Archive for the ‘dharma mittra’ Category

Karma Yarma Smarma

No, the title of this post is not Sanskrit for something particular or grand.  It’s simply me being frustrated with myself for not fully understanding karma.  I realized today (after pondering this topic the entire month of September & not posting a single thought about it) that maybe that’s the point of karma.

As with many of the yoga sutras & other yoga philosophy, they’re often easier to read about and get vs. live.  Further try to apply them in full-blown action and whoa! life wakes you up.  I think if the world was filled with yogic living beings (i.e. yogis and yoginis) maybe the yoga sutras and concepts such as karma might play themselves out in life smoothly.  Unfortunately, life isn’t a bowl of strawberries (one of my favs), a box of chocolates or whatever it is you crave.

So here it is straight from Inside the Yoga Sutras (By Jaganath Carrera):  “the womb of karmas (actions and reactions) has its root in these obstacles, and the karmas bring experiences in the seen (present) or the unseen (future) births.”  sutra 2.12

“the karmas bear fruit of pleasure and pain caused by merit and demerit.” sutra 2.14

Or again sutra 2.12 from another translation I purchased at the Dharma Yoga Center in NYC:  ” a man’s latent tendencies have been created by his past thoughts and actions.  These tendencies will bear fruit, in both this life and in lives to come.”

I get the obvious karma connections.  For instance, if we eat too many cookies or chips today, we are likely to wake-up tomorrow feeling blah or weighing more on the scale.  Or if we stay up too late watching a movie (or drinking), we feel very tired (or hungover) the next day.  This is probably obvious to those of us who studied Newton’s law of motion in high school physics:  “for every action there is a reaction.”  I feel, and based on my continuous studies of The Yoga Sutras and The Bhagavad Gita this obvious karma is known as “present” karma.

I also get the more subtle karma concept such if we do something nice for someone today (with no expectation) then down the road someone will do something nice for us.  The “kind” thing, thought or word may not be the same but there’s a connection and often we can’t connect the kind offering to what we previously gave/did.  With subtle karma, it’s your intention and not about the expectation which leads to the phrase “what goes around comes around.”  To me this is “future” karma.

And on a deeper karmic level I totally get what can happen if I violate Ahimsa.  Ahimsa (well-known in yoga philosophy for thousands of years as non-violence to all beings anyplace, anytime) if violated can lead to unhappiness/violence/suffering at some time in this lifetime.   Yet this is where I get “STUCK“, where I think karma SUCKS (sorry Mom!) and where I struggle with the concept of  “present” karma

Present karma doesn’t always make sense since it’s based on “past” karma.  A common example that repeatedly happens for me:  when I read/hear news about someone who has been a positive force in their community and they were violated in some way, I struggle.  I really struggle with how something bad can happen to someone who has been doing good and been a positive influence.  If this person lived such an exemplary life, why were they harmed?  How can I think this person deserved this act of negativity when they are always producing acts for the good of others?

Sure if you are dedicated and fully understand the karma concept, you’d probably say they did something in the past (whether in this life or previous) to deserve what happened.  To me this thinking/belief lacks compassion (a yogic violation in some sutra which I’ll find if you command).  Plus, to think someone deserved something bad lacks sympathy and a basic appreciation for humanity.

Again, this is where I struggle with karma.  Though I believe everything in life happens for a reason, I can’t quite get myself to a place where I think people always deserve what happens to them.  As much as I read about karma and think I get the concept, I’m torn when life throws a curve ball of reality in my face.  This is why I’m on the fence and chanting “karma yarma sharma.”

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Santosha – Discovered in a Bad Yoga Class

“By contentment, supreme joy is gained.”  sutra 2.42

“Niyama consists of purity, contentment, accepting but not causing pain, study, and self-surrender.  sutra 2.32

Santosha is Sanskrit for contentment.  The word contentment/santosha is first mentioned in The Yoga Sutras among the list of five niyamas (sutra 2.32)Side note:  My take on the niyamas is they guide our internal compass.  They’re ethical principles (or observances) that strengthen our character and guide us to live life in the best, most purest way possible.  As a result, they help us shine in a way that inspires others to live richer lives.  Richer meaning all the wealth we truly need is deep within, and not found held in a bank account.

Back to contentment/santosha.  In my yoga studies, I’ve seen many deep definitions on contentment.  From a simple idea like contentment is being able to appreciate and live in the present moment to a more thought-provoking description of “Contentment is perfected in the absence of cravings.  It is the experience that nothing is lacking, that everything happens is an integral part of a Divine Plan.” (quoted from Inside the Yoga Sutras by Jaganath Carrera)

It’s often said that we already have everything we need.  Or as Sri Dharma Mittra says “all is within.”  Though our culture wants us to believe we need “things” or other people to make us happy.  The “things” list is long but a few examples:  new toys (cars, bikes, clothes, accessories), fancy restaurants, botox, a different boyfriend/husband/family.  You get the drift.  I have many friends who are always seeking beyond what they have and at the same time they’ve yet to take time to fully appreciate what exist in their lives.

The path of yoga leads us in the opposite direction…let go of external desires and internal contentment will be discovered.  Though the process of discovering contentment requires a huge mound of trust, courage and attention.  It takes a lot of trust to follow a notion, such as the niyama contentment, when no one is there to hold your hand and lead you through the dark moments of life.  It also takes a lot of courage to fully step in and feel life as it is happening – feeling the awesome, okay, bad, scary and all the sensations in between that show up.  It takes a lot of paying attention to the present experience – being in it, as it is and not mentally jumping ahead to what’s happening 5 hours later the day.

Total confession here…I took a not so great yoga class this past weekend in DC and it was there that I experienced santosha in a new wayLast side note:  My new goal is to try 2 new (new to me) yoga teachers a month in the DC area.  Not a tough challenge given there are sooooo many studios now in the DC Metro Area (defined in my mind as Arlington, VA;  Alexandria, VA; Washington, DC;  Bethesda, MD).  So I signed up for what was listed as a vinyasa yoga /intermediate level class.  Let’s just say after starting in a restorative pose for 10+ minutes and not getting into my first Downward Facing Dog until 20 minutes into class, I was not content.  Thanks to my Grandmother’s constant words of wisdom, I reminded myself that there is always something new to learn in every situation in life.  Though I continued to find myself way too often checking the clock, realizing I had no idea the end time for the class and feeling I was stuck there.  Then I thought “I’m stuck here for a reason”.  That’s when I settled in and tried to make the best of it.

I can’t say I learned anything “new” from the teacher but I had a total realization that my life could be way worse.  Here I was on a Sunday morning surrounded by 40 or so others in a yoga class, bending and stretching in ways that many people aren’t able to do.  I have a healthy body and a great life.  The sun was coming out and I had a full day off ahead.  Life could be so much worse.  It was there and then I reminded myself of santosha.

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?

Dharma Whispering in my Head

Sutra 1.2, as I blogged here, defines yoga as stilling the fluctuations of the mind.  Yet it is sutra 2.1 starts to address what yoga practice is all about. 

Accepting pain as help for purification, study and surrender to the Supreme Being constitute Yoga practice.  sutra 2.1 

This sutra really offers up the nitty-gritty of yoga and clearly demonstrates that yoga is so much more than just asana.  Of course, depending on one’s intention, an asana practice can (and should) contain discipline, self-study and total surrender.  Truly this is what can make the practice of asana a beautiful yogic experience and transform one’s life beyond the yoga mat.   Unfortunately I think most today practicing asana miss out on the three essential elements stated in sutra 2.1 (discipline + study + surrender = aka kriya yoga) as they are only drawn to yoga as a fitness regime.

Personally, I absolutely can’t read sutra 2.1 without thinking about Sri Dharma Mittra and what originally drew me to him.  It’s impossible to take a class with him and not hear him speak to this sutra in his own subtle way.  He always says things like:  Surrender the fruits of all actions.  Study yoga text every day, even if just for a few minutes.  Do a little asana every day (tapas) – a few minutes a day is better than three hours just one day a week.

Even as I do my home yoga practice and traverse around the streets of Arlington, VA and DC, I am constantly welcoming his voice in my head messaging sutra 2.1:  The key to success is repetition (tapas).  Invite every pose to be an offering (surrender).  You have to find your own tricks (study).  For the instructions of this sutra and the spiritual presence of Dharma Mittra in my life, I am forever gratefully humbled to be a Dharma yogi.

OM, OM, OM (sutra 1.27 & 1.28)

Yesterday morning after my 20 minute pranayama & meditation practice I picked up The Yoga Sutras and thought “I will open them and whatever sutra my finger lands on I will write about that sutra this week.”  My first attempt I landed on sutra 2.7 (attachment) which I recently wrote about.  My second attempt I landed on sutra 1.27The expression of Ishwara is the mystic sound of OM.  (Note OM is God’s name as well as form).

Two thoughts crossed my mind 1) Oh no, I’m not going to get into the God discussion.  2)  Didn’t I already write a post about OM (see Why OM? crafted Sept 2008).  Though as the day wore on a few things confirmed that this is the sutra for the week.   My private yoga client asked at the end of her session “why do we OM?”  Then I was sad to read last night that OM Yoga Center in NYC is closing the end of June.  And after wearing my Juil sandals (known for their energy grounding benefits) all day yesterday I realized OM was definitely the sutra for me.

I’m adding sutra 1.28 to this posting since I believe for each of us OM represents something different (sutra 1.28 To repeat it in a meditative way reveals its meaning.) especially once we begin to chant it on a regular basis.  During my Dharma Mittra yoga teacher training last Fall, I chanted OM for 10 minutes every morning for 30 days.  For me, it had a very internal cleansing effect.  It’s really hard to describe but I felt as if some negative vibes were being scrubbed out of me.

At the beginning and end of every class I teach, we OM as a group.  I tell my students we do it as a way to connect with one another.  For some it has a calming effect.  For others it gets them comfortable with their voices.  Chanting OM is also a way to feel the aliveness throughout every cell in the body.

Sutra 1.27 states OM is God’s name as well as form.  Again, not that I want to get into the God discussion here but God to me represents your highest, best Self.  This is the meaning that has been revealed to me.  Some also say divine Self.  I like to think of OM as a way of connecting to our highest thoughts, words and actions as well as a way of grounding us in the moment.

Speaking of grounding, this is where the mention of Juil sandals comes into play.  I received a pair of Juil’s “hera” sandals and they’re amazing.  With the early summer weather we’ve had recently here in DC (yes, it was 90 degrees last week) I’ve been able to really take them for a few good test walks.  They are extremely well made, stylish and oh so comfy.  Our feet are our connection to the earth and the foundation of our bodies.  For many of us (and there is plenty of research to support this), we are wearing shoes that cramp our feet and prohibit our connection to the ground below.  When our feet are out of sorts, our body eventually become out of sorts (i.e. knee issues, hip concerns, lower back pain).  If you’re in need of a good-looking shoe that also has the added benefit of making you feel healthy and happy (please see this link for those details), I definitely suggest checking out Juil.

Attachment (sutra 2.7)

Attachment is that which follows identification with pleasurable experiences.     sutra 2.7

Pretty straightforward sutra, right?  The tricky part of attachment is how sneaky it is in our lives.  The action/object/tendency we’re attached to starts out as a simple moment of joy.  And then we repeat the action seeking the same positive experience it originally created.   Next thing you know, we become attached to the experience triggered by the object/action/tendency.  And then the attachment becomes so ingrained in us and we can’t imagine life without the action/object/tendency.  It’s a sneaky, vicious cycle.

The easiest example I can think of is coffee (or whatever your wake-up beverage of choice is).  I visit Starbucks almost every morning.  By stating this, clearly it appears I am attached to my morning coffee.  Well I can be for sure and so are many, many, many others I’ve observed.  For me, it’s not so much the caffeine I am attached to (because I do 1/2 decaf and some days just go without the Starbucks visit).  It’s more of the warm sensation/experience coffee offers my body (physical attachment).  I also enjoy sitting in Starbucks writing…the environment seems to help get my creative juices flowing (mental attachment).

Though when I was on the Dharma diet during my Dharma Mittra 500-hour yoga teacher training last Fall, coffee was banned.  My morning ritual became hot water with lemon and a special Dharma smoothie.  The first few days were tough but I actually got really used to the hot water lemon concoction —it gave me the warming sensation.  I also discovered that not only was I saving $2 a day by not going to Starbucks (plus the gas money), I had more time in the mornings to sit for meditation, writing, or whatever I wanted to do.   And that’s the sneaky part of attachment…when we start to clearly see their hold on us, we realize how much of our time, energy and resources we are sacrificing in exchange for great hopes of a repeat pleasurable experience.  We start to believe we need it to make us happy and we are willing to do whatever it takes.

Inside the Yoga Sutras (p. 110) elaborates on sutra 2.7.  “Attachments are limitations that always result in deepening or maintaining ignorance (avidya).  They are cravings that deny the peace and joy of our Self by insisting that outside experiences are the root of happiness.

The Yoga Sutras state it.  The Buddha said it.  We have everything we need inside ourselves to be happy.  Yet in this consumer-driven materialistic world, how can we ever experience this?  My suggestion…try eliminating for 7 days just one thing that you do daily/eat daily/drink daily/etc.  Observe how you feel without it.  Observe what you do in lieu of it.  Observe the positive and negative changes it has on your physical body.  Observe your emotional state.  Pay attention.  You might discover you’re happier and healthier without it.

Being Yoga (sutra 2.2 – 2.9)

With yoga studios popping up on every corner in Washington, DC and Arlington, VA these days, there’s definitely a lot of talk about going to yoga.  Jump online or open a magazine and you are sure to find  talk about doing yoga.  Stand in the midst of voices buzzing at your local coffee shop and you’ll hear people chatting “Do you do yoga?  I do yoga.  I’m going to yoga.  I went to yoga.”  Blah, blah, blah.

On my morning dog walk yesterday it hit me that I don’t do yoga and I surely don’t go to yoga.  I am yoga.  Since I started studying with Sri Dharma Mittra last year in NYC, yoga has really become a way of being for me.  Sure I do asana (yoga postures), pranayama (breathing exercises), meditate, study yoga texts and try to follow the yamas/niyamas (note:  this list of yoga I’ve incorporated in my life is nicely explained in book II of The Yoga Sutras.  Of course, I will give my spin on it all in due time).

Beyond all I’ve just listed though, the nitty-gritty of yoga is really about letting go and surrendering to what is, as it is.  It’s about being the best version of you, just as you are.  The letting go/surrendering concept is tough, particularly for those Type A’s (probably you!) out there.  So let me just clear this up by saying surrendering/going with the flow doesn’t mean to give up and be ball of mush.  As Dharma always says (with a grin) when there are 30+ people in his class attempting a challenging posture “you must have angry determination.”  He also sometimes says “you must find your own tricks.”  And really this is true even off the yoga mat.  Yoga is about “finding your own tricks” (another Dharma-ism) to keep you calm, cool and collected in every situation in life.

Even with angry determination and a bag of tricks, there are plenty of roadblocks to being in yoga.  I face them everyday, but I’ve also been lucky enough to become more aware of what holds me back from showing up and being my best (not doing my best but being my best).

As sutra 2.3 points out there are five obstacles to yoga:  ignorance, ego, attachment, aversion and fear of death.  I’m not going to dig deep into each of these at this point (see sutras 2.2 – 2.9 for details).  I simply want to open your eyes to them.  Start paying attention in your life as to how these are present for you.  Notice your habits.  Recognize your reactions in situations.  Do you crave coffee every morning?  (attachment)  Do you curse when someone cuts you off in traffic?  Do you avoid unpleasant situations?  (aversion) Do you not try something (i.e. handstand in the middle of the classroom) due to fear falling over or dying?  (ego, fear of death)  What is it that holds you back from being the best version of you?  (ignorance)

Trust me, this is a tough batch of sutras (2.2 – 2.9) to write about as I’m still struggling with them in many areas of my life.  Hopefully though with some angry determination and a few tricks I discover along the way, these sutras will be a bit easier to write about and discuss.  Until then, I will keep trying.  As Dharma says “repetition is key.”