E-RYT 500, yoga instructor for children and adults

Posts tagged ‘non-attachment’

Hashtag Savasanuary

It started as a joke, as good ideas often do. On a random Facebook thread, my good friend and fellow yoga teacher Shana Stein of Operation Yoga said, “I really want to nail my savasana this year.” She was making a tongue in cheek reference to all the yoga challenges, progress pics, and advanced asanas that appear all over social media. Now, I’m not saying these are all bad.  I’ve participated in some really fun Instagram challenges with gracious hosts who offer modifications and encouragement to all yogis. I also see that sometimes the focus on the image overly emphasizes “getting the pose,” yet misses getting the yoga. Yoga is about union, connection, calming the mind, and overcoming the ego. There is a reason for asana, and postures are an important part of the yoga path for many, including myself. Asana can also be a double edged sword. Postures can trigger the ego, telling us we aren’t as good as another yogi because our backbend isn’t as deep, or that we’re better than someone else whose crow isn’t flying quite as high as ours. The important work is what we do with these thoughts, how we face our fears and challenge our ego based beliefs. When I teach kids I often say, “Savasana is the hardest pose in yoga.” Although it may be easy for the body, simply lying down, it’s the mind that can struggle to find the “steadiness and comfort” that Patanjali recommends for a successful asana. So back to Shana’s comment. I loved it. I ran with it. And so #savasanuary was born.

Jump in anytime for this “unchallenge.” Just take a pic of yourself in savasana, post it on the social media platform of your choice, and tag #savasanuary. No hosts, no sponsors, no pressure. The prize is peace! Give yourself the gift of a few moments of rest each day and share, if you’re so inclined, to encourage others to do the same. Do it every day or any day, whatever works for you. Enjoy!

savasana

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

The Five Poisons of Prejudice

Using the five kleshas to understand and eliminate prejudice.

In yoga philosophy, the kleshas are five poisons or impurities of the mind that are false and prevent us from attaining liberation. The kleshas are ignorance, ego, likes, dislikes and fear. By understanding these mental tendencies we can better understand what creates prejudice and thus reduce those qualities in ourselves. Becoming aware of our own tendencies is the first step in shifting towards more loving thoughts, words and actions. At the same time, by seeing how these kleshas affect all of us we can practice compassion for those who continue to discriminate against others based on external factors such as race, age, ability, religion, sex, gender identity/expression or sexual orientation.

The first klesha is ignorance. Ignorance literally means a lack of knowledge or information. When we don’t have awareness of ourselves or knowledge of others, we don’t have all the information and can’t make the best choices. Often prejudices derive from a lack of understanding or a misunderstanding of someone who we perceive as being different from us. Different cultures, races, ethnicities or nationalities have different standards and practices based on their unique experiences and histories. For instance, a fellow yoga teacher shared photos of insects being sold as food. My first reaction was to think, “Eww, gross,” since bugs are typically thought of as dirty and disgusting in America. However, I also know that in much of the world bugs and grubs are an abundant and valuable protein source and are eaten regularly. Based on a lack of information, we may unfairly judge a person as being primitive or disgusting, when in reality it is our own ignorance of their culture that creates the prejudice in our minds. By always keeping an open mind and striving to learn more than our limited worldview, we can help to reduce our own ignorance.

The second klesha is ego. Here the term is used not as meaning synonymous with narcissism or selfishness. Instead it is the “I” that we relate to as individuals. We all have it, and we all need it to some extent. The problem comes when we let ego take over and influence us. Ego tells us we are what we have, what we do, and what people think of us. It tries to convince us that we are separate from others and from the Divine. Ego emphasizes the differences between us rather than the similarities. When we get caught up in ego, we start to find things that make us feel like we are better than, or worse than, others. Stereotypes come from the ego’s attempt to categorize and thus further separate people. Some stereotypes make us feel better than other people, as in the example above about eating insects. Others make us feel we are worse than others. For example a young girl may think she can’t pursue a career in the STEM (science, techonology, engineering and math) disciplines because of messages from her family, society, or the media that tell her girls aren’t good at math. Both are equally insidious because they further the separation between us and our fellow human beings. Ego often bristles and says, “How dare you?” implying entitlement often based on the perception that our “group,” whether it be that of race, religion, orientation, etc., is better than another group. In the famous “blue-eyed, brown-eyed” experiment of 1968, teacher Jane Elliott allowed her students to experience a taste of what it is like to be discriminated against based on an arbitrary external factor, in this case by the color of their eyes. One day she told the class of third graders that blue-eyed people were better than brown-eyed people. She subtly enforced this “eye-ism” all day by commenting when a blue-eyed child did something good or when a brown-eyed child did something bad. The next day she reversed the status of the eye colors. The children caught on and participated in the discrimination alarmingly quickly. Some people criticized her, and in one famous letter a member of the public protested by saying, “How dare you try this cruel experiment out on white children.” Clearly they missed the lesson of the experiment, and were speaking directly from their ego.

The next two kleshas are often discussed together, as they are two sides of the same coin. Likes and dislikes cause us to try to obtain or avoid things, experiences, or people. We don’t have to give up the things we like or accept the things we don’t, but we must become aware of our attachments and aversions and recognize their influence on us. These two kleshas can cause an inability to understand and therefore empathize with someone whose likes and dislikes are different from our own. Notice the subtle difference in the following statements: “I dislike broccoli,” compared to, “Broccoli is gross.” It is easy to begin to label things as good or bad based on whether we like or dislike them, and in turn label another person as good or bad depending on whether they share our opinion. However we each have different tastes and preferences, and as long as your choices aren’t hurting someone else, then it is your prerogative. In my experience I have at times looked down on forms of yoga that weren’t my preferred practice. I bought into stereotypes and thought I knew what “real Yoga” was. I equated my “likes” with good and my “dislikes” with bad. In reality, each individual has different preferences and those likes and dislikes don’t change the fact that they are fellow humans with the same Light inside them as me. A common example of prejudice stemming from likes and dislikes is the issue of sexual orientation. A heterosexual male may think kissing another man is unappealing, and he is entitled to his preference. However when he says that two men kissing is gross, and that gay men are gross for doing it, he is then projecting his dislike onto another and judging them based on that, which is prejudice.

Finally, the fifth klesha is fear. Fear is the opposite of love, and when we act from a place of fear we crowd out love. Often people experience fear of the unknown or unfamiliar. Ignorance of the other person’s situation can lead to fear of them, which prevents us from acting with love. Instead we act from our fear and choose to discriminate against them. Even if we don’t fear the other person, we may experience fear of being ridiculed or rejected for standing up for a person or group of people instead of going along with the discrimination. As Edmund Burke famously said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Deciding not to support someone who is being discriminated against, choosing to be silent in the presence of injustice, can be just as detrimental as participating in the act. There were times in my past when I was afraid to speak up when someone was being discriminated against. I have also walked through my fear at times and spoke the Truth with Love. As with all the kleshas, it is an ongoing challenge to recognize and overcome it.

Acceptance that we have a problem is the first step towards healing. By examining our minds through the context of the kleshas, we can see where we have gone wrong and how we can better ourselves. Although ignorance, ego, likes, dislikes, and fear are a part each of us, we can work towards letting go of these illusions and instead embrace the truth of love, acceptance, and compassion for all.

Money Can’t Buy Me Love

“Aparigraha-sthairye janma-kathamta-sambodhah.” Patanjali, Chapter 2 Sutra 39

In his yoga sutras, Patanjali writes, “When non-acquisitiveness is established, an understanding of the purpose of birth is gained.” Aparigraha, non-acquisitiveness or non-attachment, is the final of the five yamas that form the foundation of the practice of yoga. In our modern society, in the West and in America in particular, much emphasis is placed on what you have. Advertisements constantly bombard us with messages about “newer, better, must have” products. Many people measure success with how much money they make, the type of car they drive, where they live, their clothes, toys, vacations, in short, their possessions. Wayne Dyer teaches that ego is “Edging God Out” and that ego tells us we are what we do and what we have. We get so caught up in making and spending money that we forget to enjoy life. Even thousands of years ago the yogis knew humans were subject to this flaw. By letting go of the material world, we can instead focus on our spiritual path. The purpose of birth that Patanjali refers to can be thought of as our path, our dharma, or our destiny.
My partner, Charlie, and I have spent the last year cutting back and paring down in many ways. At first it was out of necessity, due to financial issues. But once we saw how our lives began to change because of it, we became willing participants in living a more minimalist lifestyle. The first major change we made was cancelling our cable television. Before that I thought that commercials didn’t affect me that much. I knew I watched them but I thought I was too smart and aware to let them influence me. I was very wrong. Even if the commercial didn’t succeed in getting me to buy the product, it still seeped into my consciousness. After being without cable for about six months Charlie and I both felt less desire for things. We felt lighter, and we lost that constant nagging feeling that we needed something more, something better. We began to realize that we already had almost everything that we needed. There are only a few items we still want to obtain, and even these we see not as necessities but as things that would be nice to have. We are now able to get by on much less yet still feel satisfied.
We also began to give things away. Little things, like extra clothes, books or just anything that we had been holding onto that we no longer used. And as we did this two things happened: one, the universe began to put people in our path who needed the very things we were giving away; and two, we began to receive the very things that we needed from others. When we let go of attachment to specific possessions, it created room for a natural flow to establish itself. It is recommended in many traditions, like feng shui, to clear out old clutter in order to create space for new things to flow into your life.
Finally, we both at different times in our lives gave up a lucrative career in a field we were unhappy with in order to follow our hearts and do what we were passionate about. When you let go of the need to buy and have lots of material things, it allows you to explore your true passions and possibly make less money to do something you love. I am grateful that I have been able to do this, as not everyone has the support it takes follow their dreams. However, I do think more people could if they were able to practice non-attachment and simplify their lives. It isn’t always easy and there have been times when we struggled, but it has been worth it. For us, giving up some material pleasures has freed us up to follow our true path, and we have found so much more fulfillment and happiness because of it.

And That’s What We Call Boundaries

I recently read a quote saying a true friend loves you for who you are, no matter what. It made me think about acceptance and what that entails in relationships. Does a true friend simply let you be and do whatever you want, regardless of whether it is beneficial to you and others? Or does a true friend push you, challenge you to grow, inspire you to be your best self, and hold you to your highest potential? As a friend, partner, or family member, can you do both? And who decides what is best?
I have recently had to take a long hard look at my own ego in the context of several personal relationships. I tend to see potential in others, to give them the benefit of the doubt that they are capable of being their best self. And as a result I tend to enter into relationships with expectations. I expect the other person to be on the same path as me, to be striving for the same things. And as Buddha taught us, with expectation (another word for desire) comes suffering. I try to, as a friend put it, “gently shove” people in the direction that I feel is best, instead of allowing them to walk their own path. I come to the relationship with the best intentions, and we all know where those lead. I try to help but my help is not always wanted or needed.
On the other hand, I do feel it is our responsibility as friends and more broadly as fellow human beings to hold one another to certain standards. To encourage kindness, compassion, respect, and acceptance towards others. When I see these things being violated, I do step up and express my feelings. But I still have to realize that that is where my contribution ends, unless the other person asks for my help. As Ram Das said, if I have a problem with someone, that’s my problem. If someone has a problem with me, that’s their problem. It is when we expect others to fix our problems or we try to fix theirs that we get in trouble.
Once I have established my beliefs and the other person has established theirs, it is then my choice to continue the relationship. I have the right to set boundaries if necessary to preserve my well being. If the other person doesn’t respect my boundaries or if I don’t think I can be my best self and honor who I truly am while in relationship with them, I can end or reduce contact with that person. If I maintain the relationship, I must accept that the other person is the way they are. And they in turn must respect me. In certain cases there may be exceptions, as there are to every rule, but most of the time when I examine my motives it is my ego and not necessarily my spirit that wants to change someone else. In my teacher training last weekend I was given this wonderful gift during our swadhyaya, or self study, session: If you hear yourself thinking or saying, “How dare you…” check your ego. Whether it is a thought or statement directed at yourself or someone else, the ego is probably behind it. This is not to say that you shouldn’t stand up for yourself or let others treat you badly. However, when we are motivated my strong emotion coming from ego, things usually don’t go well. If we can step back from the situation, examine our part in it, see where the ego has been triggered, ask ourselves what part fear is playing, and then move forward with love, we will have much more success.

 

 

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.

AstroSync

Opening the wheel, web and flower of life

OPERATION YOGA

Helping people who are ready for better