Why Yoga?

By Hannah Ouellette

It wasn’t something I planned on, I had just come down off of losing a significant amount of weight and the gym got to be boring. I saw an advertisement saying “$10 for 10 days of Unlimited Yoga,” so I figured for $10 what could I lose. I say this and act as if I was not intimidated or mildly afraid of what I might find when I got to the studio, but really I had serious trepidation. That trepidation led me to call the studio and leave a message. The call I got back was kind, open, and interested. 

Laura Josephy, the studio manager at the time and now owner, took no less than 20 minutes of her day to talk with me about my body, my previous experience with yoga, and what I wanted out of my practice. It was like having a small therapy session in the best way. I was encouraged and excited, but like any new physical effort or practice I had preconceived notions. 

I came from a weird tangential background that was an amalgam of different sports and physical practices. I had loved Pilates because in some ways even when I was heavier I could get my body into positions of flexibility other people didn’t have. (Are you sensing that mild/moderate competitiveness?) But I had only done a yoga class in college where at the end of practice each week I would compare myself to other people who made more rapid progress mastering asana. I was stuck in the asana and what I thought yoga was. So it was with this complicated background I proceeded to the then Mountain Yoga studio. 

Finding whatever brazen woman that lives inside me, I decided to practice at a advanced beginner’s class taught on a Saturday. In complete honesty, I figured this was where I would have the best chance blending in. I was met by a bright sprite of a woman who radiated energy. I knew then I was in a special place. I rolled out my old mat that I had used in previous Pilates classes, thinking that I might look the part. Little did I know that back row has the heat of a small sauna, but what I noticed more was how many different types of people where in attendance.

Often when people say the word yoga, usually one of two scenarios come to mind: a nubile barely dressed young woman arching gracefully into something that makes you sigh in awe and cringe in presumed sympathy pains, or the wise and hardtack bodied old yogi who seems to levitate off his prayer rug. Of course because I am a slightly hyperbolic person I imagined both of these types of individuals and they also didn’t sweat. 

That wasn’t the case in this class. I found myself comfortable with not only my choice to practice but with myself in a new way. As the practice began the directions were clear and intuitive making it easy to try and not stare at the people around me. Did I get lost and confused at times? Obviously, but I became less of a critic and breathed. Granted, the breaths I took were mostly off-cue but at least I was trying something that I didn’t know about. 

As the class came to a close I felt warm and unified with my fellow practioner in a way I had never experienced at the gym or in other sports. I was so grateful, that I spoke with my instructor for a solid 15 minutes after class. Again, there was no rush because she wanted to provide advice and assessment that would help me on my way. 

Like with anything, a large part of my beginnings with yoga was spent comparing my asana practice to others and trying to make sure I broke a sweat in class. This began to cause a minor burn out because I was in a tangent of sweat and burn without breath. So as I continued to attend more and more classes I began to need something different. That is when Mysore came into my life.

The Mysore four-week program was where I really found my stride. The intimacy of small class and the sequencing became more important than comparing. It became about my breathing and how that resonated with the others practicing. The progression of movement was linked with breath, but I was also developing a community of people who loved yoga. Through that love of yoga, I found myself falling in love with the people as much as the practice because they were there breathing with me. Suddenly, I was practicing with people who had been working on asana for years, but they were grunting or deep breathing right alongside me. It was an eye-opening experience because yoga wasn’t about mastering complicated poses in that space. It was instead how unified breath with other people and the self created a conduit for a deeper awareness that where I could go on my own. 

Yoga is something people come to in different ways, but when you find a community of people who love it and want to teach more than the physical aspect of it, that is when you truly find yoga. I am glad everyday that I saw that advertisement and that the people Tahoe Yoga Shala keep embracing me. Every time I find myself losing focus, there is always a kind friend who tells, listens, or shows me a new facet of yoga and how I might bring that to my wheel house. 

Hanuman Chalisa

Every Tuesday between the two morning classes the Tahoe Yoga Shala community gathers to sing the forty verses of the Hanuman Chalisa by Tulsidas, the great sixteenth century poet. The Chalisa is a devotional song that recounts and praises the life and exploits of the Great Monkey Hero, Hanuman. Tuesday is considered Hanuman's Day because it is said that he was born on the full moon of Chitra (March/April) which sets his birthdate on a Tuesday.  Further, in Vedic Astrology, Tuesdays are associated with conflict and accidents because it is governed by the malefic planet, Mars.  On Tuesdays, we may feel more fiery than normal and it is advised to channel this Martian energy into our yoga practice. Hanuman represents the ability to transform this primal energy into tejas - radiance, strength, courage and penetrating insight.  The forty verses of the Hanuman Chalisa is traditionally sung on Tuesday to invoke his qualities of strength, intelligence and devotion.  If ever there were a single deity representing devotion, it is Lord Hanuman.  Hanuman dwells in the heart and thus chanting the Chalisa has powerful heart-opening capabilities.  All are welcome!  Join us at the Shala every Tuesday at 9:15 a.m.

Recommended Resources:

Flow of Grace CD by Krishna Das

Hanuman Chalisa Translation

Having polished the mirror of my heart with the dust of my teacher's feet, I narrate the pure fame of Raghupati (Rama), who bestows the four fruits of life - dharma, kama, artha, moksha. 

Knowing myself to be devoid of intelligence, I invoke Sri Hanuman, the son of the wind. Grant me strength, intelligence and wisdom and remove my shortcomings and sorrows. 

1. Hail Hanuman, ocean of wisdom. Hail Monkey Lord! You light up the three worlds.

2. You are Ram's messenger, the abode of matchless power. Anjani's son, "Son of the Wind."

3. Great hero, you are a mighty thunderbolt. Remover of evil thoughts and companion of the good.

4. Golden hued and splendidly adorned with heavy earrings and curly locks.

5. In your hands shine a mace and a banner.  A sacred thread adorns your shoulder.

6. You are an incarnation of Shiva and Kesari's son. Your glory is revered throughout the world. 

7. You are the wisest of the wise, virtuous and clever.  Ever eager to do Ram's work.

8. You delight in hearing of the Lord's deeds.  Ram, Lakshman and Sita dwell in your heart.

9. Assuming a tiny form you appeared to Sita.  In an awesome form your burned Lanka.

10. Taking a dreadful form you slaughtered the demons, completing Ram's work.

11. Bringing the magic herb your revived Lakshman. Sri Ram embraced you with delight.

12. The Lord of the Raghus praised your greatly, "You are as dear to me as my brother Bharat!"

13. "Thousands of mouths will sing your fame!" So saying, Lakshmi's Lord drew you to himself.

14. Sanak and the sages, Brahma, and the munis, Narada, Sarasvati and the King of Serpents,

15. Yama, Kubera, the guardians of the four quarters, poets and scholars - none can express your glory. 

16. You did great service for Sugriva. Bringing him to Ram, you gave him kingship.

17. Vibhishana heeded your counsel. He became Lord of Lanka, as the whole world knows.

18. Though the sun is millions of miles away, you swallowed it thinking it a sweet fruit.

19. Holding the Lord's ring in your mouth, it is no surprise you leapt over the ocean.

20. Every difficult task in this world becomes easy by your grace.

21. You are the guardian at Ram's door. No one enters without your permission.

22. Those who take refuge in you find all happiness. Those who you protect know no fear.

23. You alone can withstand your own splendor.  The three worlds tremble at your roar.

24. Ghosts and goblins cannot come near, Great Hero, when your name is called.

25. All disease and pain are eradicated by constantly repeating your name, brave Hanuman.

26. Hanuman, you release from affliction all those who remember you in thought, word and deed.

27. Ram, the ascetic King, reigns over all but you carry out all his work.

28. One who comes to you with any yearning obtains the abundance of the Four Fruits of Life.

29. Your splendor fills the four ages.  Your glory is renowned throughout the world.

30. You are the guardian of saints and sages, the destroyer of demons and the darling of Ram.

31. You grant the eight powers and nine treasures by the boon your received from Mother Janaki.

32. You hold the elixir of Ram's name and remain eternally his servant.

33. Singing your praise, one finds Ram and the sorrows of countless lives are destroyed.

34. At death one goes to Ram's own abode, born there as God's devotee.

35. Why worship any other deity when from Hanuman you get all happiness.

36. All affliction ceases and all pain is removed for those who remember the mighty hero, Hanuman.

37.  Victory, Victory, Victory Lord Hanuman! Bestow your grace on me as my Guru!

38. Whoever recites this a hundred times is released from bondage and gains bliss.

39. One who reads this Hanuman Chalisa gains success, as Gauri's Lord is witness.

40. Says Tulsidas, who always remains Hari's servant.

Son of the Wind, destroyer of sorrow, embodiment of blessings. With Ram, Lakshman and Sita, LIVE IN MY HEART, King of Gods!

The Many Names of Hanuman

Hanuman is one of the most beloved figures in the Hindu pantheon of Gods.  There are many ways to approach a deity but perhaps the easiest is to relate as a personal archetype. The word archetype was coined by the Swiss psychotherapist, Carl Jung.  An archetype is a symbol or form that is imprinted in the subconscious. Archetypes live within our collective unconscious and surface in times of transition to guide us toward our True Self.  Part divine, part human and part monkey, Hanuman is the archetype of wisdom, self-control, devotion, valor, righteousness and strength.

Hanuman is the son of Anjana. His second most common name is Anjaneya, literally "son of Anjana."  There are many stories surrounding the birth of Hanuman.  His paternity is linked to two gods, Shiva and Vayu, and a simian father, Kesari, as well.  The most commonly accepted story claims he is the son of Vayu, the wind god.  Hanuman is known as Vayuputra, Pavanaputra and Maruti, all of which name him as the son of Vayu.  As Hanuman has been credited with a number of birth stories, there follows a number of different dates on which he is said to have been born. The most popular is the full moon of the month Chitra (March/April) which sets his birthday on a Tuesday just five days after that of Rama, his ishta devata.  According to Vedic astrology, Tuesdays are associated with conflict and accidents because it is governed by the malefic planet, Mars.  On Tuesdays, we may feel more fiery than normal and it is advised to channel this Martian energy into our yoga practice.  Hanuman represents the ability to transform this primal energy into tejas - radiance, strength, courage and penetrating insight.  The forty verses of the Hanuman Chalisa composed by Tulsidas, the great sixteenth century poet, is traditionally sung on Tuesday to invoke his qualities of strength, intelligence and devotion. Sankata Mochan, Hanuman is the dispeller of sorrows.

Hanuman is perhaps best know as the great monkey hero of the Indian epic, the Ramayana.  We can gain understanding of the Ramayana by recalling Homer's Odyssey, another ancient epic, in which the Greek hero Odysseus goes through many trials and adventures before reuniting with his faithful wife Penelope.  In the Ramayana, Rama is on a divine quest to subdue the demon king Ravana, rescue his beloved wife Sita, and restore the balance of good and evil on Earth.  Rama is seen as the supreme glory of mankind and teaches us how to act with valor, dignity, compassion and chivalry.  His wife Sita is the embodiment of grace, beauty and virtue.  Hanuman is the life force that unites them.  

Hanuman is a karma yogi - one who practices the yoga of action.  His entire life was spent in the service of others. Hanuman was totally free from the desire for personal fame or glory.  In the whole of the Ramayana, all of his feats were done for the sake of others.  He performed all of his duties with humility, modesty and great devotion.  For that he is called Dasarama, one who serves Rama.  Hanuman also personifies bhakti through his single pointed and immutable devotion to Rama.  Thus he is named Ekagrabhakta.  Hanuman was the first to sing songs of adoration (bhajans) and songs of praise (kirtans).  His music was an outpouring of his infinite love for Rama.  Hanuman attained liberation solely by chanting the name of Rama, his personal deity, and the utter surrender of his personal will to that of his Lord.

Interestingly, the monkey is often used a symbol for the human mind, which is ever restless and never still. This monkey-mind happens to be the only thing over which we can, in theory, have absolute control. We cannot control the world around us, but we can tame our mind through consistent practice.  Hanuman's name gives us a idea of his character.  It is a combination of two Sanskrit words, hanan (mastery) and manas (mind).  Hanuman is symbolic of the perfected mind and embodies the highest potential it can achieve.  According to yogic thought, the physical body is an extension of the mind.  Hence Hanuman, with perfect mastery of his mind and senses, had superhuman strength.  He is often called Bajarangabali - ones whose body is like a thunderbolt.  Hanuman is so strong that he can lift mountains and so agile that he can leap across the sea.  Flying Monkey!

Hanuman is associated with the physical culture of hatha yoga. Hanuman is said to have composed the practice of surya namasakra, the sun salutation, which combines the essential yoga postures with the energy of devotion, to honor his celestial guru, Surya.  His celestial father, Vayu, taught him pranayama, the science of breath control, which he in turned taught to humans.  Air sustains all living beings.  One can go days without food and water, but it is impossible to exist even for a short while without air.  Air is life.  As such, Hanuman is also called Pranadeva, the God of Breath or Life.

Hanuman is a Chiranjevi, those who live until the end of this cycle of creation.  He is know for his mighty intellect and is thought to have learned the Vedas from Surya, the sun god, himself.  He is the wisest of the wise - Gyaninama Graganyam - the strongest of the strong and the bravest of the brave.  Rama himself describes Hanuman thus: "Heroism, cleverness, strength, firmness, sagacity, prudence, prowess and power have taken up their abode in Hanuman."

The Hanuman Chalisa declares that there is no blessing that Hanuman cannot bestow.  Sita granted him the power to bestow the eight siddhis (divine attainments).  However, the greatest boon one can ask of Hanuman is the uplifting of the spiritual qualities for which he himself is known.  

Having polished the mirror of my heart with the dust of my teacher's feet, I narrate the pure fame of Raghupati (Rama), who bestows the four fruits of life - dharma, kama, artha, moksha. 
Knowing myself to be devoid of intelligence, I invoke Sri Hanuman, the son of the wind. Grant me strength, intelligence and wisdom and remove my shortcomings and sorrows. 
~ Hanuman Chalisa by Tulsidas


Recommended Reading:

Hanuman: The Devotion and Power of the Monkey God by Vanamali

The Ramayana by Ramesh Menon

Niyama - Personal Observances

Last month we reviewed the yama or universal observances. This month we examine the niyama or personal observances. As the first two limbs, the yama and niyama establish the foundation of Patanjali's eight-limbed practice of Yoga.

As yama is universal social practices, niyama evolves from individual practices that strength one's character. The Sanskrit word yama translates as; to bridle, to restrain, to check or hold-in. The prefix 'ni'  as inniyama, is an intensifier signaling an internal restraint and discipline.

The five niyama are purity (shauca), contentment (santosha), discipline (tapah), self-study (svadhyaya) and the perfect aligning of attention with the True Self (ishvara-pranidhana). Purity extends beyond the external cleanliness of the physical body to include the nourishment that goes into body, the sensory impressions taken in via personal relationships/media and the subtle quality of thoughts and beliefs.  Contentment as an internal practice means embracing an Absolute Joy that is independent of external circumstances or conditions.  It is relaxing into the world as it is and the letting go of external attachments that allows one to abide in the here and the now.  Tapah, literally "to heat," is an intense commitment to the internal process.  Each time a distracting impulse, intense emotion or outdated habit surfaces but is not obeyed the heat of this friction moves us closer to discriminating awareness.  Self-study is independent study of philosophical texts and, more importantly, how one applies them to one's own life in order to "walk the talk."  Lastly, isvara-pranidhana.  Isvara is pure awareness, the omniscient Self, the Seer or the God within.  Pranidhana is orienting every thought, word and deed toward knowing pure awareness. Chip Hartranft in his commentary on the Yoga Sutras sums it up beautifully, "Isvara-pranidhana provides the point of focus to which the yogi continually returns in the course of practice (abhyasa) and the inspiration to cultivate non-reaction (vairagya)."

The inner life of every human being is visited by unwholesome and negative thoughts of all kinds. Patanjali doesn't find fault or judge but rather regards this as the natural state of affairs.  He does, however, state that we have the power to neutralize unwholesome thoughts by cultivating and realizing their opposites.  Otherwise, our unwholesome thoughts are bound to manifest and contribute to the cycle of suffering, pain and delusion.  The ten yama and niyama serve as a baseline "karmic management" program that encourage us to take actions that allow us to gain mastery over our lives while minimizing karmic burden.

Mysore Style FAQ's

Thanks be to the Yoga Workshop their guidance with this content.

You may have noticed the gradual increase of Mysore Style classes on the schedule. Most recently, Laura's Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. class has converted to a Mysore Style class.  What is Ashtanga: Mysore Style?  How may it benefit you?  Read on...

Mysore Style practice is the heart of the Ashtanga Yoga lineage. 

The room is quiet and people are in all sorts of different shapes. The teacher is moving from student to student offering individualized instruction and assistance.  The sound of the breath, the serious expression on people’s faces, the abundance of sweat, and the fact that everyone (except you) seems to know exactly what they are doing can provoke the urge to hightail it right back out the door.  Whether you are in South Lake Tahoe or any number of cities around the world; a Mysore Style class definitely leaves a first impression.  You need not be a yoga teacher or an advanced practitioner; once you understand what is going on and commit to the practice, you may discover that Mysore Style is an amazing forum for cultivating a transformative yoga practice. 

What is Mysore?

1). a city in Southern India, Karnataka State.

2). a format of an Ashtanga Yoga class. 

Pronounced as in: “My sore back is what got me into yoga.” or “Boy am I sore.” 

This style of class is modeled after the Ashtanga Yoga classes in Mysore, India taught by the late Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. A Mysore class provides an opportunity for students to develop a “self practice,” which is an integral part of the Ashtanga Yoga method. Students work independently on the particular series of postures that is most appropriate for them. The teacher assists, adjusts and may quietly discuss particular difficulties or concerns with individual students during class.

What is the structure of the class? 

Students need not practice for 2 full hours and can come and go anytime during the 2 hour window as is appropriate due to schedule, energy level and experience. 

About ten minutes into the official start time of the class, the teacher leads the students through the opening chant.  Sometime students come a bit early and begin warming up with sun salutations. However when the teacher announces the opening chant, they come back to stand at the top of the mat in samastithih and chant with the group. If a student finishes their practice early, they take rest for at least 5 minutes in savasana, or final relaxation pose, before quietly leaving. Some students may also arrive later in which case they enter quietly and set up their practice space.

If there’s no teacher leading the postures, how do people know what to practice?

The Ashtanga Yoga method is based on a number of specific series of postures which are learned over the course of time and are practiced on a regular basis. Beginning with the “primary series,” students gradually, one pose at a time, work through and memorize the sequence of postures. After becoming proficient in one series, the next series is slowly introduced into the practice a few postures at a time. In this way, yoga becomes an individual practice through which breath, feelings, thoughts and sensations may be observed.

What if I forget what comes next in the series?

You can think of the Mysore teacher as a human cheat sheet (we have actual cheat sheets too). Students learn a little of the series at a time and use repetition to commit various sequence to memory.  The basic pattern is the same for all of the Ashtanga Series.  The practice always begins with 3-5 of both sun salutations, Surya Namaskara A and B. This is followed by the same sequence of standing postures. Next the postures that are contained within a particular series are practiced. This is followed, no matter what series has been practiced, by backbends and finishing postures. A minimum of a 5 minute rest in final relaxation pose concludes the practice. When you first go into a Mysore class it can seem confusing; like people are just doing their own thing or are doing random postures. But once you understand the basic structure of the series, it starts to make sense.

Never hesitate to call a teacher over. That’s what the teacher is there for. Teachers scan the room to see who needs help, so usually if you just stop in your practice and wait, the teacher will notice and come over when she has finished helping another student. It is not advised to walk over to the teacher to get their attention—but they’ll see you if you signal them.

Why are there series? Why not just do what feels good day to day?

Different series are designed to address different and particular aspects of an integrated yoga practice. The primary series, for example, is grounding; the intermediate series is said to cleanse the nervous system.  Following the prescribed sequence serves several functions. First, the series are designed to prepare the body for the postures that follow. Becoming grounded through the primary series makes the practitioner ready to begin opening into deep backbends (which are in the intermediate series) without becoming mentally scattered, emotionally imbalanced, or ego driven—which can happen if back bending is practiced without proper grounding. Also, following a series insures that the less appealing postures are part of the repertoire. It’s always a temptation to skip postures we don’t like and often these postures are the very ones that will benefit us the most. Finally, by doing the same sequences repeatedly and by practicing on a regular basis—ideally 6 days a week—a rhythmic and meditative form automatically arises. This process allows the students to practice deeply; to move beyond the external form of the practice into the patterns of thought and emotional that shape the body from the inside. As we give space to the inner recesses of our bodies, we slowly release ourselves from subconscious patterns of conditioning.  This is the practice of Yoga. 

What is so great about “self-practice?”

When there isn’t a teacher guiding a led class, the responsibility falls squarely on the practitioner to practice with authenticity and intelligence. This form of introspective practice allows the student to observe the feelings, thoughts and sensations that arise during the practice and to gradually stop grasping at the pleasant experiences while rejecting the unpleasant ones. It allows the student to cultivate a visceral understanding of change and impermanence and a meditative state automatically arises.

If I’ve never been to a Mysore class before, is it OK to just show up?

Yes! That’s actually a great way to begin the practice. It’s helpful if you have some idea about what Ashtanga Yoga is, but even if you’re not sure you’re up to speed, beginners are always welcome. Some students find it helpful to attend guided classes at the studio to get a sense of the Ashtanga system before checking out Mysore. We offer Intro to Mysore Series on a quarterly basis but this is not a pre-requisite if you want to dive directly into a Mysore class.

Who practices Mysore?

All sorts of people from beginners to long-time practitioners. The Ashtanga method is perfect for young, athletically oriented people. At the same time this practice is something that can benefit you when you at any age and at any phase of health. You’ll find that any given class has a wide range of age, experience, flexibility and strength in attendance. It can appear when you first walk into class that everyone is advanced, because people seem to know what they’re doing and because they are practicing on their own, but many beginning students practice Mysore Style.

How do I know it’s time to move on to a new posture or start a new series? 

Students work with the teachers individually to determine when it is appropriate from them to move on, modify or experiment with new postures. Students are encouraged to practice within their capability of focus, strength and flexibility. We do not encourage students to breeze through a series or skip postures ‘they cannot do’ or don’t like. 

Our Mysore teachers meet on a regular basis in order to offer a coordinated approach for students. We try to keep abreast of each student’s needs so that we can help the students from our own experience.  The decision to move a student onto the next pose is not purely based on physical ability.  The student's overall mental, emotional, energetic and physical gestalt is considered.  Mysore Style practice is a process that requires time, consistency, patience, curiosity, introspection and dedication.  It may take a year or more to learn the full primary series.  Ultimately the practice is not about the postures themselves but the internal process they reveal.  The mat the microcosm, is the laboratory where we run experiments and gather data about how we are predisposed to think, speak and act when presented with various circumstances. This data is then applied to the macrocosm of daily lifestyle practices and choices.

What is Ujjayi breath?

One central aspect of the Ashtanga system is the ujjayi pranayama — breathing with sound.  A sound that is made by breathing through the nose but from the throat.  A gentle contraction in the throat creates an audible whisper.  Sometimes people get overly enthusiastic and may begin to breathe with too much force, but generally it is a smooth, even and non-aggressive sounding breath. The breath is intended to be a means of focusing the mind and inviting the practitioner enter a state of meditation.  As a general rule, inhaling is associated with expansive, opening, spreading, lifting types of movements.  Exhaling is associated with contracting, dropping, grounding and curling types of movements.

What are the bandhas?

Bandhas are internal seals that contain body and lend it strength and grace. The three principle bandhas used throughout the posture practice are mula bandha, the pelvic floor lock, uddiyana bandha, the abdominal lock, andjalandhara bandha, the neck lock. Bandhas stabilize potentially vulnerable areas of the body while imbuing the postures themselves with buoyancy and ease. With breath there is bandha. In general, the exhale is correlated with mula bandha and the inhale is correlated with uddiyana bandha.  

What does “dristi” mean?

Each pose has a preferred dristi or gazing point.  The gaze is another mindfulness training tool that encourages the student to attune to the sensations of their own body-mind. The gaze is soft and focused, never gripping nor darting. The most common gazing point is the nose, though some postures may have a gaze at the fingertips, the eyebrows, the hand or the navel. 

I feel like when I practice by myself I get stuck and I think too much.  Should I just go to a guided class instead?

When first beginning a self-practice it can be difficult to stay focused. That’s one of the benefits of memorizing the sequence slowly over time; by knowing what posture comes next and by simply keeping moving, the mind doesn’t have as much of an opportunity to wander. By keeping the gaze steady, the movement coordinated with the breathing, and by coming back again and again to the sound of the breath the mind gradually begins to release and relax and drop in.

Cultivating a meditative form of practice takes time and patience, but it is well worth it and cannot ever happen in a guided class to the depth that it can when doing self-practice.

Yamas - Universal Disciplines

The Yamas-Universal Disciplines

Over the last several months we have been taking a closer look at the second chapter of the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali. The Sadhana Pada is the chapter on practice. This chapter includes one of the most beloved pieces of Yoga philosophy, the 8 Limbs of Yoga.  The 8 Limbs of Yoga are both a starting place and a roadmap for the student seeking an understanding of the philosophy that supports the 5000 year old practice. But as Richard Freeman so wisely states, "the map is not the territory." The map can give us a theoretically understanding of being there but, alas, it is not the same as actually being there.  If what follows resonates, I encourage you to seek out resources (including Shala teachers), journal, meditate and discuss your discoveries. Nothing beats ones' first hand experience.  The practice of Yoga is a living, dynamic, constantly changing tradition that requires your curiosity and insight in order to continue to evolve from generation to generation.

The first of the eight limbs is yama, universal disciplines. The Sanskrit word yama translates as; to bridle, to restrain, to check or hold-in. The yama focus on the interactions we have with people and things outside of ourselves. Together with the niyamas, or internal disciplines (to be discussed next month), the first two limbs of Yoga form the fundamental ethical precepts at the foundation of the practice.  To be clear, Yoga is not a religion. It is a philosophy of existence that offers us the contemplative science and technology for living the good life.  At the core of the Yoga practice is the understanding that we are all interconnected. You can interpret it on the gross level - we share air, earth, sun and water - or the subtle level - we share the spark of consciousness. The Dali Lama sums it up nicely, "My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness."  The living practice of the five universal disciplines is an exercise in placing all beings inside your heart while simultaneously seeing yourself in others. 

The five yama are non-harming (ahimsa), truthfulness (satya), non-stealing (asteya), moderation (brahmacharya) and non-grasping (aparigrahah).  Theses principles seem fairly straightforward but they run deep into every action, deed, attitude, thought and word. These questions are merely food for thought, not personal opinions or judgements. Does non-harming extended to animals? Insects?  Does non-stealing included other's time or energy?  Brahmacharya was traditionally considered a period of chastity. Most modern house-holding yogi's prefer to translate this yamaas moderation, specifically in the arena of sexual desire. Are there areas in your life where desires of any kind consume and incapacitate you?  The yama are ordered with intention.  Can you practice non-hurtfullness when speaking your truth?  Can you practice non-grasping in your intimate relationships?  Perhaps over the next five weeks you will ruminate on these question and others of your own, recognize patterns and reaffirm your Yoga practice as a method for creating a gap between the spark and the flame....

Purusha, Prakriti & The Gunas

Purusha, Prakriti & The Gunas

Last month we discussed the five root causes of suffering (kleshas): lack of self-awareness (avidya), "I am-ness" (asmita), attachement (raga), dislike (dvesa) and fear of change (abhinivesha). The Yoga Sutras state that by tracing our patterns of suffering back to their source and controlling the thoughts (vrtti) that arise around them we can avoid future pain.  Sutra 2.17 states that the suffering to be ended is caused by the correlation between the Seer and the Seeable. 

Purusha is the Seer, the witness, pure consciousness and the True Self. Prakriti is the Seeable, the experienced, creativity and the constantly changing. All ideas and feelings, including those about Purusha, are composed of impermanent and interconnected braids of creative energy, or Prakriti. Prakriti is expressed through the three primary forces of creation - sattva, rajas and tamas. Sattva is brightness, clarity and intelligence. Rajas is activity, passion and change. Tamas is inertia, lethargy and darkness. Referred to as the gunas, these three forces combine to create everything in nature including the food we eat, the thoughts we think and the body in which we live. Sutra 2.18 goes on to say that the Seeable exists for the dual purpose of experience and emancipation. If Purusha is pure seeing alone and Parkriti exists solely to put on a fantastic show for Purusha, how did they become such an entangled mess?  Though distinct, Purusha an Prakriti are often experienced as one and the same due to lack of self-awareness - yes, thats right, klesha numero uno! Through the practice of the 8 Limbs of Yoga we can use our experience to awaken to our innate discriminating intelligence. This light of awareness has the ability to discern the difference between the Seer and the Seeable.  When the Seer sees clearly the external world may appear drastically changed when in truth, it is the internal perception of the world that has shifted. The world doesn't change but how you relate to it does...

Next month we will start to look at where the rubber meets the road - The 8 Limbs of Yoga!

Avidya Asmita Raga Dvesa Abhinivesha Klesah

Avidya Asmita Raga Dvesa Abhinivesha Klesah

Last month we discussed the definition of Kriya Yoga according to Patanjali in his seminal text the Yoga Sutra. The second chapter of the Yoga Sutra is titled Sadhana Pada. One translation for the word sadhana is procuring and thus the second chapter is often referred to as the chapter on how to practice Kriya Yoga. Sutra 2.2 states that the intent of Kriya Yoga is to bring our innate intelligence into the foreground by removing the causes of suffering. Sutra 2.3 lists the five root causes of suffering and the Sutras that follow go on to explain each klesha in detail.

The five afflictions are: lack of self-awareness (avidya), "I am-ness" (asmita), attachement (raga), dislike (dvesa) and the will to live/fear of death (abhinivesha). These five obstructions whether dormant, attenuated or alternating between interrupted and fully active are the principle hindrances on the path to self-realization. Avidya is considered to be the ground in which the other four kleshas thrive. In the absence of self-awareness we mistake the transient for the permanent, the impure for the pure, pain for pleasure and that which is not the self for the self (2.5). To be clear avidya has little to do with the ordinary acquisition of knowledge through the intellect but instead refers to knowledge in the highest philosophical sense. One can be very intelligent or academically accomplished and be completely blinded by the illusions created by the mind. The mind in its delusion desires things to stay permanent, perfect and pure and when things change or unfold in an unexpected way suffering occurs because the sense of "I am" (asmita) has become enmeshed with that object/person/situation/title. This confusion of the seer and the act of seeing results in attachment to pleasure (raga) and resistance to pain (devsa) and a generalized fear of change, the most all encompassing and subtle of which is the fear of death (abhinivesha). How do we get off the wheel of suffering?  Stop watering the seeds! Fortunately the root causes of pain can be ended through self-inquiry and meditation.  By tracing these afflictions back to their source and controlling the fluctuations of thought that arise around them we can cultivate the discriminating intelligence that allows us to discern the difference between the Seer (Purusha) and the see-able (prakriti). More on these concepts next month...

Tapah Svadhyaya Isvara Pranidhanani Kriya Yogah

Tapah Svadhyaya Isvara Pranidhanani Kriya Yogah

Patanjali's Sutra 2.1 defines the practice of Kriya Yoga, the Yoga of Action, as tapas (self-discipline), svadhyaya (self-reflection) and Isvara pranidhana (surrender to Isvara). Tapas, from the Sanskrit root "to heat," is the purification of body, mind and senses through consistent practice.  Svadhyaya is self-study and may involve reading philosophical or spiritual texts, the recitation of personal mantras, journaling and psychotherapy. Isvara pranidhana is surrender to God.  If you are uncomfortable with the "G word" please feel free to substitute a word that resonates: Divine, Soul, Creator, Beloved. BKS Iyengar states "This sutra represents the three great paths: Karma Yoga, Jnana Yoga and Bhakti Yoga." The path of action (karma yoga) is the practice of austerities (tapas) including asana (postures). The path of knowledge (jnana yoga) is the path to understanding one's self (svadhyaya). The path of love (bhakti yoga) is the path of complete surrender (pranidhana) to the effulgent and sorrowless light of Isvara. Tim Miller quotes his teacher, Pattabhi Jois, as having considered the mythological Hanuman, to be one of only two great yogis. What makes a great yogi?  The perfect balance of strength, intelligence and devotion.

Patanjali goes on to say in Sutra 2.2 that the intent of Kriya Yoga is to bring our innate intelligence into the foreground by removing the causes of suffering.  More on the five kleshas (afflictions) or root causes of suffering next month...