The Meaning of Yoga

What is the meaning of Yoga anyway?.......

The meaning of Yoga is different from person to person, in view of the varied nature of an individual’s feelings and experiences. For some, it is a way of life, and for others, it is a way to keep the body free from different ailments. For many, it involves the practice of Relaxation and Meditation. However, according to my own experience, Yoga is a way of unfolding our hidden qualities and awakening our dormant faculties.

The word “Yoga” literally means “to unite,” and people interpret this unity in different ways. Some say it is the uniting of individual consciousness with higher consciousness; others believe it to be a state of realization. However, practically speaking, it is a state of unity, balance and equilibrium, between body and brain, brain and mind, mind and spirit. When all the aspects of personality are in balance, our personality expresses itself in a different way.

Yoga and the Altered State of Consciousness

Any change, in the normal behavior of the mind, can be an altered state. When we get angry, it is an altered state of consciousness; when we go to sleep, it is another altered state; and when we express ourselves, we create altered states. There are some experiences, which bring the mind down towards the gross, instinctive, and rational plane; and other experiences that go beyond the instinctive and rational level, which are probably best expressed by the term “intuitive states of mind.” Yoga helps us with the different situations and experiences, with which we are confronted. Some are very pleasing and we feel elated; but when we are confronted with depressing situations, we let them get us down. During our whole life, from birth until death, our mind fluctuates between these two extremes. One such extreme is of happiness, satisfaction, and joy. The other extreme is of sadness and frustration- Our thoughts, emotions, feelings, behavior, and attitudes are always fluctuating, moving from one side of the scale to the other, and during these fluctuations, our energies become unbalanced. “Unbalanced,” means that we are unable to harness the potential of our personality, and our mind stays in a state of dissipation, unable to concentrate, unable to become one-pointed or focused. It is at this time, that by practicing Yoga, we are able to gain a better control over our intellect, emotion, and behavior.

There are three aspects of Yoga – Physical, Mental, and Spiritual.

The Physical Aspects of Yoga

The physical aspect of Yoga is where we try to harmonize the body and become aware of the different types of imbalance, within the physical structure, which cause various types of stress and tension. Due to muscular and physical stress, a state of imbalance occurs, which becomes the cause of different aches and pains, psychosomatic, and somopsychic disorders – where the harmony of the body is distorted. Let’s see how many types of physical movements we go through during the day: Just try to imagine. We sit in a chair; our body is bent. We sit on the floor; our body is bent. We sit on the bed; our body is bent. Most of the movements that the body experiences, in the hours of our waking state, create a lot of physical tension. How many times do we actually stretch our body? How many times do we actually provide traction to the body during the day? There are very few times. How many times do we twist our body in a controlled way, without any jerk? Again, it is very few times. How many times do we make a conscious effort to curve the body backward? It is very rarely. We can say that, apart from sleeping flat in bed, most of the time, we spend it is in a forward bend posture. Right now, you are bending forward. Your spine may be straight and upright, but your legs are bent. This type of posture creates some type of tension. This imbalance creates a definite distortion in the functioning of the internal organs and systems. The digestive system is affected without doubt, unless we have a very powerful digestive tract.

The physical aspect of Yoga aims to eliminate this imbalance, by prescribing various postures or Asanas. Asanas are smooth, controlled movements, which are done slowly and with awareness, to provide the maximum stretch to the body in every direction. When we begin Yoga, we do not start with difficult practices, like the Headstand, but with very simple practices, such as moving the fingers and toes, the hands, wrists and arms – just to gain a deeper understanding about the state of our body, about our muscular, nervous, and skeletal systems. Thus, we become aware of where we are stiff, where we are tight, and how best we can remove that stiffness and tightness. It is this gradual working with the body that leads to the discovery of the body, which is the main object in the physical aspect of Yoga. Apart from the physical structure, within our body, we experience levels of energy. When we wake up, we feel fresh and energetic; but by the end of the day, we are feeling down, low in energy, tired. If we, again, relax for some time, and the body is able to recuperate, again, the level of energy rises, and we feel okay. The stale of tiredness decreases. The level of energy also increases, with the state of physical relaxation, and decreases when the body is in a state of tension.

Asana

“Asana,” a Sanskrit word translated as “posture,” does not literally mean “exercise” or “posture”, but “at ease and relaxed”. You could be standing totally upside down on one arm, in a state void of tension or stress. If you are able to achieve that, then you can say, “I am doing an Asana.” So, what the whole thing ultimately boils down to is – knowing one’s body.

When we practice Asana, by stretching the body in different directions, we are also relaxing the muscular structure, tissues, bones, and nervous system, and massaging the internal organs, such as the liver, kidneys, intestines, and stomach. It is a gentle toning. In this way, the whole body is brought into a state of balance. When we feel balanced within, physically free from tension and stress, free from stiffness and tightness, then that physical harmony influences the activity of the brain.

Pranayama

Apart from Asana, there are practices of Pranayama – breathing techniques. The breath is intimately related with the states of emotion and intellect. We take our breath for granted and fail to understand that, by harmonizing the breathing pattern, we can also influence and alter the pattern of our emotions, mind, and intellect. When you have felt afraid, or angry, your breath becomes fast and shallow, but when you are relaxed, tension-free, breath becomes slow and deep. The breath definitely controls certain aspects of the nervous system, the activity of the brain, and emotional and intellectual expression. The practice of Pranayama gives us voluntary control over our intellectual and emotional activities.

The Mental Aspect of Yoga

When we study Yogic literature, we find that Yoga is a form of psychotherapy. The whole process of Yoga eventually deals with knowing, understanding, and realizing the mind. Emotional stress plays a very important role in our life. Intellectual stress plays a very important role, also. Both types of stress deal with the feeling of security, inhibition, inferiority, or superiority complexes, and our ability to express ourselves. Many things are involved here – not just one. Through various practices of relaxation and concentration, which aim to focus the attention at one point, we are able to overcome the state of emotional stress.

Relaxation is definitely something which we all require. We cannot avoid it. Sleep is a form of relaxation; but when we go to bed at night, we carry our problems with us. We carry our thoughts, frustrations, anxieties, and stress. So, when sleep comes, we do not know; and if the level of stress is high, we pass a very restless night. If the level of stress is low, we are not even aware of how we passed the night – all the lights are out. Yoga says that in order to relax totally, one should be able to go to bed alone. It means that we should not carry extra baggage with us to relax the mind. Before you go to bed, put your thoughts aside on your bedside table. Just like you take off your glasses and watch, remove your thoughts and keep them aside – remove the stress and keep it beside you. Just go to bed by yourself. By doing this, we become more aware of our mental requirements and of what is needed for proper physical and psychological relaxation. Remember, we need the ability to observe our state of mind – I am having this type of thought, I am undergoing this type of physical experience, I am passing through this emotional experience, I am undergoing this conflict, this tension – full awareness of body and mind. As you throw off the day, in preparation for sleep, become aware of the different parts of the body (for example, the breath) and acknowledge that they exist. Become aware of the mental activity, in terms of thoughts – what types of thoughts are coming? How are they affecting me? It is a process of becoming awake to our inner mind, watching the mind, observing the mind.

Concentration is not Meditation. Concentration is just focusing the dissipated energies of mind; and when these dissipated energies are focused, the resulting concentrated awareness becomes willpower. The concentrated mind becomes the experience of self-confidence, and a new vista, a new perspective of life and work opens up. This is the mental aspect of Yoga.

The Spiritual Aspect of Yoga

The meaning of spirituality, in Yoga, is defined as experiencing the spirit, the energy, the driving force, the motivation behind every action, and experience in life. Some people are aware of it, and some are not; but there is a driving force behind our every thought, feeling, attitude, and action, and it is becoming aware of that which is termed as the spiritual aspect of Yoga. There are times when we become highly active. There are times when we become highly sensitive, passive or dynamic. Dynamism, vitality, and energy are a definite force, known as “Prana.” The fluctuations in our mood, in our experiences, represent low forms of energy that govern and direct the whole of our life. different type of energy. This second form of energy is known as “Chitta.” By combining these two energies, Prana and Chitta, the physical aspect and the mental aspect, we are able to experience life in its totality, and that is the ultimate aim of Yoga.

So, Yoga means “unity of the physical and mental energies.” When the restlessness of the mind, intellect, and self is stabilized, through the practice of Yoga, the Yogi by the grace of Spirit, within himself, finds fulfillment. There is nothing higher and more blissful than this.

The Power of Love

This being the month of hearts!, it is no surprise that the Universe has conspired to pop into my email today two messages that jumped right out at me....one from Plum Village – A Buddhist foundation reiterating Dr. Martin Luther King’s own words on the Power of Love. An excerpt follows:

“I’m concerned about a better World. I’m concerned about justice; I’m concerned about brotherhood and sisterhood; I’m concerned about truth. And when one is concerned about that, he can never advocate violence. For through violence you may murder a murderer, but you can’t murder murder. Through violence you may murder a liar, but you can’t establish truth. Through violence you may murder a hater, but you can’t murder hate through violence. Darkness cannot put out darkness; only light can do that.

And I say to you, I have also decided to stick with love, for I know that love is ultimately the only answer to humankind’s problems. And I’m going to talk about it everywhere I go. I know it isn’t popular to talk about it in some circles today. And I’m not talking about emotional bosh when I talk about love; I’m talking about a strong, demanding love. For I have seen too much hate. […] and I say to myself that hate is too great a burden to bear. I have decided to love. If you are seeking the highest good, I think you can find it through love. And the beautiful thing is that we aren’t moving wrong when we do it, because John was right, God is love. He who hates does not know God, but he who loves has the key that unlocks the door to the meaning of ultimate reality. And so I say to you today, my friends, that you may be able to speak with the tongues of men and angels; you may have the eloquence of articulate speech; but if you have not love, it means nothing.

Yes, you may have the gift of prophecy; you may have the gift of scientific prediction and understand the behavior of molecules; you may break into the storehouse of nature and bring forth many new insights; yes, you may ascend to the heights of academic achievement so that you have all knowledge; and you may boast of your great institutions of learning and the boundless extent of your degrees; but if you have not love, all of these mean absolutely nothing. You may even give your goods to feed the poor; you may bestow great gifts to charity; and you may tower high in philanthropy; but if you have not love, your charity means nothing. You may even give your body to be burned and die the death of a martyr, and your spilt blood may be a symbol of honor for generations yet unborn, and thousands may praise you as one of history’s greatest heroes; but if you have not love, your blood was spilt in vain. What I’m trying to get you to see this morning is that a man may be self-­-centered in his self-­-denial and self-­-righteous in his self-­-sacrifice. His generosity may feed his ego, and his piety may feed his pride. So without love, benevolence becomes egotism, and martyrdom becomes spiritual pride.”

Then....the second email....from my own teacher of yoga, Erich Schiffmann, a very sweet video entitled ‘We are the current yogis on the planet!’ We are the ones to spread the word...NOW...and off course, his message to us is all about love and peace. Please click the link below to see the short – and very beautiful video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dVXTm0B-5rg

I began to think about love. And it seems I am not the only one thinking about it....or Googllng it! In 2012, ‘What is Love?’ was the most Googled question! So, what is love anyway? Depends on to whom you pose the question. A physicist will explain that love is chemistry. A powerful neurological condition like hunger or thirst, only more permanent.

The philosopher would say that love is a passionate commitment. That love is not one thing. Love for parents, partner, children, country, neighbour, God and so on all have different qualities...

The romanticist would say that love is where you are in relation to it. If you are in it, it can feel as mundane and necessary as air, that you exist within it, almost unnoticing. But, deprived of it, it can feel like an obsession; all consuming, a physical pain........

A nun would say love frees us yet binds us.......that love is more easily experienced than defined.

My favourite follows: The psychotherapist – Philippa Perry (author of Couch Fiction) “Unlike us, the ancients did not lump all the various emotions that we label "love" under the one word. They had several variations, including:

Philia which they saw as a deep but usually non-­-sexual intimacy between close friends and family members or as a deep bond forged by soldiers as they fought alongside each other in battle.

Ludus describes a more playful affection found in fooling around or flirting.

Pragma is the mature love that develops over a long period of time between long-­-term couples and involves actively practising goodwill, commitment, compromise and understanding.

Agape is a more generalised love, it's not about exclusivity but about love for all of humanity.

Philautia is self love, which isn't as selfish as it sounds. As Aristotle discovered and as any psychotherapist will tell you, in order to care for others you need to be able to care about yourself. Last, and probably least even though it causes the most trouble, eros is about sexual passion and desire. Unless it morphs into philia and/or pragma, eros will burn itself out.”

Love is all of the above. But is it possibly unrealistic to expect to experience all six types with only one person? This is why family and community are important.

What do YOU think Love is? Do you love someone? Do you love some thing? Does someone love you? If so, have you told that someone that you love them recently? Have you lost someone you love? That pain in your heart – that’s love, too. The hurt lessens over time, but the love remains.

The quality of our lives will always be determined by the quality of the relationships that we have in it. Especially the relationship that you have with yourself. And just thinking......... today as I read the post that Erich Schiffmann made today.

In his class in Venice, California, he was talking about love, and that he senses that love is the power to stay present. It is an interesting concept to contemplate. It is not possible to love in the past, nor in the future. But love is always happening where we are, and love is what it takes to be present. Hmmmm.

The Power of Coming Together as a Community, Part 2

I’d like to share with you today some information on the importance of coming together. In Sanskrit, this community is called a Sangha. Sangha is a gathering of like-minded folks. Folks who are intent on relieving suffering (on any level), of strenghtening the body – and importantly the mind, and who seek to live their lives at a higher vibrational level.

Why do we come together to do this? Why not stay home in our own comfortable surroundings, and work on ourselves? Very good questions. Some interesting insights below.

You know, human existence is very rare. Humans are far less numerous than other beings on the planet. There are waaaay more insects on the ground, birds in the sky, fish in the sea....than there are human beings. So being a human is very rare indeed. We are far less numerous that other beings. And, further, although many countries on Earth are populated by millions of human beings, how many of those people are actively pursuing a path of virtue through their thoughts, words and actions? How many are trying to avoid harming others, and practice acting in a virtuous way? It is said that the number of such people can be likened to the number of stars one can see in the daytime – very few indeed.

More fundamentally, human beings are social beings. Good company serves as a source of encouragement, of ethical and material support and as a check against one's own ignorance and delusions. Good company is also helpful for practice - it's easier to practice metta, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity with people who are on the same path.

Sangha is an institution that preserves the teachings and lineages. It provides a literal refuge - a place to practice, to study, to meditate, to retreat.

The Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh has written that ‘When a sentient being (a human) has admirable people as friends, companions, & comrades, he can be expected to develop & pursue the noble eightfold path.’

What is the Eightfold Path? It is one of the Buddha’s teachings that is said to lead to the lessening of suffering during our lifetime. Suffering – or Dukkha as it is called in Sanskrit is a multi-faceted word…meaning stress, pain, anguish, affliction, unsatisfactoriness – each of these English words is either too strong or too weak to pin it down precisely…. The Eightfold path directs us to choose the Right Way or the Middle Path as it is sometimes called: Eightfold Path includes:

  • right view,
  • right aspiration,
  • right speech
  • right action
  • right livelihood
  • right effort
  • right mindfulness and
  • right concentration

We can speak more about the Eightfold Path another day. But for now, simply by being in the company of others who share the motivation to follow The Path, we are lifted up in our efforts. We are being woken up during our lifetime to our true nature. To who we really are.

The Importance of Coming Together – Gathering, Part 1

I've been waiting for the right moment. Seems that NOW is that right moment – the right time of year – to share with you some thoughts about gatherings. Get-­-togethers. Groups. Parties. Meetings. Communities. Clambakes! Particularly, at this time of year, folks are Gathering. They are coming together. Why is it that we come together?

People throughout the centuries have gathered together for the sake of security. In fact, humans have an innate desire to belong to a group. To a tribe! We know this as socialization.

Socialization begins very early in life. Humans are born into this world as biological organisms with animal needs. His or her first chakra – Muladhara –the ‘root' chakra -­- is at play….basic needs are paramount – air, warmth, food…. If these needs are met appropriately, the infant will begin to seek out other humans and will begin to learn social ways of acting and feeling.

The Second Chakra! From a yogic perspective – an energetic perspective – it is the second chakra – Svadisthana (translated as ‘sweetness') (also called the Splenic or the Sacral chakra) that begins to wake up and to prompt the individual to seek interaction with others. This chakra is also associated with desire, pleasure, creation, procreation and emotions. Do you know – or have you known – a 2 year-­-old with emotions?!

A healthy second chakra will serve throughout our lifetimes to further our interaction with others. Now, that is not to say that folks who are quiet and rather introspective by nature have unhealthy second chakras! There is always a balance between overactive and underactive. Even those among us who are quiet and shy (me, for one!) need others around to draw us out, and to speak our truths! But that discussion is for another day!

Let's us skip the third chakra for now. Manipura. He/she is a lonely chakra….. Because, it's all about ME! And, as we are now looking at gathering, groups, tribes, etc…let's save that chakra, too, for another day! It's important, though!

Now, let's chat about the fourth chakra…… the Heart Chakra! Anahata. The heart chakra -­- the wellspring of love, warmth, compassion, and joy is located in the center of the chest at the heart level.

Anahata moves love through our lives. It is the center of our deep bonds with other beings, our sense of caring and compassion, our feelings of self-­-love, altruism, generosity, kindness, and respect.

Anahata is an integrating and unifying chakra -­- bringing to wholeness -­- as such, it is our healing center. Indeed, most spiritual traditions recognize love as the ultimate healing force. The energy of Anahata allows us to recognize that we are part of something larger, that we are interconnected within an intricate web of relationships extending through life and the universe.

Anahata allows us to recognize and get in touch with the sacred and fundamental truth that runs through all of life and connects everything together.

The "way of the heart" or the "path of the heart" is living your life from this energy center of love. It means living our life with loving kindness and compassion towards others. It means that our hearts are open to others and that we inspire kindness and compassion in others. We create safe and supportive environments. Others can feel our love and warmth. They feel loved and accepted unconditionally. People feel at peace around us, as there is no judgment coming from us. When Anahata is open and energy is flowing freely, we are not only loving to others, we are also loving to ourselves. We know when we need to say no and when we need care and self-­-nurturing.

Thanks to Chakra Anatomy.com for so succinctly expressing the energy of the Heart Chakra! Very basic image of our energetic system. The Chakras.

Suffice to say at this time, that coming together – whether at this time of year -­- or to practice Yoga is a wonderful way to connect with others who have certain values and mores. Very often, a certain group energy arises within our gatherings that serves to raise our spirits and to help us along our spiritual journey. It is a journey that has pitfalls and roadblocks. The road can be rocky. But, the group – the Sangha – as it is called in Sanskrit – is always there to sustain and support us.

Hope to see you soon on the mat! HAPPY HOLIDAYS! STAY HEALTHY! LOTS OF LOVE……..

The Problem with Being Human

You know, there is a problem with being human. Several problems. Now, you all know that YOU, the YOU that YOU ARE, is not the physical body, and is NOT the mind. Yes? You are beyond the body and the body. You are something much bigger, much more. And for those who are willing to open your heart and your ‘mind’ to the teachings, YOU are part of, you ARE, in fact, shared consciousness. Hmmmm. A very simple, yet oh so complex ‘thought’ to get our minds around.

Okay. So the problem with being human.

So here we all are – currently experiencing this adventure called ‘life’ in a human body. You know, at birth, we are all given a vehicle with which to ‘get around’....with which to explore this thing called ‘humanity.’

So first of all (and the least of all), is the human body. It is subject to sickness and frailty and ultimately, death. We know that. We have all experienced some faltering of the human body ourselves. We see it in others. We fear it. But that is for another day!

But the mind....aah....the mind. Well, we have been ‘blessed’ with a human mind. The mind is an organ which is meant to keep us from harm, and to help us maneuver our way through this adventure called ‘life.’ But the mind being the complex organ that it is, develops attachments to ‘things’...and to ideas....and to beliefs....and is particularly unadaptable to CHANGE. Once the mind has settled into a relatively peaceful state, The mind likes to have things stay that way.

The Buddha did not teach ‘Happiness and the way through happiness.’ When he was asked what he did teach, he replied instead: ‘Suffering and the way through suffering.’ That is our common experience whether peasant or patrician—the eternal problem of being human.

Avoidance. This is a big issue. We pretend that things are not really the way they are. There is no way of completely avoiding problems, and pushing them away doesn’t help—the problems merely grow worse when suppressed and hidden, ‘What is suppressed is expressed.’ If you push it out of sight in one place, it just pops up somewhere else or in another guise.

Acknowledge and Acceptance. We have to acknowledge them and develop compassion for them and ourselves. They are part of the way we deal with the world; as we strive to free ourselves, so we must strive to free them. To attack them is to attack ourselves, like a man in the midst of the sea angrily attacking his leaking boat. We must instead plug the leaks, trim the sail (if we are lucky enough to have one) and set a course by the sun and stars (if we know how).

We are lucky enough to have charts that the Buddha left us and from the Sangha we can obtain experienced navigators, so at least we may have some idea where we are going, and that is a great blessing. Here’s a practice to help us acknowledge, and accept……………pls keep reading…..

The Practice is called being in “Not Wanting Mind.”

Buddhist psychology separates desire into two categories….painful desire and skillful desire. Both come from a particular energy of mind called the Will to Do. (Manipura Chakra, for those who have interest!)

Painful desire involves greed, grasping, and feeling inadequate and longing. Skillful desire comes from exactly the same Will, but is directed by love, vitality, compassion, creativity and wisdom.

As we acquire wisdom, we are able to figure out what is unhealthy desire from that which is more natural and easier. When our understanding grows, we are able to uncover the joy and the beauty, and the abundance of all that we already have been given.

This is a complex practice, and one not easily accomplished. Meditation is the perfect place to contemplate Wanting Mind. I love the quote by George Bernard Shaw …..

George Bernard Shaw said, “There are two great disappointments in life. Not getting what you want and getting it.” Oh, how true this is!!

Jack Kornfield, a very wise Buddhist teacher says…”And what happens when we do fulfill wanting? It often brings on more wanting. The whole process can become very tiring and empty.” Now, I do not need to go on with the reminder that we are virtually DELUGED with messages of just how inadequate we are unless we have more and more and more……but that is for another day! In the meantime, “Want More of What You Already Have, And Less of What You Have Not.”

About Death, and About the Dying Process

So many. Of. My. Friends. Colleagues. Acquaintances.

They are leaving or have already left. It must be my advancing age! Or perhaps I am just more acutely aware of the exits.

I’ve been thinking about death a lot recently. And the dying process. It is written somewhere or other than we begin to die as soon as we are born! How true!

Noted psychiatrist, Elisabeth Kubler-­-Ross has written an excellent book ‘On Death and Dying’ in which she expresses a 5 stage model of death. This model is subject to much discussion, and is not a wholly reliable scientific concept. Yet, Dr. Ross opened up the subject to interpretation.

Accordingly to Dr. Ross, the 5 stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance......The model recognizes that people have to pass through their own individual journey of coming to terms with death and bereavement, etc., after which there is generally an acceptance of reality, which then enables the person to cope.

Yet these stages are entered into only upon hearing that death is imminent. Up until that immensely traumatic moment, we – for the most part – fear death, although every single one of us must go through this doorway into the whatever.

Indeed, death is seldom talked about, much less prepared for.

Yes, of course, we must remain present for as much of our lives as is possible. We were (somehow) put here on this earthly journey in a human body to experience life – with all of its suffering and with all of its precious gifts. It makes absolute sense to treasure the moments of our lives as they happen! Yet, the subject of death in our culture is largely dealt with by the ‘under the carpet with a sweeper’ technique.....!

The study of death and dying is actually called thanatology (Greek word -­- ‘thanatos’ meaning death. So, for the last little while I have been a thanatologist. Imagine that. It is actually a field of study. And I am a yogologist, I suppose, as I love all things having to do with yoga. Anyway, I digress. It’s a fascinating field of study, this death and dying thing.....and this month I’d like to share some of the Buddhist thinking on the subject.

Death and Dying in the Tibetan Buddhist Tradition – compiled by Ven. Pende Hawter

Contemplation and meditation on death and impermanence are regarded as very important in Buddhism for two reasons : (1) it is only by recognizing how precious and how short life is that we are most likely to make it meaningful and to live it fully and (2) by understanding the death process and familiarizing ourself with it, we can remove fear at the time of death and ensure a good rebirth.

Because the way in which we live our lives and our state of mind at death directly influence our future lives, it is said that the aim or mark of a spiritual practitioner is to have no fear or regrets at the time of death. People who practice to the best of their abilities will die, it is said, in a state of great bliss. The mediocre practitioner will die happily. Even the initial practitioner will have neither fear nor dread at the time of death. So one should aim at achieving at least the smallest of these results.

There are two common meditations on death in the Tibetan tradition. The first looks at the certainty and imminence of death and what will be of benefit at the time of death, in order to motivate us to make the best use of our lives. The second is a simulation or rehearsal of the actual death process, which familiarizes us with death and takes away the fear of the unknown, thus allowing us to die skilfully. Traditionally, in Buddhist countries, one is also encouraged to go to a cemetery or burial ground to contemplate on death and become familiar with this inevitable event.

The first of these meditations is known as the nine-­-round death meditation, in which we contemplate the three roots, the nine reasonings, and the three convictions, as described below:

A. DEATH IS CERTAIN

1. There is no possible way to escape death. No one ever has, not even Jesus, Buddha, etc. Of the current world population of over 5 billion people, almost none will be alive in 100 years time.
2. Life has a definite, inflexible limit and each moment brings us closer to the finality of this life. We are dying from the moment we are born.
3. Death comes in a moment and its time is unexpected. All that separates us from the next life is one breath.
Conviction: To practise the spiritual path and ripen our inner potential by cultivating positive mental qualities and abandoning disturbing mental qualities.

B. THE TIME OF DEATH IS UNCERTAIN

4. The duration of our lifespan is uncertain. The young can die before the old, the healthy before the sick, etc.
5. There are many causes and circumstances that lead to death, but few that favour the sustenance of life. Even things that sustain life can kill us, for example food, motor vehicles, property.
6. The weakness and fragility of one's physical body contribute to life's uncertainty.
The body can be easily destroyed by disease or accident, for example cancer, AIDS, vehicle accidents, other disasters.
Conviction: To ripen our inner potential now, without delay.

C. THE ONLY THING THAT CAN HELP US AT THE TIME OF DEATH IS OUR MENTAL/SPIRITUAL DEVELOPMENT (because all that goes on to the next life is our mind with its karmic (positive or negative) imprints.)

7. Worldly possessions such as wealth, position, money can't help.
8. Relatives and friends can neither prevent death nor go with us.
9. Even our own precious body is of no help to us. We have to leave it behind like a shell, an empty husk, an overcoat.
That’s a whole lot to contemplate! And that’s only the first meditation! Anyway, to end this month’s little blurb, there is a beautiful Christian poem on death which follows:

Death Is Nothing At All by Henry Scott Holland (27 January 1847 – 17 March 1918) Mr. Holland was Regius Professor of Divinity at the University of Oxford

Death is nothing at all.
I have only slipped away to the next room.
I am I and you are you.
Whatever we were to each other,
That, we still are.

Call me by my old familiar name.
Speak to me in the easy way
which you always used.
Put no difference into your tone.
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.

Laugh as we always laughed
at the little jokes we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me. Pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word
that it always was.
Let it be spoken without effect.
Without the trace of a shadow on it.

Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same that it ever was.
There is absolute unbroken continuity.
Why should I be out of mind
because I am out of sight?

I am but waiting for you.
For an interval.
Somewhere. Very near.
Just around the corner.

All is well.

Nothing is past; nothing is lost. One brief moment and all will be as it was before only better, infinitely happier and forever we will all be one together with Christ.

Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable

You know, everyone faces struggle during the course of their lives. Small struggles, middle-sized struggles, and big ones, too. Everyone struggles. This is the 3rd remembrance of the 4 Great Remembrances of the Buddhist Tradition. We struggle with indecision...which apple to buy – the red one, the yellow one, the Delicious, the Granny Smith, and so one. Small struggle. Mid-size struggle – what to wear today?! Well, the men probably would not agree that this is a middle of the road struggle, but nonetheless It is estimated that women spend a whole year of their lives struggling with ‘what will I wear today?’

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/5783991/Women-spend-nearly-one-year-deciding-what-to-wear.html

But the big struggles are the ones that we fear. The ones that take our breath away – literally. The ones where we freak out. Completely. So, be reminded that during our hatha yoga practice, we are training the mind. To stay focused on the goal at hand....meaning....during times of being uncomfortable, we are training our minds to stay with the goal of just getting through THIS struggle of being uncomfortable. That is not to say that pain should be a part of yoga. It is never a part of yoga. But, intensity definitely is. Deliberately inviting the body to be in a place of intensity so that we can practice training the mind....staying with the breath...embracing the moment that you are in.....and focusing on the intensity - the feeling - and on the goal of getting through to the other side.

You might be interested to know that one exercise in the US Navy SEAL training is "surf torture." You link arms with your classmates and stand, sit, or lie in the frigid Pacific Ocean until your body reaches the early stages of hypothermia. During the initial phases of training, you do this daily. Then you cover yourself from head to toe in sand and stay that way for the rest of the day. You might follow this with running the obstacle course, weapons training, or classroom time, but you are expected to push the discomfort aside and stay focused on the task at hand.

Now, this is taking things to the extreme, for sure. Nonetheless, during our physical hatha yoga practice there are times when we are certain that we cannot last for one more second, and then we do!

There likely have been many times in your lives when you have been in the middle of a muddle.

Many times in very uncomfortable situations. Discomfort comes in many forms. But the more you embrace discomfort as a reality, the wider your comfort zone becomes. When our comfort zones become wide – become HUGE, we grow. And not just physically. Our minds grow exponentially, and are able to settle and to STAY.

Eye-ing!

Yes, Indeed, the Eyes do have it. However you would like to spell that ......’ayes’, I’s, eyes.....they certainly do Have It! Whether the situation calls for a number of ‘ayes’ to get the motion passed .... Or whether the 3-year old is discovering his “EYE-dentity ...as in ‘I’s DOING it....YOU are not the boss of ME....!’ ...... Or indeed, whether we immediately wake up and are present to our surroundings, those ‘eyes’ do have it!

A humorous family tidbit.......Some time ago one of my very beautiful daughters was standing in line at a local bank when she heard a bit of a kafuffle going on down the line behind her. As she turned around to see what was going on, it appeared that a rather imposing older lady was loudly chastising her husband for having stared at my daughter. After a long second passed, he responded – again rather loudly - “I have eyes...and I can SEE!” To which his wife questioned....”Would you like your eyes closed for good?!!’

Since that time, of course, those last two sentences have so become family favourites! Yes! Eyes are for SEEING!

So what has all this to do with Yoga, and why am I thinking about the eyes today? Our ability to see is one of our five senses – called ‘indriyas’ in Sanskrit. (Eyes, ears, nose, tongue, touch.) Our senses are intended to keep us informed as to our external – as well as to our internal environments – and to keep us safe. They also provide pleasurable, neutral, and not so pleasurable responses. (Think chocolate…..think crouching tiger!)

In our culture of SPEED and DISTRACTION anxiety has become the #1 reason that folks visit their family doctors these days. As a non-medicinal antidote we are urged – nay, IMPLORED to be present……To be in the Now Moment......To disengage from all else, and to just sit for a bit. Quite a chore for most of us!

Absolutely needless for me to point out that most of us are most often living either in times gone by, or in times not yet arrived.....hardly EVER in the NOW. Yet, Now is where life is happening…….we miss out almost ALL of the time.

When we meditate, we hopefully train our brains to quiet, and to let thoughts be replaced by feeling. One of the most helpful ways to ‘just sit’ and ‘feel’ in meditation is to begin by getting physically comfortable, and by closing our eyes. With our eyes open, our minds may be tempted to begin to wander. (Of course, the danger of meditating with eyes closed is that we just might feel Sleep calling our name!) However, with eyes open it is important to remember that whatever our eyes land upon, whatever they ‘see’, the images imprint upon our brains whether we are conscious of this or not. The methods by which images from outside the physical body are transmitted to the brain are complex, but once they arrive, they remain permanently.

It is for this reason that yoga asks us to be careful as to where and to what we direct our eyes. Watching the (bad) Late Night News, for example, is not a great way to get a good night’s sleep! And let us take care to avoid images of violence and hate. What we ‘see’ becomes part of our life experience.. and forevermore will be part of who we are.

Webs

What to write? What to write? Which rabbit hole to go down into this merry month of June?! At this time, it has just rained heavily. I am watching the spiders on our deck as they hastily repair their abodes. They are artists and jewelers in the extreme. And speaking of rabbit holes, I've never seen a rabbit hole that wasn't enhanced by a few spidery webs. Strange little creatures they are, spiders! Spinning, spinning.....Casting nets for prey. Industrious wee fiy catchers. Well, some are wee, some not so much. And some are quite harmless and others not so.

Much has been made of spiders throughout history. Horror shows are particularly abundant with creepy crawlies and their dust-laden creations. Anyway, I had not meant to write about spiders as I am quite frightened by them (for some obscure reason), but they seem to have popped here in stream-of-unconsciousness writing!

The topic that I mean to visit is Webs. Webs are brilliant, silken works of art, especially when on display in the early morning dew. Splendid! Did one little creature create all that?! And, if you are still and quiet, and watch carefully, you will notice that every little breeze or any tiny movement of a 'catch' within the web will cause the web to move, to sway, to yield. Every action causing a reaction.

OF course, that is not the only kind of web that exists. There is the World Wide Web -- which is a very new creation in terms of the history of our world, allowing two legged creatures to connect with each other over the ether! Magic!

Webs, too, exist between certain creatures' toes and fingers, enabling them to fly, or to swim. Or just to exhibit big hands or feet to impress!

“Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.” Sir Walter Scott’s awesome poems! Importantly, and the last web, is the one that we ourselves weave over our lifetime.

And this, from the Hindu Yogic tradition, a story of Indra's Magnificent Jeweled Web or Net....http://www.uua.org/re/tapestry/youth/bridges/workshop7/184181.shtml

“Far, far away, in the abode of the great god Indra, king of heaven, hangs a wondrous vast net, much like a spider's web in intricacy and loveliness. It stretches out indefinitely in all directions. At each node, or crossing point, of the net hangs a single glittering jewel. Since the net itself is infinite in dimension, the jewels are infinite in number. The sparkling jewels hang there, suspended in and supported by the net, glittering like stars, dazzling to behold.”

The story goes on to say to imagine yourself as the centre of the web, and then to picture yourself being at the very centre of the web. Then visualize a .......silken structure connecting everyone that has ever been in your life....your parents, your siblings, your aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents and colleagues and school mates and kids and friends and acquaintances, your doctor, your dentist, your butcher, your baker, your candlestick maker, and so on. Quite the gigantic web you have woven! Now, if every person on the planet were to do this little visualization exercise, we would soon have imaginary webs or nets that overlap in many ways, creating one giant web!

Physicists tell us that for every action there is a reaction. If we take this mathematical fact for truth, then imagine how one action could affect EVERYONE within the web. A change in one jewel – one person – produces a change, however slght, in every other. And, depending on whether or not the action were a positive one, or not so much, imagine the outcome! Whatever you do to one jewel affects the entire net, as well as yourself. You cannot damage one strand of a spider web without injuring the entire web, and you cannot damage one strand of the web that is the universe without injuring all others in it, whether that injury is known or unknown to them. This can work for good or ill because, of course, just as destructive acts affect the entire net, so do loving, constructive, compassionate acts affect the entire net. A single helpful act—even a simple act of kindness—will send positive ripples across the infinite net, touching every jewel, every person in existence.

Truly as the Indra’s story goes, All is One and One is All.

Where are you going?

We are dying a little bit every day. Not DYEING....but, DYING! Like passing out of existence. Wow. From the instant we are born, we begin to die. Well, at least the body disintegrates, but what happens to Spirit when the body gives up the ghost?!

The scientists tell us that energy cannot be destroyed.... so, ok, the body disintegrates and blends back into the universe. Decay or fire. But Spirit? Spirit is definitely energy, although one cannot see it. Yet, we surely can FEEL it! And Spirit – our Universal Life Force – is what drives us through our lives. So if Spirit cannot be destroyed, what
happens to Spirit? Where does it go when it leaves the body?

Spiritual research and ancient Yoga writings have shown that man is comprised of the following five basic bodies.

Physical (The body itself), Vital Body (Breath/Energy), Mental (Mind), Causal or Intellectual (Intelligence – decision making process and reasoning ability). And Supracausal or subtle ego (The feeling that we are alone.)

Now, before you stop reading, take a deep breath, and just let the following bit of information in. No judgment. No thinking. You don’t need to do anything with the information. Just let it in. Maybe even look at the diagram…………

Well. There are many theories about this matter. But anyhow we look at it, there seems to be a place for each of us either Above or Below, however you want to think of it. As indicated above, our destination seems to depend on whether we have been bad or good, to put it plainly!

Hmmm. Bad or good. Good or bad. How many of us reflect on our past or our present actions to assess whether or not these same actions/thoughts serve ourselves or others? Brings to mind that 1986 Janet Jackson song...’What have you done for me lately?’ So, turn that around, and we have ‘What you I done for you lately?’

Merit points, at the Dalai Lama points out in his quote ..... “When we feel love and kindness toward others, it not only makes others feel loved and cared for, but it helps us also to develop inner happiness and peace” ..... get you upstairs. And along the way, whoever it is that is the receiver of your words and actions is buoyed up! All of us are suffering in some way – we carry heavy loads. Let us bring more compassion and kindness into our lives....and less ‘I---ness.’

Kindness? Kindness is a personal quality that enables us to be sensitive to the needs of others and to take personal action to endeavor to meet those needs. These are the teachings written by Patañjali – the yogic sage who wrote The Yoga S?tras --- the ancient texts --- the philosophy underpinning yoga.

Joshua Michaell – a teacher of yogic philosophy --- quotes a Buddhist monk who he consulted while studying the S?tras ..... “The thing to remember” he said, “is that Patañjali was motivated out of kindness.” In Joshua Michaell’s bautiful words ‘With that simple, deep, profound truth, a light turned on inside me and the Yoga S?tras finally made sense. Beyond grammar and philosophy, the text was an offering — a garland of wisdom by a man who saw suffering. Out of kindness, and through the Yoga S?tras, he offered a way to freedom.

People come to yoga because, on some level, they are suffering – same for teachers. We are no different. As teachers, it is essential that we recognize and acknowledge the nature of suffering, both in our students and in ourselves. Kindness opens the door. Transformation is never in the information, it is in the mystical alchemy where the heart that beats within the information meets the heart of the seeker.”

Lovely, lovely words. So, liberation – while here on our Earthly plane, is found through kindness. And perhaps through kindness we may find the same Liberation in the here---after.

Many thanks to https://mahaprana.wordpress.com/ and tohttp://www.spiritualresearchfoundation.org

Leaving the past in the past

I might be repeating myself here. Some of you might have heard this before. In fact, if you have been in class lately, for sure you will have heard it! Yet, what I am going to say is worth repeating.

Importantly, repetition in the tradition of Yoga is called JAPA JAPA and is said to be immensely helpful especially when cementing new ways of being. The more often we repeat a thing, the more deeply imbedded it becomes – and this is true both of new and exciting ways of being – and those ways of being that we would rather be without.

At any rate, I digress. As you likely have heard, Yoga is rooted in the traditions of Buddhism and Hinduism. Buddhists, especially, have developed succinct ways of summing up – in 4 words or less – life lessons that will help us to evolve spiritually. They can say in few words what it would take me 1,000 words to write.

And, if you love stories, and who doesn’t?......Buddhism is brimming with anecdotes and parables to tickle even the most bored student!

Here’s a story that I love. The title – “Carrying Woman”

Two monks were making a pilgrimage to venerate the relics of a great Saint. During the course of their journey, they came to a river where they met a beautiful young woman -­--­- an apparently worldly creature, dressed in expensive finery and with her hair done up in the latest fashion. She was afraid of the current and afraid of ruining her lovely clothing, so asked the brothers if they might carry her across the river.

The younger and more exacting of the brothers was offended at the very idea and turned away with an attitude of disgust. The older brother didn't hesitate, and quickly picked the woman up on his shoulders, carried her across the river, and set her down on the other side. She thanked him and went on her way, and the brother waded back through the waters.

The monks resumed their walk, the older one in perfect equanimity and enjoying the beautiful countryside, while the younger one grew more and more brooding and distracted, so much so that he could keep his silence no longer and suddenly burst out, "Brother, we are taught to avoid contact with women, and there you were, not just touching a woman, but carrying her on your shoulders!"

The older monk looked at the younger with a loving, pitiful smile and said, "Brother, I set her down on the other side of the river; you are still carrying her.”

And perhaps the best known fable: The Problem of the Raft The basic story is this: A man traveling along a path came to a great expanse of water. As he stood on the shore, he had heard there were dangers and discomforts on the opposite shore, but still it appeared safe and inviting. The man looked for a boat or a bridge and found neither. But with great effort he gathered grass, twigs and branches and tied them all together to make a simple raft. Relying on the raft to keep himself afloat, the man paddled with his hands and feet and reached the safety of the other shore. He could continue his journey on foot.

But..what to do with the raft? He was proud of his craftsmanship, and after all, the raft had enabled him to cross the waters. Could he leave it, or could he drag it along behind him? How many of us have been (are) reluctant – or worse still – paralyzed by even the thought of leaving the ‘raft’ behind in order to evolve spiritually? Or, are we ‘carrying woman’ with us so that our present moment is tormented by the past?

Some things to ponder. Ommmm.

Sleep

We are here on the gulf coast of Florida – the forgotten coast it is called – as it is in northern Florida and sparsely populated. Mainly trees, miles of thoroughly majestic beach and magnificant sunrises and sunsets. A town originated here around the 1830’s as a port (Port St. Joe) as the first stop for sailors on their way to the more westerly ports of Mobile, Alabama and New Orleans..... The town thrived and the population soared to 12,000 until a ship landed here in 1841 carrying a passenger from Cuba who was infected with Yellow Fever. The disease quickly spread and those inhaibitants who did not die from the infection quickly left the city and found residence elsewhere. Then in 1844 a hurricane destroyed much fo what was left of Port St. Joe. Interesting history.... At any rate, it is a sweet little town - thoroughly beautiful, populated now mainly by dolphins, bald eagles, a voluminous number of sea shells of all types - and fantastic large shrimp and seafood.

All of that is kind of beside the point....however, as I sit here on a thoroughly rainy, windy and very cool day staring out at the waves, I see on the horizon three shrimp boats, and then a larger boat. I go off in search of the binoculars, and watch for a while. You are likely asking…
What has sleep got to do with a Shrimp Boat?!!
Seems that the smaller boats return from time to time to the ‘mothership’, offload their catch and then head back out for another boatload. They are out on the water for a long time – 24 – 36 hours or more.

Cool. Very cool. Much like the Somali pirates operate. Remembering now our shipboard pirate drills on our last cruise which was through the Indian Ocean and up into the Gulf of Oman. Scary, yet quite thrilling!

Anyway.....again, beside the point.

Of late, I have been returning again and again to the question of where it is that we go to when we sleep?’ Could it be that when the lights go out, we return to our very own Mothership’...the Light? The Source? Whatever you wish to call it. Maybe we, too, need to off-load, to fill up, and to re-energize? Every organism on earth from rats to fruit flies to microorganisms – even dolphins! - relies on sleep for its survival, yet science is still wrestling with the fundamental question: Why does sleep exist? Definitely, it seems, that our brains need some down time. Remember the last night you did not sleep well?
Agh.....

And another thought/question I have. Do we DIE every time we sleep? It certainly seems so if you watch someone sleep. In fact, it is downright scary! If this is so, why do we fear death so much? We should be really REALLY USED TO IT BY NOW! After all, we have certainly had enough practice!

Have you every known that you were in that fantastic in-between state of being not quite asleep – of just falling asleep (when, of course, you were in a safe place to fall asleep!)...and tried to remain in that not-here,not-there place for just a little longer?! AAAH....heaven! This process of transitioning from wakefulness to sleep is so quick that we often don’t even remember doing it! Or is it something that we DO? Or does it just HAPPEN? More questions!

Quoting the almighty Huffington Post : “The process of transitioning from waking to sleep involves the temporary dissolution of our ego or waking sense of self. Tibetan Buddhism teaches that the psycho-spiritual experience of falling asleep mimics that of dying. It's no surprise that in Western mythology, Hypnos, the Greek god of sleep, was brother to Thanatos, the god of death.”

(Says I, No wonder Savasana is called Corpse Pose!)

“If it's any consolation, the vast majority of us do not actually die in our sleep, but during waking.”

That’s too bad. I’d like not to know. But simply to wake up on the Other Side. Blended back into the Light.

Not enough space here to even begin to get into dreams....that’s for another time. Or maybe even later this evening. Meanwhile I will continue to meditate on the wee shrimp boats, their hard-working men, and their Mothership. It’s a great analogy.

Sadhana

I wish I could count all the times that a student has asked “How do I get better at yoga?”
“How do I ‘progress?’
“How do I get to the point of doing the advanced poses?”

Along the way these questions have aided me in developing my most lacking quality of Patience!  I’m an Aries, you see, and apt to speak the first words that come to mind!

Along with the development of my patience ‘muscle’, so to speak, yoga has been instrumental in helping me to develop the much-desired quality of Discipline! (I’m an Aries, you see!”

Sadhana is the Samskrit word for self-discipline. It is the determination and focus we need for self-development, the kind of subtle effort that becomes part of one´s thoughts, life and routine. Most people dislike the very thought of discipline. It sounds heavy, forced—almost synonymous with coercion.

For a yogi, discipline has a lot to do with taking care of one´s mind.  Indeed, the very first words that Patanjali wrote in his Yoga Sutras were Yoga … Chitta vrtti nirodha. Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind.  

 Ah, the mind. The mind.  Our best friend…or our worst enemy!

The fire – the determination that is oh-so-necessary for self-development, then, is called Sadhana.  Developing the self means we are responsible for creating and sustaining our inner stage—our mood—always. In simple terms, whenever we feel that something is not right, we think of practical methods to transform it

For example, let´s say we are feeling a bit down or frustrated. Before letting sadness settle in, we take necessary action. It might be that our inner self needs to be cared for and understood; it might be that just by listening to music we love or singing, we let it go. The fact is, we are aware and tending to the inner workings of our mind.

Like most valuable qualities in this life, Sadhana is something we learn to develop. And there is another very interesting aspect of discipline…it is much easier to succeed in this approach in the context of coming together as a group.  Hmmm.  Why??? I wonder.

When a group of like-minded individuals connect for a higher purpose, an energy field is created. The Greeks called it egregore. The more people´s thoughts and activities are harmonious, the more the gathering becomes a network of sharing, sustenance and service.

Once we begin developing spiritually we start to gain confidence and inner powers—it might be new enthusiasm and creativity, tolerance, the capacity to discern and so on. It won’t take long for us to realize that the biggest challenge on the path always has to do with one’s own ego and desires. These may be expressed in various forms—old habits and concepts, the ways we like things to be done, the things we expect from others—whether it is recognition or help. The list is long because we are talking about human nature in our time.

It may also happen that at a certain point one feels stuck for some reason and not able to move forward. There will be opposing forces too, both internal and external. We live in a society that is not designed or conducive to spiritual development; there are times when we feel we are swimming against the current.

It is at this point that we might feel the benefit of belonging. Those who come together for the purpose of spiritual growth give us an idea of our progress.

In this holographic world, everyone is a mirror, which means we can always see ourselves in others if we want to. This is an exercise of the intellect and works as an opportunity to see what is reflected back to us.

Tests and obstacles will continue to come from all sides, including from those in the group.  (Visualize the always-late-comer-yogi entering the room, and flopping down the mat while all other yogis are in Savasana!)  Yet seeing the way more mature people develop consciousness and deal with difficulties becomes a great way for us to learn how to act and handle things in a practical manner.

The more our awareness grows and we accumulate new energy, the more we feel able to give support to others. This giving is another blessing, for it is also the means of our own sustenance. To be of service to others is a great chance to improve our karmic situation, it is a fortune we can always create and it doesn't necessarily need to be something visible. Our role in the community might be that of giving support through our inner work and presence, for example.

The same is true with the opposite. What we do, even when no one sees, may bring different kinds of damage to the energy-field of the group.

Another positive thing about being part of a gathering is the constancy that we may sometimes lack when alone on the path. Even for those who meditate often, it´s far too easy to get disconnected and lose oneself in this world of distractions.

To have like-minded friends or a good support group is something we might like to consider if we are determined to develop spiritually. Even though our sadhana will always remain individual, the gathering is a place for exchanging love and sustanance. And there are days when we certainly need it.

Talk

Vivadati in Sanskrit. Talk. Sing. Shout. Dispute. Litigate. Oppose. Contradict. Raise the voice. Dispute. Contest. Dissent. Talking is something that is unique to humans, yet it still remains a mystery. Noam Comsky, who is deemed to be the godfather of linguistics, was the first to suggest that our ability to talk is innate. We barely notice that we are doing it, yet it takes thousands of decision and thousands of thoughts each time we use language. Just my pushing air through of mouths, we take a thought in our heads, and make it go into others’ heads. Other animals make sounds to communicate, but speech and language distinguishes us from all other species. Children learn is so easily.....quite miraculous how the brain does it. But how we learn to talk remains an even deeper mystery.

Are we losing the fine art of speech? Of conversation? Of Talking...see above....... I’ve just returned from a vacation in Costa Rica...and to my dismay, whole families checked email, read from an e-reader, chatted online, etc. during the entire time that they were at the dinner table together. Same with the pool. Same at the beach.

Teachers tell me that iphones are allowed into classrooms. That students cannot be without them. Seriously???

What happened to talk? To looking at people? To making eye contact? To listening to people?

We are truly a changing society. What has taken us eons to evolve, is being lost.

Wikipedia - The origin of language in the human species has been the topic of scholarly discussions for several centuries. In spite of this, there is no consensus on the ultimate origin or age of human language. One problem makes the topic difficult to study: the lack of direct evidence. Consequently, scholars wishing to study the origins of language must draw inferences from other kinds of evidence such as the fossil record, archaeological evidence, contemporary language diversity, studies of language acquisition, and comparisons between human language and systems of communication existing among other animals (particularly other primates). Many argue that the origins of language probably relate closely to the origins of modern human behavior, but there is little agreement about the implications and directionality of this connection.

All this aside, this writing is not about the origin of human language, but rather on the losing of it.....at least the spoken word.

Happily, we were given a voice. Sounds which emanate from the Self are directly associated with feeling...with emotion ....with need..... Etc. With a want to ‘give voice’ to another living being .... To communicate somehow.

The throat is a particularly important area of the body as it is associatted with our respiratory system, our igestive system and importantly, is one of the higher levels of our energetic system. It’s given name is Visshuddi.

Vishuddha
(Sanskrit:, English (‘especially pure) or Vishuddhi, or Throat chakra is the fifth primary chakra according to the Hindu tradition.

Vishuddha Chakra unleashes an unlimited feeling of happiness and freedom that allows our abilities and skills to blossom. Along with this stage of development there is a clear voice, a talent for singing and speech, as well as balanced and calm thoughts. When we give voice to our thoughts, many times the whirling in our heads which appears as ‘thoughts’, are made clear. Until this Chakra is fully developed, certain difficulties may be experienced. Blockage of Vishuddhi Chakra produces feelings of anxiety, lack ofof freedom, restriction, thyroid and throat problems. There may be physically unfounded manifestations of swallowing problems and speech impediments.

And so...the next time that you choose email or Facebook over phone, or face-to-face contact, pause.........rethink......or better still, re-feel......and choose talk!

Gathering

It’s late November as I write this note, and already the retailers and the media have ramped up the buzz for the upcoming Season. Seems to me that once upon a time, the Season was about a lot more than gift-purchasing and gift-giving and gift-receiving!

Christmas time meant coming together with family and friends. Chistmas time meant celebrating one’s connection to one’s religion. And a time to quiet, and reflect. Truly, the SPIRIT of Christmas has been trampled upon.

Coming together – gathering, I’ll call it – has much benefit. Whether it is meeting up together with a friend or attending a large group get-together. When people of like mind come together – in the yoga tradition – this is called a Sangha. A community. Just being with other people, helps us to build a sense of belonging and bolsters one’s sense of self. We are NOT separate. There’s a certain energy called SPIRIT that moves through the group that serves to connect us one with the other.

A spiritual community can improve your life.

Many spiritual traditions encourage participation in a community. Spiritual fellowship, such as attending church or a meditation group, can be sources of social support which may provide a sense of belonging, security, and community. Strong relationships have been proven to increase wellbeing and bolster life expectancy, which is perhaps why one study found a strong association between church attendance and improved health, mood, and wellbeing.

Indeed, to quote Christina Puchalski, MD, Director of the George Washington Institute for Spirituality and Health, "spirituality is the aspect of humanity that refers to the way individuals seek and express meaning and purpose and the way they experience their connectedness to the moment, to self, to others, to nature, and to the significant or sacred."

Hmm. How can just being with other people – who are of the same mind – be of so much benefit? Well, for one, it reminds us that we are connected to them...and indeed to everyone and everything. “Learn how to see. Realize that everything connects to everything else.” Leonardo Davinci

Here is a little extract from a wonderful site called Sustainable Human. One of the main roots of our unsustainable society is the idea that human beings are somehow separate or independent from Nature and the rest of life. It’s not so difficult to see how we have modeled Western culture based on this foundation. The signs are everywhere: in the way we live, enclosing our homes from the outside world as we try to keep dirt out; in the way we speak and relate to one another, with an emphasis on “me”, “I”, “you”, “mine”; in the way we traditionally conduct science, believing in an independent experimenter. This view has enabled us to treat Nature as an inanimate object to do with whatever we please. We can blow up mountaintops, pollute entire oceans, destroy entire ecosystems, contaminate ground water, cause the extinction of millions of species of life all without consequence, or so we believe.

The truth is this idea that we are separate from the rest of life is at the core of both our broader, societal issues and our internal unease with trusting others. Because we believe ourselves to be separate, we feel alone and disconnected in the Universe. This feeling manifests in a feeling of anxiety and a desire to control as much of the world as possible to prevent an indifferent world from causing harm to us. Hence, you see countries spending trillions of dollars on military weaponry to exert force in an attempt to control the world. You see corporations spending trillions to extract timber, fossil fuels, fertile soil, and water to facilitate the conversion of the natural world into a fictitious commodity, money.

All of this would seem crazy to a culture that lived according to the knowledge that all life is interconnected. Not only is all life made up of the guts of exploding stars but we are empathically connected through mirror neurons, hard-wired to feel the emotional distress (and joy) of another. Whatever we do to this world, we invariably do to ourselves. The problem is that Western culture and institutions are founded on an untruth (sic) that we are separate from the Universe and the rest of life.

It’s my wish for you this holiday season to be with others, to listen quietly and to respond in kind. To allow others to be who they are. To share some good food. To rest. So that the SPIRIT of this Christmastime will re-emerge and serve to re-connect us – one with the other…..and with the Other. As we are meant to be.

Knowing and Not Knowing

Every time we step onto our mat, we are entering into the Province of the Unknown. Every time we practice a balance pose, we never know how it is going to go. Will we fall or will we manage to stay upright? We never really know how our practice will unfold. This is a very good thing,
because it prepares us for those times in our lives when we will very much be on the threshold of the Unknown. Very often, it seems, in this now world, we are faced with the Unknown. With the fear of what lies ahead for us.

The events here in our country over the past few days, the killing of unarmed servicemen, by allegedly deranged people, have opened our eyes to the terrors that others of our world live with each and every day. Here in Canada, we pride ourselves on the security and protectiveness
of a nation that, for the most part, is safe, quiet and comforting. Courteous (almost always!) Patient. Peaceful. Our Canada. We go about our business with nary a thought to our safety – other than the danger that exists on our roadways here in Toronto!

Now, it seems, we must truly, resolutely stand on guard for Canada. We are entering the sphere of the Unknown.

The Yogic texts have something to say about the Unknown. In fact, we often practice a meditation called ‘Not Knowing’....which takes us to a place of supreme silence, where the past falls away, and the future has not yet arrived (the NOW moment.) We can find rest there. And
serenity. Preparing us for when we are in freefall. Especially for then.

And another meditation with the name ‘Being Ok When Things Are Not OK.’ Pretty much says what it is! Nothing will ever be completely OK! Sometimes close, but more often than not, quite distant. These two practices are also preparedness rehearsals for those times of life when
our lives seem chaotic, and fearful. Where we can find calm in the presence of Fear.

Fear – with a capital F – is still an emotion. An emotion is felt in the body, but initiates in the brain. A powerful chemical change in the brain which either inhibits action or causes us to run
and hide. Fear is always...always about the future. About what can happen in the future. Yet, the future has not arrived, so fear is unfounded. Prevention, yes, but No Fear, please. Hmmm. The physical body is highly sensitive to the possibility of threat, (whether real or imagined), so
there are multiple pathways that bring that fear information into the brain.

The part of the brain that is central to the fear pathway is the amygdala, an almond-shaped group of nerve cells that release neurotransmitters, chemicals that relay signals in the brain. Neurotransmitters trigger a cascade of responses in the body responsible for that "fight or
flight" response -- and that adrenaline rush that not only may be key to our survival in dangerous situations, but also may make scaring ourselves so much fun! Think Hallowe’en and roller coasters! Adrenaline raises your heart rate and blood pressure, and gives you a boost of energy and alertness.

Luckily, the brain dials down the amygdala's response and returns your system to normal if it recognizes that you're not actually in danger. Hmmm again. Maybe we feel Fear because we don’t really understand how to express it in our language. We are really GOOD at expressing it in other ways - by eating, raging, being greedy or jealous or all of those other nasty ways of being, but maybe if we knew we were fearful – and we could express it – we wouldn’t be quite so anxious. (Anxiety IS fear.)

So, Not Knowing is OK. And….. It’s OK to Not Know. But being Fearful is NOT OK. Especially over long periods of time.

On the other side of things, the teachings of Yoga also have something to say about ‘Knowing.’ In short, ‘Knowing’ is all about arriving at that point in our spiritual journey where we inherently know that we are not only connected to everyone and everything, but that we are most importantly connected to ‘The One’ …. (whoever of whatever that may be for you!) Buddha, Brahman, God, Allah, Divine Spirit and on and on. Many religions, one path. Whoever that is s responsible for you
being Here. And that you are Loved (Capital L!)

I remember in one of my very first teacher trainings with my yoga teacher, I was trying to get my head around Love. To love myself, to love others. To feel compassion for myself, and to practice compassion for others. Kindness to Self. To others. As a way of life. To put ourselves in others’ shoes, so to speak, and feel what they feel. My hand went up in class …albeit shyly……I distinctly recall asking my teacher Erich ‘Yes, but, what about the others in this world who wreak utter terror
and horrific practices on others? What about them? How can we love them?” He was quiet for a bit. Pausing (probably….he is GREAT at PAUSING, AND RELAXING!) He answered with 4 short words. “Because they don’t Know.” Know with a capital K. Followed by MORE
Silence.

I had to sit with that for a while. A long while. And then I sort of Knew. At least, I could understand what my teacher had answered. I still had a long way to go before Knowing (capital K!)

Now, I Know.

Knowing does not mean forgiving or forgetting. Although I am working on the forgiveness thing. It is hard.

So, yes, we are connected, one with the other. We are one with The One. Why The One elects to – or presides over – or cries over – the actions of some of our people on this planet is still in my Unknown file. Yet, I will continue to practice. Especially NOW.

Fear keeps us focused on the past or worried about the future. If we
can acknowledge our fear, we can realize that right now we are okay.
Right now, today, we are still alive, and our bodies are working
marvelously. Our eyes can still see the beautiful sky. Our ears can still
hear the voices of our loved ones. Thich Nhat Hanh

The Complaint Department

You know, when I grew up – at the big T. Eaton’s Department Store in Winnipeg, (it’s not there anymore – the department store, not Winnipeg!)..... there was a whole area called the Complaint Department.

If you had an ‘issue’ with a purchase or an employee, that’s where you would go. Returns, exchanges, explanations, apologies,...all of it was dealt with at this area. Later, it was called the Courtesy Desk. And then the Customer Service Department. And then it all disappeared along with the store.

Hmmmph. It was a great place to complain. To have someone listen to you. And then do something about it.

Nowadays (I’m dating myself with that word!), we can complain all we want, and nothing gets done. Perhaps it is because we only complain to each other, and never to the parties who can actually GET something done. Did ya think of that?!

Studies show that when we're dissatisfied with certain products, 95% of us fail to complain to the company because we fear doing so will be annoying and time consuming, and we're unlikely to get the response we want. We are equally avoidant when it comes to complaints to our loved ones. We fear voicing them will only lead to an argument and resolve nothing. Instead, we reach for the phone, call our friends and vent to them instead.

(Guy Winch, Ph.D)

Energetically speaking though, and on the path of evolving spiritually, complaining puts us at a very low vibration. It feeds anger and hostility, and allows the negativity to be reborn and to be re-lived every time we complain. Those of us with negative emotions, faulty beliefs and rigidly held tenets are prone to complaining, and thus hampered in spiritual growth.

We are all beings of energy. Many of us don’t realize just how much of this energy is used in complaining, and further, just how much of this complaining impacts our mental health.

How Complaining Ineffectively Harms Our Mental Health

Take a moment to consider how many things you complain about in a given day. The weather, public transportation and traffic, your spouse, your kids, your friends, your boss, the movie you just saw and hated, the meal that arrived cold in the restaurant, the sandwich shop that got your order wrong, the elevator that took too long, the reality television show that booted off your favorite contestant, and the list goes on and on.

When we have so many dissatisfactions and frustrations, yet believe we're powerless to do much about them or to get the results we want, we are left feeling helpless, hopeless, victimized, and bad about ourselves. Obviously, one such incident won't harm our mental health, but we have so many complaints, this scenario happens many times a day. This accumulation of frustration and helplessness can add up over time and impact our mood, our self-esteem, and even our general mental health.

It has been postulated that chronic complaining and fault-finding stems from fear-based emotion, and is deeply rooted in the lower 3 chakras – especially Manipura, the 3rd chakra. The causes may be many and varied, but that is not the reason for this writing.

Yoga addresses the Here and the Now. That’s one of the reasons why I love yoga so much. The Why is always interesting to the academic, but the Now is ever so much more important. Not How we got here, but Whatto do with what we have! Yoga asks us to sit back, become still and be mindful of how we use our precious energy. After all is said and done, the very first step along the Eight-limbed Path of Yoga, is the practice of Ahimsa. Not harming. By virtue of action, speech or thought.

Lokah Samasta Sukhino Bhavantu. May all beings be peaceful.

What an eloquent blessing. And such an important one. You see, in traditional Buddhist belief, we are all suffering.....all carrying a heavy load. So, let’s talk go down that road a bit more...what about this heavy load? How did it get there? What can we do about it?

The last few days, in our classes we have been talking about Asmita – the ego....and how seeing ourselves as the centre of the Universe virtually stops our spiritual growth, among many other things. But what about when we consciously – or unconsciously – deflate the ego?

Perhaps the most destructive and pervasive challenge to health and well-being – particularly mental well-being, is negative mind talk.

Are you a worrier? You know, we have about 50,000 thoughts a day. Most of them are repetitions of previous thoughts. So, the deal is that you probably have had this worrying thought MANY times already today!

More negative mind talk.....Do you demean or belittle yourself? Are you driven? Do you judge or criticize yourself? Do you feel you are in some way defective or inadequate? Do you think that whatever you do, is it never enough? Guilt and self-pity are among the other self-destructive thoughts.

So, The trick is to figure out what you’re continuously thinking about.

These are all signs of our mind running amok, and they are extremely destructive.

There is nothing new here. We all know this. In fact, Patanjali, our ancient Yogi, wrote about 2,000 years ago in the Yoga Sutras that negativity is so destructive that it needs to be stopped at the instant that it begins...and further, changed to a positive thought.

The mind needs to serve you, not the other way around. You see, we have a mind. Yes, we know that. The mind shows itself as the internal dialogue that continuously goes on in our head, or we think that’s where it is.

Actually the mind is part of our eternal self and connects to us via our brain. However, if you have not trained your mind to be your servant (it is a little bit like animal obedience training,) then it is most likely running amok, meaning you have no control over what it speaks and when.

What you may not know is that every time you say self-destructing words to yourself, you are continuing your negative story of yourself and your life. You are maintaining and perpetuating your circumstances in your life. You see, thoughts are energy. When you are repeating negative self-talk, you are creating the energy of that self-talk. And since like attracts like, the universe will now send you circumstances in your life that confirm and substantiate that negative self-talk.

What is your mind “speaking” to you? Keep careful watch. We all have our favourites! Poor me. Why me? I’m too weak, too stupid, not good enough, too inadequate....and the list goes on.

Listen. Hear. Feel. How do you feel when that self-talk takes over? Certainly, not feeling ‘good’ about yourself.

Further, a vicious cycle has been laid down....a samscara.....a ‘mind groove’ which will be repeated again and again until you actually believe your inferiority/

What does our ancient Guru Patanjali have to say to us about negative thoughts?

1. When you are disturbed by unwholesome negative thoughts or emotions, cultivation of their opposites promotes self-control and firmness in the precepts.

2. Negative thoughts and emotions are violent, in that they cause injury to yourself and others, regardless of whether they are performed by you, done by others, or you permit them to be done. They arise from greed. anger, or delusion regardless of whether they arise from mild, moderate, or excessive emotional intensity.

They result in endless misery and ignorance. Therefore, when you consistently cultivate the opposite thoughts and emotions, the unwholesome tendencies are gradually destroyed.

3. By abiding in nonviolence, one’s presence creates an atmosphere in which hostility ceases.

Cultivation of the opposites. This is how we get out of the vicious cycle. Watch your thoughts. And when/if you catch yourself a having bad thoughts about yourself, immediately stop. Not a single word more!

Some would advise to have a silent mind for 15 seconds or more. Now....THAT is difficult! Since the mind’s job is to THINK, it is going to resist mightily if you order it to be absolutely quiet. So, instead, command your mind to think of something good and pleasant. You may want to have some pre-thought and pre-arranged subjects. Command your mind to think about those pleasant situations you have already thought about.

If your mind is very LOUD and insists on THINKING (read worrying), tell your mind to ‘stop.’ Yes, just say ‘Stop!’ to your mind. And if it is still in resisting mode, say ‘STO-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-P!’

It really does work!

When your mind is free of self-defeating thought, your life is about to change! .....with notes from Daniel the Healer and of course, Patanjali

“A lot of things are inherent in life -change, birth, death, aging, illness, accidents, calamities, and losses of all kinds- but these events don't have to be the cause of ongoing suffering. Yes, these events cause grief and sadness, but grief and sadness pass, like everything else, and are replaced with other experiences. The ego, however, clings to negative thoughts and feelings and, as a result, magnifies, intensifies, and sustains those emotions while the ego overlooks the subtle feelings of joy, gratitude, excitement, adventure, love, and peace that come from Essence. If we dwelt on these positive states as much as we generally dwell on our negative thoughts and painful emotions, our lives would be transformed.”

— Gina Lake, What about Now?: Reminders for Being in the Moment

Permission to Speak

Do you believe in signs? Symbols? Things that line up in a short period of time...? Some things (such as messages, actions or events) which show that something else exists, is true, or will happen?

I certainly do. Long story short...many years ago, when I went searching for a teacher of yoga, it was made pretty clear to me through a series of signs as to who it would be. So, since that time, I have been a believer.

When thinking about our blurb this month, another series of signs have been lining up....having to do with vocal communication. I like to think that I’m a pretty good listener. And listening I have been doing over the past little while. Really listening. I’ve become hyper-aware that people have different ways of speaking. Men, as a whole, tend to use less words, seem more self-assured, and resonate at a deeper tone. Of course, the tone is largely due to the anatomical make-up of vocal chords, and associated mechanics. But, there is a certain level of confidence that comes through with a male voice.

Women, on the other hand, tend to speak at a higher frequency with waaay more words than males, and are more prone to problems associated with the throat chakra. As little girls, often we were told to sit still, look pretty and be quiet. And so, we did. And some of us became VERY quiet...and those that went the other way were said to be bossy. Cheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook says “I want every little girl who is told she is bossy to be told she has leadership skills!” How’s that for an about face? Like what we are saying needs approval. Further, there is a growing trend for adult women to sound like little girls.....squeaky, tentative, unsure. What is that all about, I wonder?

So all this has got me thinking. The throat chakra Visshudha - is very closely aligned with communication. The fifth chakra ....the bridge between the heart and the mind. As Anodea Judith so succinctly writes:

“Communication is the essential function of the fifth chakra. As self-expression, it is a gateway between the inner world and the outer. Only through self-expression does the outer world get to know what’s inside of us. We only know what’s inside someone else when they choose to tell us.”

In our study of the chakra system as a whole, we learn that the second chakra Svadisthana is the vibrating energy wheel that is essentially thereceptacle of the external world - the world outside us. We begin to know this world through this chakra through our senses ....touch, taste, smell, hearing and sight. So...in a sense, we let the outside world in......into the second chakra. Our belief systems begin to form. Now, at the fifth chakra we let the world inside of us out! We let the world know about us! The two chakras are often linked, so that problems in one will often be reflected in the other.

Anodea Judith again...”Contraction in the body (chakra one) restricts the voice. Lack of feeling (chakra two) makes the voice seem mechanical. Too little will (chakra three) makes the voice sound pinched and whiny, whereas third chakra excess makes the voice dominating/ the healthy voice also requires breath (chakra four) If the breath is constricted or uneven, the voice will not be full.”

Have you ever heard something and got all choked up? Have you ever been so upset that you cannot speak? Have you ever felt like you have something stuck in your throat when there is nothing there at all? Have trouble swallowing? Often get a sore throat? Thyroid problems? Do you suffer from neck or shoulder problems?

Judith goes on to say “There are also many voices within us. There is the voice that tells us we are no good, the voice that wants above all to be heard, the voice that only whispers silently in the quiet moments we spend alone.” Inner dialog between the various parts of ourselves helps us become more integrate. And integration brings about resonance of voice.

The sign of a healthy fifth chakra one that is connected with both mind and body is a resonant and rhythmic voice that speaks truthfully, clearly and concisely. Conversation with others is balanced, and with a true ability to listen and respond.”

The practice of Brahmari is most helpful in normalizing the vibrations of the throat chakra as well as quieting a busy mind. Read more about this at - http://www.yogajournal.com/practice/2697

So, listen well, Yogis. Practice taking more time to listen rather than forming a response to whatever the other person is saying so that you can see and sense through your ears as to what is really being said.

Proof Positive

So much has been written on this subject, that even as I sit here thinking about how to position the information (thinking positively, of course!), that I doubt many will read past the opening title. Many, many studies and reams of data support the notion that optimists experience less stress, stronger immune systems, and overall better health than pessimists. Yet, in spite of all the writings, I find myself in a position now in my life journey where....at long last....this subject has entered into my mind, and taken up permanent residence.

What’s the Yogic angle? Well, Patanjali, our go-to yogic philosopher who lived a couple of thousand years ago, is concerned mainly with the emergence of the spiritual man as opposed to our psychic nature – with its moods and beliefs that act as veils, thus obstructing our true nature. We are like birds caught in a net.

In his own very brief way, Patanjali, has written the Yoga Sutras– threads of truths - in a strict and sequential order, and not to be taken out of place. As mentioned, they are very short, and are subject to interpretation – as are all great teachings. He realized that Yoga is a divine science which brings mankind on the path of positive thinking and a healthier body.

One of the great things about positive thinking, is that anyone can do it! No special equipment involved. And it’s FREE. Patanjali again “When bothered by distractions, opposing thoughts must be cultivated." (2.33)

"Cultivating opposing thoughts means realizing that distractions such as violence, greed etc, result only in pain and suffering." (2.34)

When beseeched by negative thoughts, it is very easy to give away our power to them. The more power we foist upon them, the faster they grow. They are like veritable weeds in our garden of life. The more watering they receive, the bigger they become. They can shove us right off the path to our enlightenment!

Cultivating equally strong thoughts has a positive impact of what Patanjali called contrary thinking. Pratipaksha Bhavana.

Here are some thoughts on how to take back our power:

Take Responsibility

The easiest way to fall into the negativity trap is by making yourself a victim. But on the flipside, to take responsibility for your own actions is to take charge of your own happiness. Remind yourself daily that although we may not be able to control what happens to us, we are always in charge of our reactions.

Be Kind

Getting into the habit of being kind and forgiving to others will help you extend the same courtesy to yourself. And when you're a friend to yourself, it's a whole lot easier to forgive yourself for your mistakes and cultivate a positive outlook for your future. And if you believe in karma, well, what goes around, come s around, right?!

Slow Down

Signing up for a weekly yoga class or committing to 10 minutes of meditation before bed each night can go a long way in helping you slow down your mind so that you can observe and recognize your thought patterns. Even just talking a walk in nature or reminding yourself to breathe deeply can help reset your brain and clear out unnecessary worries.

But.....Folks....Ya gotta practice!

“Mere philosophy will not satisfy us. We cannot reach the goal by mere words alone. Without practice, nothing can be achieved.”

— Swami Satchidananda, The Yoga Sutras