Archive for the ‘2012’ Category

Sutra Slacking

Given my last blog entry is dated from September, it appears from the outside I’ve been slacking on my yoga sutra commitment.  If you recall, in 2012 I set out to pick a sutra every couple of weeks (read Celebrate Now, sutra 1.1), meditate on it and blog about it.  I fully admit this was a challenging task, yet for whatever reason I decided back in September to double the challenge by learning The Yoga Sutras in Sanskrit.

Of course learning the sutras in Sanskrit requires first I learn Sanskrit, an extremely rich and ancient language.  Let’s break it down further, learning a new language requires I learn a new alphabet that has its own characters and sounds.  As Pierre Couvillion says, learning Sanskrit is like “gymnastics for the tongue”.

Sanskrit is a very energetic/vibrational language that not only involves speaking it but very much involves feeling it.   Just from the few practice sessions I’ve done so far, I’ve felt lighter and more at ease in my body.  It sounds crazy but it’s been a pretty powerful experience.  In addition to simply speaking the alphabet and moving the tongue in a certain way, learning Sanskrit requires a level of breath work, meditative focus and patience.  And as the source language for everything yoga –including asana, chanting, mantras and philosophical yoga texts such as The Yoga Sutras and The Bhagavad Gita –learning Sanskrit has really put my yoga commitment to the test and has taken my yoga sutra studies to a new level.

So have I been sutra slacking or just slightly sutra side-tracked?  You decide.  Good news is I’m still around – still yoga-ing, studying yoga, loving yoga and sharing yoga as much as I can in and around the DC/Arlington area.

Are You a REAL Yoga Teacher?

As part of the 2012 Arts Festival Day at an elementary school in Alexandria, VA, my yoga teacher-friend Brittanie DeChino and I volunteered to do a few yoga demonstrations to third, fourth and fifth-graders.  We taught them sound breathing (a breathing technique we learned from our teacher Sri Dharma Mittra), sun salutations, balancing poses, partner yoga and a few other fun things.  It was a nice change from my daily office yoga gigs.

At the end of each 20-minute presentation, we opened it up for a few questions from the kids.  In the last group, which was about 75 fifth-graders, one girl asked “are you real yoga teachers?”  Of course, we said with a smile “yes, we are real yoga teachers.”  Though now I’m thinking, what is a real yoga teacher?

From an educational standpoint in the United States, the Yoga Alliance defines the educational requirements needed to be known as a Registered Yoga Teacher (aka RYT) with their organization.  Is being an RYT enough to be considered a real yoga teacher?  I say no.  In fact, you can become an RYT and not ever teach an actual yoga class.  Or you can become an RYT and teach yoga classes every day.  Though I don’t think whether you teach yoga classes or not makes you a real yoga teacher.

To me what makes a real yoga teacher is someone who shows up in life doing their best every moment.  Someone who shows up in life for other people —helping others, giving to others and not expecting anything in return (aka karma yoga).  Someone who inspires others naturally through their actions.

To me a real yoga teacher honors the universal vows of the yamas (sutra 2.30) and niyamas (sutra 2.32).  And if the “teacher” only follows the first yama which is ahimsa (nonviolence in thought, word and action) to me they are a real yoga teacher.  Actually, this is more important than whether the teacher can even do the physical postures.  I also think a real yoga teacher takes time to pause daily –whether it’s to move (asana), meditate, or just simply open a yoga text, like The Yoga Sutras or The Bhagavad Gita, and reflect.  A real yoga teacher is a truth seeker – someone who is following their heart and sharing from the heart.  As Sri Dharma always says, the goal of yoga is self-realization.

And how is yoga related to art (a question posed by one bright fourth-grader today)?  Practicing yoga calms you (as Brittanie explained) which creates space within, opening you up to endless amounts of creativity.  And as I type this I realize that teaching yoga is an art.  It takes practice and a dedicated heart.  Living yoga is an artistic journey.  It takes constant practice and an open heart to whatever and whoever shows up in the moment.  Isn’t this all art?

Stumped by sutra 4.19

The mind-stuff is not self-luminous because it is an object of perception by the Purusha.  sutra 4.19  (Purusha is known as the individual soul, divine Self in all beings)  

I knew there would come a time during my 2012 yoga sutra journey/writing when I would be completely stumped.  Well that day is here.  The truth is the day actually happened a couple of weeks ago.  I kept thinking if I held off on this posting something inspiring would show up in my life that could help me relate to sutra 4.19.  Unfortunately, I have yet to have an “aha!” moment.  Rather than waiting, I figured I would just be honest and say “I’m stumped”.

As I sat in my local Arlington/neighborhood coffee shop one morning (again, nearly two weeks ago), I decided I would randomly flip through one of my sutra texts with my eyes closed.  Where ever my finger landed that would be the sutra I would contemplate and blog about for that week.  As I did this, probably looking odd doing it in public, I recalled this was a tactic used with a Bible in the memoir Running with Scissors.  It seemed to work well in the book.  They even had a catchy name for it — Bible surfing???  So I figured what the heck, I’ll try sutra surfing.

As you may have already sensed, “sutra surfing” didn’t turn out so well for me.  Though I somewhat understand what sutra 4.19 means, I don’t know how to apply it or have yet to see/feel it in my everyday life.  Needless to say, I am totally stumped and don’t have any personal insight to share.

Add to this, I haven’t really delved deep into Book 4 of The Yoga Sutras.  All I can do is take my “stumpedness” (a made-up Melody word) as a sign…I need to get my head out of Books 1 & 2 and move on.  I’ve been so intrigued with the first two books of The Yoga Sutras.  Every time I venture further, I end up back in the beginning.  As my practice of concentration and meditation have deepened over this past year, I have dabbled in Book 3 and glanced through Book 4.  Yet it almost never fails…I end up back at the beginning (i.e. in either Book 1 or 2).

Personally, I believe the first two Books of The Yoga Sutras just have so much rich and applicable instruction to help us find peace with the obstacles we face daily on our journey in life.  I guess my message is if you’re overwhelmed (aka stumped!) by the sutras, stick with Books 1 & 2 for a while.  For many, including myself, that is probably enough in this lifetime.

Note to self:  The next time I attempt “sutra surfing”, it will be more towards the middle of the text-book while I cross my fingers on the other hand hoping I land in either Book 1, 2 or 3.

The Need to Write (sutra 2.33)

If anyone out there has been reading my blog, it’s clear I’ve been MIA since January.  As I documented here, my intention in 2012 is study The Yoga Sutras in detail and blog weekly on one of the them.

With 190+ of them to choose from, sounds like a simple task yet I have definitely fallen short of my “weekly blogging” intention.  And it’s easy to beat myself up over it.  It seemed like the more weeks that went by the harder it was for me to jump back out here and write.  I couldn’t even remember my wordpress password at first…that’s a bad sign.

However, this last week or so I recalled sutra 2.33 “When disturbed by negative thoughts, opposite (positive) ones should be thought of.  This is pratipaksha bhavana.”  This sutra reminded me that I have been reading The Yoga Sutras almost daily this year and writing about them on paper (this is positive, right?).  It’s just the process of taking my writings from paper to the blog haven’t quite been priority in my schedule the last couple months.  I also remind myself of all the good things I’ve been up to this year — which I’ll save for another time.

For now, I broke the “seal” and I’m back to carving out more time for my yoga sutra postings.  As I finish up my internship requirements for Sri Dharma Mittra’s 500-hour Life of a Yogi Teacher Training Program (which by the way rocks!), the blog postings still may not be weekly but I will continue to remind myself I am studying the sutras in-depth, practicing them and teaching them regularly.  These are positive steps, completely in line with my 2012 intention, and I felt the urge to finally blog it.  Namaste.

What is Yoga? (sutra 1.2)

Pure coincidence…3 years ago I wrote a blog post with the exact same title “what is yoga?”  Clearly, this is a popular writing because I also blogged on the thought “what is yoga?” back in 2007 too (read it here).  The 3rd time is a charm, right?

Staying with the commitment I stated in my last blog post, 2012 is my year for digging deeper into my yoga book studies starting with The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.  Given I touched on yoga sutra 1.1 in the previous post, it seems logical to move to sutra 1.2 which is where Patanjali offers his answer to “what is yoga?”.  Patanjali states:  yogash chitta vritti nirodhah   Translations of Patanjali’s sutra 1.2 include:

  • Yoga is the settling of the mind into silence (Alistair Shearer)
  • The restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff is yoga (Sri Swami Satchidananda)
  • Yoga is union -union of body, mind & spirit (which I touched on here back in 2007)

Over the years, the first image that has always frequently come to my mind when reading this sutra is a silhouette of someone meditating in a serene setting —such as by an ocean, on a mountain top or in a empty/quiet room painted in calm colors.  On the outside it appears in my image one can easily “settle the mind into silence” by being outside in nature or an empty space clear of daily distractions, technology or life’s dramas.

The reality is it takes a lot of sitting to catch just a few brief moments of silence (i.e. settling the mind) and no matter how peaceful the external environment may appear, the internal environment is constantly challenged.  Random thinking (aka modifications/fluctuations of the mind, vritti, thought-waves) is usually happening about a past event or the mind is fretting over a future task.  This is true whether you practice yoga or not.  Yogis and non-yogis alike are challenged every moment by mind chatter.

So I’ve come to conclude that yoga isn’t the only way to silence the mind.   When one just feels 100% connected to the flow of life, moment by moment in a way that can only be experienced, and at the same time not fully explained, one is in a state of yoga.  For instance, we’ve all read about athletes being in the “zone” —those brief moments where every movement just fell effortlessly into place (the mind is silent and the body just follows).

Or consider my Dad…this past weekend while I was home in Delaware for my Niece’s 4th birthday “princess” theme party, my Dad described how focused he is when he dances (he’s retired now so he dances daily & teaches periodically for fun —go Dad!).  Even though he has never stepped on a yoga mat or sat on a meditation cushion (and probably never will), it sounded like he’s experienced yoga.  When he dances he is so fully in the moment that nothing else matters (not event the chatter of my dear Mother speaking to him).

As for the 20 million+ Americans that practice yoga asana, I think the best (and most often) true by definition yogic experience according to sutra 1.2 that happens for many is in savasana (aka final relaxation or corpse pose).  It’s in this pose that one can sometimes catch a glimpse of being at complete ease in the body, still in the mind and connected to a deep sense peace.  I’ve often said if I could bottle this feeling, I’d be rich!

What I love about The Yoga Sutras is they are completely open to interpretation based on personal experience.  Given there are numerous translations available (my yoga library alone has 6-7), I think you’ll agree.  With that said, what is your definition of yoga?

Celebrate Now (sutra 1.1)

Now the exposition of yoga is being made.  Yoga Sutra 1.1

When people hear the word yoga most immediately think of either physically challenging postures (asana) to tone & strengthen the body or the complete opposite – relaxing, stretchy poses to create a zen mind.  Neither of these are wrong but they are just a glimpse into what yoga really offers.

To me, yoga is a celebration of “what is” in life particularly within our individual selves.  Yoga is about accepting our bodies (and others) as they are, being with our emotions as they arise vs. reacting/running and understanding that we are more than just our bodies, minds and emotions.   When we are able to catch glimpses of any of this, life becomes a celebration every moment.

Beyond asana, one way to really start to understand yoga and the celebration it offers is to go inward with one of the three main sacred yoga text:  The Bhagavad Gita, The Yoga Sutras or The Hatha Yoga Pradipika. Still need a 2012 resolution?  Commit to reading all three.

I should let you know though that reading through these books like you might read The Help or The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo won’t really increase your understanding of yoga.  What will is putting svadhyaya (Sanskrit for self-study) into practice.  Pick up one of these books, read a small section and meditate upon it.  Contemplate and reflect on its meaning.  Then put it into your life practice.  The deepest part of yoga is inward (Dharana, Dhyana, Samadhi —all Sanskrit words found in The Yoga Sutras and eventually explained here in my 2012 blog sutra writings) and that is exactly what the sacred text I’ve mentioned offer —a chance to venture inward and experience life as “it is”.  This is yoga.  This is where party starts.

So to keep me honest and force me to practice what I preach (and not just by casually mentioning a sutra in a yoga class I teach), I’m starting right now with yoga sutra 1.1 listed above.  Not yesterday, not sooner or later but right now yoga begins.  Many in the yoga world (including my teacher Sri Dharma Mittra) are calling 2012 the year of self-realization (click here for Dharma’s New Year Message).  Keeping in line with this, 2012 will be my year of digging deeper into my yoga studies starting with The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.

Each week I will select (not in any particular order) and study in depth one of the almost 200 sutras, reading from the various translations I have.  I will meditate on it.  I will observe it in my life.  I will celebrate it.  And then I will share my experience with you.  NOW let the party start.

2012: A Year of Challenge

With permission I have copied & pasted Sri Dharma Mittra’s latest message from the Dharma Yoga Center 12/31/2011 newsletter. 

I admit it’s a lot to take in.  My suggestion:  Read it here, then print it to have on hand so you can reread it several times, contemplate upon it and decide what it means for you.  Enjoy!

                        HAPPY NEW YEAR!

A Message from Dharma:

All suffering and pain experienced on the material plane is for the purpose of purification – the gradual cleaning of the mind, heart and intellect so that one day, in this incarnation or one of the next, we may at last have a complete vision of Supreme Reality.

All yoga teachers and students, prepare yourselves! The year ahead will be a year of challenge. It will be a year that will provide many opportunities to really be of service to others. It will also provide us with the chance to discover how strong and faithful we truly are.

According to present and past conditions including predictions and even some direct evidence, sometime during and especially in late 2012, the Earth may pass through some severe weather conditions and maybe even some unusual phenomena. Those with lots of attachment to things and comforts may endure lots of pain and suffering, and those without good health and spiritual knowledge and who are attached to comfort surely will suffer more.

In our study of yoga, we learn about the Kleshas, the mental impurities, the root causes of all pain and suffering. All five are rooted in the first, Avidya or ignorance of your own True Self, but attachment or Raga, another one of the Kleshas, will cause many great problems during this period of transition and change. We can combat this as Yogis by re-dedicating ourselves to Sadhana (spiritual practice), and, the more we learn, the more we’ll have to then share with others to help them through the dark days potentially ahead. Commit every bit of knowledge you can to memory and strengthen the physical body so you can help others who are weaker. Many Yogis become flexible and strong through their dedication to the Asana or posture practice, but you mustn’t sacrifice cardiovascular fitness, since the ability to run if there is danger is of great value both to save yourself and to then help save others. Do something for at least five minutes every day to strengthen and tone the cardiovascular system, even Jumping Jacks. Pursue Self-knowledge every day with great intensity.

To fully arm yourself, spend more time in contemplation and realize what you really are today! We are all a portion of the Almighty One; immortal, omniscient and formless. It is only by this knowledge that you will truly remain unaffected by the possible external state of turmoil. Stay healthy and share as much as possible spiritual knowledge with others so that their pain can be reduced. Acting in this way is the highest type of charity. Remember, belief is not enough!

How unwise it is to sleep! (To float through life unaware of anything and without learning anything.) How foolish it is to remain unguarded and full of doubts! Constantly breaking the law and taking chances and stupid risks that will always result in disappointment, embarrassment, pain and suffering. The wise man is always awake and fully prepared. He follows the rules and guards his knowledge. Compassionate to all, he lives happily and is immune to delusion. The wise man is ever ready to face any amount of pain that may be inflicted upon him at any time.

But even the holy man’s body and mind are still subject to extremes of discomfort, since no one is immune to the forces of nature. Those who are still without Self-knowledge and who abide in a state of ignorance as regards Supreme Reality doubtless will suffer more in the year to come. Due to the present condition of everything, including the mental and spiritual, everything is moving, acting and changing perfectly according to and is affected by these constantly shifting patterns, resulting in a specific new condition. Everything is controlled by the Divine Laws of Nature, and everything is connected to everything else. Whatever happens to anything in any distinct area has an effect on everything else to some degree. Einstein saw this through the lens of Physics: “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” In Karmic terms, perhaps this is better expressed as: “For every action, there is an equal required action.” Or, “Everything we are passing through at present is a result of our deeds from the past.” If we were able to look back at every action taken in previous lifetimes, we would come to understand with clarity everything we are now experiencing from moment to moment.

Those devoid of Self-knowledge are fully under the sway of their external environment and its given state from moment to moment. But the wise men and women, endowed with right knowledge, can control the effect these external changes have to affect the internal environment and, most crucially, the mind. Of course, no one can escape their fate entirely, but, since the enlightened one is not identified with the body and mind anymore, he or she is truly untouched by the effect of the outside world upon them.

Only a lit candle can light the unlit wick of another. Some who lose everything will feel that the world really has ended. If you have a little knowledge and a little self-control, you will be able to serve and help anyone and everyone you come into contact with both now and after everything begins to possibly shift and change.

May Brahman bestow upon you the treasure of understanding this Divine knowledge! Om Shanti, Shanti, Shantihi.

Lots of Love,  Dharma Mittra

Remember! The goal is Self-realization!