonus points if you can get the driver next to you to dance along!

Under the Table Tennis
Standing in line for Santa in those cute holiday heels may be fun, but your feet won’t be happy! Bring a tennis ball to work or keep one at home to roll your feet on under the desk. The feet are the endpoint for many energy channels, sometimes called meridians or nadis, that run to different parts of the body. By massaging the feet you also stimulate and balance the organs, glands, spine, and chakras. I like to roll my feet while working on my laptop. Bonus points if you take it outside and take off your shoes, connecting to the healing energy of the Earth!

Mall Meltdown Mantra
When faced with the hectic shopping scene, create a serene space inside your own head. Repeating a calming word or phrase to yourself can distract your busy mind from those worrisome, negative thoughts and replace them with something positive. One I like to use is, “It’s all good.” You can mentally chant in any language, whether it’s the traditional Sanskrit or your native tongue. Of course, “Om” is always a good choice. Om is the sound of the universe, and though it doesn’t have a literal translation, you can think of it as meaning “light.” Bonus points if you get brave and chant out loud!

Present Wrapping Pranayama
During routine tasks like wrapping presents, baking cookies, or writing cards, you can perform a mental version of analoma viloma, or alternate nostril breathing. In the traditional breathing exercise you use one hand to periodically close off one nostril then the other, inhaling and exhaling between sides. If your hands are busy, you can simply visualize the air flowing in through one nostril and out the other. Here’s the rhythm: Inhale through the left nostril, Exhale out the right nostril, Inhale through the right nostril, Exhale out the left nostril. Repeat as many rounds as necessary to achieve a calm, balanced state of mind and body. Bonus points if you use a neti pot in the mornings to clear those nasal passages, allowing the breath to flow freely and helping nip any winter colds in the bud!

Yogic Sleep and Sweet Dreams
Use a guided meditation to help you wind down before bed. You can find yoga nidra, or yogic sleep, guided relaxation videos on YouTube. I like this one by Jennifer Reis. This healing and restoring guided meditation technique helps to turn on the body’s natural healing response and counteract the “fight or flight” stress mode that many of us maintain throughout the day. Bonus points if you fall asleep during the nidra and stay in a state of peace all night!

No matter what traditions or beliefs you celebrate this winter, I hope these simple yoga practices help keep you merry and bright! Happy Holidays!

christmas star

EDIT: This blog topic was prompted by a request from Oscar Insurance, a new insurance company that currently has availability in New York and New Jersey. Since I’m in Texas I can’t personally attest to their quality, but I love their focus on holistic healing and progress in the area of health insurance. You can check out more info about them here: www.hioscar.com

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NOSEA: Be Your Self

A dear friend of mine is currently developing the New Orleans School for Esoteric Arts.  “We represent people from all walks of life. We are open to anyone who wants to learn more about Astrology, Voudou, Witchcraft, Herbal Magick, Shamanism, and more. We are not affiliated with any church nor do we claim loyalty to any doctrine. We welcome people from all walks of life regardless of inexperience or religious ties.”

She asked me to contribute some articles for their blog. Here is my first post: Be Your Self

If you’d like to donate to help get this amazing school going, check out their Go Fund Me page. You can also stay connected through their Facebook page.

 

Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road?

The street I drive down daily to enter my neighborhood is always lined with randomly parked cars. The street isn’t very wide and if cars are parked on both sides, only one car can fit through. Many stray dogs and cats wander the area, as well as plenty of squirrels and birds. I call this straightaway “the gauntlet” because it is always a challenge to navigate around the cars, play chicken with the oncoming traffic, and dodge various wildlife. Recently as I was driving through the gauntlet, eager to get home after a long day, I noticed a squirrel up ahead crossing the street. I slowed down a bit but it looked like the squirrel would make it across well before I got to it. I was just about to drive past the little rodent when it suddenly froze, then turned and darted back into the street, right into the path of my car! It’s a miracle that I didn’t hit it, but I didn’t feel a bump or see it behind me so I assume the squirrel slipped between the wheels and made it back to the other side. As I was telling Charlie about this incident recently, a revelation hit me. I heard myself saying, “If he wouldn’t have doubted himself and gotten scared, he would have made it in plenty of time. But because he gave up and turned around, he almost got himself killed!” I realized then that I am that squirrel. You are also that squirrel. We all are, at times. And I bet God looks at us the same way I looked at it, thinking, “Go on little being, you’re so close! Believe in yourself, trust you are on the right path, and keep going!”
Fear and doubt are tricks of the ego. It is easy to forget that the ego works in many different ways. Ego isn’t just thinking you are better than others, it’s also thinking you are worse. Ego tells us that we are separate and different, that we must compete to survive, and that our worth is based on our material success. Any thoughts that we use to attack ourselves or others come from ego. We have gotten so familiar with the voice of ego that we mistake it for our own. Meanwhile, the subtle voice of spirit gets drowned out amidst the blaring noise of advertising, social pressure, and cultural expectations. For instance, when you think of Charles Darwin, what is your first association? Survival of the fittest probably comes to mind, the idea that we must fight against others for resources. However, as I learned from the documentary “I Am,” that was only a small part of his overall findings. The most important aspect of nature that Darwin emphasized repeatedly was cooperation. This idea was played down and the idea of competition was reinforced by other members of popular culture. And that is the legacy that has been passed down to us.
We constantly receive messages from advertising that we need something outside of ourselves to make us complete. The media tells us that we aren’t good enough the way we are, that we must have a product to make us look younger, a car to make us look richer, a pill to make us look happier. We are told to be afraid of strangers, of those who look, act, talk, and pray differently than ourselves. We are told to hurry, act now, for a limited time only, or we will miss out. It makes sense then that we would doubt our own power, downplay our own light. We get the idea to do something great, to create, explore, take a chance. We may even begin to take the steps to get there. We quit the miserable job, we begin writing the novel, we start up a conversation with the person we are interested in. As the Bhagavad Gita tells us, as soon as we set out on our true path, the ego begins blaring its lies at us. We fear financial security because “everyone knows” you have to work hard and compete to earn a higher salary and buy more stuff. We doubt our creativity because “everyone knows” it’s hard to get a book published and we’ll never make money doing that. We trail off and walk away because “everyone knows” relationships never work out and they are out of our league anyway. We freeze, we give up, we turn around. Then when we barely escape being hurt, knocked down, or run over, we think to ourselves, “See, that’s what always happens. The world is a dangerous place. Good thing I turned around.” And ego reinforces those false beliefs. But in reality if we would have just kept going, just believed in ourselves for a little bit longer, we would have made it to our goal.
My dog Joey is a 12 pound, 13 year old, blind miniature schnauzer with a heart murmur and arthritis. She doesn’t let any of this slow her down. She plays with bigger dogs, runs free in the yard, barks at “intruders” (aka our guests), guards the house, and when we walk I have to pull back her leash to keep her from running into things because she just goes for it. Her favorite toy is almost as big as she is. I originally bought it while fostering a much larger dog, a lab mix. But Joey doesn’t know her limitations, so for her they don’t exist. We have to unlearn all the false fear and doubt of the ego and learn to trust in the guidance of our inner spirit, our inner guru.
Why did the chicken cross the road? Because no one ever told her she couldn’t.

I Am Not the Doer

Bhagavad Gita Chapter 5 Verses 8-9

“The cognizer of truth, united to god, automatically perceives, ‘I myself do nothing’ – even though he sees, hears, touches, smells, eats, moves, sleeps, breathes, speaks, rejects, holds, opens or closes his eyes—realizing that it is the senses (activated by Nature) that work amid sense objects.”

When we realize that all of our abilities come from the Source, we know that we are not the “doer” in our lives. The prana, or energy, that we receive from the Universe is what powers our actions.  When we realize this, then we can cultivate non-attachment from the fruits of our actions. We simply let ourselves be a vessel for god to carry out the cosmic plan. This sentiment is outlined in many cultures and religions, including the Prayer of St. Francis. I say this prayer every morning before meditation. In the prayer we ask god to work through us to bring more love, light, and peace into the world and it affirms that it is through forgiveness and generosity that these things come back to us. Just like the law of attraction, what we put out into the world is what we get back. A shorter version is recommended by Gabrielle Bernstein, based on her studies of the book A Course in Miracles. The prayer is: “Where would you have me go, what would you have me do, what would you have me say, and to whom?” By starting my day with the intention to be used for the greater good, I set the tone for a day of guided action. When good things happen to me, instead of gloating or boasting, I set the tone to give thanks that Spirit bestowed blessing upon me and pray that these blessings can be used to in turn bless others.

In a deeper sense, I can see this verse alluding to the fact that we are not our bodies, our senses, even our minds. There is a more powerful force at work in us, the spirit that breathes life into our body-containers. The “I” here can be thought of as the soul. The body acts as the vessel, the senses take in information, the mind sorts the information, the intellect makes decisions, but the soul is the watcher. Deepak Chopra says to witness the breath and that the soul is this observer, the witness to our actions. He explains the body as a verb, always doing something, but the soul is the silent overseer. In meditation we still the body and quiet the mind to get in touch with the soul.

This verse also frees us from feeling overly responsible for our achievements and by the same token, our failures. If we dedicate our actions to come from a place of love then we can trust that the Universe will guide us to do, or not do, what needs to be done, or not done. Often a “failure” in our perception is actually what needed to happen. We sometimes don’t see the big picture until much later, and I believe we may not ever see the whole thing, at least within our current lifetimes. Occasionally we get glimpses however, and these times reassure us during the times when we don’t see the resolution. As I tell the kids in my yoga classes, all you have to do is try. We do our best, we act from place of love and service, we trust and let Spirit guide us. I am not the doer, I am a tool of the Source to create in the world.

Right Action

Chapter 2 Verse 47 of the Bhagavad Gita tells us that, “Thy human right is for activity only, never for the resultant fruits of actions. Do not consider thyself the creator of the fruits of thy activities, neither allow thyself attachment to inactivity.” In Chapter 3 Verse 42 we learn that, “The senses are said to be superior to the physical body, the mind is superior to the sense faculties, the intelligence is superior to the mind, but the Self is superior to the intelligence.” We can substitute the Self for the spirit, soul, god, light, energy, universe, nature, inner guide, or whatever concept of a power within that resonates with us. These verses taken together give us a nice illustration of how best to determine which activity we are called to do, and why inactivity is to be avoided.

As humans we are given the gift of this life: a body, senses, mind, and intelligence, which are all useful and we are called to share our gifts. My partner has the theory that for a perfect being to grow, it must become imperfect. In certain mythology it is said that the Absolute cannot see itself, so it must look into a mirror, and we are that mirror. The Bible says that we are made in the image and likeness of our creator. We must act, we must live this life, or else our gift is wasted. We are each bestowed with a spark of divine light within, the Self, and because this spirit is superior to all the physical and mental abilities we have, we cannot become egotistical and believe ourselves to be the creator of the fruits or results of our actions. The body is only animated–the senses able to take in information, the mind able to think, and the intelligence able to rationalize–because of this energy of spirit within. In the commentary to the Gita, Parmahansa Yogananda says that even egotistical activity is better than inactivity. Not acting, not using the gifts we are given, is an insult to the very spark that allows us to exist. However the best way to show gratitude for these gifts, and to assure that more will be given, is to use our activities to the betterment of the world in which we live. He says that accumulating material wealth is not bad in and of itself, as long as we use our “good fortunes for worthy causes and to help those less fortunate.

Nonattachment to the fruits of our actions does not mean that we perform action with no thought to the outcome. We do our best and then we either let go of any outcomes we perceive as negative or relinquish claim as the sole creator of any outcomes we perceive as positive. Everything we do is possible because of the gifts we have been given from this higher power, whether you consider that to be a divine being, energy, or nature. We care for the body, mind, and spirit, always remembering which is superior. We meditate to connect to the Self and then receive guidance on what actions to take, how to use our intelligence and mind, our senses and body. Parmahansa also makes the point that, “Human existence is not predestined, every man is given free choice to accept the divine plan of existence, or to follow the path of ignorance and misery.” If we are given signs by the universe of which path to follow and we either ignore them willfully or because we neglect to meditate and practice self-awareness, then we can choose to not follow the path. However, you will soon find that going against the flow is not only difficult and painful, but also that eventually you will be caught up in the current and forced onto the path. It is better to introspectively ask for the guidance and willingly go where it leads you. My partner once said, “Life is like a river. Stand still and the current will beat upon you till you move. Swim against it and you will go nowhere. Let it carry you and you’ll reach your destination. Swim with it and there is no telling how far you’ll go.”  One of my favorite spiritual authors, Gabrielle Bernstein, said, “Magic is when you tell the Universe what you want, Miracles are when you ask the Universe what it wants.” Letting the Self take the lead is the best way to perform right action. As long as you are sincerely seeking the right path and listening to the guidance of the Universe, you can’t make a wrong choice. It will ultimately guide you back onto the path, so practicing nonattachment and trust is key, especially when you don’t think things are going your way. A seemingly negative situation will always work out for the greater good for the sincere spiritual seeker.

In my yoga practice I try not to attach to the postures that I can or can’t achieve. Instead I focus on my asana practice as a way to prepare the body and calm the mind so that I can better receive the guidance of spirit. Activity, or asana, is necessary, but is not the goal. The results, or achievements, are not bad, as long as you use them for the greater good. My asana practice keeps my body healthy so I can continue my spiritual practice. I may inspire others to persevere in their own practice by demonstrating the amazing things the body is capable of. As a teacher, if I have a good grasp of asana and a strong practice I can better teach others. I always emphasize to my students that it is not about what the pose looks like on the outside, but what it feels like inside their bodies. The benefits happen within. I have recently shied away from posting too many advanced asana pictures so as not to overly emphasize that aspect of yoga. I prefer to highlight my meditation practice, basic asana for health, and living a good life through the yamas and niyamas.

In my life I am always open to using my gifts, and every morning I pray the Prayer of St. Francis that the divine will work through me to bring peace, love, joy, light, hope, and forgiveness into the world. I am open to material wealth but do not feel entitled to it. Anything I have that someone else can use I give away. I focus on gratitude for everything I am given. On days when I feel sad or lethargic, I remember that I must keep going, moving, persevering. There are people depending on me, and it is more important to help others than wallow in my own troubles. The great thing is that most of the time, helping someone else makes me realize how lucky I really am and gives me a better perspective on my own issues. I know that even when I have a desire for a particular outcome, that spirit is always the first place to look for guidance. Even rational, logical thought is subservient to the intuition and guidance of the Self. I now see the guiding hand of spirit everywhere, and even though I still become frustrated or upset and confused, it is becoming more second nature for me to focus on love and faith. Even when my intelligence, mind, senses, or body feels bad, I know that I will be ok. My spirit will prevail.

Entitlement vs. Selfless Service

Bhagavad Gita Ch 2 Vs 47: The human right is for activity only, never for the resultant fruit of actions. Do not consider thyself the creator of the fruits of thy activities; neither allow thyself attachment to inactivity.

I recently began teaching a class for a non-profit yoga group. The unfortunate truth is that yoga is quite expensive, which prevents a lot of people from trying it. Yoga was meant to be shared freely, as a service to others, and as a way to achieve enlightenment. Of course, for those of us who choose to make a career of it, then we do have to make some money to pay our bills. I believe it is possible to balance the need to make enough money with the greed to make more money. I took on the aforementioned class mainly as karma yoga. I do get a small portion of the proceeds from teaching. But for the most part I am teaching this class to bring more yoga to those who can’t afford it, who are often the ones who need it the most. The class is held at a community rec center. Students pay at most $8 per class, less if they buy a package, and the group has an unwritten policy not to turn down anyone who cannot pay. It is definitely a group that embraces karma yoga.

The day after I taught my first class, I received an email from another student of mine who comes to a class at another location. Her sister, who I will call “Patty,” had recently finished an addiction recovery program and is now working and trying to get her life in order. My student asked me if I knew of any affordable yoga in the area because she felt that Patty could really benefit from it. I love when I see the Universe at work, and I instantly knew that this was one reason I had been called to teach the class at the rec center. So I passed on the information and Patty came to my class the next week. And the next, and this time she brought her roommate too, who is also in recovery. On this particular day, I was tired and did not really feel like teaching that evening. But I had made a commitment and I knew that I was needed for some purpose, so I meditated in the park prior to class and went in with an open mind and full heart. I set my intention to serve others and not think about what I would get in return.

The class went by smoothly. I had only four students so I was able to give lots of individual attention. Patty requested that I repeat a guided meditation that I had read to the class the week prior, so we did some chakra clearing work during savasana. I always close my classes by chanting one “OM” and I invite the students to either listen or join in. I am not a great singer or chanter, but I do my best. On this day, I don’t know where the sound came from for that OM, but it did not feel like it came out of me. I truly became the silent observer, the witness to the power of Source energy. The noise came from my mouth but I felt I had no control over it. This was not a bad feeling, it felt like the sensation of someone that I trust taking care of something for me. I could feel the vibration of love resonate through my entire body. I became peaceful, calm, and happy in an instant. It was a beautiful and amazing experience. I have taught several classes since then at other studios and gyms, and I always close with an OM. However the experience has not been as moving as it was that day.

The irony of acting out of selfless service is that when you do so with pure intention, the Universe finds a way to reward you. It may not be money or fame or anything else that we typically consider as a “reward.” The reward often comes as a feeling of accomplishment, of happiness for someone else, a peace that washes over you, or in my case the best OM I will ever chant. I look forward to having more moments like that as I move forward as a teacher and as a human being, trying to always guide my actions with the intention of service to others. And I trust that the Universe will take care of me along the way.

Freedom vs Liberation

Bhagavad Gita Ch 2 Vs 48: “O Dhananjaya (Arjuna), remaining immersed in yoga, perform all actions, forsaking attachment (to their fruits), being indifferent to success and failure. This mental evenness is termed yoga.”

In this verse of the Gita we see Krishna advising Arjuna to remain “immersed in yoga” in all actions and not to attach to their outcomes. By cultivating this combination of divine unity and detachment, you are able to remain calm and even of mind no matter what happens. If we can figure out how to only engage in actions coming from a place of love, and then learn to release the results of those actions, then we can create ultimate peace for ourselves. Finding equanimity in all circumstances is true liberation because you are free to do anything without suffering. Having the freedom to do anything you want is different because it does not guarantee that doing those things will not make you suffer. You feel in control because you have no rules or restrictions placed on you. However your inability to make a conscious, better choice creates an invisible prison around you.

The scene in the movie “Peaceful Warrior” in which Socrates takes Dan to a bar summarizes the difference between freedom and liberation. In the months prior to this event, Soc had placed many restrictions on Dan about what he could have, do, eat, and drink. Dan wasn’t yet able to determine the best options for himself, so as his teacher Soc did it for him. When Dan is almost ready to do it on his own, Soc decides to give him a test to see if he is really ready. As they sit at the bar drinking, smoking cigars, and talking, Dan is absolutely incredulous that Soc is partaking and letting him partake as well. Soc teaches him that there are no such things as bad habits. He says it isn’t what you’re doing, but how. “Habit is the problem. All you need to do is be conscious about your choices and be responsible for your actions.” Dan takes this as an open invitation to drink up!

Soc knows that the only bad thing about a habit is that it isn’t a conscious choice. It isn’t living in the now. Instead, you are letting your past dictate what you must do in this moment. Once you are liberated and truly in control of your life, you realize that there are only choices and consequences, as in the theory of karma. There isn’t good or bad, there is only intention and consequences. One philosopher said that “there are things I do and I know they’ll evolve me” and “there are other things that will not evolve me.” And my choice is only to evolve or not. It isn’t good or bad. Soc is truly liberated. He has control because he can evaluate his actions and their consequences and is not helpless to engage in an action just because it is “habit.” And then he can let go of the results of this chosen action and not let an unfavorable outcome cause him to suffer.

Dan however hasn’t learned his lesson yet, as we see in the next scene when he is miserable vomiting from all the liquor and smoke, clearly suffering from the consequences of his choice.  Soc tells him, “Every action has its price and its pleasure. Recognizing both sides a warrior becomes realistic and responsible for his actions.” Dan thought he had freedom, and he did have the choice to do whatever he wanted. Liberation is knowing the options and knowing how best to choose. Sometimes, in order to help a student reach liberation, a teacher must place temporary restrictions on the student. The guru takes away some freedom so you can learn the lessons that will get you true liberation. For instance, children need a safe structure within which to be creative. When you feel physically safe, supported, and protected, your mind is free to wander. By placing some fences around a student, the teacher allows them to feel the freedom to move within the restricted area. The student is liberated when he realizes, there are no fences.

AstroSync

Opening the wheel, web and flower of life

OPERATION YOGA

Helping people who are ready for better