The following video was shared with me by a dear yoga student today. As I watched, my own practice as well as my teaching, grew truly inspired. And yet, there was a tiny nagging voice that asked, Do you really believe? Even after all of these years of practicing, studying, classes, teaching, I questioned my own belief in the transformational power of yoga.
How large is my capacity to change? How strong can I grow? How large is my faith? Can I move forward without becoming burdened and worn down by feelings of shame, guilt, sadness, and self-recrimination?
In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the ancient sage advises us to study and concentrate upon the qualities of an elephant to gain strength (Sutra III.24). In the video, we watch the transformation of a human being, from burdened and weak to fast, and strong with a much wider capacity to live a bigger life, to express his own life force. How important it is to the development of faith to see examples of transformation in living beings!
May you also be inspired. Would love to hear your story!
Yoga is about learning to channel energy. Using your power involves channeling your energy. Not recognizing your power is perhaps the easiest way to negate the energy at your disposal. This tribute to women who have transformed their own energies into action to change the world in big and small ways is inspiring for all of us, men, women, children, elders alike.
Though International Women’s Day is March 8, I am inspired by this video TODAY. It really supports my intentions for the year 2012. How about you?
Do you wish you could live more fully present in your life? I sure do, so I am working on expanding my sensory awareness. There is so much that passes me by, that never registers in my consciousness every waking (sleeping!) moment
What is sensual living, but a life spent paying attention. It’s a physical life. A receptive awareness. It is presence. Experiencing all that is. Touching, feeling, seeing, smelling, moving (yes, the body has that kinesthetic sense), listening, tasting. Any and all of these modalities can become meditations if you ramp up your awareness and really open yourself to what you are experiencing. Yoga itself becomes a powerful tool for meditation this way.
I just finished reading A HOUSE BY THE SEA by poet, May Sarton. Sarton describes living a sensual life in on the coast of Maine. I feel as if I’ve lived at Wild Knoll and pulled goldenrod from her delightful garden and sipped chablis on the patio in her colorful tapestry of existence beside the sea.
Here is a video that I found inspiring and hope you will too. I can’t wait to make my own BOOK OF SENSES. I invite you to live sensually for one month. Maybe we can compare notes afterwards.
During this season of intention-setting, it might be helpful to contemplate the mother-of-all-intentions: COMPASSION.
And all compassion, from the grandest benevolent foundation to the tiniest gesture of human kindness, begins with oneself.
During 2010, how can I treat myself with greater friendship, honor, and love? Can I develop kinder thoughts as well as healthier responses? What simple action can I take to implement this intention?
My first method of creating more compassion in my life and in the lives of folks I touch ~ including my online friends ~ is to work on my physical and mental health. I can develop healthier personal patterns: MORE vegetables, MORE exercise, MORE focus.
A second action is to develop a greater support system. I have taken some first steps toward gaining mentors and will continue contemplating what other sorts of support may be beneficial.
I work on these areas so that I may better serve you.
Developing a fundamental attitude of compassion, not just day-by-day, but by really paying attention, becoming mindful of moment-by-moment turns toward or away from compassion will change the world.
Grieving with friends and family of someone who has passed blesses us with stories we may not have ever known otherwise.
While in Houston, E.’s father shared an inspiring account of a homeless man living beneath a highway overpass near their home. Over time, they recognized and began to speak with him. Eventually, whenever father or daughter saw him there, they began leaving plates of food and some clothing. Because of their generosity, I was moved to make a donation to a homeless shelter in Houston. It’s true that generosity inspires generosity!
Patanjali tells us that compassion is one of the tools we can use to calm the mind:
Though I’m focusing on compassiontoday, the practices of friendliness, gladness, or equanimity would bestow similar benefits that I’d like to discuss in future posts.
This aphorism, or sutra, reminds me of Simon and Garfinkle’s ode to loneliness, “I am a Rock.” The following video is from the unofficial Paul Simon Page, located on 2dannyc89′s Channel.
This is the path I get stuck on …stuck in grief, alienation, and self-absorption….when I don’t practice the outward-looking virtues.
The ideals expressed in yoga sutra # 1.33 have been used to transform human relationships and better society since ancient times. Barbara Stoler Miller in Yoga, Discipline of Freedom, says they echo early Buddhist monks practices even as they are relevant and useful to us in the 21st century because:
These practices work to demolish the boundaries between oneself and others, and to break through the barriers that lock people into egoism….bring about a transmutation of personal emotions into immeasurable virtues.
We are reminded in B.K.S. Iyengar’s Light on the Sutras of Patanjali to not limit our social work with these four virtues, but to include practice of the five virtues named in the yamas mentioned in sutra 2.30: nonharming, honesty, non-stealing,moderation, non-grasping.
We call these social virtues because they benefit not only ourselves, they also bring society into a state of health. Can we live in a health-ful rather than a dys-functional society? If we take these aphorisms to heart and into our lives, it certainly seems possible!
A friend on FaceBook posted a thought-provoking video that cuts to the heart of this sutra. I hope it will benefit you today just as the story E.’s father shared, inspired me.
MEDITATION: Georg Feuerstein, in The Yoga-Sutra of Patanjali, says that there is a meditation wherein the four virtues: friendliness, compassion, gladness, and equanimity are radiated from the practitioner into the universe. This sounds very similar to metta or lovingkindness meditation that I have mentioned before. Beginning with oneself, and eventually including all sentient beings, the meditator offers the following phrases (or others that resonate more deeply):
A sense of abundance is deeply connected with a sense of gratitude. Here I broaden the topic to include developing a sense of abundance in life. Really life is too short to live any other way, isn’t it?
I practice my lovingkindness meditation using repetition of the four line mantra:
May I live without fear.
May I live in happiness.
May I live in physical health.
May I live in ease of well-being AND ABUNDANCE.
The final two words (AND ABUNDANCE) are my tweak on the traditional phrases translated from the PALI by Sharon Salzburg. I pray for the sense of abundance to fill my life because from there I can learn to love my life and other’s lives.
The Christian term for abundance is GRACE. May I live in a grace-filled life! How beautiful that sounds. Isn’t that exactly what we want in our deepest self? And it’s a SENSE of abundance, it’s nothing physical that will satisfy this longing…only the sense that we are living abundantly that satisfies. This is the root of our power, our confidence, our joy.
Are you ready to turn your thoughts away from a poverty-mentality?
When advertising my classes, I stress developing flexibility, strength, and balance. Most people will read that and presume I’m referring to physical aspects focused upon in the classes, which is true.
However, FLEXIBILITY, BALANCE, and STRENGTH are qualities needing development in every mind, heart, and life.
When I canceled classes at the last minute in order to attend a weekend yoga workshop, my teacher emailed and praised my flexibility. It’s a beautiful aspect of a well-developed yoga practice, he said (or something to that effect).
During March, I’ve taken some time away from the computer. As the regular readers will have noticed, there were few posts – and I still need to answer some of the exquisite comments that have been made – I also spent little time posting updates on Twitter and FaceBook. It was enough for me to scan my emails and answer the most pressing. I didn’t read many blogs, nor did I spend much time in my beloved Comfort Cafe! My excuse is that I felt myself digging further into a cyber-rut and I needed “out.”
For me, March became a time to re-charge and do something DIFFERENT (doing something different is a hallmark of flexibility, right?)
I DID allow myself to collect some garden manure at Renee’s Poop Party, wallow in some genealogical research, take long walks, rake my gardens, read, and begin to create my poetry collection, BAREFOOT & UPSIDE DOWN. I visited my folks in North Carolina, spent an afternoon with my cousin, helped a fellow writer on a project, saw my old writing mentor, and chatted on SKYPE with my family, including my sis in Poland.
So there, I’m certifiably FLEXIBLE. And it’s got nothing whatsoever to do with how close my chin comes to my shin in forward-fold. Or does it?
FLEXIBILITY is about softening, releasing, exhaling.
In yoga practice, we scan for places in our body where we may be holding, grasping, clenching, knotted, or otherwise shortening our physical selves, our energetic selves.
In meditation, we observe our minds and hearts for these same rigid, knotty, and hard patterns.
These patterns have developed over the course of our lifetime in response to myriad events.
FLEXIBILITY is about re-wiring fixed patterns. As we grow older, we continue to develop more and deeper patterns. Whether we look at our daily breath, or where we hold our stress, or how we approach problematic relationships, we can probably find several long-standing and typical ways of responding. There is a yogic saying: YOU ARE ONLY AS YOUNG AS YOUR SPINE (is flexible).
Neuroscientists say that FLEXIBILITY is important for keeping our brains young. PBS had a great series on the AGING BRAIN. Check it out and then Learn More at the Brain Resource Center. There’s loads of fresh research on everything from aging to ADHD.
In yoga and meditation,as in every other area, it’s important to maintain a soft attitude toward our flexibility. Commanding ourselves to release: YOU WILL SOFTEN THOSE STEEL-TINGED SHOULDERS OR ELSE! is a lot like kicking the horse when you want it to trot. A gentle attitude works with horses as it does with our shoulders and our crankiness.
Fortunately, we have a great tool for helping us to release deeper: the breath. Without even using words, we can send the breath to those crying hamstrings in forward fold and, focusing on the exhalation, release the belly and feel the hams grow longer.
In meditation, we can return to watching the breath when we find ourselves caught up in repetitious thought patterns, thereby creating space between the nuggets of verbiage that repeat ad nauseum in our cerebrum.
As far as those pesky relationship issues, try a little softening and breathing and see if things don’t iron out- at least somewhat, if not altogether.
And regarding moods that can overtake our entire life while raging unchecked, try more sitting and breathing, more yoga stretching, with much more softening all around.
Don’t take it all so seriously; that’s a sure fire way to grow more rigid. Throw some light and laughter at your stiffness, your bleakness, your obsessions, your life. It’s spring, after all.
Yesterday I embarked upon a “vision quest” of sorts: a virtual retreat with Comfort Queen. I AM SO PUMPED! Four days I am giving over to bursting outta ordinary life in order to sit with my existence. It’s a time to look long and with new slant at how I do things, especially how I live my life and WHY. Ah, yes, I’ll even spend some time pondering the BIG QUESTION and if you don’t know what the heck THAT is, well, there’s probably no need for pondering on your part. For types like me, it is a darn-near obsession and one that I welcome iotas of answers. But then, there I am in the retreat and I find out that what it’s all about is ASKING MORE QUESTIONS! What gives with this?
I follow the guidelines in the How to Create Retreat Space doc….light pretty candles, gather colored pens, 2 notebooks (lined and unlined…just in case, I go journalling wild), create seating possibilities, including a small rocking chair that I bought at Salvation Army, yoga mat and blankets for impromptu practice and warmth. My space was comfy and safe, good for looking deeply sans interruptions from myself or others.
Jen Louden, retreat diva, led the first session and my oh my,it was exhilarating. I’d never been on a virtual retreat so it was a relief, both that I could figure it out (OMG as simple as making a phone call) and that I’d be inspired to do the work I felt needin’ to do. My excitement burbled after the call as I wrote in my journal and then headed upstairs to eat lunch and take care of a few other tasks. .
While happily munching away on my leftover stuffed delicata squash, something inside nudged me to go downstairs and blow out the candles, candles shouldn’t be left unattended and all that. Starting downstairs, I gasped upon nearly being flown into by a large black bird, a starling, for gosh sakes—in the basement! I ran upstairs, closed the door, breathed a few, and tried to think about how it got there…and how weird, one has never come into our house in winter, never in the basement…but it is zero degrees outside and I guess the poor thing was freezing.
I’m on a vision quest and a STARLING FLIES INTO MY SACRED SPACE!
It actuallyalightson the yoga ropes! Was it feeling the gorgeous spaciousness of retreat time and space? Was it connecting with re-treatants around the globe, seeking calm, confidence, and contentment with comfort? Hoping that at the least, its purpose will shift away from GRAND SUET MONGER at my feeder to something more uplifting like SINGER OF GOLDEN ARIAS, but not sure that THAT is in Starling’s DNA.
The symbolist in me immediately connected this bird with the poem Jen read at the opening. Even though underground and the wild wind was growling with buckets of snow belting outta the gray sky, I could feel the forest inside with the Wren and Raven’s presence when she read. Human- nature boundaries dissolved. Poetry holds much the same purpose as yoga —connectiveness.
Here’s the poem; sorry the spacing is off. It’s a lovely by one of my fav poets.
By David Waggoner
Stand still. The trees and bushes beside you Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here, And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.
FF to Day 2 of the Comfort Retreat: it’s mid-mornin’ and I’m setting up my “Stuff” and notice that there is a god-awful smell in the room. I call Mike down and we figure out that it’s coming from the furnace pipe (the day before we didn’t actually know HOW Starling got in…today the poop on the furnace was a dead giveaway). We hear a fluttering and realize that this bird is stuck inside the pipe!!! This is a horrible SAD disgusting unthinkable way for a poor defenseless bird to die. And since it’s our pipe, we are feeling kinda to blame. Mike puts on his gallant face (the one I LOVE so much) and informs me that he’ll take the pipe apart and retrieve the poor thing. I’m free to go upstairs and listen to theretreat call that is starts momentarily.
While I’m dialing-in, my head is screaming: GOOD LORD, THERE IS A BIRD BURNING IN MY PIPE!!! How very SHIVA-esque! Do I need a stronger metaphor for transformation???? Am I that dense? Did the universe really need to like bang me upside my head with a life on fire? The smell that now permeated the house? like Pashupatinath, the burning ghats in Nepal…GROSSSSSS.
Ahh, the second bird was only singed. It flew freely outside. The smell remains to remind me to let go of the past, to open, AND TO LISTEN to that which is my heart’s desire.
Which bird will you follow today? The one that flew towards the heat of the blue flame and found an opening into freedom, openness! Or the one that tried to retreat when it grew too warm and then became stuck in the pipe, singeing its feathers in the process?
Yoga and prayer…do they go together…do YOU bring them together? Yoga asana IS prayer for me. It’s the prayer of the body in motion. It’s opening my SELF to the grace of the universe.It is working to create a sustainable body/mind/spirit and therefore family/friendships/community/nation/world.
Sitting meditation – is it a prayer? Yes’m indeed. We sit to develop compassion; all practice is for compassion. Imagine if those in the West Wing sat everyday, hell, sat once a week and practiced Lovingkindness meditation.…Imagine (as John Lennon did but the world has not quite grasped the work involved yet…Imagination + Prayer/Practice = a more loverly world!) ahhh, for today – as we enter upon the inauguration of a new era – just imagine….
This post is dedicated to another Jersey girl, a member of the original Mater Dei yoga club back in 1971: “White Cathy” – and the benevolent work she has done and continues to do! It’s a blessing and inspiration to know you.
Yoga and meditation teach us to open ourselves; to free ourselves from the confines of our “programming,” of what we have been inculcated by society. The practice informs us of a greater existence, a greater SELF that we can aspire to and it is a SELF that we all belong to in this great human family – some would say in this family of all sentient beings.
Do you believe in the power of prayer to change the world? Do you act on that belief? How does it affect your life? – or the lives of those around you?