E-RYT 500, yoga instructor for children and adults

Posts tagged ‘philosophy’

Let the Light Shine

Today is Ash Wednesday. For many Christians, this day marks the first day of Lent, a period of contemplation and prayer echoing Jesus’ 40 days in the desert as he prepared for his death and resurrection. Often known as the Light of the World, Jesus is a fascinating figure for both religious and secular reasons alike. Although I don’t personally belong to any one religious group, I was raised Catholic and I appreciate many different beliefs and find Truth in many different places. I see this period of Lent as an opportunity to remind myself of the cyclical nature of reality and the fact that the Light can never be fully extinguished, that it always rises again in our hearts and minds if we let it.
I always read quotes at the end of my yoga classes, and last week I chose a series of quotes from different religions about helping others. Then I got sick and couldn’t teach, so I recycled them for this week. Fittingly, the quote I read today came from the New Testament of the Bible. I’ve heard this passage so many times, but today as I read it I felt the words more deeply than ever before. Christian or not, I invite you to read these words also and be open to see Truth in them:
Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?” The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
One way to commemorate this time of year, or anytime, is to make a commitment to give back, donating time, money, or energy to a worthy cause. There are many worthy causes that deserve our attention, and social media is often a way for people to spread awareness about these causes. Funny thing about people though, we often aren’t content to simply support and share about causes we find worthy. Too often we feel the need to disparage someone else’s cause or beliefs in order to bolster our own. I find myself getting caught up in the latest controversy, feeling the need to throw in “my two cents.” I have to remind myself to take a step back, and that those two cents could be put to a better use. The energy that could be put to use helping someone instead is wasted arguing over who and how we should help. Time and money are spent on tearing down instead of building up, criticism instead of compassion, and arguing instead of acting. In the name of good, we do bad, and no one wins. I can’t imagine that’s what Jesus or any other teacher of Truth would want.
I invite you to join me in making a renewed commitment to see God, Love, and Light in all beings and to treat them accordingly. Ram Dass said to treat everyone you meet as God in drag. Swami Sivananda said to bow humbly to beggars as they too are the image of the Lord. Jesus taught us to provide basic needs and kindness to those without. He didn’t say to ask whether the hungry are working hard enough, whether the stranger is Christian or Muslim, whether the sick person is liberal or conservative, or whether the prisoner deserves the sentence they are serving. He taught us to help others, and in doing so we allow the Light to shine through us.

Practice What You Practice

People are drawn to the practice of yoga for a multitude of reasons. There’s plenty of evidence showing it can help improve strength, flexibility, and physical health. Meditation is also becoming popular, mainly for its ability to relieve stress. These and other benefits to the body and mind, though wonderful, are still not the ultimate purpose of this ancient philosophy. In Louisiana we’d call these benefits lagniappe, a little something extra we can enjoy, but not to be mistaken for the main event. Yoga is a spiritual practice meant to lead the aspirant to enlightenment. In the West we often think of our being as two-fold, mind and body. In this dichotomy the body is external and the mind is internal. In Eastern philosophy however there are 3 parts to us: mind, body, and spirit. The spirit is the real deal, and the mind is just as unreal and external as the body. This is why our own mind can be such a mystery, seemingly controlling our thoughts, words, and actions. Through the practice of yoga we use the body and mind as tools to transcend both, getting in touch with the true nature of our inner being, our spirit.
In the yoga sutras, Patanjali says yoga is the calming of the mind. He chooses to mention friendliness, kindness, joy, and equanimity/non-judgment (1:33) as the four qualities to cultivate within ourselves in order to have a calm mind. Later he describes the 8 limbed path that includes the restraints, observances, postures, breathing, introspection, concentration, and meditation that will lead us to enlightenment. But before all of that he chooses to call attention to these four practices that anyone, regardless of ability to stretch or sit, can begin to practice and therefore get more clarity of mind.
I often tell my students, we don’t do yoga to get better at yoga…we do yoga to get better at life. I believe one reason we call it “practicing” yoga is because the things we do on the mat or while meditating are practice for the main event, which is life. Whatever we do on the mat or cushion is helping us to learn the principles of yoga which we then apply in our lives. And we must take our practice off the mat, we must be able to translate those lessons to our experiences in this life. That’s why we were given this incarnation, to learn and experience until we return to our Source. It’s great if we can practice being kind to ourselves when we can’t perform a challenging asana, but if we don’t take that lesson with us and speak kindly to ourselves when we’re stressed about money, or to our co-workers in a tense meeting, then we’ve missed the real benefit, and perhaps even the purpose, of yoga. It’s wonderful to find that state of peace while in meditation, but if we leave the meditation hall, get in our car, and get angry and yell at the drivers around us, again we’ve blown it. To be clear, I’m not saying we have to be perfect people. As Wayne Dyer said, you can only be better than the person you used to be. An effective yoga practice supports us in being our best self in each moment, evolving along the way.
Your thoughts, words, and actions are the results of what you practice. By practicing these principles when we do yoga postures, sit for meditation, or breathe deeply we are strengthening our ability to be friendly to a difficult person, kind to someone who has hurt us, to find joy even in the midst of challenges, and to remain even and non-judgmental through the ups and downs of life. The true measure of a yogi is not just our ability to be present during our practice; it’s in how we treat ourselves and others during the moments between practices.

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

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.

 

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.

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.

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.

AstroSync

Opening the wheel, web and flower of life

OPERATION YOGA

Helping people who are ready for better