Category Archives: transformation

Is yoga a religion?

Duke Gardens LotusThe debate over whether yoga is a religion has always struck me as odd. Kinda like saying that prayer is a religion. Yoga is a practice. For many folks, it’s simply a practice of physical-mental fitness and therapy. Nothing wrong with that. There’s no denying the long list of benefits that can be enjoyed through a consistent practice.

Yoga also creates harmony in the body-mind-spirit that is otherwise so often elusive in our daily lives. We feel that unity of being with pleasure. Thus yoga becomes the catalyst for further development of the whole self: our spiritual, mental, and physical selves. This may mean diving deeper into our own religious heritage or working with a meditation instructor. It may mean working with a life coach or therapist. It could also mean making that medical appointment or losing weight. It could even mean clearing the garage clutter.

Yoga creates a desire in me to be a better person. Not in a constant frenzy of self-help laden with heavy doses of something’s-wrong-with-me-that-I-need-to-fix-so-I-can-attain-nirvana’  mindset, but in the action of relaxing into living fully and wholly my LIFE. In living the life I was born to live. Healthy in all levels of being.

That is the lotus in the pose.

The Flower of Yoga

Tree pose beside flowering eldersFor many years, I see-sawed between practicing sitting meditation and asana practice. I was gaining insight into my Self with both kinds of practice. Mind, Body, Heart, were all developing, albeit unevenly.

I could (and did) spend hours a day in sitting practice, to the point of neglecting the needs of my body, my family, my friends. I would continue this way until the niggle within grew, strongly suggesting that I was neglecting my asana practice. Then I’d kick up my asana practice. I was growing more and more comfortable simply being in my body, as well as growing stronger and more supple. New levels blossomed in poses I’d thought were unattainable for me, and so, working even harder, I’d push forward, sometimes to the point of bodily injury.

Both practices yielded many benefits, but I was left feeling chronically unsatisfied with my practice and with myself. If asked about my home practice, I would say as much because I truly felt as if it hardly existed. A sense of incompleteness in my life never lifted. I was a bud that refused to bloom.

Gradually, over time, I developed curiosity about why I couldn’t seem to settle. Was I more of a meditator, or more of a yogini? As I did this, I asked myself questions about what was most needed to fulfill my dharma, my reason for being here now.

The answer led me deeper into meditation in daily life. Meditation in asana practice. Yoga in the kitchen. Meditation while unloading the dishwasher. Yoga in the shower. Meditation while weeding. Walking meditation. Yoga in the garden.

Learning to connect the messages from my senses, the outer world, with my mind, the inner world — I glimpse union. The unfolding of the flower of yoga.

B.K.S.Iyengar tells us in his insightful book, The Tree of Yoga, The Classic Guide to Integrating Yoga Into Your Daily Life, that the flower of yoga is Dhyana or Meditation. It is the union of the outer path of our asana (messages from our senses) and the inner path of asana (messages from our mind). They must both become balanced. When imbalanced, and we’ve all seen advanced practitioners fall this way, even though they’ve practiced long and achieved a high level of ability in sitting meditation or yoga asana, they do not realize the calm bliss that comes only from the full flowering of yoga.

As I (happily!) settle into deeper union of life and yoga, paths heretofore unseen come into view. The garden blossoms. There are more flowers. The journey continues :-)

Transformation Meditation

Black Pine boughs with snow.  Fredonia NY  (c) 2013 barefoot photos

Black Pine boughs with snow.
Fredonia NY
(c) 2013 barefoot photos

For those of us living in the cold North, where snow and wind blow often during the winter months, the signs of thaw and retreating snow cover are visual reminders of not only seasonal change, but can also remind us of the daily transformation that occurs in or lives.

Pine Boughs  Fredonia NY (c) 2013 barefoot photos

Pine Boughs
Fredonia NY
(c) 2013 barefoot photos

Practicing a visualization meditation using the melting snow and greening landscape can help renew and focus our desires for radiant health and well-being.

If it is warm enough outdoors, you can try this practice outside. It’s helpful to change up your routine and take your practices into different environments. You may be surprised at what distractions arise, at how your awareness shifts, and the shifting quality of awareness.

Begin by settling yourself into Meditation Position. This should be a position that you can sit in comfortably for fifteen- twenty minutes.

Practice with eyes gently closed.

Notice the Place you are in. Invite the place to fill your awareness and your being. Invite your being to fill the environment. Take a couple of long slow breaths through your nose feeling the connection of your self and your environment. Allow this enlarged self to settle in your heart center peacefully.

Notice your Physical Self. Settle awareness in the body as you practice observing without judgement, growing compassion and love as you scan your self. Be here for a few moments or minutes, as you wish.

Bring awareness to the Breath without trying to change anything about the breath. Just try to observe the individual nuance of every single breath as it arises, during its fulfillment, as it recedes, perhaps as it pauses, and as it transforms into the next breath. Don’t rush. Take as much time as you like with this phase of your practice.

If you are continuing to relax, and it feels right to continue, imagine your environment as it was covered in snow, with individual shapes blurred and softened beneath the white fluff. Be here for a few moments, as it feels right.

Next imagine the snow thawing and receding from tree limbs and rooftops. Imagine the air warming your skin; the brilliant sunlight dancing in your eyes. In your mind’s eye, invite the green buds of spring to push through the crust of the earth and for some of those buds to blossom into flowers of myriad colors.

If you are ready to take this a step further, imagine your own deepest desire for your life as if it were a dormant seed lying deep within your being. Feel the way you wish to protect that seed and how you’d like the light to reach it. Imagine banks of snow that might be impeding the seed from sprouting, to melt and dissolve. As you do this, touch in with your desire for this seed to fulfill its destiny.

Silently speak to the seed and offer  warm words of encouragement. Watch the snow melt even faster as you do this. Observe the way the seed begins to set little white roots and wiggly green leaves as more and more light and warmth reach it.

Continue giving this plant of your deepest desires some love in your own unique expression. Feel warmth spread throughout your being as you do this. Be here for a few more moments.

When you are ready, slowly open your eyes and take a couple of deeper abdominal breaths before moving into your day.

Whenever you can, touch in with this beautiful, growing desire that is within you, whether it’s radiant health, or beautiful relationships, or healing, or flourishing creativity, or a life of overflowing abundance; whatever it is, let it become the central force motivating your actions and shaping your days.

How Much Do You Believe in Yoga?

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!

 

Hurray for Woman Power

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?

Sensual Living

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.

Cassie’s Workshop: Book of Senses from Cassie Oswald on Vimeo.

The Mother of All Intentions

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.

Home or Homeless? Yoga sutra 1.33

Royal Bonica rosebud

Royal Bonica Rosebud (carolyn photo)

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: Yoga sutra 1.33: maitri karuna mudita upeksanam sukha duhkha punya apunya visayanam bhavanatas citta prasadanam

The projection of friendliness, compassion, gladness, and equanimity towards objects – [be they] joyful, sorrowful, meritorious, or demeritorious-[bring about] the pacification of consciousness. (trans. Feuerstein)

Though I’m focusing on compassion today, 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.

Mankind Is No Island from B2GYouth.com on Vimeo.

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):

May I be free from danger.

May I be happy.

May I be healthy.

May I live with ease and abundance.

 



Lovingkindness, How full is your cup?

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?

Flexiblity

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).

img_0605During 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.