The 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.
The practice of Being rather than Doing offers fulfillment on many levels. My yoga often serves as a refuge to hustle-bustle, grief, stress and struggle of everyday life. Whether it’s an achy back, sore legs, overwhelmed mind, or a tired heart, I know that practice will ease the suffering.
Over the years, this has lured me into a deeper and deeper embrace of a formal, on-the-mat asana exploration. The path to wholeness and health. This is not a bad thing! The moment I land on the mat, feelings of delicious relief swirl through me. Now I can settle into BEING, opening my heart, linking my heartmindbody, and connecting with forces only the inner eye sees; the inner ear hears.
Conjure the stillness of post-savasana, or the centeredness of pranayama, or the contentment you felt after a fav yoga class. Then, despite whatever ails you today, how many parts of you hurt, how cranky or tired you are, head to a mat. Begin with your most beloved yoga pose, and let the bliss flow.
As your practice deepens and cycles through the seasons of your life, the boundaries between the refuge you experience on your mat and in the world will slowly dissolve. Moments will gradually grow where life itself is centered in a sweet contentment that is its own refuge, no matter the circumstances. These are the moments when yoga and life are one and the same practice. Observe and recognize that they too will pass, but observe as well that those moments are the fruit of heading to your mat day after day, year after year.
I have kept many journals over the years and I have found that there are at least two reasons for keeping a dedicated yoga-meditation practice journal.
Yoga journaling can be an important aidto your practice for two reasons. The first is that the act of remembering what and how you practiced provides a running diary of asana in your life. As time passes, this record can become a tool for motivation, celebration, and insight.
The second way that journaling assists your yoga practice is that as you reflect back on what you have done, how you felt, what changed or remained the same, the practice deepens. Yoga, at its heart is about self-reflection and self-growth/ self-awareness.
When recording a yoga session, I include the poses I did as well as my thoughts and insights, what came easily, what my breath was like. See the photo of a random page from my little green book.
Your journal can become a great tool for a personal journey in SATYA, or the development of truthfulness in your life. Try to look at your practice dispassionately, using Witness Consciousness.
A very specific way to keep a mindfulness journal is to record your insights immediately after a practice session, whenever you can. Keep a pen and notebook handy, at the ready, so that it’s easy to remember to write for a few minutes after you have practiced. Dedicate the notebook to this effort.
When recording meditation sessions, include what specific practice you were engaged in. Walking? Sitting? Or did you practice Deep Relaxation? What was your posture?
For any session, it’s helpful to record what challenges were faced, how the poses worked together, and the cumulative effect of regularly practicing. Include a general description of your emotional and physical states at the beginning and ending of the practice.
There are many ways to keep a journal. Consider all of them a part of your mindfulness training. You can ask yourself questions and then free write responses. When you free write, resist the urge to edit yourself so that the unconscious thoughts can freely arise. The pen is not to leave the paper. Just keep the writing flow going, even if what you are writing is gibberish. In the midst of the junk, insights often appear unexpectedly. You may be surprised at what appears on the page!
Another is to record observations using the Witness Consciousness. and then reflect back upon what you’ve written.
You can try different methods on different days as the spirit prompts.
Many students like to draw in their journals and attach photographs. There is no set length or format. If you can only pen a couple of lines, that’s AOK. Sometimes, however, you may feel an inclination to delve deeper as you reflect on your state. Go for it! It’s your record, so personalize it and make it work for you. Marble composition books work great for journals. They are cheap, and easily available. If you work with me through Yoga Coaching, I’ll ask you to send each week’s journal to me in an email.
Yoga is the dance of bodymindspirit. We say meditation in movement. Each one of us finds our unique expression of this ancient art. Your pose may not look much like mine. Doesn’t matter –The point of practice lies deep within. It’s a journey of the soul, mind, and body. All equal participants.
This morning I heard stories of how the previously posted and popular piece on Matt Harding’s version of the Gratitude Dance had rocked it’s way around campus at the end of the semester, so I thought I’d look into what Matt is up to now. Turns out he’s made another gorgeous globe trotting vid, this time using local dancing styles. Not exactly Yoga. But it is Body. It is Heart. And Mind is there as well. Hope you enjoy the dance around the world. Hmmm, Maybe it’s time we found a sponsor to YOGA around the planet.
Or maybe you’d like to send in photos of your Yoga in unusual locales. We’d love to see them and will post as able. …Maybe another video in the works!
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?
Kaya; the body. Indriya: the eleven sense organs, including thought. Siddih: power, perfection. Asuddhi: impurity. Ksayat: by the destruction, elimination. Tapasah: discipline, asceticism, austerity.
By eliminating impurity, a disciplined life brings perfection and mastery to the body and the eleven sense organs. (trans. Bernard Bouanchaud, The Essence of Yoga)
Tapas, the third yogic niyama, or code for living well, is another means for personal evolution. We don’t embark upon these practices for the sake of austerity or novelty or egoic gratification. T.K.V. Desikachar (The Heart of Yoga) stresses that Tapas must not cause suffering, “everything about tapas must help you move forward.”
Tapas is the inner fire or discipline which keeps the yogin practicing. Lethargy would be its opposite. One of the definitions of the word YOGA is “discipline,” so it’s easy to see how Tapas is related to daily practice.
What is it that draws me to my mat day after day, year after year? It’s the fire that burns in my heart center, awakening a sense of embodiment that yearns for asana to express itself.
Yoga Scholar, Bernard Bouanchaud, asks us to consider the relationship between contentment, santosha which implies acceptance and Tapas, the fire that burns impurities. I’d ask, how then does Shauca, or purity itself affect or deepen the Tapasic experience?
A tidbit of trivia I learned from Wikipedia: One who undertakes tapas is a Tapasvin.
A primary purpose of yoga is to become aware of, to channel, and to utilize energy. Yoga can be considered a form of Tapas. Certainly it is integral to the yogin’s life. In Yoga Mind Body & Spirit, the popular teacher and New Zealand yogini, Donna Farhi says that, “Far from being a kind of medicinal punishment, tapas allows us to direct our energy toward a fulfilled life of meaning and one that is exciting and pleasurable.”
The other elements of the ashtanga yoga are inter-related practices. Pranayama and Asana help to stoke the fire. Pratyahara assists the Tapasvin in focusing the energy. Brahmacharya, the moderation of one’s vital energy, is a natural extension of Tapas. Its practice helps keep the heart fire bright and pure.
Farhi quotes Buddhist teacher, Pema Chodron, “What we discipline is any form of potential escape from reality.”
It’s Tapas that helps me put some ooomph into a daily pranayama, so the practice does not become dull and listless. Tapas propels me and holds me on my dietary regiment. I pray for Tapas to light the flame of my teaching, service, and for inspiration for this blog!
In class, many of you have asked me about home practice. I sense much insecurity about practicing :”the right way.” Some have expressed fear of doing IT WRONG, worried that they’d hurt themselves.
Maybe some of this comes from over-emphasis on CORRECT alignment.
Correct alignment needs to come from inside the student.
ONLY YOU KNOW HOW YOU FEEL!
The BEST teacher in the world can only make an educated, experienced GUESS as to what is happening inside YOUR BODY.
The first thing we do in class is sit and listen. Listen for when to begin. Listen to an inner urging to point you towards the first asana. Listen with your inner ears tuned up to how deep and long to hold the pose. Listen to how you feel before, during, and after the pose.
This listening is a type of meditation.
Try to incorporate listening into your practice and you’ll have taken a major step in understanding yoga and if you can begin doing that in your life off the mat, you’ll have leaped into becoming YOUR SELF.
Here is a short video of master teacher, Erich Schiffmann.
Steven’s video is a little hokey, but I love the homemade quality. And I love watching him outside snowshoeing, since the weather here in Fredonia is conducive to a long white walk today. About the content though — what do you think? How much do we believe that we can effect events in our lives due to how and what we think?
I have a bumper sticker that quotes the Buddha: WHAT WE THINK WE BECOME.
Is there evidence in your life of thoughts actualizing? When does this NOT happen? Or do you think it’s 100% fool-proof?
How does yoga effect daily thought patterns? Does what you eat have any repercussions in your actual daily life or on what you think about? Are there other habits you can foster to improve your thinking, such as getting enough sleep, meditating regularly, speaking positively?