Thursday, November 17, 2011

Unity In Diversity

"In essence we are one, but in nonsense we are many. We need essence and nonsense... That is why we are looking for peace. We have had enough of fights and problems. If you realize this, you can begin right in your own home. Love your family, your pets, your plants. Do not treat them as something different from yourself. They all have the same essence, the same spirit. If we want to show the unity in diversity, that is where we can begin. At home, with out pots and pans. You may be angry with your husband or wife, but do not put the pot d own with a bang. Be gentle. See the same spirit in everything. That is unity in diversity. There is nothing without life in this world. Be gentle, be nice, be loving. See your own Self in all and treat everything properly. That is how to show the unity in diversity visibly and powerfully. A real spiritual experience means to see the unity in diversity."

Compassion & Equanimity

I had the lovely opportunity to study with Beryl Bender Birch today at Northport Yoga Center.

Interestingly, during philosophy discussion, she touched upon just the topic I blogged about yesterday (it's funny how that sort of thing always seems to happen, huh? No coincidences!). She warned, be careful about convincing yourself you are spiritually superior. Just because we recycle, this does not make us "better." Everybody is on their own path, and those paths may not run parallel to ours. This does not make them wrong. Not all beings are operating with the same amount of awareness. And "more awareness" is not synonymous with "more advanced." For example, Beryl says, when you are pulled over waiting for somebody to pull out of a parking space and you think it's very clear that is what you are doing, but somebody else comes up and slides right into that parking space before you, try not to get so frustrated questioning loudly "why is this person not as evolved as I am?!?" These experiences are meant to evoke compassion, Beryl teaches. Compassion is spawned by gratitude. Think of how lucky you are to be as aware of yourself, your influence, your surroundings, whereas other people may not be. think of how lucky you are to be you.

So while I might experience anger when I see somebody dumping their fast food garbage out the car window, I don't mean to be judgmental. Because that is not yogic either... spiritual superiority or arrogance doesn't suit anybody well. The paramount purpose of blogs such as the one I wrote yesterday is to make people think, not to insult. But maybe as a result of what I posted, somebody, somewhere, will re-consider a more wholesome approach; by which I mean, a perspective which takes into account an entire community or an entire system, such as the future generations and our planet. In the meantime, all we can do, is cultivate as much compassion as possible for our environment and for its inhabitants, irrespective of their "evolutionary level."

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Honoring Your Home, Your Life Source, Your Energy Supply

It is getting to be that time of year again, when people start shoving leaves into oversized plastic bags and placing them at their curbs.


I have long since been confused by this practice. Not because I don't understand why this society has pushed keeping our properties so neatly manicured that we cannot bear to look at leaves or twigs or weeds amongst beautiful pesticide-green grass; but rather, because I cannot understand why we have bought what they are selling.

By which I mean, who in our right minds, honestly believes that leaves -- Nature's own dead skin -- belong in plastic bags, stuck at the curb, to be picked up and hauled into a landfill somewhere? How backwards is it to stick something organic in something that is not biodegradable?

Firstly, can it be agreed upon that Mother Nature is just that -- our Mother...? She cares for us, providing us a home, food, and life. Yes?

Secondly, I do not agree that your lawn, or anybody else's, should be cleaned up so obsessively that it is unclear what season we are in. Being Autumn. We act as though we are in denial that we are in fact subject to the cycles and changes and beautiful processes of Nature. If I find this insulting, how do you think Mother Nature feels about it? Besides, being so attached to appearance leads to superficiality and materialism.

And lastly, if we must clear our spaces of NATURAL debris, can we at least see to it that it is placed in something that is also of NATURAL construction, such as, a paper bag, not plastic...?

You may want to know, what has this got to do with yoga? Yoga is about awareness, simply put, for our selves, our community, our environment. And furthermore, yoga is about union, yes? Yoga comes from the root word "yuj," meaning "to yoke, to unite, to join." To join what? To join the individual Self with the universal Self. Well, if you don't agree that Mother Nature is a part of the universal Self, then I don't know what business you have reading this blog post.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

"Letting Go of Urgency"

"One thing at a time. That's all we have to do. Not two things at once, but one thing done in peace. One task at a time. One feeling at a time. One day at a time. One problem at a time. One step at a time. One pleasure at a time. Relax. Let go of urgency. Begin calmly now. Take one thing at a time. See how everything works out?" -Melody Beattie

It becomes difficult to take it one thing at a time when you live in a society that emphasizes productivity. Getting things done. We tend to equate self-value with our accomplishments. So many of us fall into the habit of multi-tasking and dividing our attention so that we can "accomplish" more in shorter periods of time, pulling us further and further away from the present moment, further and further away from meditation, further and further away from the experience of yoga. We are always plugged in, always turned on, there are so many distractions. We must slow down though. By slowing down and giving ourselves to pause, reflect, and re-connect, we can come back to the tasks that need to be completed and be more efficient and more effective because we will have calmer, clearer minds.

Monday, November 14, 2011

What is our yoga practice supposed to do for us?

This post was inspired by a lovely conversation I had with two students after class tonight, Katherine and Mark (thank you).

In yoga, we want to take the body and the mind into the opposite place of where we normally take it on a day-to-day unconscious, unmindful basis. We want to break habits and patterns to free up space for potential, for change, for growth. All of life is growth. Don't kid yourself, that is the point.

So, during our practice, we want to try to move slower if we normally move too fast. We want to be more patient if we are normally impatient. We want to be compassionate where we are lacking; we want to soften where we are hard and stiff; we want to strengthen where we are weak and unstable. We want to find a healthy balance where we are working and we are challenged but we are not torturing or overexerting ourselves.

To understand this best, it is useful to understand the yogic idea of the three gunas, or modes of life: rajas, tamas, and sattva. Rajas represents activity and work; tamas is rest and lethargy; and sattva is purity, joy, bliss meditation. We ought to be balancing these modes throughout life, but most of us are dominant in one or the other at certain points. Many of us give little or no time to sattva, to quiet, blissful meditative time spent celebrating life; we move straight from rajas to tamas, often staying geared up in rajas when we are meant to be letting loose in tamas or letting tamas drag its heaviness into our appropriate rajas time. Meaning, we wake up in the morning and instead of taking time in sattva to be grateful for another day and to sit and pray or meditate or sing or do something we genuinely enjoy, we go straight to work, rushing from here to there, getting this and getting that done. Many of us will stay in that mindset even after leaving work, and then we cannot wind down in tamas time and sleep well. Others of us will at times wake up and never actually "wake up," staying in tamas and letting depression, laziness, and lethargy dwell in our bodies all day.

This is relevant because in order to practice yoga in a way that is healthy and beneficial and enjoyable for us, we have to realize what mode we are most dominant in. Physically, most bodies come to yoga for the first time in a tamasic state; few of us will be in a rajasic place. We want to arrive in sattva. However, we must first move to rajas in order to come back to sattva. We have to first wake the body up if it's been tired and unmotivated all this time in tamas; we cannot stay in the hyper, overactive place of rajas though because it is exhausting and can lead to restlessness and injury. So your yoga will feel very difficult at first and you will have to challenge yourself a lot and work what may feel like "too hard" for some time before you can find the peace, quiet, and stillness in your yoga practice.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Why do we practice yoga barefoot?

Every once in a while, when I have a new student practicing with their socks on, I like to let them know that as long as they are comfortable with it, we generally practice yoga completely barefoot.

Why? As a lifelong student myself, I always like to explain why to the best of my ability.

So here it goes...

Firstly, on the grossest level, being barefoot means you can see your feet better. Having socks on, you can see the general shape of the foot, yes, and it is much more intimate than having footwear of some kind on, but you cannot actually see your foot. The feet are very important in yoga, believe it or not. This is the foundation for many of your poses. So, you want to see and feel and understand the foundation in order to build onto that foundation, just like if your were trying to construct a building. What good would it be for you to try to put walls and a roof on something when you have little knowledge of the floor of the building?

Next, on top of seeing your feet, you can feel your feet much better if you are barefoot. When your feet can make contact with the surface beneath you, it will allow you to feel more grounded. You will find, in time, that you can actually begin to connect to the different areas of your feet than you ever imagined. This is going to be tremendously beneficial for everybody, but especially for those with any sort of foot issue, such as flat feet or high arches (more on this another time). 

And lastly, there are more subtle reasons why you would like to be barefoot. Allowing the flesh on the soles of your feet to make contact with the same surface you are practicing on will keep you more connected. There is an energy that flows through your feet, undoubtedly. You have so many nerve endings in the feet and the hands (which is how you can explain reflexology) and allowing those nerve endings to be stimulated by letting them touch and feel and make contact with surfaces is enormously beneficial. Being barefoot means just one less material or surface between you and the earth beneath us. And yoga is about unity; unity with body, mind, soul, spirit, and the universe.

Friday, November 11, 2011

What would you say if you knew you would not offend or be misunderstood?

What would you say, and to whom, if you knew what you had to say would not be misinterpreted, offensive, or hurtful?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

What would you do if you were bolder?

A teacher of mine, Gabriel Halpern, once asked this question in a workshop:

What would you do if you were bolder?

Without the daunting task of disclosing any mortifying answers to this question, I think that unanimously the answer is that we would do more. Simply put. In the wake of being "bolder," we abandon fear. Without fear strapping us down, we are free to take flight and do all of the things we truly want to do. To live our dreams -- whether it be singing in public, skydiving, selling all of your possessions, saying "I love you" more often to more people, serving your community -- it's irrelevant what, it is the how to go about accomplishing these things. What do you need to let go of, what do you need to open up to to be (just a little) bolder?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Resisting Negativity

"Some people are carriers of negativity. They are storehouses of pent-up anger and volatile emotions. Some remain trapped in the victim role and act in ways that further their victimization. And others are still caught in the cycle of addictive or compulsive patterns. Negative energy can have a powerful pull on us, especially if we're struggling to maintain positive energy and balance. It may seem that others who exude negative energy would like to pull us into the darkness with them. We do not have to go. Without judgment, we can decide it's okay to walk away, okay to protect ourselves. We cannot change other people. It does not help others for us to get off balance. We do not lead others into the Light by stepping into the darkness with them." --Melody Beattie

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Yoga Attire

OK, I have been asked about clothing appropriate and ideal for yoga many times. Where can I get high-performance yoga clothing that doesn't cost an arm and a leg?

The easy answer to this is to go to Marshall's or Target or something -- functional yoga attire that should sustain many practices and washes and come at a reasonable price. And I have been guilty of this in times past.

However, as you increase your awareness and extend this mindfulness off of the yoga mat and into the world, this is bound to be challenged. My opinion on this matter is now highly influenced by being educated on this country's unethical outsourcing, slave labor, and sweatshop practices, which include but are not limited to unsafe and unjust working conditions and unfair and inadequate wages and compensation. This is contradictory of yoga! It violates the very first yama (the first of eight limbs of yoga), ahimsa, non-violence or non-harming. Yet for some reason, it goes unnoticed or unthought-of by many "yogis."

It is very difficult to buy fair trade/sweatshop-free in this country. Any big business or store that might be "convenient" is likely a primary offender; but choosing what may not be convenient is the yoga of shopping. It's the work. This work should not be isolated to yoga apparel, of course, it should influence all of our shopping habits and tendencies when possible. We all know what goes on with Nike by now, yet so many people seem unfazed, with the ubiquitous love for Nike Jordans. Adidas and Puma are similar offenders.
Athleta is one with Gap, Old Navy, and Banana Republic, businesses who have admitted to "unknowingly" use child labor.

And Lululemon Athletica, which is specifically a self-defined "yoga-inspired athletic apparel company" seems to have missed the mark on a large part of what yoga is all about. Unfortunately, here in the west, we seem to be under the impression that yoga is isolated only the movements of the body, the poses, the asanas (which is really just one of eight limbs that make up the practice and science of yoga). Lululemon sells pants for $148.00, which is interesting because while it was once U.S. and Canadian-manufactured, they now do at least 70% of manufacturing in locations such as China, South Korea, South America, Indonesia, Israel, Vietnam, Taiwan, and Thailand, and something tells me the workers in these countries are not compensated nearly a fraction of what Lululemon's appalling price tags read. Something about it screams "suspicious" to me and challenges my trust that Lululemon is abiding by the third yamasatya, or truthfulness. Ask Chip Wilson why he calls his company "Lululemon" and he "jokingly" says something about how funny it is to hear the Asian slave labors try to pronounce it. Not only is this a direct assault on the practice of ahimsa, non-harming, but seems to challenge the second of the yamasasteya, non-stealing. Perhaps Lululemon wouldn't rub me the wrong way so much if they weren't claiming "strong ties to local communities" and penned a manifesto with ridiculously hypocritical sayings such as, "A daily hit of athletic-induced endorphines gives you the power to make better decisions, helps you be at peace with yourself, and offset stress" -- as though Lululemon should represent the index on "better decisions"; meaningless and transparent phrases such as, "That which matters the most should never give way to that which matters the least"; and of course confusing and disturbing quotes such as "Children as the orgasm of life."

But... there are other more mindful options though. Some U.S.-manufactured and fair-trade clothing retails I support include, but are not limited to, MishogawearHardtail ForeverShakti ActivewearLucy ActivewearprAnaRawganiqueMahadevi Design; and American Apparel. The empire of American Apparel was built off of the claim of being sweat-shop and slave labor free; however, I have recently heard some disappointing stories. Dov Charney, founder and CEO of American Apparel, has been accused of many sexual harassment lawsuits and has admitted to selecting descriptive words such as "slut" in relation to employees. This kind of behavior is also undesirable to yogis and other conscientious consumers; however, unlike Lululemon, at least Charney doesn't posit to be a spiritual example of some kind.

At the end of it all, though, I think what is important is your intention, the energy behind your decisions, to do good and to affect and influence the world in a positive way, as a consumer, a yoga practitioner, and a person.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Accepting Change

"The winds of change blow through our life, sometimes gently, sometimes like a tropical storm. Yes, we have resting places--tie to adjust to another level of living, time to get our balance, time to enjoy the rewards. We have time to catch our breath. But change is inevitable, and desirable. Sometimes, when the winds of change begin to rustle, we're not certain the change is for the better. We may call it stress or a temporary condition, certain we'll be restored to normal. Sometimes, we resist. We tuck our head down and buck the wind, hoping that things will quickly calm down, get back to the way things were. Is it possible we're being prepared for a new "normal"? Change will sweep through our life, as needed, to take us where we're going. We can trust that our Higher Power has a plan in mind, even when we don't know where the changes are leading. We can trust that the change taking place is good. The winds will take us where we need to go." --Melody Beattie, The Language of Letting Go

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Michael Singer, The Untethered Soul, Highest State of Being

"The highest state you have ever experienced is simply the result of how open you were. If you don't close, it can be like this all of the time. Don't sell yourself short. This can go on all the time--unending inspiration, unending love, and unending openness. That is the natural state of a healthy heart. To achieve this state, simply allow the experiences of life to come in and pass through your being. If old energies come back up because you were unable to process them before, let go of them now. It's that easy... Just open, relax your heart, forgive, laugh, or do anything you want. Just don't push it back down. Of course it hurts when it comes up. It was stored with space; it's going to release with pain. You have to decide if you want to continue to walk around with stored pain blocking your heart and limiting your life. The alternative is to be willing to let it go when it gets stimulated. It only hurts for a minute and then it's over." --Michael Singer, The Untethered Soul

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Michael Singer, The Untethered Soul: Processing Pain & Letting Go

I've been very influenced by Michael Singer's The Untethered Soul as of late. And to be perfectly honest, I haven't even completed the book. It's one of those books that you can only read so much of. It is very dense; it is a lot to process. In any event, Singer talks a lot about the process of being hit with something uncomfortable -- pain, grief, anger, jealousy, rage, guilt, shame, etc. -- and acknowledging that it is there, seeing it, studying it, watching it from a distance, and then simply allowing it to pass. I know, I know. Easier said than done, but it is possible. If it is possible for me, it is certainly possible for you. To be the observer of your mind, your own feelings and your own thoughts can happen. As my teacher Mokshapriya pointed out to me, you have two minds. If you didn't, how could you watch your thoughts? One mind (the observer, the detached one) can watch the other mind (the impulsive, emotional, ego mind that reacts to stimuli that trigger us). You've had moments like this, yes? To prove this, Singer reminds us... you are able to think and talk about how you feel, what your were thinking, when you are looking back on a situation in retrospect. For example, Singer says "When you tell a friend, 'Every time I talk to Tom, it gets me so upset,' how do you know it gets you upset?" (17) This is one mind watching the other mind (Singer calls it your "roommate.") You can watch, you can notice, you can monitor, control, and separate yourself from the thoughts, the emotions, the impulses and the reactions that drive us to suffer. We have these little episodes of inner dialogue, complaining, resisting, rejecting, suffering... "'My mind is driving me crazy. Ever since he said those things to me, I can't even sleep. My mind just won't shut up'"(27)... and yet, we are able to see it all while it's happening as though we are outside of it, we are not our emotions or our thoughts. We are conscious beings. And as a conscious being, you have the ability and the power to step aside and be aware of your pain and your suffering but not have to feel it, be consumed by it, and be thrown out of balance by it. This is what it is to practice yoga.

I have moments like these, and it is simply incredible. It liberates us. But of course we cannot stay there (for long); you will come in and out of this. You've experienced ephemeral and beautiful moments like these too, I'm sure. Moments where even your suffering can almost become humorous, when you can truly recognize the triviality and drama of the every day B.S. we are gripped with.